Idiot Joy Showland

This is why I hate intellectuals

Tag: greece

Fragments against the ruin

1. Syriza are an anti-austerity party, and they have an excellent record when it comes to opposing austerity. They opposed the measures put forward by Greece’s creditors in February. They opposed the plan of agreement drawn up in June, and put it to a referendum. They opposed the harsh and punitive measures suggested by Germany over the weekend. Wherever the threat of austerity emerges in Greece, Syriza are on hand to heroically oppose it. They’ll oppose the sunset, they’ll oppose the locusts as they come in their chattering thousands to strip green islands to naked rock, and when they wheeze their dying breaths, cold and emaciated on soggy mattresses, they’ll oppose that too. Despite their pleas for an alternative, they’ve never approached austerity as anything other than a deterministic inevitability. It might be time to question how much value there actually is in ‘anti-austerity’ politics: it’s a formation in which opposing something has come to function as an effective substitute for actually doing anything about it. Anti-austerity movements scream their refusal to participate in the grand, stupid mechanism of austerity – and then do so anyway. These things are not opposed to each other.

2. In this context, the strange farce of the referendum starts to make a twisted sort of sense. The population of Greece overwhelmingly voted against austerity measures demanded by the Troika, only for the government of Greece to then almost immediately submit a set of proposals that mirrored them in every detail. In fact, Prime Minister Tsipras wrote to his creditors conceding to almost all of their demands before the referendum had even taken place. But the referendum was never intended to actually decide anything; after all, the plan of agreement to be accepted or rejected was no longer even on the table. It was always, explicitly, to be a gesture of rejection, something purely performative, which for some reason Syriza thought might help them negotiate a fairer deal.

3. Its ‘no’ was a pure ‘no’; there was no indication what the result of this rejection would be, because there was never to be a result. This isn’t far from what Hegel describes as ‘abstract negation’. Abstract negation is the form of negation based on an eternal and static binary of true and false or being and nothingness: under abstract negation what is negated is cast into pure nothingness. The act of negation, rather than producing a new state of affairs, instead simply cancels out everything; in the end, it doesn’t really matter what is being negated. Hegel’s complaint isn’t that abstract negation is too destructive, but that it isn’t destructive enough: abstract negation always fails. It sees the nothingness into which it condemns that which is negated as an absence that precedes any particular negation, while the dialectic recognises that any particular negation will continue to express the content of that which is negated, as ‘the nothingness of that from which it results. A negation built on stasis will remain static; without any process of sublation, the negated object will slowly achieve a kind of zombie rebirth, crawling on skeletal hands out the abyss of its own cancellation. This is how 61% of Greek voters managed to reject austerity, only for their government to then triumphantly impose it as the culmination of their democratic will.

4. Most journalists don’t know much about Greece, but they have been to Oxbridge, which is why it’s hard to read anything on the situation without some reference to Sophocles or Aeschylus. What would Thucydides make of the European bond market? Isn’t Tsipras a modern Priam of Troy? This is nonsense. There is a text that can help us understand what’s happening in Greece, but it’s not from some cartoon antiquity. In Leopold von Sacher-Masoch’s Venus in Furs we meet Severin, a sick and sensitive young man, exhausted by Northern civilisation, an admirer of the free sensuality of Greece. He seemingly wills a portrait of the goddess Venus into life as Wanda, an impish and imperious woman; the two draw up a contract in which Severin agrees to be her slave, and enter into a relationship. Theirs is not, as it’s been described, a sado-masochistic relationship, but one between masochists: Wanda, too, wants to be dominated and humiliated, and because Severin is unable to do this for her, she soon begins to lose her love for him. The identification of masochism as an inverse of sadism is troubled from the start: Fifty Shades aside, sadists don’t tend to write contracts with their victims. Sadism is mechanical and automatic, from the distant burning cruelty of the stars to the bloodstained fury of all wild animals; de Sade’s grotesques don’t draw up contracts, they just do whatever they want. Laws and agreements are functions of a willed, deliberate masochism. (As Deleuze writes, the masochist ‘aims not to mitigate the law but on the contrary to emphasise its extreme severity.’) In the end Wanda, now disgusted by her slave, falls for a brutish, Byronic, ‘barbarian’ Greek. First she rejects Severin, then she declares her love for him, makes him agree to put aside his masochism and enter into a ‘normal’, sadistic relationship – and then ties him to a bed, whereupon the Greek suddenly appears, to ‘whip all poetry from him.’ This Greek is a walking dildo; he dies before long, and for all his displays of dominance he only really existed to satisfy Wanda’s masochistic desires. Freud, with whom the idea of masochism as an inverted sadism originates, was still troubled throughout his career by the idea of a ‘primary masochism’. By the time of Beyond the Pleasure Principle he was ready to admit its existence, but his death drive is still fundamentally ambiguous: on the one hand it’s a desire to return to an inorganic stillness, on the other it’s just a redirection of the universal sadistic impulses against the self. In fact, this ambiguity goes back to his Three Essays on the Theory of Sexuality in 1905; at the same time as he describes masochism as an inverted sadism, he also connects sadism with cannibalism. The Bemächtigungsapparatus, or structure of domination, exists only to serve the desires of another, ‘ontogenetically prior’ impulse – but, syntactically, it’s never clear whether this prior impulse is cannibalism or masochism. (After all, in actually existing BDSM relationships, the real power always belongs to the submissive partner: theirs is the limit that must not be crossed.) In the end, it’s far easier for Freud to imagine that we want to eat each other than to think that, when surrounded by a universal and impersonal sadism without subject, the immediate human response is to want to give in to it. The German response to Syriza’s desperate, humiliated proposals – to reject them, and insist on something even harsher, even though it may well end up harming them – has been strongly criticised, but in a way Greece’s creditors are only following the blank and impersonal laws of capital. Their sadism is the sadism of the unliving. Solidarity with Greece shouldn’t imply sympathy for Syriza: they could have got out of this dually-masochistic contract if they wanted (throughout the referendum period it was assumed that Greece was drawing up secret plans for an exit from the Euro; now it’s been revealed that beyond a few tiny committees, they really weren’t); instead they’re bringing in austerity as the fulfilment of their own desires.

5. Among a few of Syriza’s defenders, there’s a complaint that left-wing critics seem to want Greece to fling itself into uncertainty for the sake of a few old Marxist orthodoxies. From our armchairs in the insulated north, we leftier-than-thou dilettantes demand that an entire country ruin itself, just so that we can get the vicarious thrill of resistance. But the ruin is already here. We’re living in it. The deal that Greece has agreed to will enforce mandatory privatisations, automatic spending cuts, and a mechanism to ensure that all these measures are locked outside the realm of politics. The anti-austerity party has delivered the forces of austerity a far more total victory than the old ND-Pasok coalition ever could – they, at least, had to deal with a strong domestic opposition. This ruin is all of Europe’s. In his pre-referendum speech, Tsipras made constant, fawning references to ‘European ideals’ betrayed by the EU, but of course Europe has never really existed. It’s a spur of Asia with unwarranted pretensions, and because it has no geographical reality, it’s had to invent a cultural one. In the years after the collapse of the Mediterranean world, Europe and Christendom were almost identical concepts; after that, Europe was defined by white skin and a habit of imperial massacre elsewhere in the world. Now, Europe is best defined as the place where they implement austerity. Any movement that tries to change this will have to start by abolishing Europe altogether.

6. After the fall of the Roman empire, locals plundered its grand ruins for stones to build homes and churches. For some reason this is generally treated as a terrible philistinism, but in fact it’s determinate negation in action: the cancellation of something already cancelled in order to build something new. It’s better to have a house than a ruin. In Greece, there are still factions willing to oppose the destruction of the country, including the KKE, the Greek Communist Party, and PAME, the All-Workers Militant Front. These groups have consistently warned against Syriza’s brand of capital-friendly anti-austerity politics; there are plans for strikes and demonstrations; the resistance continues. Of course, it’s not enough to simply negate the disaster, and expect it to then be done with. Against the blank and useless negationism of Syriza, it might now be necessary to turn the ruins into a proper structure: to be not against austerity, but for communism.

