Newsnotes 2005 12

Notes On The News

By Gwydion M Williams

China – Great-Wall Marts.

Zimbabwe: Majority Reject Democracy.

Rome: Sons Of The Wolf.

Throw-Away People

Society: It Was Good When It Existed

Tories Get Right Up Your Nose

A Caliphate Worse Than Death?.

ICANN – Nations Shall Have Intercourse, But Pretend Otherwise [Internet]

By McLuhan, Out Of Thatcher [Henry Jackson Society]


China – Great-Wall Marts.

“Some people fail to understand why, so far from fearing capitalism, Communists should advocate its development in certain given conditions… From our knowledge of the Marxist laws of social development, we Communists clearly understand that under the state system of New Democracy in China it will be necessary in the interests of social progress to facilitate the development of the private capitalist sector of the economy (provided it does not dominate the livelihood of the people) besides the development of the state sector and of the individual and co-operative sectors run by the labouring people. We Communists will not let empty talk or deceitful tricks befuddle us.”

That’s not Deng Xiaoping: it’s Mao Zedong in his 1940 essay On New Democracy, saying what he’d like after the war. Part of the reason why Deng never felt he was going against Mao, just correcting some of Mao’s later and worse ideas.

Western business people see China just as a place with lots of opportunities for profit. Wal-Mart’s success has owed a lot to selling cheap Chinese goods into the US market: even their US flags are made in China. As for their government and system of democracy, that’s their own business.

Some of the New Right ideologues argue against this. But they are disadvantaged, because their own doctrine tells them that China must be going the USA’s way, now that it is no longer a closed society. An inevitable process, once modern commerce is let in. But Peoples’ China has ‘evited’ it quite nicely so far. Just as the former Chinese Empire had more than a thousand years of commerce and market forces without moving even slightly in a liberal or scientific direction. Traditional China had to be broken into commercial ‘freedom’ with opium and foreign armies, and after four confused decades trying to be Western, they got their act together with Communism.

How can the New Right admit what is going on—that China can be modern its own way? To make that argument, certain Eternal Values must be admitted to be nonsense and it must be accepted that China is not going the USA’s way. But the trick for theorists is to explain why the standard beliefs should be viewed as nonsense in this instance, while also upheld as wisdom on other issues.

They can get away with it elsewhere, managing to be Libertarian-Authoritarians in the whole ‘anti-terror’ war. US judges upholding ‘The Law’ have winked at of torture and arbitrary imprisonment on vague charges. But when it comes to oppressing suspicious non-white foreigners, they face no major hostile interests. It is only Muslims, and Muslims are divided and weak. China is united and strong and so it is easier to let things drift.

Of course it was never capitalism in China. Dengism did what the Soviet Union might have done after Stalin, if it had had better leadership. The New Right case is full of trickery. The successes of Keynesianism and Dengism are transubstantiated into Imaginary Capitalism, the abstract model of Adam Smith. Then Imaginary Capitalism is transubstantiated back into current Anglo capitalism. This gets round the awkward fact of it the New Right economic performance being slightly worse than Keynesianism and much inferior to Dengism.

And democracy? When it comes to the rights of ordinary people, they are no worse off in China than in Brazil or in the Republic of India, which both have Western-style systems. Party democracy existed in Britain, because the 17th century Civil War was never really resolved. It existed in the USA because the USA took all of its basic political forms from Britain.


Zimbabwe: Majority Reject Democracy.

That’s the headline the Western media should have used, to truthfully express what they feel.  The West is offended by the way that the rural-Shona majority to run the place their way rather than accepting the ‘Open Legs’ policy that has messed up its neighbours.

The recent elections for a Zimbabwe Senate just confirmed what everyone already knew—that Mugabe has the majority of the people with him. Instant Ready-Mix Democracy interested the urban minority and there were also tribal divisions of the sort that every multi-party system in Africa has ended up based on. But for once, they failed. Maybe because enough Zimbabweans remembered how the USA supported white-dominated rule in Southern African for as long as it was feasible.


Rome: Sons Of The Wolf.

English culture is one offshoot of Latin-Christian culture, and retains an absurd reverence for its ancestor. This was expressed in the clean, improbable world of I, Claudius, where most Romans are nice and just a few wicked people are inexplicably powerful.

Nice people don’t conquer half Europe. Rome on BBC 2 takes some liberties with historic details, but the feel is very much right. Rome is shown as dirty, exotic and brutal. It is ‘Rome, warts and all’ – ‘wart’ was the actual name of Cicero, and ‘Caesar’ means ‘Hairy’. The worst stuff—organised slaughter of animals and people in the arena—has not so far featured. But the place was always crude, also dirty and degraded, especially before Emperor Augustus rebuilt it. You see the future Augustus as young Octavian, all done very plausibly, including the ambiguity about his sexuality. Historically, his fellow Romans freely referred to him as a ‘bugger boy’ in his early days. He was also tough enough to march on Rome twice before he was 21. A story should be told more often: I don’t know if the series will get that far this time.

