Rene -- Retort -- Blood for Oil?
"War on Terror"
Blood for Oil?
Retort , a group of writers and activists, considers whether oil was the reason for the invasion of Iraq
Capitalism presents itself, Marx said on more than one occasion, as an ‘immense accumulation of commodities’. In a full-scale commodity producing economy, what comes to matter about each separate article is not so much its constellation of uses as its value as an item of exchange, its function as a ‘material depository’ (Marx again) of exchange value. The commodity’s value is generated from its shifting place in a complex, self-contained world of money equivalents. So that finally the usefulness of petroleum presents itself as merely the outward and accidental aspect of something more basic: the article’s price.
For all the talk lately about the emergence of a post-industrial economy – in which ‘information’ or ‘services’ are displacing the authority of any single material resource – the last few years have been an object lesson in just how vital to capitalist dreams of the future the control of a few strategic commodities still is. They are the motors of production, the ultimate hard currency of exchange. For that very reason they are subject to deep mystification. Oil is a ‘curse’, commentators say, it ‘distorts’ the natural course of development and encourages an economy of hyper-consumption and excess: golf courses in the Saudi desert, bloated shopping malls in Dubai and Bahrain. Democracy is ‘hindered’ by oil (as if cobalt promoted constitutional government), which brings about despotic rule and patrimonialism rather than statecraft and capitalist discipline. There is some truth in this, but it is a shallow view of things because it substitutes a narrow commodity determinism for the larger truths of primitive accumulation: the deadly complicity of guns, oil and money.
If a single political thread tied the anti-war demonstrations of February and March 2003 together, it was the refrain ‘No Blood for Oil’. On every march a flotilla of signs carried variants on the idea, and in San Francisco it was the Chevron building that goaded the marchers to their most vocal dissent.
And with good reason. The American addiction to cheap petroleum has shepherded the brokers, carpetbaggers and hustlers of the oil business directly into political office. Five ‘supermajors’ (Exxon-Mobil, Royal Dutch-Shell, BP-Amoco, TotalFinaElf and Chevron-Texaco), elephantine oil corporations with wells, pipelines, refineries and subsidiaries in almost every country on earth, and collective sales revenues of more than $500 billion (almost twice the GDP of sub-Saharan Africa), have scaled the walls of the White House. In a bullish five years in the 1990s as CEO of Halliburton, the world’s largest oil and gas services company, Dick Cheney drew $44 million in salary from an outfit that on his own Brechtian admission saw war as offering ‘growth opportunities’. Millions of dollars more in ‘deferred compensation’ were earmarked to tide him over during his time in government. In December 2003 the administration trotted out the Bush family consigliere, James Baker, the consummate oilman, as special presidential envoy to restructure Iraq’s $130 billion debt. Baker’s law firm represents Halliburton; Baker Hughes, his oil-services company, was promised the contract to restore second-tier oilfields in Iraq. He is a member of the politburo of the Carlyle Group, in which it is estimated he owns equity of $180 million – a sliver of their $17.5 billion portfolio. Baker’s mission, we now know, was less about debt-forgiveness than about cutting a deal for the Carlyle Group, which was to receive a $1 billion investment from Kuwait as a quid pro quo for restructuring Iraq’s liabilities, thereby guaranteeing Kuwait – and various oil companies – billions of dollars in war reparations, still due from Iraq following the 1991 Gulf War. Good business if you can get it.
Given all this, how could it be doubted that the war against Saddam was to be fought essentially for possession of petroleum, and that the subsequent occupation would aim to give the US permanent control of a crucial spigot? The essence of the Blood for Oil argument aspires to an economic explanation of history, but is locked inside a ‘hero-and-villains’ vision of the way the world works. It substitutes the facticity and malign power of a single commodity for the more complex and partly non-factual imperatives of capital accumulation.
Almost invariably, this line of argument turns on a plotting of personal connections, Big Oil business networks, and the revolving door of government-corporate power: the kindred houses of Bush and Saud; the Carlyle Group and its ties to bin Laden family assets; the influence in Washington of the Saudi ambassador, Prince Bandar; no-bid contracts; and so on. But there is no need for conspiracy theories: never has a conspiracy been less interested in concealment. The report of the Energy Task Force led by Dick Cheney, which was crafted early in the Bush presidency by oil lobbyists and executives and issued from the White House in May 2001, appeared to provide an explicit set of justifications – predictions, even – for the shedding of blood for oil. It estimated that US oil consumption (in 2000, this was more than 1100 gallons of petrol per capita, over a quarter of global output) would rise by over 30 per cent by 2020. No more than a quarter of that increase, the report reckoned, was likely to come from a new round of domestic production. Drilling in Alaska would hardly make a dent in the problem. The contribution of the Middle East to global oil output was projected to grow from 25 per cent to about 60 per cent.
Saddam Hussein’s destabilising influence – his ‘demonstrated willingness to threaten to use the oil weapon’ – raised the possibility of a ‘need for military intervention’. A top secret National Security Council document directed staff to co-operate fully with the Energy Task Force, one main aim of which was the ‘melding’ of two policy arenas: ‘the review of operational policies toward rogue states’ and ‘actions regarding the capture of new and existing oilfields’.
Why did Iraq figure so prominently in the Energy Task Force’s calculations? A number of developments – political turbulence within the House of Saud, centring on the succession of King Fahd; insurgent Wahhabism in the kingdom (with a direct line to the 11 September attacks); signs of a Saudi-Iranian rapprochement; the new assertiveness of other OPEC powers; the dismal findings of the Simmons Report, spelling out the declining yields of major Saudi oilfields – had placed in doubt the Saudi role as a reliable ‘swing producer’, which could turn the taps on or off whenever it was in America’s strategic interest. The US government has, in its ‘special relationship’ with the House of Saud, expected the Saudis to maintain sufficient unused capacity to compensate for any short-term market tightening or price volatility. It was Saudi Arabia that released oil to stall the OPEC price rises in 1973 and during the 1990-91 Gulf War. Within 24 hours of September 11, nine million extra barrels of Saudi oil were released to keep prices stable. The other pillar of postwar US oil policy – Iran – had long been lost to revolutionary Islam. Now Saudi Arabia had become a dangerous mess. According to the Arab Human Development Report (2002), the kingdom ranked last in the region on all key indicators of ‘democracy’ and ‘social achievement’: no mean feat, given the competition. Per capita income in 1981 had been $28,000 a year; by 2002 it had plummeted to $8000. The population had quadrupled since 1970: a quarter of a million young men enter the inhospitable labour market each year. Actual conditions cannot be determined with any precision; officially, unemployment is around 10 per cent, but it may be as much as three or four times that among the young. More than half the high school curriculum consists of religious instruction, and half the country’s youth say they are planning to emigrate. The country has no secular charities, no non-religious NGOs, and no political parties. If free elections were held tomorrow, so one Western ambassador has it, Osama bin Laden would win hands down.
Iraq, by contrast, is awash with low-cost oil. As yet only 15 of its 74 fields have been developed; known reserves are 112 billion barrels, but once new technologies for subsurface exploration can be employed, Iraqi holdings might turn out to exceed 300 billion barrels (perhaps a quarter of global reserves) over the coming decade. With recovery rates of 50 per cent (a conservative figure) and reserves of 250 billion barrels (an equally cautious reckoning), Iraqi oil would be worth more than $3 trillion. To this can be added the bonus of 110 trillion cubic feet of natural gas – sufficient to supply the US for ten years or more – and the fact that compromised fields in Kirkuk and Rumaila, and the degradation of the basic oil infrastructure which occurred during sanctions (more than $60 billion of repairs are necessary, the industry has estimated), promised bottomless state contracts for the likes of Bechtel, and Kellogg, Brown and Root. The US Overseas Private Investment Corporation delicately called it the ‘next Klondike’; in 2003, Halliburton’s Iraq contracts represented 22 per cent of its total revenues. Providing, of course, that a pliant and stable Iraq could be installed to administer the no-bidding.
