Politics as spectacle By William Bowles

7 November 2013

Failing a real left in this country, it seems that political activity has devolved into little more than spectacle, something implausibly akin to the Olympics or the Queen’s birthday (but without the exposure or corporate support or even the commitment that money buys). The BurnAusterity one day campaign typifies this corporatized and extremely fragmented approach to political activity. It’s almost as if it (BurnAusterity with all the right capitalizations) doesn’t want to reveal itself as even a timid advocate of a ‘socialist’ alternative to the present insanity.

Continue reading

Advertisements

The BBC’s Syrian Chemical Weapons Coverage: An exercise in Imperial deception By William Bowles

23 August 2013

Over the past three days, since the story first broke, the BBC’s news Website (I use the word news advisedly) has carried twelve stories on the alleged chemical weapons attack that took place in a suburb of Damascus. Today’s offerings include, Hague believes Assad behind attack (23/8/13), without offering a shred of proof that the Assad government is behind the alleged attack or even that it took place, takes foreign secretary Hague’s ‘belief’ as a given. The lead paragraph tells it all: Continue reading

Dance of the Infidels By William Bowles

9 March 2012

Resign right now, PM urges Assad

David Cameron urges Syrian President Assad to step down to end the “bloodshed” in the country, and calls on Russia and China to back regime change. – BBC News 06/03/2012

The nerve of the man! What gives that pompous ass Cameron the right to call for the resignation of a sovereign nation’s head of state? This is the same Cameron who authorized bombing Libya back into the Stone Age. Well of course it’s the insidious ‘Responsibility to Protect’, probably the most successful confidence trick in history and performed in full view of the entire planet.

Continue reading

Sleepwalking into fascism By William Bowles

2 January 2012

“[W]hen dealing with more old-fashioned kinds of states outside the postmodern continent of Europe, we need to revert to the rougher methods of an earlier era – force, pre-emptive attack, deception, whatever is necessary to deal with those who still live in the nineteenth century world of every state for itself. Among ourselves, we keep the law but when we are operating in the jungle, we must also use the laws of the jungle.” — The new liberal imperialism by Robert Cooper (Cooper by the way was a former civil service adviser to Tony Blair)[1]

Continue reading

A history lesson By William Bowles

25 December 2011 — Strategic Culture Foundation

I don’t remember much about my high school years. Some of the highs (few in number) come back to me but it was mostly lows which probably explains why I don’t remember much. It’s not that I was dumb, I just had no motivation, but I was interested in history, jazz and politics (thanks to my parents) and even won a prize for a history essay as well as starting up the school’s first jazz appreciation society (not appreciated by the school I might add, the head of music tore down my posters).

Continue reading

Occupy The World! To the barricades comrades? By William Bowles

19 October 2011 — Strategic Culture Foundation

Four years ago in a Ministry of Defence Review, the Whitehall Mandarins, more astutely than any so-called Lefty, determined the following:

“The Middle Class Proletariat — The middle classes could become a revolutionary class, taking the role envisaged for the proletariat by Marx. The globalization of labour markets and reducing levels of national welfare provision and employment could reduce peoples’ attachment to particular states. The growing gap between themselves and a small number of highly visible super-rich individuals might fuel disillusion with meritocracy, while the growing urban under-classes are likely to pose an increasing threat to social order and stability, as the burden of acquired debt and the failure of pension provision begins to bite. Faced by these twin challenges, the world’s middle-classes might unite, using access to knowledge, resources and skills to shape transnational processes in their own class interest.” — ‘UK Ministry of Defence report, The DCDC Global Strategic Trends Programme 2007-2036’ (Third Edition) p.96, March 2007

Continue reading

Things fall apart By William Bowles

10 August 2011

It’s fashionable to call them the ‘underclass’ that the state has buried away, out of sight–out of mind on ‘sink estates’ or trapped and invisible in the poorest neighborhoods of our cities. Demonized and/or sentimentalized by the state/corporate media (‘Shameless’ and ‘East Enders’ come to mind), exactly as in Victorian times, an entire section of the working class have been reduced to some inferior, sub-human species by the political class and its media partners-in-crime. Continue reading

