from 14 may 2006
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Creature Comforts

by William Bowles

Growing up in the 'mother of empires', it's difficult to comprehend how most of the world perceives us, even if, like me, you've lived in other cultures, it's still difficult to 'break the chains that bind' us to a view of the world defined by privilege, a world of assumptions reinforced by an unrelenting barrage of propaganda (or is it the other way around?).

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At the same time, it is also difficult for me to put down the relative indifference of people in the developed world solely to propaganda even as I recognise its importance in constructing an alternate, imperialist reality.

In the past, challenges to capitalism came from an organised working class, a working class that had its roots in generations of struggle to obtain a better standard of living and to have a political voice that could articulate its desires. We also had a radical intellectual 'elite' able to formulate and translate these desires into programmes (we can debate elsewhere as to their effectiveness).

Those days are past. Today, putting aside the managerial/professional elite, it's safe to say that working people in a country like the UK are composed of two major components; an alienated and dispossessed 'underclass' (perhaps 15-20%) composed of the inhabitants of 'sink estates', the elderly, the unemployed, a significant section of the young people and immigrants, none of whom has a voice, either as a 'special interest' or through political parties. The second and by far the largest group (perhaps 60-70%) consists of people who have a decent standard of living, own their own house and who have benefitted from the UK's privileged position in the world.

It's this second group that are the main target of the propaganda war being conducted by the state and big business. They have the most to lose by any change in economic circumstances. Their lives are defined by debt through which they 'enjoy' their precarious standard of living, and it is this debt that binds them more tightly than any chains could ever do to the preservation of the status quo.

And in any case, whatever misgivings they do have about the situation are neutralised by the stark reality of a political system that has effectively disenfranchised them by denying them a voice.

How else does one explain the fact that in spite of the obviously horrendous crimes that our government has committed and a ruling political elite that with virtually every passing day is revealed as an utterly corrupt and self-serving elite, it has failed to mobilise any significant opposition except by acknowledging that the greater part of our population opted to throw in their lot with the imperium?

Okay, it can be argued that it is a short-sighted view, that ultimately such a position will eventually backfire on all of us regardless, a position exemplified by the issue of climate catastrophe that when it does finally impact on us, it will do so regardless of our views or indeed, our actions.

But to argue this is to acknowledge that struggle is futile, we might as well all pack up and head for the hills (not that this will do any good).

The situation that confronts us is unprecedented in human history, the alteration to the planet's climate is undoubtedly real and global in scale. It's long term effects, unknown but obviously not beneficial. Worse, these changes will impact for the worst on those already on the receiving end of a rapacious imperialism, the poorest of the planet's population.

If for no other reason then, unless a significant percentage of the population of the developed world throw in their lot with the 80% of the planet's population already suffering under the dead hand of capitalism, we are all truly lost. The question is how to achieve what is a radical realignment of our collective consciousness?

This is not something that will be achieved overnight, perhaps not even in a single generation but what other choice do we have? This is a question that I for one, have wrestled with for years. And whilst acknowledging that the independent media has done an excellent job in exposing the fraudulent claims of of our political elites, the question of how best to overthrow them is still largely in the hands of a 'left' that owes its legacy of struggle to an era that no longer exists.

Internationalism is considered 'old hat', belonging to that age I referred to above, yet the paradox of living in a 'globalised' world is not lost on me. Of course 'globalised' refers to the world of capital not to people. On the one hand then, our ruling elites claim to have globalised economic relationships yet when push comes to shove, they still retreat into a world of sectional, or national interests. They manage to eat our cake and keep theirs.

Some time ago I interviewed George Galloway of the Respect Party and I asked him if he thought that social change could only be achieved through the internationalisation of struggle. His response was that such a struggle was impossible, the problems of coordination but more precisely, the sectional or national interests would always win out.

Yet the major issues that confront us now are global ones, not national, whether the climate or the onslaught on Iraq, Afghanistan. Thus although opposition will always take place locally, without a global context, local struggles have become increasingly meaningless.

The question for me then, is how to most effectively coordinate struggles globally whilst recognising that we still live in nation states and are driven by how the international struggle impacts on us at the local level?