Rene -- Agamben -- Movement
Mise en ligne le mardi 8 mars 2005
My reflections come from a malaise and follow a series of questions that I asked myself whilst at a meeting in Venice some time ago with Toni, Casarini etc. A word kept coming up in this meeting : movement. This is a word with a long history in our tradition, and it seems the most recurrent one in Toni’s interventions. In his book too this word strategically crops up everytime the multitude needs a definition, for instance when the concept of multitude needs to be detached from the false alternative between sovereignty and anarchy. My malaise came from the fact that for the first time I realised that this word was never defined by those who used it. I could have not defined it myself. In the past I used as an implicit rule of my thinking practice : the formula ’when the movement is there pretend it is not there and when it’s not there pretend it is’. But I didn’t know what this word meant. It is a word everyone seems to understand but no one defines. For instance where does this word come from ? Why was a political decisive instance called movement ? My questions come from this realisation that it is not possible to leave this concept undefined, we must think about the movement because this concept is our unthought, and so long as it remains such it risks compromising our choices and strategies. This is not just a philological scruple due to the fact that terminology is the poetic, hence productive moment of thought, nor do I want to do this because it is my job to define concepts, as a habit. I really do think that the a-critical use of concepts can be responsible for many defeats. I propose to start a research that tries to define this word, so I will try to just begin this with some basic considerations, to orient future research.
First some banal historical data : the concept of movement, that in the sciences and philosophy has a long history, in politics only acquires a technically relevant meaning in the 19th century. One of its first appearances dates back to the French July Revolution of 1830, when the agents of change called themselves partie du mouvement and their adversaries partie du l’ordre. Only with Lorenz von Stein, an author who influenced both Marx and Schmitt, this concept becomes more precise and begins to define a strategic field of application. In his The History of Social Movement in France (1850) he plays the notion of movement in dialectical contrapposition to the notion of State. The state is the static and legal element whilst the movement is the expression of the dynamic forces of society. So the movement is always social and in antagonism with the state, and it expresses the dynamic primacy of society over juridical and state institutions. However, Von Stein does not define movement : he ascribes to it a dynamic and designates its function but he neither provides a definition nor a topos for it.
Avi -- Amira Hass -- Can you really not see?
Palestine / Israel
Can you really not see?
By Amira Hass
Let us leave aside those Israelis whose ideology supports the dispossession of the Palestinian people because "God chose us." Leave aside the judges who whitewash every military policy of killing and destruction. Leave aside the military commanders who knowingly jail an entire nation in pens surrounded by walls, fortified observation towers, machine guns, barbed wire and blinding projectors. Leave aside the ministers. All of these are not counted among the collaborators. These are the architects, the planners, the designers, the executioners.
But there are others. Historians and mathematicians, senior editors, media stars, psychologists and family doctors, lawyers who do not support Gush Emunim and Kadima, teachers and educators, lovers of hiking trails and sing-alongs, high-tech wizards. Where are you? And what about you, researchers of Nazism, the Holocaust and Soviet gulags? Could you all be in favor of systematic discriminating laws? Laws stating that the Arabs of the Galilee will not even be compensated for the damages of the war by the same sums their Jewish neighbors are entitled to (Aryeh Dayan, Haaretz , August 21).
Could it be that you are all in favor of a racist Citizenship Law that forbids an Israeli Arab from living with his family in his own home? That you side with further expropriation of lands and the demolishing of additional orchards, for another settler neighborhood and another exclusively Jewish road? That you all back the shelling and missile fire killing the old and the young in the Gaza Strip?
Could it be that you all agree that a third of the West Bank (the Jordan Valley) should be off limits to Palestinians? That you all side with an Israeli policy that prevents tens of thousands of Palestinians who have obtained foreign citizenship from returning to their families in the occupied territories?
Could your mind really be so washed with the security excuse, used to forbid Gaza students from studying occupational therapy at Bethlehem and medicine at Abu Dis, and preventing sick people from Rafah from receiving medical treatment in Ramallah? Will also you find it easy to hide behind the explanation "we had no idea": we had no idea that the discrimination practiced in the distribution of water - which is solely controlled by Israel - leaves thousands of Palestinian households without water during the hot summer months; we had no idea that when the IDF blocks the entrance to villages, it also blocks their access to springs or water tanks.
Rene -- A Review of Afflicted Powers -- A Retort to Military Neo-Liberalism
A Review of Afflicted Powers -- A Retort to Military Neo-Liberalism
By STANDARD SCHAEFER
by Retort (Iain Boal, TJ Clark, Joseph Matthews, Michael Watts)
Verso (New York: 2005)
It would be very easy and even accurate to announce that the best book on where things stand since 9/11 and the Iraq War is Afflicted Powers. It would be just as tempting to say that the collective that wrote it under the name Retort should displace Negri-Hardt with their instant classic. The problem is that they’re analysis hinges on the fact we must dispense with the notion of a vanguard ideal. Nevertheless, there are four main authors: Iain Boal, T.J. Clark, Joseph Matthews and Michael Watts. And they produced an instant classic which combines a meticulous analysis with a trenchant manifesto. As rigorous and nuanced as anything by Chalmers Johnson, Retort adds a stern but less “monumental” historical sense of the deeper structures of empire as well as the ability to probe for common ground on which to base a serious social movement against globalization.
At the heart is an attempt to reclaim the language of insurrection from Revolutionary Islam, but Retort’s argument is broken down into five chapters: a fresh, realistic treatment of how relevant Guy Debord’s notion of the spectacle still is; a nuanced and fastidious re-contextualization of the “blood for oil” theme which reveals its limits when not seen as an extension of old-fashioned primitive accumulation; a history of US militarism as it relates not only to the blowback of 9/11 and the counter-reaction in Afghanistan and Iraq, but also its strategy since the Cold War; a succinct and provocative account of how political Islam evolved both intellectually and historically; and a final philosophical chapter that places all the others in relation to political praxis and attempts to show what is needed for the various left social movements to become truly effective.
Anjalisa -- We shall not be moved
We shall not be moved
Some joined the US military as a patriotic duty, some to better themselves, but the horrors of serving in Iraq, including Abu Ghraib, changed everything. Deserters tell Gary Younge why they had to quit
Saturday August 26, 2006
For Camilo Mejia there was no epiphany. In fact, his refusal to rejoin his regiment in Iraq barely represented a decision at all. It was more a weary submission to months of anxiety that had gnawed at his sense of duty until there was nothing left but his conscience. "I didn't wake up thinking I wouldn't go," he says. "I just went to bed and didn't get up in time to catch the plane. But I kept thinking maybe I would go back sometime."
Mejia, 30, never did go back. He went on the run for five months, staying with friends and relatives, using only cash, travelling by bus and not calling his mother or daughter, before he turned himself in as a conscientious objector. A military tribunal sentenced him to one year in prison.
Like Mejia, 24-year-old Darrell Anderson went on the run just a few days before he was due to redeploy. "I was supposed to leave for Iraq on January 8th. On the 3rd I started to talk to people about the war. By the 6th I woke up and had hit a brick wall. I just knew I wasn't going to be able to live a normal life if I went back."
He told his mother, Anita, who said she "had been hoping for that". "I packed up the car and took him to Canada. It was the first time I slept through the night in two years," she says. Anderson is now essentially a fugitive seeking asylum in Canada.
