Notes On The News
by Gwydion M Williams
There was nothing worthy or noble about what the USA was doing in the world in 2001. With the Soviet collapse of 1989-91, they had a unique opportunity to create a world in which loose talk about International Law would actually have meant something. If they didn’t like the existing structures – the UN and other bodies – they could have proposed something different and probably got it. Not many people respect the UN, and it has been largely forgotten that it was the United States that made it look ridiculous by manipulating and undermining its efforts in the Congo. The idea of scrapping the UN and absorbing it into some better-designed world body would have been very feasible.
But the USA in 1991 was seeking domination and perpetual superiority, not order or justice. They wanted to be able to criminalise any government that annoyed them, while making sure their own people were untouchable. They wanted to be confident that any government they liked was also safe, no matter what it had done.
There was also a US view that any government that dared advance socialism must be attacked, even if it had been duly elected through regular multi-party elections. That had, after all, been the policy throughout the Cold War, and also before the unavoidable alliance with the Soviet Union in World War Two. Fascist Italy, Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan were able to build up power and break such International Law as existed, because both Western Europe and the USA saw them as useful against both Communism and Socialism. No one except a few left-wingers boycotted the Berlin Olympics in 1936, even though Hitler had already replaced conventional multi-party politics with personal dictatorship and had made Jews officially inferior and non-citizens.
Everything done by Nazi Germany was fine up until 1938, when the bulk of the British ruling class suddenly realised that Churchill was right to see Hitler as a peril. They became anti-Fascist only when they realised that Hitler was intending to overthrow Britain’s global power rather than being content to be the strongest power within Continental Europe. And it seems that the splitting of Czechoslovakia and the annexation of the Czech portion was the tipping point: that at least is the standard story that people told after the event, to explain why most of the Tories and Liberal before then had favoured co-existence with Hitler and even some help for Hitler. My assumption is that it was not because splitting Czechoslovakia was unusually morally bad, but because they were a defiance by Germany of the system of friendly co-existence that Chamberlain had thought he had established with the Munich Agreement.
The Czechoslovak government that Chamberlain bullied into accepting the Munich Agreement was Moderate Socialist. The country had a large and legal Communist Party, and it had made a treaty with the USSR that would have ensured they helped defend Czechoslovak if France were willing to do the same. Of course the Czechoslovak mainstream was in no sense pro-Communist: the Czech Legion, formed from Czech and Slovak prisoners of war from the Austro-Hungarian Army who had switched over to fight alongside the Tsar’s army, had been an important anti-Bolshevik force during the Russian Civil War. But on the whole, it was too leftist for Britain and Chamberlain
The USA successfully stifled socialism in its internal politics, and after World War Two it took up the global crusade against socialism. The Cold War gave an excuse for this, and also necessitated an alliance with some Moderate Socialists and also some left-wing nationalists who favoured elements of socialism but could be signed up to the anti-communist cause. But with the USSR fallen, it became clear that the USA intended to attack all varieties of socialism wherever it got the chance, regardless of democracy or legality.
This was one aim, and US interests might have been advanced better if it had been given priority over the USA’s other long-term aims. But there was also an irrational attachment to Israel, which in both Britain and the USA goes well beyond those countries’ relatively small Jewish populations. The first half of the Christian bible is all about the wars of ancient Israel, while Arabs and other Muslims were major enemies when Latin-Christian Europe was forming itself into a new civilisation that was very different from its Classical-Roman roots. Latin-Christian Europe had to fight for survival against Islamic expansion, and then struck back with the Islamic concept of Jihad or Holy War incorporated as ‘Crusade’. Crusades are a flat contradiction of the version of Christianity that had grown within the Roman Empire and which eventually captured it under Constantine the Great and his successors. But ‘Crusade’is an important concept to many Christians in the USA today. Most Europeans now view the Crusades as an error and maybe an embarrassment, but the USA has gone a very different way.
In the USA (though not in Britain, as far as I know) determined support for Israel extends to a large block of right-wing Christians who are not at all fond of Jews, including some who see Israel’s expansion as a necessary precondition to the Last Judgement, in which any Jews who fail to convert to an approved brand of Christianity will go to hell, along with all other non-Christians regardless of personal merit. Europeans may see the idea as crackpot: in the USA it has significant support among voters that Republican candidates have to cultivate. And since ambitious Democrats mostly have to cultivate the powerful Jewish lobby, unthinking support for Israel gets imposed on almost all candidates for office in the USA’s complex political system.
There were two basic errors in the USA’s post-1991 political strategy. I speak here of technical errors, not moral errors, which would be too numerous to list. But the key technical errors were
- The demand that Russia follow New Right economic dogma rather than being given generous aid in a new Marshal Plan (which was proposed by a minority).
- The failure to curb Israel when Yasser Arafat was willing to co-exist with Israel and settle for a small Palestinian state.
Both decisions represented victories for the New Right vision, as against the more realistic views of what remained of the Old Right and functional conservatism. When it came to saving a handful of well-connected financial institutions in 2008, billions were found easily enough. Support for Russia in the 1990s would have been a much better investment: it might have set US dominance on a firm basis for decades to come. The attitudes that most Russians had inherited from Soviet times were not so different from those of the USA. They included a commitment to imposing one or other version of Modernism on the rest of the world, and a general belief that the specific values of Europe were the world’s best.
Alienating Russia was the most foolish thing the USA did in its ‘Very Short American Century’. But even today, most of them see it as an explicable outbreak of weirdness among the Russians, who are denounced as wholly to blame.