Rebellion in the High Street? By William Bowles

6 December, 2010

“The Middle Class Proletariat — The middle classes could become a revolutionary class, taking the role envisaged for the proletariat by Marx. The globalization of labour markets and reducing levels of national welfare provision and employment could reduce peoples’ attachment to particular states. The growing gap between themselves and a small number of highly visible super-rich individuals might fuel disillusion with meritocracy, while the growing urban under-classes are likely to pose an increasing threat to social order and stability, as the burden of acquired debt and the failure of pension provision begins to bite. Faced by these twin challenges, the world’s middle-classes might unite, using access to knowledge, resources and skills to shape transnational processes in their own class interest.” — ‘UK Ministry of Defence report, The DCDC Global Strategic Trends Programme 2007-2036’ (Third Edition) p.96, March 2007

vodafone.jpgSo, a few rumblings of discontent have surfaced, first with the students and now an interesting development, targeting corporate tax avoiders such as Topshop, owned by Sir Philip Green’s Arcadia Group who has his multi-billion empire registered in his wife’s name and who is resident in tax-free Monaco, where of course she’s really busy running the Arcadia empire.

“With a personal fortune of more than £4bn, [Sir Philip Green] owns the Arcadia Group, whose fashion chains include Topshop, Burton, Dorothy Perkins, Evans and Miss Selfridge.

“His wife Tina is the direct owner of Arcadia, and she is officially a resident of Monaco. This enabled her to gain a tax-free £1.2bn dividend in 2005.

Speaking in August about the tax status of his wife, Sir Philip told the BBC: “My wife’s not a tax exile – my family do not live in the United Kingdom, it’s somewhat different.”” — ‘Topshop’s flagship London store hit by tax protest‘, BBC News Website, 4 December, 2010

Organized by UK Uncut, who have also targeted Boots, HSBC, Barclays and Vodafone, in an economy largely composed of consumers, as I suggested in 2008 it’s a logical development that corporate interests in the high street become the target of protest, especially when we’ve been screwed out of £80-90 billion to pay for their deficit.

UK Uncut had protests right across the UK. Shops in Glasgow, Edinburgh, Liverpool, Leicester, York, Bristol, Portsmouth, Southampton and Cambridge as well as here in London, were picketed, some protestors even supergluing themselves to shop windows.

UKUncut say that the total tax avoidance bill involved comes to a staggering £51 billion annually, though I’ve read figures as ‘low’ as £25 billion. Whatever, in two or three three years that would be enough to pay off the ‘deficit’.

So what kind of a future does targeting corporate interests on the high street have as one arm of the struggle to end the madness called capitalism?

“There is something so interesting about these direct attacks on British chainstores, just as there is about the University for Strategic Optimism’s lectures in banks and supermarkets (you bring the market to education, we bring education to the market). What does it mean, this physical shut-down of the architecture of consumerism? It is, in the first place, an attack on those corporations and people (and of course a corporation is legally a kind of ‘person’) which have avoided tax

/../

But to directly disrupt the performance of shopping (on a Saturday in the run-up to Christmas no less!) as a way of making clear the anger towards those who avoid tax, while everyone else is supposed to pay more is rather brilliant: it indicates, among other things, an absolute fatigue with the corporate face of city centres. There has long been a slightly twee attack on the blankness and generic replicability of British high streets in favour of independent or ‘unique’ shop; the direct forced closing of these tax-avoiding chain stores is so much more relevant. It is an attack on the boredom of everyday life, of the fakeness of cities, the monotony of consumerism…Shut them all down! Reclaim the streets!” — ‘a nation of shopkeepers’, Infinite Thought, New Left Project

A cry from the heart indeed but does this represent the majority of people hitting the malls every weekend or is this the educated, lefty middle class speaking? But connect it to the export of jobs to the countries that now produce the goods we buy in Topshops across the land, and the larger picture becomes apparent: An economy that has been completely hijacked by the corporate/political class and as the writer says, what we have is an ugly, corporately-cloned culture that’s spread like a disease across the land.

Sir Philip Green’s sleight-of-hand is of course ‘legal’, just as bailing out the banks were and the massive cuts in government spending, they’re all ‘legal’, so what recourse do we have? The rules are all made up to favour Sir Philip Green and his class. Clearly direct action is now pretty much the only avenue open to us especially now, after the Liberal Democrats stabbed their supporters in the back, thus enraging even middle-of-the-road voters. So perhaps the ‘futurists’ at the MoD were right and they have better grasp of events than the left does? Not really surprising given that the left generally expends more energy in-fighting than it does fighting the enemy.

And where is the trade union movement in all this? It’s a nightmare situation for organized labour who, by law are not allowed to engage in ‘political’ strikes. Moreover many of its members work in the stores that have been picketed. But this shouldn’t stop them from showing solidarity in other ways, after all they give millions to the damn ‘Labour’ Party every year so why not a few quid tossed in the general direction of real progressive change if they are so concerned about protecting their members interests?

