Thursday, May 31, 2007

Thought for the Day

One of the most fascinating things about the US foreign policy elite is just how brazen they are - just how ready they are to say, quite openly and explicitly, what exactly they're up to. It's almost as if they're compulsively driven to brag about their real-politik scheming and manoeuvring in the hope of being 'caught' and held accountable for what they have done - in the same way that serial killers leave notes for the police. The fascinating thing, however, about the media and about mainstream political and 'current affairs' discourse in general is just how it manages not to see or hear these brazen pronouncements from the architects of US foreign policy. It's quite amazing, isn't it, that while Kristol, Friedman, Kissenger, Brzezinski (still in the loop) are absolutely clear about the real-politik calculations, risks and (perceived) interests that drive foreign policy in the Middle East, Europe, in relation to military deployment and development, in relation to international economic 'restructuring' and management and in relation to international security structures and alliances, the media manages to remain almost wholly oblivious to these very lucid (and easily obtainable) pronouncements, preferring, instead, to focus on the comforting certainties of democracy vs. authoritarianism, openness vs closed societies, economic 'modernisation' and 'flexibility' vs rigidity, pre-emptive defence vs international law, muscular liberalism vs liberal caution, national 'sovereignty' vs 'special relationship', 'the world is a complex place' vs bold assertion of universal human rights.

Here's one of my favourites (I'm sure you have your own):

Today’s international system is built not around a balance of power but around American hegemony. The international financial institutions were fashioned by Americans and serve American interests. The international security structures are chiefly a collection of American-led alliances. What Americans like to call international ‘norms’ are really reflections of American and West European principles. Since today’s relatively benevolent circumstances are the product of our hegemonic influence, any lessening of that influence will allow others to play a larger part in shaping the world to suit their needs . . . American hegemony, then, must be actively maintained, just as it was actively obtained.

(Robert Kagan and William Kristol , National Interest, Spring 2000).

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Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Globalisation Theory

I've just finished reading Justin Rosenberg's 'Globalisation Theory: A Post-Mortem'. It's possibly the best thing on 'globalization' I've read. Quite a few people have recommended it to me - including Badmatthew - but I've only just got round to reading it. If you're at all interested in globalisation - and interested in an analysis which quite comprehensively debunks the claims not only of the so-called 'hyperglobalisers' (the end of the nation state is nigh) but also the rather more sophisticated and restrained (self-styled) 'transformationalists' ('the end of the nation state as we know it is nigh' - transfer of 'sovereignty' to multiple sites of power, global governance, cosmopolitan democracy and all that shite) - and in fact 'transformationalists' like David Held and Tony McGrew are Rosenberg's main targets - then this is highly recommended.

Unfortunately I've come to Rosenberg's work a bit late - I have no intention of changing the argument of my thesis at this very late stage. If I'd got round to reading it sooner I probably would have tackled the stuff I've got on capitalist internationalisation (a term I prefer to that awful word 'globalization') differently. Ah, well. I've been trying to squeeze a theory of 'globalization' (ie - an account of the acceleration of capitalist internationalisation in the 1990s) particularly out of Poulantzas' Classes in Contemporary Capitalism (or at least Panitch's reworking of that stuff) and Gowan's The Global Gamble - that is, an account which focuses on the 'transformative effects' of inward FDI on the 'host' country's relations of production married to Gowan's account of the strategic reconstitution of US international hegemony under Bush 1, Clinton, and Bush 2 (which involved the promotion of 'globalisation' as a form of indirect, 'non-territorial' US imperialism). Between you and me, it's a bit creaky. Especially since I once asked Gowan what he thought of the Panitch/Poulantzas stuff and he was a bit dismissive. Never mind.

Part of the trouble is that I've been trying to fit what I've been saying into David Held (et al.'s) classification of the different approaches to the analysis of globalisation - 1. Hyperglobalisation, 2. Sceptics, 3. Transformationalists. I've never been happy with that classification - not least because it's rather self-serving on Held's part - he is of course a 'Transformationalist' and therefore rather superior to those crude hypers on the one hand and flat-earther sceptics on the other. Rosenberg shows quite convincingly however, that the whole approach Held and others promote is inherently flawed and presents, instead, an account of 1990s globalisation focusing on the intersection of two (interrelated) historical developments - the slowdown of the post-war boom + the collapse of the USSR. Globalisation Theory captured the zeitgeist of the time - but mistook temporary developments (the speeding up and extension of transnational flows of various kinds as they raced to fill the vaccuum created by the collapse of state socialism and social democracy) for signs of the emergence of an epochal shift in economic/political/cultural development.