On the one hand, we have the virtually headless 'anti-globalisation movement', the 'global justice movement' and so on. Collectively they do represent many millions of people but the same can be said of the independent media which taken collectively is composed of many millions of readers but exists in thousands of individual expressions that vie with each other for readership and by and large jealously guard their turfs. Attempts at coordinating this vast assemblage of voices has come to nought, not the least because there is no single platform that they can seem to agree on.

Yet in the face of a hegemonic corporate global media network that does speak with one, corporate voice, unless we can achieve some kind of 'critical mass' that speaks with one voice across national boundaries by articulating the major issues that confront us, we are bound to remain marginalised and fragmented.

On the positive side, there is no doubt that the grossly misnamed phenomenon of 'blogging' has struck fear into the corporate/state media, who having gone through several phases, from ignoring it, to dissing it and finally attempting to coopt it, offers the possibility of achieving the 'critical mass' I spoke of above, but how?

And furthermore, I would argue that the success of 'blogging' has been largely achieved by default, that is to say, mistrust of the mainstream media has come about as a result of the more general loss of trust in the political process as a whole rather than as a result of the success of the independent media.

Various attempts have been made to create an independent, global media, most especially Indymedia but unfortunately Indymedia seems to belong to the 'headless' opposition, full of passion and commitment but largely disconnected from the very audiences it seeks to reach. I say this not as a putdown of Indymedia, its achievements have been remarkable, but that it still remains on the margins of political _expression.

It is within this context that one needs to look at the very specific movement that has arisen as a result of the invasion and occupation of Iraq and Afghanistan, the anti-war movement. If ever there was an opportunity wasted, it is the anti-war movement, especially in the UK and the US, the two countries that are central to the struggle against the imperium.

In both cases, by largely confining their objectives to opposing the occupation, it has wasted an opportunity to broaden the debate and the struggle, especially in the UK where the anti-war movement belongs to what I regard as an opportunist political movement, the Socialist Workers Party, who have managed single-handedly to make it a 'Muslim versus the rest', issue, thus divorcing the struggle from the broader issues of a society on the verge of social disintegration. In so doing, it has played directly into the hands of the Blair government, who have played the 'Muslim card' with great effectiveness.

There is no doubt that underneath the apparent acceptance of the status quo, there lurks a deep unease and disquiet that expresses itself in many ways, from a yearning for an illusory past to a retreat into a frantic consumerism and the numbing of the senses with everything from dope to 'reality tv'. These are issues that are conspicuous by their absence from the single-issue anti-war movement, yet these are issues that are central to the struggle to transform our disintegrating planet.

It is pointless to struggle against the obscenity that is the Blair government's destruction of Iraq unless it is set within the context of imperialism's headlong destruction of the planet that supports our species. The insane pursuit of 'growth', the addiction of consumerism are an integral part of the invasion of Iraq, it is vital that the connections are made between them.

–   William Bowles

In the seventies I worked in electronic publishing (SouthScan), radio production (WBAI FM), television (South Africa Now) and ultimately on to Africa. During this period I [became] involve[d] with the African National Congress and later SWAPO in Namibia and work in Central America, again using computers as tools of communication and change.

For the past ten years I've been working in Johannesburg, South Africa, firstly for the ANC where I set up the Election Information Unit for the 1994 democratic elections. I then directed the development of the first digital multi-media centre in Africa in COSATU's headquarters, the Centre for Democratic Communications.

But writing, which has always been a passion and a talent I was fortunate to possess, led me back into the world of words, although I continued to work in the world of information technology but with the focus less on the technology than on the skills needed to harness it in the transformation of society. I lectured and developed courses at the Institute for the Advancement of Journalism at Wits University in the online environment as well workshops on the role of IT in the transformation of government for the School of Public Development Management. Amongst the last projects I completed in South Africa were three scripts for television, for a young, black-owned film production company, Fuzebox Productions on Freedom Day, Youth Day and the National Anthem, Nkosi Sikilel i'Africa for the SA government.

But after 27 years abroad, I find myself back in the city of my birth, London, and where I spent the first 30 years of my life, contemplating my future and the direction I would like my life to take. Since coming back to London I have been involved in a number of projects including developing the brief and business plan for city-based broad band wireless network with the focus on marketing/distribution of digitally based cultural products and home and office based connectivity (still on-going) and spending a lot of time writing, both fiction (one novel completed and a second in the works) and current affairs essays.

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