Notes On The News
by Gwydion M Williams
- Paris Bombings: Failure of the New Right
- Say Daesh, not ISIS
- China’s Mixed Economy
- UN Rejects Catalan Independence
- Breaking Up The UK?
- Do You Remember John Major?
- Solar, Sand and Salt
- Left Win In Portugal
Society is an organic thing. Humans will not live together peacefully unless they are convinced that they have reasons better than crude self-interest to actually do so.
The French Revolution was a genuine liberation, but also a spectacular failure of the Enlightenment’s notion that ‘rational self-interest’ would solve everything. Because once you break the comfortable web of custom and habit, you raise the question of who the ‘self’ is and what its interests are. And there is no simple answer that will easily gain general acceptance. Philosophers often claim to have one, French philosophers especially: but no two are alike and none have solid reasoning behind them. The more people think about the matter, the more they are likely to disagree. Is the ‘self’ really an ‘it’ with an abstract identity? If not, then just what is it?
Europe in general and France in particular imported vast numbers of Muslims as cheap labour. And made little allowance for building organic links with these new citizens. France, unlike Britain, never had a strict colour-bar. But it did have a gigantic colour-bias and cultural bias. Small numbers of non-whites could be taken up and cherished – most notably Edith Piaf,[A] who had some Moroccan ancestry and who was raised in a brothel. But for every cherished Piaf there would be 999,999 others who remained marginal and were expected to quietly endure it.
And they are no longer willing to endure it. Faced with a system that tells them they are free and equal and then treats them like dirt, they no longer accept it. Yet socialism or communism have lost ground as secular alternatives. Many socialists have been reverting to bad old chauvinist habits. Many socialists have accepted New Right notions of cherishing capitalists as the only possible wealth-creators. They impose austerity to keep up the value of the banks’ gambling debts, with bank nationalisation deemed unthinkable.
Faced with massive and continuous injustice towards the poor and towards Arabs and Muslims, significant numbers of young Muslims have decided that they are living among enemies and ought to be fighting. It’s regrettable that they’ve fought by utterly vicious methods and with self-defeating sectarianism, but it’s hardly unexpected. Revolutionary Communism would have organised them better, but the West put enormous effort into defeating it among Arabs and Muslims. They boosted and in part created the secular nationalist dictators that they then set about destroying after the fall of the Soviet Union
Treat people like garbage and you have no right to complain about the smell. But human weakness being what it is, rich and powerful bunglers attract a whole swarm of praise-singers. These are morally worse than the original bunglers: they ought to know better. People speak of ‘presstitutes’: but unlike prostitutes, they are not giving value for money. Doomed policies remain doomed even if you can talk the public into believing them.
It need not have been so. After the experience of Fascism and faced with a global challenge from Leninism, the West decided to restore the organic links damaged by capitalism. There was a commitment to generous welfare and to full employment. It worked OK, but got disrupted by the 1960s demand for more sexual and personal freedom. The establishment was baffled by this – surely people already had freedom, or at least as much freedom as any reasonable person could ask for. But for the Baby Boom generation, limits on their freedom were not reasonable at all. And they paid too little attention to the actual achievements of the system they opposed: the precious gifts of generous welfare and full employment.
This set the stage for the rise of the New Right. Let people have their sex, drugs and rock-and-roll. For Libertarians this was fine: if it killed some of them it would improve the species. But also reject both generous welfare and full employment: let the market decide. Most of them stopped short of wanting to abolish welfare completely, but favoured returning it to the mean-spirited workhouse system. Don’t let the poor actually starve, but give them the minimum you could get away with. Keep on insulting them for failing to find jobs that just are not there and which were intentionally moved to low-wage countries.
This had to be dressed up somewhat to make a type of right-wing politics that a majority would vote for. Reagan and Thatcher didn’t denounce ordinary people for making unreasonable demands on the rich: they used various genuine errors and failings to convince ordinary people that generous welfare and full employment were burdens on the working mainstream, exploited by wastrels and parasites. Of course there were some real instances: the Left made a strategic mistake by not constantly insisting that these were small exceptions. And by not keeping on hammering the point that ‘reforms’ favoured by the New Right have greatly multiplied the number of wastrels and parasites, while reducing opportunities for honest work. That most ‘reforms’ are a reactionary return to systems that had already failed once.
The Left also messed up by making crude comparisons with fascism. There was indeed a shared admiration for violence and trickery. But whereas fascism aimed to repair damaged organic links on a reactionary basis, the New Right saw these things as needless expenses. Were keen to erode them and ease the burden on the rich.
They also promised ‘trickle-down’: that the newly liberated rich would create more wealth for everyone. But when this failed to happen, once again the Left let them get away with it. A lot of the Left never outgrew the 1960s dislike for the world they grew up in, and so failed to defend those parts of it that had been sound and worthy of praise.