Green-eyed loco men

“Nilbog! That’s…”

Forgive me, but the much-vaunted ‘Green Surge’ doesn’t sound like the most important underground political shift in a generation. It doesn’t sound like politics at all. It’s a disease, one of those old medieval sicknesses that would suddenly sweep its bile-trimmed cloak across a nation and then vanish, leaving modern historians baffled. What caused the Green Surge? Why was it that thousands of people in 13th-century England spewed this strange green substance from every possible orifice before dying in their inexplicable filth? From what infected pits of the body did the Green Surge spring? Contemporary scientists suggest some kind of virus, an organism too blind and stupid to know not to kill its host, possibly carried to Europe with seafaring rats. The people of the time knew better. These sicknesses come with the miasma that wafts into towns with the morning breeze, carrying with it the stench of undrained marshes and dense bogs, the foulness of rotting vegetable matter and the eructations of unclean animals. Like a rolling, invisible tide, sweeping past the fragile barriers that separate civilisation from all that swarming organic decay upon which the social limpet is encrusted; the stinking revenge of the English countryside, in all its ancient, unknowable evil. Nature kills.

According to the Green Party itself, the Green Surge is actually a sudden exponential spike in their membership, which has since the beginning of the year given them more paying party members than either Ukip or the Liberal Democrats – but then these people shouldn’t be trusted. The Greens aren’t a political party, they’re a cult. American politics are often described as a circus: they’ve got the flashing lights and booming announcers, the roving lights that settle on some terrified elephant shuffling along a high fiscal tightrope. Every American politician is inescapably clownish, with their heavy caking of make-up, their pathetic and seedy desire to entertain that only terrifies the children, and the sure knowledge that they’ll all eventually all die strung out on prescription painkillers in a lonely ranch somewhere. British politics is less refined, less glossy. It harkens back to a more earthy form of entertainment: parliamentary procedure is a gang of witless peasants pushing each other into the village midden. But even among all these gormless shit-splattered idiots, the Green Party might be the worst. They’re the only ones who actually want to roll around in all that natural, organic filth. They want it with such a seriousness that the cult is the only available working model. Eco-scientology: a ghastly dead-eyed vegetable legion, a slow cellulose celebration of every tuberous bloat in the ranks of the Turnip People. You can see Green Party members canvassing on any given Sunday in farmers’ markets and greengrocers. One of us, they chant through brussels-sprout blob mouths, staring at a bag of spinach with a fraternal reverence. One of us, they implore the silent ranks of moulding courgettes. One of us, they yelp as they fuck a lettuce. One of us. Any politics that’s not grounded in a fundamental disdain for all vegetables is not worthy of the name.

God knows why, but people – normal, ordinarily sensible people – actually plan on voting for this gang of dendrophile lunatics. Ask them why, and they’ll come up with the usual platitudes: a break from politics as usual, the chance for a fairer society, a different way of doing things. Haven’t we learned anything? This was the same brave cry thousands of students roared five years ago as they flung themselves into the fathomless void of Nick Clegg’s conscience, like young Hashishim from the walls of Alamut. The Greens are a chiliastic suicide cult as mad and deadly as the worst of them. Their logo literally depicts the world in flames. They, too, are waiting for the aliens to come and whisk them away: they’re here to prepare the ground for the final victory of the plants. The tendrils that will twist their way through the mortar of our homes, the scraggly blotches of lichen that will expand upon the oily surfaces of our great artworks. The seething, bubbling, rotting stupidity of mere life, Utopia and apocalypse all at once.

To be fair to the potato folk, they’re in a strange and contradictory position. On the one hand they’re desperate to be seen as a real, proper, viable political party, which is why they’re collecting council seats like gym badges and clamouring for a spot in the TV debates. Not just a drifting protest march of sandal-wearing beardies, but an organisation capable of real competency in real politics. On the other, there’s still the buried desire to be an actually radical alternative, to delineate the absolute horizon of acceptable thought under conditions of post-everything modernity and, by circumscribing it, necessitate the faint conceptualisation of its Other, a thought and a programme that lies beyond any such limit. There’s nothing wrong with either of these desiderata, especially not the fact that they’re mutually contradictory. The problem is that rather than attempting any kind of synthesis, the Greens have settled on a policy of abstract negation. As Caroline Lucas, their only current MP, admitted, the Greens won’t be taking power any time soon; instead they exist to put forward some radical ideas which this political system needs so badly, and to push Labour to be far more progressive. What this actually means is that firstly, these radical ideas must remain as ideas and only ideas; even if framed as concrete proposals in a manifesto, their function is only ever entirely symbolic. And secondly, the radical nature of these ideas must always be essentially non-heterogeneous to the politics of the Labour front bench – a group which should, after its jolly little adventure in Iraq, be considered a genocidal party of a type with the Khmer Rouge and the Impuzamugambi. (And how should Labour be more radical? According to Lucas, by renationalising the railways. Icarus never dared dream higher.) The absolute worst of both worlds: at once a flighty, immaterial, nonsensical radicalism without its usual and important virtue of that unbounded creativity only possible through sheer silliness – and a grounded, measly, banal fascism that doesn’t even have the grisly sop of bare practicability. There’s nothing there. It’s a politics of the void; the unthinkingness of plant life.

Until recently, the Greens called for the replacement of the current benefits structure with a universal basic income of £72 a week. As a transitional demand, it’s not a terrible idea (even if it came with the quesily cauvinist name of a Citizens’ Income). That plan has been dropped from their 2015 manifesto. Why? Because the Green platform is structurally required to be a colossal failure of the imagination. Uniquely, the Greens could rename themselves the Why-Isn’t-Everything-Nicer Party without any substantial loss of meaning. Their vision is of a Britain powered by the kinetic energy of middle-aged people in cardigans pottering around allotments. A Britain where every family will bury acorns over the winter, where discussions of state will take place in a magnificent wooden treehouse, where thousands of protected voles will form a living quilt to scurry you off to sleep at night. (Plenary sessions at their party conferences – this is true – start with enforced ataraxy, a horrifying hippie-fascist ‘period of attunement’ in which the delegates engage in sixty seconds of ‘calm reflection’ to ‘clear their minds’ before the chakra-straining bustle of minor-party politics. Hard not to imagine them skimming off all actual thought like the fatty film from a psychic consommé.)  It’s the same kind of ideology that propels people into thinking that 3D-printed shovels can save Africa; that drinking soya milk will refoliate the rainforests, make dogs and cats be friends again, and resolve the subject-object dichotomy; that they’re ‘lifehacking’ or ‘finding ingenious solutions to everyday problems’ as thousands of twanging rubber bands bounce around their heads and smash all their glassware. Heads in the clouds, knees in the shit; social change reconceived as a single rubbery floret of overcooked broccoli.

Given that they’re without any real radical vision or plan for action, the Greens have had to organise themselves around some kind of principle beyond mere vegetative idiocy. Be like the cabbage might have worked as a rallying cry at the time of Puritan pietism, but it doesn’t sound quite so sexy now. So the Green movement has taken as its empty signifier of choice a concern for the environment. Fine: who could possibly be against saving the environment? But what environment? An environment is something that surrounds, encloses, and determines any individual phenomena, something that always remains fundamentally outside. What’s called the natural environment is not this thing; in fact, it no longer really exists. There’s not a scrap of the non-human world that hasn’t been invaded and encoded by capitalist practices. The bunnies fucking in the fields are being pimped out by greetings cards companies. Songbirds now chirp car-insurance adverts every fifteen minutes. Even those places that are supposedly still wild and untouched are, precisely by virtue of their exclusion from the order of commodity society, utterly enmeshed within it – after all, sovereignty is defined by its capacity to create a state of exception. The deep-sea tube worms that gulp nutrients from the fires at the centre of the earth, waving their sad frilly fringes alone and unseen in a world without sunlight – they’re pioneering examples of neoliberal entrepreneurship. The last really wild megafauna are the subject of a frantic exchange in images; more than anything, they’re used to advertise their own endangerment. Some Latin American governments are seeking money to not exploit their oil reserves – a proposal that, while gesturing towards the inviolable difference of the ‘natural’ world, actually effects its opposite: the gooey remains of our old dinosaur rulers can’t even gloop around in peace beneath the soil without being subjected to the laws of the commodity. If there is an environment that acts as a substrate to our everyday activities, it’s not nature, but late capitalism itself. The esoteric core of the Green leadership must know this. Just like the malignant nature that threatened earlier societies, capital is vast, profligate, and ravenous; it knows no limits to itself, but seeks to spread its evil to the furthest galaxies. It’s something we’re in but not of; a vast stalking alien demon. The abstract principle that the Greens want to protect is nothing more than the blank futility of the status quo.

