Issue 281 of SOCIALIST REVIEW Published January 2004 Copyright © Socialist Review
John Le Carré
A new Le Carré novel is always worth paying attention to. Considered by many to be the unrivalled master of the spy thriller, Le Carré is, by his own account, a writer of 'political novels'. Over the years he has questioned why anyone should be loyal to a vain, snobbery-ridden, declining imperial power such as Britain. Is there not something admirable in the idealism of Kim Philby and the other Cambridge spies who betrayed their country because they thought by doing so they could help bring about a better world? He has also put the other side, asking whether the lie that Russia is socialist isn't so monstrous that, however dishonest and hypocritical the West may be, it has, regrettably, to be supported as the lesser evil. And this was the view he himself took until the collapse of the Soviet Union.
But now, the Cold War ended, things have moved on. The two main characters of the novel, the Englishman Ted Mundy and the German Sasha, are both in their own ways creations of the Cold War world. Meeting in the late 1960s in a left wing commune in Berlin at the height of the movement against the Vietnam War, Mundy saves his friend from being killed by the West Berlin police on a demonstration. They become 'absolute friends', able to confide in each other across the Cold War divide, as they also both become double agents working for the British government. This means, post 11 September, they are involved in the so called 'war on terrorism'--'war' that will always be manipulated by governments, helped by the corporate media happily letting themselves be used for disinformation purposes.
The question is, what underlies this 'war'? Novels, even spy thrillers, don't have to take up questions like this. But Le Carré is blunt. And his bluntness is such that it upsets those who want him to sit on the fence. The Guardian's reviewer was outraged that the author's thoughts could be so blurred with the hero's when Mundy points out:
'It's the discovery, in his sixth decade, that half a century after the death of Empire, the dismally ill-managed country he'd done a little of this and that for is being marched off to quell the natives on the strength of a bunch of lies, in order to please a renegade hyperpower that thinks it can treat the rest of the world as its allotment.'
Elsewhere it gets even better, when one of the bad guys puts it like this:
'Every war is worse than the last one, Mr Mundy. But this war is the worst I ever saw if we're talking about lies, which I am. Lies happen to be something of a speciality of mine. Maybe because I told so many in my time, they piss me off. Makes no difference the Cold War's over. Makes no difference we're globalised, multinational or what the hell. Soon as the tom-toms sound and the politicians roll out their lies, it's bows and arrows and the flag and round the clock television for all loyal citizens. It's three cheers for the big bangs and who gives a fuck about casualties as long as they're the other guy's?... And don't give me that horseshit about Old Europe... We're looking at the oldest America in the book. Puritan zealots butchering savages in the name of the Lord--how do you get older than that? It was genocide then, it's genocide today, but whoever owns the truth owns the game.'
Do yourself a favour. Read one of the best living writers in the English language and at the same time give yourself a boost for the struggles we face in 2004.
The Prophet Armed
The Prophet Unarmed
The Prophet Outcast
Verso £15 each
In my first term as a student I attended a Labour Club meeting about the 1958 South Bank building workers' strike. The right wing argued that we shouldn't support the strike as it was led by 'Trotskyists' (sound familiar?). I was bewildered, and next day went to the library and took out the first volume of Deutscher's Trotsky biography. I shall always be grateful to Deutscher for introducing me to one of the great revolutionaries of the 20th century.
After Trotsky's death in 1940 his followers were confined to small meetings and obscure newspapers. Deutscher, a gifted journalist and a fine writer, could not be ignored. Coinciding with a wave of radicalisation around CND, Deutscher brought Trotsky back into the mainstream and introduced him to a new generation.
History is not made by great men, but history sometimes makes great men--Trotsky was one of them. Reading Deutscher's biography I realise just how outrageous it is that Trotsky's thought was transformed into something called 'orthodox Trotskyism'. There was nothing orthodox about Trotsky. He was a bold and original thinker.
Deutscher introduces us to the 17 year old revolutionary who declared, 'A curse upon all Marxists, and upon these who want to bring dryness and hardness into all the relations of life!' (a reminder never to write anyone off too quickly). Trotsky soon learnt that there was more to Marxism than that, but he always used it creatively to analyse new problems. In 1906 he developed the theory of 'permanent revolution', arguing that Russia, though economically way behind western Europe, could move straight to socialist revolution. Lenin vehemently rejected this, until in April 1917 he was faced with the irrefutable evidence of workers' councils springing up in Russia, and went over to Trotsky's view.
