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                             “Iranian Women”      

Whatever other qualities Iran’s new president may possess, reticence is not among them.   Since taking office in June Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has rebuked moderates and enthralled supporters by expanding Iran’s nuclear “energy” program, banning western music on state media, and waging class warfare against local “malefactors of wealth”.  He has ratcheted up tensions with Israel, first calling for the destruction, of “the zionist entity” , and then modifying that demand to one for “moving” the Jews to Western Europe.   He has increased spending on the poor in defiance of IMF dictates and has followed through on an election promise to turn cultural sites back into mosques. 


Mr Ahmadinejad’s latest public imbroglio is a deusey.  Last week, he was quoted as saying that the “legend of the Holocaust” had been used by Jews and westerners to dispossess the Palestinians.   This was quickly and widely (mis)translated into a claim that the Holocaust itself was a “myth”.   Whatever was meant by his remarks, condemnation was immediate and near universal, with some states calling for Iran’s expulsion from the UN. 

The howls of disapproval continue to echo throughout Iran’s diplomatic missions.   Even Russia and most of Asia, including China, which hopes to do energy business with Iran, have privately told the Iranians that they’ve gone too far, though China, especially, has kept shut in public. 

The controversies have eclipsed larger questions about what, exactly, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is up to.   A former intelligence officer, university professor and mayor of Tehran, is he the fundamentalist ignoramus famously pictured in western media?  Or, is the west once again famously over-reacting?  

Mahmoud Ahmadinejad won a hotly contested election last June against a “moderate” opponent who had been calling for the normalization of ties to the West.   Unfortunately for the reformers,  Hashemi Rafsanjani was popularly seen as indifferent to the needs of the poor, which comprise the overwhelming majority of Iranians.   Mahmoud ran as a self-deprecating alternative who would better the lot of the impoverished, wipe out corruption, and rule Iran as a force to be reckoned with.  He won in a runoff with more than 62% of the vote.   In his victory speech, the new president promised to make Iran a “modern, advanced and Islamic role for the world”, while raising living standards for the indigent and putting “corruption” and “western decadence” on notice.

Mahmoud Ahmadlinejad’s election was greeted with gloom by governments throughout the west.   Of the new president’s background, little was known.  Early rumors of involvement in the 1979 seizure of the American embassy in Tehran were later proved false.   It is now known that Ahmadlinejad worked for Iran’s intelligence servies during the 1980s and that his background suggests that a compromise with the West should not be ruled out.  

Mahmoud, it is clear, is neither all mouthy fanatic or principled anti-imperialist, but a devout and self-abnegating muslim nationalist combining elements of the two.  His aim is to get a better deal for Iran as a regional power, rather than steer it toward a potentially catastrophic showdown with Israel or the west.   He wants at least as much from the west as it wants from him.   Maintaining agreeable regimes in the islamic world has always been a dangerous and expensive business for the imperialist powers and now, as in the past, delicate and creative bargaining will see off the present crisis.

Indeed, what is emerging from the past six months of Iranian history is something like a re-figuring of the ambitions of the old Persian empire, seeking as in the past historic alliances to the east as well as with the west, while positioning itself as a power to be reckoned with.   In neighboring Iraq, it has been reaching out to the lackey regime (which Iran views as ephemeral, but important enough to court the ethnic and religious elements contained within it).   Mahmoud Ahmadinejad knows that with Saddam in irons, the active leadership of the “anti-zionist” camp will naturally fall to him.   The trick for him is to use that as an organizing force for islamic unity (with Iran as its titular head) without going so far as to provoke an attack from Israel or the United States.

Of course, Mahmoud will not be the first to lead his country from the “frying pan” of globalization into the “fire” of nationalism.  No matter what happens, the poor and workers of Iran have very little to gain from any of the major actors currently on stage in Tehran.

Nonetheless, the new president sees his country as a “model” for the Islamic world–powerful, independent, and “advanced”, yet flexible enough to profitably exploit the vagaries of modern international politics.   Despite the rhetoric, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad truly wants to engage the West in the tradition of past islamic regimes, but on terms that take into account Iran as a growing regional power.  Whether that will translate into a better life for Iran’s poor has been answered in other contexts; sadly, it will not.


Number 4, With a Bullet:


“Revised” economic report will reveal the Chinese are “healthy” consumers, after all.


If there is one thing Beijing and Washington have agreed upon during the past year, it is the need to “rebalance” China’s economy in favor of greater domestic consumption at the expense of “excessive” foreign investment.   China worries about a new currency crisis while the U.S. laments its growing trade deficit. 

