The invisibility of empire

25 Jun

Modern imperialism, as distinct from direct rule colonialism, is defined by the export of monopoly capital from global north to global south, and repatriation of profits from south to north. This later form of exploitation came to prominence in the early 20th century, and since 1945 its globalisation of capital-labour relations has been as reliant on the armed might of a US-led West as was colonialism on the land and sea dominance of the Great Powers in 16th through to mid 20th century Europe.

The era we are now living in, the most deadly in human history, is characterised above all else by the decline – making it triply dangerous – of the USA in the face of Eurasia rising. Save for the existence of nuclear weapons, WW3 would already have taken place. No one should take solace in that narrow and icy truth.

steel city scribe

Anyone remember this 80s advert for an Australian lager? Not the Fosters brew of Paul Hogan (“Crocodile Dundee”) fame – though those ads were just as funny provided you didn’t get too PC about things – but its main competitor, Castlemaine XXXX.

Leveraging a Barry McKenzie stereotype of the Ozzie outback male, the ad makes witty play of our all too human tendency to form ludicrously skewed and self-serving – but to a slit-window worldview, coherent – attributions of causality. Edward de Bono would have appreciated it, I’m sure. As would the incomparable Mullah Nasruddin. 1

Hold that thought.

It’s likely I alienate some – OK, many – potential readers with formulations like this, from my previous post:

Only the politically imbecilic and the criminals who rule (a few through political office, most in the shadows) would contest that [Julian Assange] told us nothing but truth about the crimes against humanity committed, and bare faced whoppers told, by the fake democracies of America and its allies, and by media whose business models debar them from any course other than tokenly critical complicity.

In the same post I spoke of Owen Jones and a hand-wringing ‘woke’…

… whose elevation of identity politics over those of class and empire made them credulous consumers of smear whose particulars they did not trouble to study …

… while lamenting that:

… the politically imbecilic is a very large constituency.

Have I nothing but contempt for my fellows; my peers in the liberal intelligentsia especially? Far from it. I am not only as one with the Christians on the principle of hating the sin yet loving the sinner – even if it does stick in the throat at times – but can only go on doing what I do because I glimpse a better way for humanity. A way that does not entail a world run for profit, which is to say a world run by and for the criminally insane; rather, a world where wealth is created by and for humankind and by that fact does not demand a trashed planet, constant wars and levels of inequality as economically and politically dysfunctional as they are morally grotesque.

The most damning indictment of corporate media – whether liberal or conservative, financial or generalist, tabloid or ‘quality’ – is that their seemingly sober and calmly reasonable columnists and reporters (many of whom I deem subjectively sincere) are in the pay of an industry whose business model cements their objective role – no matter how combative they may be on topics embarrassing but not seriously threatening to the ruling class 2 3 4 – as one of normalising that world run by and for the criminally insane.

The friends and peers whose myopia and somnolence I speak of in such disparaging terms are neither stupid nor callous. Many call themselves socialists. (Not all: I refuse to make political alignment a condition of friendship; life’s too complex for that.) So what exactly is my beef?

Let me answer with three examples.

One: is my enemy’s enemy ipso facto my friend?

A few days ago an Iranian friend, for decades a British citizen, sent me a link to a piece by one Barnaby Raine. Raine, the twenty-five year old Westminster School educated son of a Wonga boss – not his fault – is doing a History Ph.D. at Columbia University. A practising Jew, he is a sincere and active opponent of Zionism, while making a name for himself as an enfant terrible  on the academic left. The piece my friend sent has the title, Is the enemy of my enemy my friend?, to which the kicker adds: “on the resurgence of “tankie” and “campist” politics”.

I groaned inwardly but, out of respect for a pal held in high regard since the eighties, read the piece anyway before replying that:

Raine strikes me as Owen Jones Mark 2.

