Saturday, August 11, 2018

'Rendezvous' With The Atlanticist-Al-Qaeda Pact in Yemen


He is perhaps little known in New Zealand today, but one of our most prominent 'exports' in a previous age was the cartoonist David Low. A satirist's worth can be measured by how much he manages to upset those he is satirizing, and how far he shocks an otherwise pliant public into re-examining its own pre-existing prejudices. 

On these dual scores, Low was undeniably a success - not only meriting official censorship in the Fascist countries he so frequently targeted, but finding himself marked for apprehension and likely execution in the event of a German invasion of Britain. While in terms of the British reading public, finding himself simultaneously derided as lacking patriotism for his anti-jingoistic depiction of "Colonel Blimp", and as a belligerent warmonger for his merciless commentaries on the Interwar policy of "Appeasement" towards Nazi Germany. 

Truly, the 'sweet spot' for those of us engaged in the (geo-)political commentary business is when we are attracting flakk from all sides! For then we are, perhaps, telling the truth without fear nor favour, in a manner unpalatable to each and every of those who would much rather it remain pleasingly obscured. 

And while there are any number of seriously excellent Low cartoons which spring instantly to mind when I think upon him - many of which heroically characterize, indeed .. movingly anthropomorphize .. the 'Blitz Mentality', the Dunkirk Spirit etc. in a way that cannot help but bring a tear to my eye - what conjured itself from my memory this week was another of Low's pictorial efforts. 

Entitled "Rendezvous", it depicts the tangible results of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, as applies Poland. Meeting atop a face-down corpse in Polish Army uniform, Hitler and Stalin cordially greet one another with courteous bow and doffing of caps - while nevertheless maintaining the pretentious charade that they are indeed enemies.

Says Hitler to Stalin: "The Scum of the Earth, I believe?" 
Stalin to Hitler: "The Bloody Assassin of the Workers, I presume?"

All smiles, all charm, all mutually pursued and eventuated interests. 

Now, this is not intended to be a piece attacking the Soviet Union (or, for that matter, Germany) for the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact. There is a quite a fascinating article (which is, again, not this one) detailing the lengthy and mutually fruitful history of German-Soviet co-operation against the 'Liberal' West, from the Treaty of Rapallo onwards; and especially given the Anglosphere's strenuous opposition to and ongoing interference in Soviet internal affairs from the Revolution onward, such an accomodation should not perhaps be looked upon as nearly as surprising in its then-present context as it inevitably now appears. 

But the reason for Low's "Rendezvous" cartoon turning up with such force in my mind's eye in recent days, was my reading of the outcome of an AP investigation showing that the US-Saudi coalition active in Yemen against the Houthis - has, in point of fact, been rather actively co-operating with Al Qaeda and affiliates. 

This should not in any way come as a surprise. As we have seen in Syria, the Atlanticist axis has absolutely zero problem working with those who they otherwise decry (and righteously so - in rhetoric, at least) as "the scum of the earth". Israel's working with Al-Nusra because of that network's shared opposition to Syria and Iran is a lavish case in point. 

And given the US-Saudi - or, should I say, the Saudi-Israeliya - shared paranoia about Iranian influence, and a Yemen which is genuinely free and out from under the Saudi thumb, we should find it entirely unsurprising that they have absolutely zero issue collaborating with Sunni / Wahhabi extremists against Shi'ite reasonable men. 

But it genuinely infuriates me, that we see all of this rhetoric - all of these ranting, inchoate statements - from various figures active in the US and Israeli and other 'Western' politics, about Iran HAVING to be opposed, because they are allegedly "Islamic Extremists" or "State Sponsors of Terrorism" ... when these aforementioned countries, their clandestine and Neocon-aligned Deep States see no problem with actively colluding with the ACTUAL and real Islamic Extremists, and themselves becoming the State Sponsors of Terrorism instead. 

Nietzsche once wrote something about those who fight monsters having to take care lest they turn into monsters. He neglected to add that those who fight heroes - for such, Hezbollah, the Houthis, the Iranians, the Russians, and others most assuredly are - can far more inevitably find THEMSELVES turning into Monsters. 

The relevancy for that David Low cartoon for this situation should prove capaciously obvious. 

Although, now that I think upon it, there is one absolutely key difference.

Namely, in the "Rendezvous" illustration, both Hitler and Stalin are posed over a deceased and functionally 'erased' figure representing the now-dead dream of an independent Poland. 

Whereas, in these situations I am talking about in the contemporary Middle East ... the Americans, Saudis, and Israelis - along with their apparent Al Qaeda (et co) allies - are not posed over a dead-and-dessicated national liberation cause. Nor are they cheerily greeting each other in the jubilance of victory. 

Rather, they are nervously glancing at one another, contemplating what they shall have to do next in the series of ever-escalating quasi-clandestine unprincipled actions evidently required to desperately shore up their regional (and global) hegemony. 

Meanwhile, more people continue to read the facts - despite the various efforts by certain states and platforms to make it more difficult for outlets like Fort Russ to get the word out - and come to the inevitable conclusion as to just who MUST be supported in these regional conflicts. 

