Thursday, 23 May 2013

A note on the Woolwich murder.

On Facebook I posted the following points as a status after the hours of coverage of the attack in Woolwich and I stand by them today:
1. Your sympathy belongs with the victim and their family. It should go without saying that this is a horrible crime.
2. The perpetrators are not representatives of Islam, or immigration, they are murderous thugs and will go down for this. That's a good thing. We shouldn't let a pair of murderers change our society. No death penalty. No deportation. To be a civilised country means treating the worst people in a way which doesn't lower ourselves to their level.
3. Don't concede any ground to racists and/or neo-Nazis who are clambering over one another to exploit the death of another human being. The EDL have been quick to get down to Woolwich, they deserve no attention nor should we pretend they have any serious claim to comment on this crime.
4. This looks like a political act, if so then we have to talk about the real reasons for anger against Western governments from the Muslim world. A question that is much bigger . That means we have to address the wars that have waged in Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as the dictatorships that have been supported by Western governments for decades.
In the discussion that followed this post I was told that point 4 is in contradiction with the first points and that it constitutes a 'mitigation'. That's simply not the case as I was making a more subtle point than some can appreciate. The fourth point is the last of the points because I consider it to be the last of priorities under such extreme circumstances. It's a sorry fact about the world that there is no time for criticism of American and British foreign policy after the war in Iraq and the on-going occupation of Afghanistan. There isn't a causal link between the invasion of Iraq in 2003 and the murder of Lee Rigby. It's plausible that there are people who could've killed even if these events hadn't taken place. But there is a sense in which certain foreign policy decisions fed the narrative of radical Islamism. That is the narrative and set of ideas the media describe as 'ideology'.

The Identity Politics of Reaction.

Upon observation the forces of Reaction seem much more adept at identitarian politics, as we have seen consistently for a very long time. It was in the 1970s that the forerunners of the New Right sought to co-op evangelical Christianity as a basis to resuscitate social conservatism and usher in the ensuing culture wars of the 1990s. Around the same time in Iran the collapse of the Shah’s rule created a vacuum into which the radical Islamists moved and crushed the competing tendencies of nationalism and socialism. In the late 1980s and early 90s Europe saw the recrudescence of irredentist ethno-nationalism in Serbia and Croatia to the detriment of Yugoslavia as a socialist federalism. The thoroughly counter-revolutionary and reactionary character of these developments can hardly be ignored with ease. The degree to which we may understand this form of identity politics as a co-optation by right-wing demagogues is a matter worth exploring.
One cannot help notice that the language and sometimes the practices of these movements were pilfered from radical traditions. The Catholic rightist Paul Weyrich infiltrated left-wing groups and sought to utilise the similar organising methods to politicise and mobilise Christians into a reactionary electoral base for the Republican Party. Likewise, it was Ayatollah Khomeini who emptied out the Islamic socialism of Ali Shariati only to substitute it for a conservative order within a radical framework. In dying days of Yugoslavia it was Slobodan Milošević and his supporters who appropriated the language of radicalism in condemning their enemies as ‘counter-revolutionaries’. It may be down to the compatibility of particular identity-markers (whether religious or ethnic) with a populist form of politics. In each of these instances we find that the collective identity serves as a means for demagogic leaders to attain power. The key difference is that the Serbs and American Christians can hardly be said to have been repressed in the same way as Shi’a Muslims.
Fundamentalism soon became the lynchpin of GOP campaigners and remains so to this day. The politicisation of Christianity came in conjunction with the right-wing reaction to the counter-cultural movements at the level of economics. The basic rights of American workers were soon under an unprecedented assault of Reaganism, while moral issues of abortion, gay rights, drugs and pornography became a means to mobilise millions behind an otherwise bankrupt party-state. It is worth acknowledging that the Islamist forces of reaction were originally mobilised in Iran to help overthrow the Mossadegh government in 1953. Instead of an Islamic regime it was a secular dictatorship which followed as the riots instigated by the CIA and MI6 were used in turn to orchestrate a coup. Khomeini was among the ‘Warriors of Islam’ protesting at the time, he would re-emerge as the Supreme Leader over 25 years later. It was an active policy of American and European governments to support the disintegration of Yugoslavia into splintered sectarian states. This went as far as offering aid to ultra-nationalists looking to secede and refusing aid to the Yugoslav edifice. It was a way to drive a nail into what was left of really existing socialism.
We have only to look at post-colonial Africa to find yet more instances of a convergence between identitarian forms of reaction. In the Congo we find the rise of Joseph-Désiré Mobutu brought with it a cultural nationalism opposing all forms of European culture still lingering in the country. As part of the authenticité campaign the suit and tie were banned and the name of the country was changed to Zaire. Mobutu came to power amidst the instability of the 1960s just as socialist democrat Patrice Lumumba was murdered in a coup no doubt supported by the Belgians, Americans and British secret intelligence services. In fact Mobutu was instrumental to the coup and would later to come to dominate the country as a kleptocrat until the 1990s. The soi disant African nationalism of Mobutu’s dictatorship may have functioned as a means of channelling the legitimate grievances of the people ruled by the Belgians through Mobutu. The same process may be found in Zimbabwe where Robert Mugabe maintains a party-state through the appeal to anti-colonial and nationalist sentiment. Stripping away the property of white land-owners has tremendous symbolic value to Mugabe’s regime, only for the property is then handed to the henchmen around the despot backed and funded by the capitalist roaders in Beijing.

