Tuesday, 28 April 2009

Enforcement of orthodoxy in the BNP

In Nineteen Eighty Four, George Orwell described Newspeak as "the only language in the world whose vocabulary gets smaller every year," with the aim of controlling thought. He tells us that "by 2050—earlier, probably—all real knowledge of Oldspeak will have disappeared." Moreover, "the whole literature of the past will have been destroyed" and will "exist only in Newspeak versions, not merely changed into something different, but actually contradictory of what they used to be."

The British National Party, in their efforts to portray themselves as "respectable" and "legitimate," have readily applied these principles towards their members. The recent media scrutiny regarding the contents of their handbooks for members and organisers focused very narrowly on the defintions of race and nationality the manual offered. The manual presents us with the much more pertinent issue of the structure and running of the BNP, particularly in relation to its claims to be a "legitimate," "democratic" party. The following passage from Orwell is particularly relevant;
Even the literature of the Party will change. Even the slogans will change. How could you have a slogan like "freedom is slavery" when the concept of freedom has been abolished? The whole climate of thought will be different. In fact there will be no thought, as we understand it now. Orthodoxy means not thinking—not needing to think. Orthodoxy is unconsciousness.
The introduction to the revised version of the Language & Concepts Discipline Manual is startlingly honest about this basic Orwellian principle of orthodoxy and thought control through language;
Politics requires propaganda, and propaganda requires self-discipline. It is essential that all official (and preferably unofficial, i.e. public comments by party members) BNP communications stick to the party's true message and convey it to the voting public in a clear and consistent way.
Thus, in their efforts to radically alter "the climate of thought" and enforce orthodoxy, the manual presents members with rigid "rules of language and concepts discipline." Throughout, members are advised on how to "couch our agenda" in "language calculated to be relevant" to the interests of whomever they are speaking to.

In this way, the spectrum of authorised debate is narrowed considerably, as is the potential for independent thought amongst members. The "language" manual is just one of the documents that sets rigid limits on what party members can say.

In the party's constitution, the leadership sets out in very explicit terms its intent to rigidly enforce orthodoxy. Despite the party's proclamations that it is "Britain's Most Democratic Party" because it believes "power should be devolved to the lowest level possible" and that "local communities can make decisions which affect them," party structure belies such professed democratic ideals. The constitution declares that "no local branch or group of the party may undertake to contest any election" unless they have the "prior consent of the National Chairman or National official or Regional Organiser authorised by him," drastically undercutting local autonomy. Moreover, "the national chairman may proscribe individuals, organisations or publications which are so hostile to the party," by insisting that members "should have no contact with them," so protecting members from dissent and independent thought and the risk it poses of "contaminating" loyal devotees of the party. Such loyal members are of course barred from being "interviewed by," or giving "any statement to, the news media" without "prior authorisation" by those higher up, tightly controlling the limited but vibrant democratic dissent we witness within other parties.

One could go on endlessly combing through the constitution, providing ever more examples of the rigid centralised control of members. An adequate summation, however, is provided in the observation that "non-compliance with any part of this Constitution is an offence against th[e party's] Code of Conduct" and that "members (including those who have been disciplined or expelled) legally affirm and agree that they will not seek any external legal (or non legal) review of any disciplinary tribunal decision or its procedures" as the diktats of the central party are "final and binding." Democracy, it seems, is in the eye of the beholder.

I have argued in depth elsewhere as to why the BNP's policies are fascist even by the most specific definitions, but the rigid enforcement of orthodoxy on members illustrated here adds another layer. The ruling party of Orwell's magnum opus, and the central politburo of any past Soviet dictatorship, not to mention the regimes of Hitler, Mussolini, Pinochet, and other despots would be extremely impressed with the control Griffin asserts over his followers. It provides a useful illustartion of the control he would assert over the country if in power.

Friday, 24 April 2009

BNP activists assault anti-fascists in Liverpool City Centre

The current run towards the European Parliamentary Elections on June 4th has seen the BNP, whose leader Nick Griffin is vying for a position as MEP of the North West, revert to type. The thuggery and campaigns of intimidation used by the party before Griffin's "reformation" are well known, and in recent months the public has seen that they still persist. To the BNP, "change" means nothing more than covering up your actions better.

The latest such incident took place yesterday, when Liverpool BNP activists leafleted the City Centre for St George's Day. Angry at being routed by a hastily-organised counter-leafleting by local anti-fascists, Peter Tierney, co-owner of the Quiggins shopping centre, local organiser Steve Greenhalgh, and an as yet unidentified third man attacked the group, one of the victims being hospitalised by Tierney after an attack with a camera tripod.