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Thursday, May 17, 2007

28 Weeks Later - Not Very Nice

Went to see 28 Weeks Later last night. I'm not sure I enjoyed it. It's a good film (although not as good as 28 Days Later, in my opinion) - but let's just say that watching it is something of an ordeal. In fact, I'd go so far as to say that it might be more enjoyable to drink several tins of Red Bull and then stick your head inside a very loud cement-mixer for an hour and a half.

I rather like horror films (well, good ones anyway) - but this one seemed to me to go a bit far. Not sure I can quite put my finger on it - but let's have a go. The worst thing was the relentless noise - loud, crashing noises designed to make you jump and feel like someone is tearing off your fingernails at the same time. A bit of that's all-right - but if it goes on almost without respite for the duration of the entire film it gets wearing. It's not as if it's even very clever or sophisticated - it just tires you out and makes you want to leave the cinema for a bit of peace and quiet. And I'm afraid if a director does the ya-boo made you jump fright bit (with extra-loud crashing noise accompanyment) more than twice in the same film (let alone 5 or 10 times as in many minutes) I just find it deeply irritating - not terrifying, irritating.

There are some memorable scenes in the film - I think the initial extended scene in which Robert Carlyle abandons his family and flees for his life in terror through the countryside was fantastic (there's a bit almost reminiscent of Raiders of the Lost Ark, where hordes of pursuers appear over the crest of a hill and bear down on the hero sprinting for an escape vehicle - except rather more scary and not very funny). As most of the reviews I've read point out, the shots of an abandoned, desolate ghost-town London are very impressive (although the first film did much the same thing).

I wasn't really very impressed with the film's super-charged gore factor, though. One of the best things about the first film was that it had quiet bits in it in which an understated psychological kind of horror came to the fore. In the second film, however, it was all running, shooting, crashing and slashing. There's a scene in which an infected Carlyle gouges out the eyes of his wife - completely unnecessary, I thought - and just deeply repulsive rather than horrifying. These things usually work best if suggested rather than filmed in close-up. Furthermore, the original film worked particularly well I thought because the soldiers who rescue the main characters become the bad guys of the film - the director subverts convention in that the figures which in other films might represent safety, protection and the restoration of order, are transformed into monsters (worse than the infected). In the second film, however, the forces of order spend most of their time charging around, blowing things up and shooting people in a rather uncomplicated and one-dimensional fashion. OK, there's some ambiguity towards the US troops in the film - they end up trying to wipe out the repopulated London colony in order to contain the virus - but they do this out of panic, incompetence and sheer super-power heavy-handedness rather than out of any sophisticated or complicated moral ambiguity - they're no Christopher Eccleston. 'What do you expect?', the director seems to ask with a shrug - 'it's the US army and the US army just charge around blowing everything up given half a chance. It's not their fault'.

I suppose I'm glad I saw the film and on balance I'd recommend it. Just don't watch it if you've drunk any caffeine in the past 24 hours.

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Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Every Cloud....

Apparently, John McDonnell is about to concede defeat - according to Labour Home (picked up via David Osler).

This is a big disappointment and a setback for the Left as a whole. Furthermore, it looks to me like it's curtains for the Labour Left. It's a(n) historic moment really. Undoubtedly Labour Left die-hards will continue to bang their heads against their favourite wall - but, effectively, it's all over.

I heard somewhere (wish I could remember where) that even Tony Benn has said that if McDonnell fails to make it onto the ballot paper, then the Labour Party as a vehicle for socialism is dead. If it's true then that's really something very significant indeed.

The (very thin and filmy) silver lining, I suppose is that any left-winger with any sense should now start to look elsewhere. Perhaps the task of building an independent and democratic socialist alternative to Labour can begin in earnest now. This is the end of socialist political pre-history in the UK. Probably.

PS Bloody hell, I still can't link. This is all Google's fault!

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Tuesday, May 15, 2007

John McDonnell

It's great news that it now looks very much like Brown will be facing a challenge for the Labour Party leadership from John McDonnell. As most of those not involved in puffing up the McDonnell campaign will tell you, McDonnell doesn't stand any chance of winning. Nevertheless, I think that this does present the Left with a wonderful opportunity to get many of its ideas across to a larger audience than it can usually reach. It appears to me that there are several things that McDonnell and his supporters might try to get across:

1. Focus on the huge income and wealth inequalities that have continued to grow under New Labour. Britain is now more unequal than at any time since WW2. McDonnell needs to point out that inequalities matter. He might even widen this issue out a little and talk about global inequalities - how these have increased enormously under the neo-liberal world regime.

