November 24, 2011
A Constant if not infinite rhetoric

Yesterday I got the pleasure of once again watching prime ministers questions, but for some reason it seemed like a repeat. Now unless the BBC have decided to start repeating the show and have somehow forgot to take the ‘live’ from the corner of the screen I would say it has become pointlessly repetitive and in turn (dare I say it) boring.

Now by repetitive I do not mean the parts at the beginning where each party with any particular weight gives there undying condolences to the fallen soldiers of a privatised war. Nor do I mean where the speaker gets a cushion to sit on so as to look less like a jockey and more like a normal sized human being. I actually mean the rhetoric coming from the front bench of the Conservative party. When asked the question about youth unemployment being at its highest since some awful ‘do gooder’ closed the workhouses the Prime Minister replied with the usual, ‘its all the previous governments reckless spending that put us in this mess. Apart from being a repeat of every answer that had gone before it is worrying to see how the opposite bench react (by doing nothing). 

The problem with rhetoric is that it can often turn from political catchphrases into something more sinister, which is ‘public knowledge’. What the prime minister and most of the Conservative party have tried to do in the last year and a half is get it into peoples heads that public spending is wrong and for the most it seems to have worked. They have alienated quite a few sections of society along the way, but what the right are very good at it seems is making the majority of the population believe that it is somehow good for them. Or if that isn’t possible they make them believe that absolutely no one has any choice in the matter. 

Lets get one thing clear, it is not public spending which is bad, most of the country would agree with that. It is borrowing to unsustainable limits which is bad, which is what the previous government did. This as I’ve said, most people know, however, what people may not know is that it was not spending on family tax credits, the NHS, or fighting the Taliban which got us into unsustainable debt, it was bailing out the banks. Which, in turn was caused by lack of regulation, which was backed by both political parties (the Conservatives wanting less regulation). 

Don’t get me wrong there are plenty of lessons the modern day Labour party can learn from the past 13 years (one being how to stick up for itself). Essentially however, it is an ideology which many people would agree got us into this mess, an ideology that was started before the previous government and one which ironically, because of the economic situation we are now in, is being shoved down our throats more and more. 

One less known rhetoric is just forming one which I would think has lingered in the back of the Prime Minister’s mind for a while, which is of cause the Unions affiliation to the Labour party. Why David Cameron sees it now as suddenly a good opportunity when it was the Unions who practically formed the Labour party and have been a part of its voter base for about 80 years is another matter. A lot of people would argue that this is a stab in dark and one which will only alienate yet another section of society. However, a problem arises if this rhetoric works as well as the other, the unions could lose even more public support dragging the Labour party down with it.

On a final note, I’d say ’the pot calling the kettle black’ doesn’t quite do it justice upon describing David Cameron’s decision to attack the Unions for not having an overall majority when it called for its recent strike action. This is because the Unions pitiful 31% in favour of strike action is actually higher than the governments populous vote.   

November 13, 2011
Remembrance

Craig is right to point out that the symbol of the poppy enjoys almost unanimous support, contrary to the Right Wing press’ attacks on ‘political correctness’, the catch-all chimera which stands in for anything which dissents from their opinion. But differing opinions on the poppy represent simply Politics rather than political correctness, and it is Politics the press wish to abolish in favour of blanket unanimity free of contention. 

The England team’s poppy fiasco was a perfect distillation of this. What is being missed out is that this is the first time the issue has arisen as it is the first time the FA have attempted to use the poppy as part of their shirt. The poppy being imprinted on the shirt necessarily entails a lack of choice: If you play in the shirt, you must wear the poppy. It has been assumed that there could be no legitimate reason for not wearing it, to which pacifists of various political and religious persuasions would disagree. 

FIFA have much to answer for as an institution, but on this they were absolutely correct: an armband with the poppy emblem gives each player a choice as to whether they wear it or not. FIFA has for many years instated a rule whereby commercial and political messages cannot be present on international shirts, and with good reason. As was pointed out on this week’s Football Weekly Extra podcast on The Guardian website, what were to happen if Serbia wanted to emblazon their shirts with remembrances of their Milosevic-era war dead? 

