Saturday, July 31, 2004
A man needs a maid - but then he also needs a blow job
"It's just like Cindy, my regular child prostitute on my visits to Bangkok (that's not her real name of course, but she let's me call her that). Exploited? At $100 dollars a blow job? I think not. You can buy a lot of candy for a $100 in Thailand, let me tell you!"
You really should head over there for an explanation.
(Blow jobs, herpes, what's this blog turning into? Christ knows what sort of Google searches will be bringing attention to DC now. But hey, readers are readers!)
Thursday, July 29, 2004
This, if it really is true is pretty extraordinary, all things considered.
On the other hand, are people generally aware that it is pretty well established that the Nixon campaign sabotaged the 1968 Paris peace talks initiated by Lyndon Johnson, seemingly because they feared a prospective end to the Vietnam war would boost Hubert Humphrey at the polls?
(I'm basing this on Anthony Summer's Nixon biography and a BBC-produced Kissinger docu-trial; if anyone knows of facts to the contrary, don't be shy).
Quite the conspiracy theory, eh?
Really, Nixon get's off lightly in general. I mean: Watergate, please. How about 'Namgate, Cambodiagate etc. etc.. (Actually, scratch that since the practice of affixing "-gate" to every scandal should have been outlawed long ago).
Something like three million Vietnamese dead over more than a decade, and Waterate is the scandal? And today, the best thing about the Democratic nominee for President is that he took part in that assault? In a healthier political culture Kerry would be covering up his "service" and putting his anti-war activities up front and centre. Instead we have Bush covering up his no-show for his no-show and Kerry boasting of his willingness "[t]o go and kill the yellow man" as The Boss once put it.
* * * * * * * *
'Piping the former Navy lieutenant ashore when he finally arrived was a rousing version of Bruce Springsteen's "No Surrender."
Grabbing the microphone, Kerry declared, "Bruce Springsteen has it right. No retreat. No surrender. We are taking this fight to the country, and we are going to win back our democracy and our future." '
This sort of thing has happened before of course.
JERRY: Vomitting is not a deal breaker. If Hitler had vomitted on Chamberlain, Chamberlain still would have given him Czechoslovakia.
GEORGE: Chamberlain...you could hold his head in the toilet, he'd still give you half of Europe.
Which I came by via this.
Tuesday, July 27, 2004
The Good Book - but not a great one
Indeed. In for a penny, in for a pound I say. Let's throw in Santa and the Easter Bunny too.
And the same applies as regards all that stuff in the Bible (Old Testament, natch) condoning slavery, stoning, genocide etc.. I mean to say, in the circumstances, who are we to pick and choose?
Saturday, July 24, 2004
This week I have been mostly reading...
Orwell's Homage to Catalonia
Francis Wheen's Karl Marx
Eric Hobsbawm's Age of Extremes
JG Ballard's Millenium People
Slavoj Zizek's Welcome to the Desert of the Real
John Gray's Straw Dogs
Martin Amis' Koba the Dread
CLR James' Beyond a Boundary
(Some real posts to come soon, I promise. And, while you're reading, I should explain that for some reason Blogger wouldn't let me post the last three posts as one long post without fucking up the whole blog, hence the "parts". But then maybe they made my nonsense a bit more digestible?)
Wednesday, July 21, 2004
Criminal Justce, part 3 (featuring Johnny Cash)
I wear the black for the poor and the beaten down,
Livin' in the hopeless, hungry side of town,
I wear it for the prisoner who has long paid for his crime,
But is there because he's a victim of the times.
San Quentin, may you rot and burn in hell.
May your walls fall and may I live to tell.
May all the world forget you ever stood.
And may all the world regret you did no good.
Criminal Justice, part 2
Among black men born between 1965 and 1969, 30.2 percent of those who didn’t attend college had gone to prison by 1999. A startling 58.9 percent of black high school dropouts born from 1965 through 1969 had served time in state or federal prison by their early 30s.
“Imprisonment now rivals or overshadows the frequency of military service and college graduation for recent cohorts of African American men. For black men in their mid-thirties at the end of the 1990s, prison records were nearly twice as common as bachelor’s degrees.”
And the sterling efforts to prevent prisoners from accessing US courts to guarentee their rights to live in humane conditions appear to have been fruitful, to tell from this interesting - and angering - article from the Monthly Review.
"France's prison population is more than 50 percent Muslim."
It's corroborated here. Now, I'm something of a Francophile; I read my Le Monde, and my Swiss Roll: so how on earth did I not know this? Off the top of my head, France's Muslim population is about 8 million, 10%. Isn't this the sort of extraordinary fact that one would expect to be known by anyone who takes an interest?
