Wednesday, 25 March 2009


From the mid-1990s until last year we apparently lived through a period of prosperity, an economic boom. Apparently the economy was growing, lots of people were getting incredibly rich and average incomes were going up.

But how the hell could anyone tell? For most of us, prosperity meant stagnating real wages, and in the last few years a gentle decline in spending power as inflation accelerated with oil prices. Normal people couldn´t buy houses, couldn´t rent good ones either, they racked up massive debts, their pensions collapsed, they worked harder and longer for the same rewards. Their kids were getting a worse education, their public services were getting cut, packaged, sold-off, then jumping in price. They could see the state of their society deteriorating around them, as whole parts of the country were abandoned to antisocialism.

Meanwhile a small class of super wealthy arseholes systematically enriched themselves. They got the spoils of the ´boom´ and got absurdly, disgustingly rich. And we were told: leave them. Leave them or they´ll leave you. These people are financial heroes, they keep the whole thing from collapsing. If you challenge them, even for a fraction of their enormous wealth, they will give their marvellous bounty to someone else. They will pack up their ball and go home.

Don´t ask them for your wage increases, don´t ask them to pay taxes, don´t demand that their pay packets be within the bounds of basic human decency. For they are the geese that lay the golden egg, and they will take no questions, they will take no interference. Learn to love them, for their are your God.

And we obeyed. We took the paltry pay rises, we let them off their taxes, we stopped our mouths from uttering foul words that might offend the mighty beast.

And now? And now the great God has failed, his world is collapsing around him, and he comes to us to pay the bill. You: on the dole. You: take a pay cut. You: take this cut to health services and that cut to schools. You: slave labour for your dole check. Him: billions of pounds from the Chancellor of the Exchequer so his Empire doesn´t fall flat on its arse.

See, he can´t magic money out of nowhere, he doesn´t create anything. We made all the stuff he´s got, we made it in factories, offices and hospitals. And when it stops working he can only demand that we make it work again. All he does is sit at the top of the pile and accumulate whatever he can.

He had no right to it in the first place, and he´s got no right to it now. If the law says he does, then the law is fucked-up. And if we, the real law of the land, come along and destroy it, fine.

Better yet. While destruction might satisfy our need for revenge, surely taking it back will satisfy more?

Monday, 23 March 2009

arf! obscure foreign policy irony ...

Sadly, I´ve no longer got the archives to my old site, so I can´t point to the stuff I did about how the US and their allies rigged the Afghan constitutional process. Basically they went through this absurd "consultation process" that was run by their proxy administration and then voted on by the self-same provisional government.

This was the original model for governance in Iraq, get some CIA croney (Chalaba, Allawi, whoever), set them up as provisional president, write a constitution that gave the executive all the power, then make sure they´re the only face on TV and radio, and will thus inevitably triumph in the forthcoming elections.

In the first post-constitution elections in Afghanistan, CIA representative Hamid Karzai had 90% of all the media coverage in the entire elections, on both TV and radio, as well as the entire resources of state on his side (compare that to say Hugo Chavez, who apparently suppresses free speech, by shutting one of the dozen media corporations that are all massively hostile to his government and pump out propaganda 24/7).

And now, guess what, they´ve fallen out with Karzai and are trying to shoe-horn in a Prime Minister role with more power (appointed by them apparently!), so they can undermine him! On account of him being a corrupt fucker who deals with all sorts of dodgy Warlord types. Turns out having a democracy and checks and balances is vital after all...

Friday, 20 March 2009

tragedy and empathy

My flatmate has a very blunt way of expressing himself. Particularly after a few drinks. Well, more provocative than anything. As he and his drinking buddies woke me from my painfully disturbed night of sleep (I woke Saturdays, the rest of the world does not...), the talked animatedly. By the time half their number had departed and I´d finished showering and drinking my coffee they´d started a full-blown row that had brought an irate neighbour to the door. "Hombre, te aseguro, si podría callarles, lo haría... yo, yo no salí anoche, me he leventado por el trabajo, que comenza en dos horas. Yo preferiera quedar en mi cama..." Enraged neighbour went away more sympathetic than angry.

I settled down to follow their arguments, and turn the tone a little more comradely. Two friends had been talking of the tragic turn of events in Germany, where a seriously disturbed young man had ended the lives of several former schoolmates before taking his own. My flatmate, as he has expressed on a previous occasion to similar effect, had bluntly announced that he didn´t give a fuck about such things, just as the others didn´t care about the people killed everyday around the world, for reasons no purer than those concocted by this maniac.

Outrage ensued as the others castigated him for his callous, uncaring attitude toward the unfortunate dead. As I attempted to cool the temperate I took his side, by way of clarifying his arguments in the reasonable terms of the barrack room lawyer - "we´re not asking for anything unreasonable, sir". When I took his argument up the more reasonable it seemed to me. It´s easy to feel and express sympathy for the victims of arbitrary violence: to declare "we are all Marta" or to put up a poster of Madaleine McCann. After all, what do you actually have to do other than feel it. Marta´s killer is in prison, the police are/were searching for Maddie, however intense your empathy, there was nothing to be done.