Letting Israel carry on undermining Arafat, incorporating the West Bank and carry on squeezing the Gaza Strip was also a major error. Not even good for Israel in the long run: a peace settlement accepted by Arafat might have been accepted by most Muslims, whereas any deals made now will be seen as betrayals. In the long run, the views of 20 million Jews globally are unlikely to outweigh the views of 1.4 billion Muslims. Globally, the balance is tipping towards China, India, Brazil and Japan, states that have no strong feeling about Jews but which might well be willing to see Israel abolished in order to conciliate the Muslim fifth of the global population. Within the Arab world, power is passing to Islamists, people who would be much less scared than the secular rulers about Israel’s well-known possession of atomic weapons. Atomic weapons are not that useful against armies: they are formidable as city-killers, but an Islamist might figure that God would take care of the dead and that an Israeli nuclear annihilation of a few Arab cities would advance the cause of Global Jihad.
Israel should have helped Arafat to consolidate his Palestinian state rather than undermining him. The USA should have had a strong leader who could have demanded that Israel do just that, on pain of losing US support. But multi-party democracy makes it much easier to go with the flow and cater to popular emotions and prejudices.
While there were plenty of reasons to dislike and distrust Arafat, a sensible calculation would have been that it was either Arafat or someone much less to Western taste, or else to weak to deliver anything or influence wider Muslim opinion. The New Right were convinced that they knew better: if a firm line was taken with these people, they would fall into line with Western wishes. (Exactly the same calculation was taken in Iraq and Afghanistan, and is the logic behind abandoning Mubarak in Egypt, going to war to topple Gaddafi in Libya and seeking to overturn Assad in Syria.)
Through vanity and incompetence, the USA lost the 1990s and was already in trouble before 1991. It seems that al-Qaeda mounted the mission especially to provoke the USA, because Islamism was generally marginal and was kept under by secular nationalism and conservatism Islam.
“‘Brand America’, in a political sense, has become toxic all over the World. Once upon a time, people in the Muslim world looked at America and Western Europe as their role models. They aspired for their own countries to be Muslim Capitalist democracies, with varying degrees of Islam thrown in to satisfy the religiosity of the masses.
“But a combination of long standing support for Israel, Desert Storm/Iraq ’91, and the 10 year-long War of Terror – Afghanistan, Iraq, Somalia, Yemen and Pakistan – has diminished the standing of the United States and its allies across the whole world.” [D]
On the BBC, at least, we have had repeated ‘human interest’ stories, showing the individual victims of the fall of the Two Towers and the pain their relatives still feel. This is real enough – but so are the sufferings of those bombed by the USA, both before and after 9/11, who are far more numerous. So are the sufferings of those hurt in various conflicts since 1991 that the USA either did nothing about or may have actively encouraged. And most of those suffer in a war they could have done nothing to prevent/ Those who died in the Two Towers of the World Trade Centre would almost all have had some part in the USA’s misbehaviour in the 1990s.
The USA wasted the 1990s. By 2001, the dominant New Right elite had learned nothing and forgotten nothing. Bush Junior saw it as a great opportunity to finish off Saddam Hussein. No one who knew Arab politics could suppose that Saddam and al-Qaeda were anything except bitter enemies, irreconcilable rivals for the future of the Arab world. But since the US public confused the issues, the US could finish its unfinished business in Iraq, where Saddam had survived repeated efforts to spark a successful internal revolt. There was also a belief among the elite that US policies had gone wrong in Russia because the Russians had been foolish or disobedient. If the geniuses of the New Right were given a free hand to reconstruct Iraq, they could turn it into a shining example of the benefits of obedience to US values.
(These same geniuses oversaw the selection of a new flag for Iraq, which included two thin horizontal lines that were justified as representing the two rivers of Mesopotamia, but which gave the flag an unhappy similarity to the flag of Israel, the only other flag I know of that has two thin horizontal lines.[E] The flag was hastily withdrawn, but meantime the reconstruction of Iraq was being bungled and vast amounts of money were legally looted by US Contractors, given jobs that would normally be state-run but which were assigned to contractors by the geniuses of the New Right, who knew from their textbooks that anything run for profit must be much superior to anything run by the state. A working businessman would have taken it for granted that anyone you hire will rip you off unless you watch them carefully: but if anyone in the Occupation Administration knew that, they must have preferred to profit rather than to warn.)
Before the invasion of Iraq, there was the issue of Afghanistan, where Bin Laden and the core of al-Qaeda had taken refuge. This was seen as a pretext for the Afghan War, another opportunity for the geniuses of the New Right to show their immense talent for nation-building.
The initial demand to hand over Bin Laden and suppress al-Qaeda was not flatly rejected by the Taliban. They were interested in imposing their own version of Islam on Afghanistan: they were ready to co-exist with the USA. They simply demanded that the USA follow what the Taliban saw as proper procedures to show that Bin Laden had been genuinely involved in the attack on the Two Towers, which would also mean he would have forfeited the right to sanctuary that the Taliban had granted him. (Something also fundamental to the tribal culture that the anti-Soviet resistance was based within and which the Taliban have incorporated in their new hard-line Islam.)
Had the USA gone through the proper procedures and the Taliban courts had then asserted that Bin Laden was not guilty, they would have forfeited a lot of support, because no one seriously doubted that he was very much involved. By being more patient and respectful of alien customs, the USA could then still have gone to war and looked much better in the eyes of the rest of the world, especially the Muslim world. But being patient and respectful of alien customs would also have been a very un-American thing to do: even left-wing US citizens are mostly unable to do this.
