The Criminal Injustice System: Beyond Platitudes and Bleeding Hearts

Standard

Abc1

Aotearoa (New Zealand) has a lot of serious problems. Neoliberal reforms have been imposed against the will of the people here and it is only our pride and our racially informed sense of kinship with imperial power that keeps us from recognising that we are a neocolony – a privileged neocolony perhaps, but a neocolony nonetheless.

Recent decades have been an affront to our sovereignty and our progressive and socialist history. We were the first country with a 40 hour working week, the first to allow women to vote, the second to have a comprehensive public health system, and the first welfare state. It cuts against the grain, therefore, that in 30 years we have gone from a country with no poverty or unemployment and near the worst income inequality in the OECD (7th worst in 2014). With relatively low wages and one of the highest costs of living in the world, neoliberalism is ripping apart our social fabric. We have a housing crisis that is worse than those hitting the US, UK, Australia and Canada, but it is even more of a shock because 30 years ago the idea of homelessness and of people begging in the streets was simply alien to us.

Make no mistake, neoliberalism has fucked this country, and I do blame the US and the UK along with those traitor scum politicians who serve the empire and not their own people. But in one key respect, neoliberalism was pushing against an open door. Neoliberalism seeks to shrink the social support offered by the state but it also seeks to grow the coercive powers of the state – the police and the prisons. The latter harmonises much more easily with traditional Aotearoan values. We are a punitive people. We are not ruled by fear of malefactors to the extent that the US seems to be, but we still have a strong attraction to “law-and-order”.

Our prison population has traditionally been high, but as incarceration rates have grown in other countries we have kept our place in the leading pack (excluding the US which is in a league of its own). We imprison people at nearly twice the rate of Canada; 45% higher than England and Wales and 30% higher than Australia.

The punitive culture in Aotearoa is partly the product of settler-colonial relations. The nature of colonialism is to obliterate autonomy. In Aotearoa the British achieved this in the same manner in which they did in India. First is the process of dividing the locals, using diplomatic trickery, and co-opting collaborators. The second is military conquest, which is only achievable because of native forces. The third is the realm of police, judges, truancy officers, land surveyors, bureaucrats, and lawyers. It is a telling part of our history that the reputed “last gasp” of the decades-long New Zealand Wars was when a column of 120 armed men was sent to arrest a leader, Hone Toia, who refused to pay a dog tax. The judge who imprisoned Hone Toia made it clear that he was demonstrating the reach and power of the government.

The story thereafter will be familiar to other settler colonial societies, Compulsory schooling became the mechanism for literally beating and torturing the language and culture from Māori children. There was a school-to-borstal pipeline, particularly for Māori boys. This was the beginning of a self-sustaining circle of institutional racism. The result is that even though Māori are only 15% of the total population, they make up more than 50% of the prison population. Even Al Jazeera has made a documentary about the “Locked-Up Warriors” of our country.

However, at the risk of weakening the sense of crisis (which is very real in absolute terms) I feel obliged to point out that in proportion to indigenous populations Aotearoa actually has a lower indigenous incarceration rate than Australia and Canada. Australian aboriginals are the most imprisoned people in the world, ahead of US African-Americans. None of this should detract from the significance of Māori imprisonment here, where indigenous people make up a much larger part of the total population.

The prison is clearly being used as an ongoing tool of colonial control, even if it is only the momentum of the past that keeps it so. Yet I would argue that treating this as a race issue alone will not help. The racism of the system show that it is an unjust system, but getting rid of the race element will not fix the injustice. We have a massive social problem with Māori incarceration, but if we fix the racism inherent in the system will it really fix a system that is so open to racism? Where would that leave us with regards to class and poverty? In this day and age can do we really think we can address a racial disparity if we don’t also address inequality?

 

Native Affairs

Māori TV is a gift to all Aotearoans because it is our only public service mandated TV broadcaster. They produce some very good television – albeit at the cheap end of the spectrum. Yet I was sceptical of the Native Affairs episode on “Locking Up Māori”. I had the strange feeling that they would acknowledge the role of racism and poverty but then circle back around to the normal mindless position of showing stories of individual prisoners finding redemption with the help of guitar-toting redeemers.

Well, colour me un-fucking-surprised.

Of course, there is something to be said for reminding people that structural and personal racism are real factors behind imprisonment rates. When Marama Fox recently dared to use the term “racism” as a cause of Māori incarceration in The Spinoff’s “Great Debate”, the audience guffawed in incredulity. Clearly some people out there need a bit of educating. Therefore it might seem like a good deed to highlight the structural racism and social drivers that lead to high rate among Māori, but viewers of Native Affairs are probably not the ones that need telling. If you are not familiar with Native Affairs, it is just what it sounds like – a current affairs programme dealing with issues relating to Māori. The name is an ironic reference to the Ministry of Native Affairs – an historic institution of racial paternalism, land theft, and ethnocide.

Marama Fox flippin

Marama Fox (Māori Party Co-Leader) was quite expressive in the “Great Debate”

Given their viewership, it is less significant that Native Affairs addressed structural issues, so neglected in the mainstream, than that they took that as a starting point for a narrative that herded people back into alignment with mainstream thinking – like a sheepdog ensuring our wayward brains don’t wander too far from safe pastures.

First they identified the empirically proven drivers of incarceration as being poverty and poor education. Crucially they assert, without the same evidential backing, that “in Aotearoa cultural disconnection is a third factor.” They may or may not be correct in this. As I will discuss later it is not whether the latter is true or not that is at issue, but rather the way in which adding the element of cultural alienation sets up a narrative centred on the individual offender. It is a path back to old habits of thinking; the modern equivalent of the 19th century Samaritan’s self-righteous efforts to save the souls of the benighted sinners who have fallen from the Godly path of lawfulness.

Soon after this introduction the programme also broaches the subject of structural racism in the justice system. Māori are more likely to be stopped by police. Under the same circumstances they are more likely to be charged. If convicted they receive harsher sentences and are more likely to be imprisoned. Cumulatively it is this layered racism that is probably the biggest factor in Māori imprisonment.

So if poverty, under-education, and racism among police and judiciary are the best known significant drivers of Māori imprisonment then a documentary should surely focus on changing social policy, ending structural and personal racism in education, reforming the police and judiciary. The prisoners (referred to constantly in the programme as “these people”) are not the real authors of their fate in this regard. Yet instead of having the intellect and the guts to embrace what the statistics tell us, the participants cleave to facile moralism – depicting the narratives of each prisoner as being driven by transgression and the consequences that follow from it.

The social science shows clearly that focusing on changing prisoners is stupid. It tells us unambiguously that we are not being honest about what acts do or do not deserve punishment and why we expect prisoners to embrace guilt, remorse, and the need to change themselves. People are married to the fictional reductionism of crime stories in books, TV, and cinema. Through constant sensationalism in the news people are made overly fearful of the capacity for violence among convicted criminals, feeling safer if they think that people are being locked away. This is a heuristic error that vastly exaggerates the ability of any prison system to enact what is called “specific incapacitation” by isolating the offenders from society. It also fails to account for the ability of the prison system to engender violence.

Native Affairs should have shown the efforts to reform those in authority, and highlighted where such efforts do not exist. The onus should have been on police, politicians, teachers and judges. We should have seen them struggling to overcome their racism and their moral and intellectual failings. Exemplars should have described their journey of overcoming their unthinking abuse. In the documentary we meet the victim of a cruel self-righteous and almost certainly racist judge. This judge ruined a young man’s life. He caused immense harm and pain. but where was that judge or one like him talking about their journey to redemption – complete with guilt and remorse for destroying futures, for ripping apart social bonds, and for wasting inordinate amounts of taxpayers money?

I am aware that our prejudices are deep. It is easy to see a tattoo-covered ill-spoken prisoner as a wrongdoer, but few people can envision the judge as being a dangerous and vicious parasite, profiting from suffering that they help perpetuate. Yet if you strip away our personal fears and our social prejudices; if you judge the judges on the fruits of their actions rather than their benevolent rhetoric and evinced good intentions, it is authorities such as these that need fixing, not our prison population. So, dear reader, I am going to walk you through some things. I am going to show you that incarceration and criminality are not strongly linked; and I am going to help you learn to fear and loathe the genteel. Regardless of the existence of individual dangerous prisoners, collectively those in prison are the victims of violent injustice, not the other way around.

 

Lipstick on a Pig

TOPadOn the surface, The Opportunities Party has an admirably progressive criminal justice policy. They aim to reduce our prison population to half the projected number in 2027. There are two problems with this: arrogance and reductionism. The arrogance comes from presenting evidence already widely understood and proclaiming that other politicians are too stupid to get it. The reductionism is in reducing a complete socio-political problem to a single track of statistics without any sort of critical self-awareness. I don’t want to be unfair to TOP, who do link criminal justice to broader issues of poverty and inequality, but even that is a very narrow way of looking at a much more profound questions of guilt and innocence; justice and injustice; transgression and obedience. The weakness of their position is easily demonstrated with a question: if it is so stupid and counterproductive to lock up 10,000 people, why do you want to keep 6000 people in prison?

 

 

TOP are trying to solve a “problem” without asking why it arose initially. Why are we so punitive? I have suggested that some of it comes from our colonial past, but it has a contemporary and historical scaffolding that exists independently of that. We blame our populist right-wing politicians fear-mongering at election time andemotive pressure groups like the Sensible Sentencing Trust; we blame talkback radio and racist muddle-Nu Zillind, but it takes two to tango.

Our politics are not shaped by one side of a political divide, they are shaped by the way our political discourse divides issues into two vested camps and creates a static establishment orthodoxy that serves both.

While Hegel, followed by Marx and Engels, proposed that social forces create a dynamic “dialectic”, it is far more common in our time for “opposing” ideologies to become entwined in mutually sustaining inertia. Arrayed against the self-righteous sadists who demand that convicts must suffer are an equally facile bunch of liberal journalists, left-liberal politicians and NGO do-gooders who (by choice or by constraint) are mainly about looking as saintly as possible without really rocking the boat.

Our problems run much deeper than the attitudes of right-wing people. The rituals that surround our criminal justice system should be a clue that something is wrong. Rationality does not need to don special robes and use dead languages to give itself gravity. The system itself is not a measured and enlightened social institution, it is a quasi-religious instrument of authority. On close examination it maintains a strange irrational pretence of omniscience and still functions as if the court and the judges within it were touched with divine power.

Fixing our criminal justice system will require much more that a white-hatted technocrat Sheriff riding in on his high-horse to tell all us dumbshit yokels how to live our lives. The problem with people like Gareth Morgan is that their disdain for the intellects of others makes them incredibly naïve about social institutions. Just because a given institution purports to serve a given function that does not mean that that is it’s sole function, or main function, or even a real function. Some social institutions do the opposite of their pretended function. To put it another way, Gareth Morgan wants to put “evidence-based” lipstick on a pig that he is too stupid to smell.

 

Controlling and Punishing Social Inferiors

Our institutions have multiple historical roots but the tendency to echo the past (even when we can see clearly how inhumane and unjust the past was) has to be explained in contemporary terms. We are not so different than our cruel, stupid, superstitious and hypocritical forebears and much that we think of as the cast is actually still as much with us as it has ever been.

To begin with there is the religious and pseudo-religious moral impulse to view matters of criminality as an expression of sin – a form of moral transgression. This comes from the belief that the law is a moral framework and even when it fails to be so obedience to the law is a moral imperative in itself. This is an authoritarian viewpoint that is not actually morally sound. It is an irrational impulse and you do not have to delve too far into history to see that morality and obedience to the law are distinct and may be at complete odds with each other. By consensus we now recognise many laws from different places and times as immoral – for example, race and gender legislation that make chattels of racial groups, wives and daughters; apartheid laws; or the Third Reich’s racial laws.

Then there are the politicians, bureaucrats and social workers who see their jobs as being the imposition of their will on the behaviour of others. At base any attempt to change an individual or group of individuals is an attempt to to control those persons through the exercise of one’s own will. This may be both a personal inclination that attracts people into positions of such power and a situational product of our institutions of power. Our society hands people in these situations hammers and instructs them to treat certain individuals as nails. For example, social workers may as a group lobby for social change, but their day-to-day hour-to-hour activity is to try and change individual people however futile that may ultimately be in the bigger picture. By contrast, some politicians have a clear pre-disposed inclination to enjoy exercising power over others. Bill English was recently asked what cause he would take to the streets to march for, and he responded that he would march for the right to govern us. This is just a small glimpse into the state of derangement that veteran senior politicians fall into. They do not see governance as the exercise of shaping institutions in order to allow the will of the people to rule, but rather see governance as creating and using institutions to control and “govern” the people. To them that is what governing is, and they see no contradiction between that and what they refer to as “democracy”.

Billmarchi

These contemporary controlling impulses find rich and fertile soil to flourish in our inherited criminal justice system. Centuries of penal reform have changed the sharp brutality of sadistic 18th century barbarism, into the duller grinding inhumanity of today. The criminal justice system that we have today may be the most gleamingly polished turd in human history, but underneath it is still an inherited institution of class warfare (repurposed to serve also as an instrument of racial oppression).

When the historian George Rudé examined early 19th century English “criminal justice” system, he found an institution devoted to perpetuating the social order of class and ethnic division, not an institution of “justice”. This was occurring at a time that saw an increasing conflation of poverty and criminality. The enclosure of common land and the loss of small-holdings, along with agricultural reform and industrialisation, had seen a growth of poverty in England and a breakdown in the medieval “Poor Laws”. Not coincidentally, this era saw the creation of the first professional police force. Many of the lower classes were transported first to North America and then to Australia and there was not a great deal of distinction between committing a criminal act and being criminalised and punished due purely to indigence.

The end of the transportation era saw the rise of a three-part system of prisons, debtor’s prisons, and workhouses. The workhouses were cruel and exploitative. The clear, if irrational, ideological foundation was that the poor must be made to suffer if they were to receive sustenance. The moralism of the era demanded that they redeem themselves through suffering, tinged by Calvinist beliefs that poverty was a sign of sinfulness and God’s disfavour.

 

Trapped in the “Safety Net”

Social reformers worked to end this inhumanity, and seemingly they succeeded. Yet they did not succeed as well as they might have hoped. Decades after the abolition of workhouses George Orwell lived the “down and out” life in England and what he found was a new form of cruelty and a new way of trapping people in poverty. Those who sought shelter and nourishment were forced to prove that they were not merely lazy scroungers living the high life at the expense of their betters. Thus they were forced to remain imprisoned in locked cells for their shelter and then forced by law to walk many hours to get shelter for another night. Needless to say they could not work and could not have social or family connections. With no way of earning money their attire, and particularly footwear, was appallingly poor for those who had to spend each and ever day walking and exposed to the elements:

“One could not, in fact, invent a more futile routine than walking from prison to prison, spending perhaps eighteen hours a day in the cell and on the road. There must be at the least several tens of thousands of tramps in England. Each day they expend innumerable foot-pounds of energy – enough to plough thousands of acres, build miles of road, put up dozens of houses – in mere, useless walking. Each day they waste between them possibly ten years of time in staring at cell walls.”

It was an expensive and self-defeating exercise. The sadism of it was less newsworthy (or Dickensworthy) than the workhouses, but was it really much better? Things may have improved now, but maybe not as much as people think. In many ways we are slipping back. Poverty and its effects are intensifying and incidents of people trapped in implacable cycles of futility and suffering are on the increase.

We have never gotten over the idea that those who need help can and should be controlled. We think it acceptable that unemployed beneficiaries should be drug tested (and sanctioned for failing) and an overzealous campaign against “contamination” has seen many people lose tenancy in social housing due to traces of methamphetamine being found. Effectively that means that the less fortunate in society have a greater degree of state control in their lives than the more fortunate.

Many people undoubtedly think that it is beneficial for the unfortunate to have the guiding hand of a benevolent state to guard them from their own self-destructive impulses. It is for their own good, after all. In reality that is as much of a self-righteous delusion as the Victorian missionary’s belief in reforming the sinner. There is an increasing recognition that the neoliberal state systematically produces homelessness and that forcing special conditions on recipients of housing or other welfare acts to reproduce the vicious circle enforced on tramps in Orwell’s time.

One response to the structural injustice created by neoliberalism is the movement known as Housing First. Even PM Bill English proudly claims credit for “Housing First” initiatives. Unfortunately English is about as capable of grasping the essence of Housing First as Vlad the Impaler would be capable of grasping Nonviolent Communication. In theory, though not as it is widely practised, Housing First is supposed to provide unconditional tenure. Yet under 3 terms of National Party government, with English as leader or deputy, the government’s own social housing agency has been going in the opposite direction.

Neoliberalism reproduces the trap enforced on Orwell and his down-and-out compatriots, but with a much greater masquerade of benevolence. It actively encourages the underlying cause of social ills through deregulation, austerity, erosion of worker conditions and the devaluation of labour in relation to capital. Neoliberalism helps poverty, precarity and socio-economic exclusion to flourish, encouraging the disease but making a show of treating the symptoms. The long walks and the cold cells of 1930s England are replaced by the equally futile system of grants and supplements, constantly exposing people to a capricious and arbitrary system where they must pointlessly engage in a bureaucratic struggle to gain the money and service required to live in a system that is designed to give minimal support. The basic “safety net” support is insufficient in itself and yet is still contingent on conditions and impositions that can be extremely difficult for destitute people to live up to.

On the Native Affairs programme they revealed that the Howard League works to get inmates their driver’s licenses. This is a crucial and worthy effort, but it is a piecemeal step. The need for drivers license is a symptom of poverty, social exclusion and racism in the education system. It is not the only barrier affecting inmates and if they have to keep reaching out for help over each thing the process itself becomes demoralising and debilitating.

We have begun to have real conversations about the reality facing those on benefits today, and with luck that will continue, but for the last 40 years the gravitational pull has been to become ever more and more aligned with the US. By withdrawing support from the most needy due to infringements of a pseudo-moral code of behaviour we risk following the US footsteps of creating a criminalised underclass, a “school-to-prison pipeline” and a racial caste system. In many aspects the US is already in a Dickensian state. For example Eric Garner, who was killed by NYPD, was a career criminal who lived by breaking the law – he sold loose untaxed cigarettes and lived off the meagre profit margin. He wasn’t selling them at the time of his killing. He wasn’t even on his normal turf and was doing nothing wrong, but a cop recognised him from his own neighbourhood. Garner got angry at being harassed when minding his own business, and the police reacted with brutal and escalating violence that intensified when Garner was struggling for his life.

It feels as if we are not far away from the point where we too will tolerate the life and death of our own Eric Garner, seeing both the “criminal” and the poor person as somehow less human, lot worthy of a right to a dignified life and ultimately not even worthy of a guaranteed right to life of any sort. In the NZ Herald Paul Little has recently asked how Dickensian we have become:

Under the so-called three strikes law, Raven Campbell, a prison inmate who pinched a guard on the buttocks – his third offence – was sentenced, as that law required him to be, to the maximum term of seven years jail.

Social housing agency Tamaki Housing issued an eviction notice to the five children of Mabel Pe just weeks after her death. They were given three weeks to vacate the home where they had lived for 10 years.

Housing New Zealand issued an eviction notice to a family of seven, including two blind children, after their grandmother died. [3 of the children also suffer PTSD after losing a mother to cancer and a father to suicide shortly thereafter.]

In the last quarter of 2016, the number of people applying to Work and Income for hardship grants to buy food was 112,000 – an increase of 14 per cent over the equivalent period in the previous year.

Wendy Shoebridge, who was discovered dead in her home the day after she was told she faced charges over benefit fraud, was later found not to have committed any fraud, according to evidence presented at the inquest into her death.

We are seeing the rise of conditions of ever greater social division, a restructure in the relations of capital to labour and a massive upward redistribution of wealth. The transformation is akin to that of the mid-19th century, described by Karl Polanyi as The Great Transformation, and the response of our welfare and criminal justice systems is the same. It is not to ameliorate the conditions of those who are suffering the most under the change, but to preserve the social order. In effect this usually means inflicting greater suffering, hence the rising prison populations and the growing precariousness of those on benefits. If we don’t face up to those facts, how can we hope to make things better with our evidence-based culturally-sensitive “progressive reforms”. Quite apart from the fact that much of the “reform” only seeks to get incarceration rates back to where they were decades ago we cannot hope to effect positive change if we do not face up to the in-built malevolence and injustice in the system.

 

Crime Rates and Imprisonment Rates are not the Same Thing

To return to Native Affairs: Almost immediately after having established that Māori are imprisoned at rates disproportionate to their offending, without skipping a beat the narrator of “Locking Up Māori” reverts to the mindless conflation of imprisonment and crime rates, almost as if the journalist is incapable of processing the meaning of what is coming out of her own mouth.

The disconnect between crime and punishment is something that we as a society are not dealing with at all. It is far greater than the disparity in offending rates and imprisonment rate between Māori and Pākehā because there is also a massive class dimension that reinforces the racial dimension. Everything about our notions of crime is freighted with class disparity.

To begin with there is a much larger problem of prejudicial enforcement than merely who gets stopped by police more when driving or walking. Whole sectors of society are virtually invisible to law enforcement when it comes to certain sorts of crime. Most notably, bourgeois and wealthy people can reliably get away with committing drug offences. Many politicians have used illegal drugs, but few of those oppose prohibition. They are not volunteering to be punished themselves, but they are happy for others to be punished for doing the same thing they were not punished for.

The system is incorrigibly unequal and unjust. Ironically, many prisoners are victims in childhood or adolescence of serious criminal offences against them. Many, as we now know, were abused while in state care. Repeated offences of sexual abuse and severe physical abuse against vulnerable children in one’s care are amongst the most serious crimes we can imagine, yet those who perpetrated such heinous offences are afforded effective impunity while the victims often end up imprisoned for far less grave crimes.

Our need to see certain infractors punished is shaped far more by our sense of social order and hierarchy than it is by legally defined criminality. Researcher Emily Baxter conducted research for a project she called “We Are All Criminals”. In interviews with people she draws out the crimes they have committed and maybe spared little thought for because they suffered no consequences. She then gets them to reflect on how their lives might have been different had they been apprehended and reflect on the role that class and race play in making the difference between what might have been a youthful adventure for them, but could be the start of a descent into social exclusion for others.

The fact is that we are all criminals. Only a miniscule number of people have not committed crimes that individually or cumulatively could bring about a custodial sentence. If you think you are one of the rare innocents, then you probably need to interrogate you memory more vigorously.

There are also crimes which are hard to detect and prosecute. Nobody disputes that rape is a very serious crime, but the great majority of rapists a will never see the inside of a court, let alone a prison. We accept that reality because we cannot change it, yet it is hard to say how it can be just to imprison a minor thief or a cannabis user when rapists walk free far more often than not.

Further still there is the massive disparity in prosecution and even in the legal status of equivalent crimes that corresponds with differences in socio-economic status and power. The most obvious example at the moment is the disparity between those who commit tax evasion and those who commit benefit fraud. Tax evasion costs the government 33 times as much as benefit fraud, but the response is the inverse of what should be rational. Academic Lisa Marriott gives us these points:

  • We investigate a higher rate of welfare recipients than taxpayers. Around 5 percent of welfare recipients are investigated in an average year, compared to around 0.01 percent of taxpayers.

  • We have greater numbers of criminal prosecutions of welfare fraudsters than tax evaders. In a typical year, there are 600–900 prosecutions of welfare fraudsters and 60–80 prosecutions of tax evaders.

  • A higher proportion of prison sentences are given to welfare fraudsters, for a lower level of offending, compared to tax evaders. For an average level of offending of $76,000, 67 percent of welfare fraudsters received a prison sentence. For an average level of offending of $229,000, 18 percent of tax evaders received a prison sentence.

Marriott also compares two cases: “To summarise: welfare fraud of $3.4 million, where all was repaid (and more[$6.7 million was paid]), resulted in 10 years in prison — while white-collar crime of $4.3 million, where none was repaid, resulted in less than two years in prison.”

Another disparity is in the treatment of employers who steal from employees and vice versa. “Theft as a servant” is considered very serious because it is a breach of trust. Stealing from your employees, though, is a different story. I guess the logic is that because employees don’t have a choice to entrust their wages to their employer there is no breach of trust when the employer steals from them. Wage theft is commonplace in Aotearoa yet criminal penalties such as imprisonment, home detention or even community service are unknown. There is a push to impose criminal penalties such as prison on offenders, but not because we treat all other thieves in this manner, but because the offending is now reaching such a level of exploitation that it is linked with enslavement – yes enslavement, another thing we could not have imagined happening here even ten years ago.

Stealing hundreds of thousands from people poorer than you, who have no choice but to trust you, and whose labour is the source of your own wealth isn’t even treated as criminal. That is how fucked and how biased the system is.

And then there are those who more or less get to decide for themselves what the law is and whether or not they are allowed to steal from others without penalty. Meteria Turei, co-leader of the Green Party, bravely admitted to having lied about having flatmates in order not to lose some of the benefit she received while she was a single mother studying law. This was to raise awareness of poverty and precarity. She was hounded by the media relentlessly and felt compelled to resign just a week and a half after Andrew Little’s resignation (another party leader resigned the next week, by the way, just to keep the journalists on their toes). People asked why Turei had to go for taking a small amount so that she could afford to raise a child, while our wealthy PM Bill English took much more by deception. A “fact-check” assured people that Turei was naughty, because she broke the law, while English did not. Simon Wilson then he “sense-checked” the fact-checkers comparing the crimes of Metiria Turei with the perfectly legal acts of PM Bill English who claimed hundreds of thousands of dollars as a member of Parliament in order to cover the cost of living in a place he clearly did not live. Some of Wilson’s conclusions:

  1. Bill English must have known that he and his family did not live in Southland. But the system allowed him to pretend that they did, and he took advantage of that.

  2. He got away with it by arguing that his lawyers had told him it was OK.

  3. When he was found out, the system continued to protect him.

In fact, as Wilson further explains, the legality of the acts was not actually tested strongly: “He denied he had broken the law and the auditor general agreed. She appears to have been particularly persuaded by the fact he had relied on legal advice that his position was tenable.”

But wait, there’s more! Because ultimately the most criminally guilty people in the world don’t just go free, they are rewarded for their crimes. The worst criminal bankers on Wall St and in the City of London are not jailed, they are paid handsomely to retire, to stay on, or to work in government. Corporations can become a law unto themselves, causing thousands of deaths in Third World countries though pollution or using government forces to massacred those who stand between them and profit. From the days of United Fruit in Guatemala, to Shell’s involvement in the slaughter of people in the Niger Delta. No criminal charges.

Nor are there charges for murders carried out by the CIA, let alone other crimes. The whole existence of the clandestine action arms of agencies such as the CIA is based on lawbreaking. One old pre-digital estimate suggested that the CIA was committing crimes at a rate of 80,000 per day, dwarfing any non-governmental organised crime outfit. With computerised surveillance there is a near unlimited potential for individual crimes to be happening a dizzying speed.

Then there are the mass murderers. Since the death of Stalin, those with the most blood on their hands have mostly been Western political leaders. Johnson, Nixon, Kissinger – even Ford and Carter – Brzezinski, Reagan, Thatcher, Bush(es), Clinton, Blair. It is estimated that 20 million have been killed due to US-led aggression since World War II, frequently with crucial UK participation. They also have high levels of involvement in other acts of mass-murder. They backed the slaughter of 1 million in Indonesia and the subsequent genocide in East Timor. They gave diplomatic cover to the genocide in East Pakistan (now Bangladesh). They trained and backed those carrying out the genocide in Guatemala. Third world dictators cannot even compare in terms of the number of dead they have caused. Yet Henry Kissinger, perhaps the biggest murderer of them all, is a fêted elder statesman, treated like a rockstar guru by the political elite. These people are by any reasoned standard more despicable and fearful than the very worst of our prison population.

So, when you see the stats that show that social forces such as racism and poverty are the main causes of imprisonment, do not immediately think, yeah, but people need to be held accountable for their actions. The worst people in the world are not held accountable for their actions. Normal people are not held accountable in the way that those who fall foul of the criminal justice system are. It is a capricious system full of racial and class prejudice and rampant injustice

Argument from Consequences

As mentioned, the Native Affairs programme that fulfilled my low expectations of journalistic endeavour included “cultural disconnection” as an unproven third factor driving Māori incarceration. How much it is true that “cultural disconnection” causes imprisonment is definitely an interesting topic, but in the programme it becomes the central factor – the focus of the programmes call to action. Without seeming to be aware of what they were doing, the makers of the programme use the topic of “cultural disconnection” to leave poverty and poor education as background factors in a narrative driven by notions of individual reform.