A new economic census will probably be good news in both capitals, though for Washington it may turn out to be a case of being too careless what you wish for.

The upward revision of China’s gross domestic product — perhaps by as much as 22 per cent — “enlarges” this Asian economy by roughly the size of Turkey and puts China squarely at number four among the world’s largest economies.  The new census, carried out by many millions of data collectors spread out over the entire country and recording economic activity usually missed by conventional methods, is expected to be released by the National Bureau of Statistics early next week.

A striking feature of the new figures is how badly the service sector has been undervalued in past economic surveys.   Too, they may put paid to the shibboleth of China’s “overinvestment economy” (under the old figures, investment accounted for more than half of China’s annual GDP growth) and provide a measure of re-assurance to China’s central bank, the scene of much nail-biting during the various currency crises of the 1990s.   Stronger domestic demand means an economy less susceptible to the winds of overseas investment.  And China still has very high investment and savings rates (China’s savings rate is close to 50% of GDP), probably high enough to weather all but the most catastrophic overseas economic crisis.

So, what is the bad news?   Given that small-scale services are much less labor (as well as capital) intensive than other segments of the economy, this may bode ill for employment growth in some regions. This, in turn, could have an ill effect on now-healthy growth rates in domestic consumption.

But the big news remains the startling development that the Chinese economy is larger — much larger — than practically anyone, especially the Americans, had figured.  Already there is talk in the European capitals of a China overtaking the West in economic clout within 15 years.   And, given the exponential growth in Chinese “soft power” throughout the developing world and its nascent alliances, particularly with Russia, it may be deja vu all over again — a truly bipolar world.




Just about an hour ago, word came down that the fate of reformed gang leader and convicted murderer Stanley ‘Tookie’ Williams has been sealed.   California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger has declined to grant clemency and has ordered the death sentence for Mr Williams — first imposed 24 years ago following his conviction for several murders — to be consummated one minute past midnight tomorrow.   The Governor’s decision comes as no surprise.   Despite vocal and widespread support for sparing the life of a man who had devoted the past quarter century on death row to various redeeming activities (he wrote a number of books aimed at children extolling the straight and narrow and warning against the pernicious influence of gangs and violence), the old bugbears of racism and punitive capitalism — always a salient feature in southern California, especially — predictably carried the day.   And, the condemned man’s supporters, mainly has-beens from an era when the plight of black people occasioned some worry among the powerful, now seem arcane, even quaint.

Anyway, sun-up tomorrow will find Mr Williams having gone on his way and the rest of us moving on in ours.  Or maybe not.  When I heard the news of the governor’s demurral, I thought of Latasha Harlins, the 15 year old girl who was shot in the back in 1991 in Los Angeles by a Korean storekeeper after giving up an argument over the cost of a bottle of fruit juice.  Though a surveillance tape clearly showed the young girl leaving the store as she was shot, her killer, a middle-aged woman, was given five years probation.   The Judge in the case, Joyce Karlin, cited the climate of “fear’ that prevailed in the Korean-American shopkeeper community due to marauding blacks.   Apparently, a climate of fear engendered by the activities of an alien race constitutes extenuating circumstances in some places.   And, anyway, the shooting down of black youth, in its sheer ordinariness, hardly seems worth noting anymore.   Plenty more where they came from.

I am glad that Latasha has at least her own home page.   Mr Williams and Latasha have a connection of sorts.  She was murdered ostensibly because of an epidemic of fear occasioned by the Crips, a gang he helped found more than a decade before.   He is to die largely for killing a family of Korean immigrants who ran a flea-bag motel.   She died negotiating with a member of that community who made her money selling stale bread and overpriced canned goods to Latasha and countless thousands like her denied access to lower-priced supermarkets far from their neighborhoods.   Latasha’s story, and that of Mr Williams, has been emblematic of their community long before the Crips or the Koreans or governors who put pandering to the worst instincts of our insidious racism above all else.

So, Stanley Willliams is to die.   Was he sincere in trying to be a model White America could have pity on?   I don’t know.  Maybe if it had saved him.   It didn’t.   Fittingly, most of America will be asleep when Tookie, finally, solves the Great Mystery.  For Tookie, and for Latasha, a moment of reflection, please.   And draw your own conclusions.





                           On a Roll? 

