Premature Burial By William Bowles

22 June 2005

No matter, the BBC and the rest of the state’s media/propaganda arsenal have effectively buried the Downing Street Minutes here in the UK, preferring to ignore the story rather than mount a counter offensive, no doubt operating on the principle of ‘out of sight, out of mind’.

In the US however, the story is somewhat different if only because the corporate press has been hoisted on its own propaganda petard and forced onto the defensive as the petulant (and slanderous) piece by the Washington Post so clearly demonstrated.

But the increasing unpopularity of the occupation of Iraq has contributed to the importance of the revelations (well, they’re only ‘revelations’ insofar as far as the corporate media are concerned, that is, when they’re branded as not being ‘news’).

The tactic used here in the UK has been to promote diversions, hence the brouhaha around the Africa ‘aid’ proposals of Brown/Blair; first, the illusion that the alleged debt cancellation for some African countries showed that the developed world ‘cares’ and second, the alleged concern about global warming/climate change.

The [DFID, Department for International Development] funded the Anti-Corruption Commission in Sierra Leone with Le 4.58 billion in 2004 for the implementation of the Anti-Corruption policy but [the DFID] consumed Le3,186,175,000, which is 70% of what was donated to the ACC. [1]

But in both instances, the propaganda campaigns came unstuck, the first because the state’s chosen vehicle, ‘Sir’ Bob Geldof and his ‘Live8′ project revealed the contradictions between the genuine concern that many Brits have about the ‘plight’ of Africans and the reality of the real relationship between the undeveloped world and where the wealth of the West comes from (see the George Monbiot article ‘Bards of the powerful’) and in the case of climate change, Bush and the pirates really threw a spanner (or wrench) in the works when it was revealed that US capital had no intention of doing anything at all to reverse global warming (see article about yet another leaked document on Bush’s behind-the-scenes arm twisting and twisting of the facts concerning global warming).

U.K. arms sales to Africa reach £1 billion

Many exports approved by the Department of Trade and Industry involve selling arms to some of the most deprived states and to countries with poor human rights records. Among the most controversial exports since 2000 are:

More than £30 million of military equipment sold to Angola, including armoured vehicles and body armour; Export licences granted by the DTI last year to sell £3.6 million of military equipment to Malawi, one of the least developed nations in the world; Licences for military exports granted to Eritrea, Ethiopia, Algeria, Sudan, Zambia, Uganda, Namibia and Somalia; Arms sales to South Africa that trebled last year to £114 million, including components for combat aircraft, missiles and radar; U.K. arms sales to Nigeria up tenfold since 2000 to £53 million, including armoured vehicles and large calibre artillery.

According to the DTI’s annual reports, specific licences for arms sales to Africa total more than £631million since 2000. But experts believe the true figure is closer to £1 billion when the value of “open” licences are taken into account. Such licences allow for smaller arms sales to take place with much less scrutiny from officials.
Anthony Barnett, The Guardian

But never fear, Blair had yet another ‘ace’ up his sleeve, the EU, about which the corporate/state media has had a field day, exploiting the never far from the surface and long-inculcated xenophobia of the British.

But under-pinning the conveyor belt of ‘issues’ being rolled out by the state is the reality of a capitalism deeply unsure of itself, in fact a state suffering a crisis of confidence about which it is hard-pressed to produce solutions that will assuage a public that has lost all faith in a government that it now knows habitually lies about its policies, about events and their causes.

The problem of course for the Left – whether existing or any future left alternative that undoubtedly will at some point, emerge – is a comparable crisis of confidence brought about by the failure of the socialist projects of the 20th century to produce a convincing and viable alternative to the madness of five hundred years of capitalism.

Post-mortems of one kind or another, exist in abundance as to why we failed and no doubt the reasons are complex, residing in a combination of the nature of the under-developed state of those countries that embarked on the epic struggle to build an alternative along with the fact that capitalism was (and still is) determined to make sure that any alternative to capitalism must surely fail (and seen to be a failure) or, as with countries such as Venezuela that simply seeks independence from the US, be destroyed.

But perhaps most importantly for me anyway, is the realisation that some fundamental elements were and are, still missing from the theoretical conceptions concerning a proposed alternative to capitalism, without which we are doomed to repeat the failures of the past century, reinforcing Marx’s observations about history repeating itself, the second time as farce.

So as a committed socialist it is incumbent on me to at least make an attempt to offer some pointers as to the way forward, if for no other reason than the fact that left to itself, capitalism is incapable of producing a solution to the crisis that confronts us, not only as ‘nation states’ but now as a species. A crisis that has no historical precedent and which our ancestors could never have foreseen.