There is certainly something quite powerful in the question by one prisoner who asked why it took coming to prison for him to find out about his own identity. The colonial system literally stole the sense of self from many Māori and it is heartbreaking that it might take imprisonment for some of those to benefit from reconnecting. But now the viewers have been taken back into their comfort zone, the place where no one can see the forest because they are too busy looking at all the trees. Unlike those factors of class and race which allow for the actions of others to be a cause of imprisonment, “cultural disconnection” can only be interpreted as a cause of criminality in the prisoner themselves. The notion leads us back to the belief that it is still their criminal transgression that drives their fate and what we really need to do is to help them to stop being so angry and naughty.

It is as if the journalists are programmed by cliché. They will always find a way back into the comfort of tinkering reformism that maximises the sense of doing good but minimises any real clash with the status quo. In this case, cultural disconnection brings the focus right back to criminal acts by prisoners. It is actually a little bit ridiculous, because as wonderful as it may be for Māori inmates to connect with tikanga Māori, it is not why they are in prison and nor should they be penalised if they do not want to embrace Māoritanga. When you get right down to it, they are suggesting that you can fix a racist system by getting the victims of racism to change, not the racists. There is an obvious parallel here to those who think that the way to prevent rape is for the potential victims to alter their appearance and behaviour.

Yet people seem to find it impossible to let go of the notion that prisoners have personal responsibility for their fate. To be reformed they must go through the ritual of penitence and agree that it is they that must transform. It is true that, apart from those wrongly accused, they must have contributed at least one “wilful” criminal act to find themselves behind bars, but between the disparities in policing and sentencing we can see that in most ways the criminal act is not the greatest factor contributing to the imprisonment.

It is tempting at this point to separate violent from non-violent offenders. Then, in pragmatic terms, we could abolish drug prohibition and end custodial sentences for non-violent crime. That would lower prison populations and instantly curb the worst injustices coming out of the racial biases of the criminal justice system. But as much as I feel that drug prohibition is morally insupportable (and that too is a conversation that needs to be dealt with in full) I also think that blunting the worst excesses of an unjust system still leaves an unjust system.

The fact is that even in committing a criminal act an offender is acting as a product of circumstances beyond their control. People resist understanding this, but it is abundantly clear in the statistics. In violent offending, the unchosen circumstances of birth and upbringing are clear predictors. Growing up exposed to and especially victim to violence does not always mean that a person will become violent, but it is such a strong statistical association that it cannot be ignored. And there are other factors such as sensory deprivation in infancy, exposure to lead and other toxins, traumatic brain injury or other neurological conditions. The more we study the factors that influence behaviour the more we must admit that we are all products of circumstances that we do not control.

It is not just the social sciences that problematise our punitive understanding of criminality. While many philosophers still try to justify the existence of free will, neuroscientists are increasingly able to pinpoint the chemical processes of decision-making. If someone spikes you with a drug it will affect your decision-making. If someone controls the information you receive, it will affect your decision making. If you are abused as a child, it will affect your decision-making. Free will is a delusion. Even our current understanding of physics suggests that the universe is shaped by stochastic (individually random and unpredictable) subatomic events. Because these shape the real world and ultimately affect our lives it is impossible to reconcile the nature of the universe with free will.

Free will was an excusable explanation for a complex phenomenon in the same way that explaining lightning as bolts cast by a god was excusable before the process was properly understood. It makes sense that we would feel that free will exists even without proof, but it is a religious concept not a rational concept. Basing criminal justice decisions of the concept of free will ultimately makes no more sense than treating criminality as demonic possession. Yet the concept of free will underpins our notions of criminal culpability.

We cling on to a model of individual guilt and just punishment because it works so well with our emotions and social conventions. When bad things happen we want a sense of reciprocity and we also want to feel protected from those who might threaten us. On the more sinister side, we also have a tendency to persecute those who are perceived as alien, defective, diseased, or just a burden to our social collective. This is nothing to do with justice. On the contrary, it is one of the ways our evolution has sowed within us conflicts between compassion and brutality; xenophobia and solidarity; inclusion and exclusion.

Our sense of reciprocity, however, is perhaps the greatest impediment to a more enlightened approach because this innate tendency is bolstered and magnified by the narratives in which we constantly immerse our consciousnesses. I refer here to books, film, TV and so forth. In our stories transgressions seldom go unpunished, guilt is seldom in doubt to the reader or viewer, and there is almost always the implication that somehow the punishment ends the narrative arc, tying up the story with a nice little bow. However, this is not just true in fictional narratives, it is also the structure used almost exclusively in news reporting and documentary.

In reality neither safety nor reciprocity can be achieved through the criminal justice system and social exclusion is both undesirable and harmful. Despite this, they are powerful desires and the reason we cling to the idea of free-will is that without free-will we cannot have individual criminal culpability. Without that sense of culpability, we cannot package reciprocity, safety and social exclusion as a function of “justice”.

We cling to the idea of wilful individual responsibility when logic and evidence both tell us it is a delusion. We do not want to deal with the consequences of not having the ability to pronounce guilt because it would deprive us of our ability to see the criminal justice system as having inherently positive outcomes.

Ritual Sacrifice

There is something disturbing about the way we as a society created a sudden and new official Truth once a judge or jury has pronounced guilt. Suddenly doubt is officially banished, facts are certain.

There is a time between the verdict and the sentencing when the convict becomes a species of outlaw. Their penalty and path back to citizenship is undetermined and actions which are not crimes may affect their penalty as much, or more, than the actually criminal act(s). This outlaw status, by some mysterious rationale, becomes retroactive. Everyone has a right to deny charges against them without penalty, but once they are found guilty a magic time machine allows judges to reward “early guilty pleas” because the special powers they have make everything fair (and apparently there is no contradiction at all in discriminating in favour of those who admit guilt because it is not the same as discriminating against those who maintain their innocence).

It is just as problematic that once guilt is established there is an expectation that the convict must now align themselves with the official Truth and make a ritual obeisance before the court by admitting guilt and expressing remorse. This is not a rehabilitative process and it is not a parole hearing, this is part of the sentencing, so it is actually quite difficult to say, in terms of justice, why remorse at the time of sentencing is so important. The practical effect of coercing a show of remorse from a convict is that it forces that person, and often their supporters, to readjust their narrative and to reify the Truth established by the court.

One of the strangest parts of the ritual, from my perspective at least, is the breadth which judges give themselves in rendering judgements. At this point in the proceedings there can be no objections or arguments. It is pure soliloquy. It is quite normal for judges to tell those found guilty what their motives were, what they were thinking, and what they feel currently, as if the judge were some form of omniscient telepath.

As with everything here, I do not have to delve deep into the past to find exemplars. A case I find problematic is that of Gustav Sanft who killed his 2 year-old daughter. At sentencing just a few days ago as I write his wife pleaded: “I know people want to see Gustav punished for this accident, I see it everyday in him that he punishes himself. All I can ask is have mercy on Gustav. Our babies need their daddy at home, that is where he belongs.” The judge, however, decided that Sanft was not experiencing real remorse but rather “self-pity”. He sentenced him to 4 years and 4 months imprisonment.

The judge said: “Your denial you pulled the trigger is something you have latched onto, perhaps to help explain to yourself, and others, the terrible consequences of that morning.” This leaves us with two unpalatable options. One is that the judge, despite feeling at liberty to characterise the mental states of others, is so ignorant that he is unaware of the effect of adrenaline on short-term memory. If Sanft did pull the trigger there is no reason at all to expect that he would remember doing so. The other option is that the judge doesn’t actually care what Sanft believes. Either way, the emphasis on this detail is disturbing. The prosecution did not rely on his having pulled the trigger and the jury’s verdict does not confirm the fact.

If Sanft were more calculating and cold-blooded he might simply have told the judge what he thought the judge wanted to hear. Ultimately he cannot be considered more guilty of the original crime because he refuses to admit to something he may not even remember. I cannot say what sentence might have been given if Sanft had admitted the act, but the judge himself has made it seem that a very important factor in sentencing is submission to the judgement of the court. It is hard not to feel that what is required of Sanft is not completely different to an auto-da-fé – the public penance required and coerced from those condemned by the Inquisition which reinforced to onlookers the righteousness and honesty of the convictions and subsequent punishments.

Michel Foucault opens Disclipline et Punir with the horrifying theatrical spectacle of the public execution by torture of an attempted regicide. Foucault made the case that the theatrics of power did not disappear with penological reform, they just became more regular and less overtly objectionable. In that much, at least, he is correct. Much of this ritualised display is a show of power designed to maintain and reproduce the power that is exercised.

The Disconnect

We understand that the outcomes of our criminal justice system are measurably and demonstrably bad. The individual stories of those caught in the system, though most people are blissfully ignorant of them, can be extremely harrowing. People’s punishment may lead to much greater suffering than the crime they committed. In most cases the family of prisoners suffer despite not having committed a crime, and the cost to the taxpayer is excessive – stealing from the sort of spending that might be genuinely helpful to people.

We acknowledge these harms yet we seem to think that the basic system doesn’t need fixing. It has been more than 250 years since Cesare Beccaria wrote On Crimes and Punishments, and yet in many ways we have not yet lived up to his vision of a humane system in which punishments served rational utilitarian purposes. Perhaps it is an impossibility; punishment and humane rationality may not be not reconcilable.

We need to end the vestiges of noxious feudalism within our court system, but to do that we may have to go further. We need to end the fictions of guilt and innocence and the even more dangerous fiction that we can safely create an absolute Truth and justly act as if doubt does not persist. We need to move beyond our primitive senses of vengeance and reciprocity and recognise that punishment is never just.

We need to abolish prisons. It may be that some people must be specifically prevented from harming others, but in the vast majority of cases we know that imprisoning some people is not a way to prevent harm.

Even in a case of “preventive detention”, which aims at the specific incapacitation of those who are deemed an unavoidable danger to others, we have seen recently that the criminal justice system may enable crime instead of preventing it. In another NZ case that was in the headlines just days ago, a man who had been sentenced to preventive detention after having been convicted of raping (on separate occasions) a woman and a girl was found to have subsequently raped three cellmates. One was repeatedly raped for a week. Another was knocked unconscious and then raped. The man threatened to kill his victims and told them he had nothing to lose because he was a “lifer” due to his preventive detention sentence. In other words the attempt at incapacitation seems to have actually become a factor leading to the violence.

The double-bunking that facilitated these rapes was introduced under Minister Judith Collins who dismissed concerns over rape, then later made a prison rape joke (as did the PM of the time John Key). These details reveal that the most “law and order” minded people are ultimately, if unconsciously, concerned about social order, not justice. The very reason that they are so assured in their “tough on crime” stances is that they have a Manichean view of Us “good” people and Them “bad” people. Such people often commit crimes, quite serious ones, but they don’t consider themselves to be criminals. Criminals are the racial and class Other. The baddies from the cop shows.

Prisons are a mechanisms of social control, one of the ways that the neoliberal state is keeping lower class people in their place as the system begins to fail them. You might think that if we get rid of prisons, change the court system, and if we stop singling out some as the officially Guilty, then we will have a sense of broad impunity that will lead to a lawless orgy. It is a challenge, true. Yet we are almost all criminals, and we accept as a matter of course that those who have committed the most heinous acts must continue to live among us. Some, particularly rapists, will never even have to talk to a policeman. So may be acquitted because of reasonable doubt rather than innocence. Some will have been convicted, but apart from a very small number who die in prison, those people will still be part of society. Prisons can’t change that. They can and do make things worse in a number of ways.

The problems of the criminal justice system, and the politics and power behind the discourse of criminal justice, are absolutely pervasive. I can almost take exemplars from the headlines of any day on which I am which I write on the issue, and indeed I did so. There is no cherry-picking here, this gross injustice is the daily reality of our society and it needs to change.

This has been my idiosyncratic argument for abolition; born of my frustration at the half-arsed bullshit that journalists keep spouting; born of my frustration at all the things never talked about, the assumptions and the complacency. I hope it adds new dimensions, but I should also point out to readers that there are far more developed views out there. Abolitionism has a very long history with many renowned proponents such as Emma Goldman, Nils Christie, Ruth Morris and Angela Davis. I urge readers to engage with the prison abolition movement, including People Against Prisons Aotearoa. The costs of not abolishing prisons are growing.

Advertisements

Trump’s Straw Nazis: A Horror Story

Standard

the-duke-and-duchess-of-w-009

Introduction – Nothing is More Dangerous than a Discreet Nazi

People have been digesting the appointment of Stephen Bannon as Trump’s chief strategist and the sudden rise in overt racism and Nazi symbology. There are people saying “Heil Trump”, giving Nazi salutes, and spray-painting swastikas in alarming numbers. The US is a large, populous, diverse country, but there is clearly something of significance here beyond just a few ignorant teenagers with spraycans and emotional issues.

The overt Nazism is very disturbing. It was less than reassuring when Anne Coulter sought to tweet some perspective “Rachel shows FIVE PEOPLE at Richard Spencer meeting giving a Nazi salute. Call out the National Guard. Cf. Ferguson protests.” Then minutes later: “Total # of deaths connected to American Nazi Party in last quarter century: ZERO; Total # of deaths connected to Al Sharpton: 9 I know of.” Coulter might have chosen to compare exaggerated notions of a Nazi threat with, say, road fatalities or shark attacks. Instead she specifically cites examples that will provoke a fear of black violence. Instead of reassuring us, she shows that the overt Nazis are just the tip of an iceberg of frightening racists that includes her.

Equally unreassuring were Trump’s attempts to convey cherubic innocence and naïve confusion. Regarding what NYT’s Maggie Haberman referred to as “alt-right supporters” he said: “It’s not a group I want to energize. And if they are energized I want to look into it and find out why.” For students of history this may be especially unnerving because Nazi and Fascist leaders deliberately cultivated ideological followers who could organise and carry out acts of violence which were deniable and which the leaders could, if it suited them, condemn as excessive.

[I should explain here that I use the term Nazi even though I would usually only refer to regimes and parties by the term’s they use to name themselves. In this case, however, I cannot be bothered with writing “National Socialist” each time because nobody else does.]

But Nazis who openly wear swastikas are not and never have been the real threat in Western countries. For decades thinkers have warned us that fascism will come to the West in the guise of a return to normalcy (a claim that is actually part of the essence of fascism). The US is particularly scary because it tolerates and empowers fascism more than other Western countries. Trump, for example, won the votes of tens of millions after he had vowed to increase the use of torture and to murder the families of “terrorists”.

Trump has been given a gift, because he can choose to continue to embolden the street-thug Nazis or he can make a great show of rejecting and crushing them. He will probably do both simultaneously and by turns, but all the while the back-room Nazis, the crypto-fascists who don’t even think of themselves as fascistic, will grow in strength.

To get some perspective on how far the US has gone into overt and proud barbarity, take the example of Trump’s nomination of General James “Mad Dog” Mattis to the post of Secretary of Defense. To start with, there should be alarm bells ringing when the President elect is working a crowd at a victory rally by yelling “Mad Dog!” repeatedly. The most memorable of many quotes from Mattis may be: “Actually it’s quite fun to fight them, you know. It’s a hell of a hoot. It’s fun to shoot some people. I’ll be right up there with you. I like brawling. You go into Afghanistan, you got guys who slap women around for five years because they didn’t wear a veil. You know, guys like that ain’t got no manhood left anyway. So it’s a hell of a lot of fun to shoot them.”

Mad Dog got his sobriquet from his military service. Dahr Jamail was in Iraq during both 2004 battles in Fallujah conducted by Mattis. Jamail makes it very clear that Mattis is a war criminal:

During the April 2004 siege, more than 700 civilians were killed by the US military, according to Iraqi doctors in the city whom I interviewed in the aftermath of that attack.

While reporting from inside Fallujah during that siege, I personally witnessed women, children, elderly people and ambulances being targeted by US snipers under Mattis’ command. Needless to say, all of these are war crimes.

During the November siege of Fallujah later that same year, which I also covered first-hand, more than 5,000 Iraqi civilians were killed. Most were buried in mass graves in the aftermath of the siege.

Mosques were deliberately targeted by the US military, hospitals bombed, medical workers detained, ambulances shot at, cease-fires violated, media repressed, and the use of depleted uranium was widespread. All of these are, again, war crimes.

At that time I broke the story of the US military’s use of white phosphorous, an incendiary weapon similar to napalm in its ability to burn all the way down to the bone.

Mattis is openly antagonistic to Iran and to “political Islam”. This led to Congressional Representative Allen West (R, Florida) sharing a “meme” on Facebook which pictured Mattis and read: “Fired by Obama to please the Muslims, hired by Trump to exterminate them.” Before Facebook took down the post it gained 50,000 likes and 10,000 shares. This is not about a few bad apples. West’s career, his election and his 2.5 million Facebook followers all give us a window into what is really going on in the US.

West has said that “Islam is a totalitarian theocratic political ideology, it is not a religion. It has not been a religion since 622 AD, and we need to have individuals that stand up and say that.” In 2010 Jen Phillips wrote: “West equates today’s Muslims with those of medieval Europe, alleging that if Muslims in the US are not stopped, we too will have to change our name like Constantinople.” He is also a self-confessed and proud torturer. In Iraq Lt. Col. West watched on as four of his men beat an Iraqi policeman on the head and body. He dismissed his men and then staged a mock execution, threatening to kill the detainee and then firing his sidearm next to the blindfolded man’s head. Under US Army Field Manual The Law of Land Warfare such coercion is clearly defined as torture. The seriousness with which the US Army takes such laws can be judged from the result – West was fined $5000 and retired with full pension benefits. The seriousness with which US people regard the lives and rights of others is clearly reflected in West’s successful political career.

The problem with extremists like West is not that they are in the majority it is that they are an accepted part of the political spectrum. As I will discuss further, the same was true of anti-Semites in Germany before the holocaust. Trump only has a 41% approval rating, which is amazing for someone who has yet to take office, but it is hard to take seriously those who oppose him any more because they want to have their exceptionalist cake and eat it too.

If there were approval ratings polls in Germany in 1932, Hitler would have also been below 50%. He was a polarising figure, and most people did not vote for him. The reason that Mattis, West and Trump succeed is that their opponents seem more interested in feeling good about themselves than about doing what is right. Many of them supported Clinton who, as we will see, is also insupportable. If people are not willing to stand up against the chauvinistic arrogance of US patriotism and exceptionalism then their opposition to Trump’s fascism is empty in both moral and practical terms.

To understand what it all means, I am going to present it as a horror novel spanning a hundred year; one with a chilling twist in the tail. I am not meaning in any way to make light of things. I am doing this to highlight that this is an informed argument based on solid inference: a logical progression grounded in history.

Certain commentators such as “Tyler Durden” of ZeroHedge were certain that Trump and his coterie are really trying to “drain the swamp” and sweep away DC corruption and more. As one breathless fantasist explained:

Drain the Swamp pertains to more than getting the corruption out of the system.

Bannon now has Trump’s full backing to destroy the UniParty, defeat the Globalists, banish the warmongers of the MIC and help the legal prosecution of the corrupt. This is the Revolution to end the domestic Tyranny and the global Hegemon.

In contrast, the blithe self-righteous liberal stance of NYT and its ilk is just as speculative and just as ideological. Perhaps one of the most significant medium term impacts of the 2016 campaign is that print journalism has descended to Fox/MSNBC levels of inaccuracy, with NYT, Time and WaPo liberally putting words in Trump’s mouth and making ludicrous claims about his ties to the Kremlin. This means that they have broken with generations of journalistic practice and the “North Korea Law of Journalism” (“editorial standards are inversely proportional to a country’s enemy status”) by telling barefaced lies about domestic politics when they normally only tell barefaced lies in international stories. Such lies are not the biggest problem though. The real problem is that the respectable media will selectively treat some utterances of Western politicians as being unquestionable truth. The result is a very distorted narrative, but we do not notice how irrational and fantastical it is because it is made banal by constant repetition.

To illustrate my point, if we take the ranting of the alt-right “revolutionary” above, once you look past the exotic terminology, the basic flaw in reasoning is that this person trusts Trump, a lying billionaire showman/fraudster with a proven record of betraying and fleecing anyone he can. You have to be very selective in your memory to think that Trump is going to oppose the growing corruption and concentration of wealth and power in DC, in the US, and in the world. However, contrast this for a second with the perfectly orthodox claim that Clinton seeks to bring peace and stability to the Middle East through a no-fly zone or some other initiative. If you really step back from the assumptions that surround us, that is a truly insane statement. Firstly, Clinton’s track record on peace in the ME and North Africa (dating back to her role in backing the Iraq NFZ, sanctions and Operation Desert Fox decades ago) is even clearer than Trump’s record of honesty and straight-dealing. Secondly, the US itself – however often it protests benevolent intent – has been acting in ways that promote conflict and instability in the ME since at least 1979. The fruits of US intervention are extremely obvious and monotonously predictable, repeatedly saying that it will be different this time has long since surpassed mere credulity and entered the realms of dangerous mental dysfunction. Thirdly, though everyone seems to avoid seeing it, if this was a strategy computer game or board game it would be immediately obvious that the US benefits from the conflict it brings about in the MENA region. The obvious conclusion is that the US destabilises and sows conflict deliberately.

If you ask yourself how the US would behave if they were intentionally maintaining instability it would look exactly as it does, right down to the protestations of peaceful intent. Logically, therefore, it is less doolally to say that Trump is fighting the evil tentacles of the Illuminati New World Order than it is to say that the US is concerned over the suffering of civilians in Aleppo, wants to promote democracy in Iraq, seeks to restore stability and prosperity to Libya, or is genuinely concerned about Iran’s nuclear programme.

Luckily we do not have to rely on the things that pour forth from the orifices of politicians to make sense of events. When I say “luckily” I am using it in a special sense because once you strip away all of the illusions of Western benevolence the world is much bleaker and more alarming, but the longer we fail to face these realities, the worse things will become. This tale of horror I want to tell is a history of things going very badly for us all, and it did not begin in November 2016.

There are a number of places I could begin my tale, but I want to start as I mean to go on – with Nazis.


Chapter 1. Germany 1918-32 – A Paradise for Right Wing Violence

The violence and legalised illegality of Hitler’s Third Reich did not arise without precedent. Liberal and pluralistic Weimar Germany was, in fact, a very benign environment for proto-Nazi and Nazi violence. Social Democrat President Friedrich Ebert worked with the right-wing nationalist Freikorps militias to suppress a postwar socialist republic in Bavaria and socialist revolutionaries in the rest of the country. He would later retrospectively legalise the murders of thousands of leftists. This was one of 136 times he used “emergency powers” while President. Those same Freikorps carried the “Kapp Putsch” in 1920 which was not defeated by Ebert’s government, but by a mass popular uprising. Ebert’s successor Hindenburg was a conservative nationalist who also used emergency powers freely, including overriding the Reichstag. The judiciary throughout the Weimar period was unambiguously forgiving of right-wing political violence and repressive of the left. Most notably, a certain Adolf Hitler was given an extremely lenient sentence for his failed attempt at an armed putsch, turning what should have been a politically terminal debacle into a watershed in his rising career.

The German government was clearly a very right-wing government and that did not change when Social Democrats governed. Weimar Germany is not the first or last “democracy” to be offered the choice of those who talk left and govern right or those who talk right and govern right. Most Social Democrats and Liberals are rightists once in power, and some would say the same of Communists. History and contemporary politics also show that supposedly socialist regimes are just as susceptible as conservatives to vastly overestimating the threat of the real left and being complacent to the threat of the violent right.

In recent years the US has shown disturbing parallels with Weimar Germany. The executive has become the most powerful branch of government, able to carry out wars and extrajudicial executions; to conduct warrant-less mass surveillance; to suspend habeas corpus; and to militarise criminal and political policing. In the meantime the legislative branch, which is the most powerful in theory, is corrupted and subjugated by wielders of money and power and frequently deadlocks for supposedly ideological reasons. (This constant partisan warfare is quite an achievement when you think about it. Weimar Germany had proportional representation and legislators from the extreme right through to the Communists. The US has the least ideological variance in its 2-party system of any country I can think of. There is no question that many 1-party states have had as much diversity in their legislatures, yet the US with very little political diversity still manages to have bitter partisanship leading to “fiscal cliffs” and destabilising government shutdowns.)

The US has also seen a lenience against right-wing criminality and police violence accompanied by an excessive punishment of left criminality and the criminalisation of left dissent. It is abundantly clear that prosecutors and judges take a very permissive approach to police violence. On the rare occasions that juries decide these matters they often feel, or are led to believe by judge, defence and prosecution, that a claim to have been fearful is enough to justify considerable violence in self-defence without consideration of whether the fear was reasonable and the response was proportionate. I think the cases speak for themselves, like the recent mistrial over Walter Scott’s death. Then there is also the contrast between the fates of activists such as the Bundys in 2 armed stand-offs that resulted in 1 death and some relatively lenient sentences, and that of Philadelphia’s MOVE in 2 armed stand-offs that resulted in 9 life sentences, 11 members killed (5 of them children) and 65 neighbouring houses destroyed. Then there are the “Green Scare” victims whose political crimes (animal rights or environmental) were upgraded to “terrorism” leading to decades-long sentences.

Like all historical parallels, one should not read too much into specific details. No militias in the US have slaughtered thousands of leftists, but then in other ways, such as the persistent overtness of extralegal killings, undeclared wars, torture and indefinite detention, the US can be seen as already having more than a foot in the post-Weimar stage of this analogy.

Chapter 2. 3rd Reich 1933-38 – Ostensible Diversity

The early years of Nazi rule in Germany are a rich source of uncomfortable similarities to the 21st century US. As with the Weimar period, when we look at the first years of Nazi rule we tend to pick out the things that retrospectively we know foreboded the mass-slaughter that would follow. At the time, however, only a minority of alarmist types, mostly but not exclusively from the left, suggested that Nazism was especially frightening. Even the German Communists (probably because they had seen thousands murdered under a “Social Democrat” led government) initially viewed Nazis as being just another bourgeois but promisingly deranged expression of the bankruptcy and impending collapse of capitalism.

The really disturbing thing about early Nazi politics is that they managed to mobilise and energise with racism and hatred, but yet always left room for people who didn’t like racism and hatred to live in denial about it.

When Hitler became Chancellor most people expected him to just carry on as normal. He didn’t, but to most people it was just a series of events. You know, one thing after another each explained as purely relative to the events of that week. As the Nazis systematically eliminated rivals and seized control of the entirety of the state, the number of people truly alarmed by Nazism did not swell by as much as you might think. Instead, the abnormal became normalised. Political opponents were taken into “protective custody” and put in camps such as Dachau. Treatment probably depended on how important and defiant the prisoner. Some were released quickly, others were “shot while trying to escape”.

Hitler, by the way, was not greatly concerned about where people were on the political spectrum. He simply wanted to destroy all political forms of social power that he did not have absolute control over. This would come to include rival Nazis.

The result was that for most people Nazis were just the German governing Party, almost synonymous with government itself. Nazis who emphasised anti-Semitic views, for example, were part of the political spectrum just as they had been in the Weimar Republic. As a result, lots of non-ideological people joined the Nazi Party. In fact, even before Hitler’s ascent to Führership, members were diverse. Humans often like to fool themselves. Politicians know by instinct to leave people enough room to be idiots.

Despite some very glaring and repeated violently anti-Semitic speeches and writings by individual Nazis, at the time of the pogrom called Kristallnacht (November 9, 1938) most Nazis (including some of high rank) and the vast majority of Germans were opposed to the persecution of Jews. There is a strange tendency for people to tolerate, nod along and even applaud extremist rhetoric, admiring its emotional intensity, yet not really agree with the actual textual content. It has certainly often been true of fire-and-brimstone preachers. It is cathartic to watch passion, but unfortunately when it is political speech, such as Trump or Alex Jones, there are different levels on which it works. Different people are receiving very different messages. The same is true of Joe Biden’s speech which began with him asking the audience to “stop and think” but ended in final moments which amounted to jingoistic yelling. Most people seem to see it as a rejection of Trump’s extremism but Biden’s own extremism seems almost invisible to them, and that is a very dangerous situation.


Chapter 3. 3rd Reich 1939-45 – The Poison Surfaces

It was the War that brought the real essence of Nazism to the surface. As is so often the case, the guiding force of Nazism was not what most Nazis believed, but rather what the most extreme Nazis believed.

One alarming thing about the current “alt-right” is that they fit a similar pattern to the Nazi Party. All post-WWII Neo-Nazi organisations have highlighted extremist racial and nationalist politics. To be a part, you must embrace an overt politics of race. The frightening thing about the alt-right is that it is more like the original Nazi Party. Many alt-right people are in complete denial about the underlying racism and they are willing and able to overlook the fact that their movement attracts violent racists. For them Trump is the person who stopped the TPP and, unlike Clinton, was not openly campaigning on creating a no-fly zone in Syria which would have caused mass deaths and may have triggered war with Russia. To liberals that complain about racism they might reasonably answer that Trump actually disavows racism, but Clinton, in openly campaigning to bomb other countries, is a much deadlier and more real racist.