In the early 1930s Trotsky faced the rise of Hitler and the suicidal refusal of Communists and Socialists to unite. His writings on how to fight fascism are remarkable precisely because they do not refer to formulae inherited from half a century earlier, but confront the concrete realities of his own day.
Deutscher's three fat volumes give us not just an individual life but 40 years of the socialist movement--1905, the First World War, the Russian Revolution, Stalin, Hitler, the Spanish Civil War, the looming Second World War. Anyone who thinks that 'soviet' is just another word for Russian should read Deutscher's wonderful account of the Petersburg soviet of 1905, and see just what is meant by an organisation of workers' power.
The republication of Deutscher's biography is very welcome. Hopefully the bleating of various Blairite journalists about alleged 'Trotskyist' influence in the anti-war movement will send a new generation to the bookshop in search of an explanation.
However, enthusiasm cannot be unqualified. Deutscher started out as a revolutionary, a Trotskyist who wrote a document for the founding conference of the Fourth International. He then withdrew from active politics, arguing that in the difficult period after the Second World War revolutionaries should withdraw to the 'watchtower'. Not only did he believe that Trotsky's defeat was inevitable, he thought that despite Stalin's brutality the Stalinist economic set-up could spread revolution to other parts of the world.
In the final volume he gives a moving picture of Trotsky, persecuted by Stalinists and right wing governments alike, until he finally finds asylum in Mexico. Trotsky's courage, the terrible fate of his children and his own eventual murder are vividly presented. But Deutscher does not take seriously the task which drove Trotsky on in those terrible years of midnight in the century.
Trotsky was fighting not just for socialist ideas but for socialist organisation. For that he immersed himself in the terrible world of small-group polemics, sectarianism and constant splits, a world with which Deutscher lost patience.
So if you haven't read Deutscher find time for these three volumes. But also read at least the final volume of Tony Cliff's biography of Trotsky, The Darker the Night, the Brighter the Star. Cliff, while respecting Deutscher as a historian, loathed his retreat to the watchtower, seeing little difference between a watchtower and an ivory tower. Cliff, who devoted himself till the day he died to the job of building an organisation, could empathise with Trotsky in a way that was utterly alien to Deutscher.
Zed Books £14.95
The 20th century opened with the hope of social advance based on enormous material progress. But the first half of that century suffered the devastation of two world wars over the spoils of empire. The economic boom that followed created the basis for social democracy in the West, national liberation in developing countries and the extension of 'actually existing socialism'. The world crisis of the 1970s began the decline of these projects. The measures instituted to resolve the crisis of accumulation led to an increase in world inequality. However, they failed to resolve problems of low growth and rates of profit. The US, argues Amin, has launched a new offensive to restore its global hegemony as the basis for organising the economic, political and military dimensions of the global system.
The US can no longer afford to dominate the system without the help of the EU and Japan. This has given rise to a new form of imperialism--collective or 'Triad' imperialism. Intensification of global competition means that modern corporations now need at least 500 to 600 million 'potential consumers' to be viable. Only US-led collective imperialism can defend the interests of the whole 'Triad' and manage the market.
Central to US domination is the use of military force to exert political or military control over a chosen 'enemy' in coveted geostrategic areas. It also ensures the subjugation of other 'Triad' members, extends the influence over eastern Europe and central Asia, and wards off challenges from 'upstarts' like China.
Collective imperialism cannot prevent, argues Amin, the aging and decay of global capitalism. The world has become polarised between the centre (the rich countries) and the periphery (the poorer countries), creating 'apartheid' on a world scale.
Amin's alternative for a non-American century is based on a 'front for social and international justice', involving a process of democratisation of social life, humanist globalism and regionalisation. For the left to provide leadership it requires 'strategies and tactics to rally all political forces, ideological currents and social movements struggling against neoliberalism and imperialism, or for democratic advances, women's liberation or sound ecological management of the planet's resources.'