Friday, 17 May 2013

The coming demise of the NHS.


On May 13th the BBC finally opened the floor to ‘discuss’ the health-care reforms that have been passed and are well under way. The section 75 regulations of the Health & Social Care act of 2012 was passed by the House of Lords on April 25th this year. The mainstream media, whether right or left, failed to give any coverage to this bill passed and yet it concerns us all. Even still, it was nice to hear a bit of noise once the bill had been passed and, effectively, the public was powerless to do anything about legislation already passed. You would have been lucky to have uncovered these proposals via the splutters of outrage on Twitter, or on the blogosphere, or indeed at the outer-reaches of the liberal press. Instead of the crusading press we're told we have, we actually have a cowardly press that let these health reforms pass them by. The intelligentsia and commentariat, with its agenda-setter the BBC, might be best understood as a herd of ‘independent minds’.

Even when we hear talk of the plans there are only banal platitudes about ‘reform’. When at the best of times ‘reform’ is a word to be suspicious of, especially when it is deployed with ease by the incompetent and duplicitous political class of this country. The Health & Social Care act will radically transform the way the NHS works, in fact, it will open the floodgates to private companies and enforces competitive bidding for contracts. That's on top of the hundreds of contracts on health services already sold in 2012. The act will require that all sectors of the NHS which can't be provably delivered by one provider (the state) will be opened up to competition. From now on the only hope of the NHS will be the commissioners, for they are now on the frontline of decisions about privatisation. Yet only if the commissioners can be make the case that this or that service has to be provided by the state. That's assuming the case will even be accepted, your guess is as good as mine.

Once rejected the services will be opened up to the full brunt of market forces. There is also the possibility that the real decisions will not be made by commissioners but by the courts. As Lord Philip Hunt has acknowledged, the regulations will “promote and permit privatisation and extend competition into every quarter of the NHS regardless of patients interests. The Lords reported that many NHS professional institutions believe that the regulations make competition the default approach, whilst imposing a burden of proof on commissioners wishing to restrict competition.” So it's fair to say that the doctors won't have a say in these decisions for the most part. If the doctors don't have a say then the patients certainly have no say in the matter at all. The Chair of the Royal College of General Practitioners has said “The new reforms of which these regulations are a key part remove the legal framework for a universal, publically provided, publically managed, publically planned, democratically accountable health service.”

The Conservatives can claim that this isn't privatisation because the NHS will still exist. Yes it will exist, but as a hollowed out shell where public money is funnelled into the private sector to raise the profits of private health-providers in this country. The truth is that if there are private companies eating away at the public sector then that is privatisation, it is just incremental as a means to the same end. The state bureaucracy will only be supplanted with a private bureaucracy, which will be run on the basis of profit at the expense of the tax-payer and almost certainly the quality of service. Decision-makers at the local level will be at the mercy of changes out of their control as funds are redirected from local services. The decline in services will be sped up, as it has already, to justify further ‘reform’. Gradually the whole edifice built in the aftermath of WWII will be reduced to a mere memory. A lot has already lost, as it was the Major government and its Blairite successors who introduced markets into the NHS by way of ‘performance targets’.

Unfortunately, none of this should be a surprise. The Coalition has cut NHS funding effectively by only increasing spending by 1% while health-costs soared at a rate far higher than inflation. The press would rather whinge about the coming collapse of A & Es. But not about the mass closures of these services and the cuts in funding for those not closed. There is plenty of angry talk to be heard about the European ‘super-state’ that has been imposed on us without referenda, yet how much talk has there been over these changes to the NHS? No one in the public space seems to care. On the horizon there is a free-trade deal with the US that will open the NHS to the full force of American multinationals. The phoney democrats in Parliament are adept at calling for referenda when it suits their purposes. There wasn't any talk of a referendum on the invasion of Iraq, only a couple of million people marched through London and Blair reacted with pieties: we live in a democracy so you can have your protest, but it means nothing.

It is the unfortunate combination of a constitutional monarchy with a flawed form of Parliamentary democracy that failed to stop these measures being passed. Why? Because there are systemic interests shaping the legislative process. As the Daily Mail reported in 2012 Lord Carter, the head of the NHS regulator, as well as the Cooperation and Competition panel, received almost £800,000 from just one of the health firms to which he is entangled. Andrew Robertson has compiled a list of 140 Lords and 65 MPs with what may be direct interests in private health-care. From the list Robertson gauged that this amounts to one out of every four Conservative peers, one in six Labour peers and one in ten Liberal Democratic peers. This is a problem across the board, endemic to the political class and system. According to Dr Eoin Clarke, since 2001 the Conservative Party has received over £8 million in donations from private health-care firms. We may not know the full extent of this until the political class opens itself up to a transparent accounting. But it should be obvious that this is only a part of the problem here.

