I could kiss Oliver Letwin, if he weren't so physically, intellectually, and morally repellent. Marxists could spend weeks, months and years trying to prove that the Tories, the party of the ruling class, are trying to restructure British capitalism in the interests of capital; that the extension of markets across the board is at least partly about improving the class power of employers; and that everything they say about trying to 'free' public sector workers from bureaucracy and central targets is so much cant when they actually mean to enslave them. Save your breath. Here's our Oliver:
"You can't have room for innovation and the pressure for excellence without having some real discipline and some fear on the part of the providers that things may go wrong if they don't live up to the aims that society as a whole is demanding of them ... If you have diversity of provision and personal choice and power, some providers will be better and some worse. Inevitably, some will not, whether it's because they can't attract the patient or the pupil, for example, or because they can't get results and hence can't get paid. Some will not survive. It is an inevitable and intended consequence of what we are talking about." [Emphases added]
'Providers' in this statement, as the newspapers have noticed, is synonymous with public sector workers. Essentially, the idea is, through marketisation and competition, to introduce the usual discipline of the market - fear of losing one's livelihood - to drive up productivity and force down labour costs. People will be working harder and receiving less for it. In marxist terms, that's an absolute increase in the rate of exploitation. That's their growth strategy for British capitalism.
Letwin, of course, may calculate that this sort of provocation amid delicate negotiations with unions - it has been noticed - won't matter too much to the general public. After all, if you want to sell markets to people, you address them as consumers rather than workers, talk about 'choice', better 'delivery', and persuade them that they will benefit from ratcheting up the rate of exploitation among fellow workers (even though, as users of trains, gas, water, PFI hospitals, etc., know very well, markets routinely fail consumers). Even assuming that to be the case, he is still an incredibly stupid man and hence an asset for the Left. After all, the government's strategy with the unions has been to separate the larger, more moderate unions from the smaller, militant ones. Keeping them apart is absolutely essential to undermining the confidence and combativity of those workers who do want to fight. So, to the former, the government offers some marginal and localised concessions, while seeking to marginalise the latter. But in order to do so, it has to at least seem to be negotiating. Every time Steve Hilton or Oliver Letwin or one of the coalition apparatchiks let slip what they're really about, this strategy is weakened.
The last Private Eye contained the following intriguing story:
"One of the most glowing encomia in the final edition of the News of the World came from Sara Payne, mother of Sarah, whose murder in 2000 kicked off the paper's 'Name and Shame' campaign that made Rebekah Brooks' reputation.
"As well as announcing, in the manner of a defendant at one of Stalin's show trials, that 'rumours turned out to be untrue that I and my fellow charity chiefs had our phones hacked,' Payne heaped paise on the paper's staff. 'The News of the World and more improtantly the people there became my very good and trusted friends. And like all good friends they have stuck with me through the good and the bad.'
"This is true. In fact, so concerned were several of Payne's genuine friends on the paper at her appearance when she limped into the office - she suffered a devastating stroke just over 18 months ago, walks with a stick and remains both physically and mentally frail - that they tried to persuade her to turn around and be driven straight back home again on the grounds that she was too poorly to be there.
"Payne, however, insisted that she must stay because 'Rebekah phoned me and told me to come in. She said she was calling in her favour.'"
Well, there may now be some doubt as to whether Sara Payne had any 'genuine friends on the paper', as it turns out that the paper was, in fact, hacking her phone.
"Fresh diplomatic efforts are under way to try to end Libya's bloody civil war, with the UN special envoy flying to Tripoli to hold talks after Britain followed France in accepting that Muammar Gaddafi cannot be bombed into exile.
"The change of stance by the two most active countries in the international coalition is an acceptance of realities on the ground. Despite more than four months of sustained air strikes by Nato, the rebels have failed to secure any military advantage. Colonel Gaddafi has survived what observers perceive as attempts to eliminate him and, despite the defection of a number of senior commanders, there is no sign that he will be dethroned in a palace coup.
"The regime controls around 20 per cent more territory than it did in the immediate aftermath of the uprising on 17 February."
If the Gadaffi regime is now more in control of Libya than before, then this completely undermines the simplistic view put about by the supporters of war - and unfortunately by some elements of the resistance - that the situation was simply one of a hated tyrant hanging on through mercenary violence. Of course, he uses whatever resources he has at his disposal, but a) it would seem that the involvement of imperialism has driven some Libyans back into the Gadaffi camp, as it's unlikely he would maintain control without some degree of support, and b) we know that rebellious sectors started to go back to Gadaffi within mere weeks of the revolt taking off, meaning in part that his resources of legitimising his regime were not exhausted even before the US-led intervention. Despite the defections, he has consolidated his regime in a way that would have seemed improbably in the early weeks of revolt. It's important to bear in mind what this means. Both Ben Ali and Mubarak had the support of the US and its major allies - especially Mubarak. They had considerable resources for repression, and there was financial aid being channelled to them, talks aimed at offering reforms to the opposition... and in the end they proved too brittle, too narrowly based, to stay in power. The state apparatus began to fragment and decompose. The protests kept spreading, and withstood the bloodshed. Nothing they could offer or threaten was sufficient. Gadaffi on the other hand has hung on in the face of not only a lack of support from his former imperialist allies, but active political, diplomatic and military opposition. That he did so to a considerable extent through sheer military superiority doesn't mean that the regime hasn't a real social basis.
Perhaps as important has been the weaknesses of the rebellion. I argued that the chief problem facing the revolt was that it had taken off before any civil society infrastructure had been built up to sustain the opposition. This meant that unrepresentative former regime elements were well-placed to step into the fray and take effective control. As a result of the defeats they faced, those arguing for an alliance with NATO grew stronger and gained more control. There's no question that if NATO really wanted to, they could defeat Gadaffi. It would, however, require a level of commitment (serious ground forces) that they aren't ready to use. I think this is because, far from this being a pre-planned wave of expansionism by the US, the decision to launch an aerial assault constituted a desperate act of crisis management which the 'realists' in the administration were never particularly happy with. Only the zealots of 'humanitarian intervention' could seriously have contemplated the kind of protracted, bloody land war in Libya that would have been necessary to win. So, the bet on an alliance with NATO now appears to have been doomed from the start, even on its own terms - even if the best outcome sought was nothing more than a slightly more liberal regime incorporated into the imperialist camp.
Now, what can Libya expect? The leading war powers are once more bruiting negotiations, but to what end? Gadaffi may be persuaded to abandon direct control, in which case the result will most likely be a moderately reformed continuity regime, with ties to European and US capital fully restored. There appears to be little prospect of his going into exile. But that's not all. The transitional council led by former regime elements continues to state that it is the only legitimate authority in Libya. It has been internationally recognised as such by a number of crucial powers. But this is pure cynicism. The imperialist powers know that the transitional council can't control all of Libya. They're certainly not taking any steps now to give them the military means to do so. So this means that the tendencies toward partion are sharpened. There are signs of such a resolution being offered as a 'temporary' measure to secure the peace and allow some process of national reconciliation to take place (note that this conflict has increasingly been described as a civil war). This would be economically disabling for all of Libya, including those territories controlled by the rebels. It would also be dangerous in ways that I hope I don't need to spell out.
The final justification for this debacle will be that speedy intervention, however half-hearted, prevented a massacre. Now, there may once have been reason to believe this. But there no longer is. Gadaffi has enough blood on his hands, and deserved to fall to the insurgents, but there's no reason to submit to war propaganda. In reality, as Patrick Cockburn put it, summarising the Amnesty report, "there is no proof of mass killing of civilians on the scale of Syria or Yemen". Which is an interesting way of putting it. It's no secret that the coalition that was supposedly preventing a genocidal bloodbath in Libya was actually behind much of the bloodshed in Yemen. This completely demolishes the last leg of the moral case for war. The 'humanitarian interventions' of the 1990s left the US in a stronger position, both geopolitically and ideologically. I'm not convinced that this will be the result of the bombing of Libya. In fact, if there was any idea that the US could offer an alternative model of development for the populations of the Middle East, it now lies in ruins. It is more than unfortunate that Libya had to be reduced to ruins for this to become apparent.