Caesar gets blamed for destroying the Roman Republic, but what was it that he destroyed? A Republic is any ‘Public Entity’ independent of a dynasty. Rome’s system was aristocratic and with very limited democracy biased towards the rich. The Senators were an elite, an overgrown town council. They were mostly at odds with the ordinary people of Rome. The electoral system was hugely biased towards the rich: moreover the Senators were there till they died of old age, giving an inherent bias against change.

Imperial Rome was also the great destroyer of independent communities. The Westernmost example of a chain of massive empires using a system basically invented by the Persians – be sure to see the British Museum exhibition, while it’s still on. Western Europe saw Rome as glorious, but maybe Europe’s success depended on no one power even being strong enough to re-establish a proper Empire.

Looking back into ancient history, the immediate cause of the Roman Civil War was whether Caesar would be given a free run to stand for Consul. No one doubted that he’d have been elected. The Senate didn’t want the people to have a chance to elect Caesar to the Republic’s highest office. Government was by the Senate and People of Rome, with the two elements mostly at odds. It took Caesar and his heirs to move it on from there to be a normal empire, in which the entire population might be part of the ruling group.

As BBC 2 tells it, some of the details are definitely wrong. Caesar is seen manipulating Roman religion, which did happen. Left out is the significant fact that Caesar was also Pontiff Maximus, official head of the Roman Religion, an elected office that was inherited by later Emperors and then the Pope. And so forth.

For history, read a book. For the feel of the period, watch the drama.


Throw-Away People

To avoid burdening business with anyone else’s needs, the New Right devised a system of Throw-Away People. Demoralised workers and immigrants brought in to undermine the security of the existing workforce.

Now they are amazed to find that Throw-Away People find it rational to riot. The key was the ending of Full Employment, seen for several decades as a necessity for social peace. The weakening of socialism has gone in hand with the separate growths of anarchic self-indulgence and religion of a traditionalist and highly self-disciplined sort

People take ‘freedom’ to mean doing what they want, not what the New Right want them to do. This is just the same problem as post-war liberalism faced in the 1960s, and was never solved. The New Right are much less honest about it. Libertarian-authoritarians who have no trouble imposing their ideas on others when it suits them.

If they can. A lot of people are being reminded just why Europeans made life cosy for themselves in the 1950s. I don’t expect a return, but some re-mixing of the elements is in order.

Racism is a factor. How things are in France, I don’t really know. In Britain, non-whites were never viewed as part of the community. There was little overt hostility while numbers were small, but also no acceptance. When large-scale immigration began, it needed a hard fight to get rid of racism before it got rooted in the way it has in the USA.

What was needed—but not really managed in Britain—was delicate work to remove racism and keep community warmth and trust. Any bloody fool can destroy community warmth and trust on the pretext of removing racism, mostly without actually removing racism. Some recent incidents suggest Britain has nothing to be smug about


Society: It Was Good When It Existed

Crime has grown massively since the 1980s. It was already growing a bit when Thatcher took over, but it got worse and worse the more she applied her cures to the minor social ills of that era.

The errors of neoliberalism reflect a common false belief, seeing everyone as an imperfect specimen of the ‘Unit Of The Individual’.  The actual processes whereby society renewed itself were ignored.

After World War Two, people did see the need, reflected in the Welfare State that was proposed in detail by the Beveridge Report. Now people are noticing the gap.

“In his Dimbleby lecture last week, Sir Ian Blair [the Metropolitan Police Commissioner] called for ‘a debate about what kind of police service we want’. This is a welcome recognition that, in a democracy, policies about policing cannot be the preserve of professionals. But the government seems only too eager to invite the police to shape policy, most blatantly in its deferral to police claims about the need for 90 days’ detention for terror suspects.

“Sir Ian attributes crime and antisocial behaviour to three trends: declining influence of ‘the agencies of community cohesion’ (churches, trade unions, housing associations), the disappearance of non-police ‘agents of social enforcement’ (park-keepers, caretakers, bus conductors), and the closure of long-stay psychiatric institutions.