Their ideology is utterly hollow, and they don’t even have the aesthetic sense to exult in its hollowness. But still thousands of people believe in it – not just that, they believe in it very seriously. Believing something stupid but magnificent is generally laudable. Believing something stupid and miserly is cultish. This is the difference between a cult and a religion: when you join a cult, you have to give up your imagination at the door.

It doesn’t matter that some of the things they actually say about climate and inequality and so on happen to be true. Imagine some young person telling you, with perfect straight-faced enthusiasm, as if they’d just discovered the most important fact in human history, some perfectly ordinary truth – that blue whales are bigger than any dinosaur, that ducks fly south in the winter, that the polar ice caps are melting, whatever. Now imagine that this person keeps telling you their fact, over and over again, and tries to cajole you into signing a petition to help their fact gain wider recognition, and begs you to join their organisation, dedicated to the propagation of this important fact. The truth-value of what they’re saying doesn’t matter. It’s in the earnestness, those wide sugar-blasted eyes: this person is insane. Someone who cares this much about waterfowl migration can’t put much of a value on human life. Any hierarchical organisation affirming cetacean vastness can only be a violent, paranoid sect. Should I run? Am I about to be bludgeoned to death with a clipboard? When the nails on those wiry, intense hands start to claw at my face, will anything be left of me apart from a messy splat on the pavement? This is how the Green Party functions.

This isn’t to say that earnestness by itself is a bad thing. But if you’re going to earnestly attach yourself to a political project, it should at least be one that has something to show for itself. Storming palaces, overthrowing humanity, war against the Sun, not a miserable set of policy prescriptions designed purely to appeal to the symbolic intelligence of disaffected lefties. Look at the areas where the Greens are projected to do well. Brighton, Oxford, west Bristol, and north London: middle class enclaves, petty fiefdoms of the bien pensant liberal bourgeoisie (full disclosure: I’ve lived in two of these places). Ukip is bearing down on the east coast like a horde of zimmer-frame vikings, the Tories soar over vast swathes of the countryside on ragged vulture wings, an infestation of Labour candidates scuttle through city sewers – and the Greens send their zapped-out cultists to canvass for votes in Brockley and Stokes Croft. For a counter-example, just look at Syriza in Greece. They also started as a small, weird party, and however many theoretical and practical mistakes they’ve made since taking power – and there have been plenty – their method of getting there was exemplary. They actually listened to the people, stepped in to provide services when the state couldn’t, helped to organise workers and position themselves as something radically heterogeneous to the governmental system. Even after taking office, they promised to keep the central locus of power on the streets; they knew that party politics is just an abstracted expression of the real, visceral thing. This was hailed as a radical innovation, but it’s not really anything new: the Black Panthers were doing the same thing in the 60s, giving out free school meals and getting shot by police for their efforts; Hezbollah have come to replace the State in much of Lebanon; even Occupy briefly experimented with moving homeless families into foreclosed properties. The Greens don’t seem to do anything of the sort. They’re far more interested in getting MPs and council seats; for them a 6% electoral representation is the highest radical goal. They move entirely within the repressive state apparatuses, as if politics is something that takes place only in constituency surgeries and the wormy tunnels of Westminster. When they do try to actually effectuate any kind of change it’s always as a local government – here in Brighton, for instance, where their rule has been an unmitigated disaster. But of course it has: the institutions they’re working in are structurally calibrated to make radical change an impossibility, which is why they’ve ended up as the simpering enforcers of austerity.

The election is looming, and even the most devout Green cultists will eventually be forced to admit that they’re not going to do especially well. But doing well was never the point. The political right is, of course, up in arms about some of their policies – they want to legalise ISIS but ban your bins! they want foxes and hunters to attend interspecies sensitivity courses! they want to give all our jobs to Mongolian yak-herders and teach our children to go into prostitution instead! – but far from delegitimising the Greens, these paranoid critiques actually recapitulate the narrative in which any of this might actually happen, in which the Greens are a genuine electoral viability. They’ve been compared to a watermelon, green on the outside, red on the inside; in fact they’re a cauliflower, grey and frothy without, grey and rubbery within. What this troupe of cauliflower-headed clowns want more than anything is your vote: the claws to dig them further into the bloated corpse of liberal democracy, the biofuel that keeps the dismal train of parliamentary radicalism chuffing, so they can continue their sad stomping march into the algae-choked sea. They want your vote with a vegetable hunger, eyeless, faceless, insatiable.  Don’t give it to them.

Future Europe – Ahmet Weshke and the mystery of the falling man

Recently I came across this piece in the Wall Street Journal by the litigation-happy racist Niall Ferguson, a man with a face like an undercooked Jeremy Clarkson and opinions to match. Writing in 2011, he takes it upon himself to paint a picture of how Europe will look in ten years time. It’s an awful article. Sometimes the sheer stupidity of his predictions is gobsmacking: war between Jordan and Israel – really? The reintroduction of Austrian nobiliary particles – really? George Osborne, the ‘Iron Chancellor’ – really? Of course it all plays into his ideological agenda, but that could be forgiveable if he’d simply done it better. Ferguson’s worst error is one of genre. True to form, he takes a smugly objective overview of the political developments over the course of his decade, without ever stopping to think how life in Future Europe might actually be lived. It’s inherently inaccurate. The Europe of the mid-21st Century won’t look a thing like Ferguson’s prediction. It won’t be a calm appraisal. It’ll be pulp fiction.

Ahmet Weschke woke up in a bare room stinking of liquor fumes and the prostitute’s perfume. His Interface was still hissing silently in one corner of the room. Onscreen, the face of a newsreader drifted like a spectre above a roiling sea of static. He chucked a shoe at it; the image stabilised. Ahmet dressed himself hurriedly and wolfed down a breakfast consisting of three slices of bleached-white bread as he watched the morning headlines. It was the same old shit. A bunch of fanatics had declared another Islamic Emirate in a valley somewhere in the massif central. This was happening every couple of months now. Some dumb kids straight out of a banlieue madrassa would drive into a rural region and burst into the farmhouse of some rotund Gallic swine-farmer; they’d shoot him and maybe a couple of the local villagers they found enjoying charcuterie or dressing immodestly, then raise the black flag of jihad and wait for the European Army paratroopers to come and dispatch them as quickly as possible to Paradise. It made sense, really; better a nice little burst of rape and plunder followed by a swift death than decades tramping around a gloomy concrete suburb. The other items were just as predictable: more pictures of emaciated English refugees milling around the Scottish border, more helicopter footage of the interminable riots that were destroying Los Angeles as comprehensively as an earthquake, more grim reports of mounting Chinese casualties in Kazakhstan, more dull analysis of the land deal with the Saudi Empire as it collapsed into an acrimonious squabble. Enough.

