10 KICKASS THINGS HUMANITY DID IN 2014

C21st Left

Even in this era of low expectations, intellectual daring finds a way.

Article by Brendan O’Neill reprinted with permission of Spiked. With thanks.

* * * *

It’s all the rage to be down about humanity. Public figures are forever lecturing us about our ‘eco-footprint’ and how our industrial arrogance turned what was an innocent ball of biodiversity spinning through space into a smoggy, nearly dead planet. Campaigners constantly tell us that if ebola doesn’t kill us, then AIDS probably will, or maybe it will be climate change, or perhaps it will be all that junk grub and booze and fags we stupidly consume. If a Martian visited Earth (more on Martians in a minute) and turned on the TV or opened a newspaper, he or she or it could be forgiven for thinking that human beings are little more than destroyers — of both the planet and themselves — who never do anything nice or brilliant.

But we do. Still. Even in this era of low expectations. Even when every cultural signal says, ‘Don’t explore’, ‘Don’t expand’, ‘Don’t go forth and multiply’. Even in the twenty-first century’s sludge of misanthropic thinking, the green shoots of intellectual daring find a way, and peek through. So here are 10 kickass things done by humanity in 2014.

10) We emailed a spanner into space

Yes, you read that right: human beings emailed a spanner into space. It seems like only yesterday — well, 20 years ago — that we were marvelling at the fact that we could send letters, and then photos, from our computers, across continents, in the blink of an eye, without having to wait for airplanes to deliver them. Now, NASA has emailed an actual object. How? Well, the International Space Station has a 3D printer; one of the ISS guys told NASA he needed a new socket wrench, and instead of making him wait months for it to be delivered from Earth, NASA emailed him instructions to put into the 3D printer and, lo, the exact spanner he needed came out. You know what this means? We finally have something very like teleportation, the dream of Star Trek and countless other sci-fi fantasies. The possibilities are endless. There is already talk of, at some future point, putting 3D printers on the moon that will dig into the moon’s crust and use its raw materials to print out the beginnings of human habitats. Would save us having to do the hard graft.

9) We made sperm

Yes, I know, the male section of humankind is always making sperm — but this year we made it without the benefit of sex, or our right hands, in a laboratory. Researchers at Cambridge University converted adult skin tissue into the precursors of sperm, and eggs, and are now exploring whether these precursor cells can become actual sperm and eggs. It’s like a winding back of time, a teasing out of the long-gone, most embryonic conditions of our cells, of ourselves. This research could have two potential impacts, one amazing, one almost unbelievable. The amazing one is that even the infertile might be able to breed children of an exact genetic match, their own children, through the creation of sperm and eggs from their skin cells. The almost unbelievable one is that this could represent the beginnings of mankind assuming mastery over evolution itself, no longer having to heed nature’s diktats about when the animal body may and may not multiply. Some will darkly shout ‘Brave New World!’ — I say so long as it’s all about choice, autonomy and giving people what they want, bring it on.

8) We found loads of new fossil fuels

You know all that talk of peak oil, peak gas, peak this, peak that? Turns out it was nonsense. Such nonsense that this year the oil price fell dramatically, for many varied reasons, but one of which is that there’s more oil than we thought. Some are going so far as to call ours an ‘age of abundance’. As the Financial Times said in November, ‘Ideas about peak oil seem to have been decisively refuted’. There is now thought to be 3.3 trillion barrels of oil and 22,900 trillion cubic feet of natural gas. And 1,040 billion tonnes of coal. Which is a lot. Three per cent more coal than we thought we had in 2011, in fact. Because that’s the thing: new fossil fuels are being discovered all the time. It’s no accident that all that peak bollocks was refuted this year: it’s a result, in large part, of the ‘shale revolution’, of what the FT calls ‘advances in the techniques of horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing’ — that is, of human endeavour. We might live in what feels like post-Enlightenment times, but we’re still doing that Enlightenment thing of ‘wresting nature’s secrets from her grasp’ (Francis Bacon). Up next: a uranium revolution?

7) We made more ‘ninja particles’

Yes, ‘ninja particles’ are as cool as they sound. As part of the explosion of research into nanomedicine — the implanting of infinitesimal machines or microbes into the body to attack disease — researchers have developed synthetic molecules that mimic our immune systems. It’s hoped these manmade molecules will one day, soon, be sent into the human body to attach themselves to certain microbes and cause those microbes to rupture — ‘as if they’d been hit by an explosive shuriken (ninja star)’, as one report in September gloriously said. These manmade ninjas could prove brilliantly deadly against antibiotic-resistant bugs and in bodies whose immune systems are rejecting newly transplanted organs. What was a Hollywood fantasy in the Eighties — Dennis Quaid being shrunk and sent into a human body in Inner Space — is now becoming a kind-of reality.

6) We found a former lake on Mars

From inner space to outer space, where in 2014 we discovered that a massive crater on Mars used to be a lake. Plucky, roving Curiosity, the wonderfully named, car-sized robot that NASA sent on a 350,000,000-mile journey to Mars in 2011, has been poking around and collecting data for boffins to analyse. And its examination of the sediment build-up in a 96-mile crater suggests this crater once held water, billions of years ago. Which means it could very well have generated life, too, even if just microbial life — Martian microbial life. Right now, as you chill in the holiday season, Curiosity is roaming the red planet, exploring a whole new mysterious world on humankind’s behalf. Next step: actual humans going where so far only a little robot has boldly gone, surely.

5) We made a lame man walk

‘And the lame shall walk’, said Christ in Matthew 11:5, boasting of his miraculous powers. We actually had to wait near-on 2,000 years for a man to make a lame man walk, and it wasn’t a Messiah who did it — it was cell-manipulating researchers. In 2010, a 40-year-old Pole was paralysed after being stabbed in the back. This year, thanks to scientists in London and surgeons in Poland, he can move his legs again and walk with the aid of a frame. The scientists took cells from his nasal cavity, which are among the most self-renewing cells in the human body, and nurtured and nourished them outside of his body before transplanting them into his spinal cord, injecting an invisible-to-the-naked-eye gaggle of cells into his spine 100 times over six months. And then — he moved his legs. It’s early days, but just imagine the possibilities if lifeless parts of the human body could be resurrected with injections.

4) We meddled with crops to make them more nutritious

To the fury of well-off, eco Westerners who never have to worry about where their next meal is coming from, mankind has been genetically modifying crops for years. This year we harvested crops genetically modified for nutritional value. Through splicing genes and patching organic data together in whole new ways — yes, yes, through ‘playing God’ — British scientists boosted a crop of camelina with Omega-3. The possibilities of these man-meddled nutrient-rich crops are endless, potentially delivering much-needed vitamins and sustenance to even the poorest of the world. One of the scientists described the research centre at which this work is done, in Hertfordshire, England, as ‘looking like Guantanamo’, all high fences, CCTV and Alsatians — a reminder that here in the West there are still many misanthropes ready and willing to destroy the fruits of mankind’s nature-defying labour.

3) We continued to wage war on poverty

When it was revealed in December that 92million Chinese people still live in poverty, Western media outlets had a field day. They overlooked the fact that, over the past 30 years, 753million Chinese have been lifted out of extreme poverty. Around the world, poverty is still a massive problem, but grinding poverty is in decline. In India, 126million have been lifted out of extreme poverty; in Indonesia, 66million. In 1990, 23.6 per cent of people in the developing world were undernourished; today, 11.8 per cent are — too many, but less. Two hundred years ago, the prototype modern miserabilist Thomas Malthus, hero to many greens, said there wasn’t enough stuff to sustain the people of Earth. There were 980million people on Earth back then. In the past 30 years more than 980million people have been lifted out of extreme poverty. Malthusians: getting shit wrong since 1798.

2) We continued to wage war on disease

Disease, nature’s violent whim, is in retreat from man’s deployment of science and technology. In December, the Lancet revealed that the global years lost as a result of killer diseases — from cancer to malaria to HIV — has been in steady and stunning decline since 1990. The list of once deadly diseases now cured by mankind, in the West at least, continues to grow: alongside tetanus, rabies, polio, yellow fever, measles and smallpox — causer of plagues of old — we may soon be able to add AIDS: manmade drugs now largely prevent HIV from becoming AIDS, meaning that this year deaths from AIDS were at their lowest since the peak of 10 years ago.

1) We landed a spacecraft on a comet

Six weeks after it happened, this still boggles the mind. A spacecraft called Rosetta, launched into the vast void 10 years ago, landed on a comet that is only 2.5 miles wide and is travelling at 24,600 miles per hour 300million miles away from Earth. As researchers at the European Space Agency that launched Rosetta said, this is like a fly landing on a speeding bullet. Why did we do this? Well, why not? And also because exploring the comet’s make-up will boost our understanding of our solar system. The comet’s composition reflects the pre-solar system stuff from which our Sun and planets were formed. Basically, we’re going back in time, exploring with machines the original raw materials of our corner of the universe. And yet, what was the big media talking point about Rosetta? That scientist guy’s shirt, which some silly media feminists found offensive: a brutal reminder of the medievalism and miserabilism that lurk in our midst even as we do spectacular things.