My other friend was telling me, "we all know how terrible things are in Africa (sic), but this is different". Maybe it was the cultural proximity, the deliberate nature of the atrocity, but it was definitely different. For me the difference, and the reason why we don´t feel so profoundly for the horrors of everyday life, is the way in which we are responsible. Sometimes regular people carry acts of extreme brutality. No-one need condemn them, they are so obviously horrific that no one could. The authorities are dealing with them, they agree that these are contemptible actions. With the effects of poverty or tyranny, society, at least the power structures of our society are responsible. They will not be punished, things will not change, they will not be pursued, caught, made to pay.

There´s something to do about all that endemic stuff, something to take responsibility for. The thinks that challenge us, weigh more heavily than the things that we can feel strongly about, but that call for us to do nothing. The way society kills people is neglected even when close to home, even if it´s pensioners dying out of the lack of heating in the Winter, or for lack of aircon in the Summer. If the killing of the elderly through neglect had the same emotional impact as Marta´s murder, we´d have been storming parliament long ago.

This functionless empathy (Diana Syndrome you might call it) is a calling card to others in a destructive callous world. We all want to know that we aren´t entirely emotionless, that the tragedies of others still exercise. Safely expressed, without the need to do anything. Demonstrating against terrorism the same. We shall not be bowed by your bombs, as we support the powers that be in dealing with your tiny threat.

It´s understandable, but ultimately worthless, even self-indulgent. Which is why to some of us, the hollowness of it makes us angry.

Thursday, 5 March 2009

this crisis is annoying, huh?

You wait 30 years for a crisis of capitalism, and when it comes you´re still not satisfied. I mean first off, for the most part, certainly the British Left, spent the last couple of decades intently staring at it´s own navel, fighting with each other, worrying about solidarity with villagers in South East Kurdistan, and generally doing anything except building a strong and lasting alternative to the political mainstream.

So, here we are in the midst of a big economic and political crisis and who benefits? The fucking Tories, the arseholes who actually designed the absurd economic system that left the UK so vulnerable. Now they´re getting to turn round and say, ooh, it´s Labour´s poor economic management you see. Of course, it´s no coincidence that the countries hardest hit are the one´s, like ours, that built in the highest degree of dependence on the finance, construction and retail sectors of the economy, and, not to go all shouty: THAT WAS EVERYONE´S IDEA, THE ENTIRE FUCKING POLITICAL CLASS, YOU DON´T GET TO DISOWN IT BECAUSE YOU AREN´T IN POWER.

Furthermore, it´s not badly managed, it´s not being taken advantage of by greedy businessmen (now, convenient hate figures, previously heroic wealth creators), the thing is functioning exactly how it was designed to. If you design a system in a certain way, and claim credit for it when it works, when everything goes wrong, you don´t get to just wash your hands of it.

Outside of the Tories, guess what, just like we warned when everyone was mincing around waving their lollipops about the war, the force that is probably going to explode over the next couple of truly depressing years will be ... fascism. Already the warnings are flooding in about the BNP getting to send off their little shaven-headed white power comrades to the European parliament. More than one anyway. Well, why? Why is it that form of extremism that´s getting play and not some variety of Leftism, or even, maybe, why not both. Because, the BNP have actually been on the streets doing ordinary everyday politics and, come the crisis that´s going to give them a base from which explode. The various groups of our side have spent the years complacently talking about a downturn as some kind of explanation for decline or stagnation, will now pay the price for neglecting the hard yards.

Aside from that, the protests that we´ve had over the past few months; the strikes, the demos, the throwing stuff at union reps. I mean. Nobody likes to say I told you so, but fuck me. Casualisation, agency work, subcontracting, privatisation. We said it made workers more vulnerable, we said it made them easy to fire, that in the end it was going to turn back the clock to Victorian labour relations, where we all go back to being in employment day by day at the employer´s discretion. We said the unions were fucking gash and wouldn´t, couldn´t do anything about this. And, lo, it came to be. Half the workers at Cowley were agency. How the fuck didn´t that get fought before the crisis? Why wait until employers don´t give a shit whether you strike or not? Why organise, why protest, when everything´s so bad that management don´t even care what you do? Why didn´t we do this shit when we actually had the leverage of being in boomtimes?

And bollocks to the boom, when was that? It´s not like we´ve all been living it up the last 15 years. Getting by, throwing a quarter of society on sink estates to rot in longterm unemployment and near destitution, other people watching their real wages slowly deteriorate, their pensions disappear, their rights eroded, their housing become prohibitively expensive, the cost of living steadily rising. Now what? Kicking millions out of work, probably millions more taking cuts or freezes. Everything still seems to cost as much, even though we´ve got less money. More jobless, more homeless, more cuts to the support system, more with less.

The question is: how angry are we, really?