Hooray for Paul Foot!

Michael Keaney michael.keaney at mbs.fi
Thu Feb 13 06:58:46 MST 2003


DMS earlier invited me to respond to points posted in an earlier message.
Time now allows me to do so.

Firstly, David writes:

1.  The alternative to the Fr/Ger/Rus/China plan
is the capitulation by national bourgeoisies?  Well,
you are assuming that the only alternative to the US
is intra-imperial rivalry.  Not very realistic. The war
is the child of capital, global capital.  The alter-
native is an independent, global, and socialist
movement that confronts the war in its origins.
I would think history has provided ample evidence of
the failure of two,three,many national bourgeoisies
to prevent imperial war; to act in an "enlightened"
manner; to curb the USA-- see for example
the inability of Europe to insert a UN fact-finding
team into Jenin.

-----

Yes, it kind of rules out the EU superstate myth in heavy circulation among
left Kautskyphobes and punk Thatcherites alike. As for the wisdom of
multipolar bourgeoisies, history tells us plenty. However, right now,
without the opposition (however opportunistic) of Chirac, Schröder, Putin
and Jiang, a war led by the head of the supposedly unipolar bourgeoisie is
exactly what we would have. We may still end up getting it, but there has
already been considerable delay thanks to the efforts of left opponents of
the war who have strengthened the hand of opportunistic bourgeois
politicians uneasy at the unilateralist warmongering of the Bush
administration. That's a triumph of no small magnitude, and with luck the
worldwide demonstrations this weekend will further strengthen the resolve of
these very same opportunists to stand their ground. Hence my applause for
Paul Foot's article.

Concerning Foot: to expect a more precise and penetrating analysis of the
current imbroglio from someone asked at short notice to put something
together for immediate online publication is to miss the point, I think.
Whatever the shortcomings of Foot's analysis, on this occasion he was using
the opportunity to emphasise the importance of getting out as many people as
 possible to oppose the war. He was not attacking others for ulterior
motives, he was not policing other parts of the left, he was not displaying
his own supposed doctrinal purity, he was not saying "vote SWP!", he was not
Stalin-bashing ... in short, he was doing precisely what needs to be done
when addressing the broadest possible coalition of anti-war protestors right
here and now. I applaud that, just as I applaud the efforts of the Workers'
World Party and other organisations aimed at putting a stop to this
intolerable situation. If Foot is to be faulted for his dodgy analysis of
the due process of international law, let me say in his defence that he is
merely demonstrating the utter bankruptcy of the supposed exemplar of due
process in its railroading of that very law. If the bourgeoisie cannot be
trusted to adhere to its own beloved due process, then who trusts the
bourgeoisie? It is exposed, naked, in tooth and claw, and I've no doubt that
is precisely Foot's intent. Give the guy some credit.

As for the war being one of "capital, global capital", that's a truism in a
forum like this. Who will disagree with that? A more sophisticated analysis
will incorporate the mess of actually existing capitalism as it tries to
make sense of the different fractions and the manner of their squaring up to
each other. Otherwise it makes no sense for you to refer, as you do later in
point 3, to the specific history of the UK in Iraq. Hey, it's just global
capital in an earlier phase. Actually, you are right to point out the UK's
earlier history in that country, as others would be right to point out the
US's current interest, along with that of France (nuclear reactor, oil),
Germany (oil, biological and chemical weapons technology), Russia (oil,
armaments, nuclear technology) and China (oil, armaments, and possibly
nuclear technology). Global capital is still overdetermined by national
capitals and transnational capitals which are themselves divided into
fractions and which, for Marxists, must be analysed carefully rather than
being assumed to pursue identical interests. That they all seek to
accumulate is hardly news, nor especially revelatory -- what is really of
interest here is how their respective accumulation strategies clash.
Meanwhile, as João helpfully reminds us, it is precisely when a unified mass
proletarian movement mobilises that the bourgeoisie closes ranks and acts
*as a class*. Right now it is not doing that. How you are able to portray it
as otherwise deserves a longer explanation more attentive to the
requirements of historical materialism than you have so far demonstrated,
whilst lecturing me on the very same.