What follows is a statement from Liverpool Students Against Racism and Fascism (LSARF) on the incident;
BNP Thugs Take to the Streets of Liverpool and Assault Local Anti-Fascists

Yesterday, April 23rd, saw fifteen members of Liverpool BNP members take to the streets of our city again. As word got around that they were leafleting on Church Street, around 12.30pm, local anti-fascists did what they could to mobilise people (not the easiest thing to do mid-week, mid afternoon!). By 1pm there was around twenty anti-fascists leafleting in and around the BNP, making it loud and clear what the BNP stood for, and why people shouldn’t tolerate their presence. This was met by the standard bellowing of ‘get a wash’ and ‘get a job’ from the BNP only serving to further alienate members of the public, from whom they were already getting short shrift.

Before long it became clear that as well as their suited and booted ‘activists’, the BNP had a number of thugs dispersed in the crowd who were taking it in turns to try and intimidate both anti-fascists and uninvolved passers by. This was on top of their standard motley crew of camera men who were systematically patrolling the crowd and filming anybody who showed opposition to their presence.

At around 1.30pm the BNP realised that they were getting nowhere, packed up their stall and moved of towards St. Georges Hall, the site of recent BNP rallies in the city. By the time anti-fascist activists arrived they had set up their stall in St. Johns Garden to the rear of the hall, and once again began leafleting. Anti-fascists responded by striking up conversations with other people in the Gardens and handing out our leaflets. After five minutes the BNP decided they had been beaten once again and got together to leave the gardens. Two anti-fascists ran ahead to get out on to the road in front where they could continue ensuring that the public knew the truth about the fascist organisation.

At this point three of the BNP members, Peter Tierney, Steve Greenhalgh and an as yet unidentified man, decided that they’d had enough of being routed from their chosen leafleting spots, and unleashed a vicious assault on the two who had run in front. Peter Tierney, armed with a folded camera tripod, used his weapon to hit one man around the head, splitting it open. Steve Greenhalgh turned his paste table on its edge and began to use it as a weapon in much the same way that riot police were doing with their shields at the G20 protests, and the third man went in with fists and boots narrowly missing one activists face. On realising the seriousness of the assault Steve Greenhalgh (thought to be Liverpool BNP’s local organiser) then quickly began ushering his minions, some whom clearly hadn’t quenched their blood-thirst, out of the gardens. The group were followed closely by anti-fascists until they left the gardens, ensuring no repeat attack could take place.

In the aftermath of the attack three anti-fascists left the scene together, deliberately going in the opposite direction to the BNP. However, as they rounded a corner they saw the fascists talking to a group of police. Not wishing a further confrontation, the activists walked past, only for the police to run towards them and inform one of them that Peter Tierney (the perpetrator of the armed attack, left) had made a complaint of assault against him. Without any chance to defend himself, the activist, who was showing no sign of resistance, was cuffed and arrested on suspicion of assault. Police then took over half an hour to take seriously the report that it was in fact the BNP who had launched a vicious attack on anti-fascists. The falsely imprisoned anti-fascist then spent nine hours in custody in the same police station as Tierney, with police telling other comrades that he was in a different station. As a result when the man was released from custody , wearing only distinctive custody issue tracksuit clothing, he was followed by a car full of BNP activists who threatened ‘we know where you live, we’re going to fucking kill you’.

Despite the attack, the day was on the whole successful. Anti-fascists prevented the BNP from having free reign on the streets of Liverpool, seeing that the BNP’s vile politics did not go unchallenged. In the end the BNP were unable to control themselves and showed the public what they are really about: ‘defending rights for whites with well placed boots and fists’ in the words of their chairman Nick Griffin. Once again, Merseyside Police showed themselves to be entirely biased towards the BNP, not only responding to a false claim only made to deflect attention from the fascist attacks, but putting an activist in serious danger by holding him at the same station as Tierney and failing to ensure his safety upon being released.

This is the clearest example yet in Merseyside that the BNP are not simply an far-right racist party, but a fascist organisation who rely on violence when all the cards down. This story must be publicised to its full extent in the run up to the June 4th Euro-Elections in which Griffin is standing as candidate for the North-West. The activist who was injured is now recovering following hospital treatment, and the activist who was arrested has been bailed until July 21st and banned from the city centre. Messages of solidarity can be sent to lsarf@live.co.uk (Liverpool Students Against Racism and Fascism)

***Update - 28/04/09***

Since the original incident, Merseyside BNP has tried to control the damage by spinning the story the other way. On their blog, they claim that "psychotic unwashed leftists, trade unionists and Labour supporters" (good to know how contemptuously they view the city's proudworking-class, trade-unionist history) are responsible for the violence, which "forced the BNP members to defend themselves."

Obviously, this story didn't wash with anybody beyond the party faithful, as their next post attacks the Liverpool Echo as "disgraceful" for telling a story that does not fit in with the BNP orthodoxy of claiming victimhood even whilst in attack-mode.

Their negative comparison of the Echo to The Sun will also go down well with a city still healing the wounds caused by that paper's lies over Hillsborough, no doubt.