All this stuff — the emailing of spanners, the deployment of miniature ‘ninjas’, the robotic exploration of space — has been achieved in an era hostile to risk-taking and suspicious of mankind, in which we’re encouraged to worship at the altar of precaution and be always safe rather than sorry. So just imagine what we might achieve if we stripped way this straitjacket of anti-human thought and truly unleashed the human instinct to explore and to know. That’s what spiked will continue to devote itself to in 2015 — battling against the backward idea that humanity is a destructive force, and reviving the view of humans as controllers of the Earth, defiers of nature, and potential masters of the universe.

Brendan O’Neill is editor of spiked. Republished from 29th December Spiked with thanks.

BLUES MUSIC AND DEFIANCE

… there have been some notable exceptions to the dominant ‘worried life’ theme of the blues. There have also been courageous bluesmen and women who used the blues defiantly in bold resistance to authority.

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See update (TomG on Paul Robeson, 29 December) below (scroll down).
 

“The blues … the ball ‘n’ chain around every English musician’s neck… in fact, every musician’s neck”.

So sang Eric Burdon in a blues song called “As the years go passing by”.

But does the blues music genre have to be a ball-and-chain? Sure, since the early twentieth century, blues singers have mostly expressed lament, regret and grief: discontent and despair rather than defiance and rebellion. Karl Marx’s assessment of religion as “the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, and the soul of soulless conditions” can also apply to blues music.

Yet there have been some notable exceptions to the dominant ‘worried life’ theme of the blues. There have also been courageous bluesmen and women who used the blues defiantly in bold resistance to authority.

I became hooked on blues music in my teens. My first album purchase was called ‘Soul Supply’, a compilation offering a feast of styles and artists: Ike and Tina Turner, Bobby Bland, Jimmy Witherspoon, Lowell Fulsom, Vernon Garrett, King Solomon, Little Richard and Mary Love. I wanted more from that day on.

I also loved the blues-based rock music emerging in the 1960s, mostly by white performers with powerful vocal delivery such as Eric Burdon and Chris Farlowe. They did a lot to popularize the blues and to promote black American performers to British audiences and, indeed, among northern audiences in the USA itself.

When the lyrics of blues and rock music connected overtly to the rebellious left-wing political movement to which I belonged, it was more than a bonus – it was inspirational.

Music can – and does – inspire. Do you have any to add to my list? If so, send them to me with your commentary and I’ll add them to this post.


The following are my five favourites in the black American blues genre:

1. The Bourgeois Blues – Huddy Leadbetter (1888-1949) aka ‘Leadbelly’ (1938)

This is one of the early blues songs of defiance. Sure, there is also complaint in its theme but Leadbelly identifies the class nature of racial oppression and is defiant in his desire to “spread the news all around”. “The home of the Brave / The land of the Free / I don’t wanna be mistreated by no bourgeoisie”.

The song was written in response to Leadbelly’s visit to Washington to record songs for the Library of Congress. The celebrated ethnomusicologist and field collector, Alan Lomax, had arranged the visit and with their respective wives took Leadbelly out to dinner after the sessions. Various restaurants denied them entry because the party was a mix-race one, which infuriated Lomax and Leadbelly.

In the version below, Leadbelly sings the song and relates the circumstances that led to him writing it.

Lord, in a bourgeois town
It’s a bourgeois town
I got the bourgeois blues
Gonna spread the news all around

Home of the brave, land of the free
I don’t wanna be mistreated by no bourgeoisie
Lord, in a bourgeois town
Uhm, the bourgeois town
I got the bourgeois blues
Gonna spread the news all around

Well, me and my wife we were standing upstairs
We heard the white man say “I don’t want no niggers up there”
Lord, in a bourgeois town
Uhm, bourgeois town
I got the bourgeois blues
Gonna spread the news all around

Well, them white folks in Washington they know how
To call a colored man a nigger just to see him bow
Lord, it’s a bourgeois town
Uhm, the bourgeois town
I got the bourgeois blues
Gonna spread the news all around

I tell all the colored folks to listen to me
Don’t try to find you no home in Washington, DC
`Cause it’s a bourgeois town
Uhm, the bourgeois town
I got the bourgeois blues
Gonna spread the news all around

Leadebelly also did a protest song about the case of the Scottsboro Boys, in which the Communist Party of the USA played an important role on the side of the nine black teenagers wrongly accused of rape.

2. Mannish Boy – Muddy Waters (1913-1983) (1955)

Like Huddy Leadbetter, Muddy Waters was the real deal and had known first-hand the extremes of racial and class oppression. In the hands of various white rockers who later covered the song, it became a statement of masculine sexual prowess but in 1955, when Muddy recorded it, it had a much deeper meaning as a declaration of manhood. In the deep South of Muddy Waters’ upbringing, black adult men were regularly called ‘boy’ in the racist culture. Muddy’s song asserts “I’m a man” and he even spells it out to prove the point: “Mmm-Aaa- child – Nnn – I’m a MAN!” Radical and inspirational stuff!

Ooooooh, yeah, ooh, yeah

Everythin’, everythin’, everythin’s gonna be alright this mornin’
Ooh yeah, whoaw
Now when I was a young boy, at the age of five
My mother said I was, gonna be the greatest man alive
But now I’m a man, way past 21
Want you to believe me baby,
I had lot’s of fun
I’m a man
I spell mmm, aaa child, nnn
That represents man
No B, O child, Y
That mean mannish boy
I’m a man
I’m a full grown man
I’m a man
I’m a natural born lovers man
I’m a man
I’m a rollin’ stone
I’m a man
I’m a hoochie coochie man

Sittin’ on the outside, just me and my mate
You know I’m made to move you honey,
Come up two hours late
Wasn’t that a man
I spell mmm, aaa child, nnn
That represents man
No B, O child, Y
That mean mannish boy
I’m a man
I’m a full grown man
Man
I’m a natural born lovers man
Man
I’m a rollin’ stone
Man-child
I’m a hoochie coochie man

The line I shoot will never miss
When I make love to a woman,
She can’t resist
I think I go down,
To old Kansas Stew
I’m gonna bring back my second cousin,
That little Johnny Cocheroo
All you little girls,
Sittin’out at that line
I can make love to you woman,
In five minutes time
Ain’t that a man
I spell mmm, aaa child, nnn
That represents man
No B, O child, Y
That mean mannish boy
Man
I’m a full grown man
Man
I’m a natural born lovers man
Man
I’m a rollin’ stone
I’m a man-child
I’m a hoochie coochie man
Well, well, well, well
Hurry, hurry, hurry, hurry
Don’t hurt me, don’t hurt me child
Don’t hurt me, don’t hurt, don’t hurt me child
Well, well, well, well

3. Mississippi Goddam – Nina Simone (1993-2003) (1963)

Nina Simone was never one to hide her politics and was an activist as well as a brilliant pianist and singer. She took part in major struggles such as the march from Selma to Montgomery (Alabama’s capital) in 1965. At the conclusion of the march, she performed her song, “Mississippi Goddam” to a crowd of 40,000 civil rights activists. She had written the song in 1963 in response to the murder in Mississippi of activist Medgar Evers, and the bombing in Alabama of the 16th Street Baptist Church which killed four black girls.

I love the call-and-response – “Do it slow!” or “Go slow!” – which accentuates the reality that the movement had reached a new level of urgency and struggle in which gradualism had passed.

The song was banned from airplay in some southern states, supposedly because of the use of “goddam”.

Alabama’s gotten me so upset
Tennessee made me lose my rest
And everybody knows about Mississippi Goddam

Alabama’s gotten me so upset
Tennessee made me lose my rest
And everybody knows about Mississippi Goddam

Can’t you see it
Can’t you feel it
It’s all in the air
I can’t stand the pressure much longer
Somebody say a prayer

Alabama’s gotten me so upset
Tennessee made me lose my rest
And everybody knows about Mississippi Goddam

This is a show tune
But the show hasn’t been written for it, yet

Hound dogs on my trail
School children sitting in jail
Black cat cross my path
I think every day’s gonna be my last

Lord have mercy on this land of mine
We all gonna get it in due time
I don’t belong here
I don’t belong there
I’ve even stopped believing in prayer

Don’t tell me
I tell you
Me and my people just about due
I’ve been there so I know
They keep on saying “Go slow!”

But that’s just the trouble
“do it slow”
Washing the windows
“do it slow”
Picking the cotton
“do it slow”
You’re just plain rotten
“do it slow”
You’re too damn lazy
“do it slow”
The thinking’s crazy
“do it slow”
Where am I going
What am I doing
I don’t know
I don’t know

Just try to do your very best
Stand up be counted with all the rest
For everybody knows about Mississippi Goddam

I made you thought I was kiddin’

Picket lines
School boy cots
They try to say it’s a communist plot
All I want is equality
for my sister my brother my people and me

Yes you lied to me all these years
You told me to wash and clean my ears
And talk real fine just like a lady
And you’d stop calling me Sister Sadie

Oh but this whole country is full of lies
You’re all gonna die and die like flies
I don’t trust you any more
You keep on saying “Go slow!”
“Go slow!”