And then there was Joshua Casteel, an interrogator at the notorious Abu Ghraib prison. His turning point came when a 22-year-old Saudi who came to Iraq for jihad was brought before him for questioning. "He admitted it," says Casteel, 26, a deeply religious Catholic convert from Cedar Rapids, Iowa. "I asked him why he had come to Iraq to kill. Then he asked me why I had come to Iraq to kill. He said I wasn't following the teachings of Jesus, which was pretty ironic. But I thought he sounded just like me. He was not a maniacal kind of killer. He had never fired a weapon in his life ... I know what it's like to proselytise. At one time I had been a pretty nationalistic kid. I understood where he was coming from but in order to do my job I couldn't look at him as a human being. I had to look at him as an object of exploitation."
Rene -- 25% OF PALESTINIAN MPS DETAINED BY ISRAEL
Palestine / Israel
With all the news about Lebanon, this gives one glimpse of horrors committed in Gaza. Difficult to read this, given the hypocrisy of the Israeli official quoted. But such is the world we live in. -rg
25% OF PALESTINIAN MPS DETAINED BY ISRAEL
Conal Urquhart in Tel Aviv
The Guardian (http://www.guardian.co.uk/)
Monday August 21, 2006
Israel has arrested almost one quarter of the members of the
Palestinian parliament as part of its campaign to free an Israeli
soldier captured on the Gaza border in June.
Mahmoud Ramahi became the 33rd member of the legislative council
(PLC) to be taken in by the Israelis during an operation yesterday.
Amani Rahami, 36, said her husband had been avoiding home for fear
the Israelis would arrest him, but did not realise he was important
enough to warrant surveillance.
"They came to arrest him many times but he was not here. This time
they arrived minutes after he did. He is a father, an educated man
and they take him away like a criminal. It is the Israelis who are
criminals in this," she said.
Mr Ramahi is an anaesthetist at a Jerusalem hospital and is considered
a Hamas moderate who opposes violence. When he arrived at his home in
Ramallah yesterday, a squad of Israeli soldiers in jeeps were waiting
nearby. They surrounded the house and summoned him by loudspeaker
before tying him up and taking him away.
Mr Ramahi is the second Hamas representative to be taken into
custody in Ramallah in as many days. On Saturday, Israeli soldiers
detained Nasser Shaer, the deputy prime minister of the Palestinian
Authority. Earlier this month, they arrested the PLC speaker, Aziz
Dweik, a prominent political leader of Hamas in the West Bank.
Rene -- Harvey -- THE ART OF RENT: GLOBALIZATION, MONOPOLY AND THE COMMODIFICATION OF CULTURE
THE ART OF RENT: GLOBALIZATION, MONOPOLY AND THE COMMODIFICATION OF CULTURE
That culture has become a commodity of some sort is undeniable. Yet there is also a widespread belief that there is something so special about certain cultural products and events (be they in the arts, theatre, music, cinema, architecture or more broadly in localized ways of life, heritage, collective memories and affective communities) as to set them apart from ordinary commodities like shirts and shoes. While the boundary between the two sorts of commodities is highly porous (perhaps increasingly so) there are still grounds for maintaining an analytic separation. It may be, of course, that we distinguish cultural artefacts and events because we cannot bear to think of them as anything other than authentically different, existing on some higher plane of human creativity and meaning than that located in the factories of mass production and consumption. But even when we strip away all residues of wishful thinking (often backed by powerful ideologies) we are still left with something very special about those products designated as ‘cultural’. How, then, can the commodity status of so many of these phenomena be reconciled with their special character?
Furthermore, the conditions of labour and the class positionality of the increasing number of workers engaged in cultural activities and production (more than 150,000 ‘artists’ were registered in the New York metropolitan region in the early 1980s and that number may well have risen to more than 250,000 by now) is worthy of consideration. They form the creative core of what Daniel Bell calls ‘the cultural mass’ (defined as not the creators but the transmitters of culture in the media and elsewhere).1 The political stance of this creative core as well as of the cultural mass is not inconsequential. In the 1960s, recall, the art colleges were hot-beds of radical discussion. Their subsequent pacification and professionalization has seriously diminished agitational politics. Revitalizing such institutions as centres of political engagement and mobilizing the political and agitational powers of cultural producers is surely a worthwhile objective for the left even if it takes some special adjustments in socialist strategy and thinking to do so. A critical examination of the relations between culture, capital and socialist alternatives can here be helpful as a prelude to mobilizing what has always been a powerful voice in revolutionary politics.
I MONOPOLY RENT AND COMPETITION
I begin with some reflections on the significance of monopoly rents to understanding how contemporary processes of economic globalization relate to localities and cultural forms. The category of ‘monopoly rent’ is an abstraction drawn from the language of political economy.2 To the cultural producers themselves, usually more interested in affairs of aesthetics (sometimes even dedicated to ideals of art for art’s sake), of affective values, of social life and of the heart, such a term might appear far too technical and arid to bear much weight beyond the possible calculi of the financier, the developer, the real estate speculator and the landlord. But I hope to show that it has a much grander purchase: that properly constructed it can generate rich interpretations of the many practical and personal dilemmas arising in the nexus between capitalist globalization, local political-economic developments and the evolution of cultural meanings and aesthetic values.
All rent is based on the monopoly power of private owners of certain portions of the globe. Monopoly rent arises because social actors can realize an enhanced income stream over an extended time by virtue of their exclusive control over some directly or indirectly tradable item which is in some crucial respects unique and non-replicable. There are two situations in which the category of monopoly rent comes to the fore. The first arises because social actors control some special quality resource, commodity or location which, in relation to a certain kind of activity, enables them to extract monopoly rents from those desiring to use it. In the realm of production, Marx argues, the most obvious example is the vineyard producing wine of extraordinary quality that can be sold at a monopoly price. In this circumstance ‘the monopoly price creates the rent’.3 The locational version would be centrality (for the commercial capitalist) relative to, say, the transport and communications network or proximity (for the hotel chain) to some highly concentrated activity (such as a financial centre). The commercial capitalist and the hotelier are willing to pay a premium for the land because of accessibility. These are the indirect cases of monopoly rent. It is not the land, resource or location of unique qualities which is traded but the commodity or service produced through their use. In the second case, the land or resource is directly traded upon (as when vineyards or prime real estate sites are sold to multinational capitalists and financiers for speculative purposes). Scarcity can be created by withholding the land or resource from current uses and speculating on future values. Monopoly rent of this sort can be extended to ownership of works of art (such as a Rodin or a Picasso) which can be (and increasingly are) bought and sold as investments. It is the uniqueness of the Picasso or the site which here forms the basis for the monopoly price.
The two forms of monopoly rent often intersect. A vineyard (with its unique Chateau and beautiful physical setting) renowned for its wines can be traded at a monopoly price directly as can the uniquely flavoured wines produced on that land. A Picasso can be purchased for capital gain and then leased to someone else who puts it on view for a monopoly price. The proximity to a financial centre can be traded directly as well as indirectly to, say, the hotel chain that uses it for its own purposes. But the difference between the two rental forms is important. It is unlikely (though not impossible), for example, that Westminster Abbey and Buckingham Palace will be traded directly (even the most ardent privatizers might balk at that). But they can be and plainly are traded upon through the marketing practices of the tourist industry (or in the case of Buckingham Palace, by the Queen).
Two contradictions attach to the category of monopoly rent. Both of them are important to the argument that follows.