Tuesday, July 20, 2004
My Left-Liberal Foot
"Heart in the right place and all that, but pointing out that many Labour ministers were more left wing in their youth than they are now, and that there is corruption and injustice at the heart of many public institutions and professions - well, yes. I never quite understood why Foot embraced Marxism rather than the radical non-conformist liberalism into which he was born..."
This reminds me somewhat of the point I was trying to make re: Michael Moore and his excessive reliance on the personal relationships between the Bushes, the Saudis, the Bin Ladens etc.; but also of the criticisms* often made of Ralph Miliband's The State in Capitalist Society:
"Miliband...focus[es] on political and ideological struggles without reference to the economic imperatives and requirements of capital accumulation. This reflects [his] polemical concerns. Miliband is interested in confronting liberal theorists of democracy woith the "facts" about the social background, personal ties and shared values of economic and political elites, and about the impact of government policy on such matters as the distribution of income and wealth. He also argues that socialisation into the ideology of the ruling class is an important source of political power and social order. Because his principal concern is to reveal the distortions and mystifications of liberal pluralism, Miliband does not advance the Marxist analysis of the state. Indeed, he actually reproduces the liberal tendency to discuss politics in isolation from its complex articulation with economic forces. To the extent that he does relate them it is only through interpersonal connections; he neglects their mutual presupposition and interdependence on the institutional level. Thus, Miliband does not succeed in establishing the real nature of the state in capitalist society and its inherent limitations as well as advantages for capital."
(from Bob Jessop, "Recent theories of the capitalist state")
The point is (and some of Claus Offe's** work makes this point brilliantly) is that even if the state were "run" exclusively by people of impeccably egailitarian and social democratic principles they would still be fundamentally constrained by the structural limitations placed upon the state - and upon society - by its dependence on the system of private capital accumulation.
Similarly, even if there were no Enrons, if all corporations complied with the letter and spirit of all ethics etc. laws, the fundamental contradictions between systemic imperatives and human needs (broadly conceived) would remain.
Of course we're likely to be living with more or less dominant capitalist relations of production for some time yet, so it's no bad thing to point out the politico-economic system's more flagrant corruptions. But if such an approach is anything less than a Trojan horse for a truly radical*** analysis it will only serve to obscure the true tasks and hard truths.
*I can't judge whether such criticisms are entirely fair, not having read Miliband.
**Specifically "Advanced Capitalism and the Welfare State" and "Some Contradictions of the Welfare State", chapter 6 of Contradictions of the Welfare State. These two articles constitute almost my entire reading of Offe ("Two logics of collective action" is another interesting article, outlining the fundamentally different natures of trade unions as against employers confederations). I found both compelling, and have sought his books in shops without success. Nor have I heard much about him from other sources. Anyone have any thoughts?
***"Radical" here connotes, as it always should, the literal (etymologically speaking) meaning - "at the root" - and not what it all too often does: "far-left", "trendy", "chic", "posturing" etc., etc..
Monday, July 19, 2004
If Normblog did have a comments box...
(On the other hand, I was sort of relieved that he wasn't, as I had first thought, linking to his own meter thus causing DC to blush at its own inadequacies.)
While I'm at it let me thank Norm for allowing me to glory in contemplation of these books wot I haven't read (except Mill's On Liberty). Almost as good as reading them, I'd say.
Sunday, July 18, 2004
Two More Cents on Fahrenheit 9/11
In a way I agree: I too would very much like Bush et al - particularly, I must say, Cheney and Rumsfeld - to be dumped in November, not that anyone ought to be very starry-eyed about Kerry and the Dems. And there are indeed many things in the film which I'd be very glad to see brought to the attention of ordinary Americans who might not otherwise know - what with advanced capitalism's depoliticized public sphere, but that's for another post. Even some of the more lighthearted cheap shots might do something to chip away at the ridiculous reverence in which Presidents are often held.
On the other hand one could of course say the same about an anti-Bush film made by, say, the KKK: "I don't care if they do blame the war on Koons, Kikes and Katholics - just so long as it helps get Bush out." So actually, some political honesty really does matter.