Pity our poor President.   Even half a world away, the increasingly popular image of him as an affable bumbler continues to dog his efforts.   His recent Asian trip, from which he has just returned, is already being archived as the latest episode of an Administration increasingly riven by one marvelous catastrophe after another.   There is still much talk, though somewhat muted over the past week, of a “lame duck” presidency, and the abandonment of some of capitalism’s most hoped-for “reforms”, especially the disabling of Social Security.

Such verdicts I think are premature.  Bush’s trump cards are formidable; the lack of a tenable alternative (the Democrats, apparently, are even more heartily despised); and, most importantly, a national media that is willing to overlook a lot in the interests of securing Israel.  For the time being, at least, Bush is their man.  Weaken him, the reasoning goes, and the war against radical Islam, the main force threatening the Jewish state, is dangerously compromised.   There, too, the lack of an attractive alternate reality in the Middle East (sectarian Arab autocracies) is a handsome asset to both Bush and the Israelis.  Until a viable secular ideology looms as a rival to the fundamentalism of Zionism and Islam, this, as they say, is “it”.

So, what is the future?  I mean, what will America look like in four years, regardless of the nomenclature of a succeeding Washington Admnistration?  

I imagine we will still be firmly ensconced amid the ruins of our Iraq “democracy” adventure.  We may have even “won” by then; that is, we and our opponents may have finally settled on the price of collaboration.   The perfectly awful regimes in Damascus and Tehran, too, may be gone.  Or, perhaps, having been driven from power either by force of arms or, more likely, through the good offices of  “people power,”  their proprietors might settle into that sullen acquiescence that has marked so much of the Arab world’s relations with the West.  I am reminded again of Macaulay; “There, never, perhaps, existed a people so thorougly fitted by nature and by habit for a foreign yoke.”   (Where, I wonder, too, is the Arab Lenin?)

And what about China?  Or Japan?  It is a safe bet that within a few years the latter will have substantially re-armed herself as a formidable American surrogate, ready at the right time to take the field against Beijing.  India, too, I suppose, will have further tied herself to Washington, at least as tightly as her shaky political milieu will credibly allow.   The West has never trusted India, nor she they.  Nevertheless, Bush may well be remembered, at least in the short term, as the President who both precipitated the re-configuring of the Middle East (in the graven image of Israel and the West), and who “saved” south and east Asia from China.  

I think the world media has been a bit off about Bush’s Asian trip, too.   I mean, the part about his being a bungling ignoramus at the mercy of forces far beyond his capacity to comprehend, let alone control.  There is a hint of truth here.   But, wasn’t his trip designed and executed as an exercise in re-assurance?   Yes.  It was meant as a clear signal that, despite troubles in Iraq and back in Washington, the Bush administration is determined to preserve the status quo in Asia, at least for now.   Side trips included supporting Koizumi in his drive to privatize Japan, Inc., as well as solidarity with Taiwan, and a cautious invitation to “ancillory” nations like Mongolia to take a seat at the table.   Such goals might seem at first light mundane and unspectacular, but Mr Bush has generally succeeded in reaching them.  And at a time when his leadership is widely seen as being beyond redemption, especially by those within his own class and party.

Bush’s latest effort, in short, is an important step in further articulating the goals of Western policy in the coming decades.  He has done nothing less than provide a template for future administrations to more or less follow, regardless of their political color. 

Of course,  the continual prattling on about “human rights” and “freedom” is an enervating reminder of just how much things have changed.   Such shibboleths — once a sure-fire means of exciting popular indignation and hostility towards Communism — now ring hollow in a world where economic development has become the talisman of power, regardless of the political color of a regime.  “Moral concerns”, particularly if they’re promoted by Western patricians with suspect motives, have been nearly eclipsed by the marvels of booming economies, including ostensibly “Marxist” ones. 

And why not?  There is something almost unseemly about the leader of a country like the United States –whose history includes the enslavement of one race and the near-extermination of another, and whose overseas entanglements have led directly to the deaths or impoverishment of hundreds of millions of people, — assembling the brass to lecture the rest of humanity on “human rights”    Washington’s apparent adoption of torture as a means of waging war has not helped, either.

And then there is the fabled cultural divide between the West and the Far East.

Just what do Asians really think?   Do East and West differ in their perceptions of reality?   Well, yes, according to Richard Nisbett, whose book The Geography of Thought has just been published by The Free Press.   East Asians, the professor tells, tend to be more “holistic” than their Western counterparts, making relatively little use of categories of formal logic.  The Chinese, in particular, emphasize the constant of change and recognize inherent “contradictions” and the usefulness of multiple perspectives.   Us Westerners on the other hand are prone to the analytic and focus more on objects and their categories.   We, unlike them, don’t spend inordinate amounts of time searching for “middle ways” between opposing propositions.  

