Thursday, September 29, 2005

New Labour - Comedy Value

OK, it's not really that funny. But it is quite funny. Sort of.

Firstly, David Miliband (how Ralph managed to raise such an alarmingly ambitious, right-wing, greasypole-climbing knob-head is beyond me) climbs on to the conference platform and declares 'power to the people!' He wants to devolve power to the grassroots - away from faceless, centralist state provision. Well, how is this fiery changemaker aiming to achieve such a laudable end - one which any radical socialist would, despite the caricatures of the Right, support? Here's what Miliband says:

"Let's give power to citizens [sic*] with direct payments that give them a choice over local services, let's give choice to people and neighbourhoods to set new priorities and reshape local service provision. And let's embrace the voluntary sector, which can reach and help people in ways that the public sector cannot match."

Hmmm. Could it be that this 'power to the people' proposal is actually intended as a cost-cutting exercise? Could it be that this represents the marketisation and privatisation of services? And what does 'choice' actually mean in this context - after all who in their right mind could possibly disagree with the extension of 'choice'? After all, I for one, am clamouring for the freedom to choose who processes my housing benefit claims. Everyday I rage against the totalitarian centralism of the local council services - if only these services were provided by freedom loving entrepreneurs. Everything would be fucking brilliant then. Think of it - all that lovely choice. I'm sure entrepreneurs would make housing benefit much more exciting and efficient than boring old councils. Customers would probably get to choose between different coloured benefitforms and everything. There'd be a whole range of differentiated benefit form styles tailored towards the needs of the individual. The bog standard centralist monopoly benefit forms today simply aren't optimal for young on-the-go professionals with a thirst to succeed in today's constantly changing world.

Note also, Miliband's references to the 'voluntary sector'. Sounds nice and cuddly doesn't it? What he means of, course, is that many of today's council and state services should be provided by charities - a bit like in Victorian Britain which, as we all know, was a much more efficient time. It was much more efficient because there was much less provision. Back then, the very poor would rely on occasional hand-outs from associations of bored middle class housewives, church groups and temperance societies. If the poor weren't entrepreneurial enough to live in areas were such charities existed then they would simply starve or go to the workhouse. In this way, the country was ridded of many hundreds of surplus to requirement scroungers every year, by death or virtual incarceration in forced labour prisons, while the state would get on with the important business of not being a nuisance. Not like today, when busybody state jobsworths tyrannise the people. And all of them drive Jaguars. And they all have plush offices.

Also today, Blair reacted to the passing of a motion, against the wishes of the leadership, calling for the suspension of any further expansion of private sector care into the NHS, with a full-on vintage Blair bollock-fest, of the kind Rory Bremner would have difficulty topping;

'The trade union movement has got to modernise; it has got to understand that the world out there has changed ... I think what they have got to realise, and I think this is the message from the constituency delegates to them, is, 'Come on, guys, get into the modern world. Get real'

Yeah, look, come on guys - you've got to modernise for the modern world and, y'know, get weal about weforms 'kay?

In addition to all this hilarity indoors, outside the conference New Labour enforcers seemed very keen to carry on the good work they carried out so efficiently yesterday. Austin Mitchell MP today had his digital camera confiscated and his pictures deleted after New Labour stewards became alarmed at Mitchell's dodgy turrist-like behaviour (taking pictures) and called the police to sort him out. Mitchell's protestations - he doesn't actually hate our freeduhm (or so he says) - came to no avail. Quite right too. If Mitchell was a turrist (which he might be - we just don't know) he could, quite easily, have concealed some kind of WMD death-ray inside his camera. Or perhaps he could have passed on grainy digital snaps of cabinet ministers to other turrists - after all, the physical appearance of these public figures is kept a closely guarded secret. I don't actually know what Tony Blair looks like. You can never be too careful.

Meanwhile Islamofascistfreedomhatingbolshiestoppernazi Walter Wolfgang returned to the conference today to a rapturous round of applause from turrist appeasers in the conference hall. By my calculations there must have been several hundred freeduhm-haters amongst the crowd. Clearly New Labour has been deeply infiltrated by Saddamite islamonazi totalitarians. Very worrying. Security must be stepped up.

* We're not citizens. We're subjects of the Crown.

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

No Dissent Please, We're New Labour

The Graun and the BBC both report that an 82 year old man, Walter Wolfgang, was physically bundled out of the Labour Party Conference today, for daring to heckle Deputy Changemaker Jack Straw. Another conference delegate was then thrown out of the hall for protesting at Mr Wolfgang's treatment at the hands of New Lab bouncers. It didn't end there - later Mr Wolfgang was denied re-entry to the conference hall by police using Terrorist Act powers.