As he hurried down Holzwegstrasse to the S-Bahn station, Ahmet tried several times to adjust his tie before giving up and stuffing it in his pocket. The train was packed with perspiring commuters; the air inside was humid with sweat and spittle. More people clung to the handles on the sides and the roof – doing so wasn’t strictly legal, of course, but after the number of bodies on the lines had started to seriously impact the network’s efficiency the corporation running the transit system had decided to put handles on anyway. Everyone on the train was Goggled; their irises were pale, their gazes immobile. The only people who didn’t wear Goggles were the religious fanatics, the most impoverished of the guest workers, and the police. Officers of the European Department of Civil Order were forbidden from using AR: only the police still believed in the real world.

Commissioner Traugott was waiting at his desk when Ahmet arrived.
“You’re late,” she said. “And you smell of booze.”
“I didn’t have time to shower. You’d rather I was even later?”
“If you want to look like a slob, it’s up to you. We’ve got a case. Bankenviertel. Apparent suicide. Suspicious.”
“What, has Denmark gone bust again? Come on, Angela. I’m a good detective. I don’t need another fucking depressed banker.”
“It’s not quite that. You’ll see.”

The body was naked and twisted, dashed with fragments of concrete, one knee bent backwards, one elbow embedded in a shattered paving stone. From one side of its head a tongue lapped against the pavement. The other side had exploded into a constellation of blood, brain and skull. The index finger of his left hand had been cut off. A clean straight wound. Above the body rose the sheer glass infinity of the EuroBank Tower, painfully reflecting the sun’s fury. Somewhere up near the eightieth floor, one window-pane was broken. Ahmet was in a foul mood. He’d expected his EDCO card to get him whisked straight through the checkpoint into Bankenviertel; instead the Israeli private security guards had made him wait for ten minutes by the reinforced wall that surrounded the business district while they checked his credentials. At least the civilians in line had been able to entertain themselves with their Goggles. Ahmet had counted concrete slabs instead.
“Let me guess,” he said. “Cleaner? Fell in the middle of the night?”
Officer Hans, looking slightly ridiculous in his blue-and-gold uniform, gaped at him. “Just because he’s black doesn’t mean he’s a menial worker,” he said.
“It’s not because he’s black,” said Ahmet. “Look at his teeth. Discoloured, one premolar missing. This guy isn’t a banker. And the scar across his thigh, there. Looks like barbed wire. So, probably a refugee, possibly an illegal. And the inflammations, over… there. Venereal disease. Am I right?”
“He’s not a banker. We did biometrics. He’s registered. Joseph Kutenge. Came over in ’31 with all the rest. You know, when the Congo basin went dry… but here’s the thing.”
“What?”
“OK, first of all, he wasn’t wearing Goggles.”
“So what? Not everyone uses augmented reality.”
“But it’s unusual, isn’t it? Shit, even my mother wears them, and she remembers the DDR.”
Ahmet wondered how many years Hans’ mother had before she’d have to enter the euthanasia process. Maybe she’d been saving up and could afford the monthly life-extension payments. He hoped so. He liked the kid, even if he’d never let him know it. “What else?” he said.
“Kutenge works in a warehouse outside of Offenbach. Menial labour, like you said. There’s no way he’d have a Bankenviertel pass.”
Ahmet glanced at the high concrete wall rising above some of the lower buildings near the edge of the business district, shimmering in the day’s heat. “Then how the fuck did he get in?”
Hans shrugged. “That’s the question.”

~

Kutenge’s body was being loaded into the police van, draped in an antiseptic-looking white sheet. The forensics team had been and gone, sweeping their Portals over the corpse, crouched over the dead man like a flock of vultures. Back at HQ, a computerised visualisation of the crime scene would be built and pored over: impact velocity would be calculated, a crowd of skinny analysts would try to determine whether Kutenge had fallen from the window or been pushed. Ahmet didn’t trust the analysts: they got results, but it wasn’t real police work.
He drew Hans to one side. “I want you to go to this guy’s house,” he said. “Talk to his wife. Give me more to work with than Brussels statistics. I’ll have a look round the EuroBank Tower.”
“Are you kidding? I can’t go down there, boss.”
“Why not?”
“Kutenge lived in the Offenbach Camp. Look at me. I look like a fucking Hitlerjugend. In uniform, as well. I wouldn’t last five minutes.”
This was true. Police never investigated any crimes in the refugee camps. If the militants there grew too rowdy, or if there was a particularly shocking massacre, a European Army unit would storm in and dispense some crude justice; enough to shut the liberal bloggers up for a couple of weeks, at least.
“Anyway,” Hans continued, “Traugott said she wants Detective Haufman to talk to the people inside.”
“She fucking didn’t. Why’d she do that?”
Hans flinched. “Look at how you’re dressed, boss.”
Ahmet grunted. “OK,” he said. “I’ll go to Offenbach. You stay here. And if that fucker Haufman tries to enter that building, shoot him.”

Ahmet left his jacket in the car. He undid the top three buttons from his shirt and slicked his hair back a little with spit.
“How Turkish do I look?” he said to the driver.
“You not been in the camps before, sir?”
“When I was younger. And thinner.”
Past the sterile zone of barbed wire and tarmac that surrounded it, Offenbach Camp was a mess. Washing lines hung between plastic tents and corrugated-iron shacks. Suspicious eyes glanced out from dark alleyways, sometimes accompanied by the oily gleam of gunmetal. Women stirred oil-drums filled with soup behind signs in French or Arabic or English. Ahmet tried not to peer too ostentatiously at the map in his hand. If he could wear Goggles this would have been so much easier; as it was he had to navigate the camp by instinct. Kutenge’s house was near the centre, a tiny bungalow built from exposed cinderblocks with glassless windows. Ahmet recognised the symbol of the United Nations stamped onto one of the concrete pillars: this place was old. He knocked on the door.
It was opened by a tall woman in a faded Vietnam World Cup 2030 t-shirt and grubby shorts. “Que voulez-vous?” she said.
“Mrs Kutenge? My name’s Ahmet Weschke. I’m with the police. Do you think I could come in?”
She frowned. “Is this about Joseph? I already know.”
“I just want to ask some questions about him. So we can find out what happened.”
She looked puzzled, but let him in. Inside there was a mattress on the floor, a plastic table with some rickety chairs, and a stove. A muted Interface was propped up against one wall; onscreen a minister paced up and down a stage, yelling silent hosannas. “There is nothing to ask. Joseph worked in the warehouse. He went to work every day and then he came home. He went to church. He did not drink. He did not gamble. There is nothing to ask.”
Ahmet thought of the sores around the dead man’s genitals, but he didn’t say anything. “Do you know what he was doing in Frankfurt? How he got in?”
“No. He didn’t come home last night. And then today I am told he is dead.”
“You don’t seem very upset.”
“Last year my two daughters were shot here. In the camp. I have cried enough. I have cried all my tears.” Her expression soured. “And where were you when my children were killed? When a child dies in the camp you are nowhere. But when someone dies so that rich men have to look at his body, then you care about him. It is sick. It is sick!” She stamped her foot, but her anger seemed somehow feigned. The woman’s irises were a misty grey. Who else could be looking out through those eyes?