Now, I rather like Professor Nisbett’s book, but he often times seems to be ascribing to Asians what are really the properties of Western liberals like himself.   Aren’t things like “attention to contexts” so universal as to be almost impossible to describe as a racial or cultural characteristic?   Appreciation of “multiple perspectives”, too, would seem to me to be more at home in a raucous multi-party democracy like India’s (where it is difficult to get anything done in a hurry) than in China’s one party state (where many things get done, and quickly).   And do East Asians focus more on contexts and relationships in assessing criminal behavior than, say, readers of The New York Times?

Kudos, though, to the author for at least getting people to start thinking about the relationships between cultures that have been in sharp conflict in the past.  I would have liked it better if he had sought to explain such behaviors in the context of capitalism and imperialism and colonialism.  The relationships between us and them have been rife with all three.  There are differences in perspective when one has been subordinate to a power that until recently has seemed to have gone from strength to strength or when one has been occupied at length by foreign capital and foreign ideas.   At such times things like the “constant of change” and the efficacy of “multiple perspectives” assume a new poignancy.

Perhaps we in the West are doomed to savor some of those same experiences as capitalist democracy inevitably runs out of steam and people begin to haltingly but inexorably think about the greatest good for the greatest number — a supposedly “Oriental” trait celebrated in Chinese history and culture — as a model for all civilization.

Now, that’s one change I would like to see.   Constantly. 




No matter what else has been happening in my life, I have always enjoyed reading history.  A bit like Condorcet, who, while in prison awaiting the guillotine, rejected the consolations of religion in favor of those of history and wrote The Outline of a Table of Progress of the Human Spirit.    As I too am devoutly secular I find the analogy amenable.  

As my mother lay fatally ill (I was seventeen), I buried myself in James McKee’s Civil War Narrative of the Surrender of U.S. Forces at Fort Fillmore, New Mexico.   That was at the start of a lifetime love affair with the history of the American westward movement.   Later, Gibbon’s Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire kindled my love of the panoramic ethos of the “big” history.  (I never came close to finishing it, though I intend to someday.)   I began reading Parkman’s Conspiracy of Pontiac right after my infant daughter died.   Lately, I’ve gone back to Macaulay’s Essays.  I am always working on Carr’s History of Soviet Russia (I’m up to volume 5),  and, of course, Marx is never far away.  Although rarely remembered as a historian, he was perhaps the most history-conscious of modern philosophers and indeed remains indispensable as a primary source in the history of political economy. 

I also love reading about history; that is, the history of history-writing, or historiography.   Here, I am for once the “professional” historian’s ideal audience.  Why?  Well, for one thing, I readily engage with the subject.   Secondly, I am not encumbered by academic position, and thus am no threat.   I have no awards or prizes to garnish, no tenure to win, no feckless constituencies to amuse.   Most important, I am easily inspired.   The dreariest historian can for me excite possibilities and provoke new thoughts.   And anyone who has read, say, J.H. Hexter, or Norman Stone, or any of the vast host of academic disciples and imitators will know that this is not always easy.


I mention Hexter because he did introduce me, via a collection of essays, Doing History, to my all-time favorite, E H Carr, someone he heartily depised and whom, partly as a result, I came to greatly respect and admire.   So, thank-you, Professor Hexter, in whatever form you may be inhabiting nowadays.

Speaking of Carr, whose What Is History? and The New Society have been profoundly welcome influences in my life; all of my favorites among the practitioners of the historian’s craft have worked outside of academic departments of history.  Of course, most of those I admire were not professional historians at all.  And most of them practiced long before there existed that bloodless race.  They ran the gamut of callings.   Men of politics (Tacitus), men of God (Bede), journalists (Gibbon), men of letters (Macaulay), and scientists (Joseph Needham).   Even Carr himself, though finally ensconced during his later years in a fellowship at Trinity College, Cambridge, began his career as a diplomat followed by a stint, during the Second World War, as the assistant editor of the London Times.  