And really, Moore is totally unprincipled, in the sense that he'll say anything that'll help get Bush out, and won't say anything that won't help. Thus one could come away suspecting 9/11 (the attack, I mean) was the result of collusion between the Bush family, the House of Saud, the Bin Laden family and the Carlyle Group such was the time spent vaguely expounding upon the shady familial, interpersonal and financial relationships; but knowing nothing at all about the long US collusion in Israel's strangulation of Palestinian society. You see, the latter would be much more difficult to deal with, since it couldn't just be "explained" by some superficial "money-trail"; plus it would involve actually challenging some holy cows, something Moore is clearly unwilling to do, as we see during the course of his exploitatively drawn out interview with the mother of a dead US soldier, when Moore ingratiatingly extols her for her patriotism and her family's "service"; plus Jewish-Americans tend to be both liberal and pro-Israel - no need to "go there", then.*
There are numberless flaws, but you probably either have already, or soon will, read about them, if you're interested. Only one other thing is worth saying: while Moore does some service (especially to supporters of the war) by demonstrating the human costs of the war, the preceding montage of Happy Shiny pre-war Iraqis, contentedly going about their business in their peaceful land is truly shameful. Indeed Saddam Hussein makes, I believe, a grand total of three appearences: two, dancing in an arm-linked human circle, like a sort of bumblingly eccentric uncle, embarassing and amusing in equal measures; the other shaking Donald Rumsfeld's hand. This is another image I'm happy for people to see, but one would be forgiven for thinking that this was Saddam's greatest crime, not Rumsfeld's.
I didn't need Michael Moore to tell me that George W Bush is not an admirable politician. Fahrenheit 9/11 only confirms that Moore isn't a very admirable film-maker.
*I am grateful to Lenin, of all people, for bringing my attention to the neglect of the Israel-Palestine issue.
UPDATE: If you haven't seen it Juan Cole's take on the film is worth reading.
Friday, July 16, 2004
And this is positively Joycean:
"Poot O'Poot at Poot Poot Poot has poot far poot pootpoot pootpoot of the US pootpoot "poot", poot on pootpoot pootpoot of pootpoot poot.Poot poot poot Poot a pootpoot?"
Thursday, July 15, 2004
What a riot!
Two of Marx's most famous sentences appear at the beginning of The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Napoleon:
"Hegel observes somewhere that all great world-historic facts and personages appear, so to speak, twice. He forgot to add: the first time as high tragedy, the second time as low farce."
The new "recreational" rioting now appears as though a parody of its equivalent from 35 years ago - shorn of any real conscious political motivation of any consequence, the old anger at oppresson and discrimination replaced by a sort of inchoate and hollow rage at not much in particular. Content gone, form remains, a habit like any other, it would seem.
Ireland's Ethical Foreign policy - and Europe's
Tiananmen Square recedes in the popular memory, but the Chinese regime continues to threaten democratic Taiwan, to resist deomcracy in Hong Kong, torture, sorry - "re-educate" - Falun Gong practitioners and preside over myriad other crimes relating to religious and political persecution, suppression of free speech, union-busting, Tibet, etc. etc. etc..
That trip may have been unseemly. This is worse. As Gavin says:
"Trading arms with China serves what purpose exactly? Closer ties are good how? Maybe if China became a reasonable, representative society that respected human rights then such deals could be justified."
Wednesday, July 14, 2004
Je ne le comprends pas
But isn't there something a bit bizarre about all the Constitution coverage? Effectively, the thing is either adopted by everyone, or adopted by noone. And if I'm not very much mistaken, the UK is highly unlikely to be approving it, since the great unwashed are going to be given their say there too.
So really, what's all the fuss about? Or should that be, why is the fuss about the wrong thing?
And speaking of the day that was in it, Yglesias discusses the best national anthem there is.
Despite my having taken a socialist turn since writing it, I stand by the article, and my support for the reintroduction of fees for the rich (in the form of a graduate tax if necessary). So I was very glad to come across this sentence from the Critique of the Gotha Programme:
"If in some states even "higher" education is also "free", this only means in practice that the upper classes can cover their costs of education from general tax receipts."
Which was exactly the point I was making.
The New Internationalist, using an eerily similar strategy, provides the alternative.
Strangely, an interesting, if brief and a little too cordial, exchange occurs in the comments between said Will and a libertarian. Funnily enough, I think libertarians and Marxists have a lot in common - both (at their best obviously) take their political ideas seriously, approach them with intellectual rigour...and follow through to their conclusions, in a way mainstream liberals and social democrats might not.
Will mentions the libertarian thinker Robert Nozick, which reminded me of renowned Marxist (at least I think he's still a Marxist?) G.A. Cohen, who has engaged with Nozick's ideas quite a bit. As Cohen says in this interview:
"...the thing that I found disturbing was, quite simply, the challenging quality of Nozick’s arguments."
This was "disturbing" because, as the interview remarked:
"In the struggle by serfs against feudal lords who extracted labour from them with no contract or agreement, the slogan ‘The fruits of a person’s labour belong to himself or herself’ was an historically progressive one. The difficulty is that Marxists and other socialists have maintained that slogan into an era when different battles are on the agenda...You can reach libertarian conclusions by drawing out some of those implications and turning them into a reactionary theory."
The fundamental flaw of the libertarian analysis is its neglecting to question, and therefore failure to establish, the ethical foundations of private property itself - while libertarians cast an impressively critical eye on most matters, property is usually privileged by neglect, remaining unconsidered. This was brilliantly demonstrated by Cohen himself in the final chapter of History, Labour and Freedom, which I heartily recommend, manifesting as it does the author's usual intellectual rigour and integrity.
