From the December 2011 issue of the Socialist Standard
As another year in the capitalist madhouse comes to a close it’s time to review the maladies, and some of the medicine its inmates have had to stomach
January marked the beginning of the end for a trio of North African leaders in what has been dubbed the “Arab Spring”. Just a few months earlier these men where embraced and cosseted by Western leaders and their docile media. Transformation can happen quickly inside the madhouse. Our erstwhile friends and allies once considered sane have now been diagnosed as mad dogs, tyrannical torturers, and despotic murderers.
Zine El Abidine Ben Ali of Tunisia was the first on his toes. Once a beloved partner of the EU, now just another fallen idol. The aftermath of the fall of Ben Ali culminated in the Islamist Ennahda party winning 41.47 per cent of votes. Rioting followed in Sidi Bouzid, the site of the uprising that deposed Ben Ali. The Daily Mail (24 October) reported the insights of ‘Belhussein al-Maliki, 27, who said that he’d fought in the January uprising. “We are jobless, we have nothing and we won’t vote. Everything is the same, the world is the way it is, and the world will stay the way it is.”
Next it was Egypt’s turn. Egyptians in their tens of thousands took to the streets, perhaps, encouraged by the speed and unambiguous exit of Ben Ali. What is certain is that they’d had enough of Mubarak and his “Clan”. Like leaders before him Mubarak turned Egypt into his own personal thiefdom. And it wasn’t just those on the streets that resented this. Obama and his cronies, who dispensed the aid that Mubarak pilfered, dithered, waiting to see which way the wind was blowing. But the hurricane from the street proved too powerful and Mubarak fled to his villa in Sharm el-Sheikh. An inconclusive trial, of sorts, followed. The aftermath once again was violent and began in Tahrir Square: “bloody scenes prompted fears that Egypt is drawing ever closer to a sustained religious conflict that cannot be controlled. There were reports of violence erupting in several Egyptian towns and cities with large Christian populations in the aftermath of the pandemonium in Cairo” (Daily Telegraph, 9 October). Divide and conquer? Election dates are still under discussion. The time-frame to elect a president put forward by the ruling military council remains nebulous: “perhaps the end of 2012, or early 2013”.
Regime-change in Libya came next. The same socio/economic reasons underpinned the uprising by Libyans but in contrast to Tunisia and Egypt the conclusion didn’t look so clear cut to Western leaders. Thus, under the charade of a humanitarian mission Western planes and missiles bombed General Gaddafi’s forces so that the outcome would become predictable. Another example of how quickly a friend becomes your foe under capitalism—and why—was when the BBC reported (25 March 2004) the amicable meeting between Qaddafi and Tony Blair in 2004, supposedly for Qaddafi to join the West in its fight against terrorism. However, as discussions took place “it was announced Anglo-Dutch oil giant Shell had signed a deal worth up to £550m for gas exploration rights off the Libyan coast.”
On September 8, Naji Barakat, the Health Minister of the National Transitional Council, stated “that about 30,000 people were killed during the war. At least 50,000 war-wounded, about 20,000 with serious injuries . . . but this estimate was expected to rise” (Wikipedia). Six weeks later the New Statesman reported that “running up the Stars and Stripes in “liberated” Tripoli last month, US ambassador Gene Cretz blurted out: “We know that oil is the jewel in the crown of Libyan natural resources!”. Not wanting to miss out on the profits scramble Philip Hammond, British Defence Secretary advised that, “British executives should be “packing their suitcases” and heading to Libya to win contracts” (Daily Telegraph, 4 November). The ongoing conflicts in Syria, Bahrain, and Yemen didn’t warrant humanitarian intervention. However, intervention carries on unabated in Afghanistan. IPS (2 November) reports that: “US Special Operations Forces (SOF) killed well over 1,500 civilians in night raids in less than 10 months in 2010 and early 2011”. That’s just SOF. And at night.
Only an insane profit-driven system would site nuclear plants in an area prone to earthquakes. In March an earthquake and tsunami devastated the north-eastern coast of Honshu, Japan, killing tens of thousands. Six months on and the Mayor of Rikuzentakata, one of the towns to feel the full force of the tsunami could state that, “the government has said it will give us funds for reconstruction, but we haven’t received any money yet” (BBC, 12 September). More inmates reduced to begging from their political masters.