The alt-right are just a manifestation of a deeper and wider acceptance of racist violence. Clinton and Trump actually both sow and reap a deadlier racism, the general US belief that the lives of foreigners are not very significant and that the mass killing of other peoples is just business as usual. The US has created such a strong narrative of exceptionalism that, although the US public is usually consistent in rejecting anything presented as a new war, they accept perpetual war without question.

The Nazis left people room to be able to deny the full horrors of what was happening while also leaving them as much room as possible to support abstract and sterile principles that promote genocide. They didn’t ask people if they wanted to kill millions and million of Poles, Russians and Jews. They asked them whether they wanted to make Germany great again, while incidently scapegoating and stoking fears of the Bolshevik and the Jew. When Robert Jay Lifton interviewed doctors who worked at Auschwitz he found that though they had never expected Nazi exterminatory rhetoric to become a real programme of extermination, they felt that it had somehow prepared them for confronting the realities behind the verbiage.

The most important thing was that the Third Reich could count on ordinary Germans to carry out abominable acts when called upon to do so. The eponymous Ordinary Men of Christopher Browning’s historical account were a police battalion who were detailed to massacre Jews in rural Poland. 80 to 90 percent became mass-murderers when they could have chosen not to without facing punishment. Counterintuitively, this was not related to ideological fervour, but rather to habits of obedience. Germans had been made into a deeply authoritarian society.

Contrary to most people’s expectations, what we know of genocide is that it tends to be fostered by war, and that instead of being caused by extreme racial hatred it is more true that genocide causes extreme racial hatred, although, of course, the seeds must already be present. The US has the seeds of many forms of racial hatred and is now heading into a period where a minority that feels empowered in their racial hatred because they believe they have been validated by the Trump campaign. Just as concerning, though, should be the equivalent cult of personality towards Clinton. On pure factual grounds, because she has such a long political history, she was not a credible vessel of progressive ideals. However, a large number of people reacted to Clinton in an authoritarian manner, creating a false image of an immaculate icon of feminism, equality, solidarity and progress that was utterly at odds with her known public record. People even left signs on her street to thank her at thanksgiving time, though, if you think about it, it is very difficult to pinpoint what people are thanking her for. Her main qualification for most people may be that she is not Trump, and yet her major achievement of 2016 was to help get Trump elected.

The US has long been a particularly authoritarian country if judged by the RWA (right-wing authoritarianism) scale. More notable than its higher than normal median scores on the scale, is its skew towards extreme RWA scores. No single measurement can predict the destiny of an individual or a nation, but the US has a great potential for mass violence which has already found expression in massacres in Korea and Viet Nam. Behind this is a tendency to live in myth that is growing greater over time. For GI’s in Viet Nam the figure of John Wayne was important to a degree that is hard to grasp from our perspective, but the US is constantly re-imagining the macho hero with an almost demonic intensity.

Now the Demigod is not the cowboy, it is every person that dons a US military uniform. On the increasingly significant “Pearl Harbor Day” Trump tweeted about the thousands of “heroes who selflessly gave their lives”. This is a completely irrational way to characterise those killed in a one-sided surprise attack. This mythology incorporates a dangerous martyr obsession. Aggressive militarists, including but limited to the Nazis, are often steeped in hypocritical sentimentality. They wail and obsess over those of their own killers who fall to the violence of their enemies. The Nazis had Horst Wessel, but the US has legions to choose from: the Alamo; the Maine; Pearl Harbor; 9/11; Chris Kyle; the fictitious POW/MIAs in Indochina and their fictional rescuer John Rambo. In fact it is hard to escape the constant repetition stories, images and simple assertions of military sacrifice.

The Western world, as a whole, seems to be rapidly becoming more authoritarian. The “post-fact” nature of contemporary politics is a symptom of this. Whether this is purely the result of changes in technology or not, we are entering a time when belief is determined by group affiliation and deference to the position taken by a leader, rather than by reason or evidence. Globally we have seen a rise in anti-intellectualism and nationalist fervour. In some respects it is not just the US, but half of the world that is showing distressing fascistic tendencies.

Meanwhile the only prominent countervailing ideology that makes a claim to internationalism is neoliberalism. As I will show it is not internationalism, it is a Trojan horse for imperialism abroad and plutocracy at home. The false conflict against neoliberalism evinced by “populist” economic nationalists like Trump is no different than the fake isolationism shown by Bush and Trump. It is just a different PR approach to selling the same policies of war and imperialism, but I am getting a little ahead of myself….


Interlude – Old Lager in a New Stein

Much of the current symbolism and ritual in the Olympic games was created by Nazi ideologues and it remains with us today, echoing their idealised notions of nationality and physicality. It is quite creepy when you think about the Nazi minds and ideals behind the familiar Olympic rituals. I cannot help but think that the persistence of Nazism here is a token of something deeper and broader.

After WWII, pro-Nazi Western elites were still as powerful as ever, just a bit more circumspect. Ordinary people among the Western Allies had always been fairly solidly anti-Nazi and became far more so during the War. The rich and the powerful, on the other hand, had a much more sympathetic view, with many being unambiguously pro-Nazi. Without Western financial support it is doubtful that Hitler could have attained and consolidated his control of Germany. Western “neutrality” in the Spanish Civil War was also de facto support of the Fascist cause and helped Nazism.

Then the French and British betrayed their allies in Czechoslovakia by effectively gifting their country to Germany (Poland also took a slice of territory, after refusing to allow Soviet forces to cross Poland in order to defend Czechoslovakia). Perhaps the most grotesque aspect to this obvious Western ploy to foment war between Germany and the USSR, was the way they harnessed people’s fear of war and created a historical narrative of the Munich agreement representing ill-advised “appeasement”. Without being being betrayed by neighbours and allies, Czechoslovakia could not have been conquered by Germany. World War II as we know it could never have happened.

After the war the US and UK protected and recruited many Nazi war criminals with the OSS and SIS being key organisations involved in the “ratlines” that smuggled Nazis out of Europe. The US recruited Klaus Barbie, best known for his expertise in torture, and sent him to South America to help in anti-communist efforts. They also recruited Reinhard Gehlen, German head of counter-intelligence in Eastern Europe, who re-constituted his anti-communist intelligence network.

Anti-Semitism was no longer prominent, but the US military and intelligence organisations, and a significant part of the foreign policy establishment, were soon singing from a very similar songbook to that used by the Nazis. The ideology was a racially informed anti-communism: Russophobic; deeply racist towards Asians; unthinkingly and unquestionably white supremacist. The CIA was not just white dominated it was the province of rich Anglo-Saxons. Anti-communist campaigns in Latin America, the Philippines, Greece, Indochina, Korea and elsewhere were carried out with great brutality, with torture, and with massacres.

I have written about this previously in more detail but it bears repeating that Fascism and Nazism were not exclusive of liberalism, and the liberalism promoted by the US in the 3rd world was clearly fascistic. In Indonesia hundreds of thousands were brutally murdered to institute a US backed regime that was authoritarian and corporatist, and yet open to US capital and praised for being “moderate” and “liberal”. US clients like Nguyen Cao Ky and Ferdinand Marcos openly expressed their admiration for Hitler. The Argentine Junta targeted Jews for disappearance, torture, and death. Their security personnel were anti-Semitic and had pictures of Hitler in their torture chambers (where they used electrical and water torture techniques developed by US forces in Viet Nam). Milton Friedman stood shoulder to shoulder with Mussolini and Hitler in a country that where “nationalist” militarists in actual jackboots sold their own country to foreign capital.

The other side to this, as Michael Parenti has pointed out, is that Fascists and Nazis were actually free-marketeers. In fact in the Economic History Review Germá Bel explored the privatisations of the public sector in “National Socialist” Germany, the first of their kind. The Nazi Party, which repeatedly campaigned on promises to nationalise industry, was actually the first to indulge in mass privatisations of the sort that would later occur under Thatcher and Pinochet.

Nazi war, oppression and genocide were all explicitly undertaken for reasons of imperial expansion and control. In the Third Reich, the word “Reich” was explicitly used to mean empire. During the Cold War, US imperial activities replicated all of chauvinist brutality and the nationalistic and racially informed violence of Fascist or Nazi imperialism. There were no extermination camps with cattle trucks packed with those slated to die, but there were concentration camps. There were people lined up in hundreds in front of mass graves, shot, and thrown in with the dead and dying; and there were villages, towns and even entire cities of people incinerated by carpet-bombing. Perhaps we can agree that this was not as bad as what the Nazis did, but that is a bar so low as to be almost meaningless.


4. Cold War 1945-90: Schizoid home-front

Those who served in World War II went home determined that they would not be treated as poorly as those who came home from the previous World War. In the UK there was a landslide victory for Labour just 2 months after VE Day. During a very challenging post-War period of shortages and demobilisation, Labour created the NHS and a social welfare state that ensured that the vast majority of people had a reasonable quality of life.

In the US the “GI Bill” and a booming economy created an unprecedented upward mobility. In the US, UK and indeed globally an economic “golden age” coincided with a democratic spirit and expectations of fairness. Income and wealth became more widely distributed and many would argue (most prominently Thomas Piketty) that the drop in inequality was a major contributor the coincident economic growth and stability.

In foreign policy, however, extreme violence and brutality were commonplace and explicitly racist. For the colonial powers the violent repression of independence movements led to massacres, torture and the use of concentration camps. The violence of security forces in Algeria, Kenya, Yemen, Indochina, and elsewhere was horrific and undeniably racist. British “Tommies”, for example, did not hide their loathing for Arabs, Africans and Asians. While Clement Atlee’s Labour government made their own country less cruel, British troops were torturing in Aden and massacring in Malaya. When countries did win independence their former masters did as much as possible to wreck them, destabilise them, and leave them as dependent neocolonies.

In the US life was headed towards a consumerist idyll. Baby-boomer children would grow to become teenagers, and in doing so would create iconic narratives of ideal childhood and adolescence that still resonate today. Meanwhile the young men sent to occupy Korea were prolific thieves, murderers and rapists. Their “civilised” upbringings meant nothing when they were sent to garrison a country whose people they regarded as contemptible. Before the Korean War broke out in earnest tens of thousands of civilians were killed by US troops or US-led Koreans when suppressing uprisings in Jeju Island and southern districts. When war broke out, under US guidance politically suspect persons were massacred. First was the Bodo League massacre of up to 300,000 people registered for supposed leftism. Then in each town recaptured from communists throughout the peninsula many of those deemed to have collaborated were also killed. Massacres also continued in areas of guerilla activity. No one knows how many died in this manner, but the US was also carpet-bombing every significant North Korean town. They killed millions of civilians. Meanwhile, on the homefront (such as it was) people were listening to Perry Como and probably drinking chocolate malteds at milkbars with bobby-soxers. It was like a parallel universe.

There is yet another unsettling similarity here with the Third Reich. Hitler himself was a great believer in the ideal of not placing German society as a whole on a war footing and the regime managed to maintain the illusion for some time. In the post-War era this disconnection between a pacific and comfortable Western domestic population and bloodily murderous interventions in other countries became a social insanity. It created a weight of cognitive dissonance that over the years made young people, including some of considerable privilege, rebel. This would come to a head in the late 1960s and early 1970s.

US public opinion had actually turned very decisively against the Korean War by its end, but that did not create social upheaval. The US made a big mistake when fighting in Indochina because they vastly elevated the perception of risk and national involvement. People did not turn against the war purely because of the bodybags of US personnel returning home. Objections were varied and covered a range of political and moral grounds and certainly shouldn’t be reduced to a purely chauvinistic concern over US lives. The mistake the US regime made was in maintaining very high levels of recruitment and conscription. During the period of 1965-73, which to Usanians is the “Vietnam War”, more than 20 million personnel entered the armed forces. Of them, 5 million were sent to Viet Nam. Of them 500,000 served as combat soldiers. This vastly magnified the degree to which people felt that they were connected to the conflict personally. Very few people in the country would not have faced a realistic possibility that someone close to them might end up fighting in the War. 500,000 combat troops is actually quite a lot, and the other 4.5 million sent to Viet Nam were not necessarily safe from harm. It was almost like they were experimenting to see if a high perception of risk to loved ones might galvanise public support for the War. Their enemies in the People’s Army of Viet Nam (PAVN) and the People’s Liberation Armed Forces (PLAF) were apparently concerned that this might occur and always concentrated on inflicting casualties on South Vietnamese Army of the Republic of Viet Nam (ARVN).

Instead of galvanising the public in support of the war the sense of involvement sent the US into civil fracture and disruption. They learnt the lesson that any student of Roman history could have told them – you can’t use citizen soldiers for obviously imperial purposes, only for times when they really do believe in a threat to the homeland.

In contrast, using professional troops and local proxies the US had been able to militarily dominate the entire Western Hemisphere for over a century. Between 1965 and 1973 (just a small slice of ongoing interventions) they invaded the Dominican Republic; sent Green Berets to aid in the genocidal “counterinsurgency” in Guatemala; set up the ORDEN death squad organisation in El Salvador; overthrew the government in Chile; and supported a military coup in Uruguay. The level of death and destruction was not as high as in Indochina (where the US killed millions) but this was part of an ongoing interventionism. There would be moral objections, outrage and activism against these acts, but there was never the same threat of civil strife that was prompted by involvement in Indochina.


Interlude II – The Right-Wing Convergence

As the post-War power of the working class faded; as the Citizen Soldier proved to be useless for empire; as the Washington Consensus tightened its embrace of the hearts of Western technocrats and its grip on the throats of 3rd world peoples; as the Communist alternative seemed ever more bankrupt and hopeless; as all of this happened the elite and hegemonic politics of the West, if not the entire world, has coalesced a glob of ideological mucus. The glob extrudes pseudopodia such as a given political party that claims to be green, or nationalistic, or calls itself a Labour Party, but they are all part of the same glob.

Francis Fukuyama called it the “end of history” and he thought it was absolutely fantastic. Liberalism/neoliberalism is the ruling ideology of the whole planet. People might still have other ideas, but governments do not, they just have flavours.

The odd thing about liberalism is that when it is kept out of power it fights against tyranny in the name of liberty and justice, but once it is on power it support privilege and injustice. It is polluted with a fundamentally conservative core. By making private property inviolate liberalism ensures that there will always be a point where it admits to imperfection and injustice but claims that the cost of remedying such things is higher than the benefit.

Once we achieved the liberal utopia declared by Fukuyama liberalism became at once all powerful and, in another sense, utterly meaningless. Societies must be “managed” within tight ideological constraints. (Neo)Liberalism allows only grudging interventions in order to prevent deaths by starvation or having kids freezing to death trying to sell matches. Those who have the poor taste and judgement to be poor are expected to submit to control in the spirit of the Victorian workhouses. Freedom is for those who can afford it, those who need help must submit to additional regulation and must never receive more than the bare minimum lest they receive pleasure without having earned it. On the other hand neoliberalism is generally more favourably inclined when it comes to spending money on police forces, and it positively loves new prisons (especially private ones), security guards, and surveillance.

When they are in positions of power and influence it is hard to tell the difference between a liberal and a conservative. Take the liberal Henry Kissinger, for example; many call him a conservative but he never went through a conversion. Kissinger was and is an East Coast liberal, like Robert Kagan. Kagan is one of the most prominent neoconservatives and an avowed liberal. (Fukuyama was also a liberal neocon, but he left that club due to a belated attack of conscience.) Victoria Nuland, Robert Kagan’s liberal neocon wife, is an ally of liberal Hillary Clinton and helped engineer the coup in Ukraine under liberal Obama that has given overt Nazis the most power they have had since 1945. The labels have become almost meaningless.

In power liberalism militates against progressive democratic and socialist responses to change or crisis, but it is like a giant loophole for oligarchy, for plutocracy, for imperialism, and for authoritarianism. Right-wing ideologies merely need to transform themselves by adopting a meaningless liberal veneer, and the liberalism becomes the vehicle for their ideology. In truth, though, the espoused ideological distinctions are not really important any more. The glob of ideological mucus has a hard kernel of reality at its core. That reality is that the glob serves inequality. It concentrates wealth and power at all levels. The world it is making is neofascist, neoconservative, neoliberal and neofeudal. These things are not distinct any more. The very rich and very powerful feel beyond the reach of law. They feel they can and should buy and sell the lives of lesser people. They feel that government is the province of a type of aristocracy.

Steve Bannon has said that only property owners should be allowed to vote. Trump’s cabinet picks so far have featured billionaires and bankers like Steve Mnuchin. One of the billionaires, Betsey DeVos, said the following: “I know a little bit about soft money as my family is the largest single contributor of soft money to the national Republican Party. …I have decided, however, to stop taking offense at the suggestion that we are buying influence. Now I simply concede the point.” Her brother is Erik Prince who is infamous for owning the mercenary army formerly known as Blackwater. Remember that Trump was running against the Washington insider.


Chapter 5. “Interventionism”, 1990-2016 – First they Came for the Iraqis…

In 1980 the US encouraged Iraq to attack Iran. They gave false intelligence to Saddam Hussein to convince him that Iran was in disarray after their revolution and that he could quickly seize territory. In the 8-year war that followed 1 million were killed. Whenever Iran had the upper hand the US would intervene to help Iraq. Secretly they also made deals with Iran which by an amazing coincidence helped Iran out when Iraq gained the upper hand. Some officials openly stated that US interests were served by the bloody stalemate. Following an attack by an Iraqi aircraft on the USS Stark in the Persian Gulf the US used the pretext to enter into naval war against Iran.

When the war ended Iraq owed billions to its Gulf neighbours. It considered that it had been fighting to protect the Arab Gulf monarchies from the largely Persian Republican Islamist Iran. Within months of the end of the war, Saddam Hussein made it clear that he considered the US to be an enemy. Iraq’s creditors started putting the squeeze on Iraq. Iraq was caught in a Catch-22 situation because it could not sell enough oil to pay what was demanded without depressing the price to the point where it could still not pay its obligations. Behind the scenes, the US was encouraging the al-Sabbah ruling family of Kuwait to be bold and provocative. They gave them secret security guarantees. By keeping their guarantees secret the US deliberately avoided the very strong deterrent effect they would have had if known. Kuwait began the highly contentious practice of slant-drilling in an oil-field shared by both countries. As instructed by Washington, April Glaspie (who later did a fake mea culpa as if this were somehow her idea) gave an unambiguous guarantee of non-intervention to Saddam. Being suspicious Saddam took the unusual step of publicising the entire meeting with Glaspie. He then invaded Kuwait apparently feeling safe because he had video of a US Ambassador saying: “We have no opinion on your Arab – Arab conflicts, such as your dispute with Kuwait. Secretary (of State James) Baker has directed me to emphasize the instruction, first given to Iraq in the 1960’s, that the Kuwait issue is not associated with America.”

As soon as Iraq was in Kuwait, however, it was a completely different story. To begin with, the Iraqi regime may have been gesurprised that when they invaded Kuwait and killed Kuwaiti soldiers, they were not greeted as liberators (prior to thisKuwaiti anti-monarchist dissidents had sometimes called for unification with Iraq). The occupation by Iraq was undoubtedly unpleasant, but that unpleasantness was magnified into holocaust proportions by a PR campaign by the al-Sabbahs with CIA support and a US government acting as their megaphone. Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International took a lead in promulgating unverified and largely false atrocity propaganda at a time when it was clearly building the case for war. The US created false satellite intelligence to convince the Saudis that Iraq was poised to invade them next and thus get permission to stage “Desert Shield”. They sought and received a UNSC resolution authorising the use of force against Iraq and they unleashed hell on the country: a nightmare that has still not ended quarter of a century later.

The “Vietnam Syndrome”, which meant that public and military opposition prevented the US from waging major wars, was no more. The US had chipped away at it in smaller acts of aggression like the invasion of Grenada in 1983 and the invasion of Panama in 1989. Now, as long as it steered clear of mass conscription the US could send its own forces in large numbers for major acts of conquest and genocide (“genocide” meaning war against people rather than war against an enemy military force). Moreover, it had the ability now to manage the information flows in such a way that the conflicts themselves became a sort of adrenaline rich entertainment that made viewers excited and gave a sense of patriotic righteousness.

Big actions, though, remained a source of ambivalence. Excite people’s interest too much and they start to pay too much attention to the issues involved. The attack on Serbia helped push the boundaries of blatant illegality, but young people were still wont to be discontented. The facts, once known, also tended to be really unsavoury and NATO’s pretences of righteousness, humanitarian intent and unerring precision did not hold up to scrutiny.

9/11 gave a new lease of life to imperialist slaughter, and the US has not wasted it. Once it has a war now, it will not let it go. They are playing for keeps. Once they have visited conflict and instability on a foe they can maintain it indefinitely. There used to be no such thing as a “failed state”. The closest thing would have been Lebanon during the Civil War, a country devised by the French Empire to be a weak constitutionally divided and sectarian dependency, that was destabilised by both Israel and the US. Now “failed states” are sprouting like mushrooms. And behind every single failed or seriously fragile state is some form of US intervention. Somalia, South Sudan, Sudan, Afghanistan, Yemen, DR Congo, Pakistan Libya, Iraq, Haiti, Syria all suffer directly from US intervention, but other places like Nigeria, Kenya and Uganda suffer from neocolonial dynamics that are just as much the responsibility of the US and its Western allies. In normal circumstances those countries that became unglued because of a massive invasion or regime change operation should slowly rebuild in the post-conflict years, but if you look at the highest scoring countries on the Fragile States Index you can see that they are continually getting worse. That is because there is no real post-conflict. Conflict does not end any more.

The desire to turn war into perpetual war is not new for the US. In Korea most of the War was a “stalemate” in which the US controlled the tempo. During this time there was a negotiation process which the US sabotaged in many ways while seizing every demand put forward by the Communists, however minor, and screeching incontinently that it was proof of Communist bad faith. In Indochina the US worked hard for decades to avoid, stall and subvert negotiations, arguably from 1950 until 1975, until finally the US Congress itself rebelled against the White House and Pentagon and refused to fund any further pointless and endless bloodletting by the US puppet regime in Saigon. These wars only ended because the enemy belligerents were strong enough to force an end. This may yet happen again in Syria, but perhaps one of the most saddening aspects of this is that for the targeted countries peace can only come at the price of authoritarianism. It doesn’t have to be that way, of course, but this is not the place for me to argue for an anti-imperialist left-libertarian alternative. Realistically at this point people like the Syrians have no choice but to throw themselves on the mercy of the Syrian government and there is little doubt that they will happily do so if it means an end to war. Having that “choice” makes them luckier than some others.

I very much hope that Rojava can maintain its autonomy. I also support the non-violent resistance movement in Syria in its fight against oppression from both the regime and the rebels. But to those who say that there is a revolutionary alternative to Assad for Syria as a whole, and that I am betraying that by not calling for Western support for his overthrow, I would just like to point out that Saddam Hussein was a more repressive leader but his overthrow did not benefit Iraq. Not only that, the left-wing uprising against him in 1991 was far stronger and more popular than any rebel formation that might be called “leftist” in the current civil war. And what happened to that Iraqi uprising? The US betrayed the rebels and helped Saddam Hussein to destroy them. The reality is that if you cannot support leftists in a way that does not empower the West and/or Takfiri Islamists then you are not supporting the leftists at all. That is not an ideological opinion it is a recognition of unavoidable facts.

As I revise this the last rebel enclave is falling in East Aleppo and people are going into propaganda overdrive. There may be massacres occurring but our sources so far are dubious or already discredited propagandists. Patrick Cockburn had only recently pointed out that there are no reliable sources in East Aleppo, but the same paper that carried his piece just posted an article based on “social media” of activists claiming that they face “a genocide”. One of the viral massacre photos is actually from a music video. Max Blumenthal tweeted “The BBC’s sources in E Aleppo are the four most popular opposition accounts that tweet in English. One is funded by the State Dept.” (The sources are named in an embedded image.) In contrast, over more than a year I have seen a steady stream of photographs of dismembered and starving children from Yemen. The provenance of these pictures is not disputed, the suffering is slow and ongoing and therefore (like that of Palestinians) it is not as susceptible to fakery and exaggeration, but none of these so-called humanitarians has ever seemed to care about Yemenis. They want a dramatic cause that is facile and unharmful to their careers but allows them to feel self-righteous. That is why I feel considerable disgust at words such as Shaun King’s putrid hyperbole: “I often wondered how the Holocaust could happen while so many people watched & did nothing. Aleppo is a modern study in how that happens.” The deep seriousness with which he regards this “Holocaust” can be inferred from the fact that it is a lone tweet; one isolated tweet in the middle of a timeline dominated by the evidently more important topic of Kanye West.

Let me reiterate that I do not know what is happening in East Aleppo. What I do know is that it was inevitable that a “bloodbath” would be reported whether there is one or not. This propaganda will be used to foment war or justify sanctions that will kill Syrians. There is a chance that the Trump administration will launch the newer larger war in Syria that Clinton was tacitly promising, especially if some terrorist act provides a pretext. If not, however, Syria will slowly all be brought under government control. Unfortunately for Syrians they will find themselves in the position that Iraq found themselves in in 1991. Samantha Power has announced to the UNGA that 12 Syrian generals must face war crimes trials (just days before the UK parliament voted 439 to 70 not to hold Tony Blair accountable for lying to them in order to prosecute war against Iraq). When Syria’s UN Ambassador took the floor the US, UK and French walked out in protest before he had said anything.

More recently Power castigated Russia: “Are you truly incapable of shame? Is there literally nothing that can shame you? Is there no act of barbarism against civilians, no execution of a child that gets under your skin, that just creeps you out a little bit? Is there nothing you will not lie about or justify?” For anyone who recalls some of the appalling atrocities known to have been carried out by US supported “moderates”, including the beheading of a 12 year-old, this hypocrisy seems extraordinarily like Power has entirely lost her humanity entirely and become an expression of pure evil. Robert Fisk describes the rebels she supports as: “among the cruellest and most ruthless of fighters in the Middle East.” Yet Power, in this post-fact world, can act as if she were the most moral and perfect human ever created, knowing that she will never be called out by Western media with her hypocritical finger-pointing. The US will use such accusations and their control of the media narrative to impose sanctions on the Syrian people while those who might stand in solidarity with Syria are kept at bay by their dislike of the Ba’athist regime, exactly as it occurred in the early 1990s. History doesn’t repeat, but imperialists like to re-use successful ploys, only tinkering as necessary.


Chapter 6. Clinton, Blair, Obama 1992-2016 – Ostensible Diversity Redux

Living in a pluralistic polyarchy or what we laughingly refer to as a “liberal democracy” becomes much less of a source of self-satisfied complacency when you examine just how narrow the ideologies of the political leaders are and note that they are quite out of alignment with the more diverse ideologies of the populations they are supposed to “serve”. I have previously written about our worrying tendency to destroy Straw Hitlers as a way of justifying the unjustifiable. The fact is that we don’t like to admit that Fascism and Nazism were not ideological monoliths and pointing to differing policy positions on, say, banking regulation is not a sign that the major parties in a polyarchy are actually an expression of democratic pluralism.

Clearly Democrats and Republicans do not represent the breadth of public opinion in the US by any means. On many issues they are jointly in clear opposition to the majority. Their political speech has some diversity, but their actual policies are in a very tight consensus that is not at all related to public opinion, nor to what people perceive themselves to be voting for.

Bill Clinton was meant to be a left-wing alternative to 12 years of Reagan and Bush. Toni Morrison said one of the stupidest things ever said in history calling Bill the “first Black president” because he publicly treated Black people with the same unctuousness that he lathered on people with different skin colours. It was a breakthrough on a par with “United Colours of Benneton” ad campaign, when it was suddenly realised that you could make money by hypocritically appropriating progressive politics. In reality Clinton pursued policies that increased inequality: he supported NAFTA; he enacted welfare reform that set up a “race to the bottom” dynamic which effectively pushed states into miserly, cruel and even economically self-destructive policies; he increased mass incarceration and signed the “Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty” act, stating how much he approved of the limitation it placed in the ability of death row prisoners to appeal in court and thus “escape justice”. In cases like that of Troy Davis this has meant that belated exonerating evidence cannot be used to overturn a conviction and, as the US Supreme Court ruled, as long as the law was followed in gaining the conviction it is perfectly legal to put an innocent man to death. Davis was executed in 2011.