Wednesday, 22 April 2009

Budget 2009: a change of rhetoric and little else

Under the title of Building Britain's Future, Chancellor Alastair Darling's 2009 Budget Report declares its objective to "build a strong economy and a fair society, where there is opportunity and security for all." Few will be surprised that what appears on the next 268 pages comes nowhere close to matching such lofty rhetoric.

The main purpose of the present Budget, of course, is to respond to the "exceptional challenges" facing the world economy after "the financial crisis of late 2008 precipitat[ed] a steep and synchronised global downturn." Essentially, how to maintain and revive the very financial systems and economic dogma that caused the crisis in the first place - with the necessary emphasis on "change of direction" in the cause of maintaining the status quo. This stance is exemplified by the Department for Business, Enterprise, and Regulatory Reform's (BERR) New Industry, New Jobs report, which preempted the Budget by declaring the government's abandonment of "support for market forces" in favour of "an interventionist strategy under which the Government will subsidise the growth industries of the future." Business Secretary Peter Mandelson, speaking to The Independent, explained that his "strategic plan" is central to the new Budget;
If markets fail or don't work efficiently, government has a role to play – as we saw in the financial markets. The Government's job is not to substitute for markets or displace the private sector. We are not into bailing out the past, but removing the barriers to investing in the future.
This is unlike the previous doctrine, dominant since the Reagan-Thatcher years, whereby the government had "a role to play" in "removing the barriers" to the free market so that it "works efficiently" and doesn't "fail." The "change of direction," then, is obvious; the prevailing doctrine is now called "interventionism" where before it was "support for market forces." Thus today's Budget revealed the total cost of the government rescue of the financial markets as a staggering £1,220bn and a national debt of £1.2 trillion, whilst government borrowing will hit a "record" £175bn.

Of course, one does not have to look far - or even read the budget itself - to find the positives included amongst the measures to "remove the barriers" for "markets." A basic fact of (marginally) democratic societies is that they will provide sops to the electorate when needed, as long as it is not too radical for the important people whose money and influence keeps them in power. BBC News helpfully lists "key points" of the budget for mass consumption and as a focus of acceptable debate. These "key points" will be derided by "conservatives" within the narrow mainstream political spectrum as "socialist" (a word utterly without meaning in this context) and "unrealistic" in the current climate as they offers too much help to the poor, and hailed as "progressive" by "liberals" for throwing a sop to the "middle classes" without actually affecting the circumstances of the poorest even one iota.

Beyond the acceptable debate, and the state-defined "key points," however, is the fact that the Budget will "deliver billions of pounds" in "cash savings" by "improving the capability and planning capacity of NHS commissioners" and "extending" the "NHS tariff pricing system." Further extension of both the target-driven bureaucracy weighing down our health care system and the privatisation process which - as demonstrated by the example of the United States - achieves greater "success" by pricing out the poorest and least healthy cannot be contemplated in acceptable discourse.

This is but one example. Also notable is the redoubled commitment to "public sector pay restraint," which the media constantly draws support for by publicising cases of very highly-paid senior civil servants, but in fact affects those at the lowest levels and on the "frontline" of delivering services to the public. Increasing the "annual exempt amount" for capital gains tax, "extended inheritance tax reliefs" which now qualify for "capital gains tax hold over relief," a "higher rate of tax relief" for "firms investing over £50,000 in qualifying plant and machinery," a "temporary" increase in "the threshold at which business rates is [sic] charged on empty property" from "£2,200 to £15,000," and a whole host of other pro-business and pro-property measures also deserve attention.

Clearly, the objective of "a strong economy" outweighs that for "a fair society," and "opportunity and security for all" refers to "all" of the business and propertied classes, with perhaps a few beyond this elite area benefiting as a democratic sop. As at the G20 summit, our leaders have declared a "change of direction" in the interests of economic "revolution" whilst reviving and strengthening the very same institutions that are at the heart of the present crisis.

Saturday, 18 April 2009

No justice, no peace...

Today, as the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) received reports of a third incident at the G20 protests, we learned that a second post-mortem on Ian Tomlinson has revealed internal hemorrhaging as the cause of death. The Independent reports that "the police officer who pushed Ian Tomlinson to the ground before his death at the G20 protests is facing a manslaughter charge" after the verdict.

This is just the latest turn in a sage that has raised the quite natural suggestion arose that the police "misled the media." Among the evidence for this claim is the fact that the claims of a heart-attack in the initial post-mortem were made by Dr Freddy Patel, who "had previously been reprimanded by the General Medical Council" for gross misconduct, and that "a Metropolitan Police statement initially said that officers had been pelted with bottles as they tried in vain to save Mr Tomlinson" before amateur footage showing the truth emerged. Also of concern is the revelation that although "all Met officers in uniform are required to display identity letters and numbers," at demos officers "appear to be trying to conceal them" or "have removed them" altogether.