The idea that the USA should treat others as equals and respect their differences was just one of the things that most of the New Right saw as weak and unnecessary, an encouragement to disrespect and disobedience. Imposing unquestioning compliance with US demands was one of the key values of the Very Short American Century
Had the USA gone through the Taliban’s version of Islamic Law in order to secure Bin Laden and al-Qaeda, they might actually have achieved this in 2001 (rather than taking till 2011 to get Bin Laden and facing an al-Qaeda that seems stronger than ever).
Everything that was done in Iraq and Afghanistan – everything that was not done in the case of Israel – has convinced an increasing number of Muslims that the USA is their enemy. This seems not to have got through to most US politicians.
Turkey is the only Muslim nation that has had any military success in the 20th century against Europe and its offshoots. Israel counts very much as a European and US offshoot, even though it has incorporated some Jews from Arab countries. Israel has been the last Western power to display the sort of superiority that the West once regarded as normal and excellent.
Europe’s military rise began with the Spanish conquest of the New World, tiny armies defeating huge empires in the New World. But that did not apply in the wider world: the Spaniards fought on very even terms with the expanding Ottoman Empire. In East Asia they encountered states that were more populous and in many ways more sophisticated than Europe. In East Asia the Spaniards mostly behaved themselves, though in the 16th century they managed to take over the Philippines, which lacked a single strong indigenous state. Meantime the Portuguese held Taiwan (Formosa) for a while, but were thrown out of it by the last Chinese still fighting for the deposed Ming Dynasty. The Chinese Empire under the Manchu Dynasty was the strongest dynasty ever, and before the 19th century it was treated with great respect.
In the 18th century, Europe still had no huge advantage, but the Dutch were able to become dominant in what is now Indonesia – another territory with many small states. The British and French fought a war within the disintegrating Mogul Empire and showed that European troops could defeat much larger numbers of troops native to India, even when they had much the same weapons. With hindsight, we can see that a shift in consciousness had occurred within Western Europe, changes that included the rise of science, the rise of industry and the rise of philosophies independent of the Christian religion. No such shift occurred elsewhere until much later.
The 19th century was the heyday of European dominance. The Ottoman Empire was largely pushed out of Europe, and survived because Britain and France fought the Crimean War on the basis that the Ottoman Empire should keep most of its Balkan possessions. In India, Britain became dominant throughout the subcontinent and was also able to defeat a rebellion by one section of the ‘Sepoys’, the troops native to India who had been trained in European warfare. India was only gradually adapting to the new modes of thought developed in Europe, and the Sepoys in the so-called Indian Mutiny had no better idea than to try to restore the Mogul Emperor, who was lukewarm about the idea. They let themselves be besieged in Delhi by a much smaller European army, mostly because the various commanders could not form a unified force to attack in a coordinated manner. The British had time to gather troops and crush them.
Britain also showed that its navy could dominate the coasts of China and intimidate that vast but decaying Empire. Japan too was intimidated into opening up to trade, and in the Second Opium War in the 1850s a joint European army was able to march on Beijing and burn the famous repository of arts that was the Summer Palace. (Condemned at the time as barbarism by many in Europe, including Victor Hugo.)
A significant change occurred in the 20th century: the Russo-Japanese War of 1904-5 showed that non-Europeans could match European military might, and could do so while retaining much of their own culture. Meantime the Ottoman Empire, now largely expelled from Europe, managed to rally itself under the Young Turks. They had wanted to stay neutral in the Great War, but Britain picked a quarrel with them and declared war on the basis of some doubtful clashes with the Russian in the Black Sea. But Britain no longer had the same advantage: the attack on the Dardanelles failed and an attempt to seize Mesopotamia and its oil ended with the surrender of a British Army, one of only a handful of surrenders by an entire army in British military history. Despite which, the defeat of Germany allowed the victors to break up the Ottoman Empire and seize most of the Arab territories as European colonies, with one chunk of Greater Syria designated Palestine and ear-marked for Jewish settlement, while another chunk with a Christian majority became Lebanon. But meantime Mustafa Kemal (later Ataturk) rallied the Turks as a new nation-state on their core territory. He himself was born in Salonica, then an ethnically mixed city with a Jewish majority and more Turks than Greek, now Thessalonica and almost wholly Greek. He accepted the loss of Ottoman territories, including his native city. He rallied Anatolia and then defeated an invading Greek army to secure the whole of Anatolia and Eastern Thrace, and also ensured that Istanbul would remain Istanbul and not go back to being Byzantium or Constantinople. He faced down the British Empire and made them accept this.
European dominance had become wobbly but was not lost. In China in 1927, the Kuomintang lacked the nerve to take on European powers that ruled the core of Shanghai and chunks of other cities, and freely deployed warships on the Yangtze (A situation that was actually restored after World War Two until the Chinese Communists ended it by shooting and disabling the British warship Amethyst and then decisively defeating some other British warships that tried to rescue it.) Chinese history would surely have gone differently had Chiang Kaishek had the nerve to stand up to the European powers in 1927, but he didn’t. It was left to the Japanese, bogged down in a brutal invasion of China, to deploy their navy and the rest of their armies against the Western powers in East Asia and show they were not so difficult to defeat. The change in the balance was shown by the fall of Singapore in a few days to a Japanese force that had less than half the numbers of the defenders. The Japanese also humiliated the USA at Pearl Harbour, but they lacked oil and in the end their war-machine was defeated more by lack of raw materials than by defeat in battle.
