Thursday, 22 September 2011

It needed to be said (summary of the Libyan situation)

A very good summary of the conflict by Paul Jay of TRN.

The commentary on Libya is rather interesting to watch. In the first days of the uprising many on the "left" where all championing the people's movement and counting down the days to another dictators fall. Then a month and half into the conflict the defections within the military stemmed off the two sides constituencies where drawn up and the Libyan armed forces where free to bring there big guns to bare, (a lot of people who like to point out the superiority of NATO's armaments tend to forget that Gaddafi had most of his militaries equipment from NATO countries like the Mirage jet, or used there companies as a proxy to buy third party arms*) then of course we saw bombardments near and in settlements as the government forces try to regain control. Since most of the rebels where defectors and volunteers there arsenal was made up of what they took with them and what they could loot from the stores of bases and towns in there control, so pick up trucks and Kalashnikov's for the most part.

Those of you whom have read Ernesto "Che" Guevara or Mao Ze Dong, or Ho Chi Minh and Nguyen Vo Giap's writings on insurgency people's war will know that is a very dangerous position to be in at the start of the conflict. For those who haven't read any of there works I'll explain they all say in one way or another that if your army is weaker in terms of conventional fighting then dig in or go to ground, and play the long game of wearing down the opposing force. That is difficult to do in the terrain of a North African nation like Libya and would leave many people who openly supported them defenceless, so instead we had clash after clash and retreat after retreat.

This is were NATO comes in. At the start of the conflict Western governments where quite worried because they had a very good deal going with the "anti imperialist" Gaddafi. In addition to buying arms he was oil and gas to the Western nations and companies, in addition he collaborated with Italy and the EU to clampdown on migration from Africa and locked up refugees in his prisons before shipping them off somewhere. In fact Libya was also a key ally in the "war on terror" you know that thing that is often derided by lefties as the 21st centuries Red scare, or an Imperialist smoke screen.

Who remembers this lovely photo-op?

In fact Gaddafi enjoyed such a close relationship with the West prior to the uprising that many rebels publicly criticised Western governments of collaborating in there misery; and vociferously derided any possibility of foreign intervention, worrying businessmen everywhere that Libya would be closed to them if Gaddafi toppled. The setbacks however allowed NATO to a way back into the house, the mauling they were taking forced the Rebels to change there message somewhat, no NATO became yes no fly zone no NATO ground troops and so on, as Paul Jay says when your backs to the wall you grasp for whatever out you can get. Anyone who ever criticises any group in an armed struggle who tries to get some help -and believe there are quite a few check the comments sections of the more popular (any other) left of centre blog or forum when the L word is mentioned-has there head in the clouds and should give up there dream of revolution and stick to raffles and pub debates.

Know that NATO is here though suddenly every thing's changed, the rebels are CIA employees, or Al-Qaeda. The proof? there isn't any, the only "proof" that there AL-Qaeda a claim Gaddafi made to justify bringing in military force, is that the rebels are Muslims and fundamentalists, there's no proof that they are particularly fundamentalist really either but even if it where true that does not make them Al-Qaeda. Al-Qaeda is by choice a group of very small and secretive cells, they do not work in the open on big campaigns nor muster thousands of men to fight pitched battles. Since 9/11 the USA and others have used Al-Qaeda as a scapegoat to justify any act of repression against anyone who happens to be Muslim. just look at Iraq and Afghanistan the insurgents were almost always called or assumed to be Al-Qaeda affiliates, when was the last time Shia paramilitaries (Al-Qaeda is a Sunni Muslim movement) fighting coalition forces in Southern Iraq where correctly identified in the mainstream press? when was the group Liberation army of Iraq name dropped? the only exception in Afghanistan is the Taliban whom we are constantly reminded where and are allies of Osama's crew. For any intelligent thinking person to just make assumption on a people they know nothing about is lazy and absurd, for someone whose political colours are supposedly Red to do so is extremely pathetic, it is the exact same trick they used to justify the murder and suppression of every Peasants Revolt during the Cold War.