In its leading article, The Daily Mail sums up the typical response from statists and apologists for the police. Though the death of an utterly innocent man is "can never be accepted," of much greater concern is "the witch-hunt being whipped up by the Left against the police." Because the police were so bravely "were defending property," the cause of the greatest injustices in society, "a small but brutal rump of G20 rioters bent on violence and destruction," an expected label for opponents of the state who cannot be hemmed into "free speech pens" where they will not be heard. Thus, police actions can be written off as "tempers lost," which though "unacceptable" is "very understandable."

Ultimately, though the individual officers "must be punished" as fall guys, we should reject "the virulence of the anti-police sentiments" that has prevailed with greater realisation the fact that "tempers lost" against protesters and innocents are institutional in police forces. We must "trust and admir[e]" the police, because they are "the only defence between the law-abiding and respectable and the forces of anarchy, crime and corruption," better known as a public that refuses to accept the injustices of the state and its enforcers.

And that is exactly what we need to be. In the inquests following the murder of Jean Charles de Menezes, the police all but exonerated themselves. True, there was some finger-wagging from the more liberal end of the mainstream spectrum, but ultimately the police got away with murder. It was not the first time, and Ian Tomlinson will not be the last. When Greek police murdered Alexandros Grigoropoulos in December, it sparked riots by setting off the powder-keg of long-simmering public unrest, which continues to the present.

Perhaps such a reaction is what we need in the UK as well. Though it would make us a "brutal rump of ... rioters bent on violence and destruction" in the eyes of the ruling elite, it should be noted that those who have struggled before us and won what liberties we enjoy today were viewed in exactly the same light.

Thursday, 16 April 2009

Fascism goes green

In the run-up to elections, political parties always do everything they can to seem as all things to all men. However, the BNP's attempt to define itself as "Britain's only true Green Party" really does have to be seen to be believed.

Apparently, the Green Party is actually "a front for the far left of the Labour regime," despite their being an entirely separate party with an impressive record of activism and campaigning on green issues as well as a whole host of other subjects, and the BNP "is this nation’s only true Green party" and the only one with "policies that will actually save the environment."

Yes, you really did read that right.

The biggest threat to the environment now is not, it seems, man-made climate change which will lead to a global catastrophe and destroy 85% of the world's population in the next 20 years if nothing is done. No, there's something much worse that only the BNP can handle. The truth is that "overpopulation - whose primary driver is immigration, as revealed by the government’s own figures - is the cause of the destruction of our environment." Moreover, "independent environmental organisations believe that Britain’s population needs to be significantly reduced" and "our immigration policies will achieve this." Seriously.

The BNP's policy on other environmental problems is also "refreshingly different" because it will "develop renewable energy sources such as off-shore wind farms, wave, tidal and solar energy" as the Greens have pleged to do, "investigate the feasibility of cutting-edge, intrinsically-safe, fast-breeder nuclear stations" and "Develop alternative transport fuels such as bio-diesel and hydrogen" as the mainstream parties have pleged to do and every serious green organisation warns against, "Invest in a high-speed, magnetic levitation, inter-city rail network" which has long been on the cards because of the environmental impact of cheap flights, and "Allow the building of a new privately-funded airport on reclaimed land in the Thames estuary to reduce the pressure on, and stop the constant expansion of, the South East’s airports" which essentially moves the expansion to another place rather than actually stopping it.

Oh yes, such radically "different" policies from the "green" BNP there.

And, as a passing note, the BNP "accepts" that climate change "is a threat to Britain" (and, presumably, the rest of the planet as well) and offers the suggestion that "we should try to minimise the emission of greenhouse gases and other pollutants," as has already been advised a thousand times over, yet offered no actual suggestions as to how this might be done.

"The time has come for change," the BNP declares. Oh yes. Because who wants sensible and well thought out environmental policies by dedicated activists when you can have a hodge-podge of incoherent ideas stolen from a variety of sources with no substance to back them up? The BNP has just four tiny paragraphs of environmental policy, by contrast with the Green Party's policy page on the environment and animals, in-depth policy pages on Climate Change, the countryside, and forestry, and a policy page on green energy, backed up by scientific reports on the changes needed to government energy policy and a comparison between nuclear power and electricity-saving measures.

Yes. It really is clear that the BNP are "this nations only true Green party." If, of course, you have absolutely no clue as to what it means to be green.

Wednesday, 8 April 2009

If we want to end the piracy, we must end the injustice that catalysed it

Somali pirates have, in recent days, attacked and seized six vessels in the Indian Ocean, in open defiance of the European nion's maritime security presence there. The latest vessel, the US-operated Maersk Alabama, according to BBC News, "came under a sustained attack from pirates" which is "thought to have involved up to three pirate skiffs at any one time," resulting in "the first time a vessel with an all-American crew has been seized by the Somali pirates."