The Beeb says:

Walter Wolfgang, from London, was ejected from the hall after shouting "nonsense" as Foreign Secretary Jack Straw defended Iraq policy.

Police later used powers under the Terrorism Act to prevent Mr Wolfgang's re-entry, but he was not arrested.

Mr Wolfgang, who escaped Nazi Germany in 1937, is a member of the Stop the War Coalition.

Erith and Thamesmead constituency party chairman Steve Forrest, who was sitting next to Mr Wolfgang, was also thrown out after complaining about his treatment.

Apparently, the Labour Party is to apologise for its 'heavy handed' treatment of Wolfgang.

I am informed that in pre-New Lab days, Conference used to be a time of open and democratic political debate. Of course, it wasn't perfect - members could debate issues and pass democratic resolutions until they were blue in the face without Labour Governments actually having to act on them. However, there was at least some semblance of democracy. Now conference is almost entirely stage managed - a pathetic simulacra of a forum for democratic debate. It is clear that the party hierarchy made absolutely sure that the issue of troop withdrawal from Iraq would not be formally debated (though one brave TGWU official used the debate on 'Britain and the World' to call for an end to the occupation and, according to the Guardian, 'won a loud ovation from delegates'). The Stalinist stage management of the occasion now seems to have extended so far that New Lab audience enforcers will physically force out elderly people for shouting out a one word heckle.

Hail Changemakers!

Friday, September 23, 2005

Christopher Hill + Zombies = Happiness

I am rather looking forward to this weekend. It will be filled, largely, by Seventeenth Century English revolutionaries and hordes of flesh eating undead. What more could one possibly want?

I should say, at this stage, that, yes, I really should go to London for the demonstration. It's a very important demonstration at a very important time and I realise that I should be putting my money where my mouth is on this one. However, for various reasons I shall not be there - the greatest of which is pressure of work. Excuses out of the way, then, let's get on with the rest of the post.

In between mugging up for teaching and editing a chapter, I'm hoping to get down to some serious reading on the English Civil War. I'm sure I mentioned somewhere before that I've an interest in that period of English history, and, furthermore, a particular interest in the puritan/radical protestant movement(s) at the core of the anti-Royalist forces. Despite this, however, I've never read anything substantial by Christopher Hill - probably the finest Marxist historian of the Civil War (or Revolution as he prefers to term it). I hope to go someway towards filling this criminal gap in my reading this weekend. I got The World Turned Upside Down and Puritans and Revolutionaries out of the library today. It's the first time I've actually been excited at the prospect of reading a book in quite a while. I'll maybe get a blog post out of it in the next few days - you lucky people.

What I'm most excited about however, is Romero's latest zombie-fest Land of the Dead (out today), which I'm hoping to see tomorrow or on Sunday. I assume that most of you will have come across Romero's Night of the Living Dead, Dawn of the Dead (one of my favourite films - the original not the substantially de-politicised remake) and Day of the Dead. If not - give them a try*. Even if you're not particularly keen to watch people trying not to be eaten by lolloping gaited gangs of dribbling zombies (which, it has to be said, pretty much sums up the central plot of each of these films) - give it a go, because there's much more to the films than ghoulish thrills. Romero is famous for injecting a substantial dose of (often very subtle) political satire into his films. As Channel 4's review of the film remarks 'Romero always said he wanted to make a zombie film for each decade, using the allegory of the undead to reflect the times.' Accordingly, then, early 21st Century (Western/US) political and social concerns are never far from the surface in Land of the Dead. The Graun's review remarks that:

It is tempting, and enjoyable, to read this movie as a comment on race and class in America: the zombies are leading a kind of unending, futile spartacist uprising against the Wasp rulers in their shopping malls and thousand-dollar suits. On the other hand, the zombies could be a comment on undead America - the cultureless, valueless service-economy drones in their trailer parks and project housing.

The War on Terror and indeed the War in Iraq looms large over this film too.

Incidentally the Curmudgeon has a couple of very readable Romero reviews**. I'm looking forward to his review of this one.


Just checked the cinema listings and it looks as though I won't be seeing Land of the Dead this weekend, after all. Clearly, the 'national release dates' published in film reviews do not apply in the North/the sticks/not Londonland. Bloody Londoners etc etc...