Come to think of it, that puts me in the mind of another David Low cartoon.

That one's called "ALL BEHIND YOU, WINSTON".


Friday, August 10, 2018

"...And That's How You Get Nazis" - The Polish Example

"We went to WAR to protect Freedom of Speech!"

Gosh, that's a funny way to say "to protect the territorial integrity of Poland".

Now, Interwar Poland was not exactly a bastion of freedom of speech. In fact, the Sanation regime appeared to almost make a virtue out of the targeted repression of freedom of speech and of the press for groups - whether opposition, ethnic, or political minority - which it disagreed with.

But what I find interesting about this situation is the particular effect which the above had on the fledgling Polish state's German minority.

Namely, the ways in which it a) made it more difficult for ordinary Polish-Germans to protest against maltreatment and marginalization in the context of the Polish state; while b), and partially as a result of this, pushing many Germans in Poland to identify more strongly with the politics of a certain party which had just swept to success earlier in the decade in Poland's westward neighbour, if you get my drift.

That is to say, the situation of repression lead to an array of people not otherwise necessarily favourably disposed toward engagement with 'extreme' politics ... and in this particular case, literal Naziism ... to do so; as this was perceived as one of the only remaining "strong" forces capable of pushing back against said perceived repression. Eventually, this culminated in an array of what you might call 'anti-state' activities, of a rather militant nature ... followed by the invasion of Poland near the end of the decade, which triggered the British/Commonwealth/French declarations of War against Germany.

Now, I am not seeking to suggest that the above is a template for what may occur here in New Zealand if we see an escalation in the frequency and 'forcefulness' with which some elements endeavour to constrain (justifiably or otherwise) 'freedom of speech'. I hardly need to start listing the significant differences between Poland in the 1930s and New Zealand today which help to support the statement "It Can't Happen Here" as applied to our context.

Yet it seems a curious thing. Over the last two weeks .. and before that, for much of the last two to three years, we have heard all manner of strident rhetoric about if we *don't* assent to constraining 'freedom of speech' (whether through calls to "punch a Nazi" (with "Nazi", of course, being sufficiently vaguely defined as to be almost as meaningless a term in 'real-life' pugilistic-psephological discourse as it is on the internet), or the more recent endeavours to bar writing critical of the Neoliberal-Neoconservative (geo-)political consensus which pervades the Anglosphere (seriously - I was stunned to hear from an associate visiting the UK that he could not access my work in that country because their government had blocked it), or much of the rest of it ...) ..

... then "that's how you get Nazis" - in the sense that presumably all that's standing between your average, ordinary voter and full-on Hugo Boss uniforms alongside really bad misunderstandings of Indo-European anthropology ... is that they apparently haven't read a bit of 'fake news' on the internet yet.

But as the above-referenced episode from Polish history may show, there is a distinctly non-zero chance that in the manner common to so many prophecies found in the corpus of Greek Myth - that efforts to *prevent* a particular outcome can very well, and *very directly* foster its "(eventual) occurrence.

Or, in other words: what if these "anti-Nazi" measures are, in point of fact, at least occasionally "how you get Nazis"?

Thursday, July 19, 2018

What's Really Behind American Threats Against India



You know, it is a curious thing. When Pakistan made moves about potentially acquiring Russian-made S-400 anti-missile/anti-air system … there was, largely, silence. Yet when India goes to actualize acquisition of S-400 systems as part of a deal with Russia that was negotiated in 2016 – United States moves to impose sanctions on India.
There are two ways to view this. The first is the straight-forward defence-industry perspective. The S-400 is a pretty good system. Indeed, I would contend that it appears to be a *better* system than the US-made Patriot ABM/SAM system. Not least because I am yet to encounter any reports of an S-400 employment demolishing city-blocks in urban areas it is supposed to be defending – as reportedly happened both during Israel’s usage of same during the first Gulf War against Iraqi SCUDs, and more recently in Saudi Arabia during Houthi missile attacks.

Just as we saw with the alleged pressure put on NATO members to acquire wildly expensive US-made F-35 hangar-queens instead of more sensible or proven aircraft … the American defence industry appears to increasingly survive not on providing ‘cutting edge’ hardware to clients (partially, to be fair, due to software issues…) – but rather, through having the “strong arm” of US geopolitical pressure endeavour to apply some form of ‘cutting edge’ to the jugular veins of (non-military) trade-flows between potential customers and the American market.
However, while it would be tempting to simply consider this another bout of American “please-don’t-buy-their-gunboats” “diplomacy”, to do so would be to decontextualize this instance from its place in the broader (and increasingly troubled) Indian relationship with the United States.