Naturally, the situation has caused considerable consternation, with "analysts" concerned by "a new strategy by Somali pirates operating far from the warships patrolling the Gulf of Aden," MSNBC tells us. Reuters adds that "many of the pirates are based in northern Somalia's semi-autonomous Puntland region, where the authorities called on Wednesday for more funds to tackle the gangs onshore," with the comment from Puntland's security minister, Abdullahi Said Samatar, that "it's better for the international community to give us $1 million to clear out the pirates on the ground, instead of paying millions of dollars to keep the warships at sea."

In fact, however, the problem is not of "gangs onshore" or pirates at sea, but the political and economic conditions that brought about this situation. And it is a situation in which European firms are complicit. In October last year, Al Jazeera reported an accusation by Somali pirates that "European and Asian companies are dumping toxic waste, including nuclear waste, off the Somali coastline," confirmed by UN envoy for Somalia Ahmedou Ould-Abdallah. This affirms the events of 2004 when that year's Tsunami "washed up rusting containers of toxic waste on the shores of Puntland." A report by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) highlights the full extent of the problems this has caused;
Nick Nuttall of the U.N. Environment Program in Nairobi explains that as the wave receded, residents living along Somalia's northern coast noticed dozens of rusting steel drums, barrels, and other containers deposited on their beaches.

Smashed open by the force of the wave, Mr. Nuttal says the containers exposed a frightening activity that has been going on for more than a decade.

"Somalia has been used as a dumping ground for hazardous waste starting about the early 1990s and continuing through the civil war there,” he noted. “European companies found it to be very cheap to get rid of waste there, costing as little as $2.50 a ton where disposal costs in Europe are something like $250 a ton. And the waste is many different kinds. There is uranium radioactive waste. There is leads. There is heavy metals like cadmium and mercury. There is industrial waste and there is hospital wastes, chemical wastes. You name it," said Mr. Nuttal.

Since the containers came ashore, hundreds of local people have fallen ill, suffering from mouth and abdominal bleeding, skin infections, and other ailments.
The pirates quoted in the Al Jazeera report, at the time holding a Ukranian ship to ransom for $1 million, insisted that they are "reacting to the toxic waste that has been continually dumped on the shores of our country for nearly 20 years" because "the Somali coastline has been destroyed, and we believe this money is nothing compared to the devastation that we have seen on the seas."

But this is not all. At the same time, multinational corporations have leapt upon the "curious competitive advantage" afforded by the lack of government, particularly the telecoms industry. A 2005 article for The Economist hailed the fact that there is "no state telecoms company to worry about, no corrupt ministry officials to pay off (there is no ministry), and the freedom to choose the best-value equipment"and the awesome gains to be made from this. "Even with price wars," we are told, "profits are high." This, of course, is what matters. Though it is "armed oligarchy, capable of taking anything it wants at the point of a gun" it still "looks like a free-market nirvana after The Economist's heart," human rights and living conditions be damned.

Added to this, The African Executive informs us that whilst "the world’s attention is currently focused on the Somali sea lanes" and piracy, "more damaging economically, environmentally and security-wise is the massive illegal foreign fishing piracy that has been poaching and destroying Somali marine resources for the last 18 years following the collapse of the Somali regime in 1991." This is one of the problems that the pirates have emerged in response to. Yet, "with its usual double standards when such matters concern Africa, the “international community” comes out in force to condemn and declare war against the Somali fishermen pirates while discreetly protecting the numerous Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated (IUU) fishing fleets from Europe, Arabia and the Far East."

Johann Hari, writing upon this same situation for The Independent back in January, compared the present situation to the time of "traditional" pirates;
In the "golden age of piracy" – from 1650 to 1730 – the idea of the pirate as the senseless, savage Bluebeard that lingers today was created by the British government in a great propaganda heave. Many ordinary people believed it was false: pirates were often saved from the gallows by supportive crowds. Why? What did they see that we can't? In his book Villains Of All Nations, the historian Marcus Rediker pores through the evidence.

If you became a merchant or navy sailor then – plucked from the docks of London's East End, young and hungry – you ended up in a floating wooden Hell. You worked all hours on a cramped, half-starved ship, and if you slacked off, the all-powerful captain would whip you with the Cat O' Nine Tails. If you slacked often, you could be thrown overboard. And at the end of months or years of this, you were often cheated of your wages.

Pirates were the first people to rebel against this world. They mutinied – and created a different way of working on the seas. Once they had a ship, the pirates elected their captains, and made all their decisions collectively, without torture. They shared their bounty out in what Rediker calls "one of the most egalitarian plans for the disposition of resources to be found anywhere in the eighteenth century".