The continuation of the racist “war on drugs” establishes a key pattern in creating the fake pluralism in politics. Reagan and Bush had been very overt and loud in their anti-drug rhetoric. Under Bush it reached McCarthyite proportions with photo ops with kids denouncing their own parents for using drugs. When Clinton came to office everyone expected a change in direction from the sax-playing dude who admitted to smoking pot. Surely someone like that could not in conscience imprison people for doing what he had done with impunity? He was actually just the first of the a succession of three Presidents who have admitted to illegal drug use, and no they do not let the hypocrisy of their position bother them. They are politicians and increasingly I feel that they also view themselves as beyond the law. The point with Clinton’s war on drugs was that he continued to accelerate it. The only difference was that he didn’t wave around a white ten-gallon cowboy hat and yell “yee-haw” while promising to clean up the town. In fact, he switched to dog-whistle racism and played on fears, getting rid of Nancy Reagan’s prim moralisation and blurring the issue with the racially informed and fear-based law-and-order narrative that had always lurked underneath. This established a pattern by which politicians could capitalise on backlash against right-wing policies but then perpetuate those policies by merely not drawing the same level of attention to them. Another strong example of this is Obama’s deportation and “border security” policy. More people have been deported under Obama than any prior President and the Border Patrol and ICE now have a combined budget of $20 billion.

Then came Tony Blair. After 18 years of Conservative governments the theme song of Blair’s campaign went “things can only get better”. That is a ballsy way of not promising anything good, but still harnessing a false positivity in a way that foreshadowed Obama’s 2008 campaign. Claiming “things can only get better” does not actually suggest that your party intends to make any progressive change.

Economic “shock” practitioners sweep to power on a wave of panic and then wreak havoc on a society and its economy. They claim that it is analogous to a medical procedure, painful but necessary for long-term health. Then, when the pain of their attacks begins to fade they say “look its working”. It is like predicting that someone will develop a migraine and then hitting them in the head with a brick to “prevent” it and then claiming to have wrought a miracle once the bleeding stops and the pain fades a little. In a sense Britain’s “New Labour” only had to avoid overtly attacking the poor and working class for a couple of years for their campaign song to become prophecy.

After a while, of course, the underlying neoliberalism began to overtake New Labour’s unsustainable pretence of being a “Third Way” of market-friendly socialism. Private finance initiatives and public-private partnerships (PPPs) were not so much a compromise between nationalisation and privatisation as they were a way of giving the wealthy access to tax money and other unearned income (“rents”). They were scams of a sort, but the key is that they did not cause immediate suffering. New Labour were big on deferred pain. Their welfare reforms they laid the groundwork for much cuts under the 2010 Coalition Govt. and the 2015 Conservative Govt. The same could be said of their pro-finance policies, their response to the 2008 financial crisis, and the introduction of quantitative easing.

Under New Labour income inequality reached record levels in 2009-10, but that is a less important consideration than wealth inequality. In sharp contrast to the post-War years, wealth inequality has continued to rise at levels similar to the rise of income inequality under Thatcher. One reason that this is important is that throughout the world inflation has been affecting the spending of the poor more than that of the rich, so the income disparity is lower than the growing disparity in the material condition. One need only look at the costs of housing to know that the stagnant or declining incomes of lower income people actually understate the real growth in disadvantage.

The growing wealth inequality effectively indicates an upward redistribution of wealth. In the US and UK wealth inequality has steadily been growing since 1980 without noticeably changing when different parties or coalitions govern. Coinciding with this change is a neoliberal expansion of state coercive power and tightening of state social support which aggravates the loss of personal wealth. Effectively governments can forestall or accelerate the suffering caused, but the underlying change continues at a fairly regular rate.

Tony Blair was also a driving force behind the bombing of Serbia and the invasion of Iraq. He also eroded civil liberties. Yet many left-wing people still genuinely thought New Labour were credibly less awful than the alternative of staying away from the polls and letting the Conservatives back into power. Blair combined the 2 techniques that allow self-evidently right-wing people to occupy the position that would be taken by the left in an age of authentic politics. Those techniques are fake hope and blackmailing people into choosing the lesser evil.

Obama, of course, was the King of fake hope. In another example of brazen honesty, he did not campaign on real change, or meaningful change, or substantive change, he campaigned on “change we can believe in”. You know, the sort of change that brings Tinkerbell back to life. Change like closing Guantánamo, leaving Iraq, and ending the perpetual war.

Part of the camouflage that has allowed Obama to be the most successful conman of modern history is the constant and often completely insane blather of his right-wing critics. Nothing summarises Obama’s reign better than “Obamacare”. This is like a Blairite PPP taken to enormous and Byzantine extremes. It is not a compromise between two extremes, it is a way of exploiting an unacceptable situation to create another situation which is just as unfair and exploitative but blunts and delays the immediacy of the problem. It is another massive upward redistribution of wealth through giving tax revenue to private interests and creating new rents. It also shows how in practice (neo)liberal politics will happily contravene core liberal principles – in this case by forcing customers to buy products from a private vendor or face the coercive force of the state. This is actually a common product of the neo-liberal practice of privatising or subcontracting state functions, but in this case the money involved is a great deal more than, say, sitting a driver’s license test.

These false alternatives to the pro-corporate, pro-war, pro-inequality right-wing have had such effective PR that there is very little that a Thatcher, Bush or Trump could get away with doing that they could not. Hillary Clinton, however, really shifted the goalposts because she did not make much of a pretence of being any sort of leftist. Her administration would have had less overt militarists, but she herself was the more clearly hawkish of the 2 major Party candidates.

I do not think people are really offered alternatives in US Presidential politics, except in as much as a politician’s persona creates expectations that must not be transgressed too violently. That was why it was vitally important that Kerry no be allowed to win the 2004 election, because there was a serious expectation that he would end the Iraq War and the price of him not doing so would have been huge. With Clinton, though, there really are no expectations of that sort.


Interlude III: The Crooked Hillary Paradox

If you ever really believed that Trump intended to appoint a special prosecutor to look into Hillary Clinton’s crimes then you need to re-examine everything you believe about politics. Even in more politically authentic times, politicians tend to view each other as peers regardless of which side of the aisle they sit on.

US presidential politics takes the normal disingenuousness of politics and elevates it to the level of farce. This occurs through the increasingly protracted and expensive process that begins with people announcing their candidacies nearly two years before the election. Then follows a bizarre spectacle in the primaries where people who are of the same Party do everything short of accusing each other of being the Antichrist. Then they either suddenly fall madly in love with their former enemy when the issue is decided, or they try to maintain fierce enmity but slowly back away from it because they have to re-establish the notion that they are on the same side. If it was pitched as a fictional melodrama no one would accept it because it is too unrealistic, yet journalists build their entire universe around taking the whole thing at face value. If one was to make a realistic fictional narrative of it you would probably have to suggest that 90% of the protagonists are lying 90% of the time. The central characters would, of necessity, only be able to succeed by an ability to maintain a sustained complex deception. In those circumstances the only people able to succeed in politics would be highly professional showpeople.

Much was made of Clinton’s lack of charisma in this campaign, but I think that that is largely a cover story for how much people are revolted by her insincere politics. She is a professional politician and she knows how to ingratiate and sell herself. She is probably not up to the same standard as Obama or her husband, but it is clear that she knows how to make the common folk feel special and to make them feel like she is really concerned about their well-being. The tears on election night showed that she does have cult appeal. I don’t think anyone cried when George H. W. Bush lost to Bill, to name just one example. There have also been “touching” reports of her meeting people whilst walking or buying books.

Trump is a slightly different kettle of fish, but he is a celebrity, a showman and a salesman. He also makes his money by selling himself. This is not dissimilar to being an unctuous glad-handing baby kisser, it just means that Trump doesn’t have to rely so much on sucking up to the peasantry. The point is that he is equally calculating. He also has a long-standing relationship with the Clintons. Trump believed Bill was a kindred spirit and he courted the couple with donations and bonding over golf. Some call the relationship “transactional” rather than genuine friendship, but that is neither here nor there.

After months of talking about “crooked Hillary” and rallies chanting “lock her up”, Trump ruled out appointing a special prosecutor immediately after being declared the winner of the election. This is significant, because he is using a crucial time and burning political capital to end calls for an investigation of alleged crimes by Clinton. This tells us that Trump was treating the campaign as theatre. His relationship with Clinton therefore seems much the same as that he has with wrestling impressario Vince McMahon. 9 years ago, after body slamming him and yelling a lot, Trump acted out a scene in which he “forcibly” shaved McMahon. Yet they still play golf together, and after Trump’s grandiose WWE style entrance to the RNC, Trump remarked: “Well, Vincent’s a good friend of mine. He called me, he said, ‘That was a very, very good entrance.’ But I didn’t want to do it a second time, because, you know, it never works out the second time.”

The net effect of Trump’s calls to investigate the Clintons has, in fact, been to virtually guarantee them impunity. In the mainstream media they really hammered home the idea that threatening to have an electoral opponent imprisoned is unacceptable. That is crap. It may be disturbing to have a bunch of Trump supporters yelling “lock her up” in hateful unison, but not one of those people was saying that she should be locked up for her politics. They all believe that she has committed serious crimes. The reason for that is that there is ample evidence that she has. The revelations in Clinton Cash are a prima facie case of “pay to play” corruption which clearly warrants investigation. The email scandals, no matter which way you slice it, saw Clinton at the very least perjure herself before Congress. And then there is Haiti. The scale of suffering caused by the Clintons wrongdoing in Haiti is on the level of crimes against humanity. Once again there is ample prima facie evidence of criminality that warrants investigation and prosecution.

As we prepared for a predicted Clinton victory the buzz about crimes and the possibility of prosecution had gotten to such a level that it seemed inevitable that President Elect Clinton would have been given a pardon by Obama so that she did not have old business hanging over her head as she entered office. It is very hard to see how things could have worked otherwise. Yet the way things worked was almost like a win-win situation for Trump and Clinton. Without Clinton, Trump could not have won the Presidency, but although she lost Clinton is by some magical process no longer the subject of legal scrutiny, at least for now. How is that for “transactional”?


Chapter 7a. Trump PEOTUS Nov 2016-Jan 2017 – The Rise of the Straw Nazis

For Trump, the alt-right, the Neonazis, the Klan and the swastikas are just props in his theatre. He played the baddy in a wrestling match called the 2016 election and, whether by design or by accident, he won the bout. Should we be reassured that Trump isn’t really earnest in his fomenting of violence and hatred? Is there an authentic Trump that will ensure that common sense and civility prevail? Is it a good sign that he is choosing such an establishment friendly team to make up his administration?

There is a video from Trump’s acceptance speech when Trump’s evidently tired son Barron is shocked into wakefulness by a loyal Trump supporter shouting “kill Obama!” When you incite hatred you are always playing with fire. European rulers of the Medieval and Early Modern era would often continually incite anti-Semitic envy for policy reasons, only to have to send in troops to quell the resultant pogroms (which kill and destroy valuable subjects, their property, and their enterprises). The Jews who were slaughtered would not have been comforted by knowing that the lord or monarch didn’t support their actual killing and would have preferred if it only went as far as spitting or the odd beating.

At least, you might think, we can be assured that Trump is a fake in that he isn’t going to start putting skinheads in uniforms. There is not going to be a “Trump Youth” organisation teaching children to hate and to sell real estate. It should be comforting, but I can’t help but feel that it is not enough. Trump is clearly and deliberately evincing little fascist tics, such as when he retweeted a Mussolini quote and then happily stood by his endorsement of it. That is not politics as usual, that is a deliberate provocation.

I have already mentioned the way Trump’s incitement of violent ideologues echoes Fascist and Nazi use of deniable and disposable thugs, but we can get into even more disturbing territory by pursuing possible parallels with Hitler. I am not saying that Trump is Hitler, I am saying that we are wrong to be reassured that he is not Hitler.

A common understanding of Hitler is that before he seized control of Germany (and then again before he launched WWII and exterminated most of Europe’s Jews) people did not take him seriously enough. That is undeniably true. They say that people thought he was not earnest in his hate speech and then they were surprised when it turned out that he was earnest. This, unfortunately, is not as simple as it seems. In fact, distinguishing what Hitler did and did not believe is not that easy. He was very consistent in trying to concentrate power in his own hands and he clearly wanted to strengthen Germany and he must have believed in eugenics. There a probably quite a few things you could pinpoint that he believed in, but I suspect that his grand vision was much simpler than people believe and much of what he said and wrote was in a more grey area where he did not necessarily distinguish between truth and falsehood. Most obvious was his business and finance friendly policy. He eliminated all ideological rivals, but would happily allow others to wield power and co-operated with the military, financial and industrial establishment (who were equally amenable until the war started to go badly).

Perhaps the most striking and disturbing thing about Hitler is that his attitude towards Jews was not as simple as his action and rhetoric would suggest. Writing in the Journal of Genocide Research (2:3 pp 411-30) Gunnar Heinsohn reveals that Hitler wrote to Martin Bormann: “We use the term Jewish race merely for reasons of linguistic convenience, for in the real sense of the word, and from a genetic point of view there is no Jewish race.” Heinsohn also points out that before he discovered and joined the clearly anti-Semitic Nazi Party in its early days, not only did Hitler leave no record of anti-Semitic sentiment but he did on some occasions show respect and admiration of specific Jews. Once he was in power though, hatred of Jews was his most powerful weapon. As Karl Schleunes wrote: “It was the Jew who helped hold Hitler’s system together…. The Jew allowed Hitler to ignore the long list of economic and social promises he had made to the SA, the lower party apparatus, and the lower middle classes. By steering the attention of these groups away from their more genuine grievances and toward the Jew, Hitler succeeded in blunting the edge of their revolutionary wrath.”

That is what scares the shit out of me, because someone like Trump could easily set in motion the same type of process. When people unleash a political dynamic they will adapt themselves to it rather than challenge it, even when it becomes dangerously dysfunctional. It is bad enough when this happens in the form of an economic bubble or metastasising corruption, but when fear and hate shape that political dynamic it is potentially disastrous.

Trump will probably make political capital out of repudiating overt Fascists and Klansmen, but in knocking down those straw Nazis he will give himself even more space to foment xenophobic fears and to stoke the resentments of those who think that the US is being pushed around, men are under attack, and/or white people are being persecuted. And while he is doing that, how much more militarised will the police become? What new wars will be launched? How much more extensive will mass surveillance become? How much more fearful will ordinary people become of political dissent, or flag-burning, or disrespect of authority? How many more civil liberties will be lost?

All that needs happen for the Trump Presidency to become a danger to humanity is for the power of the US government to become reliant on promoting the hatred of an enemy to forestall growing discontent.


Chapter 7b. Clinton PEOTUS Nov 2016-Jan 2017 – The Rise of the Straw Nazis

Almost everything I said about Trump is also true about Clinton. As the possibility of a Clinton and Democrat landslide seemed to become more likely she became ever more scary. Nor would her election have prevented the continuing rise of unabashed right-wing extremists. In a parallel universe where Clinton won there may have been an even greater explosion of misogynist, Nazi and racist actions. Her response would have been the same: repress the overt Nazis but keep transforming the country into a paranoid, nationalistic, authoritarian dystopia that would make any Nazi green with envy.

What a lot of people don’t understand is that some Trump supporters genuinely saw him as the lesser evil. I have written about this before, but it bears repeating that because of Clinton’s record in government, those who argued for Trump as the lesser evil generally had far more concrete and immediate evidence to back their claims.

Clinton is symptomatic of an establishment that is every bit as off-the-rails as Trump. In fact, either Trump or Clinton could only ever be the tip of an iceberg. The type of fascistic governance that Sheldon Wolin called “inverted totalitarianism” has grown to the point where it is flipping over into the normal territory of fascism with leader worship; flag worship; political violence; intolerance; militarism; scapegoating of internal and external enemies; inequality in law; fraudulent elections; fearmongering about national and personal security; and obsession with crime and punishment. The thing that most distinguishes current US from historic fascism/Nazism is the continued embrace of pluralism and tolerance in gender, sexuality and lifestyle. That tolerance itself is fuelling a hateful backlash that might at some stage produce a Joe McCarthy-like figure and all of the liberal elites will fall in line with new norms of intolerance.

Meanwhile the “post-fact” nature of current politics is making the US public even less connected to any rational grasp of a just and ethical foreign policy. In the past, when launching wars against Laos, Cambodia, Libya, Serbia, Iraq, Afghanistan and even tiny Grenada, the US would have to create complex fictions full of convoluted reasoning and numerous lies in order to justify going in to other peoples’ lands and killing them in mass numbers. Clinton, on the other hand, just said outright that she was going to impose a No-Fly Zone on Syria right in the middle of a live debate. Waging a war of aggression (namely war that is not in self-defence) is the supreme war crime, but it is actually a war crime to threaten to wage a war of aggression also. Clinton committed a war crime live in front of tens of millions of viewers and nobody seems to care.

I can understand how in circumstances of instability the US can get away with sending in its forces and ignore the protests of diplomats from the victim country, but I really think that a line is crossed when threats like this are treated as completely unremarkable. I think that people oppose war in general, and launching WWIII in particular, but rightly or wrongly I don’t think that Usanians really feel that they are personally at risk from war. They should be more worried because, like Trump’s, Clinton’s behaviour is not politics as usual. As I have said before, her NFZ claims made Trump’s wall claims look modest and extremely rational.


Epilogue – Welcome to Trumptopia

“I have spent two years making a documentary film, The Coming War on China, in which the evidence and witnesses warn that nuclear war is no longer a shadow, but a contingency. The greatest build-up of American-led military forces since the Second World War is well under way. They are in the northern hemisphere, on the western borders of Russia, and in Asia and the Pacific, confronting China.” – John Pilger

Even before taking office Trump is putting his stamp on domestic and foreign politics. In retrospect a pessimist might say that the election was about whether WWIII would be launched in Syria while trying to ensure that China remains neutral or whether it would be launched in the South China sea, while trying to ensure that Russia remains neutral.

Trump has already taken Richard Nixon’s “Madman Theory” to new heights. By the time he takes office we will all have to be genuinely concerned (at least on some level) that a 3:30am tweet will be the first quantum event in a chain-reaction that will lead to nuclear annihilation.

Trump’s provocations of China are truly dangerous, but there has been considerable calculation and planning behind this. His call with Taiwan’s President was planned months in advance and, while the Obama administration makes insincere apologies through the ironically named Josh Earnest, it is a fairly obvious next step in the process of creating a threat to China that Obama began 5 years ago.

As John Pilger reveals (in the article quoted above) the US has serious plans for how to fight a war with China, and it shows no signs that it is accepting the new global economic realities. Trump tweeted: “Did China ask us if it was OK to devalue their currency (making it hard for our companies to compete), heavily tax our products going into their country (the U.S. doesn’t tax them) or to build a massive military complex in the middle of the South China Sea? I don’t think so!” The scary thing is that no one seems to think this is odd, let alone unacceptable. Trump has hundreds of millions of mirror-blind chauvinist nationalists behind him, totally incapable of imagining what it would be like if the situation was reversed.

When the US was at war in Viet Nam, protesters, including Vietnam Veterans Against War, would openly avow support for the National Liberation Front in South Viet Nam. People would chant “Ho Ho Ho Chi Minh! Ho Chi Minh is going to win!”. That level of ideological and psychological freedom does not exist in the US any more. They have become exceptionally good at constraining what is acceptable thought and in co-opting dissent so that to “protest” a dissident must first wrap themselves in the flag and rap the praises of the founding fathers for a good couple of hours before suggesting that it is wrong to oppress people.

If it were the US alone that might be less alarming, but we seem to be all caught up in this madness. Countries that are far more closely tied to China than to the US, such as Australia and Aoteraoa, are happily obeying the commandment to aggravate and alienate their biggest trading partner. Western countries are so obsequious to the US that it barely possible to explain how hypocritical our government’s have become, or even to remind people what happened 5, 10, 20 or 50 years ago and how it might suggest that US foreign policy is actually insupportable and the US and its allies have no moral standing to criticise others. Even when the public do not buy into the insanity, as the Germans do not with regard to the wisdom of sanctioning and provoking Russia, their leaders do it anyway.

Meanwhile, Trump’s appointments are very alarming. They have been the one thing so far that really has made me doubt my previous conviction that Clinton was just as scary as Trump. (In the end I have to remind myself that “reasonable” people like Colin Powell, Wesley Clark, or Zbigniew Brzezinski kill as many people as overtly unreasonable people.) Trump has picked 3 Generals for his cabinet. General Flynn is most striking. His overt Islamophobia exceeds that of Mattis. He tweeted: “Fear of Muslims is RATIONAL: please forward this to others: the truth fears no questions… http://youtu.be/tJnW8HRHLLw” The video he links to, among other interesting things, seems to suggest that there has never been anything problematic in the history of relations between Christians and Jews, nor Hindus, Sikhs and Buddhists. It implies that religious violence is a purely Muslim phenomenon which is presumably the only reason that the US needs to send so many troops to countries with oil.

Trump has also followed in the footsteps of Fascist and Nazi populists by campaigning as the anti-establishment figure and then empowering the establishment, though now with him firmly at the top. Even before appointing Rex Tillerson the net worth of Trump’s cabinet after roughly half of the positions were filled was $14 billion. In contrast the first George W. Bush cabinet, which was at the time considered corrosively moneyed, was worth $250 million.

These are dangerously decadent times. A tweet from Trump wiped $3.5 billion from the share value of Lockheed Martin. This is doubly insane because Trump is not going to be able to alter the F35 contract and because if the whole deal wasn’t incredibly unsound Trump’s tweet would not have an impact. Trump’s tweet is 5 years too late to make a real difference and yet it still makes a real difference to the tune of $3.5 billion. The post-fact world reifies fiction, giving lies a magnified reality while the truth shrinks into insignificance. Ned Resnikoff believes that Trumps incessant lies serve the purpose of destroying the distinction between truth and falsehood. Lauren Duca makes a similar point, suggesting that Trump is “gas lighting” the entire country – a type of abuse where the victim is controlled through deception and isolation. But like so many other things this is not just about Trump. Many of those who dislike Trump and abhor his election are happily re-bleating the baseless CIA claim that the Russians changed the election result by hacking the DNC. These idiots, these sheep, seem to be totally unconcerned that by blaming a Russian “hack” they are endorsing the DNCs right to commit wrongful and anti-democratic acts in secret and they are saying that revealing those acts is an assault on democracy. Both Trump and Clinton are guilty of serious wrongdoing, but instead of examining their real crimes hordes of factionalised morons rant at each other about #Putin and #Pizzagate.

The US is a society that seems on the edge of disintegration or descent into much tighter authoritarianism and many other countries will be pulled in the same direction. The US empire is probably unsustainable, but even it it can be sustained it should not be. The problem is that the dying empire poses a huge danger. The people who have the most power in the empire have done horrible things to all of us, including friendly and allied nations. Client elites, even in the poorest nations, have done well, but not the people. Nor have the US people been treated well, and that is fuelling resentment. If the empire starts to fuel its dying embers with the resentment of its own people, and with the resentment of the right-wing and racist people of other Western countries then we are in big trouble.

We all need to do something about this and the answer is the same in all countries, including the US: We have to get rid of the fake left.

We have to stop tolerating those who forget principles even though we understand that the media will make them pay for remembering those principles. We have to stop giving a pass to those who promise only to be the lesser evil. We have to demand a politics that does not compromise and that does not allow itself to be bribed into abandoning our fellow human beings because they are distant and foreign. Get angry at politicians and make them accountable for everything they do and say. Demand an end to war and to militarism. Stop buying into narratives that make it seem normal or even humanitarian to kill other people in their own countries. If you think Nazis are bad and racist, then you must demand that Westerners stop killing people from poorer nations because that is the most brutal form of racism.

We have already paid a price for failing to stand in solidarity with victims of US war and genocide. All of us, including the ordinary people of the US, have allowed an elite to feast on flesh and blood and through that to make themselves our masters and to enrich themselves at our expense. We have been creating more and more wealth and working longer and longer hours while our societies become ever more unequal. We have made fools of ourselves by our selfishness and our fear of having to share wealth and burdens with those less fortunate. To use the Nazi analogy one last time, being the Kapos in the global ghetto is not the boon we might think when we are all headed for the same final destination.

Maybe the US and its allies will continue business as usual under Trump. They will keep killing people in faraway places. Inequality will continue to grow and very slowly we will have our rights eroded and our place in society whittled away bit by bit. We are on the cusp of a transformation where labour will no longer be crucial enough to the production that attracts spending and to continue will require some form of universal income. Unless politics goes back to responding to people’s welfare, life could become very bleak and minimal – neoliberalism taken to its ultimate “bare life” extreme of mere survival.

On the other hand, even worse things are possible and we need to become very active in opposing wars and any politics that promote hate violence and reaction.

The Empire Paradox: More Power is More Weakness

Standard

neolibs

In response to my recent article on US imperial wars some people objected to my characterisation of the US empire. I wrote: “In global terms the US has never been more powerful” and some were quick to point out that the US empire is very weak. To those people I want to say that we are both right, but the weaknesses of the US empire do not generally affect its functioning. One day these weakness will become very, very important, but we cannot predict when that will be. In the meantime, critics of US empire undermine themselves by their focus on weakness, which often leads to millenarian predictions of immanent collapse.

To explain, I will begin by giving shape to the empire’s dynamic of power and weakness. There is nothing new in suggesting that empires can become victims of their own success. “Imperial overreach” is a common enough term and it is clearly worrying at least one imperialist (Zbigniew Brzezinski, whom I will discuss further at a later point). However, while the established language of “stretch”, “overextension” and “centrifugal forces” evoke 2 dimensions, I want to suggest that we visualise the empire in 3 dimensions.

2-dimensional metaphors of imperium are cartographic in origin. They reflect the logistical, strategic and tactical concerns of an empire of military, bureaucratic and economic control. The irony is that the imperial quest to conquer and tame geography is also a process of transcending geography with institutions and communications which erase differences and distances. Geography is still important in many respects, but I think we need to visualise the totality of empire in an abstract way, because in some important ways it has become a post-geographic empire wherein many important connections exist without physical proximity. This changes some facts of empire, even if others remain the same.

For example, the British had to worry about the “agency problem” in India which could be epitomised by, say, an East Indian company employee marrying a local woman and setting up in business with his new in-laws. This was very common, and the response from the Empire was to create a segregationist and anti-miscegenation racial discourse (and to ship young British women to India in bulk consignments). In contrast, the US can send agents to any country without such worry due to transnationalisation and global mobility. Though there is still a bias towards people of European descent, diplomats, spies, contractors, investors, missionaries, and garrisoning troops are ever more likely to be people of colour. Far from needing to keep its people separate, the US empire is benefiting from its ability to send agents who have ethnic origins and family ties to the neocolony in question. Meanwhile comprador oligarchs (especially in the Western hemisphere) are educated in the US and may have residences and business concerns in the US. The nationality on your birth certificate might limit your power at the highest levels (unless Trump and the “birthers” are correct), but there is still an international imperial elite including many non-US nationals who wield great power.

My proposal for an abstract 3-dimensional model of imperial power is a foam of conjoined bubbles. Each bubble represents a discrete institution of imperial power relations has the properties which we associate with metaphorical bubble such as a price bubble.

Imperial power relations are bubbles because the empire is a structure which puts power into the hands of the few. As Antonio Gramsci famously observed there must be “Consent” to domination, and as Gandhi noted: “We in India may in moment realize that one hundred thousand Englishmen need not frighten three hundred million human beings.” This sets up a dynamic that necessarily inclines towards an increasing but individually unsustainable concentration of power with the necessary increase of coercive power being a threat to the “hegemony” that maintains the consent of the governed.

Not every aspect of imperial power replicates the dynamics of an economic bubble, but I think that enough do to make the generalisation valid. In the resulting imperial spume each bubble; such as petrochemical hegemony, financial hegemony, or entertainment media hegemony, must individually expand or die, but the conjoined bubbles can artificially prevent a bubble burst, or may at other times simply fill the space so that the imperial mass continues with little diminishment. But as the bubbles continue a general trend of expansion there will be an increasing number of bubbles large enough that the bursting will set off a chain reaction. Theoretically there will come a point where the increasingly dominant and powerful empire will be susceptible to complete collapse from the tiniest pin-prick.

The problem is that the system is too complex for us to predict. We don’t know where we are at. The empire has responsive institutions, so vulnerabilities that are predictable are compensated for. This itself feeds the processes of inflation. To use another analogy, perhaps the future will bring a giant iceberg of imperial weakness which is foreseen, but cannot be avoided. It is possible, but the empire is constantly steering among icebergs. I think it is more likely that one day an unforeseen fault will cause a cascade failure, destroying the ability to steer. After that we can spend all the time we want arguing whether it was the unforeseen fault or the giant and obvious iceberg which is to blame (or praise) for the empire’s collapse.