*I should confess, here, that I've not actually seen Day of the Dead all the way through, but I can certainly vouch for the other two.
**I'm sure there's more than one Romero review on the Cumudgeon's site (?). Only found that one on a search though.

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Chavez - Cheap Oil for US Poor

The Daily New York News reports (article reproduced at Venezuela Analysis):

In an exclusive interview yesterday, the Venezuelan leader said his country will soon start to ship heating oil and diesel fuel at below market prices to poor communities and schools in the United States.

"We will begin with a pilot project in Chicago on Oct. 14, in a Mexican-American community," said Chavez, who was in town for the United Nations sessions. "We will then expand the program to New York and Boston in November."


Venezuela... owns a key U.S. subsidiary called Citgo Petroleum Corp., which has 14,000 gas stations and owns eight oil refineries in this country, none of which was damaged by Katrina. Chavez said he can afford to sharply reduce Citgo's prices by "cutting out the middle man."His plan is to set aside 10% of the 800,000 barrels of oil produced by the Citgo refineries and ship that oil directly to schools, religious organizations and nonprofits in poor communities for distribution.


Cutting oil prices must seem like the worst sort of radicalism to the Big Oil companies and their buddies at the Bush-Cheney White House. But ordinary Americans fed up with price gouging by these energy companies could begin to look at Chavez in a different light if his oil-for-the-poor project works.

You can read the first part of this interview here. It's also worth having a look at this transcript of an interview with Chavez on ABC Nightline. Amongst other things Chavez announces that (Venezuelan?) 'military intelligence' has obtained/intercepted US plans for an invasion of Venezuela - plan 'Balboa.' Accordingly, Venezuela is having to construct an anti-Balboa strategy to resist invasion.

Friday, September 16, 2005

'Identifying Class, Classifying Difference'

I looked through some of my old essays and reports stored on my computer last night. A lot of them I'd almost completely forgotten about. Funny how you can forget something you've written so quickly. Anyway I found a summary and criticism of an essay by John Saul in the Socialist Register (2003 )* called 'Identifying Class, Classifying Difference'. I remember now, it's quite an interesting essay in which Saul argues that Marxist analysis can accommodate the viewpoints and political demands of a range of social groups centred around different kinds of collective identity and is not limited to an exclusive focus on class. It manages to take on board some of the criticisms directed at socialists by postmodernists in particular, without itself collapsing into postmodern or pluralist mush. The thing that most stuck me, on re-reading, however, was what Saul has to say about socialist analysis and ethics. He adapts and advances Hugh Stretton's notion that socialism is, necessarily, a 'moralising science'. Now this, I remember, this struck me as absolutely right at the time I first read the article - and it still does.

I recently saw someone argue that Marxism has no ethical or moral dimension. It's a common argument, but one which I think is clearly mistaken. Of course, Marx is roughly dismissive of 'moralising' and utopian forms of socialism grounded in the sense that humans need to have a some kind of moral 'change of heart' in order to make the world better. What Marx shows is that the possibility of socialism is implicit in the material conditions generated by capitalism. It is grounded in material, scientific analysis. But it still must and does have a normative dimension. If it doesn't then all it does is simply describe social conditions and the process of history - as if describing, in some absolutely neutral and disinterested fashion, the workings of a machine or the social interaction of a type of insect. It's clear that Marx intends his analysis to provide a tool for social change and human liberation - something which is not inevitable, or programmed into the process or structures of 'history' (although certain material tendencies towards socialist organisation are created, in some sense beyond the conscious control of humanity) but which must be chosen by human subjects. Why should they choose it? Why should it interest us what other human beings choose? Why should we want them to choose socialism and not some other form of social organisation? There is clearly a normative dimension here - and for normative read moral.

This is something which extreme anti-moralist forms of Marxism just do not grasp. The whole thing, then, becomes rather pointless, bloodless and mechanical - inhuman in fact. There is much more to say here, but I'm running out of space if I'm going to cut and paste this essay in below. Just let me point out that I think that we should make a distinction between 'bourgeois moralising' (what Steven Lukes calls the 'morality of Recht') and socialist morality (which Lukes calls the 'morality of emancipation'). That is, Marxism is pitted against forms of morality (individualistic, private, atomised) which we could argue are generated and informed by bourgeois relations of production, but builds upon an implicit moral sense of its own. I am always horrified when I hear certain Marxists dismiss any idea of morality, or who claim that we cannot believe that, say, all violence against humans is inherently regrettable. Don't get me wrong, sometimes violence is necessary (as indeed any liberal bomber would tell you) but I think we can and must still argue that hurting other people is wrong. What we must say, is that sometimes the wrong of not doing violence over-rides the inherent wrongness of violence itself. If we lose our horror of violence (no matter who suffers from it) then I think that's a terrible thing. There's more to say, here and perhaps I'll come back to it.

