Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Unite Against Public Sector Totalitarians!

Would the Decent Left please take a moment with me to condemn the totalitarian and undemocratic actions of greedy striking public sector workers and to affirm our solidarity with Sir Pigby Jones, who seems to be one of the few people prepared to stand up against this menace to Western civilisation. The Trade Union movement has long been an enemy of decent society and democratic socialism. It is full of ruffians, shirkers, anti-Americans, stoppers and commies. Many of them are probably terrorists.

We must not give an inch to these fascist anti-parliamentarians. Tony is doing his best to make things better for decent people. Choice, for example, has increased by over 15% in the past 7 years - real rate of opportunity-growth is increasing by over 200 choices per square kilometre a month. In international affairs, over 150,000 Islamonazis have been eliminated in the past 3 years alone. If they had their way, these trade unionists would put a stop to all of this. This so called 'labour movement' is a threat to us all.

It is especially important that we stand shoulder to shoulder with democratic socialists such as Sir Pigby and Tony at a time when some 2.6 million totalitarian cheese eating surrender monkeys in 'France' have gone out on to the streets to resist the forward march of progress. The very future of European civilisation and the survival of the Enlightenment project depends on our holding firm at this time.

To make things worse, the totalitarian contempt for democracy seems to have spread like a contagion to the seat of liberty and democratic socialism itself - the United States of America. It is thought that about half a million anti-American Americans took to the streets recently to protest against an Immigration Bill designed to fight terror, free-loading asylum seekers, and Latino-fascism.

This is a time of great peril for ordinary tax payers in the well above average income bracket like you and me. There is only so much that Tony can do under these circumstances. It may well be necessary that we start to look for a strongman figure who can smash the union movement, introduce a bit of discipline amongst the uppity rabble and make the trains run on time, in order to safeguard our democratic socialism. I'm thinking Dr John Reid.

If you love liberty, please sign up for my Unite Against Public Sector Totalitarians project in the comments boxes below.

No Pasaran!

Exchanging one Empire for Another?

Martin Jacques has a good piece in today's Guardian, though I'm a little uneasy with some of it. Jacques takes the recent comments of Republican congressman and chairman of the House international relations committee, Henry Hyde, as his starting point and develops his argument from there. Hyde has apparently just realised that 1). the idea of 'exporting democracy' in the bomb holds of B52s is rather problematic and prone to backfire (no shit, congressman) and 2). the US has, in the 'great game' arena of international relations and geopolitical strategy, 'taken its eye of the ball' with potentially disastrous consequences. Specifically, the US has neglected the major long term threat to its current global hegemony - China. Now it's tied up in Iraq say Hyde and Jacques, the US has spiked its own capacity to act effectively to block China's rise to dominance.

"In becoming so catastrophically engaged in the Middle East, making the region its overwhelming global priority, it downgraded the importance of everywhere else, taking its eye off the ball in a crucial region such as east Asia, which in the long run will be far more important to the US's strategic interests than the Middle East. As such, the Iraqi adventure represented a major misreading of global trends and how they are likely to impact on the US.


The world is in the midst of a monumental process of change that, within the next 10 years or so, could leave the US as only the second largest economy in the world after China and commanding, with the rise of China and India, a steadily contracting share of global output. It will no longer be able to boss the world around in the fashion of the neoconservative dream: its power to do so will be constrained by the power of others, notably China, while it will also find it increasingly difficult to fund the military and diplomatic costs of being the world's sole superpower. If the US is already under financial pressure from its twin deficits and the ballooning costs of Iraq, then imagine the difficulties it will find itself in within two decades in a very different kind of world.


Iraq was supposed to signal the US's new global might: in fact, it may well prove to be a harbinger of its decline. And that decline could be far more precipitous than anyone has previously reckoned. Once the bubble of US power has been pricked, in a global context already tilting in other directions, it could deflate rather more quickly than has been imagined."