An interesting insight onto the specific kind of antisemitism prevalent on much of the far right - Tony Karon quotes from the mass murderer's manifesto:
"Were the majority of the German and European Jews disloyal? Yes, at least the so called liberal Jews, similar to the liberal Jews today that opposes nationalism/Zionism and supports multiculturalism. Jews that support multiculturalism today are as much of athreat to Israel and Zionism (Israeli nationalism) as they are to us. So let us fight together with Israel, with our Zionist brothers against all anti-Zionists, against all culturalMarxists/multiculturalists. Conservative Jews were loyal to Europe and should have been rewarded. Instead, [Hitler] just targeted them all ... He could have easily worked out an agreement with the UK and France to liberate the ancient Jewish Christian lands with the purpose of giving the Jews back their ancestral lands ... The UK and France would perhaps even contribute to such a campaign in an effort to support European reconciliation. The deportation of the Jews from Germany wouldn't be popular but eventually, the Jewish people would regard Hitler as a hero because he returned the Holy land to them."
An hour before Anders Breivik embarked on his massacre of the innocents, he distributed his manifesto online. In 1500 pages, this urgent message identified “cultural Marxists”, “multiculturalists”, anti-Zionists and leftists as “traitors” allowing Christian Europe to be overtaken by Muslims. He subsequently murdered dozens of these ‘traitors’, the majority of them children, at a Labour Party youth camp. His inspiration, according to this manifesto, were those pathfinders of the Islamophobic right who have profited immensely from the framing and prosecution of the “war on terror,” including Melanie Phillips, Bernard Lewis, Daniel Pipes, Martin Kramer and Bat Ye’or.
Yet, almost before the attacks were concluded, a ‘line’ was developing in the mass media: it was jihadists and certainly an ‘Al Qaeda style’ attack. Peter Beaumont of The Guardian was among the first to develop this narrative, but it was rapidly taken up across the media. Glenn Greenwald describes how on the day of the attack “the featured headline on The New York Times online front page strongly suggested that Muslims were responsible for the attacks on Oslo; that led to definitive statements on the BBC and elsewhere that Muslims were the culprits.” Meanwhile, “the Washington Post's Jennifer Rubin wrote a whole column based on the assertion that Muslims were responsible”. A hoax claim of ‘responsibility’ for the attack from an unknown group, disseminated by a dubious ‘expert’, was used to spin this line well beyond the point of credibility...
Forget, for a second, the arguments about the 'no platform' policy. We can return to those. This is not an argument about 'no platform'. Nor is this an argument about that much misunderstood idea, 'free speech'. On Monday's BBC Newsnight, the programme hosted the EDL leader Stephen Yaxley-Lennon, a former BNP member and convicted violent offender. This was shortly after the EDL's major funder had described the attack as 'chickens coming home to roost', and just as there were serious allegations of major organisational connections between the EDL and Anders Behring Breivik.
The official brief, as announced on Twitter, was to investigate those alleged connections between Breivik and the EDL. In fact, what took place was that Yaxley-Lennon was given ample space in which to represent and misrepresent his position. I won't pretend that Yaxley-Lennon was made to look good: he couldn't possibly look good in this context. He looked shifty, sweaty, determined to avoid answering important questions, talking over his interlocutor as much as possible, etc. Yet, this was entirely out of proportion to the intensity of Paxman's questioning, and the EDL leader was permitted to utter, without being seriously challenged, a number of outright falsehoods and misrepresentations. For example, he was permitted to claim that he had no knowledge of Daryl Hobson, the EDL member who apparently liaised with Anders Behring Breivik. This was a lie. Since the television programme was supposedly investigating these connections, the least it could have been expected to do was the bare minimum of research before the programme began. But in fact little research was evident, and Yaxley-Lennon's claims were typically taken at face value. He was permitted to claim that Breivik was hostile to the EDL on the grounds that they are an 'anti-racist' organisation, which is also untrue. He quoted from page 1438 of the manifesto written by Breivik to the following effect:
The EDL are in fact anti-racist, anti-fascist and anti-Nazi. They have many members and leaders with non-European background (African and Asian)…EDL and KT (Brievik) principles can never be reconciled as we are miles apart ideologically…The EDL harshly condemns any movement that use terror as a tool, such as the KT. This is why, we, the KT, view the EDL as naïve fools.
Paxman allowed him to do this, and did not challenge his account. However, if you read the manifesto, and I have (and you would expect Jeremy Paxman to have read it), you will know this quote (which does appear in some versions of the document) does not exhaust the references to the EDL, and is inconsistent with other segments. In other references, it is clear that Breivik is deeply sympathetic to the EDL and admires their tactics. He is concerned that, in his terms, "conservative intellectuals contribute to help them on the right ideological path. And to ensure that they continue to reject criminal, racist and totalitarian doctrines". In other words, this mass murderer and racial supremacist is worried that the EDL might become a bit too racist and thuggish for his tastes. The thrust of Yaxley-Lennon's lies and misrepresentations was to exonerate the EDL, and Paxman let him do it.
Lastly, he was permitted repeatedly to attack Islam, describe Islam as a "threat" and claim that Muslim leaders shared the ideology of terrorists. And he suggested that within five years there would be similar violence in the UK if nothing was done about the Muslim problem. (This is not the first time he has made this threat. It is the first time has made it after a major European fascist psychopath has gone on the rampage, killing dozens of 'traitor' children). Having thus deflected the blame from the EDL, and planted it squarely on Muslims and Islam, he issued a threat of violence that he denied was a threat of violence. And Paxman accepted his explanation of that threat as a non-threat, and treated this lunatic as if he was a normal human being. Given the circumstances, the EDL was given the easiest possible ride, and came out having put the best possible face on it. This was facilitated by the BBC and by Jeremy Paxman. In fact, there's a history of Paxman being singularly unable to deal with EDL or fascist leaders, despite him having such a mountainous reputation as an intimidating interviewer.
Part of the problem here is context. The media feeds from the media. Interviewers, even braying, horse-faced, upper class pitbulls, essentially work within a consensus defined by the media. They ask questions based on what they think the average pundit would want to see asked. But that in turn is limited by what the average pundit is likely to know. And one would not know from the media's coverage that the vast majority of 'terrorist' attacks in Europe are the fruit of various nationalist struggles, nor that the preponderance of recent preparations for terror in the UK have been coming from the far right. So, Paxman works within a media consensus that has reserved the 'terrorism' label for Muslims, defined Muslims as a major security threat, and repeatedly construed Islam as containing something essentially at variance with 'Western civilization'. Meanwhile, it has depicted multiculturalism as a failure, a source of 'legitimate grievances', and the 'white working class' as an ethnic-cultural entity that ostentatiously inarticulate spokespersons like Stephen Yaxley-Lennon can claim to represent. This at least partially explains Paxman's extraordinary timidity in dealing with racists and thugs.
Which brings me to this: even setting aside the arguments about 'no platform', there is a perfectly excellent reason why the BBC should not host racists and fascists. They're no bloody good at it. They always claim that they're 'exposing' the fascists, showing them up, letting people know what they're really all about. And they never deliver on that promise. Time after time, BNP and EDL members have been brought on television in what are often the most cosy circumstances and permitted to ventilate lies, misrepresentations, slanders and threats without serious challenge. And now, after Yaxley-Lennon's appearance on Newsnight, it turns out he's been doing the daytime television circuit. This thug, this violent racist at the head of a gang of violent racists and Nazis, is being normalised. His ideas are being communicated to mass audiences without serious rebuttal or challenge, and are thus being normalised - and this is happening in a situation where the EDL and the BNP and all the thugs in their periphery should be languishing in utter disgrace.
ps: There's a petition being circulated over this issue, please sign.
