Tag Archives: capitalism

On ‘Postcapitalism’ and Recent Events – #Nice, #Turkey

I’ve just finished reading the book Postcapitalism by Paul Mason, and some
recent global events have got me thinking about the book’s arguments.
As America becomes more polarised, We’ve also just had two pretty seismic events unfold: the slaughter in Nice and the coup attempt in Turkey.

Paul Mason commentates regularly on the knock-on economic impacts of such happenings as the economics editor for Britain’s Channel 4 News. His journalistic written style perhaps explains why a book which discusses sometimes arcane economic theory is such a compelling read. 

THIS CHANGES EVERYTHING

His basic argument is that the pace of infotech development over recent years has changed everything. Knowledge is increasingly free, and readily available at our fingertips. For example, the first I heard of the terror attack in Nice was while pootering about on Twitter: the news of the attack was not originally verifiable, but as it shot to the top trending topic it was clear that something very big and very bloody was unfolding in that city. 

Mason sees the free diffusion of knowledge (not just via social media but in the free exchange of ideas and science more broadly) as such a challenge to the privatise-at-all-costs mantra of neoliberalism that it could topple capitalism as we know it. He goes back to Marx’s Grundrisse and the great German philosopher’s meditation on how, if there were ever a machine invented that would never wear out, capitalism would crumble. He then points to the revolutionary potential of zero cost products in an economy based on information.

Mason did not have to convince me of the apocalyptic possibilities of capitalism if it continues as it does presently. Irreversible climate change, environmental destruction, the mass unavailability of lifesaving drugs, a new chasm between the ultra wealthy 1% and the rest of us: capitalism has to be altered, otherwise we, and the succeeding generations, are all heading to hell in a handcart.

But it does not necessarily follow that the revolution in infotech will deliver Postcapitalism, or even a better capitalism. The Apple corporation, for example, constructs a walled garden around free music, literature, ideas and art by forcing people to buy a variety of its products in order to harness them at all. Mason, to give him his due, notes this; more importantly, though, he notes the prospect of governments clamping down on this unprivatised brave new world.

STATE CLAMPDOWNS

Here lies the danger. The spot on the Promenade des Anglais on which the Nice killer fell is now littered with detritus and people assemble to spit on it. The killer’s actions, in the popular mindset, are not now human but monstrous. With the perpetrators of terrorist events commonly dehumanised and dubbed monstrous, the possibility of state crackdown is surely more alive than ever. 

When senior politicians like French President Francois Hollande are booed at commemorations, as happened in Nice last week, the tempting solution for the political establishment is to clamp down harder. Ever harder. Harder on the terrorists, yes, but also harder on the freedoms Mason lauds, and all in the name of security. Think of the Chinese government’s regular, outrageous censorship of the Internet. Think of Turkey’s President Erdogan and his tendency to do the same, only enhanced by the coup attempt in his country at the weekend. Think, too, of British prime minister Theresa May’s support for the UK’s proposed ‘snooper’s charter’. Ironically, Erdogan denounced the coup via FaceTime, the sort of free info / person-to-person platform Mason lauds and the Turkish president loathes.

INTERVENTION
Coming back to Mason, he has been dismissed by some as an unreconstructed Trot, but he does attack many of the old leftist shibboleths. The early twentieth century socialists – Trotsky, Luxembourg, Lenin – were wrong to perceive the imminent collapse of capitalism, he claims. He also doubts the ability of centralised state planning to effect the desired-for transition to Postcapitalism. The people, individuals, and not the omnicompetent state, will deliver Postcapitalism, says Mason. He wants a ‘Wikistate’, run like Wikipedia with just a couple of hundred administrators overseeing a wealth of freedom. 
However, and more broadly, we are actually witnessing the rise of politicians promising more state intervention, not less – Donald Trump is a good example, a cowboy pinup of the aggressive business world like Reagan, but hardly a neoliberal in the classic sense. With Brexit, with the resurgence of the European right, anxiety over uncontrolled immigration etc it seems people are demanding more intervention, not less. The price of greater security, then, may well be the jettisoning of the free anticapitalist ethos that Mason celebrates.
BRAVE NEW WORLD

There are other flaws, to my mind, with Mason’s thesis. But his cry for a different world borne of different thinking – one in which individuals all receive a flat wage and so do not have to perform ‘bullshit work’, in which banks are held to account and responsible and sustainable business practice rewarded – is one which should be embraced and not dismissed haughtily.