First, while uniqueness and particularity are crucial to the definition of ‘special qualities’, the requirement of tradability means that no item can be so unique or so special as to be entirely outside the monetary calculus. The Picasso has to have a money value as does the Monet, the Manet, the aboriginal art, the archaeological artefacts, the historic buildings, the ancient monuments, the Buddhist temples, and the experience of rafting down the Colorado, being in Istanbul or on top of Everest. There is, as is evident from such a list, a certain difficulty of ‘market formation’ here. For while markets have formed around works of art and, to some degree around archaeological artefacts (there are some well-documented cases, as with Australian Aboriginal art, of what happens when some art form gets drawn into the market sphere) there are plainly several items on this list that are hard to incorporate directly into a market (this is the problem with Westminster Abbey). Many items may not even be easy to trade upon indirectly. The contradiction here is that the more easily marketable such items become the less unique and special they appear. In some instances the marketing itself tends to destroy the unique qualities (particularly if these depend on qualities such as wilderness, remoteness, the purity of some aesthetic experience, and the like). More generally, to the degree that such items or events are easily marketable (and subject to replication by forgeries, fakes, imitations or simulacra) the less they provide a basis for monopoly rent. I am put in mind here of the student who complained about how inferior her experience of Europe was compared to Disney World:
At Disney World all the countries are much closer together, and they show you the best of each country. Europe is boring. People talk strange languages and things are dirty. Sometimes you don’t see anything interesting in Europe for days, but at Disney World something different happens all the time and people are happy. It’s much more fun. It’s well designed.4
While this sounds a laughable judgement it is sobering to reflect on how much Europe is attempting to redesign itself to Disney standards (and not only for the benefit of American tourists). But, and here is the heart of the contradiction, the more Europe becomes Disneyfied, the less unique and special it becomes. The bland homogeneity that goes with pure commodification erases monopoly advantages. Cultural products become no different from commodities in general. ‘The advanced transformation of consumer goods into corporate products or “trade mark articles” that hold a monopoly on aesthetic value’, writes Wolfgang Haug, ‘has by and large replaced the elementary or “generic” products’, so that ‘commodity aesthetics’ extends its border ‘further and further into the realm of cultural industries’.5 Conversely, every capitalist seeks to persuade consumers of the unique and non-replicable qualities of their commodities (hence name-brands, advertising, and the like). Pressures from both sides threaten to squeeze out the unique qualities that underlie monopoly rents. If the latter are to be sustained and realized, therefore, some way has to be found to keep some commodities or places unique and particular enough (and I will later reflect on what this might mean) to maintain a monopolistic edge in an otherwise commodified and often fiercely competitive economy.
But why, in a neoliberal world where competitive markets are supposedly dominant, would monopoly of any sort be tolerated let alone be seen as desirable? We here encounter the second contradiction which, at root, turns out to be a mirror image of the first. Competition, as Marx long ago observed, always tends towards monopoly (or oligopoly) simply because the survival of the fittest in the war of all against all eliminates the weaker firms.6 The fiercer the competition the faster the trend towards oligopoly if not monopoly. It is therefore no accident that the liberalization of markets and the celebration of market competition in recent years has produced incredible centralization of capital (Microsoft, Rupert Murdoch, Bertelsmann, financial services, and a wave of takeovers, mergers and consolidations in airlines, retailing and even in older industries like automobiles, petroleum, and the like). This tendency has long been recognized as a troublesome feature of capitalist dynamics, hence the anti-trust legislation in the United States and the work of the monopolies and mergers commissions in Europe. But these are weak defences against an overwhelming force.
This structural dynamic would not have the importance it does were it not for the fact that capitalists actively cultivate monopoly powers. They thereby realize far-reaching control over production and marketing and hence stabilize their business environment to allow of rational calculation and long-term planning, the reduction of risk and uncertainty, and more generally guarantee themselves a relatively peaceful and untroubled existence. The visible hand of the corporation, as Alfred Chandler terms it, has consequently been of far greater importance to capitalist historical geography than the invisible hand of the market made so much of by Adam Smith and paraded ad nauseam before us in recent years as the guiding power in the neoliberal ideology of contemporary globalization.7
But it is here that the mirror image of the first contradiction comes most clearly into view: market processes crucially depend upon the individual monopoly of capitalists (of all sorts) over ownership of the means of production including finance and land. All rent, recall, is a return to the monopoly power of private ownership of any portion of the globe. The monopoly power of private property is, therefore, both the beginning point and the end point of all capitalist activity. A non-tradable juridical right exists at the very foundation of all capitalist trade, making the option of non-trading (hoarding, withholding, miserly behaviour) an important problem in capitalist markets. Pure market competition, free commodity exchange and perfect market rationality are, therefore, rather rare and chronically unstable devices for coordinating production and consumption decisions. The problem is to keep economic relations competitive enough while sustaining the individual and class monopoly privileges of private property that are the foundation of capitalism as a political-economic system.
This last point demands one further elaboration to bring us closer to the topic at hand. It is widely but erroneously assumed that monopoly power of the grand and culminating sort is most clearly signalled by the centralization and concentration of capital in mega-corporations. Conversely, small firm size is widely assumed, again erroneously, to be a sign of a competitive market situation. By this measure, a once competitive capitalism has become increasingly monopolized over time. The error arises in part because of a rather too facile application of Marx’s arguments concerning the ‘law of the tendency for the centralization of capital’, ignoring his counter-argument that centralization ‘would soon bring about the collapse of capitalist production if it were not for counteracting tendencies, which have a continuous decentralizing effect’.8 But it is also supported by an economic theory of the firm that generally ignores its spatial and locational context, even though it does accept (on those rare occasions where it deigns to consider the matter) that locational advantage involves ‘monopolistic competition’. In the nineteenth century, for example, the brewer, the baker and the candlestick maker were all protected to considerable degree from competition in local markets by the high cost of transportation. Local monopoly powers were omnipresent (even though firms were small in size), and very hard to break, in everything from energy to food supply. By this measure nineteenth century capitalism was far less competitive than now.
It is at this point that the changing conditions of transport and communications enter in as crucial determining variables. As spatial barriers diminished through the capitalist penchant for ‘the annihilation of space through time’, many local industries and services lost their local protections and monopoly privileges.9 They were forced into competition with producers in other locations, at first relatively close by, but then with producers much further away. The historical geography of the brewing trade is very instructive in this regard. In the nineteenth century most people drank local brew because they had no choice. By the end of the nineteenth century beer production and consumption in Britain had been regionalized to a considerable degree and remained so until the 1960s (foreign imports, with the exception of Guinness, were unheard of). But then the market became national (Newcastle Brown and Scottish Youngers appeared in London and the south) before becoming international (imports suddenly became all the rage). If one drinks local brew now it is by choice, usually out of some mix of principled attachment to locality or because of some special quality of the beer (based on the technique, the water, or whatever) that differentiates it from others. Plainly, the economic space of competition has changed in both form and scale over time.
The recent bout of globalization has significantly diminished the monopoly protections given historically by high transport and communications costs while the removal of institutional barriers to trade (protectionism) has likewise diminished the monopoly rents to be procured by that means. But capitalism cannot do without monopoly powers and craves means to assemble them. So the question upon the agenda is how to assemble monopoly powers in a situation where the protections afforded by the so-called ‘natural monopolies’ of space and location, and the political protections of national boundaries and tariffs, have been seriously diminished if not eliminated.
The obvious answer is to centralize capital in mega-corporations or to set up looser alliances (as in airlines and automobiles) that dominate markets. And we have seen plenty of that. The second path is to secure ever more firmly the monopoly rights of private property through international commercial laws that regulate all global trade. Patents and so-called ‘intellectual property rights’ have consequently become a major field of struggle through which monopoly powers more generally get asserted. The pharmaceutical industry, to take a paradigmatic example, has acquired extraordinary monopoly powers in part through massive centralizations of capital and in part through the protection of patents and licensing agreements. And it is hungrily pursuing even more monopoly powers as it seeks to establish property rights over genetic materials of all sorts (including those of rare plants in tropical rain forests traditionally collected by indigenous inhabitants). As monopoly privileges from one source diminish so we witness a variety of attempts to preserve and assemble them by other means.
I cannot possibly review all of these tendencies here. I do want, however, to look more closely at those aspects of this process that impinge most directly upon the problems of local development and cultural activities. I wish to show first, that there are continuing struggles over the definition of the monopoly powers that might be accorded to location and localities and that the idea of ‘culture’ is more and more entangled with attempts to reassert such monopoly powers precisely because claims to uniqueness and authenticity can best be articulated as distinctive and non-replicable cultural claims. I begin with the most obvious example of monopoly rent given by ‘the vineyard producing wine of extraordinary quality that can be sold at a monopoly price’.