Fascism could almost certainly have created a stable new order on a reactionary basis, had it won militarily. In this the New Right also differ from fascism: they were unable to create the promised New World Order after the sudden collapse of the Soviet Union. (Which with hindsight had been in decline since their 1968 invasion of Czechoslovakia and the crushing of serious reform.)
The New Right had no clear idea what to do with their unexpected victory over the Soviet Bloc. What ideas they did have were wrong. Rather than reform the UN to suit themselves, they preferred to bypass it when it would not obey them. With the Soviet collapse, the USA military was stronger than the combined forces of the rest of the world. Surely this massive might and firepower could impose whatever the US chose, with Britain as minor military help and a major booster politically? Surely they now could reshape the world as they wished?
Except they couldn’t. The New Right in their attempts to remould Iraq managed to spectacularly disprove their own notion that the state machine was a pointless burden and could be abolished. Demonstrated the enormous difficulty in forming a self-regulating society acting according to Western notions. With the state removed, people living in the arbitrary territory labelled Iraq re-discovered and affirmed older and stronger identities. Even individuals who had no such wish faced an outbreak of sectarian strife that soon taught them that they were only safe among ‘their own’. And if you were a small community you had no future – Iraq’s remaining Christians and various other non-Muslim minorities are doomed to death or exile.
In the West, New Right policies have eroded existing organic links. This weakness shows up first where those links were already weak: with people who are both poor and culturally different. Finding themselves unwanted, a lot of them turn to alternative rebellious authorities that are very glad to have them.
I mentioned earlier that there was a shared admiration for violence and trickery between old-style fascism and the modern New Right. But admiration for violence is also a feature of the Islamist hard-liners, and it sells as such. If it’s like something from a horror movie: horror movies have become a major part of Western culture. And Hollywood regularly churns out ‘action movies’ in which small bands of heroes fight violently and destructively against some wicked superior authority.
People involved in extremism are mostly those who have left their traditional culture and absorbed a lot of Western ideas, yet failed to find a decent role for themselves. People denied a regular place in the society now make their own drama with themselves in a starring role.
(Not, indeed, that all of them were unsuccessful in Western terms. Osama bin Laden came from a rich well-connected family. He had grand credentials for having been an Islamic extremist in Afghanistan when the Soviets were there and the West approved of him. I don’t think he was the only one, either.)
I’ve talked before about the Western media’s error in confusing the extremists with the Muslim majority. Calling them ‘Islamic State’ or similar. Maybe they think this is smart, since the Muslim majority also insist that Israel is being grossly unfair and are affirming their Islamic identity against an increasingly cold and hostile Western world. Maybe they think that lumping together terrorists with those who are just anti-Western will stop them being anti-Western. Maybe: but if so, it is an enormously foolish idea. The whole trend has been for those who started out moderately religious to intensify it in the face of hostility. Likewise those who started out moderately anti-Western get hard-line and maybe ready to fight.
If the wisdom of the New Right were true it would be otherwise, certainly. But this is one of their many failures to understand the wider world as it exists outside the small and artificial worlds of commerce and ‘the media’. Like fascists, they are burdened by an ideology that tells them falsehoods about the basics of the modern world. Their falsehoods are somewhat different from fascist falsehoods, but still very damaging.
Finally some people are learning the advantages of making a separation. In a speech following the Paris terror attacks, President Francois Hollande used the word ‘Daesh’ for the group sometimes known as ISIS and sometimes ‘Islamic State’.[B] Daesh is an Arabic acronym for the group’s original name, before it claimed to be the Islamic State led by a self-styled Caliph. It has the advantage also of sounding very rude in Arabic. And for Westerners, it should make clear that this is one particular hard-line sect, very different in its aims and methods from most Muslims.
(By analogy, the Jehovah’s Witnesses are undoubtedly a sect of Christianity, but viewed as eccentric and even absurd, though entirely law-abiding. The Klu Klux Klan makes a lot of claims to be Christian, but is viewed as criminal and a disgrace by most Christians outside of some surviving racists in the US South. And so on.)
Saying ‘Daesh’ more often would help, but is only a small measure. For they’ve been succeeding politically, even while they are contained militarily. Daesh have forced the leaders of the Anglosphere and the European Union to treat them as a power rather than a bunch of marginal unimportant people. Not necessarily people with a deep inner certainty about their faith – confident people are very seldom radical extremists. Maybe people feel that life is not worth living if the options offered by the New Right and by capitulating socialists is all that is on offer.
The Daesh are people of Muslim origin who have absorbed a lot of New Right values and then become violently hostile to the New Right project for world domination. Not unexpected, since the USA and European Union took advantage of the Soviet collapse to try to make themselves bosses of a grossly unjust New World Order. They largely ignored the United Nations structures that they themselves had created when they were wiser and more frightened.
Now they are frightened again. But have no ideas except to demand that everyone ignore their failures and rally behind their incompetent leadership.
“The five year plan system is a Soviet-style throwback from China’s Communist past, but it remains a pivotal feature of the Chinese government. We’re just concluding the twelfth version of the plan.