 This article was later posted on the Third Estate on May 22nd 2013.

Friday, 10 May 2013

New Atheism at Home and Abroad.

Here we find the confluence of scientism, rationalism and liberalism in its fetishism for progress, reason and freedom. Things can only get better and better, so long as we don’t let barbarous myths like religion get in the way. If we cast down the religions of the world, at the side of the road of history, we can look forward to greater freedom, pluralism and democracy. New Atheism is not exactly new. As Eagleton points out, it draws upon once vanquished grand narratives of Reason and Progress just as Western liberalism needs to rearm after the strike against it by anti-political Islamic purism.[1] By that time the world had supposedly been in a post-ideological, post-political and even post-historical age. All grand narratives could be sealed and forgotten, yet with the actions of nineteen murderers another narrative – of terror – had to be pulled open.[2] With the interventions in the Middle East came the old rhetoric of mission civilisatrice.

It was then that Christopher Hitchens decided to abandon socialism and commit himself to an aggressive secularism and an even more aggressive foreign policy. He soon found allies in biologist Richard Dawkins and, later, Daniel Dennett and Sam Harris. It is to their credit that neither Dawkins nor Dennett supported the invasion of Iraq. Whereas, Sam Harris argues in the event of an imminent nuclear strike by Iran the best recourse would be to compound a Holocaust. And this man has the nerve to write a book claiming that science can solve our moral dilemmas! Terry Eagleton is not wrong to view the New Atheists as the ideologists of the ‘War on Terror’. Eagleton argues that the very act of trying to close history down in 1989 is what sprung it back open in 2001.[3] On the one hand the arrogance of Western imperialism and, on the other, the ‘new enemy’ of radical Islam. The paucity of advanced capitalism was exposed to violence with no such metaphysical anaemia. All of sudden ideology was needed and with that the Bush administration reached for neoconservatism.[4]

There was a debate on the invasion of Iraq held in 2005 where Michael Parenti was called in to challenge Christopher Hitchens on his loyally pro-war position. In his opening comments, Christopher Hitchens conceded that the fall of the Berlin Wall had opened up a period of peace and prosperity, which seemed to look forward only to widening the scope of pluralism and democracy.[5] He calculates that this illusion lasted for six and a half months from New Year’s 1990. For then came the annexation of Kuwait by Saddam Hussein and Slobodan Milošević had declared war on Bosnia. These events signalled that the authoritarian state-ideology was not a distant memory of a barbarous past. Then came the slaughter in Rwanda a few years later, the continuation of the Kim dynasty in North Korea, and the rise of the Taliban in Afghanistan. All of these events made it clear, in the mind of one Hitchens, that there are still forms of totalitarianism which we must fight.

Later in God is Not Great Hitchens makes it clear that he views religious belief as inherently totalitarian in potentia to conjoin his anti-theism with his commitment to American foreign policy. The Ba’ath regime in Iraq was not a secular one precisely because it vested total authority and power in one man demanding faith from all its subjects. It then follows that the only alternative is liberal capitalism. This is why Hitchens took the view that neoliberal globalisation is a revolutionary force in the world. At one point Hitchens writes “When I was a Marxist, I did not hold my opinions as a matter of faith but I did have the conviction that a sort of unified field theory might have been discovered.”[6] He goes onto note that there is no supernatural or absolutist element in dialectical materialism, but it did have a ‘messianic’ aspect in its faith in the coming revolution, martyrs, saints, prophets, and mutually excluding papacies.

Yet the New Atheists maintain their own faith in history as Progress, that the capitalist system will inevitably bring to fruition a liberal democratic state. In Hitchens and Dawkins in particular you find this converges with a rigorous scientism. As Eagleton points out, Western liberalism is anaemic and requires more than itself to fend-off belief. This is where the need to resurrect grand narratives that had been discarded. And so Christopher Hitchens joined forces with Richard Dawkins in a bid to wage a war for reason against faith. The religions of the world are the last obstacle for Progress to circumvent. Of course, Hitchens accepted as a man who had read Freud that the religious sentiment may well be ineradicable. And what could be better than that? It’s an enemy that will always be there to justify the place of imperial America in the world. Just as the Soviet Union justified American imperialism in the Cold War.

This post was originally written for A Bigger Society.

[1] Eagleton, T; Culture and Barbarism (2008):
[2] Eagleton, T; Reason, Faith and Revolution (Yale University Press, 2008) pg.142-144
[3] Ibid.
[4] Ibid.
[5] Hitchens, C; Parenti, M; Iraq and Future US Foreign Policy (2005):
[6] Hitchens, C; God is Not Great (Atlantic Books Ltd, 2007) pg.151-152