~

Somehow, Ahmet found himself at the back of the room as Haufman explained his team’s findings. A hologram of Kutenge’s body spun slowly above his desk. “The lack of injuries associated with glass impact is consistent with our working hypothesis,” Haufman said. “It appears Kutenge first broke the window, then jumped through. We consider it statistically unlikely that he was pushed. Motivations are unclear. A political statement, perhaps.”
Traugott tapped her fingers on the table. “But how did he get in?”
“The Bankenviertel Group have kindly agreed to release their CCTV records, which we’re still analysing. But Kutenge was a refugee. He arrived here at Marseilles. He certainly has plenty of experience in climbing barriers.”
“Whose window was it?” said Ahmed.
“I’m sorry?”
“Whose window was it?”
Haufman sighed. “The office belonged to Jeremy Smythe-Braistwick.”
“The CFO? The one who’s trying to sell half of Europe to the Arabs?”
“Yes, the CFO of EuroBank. Herr Smythe-Braistwick is co-operating fully with the investigation, and he’s asked us to pass on his sincere condolences to Kutenge’s survivors.”
Afterwards, Ahmet was approached by Officer Hans. “You think Smythe-Braistwick killed him, don’t you?”
“I don’t think anything, Hans. I collect all the facts I can, until I know.”
“Sure, boss. But you think he killed him, don’t you?”
“I think someone was leaning on Kutenge’s wife. When I spoke to her she was Goggled. And I know there’s no way he could have climbed that wall. Thousands of people got out of the camps in Marseilles, they were falling apart. Nobody gets into Bankenviertel if they’re not invited. Frankfurt could be nuked and the people in there would be selling short on radioactive debris the next day.”
“So someone brought him in?”
“I’m not saying it was Smythe-Braistwick. Not necessarily. But everyone knows the bankers get up to some pretty kinky shit after office hours. So let’s say there’s a couple of them, high-level board members, cruising round Offenbach as the warehouse closes. They see some poor black refugee they like the look of. They drive him into Bankenviertel, bring him up the tower, do whatever the fuck they do, then credit him a couple of Euros and send him back to the camp. They do this a couple of times, maybe. But this time something goes wrong. They push him too far, they get too sadistic. That missing finger… So he complains, or resists, and in the struggle, he gets flung out the window…”
“Haufman said the window was broken first.”
“Haufman’s a moron. OK. I’m going to take a shower, and then I’m going to call on Herr Smythe-Braistwick. I want you to go through the CCTV from Offenbach. See what Kutenge did when he left work. See if he got into any cars.”

The elevator in the EuroBank Tower was bigger than Ahmet’s apartment. He stared at himself in the mirror and flicked a yellow particle from the corner of his eye. Kutenge and Smythe-Braistwick, Smythe-Braistwick and Kutenge. Both refugees, in a sense, except Kutenge had to trek across a continent, riding in some warlord’s pickup across the Sahara and launching himself into the toxic seas of the Mediterranean; he had to escape the Marseilles refugee camp before the Army liquidated it, he had to cross minefields and hide under bushes from drones. Smythe-Braistwick probably just jumped in his helicopter and touched down in Frankfurt while London was still burning.
Ahmet was received in Smythe-Braistwick’s office, a huge, tastefully empty space. The broken window had already been replaced. Smythe-Braistwick – tall and thin with fashionably long hair and an artificial-looking tautness to his face – greeted him from behind his desk. “I must say, Mr – Weschke, is it? I’m a little perplexed by your appearance here. I’ve already spoken to your colleague, not three hours ago.”
“If you’ll permit,” growled Ahmet, “I’d like to follow up on Detective Haufman’s enquiries.”
“By all means. Can I interest you in a drink?”
It was an effort, but Ahmet ignored him. “Have you ever been to Offenbach, Herr Smythe-Braistwick?”
“Jeremy, please. And occasionally. But of course I don’t like to go too near to the camp.”
“So if I were to search the cameras there for your numberplate, or your face, over the last week, I wouldn’t find anything?”
“I highly doubt that. Why do you ask?”
“You weren’t in Offenbach at any point yesterday.”
“Yesterday, Mr Weschke, I was in here until ten in the evening, meeting with my associates in Riyadh. At ten o’clock I was driven to my home in Bad Homburg. My car passed the Hessenring checkpoint at about, oh, ten forty-five. Please do check. You’ll find everything I say to be true.”
“And you locked your office after you left?”
“The door here has biometric security. It can only be opened by myself or my secretary.”
“Then how did Kutenge get in?”
“I don’t know, Mr Weschke. I presumed that answering that question was your job rather than mine.”
“Mr Kutenge was Congolese. You have something of a history with that part of the world, don’t you, Jeremy?”
“I assume you’re talking about ’28. It’s so tiresome. I didn’t cause the famine. Failed government policies caused the famine. Kleptocrats and demagogues caused the famine. I traded commodity futures. At the same time I was selling short on Icelandic wheat. There was no famine in Iceland in 2028.”
“A lot of people still blame you, though.”
“And I’m sure they have every right to think what they want. As I told your colleague, I believe Mr Kutenge’s suicide was a kind of political protest. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have work to attend to.”

Hans was beaming when Ahmet returned. “You were right, boss,” he said. “OK. Firstly, Kutenge was credited four hundred thousand Euros yesterday. Anonymous transfer, so we’d need a subpoena. But then I looked at the footage. Kutenge left the warehouse at six thirty last night. The other workers all take the bus back to the camp. Not Kutenge. He walks up Seibenstrasse, stands on a corner – then look.” He pulled up an Interface. “A black Mercedes pulls up. Kutenge gets in.” Onscreen, the car pulled away, past the rows of low corrugated-iron buildings. Its windows were tinted.
“Where’s it going?” said Ahmet.
“I followed it until it crossed the river. Then after Kaiserstrasse the cameras cut out. Power failure, apparently. When they come back on again the car’s gone. I don’t like this, boss. It goes deep.”
“Did you run a trace on the car?”
“Of course I did. But you don’t need me to tell you who it belonged to.”

He was waiting when Smythe-Braistwick came out. The man was striding on his spindly legs out from the glass canopy of the EuroBank Tower, his long coat flapping around him in the night wind, looking like a Victorian vampire who’d discovered cocaine and exfoliating skin cream. Ahmet wanted to pounce on him, beat his skull into the concrete. He wanted to kill the fucker for having the nerve to think that he could murder someone, even a resident of the camps, and get away with it. Instead he walked out in front of him and presented his EDCO card, all proper and correct, before slipping on the handcuffs and making the famous announcement enforced by the European Court of Individual Rights.
“Herr Smythe-Braistwick,” he said. “Under paragraph eight, subsection fourteen of the protocol on the accused, I hereby inform you that you are suspended of those rights delineated in lines thirteen to eighty-four inclusive and line one hundred and twenty-eight in chapter seven of the declaration of the rights of the citizen; also that you are hereby included under the definition of an ‘arestee’ as delineated under paragraph three of the European Department of Civil Order working charter, with your legal responsibilities being given in paragraphs four through nine…”

~

“You’re off the case, Weschke,” said Commissioner Traugott as Smythe-Braistwick left the building. “In fact, as of now, you’re suspended. We know exactly where he was all last night. You arrested him without filing a report or consulting me, without a shred of actionable evidence. What on Earth did you think you were doing?”
“My job,” said Ahmet.
“Well, it’s not your job any longer. Herr Smythe-Braistwick’s people were kind enough to send us their own dossier on you. Whores, Ahmet? In your position? It’s unconscionable.”
“You’re not giving the case to Haufman.”
“As it happens, no. A communiqué from Brussels came in. The Kutenge case will be handled by the internal banking regulator.”
“You’re fucking kidding.”
“Bankenviertel is their jurisdiction. Go home, Ahmet. Leave your gun. The tribunal’s convening next week.”

There was nothing to do, except to buy a bottle of whiskey and hope that when he woke up again his gun would once again be on his bedside table, his EDCO card would still be valid, and the Kutenge case would recede into a bad dream. The Interface was still running when Ahmet returned to his apartment, still tuned to the rolling news stream. A row of EA troopers were standing in front of an angry crowd throwing rocks and hoisting placards. Nous sommes tous Joseph Kutenge. Another camp, another mob; this one didn’t even seem to be in Germany. They’d built an effigy of Smythe-Braistwick and were busy tearing it apart. Burning European flags coughed black smoke into the sky. The soldiers were grinning. They’d love nothing more than to be able to empty a clip into that ungrateful mob, and soon enough, they’d get the order. There’d be another massacre, and it was his fault. Ahmet switched to an entertainment stream. A new gameshow: minor celebrities tried to have sex on stage while the audience shouted antaphrodisiac words at them. “Brezhnev and Honecker kissing!” shouted one. “Unemployment is at sixty percent in Portugal!” yelled another. A woman stood up. “Joseph Kutenge!” That got a round of applause.