This is the delayed final part in a series of posts on the ruling class and the Murdoch scandal. The first two are here and here. Just to summarise the arguments thus far. In the first post, we said that the Murdoch empire should be understood in terms of ruling class power. Classes, we argued, should be analysed not in terms of status, rank or even income flows, but in terms of their role in the reproduction of the system. The capitalist class is that class which reproduces capitalism by investing its money in labour and technology in order to produce commodities for exchange on the market and in the process extract surplus value (profit). But that class only becomes a ruling class when it rules politically, that is when it colonises the state - when the state acts as a capitalist state. So far so good. But the Murdoch empire comprises a special kind of class power, because of its role in ideological reproduction. So, the relationships between the Murdochs, the Tories, the Labour Right and other leading media people - especially, we are now discovering, senior figures in the BBC - express the political-ideological dominance of the ruling class.
In the second post, we developed the argument about the colonisation of the state, with the example of how the British state was permeated with the ordinances necessary for the reproduction of the capitalist class after the 'Glorious Revolution' of 1688. Every office, instrument and law of the state thereafter was developed under bourgeois rule: the state came to concentrate and concretise the political and ideological relations already present in capitalist relations of production. The police's role in such a capitalist state would therefore be to uphold an appropriate politico-legal order suitable for the reproduction of capitalism. This role was not just repressive, but ideological - even in their most directly repressive capacity they contribute to the reproduction of the dominant ideologies. Because of this, the relationship between the police and the reactionary press made perfect sense, formalising an already implicit structural co-dependence - one expressed the political-ideological dominance of the ruling class, the other concretised it. That said, I now want to move to a slightly more detailed argument about the media's role and the position of the Murdoch clan within British capitalism.
First of all, the media. We are speaking of a capitalist media not in the sense in which it was understood in the 19th Century, but in the sense of a mass media which has been closely bound up in its historical emergence with the spread of capitalist markets, imperialism and the spread of nation-states. The mass media comprises networks of vast corporations interlocked in various ways with other corporations and the imperialist states. That is, it is the media appropriate to the phase of what is sometimes called 'monopoly capitalism'. The Chomsky/Herman 'propaganda model', which applies to precisely this phase of the development of the capitalist media, is a superior theoretical vehicle that accounts for the ways in which these structures work to produce a series of 'filters' which ensure that the media communicates an image of the world congruent with the interests of capital. In my opinion, the theory is best at describing the realities of the US media, and its predictive accuracy is at its peak when the subject is imperialism. It is also best at capturing how the elite media works - that is, newspapers produced for wealthy and powerful audiences, such as the New York Times. It describes well how limits set by various determining factors such as ownership, sponsorship, government, advertising, flack and so on ensure that lively and intellectually stimulating debates occur in the media "within the system of presuppositions and principles that constitute an elite consensus". And journalists go along with this largely due to their socialisation and the habits built into gathering and reporting the news.
Yet, there are limits to the model's applicability. Colin Sparks, in a recent scholarly review of the propaganda model, elaborated some of these, which I'll very roughly outline: 1) it overstates the degree of unity among the elites, and understates the presence of serious strategic disunity in the ruling class, as manifested in the capitalist media; 2) its focus on the US leads it to ignore the fact that capitalist democracy can permit (depending the relations of class forces that obtain in the democracy in question) mass media outlets to be owned by popular mass parties, or at least subject to far more popular pressure than is the case with the New York Times - and even within the US, eg, the interests of labour obtain more headway in the mass media than would be anticipated by the model; 3) the focus on the elite media results in the underdevelopment of an important argument, namely what results from the fact that most of the media is not directed at elites but at popular audiences. In his interview with Andrew Marr, Chomsky insisted that the press sells privileged audiences to advertisers, but this isn't strictly so in the case of most of the media. Therefore, the content must be capable of appealing to popular audiences, seeming plausible to them, tapping into their interests, and so on. This can be done in a relatively reactionary or progressive way, but it makes a difference that it must be done. This is a point that is generally true of ruling ideologies - they must plausibly incorporate some popular themes and aspirations, otherwise they won't be ruling ideologies.; 4) the focus on the US leads to insufficient emphasis on two features common in Europe - i) public service broadcasting, which permits the possibility of a limited range of diversity not anticipated by the model (here I disagree with Sparks, or at least with his analysis of the BBC's coverage, but the point that public broadcasting is under-theorised in treatments of the model is correct), and ii) the greater degree of competition among newspapers in European countries, where the local monopolies which obtain in the US are rare. This produces a degree of partisanship and social stratification among the readers of newspapers, with again some limited but genuine divergences; 5) one of the features identified by the model - 'source dependence', in which hard-pressed journalists come to depend on certain sources, and thus on their perspectives - also permits for the expression of some limited popular input, but more importantly of substantial strategic disagreements among the ruling class.; 6) the model correctly anticipates that socialization in the mass media largely produces submissive journalists, but understates the antagonisms that exist within the media and which are capable of disrupting this process - the majority of journalists are not the professionalised middle class folks whom one sees being interviewed on ITN, but exploited wage workers. Submissiveness has been produced as much by defeats inflicted on those wage workers (notably, by Murdoch in the UK) as by socialization. Strikes, news blackouts, print stoppages and various forms of subversion and disruption were a far more regular feature in the UK media in the 1980s than today.
Those criticisms are intended to leave the core of the propaganda model intact while adjusting some of its outer belt of explanatory claims to better account for some of the evidence. But I think they do more than simply rectify some shortcomings in a classic, superior model of media analysis. They offer a way into the subject of the specificity of Murdoch's power. While the propaganda model focuses on similarities of structure and output within the industry, Sparks' criticisms advert to important distinctions. Murdoch began his UK newspaper career by acquiring two newspapers intended for the popular end of the market: The News of the World (1968) and The Sun (1969). The latter had been the trade union-owned Daily Herald, and was not a tabloid - until Murdoch purchased it and saved on printing costs by turning it into one, which enabled him to print it with the same machine that turned out the News of the World. Murdoch's strategy was very simple: he delivered content that would attract popular audiences not by attending to their interests but through sensationalism, sports and entertainment. The later alliance with Margaret Thatcher, which reflected Murdoch's long-standing views, followed after Murdoch had already built up a consumer base and after it had become clear that there was a popular base for Thatcherism. He radically restructured the whole production model for his newspapers, making them cheaper and more efficient to produce, significantly by defeating trade unions. (One of the reasons he was able to acquire the Sunday Times was that its then owner was sick of constant industrial action). He bought up newspapers that were losing money or otherwise in parlous condition, expanding through 'horizontal integration' and mergers, and later expanded into broadcasting with the initially low-key Fox Broadcasting Company. Again, before there was the infamous radical right Fox News that we know today, the company had to spend years assiduously cultivating a consumer base with genuinely popular material such as The Simpsons. And Murdoch sought to go further, expanding into the production not only of media content such as television and newspapers, but also the hardware - the channels, the cables, the cinemas, the sattelites, etc - that facilitated the delivery of that content. He has expanded across the Atlantic, into the US, and then across the Pacific, into China.
So, what you have here is a business empire with a genuinely global reach, and sufficient turnover and profit to leave Murdoch one of the richest men on the planet, worth over $7bn (well, until recently). It is in some respects an exemplary case of ruling class power, but it's also a special case. Because the business empire is bound up with a set of strategic orientations and ideological perspectives that set Murdoch in opposition not only to much of his popular consumer base, but also to sections of the ruling class. Murdoch's opposition to European monetary integration, for example, is aberrant as far as the British capitalist class is concerned. He has much more in common on this issue with petty bourgeois producers and traders than with most big businessmen and women. Yet, Murdoch undoubtedly had some influence in restraining British entry into the eurozone, not least because of his ability to prepare the ideological terrain by ensuring that his newspapers pursue a fairly inflexible line on the issues closest to his heart. In this respect, he made the Tory hard right seem much stronger than they would otherwise have been, articulating their themes of hyper-Atlanticism, aggressive 'globalization' and so on, on a daily basis. (Perhaps this explains their delusional belief that they alone could recuperate the Conservative Party after the Major interregnum). Now, this is real power. That such power has been expressed in a network of corrupt and often criminal relationships is not an incidental fact, but it is a consequential fact. The relationships sustained by the Murdoch family and businesses extend, as we know, along a number of radial axes connecting it to the government and the Labour Right, the police, senior members of the judiciary (including Lord Leveson, the man the government has appointed to lead the inquiry into phone hacking), the BBC, networks of private investigators and quite possibly intelligence. These resulted from his cynical, ruthless and - in a certain light - impressive accumulation of capitalist class power. But they were also made possible because of certain features of the UK political and media scene which he successfully exploited: the fact of a relatively competitive media market in which popular audiences are both significant and polarise; the emergence of a reactionary Thatcherite bloc in the mid-1970s; the subsequent arrival of a vehemently anti-union government that energetically supported employers wishing to break the power of organised labour; the resulting capitulation of social democracy, and the bipartisan assurance of loose media regulation.