The Holy Church of The Order of The Painted Breast
It's very amusing, and contains this wonderful flicker of good old-fashioned Beeb school-marmery:
"This would all be funny if it wasn't for the millions of dollars being stolen and probably put into drugs or other criminal activities."
Oh tosh - it is funny.
*Gavin, who has kindly linked to DC, is a respected (I'm sure) member of the Irish blogging community (which is still small enough to be a community, I think, as opposed to the massified market-society of the American blogosphere). Adopting as I do the traditional/stereotypical stance of the Irish intellectual (frustration at the alleged parochialism and small-mindedness of Irish society) and the universalist orientation of the socialist tradition (I amn't Jewish, but I wouldn't mind being called a rootless cosmopolitan) I have thus far tended to project myself on an affairs-of-the-world scale, even though DC hasn't been entirely devoid of specificly Irish content.
Nonetheless my intellectual orientation of humanist universalism hasn't yet stripped me of all national-chauvinistic tendencies, not even just outside Landsdowne Road. So fair play to all the Irish bloggers who have given DC a mention or a link.
(Some would add "as usual" to that. But not DC).
Nonetheless this is rather infelicitously expressed:
"I favor the death penalty...for abortionists and other people who take life."
Does that make him a self-hating Republican?
What's that Sean Hughes line? "I'm not prejudiced and I hate people who are".
* * * *
I recently sort-of half-defended the Orange Order in the comments section of Lenin's Tomb. Yesterday's Irish Times reminded me (were it necessary, which it wasn't really) that the Orange aren't the sorts one wants to get into the habit of defending:
"The Orange Order offers the best protection from 'Roman Catholic nations' which are attempting to submerge 'the Protestantism of the United Kingdom' into the European Union" - so said the Rev Richard Harvey from Sheffield at Coleraine.
Mildly amusing anyway.
Tuesday, July 13, 2004
(There's a quote from the French Socialist leader Leon Blum castigating the (Stalinist) French Communist Party for its various twists and turns in response to the dictates of Moscow, particularly in relation to the German threat and the formation of a Popular Front, that says something to the effect of "no number of spins of the dialectic can salvage any credibility for the Communists now". The quote was also in my mind when naming this blog, but sadly I can't seem to find it anywhere on the web, so I'm wondering if I imagined it).
Monday, July 12, 2004
Quote of the Day
"When I was at school I got caught cheating on my metaphsics exam: I was looking into the soul of the boy sitting next to me"
- Woody Allen, on some site I saw a few days ago. That guy cracks me up.
The subtitle describes my politics as "pseudo-Marxist" (tongue-in-cheek, don't you know). This is on the basis that I don't think you can in good conscience call yourself a "Marxist" if you haven't read Das Kapital*, which I haven't got around to doing yet, not to mention a reasonable amount of the volumnious "secondary" literature, i.e. "the Marxist tradition". Alternatively I might describe myself as a tentative socialist: socialist, because I believe that the construction of a truly democratic society (i.e. one that is a social and economic democracy, not only a political one, such as exists today) is incompatible with the undemocratic, unaccountable and illegitimate power of capital; tentative, because the task that thus presents itself is a rather daunting one, in all sorts of ways, and given certain historical experiences is probably best approached with caution.
More soon, if you're interested.
*This brings to mind a nice bit from John Banville's The Untouchable, based around the Cambridge spies, which I'm just coming to the end of:
"...the majority of us had no more than the sketchiest grasp of theory. We did not bother to read the texts; we had others to do that for us. The working-class Comrades were the great readers - Communism could not have survived without autodidacts. I knew one or two of the shorter pieces - the Manifesto, of course, that great ringing shout of wishful thinking - and had made a determined start on Kapital - the dropping of the definite article was de rigeur for us smart young men, so long as the pronunciation was echt deutsch - but soon got bored."
Friday, July 09, 2004
My Schedule - time out for music, boozing
Interestingly this will be the first hangover of my blogging career; I wonder will it encourage or discourage posts? More than likely latter. In any case the Sunday papers are usually enough of a handful.
Intend to see as many of the following as possible:
Kings Of Leon
& The Mudbug Club
The Libertines are really the only ones I would have been interested in on Sunday, since Bowie pulled out.
Lenin's Tomb is a blog I keep returning to despite myself. His support for the armed resistence/"resistence" in Iraq puts hims dangerously near being beyond my pale (he'll like that), although to be fair he does make distinctions as to which violence exactly he supports, even if these distinctions do approach casuistry. (This is quite aside from his dubious choice of model - socialism needs to recover from Lenin, not repeat him).