Ahmet was woken the next morning by a knock on his door. He shambled over. It was Haufman.
“The fuck do you want?” he said. “Come to gloat?”
“No,” said Haufman. “I’ve come to help.”
“You can help by fucking off.”
“Listen to me, Ahmet. I know we’ve had our differences, but you need to listen. You were right. You were right about Smythe-Braistwick. He knew Kutenge.”
“Have you told Traugott?”
“You’re not getting reinstated. She’s right, you shouldn’t have arrested him. But now you’re off the case you can help me find out the truth.”
“I thought it’d been turned over to the internal regulators.”
“It has. Can I come in?”
Ahmet let Haufman in and flopped down on his bed. “Talk,” he said.
“Hans showed me the footage from the warehouse near Offenbach. Kutenge’s been getting in that black Mercedes, every other week, for six months now. But the night he died, the data’s gone haywire, the cameras keep cutting out. Someone’s been trying to mask his movements. Not very well, by the looks of it. So I looked at the records for Smythe-Braistwick, and it’s a mess. He was negotiating the Saudi land deal in his office and attending a board meeting and taking a piss all at the same time.”
“What does any of this have to with me?”
“You’re off the force, aren’t you? I can’t do anything now. None of us can. But you’re just a private citizen. You can fly out and confront him about it.”
“Fly out?”
“Smythe-Braistwick left Frankfurt this morning. He’s gone to Athens.”
“You want me to go to Greece? Unarmed? Are you crazy?”
“I’ve already booked your flight. You want to solve this case, don’t you? You want your job back, don’t you?”
He did. More than anything in the world.

~

Bullet-holes still ran along the walls of Athens International Airport. Outside, the complex was surrounded by three lines of European Army tanks. From his seat in the plane, Ahmet had seen the deep scars running through the city where all the buildings under the flight lines had been razed. Ever since the Acropolis had been dynamited, Athens was only useful for its airport, ferrying tourists in armoured cars to one of the privately-owned Greek islands. Those islands still above sea level were meant to be nice: little rustic havens, full of charming goat-herders smiling for the Chinese tourists. Ahmet had never been, of course.
Haufman had given him an itinerary. Ahmet squinted at it through his hangover. Flying had never agreed with him. Right about now Smythe-Braithwick would be lunching with Prince Faisal in the green zone around Syntagma Square, near the parliament building where what remained of the Greek government tried to pretend that their entire country wasn’t a wholly owned subsidiary of EuroBank.
A bus pulled up in front of the concourse. “Zone one!” the driver shouted. The machine-gunner on the roof stared into the middle distance.
As they drove along the fortified expressway the odd Molotov cocktail would smash against the reinforced windows. Then the machine-gunner would fire a few quick bursts into the buildings on either side. Ahmet had planned to sleep on the journey; that clearly wouldn’t be happening.

He caught Smythe-Braistewick just as his lunch was finishing. The banker had shaken hands with a man in a keffiyeh outside the restaurant. Prince Faisal stepped into a waiting car and was sped off. As soon as Smythe-Braistwick was starting to take his loping walk back to the Hotel Grande Bretagne, Ahmet leapt at him, pinning him against a wall. “Tell me what happened,” he said.
His victim squirmed. “Mr Weschke? I was assured you’d been relieved of your duties.”
“I have. I’m just a private citizen here, same as you. And you’re going to tell me everything.”
“This is absurd. Commissioner Traugott will hear of this, I can assure you.”
“Look around you, Jeremy. You’re not in Frankfurt any more. It might be pretty quiet here, but I reckon I could march you just down the road and see how you fare outside the green zone. Have you ever had to fight? I have. I’ll admit, I was never top of my class in combat exercises, but I reckon I could hold my own. How about you? You’d better start talking. You’d better start telling me the truth.”
Smythe-Braistwick gulped. “The truth?”
“I know you killed Kutenge.”
“I didn’t kill him! You idiot. You want the truth? I loved him.”
The words almost knocked Ahmet off his feet. “You what?”
“I loved him. Oh, but he had his wife, I don’t know how he felt, I don’t… but he was so strong. He was so unlike anyone I’d ever met. I’d never hurt him. Never.”
“You loved him? You loved him and you let him live in the camp?”
“I tried to reason with him, I did. I offered him an apartment in Frankfurt. He refused. He told me he wasn’t a prostitute. He was so proud…”
“You lied to us.”
“Of course I did. As you said, he lived in the camps. He lived behind his concrete walls, and I lived behind mine. You think I could just say that I was in love with a refugee? I’d be ruined. We’re not supposed to cross those walls, Mr Weschke.”
“You gave him the key to your office.”
“I registered his fingerprints. And he killed himself. I know there are… cultural differences around our kind of love, but I never expected…” Smythe-Braistwick looked as if he was about to cry. Ahmet stepped back from him. The man’s face flushed red. “And don’t you think I’ve had quite enough hurt without you following me across Europe to say that I murdered him? Are you satisfied now?”

Ahmet’s flight back to Frankfurt wasn’t until the next morning. He took a room in an anonymously boxy hotel in the airport complex. All the hotel Interfaces were in use, so he bought a set of disposable Goggles and took them up to his room. Well, he wasn’t governed by EDCO rules now. As he slipped them over his eyeballs the little discs started to vibrate; it wasn’t painful, but not particularly pleasant either. As they did so everything around him started to change. Objects grew outlines. Colours were brighter, richer, more saturated. A gauzy glow settled over the hotel room. As he looked out of the window, a carpet of grass unfurled over the wasteland of rocky scrub and demolished buildings that surrounded the airport. There were wildflowers dancing in the breeze; here and there a rabbit would leap out of the dewy pasture. This was how most people saw the world: looking at the dead earth and seeing a meadow.
A series of icons faded into view, hanging over the horizon. Ahmet called Haufman in Frankfurt. “Smythe-Braistwick didn’t kill Kutenge,” he told him.
“That can’t be,” said Haufman. “We know he did. We have evidence.”
“We were wrong. They were in love.”
“And lovers never quarrel? You were on the beat once, weren’t you? You’ve seen what people in love can do to each other. Listen. The camps are getting out of hand and the regulators aren’t doing a thing. We need to solve this. And soon.”
“You’re a fucking cretin, Haufman. Don’t you get the feeling someone’s being set up?” Ahmet rubbed his hands in his eyes. One of the Goggles fell out. “Fuck,” he said. As he bent down to retrieve it, a bullet smashed the window above him and buried himself in the hotel wall.
There was a brief silence. “What was that?” said Haufman.
“The fuck do you think? I’m being shot at!”
“OK. Ahmet. I need you to be very calm here.”
“I’m a fucking Buddhist.”
“Did you see who fired at you?”
“Of course not.”
“I need you to look.”
“You’re kidding.”
“I’m receiving your visual feed now. Just glance at him. Just for a second.”
Ahmet slowly raised his head above the broken window. A dark figure, shimmering in the heat, was standing on the roof of another glass building across from the hotel. Through the Goggles he was outlined in white, a rainbow arcing around him. Another shot raised a cloud of feathers from the bed.
“Did you get him?” said Ahmet.
“Hang on. Well, he’s not Athenian. Military rifle. Israeli merc, by the looks of it.”
Two more shots broke the mirror behind him. “So what do I do? I’m not armed, for fuck’s sake.”
“Sit tight, of course. You’re in one of the most heavily guarded places in Europe. He’s got another thirty seconds, then he’ll have to get out of there.”
From behind the hotel came the sounds of helicopter drones.

Ahmet was moved to a high-security room, but he still didn’t get much sleep. He pulled his duvet onto the floor and lay down there, watching pornography on his Goggles. In the airport the next morning he bought a succession of four hundred-Euro coffees while he waited out his flight’s six-hour delay. He cleared Greek airspace as the sun set, twitching, wired as hell.
Just as they were coming in to Frankfurt a pair of Air Force jets descended upon the plane. Suddenly all Goggles were turned off; people craned towards the window to see what was going on. Throughout the city the lights were dead; only the Bankenviertel still glittered behind its concrete cage. The Maim reflected a sea of fire. Across the river, Offenbach was burning. A few fires cracked from the north bank, and explosions rose like budding tulips in the middle of the inferno. The refugees had broken their chains: Joseph Kutenge was being avenged.