“Communist Party cadres are evaluated on how well they meet the plan’s targets. Sometimes, this leads to forest-for-the-trees situations: it’s not unusual for the plan’s wider objectives to be thrown out the window in order to achieve an obscure data point….
“Attempts to steer the economy into a new direction formed another part of the last five year plan.
“China’s leaders have stated repeatedly they want to move away from a dependence on low-cost exports towards more sustainable growth that relies on the service sector, high-end manufacturing and domestic consumption.
“Did the government achieve its economic reform goals under the five year plan?
“Technically, yes. Many of the economic targets in the plan appear to be on target.”[C]
The above is the BBC assessment. What they don’t mention is that China has for many years been moving away from its flirtation with New Right values. Even before the 2008 crisis, the leadership decided that both foreign investors and Chinese capitalists had more authority and independence than their usefulness merited.
China’s top leader Xi Jinping has now put it more forcefully:
“The president highlighted the need to uphold and improve the basic socialist economic system, stressing that people should consolidate and develop the public sector while encouraging, supporting and guiding the non-public sector to develop.
“‘The mainstay status of the public ownership and the leading role of the state-owned economy must not waver,’ he said, adding that these could ensure that people from all ethnic groups share the fruit of development, and they are guarantees for solidifying CPC’s ruling status and adherence to the socialist system.”[D]
The trend for some time has been for the state to take back control. If markets are permitted in new areas, these are markets that stay well-regulated. This is nicely set out in a book called The Global Rise of China,[E] which speaks of the rise of what they call ‘State Neoliberalism’. The term Mixed Economy has dropped out of common usage, but that’s clearly what it is.
“The United Nations does not view Spain’s separatist-ruled Catalonia region as having the right to self-determination, U.N. chief Ban Ki-moon said in an interview published Saturday.
“‘Spain is an independent and sovereign country that includes the Catalan region,’ Ban told four Spanish newspapers..
“‘It is in this way that it was admitted to the United Nations and acts within the international community,’ he said, according to a Spanish translation of his comments…
“Ban said the U.N. did not recognize Catalonia as a non-autonomous territory that should be able to claim the right to self-determination.
“‘When one speaks of self-determination, certain areas have been recognized by the United Nations as non-autonomous territories. But Catalonia does not fall into this category,’ he told the Spanish press.
“‘A positive aspect of Spain is that there is respect for diversity: the culture, the languages, the traditions,’ he added.”[F]
The United Nations list of Non-Self-Governing Territories[G] was drawn up in 1946 as part of a general campaign to end colonialism – not part of the original Charter, which had the British Empire and French Empire as senior founders. It is rather arbitrary but is the only applicable law. And has mostly defended existing states against secessionists, even those with clear majority support from the region they wish to separate.
What if England voted to leave the European Union, but Scotland and Northern Ireland vote to stay? Polls indicate this could happen.[H]
If the overall vote were to quit, Scotland would demand and probably get a second Independence Referendum. If it were to stay, there would be strong English demand to separate from both Scotland and the EU.
And Northern Ireland? Protestants are more likely to want to quit and Roman Catholics to stay.[I] A separation from England would be another matter. A federation with Scotland not unthinkable.
Wales will probably vote to quit. But is very unlikely to go it alone: the north, centre and south of Wales are tied economically much more closely to England than to each other.
Prime Minister after the fall of Thatcher. Lost to Tony Blair in 1997. Was moving back to One-Nation Toryism. And has recently complained about the shocking impact of inequality in Britain.[J]
Blair in office decided that New Labour should move to the right of the economic policies Major had been following. He helped revive Thatcherism among the Tories. It won him two more elections, but at the expense of what Labour was supposed to be for.
Solar Power depends on sunlight, strongest at noon. But energy use continues after sunset, and there are also clouds. That’s the problem with photovoltaics, the conversion of solar energy into direct current electricity using semiconducting materials.
A major alternative is Solar Thermal Energy. In hot climates, you can use the sun to boil water for a steam engine, which in turn can generate electricity by turning a magnet within loops of wire. This worked badly – but an interesting alternative is melting salt.[K] Or using a mix of heated sand and water, which holds heat and gives you electricity long after sunset. This is being used at a new plant just opened in Morocco.[L] For now it is just a small supplement for local consumption. But there are grand plans for exporting electricity to Europe.
Socialist leader Antonio Costa became Prime Minister on 26th November. His party came second in the recent election, but has a majority with Hard-Left support.
Previous Newsnotes can be found at the Labour Affairs website, https://labouraffairsmagazine.com/past-issues/. And at my own website, https://longrevolution.wordpress.com/newsnotes-historic/.
[A] I’m aware her name should be accented. But IT systems often make a hash of accents: see for instance https://www.flickr.com/photos/45909111@N00/23039928756/in/album-72157649792061378/
[E] By Alvin Y. So and Yin-wah Chu, both Hong Kong academics.