Amin makes an interesting theoretical contribution to the struggle for an anti-capitalist alternative. However, his analysis of imperialism is faulty. The nature of capital accumulation on a world scale means competition on the world market is the most intense among the 'Triad' and other major economies. Although there is conflict between the centre and the periphery, this is a result of the US and other major economies ensuring profits, largely made in the centre, by controlling resources and markets around the world. The conflicts between the US, EU and Japan are minor by historical standards, but this could all change depending on the state of the world economy. China's rise will only create more conflict as competition becomes more intense on the world market.
The international front for global change cannot be centred on the struggle between centre and periphery, imperialist and non-imperialist countries, but between those at the bottom of society and those at the top globally. The project for the left in the new century is to rally all those forces around the world that want such an alternative front.
Weidenfeld & Nicolson £20
The Resistance in Rome carried out the most successful wartime attack on German forces of any occupied city in Europe. A bomb attack killed 32 members of an SS unit specially recruited to fight the Resistance as they marched through central Rome. In reprisal Hitler and the German commander in Italy, Kesselring, ordered the killing of ten Italians for each dead German. Around 320 political prisoners, common criminals and Jews were hurriedly rounded up, taken to caves outside the city and shot before the entrance to the caves was blown up in an attempt to conceal the crime.
The pope was the bishop of Rome and had presented himself as the city's protector. He condemned not the reprisal killings but the attack, and he did so because the Resistance fighters were aligned with the Communist Party. Pope Pius XII had constantly done his utmost to encourage peace between Hitler and the Anglo-American allies so they could unite against the main danger, Communism.
Despite a massive PR campaign to portray the pope as defending Jewish victims of the Holocaust, his official policy was to remain silent. After the war sections of the Vatican helped organise an escape route for thousands of Nazis to Latin America.
Robert Katz's Fatal Silence is a study of the German occupation of Rome and the four forces competing for control of the city: the Germans and their Italian fascist allies; the Allies advancing up the Italian peninsula; the Vatican; and the Resistance.
The chief victims of all this were the citizens of Rome who suffered German round-ups and conscription for forced labour, Allied bombing (despite the key US intelligence officer in the city saying it was targeting civilians rather than the German military) and, towards the end, famine. Rome's Jewish population, one of the oldest in Europe, paid a high price as the Jews were transported to Auschwitz almost immediately following the German occupation of the city.
That occupation was not inevitable. In July 1943, following Allied landings in Sicily, the Italian king dismissed the fascist dictator Mussolini (who he had appointed prime minister), packed him off to prison and replaced him with Marshal Badoglio, formerly a faithful servant of Mussolini who had carried out mass murder during the Italian conquest of Ethiopia a few years earlier. For the next two months the king and Badoglio tried to play off the Allies and the Germans. That allowed the Germans time to move forces into Italy. The royal government also failed to follow through plans to airlift Allied forces into Rome, despite the fact that the Germans had few forces in the area.
When eventually it was announced on Allied radio that the Badoglio government had signed an armistice with the Anglo-Americans the first act of the king and his prime minister was to skip the city and head south to the safety of the Allied armies. Italian troops were given no orders except to cover the flight of the two men.
As German forces approached Rome, soldiers acting largely on their own initiative, joined by members of left wing parties, tried unsuccessfully to defend the city. The occupation brought with it the full weight of the SS and Gestapo, along with Italian fascists loyal to Mussolini now released by the Germans.
Katz does a good job in explaining how the Resistance developed in the occupied city, drawing on the Resistance archives of fighters mainly grouped round the Communist-led Garibaldi brigades. This is gripping stuff. When the activities of the Resistance are discussed it is mostly regarding their actions in the great cities of the north that they would eventually liberate before the Allies arrived. The Roman Resistance, however, waged a heroic campaign, culminating in the precision attack on the SS in the Via Rasella.
He also quotes from the long-unavailable memoirs A Spy in Rome by the OSS (now CIA) officer Peter Tompkins, who was very effective and very critical of the fact that the Allies wanted to cold shoulder the left and to rely on the right wing, who were compromised with fascism.
In the end, unlike in Naples, Milan, Turin, Venice, Genoa and other cities, the Resistance did not liberate the capital city. The reason was that the Communists were desperate to create an alliance with the right. But the right, cheered on by the Vatican, did not want an insurrection in the city that could get out of hand. They were content to wait on the Allies arriving.