And yet. And yet. At times this book, for all its historical sweep, seems trapped in an intellectual cul de sac. Mason’s Postcapitalism, when he gets around to defining it, seems to be a mixture of the free market, the interventionist state, and – lording it above all equals – the techno geek. It all feels a bit faddish, a feeling I first got with Mason last year when reading a Guardian piece by him on how the hipster brewing company ‘Brewdog’ is an example ofPostcapitalism in making its recipes freely available and offering easily accessible share options. Oh please.

As the events in Turkey show, in this fast paced ever changing world, change is often effected in quite traditional ways: helicopters, television pronouncements, angry mobs. Great change in the world is certainly greatly desirable, but it may just arrive via more established means.

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Trying to sanitise the #EasterRising insults people’s intelligence #1916Rising

Take a look at the above front pages. On the left is the original Irish Times cover from April 1916, reporting on the Rising in Dublin. On the right is today’s Irish Times special edition reprint. Can you spot the difference?

It’s this: in today’s reprint, the heading ‘Sinn Féin Rebellion in Ireland’ has been removed.

This has caused something of a Twitter-storm (look it up: it’s similar to a storm in a tea cup).

In the red corner, people are alleging that the Irish Times is censoring its former self for political reasons: the newspaper has a traditionally critical line on today’s Sinn Féin party (Adams, McGuinness et al) and many have seen in this an attempt to stop today’s Sinn Féin capitalising politically by further claiming ownership of this founding moment of the Irish state.

In the blue corner, the paper’s defence is that this is simply a matter of space. It is a reprint, not an exact replica of the historical source, and therefore it is not a carbon copy.

I can see both sides of this argument here. If you look at the original, there is also a fairly prominent advertisements for ‘FURS’ (top left) – now you wouldn’t expect the paper to reproduce that, would you? (Actually, let’s leave furs out of this entirely because that is another kettle of fish entirely and I don’t want to start a twitter-storm involving PETA).

 

On the other hand, you have only to look to the uneasy political situation in the Republic of Ireland to see why the Irish Times might be determined to expunge any mention of Sinn Féin, even historically. While we are still without a government, the Irish Times – which prides itself on its liberal image – is loathe to hand any gains to a party which many on its staff regard as green fascists.

Add to this the fact that Sinn Féin have been fairly shamelessly going about ‘owning’ 1916, the same way they ‘own’ the 1981 Hunger Strikes, and you can see a clear motive for wanting to remove ‘Sinn Féin Rebellion’ from the headline in today’s edition. If I have to view another nauseating picture of the Sinn Féin party elite posing next to rebel re-enactors in Boer-inspired slouch hats and Sam Brown belts I may actually gag. If you haven’t had enough, there are plenty more to view here.

Trying to sanitise the 1916 Rising, however (or de-SinnFéinise it) is a dangerous game.

The writer Colm Toibín, interviewed last night on Channel 4 News, made a good point about why the Irish state must commemorate this event. To do otherwise, he argued, would hand the initiative to dissident republicans up north determined to take out prison officers or police as a commemorative souvenir, and he raised the spectre of balaclava-clad young men marching past Dublin’s GPO in place of the Irish Army.

That is fair enough. While the fiftieth anniversary (1966) commemoration is now viewed as a tad triumphalist, the Irish state has, this time, tried to strike a balance this time. But only – it should be remembered – after the public and media commentators baulked at the watered down, corporate crap originally offered up along with ill-conceived plans to invite a British royal along for the day.