There is sadly a lack of good working-class historians (aside from Marx and Engels), a lacunae that in our own age at least is quite galling, given the profusion of “working class studies” spawned by university bureaucracies.   Carr and Needham were very sympathetic to Marx and this more or less extended to regimes ruling in his name, but neither focused on the working class as such.   There are of course the pedestrian studies of E P Thompson and Ralph Miliband, but neither they nor their contemporaries or successors can be called first-class practitioners of the historian’s art.

So, why in fact is there no George Bancroft or Francis Parkman of the working class?   No first-class literary chronicle of the Haymarket Riots, or the Dearborn Strike, or industrial organizing in the South?   No comparable modern complement of Engels on Manchester’s working class or Marx on the Paris Commune?   Could a William Hickling Prescott have written an account of Boston’s working class that would still be in print 160 years later?  

“Working people never did anything.”  That from one of my professors at Harvard, a Pulitzer Prize winner and a writer of fair repute.   That pretty much sums up the attitude of the shining lights at the apex of the American historical profession.  But, of course, there is more to it than that.   A number of things killed, finally, the art of history; capitalist mass education, political correctness, the decline of language, identity politics, and other culprits too numerous or too impolitic to mention. 

Does it matter?  Perhaps not.  History in the end is nothing more than what those in power say it is.   Our rulers now promote a way of thinking about the past that is itself rapidly passing into history; its successor, under new dispensations, will in time redefine not only the future but, as a natural and necessary pre-requisite, history itself.

In the meantime, it is good for Marxists to go on reading and absorbing the wisdom of a Tacitus (read enough of him and you can gain a real sense of such modern writers as Berlin and Arendt and the employment of the “moral voice” for rational purposes; in their case, the revival of Jewish capital in the immediate post-Holocaust era and the legitimacy of Israel) or a Gibbon (a modern secular critique of religion, which he pioneered, is long overdue; his Decline is must reading for students of the American Revolution).   The devout Bede is a venerable lesson in the opacities of human character under the most adverse conditions.   Even Macaulay’s 19th century essays throw new light on our own vexing dilemmas, free from the cant of modern “democracy” and the despairing ennui of its bifurcated citizenry.   He stated the case for an industrializing British empire without squeamishness.   And echoed Marx in his dismissal of “humanitarian” prescriptions for reform.  Macaulay has a good deal to say not so much about “human nature”, but the contexts in which that nature is lived out and experienced.

Which, as history tries to tell us, is the beginning of wisdom.





It’s not surprising of course when a high French official publicly calls the rioting crowds of largely Muslim youth “scum”.   That and worse I imagine is routinely uttered by officials in like situations everywhere.   It is rather unsettling to read that at least one leader in the Islamic community agrees with him.   But then the fortnight of unrest precipitated by the untimely deaths of two youths on the run from the police has little, really, to do with the devout of any faith.   It really comes down to jobs, or, rather, that steady and vexing lack of them that has increasingly plagued the capitalist West during the past two decades.   Increasing immigration was designed to both drive down wages for all workers  AND provide a model of worker “flexibility” which would facilitate the movement of capital across increasingly fissiporous borders.   It is no longer a tenable policy.   In fact, the capitalist model of development, hailed only a decade ago as the apogee of human civilization, is, increasingly, in disarray.  

In China, by contrast, it is a matter of urgent policy at all official levels to facilitate the creation of at least fifteen million tenable jobs over the coming year.    Similar programs, in fact, are taking root throughout Asia’s growing economies.    India and Vietnam have over the past two years inaugarated programs that assign job-creation supreme status in national policy.   Both, like China, have radically increased spending on ancillory social programs, a practice all but junked in the modern capitalist economy.   

The youth of the European muslim diaspora, orphaned by the fabulously wealthy and the fabulously corrupt of all nationalities, are finding neither jobs nor subsidies in their new home.    Theirs is, increasingly, the despairing rejoinder of “surplus populations” throughout the capitalist world.

But the growing insurrection goes far beyond that.   There is a revolt sweeping  the older capitalist states and the “newer democracies” alike that takes many forms but which can best be described as a growing and general resistance to received models of “globalization”.   It is much in evidence everywhere, from this summer’s resounding “No” votes on the EU Constitution to the growing political crises in the Ukraine, Georgia, Poland, Germany and, indeed throughout the capitalist world.   It is even beginning to appear on the streets of America in the wake of Katrina and the burgeoning scandals among the ruling elite.   Ordinary people of every faith and nationality are more and more loathe to accept precipitously declining standards of living in the name of some pie-in-the-sky ideology preached by those who famously care only about fattening themselves or those who pay them at the expense of the public good.  