But that’s just the trouble
“do it slow”
Desegregation
“do it slow”
Mass participation
“do it slow”
Reunification
“do it slow”
Do things gradually
“do it slow”
But bring more tragedy
“do it slow”
Why don’t you see it
Why don’t you feel it
I don’t know
I don’t know

You don’t have to live next to me
Just give me my equality
Everybody knows about Mississippi
Everybody knows about Alabama
Everybody knows about Mississippi Goddam

4. A change is gonna come – Sam Cooke (1931-1964) (1964)

Okay, blues aficionados may argue that Sam Cooke‘s song is more rhythm-and-blues than blues but, as Chuck Berry once said, “It’s all meat on the same bone”. And, like Nina Simone’s “Mississippi Goddam”, “A change is gonna come” became an anthem of the civil rights movement. It is notable for its optimism, at a time when police and troopers in the southern states in particular were using brutal force and mass arrests to deter the movement and its leaders.

I was born by the river in a little tent
Oh, and just like the river I’ve been running ever since

It’s been a long, a long time coming
But I know a change gon’ come, oh yes it will

It’s been too hard living, but I’m afraid to die
Cause I don’t know what’s up there beyond the sky

It’s been a long, a long time coming
But I know a change gon’ come, oh yes it will

I go to the movie and I go down town
Somebody keep telling me don’t hang around

Its been a long, a long time coming
But I know a change gon’ come, oh yes it will

Then I go to my brother
And I say, “Brother, help me please.”
But he winds up knockin’ me
Back down on my knees

There been times when I thought I couldn’t last for long
But now I think I’m able to carry on

It’s been a long, a long time coming
But I know a change gon’ come, oh yes it will

5. Vietnam Blues – J B Lenoir (1929-1967) (1966)

JB Lenoir, like Nina Simone, was a prolific musician who openly supported the civil rights struggle. And like Nina Simone, he took a stand against US involvement in the war in Vietnam early on. His song, “Vietnam Blues”, may have influenced John Lee Hooker’s “I don’t wanna go to Vietnam” recorded three years later. Both make a point about the US making war in Vietnam when its own people, especially black Americans, were in fairly dire straits.

Two of Lenoir’s albums “Alabama Blues” and “Down in Mississippi” mostly consist of political songs, including “Eisenhower Blues” which the record company made him change and reissued as “Tax Payer Blues”.

The songs above arose from actual life experience and struggle and inspired commitment to progress. Are there more recent examples that readers know of?

The following is from TomG (thanks Tom)

Old Man River (Show Boat) is no Blues song and Paul Robeson no Blues singer, but if you’re after a rebel song then the changes Robeson made to Hammerstein’s original lyrics fits the bill.
The lyrics are reproduced here twice, the first being Hammerstein’s, the second Robeson’s. The changes he made are transformative.

Dere’s an ol’ man called de Mississippi;
Dat’s de ol’ man dat I’d like to be!
What does he care if de world’s got troubles?
What does he care if de land ain’t free?
Ol’ Man River,
Dat Ol’ Man River
He mus’ know sumpin’ But don’t say nuthin’,
He jes’ keeps rollin’,
He keeps on rollin’ along.
He don’t plant taters,
He don’t plant cotton,
An’ dem dat plants ’em
Is soon forgotten,
But Ol’ Man River,
He jes’ keeps rollin’ along
You an’ me, we sweat an’ strain,
Body all achin’ an’ racked wid pain –
Tote dat barge!
Lif’ dat bale!
Git a little drunk,
An’ you land in jail…
Ah gits weary
An’ sick of tryin’;
Ah’m tired of livin’
An skeered of dyin’,
But Ol’ Man River,
He jes’ keeps rollin’ along

Revised lyrics:

There’s an ol’ man called de Mississippi;
That’s the ol’ man I don’t like to be!
What does he care if the world’s got troubles?
What does he care if the land ain’t free..
Ol’ Man River,
That Ol’ Man River
He mus’ know sumpin’ But don’t say nuthin’,
He jes’ keeps rollin’,
He keeps on rollin’ along.
He don’t plant taters,
He don’t plant cotton,
An’ dem dat plants ’em
Is soon forgotten,
But Ol’ Man River,
He jes’ keeps rollin’ along
You an’ me, we sweat an’ strain,
Body all achin’ an’ racked wid pain –
Tote that barge and
Lift that bale,
You show a little grit and
You lands in jail…
But I keeps laffin’ instead of cyrin’
I must keep fightin’;
Until I’m dyin’
And Ol’ Man River,
He just keeps rollin’ along

* * * *

Some sites and blogs of relevance include:

50 greatest protest songs

Blues music history timeline

Great Migrations and Blues

20 greatest blues albums

Brief history of the blues

50 greatest blues songs

The art of the blues

History of the blues

Weary blues go forth

Old weird America

Blues Music Society (Melbourne)

Windy City Blues Society

Santa is an ‘illegal’

The following is reprinted under Creative Commons Attribution License. It originally appeared on Christmas Day at the excellent blog, Open Borders – the Case. The writer, Michelangelo Landgrave, is an economics graduate student at California State University, Long Beach, USA. 

santa

 

* * * *

 

Ladies, gentlemen, and elves. I am here before you today in favor of prosecuting the individual known as Santa Claus for immigration crimes against our sovereign nation.

 

Every year on the eve of December 24th Santa Claus enters our nation for temporary employment. He enters without a valid visa or even entering through a designated port of entry. The defendant and his supporters do not contest any of these claims.

Supporters of Santa Claus note that his migration is brief and non permanent. This is not however sufficient to waive prosecution of his case. A substantial number of other illegal aliens enter our nation for a brief time in order to work, save, and return home. It is unclear why, if these aliens are not pardoned, this individual should receive special treatment.

 

Australia

Australia

Australian citizens protesting Santa Claus’ annual invasion of their sovereign nation. “Stop the sleds” indeed.

Santa Claus’ crimes are especially heinous when one considers the vast number of goods he transports into our nation without proper documentation or paying tariffs. Santa Claus hires large numbers of foreigners year round to produce toys and other goods. He pays these foreigners well below the prevailing wage in our nation and does not extend to them basic labor rights. Through unfair competition practices Santa Claus has put countless of our nation’s firms and their employees out of business.  Every toy received from Santa Claus is a toy not bought from a native mom and pop store. Santa Claus is not merely an illegal alien, but a smuggler and a slave driver as well.

Some of you might have concerns about prosecuting Santa Claus as he is considered a religious figure in some circles. Our nation is not an unreasonable one and several visas exist for religious workers to enter lawfully. That Santa Claus has not bothered to apply for such a visa shows that he does not respect our nation’s sovereignty to control our borders. Furthermore our nation’s government, secular in nature, cannot afford to provide special exemption to individuals based on religion alone. To do so would be recognizing some religions over others and encourage social strife.

Others may object to prosecuting to Santa Claus on the basis of the limited resources that our nation has to prosecute immigration violators. Here I concede that our resources are limited and we must on occasion elect to prosecute with cost efficiency in mind. This is not however the situation with Santa Claus. Every year our defense establishment tracks his movement from the North Pole across the globe.  This has been done for over six decades. It is difficult for me to believe that we do not have the resources to capture Santa Claus and bring him into justice for his flagrant violation of our laws.

Ladies, gentlemen and elves it brings me no pleasure to make the case for prosecuting Santa Claus. The man gave me several toys throughout my childhood. My heart wishes that Santa Claus could be forgiven, but the law is the law.  I wish there were an alternative, truly I do, but there is not.

 

Contradictions of the post-Assad Regime in Syria’s protracted anti-fascist war – ‘The revolution is the negation of the regime and Daesh is the negation of the revolution’.

The following analysis of Syria, from a left-wing perspective of support for the anti-fascist democratic revolution there, is republished with permission from the site Democratic Revolution, Syria style. “The revolution is the negation of the regime and Daesh is the negation of the revolution”. It was published there on 1 August 2014.

* * * *

The Leviathan built by Hafez al-Assad, a fascist state stretching from Daraa in the west of Syria to Deir Ezzor in the east, has been shattered irrevocably by thepopular upsurge of the March 15 revolution. Born as a peaceful protest movement for dignity and political reform, the Syrian uprising painfully and organically developed into a revolutionary war to liberate the country from the misrule of Bashar al-Assad’s fascist clique and dismantle his regime’s barbaric institutions.

Syrian democrats

Like all wars, this war in the final analysis is a class war. Suburban and rural (mostly Sunni) farmers, laborers, small merchants, and elements of big business fight to overthrow their enemies, the urban-based Alawite-dominated state apparatus, that apparat‘s junior partners — the Alawite, Sunni, and Christian bourgeoisies — as well as its Iranian, Iraqi, and Hezbollah enablers. Unfortunately, these enemies do not fight alone: educated professional urban Sunnis constitute the backbone of the civil service bureaucracy that keeps the regime running and some 15%-20% of the adult male Alawite population serve in the military-security services. Those who have nothing to lose find themselves in combat fighting those who have nothing to lose but their chains. The have-nots fight for freedom while the have-littles fight for fascism.

________________________________________
“Who do you feel best represents the interests and aspirations of the Syrian people?”