It might be said that this is an ‘extreme’ example. Certainly it carries different connotations to the poppy, but the poppy starts to take on totalitarian characteristics when opposition to it begins to become unthinkable. David Cameron wrote to FIFA saying that it had “no political connotations whatsoever”, and here we see another iteration of the ultimate ideological statement: ‘There is no longer any ideology.’

Craig’s example of the man insisting that ‘they’ don’t want him to wear a poppy is a statement given in bad faith: no one actually believes there is some sinister underground system which is fighting and winning a battle against the emblem. A quick look over the past week at the general mood shows widespread support. What is demanded is a lack of ambivalence, an annihiliation of any possible opposition, a move from a political symbol (free to interpretation) to a concrete totem subject to uncomplicated worship.

This hero narrative is one which implies that the current wars we fight in are above reproach, and their ensuing massively popular anti-war movements illegitimate. For my part, I will solomnly remember the last World War One combat veteran Claude Choul’s pacifism, his refusal of the word ‘hero’ and his refusal to attend remembrance  services not only as a legitimate deviation from the norm, but as a first-hand account of the pointless horror of war.

November 12, 2011
Please don’t let the Poppy fall into the wrong hands

As the cheap superstore founded in Blackpool known as Poundland decided to make the ‘dramatic’ u turn on its staff being allowed to wear the poppy the question is sadly raised again, does this offend you? This particular question is essentially irrelevant; of course the poppy doesn’t offend you if you know what the poppy stands for. The poppy doesn’t stand for national pride of being British or for us being defiant against previous foreign invaders. It stands for remembrance, AND THAT ALONE.

The evidence that many people get offended about people wearing the poppy is of course totally blown out of proportion just like unemployment to immigration ratios, to the cost of illegal immigrants to the NHS and of course to the age old right wing dogma that is……….. political correctness. In fact, just as 85% of political correctness is not true I am taking a far cry assumption that neither is the people offended by poppies. It is most likely a handful of angry loud people that want to cause offence to those who are easily offended.

The awful truth behind this growing rumour is the chance that this will undoubtedly play into the hands of the far right. I’m sure the none-racist centrist group of many different colourful individuals known as the EDL is currently planning a demonstration in front of a mosque, with a giant novelty sized poppy to honour the war dead (because that’s all the war dead want, more violence. I still find it astonishing that amongst all the people you have the choice of blaming for these financially difficult times the average person I hear discussing politics is still blaming the Islamic/polish/terrorist minded/benefit scrounging/job stealing immigrant).  The decision by FIFA to not allow the British nations to wear the poppy during the upcoming internationals was a shock, but the decision for them to compromise on the decision wasn’t. That victory I hope will be the end of the matter. That hope may be in vain at least in the long term with these issues of ‘national pride’ and racism rearing their ugly heads in the most unlikely of places.

The big looping catch 22 here is that with the media reporting on this will only further perpetuate the hatred, causing more and more people to get angry, and everyone hates ‘the enemy’ that little bit more until this time of year for remembrance becomes another time of the year to be angry. Worst of all people may start wearing a poppy not because they want to remember those who have died in war but like an old man once told me while wearing an England shirt on St Georges day because he apparently isn’t allowed to. 

November 9, 2011
The Flaw

If the Anticapitalist movement is to build into a sustainable tide of momentum capable of challenging the current system it must provide more than a purely moralistic argument. The moralistic is of course an essential part of the story, and most likely contributed overwhelmingly to the initial enlisting of mainstream citizens into the ‘99%’ movement. But this should only be a starting point. There are a number of reasons why this argument must develop into an economic one so that we may end the reign of the treasure-hoarding dragons of the 1%.

Firstly, the logic of protest unconsciously casts ordinary citizens as children appealing to a Father figure in a grand morality play of society as it currently exists. Protest asks that the ruling class reform its tyrannical reign by appealing to its better nature so that it may rule us more kindly. Historical examples overwhelmingly point to these sort of appeals only working in the sense that there is something in it for the ruling class: the Civil Rights and Feminist movements broadly agree with this, in that Capitalism has incorporated the benefits, ie. removing exclusion of women and minorities from the labour market so that they may be exploited, and casting off elements of those movements which were antagonistic to the system. Liberal progress in action.

