Tuesday, October 26, 2004

Great Conversations About Monetarism #1

Last week, I was at a fine conference put on by the School of Development Studies here at the University of KwaZulu-Natal. Among the presentations was one by the splendid Jonathan Michie, who reports a July 1980 debate about the link between wages and inflation.

Mr James Callaghan, Leader of the Opposition asks "...will she tell us clearly whether increases in wages are a cause of inflation or not?"

Mrs Thatcher responds: Over a period the cause of increased inflation is increases in the money supply. Within money supply, there will be a different distribution both between the public sector and the private sector and within those sectors there will be increases in pay within the general money supply well beyond what are warranted, and they may come through in increases in particular products which will not necessarily affect the general price level.

Mr Callaghan: May I thank her for that reply and say that I did not understand a word of it.

Wednesday, October 20, 2004

The World Bank leads the way

A comic press release from the World Bank today, which warns us that Alien Species On The Rise. The World Bank is very concerned about invasive alien species because of the threat they pose to biodiversity and development. In some cases, alien species have been introduced to a country by people with good motives in mind, but they lead to disastrous results.

Couldn't agree more. Which begs the question: why don't the World Bank just fuck off, then?

Ah, because at the end of the release that "The World Bank is the world’s largest financier of biodiversity."

What does this even mean?

Tuesday, October 19, 2004

She came in through the bathroom window

Poor night's sleep last night. In no small part due to being pounced on at 3.30 by the neighbour's cat, which climbed in through an open window.

This has prompted some reflection on the national characteristics of cats. In the US, I notice that cats tend initially to be friendly until they discover that I have nothing of interest to offer them. Here in South Africa, they look at me as if I'm an axe-murderer, dart for a corner, and then creep through the house in the dark of night so that they can sit on your head. Admittedly, this is an unscientific poll - my N of South African cats is too low to be able to make statements of any real statistical significance. But I do think that this is an under-explored avenue of enquiry, and look forward to seeing a paper on it at APSA.

Monday, October 18, 2004

Much Ado About Morgan

Zvakwana.org reports
Harare has been gray and overcast for the last five days but the sun broke through the clouds as Morgan Tsvangirai (MT) was acquitted in the High Court. Supporters who came to witness the appearance of MT were barred from being close to the courthouse, or they were aggressively moved on by the black booted riot police who were out in full force.

This is the canny move on Mugabe’s part. Of course he’s going to release Tsvangirai. It’ll twist yet further the MDC’s indecision over whether they ought to participate in the next elections. It’ll be hailed by ZANU-PF as proof that the judiciary is independent. It’ll be claimed as a victory by the MDC. And it’ll be accompanied by a fierce show of state power.

The entire Tsvangirai affair was a lesson in discipline not only for the MDC, but also for those who might be tempted to support them. The jackbooted police and jets strafing Harare were an articulate reminder about who wears the combat trousers, and polices the air you breathe. The lessons for resistance in Zimbabwe are clear:
1. Expect more state repression,
2. Commit unequivocally to an election boycott.
3. Organise.
But, of course, I’m not in the middle of the Zim nightmare at the moment, where bittersweet victories like this are all there are to sustain the movement.

Norm provides other perspectives.

Peace! Land! Bread! Panel Discussion!

The Onion is on the ball this week, with news of a repossession.
Following years of threats, the World Bank foreclosed on the World Farm, a 64,000-square-mile plot of arable land in Dodoma, Tanzania that provides wheat, cattle, and goats to much of the Eastern Hemisphere. "This farm has been in my family since Zanzibar was a British protectorate," World Farmer Mwana "Clem" Mazooka said Monday, angrily waving a pitchfork. "I'll be damned if I let some world-city creditors get their grubby hands on it." In spite of Mazooka's protests, World Bank representatives said the World Farm Auction will take place on Oct. 24.

As fate would have it, the South African Communist Party is taking up arms on behalf of all South Africa’s Clems, with the launch of their Red October Campaign. The slogan: Land! Food! Jobs! It’s a good slogan. Almost a Leninist slogan. And it’s the slogan under which the Landless Peoples’ Movement have been campaigning since 2002.