Because of this unpredictability, the weaknesses of the US empire are significant potentialities, but they have little relevance in actuality. For those who oppose empire there is little to be gained fro focussing on imperial weakness.

I count myself among those who has a bias towards perceiving the inherent weakness, contradiction and self-defeat built into imperial expansion. We do not want to think of the empire as a “success” in any terms. We do not want to think that the mass-murderers of Washington DC might go to their graves believing that they have been on the side of the angels. We do not even really want to admit war and genocide can be used successfully to advance the interests of US empire. We want people to understand that nobody truly benefits from the cruel crimes of empire.

I do not want to believe that the US empire “wins” all the time, but I know that that is the real nature of empire. With very few exceptions it will always leverage from its superior power and will win every conflict eventually. Every time the US empire seems to be handed a defeat, it is only a matter of time before it becomes a US victory. In 1950 the US was worried about an independent Viet Nam becoming an industrialised socialist regional hegemon. Now Viet Nam is a poor neoliberal source of cheap labour that has signed the TPP and lets US warships use Cam Ranh bay and Haiphong harbour. The Phillippines evicted the US military in 1992, to much acclaim, but they were back a decade later and have been increasing their presence ever since (including announcing of 5 new bases in recent months).

They are also hard to stop when they decide to go to war. 3 years ago, after protest had prevented US bombing of Syria, I wrote “Though apparently thwarted in its efforts to justify action against Syria, the US is likely to continue looking for cracks in the wall of opposition and will exploit any opportunity to act, relying on its well established impunity.” Sure enough, in time the US began bombing Syria, having found a completely different rationale that coincidently meant they needed to bomb the country they had wanted to bomb for unrelated reasons just months before.

In Latin America, just a few years ago it seemed that the tide had turned decisively and enduringly against Usanian dominance, but now: Dilma Rouseff has been ousted; Venezuela is nearing collapse under the strain of US economic warfare and sabotage; Mauricio Macri plunged Argentina back into the deepest depths of neoliberalism; post-coup Honduras is rife with right-wing death squads; Rafael Correa will not be standing in the upcoming Ecuadoran election; and the historic peace-deal in Colombia has actually given a platform and relevance to mass-murderer Alvaro “I did it because it was a necessity” Uribe who is leading the right-wing campaign against peace (50 years of killing is apparently not enough).

In Europe, NATO has expanded to Russia’s borders in numerous places. India is now clearly in the US camp, a factor that should not be underestimated. Under AFRICOM (established 2002) the US military is now deeply entrenched and highly active throughout most of Africa. US military capabilities on the borders of rivals and enemies become ever more menacing with deployments such as the THAAD missiles in ROK, and ABM missiles in Romania and Poland.

The US remains the largest arms exporter and provider of military “aid”, but there has been a qualitative shift that increases the dependency of its clients. US weapons systems, and the insistence on “interoperability” amongst allies and clients, are now such that many military activities require US contractor or military personnel for maintenance. This gives the an unprecedented lever of control that supplements the military aid and training programmes that ensure that officers in the neocolonies are loyal to the empire. In direct terms the US can also, under circumstances decided by itself, take control of the massive and well armed forces of the Republic of Korea (ROK). Moreover, though its sidekick the UK has dropped from 2nd to 5th in military spending, it is now the second biggest arms dealer in the world.

The US has been proliferating missile defence systems which are designed to prevent retaliation from Russia after a massive US nuclear attack. This alone is causing dangerous instability, but the US is also trying to blur the lines between nuclear and conventional weapons to make them more “thinkable. Complementing this is a very expensive nuclear modernisation programme that includes many smaller “tactical” munitions.

In conventional terms the US also has excessive and peerless firepower. The US has 10 massive “supercarriers” currently in service. There total displacement is close enough to be called a megaton (1,000,000 tons). In contrast, adding all other countries aircraft carriers together you get under 200,000 tons of displacement (one fifth of the US strength). Total US naval size is 4 times that of its nearest rival (Russia): quote “the U.S. war fleet displaces nearly as much as all other warships in the world’s navies, combined.” Given that is also has the highest nuclear and conventional payloads, and the greatest technological sophistication, it is fair to say that the US Navy is considerably more powerful than all other navies combined.

In military terms the US is unquestionably a greater power now that it was in the past, and it is the greatest military power in world history.

The US has also gone from strength to strength in being able to impose economic control and in coercing and bribing governments into signing over economic sovereignty to the empire’s corporate arm. Once again it seems that the US empire never has to concede defeat, it merely bides its time and finds a new way forward when checked. The anti-globalisation movement in the late 1990s seemed spell the end of the march of neoliberalism. Indeed the Doha round of WTO negotiations, which started in 2002 and still continue, were hijacked by notions of development and welfare. Undeterred, the US has turned to bilateral and regional multilateral deals which further US hegemony and neoliberal governance. Now it gets to exploit the synergies that result from having its fingers in so many pies. The TPPA and TTIP, for example, also function to isolate China and Russia. We may still be holding a good fight against the TPPA, but the fact that the US could muscle in on someone else’s trade deal and then pervert in entirely to their own cause and then get the government’s concerned to sign the deal. Now many believe that TTIP is dead in the water. I would caution that there was a period when the TPPA also seemed dead (some say it is now), but stalled is not the same as dead.

The forces wanting these agreements are not going anywhere and no one is actually dismantling the process to this point. With the TPPA in particular, even if ratification becomes indefinitely delayed popular outrage, we don’t have a realistic way of getting the deal off the table altogether. This is a ratchet system, it can only go one way and it moves that way every time public pressure is relaxed or confounded.

Even if we defeat TPPA and TTIP, then there is already the Trade in Services Agreement (TiSA) which “imposes unprecedented restrictions on SOEs and will force majority owned SOEs to operate like private sector businesses.” As George Monbiot writes: “TTIP has been booed off the stage but another treaty, whose probable impacts are almost identical, is waiting in the wings. And this one is more advanced, wanting only final approval. If this happens before Britain leaves the EU, we are likely to be stuck with it for 20 years.”

We seem to have no means of reversing the progressive loss of economic sovereignty. Each individual country knows that they will be hammered if they take the first step. Thus in those periods where a country might be lucky enough to have a government that has a level of benevolent intent, they are constrained to trying to beautify our prison cells with some flowers and maybe (if we are really lucky) a comfortable vermin-free mattress. They provide insufficient and, above all, precarious well-being in a world where inequality has become a rampant cancer, as dangerous as it is obscene and surreal. Billionaires now own over $US7 trillion in wealth.

The empire can think up new ways of robbing and enslaving the people of the world because it owns our governments, it owns our bureaucrats, it owns our spooks, it owns our generals. As for multinational corporate interests (and their legions of lawyers and lobbyists and PR hacks), well the empire owns them and they own the empire (or is that the other way around?)

At the launch of a left-wing think tank author and academic Nick Srnicek said: “Neoliberalism is dead, and we have an opening to produce something new.” He is right, but wrong. His diagnosis is no different from what was said by people like him after the Asian Financial crisis 20 years ago. We must build intellectually robust counterarguments to neoliberalism, but we should realise it does not actually need to be intellectually valid to continue. You cannot kill that which does not live. Likewise, it is wrong to think that the rise of right-wing populism means an end to neoliberalism. It is a scam, and you don’t have to believe in the lies to perpetuate them or use them. Srnicek thinks that Trump is anti-neoliberal, which is what a lot of Argentinians thought about Mauricio Macri. Macri (who laid off 100,000 public sector workers in his first 3 months and deregulated labour laws for the benefit of employers) has just announced an end to energy subsidies which will cause a 400% rise in gas prices. Combined with Macri’s earlier move to raise wholesale electricity prices this will mean increases in power bills of up to 700%.

I think it is great, wonderful and necessary that we use the term “neoliberalism” as a catch-all term. It helps us draw links between the policies of our own governments and the international trends, and now people are grasping the fact that it has an authoritarian side. But I would caution against treating it as deriving its coherence from an ideology. As David Harvey pointed out in A Brief History of Neoliberalism neoliberals do not play by the rules they espouse.

Neoliberalism isn’t really particularly neo, it is just a new bottle for the old sour wine of market fundamentalism (as Fred Block explains in this interview). In practical terms, for example, Herbert Hoover was indistinguishable from a neoliberal except that he was less slick. In reality, the final nail in the intellectual coffin of market fundamentalism came before neoliberialism even existed. It was the work of economic historian Karl Polanyi whose unrefuted 1944 book The Great Transformation showed that market fundamentalism always was a bunch of crap going right back to its first policy applications in the 19th century. Polanyi also found exactly the same double standards in 19th century British laissez-faire that Harvey found in its modern incarnation, quoting a US Treasury Secretary who complained that the British Empire’s policy was “do as we say, don’t do as we do”.

Thus, neoliberalism always was an undead ideology of Zombie Economics. Personally I find it hard to believe that people take something like Friedrich Hayek’s The Road to Serfdom seriously but clearly, like Ayn Rand, he is tapping into the hidden desire for absolution that obviously afflicts the wealthy and the bourgeois. It must be something like that, because it is a really pathetic book. First Churchill and then Thatcher had tens of thousands of copies distributed free to the Conservative Party faithful like it was the Tory Bible, or Little Red Book.

The thing about zombies is that, however shambling, they are hard to stop. There have been few sour notes in the orchestrated global advance of neoliberal imperialism. There have been thorns in the sides of the US – nation-states that just won’t play ball – but the empire has the time and expanse to quarantine such naughty countries until such time as they can crushed. People call the US weak, but they are destroying Syria now at no real cost to themselves. Syria was on a list, as was Libya. People point to Libya and call the intervention a failure, but Libya is fucked and it hasn’t hurt the empire in any way. Mission accomplished, surely? And then there is Iraq. Iraq, which would be an incredibly rich nation without intervention, is barely holding together. It is so divided that any powerful outsider (not just the US) can destabilise it. This is a clear win for the US, and they used the Iraq invasion to give $US19 billion of Iraq’s money to US contractors like Halliburton. Iraq now spends billions in oil money each year to buy US weapons and is completely dependent on US support to keep its government in one piece.

neoliberal-power-supply

Picture: power supply in Iraq embodying the “logic” of neoliberalism

After what the US has done to Iraq, no one should think that Iraqis want the US there, but people still call the 20-year genocide a “failure” and a “tragic error”. It is an evil master-stroke, not a mistake. The empire is only threatened by such action in that eventually it may over-reach, so each success carries the germ of potential disaster. As I mentioned at the beginning though increased power and increased fragility go hand in hand. Maybe a collapse of the empire will come, but until that time the empire’s power is an actuality, but its weakness is only a potential.

People who develop the habit of announcing the immanent demise, or even just the weakness of the US will eventually find themselves in the same position as those cultists who have to sheepishly keep pushing back the date of the apocalypse as each predicted end-time passes without the end actually happening. Historians Joyce and Gabriel Kolko spent decades emphasising US weakness in foreign policy, beginning during the US war in Indochina. At each point, over the decades of writing, it seemed valid to highlight this supposed weakness, but if you trace their work through time that aspect of the work becomes ridiculous, which in turn brings into question their very understanding of the empire. Sun Tzu advised: “When you are strong, appear weak”, and US officials love nothing more than whingeing about their vulnerability and impotence. The Kolkos let themselves be misdirected. They let their desire for a more just world lead them astray.

The empire’s weaknesses are its contradictions, which is another way of saying what I wrote in the title: more power is more weakness. But the potential weakness only affects the empire in the here-and-now inasmuch as it causes imperialists to become circumspect and modest. That is not happening. We know it is not because there is an exception to the rule, and that is Zbigniew Brzezinski. He wrote an article this year calling for caution and realignment. However, he is claiming that the US empire is already dead (which could be seen as disingenuous) and that a global realignment has to occur in which Russia and/or China are incorporated. He is basically advocating a global carve-up of the world and his can even be read as an appeal to take substantive control of China and Russia in order to dominate parts of the globe through them (in the same manner that occupied post-WWII Japan was used as a sub-hegemon in East Asia).

Brzezinski is clearly not being 100% honest either. He makes a transparently fake denunciation of “the current inclination of the Saudi government still to foster Wahhabi fanaticism”. Once the obvious lie is removed he is clearly saying that SA (which used to just buy US weapons and not use them) should continue in its new-found warmongering role.

Perhaps Brzezinski is genuinely worried about continued unipolar expansion, and that is what makes him an exception, but his answer is to a problem of empire is more imperialism: a controlled US dominated delegation of power to subordinates: “the United States must take the lead in realigning the global power architecture”. Nevertheless Mike Whitney seized on Brzezinski’s article with glee at the arch-imperialist giving up on empire, and I think he represents a broader tendency to want to see the empire as crumbling. But even if one imperialist did give up on empire, it isn’t much to get excited about it. Moreover, if “giving up on empire” comes in the form of saying that the US should create an new New-World-Order, then I would hate to see what expansionism looks like.

Besides all of that, none of this is new for Brzezinski, and a veteran like Mike Whitney should have remembered that this echoes Brzezinski’s stance from 2006, especially since Whitney quoted him in 2007: “American power may be greater in 2006 than in 1991, (but) the country’s capacity to mobilize, inspire, point in a shared direction and thus shape global realities has significantly declined. Fifteen years after its coronation as global leader, America is becoming a fearful and lonely democracy in a politically antagonistic world.” In fact Brzezinski had much the same stance in 2000 when he published The Geostrategic Triad advocating “The progressive inclusion of Russia in the expanding Transatlantic”. He wanted the US to rule in conjunction with partners dominated by it. The details in his latest article are different (China promoted, Europe demoted, Russia matured), but the essence is the same, a unilateral imperialism that calls itself multilateral and pretends to be pragmatic by being thoroughly overtly repugnant in the name of realism.Having seen many excited tweets about Brzezinski’s putative turn against empire, I think it is a good case study on which to end. It shows how we fool ourselves, seeking the easiest signs of hope and progress when the outlook is actually daunting and scary. We cannot see what lies ahead. We could be on the cusp of something great or something horrific or a long hard slow battle which we might not win. At the moment we have little control over such things. Any attempt to take a shortcut because of some will-o-the-wisp is counterproductive. We have been dealt a crappy hand, but that is what we have to live with because the masses are unreachable and will remain so until dissidents can offer a coherent comprehensive alternative to empire. That is why Srnicek was correct in his prescription, even if his diagnosis was a bit off.

To paraphrase Gramsci, what we need is accuracy of the intellect and sufficiency of the will, in that order.

Nazi Zombies Ate Gloria Steinem’s Brain!

Standard

(or Why US Politics Turns Ordinary People into Drooling Morons)

Nazi-zombies

The problem, in a nutshell, is this: when people decide to support a prospective candidate in the US primary races they are putting themselves in the position of defending the indefensible. The very nature of this politico-Darwinist death match means that once you pick your chosen leader you must reject all criticism and suppress all doubt. You must become aggressively defensive and you must, above all, prevent your own wayward brain from thinking those bad thoughts that weaken the image of the immaculate leader. Any chink in their armour will be exploited by the enemies that surround them. Loyalty must be automatic and unconditional. Vigilance must be constant.


Triumph of the Ill

Gloria Steinem caused some kerfuffle this week by saying:

“Women are more for [Clinton] than men are. Men tend to get more conservative because they gain power as they age, women get more radical because they lose power as they age.

They’re going to get more activist as they grow older. And when you’re younger, you think: ‘Where are the boys? The boys are with Bernie.’”

When you let it sink in the implications of what Steinem said are quite stunning in their utter stupidity. Here is a feminist icon suggesting that young women support Sanders only to impress or be with “boys”. As some have pointed out, this is a sexist generalisation that is disrespectful, demeaning and disempowering of young women.

Steinem apologised for being “misinterpreted” and clarified her position by contradicting herself entirely: “What I had just said on the same show was the opposite: young women are active, mad as hell about what’s happening to them, graduating in debt, but averaging a million dollars less over their lifetimes to pay it back.” Because she is not retracting her repeated contention “women are more conservative when we’re young and we get more radical as we get older” she seems to be quite happy to believe two contradictory things and just pick whichever seems right for the occasion.

Steinem also tacitly declares that supporting Hillary Clinton is an act of radicalism. This is demonstrably false. Clinton is a former First Lady, former US Senator, and a former Secretary of State. Clinton and her spouse are among the richest people on the planet and have been paid $153 million in speaking fees. Her own personal income for 2014 was $30.5 million. Clinton is arguably the most “establishment” person seeking candidacy – even more than J. E. Bush the (wannabe) Third.

So what makes Gloria Steinem spout nonsense and contradict herself? Aside from the general human idiocy in which we all partake, it is that most glorious of institutions: US presidential politics. More specifically it is the bipartisan electoral process which is formally and informally constituted of tribal factionalism, cult of personality, manipulative marketing campaigns, dog-whistle invective, incendiary rhetoric, buzzwords, patriotism, sentimentality and many other components. These components all have one thing in common; they bypass thought. They direct decisions and impel action through impulse, emotion and herd reflex. US Presidential electoral politics is the epitome any such electoral process. It is like other elections, but even more so. It is dominated by deception, manipulation and sentiment.

Throughout the history of politics, popular appeals have been divided into appeals to reason and appeals to unreason. Technology, scale, and the narrow control of mass media have conspired to bring a moment of near total triumph for unreason. The individual voter will be profiled and targeted with anything from the scale of the tear on the cheek of a pretty 5 year-old girl, to the roar of a stadium of roaring mass fervour. The result of such mass unreason is, among other things, an ostensibly political electoral system that is devoid of substantive politics. But it is also a totalising ideology. It tells people that it represents the entirety or near-entirety of the legitimate political spectrum. People in countries with multi-party elections for central government seem universally to accept that the breadth of political ideology is largely represented by the competing parties and that the space between the two (or more) camps is the ideological “centre”.

In reality, regardless of the political system, political elites are inclined to be elitist and authoritarian. They like to think of themselves as more enlightened and progressive than the reactionary masses, but by nature their “centre” is to the right of popular sentiment, sometimes drastically so.

We don’t have to settle for defining left and right in relative terms set by political elites. The left/right division has a clear historical basis and can be defined in absolute terms. In these terms we see that each person, each party and each ideology has left and right elements. There is no pure Left or pure Right out there. We can also see that Republicans and Democrats have always been broadly right-wing. (In other countries there were once broadly left electoral choices in Labour, Socialist or Social Democrat parties, but these have all since embraced broadly right-wing liberal/neoliberal policies, along with military nationalism and Western interventionism). Electorates are regularly presented with two right-wing alternatives, one of which is falsely labelled as “left”.


The Authoritarian’s Dilemma

There is incessant propaganda screaming over and over at people that if they do not partake in the electoral process they are deficient and delinquent and it is their fault that the government is crap. In the US, where everything apparently needs to be taken to self-parodic extremes, this spawned the “Vote or Die” movement.

Small wonder then, that people get involved in electoral politics. But instead of choosing a person who actually represents their own interests blended with their own sense of what is morally and ethically right, people choose according to irrational criteria. Citizens are lured by many things, but mostly by the deliberately fostered delusion that a particular candidate will in some way embody and be responsive to the will of that citizen. They are led to believe that the candidate wants what they want, sees things as they do, and will make the same choices that they would. Their candidate is a version of themselves, but a superior version. It is a sad and pathetic spectacle. It gets even sadder when a candidate takes office and the citizen must continually reassess their beliefs because the former candidate makes choices that must be right because they know and understand more.

People like that are referred to as “right-wing authoritarians”. This is a description used by some psychologists for a group of inter-related psychological tendencies which add to a desire for authoritarian leadership in politics, in the workplace, in religion, and in the domestic sphere. Obviously such people tend to be attracted to right-wing politics, but they can also be attracted to authority in left-wing or ostensibly left-wing politics. These people are authoritarian followers. They seek the certainty of strong leadership.

Party politics, or any form of popular politics, will always attract authoritarians. But in our time, if you are not an authoritarian you must become one just to participate. If you choose to support Clinton, for example, there is a ton of baggage that comes with it. Her wealth, her power, her history of warmongering, and the blood on her hands are a much bigger burden to her supporters than to her. Clinton is a media-trained expert hack who only ever faces comparative softball questions. Her supporters might find themselves asked to give real answers to justify Clinton’s record, and there are none. Judged by the standards of ordinary mortals she is pondscum and a war criminal. The best moral justification you can give for her is that she is deranged by power and hence has diminished responsibility.

Can anyone actually give a real defence of her actions in helping to bring war to Libya? She has the blood of thousands on her hands. Daughters, sons, fathers, mothers – real people who suffered and died, for what? So she could gloat like a demented crime boss: “We came, we saw, he died”? Would it be okay if it was a failed attempt to do good (if anyone can believe that), or was the plan destroy Libya and create yet another failed state of lingering suffering, violence and death so that US oil hegemony remained unchallenged by any strong nationalism or anticolonial internationalism? Murderously incompetent and arrogant, or murderously power-mad and Machiavellian? Either way, she cannot be defended if someone is willing to put things in those terms

Hillary supporters cannot even defend Hillary to themselves. They must lash out by delegitimising opposition. Steinem’s now retracted criticisms of of Sanders supporters were pure ad hominem of the vilest sort. She created a caricature, a generalisation about those who felt differently by imposing on them a personal trait. This is a technique used against feminists so often that you might think her scruples would have stopped her.

To take another example, it is impossible in moral and legal terms to justify the support that Hillary Clinton has given to Israel. Bear in mind that this is not solely about Israel’s 1967 occupation of land and its illegal settlements. As a UN signatory that shares responsibility for the initial 1948 seizure of Palestinian property and flight of Palestinians from the self-declared state of Israel, the US is obliged to find a “just and lasting settlement” to the plight of 1948 Palestinian refugees. Because the state of Israel is dependent on US support it can be argued that high-level US politicians are actually more culpable than high Israeli politicians without even having any false justifications of an “existential threat”. Clinton is responsible for Israel’s crimes in a very real sense.

This brings me to Bernie Sanders. He too is responsible for Israel’s crimes. As Thomas Tucker wrote in August 2014:

“Let’s not be fooled by any politician appealing to high ideals when they are in the business of war and empire.

Sanders not only defends military contracts that benefit his constituents in Vermont, he also joined the 100 to 0 vote in the Senate to give unalloyed moral and political support to the state of Israel during its most recent bombing campaign against Gaza.”

Someone also pointed out that criticism of Sanders foreign policy record is only half of the story. On domestic issues he voted “for continuing intelligence gathering without civil oversight; opposing local attempts in Vermont to impeach Bush II (however he advocates prosecuting Snowden in some capacity if he returns to the US!); …against ending offshore tax havens and promoting small businesses; …for legislation that extended and, in some areas, made fourteen provisions of the Patriot Act permanent and extended the FBI’s power to perform roving wiretaps and access certain business records; …repeatedly against the Brady Bill that mandated waiting times and background checks for firearms purchases.” What a guy!

How do you defend such a record? The same way you defend Clinton’s record. You yell. You employ ad hominems. You employ the “appeal to consequences”, another fallacy which goes something like this:

Q: How do you justify Sanders bloody militarism, pork-barrel cynicism, support for war crimes, support for restricting liberties and complicity in Israel’s occupation of Palestine?

A: Donald Trump!


March Of The Swivel Heads

Speaking of Donald Trump, everything I have written so far is about Democrat supporters. Would anyone be so silly as to think that Republicans are any better? In some respects Republican supporters have less need to be defensive of their chosen candidate because Republicans don’t try to hide their warmongering and racism, they simply embrace it with a patriotic exceptionalism beneath which is an unstated thuggish sensibility that says we are strong and we will crush those who transgress against us (transgression being subject to broad interpretation).

Republicans have the same situational factors shaping them into right-wing authoritarians, but the Republican Party has been quite a home for right-wing authoritarians for years, so in a way the fact that this has worsened to any degree is not much of a story in itself. The reason that we should fear the spread of right-wing authoritarianism is that once an authoritarian has chosen their leader they will be loyal regardless of any actions that leader takes. The structure and the discourse of electoral politics in the US (which is setting a standard for other countries) are such that people are forced into the position of becoming mindless shambling followers of each Great Leader.

People who support Obama, for example, have become as immune to reason and evidence as any George W. Bush supporter in 2008. Obama attracted those supporters with a very personal charismatic style, and his policy messages were overtly about emotions of hope and belief rather than a coherent platform based on an articulated ideology. (You won’t get anything different from US politics: Bernie, for example, has substantively replicated the style, shape and colour of Obama’s “Change We can Believe In” placards to create “A Future to Believe In”.) This is all great fertiliser in which to cultivate uncritical worship and obedience, but I think the real kicker is the way people have been conditioned to reject criticism of Obama by the constant unprincipled, unfair, untrue, hyperbolic and hysterical criticisms levelled at him by Republicans and other right-wingers. This ranges from the “Birther” movement to simple blatant and hateful racism.

The same can be said of Hillary Clinton. The whole Benghazi issue was turned into a type of fake witch-hunt against Clinton. This not only gave her a much need new layer of Teflon, but helped to conceal the stunning blatant illegality of US government acts that went far further than just Clinton and the State Department. Partisan badgering, real or fake, creates the sense that the person that supporters place their hope in is constantly under siege. Under the siege mentality it begins to feel dangerous to question anything about the Leader. Any admission against them can be exploited and abused and so you must steel your mind to perfect unquestioning loyalty.

Because it is a bipartisan framework and not a dictatorial one, this regime of leader worship differs in many ways from historical Fascist or Communist “cult of personality” regimes. The US regime blends aspects of that nationalistic “One Leader, One People, One Empire” style with a more fragmented style of right-wing factionalism akin to a milieu of organised crime interests that may co-operate, compete, or fight.

The Price of a Special Place in Hell is Worth It

Linked to the Gloria Steinem story has been a prominent story about Madeleine Albright. Albright once said that she thought that the “price” of 500,000 dead Iraqi children was “worth it”. She is also the Godmother to a cluster of humanitarian interventionists and liberal imperialists dominated by Clinton that is linked (by revolving door) to NGO’s such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch.

Regarding support for Clinton, Albright said: “There’s a special place in hell for women who don’t help each other!” She used exactly the same words in 2008, for the same candidate. In fact she claims she has used the phrase for 40 years. That does not change the fact that she was equating failure to support Hillary with betraying one’s own gender, as if the election was a giant job interview and women had an obligation to give poor Hillary a shot. The extreme and hateful implications stand regardless of how “lighthearted” Clinton says they were.

Like the extreme rhetoric of Republicans, Albright’s words show a distinct lack of any brain activity. I am the last person to suggest that political elites are actually stupid, but they are deeply out of touch with normal life. Despite all of their focus groups and messaging specialists, politicians at this level are as tone-deaf as any inbred 18th century aristocratic dandy. Albright has angered people on many fronts, in many ways. The Intercept’s Jon Schwarz tweeted the blurb from a book specifically exploring the immense harm done to Iraqi women by the sanctions that Albright supported. She is damned by her own words, so to speak.

Albright and Clinton being who they are, much of the angry reaction has suggested that electing an elitist warmonger is not feminism if the warmonger happens to have internal genitalia and wear skirts. Rania Masri put it thus: “Feminism demands a critique of U.S. policies, both domestically and internationally. It demands a critique of all wars and all hegemonies and of all structures of oppression.”

Independently engaged people get angry, but most people blind themselves to the gulf that separates them from their political masters. The system continues because people foolishly believe that they have to choose within the candidates of the major parties, or they are effectively disenfranchised. The fear of one side makes people stampede into the other camp. Once again they are avoiding the process of thinking when making the decision to commit. They end up in positions that are morally and intellectually indefensible, but they can get away with it by only associating with like-minded fools and by snarling viciously at the unrealistic people who point out the immorality and/or foolishness of their choice.

When they have safety in numbers; when the harsh light of reality will not intrude; believers may debate within accepted bounds of disagreement. They are thus secure in the knowledge that no one will point out that they are all backing different naked emperors who are engaged in an unflattering unclothed brawl that is just as revolting in actuality as my metaphor suggests. That is when they say really stupid things. For example, in response to the fact the policies under Bill Clinton had a terrible impact on black people Madeleine Kunin said that “Bill Clinton was called the first black president.She followed by saying of Hillary “she’s been voted the most admired woman in the world, year after year, because people respect her.” I am not sure what world she is referring to, but it is not the planet Earth. In fact she is probably referring to a Gallup poll that asks “Americans” which woman they admire anywhere in the world. Kunin probably doesn’t understand the difference.