In the last few months, we have seen repeated “warnings” from America to India that the US will not tolerate ongoing Indian strengthening of diplomatic and other ties with Iran.
Indeed, the most recent round of these effectively issued India with a straight-up ultimatum to almost immediately abandon its importation of five hundred thousand barrels per day of Iranian oil (this represents Iran’s largest petroleum export market)
Now, while it is again possible to view the above as yet another manifestation of American domestic-producer protection (i.e. the Trump Administration is fairly keen to continue to support expansions in US oil production – something largely made possible through the effects American efforts against both Iran and Venezuela, as well as Russia, have had on price and supply in the global energy market) , this misses the geopolitical realities at play here – as well as, come to think of it, the historic precedence for same.
By pursuing positive relations with Iran, maintaining its strong relations with Russia, and also continuing to build upon the last decade or so’s perhaps striking relationship-building with America … all at the same time … India is demonstrating a sound application of the principle of “Multipolarity” in practice.
And as it happens, this is not a new ‘stance’ nor situation for India, either – once upon a time, She was the leading state of the Non-Aligned Movement.
Yet however much sense it might make for India (and, indeed, the world at large) to embrace Multipolarity in geopolitical affairs, the Americans have never been particularly keen on the idea. Not since they started to realize they were a true global (super)power, at any rate.

As we will recall from the Cold War – the American position tended to be that you either ‘picked’ them or the Soviets; with endeavours at ‘doing business’ with both ‘sides’ strongly discouraged. A situation which, I would argue, actually *cost* them a considerable number of potential amicable diplomatic relationships for basically no reason other than pride and pedantry.
And while this would be bad and limiting enough for the ‘client states’ in question, what has invariably made it worse is the American insistence upon ‘paternalism’ in these relationships.
That is to say, point-blank refusing to countenance their dealings with other sovereign states in the course of such arrangements as anything like a ‘conversation’ of even notional equals, or actual ‘partners’ who each bring to the table valid points of view.

Instead, as we are seeing with the recent threats against India – a far more ‘unilateral’ approach is taken, perhaps as befits an ‘Imperial Center’ who’ve come to view themselves as some horrendous combination of “Hyperpower” and “Chakravartin”.
A unipolar hegemon who, it would appear, has all but forgotten what it is to have “friends” on the international stage, in avowed preference of viewing its associates as something altogether more akin to “satrapies”.

And to be fair here – both to the US in general, as well as to the Trump Administration in particular – this is not entirely a new phenomenon. If one were to look not at all that far back in the annals of history, something like the unjust demands made of Japan by America at the Plaza Accords in 1985 stands out as an emblematic example. Or, for that matter, the US’s straight-up diktat-orial refusal to compromise with New Zealand over the issue of their nuclear ships in our waters which was occurring roughly contemporaneously.
Going back further, and further-afield, we can find any number of Imperial powers carrying out similar conduct with regard to smaller or otherwise less ‘potent’ polities, and for avowedly similar reason.
Although the funny thing about that is – this kind of arrogant and aggressive conduct not infrequently occurs toward the *end* of a given Power’s tenure as ‘giant in the playground’.
How long, for instance, did it take Athens to go from purporting to uphold (Greek) Freedom against a tyrannous “evil empire” … through to the much-changed rhetoric of the Melian Dialogue (wherein the Athenians abandoned the high-minded pretenses the Delian League was nominally founded under, and proceeded to offer terms to the previously neutral state of Melos which literally amounted to “Join (and pay exorbitant tribute) Or Die” ) … and from thence to escalating rebellion among its previous ‘allies’ in response to increasingly brutal Athenian conduct, followed not long after by Spartan triumph and Athenian geopolitical and political collapse.
With all of that in mind, the Americans would perhaps be advised to ponder whether this ongoing campaign of attempted-intimidation against a rising Great Power in pursuit of very much *temporary* gains against a regional adversary or for their less-competitive domestic industries … is actually likely to be “worth it” in the longer run.
We have all heard the aphorism “Don’t Poke The Bear”, in deference to Russia.
Perhaps, as applies the American interaction with India, the US would be wise to recall another maxim – “Don’t Tread On” the Cobra.


Tuesday, July 17, 2018

If You're Serious About Southern - This Is The Next Logical Step

A bit of an odd thought I had earlier this morning about this Lauren Southern free-speech-or-na controversy.

Now, the reason people are objecting to various efforts to have the ban lifted on Southern & Molyneux utilizing Auckland Council venues for their tour .. is at least partially because of what these figures have said, or are likely to say. And in the case of Southern, that almost certainly entails a repetitive series of rhetorical attacks on "Islam". [I mean seriously, her last book is entitled "Barbarians: How Baby Boomers, Immigrants, and Islam Screwed My Generation"]

I mention this point in particular, because while s61 of the Human Rights Act makes it unlawful to "excite hostility against or bring into contempt" racial/ethnic groups in a variety of contexts ... I am unaware of any parallel and corresponding prohibition on doing likewise against religious groups or adherents on a similar basis.

Except, of course, for s123 of the Crimes Act - which covers "Blasphemous Libel". Although given the complicated and convoluted elements around *that* particular offence [including the requirement for Attorney-General approval for any potential prosecution, as well as the fact that it's been almost a hundred years since that offence was last prosecuted here, and the additional legal question as to whether it applies to anything other than Anglicanism] ... it may actually be even *less* useful in this regard than the notoriously over-extended Human Rights Commission.

Now, one potential solution here would be to bring in something analogous to s295A of the Indian Penal Code - which effectively acts as a blanket prohibition on attempts to "outrage religious feelings" or "insult" a religion or its followers.