Let me ask a question to those who think NATO's involvement de-legitimises the rebels, where do you draw the line? The Germans attempted to give money and guns to Irish Republicans during WWI if they were successful would that have made the cause of Irish liberation fraudulent? Hell Lenin probably would have never even made it back to the Russian Empire without the Kaisers help but it would be a strange and Loonie lefty who'd suggest the October Revolt was a tool of German Imperialism. And the Indian National Congress movement and more radical groups fighting to liberate India (Including Pakistan and Bangladesh) from the yoke of the British Empire enjoyed quite a lot of support from the Axis powers in particular Japan but does that uncomfortable episode make all those who campaigned and fought for there nations freedom Counter Revolutionaries? And what about Castro, during his fight to liberate Cuba from Batista the US actually gave his July 26 movement support "The embassy even harbored an American pilot who was illegally supplying arms to Castro but whose plane had crashed on its 20th mission." When it was clear that Batista was a lame duck, and look how that turned out.

Now look I admit the situation in Libya hasn't developed along the lines that I would like, however I am not Libyan and not in Libya and my life is not at risk from the situation. However I will not hold a grudge against the people of Libya (on both sides of this conflict) who are faced with this situation and do take serious risks for coming to decisions that go against my idealistic and purely theoretical strategy. I have no idea what the new Libya will be like revolutions can go astray that is the whole reason Trotsky gets his own ism. And Iran which went from a populist overthrow of a corrupt monarch to a Theocratic movement which turned on many of its earlier allies is a good example. But I actually do consider myself to be an opponent to Imperialism and so will leave the future of Libya to the Libyans.

Oh and while were on the subject I also noticed another disturbing trend amongst some commentators, that is re-branding the conflict in Libya from a revolution into a civil war. The problem here? revolutions are conflicts between proponents of the established order and radicals who promote new political ideas within the same state some times overlapping into other states like for example in Indo-China where all three new nations (Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia) had a struggle between Communist Guerilla's and West friendly governments. Meaning all revolutions are de facto civil wars. The 1917 Russian revolution that put Lenin in power took a lengthy civil war to complete. The American Revolutionaries often fought against armies comprised of fellow Colonialists, etc.

* Since the establishment of the EU it has become commonplace for non European states to use EU companies as a front to purchase weapons and other attention drawing goods in Europe because its harder to restrict trade with a member nation, even for non EU member nations.

Friday, 9 September 2011

The Founding of a Republic

A tale of Two covers

The Original Chinese cover depicting both the actual "stars" of our period piece, and name checking the most prominent actors.

The English Language cover "starring" the only three Chinese actors most English speakers will be able to recognise, even though they have no role beyond cameo's and use stock martial arts promotional imagery to trick the martial arts crowd to part with there money, even though if it works they'll probably feel cheated when there "Warlords" turns out to be a Chinese Citizen Kane-esque story about the political ramifications of civil strife and internal political conflicts.

Anyway the Chinese film The Founding of a Republic has finally made its way to the Anglosphere (it was made to coincide with the PRC's 60th Anniversary celebrations in 2009). In short it is very good and anyone whose interesting in modern China should check it out. However if you wish to watch the film because Jackie Chan, Jet Lee or Donnie Yen is in it -so is John Woo but apparently he doesn't warrant top billing- don't bother your going to be disappointed. Jet Lee appears very early on as a Nationalist Admiral says three or four lines then leaves. Jackie Chan appears about mid way through as a Reporter interviewing a dissident KMT leader says all of three lines and is not seen again, Donnie yen appears very near the end and is the lyricist of the March of the Volunteers says all of three lines (see a pattern?) John Woo? I recognised him but on reflection can't remember what his character was.

Instead the film gives its lead roles to Chinese actors more accustomed to serious drama then "wire-fu" martial arts like Tang Guoqiang (Mao) and Zhang Gouli (Chiang Kai-Shek). Though to be fair most non Chinese will not have heard of them or seen them in any popular work so it is understandable that the film's advertisers highlighting the most recognisable actors. However using pictures of them from completely different films is still a bit off. The film starts at the end of WW2 just before Japan surrenders, the Japanese have been driven out of China by the Soviet Union after years of brutal occupation and unrelenting resistance by both the Communist Party of China (CPC) and the Nationalist Party/de facto government (KMT) the mood in Nanjing where China is currently governed is optimistic, the Soviet Union has agreed to return all territory its occupying to the Chinese and both Mao and Chiang seem willing to give both a ceasefire and a coalition government a go. Tensions between the CPC and KMT where high since the last time the two where in an alliance under the guidance of the Soviet Union who was a close ally to both the KMT betrayed them and massacred many of the CPC supporters.