They even took in escaped African slaves and lived with them as equals. The pirates showed "quite clearly – and subversively – that ships did not have to be run in the brutal and oppressive ways of the merchant service and the Royal Navy." This is why they were romantic heroes, despite being unproductive thieves.
There is no reason to doubt that there are pirates out there who are the vicious opportunists they are made out to be by Western governments and the press. But the evidence is clear that a significant majority are taking matters into their own hands and responding to a gross injustice that those now coming out against the pirates were keen to ignore.

If we want to end this problem, then, we must be prepared to address head-on the crimes that have made pirates the people of Somalia. We cannot hope to achieve anything by coming out in force to eradicate them from the high seas.

Tuesday, 7 April 2009

Right-wing double standards and the justification of bigotry

One of the many clichés attached to the idea of "political correctness gone mad" - itself a cliché that has gone beyond the level of tedious - is "you couldn't make it up." Originally a staple of the rants of Richard Littlejohn, it is now routinely thrown into tirades and polemics where, in fact, the vast majority is either fictional or product of the most tenuous truth-stretching.

An isolated incident, if it happened at all, which occurred for utterly legitimate reasons will become a countrywide pandemic happening "for fear of offending Muslims" in the hands of the press.

This is how Winterval, a commercial promotion in Birmingham a decade ago that made regular mention of "Christmas," became the annual campaign to "ban Christmas" that pretty much keeps the tabloids going from October to December. This is how a pre-school in Oxfordshire getting children to sing "Baa Baa Black Sheep" with "a wide range" of descriptive words replacing "black" because it "encourages the children to extend their vocabulary," became schools "banning" the song "because it's racist." There are countless other examples of how "political correctness" was, in fact, fashioned by the right.

Their reasons for this do not need much exploration. Political correctness quickly renders any "offence" felt by minorities suspect, as intended with the coining of such phrases as "playing the race card." It also makes its opposite, political incorrectness, not just acceptable but even heroic - essentially a justification of bigotry under the banner of "traditional" attitudes. At the same time, with unashamed irony, it helps to set a precedent for the right-wing version of political correctness and playing of the race card by white Christians.

Just the latest example of this is the outrage in the tabloid media led, as expected, by The Daily Mail over a charity allegedly "depict[ing] Christians as Islamaphobes who regard Muslims as terrorists." According to the story, "a boy wearing a large cross around his neck is shown telling a friend that a smiling Muslim girl in a veil looks like a terrorist" in the magazine, and "it has angered Christian groups and MPs who fear it sends out the wrong message."

The response most quoted by the press is that of Mike Judge from The Christian Institute, who stands vehemently against the message of the cartoon;
What about Christian children in care who received this magazine? How will they feel to see themselves mocked as narrow-minded Islamaphobes? It is a clumsy caricature, symptomatic of a culture which says it is OK to bully Christians in the name of diversity.
One can't help feel that this statement, and similar ones quoted in the Mail, The Daily Telegraph, and elsewhere have utterly missed the point. Firstly, that the boy in the cartoon is Christian in no way implies that all Christians are like this. Indeed, that boy's behaviour is contrasted by that of his friend, who is no less white but a lot less narrow-minded. This has nothing to do with "offence" and everything to do with an attempt to utterly blot-out all criticism of Christianity (whilst simultaneously attacking its rivals) because it feels threatened.

Philip Hollobone, Tory MP for Kettering suggested that "you can hardly imagine anyone producing a magazine in which the roles were reversed and it was the Muslim girl who was behaving badly," but of course they wouldn't. There is no ongoing problem of bigotry or discrimination towards Christians, however much certain more reactionary elements may like to play it up. The fact is that, being the majority religion in this country, and having far greater reach and influence in the press and government than any religious view should, their position can only be described as comfortable. Muslims, however, do suffer discrimination, bigotry, and even violence against them on a broad scale.

Of course, there is the fact that Islamist terrorists caused widespread destruction and death on July 7th 2005, not to mention other attempted attacks prior and since. However, those responsible are not ordinary Muslims but those drawn into the more extreme and militant sects, a separate issue in and of itself. The government, the media, and the far-right have played on this to drum up and incite a more general disdain for Muslims beyond that specific bracket and campaigns like the "outrage" over this cartoon only serve to make such scaremongering excempt from criticism.

Now, Muslims are in a horrendous position. Even the slightest complaint, however legitimate, is leapt upon with fervour as an example of "anti-British" attitudes (a phrase with solely totalitarian connotations), whilst integration and acceptance of the intangible strawman of "British values" is viewed with suspicion. This only exacerbates the alienation of the Muslim community, and creates further tensions.

There are serious issues that need to be addressed surrounding religious, racial, and cultural diversity, but we cannot do that as long as we are drawn into the hysterical fervour drummed up by the media against the bogeyman of "political correctness gone mad."

Saturday, 4 April 2009

Reflections on the G20 deal

In my last article, I suggested that it was "apparent that the end result" of the G20 Summit in London would be "little more than the status quo." One would conclude, reading the press, that I was far too cynical in my assesment. Indeed, the media was quick to hail the "triumph" of the summit and the emergence of a "new world order" for the "fightback" against the financial crisis.