Right now the safest, most redundant and least courageous thing anyone can do is condemn Putin, 5 just as a few years ago the safest, most redundant and least courageous thing to do was condemn Bashar al-Assad. Raine advances strawman arguments about “tankies”, and has little evidence to back claims lifted from corporate media. 6 Me, I don’t know whether Putin is a bad guy, ditto Assad Jnr, though the one seems to have done a lot more for Russia than his drunken predecessor did, while the other stayed with his people when others might have fled.

What I do know is that the agendas of Washington, London et al pose a far greater threat to humankind than either. My patience with useful idiots like Raine and Jones, pontificating from their safe careers, came to an end some time ago.


Hope all’s well with you …

Two: “failed Chavism”

A few years ago another friend, a Brit with Columbian citizenship, took issue with the few posts I’d written on Venezuela, next door neighbour to her adopted country. With media headlines on both sides of the Atlantic shrieking of starving refugees pouring across the border, she echoed their insistence that “failed Chavism” was to blame.

(Spoiler alert: of the three examples given here, the specificity of this one comes closest – in its blithe ignorance of the lethal sanctions 7 imposed on peoples whose governments displease Wall Street and hence Washington – to the spirit of that Castlemaine XXXX ad.)

She did not take up my offer – unprecedented on this site – of hosting a piece written by her, elaborating and setting out her evidence. But immediately after my posting of a further piece on Venezuela she asked to be removed from my mailing list. Other than following up my doing as she asked with a note conveying my best wishes, we haven’t spoken since. Not everyone shares my view that life is too complex to make friendship conditional on political agreement.

Three: the ‘universalism’ of George Monbiot and Owen Jones

It’s nigh on five years since I wrote Monbiot, Syria and Universalism. Excuse my quoting from that post in abridged form but at some length:

For his work on the British establishment you couldn’t slide a cigarette paper between Owen Jones and me. The same goes for George Monbiot’s forensic but neatly penned linking of environmental vandalism to big money.

Other of their writings strike me as misconceived.

If you’re a socialist, you’re a universalist, not a relativist: you believe all people deserve the same economic and political rights. That can’t be achieved without democracy — not the limited democracy the West currently has, but a full democracy that we should aspire to. That means not lauding a regime which, despite its achievements, lacks the democratic rights a truly socialist society must enjoy as a bare minimum. Owen Jones, My thoughts on Cuba, 29/11/2016

If we deny crimes against humanity, or deny the evidence pointing to the authorship of these crimes, we deny the humanity of the victims. Aren’t we supposed to be better than this? If we do not support the principle of universalism – human rights and justice for everyone, regardless of their identity or the identity of those who oppress them – what are we for? George Monbiot, Disavowal 27/04/2017

Jones writes four days after Fidel Castro’s death. Monbiot’s Disavowal comes three weeks after he’d tweeted his 99% certainty that Damascus had used chemical weapons at Idlib. (It’s one of a series of tweets and blog posts pouring scorn on the ‘denialists’ who won’t accept what he deems an open and shut case against Assad.) For both writers, universalism means condemning human rights abuse wherever it arises.

As principle, who’d argue with that? Not me, but let’s not define human rights narrowly, else we’ll find our noble sentiments played in respect of abuses (real or alleged) in states our rulers want governed by more pliant regimes, while barely registering burgeoning infant mortality by humanitarian sanction or soaring cancer rates from depleted uranium in the wake of the latest humanitarian invasion. Broadening ‘human rights’ to take in welfare provision, literacy and prosperity levels also makes it hard, if we’ve an ounce of intellectual rigour, to cry ‘a plague on both houses’ while at best doing nothing, at worst giving de facto support to US led aggression.

A wider definition of human rights obliges real-world assessments which discriminate between greater and lesser abuse, and eschew specious moral equivalence. Suppose every word our media say about Assad to be true: a huge stretch, I know, but stay with me. Could he inflict a fraction of the death, misery and mayhem the US and its partners have? Here’s another question. Are any modern weapons not  chemical? The implicit mantra – Tomahawk Good … Sarin Baad – shows, as does the barrel bomb brouhaha, just how easily red herringed we are by the spurious categorisations of a Washington dominated UN.