Instead of protest, we must provide effective resistance. Ulrike Meinhof explains the difference: Protest is when I say this does not please me. Resistance is when I ensure what does not please me occurs no more. FDR, lionised by many Social Democrats as a mainstream proponent of Keynesian economics, admitted that he was at first opposed to the idea of what would become the New Deal, but had his hand forced by a fear of revolution coming from a similar movement responding to similar conditions as we see today. 

Secondly, Neoliberalism has failed on its own terms as defined by Milton Friedman and Friedrich Hayek et al. ‘Trickle-down’ economics was a farce to begin with and has now been patently demonstrated, and hundreds of ‘Capitalism Isn’t Working’ placards across the Occupy movement encouragingly express this. Capitalism has now ceased to improve the quality of life of humanity despite its inequalities, which was always its saving argument for advocates of the system.

Finally, an economic argument has the potential to further broaden the base of the movement amongst mainstream citizens, breaking through the ideology of aspiration by exposing the lie of the American Dream of opportunity.

It was therefore extremely heartening to see More4’s The Flaw find the balance of Economic and Moral arguments so perfectly. Directed by David Sington, this documentary is a combination of Adam Curtis-style dialectical archive footage, economic arguments including those from Nobel laureate Joseph Stiglitz and anecdotal evidence in the form of interviews with people who have suffered foreclosure as a result of the system of housing finance.

The film draws a number of parallels with the 1929 crash in its use of statistics. The top 1% once more control 22% of GDP in America as they did in 1929. Concretely, 15,000 people now control $700billion - half of the GDP of Brazil. That this state of affairs coincided with catastrophic economic crashes in both 1929 and 2007 is shown to be no coincidence.

The mechanism by which the ruling class amassed this share of wealth was in the advent of the Credit economy in the 1950’s, and the inherent flaws in such a system began to be exacerbated in the ‘70’s. In the ‘50’s consumer goods were much more expensive relatively and demand for these products amongst the majority were stimulated by credit. When wages began to stagnate in the ‘70’s, the focus of the economy shifted entirely onto a dependence on financialisation rather than labour as the driver of economic betterment for ordinary people. ‘The top weren’t willing to give people better wages, but they were willing to give them credit.’

This proved to be very profitable for the top 1%. Instead of redistributing via improved wages, demand for products was stimulated by imaginary capital pumped into the system. Increased demand derived from this provided increased corporate profits, which in turn paid out to the ruling class in the form of dividends. This-poor to-rich transfer effect was doubled by the rates payable on the loans provided to ordinary people. This transfer is expressed roughly as $1.5 trillion to the top, and $1 trillion recirculated downwards in the form of credit, each year.

This process was further developed by the housing bubble which began in the 1990’s. Between 1890 and 1990 it is shown that, adjusted for inflation, housing prices stayed at exactly the same level. This was to be another way in which ordinary people could make money, investing in houses that it was said would continually rise in price forever. That people were encouraged to effectively invest in a market that had extremely high risk attached was not mentioned at the time.

The complexification of the market offers another explanation the system unravelling in 2007. If a bank gives someone a mortgage, that agreement alone represents a return on investment decades into the future. In the dynamic spirit of Capitalism, ways were found to make money now by selling the risk of default into markets as Collaterised Debt Obligations (CDO). As a result, banks became willing to sell mortgages to people with ‘sub-prime’ credit ratings, knowing that they could then sell the risk on ‘literally the next day’. These sub-primes became hot potatoes drifting around the virtual space of the market on a day-to-day basis, so that as a whole they couldn’t be accounted for properly.

The film goes on to show the absurd spending of the mega-rich in the form of an interview with an estate agent selling 8,000 square-foot properties now in vogue, where previously they would have bought properties twice that size. This is the 1%’s idea of ‘scaling back their spending’. But where this vast concentration of wealth proves most damning is when it is not spent.

There is a point at which a member of the 1% will amass so much money that they simply run out of things to spend money on. A good proportion of the money in existence falls into the hole of fictional capital. If money was distributed more equitably, there would be more consumer spending, in turn stimulating real growth in production and producing jobs and tax revenues. In the hands of the 1%, this money is instead spent on assets which accumulate yet more money by the same processes and do little else. Inequality is repeatedly and explicitly stated as being not just evil but economically inefficient.