“These agencies were immediate sources of community cohesion. But such cohesion ultimately depends on wider social and cultural processes, including stable employment, the family as a crucible of responsibility and support, and a sense that the social order is just in its allocation of rewards. Sir Ian notes that it is now 60 years since the postwar Labour government’s pledge of the welfare state to eradicate Beveridge’s five giants: want, idleness, ignorance, squalor and disease. He suggests that Beveridge would now have added a sixth giant, insecurity about antisocial behaviour, crime and terrorism, ‘to join the remnants of his other five’. But insecurity is largely the result of the resurgence of the other five giants, as the welfare state has been rolled back and “modernised” to near extinction.

“Sir Ian’s basic question, ‘What kind of police service do we want?’ cannot be considered in isolation from the question of the kind of society we have and want. Policing is a symbol, not a source, of the character of a civilisation. Policing cannot be expected to underpin a social order whose foundations have been eroded by Blatcherite neoliberalism. (Robert Reiner, The Guardian, November 24, 2005.)”

Meantime Tony Blair remains obsessed with being ‘Radical’ . In this context, ‘Radical’ means either ‘feed the rich’, or show a fixed belief that nothing can be worth anything unless it has been made a commodity, something expressible in cash terms.

It isn’t working.


Tories Get Right Up Your Nose

At the time of writing, it is not confirmed that the Tories have elected a former coke-head to lead them. But everyone expects it to happen, rather to my surprise.

A bit of teenage pot or pep-pills is one thing: probably foolish, but a lot of people do it nowadays. But even silly teenagers know that cocaine is dangerous. Most of them have more sense than to try it. Most people know the difference, though it seems that people in ‘the media’ do not:

“Drug-takers used to be offered up as examples of the purely degraded: mentally, spiritually and physically. But now we know a little more about what is actually going on. If you want to take a dim view of drug use – and a dim view can be a healthy one – it is not just the posture of the coke-taker that degrades him or her; it is what the very fact of taking the drug means.

“Which is that someone who is having a line is supplying himself with qualities and emotions that should rather be earned, such as confidence, talkativeness and an attractive self-image. To take a short-cut to these is as much to admit that one lacks them in oneself..

“I had thought, at first, that questions about David Cameron’s drug use would sink his career like a missile barrage. In fact, at first, I even thought he was being asked about pot. That he has managed not so much to shake off these accusations as persuade others that they are not worth pursuing shows a certain maturity among the public at large.” (Nicholas Lezard, The Guardian. November 10, 2005.)

You say ‘maturity’: I say ‘decay’. Anyone who dabbles in cocaine is not fit to have authority over others. They are likely to be ‘macho’ for no good reason, as Bush Junior has been, also with a suspicion of coke-use in his background. I’d say it was indeed the death of Tory England.


A Caliphate Worse Than Death?

Before targeting a repressive regime, take a good hard look at what it is that it is repressing. A lot of us said that Islamic hard-liners were the natural alternative to Saddam, and so it has proved. The ‘success of democracy’ has so far been the Shia Islamists finding that they could walk into power rather than needing to overthrow anything. Of course this means a merger of the police and military with partisan militias—where else are you going to find people who think their cause worth dying for?

That’s Shia Islam. Sunnis, meanwhile, have pushed the idea of a Caliphate, of the sort they ran for centuries. There have been threats to criminalise this idea, on the pretext of a link with terrorism. Typically, the authorities always to be seen to be acting, in this case giving credibility to something that a few months ago might have been laughed off as a crackpot notion.

The idea of a new Caliphate or religious-political authority is now serious. Among other things, Muslims are noticing that the big Third World successes are China and the Republic of India, both with state structures big enough to get them taken seriously. Those not ‘burdened’ by state power remain poor, nor does the USA seem keen to ‘unburden’ itself of its own military-political structures.

So we may get a caliphate, maybe even in its old centre of Baghdad, where a functional secular government was overthrown by the USA. It might be a way of reconciling Iraqis, especially since the West would hate it.

The idea of trying to create a caliphate you could negotiate with is resisted, maybe because no caliph would be taken seriously if they failed to stand up for Islamic values,

There are currently some other efforts to ‘square the circle’. In Britain, a government initiative involving what Channel 4 subtitles referred to as “respected Islamic school arse” [rather then scholars]—has subtitling been outsourced to Hindus?

Regardless, it cannot be serious because no insubordinate Muslims are wanted. Nor is there any standard of Western decency to point to. For the sake of dubious ‘intelligence’, centuries of hard-won protections have been discarded, so far just for Muslim suspects, but potentially for anyone. And in Australia, the big publicity seems to relate to people involved in a conspiracy to wish they had explosives.

Obviously you get some information from torture. In same spirit, you win a lot more games if you cheat, and can cut down your household bills by shoplifting. But what sort of message are you sending to the rest of the world?

They have gained a few points and lost something much more basic. They have lost the perception of virtue, which the USA still had even in 1991.