My understanding not just of the nature and drivers of the dirty war on Syria, but of imperialism in general, has evolved considerably since 2017. Nevertheless, when rereading my post prior to selecting and abridging the above, I was surprised to see how little I would now change: other than to harden a stance on both men which now strikes me as too lenient. (A criticism made at the time by some readers on this site and, since the post was widely shared, elsewhere.)

History – not least the revelations of criminal misconduct at the OPCW – has not been kind to the dilettantish and (ingenue that I was) surprisingly ad hominem attacks these Guardian house leftists have made on “Assad apologists”, nor to George Monbiot’s uncritical view of the OPCW as somehow impartial: a view which, attesting as it does to the invisibility of empire on Planet Guardian, takes us directly back to the thrust of this post. To George and Owen, as to Barnaby and my erstwhile Columbian-British friend, empire – in its modern form as led by the USA and summarised in my opening paragraphs – either does not exist or, in the case of Mr Raine, who should know better, is the beneficiary of his intermittent amnesia.

(This invisibility of empire lay at the heart of my stand-offs, back in 2016, with liberals on both sides of the Atlantic who saw as incomprehensible or driven by misogyny my ‘failure’ to view Hillary Clinton as lesser evil to Donald Trump. That, if you’ll pardon my presumption, is down to many of my critics having near zero cognisance of anything beyond (a) America’s shores and borders; (b) Hillary’s likely impact on their privileged lifestylism. To this influential constituency, Donald Trump’s oafishness counted for far more than the fact HRC’s enthusiasm for unilaterally imposing No Fly Zones in Syria would have put the West on a collision course with a nuclear power. In the event, Trump scraped in and it falls now to a differently demented Democrat in the Oval Office to risk Armageddon in the name of Standing By Ukraine – but in the interests of delaying the US Empire’s decline by fighting the lesser of its two greatest rivals down to the last Ukrainian.)

Thanks to media induced absence of any recognition that the US Empire is indeed A Thing, all manner of nonsense – Putin as Public Enemy No. 1 … Maduro as executioner to his own people … two bottles of sherry trashing a truck – is not only rendered plausible, but seized upon as the only sane perspective in town. 8

And all the degrees, doctorates and professorships in the world, though proudly borne by folk who can hold forth night and day on the vital importance of Critical Thinking, aren’t worth a dime against that media induced lockdown of the collective mind.

