Archive for the ‘Politics’ Category


  In lieu of actually writing about the anniversary of one of the most important and tragic events of the struggle against Apartheid in South Africa, here is a book, available fully and freely online, by Helena Pohlandt-McCormick. I Saw A Nightmare is an excellent and (so far) thorough study of the June 16, 1976 riot by students against the new government policy of teaching Afrikaans as a primary language in school; in response to the peaceful protests and strikes of the students, 26 people were killed by indiscriminate police fire into a confused but mutinous crowd.  I haven’t finished Pohlandt-McCormick’s book yet, but she makes excellent use of the html format, providing easy links to running commentary, supplementary essays and key segments from other chapters.  Pohlandt-McCormick’s is aiming for a kind of total history, much like Paul A. Cohen’s History in Three Keys; she starts with a detailed attempt to reconstruct the narrative of what exactly happened on June 16, using the conflicting and fragmentary stories told by official documents, memories, interviews and testimonies.  The next section concentrates on the crafting of a narrative around the uprising by both the South African government, the ANC and other groups at the time, and then explores the conflicts and problems of historical memory, of who remembers, or is allowed to remember (publicly) what had happened, the appearances and disappearances of archival materials, and the failures or interpretations of other historians, followed by deep historical analysis of the long-term build-up to, and aftermath of, June 16, 1976. I Saw A Nightmare is a fine book, and an important contribution to historical memory in its own right.


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Marxists.org has done a wonderful job putting up, with the original colour covers scanned to boot, the run of the International Socialism quarterly, from 1958 on into the 1980’s.  That is a fairly exciting development, if only because the complete collection is a fine example of why online archives must continue to expand.  On the other hand, IS is rather dowdy compared to the sexy and ephemeral avant-garde, counter-culture and Situationist publications that grew in prominence during the 60’s, stealing the thunder of the ‘Old Left.’ Nor was IS a theoretical juggernaut, full of new ideas on organisation and ideology of the student movement, aside from what seems an interminable debate about bureaucratic collectivism and state capitalist that filled the letters and debate page.  Nonetheless, it’s an incredible treasure trove, especially for a fellow traveller and historical enthusiast.


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Glory be to the Kyrgyz people, who did what I admit fully I would be far too chicken to actually do:  take on their corrupt government, fight the riot police and army in the streets, take over the armouries and ram the Presidential Palace with an armoured carrier, seize the means of communication, including state television, proclaim a revolutionary government and chase the hated president into hiding, bringing the armed forces to your side.  That is a brilliant heroism, paid for with a steep price in dead and wounded, especially after the Kyrgyz police opened fire with live rounds  in the capital, Bishkek.  Western commentary is predictably rather worried about the US military presence in the country, including a detailed article in Business Week that repeats twice that the US airbase is safe and unharrassed, and then relieved that the interim leader has “adopted Western mores,” whereas only a day later Time is rather distraught that “it seems clear now that Kyrgyzstan will quickly return to Moscow’s sphere of influence after months of strained relations with Russia, making the U.S. military presence in the country all the more precarious.”  Unsurprisingly, almost all the papers in the US, and it seems in Canada, are running with this story as a case of Russian resurgence or troublesome Kyrgyz, but beneath the rather pedantic and typical quivering boilerplate is a dramatic story that has become quickly elided.  A piece in Eurasia Insight traces the origins of the successful revolt to arrests of opposition leaders after disorders in Talas, the exclusion of northerners from the Kurultai, and economic sanctions from Moscow that raised the price of gasoline.  A massive hike in utilities seems to have been the final catalyst, hitting the urban workers, immigrants from the countryside, especially hard. The eXiled has, at yet, nothing to tell me about it, a shame because these kinds of events are often their speciality.  And we have seen the rise, according to this site, of the Fanny Pack Revolution:

Bakiyev’s fall marks  the first time this has occurred to leader elected during the journalist-named ‘colour revolution’s in the former Soviet Union, in his case the Tulip: the Rose brought Saakashvili in Georgia to power, and the Orange brought Yushchenko to the presidency in Ukraine.  In all three cases, they were not revolutions in the sense that this week’s events in Kyrgyzstan are: they all occurred during contested elections between an incumbent seen as being pro-Russian and using fraud to rig the vote in their favour, the response being small but well-organised protests, marches, sit-ins, some strikes in the Ukraine but all part of a protracted election and inter-elite bickering, a bit like the 2000 recounts in Florida if people had went out in the streets for a week for Gore.  Dramatic events, surely, for all involved, but the ‘colour revolution’ were also lauded, exalted and fellated in the Western press, NGOs and politicians (I recall some particularly adulatory articles from Maclean’s at the time) as if these electoral struggles were a kind of liberal democratic second coming, freedom finally here, universal human rights and American-style politics triumphant, the overthrow of evil kleptocratic ex-Soviet anti-democratic Russian bootlickers finally at hand!