However, I suspect that this would be more than a bridge too far for many of the people presently protesting the protest relating to Southern & Molyneux.

And, indeed, seem to directly recall a not insignificant number or spectrum of those against the block on Southern & Molyneux using a Council venue being at least somewhat in favour of the repeal of the aforementioned s123 of our Crimes Act - often on grounds of freedom of speech.

Now to be clear about this - I am *conspicuously not taking a position in favour of allowing Southern & Molyneux* into said Council-owned venue with this post.

Instead, I am simply putting forward two points: first, that if I take at face value the rhetorical stances of a reasonable number of the people *against* Southern & Molyneux being able to speak at the Bruce Mason Centre ... then the obvious 'next step' becomes something akin to the aforementioned criminal offence under Indian law.

And second, that I rather suspect if push were actually to come to shove, a not-insignificant number of the aforementioned group would quite probably balk at the idea of actually putting up a barrier (particularly one which might actually have some 'legislative teeth') to being able to attack - or, if you prefer, "speak out against" - (a) religion(s).

Perhaps I am wrong about this. Maybe I've propounded a false assumption, and most if not all of the people presently being vocal about how causing offence and inciting disharmony in the community *on a racialine basis* ought not come within the ambit of 'protected' speech ... also share similar concerns when it comes to religion and religious adherents.

Particularly when it's in the direction of those of us who're religious minorities here in this country.

But for a number of reasons, I do not think that I am.

Which, of course, raises an interesting follow-up: as if one is not to be allowed to rhetorically attack other people or ethnic/racial groupings on the basis of their ethnic/racial origins ... but *is* to be allowed to rhetorically attack the culturo-religious elements of their personhood regardless:

We have effectively set up a situation wherein no matter the colour of skin or where you come from, you are free to be a relatively liberal white person on the inside without fear of attack or disparagement.

And little-to-nothing else.

Funny thing, there - I'm pretty sure that's an integral part of Lauren Southern's desired vision for Western society.

Monday, June 25, 2018

US Withdrawal From UN Human Rights Council Is Cold War Caricature



The US having issues around 'inconvenient truths' on human rights being brought up at the UN is not exactly a new phenomenon. This cartoon from the height of the Cold War depicts then-US President John F. Kennedy facing off against then-Premier/First Secretary of the Soviet Union, Nikita Khrushchev.

It depicts a pretty common sort of exchange in those days - wherein the United States would issue some strident declamation of human rights abuses supposedly occurring within the Soviet Union ... and the Soviets would respond along the lines of "...and you are lynching black people".

In the early part of the 1960s, this was very much a factual statement. And it does disrupt somewhat both the then-current and more recent contemporary 'idyllic' self-image Americans have historically harboured of their own position as an upholder and champion of international human rights.

Although it is not exactly a new thing. After all, almost two hundred years beforehand, no less a personage than Dr. Samuel Johnson had proclaimed of the sentiments underpinning the American Revolution - "How is it that we hear the loudest yelps for liberty among the drivers of negroes?"

Another somewhat regular skirmish between the Superpowers is illustrated (literally, in this case, I suppose) via the other two 'cards' in Khrushchev's hand. Namely, the habitual Soviet response to allegations of the USSR propping up certain autocratic or otherwise 'nasty' regimes with poor human rights records ... through pointing out the American practice of doing exactly this for a range of international pariahs, where and as geopolitically convenient.

Indeed, while somewhat indicative of the sorts of regimes being countenanced as endorsable by the Americans at that point (and it is, perhaps, an open question as to whether things have gotten better or worse in more recent years with the ascent of Saudi Arabia et co into that position); if anything, a 'mere' two cards to cover this is a critical under-representation.

I mean, if we want to talk of eschewing sanction upon outright *monstrous* governments at the UN - it is probably rather important to note that the Americans *outright supported* the Khmer Rouge at this forum *for years*. As in, due in large part to geopolitical considerations (in particular a spiteful and needlessly vindictive desire for vengeance against Vietnam for *daring* to not lose their eponymous war of liberation against the Americans), the US actively protected the Khmer Rouge's international recognition and "legitimacy" at the UN - even continuing to do so for nearly a decade [from 1982-1991] following the Khmer Rouge's ouster from Cambodia and transition into the key/dominant part of a Cambodian 'government in exile'.

This is without getting into the US's shameful record both at the UN itself and in support of its allies (hilariously enough, at that point low-key including China) through the same forum in the context of the Bangladeshi Liberation War in 1971, which I've written about capaciously elsewhere. (Cliffnotes version: the Americans attempted to shield Pakistan from first criticism/scrutiny ... and then from an Indian intervention carried out to stop a genocide that killed millions of people, through a multifaceted array of UNGA and UNSC efforts; with US actions in that last arena arguably arcing toward the seeking of sanction for American-led military intervention *against India* (who let's remember - are the unquestionable Good Guys in this situation), before the Pakistani military collapse rendered further American assistance efforts pointless)

Or any of the dozens of other examples, in an ongoing pattern arcing right up through to the present day (and yes, including Israel), which show that this sort of 'deplorable' (indeed - outright hypocritical) conduct has been very much the 'rule' rather than the 'exception' in terms of American (mis/ab)use of the UN when it comes to rights-discourse.