‘Identifying Class, Classifying Difference’ by John S. Saul, published in the Socialist Register 2003
In recent times Marxist theory has suffered from a series of withering attacks by postmodernists, pluralists and proponents of forms of ‘identity politics’ who claim, amongst other things, that Marxism is reductionist and simplistic, focusing merely on class and political economy in its analysis of social forces and human identity. These critics claim that other forms of social identity are just as (if not more) valid - identities centred around gender, race, nation, sexuality and so on - and that Marxism effectively excludes these social forces from its frame of analysis, regarding them as ephemeral and ultimately unimportant phenomena. It is undeniable, of course, that (orthodox) Marxist analysis has tended, in the past, to regard these types of social identity either as instances of ‘false consciousness’ stemming from bourgeois ideology or at least, in the case of feminist identity especially, as a kind of identity which is subordinate to that of class - women’s oppression, for example, is often presented as something which will be overcome with the creation of new socialist relations of production. However, John Saul claims that there is no inevitable incompatibility or essential contradiction between an analysis of class struggle and an acceptance of other forms of resistance to oppression based on other conceptions of collective identity. Saul aims to suggest the circumstances in which class struggle can be combined with other forms of struggle and to contribute towards striking an ‘analytical balance between political economy (focused principally on the structures of capitalist exploitation that frame our world) and the parallel examination of other structures and other discourses that help define the realities of oppression’ (348)

Saul's essay commences with an investigation of the choice of class as ‘entry-point’ - the reasons for, and theoretical ramifications of, its selection. Saul starts with the premise that socialists see ‘capitalism as an inhuman and inegalitarian system that needs to be overthrown’ (348). He suggests that it is this premise, this prior value-judgement, that conditions the choice of class exploitation as the privileged ‘entry-point’ of socialist social analysis. Following E H Carr and Hugh Stretton, Saul argues that it is a mistake to believe that there is an objective and ‘value-neutral’ vantage point from which to analyse society and offer an impartial, scientific investigation of social processes. It is necessary that we consciously embrace what Stretton terms ‘moralising science’ - that is, we must be aware that all theory is conditioned by prior and implicit moral and value judgements. Armed with this awareness we can, carefully, choose and shape a particular theoretical discourse which is most effective in the pursuit of our consciously acknowledged and deliberately affirmed moral stance. Analysis of class, is then one possible focus of analysis amongst many. Marxists choose to focus on class Saul argues because concentration on this provides for the most effective conception and articulation of injustice in capitalist society. Socialists, before they even come to theory, have already made a prior judgement, Saul suggests, that capitalism is unjust and that class analysis is, simply, a useful tool for socialist theory in its development and encouragement of effective struggle against capitalist structures. In this acceptance of class analysis as one mode of discourse amongst many.

In the second main section of his essay, Saul goes on to argue that, having accepted class analysis as a useful ‘entry-point’ for social analysis conceived of as a consciously ‘moralising science’, it is not necessary for socialists to downplay other forms of social identity. We can, Saul asserts, take seriously ‘the concerns of those who wish to highlight, alternatively or simultaneously, the claims to our attention of other nodes of oppression and resistance’ (354). In support of his belief here, Saul claims that Marx was not, as is commonly believed, an economic reductionist - there is no evidence to suggest that Marx thought that all social phenomena were mere expressions of underlying economic phenomena. An allowance of other approaches and focuses for social analysis, then seems to be perfectly compatible with Marxism. However, although we can allow for other ‘entry-points’ to social analysis and understand that other forms of social identity other than class have substance, and are more than ephemeral phenomena, while still remaining within a Marxist mode of thought, this does not mean that these different forms of social identities are wholly unconnected. Saul demonstrates the interconnections between class and other identities. He shows that feminists have shown that gender is not a mere distraction from the real issue of class struggle and that economic inequality and poverty may be manifested ‘on the ground’ in terms of gender inequality and that it is therefore absurd to remove gender from the frame of social analysis. We cannot consider ‘class itself outside the gendering… that so often significantly characterise it in the concrete’ (354). However, Saul goes on to argue, neither can we do the opposite and consider gender inequality without an exploration of class divisions. As Saul comments, sexual inequality cannot be understood in isolation from ‘the realities of wage labour, commodity production and consumption’ (355). There is then, an inextricable link between patriarchy and capitalist exploitation. Social identities of class and gender do not stand in isolation from one another - they intersect and interact with each other.