The weakening or reversal of Murdoch's power would not, of course, alter the fundamental structure of the media. But it would remove or attenuate an orientation of power that is full of danger and hardship for popular forces - one that reinforces every vile prejudice, every base social aspiration, and every axis of oppression in that society. It would weaken the radical right in the UK not just for now, but possibly for a generation. And it would also reconfigure the industry, certainly in the UK, in a direction more favourable to popular forces, and certainly more favourable to the organisation of workers in the industry. The Murdoch scandal has gone out of the headlines temporarily. But keep a close eye on it - there's more detail coming out every day, more potential for criminal investigations on both sides of the pond, more material for the prosecution, and more reason to deny the company the very lucrative broadcasting licenses that it has so far seemed destined to retain. The Tories may be trying to close ranks around Cameron, but he is exposed. James Murdoch likewise. The traditional role of a government inquiry is to slow things down to a manageable speed, take public issues off the boil, and kill controversy with officialdom. But there is enough combustible material here that any such effort may well blow up in their faces
If you liked this series, please consider putting something in the tip jar. Thank you.
We understand that the media would rather be talking about Islam. They jumped on the first sign that the killer of dozens of Norwegian children might be a jihadi group, despite its lack of plausibility. They didn't even wait for that sign - the assumptions were already embedded well before then. Long after the rumours had been disproven, and the culprit emerged as a white, right-wing Christian from Norway, many papers still wanted the conversation to be about Islam and 'Al Qaeda'. We understand this, just as we understand the media's discomfort at dealing with an outrage in which the very Islamophobia which they do most to propagate is implicated.
However, if you want to understand the attitude of the punditocracy to fascist terrorism, consider the query put by BBC News to the former Norwegian Prime Minister yesterday: "Do you think not enough attention was paid to those unhappy re immigration?" Or, consider this New York Times article blaming the failure of multiculturalism. Or, look at this Atlantic article, which describes such racist terrorism as a "mutation of jihad" - that is "the spread of the 'jihad' mentality to anti-immigrant and racist groups". You begin to get the picture. The idea is to find some way in which all of this is still the fault of Muslim immigrants. The logic will be: the fascists express legitimate grievances, but go too far. Or worse, in their natural outrage, they have allowed themselves to become like them.
These memes are replicating across the right-wing blogosphere as well as the news media. By one means or another, what is being avoided here is that Anders Breivik's politics were shaped not by the fact of immigration, nor by jihadism, nor by any actually existing Muslims, but by ideas beginning in the mainstream right and radiating out to the far right. The 1500 page manifesto he has written under the pseudonym Andrew Berwick comprises, alongside a set of instructions for little would-be fascist killers, a distillation of standard right-wing Islamophobic material from Bernard Lewis, Bat Ye'or, Daniel Pipes and Martin Kramer, as well as a regurgitation of just about every poisonous attack on multiculturalism from the gutter press and politicians.
The core of it is the development of an historical narrative detailing various clashes between 'Western Europe' and 'Islam', the two key protagonists. Like much far right literature these days, it is ostentatiously 'philosemitic', or at least expends a lot of energy charging Islam with antisemitism. It has the standard references - the gates of Vienna, the Lebanon, Moorish Spain, Turkey and the Armenian genocide, etc. - with extended quotes from the aforementioned sources. It is pro-colonial and pro-Israel and is concerned to defend the nation-state against 'multiculti', 'cultural Marxists', 'traitors', Muslims and so on. Of course, the whole document is laced with the usual fascist mysticism and augury, and concludes with the proclamation: "By September 11th, 2083, the third wave of Jihad will have been repelled and the cultural Marxist/ multiculturalist hegemony in Western Europe will be shattered and lying in ruin, exactly 400 years after we won the battle of Vienna on September 11th, 1683. Europe will once again be governed by patriots."
Anders Breivik, though not a Third Reich enthusiast, is obviously a fascist of some description. His manifesto, his activism and his links to the UK far right scene, talked down by the Norwegian police, are evidence that he didn't seek to be simply a lone ranger. He has made it clear that his massacres were an attack on the political system, and he clearly intended that they should be followed by others. But the ideas that led him to fascism are not at all marginal. The Islamophobia that has been energetically disseminated by the belligerents of the 'war on terror', the view seriously entertained by many that Europe's Muslim minority constitutes a threat meriting legal supervision and restriction at the very least, has provided the intellectual and moral basis for the mass murder of Norwegian children. No one who is not prepared to countenance this can have anything morally serious or even creditable to say about this slaughter. And anyone who starts from the idea of blaming Islam is placing themselves in a contemptible affinity with the perpetrator.
The man arrested for yesterday’s murderous attacks in Norway admires Britain’s far right English Defence League and claimed to have held discussions with it.
More than 80 people attending a Labour Youth gathering were shot dead near the Norwegian capital Oslo when a man dressed in a police uniform opened fire.
A car bomb killed seven people earlier the same day outside Norway’s main government building in central Oslo.
Members of the ruling Labour Party were the targets in both cases. The killings have sent shockwaves around the world.
The media and “security experts” rushed to blame Islamic terrorists. But Norwegian police have arrested a Norwegian man, Anders Behring Breivik.
Breivik posted messages on a Norwegian website expressing his admiration for the English Defence League.
Among rants about Islam and Communism is the following (roughly translated from Norwegian):
“I have on some occasions discussed with SIOE [Stop Islamification Of Europe] and EDL and recommended them to use conscious strategies.
The tactics of the EDL is now out to "entice" an overreaction from Jihad Youth / Extreme-Marxists something they have succeeded several times already. Over The reaction has been repeatedly shown on the news which has booster EDLs ranks high.
This has also benefited BNP. WinWin for both.
But I must say I am very impressed with how quickly they have grown but this has to do with smart tactical choice by management.
EDL is an example and a Norwegian version is the only way to prevent Flash / SOS to harass Norwegian cultural conservatives from other fronts. Creating a Norwegian EDL should be No. 3 on the agenda after we have started up a cultural conservative newspaper with national distribution.
The agenda of the Norwegian cultural conservative movement over the next 5 years are therefore:
1 Newspaper with national distribution
2 Working for the control of several NGOs
3 Norwegian EDL”
There has been a lengthy queue of ostensible experts filing into broadcasting suites and newsrooms - and no doubt policy chambers and intelligence briefing rooms as well - who have maintained until the last hour that this was definitely jihadism. The basis for this was feeble from the beginning. They said it must be the cartoons controversy, or Afghanistan (though Norway is a secondary player in that crusade). They said it must be Mullah Krekar, the small-time Kurdish Islamist, taking revenge for actions taken against him by the Norwegian state. (Ironically, even the meshuggeneh Harry's Place has done better on average than most of the papers.) I don't mind telling you that I think this was wish fulfilment. That is, I think that these pundits and their employers largely would have liked nothing better than for it to be an Islamist attack, because then they have a set of responses that they can energetically put into motion, and a pre-determined narrative around which they can cohere those responses. Far right racists murdering young leftists, on the other hand, is not a subject on which they can rapidly form plausible responses.