Looking beyond the headlines, however, we quickly get to the meat of the summit's "triumph." According to The Independent, "$1trn will be made available to countries that run into trouble via the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the World Bank and World Trade Organisation, which will all be beefed up" but "the real significance" of the agreement was the "enhanced role" given to the likes of the IMF, "whose budget will triple to $750bn." In much the same vein, The Guardian tells us of "the death of the "Washington Consensus" of financial market liberalisation, privatisation and unfettered capitalism promulgated by ... the IMF and the World Bank" which is of course demonstrated by granting one of those same "Bretton Woods institutions," namely the IMF, "a stronger role" in "the world financial system" than that it already enjoys of enforcer of that same "unfettered capitalism" upon the world's poorest.

There is little point going through the same story across other papers. The headlines vary widely, from "The fightback starts here" (The Telegraph) and "Triumph of Substance at Summit" (Washington Post) to "And to save the world, I demand One trillion dollars" (The Sun). The story, and the conclusion to be drawn from it, remains essentially the same. Contrary to my original assesment, this is decidedly not "little more than the status quo," but an indication that yet again the rulers of the world have learnt nothing in the face of global financial meltdown.

In the same paper, on the same day, Johann Hari makes a strong and compelling argument that any fiscal stimulus should be linked to a "Green New Deal," quite correctly surmising that the "extreme ideology" of market fundamentalism which "has dominated world affairs for decades" is responsible for both the credit crunch and the "climate crunch." Consequently, "both have the same solution." I am disinclined to contest this assesment, and would second his warning that our "climate is currently going the same way as the banks" with the end result that "once we hit an increase of 4 degrees, much of the world will become uninhabitable, and there will be vast wars for what remains."

However, even if the wealth of evidence for catastrophic and man-made climate change in the near future was utterly wrong, in the "fightback" against the financial crisis we have potentially wrought yet another economic catastrophe on the world's poor. That catastrophe takes the form of the IMF, WTO, and World Bank. As long ago as 1959, Che Guevara noted that "the interests of the IMF represent the big international interests that seem to be established and concentrated in Wall Street." One particular point of interest is a long-running standard of support for military dictatorships, such as Suharto of Indonesia, Assad of Syria, Mobutu of the Democratic Republic of Congo, of Augusto Pinochet of Chile. Although the typical claim that markets "foster democracy" is often made, the fact remains that there are many examples of democracy collapsing into dictatorship or democratic resistance weakened and the rulers strengthened by IMF involvement.

That is not all, of course. As noted earlier, the IMF and World Bank were central to the "Washington Consensus" that has now "died" with the "stronger role" of the same "Bretton Woods institutions" that propped up the Consensus in the first place. This is nothing new. As now, each past crisis has marked the "death" of one form of capitalism in favour of a "stronger" form that more efficiently perpetuated the same injustices.

It is worth quoting Noam Chomsky's authoritative analysis of the IMF's actions and consequences at some length here, as he amply covers all the salient points in criticism of the institution;
The IMF is a method for paying off investors and transferring the risk to the taxpayers in rich countries. There are two forms of robbery going on: The populations in the debtor countries are being robbed blind by austerity programs, while the taxpayers in rich countries are also being robbed. It's not as serious for the latter because they're richer, but they're still being robbed. The IMF socializes the risk.

This is quite important. People invest in Third World countries because the yields are very high. So gains are high in a market system if the risks are high. They more or less correlate: the greater the risk, the greater the gain. But here it is largely risk-free. Private investors make enormous profits from very risky investments, but then, through the international financial institutions, they essentially have free "risk insurance." The structure of the system is such that the people who borrowed don't have to pay -- they socialize it by making the population pay, even though the population didn't borrow the money. The people who invest -- they don't accept the risk, because they transfer it to their own populations. That's the way market systems work-through the socialization of risk and through the socialization of cost, with the IMF acting as "the credit community's enforcer," as Lissakers puts it.

What, then, are the consequences for democracy? Over the last 20 years, power has been transferred to the hands of financial capital, so banks, investors, speculators and financial institutions make policy. The liberalization of financial flows creates what some economists call a "virtual senate": if private investors don't like what some country is doing, they can pull their money out. They in effect come to define government policy. That's the point of liberalization.

There's nothing novel about this. When the Bretton Woods system -- the international financial system -- was established in the mid-1940s, a fundamental part of it was regulation of financial flows, to keep major currencies within a fixed band close to each other so that there would be no speculation in currencies. There were also restrictions on capital flight -- and there were good reasons for that.