Saul briefly considers the necessity of developing a moral basis and normative standards for a pluralist emancipatory project - a ‘counter-hegemonic universalism’ (356) - saying that this is something that the Left will have to return to, before he moves on to look at other forms of identity. Saul claims that the same kind of connections between feminism and Marxism also apply in the case of other forms of identity politics. He first considers race and ‘post-colonialism’ - arguing that racial discrimination and global inequality is firmly bound up with capitalism. We can acknowledge cultural diversity, and the ‘quasi-racial structuring of the present global system… while also focusing on the simultaneous centrality of capitalism in driving the latter system’s inequities and contradictions’ (360). Saul then goes on to consider identities based around ‘ethno-nationalism’ and religion. He asserts that, like gender and race, neither of these two phenomena can be dismissed as imaginary and ephemeral - they are phenomena which are central to the self-identity of many millions of people and it is clear from human history that they have the power to move people to act on the world around them. It is clear, however, that Saul seems to think that ‘ethno-nationalism’ and religion, are rather more problematic for Marxists than are feminism and identity politics based around race. These two phenomena, it seems, can ‘cut both ways’ in that nationalism and religious belief can manifest themselves in reactionary and destructive guises, but also in progressive and constructive forms. Saul points to the fact that nationalist sentiment can bolster and animate popular struggles that aim at objectives socialists could support and that religious belief, too, can add weight to struggle against oppression. One need only look at ‘liberation theology’ in Central and South America for example, Saul points out, to see that Christianity can and does inspire people to fight for egalitarian and anti-oppressive ideals. The challenge for the Left, Saul argues, is to encourage and support those instances of religious and ‘ethno-nationalist’ struggle which aim at progressive ends. There are many potentially positive alliances to be made between religion, nationalism and struggles based on class analysis. These variables have much common ground between them.

None of the identities Saul highlights, then, can be ‘reduced to mere reflexes of the economic, the material or the class-determined’ but, however, ‘socialists have every reason to argue that these variables are best treated in close relation to an analysis and a politics of anti-capitalist class struggle’ (356-357). He concludes that class analysis is a ‘moralising science’ which can be rendered important to other forms of discourse based around struggle against oppression. It can be articulated ‘non-reductively, non-economistically, non Eurocentrically, but centrally… with them’ (367). It is important, that class analysis is articulated ‘centrally’ with other forms of identity politics and not ‘drowned in “difference”’ (368) because class based politics are central to the cause of human emancipation. This centrality is founded in the fact that class analysis implies the crucial demand that the structural limits of capitalism are over-come - without this transcendence of capitalism the demands of other forms of identity politics cannot adequately be met.

Criticism of the paper

The first criticism I wish to make of Saul’s paper is that his assertion that Marxists choose class analysis because it is useful for the advancement of a prior judgement they have made about the injustice of capitalism is rather awkward. It is possible to infer a certain circularity of argument here. Saul seems to be saying that socialists can use class analysis as a way of identifying the injustice implicit within capitalist structures, but that they are motivated to use this analysis by the prior belief that capitalism is unjust. It is as if Saul argues that class analysis reveals the injustice of capitalism that motivates socialists to use class analysis to show those injustices. I do not think that Saul explains this very well - he probably does not notice this circularity in his argument. However, this is not a major difficulty for Saul’s theory - we could speculate that those pre-disposed towards socialist ideals can see injustice all around them in the structure of society and the global economy, but do not acquire the intellectual tools to make full sense of that vague comprehension of injustice (to see the reasons behind their existence and the links between them) until they come across socialist theory. The circularity of argument then does not destroy Saul’s theory, it just results, perhaps, from awkward phrasing and can be easily overcome. Indeed, I think that his claim that Marxism is a type of ‘moralising science’ is exactly right. It is clear to me that there is no ‘true’ and objective vantage point from which judge social reality - all theories are based on sets of prior value judgements and preferences. It is up to us then to choose the values and standards that we wish to advance and to tailor our theoretical vantage point accordingly.