Now, readers of this blog will be aware that there have been many, many foiled terror plots by far right activists in the UK alone. This has failed to receive the sort of attention that similar attempts by Islamists would generate. With the spread of fascism across Europe, these people are beginning to receive a degree of ideological and organisational sustenance that they might previously have lacked. It's no good looking to security measures or intelligence-led operations to deal with this problem. It is a political problem, and it has to be combatted politically through the assembly of anti-fascist coalitions capable of frustrating and isolating the organisational bases of fascism in the continent. This is a task that becomes all the more urgent in the high stakes battles over austerity.
Don't, by any means, allow me to tell you what to think. But I would strongly advise the commentariat, especially the media belligerati, against prematurely attributing these attacks to 'jihadis'. Yes, I'm talking to the wised up chin-strokers on Al Jazeera, BBC, Peter Beaumont, and the usual crowd. I especially enjoy the headline: 'suspicion falls on Islamist militants'. Oh does it? And whose suspicion, may we be allowed to know, falls thus? No one specifically, it seems. They are just suspected - they are, if you like, suspect. My own premature speculation on this would be thus: the first guy arrested in connection with this is (say eyewitnesses - police don't appear to be willing to confirm) a tall, blonde, white Norwegian dressed in a policeman's outfit. (For some reason, it is assumed that he is not actually a policeman). He is probably not an Islamist 'militant'. The attack on a Labour camp and a Labour PM who was due to speak at the camp seems quite unlike a typical jihadi target. If this was Islamists motivated by Norway's participation in the imperialist conquest of Afghanistan, one would expect the target to be either security or state apparatuses, or soft targets with no specific party connotation. There is a tiny Islamist presence in Norway, in contrast to the large far right presence. On the basis of this, if I were called upon for instapunditry at this point, I would hypothesise, just off the cuff, and with considerable reservations, that this is the far right in action.
Update: I did warn you. All signs now are that the claim of 'responsibility' from some alleged 'jihadi' group that no one has ever heard of is a hoax. Norwegian police now say they don't believe this attack is 'international' terrorism, but is a 'local' attack on the political system - euphemism, I think, for a fascist attack on democracy and the left. At least The Sun doesn't bother with the euphemisms since, as you can see above, they completely ignore the facts. Who needs phone hacking when you can just make it up?
Well, since you ask, the ruling class in the UK has been estimated to comprise about 0.1% of the adult population - at the time of this estimate (1991), this would have been 43,500 people. That is the number of people who would both form part of the capitalist class, and rule politically. Today, if the same proportions held, the ruling class would comprise about 50,000 people. However, a caveat. Quantifying the ruling class in this way can be useful for social imaging, but such figures should be taken with a pinch of salt. The ruling class should be understood not first as a quantity, but as a relation. And since those relations are in constant flux, constantly needing to be produced and reproduced, and since capital (and political power) tends to be progressively concentrated among smaller numbers of people, there will be a tendency for the ruling class to shrink relative to the population. At any rate, no such quantity is stable.
Further, in addition to the capitalist class itself, there is a bourgeois penumbra, a set of institutions and agents who rule alongside and on behalf of the capitalist class and whose social power is derivative of the capitalist class - these elites are particularly concentrated in the state. Which brings us back to the point I left you with yesterday, namely that a ruling class is such when it commandeers the state - it must not merely hold wealth but rule politically by virtue of that wealth, and the most important strategic space within which political antagonisms are resolved is in the national state. In the historic development of capitalist social relations, the emergence of a distinctly capitalist ruling class results in a distinctly capitalist form of state power. Robin Blackburn, in the discussion of Hanoverian Britain in The Overthrow of Colonial Slavery, describes how after the 'Glorious Revolution' of 1688 the new political arrangements favoured the direct rule of capital, inasmuch as a monarch with weak legitimacy allowed the propertied oligarchy to be assertive of its interests in parliament, while dominating most state posts at a local as well as national level - as County Commissioners, Lords Lieutenant, or Justices of the Peace, as well as MPs. Highly lucrative public offices - such as the Bank of England and chartered companies - were held as private property. As statesmen, they established corporations; as corporate members, they profited from the enterprise. As MPs they legislated; as Justices of the Peace they interpreted the law. Blackburn points out that this system, with its narrow franchise and rotten boroughs, represented bourgeois rule at an immature stage. As a result of this immaturity, the British capitalist state then had to proceed through centuries of struggle and adaptation, incorporating a franchise for the middle class, then working class men, then women, while also incorporating some popular demands in the form of social democracy. But the major offices of the state, its laws, its apparatus and its division of labour (social as well as technical) were elaborated under bourgeois domination, thus giving us a concrete example of how a state becomes 'impregnated' (in Therborn's phrase) with the drives of a particular social class, the capitalist class, allowing that class to rule politically.
So, this brings us to the role of the police, whose relationship to News International becomes all the more understandable once the former's role is better understood. This relationship included not merely the bribing of junior to middle rank police officers, and not merely wining and dining of senior officers, but the constant circulation of personnel between News International and the Met. There was a confluence of interests and a concert of actions. For example, when the police murdered Jean Charles de Menezes, it was the newspapers, particularly News International that they turned to to vilify the dead man. Lo and behold, we discover that News International was hacking the phone belonging to Menezes' cousin. And the favours were returned. The police not only failed to properly investigate News International's phone hacking when it was revealed, but actively applied pressure on the competition not to pursue the case. To say that this relationship facilitated a criminal conspiracy may be an understatement - when all the facts are out, it may prove more accurate to say that it was a criminal conspiracy.
But why should the police force be so available for corruption in tandem with the reactionary press? To answer this, it is important not to start with too much of a 'police' conception of the police. They are not merely a repressive apparatus. Nicos Poulantzas points out (State, Power, Socialism) that even ‘mainly’ repressive apparatuses such as the army, police, courts, prisons etc., all produce the ideological bases of capitalism. The distinction between the repressive and ideological apparatuses can thus only function at a purely indicative level. To insist on a strict division of labour along these lines leads to a mistaken conception of the state, in which it secures acquiescence either by means of coercion or through 'false consciousness', ignoring the fact that the state must produce a material substratum for consensus, organising aspects of productive relations in such a way as to generate consent. There is a tendency to see the state's role as extrinsic to the economy, as merely the guarantor of an autonomous, self-sufficient capitalist economy. This depends on a certain mechanistic 'base-superstructure' model of the relation of political structures to the economy. It would be more accurate to say that the state constitutes the economy in various ways, in that it condenses, concentrates, organizes and materializes the politico-ideological relations that are already inherent in the relations of production. The police, by upholding the system's political and legal relations, assist in the reproduction of its productive relations; at the same time, by punishing transgressions (and normally issuing statements explaining the normative basis for such punishment), they assist in the moralization and legitimation of the same productive relations.
Let's take a concrete example. The police are aware of a protest that is due to take place in Whitehall. They anticipate what they would term serious violence and disorder. Part of the reason is that this protest is organised by people who challenge the existing social-property relations, and the police consider any attempt to seriously realise such a challenge, however peaceable and democratic, an affront to their authority. Anyway, they coordinate a set of responses intended to bring the protest under tight spatial and physical control, until it can be dispersed. But those responses are not merely technological and technocratic. They proceed in a very ideologically sensitive manner, careful to produce the political-ideological pretext for each move they make. Even if this involves nothing more than arresting many people on trumped up charges, the very fact of people having been arrested will certainly be presented in the media as evidence of serious disorder and violence, because the media automatically accept the legitimacy and validity of police claims until such time as they are rendered ridiculous - and sometimes not even then. That is, the police don't merely exercise a part of the state's monopoly of legitimate violence; they are the authoritative moral arbiter. And it is only because they are such that their highly ideological, politicised action is treated as neutral.