I think that Jacques' general argument is right - it's largely compatible, though not entirely, with Arrighi's take on the current state of US hegemony. However, Jacques seems to me to be suggesting that the Iraq adventure was always a distraction from the real business of strategic Imperial policing. I rather think that Arrighi's view on this is superior - that is, that the decision to launch the Iraq campaign was itself, in part, an attempt to head off the threat from East Asia. The US did not 'take its eye off the ball' then - it's just that its strategic gamble did not pay off (or at least, it doesn't seem to have paid off so far). Secondly, I'm rather sceptical of Jacques' claim that the end of US Empire will come very rapidly - I think it's more likely to be a lengthy, drawn out and rather painful affair.

My third reservation is a bit more difficult. I'm slightly reluctant to make the kind of argument that mirrors in some way the crass lines of argument characteristically put forward by the pro-war left. On their sites you'll frequently see commentators denounced for something which has been rather spuriously inferred from their writing. If a commentator suspected of disloyalty to the demands of Truth, Justice and the American Way describes or narrates something inconvenient or unpleasant for the Heroes of Democracy they're often rounded on and accused of necessarily favouring that thing they have described, simply because they have dared to acknowedge that it exists. Perhaps my argument, here, rests on a similar non sequitor (though, of course, mine is at least not deliberate) - but I can't help but get the feeling that Jacques is rather on Hyde's side, here. That is, Jacques appears to think that it is indeed a bad thing, that the US has taken its eyes off the ball and that it would be a good idea if the US got its act together (if now possible) and started to deter/repel the East Asian menace. What would this mean? An attempt to engineer another East Asian financial crisis? The construction of more US bases further to the East? The further ratcheting up of the Taiwan crisis? A war against China?

This is not to say that the probable rise to global superpower status on the part of China is a particularly pleasant prospect. For one thing, historically, the periods in which one Empire starts to decline and another one rises have often been periods of bloodshed. The idea of some kind of face off between two powers armed to the teeth with nuclear weapons, one desperate to shore up its crumbling imperial status (upon which rests its domestic affluence), and the other recklessly driven on by the logic of accumulation, is not a happy one. Furthermore, Chinese Empire is not likely to involve jelly and ice cream all round. There is at least one Chinese student at this university who refers to the 'Beijing Consensus' as a force for liberation. I'm not so sure that a consensus based, in large part, on a sweatshop economy (even brutal bursts of primitive accumulation - note how large numbers of chinese peasants have been driven off their land recently) will involve very much liberation.

On the other hand, of course, one should not succomb to the temptation to rush to the aid of the devil we know. Expect to see the toadies and lackies on the pro-war left transform themselves into anti-Chinese crusaders in the next few years. Expect to see, on the usual suspect blogs, dark murmurings about the 'Yellow Peril'.

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Green Wing

Hooray, Green Wing will soon be back! Green Wing is probably the most interesting comedy series around at the moment excepting, perhaps, The Mighty Boosh. They've been repeating episodes from the first series late night on Channel 4 this week, in the run up to the new series showing. I'd forgotten how good they are. It's quite easy to be put off, unless you stick with it for a bit. I remember not liking the first episode when it was first aired - it seemed rather gimmicky (with its speed-up/slow-motion editing between scenes for example) and to be rather too self-consciously absurd. It was like it was trying too hard. However, give it a chance, and I guarantee you'll be hooked. What's so good about it, in my opinion, is that it successfully blends a number of different comedy styles - there's some wonderfully subtle character-acting and an The Office-like comedy of social embarassment alongside physical slapstick and dream-like surrealism. It manages to feel and look like a fragmented, sketch show in which scenes and situations do not necessarily follow on from one another, while maintaining short and long term plot lines focused on certain characters. Alongside the set piece slapstick, there's clearly a lot of ad-libbing too.