You continue:

2. People like Perle are performing a wonderful service
by making it hard for Chirac and Schroeder to renege?
Well Rumsfeld must be a regular godsend, right?  Sorry,
not our concern.  The move by Chirac and Schroeder
is precipitated in response to the independent movement
of the populations in France and Germany.  It is
designed to undercut that independent mobilization and
to co-opt same in the service of domestic tranquility
and imperial designs.  That's progress?  See 1. above.

------

The fact that Perle states that France is no longer an ally and needs to be
contained fuels the righteous indignation of the French bourgeoisies and
state apparatus and thereby makes it harder for Chirac to renege on his
commitment to the due process of the UN. This is good, if you believe that
the alternative is French capitulation and immediate war. But Chirac's
motives are rightly suspect, and his situation is very different from that
of Schröder who, even prior to this crisis, was in a precarious state.

Schröder owes Bush his current position, having employed anti-war rhetoric
astutely to secure an almost impossible re-election. However the payback for
Bush is the continued effort at destabilisation in something of a re-run of
US undermining of the Wilson/Callaghan governments of 1970s Britain. Germany
still possesses, like Britain of that earlier era, a strong labour movement
that is ready to mobilise in defence of its gains, mediated by a strong,
lingering sense of national shame at the exploits of the Nazi era and
therefore very hostile to the sort of militaristic adventurism that comes
much easier to France, Britain and the US. That also explains the EU's
inability to do anything about Jenin, because German leaders even now remain
hamstrung by the guilt of the Shoah and are reluctant to say anything
negative about Israeli conduct because they know that it will be pounced on
by the anti-defamation league fanatics that dismiss any criticism as
anti-semitism. That's a rebuttal with a much deeper wounding potential in
Germany than either Britain or the US.

Schröder's precarious position rests on an uneasy coalition of the trade
union bureaucracy and bourgeois liberals who wish to see the German state
act more assertively in the defence of German interests. This is because
segments of German capital are now outgrowing their domestic base -- witness
the transformation of Deutsche Bank and Daimler Benz -- and want a state
commensurate with their own accumulation ambitions. Schröder understood this
on taking power and, for example, insisted that Clinton appoint a German as
head of the IMF, which he got eventually in the form of Horst Köhler.
Meanwhile Schröder and Fischer both set about breaking another taboo of
post-1945 Germany by becoming more active within NATO, including most
notoriously in Kosovo. Now German troops are leading the international force
propping up Hamid Karzai's regime in Kabul. However, the economic stagnation
wrought by the lingering after-effects of reunification has meant that the
German state is fiscally hamstrung and the various constituent parts of
German society are now drawing battle-lines over which way the state should
go next.

Until the prospect of war loomed, it was accepted by Schröder that he would
have to follow a modernising, neoliberal path. It was US bellicosity and
electoral opportunism that turned Schröder from being a trusty ally to an
ungrateful nuisance. Now Schröder, although remaining committed to the
neoliberal consensus on the "need" for German "reform" aimed at greater
"flexibility", is also very much at odds with his key constituency *and* the
national fractions of capital that have prospered under the older
arrangements of "Deutschland AG", because the dismantling of these
arrangements is already undermining the primary source of financing of the
Mittelstand. However the Mittelstand looks to the CDU and Edmund Stoiber for
rescue, not realising that, owing to its stronger pro-US allegiance (nicely
symbolised by the warmth with which Stoiber embraced Rumsfeld last weekend),
their political guardians will in fact oversee their speedy demise, much in
the same way as Thatcher did the British manufacturers who thought that she
would sort of the unions out once and for all. She did, but by destroying
the industrial base.