In any case it's always healthy to keep in mind some well-argued opposing views, and "Lenin" usually provides that service.
When I saw Lenin had placed DC atop his "New Blog Roll" (only to await its slow descent of course - but that's the circle of life I suppose) I suppose I knew I was probably going to have to blogroll him. When I saw the splendid pun (the best so far, I believe) on this blog's name - "should be Confucian Dialectics" - I knew I couldn't, ahem, resist.
But then Lenin goes and makes a comments-section attempt to shame me into reciprocal blogrolling. It's like 1917 all over again - Lenin just wouldn't wait, would he? As Kautsky, would have said, don't push it Lenin, the blogroll is inevitable...
For punishment, and to salve my pro-liberation soul, I'm adding you similtaneously with, and beside, Harry's Place.
Does this make Cheney a liability?
Republicans For Nader?
Well, if he read yesterday's Irish Times he would have seen the front page story revealing that Nader has recieved the maximum donation ($2,000 apparently) from each of Richard Egan, his son, and his daughter-in-law.
Who's Richard Egan? Only the "self made billionaire" (as he is laughably described in Sean O'Driscoll's report - Marx's labour theory of value may be discredited, but really, "self-made"? Gimme a break.) appointed ambassador to Ireland by one GW Bush. Undoubtedly this appointment was unconnected to Mr Egan's status as a major Bush campaign contributor and fundraiser, then and now.
Egan departed from the embassy after 18 months, "citing frustration with the slowness of diplomatic life". Presumably he hopes the fast lane of third-party politics will prove more stimulating, in the bargain reinvigorating American democracy by transcending the Tweedledum-Tweedledee choice offered next November.
(If you wish you can search for a link at The Irish Times site, but it'll probably require a subscription).
A Bit Oirish
"TDs may have been drinking illegally in the Dáil bar for the past 80 years because the premises does not have a licence to serve alcohol.
The Government is to amend the Liquor Licensing Act later this year to provide a licence for the bar following uncertainty over its legal status. "We want to make sure we are fully compliant with the law, and this will definitively put the matter beyond any doubt," an Oireachtas spokeswoman said.
Like the rest of the bar-owners around the country, the Oireachtas is to apply for a licence. There is no guarantee, however, it will receive one. Under existing liquor laws the applicant for a licence must demonstrate to the courts whether he or she is a person of good character. The applicant must also demonstrate that the premises is a fit location.
It will be up to a judge to decide whether the bar, occasionally frequented by deputies with a history of tax-dodging and tribunal-obstruction, is such an appropriate location.
The question of whether the Dáil has been entitled to serve alcohol also raises the intriguing question of whether the people who frame our laws have, all along, been breaking the law themselves.
When the rebel Fine Gael TD, Mr John Deasy, was rapped for smoking in the Dáil bar, he may have flouted more than the smoking ban. Or when the former Fianna Fáil TD, Mr Liam Lawlor, returned to Leinster House from a spell in Mountjoy for a celebratory pint, he may have continued to act in defiance of the State...."
Thursday, July 08, 2004
"...unlike most of the “anti-war” crowd, I didn’t regard Iraq as merely a pretext for carrying on domestic (British or US) political spats by other means. I can separate my dislike and contempt for Blair (and Cook, and Dubya, and indeed almost all other bourgeois politicians) from my judgement on Iraq: can you?"
But others make it their business to expose those who:
"...wish dearly to deflect the argument about the war from being a referendum on Bush to being a strict humanitarian concern with the fate of Iraqis."
Silly Season for Blogland?
The Palpably Absurd WMD Cook-up
More substantially there's a very interesting post and comments discussion there on the issue of the pre-war "WMD" claims, and how they relate to the position those who supported the war as a liberation from tyranny.
I certainly wouldn't have supported the war on "WMD" alone, or even mainly. (In any case my support for the war was somewhat ambivalent). And Robin Cook's speech was impressive in its own way (even if it did disregard the "humanitarian intervention" argument). The statement that "Iraq probably has no weapons of mass destruction in the commonly understood sense of the term - namely a credible device capable of being delivered against a strategic city target" was pretty remarkable from someone who was sitting around the cabinet table and had been Foreign Secretary less than two years before.
On the other hand, Patrick from the notorious SIAW comments with characteristic stridency:
"Since I also regard Blair as an unreliable judge on any set of issues, and supported the liberation of Iraq despite his involvement, not because of it, there’s no inconsistency [with disregarding Cook - DC]. But then, unlike most of the “anti-war” crowd, I didn’t regard Iraq as merely a pretext for carrying on domestic (British or US) political spats by other means. I can separate my dislike and contempt for Blair (and Cook, and Dubya, and indeed almost all other bourgeois politicians) from my judgement on Iraq: can you?"