2. McDonnell will certainly, and rightly, concentrate on the Iraq war and occupation - but there might be some advantage in trying to shift the terms of the debate on this matter a little. I have never (or seldom) seen any mainstream news or current affairs programme talk seriously about long-term geo-strategic and 'great power' manoeuvring in relation to Iraq (or Iran). The debate seems stuck in this rather bland Lib Dem type 'did Blair lie?', 'has Blair sacrificed British foreign policy independence?' rut - but both of which seem to me a bit of a side issue.

3. Point out that tackling global warming will necessitate much more than tinkering with the rate of carbon emissions. It seems to me that capitalism and ecological sustainability are, at the very least, in tension with one another. It's very difficult to see how our planet is compatible over the long-term with an economic system based on the logic of perpetual growth.

4. Brown seems to be pitching his campaign in terms of 'a new seriousness in politics' - a rejection of spin, PR manipulation and much of the nauseating stuff that characterised the Blair years. McDonnell can outflank him quite easily on all of this.

5. It might be a good idea to puncture this whole ridiculous idea which the media appear to have taken to heart about Brown somehow being 'responsible' for economic boom. He isn't. Perhaps McDonnell might point out that the boom has been based mainly on consumer credit - fictitious money - what sensible people might actually refer to as a bubble.

6. Privatisation - McDonnell will be good on this anyway.

It seems to me that there is no point in attempting to 'moderate' the McDonnell campaign - the media and the Brown campaign will, inevitably, characterise him as 'hard-left' and continually refer back to 'the bad old days' of the 1970s and the 1983 election defeat and so on. The best thing to do, I think, would be to try to put Brown onto the back foot with a bold campaign focusing perhaps on the above issues and others such as pensions rather than getting stuck on the defensive, attempting to field questions pitched on terms favourable to Brown.

I certainly hope that the far-left can refrain from sniping and sectarian attacks. I have a lot of sympathy with the argument made by David Miliband's dad amongst others that periodic revivals of the Labour Left function in the end to prevent the emergence of an effective left-wing challenge unencumbered by all those things which doom the Labour Left to ineffectiveness -working within a party which has always been dominated by the right-wing and which was never a socialist party (despite the mythology of the Labour Left) but an alliance between radical liberals, trade unionists and a tiny smattering of socialists. However, this isn't the 1980's -this isn't really a serious fight for the soul of the Labour Party as it was in the days of Benn and Heffer. In today's context, a strong McDonnell campaign is in the interests of all the Left whether inside the Labour Party or not - it just might help to re-energise the Left and disseminate our ideas a little more widely than they have been for the past 25 years.

PS. For some reason Blogger won't let me create any weblinks at the moment - there's normally a toolbar thing at the top of the editing page which now seems to have buggered off. Anyone know anything about this?

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Monday, May 07, 2007

Who Will Come and Save Us Now?

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Thursday, May 03, 2007

I'm Not Sure About That Actually

Have a look at Daniel Davies' piece in 'Comment is Free.' I usually like what he has to say, but this article strikes me as a little misjudged. Davies' heart is in the right place, of course, but it surely is rather worrying that the BNP appear to be picking up support at local democracy level in some places in the country (and as someone suggests in a comment posted below the article, 'anyone visibly non-WASP ' can be forgiven for feeling particularly anxious about it). Davies' point about the correlation between the apparent rise in support for the BNP on the one hand, and the ongoing effective purge of the hard right from the Conservative Party under Cameron seems quite a good one (and I have to say, as an aside, that his comment that 'for most of the last 30 years the average British unconscious fascist has assumed that his or her natural home was in the Conservative party' hit the right buttons and made me giggle). Nevertheless, it is worrying that many of those on the far-right who might previously have voted Tory now feel able (or compelled) to vote for an explicitly far-right group. It is something qualitatively different. I'm not sure, either, that it's accurate to say that the BNP is picking up all or even most of its support from disgruntled ex-Tory voters.

We've had 3 or 4 BNP electoral leaflets through the door in the past few weeks (never seen that before) - the last leaflet doubled-up as a window poster for supporters to demonstrate their voting intentions. Thankfully, I've not seen any of these on display, but the provision of window posters suggests a certain amount of confidence on the part of the fascists.

I have to admit that I forgot to register to vote this time. I feel quite bad about it because the BNP appear to be making an electoral push in the York area.

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