On 1 May the world was notified that it could sleep easily in its bed with the assassination of the world’s number one bogeyman: Bin Laden. America was deliriously happy, Pakistan less so. Throughout the year stories of phone hacking by Murdoch’s hacks continually made the front pages. Newsnight was besotted by it. The broadsheets wrote piously about it. On 11 July that citadel of great British hackery, The News of the World, ceased printing. Then came the pantomime of the big bad wolf, Murdoch himself, and his slavering young cub of a son having to appear in front of a flock of pious MPs. Liars, cheats, fraudsters and hypocrites have been implicated in these revelations – and that’s just the police involvement. How long before the Sun on Sunday appears?
The police were also involved in August in ‘The Riots’. Yes, surprise, surprise, we had rioting in London. Must have been our turn. LA next? Chicago? Paris? The media has been hard at work trying to uncover why. Perhaps the risibly named Ministry of Justice figures might help: “90% of those brought before the courts were aged under 21. Only 5% were over the age of 40. Thirty-five percent were claiming out-of-work benefits, which compares to a national average of 12%. Of the young people involved, 42% were in receipt of free school meals compared to an average of 16%. Three-quarters of all those who appeared in court had a previous conviction or caution. For adults the figure was 80% and for juveniles it was 62%. Seventy-five percent of the young people in court were classed as having some form of special educational need, compared to 21% for the national average”. What the capitalist asylum excels at is converting children into criminals.
Famine in Africa was once again worth some newsprint and the usual pleas for money. Absurdly, reformers beg for money to alleviate poverty when its existence is the root cause of poverty. On September 25th the good King Abdullah, of that bastion of freedom and justice, Saudi Arabia, granted women the right to vote. However, they’ll still need to be driven to the polling station as its illegal for them to drive or to be seen in public without a male chaperone watching over them.
Very little ink has been wasted on climate change. But Reuters (23 October) provided this snippet: “global temperature rise could exceed “safe” levels of two degrees Celsius in some parts of the world in many of our lifetimes, if greenhouse gas emissions continue to increase, two research papers published in the journal Nature warned”. Got kids? Grandkids? Content to sit on your arse?
As a backdrop to the above events we have “The Crisis”, which is gaining momentum, rather than abating as most of capitalism’s gurus envisaged. Bank of England governor Mervyn King said, “this is the most serious financial crisis we’ve seen at least since the 1930s, if not ever” (BBC, 7 October). And nearly “15% of the US population relied on food stamps in August, as the number of recipients hit 45.8 million” (Wall Street Journal, 1 November). People in every country are struggling with the repercussions of “The Crisis”. This has led to class conflict – the dynamic of change. What began in Tunisia in January has evolved in to a different type of struggle – one that is still evolving. It’s a struggle to see through the bourgeois opacity that Anton Pannekoek described as: “the power of the inherited and confused ideas, the formidable spiritual power of the middle-class world, enveloping their minds into a thick cloud of beliefs and ideologies, dividing them, and making them uncertain and confused”.
If a fiction writer had to plot a path to socialism, Chapter One might include: a socio/economic backdrop that exacerbates the gulf between the classes; a growing distrust, dislike and willingness to take on politicians, and those that enforce the states’ laws; an embryonic distrust of academia and the media; a generalised growth of discontent with the status quo; a meeting-up of people with divergent ideas in a central area where discussion could take place; the technology to instantly exchange ideas and arrange meetings locally and globally; an exponential growth of these leaderless movements across continents; the veil of morality that bourgeois ideology hides behind falling ever further to reveal more and more of its contradictions and hypocrisies. Chapter Two—Reclamation. Understanding socialism is relatively easy. Understanding capitalism, first, is the hard part. All socialists had to undergo that process.
The New York Times (26 November 2006) reported Warren Buffet as saying, “there’s class warfare, all right, but it’s my class, the rich class, that’s making war, and we’re winning”. And he’s right. We are losing. But only a battle, in a war of ideas. 2011 has been memorable. Those actively engaged in the struggle deserve our respect and admiration. Perhaps 2012 could be the year that we can puncture Warren Buffet and his class’s smugness. A year to give our class cause for optimism. There isn’t an infinite amount of time in which to win this war. The madhouse is becoming increasingly mad. Now is the time for those who’ve been content to sit on the sidelines to become active. If not, then the war could be lost. And the mad will have won.