Interviewed accounts of the faulty system are peppered throughout and must strike a chord with anyone who has faced financial difficulties in the past few years. This is a very stylistically dense and varied documentary that holds together as a dialectical whole; economic analysis, human accounts, archive footage tweely demonstrating the ideology of Capitalism gives an introductory synthesis of the economic world. Above all, it shows that Capitalism has already died and continues on in zombie form. I would suggest it was required watching for anyone remotely interested in the Occupy movement or with Anticapitalist ambitions.


November 5, 2011
Political Economy of Sport

The mainstream has now reached a dominant narrative as regards the influence of money on the idealist competitive foundation of competitive sport which is strikingly Marxist in its view, and would certainly be buried under the ever-watchful Comment Is Free trolls were this narrative ever to bleed into the territory of small-p politics, supposedly the arena where ‘politics’ exclusively unfolds. Never mind that football teams’ inequalities mirrored widening inequalities of society perfectly with a 10-year lag.

The brilliant Jonathan Wilson brings statistical figures on the competitiveness of the English league to light in two parts for The Guardian which reveal the cognitive dissonance involved in the Premier League being marketed as ‘the most competitive in the world’. Football is becoming incredibly boring; watching a top club play a bottom club now is to watch the top club’s first XI rested and still put out a team able to win at a canter. 

Football’s economic system has been passed down from a naive pre-late Capitalist phase: it’s hard to imagine that when this system was put in place, in which player-commodities move freely between clubs at unregulated prices well beyond the budgets of 95% of clubs, the founders could have envisaged the problems that have emerged in the last decade. Football’s system of exchange seems to come from an irrational, prelapsarian age: that’s just always the way it’s been and there’s no changing it now. 

The reform of this system comes from the unlikeliest place: American sports. At its apotheosis in sport, the purified competition which the Neoliberal economy aspires to emulate, finds itself adopting a Socialist economic model in the United States, the world’s leading light of economic ‘competitiveness’. Not only to manage the collective success of a given sport as a whole, but to increase its competitiveness.

In football, clubs are unanswerable to any real working body with regards to their economic management: they are in competition economically as well as in a sporting sense. But as should be obvious, the teams who already have the most financial clout are able to consolidate and build upon that advantage so that the rich get richer and poor poorer, smaller clubs act as feeders to bigger clubs. Big clubs are now even buying young players they have no genuine belief could make it into their first XI, but know they could sell on at a profit to a middling club anyway. Thus economic competition stunts actual competitiveness in the substance of what clubs are supposed to be doing: playing football.

In the American sports, (American Football, Baseball, Basketball, Ice Hockey) teams or ‘franchises’ each have an identical wage budget negotiated before each season so that no team is liable to collapse financially in paying for their teams. There are no transfer fees paid; players can only be traded for others, often in the form of an established name being traded for a number of promising youngsters. The college system works as the feeder to the professional leagues and a draft lottery is held so that each team has the same random chance of having the pick of players coming out of college and into, say, the NFL. These draft picks can also be traded as commodities, so that a favourable draft pick can be traded for players.

This is an intelligent system designed to impose a reasonable equality between all teams in the league, and a quick look at the list of Superbowl winners bears favourable comparison to the list of English Football League winners in terms of its diversity of teams, from which you could make an assumption about the two leagues’ relative competitiveness over the years. 

This gives the lie to Neoliberal ‘competitiveness’ and Socialism’s stunting thereof, so that you can reverse-engineer a criticism of pre-government New Labour philosophy’s ‘level playing field’. A level playing field simply implies that the groundsmen did his job in not giving some sort of advantage to the home team via the playing surface, but this takes no account of all that happens before two teams actually walk out onto that field. The ability of some teams to buy any players they want without financial restriction, the superior scouting, training and rehabilitation at their disposal, renders the state of the playing field and any advantage to be had out of it completely moot. So you get a game like QPR vs. Chelsea where QPR’s eleven men cling onto a 1 - 0 lead and get outplayed the entire second half by Chelsea’s nine men, due to such a wide gulf in talent between the two. You’d fancy Barcelona to beat Granada playing up a pitch with a forty-five degree gradient…

November 3, 2011
All this in Greece and still no talk of tax increases

Never before have so many been taken for so much and left with so little.- 

Quote by - The author Van Panopoulos

The Prime Minister of Greece making the brave decision to allow a referendum on the issue of its finance shouldn’t be forgotten. It may still not go through as he may have to step down, which I would argue would be a European Elite coup. Essentially it looks more and more likely that Greece will eventually default on its debts and have to leave the Euro. The package that the EU has offered to Greece seems to offer Austerity and great suffering on the poorest people in the country, job losses, pay cuts, squashing the unions, and i’m sure even deregulation on the private sector. 