* * *

  1. The Castlemaine ads, like their Fosters counterparts, were axed after follow-up polling found viewers enjoying both, but unable to recall which lager each was plugging! That tension – between the agendas of ad industry creatives bent on scooping awards, and those of their bottom-line focused clients – was one of numerous threads masterfully explored in the ground breaking TV series, Mad Men.
  2. See my post, monolithic control at the Guardian. Again I invoke Noam Chomsky’s crisp summary of the corporate media business model. We are speaking of “large corporations selling privileged audiences to other corporations. Now the question is, what pictures of the world would a rational person expect from this arrangement?”
  3. “… no matter how combative [media] may be on topics embarrassing but not seriously threatening to the ruling class …”  Or rather, no matter how combative they must be. Here too Chomsky nails it. The smart way to keep people passive and obedient is to strictly limit the spectrum of acceptable opinion, but allow very lively debate within that spectrum – even encourage the more critical and dissident views. That gives people the sense there’s free thinking going on, while all the time the presuppositions of the system are being reinforced by the limits put on the range of the debate.”  To this we can add two things. One, media outlets compete in a market of which each must corner and hold onto its slice. The Guardian, for instance, needs to appeal to that corner of the market we can call a liberal intelligentsia. Two, as I have said more than once on this site, journalists who know what’s good for them please editors; editors who know what’s good for them please proprietors. Proprietors not only crave honours and a seat at the high table. They also need advertisers and/or wealthy donors.
  4. Like that of imperialism, the existence of a ruling class is also rendered barely visible by corporate media. Those of us who use this term out ourselves as “extremists” and “loony leftists”, but a little study – coupled with the willingness, for once, to let evidence rather than deeply instilled narratives take the lead – suffices to show the notion of a West not governed by ruling classes to be a childish fantasy.
  5. I shamelessly lifted this formulation – the safest, most redundant and least courageous thing anyone can do is condemn Putin – from yet another Australian, Caitlin Johnstone. Nor does my debt end there. T’was she who first summed up the absurdity of the liberal worldview, and the superficial plausibility of its attendant moral equivalences, as a failure to factor in the elephant in the room of a lethally tyrannical US Empire.
  6. One of Raine’s “claims lifted from corporate media” is that China is “authoritarian”. That may be true – or not. How would he know? See this piece on how policy is formulated there. And even if it is true, Raine has to account for the much higher approval ratings China’s government gets from its citizens than does America’s. Last but not least, the West’s semblance of democracy and an open society, both now feeling the strain, are premised on populations pacified by affluence at the expense of the global south. Since that affluence, and its attendant welfare safety nets, are unlikely to continue, the West’s ruling classes are not only clamping down on social media (aided by a ‘woke’ cancel culture) but preparing for growing unrest via such as the UK’s impending Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill
  7. Not that sanctions are the only front in the economic war the West is waging on the Venezuelan people. Even as those starving refugees were seeking to enter Columbia – with my friend in Bogota pointing the finger, Castlemaine XXXX style, at ‘failed Chavism’ – the UK government was denying Caracas access to its own gold: billions in assets which could have alleviated those refugees’ situation.
  8. Though the point is tangential – compatible but tangential – to the thrust of this post, I’m struck by this observation by former diplomat, and one of empire’s many gamekeepers turned poacher, Alastair Crook. Writing in Strategic Culture six days ago, in the context of Europe’s imposition of sanctions whose first victims are – you got it, Europeans – he finds that:

    … a cult of unrelenting, untethered, positive spin, has asphyxiated mainstream critical faculties. How is it that the West, awash with ‘think-tanks’, invariably gets it so wrong? Why is it that facile memes and illusions, posing as geo-politics, get little or no challenge? Compliance to official and mainstream narratives is all. It is baffling to observe this becoming routine, without apparent cognizance of the risks which this entails.

7 Replies to “The invisibility of empire

  1. The observations contained in the text of Matthew 7 vs 1-5 succinctly sum up what is going on here.

    For all his protestations against relativism Jones, as a living caricature of Wokeism and Cancel Culture, oozes relativism. In his subjectively constructed reality the claim that Putin, or Assad, or Xi, or Castro (notice how whole Countries and people in them are reduced down to a single individual who would be ‘saved’ if that individual ceased to exist – ie was ‘cancelled.’) has done x,y, or z – or is insufficiently Woke – is sufficient to determine automatic guilt.

    A position which is a direct result of the principle tenet of Woke orthodoxy – that objective reality does not exist. Which elevates:

    the idea of knowledge as oppression onto the plane of sacred values, with reality and theory two non-overlapping magisteria that science cannot solve. Relativism insulates Theory from scientific scrutiny.

    – Eric Kaufmann:

    Consigning evidence based inquiry to “the wrong side of history”. Who needs objective evidence in the relativist paradigm of intersectionalism with its rigid hierarchy of oppression (a mere inversion of the oppression it has replaced)? Where the logic of subjective based woke assigned identities dictate that Black men are privileged compared to Black women.

    Hardly surprising that those such as Jones and Monbiot and their fellow imbecilic travellers conveniently prioritise the lesser infractions of the designated enemies of West’s elites – of which Jones and Monbiot are carrying water for – over those of the West. Some infractions are more, or less ‘privileged’ than others under this captured ‘woke’ dogma and its rigid doctrines.

    You cannot get any more relativist than that.

    And this seems to be the name of the game here across multiple levels. The downplaying of the crimes of Western elite decision makers and controllers – with the playground level ‘look over there’ distractions indulged in by Jones, Monbiot and the ‘very large constituency of imbeciles’- is merely representative of the woke Cancel Culture, which has all but destroyed the West at this point in time, deployed at the level of Geo-politics.