II ADVENTURES IN THE WINE TRADE
The wine trade, like brewing, has become more and more international over the last thirty years and the stresses of international competition have produced some curious effects. Under pressure from the European Community, for example, international wine producers have agreed (after long legal battles and intense negotiations) to phase out the use of ‘traditional expressions’ on wine labels, which could eventually include terms like ‘Chateau’ and ‘domaine’ as well as generic terms like ‘champagne’, ‘burgundy’, ‘chablis’ or ‘sauterne’. In this way the European wine industry, led by the French, seeks to preserve monopoly rents by insisting upon the unique virtues of land, climate and tradition (lumped together under the French term ‘terroir’) and the distinctiveness of its product certified by a name. Reinforced by institutional controls like ‘appellation controlée’ the French wine trade insists upon the authenticity and originality of its product which grounds the uniqueness upon which monopoly rent can be based.
Australia is one of the countries that agreed to this move. Chateau Tahbilk in Victoria obliged by dropping the ‘Chateau’ from its label, airily pronouncing that ‘we are proudly Australian with no need to use terms inherited from other countries and cultures of bygone days’. To compensate, they identified two factors which, when combined, ‘give us a unique position in the world of wine’. Theirs is one of only six worldwide wine regions where the meso-climate is dramatically influenced by inland water mass (the numerous lakes and local lagoons moderate and cool the climate). Their soil is of a unique type (found in only one other location in Victoria) described as red/sandy loam coloured by a very high Ferric-oxide content, which ‘has a positive effect on grape quality and adds a certain distinctive regional character to our wines’. These two factors are brought together to define ‘Nagambie Lakes’ as a unique Viticultural Region (to be authenticated, presumably, by the Australian Wine and Brandy Corporation’s Geographical Indications Committee, set up to identify Viticultural regions throughout Australia). Tahbilk thereby establishes a counter-claim to monopoly rents on the grounds of the unique mix of environmental conditions in the region where it is situated. It does so in a way that parallels and competes with the uniqueness claims of ‘terroir’ and ‘domaine’ pressed by French wine producers.10
But we then encounter the first contradiction. All wine is tradable and therefore in some sense comparable no matter where it is from. Enter Robert Parker and the Wine Advocate which he publishes regularly. Parker evaluates wines for their taste and pays no particular mind to ‘terroir’ or any other cultural-historical claims. He is notoriously independent (most other guides are supported by influential sectors of the wine industry). He ranks wines on a scale according to his own distinctive taste. He has an extensive following in the United States, a major market. If he rates a Chateau wine from Bordeaux 65 pts and an Australian wine 95 pts then prices are affected. The Bordeaux wine producers are terrified of him. They have sued him, denigrated him, abused him and even physically assaulted him. He challenges the bases of their monopoly rents.11
Monopoly claims, we can conclude, are as much ‘an effect of discourse’ and an outcome of struggle as they are a reflection of the qualities of the product. But if the language of ‘terroir’ and tradition is to be abandoned then what kind of discourse can be put in its place? Parker and many others in the wine trade have in recent years invented a language in which wines are described in terms such as ‘flavor of peach and plum, with a hint of thyme and gooseberry’. The language sounds bizarre but this discursive shift, which corresponds to rising international competition and globalization in the wine trade, takes on a distinctive role, reflecting the commodification of wine consumption along standardized lines.
But wine consumption has many dimensions that open paths to profitable exploitation. For many it is an aesthetic experience. Beyond the sheer pleasure (for some) of a fine wine with the right food, there lie all sorts of other referents within the Western tradition that track back to mythology (Dionysus and Bacchus), religion (the blood of Jesus and communion rituals) and traditions celebrated in festivals, poetry, song and literature. Knowledge of wines and ‘proper’ appreciation is often a sign of class and is analyzable as a form of ‘cultural’ capital (as Bourdieu would put it). Getting the wine right may have helped to seal more than a few major business deals (would you trust someone who did not know how to select a wine?). Style of wine is related to regional cuisines and thereby embedded in those practices that turn regionality into a way of life marked by distinctive structures of feeling (it is hard to imagine Zorba the Greek drinking Mondavi Californian jug wine, even though the latter is sold in Athens airport).
The wine trade is about money and profit but it is also about culture in all of its senses (from the culture of the product to the cultural practices that surround its consumption and the cultural capital that can evolve alongside among both producers and consumers). The perpetual search for monopoly rents entails seeking out criteria of speciality, uniqueness, originality and authenticity in each of these realms. If uniqueness cannot be established by appeal to ‘terroir’ and tradition, or by straight description of flavour, then other modes of distinction must be invoked to establish monopoly claims and discourses devised to guarantee the truth of those claims (the wine that guarantees seduction or the wine that goes with nostalgia and the log fire, are current advertising tropes in the US). In practice what we find within the wine trade is a host of competing discourses, all with different truth claims about the uniqueness of the product. But, and here I go back to my starting point, all of these discursive shifts and swayings, as well as many of the shifts and turns that have occurred in the strategies for commanding the international market in wine, have at their root not only the search for profit but also the search for monopoly rents. In this the language of authenticity, originality, uniqueness, and special unreplicable qualities looms large. The generality of a globalized market produces, in a manner consistent with the second contradiction I earlier identified, a powerful force seeking to guarantee not only the continuing monopoly privileges of private property but the monopoly rents that derive from depicting commodities as incomparable.
Pedro -- Mexican park turns border crossing into sport
Mexican park turns border crossing into sport
Cox News Service
Aug. 22, 2006 04:00 PM
IXMIQUILPAN, Mexico - On a misty, moonless night, the group scurried down the canyon wall, their feet slipping in the ankle-high mud. The sirens grew louder as their guide, clad in a ski mask and known only as Poncho, urged them to run faster. "Hurry up! The Border Patrol is coming!"
A couple in matching designer tennis outfits loped awkwardly along, the boyfriend clutching a digital video camera and struggling to keep the pop-out screen steady.
The 20 or so people fleeing the Border Patrol aren't undocumented immigrants - they're tourists about 700 miles from the border. Most are well-heeled professionals more likely to travel to the United States in an airplane than on foot.
They've each paid 150 pesos - about $15 - for what is perhaps Mexico's strangest tourist attraction: A night as an illegal immigrant crossing the Rio Grande.
Advertising for the mock journey, which takes place at a nature park in the central state of Hidalgo, tells the pretend immigrants to "Make fun of the Border Patrol!" and to "Cross the Border as an Extreme Sport!"
As craven as the advertising sounds, the organizers say they are trying to build empathy for migrants by putting people in their shoes.
Rene -- Zizek -- Nobody has to be vile
Nobody has to be vile
Since 2001, Davos and Porto Alegre have been the twin cities of globalisation: Davos, the exclusive Swiss resort where the global elite of managers, statesmen and media personalities meets for the World Economic Forum under heavy police protection, trying to convince us (and themselves) that globalisation is its own best remedy; Porto Alegre, the subtropical Brazilian city where the counter-elite of the anti-globalisation movement meets, trying to convince us (and themselves) that capitalist globalisation is not our inevitable fate – that, as the official slogan puts it, ‘another world is possible.’ It seems, however, that the Porto Alegre reunions have somehow lost their impetus – we have heard less and less about them over the past couple of years. Where did the bright stars of Porto Alegre go?
Some of them, at least, moved to Davos. The tone of the Davos meetings is now predominantly set by the group of entrepreneurs who ironically refer to themselves as ‘liberal communists’ and who no longer accept the opposition between Davos and Porto Alegre: their claim is that we can have the global capitalist cake (thrive as entrepreneurs) and eat it (endorse the anti-capitalist causes of social responsibility, ecological concern etc). There is no need for Porto Alegre: instead, Davos can become Porto Davos.