The potential power of even our diminished trade unions was demonstrated this past weekend when Spanish air traffic controllers all called in sick at the same time and the government had to declare a state of emergency and force the workers back to work. So it’s not size that matters but where in the chain of capitalist management they work that counts. Unfortunately (or fortunately, depending how you look at it), in the UK the biggest block of trade union members all work for government which effectively results in a kind of stalemate politically speaking. They’ll strike maybe when the layoffs start to really bite, by which time it’s too damn late (the TUC plan a big demonstration for next February, I can hardly hold my breath for the suspense of it)!

Elsewhere, on the same Website, NewLeftProject, there’s another piece, Strategy and tactics in the anti-cuts movement but it makes for rather depressing reading as it is it comes down to yet another appeal to end sectarian behaviour on the ‘left’, which by-the-way I’m all for but it reveals a fundamental problem with the left and one that’s been around for decades. The writer Luna 17, also spends a deal of time on the role of the trade union movement, or rather its lack of involvement but offers no solutions or even analysis as to why the trade unions are absent from the struggle.

So while the comrades were slugging it out at the Coalition of Resistance conference[1], pissed off people were gluing themselves to shop windows in high streets up and down the land. Clearly this is just the beginning but without some kind of national coordination that ties these separate struggles together, protests such as UK Uncut’s risk becoming nothing more than a TV news-bite until the next student protest produces more dramatic footage for the disciples of Goebbels to flood the media landscape with.

Note
1. Watch a video of the Coalition of Resistance conference here

Some Links

Economism rules ok! By William Bowles

29 September, 2010

Lenin’s famous pamphlet ‘What is to be done?’ was written in 1901 and addressed in part, the issue of the political versus the economic struggle socialists have to engage in (not that the two can be separated) in order to get rid of capitalism.

To avoid misunderstanding, we must point out that here, and throughout this pamphlet, by economic struggle, we imply (in keeping with the accepted usage among us) the “practical economic struggle”, which Engels…described as “resistance to the capitalists”, and which in free countries is known as the organised-labour syndical, or trade union struggle. — Lenin, ‘What is to be done?

Continue reading

Immersed in Empire By William Bowles

14 September, 2010 — Strategic Culture Foundation

It seems we’ve lost a revolution before it even got started

I’ve spent the last couple of months trying to get my ahead around the absurdity that is British capitalism as it tries to square the circle. Engaged in what can only be called even by capitalist standards, an act of economic suicide, aside from an inevitable increase in strikes as capital exerts pressure on what’s left of the organized working class, the response from the public is noticeable only by its absence to the proposed massive cuts in public spending.

The BBC of course is working flat out to put the ‘correct’ spin on the disaster that is the British economy simply by assuming that the deficit has to be reduced and thus ‘news’ reporting on the subject is pre-ordained, it’s just a question of how much? According to a BBC poll conducted this month, 66 per cent of the great British public are in favour of cuts to the social services “in order to cut the government’s deficit”. Whose deficit?

The question of course is loaded as do the people questioned equate social services with ‘benefits’ and all that the word means? In other words, ‘scroungers’ and the inevitable ‘work-shy’ amongst us.

“[Don’t cuts in social spending] set the building blocks for economic recovery?”

/../

“You do accept that private sector investment will eventually pick up the slack after cuts in public spending?” (BBC ‘news’ announcer to GMB Union spokesperson 8/9/10).

And so it goes…

By proposing cuts as high as 40% of our social infrastructure, the government might just as well hand out free vials of cyanide to millions of public service workers and then to the thousands of small, medium-sized businesses that get fifty per cent of their business from government according to the BBC.

The economy in the UK is per se the government, period. The rest is consumption and the financial sector and of course the ubiquitous media/propaganda sector. Take away the government as the main investor/employer and the UK has no economy. It’s that obvious.

The reality is that millions in the middle classes are going to be shoved back into the working poor, on minimum wage and no longer able to drive a consumer-based economy, on credit of course. We need only to look at the US where the process is more advanced for a taste of things to come here in the UK. The final act of a parasitic capitalism with a tiny percentage owning everything, managed by a shrunken middle class who consume most everything and of course the rest of us. Welcome to the world of fast food and part-time work.