At the end the only people who come out well from this story are the Resistance fighters and the ordinary people of the city. That this is something worth saying in 2004 might seem obvious, but not in a polarised Italy where the right seeks to defame the Resistance at every turn, and where after the war they sought to prosecute those partisans who carried out the Via Rasella attack, blaming them and not the SS for the reprisal killings. Robert Katz does justice to the people and resistants of Rome.
This book is a collection of essays written by Ken Coates between the mid-1960s and mid-1970s. Although in some ways historically dated, it contains a number of debates and ideas that anyone who thinks (as the subtitle runs) 'another world is possible' will find interesting.
In particular the brief history of the development of unions in the East End in the 1890s and the description of the Upper Clyde Shipbuilders (UCS) sit-in of 1971 are well worth reading. The victory of the sit-in gives the lie to the argument that globalisation undermines the ability of workers to fight, as production can easily be moved across the world. The UCS sit-in took place in an industry which had spread across the world, particularly the Far East. The common argument was that low paid foreign labour meant UCS had to close. The sit-in kept it open.
Coates is at his strongest when he describes the pitiful condition of work under capitalism, and how it destroys human creativity and potential. The 'Wage Slaves' chapter provides poignant anecdotal examples of this process--how workers spend the majority of their working lives longing for the hooter to sound, or for Friday to come round again, or ultimately their own retirement. As the essay states, the stark fact that work under capitalism causes so many people to effectively wish away their lives surely 'cannot embody the final wisdom of the ages'.
Coates also hits home in his chapter on education. He argues that capitalism's needs shape the nature of education, whereas it should be the other way round--the needs of an educated workforce should shape the nature of production. In today's era of Sats, league tables and schools churning out children as fodder for industrialists, the ideas put forward by Coates about lifelong education seem exceptionally relevant.
There are a few problems with the book, however. Firstly, because it is a collection of essays it fails to develop a strong argument about the strategy for change. This argument--the need for workers' co-operatives to augment serious social change--is present in a few of the chapters but doesn't develop throughout the book.
Also, the book is steeped in the language and arguments of the time, and at first glance doesn't equate with debates in the anti-capitalist movement today. On closer reading the idea that we can carve out a socially progressive island within capitalism that prefigures some future society and in the process overthrow capitalism is very current.
Socialists will always support people who want to live and work in a different way, rejecting the values and norms of capitalism. But we argue against the idea that this model is the best way to effect change. It is because workers create the profits that are capitalism's lifeblood that they have the potential power to strike the killer blow. The problem with workers' co-operatives is that it is almost impossible to remove yourself from the realities of capitalism. The workers' co-ops, by trying to challenge capital on its own terms, were subject to all the pressures of competitive accumulation. The worse the economic conditions, the more the co-ops were faced with the choice of adapting to the values of capitalism or going under.
In his 1976 chapter 'Workers' Producer Co-operatives' Coates outlines this basic argument with quotes from a 1970s Socialist Worker editorial and from Ernest Mandel. In his counter-argument he cites the successful workers' co-ops of the time--Triumph Meriden, Kirkby Manufacturing and Engineering Company, and the Scottish Daily News. The subsequent fate of these projects is instructive. Triumph Meriden went into receivership in 1983 and was sold off, Kirkby was taken over by Worcester Engineering in 1978, and the Scottish Daily News went bankrupt in 1975 shortly before the article was published.
Soft Skull Press £13.99
Hideous Dream, Stan Goff's stunning account of the American invasion and occupation of Haiti in 1994, raises similar questions about the US military machine as the debacle of the occupation of Iraq. Goff was a master sergeant and operations chief for a Special Forces team whose mission was to 'stop a revolution'. And Goff doesn't just tell us what happened--he shows us how, cynically and ruthlessly, this was done. So we learn what it meant to ordinary Haitians when the US designated the Front for the Advancement and Progress of Haiti (FRAPH), the death squad network based on the former tonton macoutes, as the 'legitimate political opposition'.
Goff's clarity has several sources: his understanding of US imperialism and its impact on soldiers' lives; his compassion for the local people; and his courage to examine the contradictions between his emerging socialist politics and his life as a professional soldier. Goff is smart and funny, and he writes beautifully. He is also a compellingly honest guide to an occupation whose intimate everyday reality was as absurd and horrific as the Valkyrie helicopter ride in Apocalypse Now.