In fact, the bien pensants in charge of things as Ireland hits its ‘decade of commemorations’ seem determined to push the ‘look how far we’ve come’ narrative by throwing in gratuitous references to British royalty and the Queen’s ‘historic’ visit in 2011 at every turn.

OK, no one can deny the above was a significant moment. But when I hear people who assume leading roles in all this wondering, on a BBC Radio 4 documentary broadcast last week

“would James Connolly have thought that the room he spent his last days in, just round the corner, would be where the Queen prepared herself for the big momentous speech she gave here? And would he have believed that she would have opened that speech in the Irish language”

then I am tempted to bark back at the radio just what I think Connolly’s reaction would be:

  • “Unelected heads of state? What a barbarous relic. Have we not got rid of the British royal family yet? I was born in Britain after all!”
  • “Did I die for the sort of wealth inequality and corporation tax rates that make this wonderful country now resemble a banana Republic / tax haven?”
  • “I couldn’t give a feck if she spoke in Irish – please see my oft-quoted remarks about how merely painting post boxes from red to green doth not a revolution make!”

But then, that’s just my opinion.

And that’s the very point: commemorating or remembering 1916, or any historical event for that matter, is all about differing opinions because of course we don’t know ‘what Connolly would have said’ or ‘what Pearse would have done’.

In this era of eclectic media – especially digital media – we do not need the old dead-tree press or the old state broadcaster telling us what to think any more. We’ve moved beyond the idea that people are unthinking dupes beholden to print headlines. Haven’t we?

To give the mainstream media its credit, I think that most coverage of 1916, Irish Times included, has not shied away from the fact that it was a violent ‘terrorist’ act, pretty undemocratic [as we today understand the term], and carried out by a minority of a minority. As usual, and as I write this, it has taken a priest to chip in with an opinion that is pretty ill-judged and harks back to heavily revisionist interpretations of the Rising, but the overall tone – in this writer’s view – has not been disagreeable.

But if The Irish Times did indeed remove the words ‘Sinn Féin Rebellion’ for political reasons, whoever took the decision needs to take a long hard look at themselves. Not everyone will know that the current Sinn Féin is the latest incarnation of a political brand that has had several different, and separate, existences in Ireland in the twentieth century. But for heaven’s sake, most Irish people realise that the Sinn Féin of today is not the Sinn Féin of Arthur Griffith of one hundred years ago, the small ‘dual monarchy’ party to which the Rising was mis-attributed in the first place.

To assume otherwise is to insult the general public’s intelligence.

And if the 1916 Rising teaches us anything it’s that treating the mass of people as subalterns will, eventually, give rise to unexpected outpourings of anger.

 

 

 

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Armenia remembers its genocide but struggles to keep up with the Kardashians

On 24 APRIL Armenia and its diaspora marked the centenary of the Turkish deportations and killings of 1915 which left an estimated 1.5 million dead. But as the nation looked to the past with a little help from its most famous celebrity ‘daughter’, Kim Kardashian, questions emerged for me about Armenia’s future aspirations.

On 10 April, two weeks before the official national day of remembrance, Armenia’s National Genocide Memorial was mobbed with people. It was overcast and drizzling with rain. The thousands of wreaths adorning the memorial, a concrete chunk of Soviet monumentalism which overlooks the capital Yerevan, usually rest silent and undisturbed. But on that day things were different because Armenian-American superstar Kim Kardashian, her sister Khloe, and rapper husband Kanye West, were in town accompanied by legions of police and photographers.

Before the Kardashian circus had pulled up, I was completely ignorant of its presence. I was getting irate from trying unsuccessfully to make my way into the museum adjoining the memorial, which was mysteriously closed. Unusually for Armenia, even my offer of a bribe wasn’t opening the doors. Something was up. It then became clear: two weeks prior to the official day of remembrance, the Kardashians were there to pay their respects.

Kim-and-Khloe-Kardashian

Armenia’s suffering overshadowed as Turkey pulled a fast one

Choosing one particular date on which to commemorate genocide is always tricky, particularly so in this case; Turkey none-too-subtly advanced its Gallipoli commemorations to 24 April in an attempt to divert the West’s gaze from its historical crimes in Armenia. So as global heads of state flew out to Turkey for the Gallipoli events [Putin and Sarkozy were the only big guns to show up in Yerevan] Turkey partially succeeded in eclipsing Armenia’s suffering with Gallipoli.