I imagine that this is how Karl Marx felt after the failure of the Europe-wide (failed) insurrections that took place in 1848, the so-called Year of Revolutions? Not that we’ve had one yet alone several, revolutions, failed or otherwise. Nevertheless, looking back on the past sixty-five years to the year I was born, 1945, and the birth of ‘liberal democracy’ or capitalism with a human face, it becomes much clearer as to why the left failed to carry through a full-blown revolution following WWII and we’re living with the results right now as ‘democratic capitalism’ dumps all pretense at being democratic or even being anything other than a giant printing machine, dishing out the dosh to the banks who lend it back to government (with interest) and we get to pay the interest on the money we (that is, ‘our’ government) lent the thieves in the first place! It’s a real neat sleight-of-hand and done in full view of the public. It’s like rubbing salt in the collective wound.

The failure of the left to offer a viable alternative is often put down to the fact that the Soviet Union, our ‘role model’ so-to-speak, failed and while the birth and death of state socialism is intimately connected to our own national, political identity, ultimately the failure of the left is ours and ours alone.

In reality, the left, in most its forms, jettisoned the idea of revolution decades ago, if not in words then most definitely in deeds. Instead what we have is the central dogma that somehow capitalism can be reformed from ‘within’ (though within what is not apparent), a process that came to fruition with the election of the post-war Labour goverment in 1945.

Not coincidentally, this was also the birth of the idea of a ‘liberal democracy’ and the adopting of the ideas of Keynes, that is, massive state intervention in the economy as capitalism in its pre-war form was utterly discredited as well as being bankrupt right across Europe.

Acting under pressure from below as well as the literal bankruptcy of capitalism, the state was forced to replace private investment with public, the so-called nationalization of private assets; energy, transport, health, communications and housing being the principle areas.

Then came the Cold War.

This was capitalism with a ‘socialist face’ and it followed from this that most of the left outside the Labour Party saw the road to socialism through the parliamentary process. The British Communist Party called it “The British Road to Socialism” and it was codified in the Party’s programme. No rolling into Parliament Square on top of a T-34 tank, or whatever the current equivalent is, comrades.

The problem of course was that the British CP was tiny (as was the rest of the left), even if very influential in many areas but it spent most of its energies battling to place party members in positions of power within the trade unions, where it carried on vicious fights with the right-wing who were doing the same thing. Or just as worse, carrying on endless internecine battles with ‘ultra-lefts’ or ‘revisionists’ of various flavours. This was the legacy of a political party borne out of industrial trade unionism allied to an left intellectual middle class, borne out of Empire.

Meanwhile, successive Labour governments carried on with ‘business as usual’, that is to say carrying out imperial/colonial policies that had absolutely nothing to do with socialism but doing it in the name of socialism!

This presented a real dilemma for the left where the battle cry (or whimper) was ‘keep the Tories out’ even if it meant electing a Labour government that was little different from its Tory counterpart, operating under the illusion that we had more leverage over a Labour government. For some of us, voting for a reactionary candidate allegedly belonging to the ‘party of labour’ was a step too far, yet decades later I am witnessing the same thing all over again! Even that champion of the left, George Galloway, when questioned by the writer as to what kind of ‘social democratic’ government he (that is, the Respect Party) wanted to see, the answer was: a return to ‘old Labour’!

Well, if nothing else the illusion has finally been shattered but not because of our own actions but by the failure of capitalism itself. What an irony! You have to ask yourself why it is that the birthplace of trade unions, the idea of modern democracy and socialism has come to such an ignominious denouement?

Immersed in Empire

It’s obvious, at least to me, that virtually every public expression, whether from the state or the corporates articulates an almost unconscious view of the world through the eyes of Empire. And I mean everything. Every utterance on the radio, TV, the newspapers, in our legal system, education, our dominant culture, you name it, reek of Empire.

And it has the appearance of a force of Nature, so deeply entrenched is it in our consciousness, so much so that it is part of our everyday speech. It’s a view of the world much like that of the Catholic Church five hundred years ago that put the Earth at the centre of the Universe. So too, we here in England and other so-called developed nations, view the world through the same prism; an unconscious assumption about our innate superiority and centrality to everything deemed important in the world.

Take for example how we have responded to the plight of the Palestinian people. Why can can we care about millions of innocent victims of floods, earthquakes and the like but not the imprisonment and the slow, tortuous extermination of an entire culture?

Why do we even contemplate our government threatening a war against Iran? A country that has never to my knowledge invaded anyone. How else do you explain our collective indifference to the threats by the US and Israel to bomb Iran?

So okay, one million-plus people marched against the invasion of Iraq in 2003 but once ‘our boys were over there’ it was back to the imperial mindset. Never mind that for the previous twelve years we had acquiesced to the deliberate murder of over one million Iraqis through the misnamed sanctions imposed on Iraq.