Monthly
Household
Income                         Regime  Opposition   Extremists
Less than 15,000 SYP       31%          37%          12%
15,000-25,000 SYP           33%          35%          15%
25,001-45,000 SYP           39%          38%          14%
More than 45,000 SYP       36%          37%          13%

Education
Level
Completed        Regime  Opposition Extremists
No Formal           33%          37%         13%
Primary               38%          32%         13%
Intermediate       35%          32%         14%
Secondary          31%          40%         11%
Higher                40%          38%         14%
Source: Orb International.
________________________________________

The anti-fascist democratic revolution that emerged out of the contradictions of Syria’s sect-class system has spawned a sect-class war that spread far from the city of Daraa where the uprising first gained traction to Lebanon, Iraq, Turkey, and Kurdistan. The peoples of the whole region are now paying the price for:
1. The sins of Assad and his supporters.
2. The revolution’s inability to defeat and remove them from power.
3. The terrorist-creating policies of the U.S.-led so-called ‘Friends of Syria‘ who shamefully allowed themselves to be out-spent, out-gunned, out-maneuvered, and out-committed by Iran at every turn for more than three years because they prefer military stalemate as a means of engineering a negotiated settlement over an outright rebel victory.

These three factors have protracted Syria’s war of liberation and led to what Marx termed “the common ruin of the contending classes” – $144 billion in economic losses in a country whose 2011 GDP was $64 billion, 50% unemployment (90% in rebel-held areas), 50% in dire poverty, rampant inflation, polio outbreaks among children, and 9 million (almost half the population) displaced with 3 million living in camps abroad.

And there is no end in sight to this unfolding disaster.

The increasingly protracted nature of Syria’s anti-fascist war has transformed groundless optimism among the revolution’s supporters into its opposite: cynicism. Conversely, Assad is confident that his regime is no longer in danger of being overthrown. Both trends in both camps stem from the regime’s string of strategic military victories — in summer of 2013 at Qusayr, in fall of 2013 at Safira, in March 2014 at Yabroud, and in April 2014 at Qalamoun. However, military momentum alone cannot reveal who the victor and vanquished will ultimately be. Only by analyzing the strong and weak points that characterize each side and how those points have changed during the course of the war can reveal who can win and how.

Regime Strong Points:
o Firepower.
o Unity and united, effective leadership.
o Allies abroad — few, but fully committed.
o Victory means successfully defending territories (cities, main roads; some 40% of the country) that are its strongholds.
o Resources (financial, economic, infrastructure [electricity]).
o Fights along interior lines.
o Majority of minorities’ support, minority of majority support.

Regime Weak Points:
o Unjust cause.
o Popular support based on opportunism (‘who will win? who will pay me?’), not conviction.
o Manpower.
o Fighters motivated more by fear, circumstance, and money than ideology or conviction.
o Parasitic dependence on foreign allies.
o Oil-producing and agricultural areas, the principal sources of hard currency and economic viability of the pre-2011 regime, no longer under regime control.
o Gulf state investment and tourism that fueled the Bashar-era economic boom gone for the foreseeable future.

Rebel Strong Points:
o Just cause.
o Fighters motivated by conviction and religious fervor (‘God is on my side‘) rather than opportunism.
o Manpower.
o Popular support based on conviction, not opportunism.

Rebel Weak Points:
o Firepower.
o Disunity and divided, ineffective leadership(s).
o Allies abroad — many, but non-committal.
o Victory means launching successful offensives to oust regime from its well-defended strongholds where it retains significant popular support.
o No coherent economic or cultural policies, liberated areas poorly governed.
o No resources despite wresting oil-producing and agricultural areas from regime’s grip.
o Dependent on non-committal allies abroad for aid and support.
o Fights along exterior lines.
o Minority of minorities’ support, majority of majority’s support.

A ‘New’ Regime, Born Fighting the Revolution

The old regime fought to crush the uprising and disintegrated amid defections of its troops and officials throughout 2011 and 2012 thereby creating a ‘new’ regime. Regime 2.0 is a leaner, meaner, defection-free killing machine whose war-fighting is characterized by strategic vision, methodical prioritization, and a disciplined command structure steady enough to guide campaigns over weeks and months to victory. Whereas regime 1.0 fought to obliterate the uprising in all areas at once, regime 2.0 picks and chooses its offensives and seeks to buy ever-more time to gain ever-more advantages over the rebels. Its military strategy is to hold onto the cities, highways, and airbases — even at the cost of leaving the suburbs and the countryside to the rebels — while organizing a series of strategic offensives to clear the core of the country (stretching from Daraa to Aleppo) of rebel fighters, forcing them to the periphery and reducing their status from major threat to manageable nuisance. Its political strategy is to prevent opposition forces from gaining popularity. This is accomplished through two mechanisms: make the price of defying the regime so high that no city or large town will dare join the revolution of its own volition and make governance (let alone good governance) in liberated areas impossible. The emergence of free Syrian territories where the hungry are fed, the sick are cared for, and where law and order prevail without a massive apparatus of torture and terror would threaten the reluctant, grudging support people give the regime as a lesser or necessary evil. This two-fold political strategy is why the regime relentlessly attacks targets of no military value like hospitals, bakeries, and schools while airstrikes on the Islamic State (formerly ISIS/ISL, known pejoratively as Daesh) have been rare (see below) up until recently.

isisattacks

The post-revolution Assad regime is significantly weaker than its 2011 precursor despite its seeming immunity to defections and lower threshold for victory. Its chemical weapons arsenal is gone. Less than 50% of the country is under its control. Most importantly, having permanently lost control over the wheat, cotton, and oil-producing rural north and east, the regime is no longer economically viable. Regime 2.0 is a militarily robust failed state in the making. Wheat production has fallen dramatically, centralized state purchase of grain from farmers has given way to localized transactions, inflation is spiraling out of control, industry has ground to a halt, children begging on the streets of the capital Damascus is now commonplace, oil production (one of the few sources of hard currency for the regime) has all but ended, Syria has become a net oil importer even as its oil consumption has fallen, and widespread food shortages afflict rich and poor alike.

inflation-fao2013syriareport

wheatharvest

oil

oilimports

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“Which of the following have you had a shortage of in the last six months?”
Monthly

Household
Income                    Electricity  Food   Water
Less than 15,000 SYP    74%      56%     40%
15,000-25,000 SYP       76%      49%     44%
25,001-45,000 SYP       74%      51%     42%
More than 45,000 SYP  78%      47%     43%
Source: Orb International.
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The post-revolution regime is not only living on borrowed time but borrowed money — mainly Iran’s. However, it is unlikely that Damascus will ever repay even a fraction of the over $10 billion and counting Tehran spent saving Syrian national socialism from reaching a tipping point of no return during the armed rebellion’s peak in late 2012 and early 2013. Iran’s rulers will learn the hard way what France, Britain, and the U.S. discovered in the 20th century: that colonies and protectorates are expensive and prohibitively so from the standpoint of return on investment.
One new feature of the post-revolution regime is that Assad no longer wields absolute power. He answers to not only Iran and Hezbollah but to his generals (who now enjoy some command autonomy unlike before the revolution) as well as to the newly created Iranian/Hezbollah-trained National Defense Forces (NDF). Assad’s diminished authority became evident during Geneva 2 in two respects: first, Russia compelled the regime to attend talks it spent years rejecting in under 24 hours and second, the NDF continued shelling Homs despite the deal Assad made with the United Nations (UN) to evacuate civilians from besieged neighborhoods. During the evacuation conducted under UN supervision, Homs governor Talal al Barazi screamed at NDF members for abusing and interrogating evacuees in plain sight: “What’s wrong with you? This is the United Nations. We have been getting calls from Geneva!” Similarly, when the 2,000 heroes of Homs were evacuated in May 2014, UN personnel were placed on each vehicle filled with rebels to prevent the NDF from shelling their exit and sabotaging the deal which included a prisoner exchange.

So while Assad’s reliance on a few but firm allies is a source of strength against the rebels whose allies are many but mealy-mouthed, it has also become a weakness since his regime has grown parasitically and permanently dependent on their financial, military, and political life support. Russia exercised its growing leverage over the embattled regime by forcing Assad to surrender the bulk of his prized chemical weapons stockpile in order to avoid airstrikes, the threat of which not only halted the regime’s barrel bombing but also triggered a spike in defections. A U.S.-led air campaign would have tipped the battlefield balance towards the rebels for as long as it lasted and both Russia and Iran were determined to avoid the possibility of the regime’s irrevocable disintegration and defeat. The price of the regime’s survival was Assad’s sarin supply and his foreign overlords were happy to pay it.

Thus, Assad has fallen from his 2011 position as Führer to that of a governor of an Iranian semi-protectorate rife with quasi-independent militias that often victimize regime supporters. Just as the Assad family uses their Alawite co-religionists as human shields for their rule, Iran uses Syria for its operations against Israel. In a historic shift from Hafez’s policy of keeping his side of the Golan Heights quiet, Bashar and Hezbollah recently launched token attacks on Israel from the Golan, triggering Israeli retaliation. In this way, Iran opened a second (insignificant) front against Israel during Israel’s 2014 attack on another recipient of Iran’s aid, Hamas, and demonstrated that Syrian independence is increasingly a thing of the past.