Goff draws on a remarkable amount of experience to describe the macho privilege of the Green Berets. He was a 19 year old grunt in Vietnam, then later took part in the US interventions in Guatemala, El Salvador, Grenada, Panama, Venezuela, Honduras, South Korea, Colombia, Peru and Somalia. He also taught at West Point. He's good on theory, and on what it takes to coerce men into battle.
In Haiti Goff became 'politically unreliable' because he interpreted orders in response to the democratic concerns and wellbeing of the Haitian poor. He faced a possible courtmartial, but was allowed to retire when the army investigator learned how much he had to tell.
He is particularly good on the US military hierarchy. Vain, self serving officers compete for hardware, prestige, service medals and high salaries, while avoiding all personal risk. In Haiti as elsewhere, careerist officers were complacent, ill informed bureaucrats who depended on the Special Forces to do their bidding in a 'politically sensitive' environment.
Yet Goff is utterly damning about the Special Forces too. He describes it as a racist organisation where soldiers freely refashion SS insignia for their personal use. Through his eyes we see a war worshipping subculture of men, where weapons are icons, survival is through deadly competition, and 'adherents need enemies, and enemies need to be easily identified'. But for all his anger, Goff also describes himself and his fellow soldiers as men whose bodies, emotions and intelligence are scarred by the same virulent sexism and racism they turn against the locals.
Perhaps the most astonishing part of Goff's account is how little purpose or direction the Special Forces teams had. Each unit operated virtually autonomously, making up the rules as they went along. They were an elite echelon of wreckers, repairing nothing, only enforcing 'stability' through fear and bullying. In a contained theatre of war like Haiti, wrecking and incompetence were part and parcel of the military project. Elsewhere, in Afghanistan or Iraq, where the scale of the intervention is far greater, the stakes far higher, the local resistance armed and world opinion harsh, the same arrogant, wrecking style reveals US military incompetence for what it actually is.
A Civilian Occupation
editors Rafi Segal and Eyal Weizman
'The city of Emanuel, situated 440 metres above sea level, has a magnificent view of the coastal plain and the Judean Mountains. The hilly landscape is dotted by green olive orchards and enjoys a pastoral calm.' This is how the ultra-Orthodox settlement of Emanuel advertised itself. The overt biblical imagery offers no reference to the people who cultivate the landscape, the Palestinians. The biblical references are cynically used to reinforce the Zionists' ancient claim on the land. In fact the only reference to Palestinians in the brochure concerns the roads: 'A motored system is being developed that will make it possible to travel quickly and safely to the Tel Aviv area and Jerusalem on modern throughways, bypassing Arab towns.'
The editing out of Palestinians from the landscape and the minds of Israeli settlers has not happened by accident. Indeed through essays, diagrams, maps and photographs this fascinating exhibition catalogue shows that 'the mundane elements of planning and architecture have been conscripted as tactical tools in Israel's state strategy, which has sought to further national and geopolitical objectives in the organisation of space and the redistribution of its population.'
What is most shocking is the amount of planning that has gone into the creation of Israel. Immediately after the declaration of independence in 1948 a development plan covering all the available land was devised. Unlike most large scale planning this has been almost entirely acted upon. The plan's aim was to spread the population from the three main cities of Tel Aviv, Haifa and Jerusalem to a number of new small to medium sized towns spreading across the state. Immigrants coming to Israel were sent to live in these military outposts, and a Class A tax reduction status was given to all settlers.
In the essay 'The Mountain', Rafi Segal and Eyal Weizman expertly describe how hilltop settlements are designed not only as places of residence, but also as a large scale network of 'civilian fortifications'. Settlers' houses are designed so that living spaces all have views on to the landscape below. An armed population therefore guards all access roads. Interestingly the views from settler's houses are designed so that Palestinian towns cannot be seen. Thus the idea of 'a land without a people for a people without land' is reinforced. By settling on the hilltops Israel has superimposed itself on top of Palestine, thus making any border between the two impractical. The book concludes that only a one-state solution will work, but leaves it to the reader to ask how this could happen.
This collection was banned by the Israeli Association of United Architects, which said 'these ideas are not architecture'. However, this book proves that architecture is not politically naive. But is the situation in Israel unique, with its communities separated by walls and exclusive roads, and with the unwanted, poor and oppressed edited out of the immediate landscape? 'Is this not a worst case scenario of capitalist globalisation and its spatial fallout?'