~

Ahmet’s flight was diverted to Brussels. He liked it there, and decided to stay for a few days while the fires were put out. Some of the area around the European Quarter was still scarred from the nationalist bombings, but the new complex was pleasant, if you ignored the biometric cameras and remote-controlled guns on every balcony. There were even a few new parks around the Place du Luxembourg. There was no refugee camp in Brussels. Brussels was safe.

Ahmet knew who had killed Joseph Kutenge.
The window had been broken before he’d been thrown out. The CCTV data had been messily scrambled. It was all a trick: a murder expertly disguised as a murder sloppily disguised as a suicide. The footage from Offenbach the night Kutenge died hadn’t been partially redacted: the whole sequence had been slotted in. Someone had picked up Joseph Kutenge that day, but they weren’t in Smythe-Braistwick’s car. Someone much more powerful than any petty European banker.
It was a matter of waiting for them to find him. There wouldn’t be any mercenary snipers in Brussels; the automatic guns were everywhere. So he waited. That took three days. In the meantime, he wandered about the city: he drank whiskey on a bench by the pond in the Parc Léopold, he ate fufu for six hundred Euros in Ixelles, he watched the news. The Kutenge revolt that had broken out across Europe had been put down. Smythe-Braistwick had stepped down, citing personal reasons. The Chinese were announcing a new offensive in Central Asia. The world kept turning.
On the third day a black car pulled up suddenly alongside him and he was bundled in. Sitting across from him was the man he had been waiting for: dark-haired and stern-faced, with a sculpted beard and an antique cane resting across his lap.
“You’re not a hard man to find, Mr Weschke,” he said.
“Nobody is, these days.” Ahmet leant forwards. “It was you, wasn’t it? You killed Kutenge.”
“I suppose I did. If it helps, he was dead long before we threw him from the window. We are not barbaric.”
“You tried to frame Smythe-Braistwick. He was obstructing you. He wouldn’t make concessions.”
“He was very disruptive to the arrangement, yes. But there was one thing I hadn’t counted on.”
“Yeah. Me.”
“That’s correct, in a way. Never did I expect that the EDCO would send someone as staggeringly incompetent as you. You didn’t inform your commissioner before arresting him. You didn’t even wait until the full extent of our interference with the security systems had been uncovered. And your personal… degeneracy even managed to leave the investigation in the hands of a gang of sympathetic banking cronies. You very nearly ruined the entire plan.”
Ahmet didn’t say anything.
Prince Faisal al-Saud laughed. “It doesn’t matter, though. Smythe-Braistwick is out of the picture now, and the land deal can go ahead. On our terms… Nothing to say to that, I see?”
“One thing,” said Ahmet. “Look into my eyes.”
“As I thought.”
“Look into my eyes.”
Faisal stared.
“I know what you think. The police don’t wear Goggles, do they? But I’m not a policeman. Prince Faisal, say hello to Commissioner Traugott of the European Department of Civil Order. Prince Faisal, say hello to the world.”
The prince stared into Ahmet Weschke’s grey eyes and saw, hovering above his own reflection, the glint of cold metal.

~

Two years later, after a lengthy enquiry, the Saudi land deal was ratified. From the Atlantic to the Urals, ancient forests and vineyards were torn up to become vast square fields of wheat and soy. Villages were flattened. Lakes were filled in. The sprawling cities of the Middle Eastern desert would be fed. Europe had finally found its purpose in the world.

That same day, Ahmet Weschke was found dead in his cell. A brief investigation concluded that he had committed suicide. Detective Hans Keller dissented from the official verdict, insisting that his former mentor had been murdered. The case was not re-opened.

The refugee camps continued to grow. The Kutenge revolt and its brutal suppression were not forgotten. Millions remained, waiting for the day when they would sweep the cities with all the terrible justice of a tidal wave; waiting to claim the world.

Crime victims in Greece are being referred to Golden Dawn by law enforcement

It was inevitable, really. We’ve done so much to drain politics of all ideology, to leave it in the hands of bloodless administrative technocrats; it only follows that the ideologues should, enantiodromiatically, take over the business of day-to-day administration. I say: good! Pity it had to be the fucking Nazis, of course – but as Hezbollah’s reconstruction efforts in Lebanon and even the Occupy movement’s brief stint moving homeless families into foreclosed houses have shown, it’s not just fascists who can take over the duties of a wheezing, liver-spotted State. Long may it continue! I dream of a world where the boring gutless liberal politicians are left alone to gurn platitudes in the mutually masturbatory ouroboros of the mass media, so the rest of us can do something a bit more interesting. A world where disappointed housewives get an email from the BNP delivery company informing them that, as their convoy was overwhelmed by anti-racist militants, the new dinner service won’t be arriving until at least Thursday. Where supermarket till attendants give you your receipt with an enforced smile and a cheery “in Hell or in Communism!” Where surgeons in criticism sessions denounce each other for failing to apply the praxis of dialectical materialism to the relationship between scalpel and gall-bladder. Where deconstructivist construction firms, in unpacking the contradictions between ‘built’ and ‘unbuilt’, dot the landscape with strange assemblages of brick and mortar that are hermeneutically – if not structurally – sound. Where airliners crash into the ground, burning with the tragic glory of the collective Will. Where estate agents happily proclaim their properties to have been thoroughly exorcised and guaranteed demon-free. Where school curricula centre on the exhaustive study of crop circles and PE is replaced by astral projection. Where zoological gardens exhort their visitors to ponder the beauties of Allah’s creation (but not too hard). Where the Army fights bloodily and tirelessly to reinstate absolute monarchy, the Navy pounds coastal towns to drive out negative thetans, and the RAF launches a barrage of airstrikes for every day that the Time Cube’s four simultaneous days in one Earth rotation are not universally recognised. A better world. It’s unlikely that many of us will make it out from the polyglot ransacking of late capitalism alive, but at least it would be fun.

Let’s Voting! Super Democracy 2012 Roundup Edition Go!

Since I last mouthed off about electoral politics, there have been a couple of democracy-related happenings around the world. Here are some opinions.

~

First of all, there were the UK local elections in early May. I’ll be the first to admit that I’ve not really been paying as much attention to political events back home as I should. It’s difficult, though, living in California – land of sunshine and palm trees and semi-legal weed and brilliantly insane politicians and generalised ludicrousness – to give much of a shit upon finding out that back in dreary old Britain there has been a major political controversy centring on Cornish pasties. It’s hard to care all that much about Ed Miliband, who looks like a blob of Vaseline with an awkward grin, or about the fact that people are actually paying money to endure dinner with David Cameron, or about the Liberal Democrats in general. The completion of the UK’s transformation into a dystopian panopticon, with aircraft carriers on the Thames and missile batteries on the roofs of council estates cleared of all undesirable occupants, was so inevitable that its arrival doesn’t really provoke that much excitement. Even the Leveson Inquiry, which has seen some of the most thoroughly despicable people in the country revealed for the soulless, venal, power-hungry monsters that they are, seems to be plodding on interminably. They should just give Murdoch and his cronies the chair and be done with it, preferably in Trafalgar Square or somewhere suitably public, so the TV cameras can get the whole thing in high definition and the paparazzi can scramble to catch a shot of a charred eyeball as it’s flung from its wrinkled leathery socket. That’s real justice.