Add to all this the dilemma, much of it of Schröder's own making, in which
he must, to retain credibility, withstand the incredible pressure emanating
from the US and its allies within German capital that would want to take
advantage of the greater capital-raising opportunities in a "reformed", more
US-like regulatory environment, and suddenly Schröder's objective interests
have switched leftward. But in order to build a big enough coalition to
survive this, he must also reach out to the sceptical Mittelstand whilst
letting go of the monopolistic fractions of German capital that had
previously sponsored him. I am not confident he would be able to accomplish
even this logical recourse for a bourgeois politician. But it is what we
must hope he does, for by doing so he would open the doors to a more
fundamental crisis of neoliberal legitimacy across the entire EU, and the
German working class would form the backbone of a pan-EU labour movement
geared towards the retention of the gains achieved under the welfare state
whilst (hopefully) standing firm against US hegemony at home and abroad.

So, there's rather more to all this than simply caricaturing it as some
dastardly bourgeois plot to co-opt and thereby neutralise the anti-war
movement. And to say, as you do in your latest message, that this is to
advocate a kinder, gentler imperialism, is a gross distortion of the facts,
misses completely the point of what I have said and am saying, and plays
nicely to the Pontius Pilate version of Marxism in which we wash our hands
of the mess of struggle in order that we retain doctrinal purity. The
practical result of such a doctrinally pure course of action is to grant US
hegemony its victory and thereafter to say, "I told you so". Not much use to
the millions of Iraqi casualties killed or maimed as a result, nor to the
many millions more who we can expect to suffer a similar fate as US
imperialism goes untrammelled.

You continue:

3.  I don't believe any of the categories developed in
the analysis of imperialism,global capitalism, etc. sup-
port the view that UK, France, Ger are semi-colonial
countries "like Argentina." And the blackmailing
of Blair by "child porn" charges cannot be allowed
as a substitute for historical materialism, which would
bring all of us to a deeper understanding of the UK's
history with Iraq.

-----

The point is not that European countries are semi-colonial like Argentina.
The point is that if, given the present conjuncture, Bush is allowed to
railroad through his agenda as he would wish, that is precisely the fate
facing Germany and therefore Europe as a whole. Bush, Rumsfeld and Perle are
presenting the world with a stark choice, and for those previously the
beneficiaries of US largesse it is very stark indeed, considering how much
there is to lose. It's a long way down, and it is absolutely vital that we
don't go there. As James Daly pointed out, it's about the demotion of allies
to satellites, satraps, sepoys. I have argued at length here and elsewhere
that this is precisely why Blair is Bush's "poodle", precisely because
satrap status was imposed as far back as 1976. It is being reinforced by
other, opportune mechanisms such as the blackmail I mentioned. The same fate
awaits Germany if Schröder and those around him capitulate.

As for substituting historical materialism with National Enquirer-style
reportage, that is yet another caricature which is intentionally more deeply
insulting than any derogatory references I might have made concerning
Charles Dance movies: itself a comment motivated in part by your track
record in this forum. In your earlier arguments with Alec Grange you made
mention of a "typical British imperial insularity, shallowness, and
arrogance".

See http://archives.econ.utah.edu/archives/marxism/2003w00/msg00091.htm

Conclusion:

My mistake has been to confuse your combative style with the content of your
messages. That is silly and distracts from the really important stuff we're
discussing here. However, your swashbuckling style and easy familiarity with
certain well-trodden lines of Marxist argumentation cannot disguise the fact
that you appear to be engaging in precisely the sort of sin that others here
would accuse Paul Foot of committing: lecturing others elsewhere about what
they should be doing whilst ignoring the enormity of your domestic tasks.

I've devoted quite enough time to this already so I'll be withdrawing for a
few days, not least to attend the rally in Helsinki this Saturday. But I'll
leave you with this query. Since you appear to accept, fatalistically, that
war is inevitable and that therefore tactical support (aka "tailing", if we
want to land a low blow) of Chirac and Putin's stance is a pointless
distraction, how do we sell this to the Iraqis and other inhabitants of
"evil" countries apparently doomed to their fate? How do we respond to the
likes of Joschka Fischer who, baring his neck before the would-be
executioner, refuses to capitulate? Never mind the insults and unwarranted
caricatures -- what are you doing in the US to stop your state apparatus
from stamping its will over all and sundry in the name of "freedom and
democracy"?

Michael Keaney



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