Like The Mighty Boosh, Green Wing manages to be utterly absurd, yet maintains a deadpan restraint at the same time. I think that's what I like about it most - despite the surface gimmicks, the comic absurdity isn't endlessly milked (as it is, say, in anything Vic and Bob have done). It's surreal, but doesn't go out of its way to draw attention to its surrealism, as it were. It's that deadpan, take it or leave it, see it or don't see it quality I like. Like The Mighty Boosh, too, Green Wing is not really laugh out loud, rolling on the floor comedy (though it has its moments) - you watch it because it's interesting and unpredictable.

My favourite characters are Dr Alan Statham, the pompous, bumbling and neurotic consultant radiologist, prone to exaggerated Basil Faulty-style outbursts of anger and the utterly vile, (but strangely likeable) Dr Guy Secretan - a hugely competitive and selfish wannabe ladies' man. These two characters seem to me like polar opposites. Secretan is a completely believable, 'realistic' character (we've all met men like him) while the manic Statham is, almost, a cartoon creation. Yet the characters both 'fit' perfectly well into the same scene. There's an example of the successful blending of comedic factors in the show. It shouldn't work, but it does.

Sunday, March 19, 2006

Ralph Miliband

I've just found this obituary of Ralph Miliband in the Radical Philosophy archives. It's by Ellen Meiksins Wood (who I like very much) and is worth a read if you've ever read any of Miliband's stuff (and if you haven't then you should).

It might surprise you to learn that a neo-pseudo-crypto Poulantzian like me is a big fan of Miliband. The two theorists are often studied (in a cursory way) by students of politics as the paradigmatic representatives of two fundamentally antagonistic socialist approaches to state power. Indeed the so called 'Miliband-Poulantzas debate' - an exchange which took place over several editions of New Left Review - is often regarded as the key, touchstone, debate in which 'structuralism' and 'instrumentalism' are pitted against one another. The debate was sparked by Poulantzas' review of Miliband's The State in Capitalist Society, the methodological assumptions underpinning which work, Poulantzas took to be crudely instrumentalist. Poulantzas' claims here are usually taken as given by students of state power today. However, it's actually very misleading to see Miliband's The State in Capitalist Society as some crude instrumentalist work - positing some correlation between the exercise of state power and the interests of capital simply because of the class or social background of those staffing the uper echelons of the state apparatuses. Miliband’s central approach in this work – to show, through empirical evidence, that key positions within the British state are (or, at least, were at the time Miliband wrote) held by members of the economically dominant class – is driven by his guiding aim in this book. His guiding aim is to demonstrate that pluralist theories of state power (which posit that no class or section of society has disproportionate access to the levers of power) have no basis in empirical fact. It is this central aim which gives Miliband’s work the appearance of instrumentalism – but really, Miliband is only seeking to prove pluralism wrong on its own terms, not to argue that state power is wielded like an instrument by the ruling class. Interestingly, in his later work, Miliband comes very close to Poulantzas’ later analysis of state power – (see here).

Poulantzas is often taken to have won the New Left Review debate. However, it's always seemed to me that Miliband lands more blows on Poulantzas than the other way round. The debate covers a lot more than just approaches to state power - it also revolves around Poulantzas' wider epistemological and methodological approach to analysis in general. Miliband is quite right to pour scorn on Poulantzas' ultra-Althusserian formalism. A lot of what Poulantzas argues, in his earlier ultra-Althusserian writing anyway, is plainly nuts. It's also self-referential, operates on the basis of some rigid, closed and circular logic and, moreover, is written in a turgid, dense style which is almost impossible to follow. Michael Newman's biography of Miliband reproduces an excerpt from a letter from Miliband to Perry Anderson (written during the NLR debate) in which Miliband confesses that he has read through Poulantzas' stuff several times and still isn't sure what on earth he means. Meiksins Wood makes an excellent point here in regard to the different writing styles of Miliband and Poulantzas:

"`The ultimate purpose of counter-hegemonic struggles,' Miliband wrote in 1990, `is to make socialism "the common sense of the epoch".' This involves two things: `a radical critique of the prevailing social order', and `an affirmation that an entirely different social order ... is not only desirable ... but possible'. This may seem, on the face of it, no different from what any socialist intellectual would claim, among other things, to be doing. Yet it would be very difficult to characterise, say, Althusser or Poulantzas (or today's post-Marxists and post-modernists) as speaking for the `common sense' of socialism. It was certainly not their aim to lay out an intelligible and persuasive argument for socialism which takes little for granted. The issue here is not simply their scholastic opacity - though the contrast with Miliband's translucent clarity is striking enough. The point is also that, even when they were talking about the same things, they clearly saw the substance of their project very differently from Miliband. Whether their object was to reconstruct the epistemological foundations of Marxism or to translate the strategic debates of European Communism into theoretical terms, it was certainly not to argue the case for socialism, and even less to make it `common sense', in any meaning of that phrase."

Miliband may not be the most demanding theorist to read, but that, in a way, is precisely his strength. He always writes in such a clear, straight forward and lucid way. In comparison, reading Althusser or Poulantzas is like trying to wade through treacle. It's not just about ease of reading either - the comparison, I think, also forces you to wonder just how much bullshit there is in Poulantzas and Althusser. How far does the turgid, obtuse, unclear style of their writing mask inadequacies of content?

Radical Philosophy

I can't think why I haven't added the Radical Philosophy journal to my side-bar links list before now. It's now on. In this month's edition there's an absolutely fascinating account of the way in which the Israeli military has made use of Deleuze and Guattari, and Situationist 'psychogeography' to develop novel counter-insurgency tactics for urban warfare. There's also an interesting article on the 'future of fascism'. Unfortunately you can't get to the full version of these articles on the web unless you're a journal subscriber, but if you want to look at the first couple of paras you can get to them here - Harootunian on fascism, Weizman on urban warfare.

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

We Don't Do That Sort of Thing Round Here

Unlike those undisciplined, emotional, permanently unsettled types in continental Europe, the British don't go in for coups, revolutions and the like. Of course not. We don't do political enthusiasm. Britons favour rational, consensual, measured, cautious evolution and sensible, constitutional change. Radicalism does not run in our blood - we like cricket, cups of tea, stiff upper lips and artfully meaningless conversations about the weather, whereas the Italians, the French, the Germans and so on get rather over-excited about things, gesticulate wildly when talking and, before they know what they're doing, are storming the Bastille or burning down the Reichstag.

Complete shite of course. One can only hold to such a nonsensical view of British history if one conveniently forgets such episodes as the Civil War, the removal of King Charles' head from his royal shoulders and the appearance on Britain's streets of tanks, armoured vehicles and machine gun nests during the General Strike.

It's interesting, in this context to see what people will make of the TV drama, The Plot Against Harold Wilson, to be shown tomorrow on BBC 2 at 9pm. The drama focuses on an alleged MI5, military, ruling class plot to destabilise and remove the Prime Minister. As Jonathan Freedland writes, 30 years ago, the

"establishment [was] trembling at what it saw as Britain's inexorable slide towards anarchy, if not communist rule. Institutions were collapsing, inflation was rising, tax was at a near-mythic top rate of 98%, and Britain was losing the last outposts of empire. Above all, the trade unions, riddled with leftists and Soviet sympathisers, seemed to have the nation under their thumb. "It was no longer a green and pleasant land, England," recalls retired Major Alexander Greenwood, Colonel Blimp made flesh.

The great and the good feared that the country was out of control, and that Wilson lacked either the will or the desire to stand firm. Retired intelligence officers gathered with military brass and plotted a coup d'etat. They would seize Heathrow airport, the BBC and Buckingham Palace. Lord Mountbatten would be the strongman, acting as interim prime minister. The Queen would read a statement urging the public to support the armed forces, because the government was no longer able to keep order.