That said, the results in the local elections were pretty arresting: the BNP lost every seat contested, the Tories took a severe beating, the Lib Dems (bless ’em) had half their councillors wiped out, and Labour surged to glory with over 800 new seats. As nice as it is to see the Tories suffer, I don’t think the Labour victory is really anything to celebrate. Their mantra throughout the wholesale dismantling of the British welfare state is that the Tories have been cutting ‘too far, too fast.’ That really speaks to the absolute poverty of any real political thought in the contemporary Labour party: as the Tories dynamite the ship of state, Labour are disputing their choice of explosive. They’ve not proposed any real alternative to austerity, they just grumble: that, and the utter revulsion in which the other two parties are held, accounts for their success. It can’t last. As much as we love to moan, if conditions continue going down their current trajectory, moaning will give way to something more productive. There’s an enormous wellspring of popular dissatisfaction in Britain. New Labour, with its carefully cultivated business-friendly image, is unlikely to take much advantage of it. It remains to be seen who will.

The one anomaly in the mass Tory retreat was the London mayoral election, in which a genuine working-class socialist (not without his faults, but still) lost to a man whose middle name is de Pfeffel. Boris’s victory can be traced to his success with a very particular portion of the London electorate: quibbling middle-class liberals who felt that Ken was too outdated, to eighties, too right-on, who were made nervous by his solidarity with ethnic minorities and appalled by his refusal to bow and scrape before the Jewish community for having dared to oppose Israeli ethnic cleansing, people who thought that Boris was one of them, a bit of a laugh, a Tory, yes, but one of the Good Ones. To these people I can only say: fuck you. In ten years’ time we’ll all be under the iron heel of the Bozzocracy, and it’ll all be your fault.

~

There’s slightly better news out of France, where Sarkozy, the snivelling rat-faced little prick, has finally been kicked back into the gutter from whence he came. No more platform shoes, no more racially charged rhetoric, no more shameless pandering to the rich, no more slightly icky parading of Carla Bruni through various world capitals, no more nauseating Merkozy mutual back-rubbing. What a relief. As for Hollande, his heart’s in the right place, kinda, his plans for gender equality and immigrant rights are long overdue, and it’s good that there’ll be some dissent within the Franco-German bloc regarding the austerity fever sweeping across Europe, but frankly the French Socialists are as sorry a bunch of post-political reformists as the British Labour party. Like Miliband, he’s not really provided a thorough alternative to the current regime of cuts and liberalisation, and he may well cave in to market pressure to enact basically the same policies as his predecessor. If he does do that, though, at least it’ll be without that stomach-churning Sarkozian smirk. A cosmetic improvement? Sure, but an improvement nonetheless.

Left Front candidate Jean-Luc Mélenchon’s 11.1% showing in the first round was kinda disappointing, considering the promise of his campaign; still, it’s a sign that the far left is once again making itself a force to be reckoned with in French politics. Given that the current fiscal crisis is showing no signs of abating, I wouldn’t be at all surprised to see them start to erode away at the Socialist base. Then, of course, there are the fascists. Under the leadership of replicant Überfrau Marine Le Pen, the National Front achieved a historic 18.6% of the vote, exceeding the 17% won by her paunchy red-faced arse of a father in 2002. It sounds like an apoligia for their bigotry to point out that the FN’s economic policies are far more in line with the left than Sarkozy’s UMP, but it’s still true: a large portion of Le Pen’s vote came from people opposed to austerity but also unwilling to vote for the Socialists and put off by the large Muslim contingent within the Left Front. That they should hold such attitudes is obviously highly problematic, but it would perhaps be better to see this as a case of false consciousness rather than as a rise in support for fascist ideology. The FN isn’t the real problem: the real problem comes when, as in this election, ‘mainstream’ politicians adopt their language. As Badiou points out in Le Monde, the focus on the FN’s racism obfuscates the far worse problem of systemic discrimination against minorities in France.

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The really interesting results have come out of Greece, where the euro-gimp leftish Pasok and the euro-gimp rightish New Democracy have both been comprehensively kicked in the balls by Syriza, the Coalition of the Radical Left, who have done exactly what the Left Front failed to do (for the time being) in France. The country is now left without a clear majority party, and with the failure of various coalition talks, another round of elections are in the works, in which Syriza are expected to do even better. It’s a sure sign of how terrified the capital class is by the prospect of further elections that they’ve now taken to issuing stern warnings about what will happen if the country abandons its IMF-imposed programme of austerity. I don’t pretend to know all that much about how the global financial system actually operates. It’s obvious that a Greek default will result in a fair share of hardship – capital flight, monetary instability, the opening of the seventh seal, and so on. The forces of international capital are loath to see their will defied, and they will do everything in their power to punish Greece for its disobedience. But Greeks are suffering anyway: aside from austerity and the shutdown of government services, aside from the skyrocketing rates in unemployment and homelessness and suicide, tens of thousands of Greeks are now having to accept ‘negative salaries’: they’re being expected to pay their employers for the privilege of keeping their jobs. There seems to be no end to the humiliation Greece is expected to endure. And despite the nonsense about southern European profligacy being bandied about, the Greeks are for the most part innocent victims. Rich nations like Germany offered enormous loans to Greece, which the Greeks then spent on goods from abroad: German imports to Greece exceeded $11bn in 2008. Greeks helped cobble the boot that’s now stamping down on them. It’s an absurd situation, and something has to change.

Syriza seem to be doing everything right. They’re not just relying on electoral methods: the strikes and protests in Greece are continuing unabated. They’re showing excellent strength of political will by refusing to go into coalition with any pro-austerity parties, which bodes well for the future. It’s strange to see them denounced as unbending ideologues – surely in an age where politicians routinely prostrate themselves before the wandering hordes of the Market, unbending ideologues are exactly what we need.

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Back in the good ol’ USA, a lot of people are refusing to see Barack Obama’s recent statement in support of gay marriage for the cynical election ploy that it is. It’s curious timing, this: just as the Republican base is finding itself shackled to a candidate who is not only a Mormon but a former governor of Massachusetts who knows at least three words of French, the Democratic president comes out in favour of the dastardly homosexual agenda to introduce anilingus into the elementary school curriculum. Meanwhile, those on the left previously disaffected by the Obama administration’s abject failure to do anything about anything are being galvanised into action by the Republican decision to make an election issue out of contraception, of all fucking things. It’s not that gay civil rights aren’t important, but – idealist that I am – I like to think that politics should be about something more than what people do with their genitals. I’m also not saying that there’s a shadowy bipartisan conspiracy to perpetuate the two-party system indefinitely – actually, screw that, that’s exactly what I’m saying. The only shocking thing is how brazen they are about it.

Acropolis Now

Capital is dead labour, which, vampire-like, lives only by sucking living labour, and lives the more, the more labour it sucks – Karl Marx

Successive attempts to rescue the Greek economy fail to have any effect. European leaders explain to Papandreou in no uncertain terms that the birthplace of democracy is no place in which to implement it. Forbes magazine hilariously calls for a military coup. The legions of the undead begin to stir… Now the EU casts aside its humanitarian mask to reveal itself for the monster of imperialism it has always been, its neck ringed with the skulls of defeated institutions, its fangs dripping with viscous liquidity. The spectral sallow-cheeked armies of finance capital make circles around the Peloponnese, howling with savage hunger at the juicy public sector, gesturing menacingly with the grim weapons of austerity, their eyes gleaming with blood-lust. A hundred gold coins marked with the stamp of a skull and bearing an ancient curse fall from the bloated fist of Jin Liqun. On the streets of Athens, anarchists fight hand-to-hand with the fire-wraiths of the Elliniki Astynomia. Gibbering poltergeists brandishing court orders pour through cracks in the masonry of family homes and drive out their inhabitants. In a vaulted chamber miles below Strasbourg, decorated with sacred carvings in which Merkel and Sarkozy are depicted in a variety of grotesque sexual positions, the secret haunt of withered seers who divine the will of the Market through the flows of the telluric currents, a thousand hooded forms look on approvingly as Papademos signs their infernal contract in the blood of his people. His hand hesitates over the parchment!… Uproar ensues, dark curses are flung, lightning cracks in the dank air. There is no other option left. Twenty thousand grim-faced German soldiers march in lock-step formation as planes ready their engines for the final assault on Greece: ein Union, ein Währung, ein Zentralbank! Peace and democracy are fine things, but investments are at stake.

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