Not, of course, that popular revolt wasn’t in the streets, or that the governments unseated by the ‘colour revolutions’ weren’t unpleasantly corrupt, but to advocate that they were only grassroots events involves “steadfastly refusing to acknowledge the extent to which today’s velvet revolutions have fallen increasingly prey to manipulation by ruling class and imperialist interests,” as Dragan Plavsic has it; Mark MacKinnon’s book on The New Cold War might also be worth reading along these lines.  The sequel to the ‘manufactured’ revolutions aren’t exactly encouraging, either: Saakashvili turns out to be little better than his predecessor, starting a war with Russia, cracking down savagely on protestors and the opposition in general, his popularity slipping fast.  Yushchenko turned out to be an ugly character when in office, dissolving the Rada twice and bitterly battling in the dirtiest political way, kicking out former supporters, his popularity slipping fast.  Bakiyev doesn’t appear to have been much better, and he followed the ‘colour revolution’ pattern of also advocating and pushing through neo-liberal structural adjustment and privatisation; the opposition had, as one of its first aims, the return of some companies to state control. The movements that brought them men to power obviously believed deeply in real democracy, and practised it in the streets, but what they got was, it seems, another aspect of real democracy: out with the old, in with the new, more of the same.

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About those Christian militia guys who got arrested in the States.  One of them is a real Surrealist, it seems, and surely is prove enough that Surrealism and its bastard child of absurdist comedy has infiltrated the consciousness of even those one who one who least suspect of it:

But Sickles, who in those videos identified himself as a member of the Ohio Militia, may also have a lighter side. The accused plotter looks to have starred in a deeply Not Safe For Work movie, filled with cursing, mock violence, pot jokes, and sound effects conveying flatulence. Sickles appears entirely naked but for a mask of President George W. Bush that obscures some, but not all, of his genitalia.

In the film, Sickles’s chubby, tattooed character finds himself attacked by an enormous creature which appears to be half man, half duck. “Scar my tattered body no more with your punishing dildo mallet,” Sickles exclaims at one particularly dramatic moment.

The Freudians should have a field day with this as well:  Christian anti-federalist militias as projections of deep sexual anxiety about dildos, duck-rape and skull-fucking George W. Bush.

Link:     http://tpmmuckraker.talkingpointsmemo.com/2010/04/scar_my_tattered_body_no_more_with_your_punishing.php

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Heard a strange little show on the CBC today, on Family Day, our lovely government mandated holiday round this province wherein we get to take a day off and not spend time our families in lew of drinking and such like. Rewind, hosted by CBC regular Michael Enright which repeats old shows from the CBC archives, had a special for the day, on the definition of the family from the 1940’s until today. A rich part in the beginning: Mr. Enright affirming with all seriousness that the CBC once was dominated by politicians, pundits, intellectuals and stars, but no longer; the misses quipped rightly ‘sure, now they have call in show occasionally.’ Then the segments, all of them interesting for the particular attempts to deal with the changing role of the fathers, the freedom of teenagers and woman’s place in the home and workplace. The first dealt with….well, with not much at all, just interviewing a couple about the possibilities of post-war prosperity in 1945, but the way in which the CBC framed their interview is a telling sign of how much ‘the middle class’ was a construction even then. The CBC opined that this small shopkeeper, who runs a shop out of the front of his house and makes (in 1945 dollars) $2000, is part of the largest social group in Canada, the middle class, and is a part of that great prosperity that so distinguishes Canada. The actual shopkeeper and his wife seem less certain, but eagerly agree that they are just like everyone else, privileged, wealthy, happy, bourgeois. They are the backbone of society.