Elsewhere in the comments that stridency slips into equally characteristic aggression/discourtesy, but while I'm shamefully ambiguous about Blair even for a pseudo-Marxist, the above expresses much of my own sentiment.
The Iraq war can have been worthy of support even if it was prosecuted by a reactionary imperialist on the basis of lies.
Remind you of anything?
*UPDATE: Just to clarify, I'm absolutely certain that Norm would have blogrolled me even if I hadn't so much as mentioned this. After all, who could resist? Of course we can never know...
John Kerry - Soft on Communism
It's always something of a tricky subject as to whether an artist's work is undermined, or indeed wholly discredited, by their political views. This poem is political in content - does that mean it shouldn't be cited approvingly because of the (Stalinist) politics of the poet, even though the poem itself is a perfectly respectable (and I think quite moving) evocation of socialist ideals of human freedom and justice?
I presume Sullivan disapproves of quoting Yeats (flirted with Fascism towards the end), Heidegger (actually joined Nazi Party at one stage), Sartre (claimed there was free speech in Soviet Union), Shaw (denied there was famine in same) or indeed, to make things more interesting, Kipling and other incorrigibly racist imperialists ("Your new-caught, sullen peoples,/
Half-devil and half-child" etc.).
No offence intended...
via Kevin Drum's comments section.
"Georges Bidault was president of the Council of National Resistance during the German occupation of France and a minister in de Gaulle’s first government. ‘A choice has to be made: either we believe in the inequality of the races, we consider that democracy, the Rights of Man and parliamentary government are acceptable on one side of the Mediterranean but not on the other — and I would understand if we abandoned the Algerians,’ he said. Bidault’s meaning is so forced that it is not at first clear. He means that a respect for equality, democracy and rights demands that France maintain its occupation of Algeria. Only if one had no respect for such things would it be right to ‘abandon [i.e. liberate] the Algerians’. On the other hand, he says, if ‘we are humanists, universalists to the end, and we consider that parliamentary democracy, the generalised right of habeas corpus, and the rule of law are preferable for Algerians as well’, then we will prefer the assimilation of Algeria into France, as Brittany was assimilated. Another French resistance fighter Jacques Roustelle said, ‘we would be arrant swine to abandon to their own destiny people who count on us to liberate us from their own ancestral and religious dependency.’ In these justifications of the continued occupation, the meanings of humanism, universalism and liberation are twisted to mean their opposite. People are to be liberated from themselves. The defence of universalism is perverse when substantially Algerians have been denied the rights enjoyed by settlers and by French citizens. But no such contradiction existed in the minds of the supporters of French colonialism. On the contrary, Algeria was occupied in the name of humanism and universalism."
(from "Algeria and the defeat of French Humanism", Chapter six of The ‘Death of the Subject’ Explained, by James Heartfield)
Vietnam seems to be the analogy of choice for opponents of the Iraq war. War supporters, as ever, favour good old reliable World War Two, since it is the great pacifism-buster, the one war generally acknowledged to have been just (even if the Allies might be considered to have gotten a bit carried away with Dresden, Tokyo, Hiroshima, Nagasaki etc.) and also tends to make people think twice about giving dictators the benefit of the doubt. (The more brave/foolish elements of the anti-war camp, including, reliably, Pilger, have also reached for the Nazi analogy, directing it at Bush et al).
The above passage (from a piece definitely worth reading for anyone interested) would seem as ripe as any other for analogies with Iraq - for those with the appropriate agenda of course. Hitchens already had a go at debunking the comparison - the obvious points are that noone is suggesting Iraq become literally the 51st state (Algeria was technichally part of France itself); the Iraqi resistance (or, if you prefer, "resistance") is of doubtful popularity, and certainly can't be equated with the FLN, which was fighting for indpendence after 120-odd years of colonial rule; there are no pieds-noir in Iraq; the US has just toppled a quasi-fascist regime which had ruled for 35 years.
Nonetheless there are certain parallels between the rhetoric of Bidault, as to how anyone who really held to humanist-universalist values had to support them in Algeria by supporting French rule there, and that of President Bush when he seems to imply that opponents of the war believe democracy is only for white people, or for Western cultures. I'm reminded also of this statement a while back from Harry:
"My solidarity is not with ‘the Iraqis’ and it never has been. My solidarity is with Iraqi and Kurdish democrats..."
and these related questions posed by Marc Mulholland:
"...can democrats ever sacrifice immediate democracy in a locality for the health of the system generally?.... would immediate Iraqi self-determination result in Iraqi democracy, or a victory for authoritarian forces and ideology?"