Not to be outdone Kunin’s debate opponent, Ben Jealous, said that “on the issues that Dr. Martin Luther King referred to as the ‘giant triplets of evil’—racism, militarism and greed—Bernie is the clearest and the most consistent.” Not only is that only true if you preclude third party candidates, but there is a piece of authoritarian lunacy hidden there in plain sight. If you care about what Dr King believed in, why endorse someone that he would never have endorsed? King might have forgiven the banal ways in which Sanders has soiled himself in the pits of DC muck, but he would never have tolerated Sanders embrace of militarism and empire. Perhaps the scariest thing is that people do not see this immediately. People seem to have forgotten what it means to have principles around the same time they forgot what it means for their country to be at war.

Kunin and Jealous would probably feel a need to pick a prospective winner because they are immersed in this sort of politics. “Relevance” is capital to such people, but ordinary folks are also drawn to power. People want to feel they are part of something. The fervour of manic Trump supporters is really only the shabby and slack-jawed version of the credulousness of Democrats who are seeking to be part of “history” by supporting the first woman president or the first black president. The mania is the same regardless of how noble the pretext.

Women who support Clinton in the belief that it is somehow feminist or will advance the cause of women in general are zombiefied. They brainlessly shuffle through an undead parody of a political process, immune to the ample evidence that in actions, rather than rhetoric, Clinton is not a great supporter of women’s rights. Nor can Obama supporters process the reality that his administrations have deported more immigrants than any others in US history; have slowly reconstituted the wars he was supposed to end; and have carried out the largest international assassination programme in history; and numerous studies over the years show that the vast majority of his victims are civilians.


Third Party Insurance

My concluding advice to US voters: vote for a 3rd party candidate in any election that you can. People mistakenly believe that votes do not count if your candidate is not elected. That is stupid. How many elections come down to just one vote? More to the point, how responsive to the voters are people once elected? Studies have shown that elected officials do not carry out the will of voters and that “mandate theory” is empirically invalid. A vote is only good as an official statement of your belief, so it is not “tactical” to compromise on beliefs. Quite the opposite. Voting for a 3rd party in the US (assuming that votes are recorded honestly) is a message to your fellow citizens. If enough people do it, then the usual plutocrats will be weakened when they campaign in 2, 4, or 6 years because they will have to forestall any emerging alternative. Furthermore, they are so entrenched and decadent that they may fail to quell a growing alternative despite the resources at their command. Then you will have a real choice.

Be smart. Do not put your faith in elected leaders. Vote 3rd party, then continue to fight for democracy in other ways. The current electoral process is not real democracy, it is the dance of the dead – the Nazi Zombie Shuffle.

The USA is 1984 in Stereo

Standard

(and so are the other Western “Democracies”)

19842016

In George Orwell’s book 1984 the mainstream media language of “Newspeak” was replacing English one word at a time. Complexities were abolished and replaced with simplistic notions where a word with a defined meaning like “democracy” was unnecessary and was replaced with “double-plus good”. This is interchangeable with other “double-plus good” things like “freedom”, “opportunity”, “our troops”, “human rights” and so forth. The point is that when one discusses “double-plus good” one does not have to get bogged down in details such as whether it is used accurately or not, nor what it actually means.

Terrorism” means “double-plus bad”. When people use the term “terrorism” it almost never comes from a critical judgement that characterises certain acts as terroristic because they employ terror. It is just as telling when the word “terrorism” is not allowable. US military violence is almost never called “terrorism”. This is not because people have weighed the characteristics of that violence and ruled our terror as an intended outcome – it is because terrorism is “double-plus bad”, and the US military can never be “double-plus bad”.

What Orwell did not envisage was the growth of another category of words. These represent concepts with two “meanings” in Newspeak – concepts which are “double-plus bad” to 50% of the population, but “double-plus good” to the other 50%. In the US a polarisation of issues that began with the artificial “culture war” created a double-Orwellian political discourse over issues like reproductive rights, guns, gender and sexuality, religion and tradition. In no issue has reason prevailed, instead fatuous unreason and tribal smugness are taking over those who formerly stood for progress. We are left with a bunch of chest-thumping troglodytes on two different sides yelling at each other while their brains shrink with each passing second. The issues they yell about may be important, but they only ever deepen the divisions and strengthen the status quo.

While the two sides compete in drooling primeval aggression, they have no time or energy to question the increasingly threadbare excuses given for the greatest crimes: mass killing; mass destruction (including environmental destruction); and the wholesale appropriation of the wealth of humanity and the resources of the planet.

When split in this way the sort of monolithic orthodoxy alluded to by Orwell is actually strengthened because it is subjected to much less critical scrutiny. It means that left-wing progressives who might be inclined to work for radical change can be distracted by greenwashing or pinkwashing. Equally, reactionaries are actually bolstered by the reforms they loathe but which fuel their apocalyptic rhetoric and fill their ranks with the discontented.

Kakistocracy, Mediocracy, Idiocracy, Ponerocracy, Pathocracy, and other words my spellcheck doesn’t like.

George Orwell’s 1984 was the Idiocracy of its time. Both works are satires about contemporary idiocy which use a science fiction gloss and a futuristic setting in order to mock, but also analyse, the stupidity of the authors’ peers. If each seems to be somewhat prophetic it is not because they were real attempts to predict the future, but rather because they were extremely accurate when exaggerating the trends of their own times.

1984 was more focussed on political stupidity and elite fools, but ultimately Idiocracy is the same – its depiction of mass popular stupidity becomes less important to the narrative than the fact that the people who make the decisions are the pre-eminent morons.

Both works use a disposable and transparent science fiction conceit in the same manner that Jonathan Swift used a fantasy genre in Gulliver’s Travels as a vehicle for criticising the politics and immorality of his own time and place. In Idiocracy there is a plainly whimsical and silly notion of increasing stupidity caused by a form of sexual selection that happens because stupid people choose to have more children. This is nothing more than a pretext for exploring the way marketing-driven ideology makes people into mindless drones. The reason that Idiocracy had predictive power is that the marketing model of deliberately dumbed-down consumers has diffused throughout more and more of society. This is the process which the film was critiquing.

In 1984 the science fiction conceit is more bitter than whimsical. Orwell is satirising the notion of totalitarianism (a notion which he helped into existence) by parodying his own Animal Farm and his former mentor Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World. His setting of near omnipresent surveillance cameras and (just as importantly) near omnipresent televisions and loudspeakers is the vehicle for showing that internalised orthodox ideology is a panoptical disciplinary mechanism stronger than any feasible secret police and surveillance regime. He was anticipating the slogan of 1968: “There is a policeman inside all our heads”, suggesting that we internalise the orthodox ideology of the state and it monitors us from within, making us do our exercises and punishing our disloyal thoughts. He was also well ahead of Noam Chomsky and Edward Herman because the allegory implies that greater thought control exists in those regimes with less physical repression.

I know what some of you are thinking – how can I be writing of Orwell’s Oceania having “less physical repression” when the protagonist is thrown in a dungeon and tortured in a real physical manner? That is the whole point, though. All of that is meant to be an allegory of the treatment meted out to those who don’t toe the line within any circles of intellectual, artistic or political communications in late-1940s Britain. When Winston Smith finds a little corner in which he thinks (mistakenly) that he is beyond the view of surveillance cameras and can write freely, it is a clear reference to Orwell’s own comment after a few months working at the BBC: “I consider I have kept our little corner of it fairly clean.” He quit the BBC about a year later in even greater disillusionment. He made reference to the BBC by calling the nebulous leader figure of Oceania “Big Brother”, and by painting journalism as “The Ministry of Truth”. He made an even clearer reference by naming the ultimate torture chamber “Room 101” after a conference room in Broadcasting House in which he attended editorial meetings.

Orwell’s critique of the BBC and other mainstream media is not at all subtle. The fact that there is a sort of conspiracy of silence over the obvious allegorical meaning completely vindicates his accusations of brainwashed obtuseness among the intelligentsia. Historically people have been very insistent that Orwell was critiquing totalitarianism and warning us about how horrible life will be if we let it happen here. That is what people are primed to expect and that is what they find, especially because they are not necessarily familiar with the subjects of satirical references. For those who have only read 1984 under the impression that it is a warning about the potential for future nastiness, I would suggest re-reading the entire work with this different understanding. Apart from anything else it is surprisingly funny in parts (although the humour does tend to leave the bitter after-taste that you get when things are a little too true).

Twice the Bang for your Buck

1984 tackled many mind-destroying facets of orthodox ideology, but I am going to stick simply to the one I mentioned above – the simplistic aspect to Newspeak which replaced complex realities with sterile predetermined moralistic judgements. This is a way of ensuring that people react in a kneejerk fashion and are not subject to the undesirably democractic results of thought, critical engagement and reasoned discourse. (It also parallels the type of stupidity derived from advertising that is seen in Idiocracy. In that film people water their crops with sports drink in the belief that electrolytes will help the plants because electrolytes are a selling point in ads. In other words, electrolytes are double-plus good.)

As I mentioned, though, things are structured a little differently and there are now two exclusive dialects of Newspeak. Imagine if most of the “two minutes hate” that people in Oceania devoted to screaming and yelling spittle-flecked abuse at a screen was redirected so that people on each side of the theatre aisle were pouring forth that very bile and loathing across at each other. If that is hard to imagine, you only need to look around online a little and eventually you will find a comment thread that fits the description.

In our stupid world irony is piled on irony. Ironically, people always misrepresent 1984 because they are being Orwellian in their obtuseness. In short, every time someone mindlessly misses the point entirely by going on about mass surveillance (usually mentioning prefab hero Edward McSnowden, the world’s first 100% synthetic whistle-blowing sheepdog), they are confirming that they are just as cowardly and moronic as the “Outer Party” dweebs of Orwell’s satire.

Idiocracy was also about the spread of stupidity created by the reproduction of ideology. It uses a genetic analogy to create an absurdly exaggerated illustration. There is, in fact, a well-known concept in which ideology is transferred through as an analogue of a gene. This analogue of a gene is a single encapsulated discrete unit of cultural production which can be replicated. The name given to this was “meme”.

The irony in this instance becomes apparent when we examine the history of the meme of the concept of the meme itself. To live, memes must be retained transmitted and propagated, just like genes. The term was created in 1976. It abided and slowly grew. By the 1990s it was becoming important in cultural activism and people started to enter self-consciously into a “meme war”. The hope was that the truth would give memes a greater attraction for retention and transmission. This would even out the unlevel playing field where elite cultural production dominates and propagandises. Hopes rose as the internet made it possible for any smartarse dissident to reach across the world and with a few well-chosen words and maybe a picture that would burst the bubble of stale orthodoxies and self-serving elite ideology. It looked as if the elite ideological hegemony that enslaves the minds of its victims might finally be overthrown.

In reality, of course, the internet actually provided a space of information overload – an environment where the fittest memes were the most facile, simplistic and self-satisfied snippets. Faced with a barrage of things and stuff, people are attracted to sensationalism and that which makes them feel good about themselves. Thus, in a dramatic twist, the very concept of the meme itself has been vastly overshadowed by its mutant offspring, the meme that a “meme” is a picture with a slogan added (the ironic iconic image being that of Gene [sic] Wilder radiating smug condescension). 99% of people who use the term “meme” use it exclusively in this latter sense, happily oblivious to the complex concept they are stomping all over.

These picture “memes” are emblematic of a social media driven paradigm of communication that is also seen in tweets and status updates. These are communications of speed and brevity. They lack complexity and the lack of critical foresight applied to communicating actually makes them deeply conservative. Everyone is a self-promoter and a crowd-pleaser, rigidly self-censoring so as to never challenge the orthodoxies of their own little reference group of followers.

By this mechanism many “progressives” and pseudo-dissidents have been transformed into the mirror image of the hegemonic class and their right-wing brownshirt thugs. They are sucked in to the “left wing” of a meta-orthodoxy embodied most clearly in institutions such as the Guardian or Huffington Post. These are left-wing enough to attract and retain left-wing readers but act almost purely to create boundaries to legitimate discourse and even to move their readers into a conservative outlook.

My Piety is Bigger than Your Piety

Regardless of any media affiliation, the online world tends to bring everyone down to the level of a spoiled bourgeois 18-year old Trotskyist, full of puerile arrogance and derision for those who don’t “get it”. In that sense, although people are getting ever more orthodox and rigid and unthinking, they are also taking on more to the outside appearance of fervent radicals.

The results are threefold. One result is that extremism and tribalism deepen. The second is that those who were once taking a stance based on knowledge and critical engagement are being crowded out by those who hollow out such causes to create mindless pieties. The third is that those same people are easily manipulated into becoming bulwarks of orthdoxy, cheerleaders of elite privilege, humanitarian warmongers, and liberal lovers of imperialist tyranny.

Everyone reading this is likely to recognise a key symptom of the malaise – lazy lies spread on social media and alternative media in support of left-wing causes. Not a day goes by when I do not find something that uses stupidity, ignorance or lies in a supposedly good cause. One that annoyed me recently was an article saying that “abortion is as old as pregnancy” and “abortion has always existed”. The article was making a worthy point, but doing so with idiocy. Because of that it can only ever preach to the choir and it encourages supporters of reproductive rights to become slack and stupid in their argumentation. It leaves them vulnerable to making idiots of themselves. Another example was a “meme” saying that 100 million “Native Americans” were killed by the “US Government”. The intent was arguably good, but the claim made is actually the result of racist chauvinistic parochialism. This is not the antithesis of mindless right-wing patriotic idiocy, it is its complement. Dissent is co-opted into the greater myth of US omnipotence and centrality. Yet everyone clicks “like” because if you don’t use your brain it seems worthy.

A big part of the support given to imperialist Western regimes like the US, and individual leaders like Obama or Sanders, is the use of this tribalism to create an unthinking loyalty. For example, virulent, if not unhinged, right-wing attacks on Bernie Sanders make people rush into his camp and react with fury against any real criticism. As with Obama, they become conditioned to think that criticism of the leader is itself a transgressive act of violence. At the same time they lose any shame about evincing proud support for mass murderers. They become zombie zealots who look normal at first but act exactly like Trump supporters when you criticise their chosen leader.

Similarly, the emotive and uncritical human rights discourse which most “progressives” are immersed in becomes a way to get them into supporting imperialist wars. The demonisation of Third World baddies like Saddam Hussein, Bashar Assad or Muammer Gaddafi allows these “liberals” to get in direct touch with their inner patriot, their inner warmonger, and their inner racist. They are then indistinguishable from the right-wing “hawks” except in being somewhat more insane in their eye-rolling enthusiasm for mass death.

Fans of 1984 might wonder why I haven’t acknowledged that Orwell already suggested a fundamental equivalence between opponents and supporters of Big Brother, symbolised by the fact that the canonical revolutionary text was hidden between the pages of the Newspeak dictionary. The reason is that I think that Orwell indicates a moral equivalence, but I am suggesting that more and more people who might think that they are dissidents are actually loyal party members in a new bifurcated Inner Party divided into two antagonistic wings under the same monolithic and unquestionable orthodoxy.

“Liberal” and “conservative” do not have definitions any more. They both mean double-plus good to some people and double-plus bad to others. Similarly certain issues are no longer really debated on their merits: taxes, guns, abortions, government, civil rights and many other topics are to greater or lesser extents no longer actual issues. They are key indicators of tribal affiliation that are either double-plus good or double-plus bad. It is like a binary code, and most people’s politics can be summarised in just 1 bit. People reading this article are likely to have a more nuanced view than that, but let us face it, if you read things like this you are in a very small minority.

Our job, in this tiny minority, is to crack the system. If you cannot drag someone away from supporting Bernie Sanders or the “humanitarian” bombing of ISIS, then alienate them from yourself and your cause. If you don’t do that, then every single individual issue will continue to be co-opted and subverted. If real activists stop tolerating Party loyalists then more will leave the Party and the short-term losses suffered by activist causes will be more than compensating by not having the cause taken out of the hands of real dissidents, subverted, and then used as a tool of oppression.

Moreover, if you don’t want to be sucked in to the Party, do not give into the temptation to be stupid just because it is easy and gratifying and gives you respite from the unrelenting “pessimism of the intellect”. For example, I have already mentioned Edward Snowden in disparaging terms, which will probably anger some of you. Snowden has done and said some good things, but he has also stated that letting the public know what their government is doing is a danger to democracy. Deep down you must all know on some level that he is an elite concoction, even if his elite faction is a dissenting one. Watch the trailer to Citizen 4 and tell me that his words are not made for Hollywood. You should not trust him – he is a former CIA officer. You should not like him – he is a US patriot who joined the Army after the 2003 invasion of Iraq. And you definitely should not idolise and lionise him as a being hero and the moral equivalent of Chelsea Manning. It is an insult to Manning’s sacrifice and suffering to even mention Snowden in the same breath.

We all want the easy way out and the easy answer. We must have hope, but do not hope for a saviour. Do not hope for the perfect revolution or the perfect movement. Hope for the strength to continue the struggle. Hope to keep hope alive.

Orwell ended 1984 with a vision of history as a boot stomping on a face for all eternity. We need to embrace that in the same way that Buddhists embrace the universality of suffering, and yet may nonetheless devote themselves to fighting suffering. The boot will always be with us and pretending otherwise is the road to delusion, or to despair and surrender. On the other hand, the boot isn’t going to spare you if you stop struggling so you might as well fight. Nor will the boot let you be on its side if you stomp on other people’s faces. It doesn’t have a side. It is a pure avatar of oppression.

Yet the boot is not uniform in the pain it dishes out. In simple terms, our choice is either to protect ourselves from the boot at the expense of others or protect others from the boot at our own expense. If we protect others instead of ourselves we reduce suffering more than if we protect ourselves. If everybody devoted themselves to that then the boot would be like a feather. But that is the trick isn’t it? The most important struggle is to get others to stand in solidarity when they are so prone to division, to fear, and to selfishness.

On the other side of the ledger, part of putting yourself first is also getting others to do the same. Selfishness loves company, resents and loathes altruism, and seeks to sabotage or subvert principled activism. In that sense it is like a conflict of us and them, but we don’t win be scoring points and being superior.

In conclusion: everyone should stop being so wilfully stupid, then things will get much better.

The Resistible Rise of Global Fascism: Part 1 – What is Fascism?

Standard

fascismserveimage

What is Fascism? Recently Chris Hedges wrote of an imperialist US that is infected by “the virus of fascism, wrapped in the American flag, held aloft by the Christian cross and buttressed by white supremacy.” Hedges was not using the term fascism as it would be used by a political theorist or historian. It is common to use “fascism” to indicate a more general and imprecise fascistic tendency. Yet there comes a point when so many fascistic traits are in evidence that you know you must be dealing with a type of Fascism.

The US has become a Fascist state. The similarities between the US regime and past Fascist regimes are too numerous to ignore. There are notable differences, it is true, but they can all be traced to a single point of departure: the original Fascism was a nationalistic creed with imperialist ambitions, this new Fascism is an imperialist ethos and mode of governance. The old Fascism presented itself as monolithic and sought to hide or destroy inter-elite disputes. The new Fascism presents itself as pluralistic while insisting that its monolithic orthodoxies only exist because they are natural, rather than being ideological, and not subject to reasonable dispute. In other words, this new Fascism is an ideology that claims to be non-ideological and, like the old Fascism, it is a politics that claims to be anti-political.

In 2008 Sheldon Wolin published a book called Democracy Incorporated in which he traced the descent in the US from “managed democracy” to “inverted totalitarianism”. In describing the symptoms he was alarmingly insightful, but his chosen diagnosis is wrong. “Totalitarianism” is a word that tells us nothing. It is hopelessly subjective and the only claim that the concept of “totalitarianism” had to being objective was that it referred to the commonality between regimes where the formal state sector concerns itself with all levels of society. This was always a specious method of tying together the Soviet Union and the German Third Reich. It made it seem that these “totalitarian” regimes possessed a common form of ultimate tyranny that could only happen in the West if we allow creeping socialism to put us on the path that Friedrich Hayek described as The Road to Serfdom. Totalitarianism is a circular argument. The conceit is that it is fundamentally benign if you have advertisers and media barons telling put how to behave and what to think, but if a government department does it it becomes evil totalitarianism. Totalitarian state control is bad because it causes Totalitarianism which is bad because it is totalitarian and it is symptomatic of totalitarian state control. It’s just bad, m’kay?

Fascism is a much more useful and appropriate term to use than “totalitarianism”. The “inverted” part of Wolin’s “inverted totalitarianism” can simply be transposed onto this “inverted” and, in many respects, pluralistic Fascism.

Fascism is both a political and cultural phenomenon gripping both the elite and the masses. Symptoms include the degradation of democratic institutions; a “justice” system that crushes the weak but will not or cannot touch the strong; a culture of mean-spirited chauvinism and the abandonment of ideals of empathy; increasing state violence and state surveillance; a “corporatist” relationship between government and capital; militarism and interventionism; an emphasis on factional affiliation in politics; an acceptance or celebration of political victory through the exercise of power rather than the contest of ideas; and, last but not least, a proud anti-intellectualism.

But this is not confined to the US. The entire Western world seems to be infected with the virus, and even that is only part of the extent of it. We are witnessing a new wave of Fascism. Imperialist and neoliberal authoritarianism is now expressing itself in mass culture and throwing up salient outcrops of both overt Fascist and cryptofascist groupings. But these are small fry, a mere symptom of a new composite Fascism that has come to dominate our political landscape.


A Legion of Straw Hitlers
People don’t like it when you use terms like Fascism. Eric Draitser recently reported receiving flak for publishing an article asking
Has Turkey Become a Fascist State?” He was criticised for going too far, but if anything it is his defensiveness in the article that is unwarranted: “One must also be careful not to use the term haphazardly at the risk of robbing it of its true meaning. Indeed, it would not be fair to say that Turkey in 2015 is as fascist as Ukraine or Germany under Hitler; such a description would be grossly irresponsible and not at all accurate.” In fact there is no “true meaning” of fascism. It is not a platonic ideal, nor is it Christmas.

Moreover, in Draitser’s piece there is an implication that fascism comes in degrees and the author seems, by his inclusion of Ukraine, to be thinking of the wartime Fascism. You could almost imagine how fascism might be portrayed on a scale with some regimes being more fascistic than others, but you would have to be very careful and explicit to use such a scale. We have a vision of Fascism that is informed by World War II, the Holocaust, by the fact that Axis was our defeated enemy, and by revelations that only came through that defeat. The proper comparison is not the way we perceive Fascist regimes and movements now, but the way they were perceived in, say, 1937 or 1935. For many people, especially the well-to-do, they seemed a legitimate part of the political landscape. Moreover, in terms of oppression the Fascists may have become more fascistic during WWII, but the exigencies of war forced them to be less ideologically pure – so can they really be said to have become more Fascist?

Using the term Fascist cannot be categorically affirmed or denied and must be considered on its merits. People like to use straw man arguments against the usage because it is a facile way for them to feel like they are clever and knowledgeable. It is perfectly conventional (though absurdly stupid) to argue against comparing anyone to a Nazi on the basis that it is invalid to compare people with Hitler. The absurdly stupidity is due to the fact that Hitler was one man out of millions of Nazis. Many Nazis who were not Hitler were very important and very powerful people who caused huge amounts of suffering and death. Moreover, although Nazis did have tendencies in common the fact is that any given Nazi could have almost any personal characteristics. They were diverse, and the only thing with which you can define them is that they were Nazis and therefore they did not reject the sum totality of Nazism.

The thing that makes using Straw Hitler arguments even more ridiculous was that Hitler himself was a product of circumstance. Unless you believe that he had some sort of diabolical and empowering supernatural essence of evil running through his veins, then it stands to reason that his significance lies in the role he played in historical events. The reason that it is wrong to call someone “as bad as Hitler” is because he bears responsibility for more death, destruction, pain and grief than any other single human being that we know of. Unfortunately, postwar inquiries into the personalities and psyches of top surviving Nazis showed them to be uncomfortably unremarkable in most respects, and Hitler almost certainly was too. Not everyone could be another Hitler, but there are tens, if not hundreds, of millions alive that could fill that role.

As well as arguing against using the term Fascism on the false pretext that it is equivalent to calling Cameron, Trump, Modi or Erdogan the new Hitler, there are many other straw men that can be demolished. We might choose any point at which Fascist Italy, Spain or Germany committed mass atrocities and claim that we aren’t that bad. People often use a Straw Holocaust argument in much the same way that they use Straw Hitlers, but we should remember that before 1938 German atrocities in Europe were dwarfed in scale by the atrocities committed by imperial powers, including Germany, in the colonies. Their atrocities were dwarfed by those carried out under the Global War on Terror. Fascists said and did things with an overt brutal violence that is striking, but we must be careful not to filter out those same tendencies in current political leaders and other public figures. Donald Trump and Ben Carson are both promising to torture people. They are campaigning on it, not hiding it. Equally, the US is not pretending that it does not have a very extensive programme of using drones and missiles to murder people in numerous countries. In this they are aided by innumerable Quislings, such as the PM of my own country who was “comfortable” with the US killing a citizen suspected of being in Al Qaeda.

Our retrospective view of Fascism is to look for the dramatic highlights and to construct a vision that makes the phenomenon uniquely evil and totally unconnected to our governing regimes and to Western imperialism past and present. That parallels the way most people, especially elites, tried to normalise Fascism and minimise its danger when it first occurred. If Hitler came back to life today and committed all of his crimes over again, you would have people vehemently arguing that he “isn’t as bad as Hitler” right up to the point where he kills himself. Even then it would take time before they reluctantly admit that Hitler actually was as bad as Hitler.

My answer to those who claim that we cannot be compared to Fascists because things are not as “bad” is to ask “what do you mean by ‘bad’ and what time and place in the history of Fascism are you referring to?” Since the end of the Cold War most countries have been moving, however gradually, in but one direction: more policing, more surveillance, more militarism, more xenophobia, more “corporatism” (a term which I will explain in Part 2) and, above all, less democracy. Unless things change there must come some point when you admit that this near global trend has to be named. The emerging prominence of right-wing populism and old-fashioned xenophobic chauvinism (which has always lurked beneath the internationalist veneer of neoliberalism) shows that this is beyond democratic deficit, globalitarianism, refeudalisation, inverted totalitarianism, neocolonialism, neofeudalism, or any single one of these grim diagnoses. There is a broader trend involved and all of these analyses are part of the greater Fascist transformation that has slowly come to dominate.


Exhibit “A”

To sample just one country, in the UK popular columnist Katie Hopkins wrote “these migrants are like cockroaches” and “a plague of feral humans.” She also wrote: “Show me bodies floating in water, play violins and show me skinny people looking sad. I still don’t care.” And she wrote that she would send “gunships” instead of “rescue boats” to deal with asylum seekers. Members of the UK public, or perhaps more predominantly the English public, echo her cruelty. Tourists visiting the Greek island of Kos complain that people in need make their holidays “awkward”. Others tweeted that asylum seekers would be good “target practice” for the Army and that “[t]heir sense of entitlement beggars belief”. There has been a backlash, for sure, but to put that in context there has been significant jump in anti-refugee sentiment with 47% of 6000 polled Britons saying that the UK should not allow any refugees from the Middle East and 41% rejecting asylum seekers altogether.

Meanwhile the UK government has used unmanned aerial vehicles to carry out extra-judicial executions of two of its own citizens, an act which Patrick Cockburn describes in historical terms as “a mark of tyranny”. David Cameron furthered this impression at the Conservative Party conference (while police snipers aimed their rifles at protesters outside) by saying that “my job as prime minister is quite simple, really: ultimately, it’s not to debate; it’s to decide.” This echoes the sentiment and policies of George W “the Decider” Bush, but it actually takes the leadership role even further towards the Führerprinzip (“leader principle”) which was adopted by the Nazis and other Fascists. Cameron is making an unsupported assertion of righteous power without legal pretense. Cameron can say that his role is “not to debate; it’s to decide” regarding any action he undertakes and he is only limited by the degree to which there is a substantive and costly backlash. As with Katie Hopkins’ proposals to commit mass murder, the truly alarming thing is that there is no concrete transforming response. Cameron and Hopkins pay no price because even if a majority are disapproving, a minority are energised. This type of approach also fueled the power of Nazism and earlier Fascism because they worked on undemocratic principles of mass energy and “will to power” rather than popularity in percentage terms. The danger is that once you start down that path continued political power becomes reliant on never backing down, then both rhetoric and policies can only become increasingly extreme.

The UK has, of course, its persistent right-wing populist nationalist movements including UKIP, the English Defence League and Britain First to name a few. But the last symptom of UK fascism I want to indicate here is not the Islamophobic rantings of white extremists, it is the disturbing establishment reaction to Jeremy Corbyn’s ascent. A Conservative Party response in video form has been justly derided. The video implies that Jeremy Corbyn is, in essence, an enemy of the UK by dint of stupidity or malice, but as Jonathan Jones points out there is an audience that will find this suggestion highly plausible. It is a “smear with legs”. (Ironically Jones himself has been named as one of the Guardian’s cadre of anti-Corbyn smearers, but that is another story).