As for the devout; will a disintegrating capitalism, finally, teach them the salient wisdoms of human existence?  Life is first of all the struggle over the division of goods and services.   The need for productive work is essential to the health of the human psyche.   We are, all of us, transient citizens of an amoral universe, possessing neither a soul nor innate ideas, but a common origin and a common fate.

And there is no God of any kind.  





                 It is clear by now that the past 100 years, far from being just another nomenclature of American hubris, was in reality “Democracy’s Century”.  Not since the 1700s, with its ubiquitous nicknames “The Age of Reason”, and the “Age of Enlightenment”, has an era produced such a single-minded cachet.  It was during this tumultuous epoch that she saw off two potent challengers, one decisively, the other less so (Communism’s ambiguous sequel is still to be played out) and seemed to march from strength to strength throughout the world.   Indeed, as the new Millenium approached, the mantra of “free markets, free men, and rule of law” seemed, inexorably, identical to the March of History itself.  Everywhere “Democracy” was defined as “good” while her opposites  were pictured  as muddle-headed or evil.  

Today, on the morrow of its ostensible triumph, Democracy stands at a precipice.    This very lovely woman, once so rich with promise, has been irremediably befouled by capitalism and its affiliated ideologies.   Many even see her as on the cusp of decline and eclipse.   What has been her undoing?  The usual suspects — war, natural calamity, human perfidy — are all culpable to varying degrees.   But, it must be admitted, the guilty party is above all Democracy herself.  She is in a process of “diverted growth”, an inability to grow, to constantly re-make and reinvent herself.   Her conundrum would be unexceptionally fatal to any living species. 

In the West, “democratic government” is inexorably evolving into supranational and highly centralized entities like the IMF and the EU, accountable not to the people but to various economic elites.   The UN is now an instrument of America’s hubristic national interests, its luminaries dispensing the usual shibboleths and discretely standing by while its colored humanity are whenever necessary treated to disciplinary “micro-theatrical military displays” by the “sole superpower.”

But, Democracy for many has above all failed to live up to her advance billing.  For much of the human planet, her debut has meant a reality of de facto one-party states (with concomitant political lives consisting chiefly of wrangling among parties of wealthy elites), and the exponential growth of socially homeless masses, with few tenable jobs, no health care or social security, and with a steadily diminishing access to the necessities of civilized life.  

This is the immediate afterlife of Democracy’s heyday, a time when exploding populations simultaneous with rising needs and expectations are vitiating notions of human affairs which grew up centuries ago under very different conditions and auspices.  

The rise of the new Asian “mass economies” recalls for me the Stalinist critique of democracy that was briefly in vogue immediately after the Second World War.  Back then, the term “democracy” was bifurcated in sophisticated conversation between its “capitalist” and “socialist” variants.   Both advertised themselves assiduously at home and especially abroad; the former boasting of “rights” and “liberties”; the latter its provision of social security and its true “democratic” and “anti-fascist credentials”.  The Soviet’s argument echoed those heard in the Communist world since Lenin; that their democracy, with its abolition of private property (and with it the basis for “man’s exploitation by man”), its monopoly of foreign trade, and the substitution of collective action for the frenzied pursuit of private gain, was a “million times more democratic” than the political arrangements in the West.

Stalin’s criticism of “capitalist” democracy fell under roughly into four categories;(1) it remained formal and institutional and failed to take the class content of the state into account; (2) it remained purely political and did not extend to the social and economic level; (3) it lacked confidence in itself and was dangerously tolerant of opposing and even subversive views; and (4) that it made no intrinsic provision for the participation of the masses in administration. 

Today, it is the first two that resonate most clearly with the poor and workers throughout the world and which present a “triumphant” West with its most indefatigable challenge.  The third is of far greater importance to the capitalist and his affiliates among intellectuals and the affluent in most countries;it provides a means to vitiate popular will.  They are, increasingly, in the minority.   It is the first two, together with the provision for mass participation which must be successfully addressed if Democracy in any meaningful form is to flourish.  

I believe that globalization will ultimately and necessarily lead humanity to more or less abjure Western-styled elite-based individualistic democracy in favor of collective-based means of insuring humanity’s survival in the new millenium.  And that Democracy’s “busy” afterlife, building unevenly but inexorably on the ruins of two of its most luminous subsidiaries, will be interesting indeed. 