The second criticism I want to make is to point out the inadequacy of Saul’s comments about the necessity of developing a ‘counter-hegemonic universalism’. I quite agree with Saul that an emancipatory project cannot merely define itself in opposition to something else - capitalism - it must set out exactly what it is for and develop a set of worked-out normative principals to struggle towards. Saul merely makes a brief gesture towards this important area - acknowledging that it must be done, but contributing nothing towards its realisation. Of course Saul is not alone in this - time and time again in Leftist writing you can come across assertions that the Left simply must develop and present a vision of what it wants to build up in place of capitalism and acknowledgement that socialism’s aversion to ‘blueprintism’ has been something of a draw-back. No-one ever, though, seems willing to be the one to put forward any substantial ideas in this respect. Most agree that it must be done and then quickly change the subject before, perhaps, anybody actually asks them to do it. I find this very frustrating. It would be unfair to blame Saul too much here, though, because he is far from the only person to go in for this sort of ‘blueprint-dodging’.

The third weakness that I can see in Saul’s position is, perhaps, potentially more serious for the ultimate success of his argument. As we have seen, Saul insists that socialist analysis does not necessarily entail the downplaying of forms of identity other than class. Other forms of identity have worth in themselves and Marxists can accept the legitimacy of other forms of social analysis. However, there is a tension in Saul’s theory in that, though he attempts to argue that different forms of identity have equal validity and that Marxists can adopt a pluralist stance in this sense, he still claims that class must be regarded as a primary factor of social reality. True, Saul stresses that an understanding of the inter-relationship between other forms of identity and class structure is necessary for the development of a successful politics of emancipation - though this, in itself, is a privileging of class before other forms of identity and surely, therefore, involves a certain downplaying of those other types of identity. However, more than this, Saul comes close, on a number of occasions (especially in his discussion of feminism) to suggesting that other forms of identity cannot be fully understood in themselves in isolation from consideration of class structures and political economy. This would certainly seem to suggest that, in some sense, class is more fundamental to human social existence than other kinds of collective identity. This sits awkwardly with Saul’s promotion of diversity and pluralism.

Having made those criticisms, I want to conclude by saying that I think that essay is, on the whole, successful. Certainly, John Saul should try to overcome the tension between his promotion of pluralism and his simultaneous suggestion of the primacy of class identity (though I cannot suggest how this could be done!) I think that Marxism does suffer from a mistaken concentration on class struggle to the exclusion of all else - class reductionism - and I feel that the development of a more pluralist socialism is a worthy and necessary project to engage in. Certainly if socialism is to have any hope of success in the future it must widen its scope to be inclusive of the demands of ‘new social movements’ and those human desires for change which cannot simply be reduced to the rather mechanical and inhuman dynamic of class struggle. I like, as I have indicated, Sauls’s claim that Marxism is not an objective science and that it is based more on a ‘moralising science’ - socialism is, surely, in my view, a political response to injustice and based, therefore, on moral and normative impulses. I am greatly sympathetic to Saul’s suggestion that socialism holds the key to the resolution of the immediate problems of the ‘post-colonial’ Third World and inequalities between North and South. Finally, I also find myself in whole-hearted agreement about the great potential for constructive dialogue and alliance (indeed the utter convergence of interest) between socialism and progressive forms of religion.

* unfortunately, the essay's not online.

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Neoliberal Cosmopolitanism

Here's one for the miserable half-witted fuckfaces on the pro-imperialist Left (good afternoon to you, by the way).

I re-read this article by Peter Gowan recently and just thought I'd cut and paste a few sections from it. Basically, Gowan pulls apart the notion that powerful western states, and particularly the US, have, in the aftermath of the end of the Cold War, somehow broken with cynical power politics and that we've entered a fluffy new world order in which the heroic Marine Corps are tasked with a mission to liberate the world's oppressed. This seems to be the idea which, beneath all the hot air and bollocks, animates Cohen, Aaranovitch and etc.

Viewed historically, the new doctrine [neoliberal cosmopolitanism] is a radicalization of the Anglo-American tradition that has conceived itself as upholding a liberal internationalism, based on visions of a single human race peacefully united by free trade and common legal norms, led by states featuring civic liberties and representative institutions. Such liberal internationalism sought to create a global order that could enforce a code of conduct on the external relations between states. But it still essentially accepted the Westphalian system that granted states jurisdiction over their own territories.

The new liberal cosmopolitanism, by contrast, seeks to overcome the limits of national sovereignty by constructing a global order that will govern important political as well as economic aspects of both the internal and external behaviour of states. This is not a conception advocating any world government empowered to decide the great international issues of the day. Rather, it proposes a set of disciplinary regimes—characteristically dubbed, in the oleaginous jargon of the period, ‘global governance’—reaching deep into the economic, social and political life of the states subject to it, while safeguarding international flows of finance and trade. In this system, sovereignty is reconceived as a partial and conditional licence, granted by the ‘international community’, which can be withdrawn should any state fail to meet the domestic or foreign standards laid down by the requirements of liberal governance.