The smear is working. Already an unnamed serving General has said: “The Army just wouldn’t stand for it. The general staff would not allow a prime minister to jeopardise the security of this country and I think people would use whatever means possible, fair or foul to prevent that. You can’t put a maverick in charge of a country’s security.” Adding that there was “the very real prospect of an event which would effectively be a mutiny.”

Far from distancing himself from the idea that Corbyn is dangerous and illegitimate, the Conservative chairman of the Foreign Affairs Select Committee, Crispin Blunt, condemned the unnamed General but reaffirmed that Corbyn is a fundamental “threat to security” and announced that the Tories will exclude Corbyn from the normal established practice of sharing intelligence with the leader of the opposition. It is a mixed message written in 400-point bold font with the capslock on. Blunt’s schizophrenic position can only be reconciled by assuming that when he criticises the unconstitutional suggestions of the anonymous General he doesn’t really mean it – perhaps his fingers are crossed so that it doesn’t count.

Then at conference Cameron redoubled the rhetoric, “we cannot let that man inflict his security-threatening, terrorist-sympathising, Britain-hating ideology on the country we love.”

Delegitimising Corbyn is the logical extension of David Cameron’s overt rhetorical rejection of legal and constitutional niceties. He has said: “For too long, we have been a passively tolerant society, saying to our citizens ‘as long as you obey the law, we will leave you alone’,” As with the Corbyn attack ad, it would be highly naïve to think of this as some sort of miscalculation. He is not candidly revealing a hitherto hidden authoritarianism. It is a calculated move to plant authoritarian notions into the public discourse and to give them legitimacy.

This all adds up to Fascism. The word has been cropping up quite frequently recently, especially since John Pilger’s February article “Why the rise of fascism is again the issue”. A recent New Statesman column warns of “creeping fascism”. In it Laurie Penny writes: “It’s not that Britain wasn’t a racist, parochial place before. But the xenophobic, Islamophobic and, most obviously, the anti-immigrant rhetoric has ramped up everywhere.”

Predictably the recent attacks in Paris fueled a sudden surge in Fascism. There has been xenophobic paranoia of both the crude populist variety (i.e. the Sun falsely claiming that 20% of UK Muslims support ISIS) and the crude elitist variety (where instead of shouting you smirk and make snide remarks about how naïve lefty do-gooders are for wanting to let ISIS waltz into the country willy-nilly with sob stories about being “refugees”). Cameron also announced a massive surge in intelligence and military spending, and is seeking to make the UK the 11th country to join in the bombing of Syria. Mass xenophobia; increased state capacities for surveillance and violence; and foreign military intervention – it’s a Fascist trifecta!

There is an inevitable subjectivity to using the word Fascism this way, but I think it is the right term. To understand why Fascism is the right word to describe imperial and national governance in our time will require more than the shallow approach of detailing xenophobic acts in central Europe and the insane rhetoric of Republican Presidential candidates in the US. This Fascism has spread its tendrils throughout, turning ostensible political diversity into actual ideological uniformity. This is not the story of why or how Donald Trump is a Fascist. It is the more important story of why Bernie Sanders is a also Fascist and why Pope Francis is fertilising Fascism.


But what is Fascism?

Academic definitions of Fascism are complex and inherently subjective. The only way to make a categorical definition would be to say that Fascists are people who call themselves Fascists, which would lead us nowhere.

The “First Wave” (1919-29) and “Second Wave” (1929-40) Fascists were dramatic in their rhetoric, their rituals, and their visual presentation. It is these things that we conventionally use to define Fascism rather than trying to define them through the actualities of policy and governance. Unfortunately Fascism has a very strong and distinct odour, but the specifics are elusive and the things that can be best defined as Fascist are not concrete and easily delineated.

The orthodox liberal Western tradition would have it that Fascism is revolutionary and anti-capitalist. The cliché is that elite support of Fascism and Nazism was a gross miscalculation. (Oligarchs who thought to use Hitler against a restive populace soon found that he slipped the leash and let slip the dangerous and self-destructive irrationality of the mob.) But there is another tradition which holds that despite the Fascist rhetoric of rebirth and transformation, it is in fact a means of preserving the status quo in the face of crisis.

Fascism has always featured elite patronage. To put it in simple terms, let us imagine the rise to power of a Fascist regime during the Second Wave: Capitalism is in crisis; people see it as corrupt and unfair. Revolutionary mass movements are growing and social democrats, who may be governing, are become more dirigiste – meaning that they are threatening to intervene economically in ways that the rich think dangerous and loathsome. It seems that either there will be nationalisations and other state interventions against the dysfunctions of capitalism, or there will be revolution. But there is a “third way”, a Fascist alternative. The Fascists are authoritarian. They promote a sense of chauvinistic unity and xenophobia that allows them to control the masses. Fascists loathe leftist revolutionaries, but harness working-class and petit-bourgeois (or lower middle-class) discontent by denouncing the corruption of big business and finance capital.

The key question for diagnosing the nature of Fascism, therefore, should be whether or not they live up to their anti-plutocratic rhetoric. Liberals claim that Fascism turns on its elite sponsors, but does it? Michael Parenti writes:

“Who did Mussolini and Hitler support once they seized state power? In both countries a strikingly similar agenda was pursued. Labor unions and strikes were outlawed, union property and publications were confiscated, farm cooperatives were handed over to rich private owners, big agribusiness farming was heavily subsidized. In both Germany and Italy the already modest wages of the workers were cut drastically; in Germany, from 25-40%; in Italy, 50%. In both countries the minimum wage laws, overtime pay, and factory safety regulations were abolished or turned into dead letters. Taxes were increased for the general populace, but lowered or eliminated for the rich and big business. Inheritance taxes for the wealthy were greatly reduced or abolished. Both Mussolini and Hitler showed their gratitude to their business patrons by handing over to them publicly owned and perfectly solvent steel mills, power plants, banks, steamship companies (“privatization,” it’s called here). Both regimes dipped heavily into the public treasury to refloat or subsidize heavy industry (corporate welfarism). Both states guaranteed a return on the capital invested by giant corporations and assumed most of the risks and losses on investment.”

In other words, Mussolini and Hitler instituted much the same agenda that the notorious “libertarian” Koch brothers would put their money behind. (Please note here that the Kochs’ professed libertarian beliefs do not hinder them from supporting extreme social conservatives either). What distinguished the Fascists was that they married a right-wing plutocratic agenda with right-wing populism (racism, militarism, nationalism, social conservatism and fear of terrorism) and a pretence of left-wing anti-plutocratic populism. Like Donald Trump, they claimed to oppose elite corruption and promised state support for decent poor people. Parenti points out, however, that “most workers and peasants could tell the difference.” As with Trump, the elite liberal narrative vastly exaggerates working-class support, conflating it with that of petit bourgeois support (or with the “lower-middle class” support in British terms). Such people, who are roughly in the top 40% of wealth and income, have always been the backbone of popular support for old Fascism and in most neo-Fascist and racial supremacist groups.

Where Parenti takes things too far for most people is in simply dismissing the popular embrace of Fascism: “it attempted to cultivate a revolutionary aura and give the impression of being a mass movement.” The fact is that Fascism has a true aspect in which it is a mass movement – however deceptive its ideals and rhetoric may be. Parenti is right that it in pure Realist terms it is reactionary rather than revolutionary, but it is still a phenomenon that can be studied in its own right. In contrast, the problem with the orthodox Western liberal discourse on Fascism is that it completely whitewashes this fundamental continuity of social order between the “capitalist” oligarchy of a liberal “democracy” and the capital-based oligarchy of a Fascist dictatorship. Liberalism and Fascism are far more closely aligned than people would like to admit – but more of that later.

Plutocratic Distemper

Parenti emphasises “rational fascism” in contradistinction to the standard narrative that Fascism is a self-destructive mass-movement of the irrational mob led by a megalomaniac demagogue. The fact is, though, that Fascism is not rational in the long-term and it is self-destructive. Parenti has missed a trick here because as a student of Late Republican Rome, Parenti should recognise echoes of the elite dysfunction he himself describes in The Assassination of Julius Caesar.

In Rome it was the degradation of democratising institutions (which had been forced by the common people on the state through centuries of struggle) that left the upper orders effectively unopposed. The oligarchs harnessed overt political violence to their own ends and, though they made conservative claims about preserving social order against mob onslaught, it was they who corrupted government and economic functioning so thoroughly that the Republic was destroyed.

Fascism should also be seen as causing elite dysfunction or what might be termed “plutocratic distemper”. By co-optation and by political violence it destroys the ability of the masses to constrain the power elite.

If they are not constrained political elites quickly become dangerously deluded and fanatical. The ruling ideology of the ruling class is always going to state that the processes which elevate them above others are meritocratic and to the benefit of all. This ideological medium encourages the blossoming of self-interest, self-satisfaction and self-regard. Above all this leads to contempt for those who are not successful and powerful. Fascism allows this elite derangement to run wild.

The old wisdom would have it that power corrupts, but we also have good evidence now that material success makes people relatively arrogant, antisocial, and aggressive. More to the point, they become irrational with respect to the source of their success. Thus, as with Rome, elites fear mob rule and destabilisation but in fact they themselves are the most destructive and destabilising force. The things that they abhor, such as industrial action and leftist political activism, are actually the things that stop them from destroying themselves.

Rudolf Rocker wrote: “Political rights do not exist because they have been legally set down on a piece of paper, but only when they have become the ingrown habit of a people, and when any attempt to impair them will meet with the violent resistance of the populace.” If not constrained by fear of mass resistance the ideology and distorted psychology of power elites exacerbates inequality, creates crises of dysfunction (or “contradiction”), and cannot respond to crisis except by worsening it.

Liberal” is the New “Fascist”

In political terms the way most people use the term “liberal” most of the time is nonsensical. People can have conversations that make perfect sense by using “liberal” to mean some ill-defined centre-left opposition to “conservatism”, but as soon as you expand the context outside of a narrow and unedifying set of preconceived boundaries it ceases to make any sense.

The vague common usage of “liberal” to mean the political equivalent of being liberal with salad dressing cannot withstand the historic and contemporary realities of political liberalism. Conservative Republicans in the US usually espouse laissez-faire free-trade policies which are the hallmark of political liberalism. Leading liberals like Robert Kagan and Francis Fukuyama are also leading neoconservatives. The governing party in Australia is a right-wing conservative party called the Liberal Party. The archetypical East Coast liberal Henry Kissinger became emblematic of right-wing conservatism and Realism without changing his ideology and he was instrumental in violently promulgating neoliberal economic governance based on classical liberal traditions.

Historically liberalism has so deeply associated itself with personal property rights that it has always been a crypto-conservative movement. With exceptions for liberal socialist and left-libertarian variants, liberalism has become the defence of status quo and privilege. It’s ultimate ethical justification lies not in pure ideals of freedom, but in the claim that all other alternatives are worse. That is a deeply conservative stance and when Francis Fukuyama published The End of History, liberalism became the first movement since the Khmer Rouge to claim that we had reached Utopia. Like the regime in “Democratic Kampuchea” the Earthly paradise they announced was oddly conservative and flawed in nature. But hey, nobody promised that Utopia was going to be a bed of roses, did they?

Fukuyama was right at least to the extent liberalism has enjoyed a near monopoly on elite political ideology throughout most of the world since 1990. There are many variations of liberalism and many ideals, but the ideals should not be confused with actualities of policy.

[Here is a thought experiment that will show the underlying reality of liberalism: Imagine a world where the Soviet Bloc won the Cold War and Marxism/Leninism became so orthodox that people virtually forgot that it even existed; a world where political plurality meant that various Communist Parties competed against each other for votes but very few called themselves “The Communist Party”. Instead the Communist Parties called themselves the Workers Party, the Democratic Party, the Conservative Party or the Law and Order Party. In that world we would be stupid to ignore the reality of authoritarian Communist governance expressing itself in mass-surveillance, political repression, wars, torture, violent policing and extrajudicial killings. We would be stupid to use the term “communist” to refer to those who believe in democratic self-governance (after all communist ideals are hostile to political authoritarianism just as clearly as liberal ideals are) while ignoring the repressive Communist rule which they support in reality. The same is true of liberalism.]

The liberalism that we actually live with – the “liberal” “democratic” “capitalist” consensus – is an elitist conservative authoritarian neoliberal neoconservative monolith. Now this multinational behemoth is marrying itself to right-wing populism it should become clearer that it was fascistic all along. This may surprise many people, but it really shouldn’t. The transformation into a global Fascist movement is not without precedence. In practice neoliberalism has always been the bridge between liberalism and fascism.

The Missing Link

Indonesian President Sukarno was one of a number of post-colonial Third World “corporatist” leaders. He was concerned with state-building and national economic development and he did it with a great deal of military involvement in the non-military areas of society. He had a unique take on corporatism, but the basic idea of fostering unity under central authority and guidance is one shared by all of the corporatist leaders of that era, and it is a feature of Fascist rhetoric. Mussolini himself linked both terms not, as some claim, as being synonymous, but rather with corporatism being an important ingredient of Fascism. He wrote: “Fascism recognises the real needs which gave rise to socialism and trade-unionism, giving them due weight in the guild or corporative system in which divergent interests are coordinated and harmonised in the unity of the State.”

As Michael Parenti pointed out (see above) Mussolini did not so much “foster unity” as crush dissent. In Parenti’s terms, authoritarian or not, clearly Sukarno is no Fascist. Indeed the fact that he incorporated communism and allowed a major role to an independent Communist Party makes Sukarno clearly distinct from historical fascism. The most important thing to note here is that Sukarno acted more in accordance with Mussolini’s rhetoric than Mussolini himself did, in that Sukarno made a real effort to be inclusive.

Sukarno was overthrown in a US-backed coup (which effectively means a US instigated coup). When General Suharto took charge he purged all “communists” in a slaughter that began exactly 50 years ago. More than 500,000 were massacred, probably more than one million. (Far from showing remorse though, Joshua Oppenheimer writes: “The Indonesian army ‘celebrates’ the 50th anniversary of the massacres it carried out in 1965 – by putting up banners around Jakarta warning against the return of ‘new-style’ Communism. Absurd, discouraging, and pathetic.”)

For Andre Vltchek in those 50 years: “Indonesia has matured into perhaps the most corrupt country on Earth, and possibly into the most indoctrinated and compassionless place anywhere under the sun. Here, even the victims were not aware of their own conditions any more. The victims felt shame, while the mass murderers were proudly bragging about all those horrendous killings and rapes they had committed. Genocidal cadres are all over the government.”

The US triggered the initial massacre by supplying death lists of leftists to the coup plotters they supported.(1) US elites were generally very happy with the coup and the massacres that followed. In 2012 Conn Hallinan wrote that the New York Timesreported the Johnson administration’s ‘delight with the news from Indonesia.’ The newspaper also reported a cable by Secretary of State Dean Rusk supporting the ‘campaign against the communists’ and assuring the leader of the coup, General Suharto, that the ‘U.S. government [is] generally sympathetic with, and admiring of, what the army is doing.’”

Suharto retained the corporatism of Sukarno in a “New Order”, but it was married with an ultra-liberal app+roach to foreign direct investment (FDI). There was considerable wariness of foreign control, a desire to protect and promote the business interests of the politically powerful, and a desire to retain protections and regulatory tools in order to achieve economic and social goals. These conflicting, nigh paradoxical, motives led to a “profound dualism” between regulated domestic industry and liberalised export oriented FDI (2) The US educated economists who imposed the liberalisation were known as the “Berkeley Mafia”. Sadli, the “principle architect of the new foreign investment regime”, said “everything and everyone was welcome. We did not dare to refuse. The first mining company virtually wrote its own ticket”.(3)

Under Suharto’s “New Order” the military had an even greater political and economic role than under Sukarno’s “Guided Democracy”. Apparently liberalism and corporatism can coexist very happily. It should surprise no one that this meant that the rich and politically powerful enjoyed economic support and protection, while the poor were left to the tender mercies of unregulated market forces. On the other hand, the poor had all the joys of being heavily policed against their innate criminality and dangerous political tendencies, while the rich and powerful were more or less beyond the reach of the law. Does that sound familiar? My claim is that this was the birth of the Third Wave of Fascism, soon to be known by the name of “neoliberalism”. It amounts to removing government support mechanisms for ordinary people and increasing support for powerful and wealthy interests and individuals; while increasing state regulation, policing and imprisonment for the poor, whilst deregulating commerce and creating effective impunity for the wealthy.

Neoliberalism continued in the right-wing regimes of Latin America, notably in Chile and Argentina. Pinochet, an ostensibly nationalistic authoritarian anti-Communist military dictator, played host to the “Chicago Boys” – US-trained economists who were far more ideologically committed to what we would now call “neoliberalism” than the Berkeley Mafia.

In Chile and in Argentina, the advent of “neoliberalism” was accompanied by a lot of goose-stepping jack-booted military display. Leftists were “disappeared”, tortured and killed. The strident ideology of nationalist rebirth, militarism, punitive patriarchal authority and corrective violence, conformity, anti-Communism, tough-on-crime, national security and fear of “terrorism” were more-or-less carbon copies of overt pre-War Fascism. The academic distinctions between this form of right-wing ideology and actual Fascism amount to little more than petty and undignified hair-splitting (I am not saying that the Emperor has no clothes, but he only wearing as thong, and it is not a pretty sight).

In Argentina, “neoliberalism” had quite an anti-Semitic and neo-Nazi flavour. Jews, who were 1% of the p opulation, made up 12% of the Junta’s victims and were “singled out” for unusually brutal treatment. Police central HQ had a giant Swastika, and Jews in camps were tortured beneath portraits of Adolf Hitler.

The Third Wave

In Indonesia, the Republic of Korea, Argentina, Chile, Uruguay, Iran, Guatemala, Nicaragua and many many more places a neocolonial liberalism blended with militarised authoritarianism. The result was almost identical to the anti-worker, anti-poor, corporate welfare and privatisation policies implemented under Mussolini and Hitler.

Clearly the “level-playing field” claims of liberalism/neoliberalism are hollow pretensions. The claim is that there is some pure neutral condition of market transaction (“equilibrium”) that can only be corrupted by government intervention (which will inevitably be an expression of economically impure political power). However, markets are created by the agreement of participants to certain conditions and they are maintained only with continued assent. (Pleased note that I am not trying to suggest that markets are inherently democratic; those who are dependent on given markets may be forced to assent to grossly unfair conditions.)

The government cannot help but be a major and powerful participant in markets because its controls legal tender and taxation policy; its spending and policy affects market conditions (such as production costs or interest rates); and it imposes legal frameworks such as contract law, consumer protections, health regulations, labour regulations etc. It does not stop being a participant by selectively claiming that certain forms of involvement would be “distorting”.

Because markets are not self-sustaining we can usefully compare the relationship of building an economy with “market forces” to that of building a city with the force of gravity. Neoliberalism frequently intervenes in favour of big businesses, which is the equivalent of building high-rise corporate office buildings on the grounds that they are for the good of all. But neoliberalism happily sacrifices the wellbeing of peasants and workers, which is the equivalent of refusing to build low-cost housing on the grounds that forming structures by raising up building materials is dangerous attempt to defy the laws of gravity which clearly favour leaving such materials sitting on the ground. Clearly this is hard for the homeless, but in the neoliberal ethos we can not court disaster by denying the all-powerful force of gravity for the sake of mere poor people. We only do it for the rich because we absolutely must and our righteous principles must give way to pragmatic concerns no matter how much it rankles.

None of this is new, of course. Little is. Jonathan Swift satirised this sort of hypocrisy in 1729 in “A Modest Proposal”. He suggested that the children of the poor could best serve society as a source of meat. Of course this was under a Mercantilist paradigm of commodified value to the state which is supposedly different from a Liberal paradigm of commodified value to the market, but Swift would have felt a bitter deja vu had he lived to see the mass deaths of children during the Great Famine. During the Famine Ireland was exporting food to England while the Irish died in droves. England, which was in the grips of a liberal orthodoxy, even made charity illegal in the certain belief that even though people were starving to death, they would be even worse off if they were saved from death but then had to confront a distorted economy.

Moving forward to the 20th Century again, the neoliberalism established under the Fascist jackboot of Augusto Pinochet diffused and eventually spread throughout the globe. Eduardo Galeano tells us that the violence of the genocide in Guatemala did not end when the massacres stopped, but rather became the “slaughter that is greater but more hidden – the daily genocide of poverty”,(4) and Naomi Klein observed that the political violence in Argentina didn’t truly end, but became crushing economic and structural violence.(5) By-and-large, that was also the form of violence that spread globally in the guise of the neoliberal Washington Consensus.

The jackboots weren’t altogether absent, however. Neoliberalism and (crypto-)Fascism had not merely formed a marriage of convenience. Despite its libertarian rhetorical rationalisations, neoliberalism has not brought about lower taxes and shrinking state sectors. Instead it has seen a shift of tax burden onto the poor and a reallocation of government spending away from social supports and into policing, surveillance, and imprisonment. Neoliberalism hasn’t reestablished a genuinely “liberal” governance without the fascistic traits of post-coup US client states, it has merely been Fascism-lite.

Now that we are seeing the populist right-wing tribalism take hold. It completes the half-drawn sketch of mass-surveillance, militarised policing, mass incarceration, inequality, political marginalisation and a vast growing democratic deficit. Laurie Penny’s aforementioned article on “creeping fascism” uses the phrase “boiling frogs”. This is a common way of alluding to a deadly situation that remains unnoticed because of its slow incremental development. This comes from the claim that if you attempt to put a frog in boiling water it will jump out, but you can fill a pot of cold water with frogs who will remain in sublime contentment as you heat the water right up to the point where they die.

We Are Frog Stew

At the risk of belabouring the point, let me re-emphasise that political liberalism, including neoliberalism and libertarianism, is not liberal in the sense cognate with the word “liberty”. It is often socially liberal, but is often not socially liberal. For example, the US Republican party is a fundamentally liberal party in its general laissez-faire economic stance, but it has a small socially liberal wing and a dominant socially conservative wing. Moreover, liberals are, in theory, all for liberalisation of markets, but in reality the poor are left to market forces, but the rich enjoy protectionism.

Neoliberalism combines all of the hypocrisy of selectively liberal liberalism with a clear authoritarian streak. This is perfectly in fitting with classical Liberalism, where “free” markets were enforced with laws, courts, prisons, armies and gunships. For example, as James Petras writes: “Whereas the Chinese relied on their open markets and their superior production and sophisticated commercial and banking skills, the British relied on tariff protection, military conquest, the systematic destruction of competitive overseas enterprises as well as the appropriation and plunder of local resources. China’s global predominance was based on ‘reciprocal benefits’ with its trading partners, while Britain relied on mercenary armies of occupation, savage repression and a ‘divide and conquer’ policy to foment local rivalries. In the face of native resistance, the British… did not hesitate to exterminate entire communities.” Unable to compete with China, the British and French invaded in the name of the “free market” for opium.

Then, as now, this liberal imperialism leads to militarism and political oppression at home and abroad. Darius Rejali’s massive book Torture and Democracy paints a disturbing picture of the use of torture by the 3 “great Liberal democracies”, the UK, the USA and France. They are some of the most prolific torturers and they are the greatest innovators in torture techniques, and in each instance the use of torture in the imperial context has been mirrored by torture in the police cells and prisons of the homeland: Abu Ghraib, Guantánamo and Chicago; Saigon, Algiers and Marseilles; Calcutta, Belfast and Liverpool.

The problem that we collectively have with liberalism is that each time it adds to the shackles with which it binds us it convinces us that our chains are our freedom. The reason the liberalism has been allowed to transform slowly into full-blown Fascism is two-fold. The first is that the actions of the highest political authorities are mediated by dialectic relationship with public opinion. The second is that though our free speech is severely distorted by unequal access to audiences, it is still a corrective and constraint on excesses in the short-term. In the long-term, however, these short-term constraints become the means of unfettered excess and tyranny. They are the boiling frogs mechanism that prevents the masses from grappling with and opposing the “creeping fascism”.

Sheldon Wolin highlights gradual evolution as a key aspect of “inverted totalitarianism”. He claims that in US history there are “antecedents but no precedents” for this new tyranny. Outside of the US, however, there something of a precedent, and it is the most disturbing

“What happened here was the gradual habituation of the people, little by little, to being governed by surprise; to receiving decisions deliberated in secret; to believing that the situation was so complicated that the government had to act on information which the people could not understand, or so dangerous that, even if the people could understand it, it could not be released because of national security. …

This separation of government from people, this widening of the gap, took place so gradually and so insensibly, each step disguised (perhaps not even intentionally) as a temporary emergency measure or associated with true patriotic allegiance or with real social purposes. And all the crises and reforms (real reforms, too) so occupied the people that they did not see the slow motion underneath, of the whole process of government growing remoter and remoter.”

They Thought They Were Free: The Germans 1933-1945 Milton Mayer (University of Chicago Press, 1955).

An obvious example of the new style of frog-boiling gradualism can be seen in the current competition to become the presidential candidate of the United States Republican Party. Each outrageous thing said by Ben Carson or Donald Trump is legitimised by the very fact that they are allowed to say such things without any repercussions. The Daily Show, for example, has accidentally been quite pernicious because it is normalises political insanity. We are falsely comforted by the fact that comedians are allowed to say very rude things about political leaders without being dragged off in the night. However, widespread ridicule does not alter the credence and deference accorded to irrational and idiotic right-wing public figures by the news media. The result, inevitably, is that the the goalposts are shifted – the boundaries and the centre of the allowed discourse are all shifted to the right and towards overt Fascism. The Onion satirised the effects in an article handily summarised in its title: “Santorum Nostalgic For Time When Beliefs Were Outlandish Enough To Make Headlines”.

By contrast, the media have a near inexhaustible number of ways to discipline and constrain politicians and political discourse from drifting to the left. The crude red-baiting of McCarthyism has mutated into a complex theological inquisition based on the religious faith of neoliberalism. For evidence you could read any number of articles posted by the media watchdog FAIR, because it crops up with a scarcely credible frequency.. To give one minor but very topical example, Anderson Cooper questioned Bernie Sanders’ “electability” and asked Democratic presidential contenders to affirm or deny that they were “capitalists”. Because his usage of the term “capitalism” was undefined and fundamentally empty Cooper was simply enforcing a ritual genuflection before the altar of orthodox ideology. Sanders, unlike Clinton, actually refuted the premise and affirmed his commitment to “democratic socialism”, but that just shows the gulf between popular sentiment and that of the political elites.

The Lizard of Oz

The popularity of Bernie Sanders and UK Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn may indicate that resistance is building to the constant rightward shift, but we shouldn’t underestimate the force it has exerted over time. In the US every electoral; disappointment for the Democrats can be attributed to a failure to deliver those things that people want according to polls. But even though this clearly places the US public considerably to the left of the Democrats, the news media jump on every poor electoral performance as proof that Democrats are dangerously leftist. This is not confined to the US alone. In Australia, the UK and Aotearoa (New Zealand), the right-wing governing parties (Liberal, Conservative and National) have all won elections with the help of PR firm Crosby-Textor and specifically at the direction of Lynton “The Lizard of Oz” Crosby. Their method is to target Labour Party leaders (each country has a Labour Party) with emotive and manipulative criticisms. The medium is not campaign ads but rather the news media, and the campaigns rely on considerable voluntary compliance from news media. Effectively Crosby-Textor becomes a type of neoliberal politburo dictating a Party Line which the “independent” media are happy to adopt of their own free will. This makes Crosby-Textor akin to Rupert Murdoch’s News International, in that they are a multinational thought-control outfit wielding considerable power. Like Murdoch they can look beyond single elections and single countries and intentionally shift the political discourse rightward. For example, the UK election defeat for Labour in 2015 saw exactly the same headlines that were used for the 2014 Labour defeat in Aotearoa. The lesson of these historic defeats was apparently that Labour had gone too far left and was now teetering on complete irrelevance. I am sure that if the Australian Labour Party had not had an extraordinarily dramatic leadership battle the analysis of its earlier defeat would have also been identical.

The relevance of this is to point out that there is a transnational bloc of Fascist states populated by boiled frogs that is referred to as the “Anglosphere”. It began with the Thatcher/Reagan creation of a conservative neoliberal orthodoxy. It was spread by “globalisation” through transnational agents such as corporate, financial and media interests along with US-dominated “multilateral” governmental bodies.