Chinese vterans of the “struggle against American aggression” in Korea relate tales of their adventures after returning home

Yesterday’s six-party agreement culminating in the announcement that North Korea was giving up its nuclear weapons program represented a triumph of Chinese diplomacy over American intransigence.   Under its provisions, which remain to be finalized in another round of talks in November, North Korea is “assured” (if that is the right word) that it will not be attacked by the Unites States, that its national sovereignty will be respected by the five negotiating parties (in addition to the US and China are Japan, South Korea and Russia), and that Pyongang will receive substantial economic assistance in the future, including a light-water reactor for domestic energy needs.

China is for the moment satisfied, though Beijing must entertain serious doubts concerning the durability of such an agreement.   Nations make and break such pacts with impunity, or selectively observe those articles which bestow an advantage while undermining or ignoring those which do not.   In the short term at least, China has gained enormous prestige by protecting an important ally while forcing the Americans into a clear if orderly retreat.    At the same time, she is aware that the Bush administration has no real intention of keeping any agreement that strengthens either North Korea or Chinese interests on the Korean peninsula.   Yesterday’s announcement represents a tactical retreat on the part of Washington to buy time while it is busy elsewhere.   Bush, aware at last that American power is fatigued and overextended by its numerous and self-inflected misadventures, is seeking a respite, not a fundamental change in the status quo.   

The China/North Korea relationship, forged in revolution and war, troubled for a time by the Sino/Soviet split of the 1960s and reaffirmed and strengthened by the dissolution of Pyongang’s Soviet ally, looks more durable than ever.   It is an irony of the post-Cold War world that American hubris as “the world’s sole superpower” has seen its badly calculated policies strengthen the bonds between its adversaries.   The ties between Beijing and Pyongang will for a long time to come serve to vitiate American interests in east Asia and probably elsewhere.


                                           Democratic Korea & Peoples’ China see off US “imperialists & their lackeys”



…They’ll Get It Anyway                

The German elections are over and, if such rituals counted for anything, the Left clearly would have won.    True, Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder’s Social Democrats (SDP) were not first past the post.   That distinction belongs to the Christian Democratic Union (CDU) and its leader Angela Merkel.    She is already coming to regret it.  

Instead, it was practically speaking a dead tie; 35 point something to 34 point something, less than 9 tenths of one percent separating the two.   For Ms Merkel, who had been widely advertised as becoming Germany’s next chancellor with anything from 42 to 47 per cent of the vote, the election is a humiliating defeat.   She will have a rough time of it merely holding on to the leadership of the CDU,  never mind becoming Germany’s first woman leader.   Despite her show of bravado on Sunday evening, her reform program of flat taxes, reduced social spending, and the vitiation of Germany’s “social market” has been rebuked by the country’s voters. 

For the rest, there is the Left Party, the odd marriage between the remnants of the East German Communists and dissidents within the ruling Social Democrats.   Led by Oskar LaFontaine (from the West) and Gregor Gysi (his eastern counterpart), they were the most vociferous opponents of reform.   They ended up with about 9 per cent, nearly 1 point ahead of the ruling Greens.   This gives the Left an overall total of 51 per cent.

The pro-reform Right, by contrast, polled less than 46 per cent (the difference being made up by smaller and regional parties who will have failed the 5 per cent test for getting into the Bundestag (Germany’s parliament).    The results were the worst for the CDU since the early 1980s.   The one bright spot for the right was the vigorous results enjoyed by the liberal Free Democrats, who polled nearly eleven per cent.   It may do them little good in the end.

What happens now?   Since neither of the two major parties have anywhere near the majority needed to form a government (Mr Schroeder has declared unequivocally he will not share power with the Lefts), the prospect of a Grand Coaltion looms large.   Such a creature may limp along for awhile but, in all likelihood, new elections will be held sooner rather than later.  

For those who rule Germany and their counterparts throughout the realm of western capitalism, there is no alternative to the reforms urged by the Right.   Unemployment in Germany stands at nearly 12 per cent.   That figure is replicated throughout the continent.    Economies remain stagnant.   Europe in fact looks to become a backwater to the rising Asian economies of China and India, and to the still-dominant economic power of the United States.   European capitalists will not change the way they do business.   A definitive program of social annihilation is the only feasible alternative.   And they will see to it that people “vote until they get it right”.

Mr Schroeder, if he remains Chancellor — an all but unthinkable prospect before Sunday evening — will continue to talk against reform while moving closer towards it.   The CDU, with or without Angela Merkel, will position itself somewhat more to the left, embracing in the end a syrupy version of reform more like that of the SDP.   The minor parties of both left and right will issue urgent communiques to little or no avail.   The Greens will probably end up with some portfolio in the new government; craven opportunism has become their signature under Joschka Fischer.    They already back some limited version of reform, but will probably balk at its more extreme proposals like the flat tax.