Crucial to the NLC version of today’s world is the claim... [that members of the 'Pacific Union' - the NLCs' imaginary benevolent alliance of world powers] have broken with power politics as their governing impulse. What this, of course, represses is the central fact of contemporary international relations: one single member of the Pacific Union—the United States—has acquired absolute military dominance over every other state or combination of states on the entire planet, a development without precedent in world history. The US government, moreover, has shown no sign whatever that it is ready to relinquish its global dominance. American defence spending, as high today as it was in the early 1980s, is increasing, and a consensus across the Clinton and Bush administrations has developed in favour of scrapping the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty. The underlying reality of the Pacific Union is a set of bilateral, hub-and-spokes military alliances under US leadership. In the past liberal theorists usually explained the forging of these alliances as responses to powerful Communist and Soviet threats to democratic values and regimes. Yet, though liberalism and democracy are now widely held to be a prevailing norm, and the Warsaw Pact has vanished, these ‘defensive’ alliances have not quit the stage. On the contrary, Washington has worked vigorously to reorganize and expand them during the 1990s.

NLC theorists protest that the United States has, nevertheless, abandoned egoistic national interest as its strategic guideline. After all, are not liberal democratic values tirelessly lauded and expounded in the speeches of US leaders—most imperishably, by the late President Clinton? Such declarations are no novelty—ringing proclamations of disinterested liberal principle go back to the days of classical nineteenth-century power politics and Lord Palmerston. If, on the other hand, we turn to actual policy guidelines for US diplomacy in the 1990s, we find them wholly dedicated to the calculations of power politics. Where such documents refer to the icons of free trade and liberal democracy, they are presented as conditions for the advancement of US power and prosperity.


[R]ealist accounts of the nineties are clearly superior to the prospectuses of the new liberal cosmopolitans. Zbigniew Brzezinski has summed up the actual nature [of US power] with characteristic bluntness, remarking that compared to the British Empire of the nineteenth century,

"the scope and pervasiveness of American global power today are unique . . . Its military legions are firmly perched on the western and eastern extremities of Eurasia, and they also control the Persian Gulf. American vassals and tributaries, some yearning to be embraced by even more formal ties to Washington, dot the entire Eurasian continent."

Read the rest. It's good. Have a look at The Global Gamble, too. Perhaps Cohen and Hitchens should get themselves a copy - it's only £11.34 on Amazon. Small change for those two - probably a small fraction of what they spend on Tennant's Superstrength every day.

May 13 Massacre in Uzbekistan

The Guardian runs a lengthy report on the Andijan killings in May, piecing together what it calls 'the full story of the Uzbek massacre that the world forgot '.

Nafruz, 34, lay on the ground, realising that "whoever raised their head would be shot. I was surrounded from all sides by shooting." It seems likely, from the size of ordnance described by the survivors, and the fact that bodies were reportedly being flung back a metre and a half when hit, that anti-aircraft weaponry was being used against the unarmed crowd. "My clothes were covered in brains and blood," says Nafruz. "I stayed two hours after the shooting stopped, then crawled over the bodies to the college."


Baltabai hid under piles of corpses until after the shooting stopped, he thinks at about 8pm - 10 hours after the gunfire began. "Then I crawled behind a tree and stood, looking at what I saw. Dead people everywhere, and some alive, just moving. I felt sick, because of all the things splattered on my clothes. I went into the college and saw the APCs moving over the bodies. They wanted to kill anyone who was wounded. Soldiers walked down the sidewalk, firing single shots at anyone moving. It was a scene from hell, but I saw it, just a hundred days ago."


"It's disgraceful and dismaying," says the London director for Human Rights Watch, Steve Crawshaw, "that there is still no international attempt to address the horror of what took place. The facts are undeniable, and the response is foolish, cynical or both.

Well, I'm sure that the 'International Community' has everything in hand. It's probably just very busy at the moment. Give it time - Bush and Blair will be liberating the Uzbeks very shortly, you'll see. Because that's what they do. That's what drives them.

Sunday, September 11, 2005

Pessimism of the Intellect

OK, so England's best player today was B Adlight - a rather dull cricketer to watch, but one who has put the team in something of a commanding position for tomorrow - the last day of the series. All England need to do now is put in a good batting performance (preferably playing out the whole day), secure the draw and the Ashes come back here. England are currently 34 for 1 in their second innings giving them a lead of 40 over Oz.