[At the time, the demand was fairly moderate. More recently it has surfaced with the self-styled Caliphate of people in Syria and Iraq calling themselves ‘Islamic State’. Amazingly, the Western media commonly use this name, rather than calling it ‘so-called’ or similar. Most Muslims consider that a new Caliphate would need a broad consensus to create, if it were allowable at all.]


ICANN – Nations Shall Have Intercourse, But Pretend Otherwise [Internet]

There was a recent row about the USA’s control of the Internet via a Californian entity called ICANN. The whole world uses the system, so the UN made a bid to control it. I feel no enthusiasm for the UN, but some sort of independent international body would be better.

The USA thinks otherwise, unfortunately. And now the issue is hotting up again, over the long-standing idea of a pornography-only domain called .xxx. A simple way to let consumers choose what they did or did not want, as well as reliable keeping away the under-age. Simple and easy, so of course it gets hated.

“Critics such as the Family Research Council, a conservative U.S.-based religious group, complain that creating the .xxx domain would only legitimize the porn industry, and not make it easier to avoid sexual content on the Web.

“The case has also been seen as a test of ICANN’s independence from the U.S. government, which has fought off efforts to turn control of the Internet traffic system over to an international body.

“ICANN, a California-based non-profit group, cannot make changes to the domain-name system — which matches Web site names to numerical addresses that computers can read — without the approval of the U.S. Commerce Department.

“Syracuse University professor Milton Mueller said the United States has compromised its neutrality over the assignment of domains by intervening in the .xxx case. He said Washington has been lobbying other governments to oppose the plan.

“If ICANN caves in to this pressure, it reveals to the world that it really is just a plaything of the U.S. administration, and the U.S. reveals to the world that it is able and willing to abuse its power over ICANN,” Mueller said.” []

It goes deeper than that. The whole pattern of US culture has been to do nothing effective about commercial sex. The Hollywood ‘meat-rack’ has been their most successful export. The culture wants it to be available, and in fact aggressively pushed. But also ‘deniable’, so that they can say ‘we are absolutely against it’.

In the mainstream US view, No one is allowed to keep out commercialised sex or sexualised commerce. But it must never be admitted that this is commercial sex. And likewise the net must be dominated by commerce and advertising. No one is stopped from publishing anything unless it is copyright. But most views get swamped.

[In 2011, a “.xxx” domain was finally allowed, as a voluntary option for pornographic sites.]


By McLuhan, Out Of Thatcher [Henry Jackson Society]

The Henry Jackson Society are engaged in a grand crusade for Liberal Intolerance. A recent article, In Search of a Conservative Neo-Europeanism, says “Today, Britain is the most confident and purposeful she has been since the Edwardian era”. Which to my mind begs the question ‘and what next’?  They have given us the equivalent of a Boer War, a war in which military victory cannot be consolidated.  If they get their way, no doubt bigger wars will follow.  But Edwardian deference is no longer imaginable in Britain.

“During the 1980s the Conservative Government of Margaret Thatcher helped give birth to the ‘Global Village’.” [] Actually ‘global village is a damn-fool phrase floated back in the 1960s by McLuhan. It notes the ease of communication—always supposing you speak the same language. It missed the elementary point that people in a village all know each other and have a definite set of social relationships.

Mrs Thatcher thought she was restoring something like the values of Grantham as it was when she was young—the very reverse of ‘global village’ values, which are better called ‘Global Nightclub’, an uninhabitable place where violent and glamorous events are always happening. ‘Global Nightclub’ is closer to what happened, though not everyone wants to be part of it. The post-Thatcher Tories seem vaguely aware now they shot themselves in both feet, that their 15-year dominance of politics did not strengthen the dying social values which were the core of their values.

These values existed before Britain had anything like capitalism, were little questioned until unregulated capitalism undermined the society.  Whatever survived was finished off by Thatcher’s introduction of a second bout of unregulated capitalism.

“New Labour Government has successfully crafted out a dynamic European policy which has reoriented Britain as a leading member state of the EU, with a positive agenda of European enlargement, military integration/modernisation and a new doctrine of ‘liberal interventionism’.” True. And I believe we said it first; explained that New Labour were embracing Europe with all of the promise of a whore with AIDS.

Despite which, stressing links with the USA is a doomed idea. The two societies have been diverging ever since the 1960s. Religion especially makes a difference. In England and Wales, the strong Nonconformist movement simply vanished in the 20th century. In the USA it has bounced back in a crude Southern-Baptist version that most Europeans view as a joke or an embarrassment.

Britain has lost an empire and found a Swiss roll. Become a custodian of dirty money and provider of mercenaries all over the globe. But attempts to drag Europe down the same path have not so far succeeded.

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