This “Anglosphere” is joined by the European Union in having imposed the authoritarian laissez-faire regimes on the “developing” world. This is also true of all of the BRICS countries except China, but even China complies with the economic order that is the most important part of this global Fascist Bloc. This has created what sociologist Peter Philips calls a “Transnational Capitalist Class” (TCC) which has created “21st Century Fascism” because: “The TCC are keenly aware of both their elite status and their increasing vulnerabilities to democracy movements and to unrest from below.” The result is that: “The 99 percent of us without wealth and private police power face the looming threat of overt repression and complete loss of human rights and legal protections. We see signs of this daily with police killings (now close to a hundred per month in the US), warrantless electronic spying, mass incarceration, random traffic checkpoints, airport security/no-fly lists, and Homeland Security compilations of databases on suspected resisters.”


Bernie Sanders is a Fascist

Paul Street and David Swanson have both warned against the imperialist militarism of Bernie Sanders. John Walsh condemns him in these terms: “The fundamental problem with Sanders’s campaign is that it is based on bribery, and an especially immoral sort of bribery at that. For Bernie promises more social benefits if we, the beneficiaries, let him continue the Empire’s warfare – both economic and military. That is a most unsavory sort of bribe. Basically he gives us butter if we give him guns to kill innocents.”

Chris Hedges has written numerous pieces and made numerous statements focussing on criticising those who support Sanders. A key theme that Hedges shares with many is that Sanders is the “sheep dog” or “a Pied Piper leading a line of children or rats—take your pick—into political oblivion.” But taken as a whole Hedges is indicating something more profound – a complicity and an inclusion into a Fascist project.

I may be wrong but I think that Chris Hedges understands that a Fascism exists as a monolithic enterprise just as it is outlined by Peter Philips (quoted above). A narrow global elite controls a global Fascist apparatus. Now we suddenly notice that we are surrounded by sprouting mushrooms of police violence, surveillance, racist and xenophobic thuggery, like the fruit of a fungus that has been growing underground for 40 years. In such circumstances if you do not reject the Fascist movement, you are part of it.

You might wonder how a brave outspoken politician like Sanders who embraces “democratic socialism” could possibly be compared to a Fascist, yet I would happily compare him to the Nazi Ernst Röhm. Admittedly Sanders is not a streetfighter sending his own Brown Shirts to beat opponents, but he did say that Saudi Arabia should “get their hands dirty”, he voted to support Israel when they were slaughtering Gazans including hundreds of children. Part of our boiled frog outlook on life is that we normalise and accept such behaviour, but to openly endorse the mass killing of children in that manner is more foul and disgusting than Ernst Röhm’s thuggery. You may disagree, but if you think that it is invalid to compare a Nazi with someone who merely goes along with his nation’s penchant for war then maybe you should watch this video of a dying 6 year-old Yemeni boy crying “don’t bury me”.

The real point of connection between Röhm and Sanders is that they are both earnest avowed socialists. Röhm was pro-worker and anti-capitalist. His SA Brown Shirts attacked Communists, Jews and people who raised their voices against Nazism, but they also attacked scabs. In other words, he was both enforcer and sheepdog. He helped the Nazis to power, making their left-wing pretensions seem more substantive. In the end Hitler had Röhm killed in the “Night of the Long Knives”. Without wishing to over-simplify, it is fair to say that before being killed Röhm was pushing for the transformation promised by Nazi rhetoric, while Hitler was busy consolidating power by not challenging vested interests.

Sanders might become the next president, and if he doesn’t take the road taken by Hitler in his first years as leader, he will take the road taken by Röhm – the one leading to an early grave. In The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui Bertolt Brecht parodies Hitler’s historic rise to power as a the rise of a Chicago gangster whose closest oldest lieutenant (“Ernie Roma”) is killed for, if anything, being too loyal – too loyal to what he wrongly thought Ui (Hitler) stood for. The organised crime analogy is an apt one. This new Fascism is an enterprise with its own rules and those, like Sanders, who do not reject them completely and wholly will find that they cannot reject any part of the enterprise.

Jeremy Corbyn is an Antifascist

The exception that proves the rule is Jeremy Corbyn. The British news media have made it quite clear that they think him to be a dangerous extremist. Mark Steel parodies them thus: “We knew Jeremy Corbyn was mad, but now we know he’s psychotic. It turns out he won’t press the button to annihilate cities in a nuclear holocaust. How could anyone be that mentally unstable?” Corbyn , an avowed republican, horrified the punditocracy by not singing “God Save the Queen”. Roy Greenslade collated some press reactions in headlines: “Corbyn snubs Queen and country” (Daily Telegraph); “Veterans open fire after Corbyn snubs anthem” (The Times); “Corb snubs the Queen” (The Sun); “Not Save the Queen” (Metro); “Shameful: Corbyn refuses to sing national anthem” (Daily Express); “Fury as Corbyn refuses to sing national anthem at Battle of Britain memorial” (Daily Mail); “Corby a zero: Leftie refuses to sing national anthem” (Daily Star).”

You can summarise the Corbynophobic response as a violent antagonism to the fact that Corbyn doesn’t merely use anti-establishment rhetoric, but he also actually means it. He doesn’t backtrack on prior stances merely because his change in status (i.e. having become leader of the opposition) is difficult to reconcile with his conscience. Corbyn opposes everything that creeping Fascism has wrought in UK society and in Westminster. He is an antifascist.

The fact that the leader of the opposition is an antifascist is really not that important, though. There are 4 and a half more years until the next UK general election and a lot could happen to Corbyn in that time. He might go for a ride through the lonely woods on hisChairman Mao-style bicycle”, become overcome with depression, and then garrotte himself with his Chairman Mao-style” inner-tube. He might be abducted by the Lizard Illuminati in order to have has brain harvested and replaced with a Sinclair ZX-81 computer that is programmed to believe that Corbyn is the reincarnation of Friedrich Hayek. The more likely prospect, however, is that tens of thousands of political strategists, think-tankers, journalists, editors, and PR professionals will put many hours into formulating ways to denigrate and delegitimise Corbyn. The faith people place in Corbyn will be turned against them and used as a club to beat them into demoralised and hopeless submission.

More interesting than Corbyn himself is the fact that his popularity is due to a strong submerged public desire for the rejection of Fascism. It is the same reason that Bernie Sanders was able to sidestep Anderson Cooper’s stake-filled pit of orthodoxy by simply repeatedly asserting his allegiance to social democracy. The audience and the wider viewership loved this approach because, however deluded they might be, they very understandably saw it as a rejection of the prevailing Fascist orthodoxy.

It is that incipient but often unacknowledged antifascist strain in the public that is most interesting because one of the clearest and common symptoms of substantive Fascism is substantive mass antifascism…

… and you can read all about that in “The Resistible Rise of Global Fascism Part 2: 8 Signs You Are Living Under a Fascist Regime”.

Kieran Kelly blogs at On Genocide

 

US Rule in Occupied Earth (or Everything You Need to Know About Genocide, but Never Knew to Ask), Part 1: State of Exception

Standard

Armenian-genocide-bones

Audio: http://www.radio4all.net/index.php/program/81982

or direct link to mp3: https://ia601504.us.archive.org/29/items/20150728USRulePart1/20150728%20US%20Rule%20Part%201.mp3

[Below is a transcript which is about 95% complete and which contains links to some material that is cited in the commentary]

It would be a vast understatement to say that the word “genocide” is not well understood. In politics, in academia and in normal everyday communication the word is almost exclusively misused and abused.

You might believe that the normal everyday usage (or, sometimes the usage of those with the authority of knowledge) is definitive. What a word means is what meaning is given to it. In most cases I would agree. The usage by ordinary people of a word is where the word usually derives its meaning. Not, however, when that usage contradicts itself. Not when that usage can only misrepresent the actualities that it purports to describe. And not when it is completely divorced from its original meaning.

For example, a recent Buzzfeed article refers several times to the British “attempting” genocide against Aborigines. That makes no sense. Genocide isn’t a single act, like burglary. Genocide either happens, or it doesn’t. We don’t refer to the genocide of Jews in World War II as “attempted genocide”. We don’t even refer to an “attempted genocide” in Rwanda. People have a vague notion that genocide must somehow mean complete extermination, except that they are not consistent in that. Genocide is used in different ways according to political criteria,. This isn’t merely slippage, but it actually requires that people do not have an actual definition of the word. It is a word that has had its meaning suppressed because the concept that the word represents is a dangerous concept. It is a concept which cannot be held on an ideological leash. It will drag the holder into the brambles of radical unorthodoxy rather than let itself be led to the park to chase a frisbee.

Any limit to our vocabulary is a limit to our thinking. Our society, like all others, constrains our vocabularies so that some thoughts are unthinkable. We may live in a pluralistic multinational global culture that is in many ways organic and diverse, but the repression of thought to which I refer is systematic and purposive and it is in the service of power. All languages have words or phrases that others lack, but I am not suggesting that merely lacking the word for a concept is systematic repression. Instead, words like “genocide” or “terrorism” are stripped of stable rational meaning whilst being vested heavily with emotive affect. This is the process that creates an orthodox idiom – which is to say a systematically and coherently circumscribed mode of language and thought.

This meanings are, as I have said, suppressed rather than erased. It would be wrong to view these words simply as “empty signifiers” as if the arbitrary nature of language meant that one could exert one’s will over language with full control. That is a type of vulgar postmodernism – a megalomaniac fantasy such as Karl Rove was indulging when he said: “We’re an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality. And while you’re studying that reality—judiciously, as you will—we’ll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too, and that’s how things will sort out.”

Outside of Rove’s self-aggrandising fantasies, you cannot simply assign meanings to words at will. They must fit within a network of intelligibility that is grounded in a history of usage. Instead of simply redefining words what orthodox usage does is to load a word with emotion and political ideology whilst suppressing its basic and fundamental defining characteristics (which may be more or less broad, more or less faceted, and more or less mutable over time). This leads to an unstable and contradictory usage. That isn’t a problem to the orthodox ideologue but rather a great boon. It allows the word to be used differently according to need. Furthermore, because of the emotionality attached people will fight against any attempts to reinstate a stable and comparatively objective usage.

Genocide is exactly such a word. It first appeared in a work called Axis Rule in Occupied Europe, published in 1944. It’s original meaning cannot be erased because it is part of a network of inter-contextualised signifiers which exist in history. At the same time, though, that meaning is thoroughly obscured. People argue that something is genocide because it is really bad, while other people argue that you can’t call something genocide because it is not bad enough and to label it genocide would be an insult to victims of real genocide.

The meaning of “genocide” has not changed over time because the meaning was suppressed from the beginning. It was always a dangerous notion. People wrongly think that it was purely a response to the German atrocities that Winston Churchill referred to as “a crime without a name”. But Raphael Lemkin, who invented the term genocide, had long been thinking on this topic and what he described was a far broader and more historically significant phenomenon which didn’t merely describe acts of mass murder, but made sense of them. Unfortunately for Lemkin’s future career, once the logic of genocide is grasped it will reveal truths that are unpalatable and unacceptable. In the 1950s Lemkin devoted much of his attention to the genocides of indigenous people in the Americas, particularly North America. Lemkin established a clear intrinsic link between settler-colonialism and genocide and had he lived longer he would inevitably had to have recognised that the link between genocide and all forms of imperialism was nearly as inescapable.

Genocide is not, and never has been, something that you switch on and off. It is not a discrete act. It is not distinct from war and militarism, nor authoritarianism and political oppression. The institutions of genocide that a state creates will not end until they are eradicated. The German genocide in East Africa at the beginning of the 20th century created institutions which would later be instruments of genocide, but were also tools of repression used on political dissidents. Likewise, the institutions of genocide that are deployed in the Middle East and Africa are continuations of genocidal practices from Asia and Latin America, and are already imprinted in the nature of policing in the USA and in the authoritarian rhetoric and policies of David Cameron and the Conservative government in the UK.

Many contemporary thinkers from Sheldon Wolin and Giorgio Agamben to Jeff Halper and Chris Hedges are trying to grapple with the increasingly arbitrary nature of the state, its increasing hostility to humanity, and the increasing precarity of the people. (When I refer to the state here, I am referring to the nexus of governmental and “private” power which exercises effective sovereignty, not to the narrow concept of a governmental state power with formally recognised sovereignty). If we are to understand this situation in a way that will help to end its deadly progress, the greatest single step that we could take at this time is to reacquire the term “genocide”. Lemkin used it to describe the phenomenon that was the driving force behind German occupation policies in Europe. This inevitably also applied to Germany itself, though that was not Lemkin’s focus. For Lemkin the concentration camp was the defining institution of genocide. But Lemkin meant the term broadly. He considered Indian Reservations to be a form of concentration camp and would have most likely conceded that its is the power structure created by the barbed wire enclosures that is more important than the wire itself. For Giorgio Agamben the prevailing logic of the concentration camp is that of the “inclusive exclusion” and he has contended that that is the “biopolitical” paradigm of our age. The term “biopolitical” in its broader sense, refers to the way in which power exerts control over bodies, and I will argue that on a large scale the “biopolitical” becomes the “demostrategic”. At the large-scale demostrategic level, this paradigm of power may express itself in the very phenomenon of genocide that Lemkin first described.

In this series of articles I am going to draw threads together that show the need make appropriate usage of the term genocide as a way of revealing a pattern of destruction and mass violence that is interconnected. It is the millions of deaths in the Democratic Republic of the Congo; it is the permanent dysfunction and instability of Somalia and Libya; it is Plan Colombia; it is Iraq and Afghanistan; it is mass surveillance and it is the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement; it is Haiti and its is the political and drug related violence in Mexico; it is the “huge concentration camp” of Gaza and it is al-Sisi’s Egypt. This is the nature of US Rule on the Occupied Earth. It is all of a piece. It is all shaped by genocide. It is all becoming more genocidal.

Sadly, even the best intellectuals seem only to vaguely grasp that the term “genocide” has actual an definitional meaning. In contrast those who are more inclined to be opinionated or generally less inclined to to use cogent thinking are only too happy to forcefully tell people that their usage is not only wrong but offensive and dangerous. It is like the poem by Yeats, which, as it happens, foreshadowed the rise of Nazism,

“The best lack all conviction, while the worst

Are full of passionate intensity.”

Israel Shamir, for example, has let his anger at the misuse of the term genocide obliterate his mental faculties. He recently wrote that Lemkin coined the word genocide “in order to stress the difference between murdering Jews and killing lesser breeds. The word is quite meaningless otherwise.” He must know at some level that this is untrue, but he writes with thoughtless rage. The effect is to tell his readers not to even think about genocide – “It would be good to ban this word altogether.” That is not going to prevent the misuse of the word. In fact it plays into the hands of those who misuse the term in order the perpetrate aggression and genocide. The way to end the misuse is to treat the word genocide the way you would treat any other. When genocide is asserted we should expect that the usage is justified based on definitional criteria. As it is, telling a readership that already opposes imperialism and Zionism that the word “genocide” has no meaning only makes it easier to exploit the term for propaganda purposes.

“Genocide” is a word that itself exists in a state of exception. People will scream at you for suggesting that it can be weighed or compared in any way with anything else. Even some genocide scholars call it a “sui generis” phenomenon, meaning that they want to say that it cannot be defined, but they reserve the right to label some things as being genocide on the basis that they themselves know what it is when they see it. Moreover, there is a broad intellectual trend to treat genocide as a sacred word which only special experts may employ, because any improper usage would be hyperbole and damaging to one’s credibility.

Sadly this was the case on the radio programme Against the Grain, which is from broadcast Berkeley by KPFA (a storied non-profit radio station which also broadcasts the superb programme Flashpoints).

Against the Grain is aptly named. In a world of growing anti-intellectualism, interviewers and producers C. S. Soong and Sasha Lilley do their work with a depth that is hard to find elsewhere in political analysis. They interview intellectuals with the sole aim of facilitating the transmission of ideas and information. No words are wasted on flattery or extraneous personal detail. Above all, when Soong or Lilley conduct an interview they are very conversant with the material they are discussing. Most impressive to me, though, is that they never assume that the interviewee can’t explain something to the audience. They don’t try to avoid things on the grounds that they might bore or confuse us mere plebs, instead they chop them up with timely interjections so that they are digestible and so that the flow is maintained. In other words, they make it as easy for the audience as possible, but they don’t pander in any way.

Pandering is, of course, the one of the great intellectual plagues of our age. Ideas that came from the realms of marketing and mass entertainment have spread to infect all corners of society. The ideology of using a restricted vocabulary of words and ideas in order to never tax people’s brains by asking them to learn something new is an obvious recipe for disaster. You cannot learn if you are never presented with anything you do not already know. Pandering makes people stupider on the whole, but it also makes substantive change impossible. Pandering is not just about avoiding inflicting the pain of thought on people, it is also about not disturbing ideology. In political activism pandering is rife, and it is always represented as being “tactical” and “realistic”. That is why I appreciate a programme, like Against the Grain, that pulls no punches and tells it like it is.

However, if there is one thing on which people are guaranteed to pander in both intellectual and ideological terms it is the topic of genocide. People mystify it and misuse it. They sneer at the people who dare to suggest that the US or Israel or the UK is committing genocide, because they “know” that anyone making such an accusation is just engaging in political sloganeering. This is supposedly “debasing the coinage” in the words of the late Michael Mandel, showing that even the most admirable people can be very stupid when it comes to this topic.

Equally admirable people show that there is another face to this debased coin, using the term “genocide” to try to raise the alarm on the world’s horrors. A recent example of this was an interview with Professor David Isaacs on the plight of asylum seekers held on Nauru. What he reveals is an alarming and inhumanly cruel situation. It is a situation that cries out for action. But then he says that he is told “don’t use the g-word, the genocide word, … or people will think you are too extreme”. He is thinking exactly the same way that Mandel thinks, but from the other direction. In their construction “genocide” is a type of currency that is to expended when our subjective sense of alarm tells us that something is really really really bad.

For this reason, I was disappointed but not exactly surprised when the subject of the “g-word” was broached on Against the Grain and then treated as some special mystical term whose applicability could only be determined by the most authoritative authorities. This was towards the end of an otherwise excellent interview about the plight of Sri Lanka’s Tamils now, 6 years after the end of the 26 year-long civil war.

What was described by interviewee Anuradha Mittal is a textbook example of genocide. In genocide the killing of the victim population as such is not the end it is the means. When he first coined the term “genocide” Raphaël Lemkin wrote the following:

“Genocide has two phases: one, destruction of the national pattern of the oppressed group; the other, the imposition of the national pattern of the oppressor. This imposition, in turn, may be made upon the oppressed population which is allowed to remain or upon the territory alone, after removal of the population and the colonization by the oppressor’s own nationals.”

In other words, the Sinhalisation of both the Tamil peoples and the land to which they belong is a defining genocidal characteristic. The direct violence of genocide arises because resistance is inevitable. The deprivation of social, cultural, religious, economic, and linguistic capital is itself a form of violence which victims cannot help but resist.

Mittal’s interview reveals that it was persecution and communal violence that initially drove some Tamils into an armed separatist movement. Now in the aftermath of the long bloody civil war she gives details of conditions based on a recently released report that she authored. Once you understand the concept of genocide, what she is describing in every aspect is symptomatic of genocide. Everything she talks about is characteristically genocidal, from the way the hegemonic victor tries to enforce a certain historical narrative through memorials, to the way the land is imprinted with a state, military, religious or linguistic character to alienate it from Tamils. In fact, the most salient and striking genocidal features are not the mass violence, but the unusual things such as having military run tourist resorts in occupied territory. That sort of behaviour only makes sense in the context of genocide.

At one point Mittal quotes Dr Rajani Thiranagama: “Objectivity, the pursuit of truth and critical, honest positions, is crucial for the community, but is a view that could cost many of us our lives. It is undertaken to revitalize a community sinking into a state of oblivion.” In that spirit, it is absolutely essential that genocide be understood for what it is. Without full and frank comprehension it will never end, even if the intensity of direct violence waxes and wanes.

Consider the persecution of Jews under the Reconquista, when Spain and Portugal were conquered by Christians 500 years ago. The persecution arose from a confluence of interests of state-building political elites, religious authorities seeking to increase power, and individuals looking to acquire land and other property sowed seeds of violence that would continue through the ages. The state sought to integrate Jews as “Conversos”, but the state also sought to repudiate that conversion in order to enforce uniformity, exercise religious authority and sieze property. In other words, the Converso’s became the “included exclusion” – the very circumstance to which concentration camp inmates are subjected. From that came the concept of “Crypto-Jews”, leading to the ideological linking of Judaism with occult conspiracy. Additionally the concept of ineradicable and heritable “blood guilt” was used. This not only fuelled future pogroms, but arguably formed a key ideological foundation of all modern racism. In the same manner, until the genocide of the Sri Lankan state is comprehended, exposed and repudiated by consensus, the ideological tools for future genocidal violence will remain intact. Tamil resistance, whether violent or not, will be delegitimised as “terrorism” and this will in turn be used to legitimate violent and deadly repression.

That is why my heart sank so low when the conversation on Against the Grain turned to genocide. There was a general tone shared by Soong and Mittal that was suggestive of the “ultimate crime” which the exchange portrayed as being beyond mere “war crimes”. Then Mittal said that the question of whether genocide had occurred should not be prejudged but should be decided by the “international community”. This makes me want to ask, what does that mean? Is it somehow above your pay grade to weigh the evidence? Is genocide something so controversial that only the high and mighty can pontificate on it? This is anti-intellectualism. Mittal is tacitly stating that we should not think about such things and that the thinking should be left to authorities. And what authorities are these? The term “international community” effectively means the US State Dept. or what Noam Chomsky has labelled as “IntCom”. This is true regardless of the intent of the speaker because if you promote the “international community” then those who control the usage of that term in political discourse get to decide what it entails and your original intent is meaningless.

Things took a turn for the worse when Mittal brought the ICC into the conversation. I don’t know what mania is gripping people at the moment, but every advocate for victims of persecution seems to think that the solution will be found by putting people in the dock at the Hague. I think that this is some sort of woefully misplaced yearning for a corrective patriarchal authority figure, and it poisons our discourse on genocide and on war crimes. People think that wrongs must be righted by the exercise of power in order to grant some psychologically satisfying sense of balance. This is quite divorced from practical realities including that of actually ending today’s atrocities, rather than fixating on a tiny percentage of those that occurred a generation ago. Does anyone actually look at the record of the ICC? There are some informed apologists for the ICC out there, but even they don’t defend it actions thus far as much as they claim that it will do better things in the future. Critics like David Hoile cannot be countered except with speculation about how wonderful the ICC will be at some future point. Hoile is an old Tory who may or may not be in the pay of Sudanese war criminals, but when he (a right-wing white man who was once photographed with a “Hang Nelson Mandela” sticker on his tie) debated the ICC in the pages of New Internationalist, he was far more convincing in suggesting that the ICC was institutionally racist than Angela Mudukuti, who argued that “attempting to undermine its legitimacy with allegations of racism will take the global international criminal justice project no further.” It is well worth looking up that debate for the sheer surrealism of the fact that the young bleeding-heart African woman effectively tells the old hairy white male Tory that he needs to be more trusting of the authorities or he will harm their efforts to run the world in an orderly manner. Whatever one thinks of Hoile, though, he has published a 600 page volume on the ICC which is full of substantive criticisms that stand regardless of his history or motives.

The fact is that if you don’t accept in advance that the ICC is both benevolent and a repository of expertise and authority, it is pretty difficult to see anything good in its patchy record of expensive and unacceptably lengthy proceedings all of which are against Africans. As an instrument of justice it is inefficient, dysfunctional and pathetic beyond belief; as an instrument of neocolonial domination it is very expensive, but probably considered worth the price by the European powers which bankroll its activities; as a propaganda instrument capable of making slaves scream out for more chains and whips, it is clearly priceless beyond measure.

The fact is that many national courts and international bodies can chose to exercise so-called “universal jurisdiction” over cases of genocide anywhere in the world. The ICC is a very silly place into which to channel one’s energies, but are prosecutions in general any better? There are two problems here. … Labelling genocide as a crime has become a very harmful distraction. It is this, more than anything, that has turned the term into one that is so misused for political ends. Genocide is represented as “an act” and the “crime of crimes” that exists in the world of black-and-white morality where its ultimate evil justifies acts of great violence, and makes people feel the glow of self-righteous anger.

People like to call for prosecutions because it is an instant source of gratification. The judicial system becomes a proxy instrument of violence either as combat or retribution. This is appealing to those who are in one way or another impotent. Prosecutors are symbolically taking the role of their antecedents, champions of weak who fought in trials by combat. Sometimes the most fervent advocates of this form of state violence are “pacifists”. The problem seems particularly acute in the US where the punitive impulse runs very deeply. It seems that US citizens are induced to feel acutely threatened and constrained by the domestic or foreign Other and are thus prone to support police, judicial or military state violence.

You might think that it is good that state violence be used against those found guilty of genocide and, to the extent necessary, those merely accused of the crime. That is fine if you call it what it is – retribution. If you consider that to be justice, then your concept of justice is retributive. I know that some would also argue that victims gain a sense satisfaction and closure, but since the vast majority of the victims of mass violence will never have access to this “satisfaction” it is a rather hollow and bitter virtue.

People talk about prosecutions as if they will have practical beneficial ramifications in ending violence. This flies in the face of the historical record. No one is ever prosecuted before they are in one manner or other defeated. In some cases they might be the sacrificial offering by a criminal grouping that consolidates itself by allowing one member to be culled, but more often it is simply a matter of victor’s justice. The accused is defeated by hard power means before they are ever detained. They might be very guilty of heinous crimes, but guilt is in fact incidental to a thoroughly political process.

Meanwhile, the ICC enthusiasts claim to be all about ending impunity. If you actually just step back for a second you will see that the application of international criminal justice in the ICC, ICTY, ICTR and in national courts does absolutely nothing to end impunity. Instead of viewing Charles Taylor and Slobadan Milosevic as villains who deserved punishment, imagine what message their prosecutions sent to the world. It is the same message sent by the deaths of Saddam Hussein and Muammer Ghaddafi, and that message is that the only hope for someone who is targeted by the US is to fight to the death. Making peace and going into exile is not an option. International criminal justice is only victor’s justice against the vanquished and a neocolonial weapon in fighting Third World nationalists.

The only other way that someone responsible for mass violence might be prosecuted is when the real war is won on their home turf. That real war is the intellectual and moral struggle – the fight to expose the means and ends of those who commit mass atrocities and, above all, the fight to vanquish apologetics. Jay Janson, who writes in Dissident Voice and Counter Currents, castigates people like me for not constantly calling for prosecutions of US officials and for not condemning every single citizen of each and every Western state to be a war criminal. He is right though, to point out that we must never stop referring to the crimes of the US “hyper-empire” as crimes. But history shows that the crimes do not end until the regime itself is recognised as criminal. It is not enough to recognise individual acts as crimes or actors as criminals. A majority of US citizens once recognised US interventions in Indochina as war crimes, but it changed nothing because it was constructed as a failing and a failure, not as a success.

Fatuous pundits and lying politicians like to claim that the US relies on “international legitimacy” and that this makes military interventions failures, but if you examine the history of US war crimes and crimes against humanity you can see that they follow the Maoist principle that all power comes from the barrel of a gun. They coerce other countries, including close allies, into treating them as legitimate. The real problems for the US regime that arose from the aggressions against Indochina were a dispersed and pluralistic domestic insurrection, that might have consolidated into a revolution, and a mutinous military. Once they had those problems solved they went back to serial aggression and serial genocide and many millions have died as a result. Therefore, it is necessary to create a consensus that the political establishment is criminal as a whole. Once that fight is won you can choose to try and move forward with prosecutions, as in Argentina, or with a truth and reconciliation process, as in South Africa.

Prosecutions are not a road to change. You can’t expect the corrupt institutions of a corrupt society to take any action that does not make the problem worse. The best that a campaign calling for prosecutions can be is an awareness raising campaign. If you really think that if you mobilise people and push hard enough some top-down bureaucratic judicial body will make a positive difference, then you need to find out what time it really is. We don’t need to lock Bush and Blair in prison, we need to de-legitimise them, disempower them, disempower those who support them, and end the criminal regimes of which they are merely transient components. It is true that if George W. Bush were in prison he wouldn’t be able to charge $100,000 to give a speech for a charity raising money for amputee veterans. But as grotesque and freakish as that is, the Bushes, the Clintons and Tony Blair only get so much money because a whole stratum of society worships power. In a situation that is equally reminiscent of pre-revolutionary France and Nazi Germany, our elites simply do not have any functioning morals. Without coercion they will never even acknowledge a moral component to the exercise of power, but will fawn all the more over those that commit war crimes because that is an exercise of great power.

Continued in Part 2: “Days of Revolt”.