But I have a terrible feeling. I can see it now - England batting collapse. All out before mid-afternoon for less than 150 runs. Australia charge forward hell for leather for the win, and just scrape it before the close. Ashes stay in Australia.


By the way, does anyone else admire Warne's slightly flared (or are they bootcut?) cricketing trousers. I do. No one else seems to have a pair.

Additional - Monday Lunchtime

OK, just call me Mr Nostradamus. Got the less than 150 runs bit wrong (like all great soothsayers, I'm not very reliable when it comes to, you know, numbers or dates) but the rest of it may well come true. We've had something of a batting collapse and I can't see England hanging on for more than a couple of hours.

Additional - Monday 6pm

I was completely wrong. Thank goodness. My soothsaying days are over. Again, thank goodness.

You have to admire the Aussies though don't you (I can say this now it's all over).

Monday, September 05, 2005

A Little Self-Promotion

I'm presenting a paper at the Political Theory Workshops Conference in Manchester this Wednesday. Not nervous yet. Give it time. Should you wish to read the paper (it centres on Nicos Poulantzas and Fred Block) you can get to it from here (click on the 'Conference Programme' link).

All of the conference papers look interesting, but I draw your attention to the following papers in particular (all can be accessed through the above link):

Paul Wetherly on 'Block, Business Confidence and the Structural Power of Capital'

David Bates on 'The Class Location of the Intellectual: Some Reflections on Gramsci, Poulantzas and Wright'

and Phil Wood on ‘Geographical-Historical Materialism and the Social Production of Space'

I would recommend Paul Blackledge's paper on 'Alasdair MacIntyre's Critique of Marxism’ too, but unfortunately it isn't up on the web. I think this paper will centre on MacIntyre's Marxism and Christianity. I read this book last year and It'll be interesting to see it savagely ripped apart (as I'm sure it will be - Paul doesn't tend to mince his words). MacIntyre's (a man who made an interesting journey from Trotskyism to Thomism) book struck me as pretty seriously deficient. However, the introduction (or first chapter - I can't remember) really impressed me with its very strong arguments as to why Christian morality is deeply incompatible with capitalism. It is one of the most powerful indictments of capitalism I have ever read.

A Genuine Gas-Bag

There are many people who, it might be said, are gas-bags. Lots of people are hard to shut up, gossipers, chatterboxes, extremely talkative etc, but it seems to me that only an elite few verbal diarrheaticians should really qualify for that term - gas-bag. Genuine gas-bags, - bone fide non-stop talking machines - are actually pretty few and far between. To be considered a real gas-bag, it's not just that you have to speak quickly and often, that you have to bore for England (or wherever) on a frequent basis - you have to be able to spew a rapid torrent of words without stopping, and without letting anyone else get a word in edgeways, for a very long length of time. You have to be able to speak very, very quickly, very, very loudly and almost interminably, without pausing for air between sentences - you have, also, preferably, to ensure that your speech contains absolutely nothing of any consequence at all.

I came across such a creature on the bus this morning. She got on talking about nothing loudly, quickly and without pause, she sat on the bus for at least 20 minutes talking about nothing loudly, quickly and without pause and she almost certainly left the bus talking about nothing loudly, quickly and without pause. I had to get off the fucking bus before my stop in order to escape, so I don't know how for long it continued. As she got on the bus with her 'friends' (listening objects, programmed to utter 'oh', 'yeah' and 'really' every now and again) it was immediately obvious that she was, possibly, one of these elite gas-bags. After having been subjected to the sound of her witless rabbiting (she was sitting several rows behind me) for about a few minutes it was clear that she certainly was. After 5 minutes I was already grinding my teeth and my legs were starting to squirm. After 10 minutes I was beating my head against the seat in front of me and starting to dribble. After 15 minutes I was clawing at the windows and trying to escape. It was like some form of extreme torture.

During the course of the wind-machine's near senseless jabbering it became clear that she was only 15 yrs old. Somewhere amongst the flow she had remarked on her age. Now that makes it special. This was no seasoned jabberer - no talk-box in its prime. This one had only just started. Amazing. In 10 years, this talker could, perhaps, be one of the best gas-bags ever to have lived.

I have been in the presence of greatness.

Sunday, September 04, 2005

Nicos Poulantzas

Nicos Poulantzas, October 1979 (pictured here shortly before jumping out of a 4th storey window).

Not a bad likeness really.

Really must do some work now...

Saturday, September 03, 2005

South Park Me.

That's me that is.

Done here.

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