So who are these liberal communists? The usual suspects: Bill Gates and George Soros, the CEOs of Google, IBM, Intel, eBay, as well as court-philosophers like Thomas Friedman. The true conservatives today, they argue, are not only the old right, with its ridiculous belief in authority, order and parochial patriotism, but also the old left, with its war against capitalism: both fight their shadow-theatre battles in disregard of the new realities. The signifier of this new reality in the liberal communist Newspeak is ‘smart’. Being smart means being dynamic and nomadic, and against centralised bureaucracy; believing in dialogue and co-operation as against central authority; in flexibility as against routine; culture and knowledge as against industrial production; in spontaneous interaction and autopoiesis as against fixed hierarchy.
Rene -- Zizek -- The Obscenity of Human Rights:
The anxious expectation that nothing will happen, that capitalism will go on indefinitely, the desperate demand to do something, to revolutionize capitalism, is a fake. The will to revolutionary change emerges as an urge, as an "I cannot do it otherwise," or it is worthless. With regard to Bernard Williams's distinction between Ought and Must, an authentic revolution is by definition performed as a Must - it is not something we "ought to do" as an ideal we are striving for, but something we cannot but to, since we cannot do it otherwise. Which is why today's worry of the Leftists that revolution will not occur, that global capitalism will just go on indefinitely, is false insofar as it turns revolution into a moral obligation, into something we ought to do while we fight the inertia of the capitalist present.
However, the ultimate argument against "big" political interventions which aim at a global transformation is, of course, the terrifying experience of the catastrophes of the XXth century, catastrophes which unleashed unheard-of modes of violence. There are three main versions of theorizing these catastrophes: (1) the one epitomized by the name of Habermas: Enlightenment is in itself a positive emancipatory process with no inherent "totalitarian" potentials, these catastrophies are merely an indicator that it remained an unfinished project, so our task should be to bring this project to completion; (2) the one associated with Adorno's and Horkheimer's "dialectic of Enlightenment," as well as, today, with Agamben: the "totalitarian" potentials of the Enlightenment are inherent and crucial, the "administered world" is the truth of Enlightenment, the XXth century concentration camps and genocides are a kind of negative-teleological endpoint of the entire history of the West; (3) the third one, developed, among others, in the works of Etienne Balibar: modernity opens up a field of new freedoms, but at the same time of new dangers, and there is no ultimate teleological guarantee of the outcome, the battle is open, undecided.
The starting point of Balibar's remarkable entry on "Violence" 1 is the insufficiency of the standard Hegelian-Marxist notion of "converting" violence into an instrument of historical Reason, a force which begets a new social formation: the "irrational" brutality of violence is thus aufgehoben, "sublated" in the strict Hegelian sense, reduced to a particular stain that contributes to the overall harmony of the historical progress. The XXth century confronted us with catastrophies, some of them directed against Marxist political forces and some of them generated by the Marxist political engagement itself, which cannot be "rationalized" in this way: their instrumentalization into the tools of the Cunning of Reason is not only ethically inacceptable, but also theoretically wrong, ideological in the strongest sense of the term. In his close reading of Marx, Balibar nonetheless discern in his texts an oscillation between this teleological "conversion"-theory of violence and a much more interesting notion of history as an open-undecided process of antagonistic struggles whose final "positive" outcome is not guaranteed by any encompassing historical Necessity (the future society will be communism or barbarism, etc.).
Naeem -- Gideon Levy -- Days of darkness
Palestine / Israel
This article is a bit old already, but this is an interesting perspective on Israel's mainstream left -rg
Days of darkness
By Gideon Levy
In war as in war: Israel is sinking into a strident, nationalistic atmosphere and darkness is beginning to cover everything. The brakes we still had are eroding, the insensitivity and blindness that characterized Israeli society in recent years is intensifying. The home front is cut in half: the north suffers and the center is serene. But both have been taken over by tones of jingoism, ruthlessness and vengeance, and the voices of extremism that previously characterized the camp's margins are now expressing its heart. The left has once again lost its way, wrapped in silence or "admitting mistakes." Israel is exposing a unified, nationalistic face.
The devastation we are sowing in Lebanon doesn't touch anyone here and most of it is not even shown to Israelis. Those who want to know what Tyre looks like now have to turn to foreign channels - the BBC reporter brings chilling images from there, the likes of which won't be seen here. How can one not be shocked by the suffering of the other, at our hands, even when our north suffers? The death we are sowing at the same time, right now in Gaza, with close to 120 dead since the kidnapping of Gilad Shalit, 27 last Wednesday alone, touches us even less. The hospitals in Gaza are full of burned children, but who cares? The darkness of the war in the north covers them, too.
Since we've grown accustomed to thinking collective punishment a legitimate weapon, it is no wonder no debate has sparked here over the cruel punishment of Lebanon for Hezbollah's actions. If it was okay in Nablus, why not Beirut? The only criticism being heard about this war is over tactics. Everyone is a general now and they are mostly pushing the IDF to deepen its activities. Commentators, ex-generals and politicians compete at raising the stakes with extreme proposals.
Haim Ramon "doesn't understand" why there is still electricity in Baalbek; Eli Yishai proposes turning south Lebanon into a "sandbox"; Yoav Limor, a Channel 1 military correspondent, proposes an exhibition of Hezbollah corpses and the next day to conduct a parade of prisoners in their underwear, "to strengthen the home front's morale."
Anjalisa -- Israel responded to an unprovoked attack by Hizbullah, right? Wrong
Palestine / Israel
Israel responded to an unprovoked attack by Hizbullah, right? Wrong
The assault on Lebanon was premeditated - the soldiers' capture simply
provided the excuse. It was also unnecessary
Tuesday August 8, 2006
Whatever we think of Israel's assault on Lebanon, all of us seem to
agree about one fact: that it was a response, however
disproportionate, to an unprovoked attack by Hizbullah. I repeated
this "fact" in my last column, when I wrote that "Hizbullah fired the
first shots". This being so, the Israeli government's supporters ask
peaceniks like me, what would you have done? It's an important
question. But its premise, I have now discovered, is flawed.
Since Israel's withdrawal from southern Lebanon in May 2000, there
have been hundreds of violations of the "blue line" between the two
countries. The United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (Unifil)
reports that Israeli aircraft crossed the line "on an almost daily
basis" between 2001 and 2003, and "persistently" until 2006. These
incursions "caused great concern to the civilian population,
particularly low-altitude flights that break the sound barrier over
populated areas". On some occasions, Hizbullah tried to shoot them
down with anti-aircraft guns.
In October 2000, the Israel Defence Forces shot at unarmed Palestinian
demonstrators on the border, killing three and wounding 20. In
response, Hizbullah crossed the line and kidnapped three Israeli
soldiers. On several occasions, Hizbullah fired missiles and mortar
rounds at IDF positions, and the IDF responded with heavy artillery
and sometimes aerial bombardment. Incidents like this killed three
Israelis and three Lebanese in 2003; one Israeli soldier and two
Hizbullah fighters in 2005; and two Lebanese people and three Israeli
soldiers in February 2006. Rockets were fired from Lebanon into Israel
several times in 2004, 2005 and 2006, on some occasions by Hizbullah.
But, the UN records, "none of the incidents resulted in a military
Rene -- Keenan -- Translation, or: Can things get any worse?
Can Things get Worse?
Translation, or: Can things get any worse?