Is this anything more than a callow attempt to co-opt a social movement agenda? The SACP is, after all, allied with the Congress of South African Trade Unions, and the ANC. And the ANC has been responsible for a great deal of repression directed towards social movement organising around land. Lucky, then that Communism is weighing in with sensible analysis like this, from Blade Nzimande, the General Secretary of the SACP, who pronounced yesterday that:
the land question is at the centre of the national question in our country. Therefore our own national liberation shall remain incomplete until the land question is fully addressed in favour of the overwhelming majority of our people, principally the workers, the poor and the landless rural masses. This means the national question remains unresolved for as long as the land remains in the hands of a minority. This is one of the most fundamental challenges of our revolution.

And yet, while the rhetoric is sound as far as it goes, what does this mean in practice? The fiery analysis at the beginning of Nzimande's speech gets quenched the closer he gets to proposing anything concrete..:
we have also noted some of the current weaknesses in the struggle for land and agrarian reform:
There has been a tendency to separate land reform from agrarian transformation, thus in many instances seeing our people winning land reform demands, but unable to use that land for agricultural purposes. That is why our campaign seeks to ensure that land reform is part and parcel of agrarian transformation in order to effectively fight poverty

Good to see this has been noted. This is marks the point where the language of the war on poverty, its origins in the World Bank’s agenda, begins to filter through, and where the concept of 'responsibility' begins to melt into air. In the beginning, the colonialists were to blame for unequal land distribution. Today, however, the land question is a passive-voiced problem.

Perhaps active voice is unnecessary. Perhaps everyone knows that the SACP is blaming the bitter entrenching of colonial property relations on the ANC’s neoliberal agenda. Maybe it’s not important to name the enemy with whom they’re in alliance. Because the SACP is now definitively going to kick its senior alliance partners in the shins.

So let us look at what is to be done, and begin the surge to the barricades.The SACP’s Red October Campaign demands are:
1.Access to productive land for the landless
2.Rights and basic services for farmworkers and their families
3. A national land summit within the next 12 months, ideally preceded by provincial summits.

Access, rights, and a panel discussion. What do we want? Incremental reform! When do we want it? As soon as reasonably practicable, pending an audit of land claims.

As much as I’d like to, I’m not going to romanticise communism and then sour at the distance between my rose-hued heaven and the place where the SACP is at. The fact that the SACP seems not to understand that agricultural workers represent a small fraction of the people who live in rural areas suggests that their concern with the land question is based, at best, on an urban model of organising and mobilising. But if we're generous, we can interpret this Red October Campaign as an attempt by the SACP to seize more power in their alliance than they've hitherto been allowed, by laying claim to a vibrant and urgent popular question. Less generously, they're also out simultaneously to suffocate the movement that articulates this question.

Either way, I am very nervous about the possible demobilising effect that the SACP's campaign. (Not for nothing is this blog called “Class Worrier”.) The Landless Peoples’ Movement in Gauteng is endorsing the SACP cautiously, while stressing its autonomy from the SACP. This seems wise – it’d be much more divisive to tell the SACP to bugger off and start Red October II. I do hope the SACP comes off worse in the war of position that follows, but they’re much more experienced and savvy than the large social movement around whom they buzz. The best way, of course, for the SACP to be dragged into a more progressive programme is for the social movement to embark on such a programme under the aegis of the Red October umbrella. But given the current conflicts within the LPM, I worry about that too.

Sunday, October 10, 2004

Sticks and Stones

Seems I'm not the only one with a potty mouth. The good comrades of Jubilee South Africa went on a march against the World Bank and the IMF on Thursday, with slogans such as "International Mother Fucker". More here. Seems, alas, that the World Bank didn't pay much attention to their demand that the Bank withdraw from South Africa within 12 hours. It might be time to move on to something stronger than stiff language, and at the Social Movement Indaba tomorrow, I suspect they'll be talking about precisely that.