A Second Revolution or War of Mutual Exhaustion?

Can the post-revolution Assad regime be overthrown? Could a second revolution break out behind regime lines and finish what Daraa started? Such an uprising is an objective possibility given the simmering, casualty-driven discontent among Alawites but highly unlikely because it would have to take the form of an armed uprising from the outset since a peaceful uprising against a fascist regime at war is impossible. As long as the war — which suppresses dissension among the regime’s remaining supporters — continues with virtually unlimited foreign economic, political, and military support from abroad, the regime can avoid another revolution, that is, “the violent break-up of [an] obsolete political superstructure, the contradiction between which and the new relations of production caused its collapse at a certain moment” (Lenin) that often follows when a political superstructure’s economic basis has ceased to exist.

Without a second revolution to topple the post-2011 regime, Syria’s revolutionary war of liberation has become a protracted struggle of attrition, a contest of mutual exhaustion and mutual annihilation. The strategic equilibrium or stalemate between regime and rebel forces will persist until one side either organizes a series of decisive offensives to gain total victory or collapses out of exhaustion brought about by its own internal contradictions.

The fact that a second revolution or war of quick decision to defeat the regime is not an immediate prospect is not necessarily grounds for despair. The regime enjoys material superiority over the revolution but not moral superiority. The unjust and reactionary nature of the regime and its war aims gives rise to its critical weakness: its manpower shortage. Not enough Syrians are willing to die for fascism; those that are willing tend to either be morally rotten criminals eager to get a salary for raping, looting, and torturing their countrymen or conscriptswho fear imprisonment and torture for draft-dodging. These criminal and cowardly elements have difficulty sustaining close combat with rebels who fight not for personal gain but out of conviction that their cause is just and that God is on their side. So few Syrians are motivated to charge into battle and lay down their lives for tyranny and oppression that some 10,000 Iranian, Hezbollah, and Iraqi sectarian Shia militiamen were imported to serve as the regime’s shock troops. Once sectarian killing spread to Iraq, Iraqi Shia militiamen returned home to kill Sunnis, creating a manpower shortage for Hezbollah whose idea of ‘resisting‘ Israel is slaughtering Syrians and starving Palestinians on Assad’s behalf.

The moral bankruptcy of the regime finds expression in its war-fighting methods: heavy on firepower, light on manpower (save for strategically critical offensives to regain lost ground). Because the regime cannot afford to lose manpower in head-to-head combat with rebel forces, it demolishes neighborhoods, resorts to barrel bomb terrorism, starves women and children, uses Scud missiles and sarin, and signs starvation truces and evacuation deals with rebel neighborhoods instead of invading them and ousting the fighters. Free Aleppo was forcibly de-populated using these methods with the aim of destroying rebel manpower by depriving them of their popular base of support. Without the people standing firmly behind and among them, isolated rebels can be defeated with superior firepower.

Unity: A Do-or-Die Task for the Revolution

To fight — much less win — a war with these characteristics, the key strategic imperative for the rebels is not to seize and hold territory (as in conventional war) but to annihilate enemy manpower (as in guerrilla war). Territory changes hands day to day, month to month with every skirmish and battle, but available manpower ultimately determines who is capable of controlling what.

However, to take advantage of the regime’s key weakness (manpower) and turn the tide of the war once more in their favor, the rebels must overcome their key weakness — lack of unity (and related to this, poor leadership).

Rebel disunity has been the single most powerful weapon in Assad’s arsenal. Time and again, this disunity has allowed the regime to capitalize on its strong points and minimize its weak points while simultaneously neutralizing rebel strong points and magnifying rebel weak points. Consider the rebel response to each regime offensive since June 2013:

o At Qusayr, some reinforcements came from as far as Aleppo to fight the offensive head-on. The regime’s superior firepower and massed manpower overwhelmed the city’s defenders. Shock swept opposition circles even though the battle, as a head-on clash between a stronger and a weaker force, could not have ended in anything other than a regime victory. A counter-offensive elsewhere to relieve pressure from Qusayr or weaken the regime’s attack was never an option because rebels were too divided.

o At Safira, there was no rebel effort to resist or counter the regime’s advance. It fell without a fight, giving the regime a beach head to push rebel forces out of Aleppo. Colonel Abdul-Jabbar al-Aqidi resigned from his position on the Free Syrian Army’s (FSA) Supreme Military Council to protest the rebels’ failure to lift a finger to defend the city.

o At Yabroud and Qalamoun, rebel forces massed to resist the regime’s offensive. Knowing that head-on, open-ended resistance would end in defeat and the total destruction of their forces, they followed Mao Tse-Tung’s principles for guerrilla operations: “The enemy advances, we retreat; the enemy camps, we harass; the enemy tires, we attack; the enemy retreats, we pursue.” They avoided annihilation in decisive engagements but continually fought as they fell back in orderly fashion from the regime’s months-long advances, preserving themselves for future guerrilla operations in Qalamoun once the regime declared ‘victory’ and re-deployed its forces elsewhere. However, Jabhat al-Nusra refused to follow the rebels’ plan of action, executing rebels who (correctly) retreated and accusing their brigades of taking bribes from foreign powers in exchange for losing the battle on purpose.

Daesh’s ‘liberation‘ of al-Raqqa from its liberators in 2013 was due principally not to collusion with the regime but to this same rebel disunity. Each faction and brigade was confronted and eliminated one by one by Baghdadi’s gangs who then applied this strategic template all over northern Syria in 2013, opportunistically isolating and picking off rival groups, commanders, and towns even as they collaborated with these same groups in anti-regime operations such as the seizure of Menagh airbase. They took advantage of the frictions between the secular-democratic FSA and the Islamist-democratic factions by relentlessly targeting the former while avoiding or collaborating with the latter. This fed Islamists’ illusions that Daesh were merely misguided Muslim brothers and fellow mujahideen rather than bearded Bashars and Kharijites.

The revolution within the revolution in January 2014 to overthrow Daesh in northern Syria was similarly stunted by rebel disunity. Factions that later coalesced as the Syrian Revolutionary Front led by Jamal Marouf and the Army of Mujahideen sprang into battle while the constituent elements of the Islamic Front were incoherent, some fighting, others avoiding combat. Ahrar al-Sham, whose commanders’ mutilations by Daesh provoked denunciation by the first Friday protest of 2014, initially held its fire. Its leader Hassan Abboud, who also heads the Islamic Front’s political office, offered to mediate with Daesh even as popular fury exploded against them in demonstrations and armed attacks. Only after the Daesh launched wave after wave of suicide attacks against Islamic Front’s Liwa al-Tawhid while rejecting mediation offers for weeks did the Islamic Front as a whole begin to fight them. This divided response undermined rebels’ momentum and allowed Daesh to retreat under fire from much of Aleppo province and bloodlessly evacuate Idlib and regroup in al-Raqqa and in eastern Syria/western Iraq. Failing to finish Daesh off gave them time to lick their wounds and prepare for a ferocious wave of victorious offensives in Deir Ezzor, western Iraq, and Kurdish areas of Syria that culminated in the declaration of a Caliphate in summer of 2014.

Overcoming disunity is the most important task facing rebel (and political opposition) forces. Without uniting those who can be united, it is impossible to pursue a common policy, impossible to respond coherently either to the regime or Daesh, impossible to forge effective leadership, and therefore all but impossible to win the war.

Only great unity can lead to great victory.

Rebel cooperation remains largely local and occasionally regional rather than national. After three years, rebels still have not established a unified command or even set up a national operations room. Doing so is essential for rebels to move beyond winning short-term tactical victories like the Kessab offensive in early 2014 to long-term strategic victories, the accumulation of which will destroy the regime. The regime’s national scope and operation along interior lines allow it to neutralize and eventually reverse locally and regionally limited rebel forces operating along exterior lines by quickly redeploying its forces and assets from one front to another. The only way rebel forces can counter this (since they fight along exterior lines) is through greater coordination, so when the regime makes a concerted effort to gain ground in Aleppo, rebels counter-attack in Latakia (for example). Until cross-front and cross-regional coordination develops, rebel tactical victories will continue to be nullified by the regime’s ability to win strategic victories and only by accumulating strategic victories can rebels regain the initiative in the war.

Amalgamating rebel forces — some 150,000 men divided among a handful of big coalitions and countless smaller formations — into a single army with a clearchain of command is probably impossible. Nonetheless, a national operations room to assemble an operationally albeit not ideologically cohesive coalition of coalitions could work if rebel commanders are willing to surrender some autonomy for the sake of greater coherence as a national fighting force. However, the experience of the Islamic Front shows how difficult uniting is in practice even with good faith commitment by constituent groups. As with any politically heterogeneous opposition formation, the moment the front takes a position or an action that is controversial, it leads to fitna which, more often than not, causes counterproductive splits. Army of Islam commander Zahran Alloush’s decision to suspend his army’s participation in the Islamic Front in response to the Islamic Front’s Revolutionary Covenant is but one example of this tendency.