    As Maria Zakharova (who, being a white cis middle class uterus carrier and Russian to boot is far too privileged to be allowed any say in anything – not to mention the blasphemous application of evidence based objective reality) observes here:

    The Cancel Culture is the culture of destruction. Destruction is the antithesis, it is the antipode of creativity. Cancel Culture can be defined as violence against objective reality. When the existing things we all see, feel and so on change by means of violence against us … this is when violence is committed against you to cross something out, destroy it and so on.”

    It is little wonder that nothing works in the West across multiple levels or that, despite having trained the ‘best’ army in NATO over eight years to NATO standards, the West is getting its arse handed to it in a reverse of all military logic in which an attacking force is outnumbered 1:3.

    Creativity is the ultimate sin (ie privilege) in the destructive World View of the woke and its Cancel Culture. Who, being (as Andrei Martyanov would put it) morons cannot conceive the objective reality that they are doing ALL the heavy lifting for a Randian and Thatcherite philosophy which is the antithesis of everything they claim to be and represent.

    • Spot on, Dave. Great comment.

      For the benefit of the heathens among us, here’s Matthew 7:1:5 – KJV, naturally:

      Judge not, that ye be not judged. For with what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged: and with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again. And why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother’s eye, but considerest not the beam that is in thine own eye? Or how wilt thou say to thy brother, Let me pull out the mote out of thine eye; and, behold, a beam is in thine own eye? Thou hypocrite, first cast out the beam out of thine own eye; and then shalt thou see clearly to cast out the mote out of thy brother’s eye.

      Thanks for the Maria Zhakarova link. I’ve long admired her performances, erudite and masterly, at press briefings but hadn’t realised the extent of her considerable abilities.

  2. Consider me among the non-alienated, Phil. I agree with 99% of what you put down so much better than I could. (I have to disagree about the song of the day though. If I had to choose two ex-Beatles to reach 80, it would be the two who won’t be doing that). And if quotes are in, here are a few of my favourites, most of which are apropo to the subject. Pity that Menken contradicts Reich

    “[A] lie can be maintained only for such time as the State can shield the people from the political, economic and/or military consequences of the lie. It thus becomes vitally important for the State to use all of its powers to repress dissent, for the truth is the mortal enemy of the lie, and thus by extension, the truth is the greatest enemy of the State.”
    – Joseph Goebbels

    “Under the influence of politicians, masses of people tend to ascribe the responsibility for wars to those who wield power at any given time. In World War I it was the munitions industrialists; in World War II it was the psychopathic generals who were said to be guilty. This is passing the buck.
    The responsibility for wars falls solely upon the shoulders of these same masses of people, for they have all the necessary means to avert war in their own hands. In part by their apathy, in part by their passivity, and in part actively, these same masses of people make possible the catastrophes under which they themselves suffer more than anyone else.
    To stress this guilt on the part of the masses of people, to hold them solely responsible, means to take them seriously. On the other hand, to commiserate masses of people as victims, means to treat them as small, helpless children. The former is the attitude held by genuine freedom fighters; the latter that attitude held by power-thirsty politicians.”
    Wilhelm Reich, The Mass Psychology of Fascism

    “Truth always rests with the minority … because the minority is generally formed by those who really have an opinion, while the strength of a majority is illusory, formed by the gangs who have no opinion.” Søren Kierkegaard

    “The average man avoids the truth as he avoids arson, regicide, and piracy on the high seas, and for the same reason: it is dangerous, no good can come of it, and it doesn’t pay.” H.L. Mencken

    • Hey Jams. Since you mentioned Mr McCartney, let me say two things. One, my comments are on the musician and performer. I saw him some fifteen years ago and was blown away by his professionalism, musicianship and ability to make spectacle. Like most of my hippie generation, I’d always rated Lennon more highly – and the two did complement one another extremely well, and at multiple levels – but any close inspection of the fab four’s extraordinary evolution, in so compact a timeframe, is forced to conclude that McCartney far more than Lennon was the driving engine.