The Korean War began as a mostly Korean conflict, but with US forces finding that they had no significant advantage over the North Koreans. They did show better grand strategy, landing huge numbers of reinforcement, getting behind the North Korean lines and driving them back to nearly the Chinese border. There was an apparent lack of concern at the possibility of Chinese intervention, yet it could be that some people in the USA thought this would be fine and would allow them to conquer China and restore to power the docile Kuomintang. What they had not expected was that the Chinese Peoples Army would knock them back hundreds of miles, as actually happened. They were baffled that ‘Chinese laundrymen’ should be able to do such a thing to first-class US and British troops.[Q] They eventually managed to explain it away by blaming US politicians for not allowing them to expand the war into China itself. They ignored the initial matter of being knocked back hundreds of miles: they learned nothing and forgot nothing and made almost exactly the same errors in Vietnam.
Meantime Israel fighting the Arabs was the one bright spot for believers in Western superiority. A lot of them didn’t much like Jews, but they preferred Jews to Arabs and the ability of Israel to defeat much larger and better-equipped Arab armies was impressive. It was much more that the Arabs had managed only a superficial copy of Europe’s new thinking, whereas European Jews had been part of it since the 18th century. Forming a new army and a new state, they were unburdened by the weight of tradition and the oddities of peacetime armies, they were a very efficient army indeed.
But there were limits. The Egyptians did learn, up to a point, enough to achieve some military success in the Yom Kippur War in 1973. Egypt made peace in 1979. But with the failure to settle the Palestinian question, that peace might come unstuck.
Israel correctly saw the perils of the fall of Mubarak in Egypt, but then failed to react sensibly. The recent storming of the Israeli embassy was provoked by a failure to apologise for killing some Egyptian soldiers in a border clash. They have now also alienated Turkey, their most dangerous possible enemy, by refusing to apologise for an attack on a sea convoy. They seem to have re-created the situation before 1973, enemies who are militarily dangerous
Israel’s supporters will say those states are inherently unfriendly, which is true. But not unfriendly enough to wage war, so far. Failing to apologise is sheer pride, a notion that these are inferior peoples and it would be demeaning to treat them as equals. This isn’t going to work.
Socialism is eclipsed among the Atlantic nations. But functional conservatism is dead among those same nations,
Ordinary people nowadays are much less likely to identify with others in the same situation as themselves. It is very much ‘look out for Number One’, grab any small advantage for yourself and ignore calls for sacrifice.
Back in 1981, a television drama called Boys from the Blackstuff showed how traditional working-class culture was breaking up under the pressure of rising unemployment. One remark stuck with me: “unemployment had made everyone worse”. That’s the right way to see it: they were imperfect to start with but they have got worse. The latest round of riots involved much worse behaviour than was seen in the 1980s round of riots, looting and burning of ordinary people’s shops and homes as well as attacks on rich impersonal chain-stores.
The rioters strike me as being ‘Rebels Without A Clue’. Those who go to jail will come out ‘networked’ to the criminal underworld, of course. But what they were protesting about was unclear, if indeed they were protesting. I doubt that many were on the TUC’s ‘March for the Alternative’, most of them are scatty and selfish.
What you have now is something that might be called Classless Capitalism. From the 1970s there has been a loss of class signals. You find plutocrat workers in sports and entertainment, sometimes even in business. The Punk generation were part of it: there was some notion of radical values, but most of them very easily became money-orientated. It was said at the time that whereas the Hippies were mostly the next generation of the elite and trying to ‘drop out’, Punks were rather more trying to ‘drop in’, and broadly succeeded. There was a loss of the once-significant distinction between weekly or monthly pay, the vanishing of pay packets with real cash. The Industrial Working Class and its traditions have been weakened, but what gets commonly called bourgeois or respectable values have perished. Thatcher undoubtedly thought she was restoring them, but that was not the actual effect of her policies.
Keynes in his day was much smarter, seeing that a ruling class had to be seen to look after everyone if it was to survive. He didn’t like the working class as such, saying after a visit to the Soviet Union:
“How can I adopt a creed which, preferring the mud to the fish, exalts the boorish proletariat above the bourgeois and the intelligentsia who, with whatever faults, are the quality in life and surely carry the seeds of all human advancement?…
“I can be influenced by what seems to me to be justice and good sense; but the class war will find me on the side of the educated bourgeoisie.” [A]
It was in this spirit that the post-1945 reforms were carried out. A fast-expanding economy needs the state, and also a state that actively encourages the process, not just permitting it. (Marx and Adam Smith were both wrong on this.) Britain’s rise to global power was never brought about by pure capitalism. Elements resembling capitalism are found as far back as the ancient city-states of Mesopotamia and it tended to be sluggish, often parasitic.
In Britain, it was the Labour Left that broke the connection between the Labour Party and the bulk of the working class. They seemed to think it was OK to replace them by school teachers etc., people from what had always been viewed as the ‘Professional Classes’, people who had a salary but were on a level with small property and sometimes with the ruling class. This left the party isolated, the lack of organic connection meant that some quite sensible ideas did not get through. A lot of them also showed themselves mostly hostile to workers controlling things for themselves, notably the rejection of Workers Control.