Rebel unity is more urgent than ever given the second great schism among forces fighting the regime: the war Al-Qaeda affiliate Jabhat al-Nusra launched in July 2014 to smash the FSA and carve out territorially contiguous theocratic emirates in Idlib and Daraa. Jabhat al-Nusra’s aggression was precipitated by ever-greater U.S. involvement on the side of the opposition and Daesh’s newly declared Caliphate, both of which threatened the Al-Qaeda project in Syria from different directions.

The Balance of Forces: Shifts and Underlying Trends

The single most important thing to understand about Syria today is that the pre-2011 political setup is gone forever. No force on Earth can reverse that. The battle now is over what will replace the old arrangements, over what new political superstructures and class relations will prevail. The outcome of this fight is nearly impossible to foresee even in general terms because there are so many warring factions:
o The regime (NDF, Syrian Arab Army).
o Foreign regime allies (Hezbollah, Iraqi and other foreign Shia militias).
o The rebels (FSA, Islamic Front, Syrian Revolutionary Front, independent Islamist and secular brigades).
o Foreign rebel allies (small groups such as Jamaat Ahadun Ahad or the Chechens who defected from Daesh).
o Jabhat al-Nusra.
o Daesh.
o The Kurds (the People’s Protection Units [YPG], a militia dominated by the secular-democratic and socialist Democratic Union Party [PYD]).

Some of the aims and interests of these actors overlap; others contradict each other irreconcilably. The regime, its foreign allies, and Daesh have benefited from the rebels’ failure to reconcile their serious differences with YPG and PYD for the purpose of uniting to smash the three enemies that menace them. Even worse, throughout 2013 Islamist and FSA brigades fought alongside Daesh as Daesh attacked the YPG. This strengthened the rebels’ enemy, alienated and weakened a potential ally, and deepened Syria’s fragmentation.

syria atmap2014-8aug1

As of Aug. 1, 2014

Since the regime and Daesh both focused almost all of their attacks on rebel forces in early/mid 2014 instead of on each other (Daesh-regime clashes constituted only 5% of the total battles fought in Syria in June 2014, for example), many activists and even the Syrian National Coalition of Revolution and Opposition Forces claimed that the two were partners or co-conspirators. What appeared to be conspiracy was really the result of strategic calculation born of a particular conjecture. For its part, the regime knew that the demographics of its strongholds made Daesh rule there all but impossible and prioritized fighting the rebels as the only force that could potentially generate enough broad-based support to supplant and displace it. Meanwhile, Daesh opportunistically preyed on the weakest actors on the political landscape — the scattered, divided rebel movement and the beleaguered institutions of bourgeois-democratic governance that arose in rebel-held areas. Riven by the competing priorities of fighting versus governing as well as internal dissension, rebel and opposition forces were no match for the united and better-led Daesh as they eliminated rebel factions first before suppressing civilian activism in al-Raqqa as well as Manbij, the birth place of Syria’s first labor union.
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“Who do you feel best represents the interests and aspirations of the Syrian people?”
Region Regime Opposition Extremists
Total 37% 35% 13%
Damascus 59% 17% 0%
Tartus 92% 2% 0%
Latakia 71% 15% 1%
Idlib 4% 61% 24%
Aleppo 36% 36% 19%
Daraa 25% 43% 12%
Rural Damascus 31% 49% 5%
Homs 36% 32% 1%
Hama 31% 35% 18%
Suweida 37% 8% 0%
al-Hasaka 37% 32% 25%
al-Raqqa 12% 47% 37%
Source: Orb International.
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The defeat of rebel forces has not given way to peace between Daesh and the regime but to an even more barbaric war between them, a war the regime is losing and will lose in northern and eastern Syria. This proves that Daesh was never a puppet nor a partner of the regime (or a creation of Iran, for that matter).

battle2012-2014

Since the battle of Qusayr in June 2013, the regime’s military momentum has masked the loss of its social and economic foundations. The old regime’s power peaked in 2011 and the post-revolution regime’s power — fueled by massive foreign support — peaked in mid 2014, checked by its own internal contradictions and by the growing power of Daesh.

The rebels’ military momentum lasted from 2011 until they entered Aleppo in mid 2012 and liberated al-Raqqa in early 2013, at which point their internal contradictions impeded further progress. Lack of unity, organization, and effective leadership prevented the rebels from securing the socio-economic foundations upon which to erect the kind of sturdy bourgeois-democratic state necessary to govern liberated areas and simultaneously wage a protracted and victorious revolutionary war.

This failure by the rebels led directly to the Daesh’s disastrous success. The revolution is the negation of the regime and Daesh is the negation of the revolution.

By seizing income-producing assets like oil fields, Daesh not only acquired the economic basis for a state even more fascistic than the Assad regime but — more importantly — prevented the rebels from becoming a self-financing force. This put the rebels at the mercy of the foreign agendas of foreign states who are the only social forces with access to the necessary money, arms, and support to sustain the civilian and military opposition. So unlike both the rebels and the regime, Daesh is economically viable and financially self-sustaining. This has profound implications:
1. No outside power has leverage over Daesh.
2. Daesh’s economic underpinnings mean that its inherent war-fighting capabilities are significantly greater than the inherent capabilities of both the regime and the rebels. “Endless money forms the sinews of war.” (Cicero)
3. Daesh’s rule will endure because its economic foundations are secure; the political monstrosity it is building unfortunately does not contradict but corresponds with its economic base.

Assad’s crumbling fascist edifice was torn down in much of northern and eastern Syria only for a more savage and firmer one to be erected in its place.

However, Daesh is not invincible; it has strong and weak points (or in other words, contradictions) just as its enemies do. Daesh’s weak points are less serious than those of rebel and regime forces and it has far more strong points than weak points compared to both of them which is why Daesh can beat them (and its Iraqi enemies) on many fronts simultaneously.

Daesh Strong Points:
o Unity and united, effective leadership.
o Allies abroad — none, save for a tiny proportion of the ummah.
o Fighters highly motivated by religious zealotry.
o Victory means defending its fortified strongholds (35% of the country).
o Fights along interior lines.
o Coherent governance and unified cultural and economic policies.
o Resources (financial, economic) — controls Syria’s agricultural areas and themajority of the oil-producing areas.
o Enough popular and tribal support for a stable regime.
o Continued inability of the regime and rebels to turn their weak points into strong points.

Daesh Weak Points:
o Unjust cause.
o Popular support based on rebel inability to provide security and stabilit yrather than ideological agreement.
o Manpower.
o High proportion (perhaps a majority) of its fighters are non-Syrians.

Daesh’s power has yet to peak and may not do so until U.S. President Barack Obama leaves office. Its leaders are careful not to over-extend their 20,000-man army, wise enough to attack only targets that have significant strategic value in situations where Daesh’s victory is not a gamble, and shrewd enough to mix force with diplomacy to secure the support of tribes in eastern Syria and Western Iraq. If Daesh’s leadership is more united, effective, and competent than that of the rebels, it because they they have been waging war uninterruptedly for almost a decade, long before protests broke out in Syria in 2011. Rebels and oppositionists must close this experience gap if they want a fighting chance at taking their country back from Baghdadi’s gangs.
The fate of the Syrian revolution was once in the hands of doggedly non-violent grassroots activists, but today it is in the hands of men with guns and the foreign powers that back them. Now, war is the main form of struggle and army is the main form of organization. The armies of three sides — the regime, the rebels, and Daesh — are locked in a war of attrition and the side that is exhausted materially and spiritually first, loses.

The contradiction between the regime’s military superiority and social infirmity will not last forever, nor will it end soon; it is a process of unravelling that will take years rather than months. Militarily inferior rebel and opposition forces are, in many respects, in worse shape socially than the regime as small numbers of (unpaid) rebels quit the battlefield for the sake of giving their families some normalcy after three long years of hellish war and as increasingly depopulated neighborhoods buckle and submit rather than starve. At the same time, the only neighborhoods that have become safe for regime forces are those totally emptied of both people and rebels such as Homs; true submission on a mass scale continues to elude the regime despite its barbaric tactics.

As the increasingly exhausted regime fights to exhaust its opponents, the regime’s forces are slowly being ground to dust by a combination of its own unjust nature, aims, and methods, its manpower shortage, the rising power of Daesh, the determination of millions of revolutionary Syrians to persevere in their opposition to Assad despite unimaginable suffering, and the gradual escalation of U.S. support for rebel and opposition forces. If the rebels (and Kurds) can unite, they can take advantage of these factors that work in their favor to break the war’s strategic stalemate which will force the regime to choose between holding one city or military base at the expense of losing another. As retreats and defeats mount, Assad’s rump regime will fragment and conditions will ripen both for palace coups and for a second revolution.

Art for art’s sake…? Some thoughts inspired by a visit to China’s Changchung sculpture park

Thanks to TomG for this contribution. More about the World Sculpture Park in Changchung can be read here. “Achieving Harmony takes effort and the Chinese authorities have certainly put their collective shoulders to the wheel and in their prosecution of the ‘for’ case they have discovered an old ally in Confucius, not to mention the courts. Those wishing to prosecute the ‘against’ case are likely to be prosecuted”.