However, It does not allow tax rises on the richest people and companies making the most profit. in fact, this question hasn’t been raised at all world wide, i’m sure it wont be asked at today’s G20 orgy of world leaders and Corporation representatives. 

If Greece is to switch back to the Drachma it will have regained its monetary powers, allowing it to print money to repay finances, this would be a short term solution and would create high inflation for at the very least that short term period. However, the Greek debt is unlikely to decrease without the Greek economy growing and austerity certainly isn’t going to allow for that.

An increase to tax revenues (which is much needed, Greece is spending about 8% on GDP more than they are receiving in taxes) could give the Greek government at the very least some capital. So far austerity hasn’t worked during the financial crisis (Even the IMF has suggested that Britain should start some spending to improve consumption). In the 1920’s/30’s the spending to get the economy growing again did eventually work and with Keynesian economics being proven to work so often it is a real wonder how people are convinced of this new way to solve a financial crisis. Although the Greek referendum probably wont go ahead, it does beg the question, what would be the outcome? 

Greeks so far have indicated a mixed response, 60% do not like the proposed job cuts, however 70% want monetary union. Two conflicting responses which would make it hard for any pollster to predict. One thing is for sure, it isn’t as hard to predict the outcome of a referendum on the raising of higher income taxes and higher corporate taxes. 

November 2, 2011
Steve Bell Political cartoonist sourced from the Guardian website

Steve Bell Political cartoonist sourced from the Guardian website

November 1, 2011
Occupy X

The most important achievements of the worldwide Occupy X movement are its opening up into the discourse of ideology and its global basis. The final stage of Ideology is when it has come to say of itself that it is not in fact ideology, as the mainstream press has insisted since the fall of the Soviet Union and into the ongoing crisis from 2007 to the present. Mainstream commentators of the right still now insist that no alternative can be provided to austerity, and spread rumours that the movement is a small cartel of hippies and anarchists artificially inflating their importance by, for instance, setting up empty tents.

By this logic Neoliberals are not in fact the right-wing but the centre, simply the only way to be, as Mark Fisher’s Capitalist Realism brilliantly describes. Occupy’s initial achievement is to break this spell: whether the movement yet knows what it demands,  it has opened the space for such demands. The trick is to fill it.

Slavoj Zizek understands the individual and combined importance of the assertion of ideological space and the later filling of that space with a positive programme, ‘What matters is not today but where you go from here.’

The international nature of the movement begins to address the way in which governments have been superceded by globe-spanning corporations in their ability to shape politics, shape reality, in each individual country. What must be most encouraging to anyone with hopes that the movement sustains itself is the ‘Mexican wave’ pattern it seems to be taking on: The Arab Spring eventually encourages dissensus in the West, the West’s movement then encourages another wave of Arab protests and so on.

There seems to be, however, some resistance amongst the Occupy movement to the idea that we ever pin down our demands. Occupy Wall Street’s website proudly declares that it ‘has no leaders’, but to what extent does this impede the movement’s ability to draw up a positive programme of analysis and demands, if at all? 

The debate over the degree of organisation required in leftist movements and whether they form broad-based coalitions or disciplined hard cores has gone on for a century and more, and was probably most critically played out during Lenin’s time in the years leading up the October Revolution and the first years of the Soviet Union.

The differences played out between Bolsheviks and Mensheviks which are relevant to current circumstances can roughly be said to be:

  • The Mensheviks were approximating a Social Democratic Party, (though with a more radical programme than that name might now imply; these terms live and breathe in their contemporary surroundings) where the Bolsheviks were Revolutionary Communist.
  • The Mensheviks favoured broad coalition, the Bolsheviks a ‘Vanguardist’ approach whereby strength was measured primarily by Party discipline rather than numerical advantage.
  • The Bolsheviks decisively had Lenin as their leader where the Menshevik executive was slightly broader.