To explain, 24 April is significant because it was on that date in 1915 that the Young Turk government executed 20 leading Armenian intellectuals: a symbolic assault on the brains of Armenia which marked the start of a fresh assault on hundreds of thousands of Armenian bodies.

The official slogan of the Armenian state’s commemorations is ‘remember and demand’, the latter exhortation a reference to the ongoing struggle for recognition of the events of 1915 as genocide. And although some Armenians I spoke to detested Kim Kardashian, others thought that she had helped a great deal on this score.

“Kim Kardashian has done more than any political or religious leader to highlight the Armenian genocide” claimed one young Armenian man, a concert pianist, to whom I spoke. “By just coming here”, he told me, “she’s achieved more than any politician or even the Pope [who recently referred to the Armenian woes of 1915 as the ‘first genocide of the twentieth century’] to get our genocide recognised internationally”.

Armenia's national genocide memorial, Yerevan

Armenia’s national genocide memorial, Yerevan

Armenians remember

Armenians remember

Dispute over the mass killings of Armenians

So why the controversy about recognition? Turkish denial aside, there are those who dispute whether, to quote the 1948 UN definition of genocide, the Turkish acts of 1915 constitute “acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnic, racial or religious group”.

Several points about the genocide are important. The figure of 1.5 million deaths is an estimate: figures for mass killings are rarely neat. It was largely carried out in the course of forced ‘death marches’ rather than in death camps, although there were ‘deportation centres’ which functioned as sites of death. Starvation accounted for many of the deaths, although many were also shot, drowned or burned to death. An interesting footnote relates to German involvement: many German officers, commanding Turkish regiments at this point in the First World War, presided over the deathly deportations.

The divide between ‘Westerners’ and locals

I don’t know whether Kim Kardashian was fully aware of the ins and outs of the controversy when she did her bit at the Armenian Genocide Memorial two weeks ago. The whole thing had the vacuous shades of that staple of modern Irish culture – the returned Yank – about it. Think Grace Kelly visiting Ireland in the Sixties.

Kardashian, looking resplendent in a red jumpsuit, certainly seemed to add to the noticeable divide between ‘Westerners’ and locals in Yerevan that day. It was in no small part due to this conspicuous divide that I ended up, by chance, sitting at a hotel bar alongside some members of the American film crew covering Kim’s ‘homecoming’.
They told me that on the trip the Kardashians had also visited their ancestral northern hometown of Gyumri: a city destroyed by an earthquake in 1988 and with none of the gaudy and glitzy glamour of parts of downtown Yerevan.

Suffice to say, Kim didn’t stay long in Gyumri. The scheduled day-long trip was curtailed to an hour, they revealed. I later visited Gyumri and could see why. To describe it as a ‘dump’, as one member of the Kardashian entourage did to me, would be unkind but, regrettably, reasonably accurate.

IMG_0495IMG_0470

Armenia continues to suffer from wealth disparity and miserable poverty

The plight of the Kardashians’ ‘home town’ highlights the problems that Armenia faces in the wake of today’s centenary, after which the world will move on to the next historical commemoration. These include hostile neighbours in Azerbaijan and Turkey; lack of post-communist political evolution; and over-reliance on Russian troops, one of whom recently, in Gyumri , drunkenly massacred a local family of seven.

But most of all, Armenia suffers from wealth disparity and miserable poverty. In a country which has tended to look to its diaspora for financial support, there’s precious little evidence of ‘trickle down’. All of which, despite her recent ‘homecoming’, makes the super-rich Kim Kardashian a problematic standard bearer for modern Armenia.

Armenians may look with gratitude to the Kardashians for helping to make today’s genocide commemoration newsworthy but, in the wake of the circus, they still have precious little chance of keeping up with them.

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