With all of that in mind, we should perhaps be rather unsurprised about the apparent American stance of treating its ongoing participation in this international forum as something of a game - or at best, a pantomime performance in which certain 'motions' (of condemnation or reflexive countering, and suchlike) are gone through in order to deflect and deter from 'deeper' motivations being criticized or exposed.

After all, it has quite some experience at it.

Dr Johnson again: "Men more frequently require to be reminded than informed."

__________________

As a contemporary addendum on this issue:

If the Americans were genuinely concerned about being seen to lend legitimacy to a human-rights body that was hypocritical in its ambit, then I would have expected them to raise this furore a few years back in 2016, when Saudi Arabia secured its ongoing position thereupon. Or its [Saudi's] success the previous year in attaining the chairmanship of the UNHRC panel which does the selection and appointing of independent experts to investigate rights abuses etc. Or perhaps a year later, when it somehow wound up chairing a related UN Commission on the Status of Women. Or its utilizing of its position on the UNHRC to block efforts to investigate the commission of war-crimes committed by a "certain country"'s forces in Yemen.

But, of course, this didn't happen. And as a point of interest, Nikki Haley's statement on the reasoning for the US withdrawal from the UNHRC, despite singling out a number of countries by name which were alleged to be worse than Israel as 'proof' that the whole thing was hopelessly biased .... somehow neglected to mention *at all* this ongoing series of near-farcical blunders as applies the noted American geopolitical ally (both on and off the Council), Saudi Arabia. Indeed, nowhere in the statement is Saudi Arabia even mentioned - presumably because the best tactic when it comes to 'defending the indefensible' is to attempt to distract the attention with something else entirely.

Gosh, it is almost like the US is motivated less by altruistic concern for the state of human rights in international affairs, and more by a combination of political point-scoring and endeavours to shield its friends from scrutiny or significant criticism.


Wednesday, June 20, 2018

Why I'm Not That Concerned About ACT Twerking Its Way To 2020 Victory

It has been said that history occurs twice - the first time, as tragedy ... but the second time as farce.

Although as applies ACT, with the exception of what they've done to the Nation, you can probably ditch the first bit. 

With that in mind, it's probably useful at this point to take a bit of a closer look at the prediction being advanced in certain quarters that David Seymour's efforts on a certain reality tv show of late might somehow singlehandedly revive the ACT Party. As an actual "party", I mean, rather than an entity whose Parliamentary Caucus can currently be counted using the single finger of one hand. 

It may be a matter for the viewer as to precisely *which* finger this is, or whether it's in the direction of the Caucus in question or the general public.

But in some ways, you've got to give it to Seymour. Despite evidently possessing two right feet, and generally all the grace of Roger Douglas in a state-owned china shop, he's managed to hang in there - both in Parliament and, thus far, on Dancing With The Stars - through every reckoning with the tallied votes of the electorate-at-large. 

Now, I don't mean to suggest that Seymour is therefore twerking proof that Democracy Does Not Work, anywhere outside of a coat-tail slithering southward from Epsom. Although it is interesting to observe that his psephological efforts both on and off television have made capacious use of the frivolous to attempt to reach a younger audience in a desperate bid to hoover up potential party votes ... or txt-in votes on one's cellphone ... to keep the whole thing going another round. 

During the 2014 General Election, for instance, he effectively turned himself into a meme with the whole "Hi! Hi! Hi! Hi! Hi!" thing. It was .. odd, it was awkward, and it provoked no end of parody. But in the end, it was memorable; it was (apparently) relatable; and to quote the old military adage - "if it's stupid, but it works, then it's not stupid". It certainly drew a rather stark line under the previous ACT-flavouring of John Banks Lite. 

In 2017, he effectively abandoned the previous Parliamentary Term's attempts at being a perhaps-unexpected liberal-amenable Mister Sensible on social-conscience issues like euthanasia and abortion law reform ... to instead push a re-run of ACT's "greatest hits" [there's an 's' missing from that phrase, you may have noticed] around "fiscal responsibility" etc, along with headline-grabbing profanity in an official context directed at a fellow Parliamentarian. I was rather disappointed by that, and feel he made the wrong decision - as the potential vote for "practical applications of principled libertarianism", so to speak (which would also include his advocacy around compensation for wrongfully convicted figures, and other such things) , would *surely* be larger in scope than that for yet another round of effectively ineffectual-posturing warmed over 1990s rhetoric. 

But in any case, it's all rather academic - as this "super serious" (while being more than a touch supercilious) approach actually saw ACT's vote *decrease* in both percentage and absolute terms. 

I suppose this makes Seymour's Stars run rather more obviously understandable. People have said that a politician going onto a show such as this risks losing any gravitas in the eyes of the general public, and thus comprehensively ruining further shots at re-election. These people have, of course, not accounted for Tim Shadbolt (whose run on the show, in a similar manner  to Seymour, seemed to consist of a long-running series of his outlasting better dancers thanks to the oft-curious whims of Democracy ... aided and availed, if I recall correctly, by Shadbolt announcing that persons issued with parking tickets in Invercargill could pay them by voting for him via txt in the contest). 