All this rigamarole has greatly upset the capitalist class in and out of Europe, which had been counting on a convincing Merkel win in order to re-vitalize reform throughout the West.     The morning after has seen an evisceration of her campaign and its main actors, especially that of Mr Paul Kirchhof, the finance advisor whose outspoken radicalism is widely cited as a reason for the paltry electoral results.   In the end, most if not all of his prescriptions will be filled and administered to the ailing economy.   If they fail to shake Germany out of its economic ennui, the nation’s capitalist democracy will be at an impasse.   

What then?    The past quarter-century has witnessed a Great Retreat of the Social Market everywhere in Europe (as well as in the USA, where a nascent version was beginning to take uncertain root following the upheavals of the 1960s).    The neo-liberalism which is replacing it is in ever deeper crisis.    Yes, reform will eventually be shoved down the throats of the German people, as it has been and will continue to be throughout the West.   But, will even this be enough to solve capitalism’s innate and growing crisis?

If not,  more radical solutions may be in order. 



For three weekends this month, the estimable Independent Film Channel focuses on “Spaghetti Westerns”, those 60s-era horse operas famed for their extreme violence, moral ambiguities, Spanish locations, thunderous musical scores and, above all, Lefty Italian directors with the Christian name of Sergio.   Films like For a Few Dollars More (Sergio Leone’s sequel to his Fistful of Dollars, which made Clint Eastwood a star), Sergio Sollima’s The Big GundownThe Great Silence, Sergio Corbucci’s classic drama of revenge and redemption, and the indefatigable The Good, The Bad, The Ugly, Leone’s grand finale in the Eastwood trilogy, are all being featured.

Shown, too, is a remarkable documentary Spaghetti West, which chronicles the work of writers like Franco Solinas, the devout Communist who wrote the screenplay for Gundown and the estimable A Bullet for the General, director Damiano Damiani’s anti-imperialist allegory of the Mexican Revolution.   (Some may recall Solinas’ [uncredited] work on the much-maligned gem The Assassination of Leon Trotsky).   Reds, in fact, were all over this genre, which produced hundreds of similar films (running the usual gamut of the good, the bad and the indifferent), and which revived for a time audiences’ love affair with the Western.   Ennio Morricone, who wrote the music for the Eastwood trilogy and for countless other “spaghettis” as well as for other films, notably Henri Verneuil’s Guns for San Sabastian and the perfectly awful The Green Berets, John Wayne’s version of our Vietnam nightmare, and the actor Gian Maria Volonte, among many many others, were members of the Italian Communist party, an affiliation claimed at one time or another by most of their countrymen who were prominent in the arts of that period.   (Morricone is still at work and is currently scoring the forthcoming epic Leningrad)

It was a remarkable if short-lived genre, combining what John Ford called “the most American of all art forms” with an often none-too-subtle critique of what America was doing in the world.  In Vietnam.  In Latin America.   Everywhere.    The wealthy cattle baron, the avaricious banker, the powerful and corrupt versus the poor but virtuous lent itself to this morality tale of American perfidy.   Most of these films were not, even loosely speaking, “Marxist”; the heroes tended to be violent loners instead of the aroused masses of Marx or Lenin, but the message resonated in a world that was in thrall to the struggles of Vietnamese peasants, Chinese revolutionaries and French students.

Nor was the Spaghetti Western a great art form, either cinematically or in terms of influencing what came after; its sequel was a rapid degeneration in both Italian and American theatrical hands of a historic genre pioneered by the likes of William S Hart and Ford himself.   

No, the Western, wheezing briefly back to life in the 1960s (American films like Hombre — itself directed by a former Communist — were an exception to the general rule of decline interrupted briefly by the “Italian West”) was already heading toward the Last Roundup, done in perhaps by history itself.    The lone hero on horseback, prevailing against frightful odds to defeat a powerful and ruthless enemy, seemed increasingly out of place in a setting no longer recognizable in the mass civilization of the modern world.  

He survives, perversely, largely in the imaginations of those whose values contravenes his in every conceivable way; in those who promote the George Bushes and the Ronald Reagans and the John McCains in an age longing for honest but resourceful heroes.   But, increasingly and with diminishing hope, finding none.



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