As I've pointed out Algeria 1954-62 and Iraq today are fundamentally different, and I don't intend to compare Harry to the apologists of Algerie Francaise . But two observations are worth making: 1) it appears either that most Iraqis want the US-led coalition to withdraw now, or that this will very soon be the case; 2) one trait Algeria shared with Vietnam, India and other colonial withdrawals was considerable violence after the pullout.
So is the continued presence of coalition troops justified, in the name of Iraqi democracy etc., or not?
Wednesday, July 07, 2004
From the theoretical to the empirical
"The immediate outcome of these days of crisis was an impressive demonstration of labour solidarity. With the principal Irish leaders arrested (including Connolly), the resistance to the employers was organised by two able trade unionists, P.T. Daly and William O' Brien. They at once dispatched two emissaries to the British Trades Union Congress which responded with massive grants of money and food. Congress alone granted nearly £100,000* of the £150,000 which was subscribed by British sympathisers. But as the tragic dispute, with its attendant miseries of cold, starvation and destitution for thousands of Dublin families dragged on, it became a question how long British unions would be prepared to finance their Irish brethern. Hopes of a settlement faded when the employers rejected the report of a government inquiry in October and tempers began ominously to rise. Special bitterness was caused by the action of the Roman Catholic clergy in preventing the departure to temporary homes in England of children from the tenements, who were starving through no fault of their own. This scheme, entirely benevolent in intention, was opposed on the grounds that the children's faith would be endangered if they were sent out of the country. So emphatic and well-organised was the hostility that the rescue operation had to be abandoned and the children left to wither in the sanctity of their slums."
Obviously the church has done good as well as evil. But still, the cruelty is shocking (as is that of the employers, even for an anti-capitalist such as myslf - capitalism's exploititive nature is supposed to be obscured, mystified. Every now and again it becomes exposed, as in 1913).
In fact it reminds me of a story you may or may not remember from some months ago where the Saudi Arabian religious police reportedly refused to rescue some schoolgirls from a fire in their dormitory on the grounds that would mean seeing them without appropriate attire. The role of the Catholic Church in 1913 wasn't quite so bad, but it wasn't too far off.
*UPDTE: According to one site (I could find it again if you really wanted me to) this is the equivalent of more than £6 million in 2002 figures.
God (its lack of existence) and Church (its balefully concrete crimes)
Which brings me to a couple of things I've been meaning to mention.
One is another famous quote - by Voltaire, one of French literature's most pleasingly anti-religious, anti-clerical figures (not that I've read any of his work you understand). Apparently when he was on his deathbed, an attempt was made at a last-minute conversion: "Do you renounce Satan and all his works?" the priest demanded. "Now" Voltaire responded , "is no time to be making enemies".
I'll get back to the second thing - which will explain the second part of this post's title - in another post.
To Support Democracy, or Not to Support Democracy
One of Noam Chomsky's great themes is that mainstream US foreign policy discourse takes place, from one extreme to the other, between those who laud the idealism and benevolence of US foreign policy and those who lament that this idealism and benevolence is excessive and/or naive.
Now, I happen to think that most of what Chomsky says is mostly true. (When I tell you that I've been broadly supportive of the last three US-led wars - Iraq, Afghanistan and Kosovo - you can probably tell that that doesn't say as much as it might first seem).And much of what has been happening in the world of late wouldn't exactly disabuse one of Chomskyite views. Look for example at this post of Chris' (and the comment on it) on how Kerry has appeared to respond to Bush's pseudo-Wilsonian idealism* by joining the Henry Kissenger school of realism that dismisses as naive any attempt to prioritise democracy-promotion over other "national interests".
Of course the proper response to Bush's ostensibly pro-democracy policy would be to expose (a la Marshall) the grubby reality, and offer a truly pro-democracy alternative. This is the only ethical choice (especially since the Kissenger approach in practice often entails not only a cynical indifference to, and complicity in, large-scale human rights abuses but also active opposition to democractic advances where they could threaten said "national interests") but also arguably the only sensible long-term security policy, since as Chris puts it: "The fact is that the Chomsky-Wolfowitz theory of Root Causes** is true: It really does seem to be the case that support for authoritarian regimes in the Middle East is not, in the long run, good for anyone."
UPDATE: Matthew Yglesias has more.
*Chomsky would say that Wilson himself was only pseudo-Wilsonian.
**Now that happens to be really funny. In fact Chris is the funniest of the bloggers I regularly read (and I can rely on him to link to the best of Fafblog which is hilarious, albeit not one of my regulars). See: some people don't mind recognising really funny when they see really funny.
I'm not bitter, but...
Now, for this I was expecting not belly-laughs, so much as standing ovations in recognition of my brilliance. It's just the sort of aphoristic line that is all the more rewarding for making one think for just a moment, the sort of line you see quoted all the time from the likes of Oscar Wilde, Voltaire, Woody Allen etc.