This led on to a moral collapse, New Labour give business interests whatever they asked for. Yet despite the rhetoric, society became more collectivist and the state more intrusive. Only in the new phase it was all optimised for business interests and a rhetoric of individualism was favoured.
The 1970s onwards also saw a sleazy liberation of family life. The two ideas fitted: the state was not fit to manage the economy, morality is impractical and burdensome. It’s a pity, but it is also no good crying over lost roads. When Europe splits from the USA – which I think inevitable in the long run – things might start to change very fast. Because as I said, there is no functional conservatism left.
Since the 1987 riots at Broadwater Farm, most of Britain’s Afro-Caribbean minority has been getting much more integrated. It seems that Broadwater Farm is one of the exceptions. Mark Duggan, the man whose shooting by the police sparked the whole thing, was definitely in possession of a gun and was probably planning revenge for the killing of a cousin and close friend. It seems he was also well-liked in his own community: I see no contradiction in that. Community politics with firearms included.
What’s bizarre is that the police shot him dead when he didn’t even have his gun available to fire, never mind threaten anyone with it. And that the police shot one of their own, and then gave misleading reports so that it sounded like it had been a shoot-out with Duggan. Why they did all this is a puzzle that may become clearer after the inquiry. Certainly, Duggan’s family had plenty of grounds to protest.
A peaceful march was mishandled and led to a riot. But unlike earlier riots, there was random destructiveness. Ordinary families living above shops that were burnt are now homeless. It also seems that the police are refusing to let them return to whatever is left of their homes, they sealed off the area. And that seems unreasonable, they might have asked for proof it was their address and / or had a police officer go with them. But increasingly the police seem to see it as their business to repress everything when there is any outbreak of violence. Despite official talk, they are apt to view the public as potential enemies. Nice work, Thatcher!
That was Saturday. Sunday was fairly quiet, but BBC News, at least, went over almost 100% to reporting the matter. Their headlines mentioning only three other topics: the latest stages in the financial crisis, a Briton killed by Afghans and several Britons attacked and one killed by a polar bear several days ago. (Similar young men tragically killed in road accidents seldom get a single mention outside of local news.)
The BBC also seem to have perfected the art of talking at length without saying very much. I had to check newspaper reports to confirm that it had begun from a small peaceful demonstration. I was interested because a couple of weeks earlier, I had been taking another look at my 1987 article Trickles of Blood. This was about the Broadwater Riot of 1985 and some later violence. And I was thinking it had held up OK, though I had supposed it was mostly of historic interest. The Afro-Caribbean community had mostly integrated, and was also losing its distinct identity through intermarriage. Hindus and Muslims are largely remaining distinct, but only the Muslims have been alienated by the West’s behaviour since the Soviet collapse.
Those were my thoughts on Sunday. But it seems other people were noticing the interesting fact that the Tottenham rioters had got away with massive looting, with the police seemingly unable to stop it. Maybe some of them had also been following the Arab Spring and other cases where demonstrators seemed able to overthrow a modern state.
Oddly, one Chinese report was almost prophetic. Mostly it was paying back Britain for talking up trouble in China and other places. They said:
“If it had happened somewhere else, the chaos would have been given a name, such as ‘chrysanthemum revolution.’ Instead, it was described as overnight violence followed by looting in local media.
“Probably the only logic is since the chaos happened in the UK, the reaction to it by British media was more muted.
“What happened in London on Saturday night had all the elements that stimulate the media: an allegedly unarmed man was killed by police, justice-seeking crowd, angry protestors, police vehicles set afire and confrontations between demonstrators and police.
“No ‘oppression’ took place of course, police were simply doing their duty. According to a statement from 10 Downing Street, the police and public faced ‘aggression,’ and the property damage that occurred was ‘unacceptable.’
“British media are neither deeply troubled by the ethnic tension in London, nor are they interested to guess the impact it will have on authorities.
“No human rights organizations expressed their concerns about the conditions residents of north London are experiencing.” [A]
In London itself, some people realised how serious it was getting:
“I am appalled, dismayed and horrified by the level of destruction that took place. I wouldn’t defend the indefensible; however I would like to provide an insight into the mindset of someone willing to burn down their own neighbourhood as I believe that on this point, little has changed since the disturbances on Broadwater Farm 26 years ago.
“To behave in this manner young people have to believe they have no stake in the neighbourhood, and consequently no stake in wider society. This belief is compounded when it becomes a reality over generations, as it has done for some. If the riots at the weekend and the disturbances around London today have come as a surprise to the police and that wider society, the warning signs have long been there for those of us who engage with black youths.
“First, looting comes from the belief that if you cannot get equality and cannot expect justice, then you better make sure that you ‘get paid’. ‘It’s all about the money!’ is the motto of too many young black men, who have given up all hope of attainment in a white man’s world. This is an absolute belief for those looting at the weekend – born not only out of their experiences but their parents’, too. They want to follow the rappers and athletes who live ghetto-fabulous lifestyles based on natural talents, as opposed to learned skills. They can’t see that coming through education: those who live on estates generally survive from one wage packet to the next. Sadly this mindset also makes it easier to legitimise the selling of drugs, as that too ‘brings in the money’.
“Another sign was when they allowed themselves to be referred to by the n-word. They weren’t simply seeking to reclaim a word. They were telling the world that they were the offspring of the ‘field negro’, not the trained ‘house negro’ from slavery days. The field negro’s sole intent was to escape, and maybe even to cause a little damage to the master and his property.