It sounds fantastic, almost comic. But watch Greenwood talk of setting up his own private army in 1974-75. Listen to the former intelligence officer Brian Crozier admit his lobbying of the army, how they "seriously considered the possibility of a military takeover". Watch the archive footage of troop manoeuvres at Heathrow, billed as a routine exercise but about which Wilson was never informed - and which he interpreted as a show of strength, a warning, even a rehearsal for a coup. Listen to the voice of Wilson, who five weeks after resigning summoned two BBC journalists to tell them, secretly, of the plot. "

It's one of the central ideological myths, and an important constitutive factor of ruling class hegemony in this country, that Britain's elite (if it is admitted that there is one) is nothing like those in other countries - that the UK establishment is deeply committed to the (class-neutral) rule of law and to constitutional niceities. A military dictatorship might have been possible in Spain, Turkey or Greece, but it could never have caught on here. Who could seriously entertain the possibility of military dictatorship in Britain? This documentary should at least shake those comfortable and lazy assumptions.

Staying on the topic of British military coups, Chris Mullin's A Very British Coup, has been reissued by Politicos. Wonder if they'll repeat the TV dramatisation?

Sunday, March 12, 2006

The Philosophers

Or look at the funny dogs, a ha a ha a ha ha.

'Liberty for wolves is death to the lambs. Would you pass the claret old chap?'

Isaiah Berlin

'War does not determine who is right, only who is left. Now, which one of you ladies fancies some Bertie action?'

Bertrand Russell

'You must have chaos within you to give birth to a dancing star. I am completely insane, by the way. Grrrr!'

Friedrich Nietzsche

More cute little doggies here.

Saturday, March 11, 2006

Out There in the Real World

I'm feeling far too lazy to write much at the moment. I'll just cut and paste something that someone else has written then. In fact, it's worse than that - I'm about to copy something from someone who has already copied it from somewhere else. How lazy is that? I can't even be bothered to search around for information myself. Still never mind. Here, then, is a rather magnificent passage from a K-Punk post which I picked up via Dead Men Left. In a post which focuses, for the most part, on the AUT strike, K-punk moves to a consideration of the idea of 'ivory tower' academia as something separate from the 'real world' of business and finishes up with a hugely amusing description of 'The Apprentice'.

"If we in education are not 'in the Real World', and the Real World is characterized as a place of relentless Hobbesian struggle, exactly why should we accept the incursion into our alleged idyll of the Business serpent? Since it has been possible to sustain our Unreal World, thus far, why should we not fight to preserve this unreality?

But all this talk of the Reality of business needs to be taken with more than a pinch of salt. I mean, it's not as if dealing with teenagers every day is living out some escapist fantasy while performing PowerPoint presentations to irritable CEOs and spooling out vacuous semiotic pollution puts you in unshielded contact with the seething burn-core of the cosmos.

Anyone doubting this need only watch The Apprentice, which should be compulsory viewing for all Marxists. The programme serves the indispensable function of massively desublimating and demystifying Business, amply demonstrating that the supposed 'Reality' of Business is inseparable from the most facile fantasy structures. Pathetic self-delusion, baboonery dressed up in Harvard Biz School lingo, massive ego over-investment in projects so abjectly inane that they are not even pointless: suddenly it all becomes clear why Capitalism is so mired in banality and incompetence".

I don't quite agree with K-Punk's assessment of the typical reaction of university staff to the idea of strike action. He describes a kind of blank incomprehension based on an internalisation of 'market values'. In my experience, those staff who weren't involved on the picket lines regarded the whole thing with some kind of mirthful disdain - strike action is something to be positively mocked. I suppose though this was simply a different kind of outward manifestation of the same internalised belief - the idea that the marketisation of education is in some way 'natural' or inevitable or 'just the way things are going'.