We proceed with the example. The police use a repertoire of violence to coerce and contain the protesters - punches, slaps, baton strikes, mounted charges - and finish the day by isolating a manageable number of protesters and kettling them in a space so confined as to be physically dangerous for a prolonged period of time. The explicit reasoning is that they are being held to prevent a breach of the peace, and that their detention will last no longer than is necessary to assure a peaceful dispersal. But this, of course, is an intensely ideological depiction of affairs, and requires a great deal of ideological preparation and foregrounding for its conduct to be coherent. Certain things must be automatically airbrushed or discounted for. Hence, the media, and especially the most right-wing and authoritarian tabloids, will be a natural ally in this process, particularly in the subsequent witch hunts. At every step here, the police have conducted a series of movements along various dimensions - political, ideological, legal, economic, etc - which isn't reducible to the forms of repression deployed. Even in its repressive moment, the state is enacting ideology - because ideology is not just a field of representation, but precisely a set of material practises, customs, lifestyle etc. When the police punish individuals (and, relevantly, fail to punish others), they contribute to these practises.
So, what is left that is mysterious about the relationship between the police and the media? Yesterday, I said that the capitalist media operates in a specific vector of class power concerned with the reproduction of ideas and images and that its relationship with politicians was thus very natural as the latter also play a key role in the reproduction of ideology. The capitalist media's ability to reproduce the dominant ideas and images in society is expressive of the dominance of capital in and over society. If the state, as we have also said, concretises social relations, then the police in a capitalist state concretise the political and ideological dominance of the capitalist class. Nothing is more logical than an alliance of mutual dependence between a sector of capitalist class power that is ideologically dominant, and a sector of state power that materializes that ideological domination in its day to day practises. Such an alliance, even a corrupt or criminal one, merely formalizes the implicit systemic co-dependence of the two. The fact that it took the form of this kind of criminal conspiracy owes itself to more concrete determinations than we have discussed here - the specific history of the Metropolitan Police, the evolution of the Murdoch empire, the accumulated outcomes of past struggles, the politics of the modern Conservative and Labour parties, and so on. But those will have to be followed up tomorrow.
As promised, this is the first in a series of posts looking at different aspects of the ruling class. Before diving into some more abstract considerations, let me just draw your attention this description of the 'final hurrah' of the 'Chipping Norton set':
Rupert Murdoch's daughter Elisabeth and her PR tycoon husband Matthew Freud threw a party of decadent opulence and excess that saw the political and media elite flock to their 22-bedroom Cotswolds mansion Burford Priory yet again.
Just 24 hours later, the news broke that murdered schoolgirl Milly Dowler's mobile had been hacked by Rupert Murdoch's News of the World newspaper and his global empire was plunged into disarray.
The group has been dubbed the Chipping Norton Set because its key members, including Prime Minister David Cameron, all own homes within a few miles of the Oxfordshire town. One prominent member of the set described its allure – and its value to the Murdochs.
'It is like the social wing of the Murdoch media empire. Rupert wields his influence through his newspaper and TV network. Elisabeth and Matthew feed off this by providing a link between the worlds of politics, business and showbusiness. Their wealth means they can provide for them all to meet in complete privacy at Burford. Behind it all is the unspoken assumption that if you are out of favour with Rupert Murdoch, you are not likely to get invited.'
At the party, just before the fell of dark, are cabinet ministers and ex-cabinet ministers (Cameronites and Blairites - the Thatcherite coalition in parliament), media personnel, and corporate executives. Aside from the Murdochs, there is Michael Gove, Peter Mandelson, Ed Vaizey, David Miliband, James Purnell, Douglas Alexander from the front benches, Robert Peston, Alan Yentob and Jeremy Clarkson from the BBC, Rebekah Brooks and her Etonian husband Charlie Brooks, Cameron's policy advisor Steve Hilton, the PR man Matthew Freud (Elizabeth Murdoch's husband), and Google executive Rachel Whetstone (Steve Hilton's wife). Put bluntly, at this little soiree you have a congregation of genuine members of the ruling class, alongside their courtiers, clerks and clowns. I would suggest that they're united by a broadly very similar alignment of interests and perspectives, centring on Atlanticism and economic liberalism. Such forms of socialisation and networking would surprise no one. The papers are filled at the moment with other, similar fare - swish dinners between top police officials and News Corp. execs, for example - though none has quite the same decadent, gilded age feel of this gathering of the doomed. They're like the rich in Diego Rivera's mural for the Rockefeller building, partying in obscene opulence, while the syphillis cell floats menacingly over their heads.
The sense in which this gathering is illustrative of ruling class power demands a little more elaboration, however, even at the risk of being pedantic. Inasmuch as a ruling class is ever acknowledged (and there is some scholarly literature, much of it a bit dated, on the subject), it is usually discussed in terms of property, privilege, status and power, working within elitist or pluralist problematics. Naturally, the discussion in the popular press tends to focus on 'colour', personality details, prestige, bank balance, geographies of privilege, social ties and inbreeding, but the truth is that the academia has done much to set the tone here by directing the focus to the attributes rather than sources of class power. The marxist approach is quite different. As Goran Therborn points out, the focus of marxist enquiries on the subject of a class is the process of its reproduction.
A society that does not reproduce itself at the same time as it is producing itself will not survive a day. This means that the classes that constitute the society must, in the very act of reproducing themselves, also reproduce the society. Therefore, to identify a class in any society is to identify its role in the reproduction of that society. To analyse class relations is to analyse productive relations. Capitalist production does not only create commodities and profits. It produces the capital-relation itself. It produces the capitalist, and the wage labourer. This way of looking at things has an important implication - one cannot look to market transactions and flows of income to understand how class works. Rather, it is outside the sphere of the market that classes are produced, in the workplace. Marx puts it like this: "The consumption of labour-power is completed, as in the case of every other commodity, outside the market of the sphere of circulation. Let us therefore, in company with the owner of money and the owner of labour-power, leave this noisy sphere, where everything takes place on the surface and in full view of everyone, and follow them into the hidden abode of production, on whose threshold there hangs the notice ‘No admittance except on business’. Here we shall see, not only how capital produces, but how capital is itself produced."
In this light, income flows, status, rank and prestige are attributes of class but do not define it. Take, for example, the question of social ranking. The distribution of rank in British society, as in most societies, is carried out on the basis of the evaluations of extant elites. By definition, then, rank is derivative of class. Rank may help define castes within classes, or may be part of the ideological sustenance of class domination, but it is secondary. Having said all that, I can now look at the Murdochs' gathering in minted rural Oxfordshire and state more specifically where the class power lies. The ruling class power lies principally with the hosts, the owners of major media & communications firms; as owners of capital, they reproduce the system by investing that capital and purchasing labour-power and productive technology in order to produce a surplus which they accumulate as profit. Jeremy Clarkson, a clown of sorts, is also a major owner of capital, generating almost a million a year from his holdings in one production company alone. Those whom I loosely characterised as courtiers and clerks, the politicians and corporate personnel who own no capital but exercise authority and social power on behalf of the owners (either directly or at some remove), would then be (upper) middle class.
But of course, there's more to it than this. Because this is a very specific kind of class power, in that these individuals represent sectors of power that are central to the reproduction of images and ideas. Unsurprisingly, there is a great deal of circulation between them - the Google PR woman Rachel Whetstone has also been an advisor to the Tories; Education Secretary Michael Gove is also a Times columnist (so in a very real sense was there to butter up his employers), and so on. Because of the power that they exert, the images and ideas they produce tend to become the dominant ones in society. For Marx and Engels, this could best be understood in light of the tendency for specialisation and the division of labour to be developed to a particularly marked degree under capitalism. Thus, the division of labour entailed a division between physical and mental labour, not merely among workers, but within the ruling class "so that inside this class one part appears as the thinkers of the class (its active, conceptive ideologists who make the formation of the illusions of the class about itself their chief source of livelihood)".