John Paul II celebrated his 25th anniversary as pope by beatifying the reactionary Albanian nun Agnes Bojaxhiu. Better known as Mother Teresa of Calcutta, she was an outspoken critic of abortion and contraception. Her beatification, the penultimate step on the way to sainthood, has taken place at surprising speed even in the context of the 'saint factory' that is the contemporary Vatican. Coming only six years after her death, it is the latest in a series of controversial bids by a dying John Paul II to stamp his ultra-conservative legacy on an increasingly scandal-ridden church.
Aroup Chatterjee, a Calcuttan by birth and atheist by conviction, migrated to Britain in 1985 to work as a doctor. It was here he first became aware of Mother Teresa and the fantastical claims made about her work among the destitute of Calcutta. Stung by the depiction of the city of his birth as a living hell of pestilence and destitution promoted by the 'living saint' and her devotees, he set out to uncover the truth behind the Mother Teresa myth.
The book charts her rise from obscurity, championed by the CIA stooge and anti-Semitic TV personality Malcolm Muggeridge, to international media icon and charity cash cow, ending with an examination of the controversial miracle upon which the beatification was based. Along the way Chatterjee casts doubt on her suitability as a candidate for sainthood, uncovers the unholy alliance that led to her receipt of the Nobel Prize, and reveals the brutal ideology that dominated life in the few homes for the poor run by the order she established. He also finds time to mount a robust defence of Calcutta and its citizens, placing Teresa's meagre efforts in direct comparison with those of the various indigenous charitable organisations and the municipal authorities.
The most affecting passages are those devoted to the testimony of the volunteers, including Chatterjee himself, who worked in the homes run by the Missionaries of Charity in Calcutta. Particularly harrowing are the descriptions of daily life in Nirmal Hriday, a home for the dying in the Kalighat district. In spite of the millions Teresa raised, the provision of medical staff for the hospice was left to the provenance of god, depending on whatever skills a group of volunteers possessed. Even when the appropriate staff were available routine malpractices, like reusing unsterilised needles and confining patients to their beds for hours on end, continued. One is left with an impression of an institution closer to Camp X-Ray than a 'monument to human dignity' or 'byword for care and compassion'. Considering that Nirmal Hriday was a frequent stop-off point for the hordes of foreign dignitaries who flocked to see Teresa, it is surprising none of them noticed.
Perhaps the weakest element of the book is in its analysis of Teresa in the context of the ideological struggles within the Catholic church. Over the course of her lifetime the church was a theological and at times literal battleground, but the treatment of her role is limited. For instance, liberation theologist Archbishop Oscar Romero, murdered while celebrating mass in El Salvador, does get a brief mention, but the opportunity to contrast Teresa's elevation of poverty to the status of virtue with his 'option for the poor' has been spurned.
While not quite being the last word suggested by the title, The Final Verdict is a valuable contribution to unmasking the real Teresa.
After the New Economy
The New Press £16.95
Given that the trade cycle has been an insoluble feature of the capitalist system ever since its birth more than 200 years ago, you would have thought that economists and politicians might have the sense to stop announcing the demise of boom and bust. But just at the point when many giant companies such as Enron were frantically fiddling the books to stay afloat, they couldn't stop themselves doing it again. 'This expansion will run forever,' the late prestigious US economist Rudi Dornbusch declared in 1998, and politicians, including our own Gordon Brown, couldn't stop agreeing.
When 'unbelievers' questioned this evangelical optimism they were told that the old economic rules no longer applied in the new computer-driven, globalised economy. As stockmarkets soared into the stratosphere in the late 1990s, financial experts argued that a company's value needn't bear any relation to its profitability or assets any more. In this new golden age all that mattered were smart ideas, a fancy logo and the notion of huge profits at some point in the future.
Alan Greenspan, the chairman of the US Federal Reserve, soon ditched talk of 'irrational exuberance'. Instead he bought into the argument that the computer age was bringing about a transformation comparable with that of the industrial revolution.
Many of the claims were so daft that it's easy to look back and wonder whether your mind was playing tricks. So the great value of this entertaining book by US radical Doug Henwood is that it allows us to focus on the breathtaking stupidity of the US ruling class and rake over all their broken promises and false claims.