It has long been an argument, voiced as much in Barthes and Sontag as in any classic or canonical Marxist text, that the bourgeoisie assumes universalism, assumes that its mode of life, aesthetic sense, cultural mores and political beliefs are universal and shared by all; actually, this is more likely a liberal bourgeoisie attitude, because I can’t imagine the conservative or monarchist financiers of Paris arguing they ever had much in common with the shopkeepers. That the majority of the CBC’s reporters now, as then, are bourgeois, upper middle class, educated, professional, travelled and mostly intelligent, should be a given. That they impose their own sense of what is right about politics, war, society, the economy, on what they report, without doing so actively or even in some cases realizing it, and assume that their listeners all hold stocks, think politics is about soundbites and image, care about the Dalai Lhama and the employer’s eye view of the world, is not as popular an explanation. It makes more sense, I think, though it would need to be sketched out much more, than the Chomsky thesis from Manufacturing Consent (I suspect his later works are better than this), that all media is bought out and controlled by governments and corporations; I’d argue that plenty of reporters for a figurehead of the liberal, business establishment like the CBC don’t need to be bribed to follow the narrative of the War on Terror or fret over employer’s and their problems, because they genuinely assume those issues are of universal concern and are approached in the same way by all Canadians. It isn’t an agenda, it’s just being upper-middle class professional reporters. Now, this analysis can and should be more complete, and far be it from me to discount the fact that their political editorial lines at Canwest or the CBC, or that many reporters are deeply moral people who care actively about reporting injustice and corruption;  but try telling me when they ramble on about stocks in the business reports that that isn’t for a specific, privileged demographic who actually has an extensive portfolio they manage themselves.

Back to the 1945 middle class. The concept of the middle class is ideological, a product of a universalising assumption and tendency integral to the bourgeois. That there is a middle class is beyond question, of course, and its existence can be objectively proven, as much as possible, through census data on incomes, mobility, jobs and such. But far more people, just like those shopkeepers in 1945, belief they are middle class than is actually demonstrable by any census data. This may very well be an artifact of the post-war world, the result of a prosperity that allowed even millworkers like my dad to afford a big house, televisions and two cars, and that continues to inform many of our assumptions to this day, that owning a computer, an iPod or a car is a symbol of being ‘one of us,’ that universal middle class. The inscription of objects with class values has a long and storied history of its own, from sabots and sans culottes to peaked caps or tails to denim and bow ties, so it isn’t really a surprise that it still occurs to this day. But it is a confused identification, for the costs of those items have gone done, most obviously in the cases of appliances and electronics, and because so much of our culture is popular, and denim is no longer a class signifier.  It is a confusion that leads Labour governments in Britain to argue ‘we are all Middle Class now’ even if such uniformity is bought by cheap tricks on censuses and the manipulation of poverty measurements, so that the lower you go, the more middle you are (and this just isn’t in stats and figures, I remember reading an article in the Guardian by Polly Toynbee in which City bankers were certain an employee would ‘only’ need 20,000 pounds a year to live, which is below the official poverty line). And even if Canada is more egalitarian and less class conscious and allows for more ‘upwards mobility’ than Britain, or even ‘egalite, liberte, fraternite’ France, or the United States, that a universal middle class does not make.

That the project to make a middle class is so old did surprise me, as ten years earlier in 1935 it was quite clear there was something called a working class, which made up a good percentage of the population; ten years and one depression and one world war later, we are all middle class. The shopkeeper, the miner, the lumberjack and steel worker and textile worker and professor and doctor, all middle class, all friends, the bedrock of our democracy. That was what the CBC said in 1945, telling the petty shopkeeper he is now a member of the good class, it does the same now, in 2009. There are some potent democraticising elements there, especially when compared to the fierceness that Tories, capitalists and the Church clung and endorsed hierarchy and aristocracy even today, and rail against popular culture, that is to say working class culture, of a sort, which has triumphed against all odds over its more rarified but universaling bourgeois antecedents; indeed, popular culture now makes those same claims, that it is represented by all, and counter culture and subcultures are placed in the position of railing against their own forebearers.  There is something very nice that my father is no longer as openly snubbed by doctors and teachers, even as they both behind each others back mutter curses.

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“I think progress is the biggest enemy on earth, apart from oneself… I think we’re gonna take good care of this planet shortly…there’s never been a weapon created yet on the face of the Earth that hadn’t been used. We’re run by the Pentagon, we’re run by Madison Avenue, we’re run by television, and as long as we accept those things and don’t revolt we’ll have to go along with the stream to the eventual avalanche. As long as we go out and buy stuff, we’re at their mercy. We’re at the mercy of the advertiser and of course there are certain things that we need, but a lot of the stuff that is bought is not needed…

We all live in a little Village. Your village may be different from other people’s villages but we are all prisoners.”