“A third obvious sign of major discontent was the creation of gangs and the start of the postcode wars. Yet all of these signs were largely unheeded by wider society: all perceived to be a black problem. It’s black kids killing black kids, so it’s our problem to address.
“On Saturday, instead of imploding and turning inward and violent among themselves, as they have been doing for the past decade, the youths exploded. The trigger may well have been the killing of Mark Duggan and the insensitive treatment of his family, but this has been brewing for some time. The government cuts – especially the withdrawal of EMA; the new barrier of tuition fees; and rising youth unemployment have all added to their sense of isolation and lack of a stake in society.
“Beyond all this, the Met also has to explain to the people of Tottenham just how it allowed this to happen. Since the 1990s I have engaged with the Met and gained a working knowledge of some of its operational processes, and I know of none that can be described as ‘let’s just leave them to it’. The police seemed intent on protecting the police station, leaving everything north of it free for the rioters to loot or destroy.
“More cynical community members suggest the Met might have been playing politics. The more the police stood off, the bolder the youths became. Some question whether disturbances mean police can turn to government, and dare it to cut their numbers in a time of civil unrest. But I believe that just as they bungled the operation to arrest Mark Duggan, and bungled the way they broke the news, they bungled it again.” [B]
I’d agree with that. Of course the rioters are uncivilised, often callous and brutal. But who made them so? Young people in the 1960s were nothing like as bad, if we protested it was for a cause we believed in.
Thatcher successfully spread greed, suspicion and mistrust. You sowed the wind, now you reap the whirlwind.
The Looter Revolution began on Monday, and at the time I noticed nothing. I was back at work and everything seemed normal, no one I met was interested in what had happened in Tottenham on Saturday. Only in the evening did we learn what had been happening in some cities, though nowhere near me. It was mostly pure looting, plus maybe some people taking the opportunity to attack the police. No one questioned the current government’s right to rule, nor would anyone want a new election just now, when it would probably boost the Tories. So the solid and normally peaceful elements you’ve seen in some overseas protests were missing and it was all broadly criminal.
On a small e-mail discussion group, I commented at the time:
“Day Five of the process. It began Saturday, seemed isolated on Sunday but then flared up on Monday.
“Similar things have been happening for decades [across the globe]. The exact form depends on whether there are large numbers of solid citizens who are ready to fight the police, which sometimes brings down governments. If not, it gets shaped by criminals who find it an opportunity.
“Which Labour minister was it who celebrated looting in Baghdad after Saddam was overthrown?
“It is bad because it has been greedy and careless of people’s lives. From Day One, it was noted that shops had been set on fire even though it should have been obvious that people lived in flats above. Most of them quite poor, no one chooses a flat like that if they can get anything better. And a lot of the trashed shops have belonged to families, probably part of the ‘working poor’.
“If there were a few thousand organised hard-line leftists able to organise the mass of discontented young it might be different. There is no such prospect. It is conceivable that some hard-right organisation might profit, except all of them are committed to racism and the rioters were mostly racially mixed. They might conceivably organise the white section of the discontented youth, but they have been mostly inept so far and will probably continue to be so.
“In the IT department where I work, there were people talking half-seriously about shooting the rioters. Yesterday [Tuesday] I heard people saying that if someone had a problem with the police they should fight the police, not ordinary people. Nothing has happened near us so far, but people can work out what might happen.”
That’s when I started labelling it ‘The Looter Revolution’. It spread from London to many English cities, nowhere in Wales or Scotland despite rather greater poverty on the ‘Celtic Fringes’. It was also mostly white and sometime split along existing lines of community antagonism.
And then it all died down. It was very good it did die down: the half-serious talk about shooting the rioters might have led on to something much worse.
A successful revolution requires a vastly more coherent and disciplined movement that a radicalism that tries to change the world while accepting existing state structures as at least an interim reality. If that’s too much for you, going for an unsuccessful revolution is obviously stupid, though emotionally attractive to some people.
One big problem in the 1970s was loose talk about revolution by people who were in no way ready to become serious revolutionaries. It was big talk and helped mess up the chance of real reforms.
Murdoch’s only positive contribution to the global media has been to exterminate the News of the World, always the bottom feeder of mainstream British journalism. If the product was popular, so was opium and so are heroin and crack.
The Times was another matter, it once stood for something substantial. Its decline began before Murdoch, but he took the process further. Not that he was some isolated corruptor of a good system. Dozens of mainstream films and television programs have glorified behaviour that was almost as dirty as what News of the World did
“Chef Arrested After Sensational Discovery Than Making Omelettes Breaks Eggs”. How did people think the stories were unearthed? What did they think ‘Investigative Journalism’ was actually about.
No doubt more things will soon be brought to light ‘in the land of Murdoch where the shadows lie’.
Nepal has a new Prime Minister, Baburam Bhattarai. He comes from the Maoists, the largest party, and has been described as a rival to Prachanda, the top leader. His government has a majority thanks to the support of several small Madhesi parties who are based in the south of the country. The second and third largest parties in parliament after the Maoists are the Nepali Congress and the Moderate-Socialist “Communist Party of Nepal – Unified Marxist Leninist.” They both have decided to sit in opposition. [F]
Conciliating the Madhesi parties seems a good idea. Nepal is an amazingly diverse place, but they are maybe the most distinctive. They might feel more at home in the Republic of India. But if Nepal is to survive it has to bridge that gap.