Monday, March 06, 2006


Tell you what, I'm not really that concerned as to whether Tessa Jowell broke the ministerial code, or whether her partner is a crook (which he clearly is). What concerns me more than that is the fact that a Labour minister is living the kind of life that Jowell clearly lives and, moreover, appears to think that this is perfectly OK. Will Self was spot on, it seemed to me in his comments about the matter on Question Time (echoed by Deborah Orr in the Indie a couple of days ago) - no matter what the truth of the matter was, before New Labour times it was popularly assumed that Labour politicians represented and fought for the poor, the disadvantaged and the exploited. Even if they did not actually do this very effectively, or indeed do it at all, in practice, Labour politicians would, at least, have to put some effort into giving the impression that they did in fact speak for the less well off - that they did not identify with the super-rich and social elites, much less that they did not absolutely and openly inhabit this milieu.

Jowell appears to think that there is no problem here. It is for her, it seems, perfectly acceptable that a Labour Minister should live the high life with a corporate lawyer for a partner - a corporate lawyer who 'earns' a tidy living by finding tax loop-holes for the super-rich, who receives £350,000 as a 'gift' for his sevices (from an ultra right-wing capitalist politician no less), a man who has a spare £400,000 to invest in a hedge fund (to make money out of money in the la-la land of high finance). This is all perfectly normal, no? Everyone nowadays dabbles in hedge funds, accepts huge sums of money as 'gifts' from our friends and colleagues (A box of 'After Eight' mints, or a Hallmark card, after all, is just so 20th Century), drives top of the range luxury cars, and hob nobs with Italian neo-fascists. Martin Kettle certainly thinks so:

"Jowell is considered a good minister and a popular one. She is also, to an extent, the victim of a sometimes hypocritical puritanism from people who have more in common with her than they care to admit: people who themselves own more than one property; who remortgage their homes to pay for their outgoings or to get a better repayment rate; and who themselves employ accountants and investment advisers to ensure that their tax liabilities are minimised. If Jowell lives some parts of her life in a moral maze, then she is not the only one. "

There is no need to say very much about this other than to remark that this paragraph rather sums up the breathtakingly smug, blinkered, insular, cloud-cuckoo-land thinking of the New Labour social set. I can't help picturing this arsewipe of a journalist, Kettle, in full Marie Antoinette costume.

The real Jowell scandal, it seems to me, is the scandal of New Labour, boiled down, concentrated and focused on this one individual. Jowell symbolises everything that is reprehensible, repulsive and downright grubby about Blairism. Do Jowell, Blair and Kettle really think that there is nothing untoward about a fat cat Labour politician? Is there nothing jarring about a Labour minister who is happy to live off large funds secured through the business of legally fiddling the taxes of the enormously wealthy - those who can afford the services of toady, money grubbing corporate lawyers who'll find ways to greatly reduce, even eliminate, their tax bills (incidentally, forcing more of the 'tax burden' on to the shoulders of the poor). Of course, if the less well off try to find ingenious ways of reducing the amount they pay in tax the likelihood is that sooner or later, they'll find themselves up in court (more money for the lawyers - they've really got it stitched up).

I find it difficult to believe that large numbers of people agree with the Martin Kettles of this world. The distance between New Labour and ordinary working people has never been so obvious. New Labour still don't get it. In fact, it really comes to something when a Conservative politician (Matthew Paris, on Straight Talk) criticises a Labour minister for her relaxed attitude towards wealth - it leaves a very bad taste in the mouth, Paris said, to see a Labour politician deeply mixed up in the world of hedge funds, tax avoidance schemes and financial 'gifts'. When the Tories* can justifiably lecture New Labour about social conscience and financial ethics we've really come to a pretty pass.

* To be fair, I should point out that I'm not using Paris here as some example of a 'bad Tory' who draws the line at the extent of New Labour's Mammon worship. I've always liked Paris, and he is, after all a relatively leftish Conservative. However, the point I'm making still stands I think.

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