* * * *

While in China several years ago visiting friends we had the opportunity of visiting a sculpture park in Changchung, a city in north- eastern China. The park itself was huge, similar in size perhaps to Melbourne’s Botanical Gardens and too big to ‘do’ in one day. The exhibits were international and the invited theme to contributors was ‘friendship and cooperation’, themes that dovetail neatly with the Chinese regimes need for Harmony (read suppression of dissent). Revisionists do have a thing about insisting that contradictions must be either ignored or, when  that doesn’t work, suppressed.

What follows are selections of the notes I took that day with some minor editing. Thoughts of Brecht’s poem The Doubter and Mao’s Yenan Talks began to accompany me as I moved around the park. Art for art’s sake? I think not. Art for the advancement of an ignoble political/social agenda? We’re on the right trac; so let’s have a look at the relationship between the art and the politics as reflected in this park.

The park was simultaneously very impressive and disappointing. Covering a huge area it may have up to a thousand exhibits. The concept of the park was impressive and on entering I was duely impressed. The more I  walked around, however, the more I came of the view that a fine concept had been nobbled (undermined) by the paltry world view of the new Chinese ruling class. It was not that the numerous artists lacked skill – it was there in abundance – but that the works lacked vision. This criticism may be attributed to the artists to some degree, the works were after all theirs, but much more, and fundamentally, to the brief they were given. The themes depicted in the works were safe – mother and child (who could possibly take offence?); friendship (ditto, I suppose); peace (let’s not upset the apple cart, the owners might get shitty); origin myths, spring, new growth (these contained too often unrealised possibilities) and some tribal representations from the developing world I found ambiguous in their value.

What was missing was conflict, representations that symbolically or directly depicted  contradiction, tension or development. Below are my thoughts on several pieces that, for good or bad, impressed themselves upon me. Let’s start with the bad, move onto some good before ending with more bad.

The North Korean piece – (yes, it’s low hanging fruit, but everyone deserves the odd freebie)

This piece, of a girl offering flowers, took top marks for DREARY. The girl’s expression was slightly goofy and forced – a vacant, gormless smile projecting a happiness that feels either stage managed or deranged (OK, I’ll accept both) – as she moves forward offering her flowers to the unknown and universal recipient. For all of the indication that she is moving forward, she is lifeless, a set piece of social realism that fails abysmally to convey anything dynamic or living. It therefore fails as a piece of social realism, being, rather a parody of it. It says a lot about the society it purports to represent and just as much about the society that chose to display it.

The Fijian piece

This was just as bad in its own way as the North Korean offering but without the moral pretentiousness.

Here was a representation of a Fijian noble warrior, a strong, muscled figure ready for battle and/or ceremony. Tribal kitch glorifying something whose time had past. Why would one want to glorify this example of a moribund tribal society, a society doggedly refusing to accept the need for transformation, standing in the path of development? And this is seen as a suitable contribution to international peace and cooperation? As a historical depiction the work stands up, but its place as a piece representing an idealised tribal image is problematic.

The plethora of Mother/Child and Creation/Myth pieces.

It is difficult to take offence at mother/child representations – and there were many – and that turned out to be my problem with it all. There were, indeed, some excellent pieces which bucked the trend, a couple of which were exceptional. But mostly it was all so predictable and safe that it became boring. Viewed individually, in isolation from each other each piece could be seen as OK, if not culturally familiar and somewhat cliched. But en masse, so to speak, the concepts shortcomings, at least as we are familiar with it in the west, became difficult to ignore. Why, I asked myself rhetorically the further we went, the need to play it so safe? Offend me, please!

There were, however, two mother child pieces that I really liked and which, as mentioned, broke through the stultifying nature of the park’s brief and really pushed boundaries. One, semi abstract, was creative in its use of form, the other, realist, in its use of content.

The first, a large, semi abstract mother child piece consisted of a simple arched figure, the mother, and an infant figure beneath her. The mother was nothing more than a downward gazing head atop two arched, elongated arms reaching to the ground. At the base of this arched gateway was the infant, enclosed, invited in, safe and yet separate. Gateways inherently contain exteriors and interiors, inners and outers and I was reminded when I saw this figure of Hegel’s point that as soon as a boundary has been recognised it has already been surpassed. The power of the piece lay in its ambiguity, containing within it not only attachment, but the threat of separation (and abandonment), of containment and safety and of growth and risk. This was more like it.

The second and in my opinion the standout piece of the half of the park we were able to see, was realist in form and consisted of a large – perhaps 6 times life size – beautifully proportioned woman lying on her side, naked, with babe at breast. There is nothing unusual about this, generally or in the park. What marked this piece as exceptional was the sight of her from behind, the direction I had originally approached her (a figure this size cannot be fully seen from one aspect alone). There, clearly showing at the top of her thighs, was her vulva, not hinted at, but fully and naturally displayed.

I found this interesting in two ways. Firstly, it reunites in art what has always been united in nature – the breast with suckling infant and the mother’s gaze and her vulva, her locus of sexual potency and desire. There is nothing neutral or neutered about this powerful piece and she deserved better company. I liked it.

This is not to suggest that she had  no company, perhaps in the parks other half, but those deserving of the description ‘peer’, were few.

A realist piece of a young woman, not a mother child work, was certainly deserving. Naked and perhaps twice life size she squatted by the path, her left leg outstretched and bent at the knee, her head upright and gazing into the distance. She projects strength and confidence, both physical and sexual. This is shown in the strength of her limbs and the openness of her stance. She makes no attempt to hide her sex, the pose being unaffected and natural. If she is aware of a stranger’s gaze, particularly a males or of censorious social ‘betters’, she is free of their power and not bothered by it. She too lifts the tone of the park.

Male/Female

Aside from the above figure male and female forms were common and many were naked – so penises got a showing – but none of the figures I saw showed naked men and women together. Safe, dull. The female form is given fuller treatment – breasts aplenty, some suckling babes, or available for this. Fecundity is thus implied. But with the exception of the pieces I refer to above, this treatment is limp, incomplete and in this sense untrue to itself. It is always after the act, never before and certainly not during. This is, well, a pity. Depicting sexual heat and copulation itself would throw the cat among the pigeons. It is not as if sex has never been depicted artistically – high Japanese art of ancient times, for example rose to the occasion, shall we say, without shame or being squeamish. I also have on my wall a work by a traditional and now deceased Arnhem land artist depicting a couple copulating. The fact that these have been historical or primitive renders them safe, though on the edgy side of safe and quaint. Pornography has stolen the march on high art – in spite of its motives – and art needs to respond for its own sake and for ours. But we mustn’t offend, must we?

Concrete/Abstract

The more concrete a depiction the more it tended to disappoint, the more it fell flat. The problem, as I saw it, is that the closer to the real (or the obvious) a work becomes the easier it is to see it’s failings, or conservatism (being trapped by the park’s ‘brief’). Two pieces dealing with ‘friendship’ illustrate the point.

The first was a sculpture of the ‘big feet’, two human figures with oversized feet, one sitting holding what is presumably an offering, the other kneeling, also holding an offering. Inoffensive thus described. But why is the woman kneeling, in supplicant pose? Why is she lower? This is not a snapshot of an individual couple and hence socially innocuous, but a representation of social relationships. Here it cannot help but reproduce an idealised depiction of patriarchal dominance. The friendship and harmony of the piece are idealised fictions, both depending on an acceptance of implicit, powerful assumptions that reproduce relations between the sexes (and by implication any human relationship founded on pre modern hierarchies) that wouldn’t be given shelf space in a Not Quite Right shop. They are, in Hegel’s sense of the term, unreal.

So too the other piece that got under my skin, five human heads atop five columns, one head of which was male. At this stage of the game no prizes for guessing which was the biggest and tallest. For the ‘socialist’ motherland this is simply not good enough. Nor is it good enough in contemporary bourgeois society where such representations would be met with stinging rebuke.

Hitch: We miss you. Christopher Hitchens and the tradition of English dissent – the third anniversary of the death of Christopher Hitchens

The following essay was written by Robert Darby in September 2012. Christopher Hitchens died on 15 December 2011. I am grateful to Robert for allowing me to publish it. I agree with the spirit and sentiments of the essay but not with all its points. One of my favourite Hitchens’ quotes is: “The progress that’s made… in any argument  or in any discussion is by confrontation”. Comments welcome.

 

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More than a decade later I can still recall the spine-tingling thrill generated by the opening paragraph of Christopher Hitchens’ essay on Henry Kissinger:

In a rather more judgemental time, history was sometimes written like this: “The evils produced by his wickedness were felt in lands where the name of Prussia was unknown; and in order to rob a neighbour whom he had promised to defend, black men fought on the coast of Coromandel, and red men scalped each other by the Great Lakes of North America.”

Who would have expected a leftist journalist to appreciate the Gibbonian cadences of Thomas Macaulay, or – with such easy assurance – to quote such an establishment figure as the opening salvo of an attack on a contemporary bogeyman of the Left?  I had been led to the essay by an earlier book on the British-United States relationship (Blood, Class and Nostalgia), and was so impressed by its wit, irreverence and learning that I knew I must read more, and so found the collection For the Sake of Argument. I picked up a copy from Gleebooks on a trip to Sydney, but instead of going out on the town as planned I spent much of that night in its combative pages, cheering Hitch on as he skewered one enemy of the people after another. No left-winger had written with such panache and erudition since Karl Marx himself.