Of course, no ruling class ever does anything entirely for itself - not the cooking, not the child-rearing, not the driving (or, in Rebekah Brooks' case, the helicopter piloting), and most certainly not the thinking. Hence, the active, conceptive ideologists of the ruling class who precisely formulate "the illusions of the class" are only rarely members of the ruling class. There are a few cases where they are - Thomas Friedman, and Bernard-Henri Levy are examples - but otherwise they tend to be simply well-remunerated professionals, the gold-diggers of the academia and media, the upper middle class. The means by which this happens are straightforward in the proprietor-driven newspapers. The owner has a particular world-view, the editorial staff are expected to promote this world-view, and they duly hire and promote a suitably submissive and obedient staff to do just this. (Incidentally, such submissiveness is not only entirely compatible with hard-bitten individualism and self-interest, it is actually the form in which it is most encouraged as it constitutes an identification with the competitive weltanschauung of the master-class). It has been pointed out, for example, that of all of Rupert Murdoch's dozens of newspapers across the globe, not a single one opposed the Iraq war. It has also been pointed out that Murdoch was personally very close to and supportive of the Blair administration in this period. But of course, it is doubtful that Murdoch even had to be persuaded to support the Iraq war, or that he ever had to pick up a 'phone to find out which way his editors were thinking of going on the issue. It was probably just assumed, as Murdoch had specifically built his newspaper empire to automatically reproduce his general perspective - his reactionary politics and vicious morality, "the illusions of the class" - on a daily basis.
But even where a mega proprietor isn't involved, the market is such that there will always be more money in pleasing the ruling class. Even if you're an academic working in a slightly insulated environment (ever so slightly insulated), the real money, the real kudos, comes not from doing solid work for obscure academic journals, but from producing ruling class ideology through house organs, thinktanks, newspapers, and documentaries. Think were Niall Ferguson would be if he had been forced to rely on the Journal of Economic History and a shrinking humanities department for his income. Politicians are slightly more tragic in that most of them don't seek a fortune, but instead defer to ruling class ideology to a considerable extent because of the flak which backs up that ideology. The extent of this flak, the protection racket based on the potential for humiliating exposure and rabid denunciation, backed up by the police, has until recently only been guessed at.
This particular purview on ruling class power is ideal for discerning the way in which political and ideological relations are already present in productive relations. It also illustrates one of the ways in which it colonises the state and imposes its own imperatives, the better to facilitate its further reproduction and expansion. And this is an important point, leading into tomorrow's sequel: a ruling class is such when it commands the state, when the state responds to its needs as absolute imperatives. It is not necessary for this to be effective that there should be corruption, that coppers should be bribed and top officers wined and dined. Nor is it necessary that there should be the kinds of industrial scale corporate lobbying that is familiar in K-Street. It is not necessary, but it helps - or rather, it represents a kind of advance for those sectors of capital able to effect it, because it circumvents the corseting formalities imposed by democracy (without suspending or overthrowing it). The fact that politicians, policemen, and perhaps intelligence are imbricated with News International in networks of mutual corruption and lawlessness is indicative not that the system broke down, but that it worked as normal, producing the expected concentrations of capitalist class power in the hugely influential region of ideological reproduction. Given the agents involved, and the relations of power involved, what else could have happened? And now it's breaking down.
It is a characteristic of capitalism in crisis that the ruling class begins to fragment as its unifying discourses cease to be plausible, and as coherent responses to crisis fail to present themselves. In such circumstances, a crisis that might previously have been regionalised and specific to one sector of the ruling class can suddenly have vertiginous implications for the whole class, its cohesion, its legitimacy and its ability to lead. A crisis is not the same as downfall, by any means; it means, in this context, a disruption of the normal channels of power, and particularly in the flows of its reproduction, which may or may not be susceptible to resolution depending on the capacities of strategically important ruling class agencies, especially the political executive. Much will depend now on how effectively Number Ten coordinates a variety of sympathetic networks to draw steam out of the issue while gradually closing down the debate and allowing the summer holidays to bury the story. That depends, of course, on how much a divided Tory party is prepared to rally behind Cameron, and how much the Liberals are prepared to go along with it.
The big story of the parliamentary inquiries, I suspect, will not be the Murdochs squirming. It will be the appearance of senior police officers and News International employees who are much more directly exposed in all this. There is something symmetrical and appropriate about the criminal relationship between the police and the corporate media. Is it that both are so innately venal and reactionary from top to bottom that it's hard to tell who is corrupting whom? Is it that the power of both has been sharply enhanced in the era since 1979? Or is it just that they complement one another in the respective forms of politicised class power that they wield? Could it be that, as an ideological power, the Murdoch press took it upon itself to engage in moralised coercion? Or that, as a coercive power, the police and criminal justice system have a clear moral and ideological function - think of the student protests, or 'black on black violence', the Islamophobic crackdowns, and all the way back to the suffragettes, etc.? Is it that when the police wanted to target someone their evidence can't touch, they turn to the tabloids (remember News of the World's claims about the Koyair brothers); and when News International wanted to get an enemy (Sheridan) they turned to the police? At any rate, as the scandal rolls on menacingly toward the Prime Minister, claiming scalps along the way, there is an opportunity to look into the usually opaque and secretive world of the ruling class, its forms of cohesion and coordination and, particularly, its ability to impregnate the state with its imperatives and priorities. So, that's what we'll be doing all week at the Tomb. Stay tuned.
Britain's largest trade union, Unite, is launching cut-price memberships for students and the unemployed as it attempts to boost its ranks and counter David Cameron's "big society".
Unite will offer students, single parents and the jobless 50p per week "community memberships" as it focuses on neighbourhoods as well as workplaces. Trade unions are battling falling membership numbers and government spending cuts that will put their finances under further threat by eliminating public sector jobs – their most fertile recruiting ground.
In an interview with the Guardian, the general secretary of Unite, Len McCluskey, also warned that strikes by millions of state employees are "inevitable" this autumn because of government inflexibility over pension reforms, while he criticised Labour party leader Ed Miliband for an "ill-advised" attack on last month's public sector walkouts...
Unite leaders are in a position to know that mergers and other short-cuts to holding back the decline of union density have proven to be ineffective in the long run. They need to engage in major recruitment campaigns, and inviting students and the unemployed to be trade unionists in defence of their community is a great basis for doing this. I hope it signals the beginning of a nationwide outreach campaign.
None of the Murdoch clan have gone yet, but look at this: Rebekah Brook has resigned (and is now in police custody), Dow Jones CEO Les Hinton has resigned, and now the head of the Metropolitan Police Sir Paul Stephenson has gone. Now, when News of the World was first closed down, it was seen by some as a very clever, cynical escape trick: by ditching the paper and its problems, Murdoch could shake off the clamour for investigations and resignations. Rebekah Brooks' job was protected, no senior individual within Newscorp would be touched, and certainly the extensive web of police corruption would hardly be touched on. It hasn't quite worked out that way. A very significant nexus of ruling class power is decomposing. And the weakening of the Met's legitimacy is very important as the force leads the criminal justice system's crackdown on popular opposition to austerity, with highly demonstrative sentences for individuals, and the sick treatment of Alfie Meadows, is hugely important. Chris Bryant MP, who deserves credit for his role in all this, is suggesting that the Metropolitan Police has been corrupted to its core, with good reason. So, when Sir Paul Stephenson lauds the force's handling of the royal wedding and the student protests, it's worth remembering that nothing that comes out of his mouth now will pass the smell test. Also note that some in the Tory Right are gunning for Cameron, who is up to his neck in this and suddenly looks very vulnerable. The Telegraph's leader writer Damian Thompson puts itlike this: "it will be difficult to vote Tory at the next election". If the Toriest of Tories can't vote Tory, who the bloody hell can?
ps: Thanks to my Flattrrrrrs. But I just wanted to mention to anyone who doesn't yet use Flattr that the money donated to blogs using that method is actually transferred to Paypal when paid out. This means that a 10% fee is deducted twice. Until I've found a way around this, and unless you already use Flattr and have an interest in supporting its fragile ecosphere, I would ask you please to use Paypal. Thank you again, and can I just say that's a smashing top you're wearing?
I have been trying to decipher the ongoing wars over the 'deficit ceiling' in the US. Essentially, as you may have read, the Republicans in Congress are raising the prospect of forcing a default by refusing to raise the 'deficit ceiling', which would allow the US to borrow sufficient money to pay its bills. They insist that they will only support an increase if the administration assents to a plan to repay the deficit with 100% spending cuts and no increase in tax revenues.