((DRAFT - PLEASE DO NOT QUOTE WITHOUT PERMISSION))
Jihad and the rifle alone: no negotiations, no conferences and no dialogues. - Shaikh Abdullah Azzam
To end this talk, I ask all who find in it truth, from all Muslims and in particular those who work in the mass media and in Internet and in Media publication, and relevance to consider its publication and distribution -- in all languages and as widely as possible -- a trust on his shoulders. - Ayman al-Zawahiri (September 2005)
Early in No Man's Land, Danis Tanovic's bitterly funny film about the war in Bosnia, one Bosnian soldier asks another -- as they sit, immobilized in the fog, on what turns out to be a battlefield -- whether he knows the difference between a pessimist and an optimist.
The soldier shrugs.
The answer: "a pessimist thinks things can't get any worse. An optimist knows they can."
* * *
What sort of language is war, if it is one? Eyal Weizmann suggested in his Exergue that we need to understand war as a discourse, but more precisely as a threatened one, a selferasing one, a language endangered by its own capacity to destroy and hence to destroy itself. That condition, when language ceases, he called "total war." For him, the discursivity of less-than-total war is defined by its less-than-totality, its unfinished status, the gap that remains between the possibilities of destruction and what's actually done. The logic of this is counter-intuitive, but careful: as long as escalation is possible, as long as still more destruction remains to come, then so does the possibility of less, and hence there is an offer being made, a proposition, a move in a negotiation. So what would "total" conflict be? When does escalation become impossible? Is it when, as the French news magazine Le Nouvel Observateur describes the conflict in Lebanon on its cover (20-26 July 20006), it's become "La Guerre des Fous," when the war is crazy, crazed, delirious, out of control? What would that mean? Is this what happens when war is no longer a means but an end in itself, or when killing for the sake of killing -- rather than for a reason, and idea, a cause, a country -- takes over as the norm and not the exception? Or should the term total war be reserved for those events when a genocidal, eradicatory, annihilatory, cleansing logic governs the conduct of fighting, when the aim is simply to kill all of the others, to force them to surrender and submit unconditionally and absolutely, to make them disappear as subjects or speakers in a dialogue or an exchange? When the violence is not exercised in order to force others into a conversation, or to change the terms of a debate, but in order to end the debate, to remove the other party from the debate once and for all, when debate itself -- or politics, or language -- is itself the target of the violence .... is that the limit? Is that the moment when things actually can't get any worse?
Rene -- Brian Holmes -- Peace-for-War
The concept I’m going to present draws directly from the work of Shimshon Bichler and Jonathan Nitzan. It describes the economic phases of "depth" and "breadth," and correlates them with the first- and second-order cybernetics of control. It attempts to situate the functions of cultural-communicational labor within these economic phases. It questions those autonomist Marxists who thought it would be possible to transform a broadly expansionary phase of capitalism, like that of the ‘90s, into a qualitatively different society. It’s not a polemic, but seeks to open up a field of strategic debate. It doesn’t assert a future, but observes the unfolding of the present into the depths of violence, which has robbed resistance movements of their potential, again. The concept is Peace-for-War.
At stake here is society itself: the really existing forms of social cooperation. The Argentinean activist, Ezequiel Adamovsky, writes about exactly that: “Today, the division of labor is so deep, that each minute, even without realizing it, each of us is relying on the labor of millions of people from all over the world.” (1) This lecture, the words, the images, my voice through the microphone or over the Internet, is literally brought to you by the labors of Asia, the Americas, Africa and Europe combined. The question is, what guides the dynamics of our worldwide cooperation? How is order maintained? And why does this “order” descend periodically into chaos, as it’s doing now in the Middle East?
Adamovsky points out that nothing encourages even asking such questions, much less answering them. “In the capitalist system, paradoxically enough, the institutions that enable and organize such a high level of social co-operation are the very same that separate us from the other, and make us isolated individuals without responsibility with regards to other people. Yes, I am talking about the market and the (its) state. Buying and consuming products, and voting for candidates in an election, involves no answerability. These are actions performed by isolated individuals.”
Rene -- Etienne Balibar: Politics As War, War As Politics
Etienne Balibar: Politics As War, War As Politics
Etienne Balibar is professor in Paris X Nanterre and University of California, Irvine. He was invited to participate in the first edition of the Dictionary of War but unfortunately could not make it to Frankfurt. Instead he has sent us as his contribution an essay entitled: "Politics As War, War As Politics - Post-Clausewitzian Variations". It is the text of a public lecture he gave at the Alice Berline Kaplan Center for the Humanities, Northwestern University, Evanston, on May 8, 2006.
We seem to be really living in a post-clausewitzian era, in a double sense of this expression. First, there is a lively ongoing debate, which is not restricted to the narrow range of “polemologists”, concerning the clausewitzian or non-clausewitzian character of contemporary wars. This debate started about 25 years ago, when the typical Cold-War era obsession with mutual destruction of the Great Powers gave place to a keen interest among military experts and political theorists for “low intensity conflicts”, mainly located in the Third World (a category still very much in use after the Second World as such had collapsed), involving interventions from technologically sophisticated armies from the North against guerrilla-type adversaries, therefore highly dissymmetrical.
Martin van Creveld from Israel and Samuel Huntington from the US seem to have been among the first to launch the slogan of “non-clausewitzian” warfare in a post-clausewitzian political environment. Then came the “ethnic wars” in former Yugoslavia and other parts of the world, which prompted the British peace theorist and politologist Mary Kaldor and others to launch the idea of New Wars versus Old Wars, involving historical “subjects” which are not Nation-States with their regular armies, again suggesting that the explanatory value of ideas deriving from Clausewitz’s celebrated work On War – even generalized and adapted to new circumstances, new strategic interests and new technologies, which had been a major preoccupation of War theorists for 150 years – had reached its limit, and was henceforth unable to account for the kind of interaction now arising between war and politics, but also religion, race, economy. Just as, at a certain point, after a glorious career, Euclidian Geometry had to give way to Non-Euclidian Geometry to describe the real physical world, Clausewitzian strategy and polemology should give way to a new non-Clausewitzian understanding of the historical world, allowing another type of “calculations”. This did not prevent some analysts of contemporary wars to advocate a continuous use of Clausewitzian schemes and concepts, both analytical and normative, I am particularly thinking of Alain Joxe in his remarkable L’Empire du Chaos (translated as Empire of Disorder), who by the same token reinstalled Clausewitz in a series of theorists of War as a social and political phenomenon, and as the correlate of State sovereignty, which did not only include Thucydides, Machiavelli and Schmitt, but also Hobbes, Marx and Weber. But the situation has now changed again, which to a large extent is the result of the launching of the US War in the Middle East, and the way it has evolved in its first three years.
An Open Country for Civil Resistance
On August 12, at 7 am, Lebanese from throughout the country and
international supporters who have come to Lebanon to express
solidarity will gather in Martyr's Square in Beirut to form a civilian
convoy to the south of Lebanon. Hundreds of Lebanese and
international civilians will express their solidarity with the
inhabitants of the heavily destroyed south who have been bravely
withstanding the assault of the Israeli military. This campaign is
endorsed by more than 200 Lebanese and international organizations.
This growing coalition of national and international non-governmental
organizations hereby launches a campaign of civil resistance for the
purpose of challenging the cruel and ruthless use of massive military
force by Israel, the regional superpower, upon the people of Lebanon.
Rene -- IT IS LEBANON, NOT ISRAEL, THAT FACES A THREAT TO ITS EXISTENCE IN THIS WAR
IT IS LEBANON, NOT ISRAEL, THAT FACES A THREAT TO ITS EXISTENCE IN THIS WAR
Ahmad Samih Khalidi
The Guardian (http://www.guardian.co.uk/)
Thursday August 10, 2006
The Franco-US resolution is an absurdity: it would give Israel immunity
while denying Lebanon the right to defend itself
As Lebanon is brought to its knees, and Israeli leaders promise yet
more of the same, there is something truly extraordinary about the
manner in which the war on Lebanon is being portrayed as a war for
Israel's survival, as if it were the existence of the Jewish state
that were at risk.