-Patrick McGoohan, 1977


How fitting that Patrick McGoohan should leave our little global village within weeks of princiapl shooting finishing on the remake of his brainchild, the brilliant and still subversive The Prisoner.  If it be triumph or tragedy, he need not see it; his feelings about it are largely unknown, though in some ways it shows promise; it will be tightly focussed, only six episodes long, which despite its punny elements is only one longer than the original projected run of McGoohan’s Prisoner.   On the other hand, quotes from the director reveal that they are consciously trying to seperate the remake from the original, make it a new beast, update it and make it relevant, the standard defenses of those who always think they can improve on someone else’s artistic project.  A remake is a tenuous project, because no matter how often the remaker claims to respect and admire the original, there is always a tension between contempt and a desire to improve, and a deep-seated reverence for this cultural product; and below all that, money.  The Prisoner was a unique television programme,  a success critically, artistically and commercially, a  popular hit of subversive, difficult science fiction.  Will the remake be able in any way to match that particular moment in time when McGoohan could make a genuinely popular attack on those who run us?


Number 6: I will not make any deals with you. I’ve resigned. I will not be pushed, filed, stamped, indexed, briefed, debriefed, or numbered! My life is my own!

Somehow, I doubt it, no matter how hard it tries.  It is too tempting to call McGoohan a visionary, especially now that he is dead, and thankfully he was not right about our nuclear self-destruction,  but that The Prisoner remains relevant today is a sad commentary on the stagnancy of our political and economic system: we were ran by television, Madison Avenue and the Pentagon then, and we are now, so to speak.  It isn’t prophecy then, really, any more than Jules Verne predicted the future: he knew of television protype experiments when he wrote about television ‘prophetically’.  McGoohan was no prohet, but he distilled something, crystalised and popularised a critical analysis of the world; few who have seen The Prisoner would mistake it or forget its accomplishment.  Which raises the question: is a remake even necessary?  Obviously it’s too late now one way or the other: it has been made and will be broadcast.  But The Prisoner, like McGoohan himself, aged very well, and little dates it save some of the clothes and the later episodes.  What a remake would offer is beyond me. At least those remaking seem to care more than the original people slated to do it.


Number 2: What in fact has been created? An international community. A perfect blueprint for world order. When the sides facing each other suddenly realize that they’re looking into a mirror, they’ll see that this is the pattern for the future.

Number 6: The whole earth as… ‘The Village’?

Number 2: That is my hope. What’s yours?

Number 6: I’d like to be the first man on the moon!

The BBC reported on 4 May 2006 that Granada TV in Britain would revive the series for the Sky One network in 2007. Christopher Eccleston, who you may, or may not, know as the second newest incarnation of Doctor Who, has been linked with the role, but these were rumours; the Radio Timesfor 3 June – 9 June claimed the new series would be titled Number Six and not The Prisoner. American cable network AMC was to co‑produce; I’ll let you judge what the quality of this show would be from this newspeak laden nonsense:  “The Prisoner is like Pandora’s box ‑ it’s the ultimate conspiracy thriller,” said Damien Timmer, executive producer of the show.”Like 24, the new series will entrap you from the opening scene. We hope it will tap into this iconic show’s existing cult following, whilst creating a whole new generation of fans.” Which means, bear with, the man tapped to fill McGoohan’s shoes as producer had no clue what the show was about, because The Prisoner is the opposite of 24, with no violent shoot outs, evil lesbians and pro-American patriotic chestbeating and righteous torture.

In October 2007, British broadcaster ITV stepped in to replace Sky One as co‑producer with AMC. They are  the ones still going ahead with it.  Sir Ian McKellan will play Number 2, which really is not news anymore Apparently, the talking heads of the network also claim their new version will be “a racy, radical reinvention of the original show.” The richest part of this story is that Sky One, a British television channel owned by Rupert Murdoch was producing this show up until ITV, the orginal producers, stepped in. A remake of one of the most anti-authoritarian television programmes being funded by a news channel notorious for its spin related to the Iraq War, for one, and for its genuine low level, a la CanWest here, of editorial and journalistic freedom.  That’s so ironic you can eat it with a spoon.


Perhaps the remake will be all too dreary and topical, full of war on terror references, torture, suicide bombings, and Blairisms and the national security states post nine-eleven, which will turn this into a gritty British Battlestar Galatica; unfortunately, The Prisoner was not the original Battlestar, all feathered hair and hippy new age mormon nonsense.  McGoohan dealt with all these issues before, and did so elusively enough that they couldn’t be pinned down; who and what ran The Village was and is beyond us, and the side they were on really didn’t matter in the end.  The remake will have to tread that same line without being a joke or a travesty; of course, it doesn’t really matter, as long as it makes money; there is nothing constitional about respecting the ‘rights’ of a piece of art once it has been bought, sold and traded as commodity.  ITV doesn’t have any need or desire to respect McGoohan’s memory, or the production he was so involved with.  My only hope is that the show ends as the original does, with Number 6 still a prisoner in London, thinking he is free.  London, and Britain, is the Village; the most surveilled society on Earth, where 200 CCTV cameras sit within a mile of Orwell Boulevard.