As became apparent on further acquaintance, there was far more to Hitchens than muck-raking leftism. Anyone can call Kissinger a war criminal, but few can back up the accusation with relevant facts and convincing argument. When such a counsel for the prosecution opens his indictment with Macaulay’s verdict on the opportunism of Frederick II we know that we are dealing with no ordinary radical pamphleteer, but an advocate of unusual power and skill. In his autobiography Hitchens remarks that he was too busy playing politics and socialising with the glitterati to do any work at Oxford, but the knowledge of world history and literature revealed in his essays and reviews is so extensive that he cannot have neglected his studies as assiduously as he claims. No matter what the subject, he seems always able to summon the apt quotation or instance, with a facility that drives other writers to despair and leaves them breathless with envy.

Hitchens named moral and physical courage as one of the qualities he most admired, and he did not fail to practise what he preached. He never pulled his punches, but his attacks were always on the powerful or revered; he was not afraid to criticise those on his own side; and he did not shy from situations of personal danger. He defended – and physically sheltered –  Salman Rushdie when much of the cultural “left” was running for cover or mumbling about “not hurting deeply felt religious sensibilities”, and when Muslims had been promised a heavenly reward for murdering him. He did not hesitate to call Clinton a liar. In accordance with George Orwell’s principle that saints should be regarded as guilty until proven innocent, he questioned the credentials of such sainted celebrities as Mother Teresa. He faced personal danger reporting in Northern Ireland and in the Kurdish regions of Iraq, and remained a firm advocate of the Kurds’ right to self-determination. He was not afraid to break with old allies and his own tradition of social democracy when it came to supporting the Bush government’s decision to liberate Iraq from the tyranny of Saddam Hussein.

In supporting the Iraq war Hitchens was widely accused of deserting the Left and becoming an apologist for the Right, but he was the one who remained loyal to the values of the radical Enlightenment, while much of the Left (so-called) abandoned them to go whoring after ethnic particularists and theocratic fascists merely because they were anti-Western, not appreciating that to be anti-Western was to reject those principles of secularism and critical dissent that had given birth to the Left in the first place. Despite the talk about his move to the Right, it was not Hitch’s values that changed, but his perception of what threatened them. When the danger seemed to be capitalism/US imperialism it was logical to be a Marxist of some sort (preferably Trotskyite or Maoist), but when the threat came principally from Islamic fundamentalism and other forms of religious obscurantism it was time to adopt new strategies and find new allies. Hitch’s political trajectory confounds such inadequate categories as Left and Right, as he has always followed the same star: personal liberty, freedom of thought and expression, independence of mind, and opposition to any kind of tyranny, whether secular or sacred.

The origins of his apparent shift lie in the Iranian revolution in the 1980s and the rise of the Ayatollahs, for as he recalled in his autobiography: “At the moment when Iran stood at the threshold of modernity [having just toppled the Shah], a black-winged ghoul came flapping back from exile in a French jet and imposed a version of his own dark and heavy uniform on a people too long used to being bullied.” But he identifies the crucial turning point as the fatwa issued against Salman Rushdie, the emblematic incident that crystallised everything he loved and hated:

In the hate column: dictatorship, religion, stupidity, demagogy, censorship, bullying and intimidation. In the love column: literature, irony, humour, the individual, and the defence of free expression. … To restate the premise of the argument again: the theocratic head of a foreign despotism offers money in his own name in order to suborn the murder of a civilian citizen of another country, for the offence of writing a work of fiction. No more root-and-branch challenge to the values of the Enlightenment … or to the First Amendment of the Constitution could be imagined.

Despite the accusations of apostasy, Hitchens has been on the correct (i.e. progressive) side of all the key moral and political issues of our time. Invited to admire its achievements he nonetheless saw through Cuban socialism; he never fell for any of the Communist dictators, not even Mao; he denounced the Russian invasion of Czechoslovakia; he supported the struggle of the Poles; he admired C.L.R. James (the black Marxist historian); he supported British Labour when everybody else was Tory, and then went Tory when Labour abandoned its principles; he supported the Kurds against Hussein’s genocide, and the Palestinians against the Israeli land-robbers; he was pro-Jewish but anti-Zionist.

Although Hitchens was delighted to learn that his mother was of Polish-Jewish descent, meaning that he was himself Jewish, and never allowed expressions of anti-Semitism to go unchallenged, he did not exempt Judaism from his rejection of religion, nor Jewish people from the obligation to behave in accordance with the principles of justice and decency. He provoked predictable howls when he agreed with a Right-wing Christian fundamentalist that god did not hear the prayers of the Jews (nor those of Christians, for that matter); he was never backward in criticising Israeli policy towards the Palestinians; and he attacked barbarous and backward elements in Jewish culture, such as circumcision, especially the practice of metsitsah, whereby the mohel sucks the baby’s penis after cutting off his foreskin.

Hitchens always displayed a frightening capacity for colourful invective – Mother Teresa as a shriveled Albanian dwarf, Ayatollah Khomeini  as a black-winged ghoul, Paul Johnson as an explosion in a pubic hair factory – but his arguments were never purely ad hominem. He attacks wrongs rather than individuals, but also individuals on the principle that people must take responsibility for their decisions: evil acts cannot be excused by the sorts of rationalisations that Sartre called bad faith, nor overlooked because they are carried out by one’s friends or allies. He has been called insensitive and tasteless because he does not automatically extend respect – much less deference – to those who expect or demand it merely because they have not been able to shake off the illusions into which they were indoctrinated as impressionable children. Respect is something a person has to earn by his own efforts.

It is this rather Protestant ethic that explains Hitchens’ attachment to the values of the Boys Own Annual and the Boy Scout Handbook, as identified by his fellow ironist Paul Fussell: learn to think; gather knowledge; have initiative; respect the rights of others. This also explains Hitchens’ fondness for so many of those old fashioned stories of heroic endeavour by John Buchan, Rudyard Kipling, Conan Doyle and Patrick O’Brian. The same eccentricity leads him to admire and enjoy other writers whom you would not expect him to approve of, such as the snobbish Evelyn Waugh, the suave Tory H.H. Munro (Saki), and the slightly ridiculous P.G. Wodehouse – whom he defends against the facile charge of making pro-Nazi radio broadcasts while interned in Germany during the war, and in some of whose Jeeves/Bertie Wooster stories he detects marked anti-fascist sentiments, such as ridicule of Moseley’s blackshirts.

In a disarming aside in his polemical God Is Not Great, Hitchens identified his intellectual formation as that of “a Protestant atheist”. This characterisation is spot on, for although he became a U.S. citizen there is something quintessentially English about the style and content of his radicalism, which lies in a long tradition of dissent represented by such diverse figures as William Tyndale (first English translator of the Bible), John Milton, Bunyan, Shelley, William Hone (father of press freedom), Charles Bradlaugh (fearless Victorian secularist) and George Orwell, to whom Hitchens is a worthy successor.

It is the world’s loss that the gods took both Hitchens and Orwell to their heavenly reward long before their time. “Milton! thou should’st be living at this hour:/ England hath need of thee”, wrote William Wordsworth at the depth of the Pittite reaction against demands for reform unleashed by the French Revolution. How Orwell would have ridiculed the clichéd sanctimony of the knee-jerk “anti-racism” that makes it impossible for the police to arrest a non-white person without being accused of discrimination, and which automatically transforms illegal immigrants into asylum seekers and refugees merely because their place of origin is a Third World country. There is something in the current mood all too eerily reminiscent of Orwell’s comment on the 1930s (from “Inside the whale”):

The thing that …was truly frightening about the war in Spain was not such violence as I witnessed … but the immediate reappearance in left-wing circles of the mental atmosphere of the Great War. The very people who for twenty years had sniggered over their own superiority to war hysteria were the ones who rushed straight back into the mental slum of 1915. All the familiar wartime idiocies, spy-hunting, orthodoxy-sniffing (Sniff, sniff. Are you a good anti-Fascist?), the retailing of atrocity stories, came back into vogue.

Where is Hitchens when we need him to eviscerate the spineless Western response  to the latest outburst of “Muslim rage”, already involving hundreds of deaths and injuries, as well as children holding placards demanding that people who exercise their right to make unfavourable comments on religious figures be murdered, in traditional style, by decapitation? And all provoked by no more than a silly amateur film on Youtube. If the author is, as has been reported, a Coptic Christian, his own rage is rather more forgivable than that of his targets, considering that the Copts have suffered centuries of persecution by the more powerful and numerous Muslims, nearly to the point of annihilation. One can imagine Hitchens’ reaction on learning the response of the United States’ authorities: not to seek to calm and discipline the rioters, but to apprehend the filmmaker. No doubt their next step will be to arrest rape victims for causing the crime by walking around in public and dressing provocatively.

The death of Hitchens (to perfectly natural disease processes) is a loss that the free world can ill-afford. We must hope that we do not have too long to wait for his successor. Hitchens! Thou should’st be living at this hour:/ The world hath need of thee …

Robert Darby

Canberra

September 2012