They also possibly haven't reckoned with the notion that when you're preciously low in the "gravitas" stakes anyway - to the point of quite possibly being turfed out in the next electoral cycle and therefore winding up with all the lack of stature of a failed politician (no disrespect to Marama Fox in this regard) - that it may very well seem like there's little, other than one's electorate seat, left to lose with the only way from there being up. 

Provided one is neither Rodney Hide's partner in 2006, nor Rodney Hide in the hands of *his* partner [i.e. the National Party] in 2011 - in which case, the downward trajectory, via dropping, is also a possibility. 

But I digress. 

If it is, indeed, the case that Seymour is deploying a *deliberate* attempt at "ridiculing his way to victory", so to speak, then while there *is* a certain chance that this might work (presuming he doesn't unduly alienate the grandee burghers of the leafy boughs of Epsom, upon whom his and his party's survival effectively depends) ... there is *also* a chance - and one of escalating magnitude in direct proportion to his relative success at the former endeavour - that once again attaining a plurality of seats (for the first time in what - a decade?) leads to serious harm for the ACT Party overall. 

I would have said "a mortal blow", but at this point in the game, it almost seems like the sand in ACT's hourglass is occasionally prone to actually flowing *sideways* (to the right, naturally) rather than running out in any sensible, predictable fashion.

How am I suggesting that success at the ballot box might actually *harm* rather than *help* ACT? 

Well, it's simple. The trouble with a 'reductio ad absurdum' approach is that absurdity pretty much inevitably results. David Seymour managing David Seymour is, for the most part, probably not too difficult. David Seymour managing two to five (being rather generous, and assuming that Simon Bridges doing odd things for a National leader like supporting a nurses' strike leads to some blue votes going yellow a la 1999/2002) ACT MPs may be quite a different matter. 

After all - consider just what happened to ACT in 2008. 

Then, whether you wish to attribute a substantive causative role to Rodney Hide on Stars for this or not, ACT somehow attained sufficient votes for five MPs. The four List MPs were drawn from the assembled ranks of ACT's List [I hesitate to term it a "talent pool" - as this presumably implies a body of water with a greater depth than that of the pre-Markle Windsor gene-pool .. although I suppose it's still deep enough to drown in, either way]; and within the space of about two years had seemingly made ACT virtually unelectable through a series of escapades I would have described as "singularly bizarre" but for their ongoing recurrence. 

A full accounting of these (I'm not sure that a full accounting *for* them would even be possible) is beyond the scope of this piece. Although suffice to say that over the course of the 2008-2011 Parliamentary Term, pretty much every single one of ACT's MPs, whether part of the initial 2008 intake or brought in from the bench following the ignominious exits of same, managed to cover themselves in a substance not quite akin to "glory". 

However in John Boscawen's case, that substance actually turned out to be "lamington"

The first signs of trouble, chronologically speaking, were the succession of coup attempts against Rodney Hide authored by pretty much half the non-Hide Caucus and back-room people besides. Because obviously - attempting to politically assassinate the one man whose political success your entire party quite literally depends on, for being insufficiently ideologically puritan for the tastes of Roger Douglas, is a seriously *smart* thing to do. 

To be fair, as applies Heather Roy's role(s) in the above, it does appear that she also was in receipt of a certain degree of fire from Rodney; with it being something of an open question I have no desire to attempt to answer as to which directions blame ought be apportioned in that particular internecine quagmire. Although Hide's own take on events seemed to suggest that Roy was under the 'improper influence' of an allegedly drug-distributing aide with whom she may or may not have been having an affair ... probably didn't help things.

Matters then got worse when we were treated to the "Day of the Jackarse" scandal, starring David Garrett and one dead baby. A frankly bizarre scenario which was rendered all the more distasteful by Garrett's holding of his party's law and order portfolio, and pretty harsh positions in opposition to 

Garrett's replacement, one Hilary Calvert, didn't so far as I know manage to break any laws; but while politicians up and down the country may frequently have their faces plastered on billboards or buildings in order to sell themselves to the electorate ... it is perhaps a bit of an odd look to lend one's visage to a brothel with the presumable intention of assisting in the attraction of clientele

And on and on it went. 

WIth all of this considered, National's rather heavy-handed decision to intervene in the erstwhile free market ... party in 2011, by replacing Hide with a Statler & Waldorf combo of Don Brash & John Banks, seems perhaps less inexplicable than it might otherwise have been. I still think that the otherwise comedic pairing of Brash (a .. curiously principled, if occasionally ignorant Libertarian - c.f his comments on drug-law reform later that year) and Banks (pretty much the exact opposite in terms of both principles and the possession of them) was pretty much doomed from the start in the long term; and that it speaks to an inherent contradiction festering at what used to be the heart of the ACT Party between both 'conservative' and 'liberal', as well as 'realpolitik how do we win Epsom' vs 'what're we in politics to do anyway' wings. 

But again, I digress.