The ‘postmodern’ leftist position for some decades now falls further to the anti-organisation side than the Mensheviks previously did for a number of reasons:

  • Lenin is criticised for his overly ‘top-down’ leadership style, whereby he dominated the Bolsheviks to the extent that this is said to have some bearing on Stalin’s later totalitarian dominance of the Communist Party and therefore the entire Soviet Union and later its satellites in the majority of worldwide Communist systems.
  • There is an idea that a leftist movement should ‘be the democracy that it hopes to bring about’ in the sense that hierarchy is the root of evils in a Capitalist system. This is most confusingly asserted at times by the Situationist Internation whose resignations and exclusions left it with a handful of members upon its winding-up in the early 1970s.
  • Postmodern academics argue that any assertion of absolute truth is a priori ‘totalitarian’ and Occupy Wall St.’s website’s anti-leadership statement might indicate an agreement with this thinking.

It is important to explain the Bolshevik/Menshevik split because there are critical differences between that point in history and the current situation, but this debate on leadership carries on, and many on the would-be left are frightened off organisation and positive programmes, prefer the nebulous patchwork of opinion currently in play.

Moreover, the differences between 1917 and the present demonstrate that many of the positions outlined aren’t necessarily at odds or have to come as a package, and that some of the tactics might be modified to better fit the present climate.

The Social Democrat/Communist split seems to be semantic more than anything in a situation wherein we are returning to these ideas with very little remaining foundations from the Soviet era, such that we need not use the terms of old, or their implied programmes. As Fisher has suggested, there may be currency in viewing this in the way PR might: a movement point-blank naming itself ‘Communism’, say, out of a fidelity to the original 19th-Century Idea of Communism, leaves itself liable to defend the record of the Soviets where very few have the time or inclination to do so. ‘Post-Capitalist’ as a name avoids the accusation of being ‘anti’, of offering criticism but no solution, and acts as an umbrella under which those who previously would be termed ‘Social Democrats’ and ‘Communists’ can fall under. 

Broad coalitions can work as long as they are broad enough to be majoritarian in an absolute global sense (‘We are the 99%’). There have been 150 years of anti-capitalist theory and practice, and much of this has ‘trickled down’ into common currency, such that a number of principles would be fairly obvious to such a coalition: More equitable pay across society, movements towards ending poverty (both within Western countries and the Third World), ending tax evasion and avoidance, curbing ‘fictional capital’ and a market system that has proven itself to unravel too easy, ending military interventionism, environmentalism, providing a baseline in terms of quality of life etc.

A set of core principles such as these should be held closely, especially since there will come a time in the coalition’s life where disagreements arise, at which point decisions one way or another must be made so as not to become a ‘talking shop’ who endlessly debate every point. This is not an argument for the submission of rank and file to an executive at all times, but it’s clear that at some point some direction must emerge so that we are more effective than an aggregation of ‘beautiful souls’ patting ourselves on the back for our dislike of an undead economic system so clearly unfit to sustain the world’s population. Personally, I am in favour of Workers’ Councils as a mode of organisation but these things would have to be up for contention. A participatory democratic process should determine organisation; but people shouldn’t kid themselves that organisation inherently impinges upon freedom, or that Occupy X can bring about change in its current form.

There is another difference we encounter from 1917 at that stage: central governments wielded vastly inferior military power so that minority ‘Vanguardist’ Parties could hope to have an impact where today they cannot. Governments have almost absolute military power over their populaces today, so that they can shut out so-called extremists. That doesn’t change the fact that governments cease to run without the people’s consent: it is through numerical power that we can oppose and undo Neoliberalism.

Where our relative military power as against governments has weakened, our means of communication have vastly improved. The lessons of April 1st a couple of years ago seem to have been learned: property damage (laughably termed ‘violence’ against property by the mainstream media) is ineffectual and hands Capitalists a rhetorical stick to beat us with. Widely accessible internet, and with it social networking and free blogging could provide the beginning of programmes when the physical occupations begin to wind down, to begin the work which the occupations have made possible in the minds of so many. For example Twitter has, for now at least, curbed the police’s ability to kettle and allowed narratives to be heard from within protests where they had previously been unheard.

How powerful might one website become that links to all of the occupation movements globally, left-wing intellectuals, trade unions and various campaigns in accordance with the movement of the majority?