That the British Empire is very much a thing of the past, if anything exacerbates this myopic and inbred view of the peoples of the planet through a yearning expressed daily in our mass media for the Empire’s glorious past. I kid you not, a day doesn’t pass without at least one WWII movie being aired on the TV as well as our current obsession with examining ‘our’ past through the same imperially-tinted glasses that has no end in sight. The airwaves are littered with Victorian this and Elizabethan that and what with the 70th anniversary of the Battle of Britain (closely followed by the Blitz) upon us, the wave of Patria overwhelms all else, even as the economy collapses around our ears.

Most miserably and depressing of all, is the realization that viewing the world through the eyes of Empire permeates the left here almost as completely as it does everything else. Do I include myself? Well of course I do, how can I not? I am also immersed in Empire. Okay, I’ve lived in a lot of different cultures, adsorbed different worldviews and consequently I have for a long time considered myself a citizen not of the UK but of the Earth. But I can’t get away from the fact that I’m still a ‘white boy’, even if pretty much a mongrel version of same.

I have been struggling with how to present the ‘change of government’ from a left perspective and try and explain, especially the left’s such as it is, response (such as it is) to Tory/Lib-Dem ‘coalition’s’ attacks on pretty much whatever remains of the gains we have made over the past sixty years.

In part, the lack of a response can be put down to the all too comfortable relationship between the political class and what’s left of our trade unions, the bulk of which consist of public service workers, transport and communications. The rest is down to our almost total lack of a political culture.

I contend that the above explains in part why our reaction, or lack of one, to the current crisis is virtually non-existent. Yes, some of the major public service unions have made public grumbles about the cuts, amputations would be a better word, to our social infrastructure. But these are the same unions that are part of the state that would amputate its own limbs and the state is not only biggest single employer in the country, it also the single biggest spender on capital investment. The state is everything what with private capital fleeing to greener pastures like China or into the intangible world of financial speculation where nothing ever gets added to the social good. What we have now is a parasitical capitalism writ real large. And, it would appear, a parasitical trade union leadership whose public articulations reflect their allegiance to a capitalism that no longer exists, represented by calls for a return to ‘old Labour’.

But the actual reality is somewhat different: the UK is no longer an industrial capitalist economy with a large industrial working class. Actual manufacturing in the UK now constitutes around six percent of GDP. The only solution to the crisis of capital is to simply do away with vast chunks of the infrastructure that has been constructed. But it won’t be the occupation of Afghanistan (£3 million a day), Trident nuclear missiles (£20 billion) that gets axed.

It’s true to say that rather than recognize that capitalism is now simply an untenable system that produces nothing of any real value to anybody except the owners of capital, it has harnessed the political class with the task of devouring our social assets until there’s nothing left to devour.

What we have in the way of socially owned (if in name only) resources were won through decades of struggle conducted by millions of people in all walks of life, but principally through our once proud trade unions and the mass political organization of the Labour Party, supported by other left and progressive formations, principally the Communist Party, small as it actually was. But a truly imperial working class nevertheless as events have revealed.

Our collective immersion in the mindset of Empire goes pretty much all the way when it comes to our reactions to the ongoing (for the umpteenth time) crisis of capital, each successive crash worse than the last.

Thus, the change in government is in reality, no real change at all, propelled as it is by the demands of the financial class determined to reverse the gains won through decades of struggle, in order to maintain profits for a parasitical class that contributes nothing in the way of real value to society.

So what I’m saying here is that we have reached the point in the degradation of liberal democracy when it doesn’t matter which political party is in power, they are all slightly different flavours of the same thing: a professional political class whose main objective in life is to maintain their positions of privilege and to defend the interests of capital.

If nothing else, the ‘betrayal’ by the Liberal Democrats of its (shrinking) support illustrates the dilemma to perfection. The political class is in crisis and the role played by the ‘deficit’ as a justification for dumping whatever alleged principles our political class possesses has forced the LIberal-Democrats to commit political suicide.

And as the enormity of the Tory government’s massive cuts ‘trickle down’ to the populace, we see even the Tory Party itself divided, with its traditional right-wing core challenging the young upstart David Cameron for control and after all Cameron did to try and outdo Labour and drag the party into well if not the 21st century then perhaps the 20th.

It’s all so predictable and as I predicted at the beginning of this piece, it’s the ‘hard right’ of the Tory Party that is now openly baying for the blood of all those ‘scroungers’ on Benefit.

No wonder the public reaction is noticeable by its absence, divorced as it is from the political process completely. Frankly, we all might as well be living on a different planet from our rulers, that’s how much control we have over our own futures.