He’s also made one good gesture, going for a home-made produce when selecting an official car:
“New Nepalese PM Baburam Bhattarai has spurned the opportunity to travel in a luxurious car and has instead chosen an unglamorous vehicle assembled in Nepal.
“Dr Bhattarai, who was sworn in on Monday, has chosen an unfancied Golchha Mustang as his official vehicle.
“Not to be confused with its namesake in the US, the Mustang is made from parts imported from India and China. Fewer than 1,000 have been sold in Nepal.
“His decision to choose a Nepalese-made vehicle has won praise from the media.
“Ideally suited to Nepal’s pot-holed roads, the competitively priced Mustang has none of the luxurious trappings of previous prime ministerial vehicles.
“Its unostentatious reputation, however, makes it perhaps the ideal choice for a Maoist prime minister who has said that one of his top priorities is the eradication of poverty.” [G]
Summer 2011 has been mild in Britain, a cool year by modern standards. This year it has been the USA and especially Texas that has got the really bad weather.
“As the east coast of the US drowns in diluvial rains, a heatwave continues to scorch Texas, killing crops and drying up reservoirs, including this one in San Angelo State Park. In Lake Nacogdoches, the drought has exposed a piece of the space shuttle Columbia, which broke apart over Texas in 2003.
“Meteorologists say the drought and heatwave appear to be the lingering effects of the La Niña that lasted from last summer to last spring. In 19 out of the past 20 La Niñas, storm clouds travelled across the northern US, bypassing Texas and its neighbours and putting them at risk of drought.
“This year, the pattern has been amplified by a constipated jet stream, similar to that which triggered floods in Pakistan and fires in Russia last year. The jet stream normally pushes weather from west to east, but sometimes its conveyor-belt action sticks. When this happens, weather systems stay put and people below can suffer the same conditions for days, if not months, on end.
“Right now, a large high-pressure dome is parked above Texas and neighbouring states, says Gerald Meehl of the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colorado, bringing clear skies and high temperatures.
“However, Martin Hoerling of the Earth System Research Laboratory in Boulder says neither phenomenon can explain the extreme rainfall on the east coast.” [H]
That was mid-August. Since then the east coast has been hit by both an earthquake and a hurricane, though you might call both of those bad luck. Or you might have made something of the odd fact that these disasters happened just as Gaddafi was being driven out of Tripoli, but widespread superstitious feeling in the USA seems also to be invulnerably smug and sure of itself.
“Texas Gov. Rick Perry, a candidate for president of the United States, not so much stepped into — but rather charged straight — into the global warming controversy when he suggested that theories of man-made global warming constitute a hoax.
“The National Journal reports that Perry discussed the matter at an event in Bedford, N.H. Perry responded to a question about whether doubts about man-made global warming had caused skepticism of regulation in general. Global warming advocates have called for draconian regulations to inhibit the production of carbon dioxide they claim traps heat and thus causes global warming.” [J]
That’s with Texan weather breaking all previous records for drought and heat. The more things go wrong for the New Right, the more they cling to their ideology.
If things go wrong for Obama, Perry could be running the USA by January 2013. And hasten its decline, I assume
“China may be famous as the workshop of the world, but one Hong Kong lingerie maker has found Thailand a more alluring destination, as companies increasingly shift production to countries with lower wages.
“Top Form International, which supplies companies such as Walmart, which supplies Walmart and several US department stores, has been forced to face a new reality in China as workers increasingly demand higher wages.
“Sitting in his Hong Kong office across the border from Guangdong province, Michael Austin, Top Form’s chief financial officer, says the company is seeing wage increases of 20 per cent every year.
“‘China’s policy is double wages in five years. We expect it to be shorter than that.’
“After the minimum monthly wage in Shenzhen, the special economic zone just across the border from Hong Kong, was raised from Rmb1,100 to Rmb1,320 ($207) in April, the company speeded up plans to reduce its sewing workforce to 400, down from 1,000 a few years ago. The Chinese government also increased the minimum wage nationwide following a series of suicides last year at Foxconn, the electronics contract manufacturer.
“Top Form’s bigger challenge, however, is the demographic change under way in China. The cohort of young workers entering the workforce is declining every year. Selective female foetus abortions because of China’s one-child policy and a societal preference for boys has created the perverse effect that there are fewer women working in China’s factories. Factory owners in southern China report that the ratio of factory workers is now 60:40 male to female, whereas it used to be predominantly female.” [K]
China has ignored outside advice and is concentrating on looking after its own people. Deng’s promise was always that while ‘some would get rich first’, others would follow later. This is being done, not as fast as I’d like, but fast enough to be worth supporting. Not being tied to market dogmatism and being fairly well protected from financial storms by its unconvertible currency, China is doing quite nicely.
Which doesn’t stop some Western experts telling them that they should change at once. It is now being admitted that China never really did allow capitalism, it was always a Mixed Economy and the state has continued to dominate. As the magazine The Economist put it:
“At one end of the spectrum are the giant state-controlled enterprises in industries which the government considers ‘strategic’, such as banking, telecoms or transport. Such firms may have sold minority stakes to private investors, but they operate more or less like government ministries. Examples include China Construction Bank, a huge backer of infrastructure projects, and China Mobile, a big mobile-phone carrier.
“Next come the joint ventures between private (often foreign) companies and Chinese state-backed entities. Typically, the foreign firm brings technology and its Chinese partner provides access to the Chinese market. Joint ventures are common in fields such as carmaking, logistics and agriculture.