Entire continent in the news

I wanted to write about Blair's African odyssey earlier on in the week, but the only thing I could find myself typing were permutations of "Tony" "Blair" and "fucking".

Am now feeling a little more sober but no less bitter. The position of Africa as child-like continent incapable of doing anything for itself, in need of benevolence from outsiders who are entirely innocent of its condition, received a strong boost from the British PM this week. Apparently he was reduced to an infantile delirium just minutes into a press event designed to show that he, too, got rhythm. What else can explain both the photo, and these statements from a press conference:

"Forget this feeling about wealthy countries giving out of the generosities of their own hearts to African cities," he said, also taking a swipe at aid which came with conditions, such as prescribed economic policies, imposed by donor nations.

"Countries should not be forced to sign up to policies which they do not believe will work, because a donor thinks they will be good for them," he said. [More here.]

Perhaps the bongos beat out of him the memory that his government is a party to precisely the kinds of agreements in which donors impose strong conditionality. "A party to" doesn't quite cut it. How about "actively promoting". Yes. That's better. Britain doesn't sit on the board of the World Bank, IMF, and spend GBP 4 billion this year through the Department of International Development without laying down its own vision of what the money needs to be spent on, and the conditions in which it is spent.

Blair's also taking a stern line on corruption. After all, the neo-Victorian ethics that underwrite the New Labour international project demand that everyone do their part, and Africa has a great deal to do. The good people at The Corner House put together this stinging bandage for Blair's bleeding heart. Seems as if the British aid industry needs to be looking a little closer to home.

Britain's response to allegations of wrong doing and bribery involving its companies in Africa has been characterised by foot-dragging and inaction. Take the Democratic Republic of the Congo. In October 2002, the UN released a report detailing how 85 foreign companies illegally exploited Congo's resources. So far none of the British companies it named appears to have been properly investigated. Congo's population of 70 million lives in abject poverty. Despite fabulous mineral deposits, the country's GDP is only a quarter of what it was in 1990. Little or no part of the wealth extracted by western mining companies reaches the state coffers, with revenues from tax and customs sources standing at less than £1bn a year. Ensuring that companies play by the book in Congo would make a real difference to that country.

Fucking Tony fucking Blair.

Meanwhile, a glimmer of good news, as Wangari Mathaai wins the Nobel Peace Prize. Other things being equal, it's good that the prize has gone to her and not to, say, Indian PM Vajpayee, who was rumoured to be in the running. Cde Mathaai has taken a solid stance against the life sciences industry for which she is to be commended. But guess which of her recent statements is making the news over the world? Is it that the patenting of life forms runs counter to the work she's been doing all her life? Or is it that HIV is a deliberately created virus?

Of course, the AIDS pandemic is killing a good many Africans. But what is it that's doing the killing? The virus, or the patents on drugs and the until-recent denialism by the South African government which prevent poor people from accessing treatment, and living with the disease? Course, if she was saying that a little more loudly, and organising around it, she'd be Zackie Achmat who, together with the splendid Treatment Action Campaign, have scored some remarkable victories in South Africa, and inspired countless HIV/AIDS activists elsewhere. Achmat was, incidentally, in the running for the prize too. But perhaps a little too politically risky. So, it's Cde Mathaai this year. Good that an African woman has won, and one who has at least taken a swipe at the intellectual property industry. An industry that, in Africa, receives a great deal of succour from those very institutions that the British Prime Minister guides.

Fucking Tony Fucking Blair.

Wednesday, October 06, 2004

Long time no blog

Actually, in the bigger scheme of things, six days isn't so long not to have blogged, especially since I've been doing things like seeing Harold and Kumar go to White Castle. But I've also been reading a lot of poetry recently. I ought to be directing you to a sheaf of fine South African poetry, and soon I will, but in the meantime here's a very digestible nugget from Agha Shahid Ali.


The moon did not become the sun.
It just fell on the desert
in great sheets, reams
of silver handmade by you.
The night is your cottage industry now,
the day is your brisk emporium.
The world is full of paper.

Write to me.