My core point is thus:

ACT found itself in such sufficient dire straits that it might very well have requested a custom kitchen delivery ... in large measure because it "outran its supply-lines" with the perhaps somewhat unexpected growth it experienced as a result of the 2008 General Election. Maybe it genuinely thought everybody in the upper tier of its List was actually worthwhile for Parliament - and, more importantly from the perspective of the Party, capable of actually functioning together as a team (perhaps ironic for a bunch of atomized individualists). 

Except as fine as all of that might have been in theory .. in reality it proved untenable. 

A common complaint, to be sure, with much of what ACT has historically said and done, in a number of forums.

The nature of the personalities involved, the way in which pre-existing conflicts within ACT found themselves *growing* in stature rather than fading into the background with a larger Parliamentary Caucus, coupled with the additional pressures of being in - or at least relatively "near" - Government ... well, ACT began to tear itself apart.

And odds are, it either wouldn't have happened, or at the very least wouldn't have been *nearly* as bad, had ACT only possessed a Caucus of a single MP. I nearly wrote "or perhaps two or three" - but then remembered what happened to United Future a few years earlier when it turned out that having a Caucus of three people provides ample opportunity for not just a three-way split in Parliament .. but the fragmentation of one's party into at least three disparate and irreconcilable parties by the next Election.

I guess what I'm trying to say is - I'm not too terribly worried about David Seymour quite literally twerking ACT's way to victory come 2020; as in the questionably likely event that it somehow nets him a few additional MPs, it seems stunningly plausible that ACT will once again become a "victim of their own success". And in a manner perhaps reminiscent of the British Empire ... collapse at first very gradually, and then all at once.

The "problem", in other words, looks set to be largely self-correcting, in the fullness of time.

Now to be fair, other than economic policy, I have nothing against David Seymour personally. In point of fact, he's actually either directly helped me out a few times, or offered to do so, and in all cases off his own bat (I respect him quite a bit for that - it'd be easy enough to just conclude somebody's an adversary and leave the hand unextended as a result); and like I said above, there's certain areas of what he was banging on about circa 2014-2017 that were arguably not just agreeable but *necessary* from a reasonably liberal left-wing perspective.

I also think that it takes some pretty respectable boldness to both front up as leader of a .. somewhat flagging political party year in and year out - but also, and perhaps more especially, to be willing to subject yourself to the travails and turgidities of reality television. Particularly when it seems abundantly clear to pretty much everyone that you're not one of the better acts on show in the context. Either context, arguably, come to think of it.

So none of what I've written above should necessarily be taken as any form of broadside in his specific direction. Indeed, in parts arguably quite the opposite.

But in the perhaps unlikely event that Seymour manages to increase his numbers in Parliament without the usage of a mirror, it still seems pretty inevitable that the further down ACT's Greasy Pole one gets, the greater the chance that what we might encounter thereupon is significantly more grease yet considerably less pole.

Indeed, to end with a dancing metaphor [thankfully, and despite the twerking incident, not *also* involving the pole] - Seymour may find himself in a similar position to Hide before him.

Not the dropping your partner bit, I mean (although potential for droppery by National  should perhaps never be ruled out); but rather that of presiding over a Parliamentary Caucus with all the gravitas of Morris Dancing - and the rough forward momentum of a drunken conga-line, on rollerskates, with knives forming a not-infrequent mechanism of attachment to the figure in front.

Friday, May 11, 2018

"If This Is Marxism Then I Am Not A Marxist" - What Would Karl Think Of The PRC Claiming His 200th Birthday?



It kinda amuses me, kinda infuriates me how much of a big deal the People's Republic of China's been making in relation to Marx's birthday over the weekend.

I mean, even leaving aside Marx's own thoughts about how the "Asiatic Mode of Production" didn't really fit into his model of historical-economic-political progression ... and therefore was *extra* inapplicable for dialectical materialism leading to communism therein ....

the plain fact of the matter is that the PRC *consciously and deliberately* jettisoned Marxist dogma and Marx's own thought at a number of points in its relatively short history.

I forget the precise date, but at some point in the iirc mid-1950s, Marxism [admitedy in Soviet-esque inflection for official purposes] was pointedly replaced by "Mao-Thought" ... which, some might argue, bore about as much resemblance to the Marxist theory it claimed to be derived from as Nu Metal does to Black Sabbath.

The reasons for this movement are multifaceted, and do include "political" considerations related to the escalating Sino-Soviet Split ... but at their core, boil down to a combination of it being blatantly obvious just how inapplicable Marx's own thinking was to the ongoing "progress" of the Maoist "revolution" and presumably a certain helping of Mao's own overblown ego-ism.

Some decades later, it happened again as a part of the Deng-ist shift towards the entirely oxymoronical "Socialism with Chinese Characteristics" - which, while it might very well have been Chinese, had and has precious little to do with "Socialism" .. and even *less* to do with Marx.

This all results in a modern state of affairs wherein the Chinese state somewhat breathlessly claiming in gifts of statuary etc. to be Marx's ideological heirs ... is instead operating its system as pretty much the *opposite* of what Marx would have approved of - a paradigm of pretty seriously repressive capitalism buttressed by constant outbursts of jingoism and militant imperialism that keeps inexorably arching towards #FullNeoliberalism #InOurTime.