“A third group of firms appears to be fully private, in that the government owns no direct stake in them. Their bosses are not political appointees, and they are rewarded for commercial success rather than meeting political goals. But they are still subject to frequent meddling. If they are favoured, state-controlled banks will provide them with cheap loans and bureaucrats will nobble their foreign competitors. Such meddling is common in areas such as energy and the internet.
“A fourth flavour of Chinese firm is fuelled by investment by local government, often through municipally owned venture-capital or private-equity funds. These funds typically back businesses that dabble in clean tech or hire locals.” [L]
The Economist also says:
“big state-backed enterprises crowd out small entrepreneurial ones. They gobble up capital that China’s genuinely private firms could use far more efficiently, amassing bad debts that will eventually cause China big trouble” (Ibid.)
This is based on the deep-down belief that the best thing in life is money. The same spirit that led The Economist to support neglect of Ireland during the 1840s potato famine, which was maybe the moment that Britain lost any real prospect of forming a stable world empire. A state that does not look after its own people will find itself weak in the things that matter.
The classical Darwinian view of human evolution was of superior persons separating themselves off from the rest, who eventually died out. But it seems it wasn’t like that at all.
DNA evidence now indicates that humans outside of Africa interbred with Neanderthals. And the ancestors of Melanesians interbred with some East Asian relatives of Neanderthals known as Denisovans who have been found in the Altai mountains, just west of Mongolia. Before that, it seems that the ancestral humans who later emerged from Africa and spread to the whole world had interbred with some unknown proto-humans in Africa.
“Our species may have bred with a now extinct lineage of humanity before leaving Africa, scientists say.
“Although we modern humans are now the only surviving lineage of humanity, others once roamed the Earth, making their way out of Africa before our species did, including the familiar Neanderthals in West Asia and Europe and the newfound Denisovans in East Asia. Genetic analysis of fossils of these extinct lineages has revealed they once interbred with modern humans, unions that may have endowed our lineage with mutations that protected them as we began expanding across the world about 65,000 yeas ago.
“Now researchers analyzing the human genome find evidence that our species hybridized with a hitherto unknown human lineage even before leaving Africa, with approximately 2 percent of contemporary African DNA perhaps coming from this lineage. In comparison, recent estimates suggest that Neanderthal DNA makes up 1 percent to 4 percent of modern Eurasian genomes and Denisovan DNA makes up 4 percent to 6 percent of modern Melanesian genomes.” [M]
It seems humans in the last 100,000 years absorbed several other populations. Red hair – a distinctive feature of some north-west Europeans, including myself – may have come from one of the Neanderthal populations. And it seems we got some extra immunity to disease from them.
A long time before that – nearly two million years ago – there was a near-human in South African that’s been given the name Australopithecus sediba. It had a small brain, but a brain that already had a human shape. A good grasping hand, so it could probably make stone tools. It may have had something like a human face and perhaps could smile. It has been suggested that this creature and not the species called Homo Habilis was the true ancestor of Homo Erectus, the ancestors of all later almost-humans including Neanderthals and mainstream humans.
“‘One lineage of Australopithecus almost certainly led into the first member of our own genus called Homo, and from then eventually emerged modern humans.
“‘But some of them are side branches, and we’re trying to work out which ones are and which ones aren’t – and that’s why this finding is so important. In many ways, these fossils are the ‘smoking gun’ just before the emergence of our own genus.’
“And Professor Chris Stringer, from London’s Natural History Museum, told BBC News: ‘This isn’t the end of the story. What may be happening is that there were several australopithecine forms all evolving human-like features in parallel as they turned to meat-eating and tool-making and moving greater distances.” [N]
But is it really a single ancestral line and various extinct sub-branches? The near-humans may have been hybridising all along. There have been puzzles before: a creature called Kenyanthropus or ‘flat-faced man of Kenya’ that lived more than three million years ago and had some features of later humans but lacked others found in other near-humans who lived elsewhere. Mixing may have concentrated the best features that made up later humans.
Also on the fossil front, a new variety of cheetah has recently been found:
“Cheetahs might have been the bloodiest killers at one of the oldest known sites for humans, leaving behind more carcasses than any other predator there, scientists find.
“That evidence comes from the discovery of the remains of what is now billed as the largest cheetah known, and is now extinct….
“As to whether cheetahs might have hunted the ancient humans that lived at Dmanisi, ‘I don’t think they really belonged to the spectrum of prey of these cheetahs, but you never know if there were confrontations over kills,’ Kahlke told LiveScience. All in all, these findings help shed light ‘on the context of the landscape our ancient relatives interacted with.’” [P]
There is only one surviving species of cheetah, and these are known to have gone through some sort of evolutionary bottle-neck, so that they have very little genetic diversity. Thinking about this I formed a wild hypothesis, was this species of cheetah partly tamed in the very early stages of humanity? Used as dogs were later used, perhaps before any humans encountered the ancestral wolf-dogs? If it were so, I’d suppose that it was an association of hunters, with the big cats never fully safe or tame and eventually they went back to the wild, replaced by dogs. Much later humans took in small cats that were safe and useful when it came to saving stored grain from rats and mice.
It’s all speculation. But cooperation and hybridisation seem to be as much a part of biological history as competition and extinction.
[C] These are from his 1925 book A Short View of Russia.
[H] [From issue 2826 of New Scientist magazine, page 4.]
[Q] Mentioned in The Korean War by Max Hastings