As I have pointed out before, the book ‘Caliban and the Witch’ [2] was something of a revelation for me because it made concrete ideas or perhaps ‘intuitions’ that I have long harboured about what has been and is, missing from our conceptions about the nature of a socialist alternative, namely, the lack of an inclusive vision, at the root of which I contend are issues about gender and ‘race’.

‘Caliban and the Witch’ made plain that without the unpaid labour of women together with slavery and colonialism, over the past five hundred years, the European technological/industrial ‘takeoff’ would not have been possible. Assessing the actual value accumulated by this immense theft over so many centuries is of course impossible to calculate, but even more so is the damage that has been done to our understanding of ourselves as a species, so deep-rooted is the mythology of the capitalist conception of what it is to be human. Is it any wonder therefore that our first attempts at building an alternative have been so hit and miss?

But interestingly, the deep-seated malaise ‘terminal’ capitalism is under-going expresses the first, real signs of the contradictions, in particular the increasing divide between the sexes and the fact that the current social order is unable to deal with the crises for example, of the ‘family’, ‘community’, culture and ‘identity’.

The ‘Blair solution’ is to legislate a new ‘social order’ into existence (again, some parallels with the 16th and 17th centuries are in order here and once more I refer you to ‘Caliban and the Witch’), such as ASBOs (anti-social behaviour orders, 50% of the thousands handed out have targeted the under-sixteens) and the raft of other, new ‘behaviour-based’ laws designed to force us into line, in other words, a new ‘fundamentalism’ that the corporate state hopes will solve the contradictions between the dream and the actuality of capitalism as it is lived.

All are unlikely to succeed, especially as the reality of such draconian measures sinks in and resistance to them grows but of course, nothing is guaranteed, all depends on us.

The parallels with the 16th and 17th centuries are remarkable in that for capitalism to triumph it was necessary to destroy all pre-capitalist economic and social relations rooted as they were in communalities of interest (what we now call the ‘global commons’). A struggle that took something like two hundred years to play out, for as with now, people of that era didn‘t take the assault lying down, they fought back and suffered as a consequence.

In order to do this, it was necessary to divide and conquer people on the basis of gender and ‘race’ by destroying the networks of solidarity that had, however imperfectly, united people. Hence the emergence of the ideologies of racism and sexism based upon the new ideas of scientific disciplines that sought to redefine people as nothing more than machines.

The post-Soviet era sees a comparable revisionism taking place that is based upon the entirely false premise that capitalist relations are ‘natural’, again just as the writings of Hobbes and others in the 17th century sought to justify the emergence of capitalist relations as part of the ‘natural order’ of things, justified with a slew of false scientific premises that nevertheless sounded very convincing especially when viewed in the context of the genuine advances in our understanding of how the universe worked eg, Newton. Today for example, we see the use of genetics performing a similar task to that of science in the 17th century, not only to justify capitalism as a system but also in the ideological propaganda of gender and ‘race’.

For five hundred years then, the ideology of capitalism has been sold and reinforced by the scientific and technological revolutions and in an irony of history, that also became the basis for the idea of ‘scientific socialism’. Ah that things were so simple.

I propose therefore that any new conception of a socialist alternative has, first and foremost, to be holistic in its approach as to its definitions of what it is to be human, for although it is still true to say that the underlying logic of society is still determined by our economic relations as producers, as exploiters and the exploited, the terrain of the struggle needs to be defined by how we relate to each other as people. ‘Tacking on’ issues about gender and ‘race’ is not a solution, these have to be intrinsic to our vision of an alternative which means any new vision has to include a new vision of family, community, identity, sexuality and so forth.

We also need to take as a given that we are an integral part of the natural world, but not indispensable to its continued existence, and that our current trajectory not only threatens our own future but the world as we know it. A world that has over millions of years, evolved into a finely balanced organism, far more complex than anyone could ever have dreamed of, even by the ‘grand old man’ of evolution, Charles Darwin.

Questioning five hundred years of conditioning only really started a little over one and fifty years ago and it took place within the context of Victorian, industrial capitalism and at the height of the imperial conquest of the planet, in a society moreover imbued with extreme views about ‘race’, gender and the natural world that we still live with today.

Overcoming ideas that are so deeply rooted in capitalist culture that we are all imbued with, especially those of us in the so-called developed world is obviously not simply one of proposing an alternative economic model but of altering our consciousness, of breaking the ‘ties that bind’.

Notes

1. ‘The Politics of Aid’ by Mohamed Kai, June 15, 2005

2. Caliban and the Witch – Women, the Body and Primitive Accumulation by Silvia Federici. Autonomedia, New York, 2004. Buy it from amazon.com or amazon.co.uk.

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