And it looks like history is about to repeat itself as despite the CPC making a number of territorial concessions (they had successfully liberated a number of territories in the North East of the country during the turbulence of war) and power sharing agreements between the KMT and other parties being signed -in particular the CPC and Chinese Democratic League (CDL) whom often found itself a neutral observer/negotiator for the other parties back room politics- its not too long before the KMT launches renewed offensive into "red areas" kick starting another civil war.

Now despite taking place during they yearslong conflict theres very little in the way of action scenes, if you are interested in seeing the military side of the conflict then you should probably check out Assembly
the focus is on the political arguments (the diplomacy, the positioning the backstabbing etc.) inherent to the conflict and how a united Communist Party led by Mao was able to not only maintain a war effort against a larger and better equipped military whilst practising a lengthy process of transformation of Chinese society in the villages and towns. This is contrasted with the KMT's fractious nature, there where constant power struggles within the party and its military in fact a portion of it split away altogether to become the Revolutionary Wing of the KMT and Ciang had to remain constantly vigilant against an internal revolt as his popularity declined and his dependence on foreign aid grew.

One particular problem Chiang had which showed how divisive the KMT were was the state of the Chinese economy. As is usual in time of war black markets exploded in size however what was unusual was that very little of the economic instability was directly related to the war with the CPC which operated mostly in the North. There were active CPC supporters all over the country of course but the PLA such as it was, was busy marching on Beiping and the banks of the Yangtze river. Yet virtually every economic hub of China was in chaos, especially Shanghai the keystone of the Chinese economy which is located in the Eastern coast many miles south of the fighting. The reason was that what few Capitalist entrepreneurs existed in China at this point (remember China was less developed then Pre 1917 Russia) where using the war as an excuse to hoard goods to raise prices. Incidentally all of these businessmen where supporters and financial backers of the KMT. Also one of the biggest hoarders in Shanghai were relatives of Chiang Kai-Shek. The KMT couldn't control the loyalty of its own ruling family.

Anyway there isn't much point getting into the plot as this is a historical piece and we all know how it turns out. And even if we didn't the title gives it away, I'll finish by saying this, despite being a 2 hour film involving groups of Chinese talking and arguing it does manage to keep the viewers interest in part due to the inherently interesting times and events it depicts, and the actors ability to emote and transcend the language barrier. A must see for anyone wishing to understand modern China, and to a lesser extent Taiwan.

Sunday, 4 September 2011

In Soviet Russia, animation is unique in style and criminally under appreciated

Hello all, Internet still abysmal but I was able to stumble upon an extensive list of animation made by are old Eastern adversaries . Its well worth a look for both fans of animation and Russophiles (even though a number of Soviet made animations were created throughout the SSR's and involved multi-ethnic teams from all over the Union). Of course for most young people the closest to Eastern animation they got to look at was that quite funny simpsons joke "Worker and Parasite" viewable above.

But seriously speaking while there budgets where much smaller then in America or Japan and they had to cut a number of corners -for example backgrounds remain mostly static- given productions made as late as the 1980's looking a bit dated, but there not without there strengths or charms. And many of which have been translated (subtitled) into English by fans from both sides of the old wall.

For example we have About Sidrov Vova (1985) a quite funny tale about a young man joining the Soviet Armed Forces.

Or the educational "I shall give you a star" a exploration of gender roles throughout the ages, told in four different vignettes of a man and woman falling in love at different points in time and seeing how married life turnout (spoiler alert, not great for the wife).

Then of course there is the famous 1982 Once upon a Dog often described as the best Soviet made animation ever and one that is still regularly re run on Russian television based on a Ukrainian folk tale, the director Eduard Nazarov was not himself Ukrainian but he did spend a few years studying rural life in the SSR as preparation for making Once Upon a Dog.

Though to be honest my personal favourite Soviet animation is the chilling 1984 adaptation of Ray Bradbury's There will Come Soft Rains, a story about an abandoned house after a Nuclear War. The excellent short story can be read here.

There will fall soft rains

This one was made by a studio in Uzbekistan and it is simply haunting, though the voice doesn't help. Though I think they probably should of changed the names of the former owners of the house "time for your prayers Mrs. Maclellen" just sounds clumsy in that voice.

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