It was understood that the liberalization of capital flows harms the economy. Since liberalization of capital started about 25 years ago, the whole international economy has declined seriously. But there's a more serious argument, which was clearly articulated at Bretton Woods, that if you allow the free flow of capital, you undermine democracy and the welfare state. If a government is "irrational" -- if it decides to do things for the general population instead of for foreign investors, say, as Itamar Franco was trying to do when he refused to pay his state's debt to Brazil's central government then it can immediately be punished by pulling out capital. So the point of the liberalization of capital and its effect is to diminish democratic control everywhere and to undermine social programs. It ensures that policy will be geared toward enriching investors, the holders of financial capital, which becomes more and more speculative, therefore harming the general economy.

In the European Union, the power given to central bankers is overwhelming. They set policy. That's a strong weapon against democratic control of policymaking in every area, and it's happening more and more. And it's the predictable -- and surely the intended -- effect of liberalization of capital flows.
Given the effects described above, it is more than reasonable to worry what further economic devestation the IMF's "stronger role" could wreak upon the world's poor and upon democratic society. Indeed, the central "triumph" of the G20 summit appears to be a rebranding of exactly the same disaster capitalism that has brought us to this point in the first place. Whatever the press may declare about Barack Obama and Gordon Brown's "new world order," we really are just left with "little more than the status quo."

Wednesday, 1 April 2009

We need something a lot more radical than just graffiti and broken glass

Even as the G20 summit, and the massive protests in the City of London, continue, it is apparent that the end result will be little more than the status quo. The protesters, all of them brave and acting on solid principles, have failed to send a clear enough message. When the dust settles, it won't be the vibrant marches and radical stances that are commited to posterity but merely graffiti on walls and a few broken window panes.

BBC News reports that "police and protesters" were injured in "scuffles," as "demonstrators attacked the Royal Bank of Scotland with missiles and entered the building in the City" following on from "clashes" at the Bank of England. However, despite these admirable attempts - typically dressed up by the media so as to give the appearence that the protesters and not the police initiated the "clashes" - "mounted police and riot officers" have been able to "push demonstrators back" and "separate groups of protesters."

Clearly, this is not good enough if we want the causes behind the protests to advance. The government does not listen to public opinion, as the Iraq War demonstrates, and simple marches can easily be routed by police, under the usual guise of "public order," and turned into nothing more effective than yelling from a soapbox. Meanwhile, any direct action that becomes too aggressive can easily be written off by the corporate press and state propaganda as "extremists" and "militants" (the latter word's negative connotations entirely generated by the state and mass media) whose views do not merit consideration.

However, the fact remains that direct action is still the only truly effective form of protest. The anarchists who attempted to occupy the Royal Bank of Scotland, and those who prior to today promised to "storm banks" and "bring London to a standstill" had the right idea. Unfortunately, they didn't go far enough. Greater numbers and much earlier action, perhaps even in the pre-dawn hours before the police assembled, could have seen the heart of the financial district occupied by anarchists and anti-capitalists. Then, by staying right where they were and refusing to either capitulate to police demands or be drawn in by the usual incitements to violence, the movement would have a distinct advantage. The only way the authorities could end the action on their own terms would be to themselves do what the protesters promised to do by "storming" the City and wreaking great destruction in one of the world's biggest financial centres.

It is still not too late to do this. The G20 summit is but one day. The economic crisis is predicted to go on for at least another year, perhaps two. And the devastating effects of global capitalism have been ongoing for decades. Even without the symbolic imagery of this particular day, the anarchist and anti-capitalist movement can still mobilise massive action against the ruling classes who rain down such devestation on the poor whilst profiting from their own mess.

General strikes, such as those seen recently in France, and building occupations akin to actions by Greek Students or Canadian auto-workers are just the tip of the iceberg. What we need to do now is to take the discontent, anger, and fear wrought by the financial crisis and turn it into something tangible. Just as in Greece, we need to see unrest "like a winter with a thousand Decembers" across the globe if any significant change is going to come by.

As with so many other things, we can look to Greece when we need a call to arms for such a massive mobilisation of the working class;
VIOLENCE means working for 40 years, getting miserable wages
and wondering if you ever get retired…
VIOLENCE means state bonds, robbed pension funds
and the stock-market fraud…
VIOLENCE means being forced to get housing loans which finally
you pay back as if they were gold…
VIOLENCE means the management’s right to fire you any time they want…
VIOLENCE means unemployment, temporary employment,
400 Euros wage with or without social security…
VIOLENCE means work ‘accidents’, as bosses diminish their workers’ safety costs…
VIOLENCE means being driven sick because of hard work …
VIOLENCE means consuming psycho-drugs and vitamins
in order to cope with exhausting working hours…
VIOLENCE means working for money to buy medicines
in order to fix your labour power commodity…
VIOLENCE means dying on ready-made beds in horrible hospitals,
when you can’t afford bribing.
If we really want to see an end to the current crisis and an improvement in the lives of ordinary people, then we cannot ask politely that our leaders grant us it from above. We must snatch it from below.