Now that's pretty stellar company, I think you'll agree, and while the response to the joke wasn't bad it wasn't quite as overwhelming as I was hoping and, frankly, demanding.
(Fans of Father Ted may be reminded by these last two posts of his speech on winning the "Golden Cleric" award: "And now, we move on to liars...")
"I see dead people"
Some months ago it struck me just how hilarious this could be as a little in-joke at, say, an annual pathologists' or morticians' conference - I would guess black humour is rarely more fitting than at such occasions.
I've said this to some of my friends, and they laughed of course, but not as much as I thought was appropriate: come on, if you don't find the idea of pathologists sidling up to each other in the corridor, or the lift, and whispering "hey Frank, 'I see dead people. All the time' geddit?" hilariously funny, well, really, you don't get funny pal...
Tuesday, July 06, 2004
If I reveal here my chosen ten I reckon Norm could well blow my anonymity - should he ever happen upon this humble neophyte of a blog, that is, and should he be so inclined, and indeed so bothered.
Thus it is in a spirit of reckless trust that I reveal my selection:
The Rolling Stones
I had my doubts about Wacko and U2 but you know, you enter into these things in a certain spirit, and never having participated before I wanted to make sure to get that vote in on time.
So there you go Norm - I prostrate myself (or at least my anonymity) before you. Blackmail is still illegal, isn't it?
They're on a mission from God
Notable is the number of dead people in it. (I mean who have died since it was made - in 1980 - not dead people like in a zombie movie, or The Sixth Sense). Who'd have thought Ray Charles and John Lee Hooker - who make fine cameo appearences - would outlive John Belushi and John Candy?
Also dead presumably, given his age at the time, is Cab Calloway, who sings the wonderful "Minnie the Moocher" near the end.
It's also extraordinary to recall that Dan Ackroyd was the thin one. Not that I'm slagging him for getting fat: he's entitled to do that. Unforgivable, on the other hand, is to soil his fine work in such films as Dragnet, Trading Places and The Blues Brothers with monstrosities such as My Girl 2.
Oh the shame, the infamy...
Novels read so far this summer
My Century - Gunter Grass
Dark Secrets - Martin Amis
Currently reading - and enjoying - The Untouchable by John Banville.
The Irish Labour Movement
One of the founders of that movement James Connolly placed Desmoulin's aphorism at the head of one of his manifestos.
Referring to the struggles led by the other great founder of the movement, Jim Larkin, Lyons remarks that "[s]ometimes...these strikes were disastrous, sometimes they were relatively successful. But for Larkin the essential point was that his union was beginning to give the most down-trodden of the workers a sense of identity and of self-respect".
And human dignity and self-repect must of course be the ultimate goals driving any socialist project - that is why socialism would not be made irrelevent by the mere absence of poverty, though it must entail such an absence. In Ireland today capitalism - not unaided by the welfare state, of course - has delivered material prosperity to a degree unimaginable at the turn of the last century, when one-third of Dublin's population lived in slums - the worst slum conditions in the entire United Kingdom, as it then was.
But man, remember, cannot live on bread alone. Lyons indicates that Larkin fully recognised this, quoting playwright Sean O'Casey's observation of him:
"Here was a man who would put a flower in a vase on a table as well as a loaf on a plate"
Quote of the day
- Camille Desmoulins, 18th Century French revolutionary
My understanding of "the dialectic"
Having not yet read any Hegel, nor much Marx, I am no expert. But "dialectical thinking" might be a way to deeper understanding of the world we are faced with. That world is teeming with paradox and complexity, and it might do us good to recognise that rather than taking comfort in unreflective and dogmatic analyses which can only really deal with a preferred set of facts.
Frederic Jameson expresses my point wonderfully:
"In a well-known passage Marx powerfully urges us to do the impossible, namely, to think this development positively and negatively all at once; to achieve, in other words, a type of thinking that would be capable of grasping the demonstrably baleful features of capitalism along with its extraordinary and liberating dynamism simultaneously within a single thought, and without attenuating any of the force of either judgment. We are somehow to lift our minds to a point at which it is possible to understand that capitalism is at one and the same time the best thing that has ever happened to the human race, and the worst. The lapse from this austere dialectical imperative into the more comfortable stance of the taking of moral positions is inveterate and all too human: still, the urgency of the subject demands that we make at least some effort to think the cultural evolution of late capitalism dialectically, as catastrophe and progress all together."
or, The Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism" accessed at www.marxists.org)
To illustrate what me and Fred are getting at think of Churchill: die-hard imperialist, union-buster, arguably war criminal - but also Europe's saviour, the vanquisher of fascism. The truth of the former doesn't negate the apparently contradictory truth of the latter.
Only fools rush in. Step back, and observe the dialectic before making your ethical judgements.