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Gaza Forever

Palestinians at a school building in a refugee camp in Gaza

What can I possibly say about Palestine right now?  The words to keep speaking are there, of course, tangible almost by the sheer volume of texts, print and electronic, that havedeluged the world of bombs and ruined homes, rockets and helicopters blasting hsopitals.  It won’t do, it won’t: Thoughts of Xanadu points to a protest in Trafalgar Square, shoes scattered as if the wearers had been spirited away by rapture, a beautiful, poignant and perhaps, like so many of our protests, sadly, unable to help Palestinians now, or convince our governments to actually be more than vaguely critical of Israel’s actions; instead, Obama’s silence, Bush’s backing  of the official Israeli line that it was all in self defense, the gentle puppet nodding of Sarkozy, Brown, Harper

…impressive, a revolt in the back benches in Parliament, bi-partisan, demanding a stronger line against Israel, who it appears have finally, in the deaths of hundreds for a paltry few missiles, dangerous and violent as they are to Israelis; is Gaza to be a prison and tomb for decades still to come?

Znet, MRZine, Counterpunch, Lenin’s Tomb or Socialist Unity have all much more to say than I, in much more detail, in much more savage and uncompromising energy; I can know anger, the kind that is slow and exhausting, and like struggling through snow while walking in the cold, drains without revealing.  I read about revolutions, and nothing happens.  Of note, the great white media as always is its usual self: when not blaming the Palestinians or at least Hamas, it is at least trying to be neutral, the kind I was angered about during Musharaf’s state of emergency  in Pakistan: the CBC was so neutral it basically made the opposition into the people responsible.  The same happens in Gaza: violence and death is bemoaned and the destruction of Gaza is state

d as a matter of fact, but the battle is equal, always: Israeli aggression is equal to Palestinian violence, following the old narrative about the population being ‘caught in the middle’ in Vietnam.

Of interest:

Toronto: Wednesday January 8, 2009 Time: 10:25 am
A diverse group of Jewish Canadian women are currently occupying the Israeli consulate at 180 Bloor Street West in Toronto. This action is in protest against the on-going Israeli assault on the people of Gaza.

The group is carrying out this occupation in solidarity with the 1.5 million people of Gaza and to ensure that Jewish voices against the massacre in Gaza are being heard. They are demanding that Israel end its military assault and lift the 18-month siege on t

he Gaza Strip to allow humanitarian aid into the territory.

Blaming the victim:

Israel said on Tuesday that an initial army investigation showed mortar fire may have come from a UN-run school in Gaza, where dozens of people were killed in an Israeli strike.

“The initial findings… are that t

here was hostile fire at one of our units from the UN facility,” government spokesman Mark Regev told AFP.

“Our unit responded. Then, there were explosions out of proportion to the ordnance we used,” he said. “And then you can only speculate as to why. We are still investigating.”

And the truth?:

The Israel Defense Forces Spokesman’s Office asserted that militants fired mortars from inside the school at troops involved in Israel’s controversial incursion into the Gaza Strip in pursuit of Hamas fighters — a military operation that is drawing fierce international condemnation as civilian casualties mount. “The IDF returned fire,” according to the spokesman’s office.

But after a preliminary investigation of the Jan. 6 attack at the Fakhura girl’s elementary school, “we’re 99.9% sure that no militants were at the school,” says Chris Gunness, a spokesman for the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA). The agency questioned survivors, including UNRWA staff that run the school under U.N. auspices.

Before the school was hit by Israeli bombs, some 400 Palestinians fleeing shelling of the Jabalya refugee camp had taken shelter inside Fakhura, hoping that the U.N. flag would shield them from harm, according to survivors. Earlier, the U.N., which oversees relief efforts for more than 800,000 Palestinians in Gaza, had passed along the coordinates of all its schools and buildings to the Israeli military so that its humanitarian missions would be spared attack.

The Tomb has some especially scintiallting and enraged notes about the myth of Hamas rejectionism, the doctrines of official cleansing and destruction, the apopletics of the defenders of Israel, etc. etc.

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