There is precedent for this sort of conduct. The creation of fiscal crises in order to force a transformation of class relations (as mediated through the public sector) is a mainstay of neoliberal ruling classes since, perhaps, the New York City fiscal crisis. It's certainly how the Republicans have attempted to force through such changes in Wisconsin. Even so, playing chicken with the government's ability to pay its bills might strike you as insanely counter-productive even from the perspective of the US ruling class. A default would be deeply damaging to US capitalism. And certainly, Wall Street is not happy with the Republicans' conduct, despite the latter's claim that they are merely deferring to the mighty bond markets. It's important to appreciate just how far Obama has gone to meet the Republicans' demands. He is quite insistent that trillions of dollars of 'savings' (cuts) need to be found over the next decade, and recently offered the GOP a $4000bn 'grand bargain', comprising deep cuts to social security and medicare - which has further alienated his base and shocked some on the left of the Democratic Party. All the Democrats want is the ability to raise some of the money from tax revenues, and for a little bit of that to come from the richer tax payers. As Shawn Whitney points out, there doesn't appear to be a difference of principle between Obama and his Republican opponents, merely one of degree. In fact, the strident articulation of neoliberal orthodoxy by the administration is one of the reasons why centre-left economists such as Paul Krugman and Robert Reich keep bashing their heads against their keyboards.
There is a rumour, being encouraged by the administration, that by supporting cuts Obama is cannily positioning himself as a 'moderate' to win over frightened independent voters. This seems superficially plausible, and feeds into the narrative, disseminated on both sides of the Atlantic, that Obama is trying to steer a sensible course between right and left whose silly ideological squabbles risks destroying the economy. Yet governments always claim a pseudo-democratic mandate for policies they intend to pursue anyway by claiming that they're beholden to the voters. The same governments, you tend to find, are quite happy to force through unpopular policies, while claiming that the issue is too important to treat as a political football (meaning it's too important for democracy).
Obama will probably have no difficulty being re-elected, not because he has delivered for his voters, but because he has delivered for capitalism. Yes, capitalism is now operating at a much lower growth rate, with a larger reserve army of labour. But profitability has made a recovery, and some of the worst has been avoided, even if this does mean that there is a glut of unproductive capital that hasn't been destroyed. (The Hayekians in the Republican Party are particularly exercised by this). Jared Bernstein, a former Google exec who has moved through the revolving doors connecting silicon capitalism to the White House (I am assured I'm wrong about this, see comment thread), points out that the distributive trends under Obama's watch have been as terrible for wages as they have been a boon for profits, and provides this graph:
Note what's happened here. Financialization has tended to mean not the dominance of financial corporations over industry, but rather the emergence of industrial and service firms as autonomous financial actors. They tend to fund their investments from their own retained profits rather than from bank lending, and those profits have been increasingly augmented by financial holdings. A classic example was GM making 40% of its profits from financial investments. So, though industry is still sluggish, productive investment is low, and unemployment is settling at a higher new plateau (notably, the Obama administration accepts that this reflects a 'natural' or 'structural' rate of unemployment), the revival of Wall Street has boosted profitability.
The result is that the US capitalist class is rallying behind Obama's re-election campaign. His 2012 campaign manager has recently announced that Obama raised "$86 million for the first quarter - shattering previous fundraising records by incumbents, dwarfing the totals of the GOP field, and besting the campaign's own $80 million target". The Republicans, as far as I'm concerned, are taking a dive this time. The candidates they are fielding are heavily weighted toward the lunatic right, and the grandees don't appear to be disciplining the reactionaries ahead of the election. As a consequence, no matter how much Obama disappoints his own base, his well-financed campaign, unchallenged in the Democratic Party, combined with revulsion over the Bachmanns, Santorums, Gingriches and Pawlentys, will probably ensure victory. So, I'm saying that the dance-off between Obama and the Republicans is not mainly about the election.
What's really happening is that Obama is using the Republican right as a weapon against his own base to deliver policies that his class allies favour. Yet he has no intention of allowing the GOP to force a default, and seems to be intent on avoiding a completely cuts-based approach to the deficit. And he has the class power of Wall Street backing him up. Apart from anything else, there's the strange relationship with Chinese capitalism to think about. The US hasn't completely gone down the route of austerity in the way that EU ruling classes have, in part I think because the US-PRC axis which has basically driven global growth depends on America borrowing to buy Chinese products, while China ensures a profitable investment climate for overseas capital. Defaulting, undertaking excessive or premature 'fiscal consolidation', or hitting consumer spending too hard, would presumably put that dynamic in some danger. In other words, I think what's happening here is a relatively sophisticated and partially choreographed example of class praxis, with the political conditions being created for the rolling out of an austerity project with a degree of flexibility and pragmatism built in. The deficit wars, from the White House's perspective, seem to be largely about putting manners on the Republican far right while using them to neutralise popular opposition to the coming capitalist offensive.
I suppose amid this crisis of the Murdoch empire, which reflects a deeper crisis in the print media more generally, it's important to start thinking about alternative funding models. Four months ago, I tapped readers for tips on Paypal, and was relieved and gratified by dozens of generous responses. But I was also urged to get with the programme, learn how to use the internet, and sign up to alternatives to Paypal. In part, this was to facilitate regular small payments - which I have to admit would be extremely useful - and in part to allow Paypal boycotters to spare me a dime. One of the systems I was urged to try out was Flattr.
The deal with Flattr is best explained by Dan Hind:
Flattr is a micro-payments system that allows its users to give small sums of money to bloggers, musicians, free software authors, and anyone else whose work they value. You create an account and distribute a minimum of two euros per month (less a 10% commission taken by Flattr) to sites you value. The money is divided equally among all the sites you flattr in a given month. You can also opt to give individual sites more. If you don’t flattr anyone your monthly sum goes to charity.
Now the system is by no means perfect. It depends on large numbers of people signing up, of course. And so there is a danger that it will seek to secure monopoly rents if and when it becomes the standard means to delivering micro-payments. Furthermore, the commission is at the moment quite steep, though the company assures us that they will endeavour to bring it down as the volume increases.
But it strikes me to be a promising approach to solving a real problem: how do wecreate an internet ecology that supports independent producers? This is a serious and highly consequential issue in political writing, where large corporations and wealthy individuals have traditionally subsidised content creation.
Much of this money has come in the form of advertising – this gives rich companies important leverage in their relationship with the media they support....
Rich individuals and institutions also spend money with the express intention of creating and maintaining a favourable climate of opinion. Think tanks, foundations, and individuals receive all manner of direct and indirect support from the powerful. And the powerful expect their money to be put to good use. They want to see it being translated into media coverage that suits them. The large foundations created by American industrialists, for example, have supported academics and groups in civil society that accepted the essential soundness of the existing political and economic settlement. This in turn has been crucial in establishing the limits of responsible reform. This amounts to promoting what one of their critics, Donald Fischer, once called ‘an ideology of sophisticated conservatism’.
The state, too, spends considerable sums in order to influence the ways in which it is perceived. The Pentagon alone manages a vast public relations budget, which it uses to establish leverage over myriad media outlets, from Hollywood movie producers to newspaper journalists and broadcasters.
So both market forces and the direct intervention of wealthy patrons – patrons which include the state – skew media coverage in important, though rarely discussed, ways.
This needs to change.
Emphasis added. Flattr itself is not a panacea, it appears to have some disadvantages relative to Paypal, and I have reservations about the model of an 'internet ecology'. However, it would be foolish not to experiment with systems like this. The Left will never have as much wealth and power as its opponents, short of some revolutionary outrage, but it can maximise its use of resources. There will be numerous ways in which funding systems for left-wing online publishing can be coordinated, but as yet we're probably pretty slow in even beginning the process of searching for sustainable funding models. So, I'm giving Flattr a try. If you feel like supporting me, and don't like Paypal, then simply click on the Flattr button beneath any particular post and donate that way.