      I make this judgment within the wider assessment that all four – plus George Martin and most of all the spirit of the times – were indispensable. The Beatles were a textbook case of the Gestalt principle of the whole being greater than the sum of the parts.

      Two, if you didn’t see the man last night, do so on catch up. I can’t but agree with the assessment of many that his headline act, close to three hours with all the stops pulled out, was the most thrilling Glastonbury has seen. And I’m sure you’ll agree with my only negative comment. I was impressed that he stood by his mate Johnny Depp; rather less so that he saw fit to wave a Ukraine flag at start of his encore …

      • … not that I bear the Ukrainian people any ill will, you understand. It’s just that – and here too you’ll agree that the situation there, or to be precise, the sense addled account the West has bought hook, line and sinker – offers further examples of the invisibility of empire.

        For one thing, the feting of a freedom loving Ukraine led by heroic Volodymyr Zelenski overlooks the fact that when the latter made moves to deliver on his 2019 electoral promise to make a rapprochement with both Moscow and East Ukraine’s ethnic Russians, the fascists – liberated by the US backed 2014 coup and now that country’s de facto rulers (with the same peg on nose blessing Washington also gave the head choppers in Syria) – threatened to string him up. At which the president saw discretion as the better part of valour and – Jewishness be damned – sided with the Aryan supremacists. Never having been in so unenviable a situation myself, who am I to damn the man for capitulating? But his surrender, and subsequent banning of 11 opposition parties while C14, Azov etc not only remain untouchable but now have a huge say from their powerbase in the army, give the lie to “freedom loving Ukraine”.

        There’s a parallel here with Donald Trump. He too took office on a platform of closer working relations with Russia (in the interests of fighting Isis terror). The Democrat instigated Russiagate circus put paid to that, of course, leaving DRT a lame duck president continually obliged to prove his ‘patriotism’ by damning Moscow. See my 2017 post, Why Trump rolled over on Russia

        For another, the idea of Russia as the aggressor, implicit in McCartney’s flag waving, is even more easily refuted by a simple map, oft displayed on this site:


      • Yeah, but McCartney was always the soft spot in the writing team – music hall imitations, sentimental tripe and ‘sweet’ songs. I admit that Lennon had his dubious moments too – attempted Dylan style ‘surrealist’ songs without the knowing and cutting bite of Dylan, or in fact any sense at all. But Lennon could do sentiment without McC sweetness – like in “Oh Yoko” while McC was doing ‘Honey Pie” and ‘When I’m 64″. I also admit he did some good stuff on his own, like ‘Let it Be”. But the killer for me is his constant moaning about Lennon after he was dead and couldn’t reply ‘My name should be first’ sort of thing and so much more ad nauseam. Bitter and twisted creep, if you ask me.

        I can’t say anything about their respective talents in playing an instrument though. And really, who cares when there is much more important stuff coming down just now. My apologies for the tangent.

        • Actually one of the ways in which John and Paul were good for one another is that John could rein in his partner’s tendency to saccharine, a debt repaid by the way Paul’s endless musical curiosity and innovation spurred John, too prone to idleness, to pull his finger out and produce such extraordinary songs as Tomorrow Never Knows. (That too is on Revolver, which I already said is home to some of Paul’s greatest songs, including but not confined to Eleanor Rigby, and is for my money the most remarkable – not the best but the most astonishingly experimental – Beatles album of all.)

          Another way is that John’s emphasis on musical harmony complemented Paul’s melodic genius. It’s been said by no less an authority than Howard Goodall, not only a classical composer but a gifted communicator of music’s technical aspects who featured in my post on this subject, that only Mozart rivals the Beatles for output of cracking good toons. Schubert, he added, wrote one hundred, tops. The Beatles – and what a shame George only came into his prime at the end – penned some five hundred.

          Melody isn’t everything, of course – that’s where John comes in – but as Duke Ellington reminded the jazz world, “it don’t mean a thing if it ain’t got swing”.

          It goes without saying, almost, that both scousers evolved into first class lyricists.

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