I mean seriously. If you want to do the intellectual contortionisms required to try and say that the modern PRC is Marxist ... then you're basically left concluding that anything which intentionally presides over economic growth and development is "Marxist".

And, to be fair, that's kinda how *some* of the thinking behind the Great Leap Forward supposedly went. When it wasn't a shoddy-steel dick-measuring contest with Great Britain or carrying out mass-purges of Mao's despised natural enemy .. the sparrow.

But the trouble is that while you *can* argue that advancing economic conditions from feudalism through to capitalism [or, if we're disregarding the whole "Asiatic Mode of Production" thing ... from whatever to Capitalism], and from thence to *higher* capitalism, according to Marx's own schema *might* make the "inevitable" revolution more plausible coz advancing internal contradictions and suchlike driving the whole thing to breaking point ...

... the slight issue here is that if the authority [I hesitate to call it a "revolutionary body"] propelling the economic shifts is *also* brutally repressing any actual attempt to turn the popular harm and discontent of these economic "advancements" into an actual political movement to overturn them and seize the means of production etc. (which are handily now often in a number of wealthy groups and individuals' hands rather than being even "nationalized" much less "socialized" over there), then it is pretty difficult ot meaningfully claim that what you're doing is somehow "Marxist" rather than "Get-Rich-Quick-Ist" - or simply "Capitalism with Marxist MSG-ing" or something.

This is particularly the case given a) the huge over-emphasis upon Cults of Personality (and one in particular) that have characterized the Chinese political experience for a pretty big swathe of the past century; b) the aforementioned uber-strong emphasis upon regime security and political repression - things anathema to Marx's own life, as it happens, even notwithstanding the vital necessity of either an open space for dissension or an escalating ineffectiveness of repression for a Revolution to actually forment and occur; and c) the fact that the overarching 'outcome' of all of this appears very much to *not* be a universal uprising of Proletariat - but instead, a resurrection of the old Confucian concept of the "Mandate of Heaven", and the gradual expansion of this sphere (possibly a "co-prosperity" one) to encompass a pretty broad swathe of the globe under either direct Chinese suzerainty (c.f their territorial claims on India, for instance), or indirect economic neo-colonialism (c.f their relations with a number of less-well-off and less-independent countries including to a certain extent our own New Zealand). Something that is part and parcel bound up with d) a strenuous effort to manufacture what an older generation of Marxists would have rightfully termed "false class consciousness" in order to stave *off* any deposing of the capitalist-coercive regime in power in Beijing or elsewhere; which is e) itself not a "dictatorship of the proletariat", still less even a Lenninist "Vanguard Party" - but rather an establishment network of technocratic managerialist damn well mandarins ... that represent the *actual* salient force and engine in Chinese politics and political economy rather than the vague and impersonal "class struggle" - and that's without even getting into how f) the "class" dimension has moved from "let's build an industrial proletariat or something" through to "let's get a middle class and some seriously well off people happening" instead [there's another discursion somewhere about Marx's failure to properly predict "The Middle Class" as a thing .. but THAT IS ANOTHER STORY FOR ANOTHER TIME]

Now don't get me wrong - there's much to look at in China's last few decades of history and self-authored economic development which is ... pretty impressive. Particularly if you don't really care about any human costs that might have been borne in the process.

And from a certain perspective, it would be perhaps difficult to fault the PRC from acting in its own self-interest and managing to take China from the decaying post-Qing quasi-colonized ruins of the early half of the 20th century ... through to an emergent Great Power fully capable of carrying out many of the same antics which the (predominantly) European metropoles wrought upon the world at large (and China in particular, funnily enough) over the previous three hundred years or so.

Ironic, arguably, but that's the nature of history and international relations. A bitter joke from the perspective of the less-powerful and a richly rewarding punch-line for the Ascendent among the assembled chorus of states.

But whatever its relative merits or shortcomings as a system and a project, I do not believe that it is in any meaningful way "Marxist" - so much as almost the opposite, a "mirror image" say (hence why everything is *exactly the wrong way round* while still possessing similar shape to the passive observer).

In fact, it seems rather hard to escape the supposition that we know very well how Marx himself would have reacted and responded to the PRC attempting to claim his legacy as their own.

In 1883, not long before his death, Karl Marx penned a missive to two French socialists who claimed to be acting in his ideology's name ... first calling them out for "revolutionary phrase-mongering" in lieu of actual, meaningful pro-Worker activity (a charge which seems peculiarly relevant to the People's Republic of China whenever it chooses to LARP as a "revolutionary front" or whatever - although this aptness of a phrase is perhaps somewhat ironic given what Marx was actually critiquing Guesde and Lafargue on at the time was their opposition to "reformism" within a capitalist context), and then bluntly stating that if what these guys were doing was Marxism, then "what is certain is that I myself am not a Marxist".

Good thing, too.

Because i'm *pretty sure* that being a dissident journalist slash philosopher publishing frequent and passionate exhortations to building a better and more just society ... is the sort of thing that gets you placed under indefinite house-arrest or in several peoples' bodies one organ at a time over in the PRC these days.

And it would be *quite* a shame to lose him!