Whatever else it may be, this is a war between palpable unequals:
a giant nuclear-armed power with the most advanced western military
hardware and a potential ground force of up to 650,000 trained men,
against a tiny third-world guerrilla force of around 5,000 fighters,
armed largely with second-hand former eastern bloc hardware (the first
Katyusha rockets were developed in the early 1940s) and castoffs from
Iran and Syria.
The idea that the latter can pose an existential threat to the
former, under any foreseeable circumstances, is risible at best and
disingenuous at worst.
While it can hardly be comfortable for northern Israel's civilian
population to be forced into shelters for four weeks, the physical
safety of the overwhelming majority - unlike that of their counterparts
in much of Lebanon - has never been seriously at stake. And while
Hizbullah's supposed targeting of Israeli civilians has yielded
relatively few victims, Israel's repeated "mistakes" in Lebanon
have maintained a civilian death rate of about 100 Lebanese to every
three Israelis. The opposite side of this coin is that while Israel's
hi-tech "surgical strikes" have killed hundreds more civilians than
Hizbullah fighters, the Lebanese resistance's low-tech weapons have
killed about three times as many Israeli soldiers as civilians.
After yesterday's decision to expand the ground war all the way
up to the Litani river and beyond, Israel's constantly shifting
war plan is now moving away from its initial relatively cautious
phase and has plunged headlong into grand-scale politico-strategic
engineering. What Israel now seeks is less of a secure border, and more
of a major rearrangement of the Lebanese domestic scene that will crush
resistance not only in Lebanon, but by extension in Palestine as well,
and wherever else it may exist across the seething Arab Muslim world.
If Hizbullah, as many have argued, is indeed the people of south
Lebanon and the voice of Shia Lebanese empowerment, then the Israelis
seem to believe that the best means of defeating them is to disperse
them, uproot the communities in which they thrive, and destroy the
infrastructure that sustains them and provides them with their means
That is why Israel has been pounding away at the Shia areas of south
Beirut that Hizbullah evacuated even before the bombing began. That is
why it is attacking Shia population centres in the Beka'a valley in the
east of the country. And that is why it is deliberately depopulating
south Lebanon, driving almost a million civilians northwards in the
hope of destroying what remains of the area's infrastructure, so as
to make it impossible for its residents to return home any time in
the near future. As in Gaza - which has been hit by 12,000 artillery
shells over the past six weeks - Israel is creating a system of free
fire and buffer zones, where it will be free to act in response to any
Rene -- Fisk -- HIZBOLLAH'S IRON DISCIPLINE IS MATCH FOR MILITARY MACHINE
ROBERT FISK: HIZBOLLAH'S IRON DISCIPLINE IS MATCH FOR MILITARY MACHINE
11 August 2006
Much bellowing and roaring comes from Israel about a mass military
attack all the way to the Litani river. But today, much less bellowing
and roaring about "rooting out" the "weed" of the Shia Muslim Hizbollah
"terrorists" who are supposedly - in Israel's fantasies, at least -
an ally of America's enemies in the War on Terror (a conflict which,
of course, we all religiously support).
A column of Israeli armour, which crept into the Lebanese Christian
town of Marjayoun - largely populated by the Lebanese collaborators
of Israel's occupation from 1978 to 2000 - turned north yesterday
towards Khiam, a village already largely depopulated, to find that
the Hizbollah guerrillas there refused to surrender.
Israel's frustration - and its sense of loss since 15 of its
soldiers were killed in just the fraction of the south Lebanese
border area which it "controls" over the past 24 hours - was evident
in a potentially criminal document which it dropped over Beirut
yesterday. Signed "the State of Israel" - which at least makes its
origins clear - the tracts announced that "the Israeli Defence Forces
intend to expand their operations in Beirut".
Ouch, we all said when we read this, anticipating more civilian
deaths. And we were not without proof. The Israeli decision, announced
in this Israeli document - a square of paper that fluttered on to
shoppers and office workers, and myself, in Riad Solh Square - had
been taken because Hizbollah rockets had continued to fall on Israel
and because of "their leader's statements" last night. On Tuesday
evening, Sayed Hassan Nasrallah, the Hizbollah chairman, had boasted
of the 350 missiles he claimed his members had fired on Israel over
the previous 48 hours, and urged Israeli Arabs to leave Haifa.
And it should be said that the Israeli army are not winning their war
in southern Lebanon. Within two kilometres of their own border, they
lost their 15 soldiers on Wednesday. Many others were wounded. The
furthest the Israelis could reach in an armoured column yesterday was
the edge of Khiam, the site of their own notorious torture prison from
1978 to 2000. It is still only two miles from the border and they are
fighting a far more determined and disciplined enemy than in 1982,
when their "incursion" took them as far as Beirut.
Rene -- Robert Fisk: A terrible thought occurs to me - that there will be another 9/11
Robert Fisk: A terrible thought occurs to me - that there will be another 9/11
05 August 2006
The room shook. Not since the 1983 earthquake has my apartment rocked
from side to side. That was the force of the Israeli explosions in
the southern suburbs of Beirut - three miles from my home - and the
air pressure changed in the house yesterday morning and outside in
the street the palm trees moved.
Is it to be like this every day? How many civilians can you make
homeless before you start a revolution? And what is next? Are the
Israelis to bomb the centre of Beirut? The Corniche? Is this why all
the foreign warships came and took their citizens away, to make Beirut
safe to destroy?
Yesterday, needless to say, was another day of massacres, great
The largest appeared to be 40 farm workers in northern Lebanon, some
of them Kurds - a people who do not even have a country. An Israeli
missile was reported to have exploded among them as they loaded
vegetables on to a refrigerated truck near Al-Qaa, a small village
east of Hermel in the far north. The wounded were taken to hospital
in Syria because the roads of Lebanon have now all been cratered by
Israeli bomb-bursts. Later we learnt that an air strike on a house
in the village of Taibeh in the south had killed seven civilians and
wounded 10 seeking shelter from attack.
In Israel two civilians were killed by Hizbollah missiles but, as
usual, Lebanon bore the brunt of the day's attacks which centred -
incredibly - on the Christian heartland that has traditionally shown
great sympathy towards Israel. It was the Christian Maronite community
whose Phalangist militiamen were Israel's closest allies in its 1982
invasion of Lebanon yet Israel's air force yesterday attacked three
highway bridges north of Beirut and - again as usual - it was the
little people who died.
Anjalisa -- Bush planned Iraq 'regime change' before becoming
Bush planned Iraq 'regime change' before becoming
By Neil Mackay
The Sunday Herald (UK)
15 September 2002
A secret blueprint for US global domination reveals
that President Bush and his cabinet were planning a
premeditated attack on Iraq to secure 'regime change'
even before he took power in January 2001.
The blueprint, uncovered by the Sunday Herald, for the
creation of a 'global Pax Americana', was drawn up for
Dick Cheney (now vice- president), Donald Rumsfeld
(defence secretary), Paul Wolfowitz (Rumsfeld's
deputy), George W Bush's younger brother Jeb and Lewis
Libby (Cheney's chief of staff). The document,
entitled "Rebuilding America's Defences: Strategies,
Forces And Resources For A New Century", was written
in September 2000 by the neo-conservative think-tank
Project for the New American Century (PNAC).
The plan shows Bush's cabinet intended to take
military control of the Gulf region whether or not
Saddam Hussein was in power. It says: 'The United
States has for decades sought to play a more permanent
role in Gulf regional security. While the unresolved
conflict with Iraq provides the immediate
justification, the need for a substantial American
force presence in the Gulf transcends the issue of the
regime of Saddam Hussein.'
The PNAC document supports a 'blueprint for
maintaining global US pre-eminence, precluding the
rise of a great power rival, and shaping the
international security order in line with American
principles and interests'.