My personal favourite was the assertion by the well fed former editor of new economy magazine Wired that 'there's never been such a good time to be poor'--despite the fact, as Henwood documents, income disparity between the First and Third World and between rich and poor grew enormously in the 1990s. The ratio of average income of the world's top and bottom 5 percent actually increased from 78 to 1 in 1988 to 114 to 1 in 1993.
Henwood also examines the ultimate measure of inequality--wealth distribution. This demolishes the 'never had it so good' argument even more thoroughly, and shows that the top 1 percent in the US control 40 percent of wealth, while the bottom two thirds have essentially no savings. No wonder that only 10 percent of Americans polled said the boom had made their lives a lot better.
But what about the claims that computers have transformed productivity? In fact productivity growth in the 1990s was under the 110-year US average. Indeed, productivity in some of the heaviest computer-using industries--finance, wholesale trade, business services and communications--has either been increasing very slowly or declining. The figures for manufacturing appear more impressive. But, as Henwood points out, the numbers can be distorted by the outsizing of functions that are less subject to productivity improvements, such as security. Henwood also discovered that there had been no acceleration in productivity growth in manufacturing outside the high-tech sector.
So, given the title, what does Henwood think comes after the new economy? Sadly this is the least impressive section of the book. After arguing that 'the US has entered a period of troubles on the order of those of the 1970s' he then spoils it by saying, 'Not in the literal sense, of course: we're not likely to see a return of wildcat strikes and double-digit inflation rates.' Which, given that the falling dollar has sparked inflation fears, and wildcat strikes have returned in Britain at least, makes him look as smart as the French philosopher who wrote off the working class and then found he couldn't get his tome published because of the 1968 general strike.
There is a tendency among the intelligentsia to regard politics as a spectator sport, played by ugly, fat old men but commentated on beautifully by agile, witty scholars. The rest of us meanwhile kick back and enjoy Eastenders.
I detected a sense of this in Michael Mann's thesis on the Project for a New American Century, Incoherent Empire. It took until page 261 to find anything even hinting at an anti-war movement. Granted it is not the subject of his analysis, but it surely deserves better than a paragraph about a Gallup Europe poll, considering that such a critique as Mann's would not have nearly as much urgency or impact without the global anti-war movement.
The bedrock of Mann's analysis is that the 'Age of Empire' is over, curiously along with the age of class conflict. We now live in the age of the nation-state. Formal empires such as the British or Belgian empires are physically impossible to maintain. When the US tries to maintain a formal empire through client states such as Saudi Arabia, Uzbekistan and Israel, it finds its customers less than grateful or helpful in return.
The logic of this is that change must come through multilateral action, agreement and compromise. Mann is an old-style social democrat, right down to his backing of the two-state solution for the Israel/Palestinian conflict. This also indicates the limit of his analysis.
The United States government is supposedly politically schizophrenic--torn between realpolitik and holding up democratic ideals, it ends up chasing the ideological phantom of the 'American way'. At one point Mann even suggests, 'A more realistic American Empire might lie somewhere between these extremes [a territorial empire versus an informal empire], offering a major but temporary territorial presence to secure a loyal and sovereign client state.'
Nonetheless much of Incoherent Empire is sound. It is a good resource for anyone looking to delve deeper into the arguments around Bush's 'war on terror'.
The opening chapter, 'The Military Giant', is a detailed examination of the US armed forces. While military budgets around the world are declining, the US's is on the increase. This year its budget expanded to 40 percent of the world's military spending. 'The Military Giant' is effectively twinned with 'The Economic Back Seat Driver'. The US economy is still formally the most powerful in the world, although it is on a par with such blocs as the European Union. The US economy, however, is largely dependent upon finance. The dollar is still the world's reserve currency. Large amounts of capital still flow from abroad--thus the US government is able to run up a huge budget deficit. The world is effectively paying for the US to bomb it. It is the contradiction between the US's military might and its declining economic and ideological influence that is behind the drive toward a new American Empire.
Chapters 5 to 8 are a lucid dissection of the various stages of the 'war against terror'. Chapter 6, 'The War Against (Muslim) Terrorism', contains a particularly brilliant portrait of Osama Bin Laden (remember him?). Mann brilliantly denudes the Bin Laden legend dreamt up between Bin Laden and Bush.
It could be churlish to demand a Marxist analysis of a man who talks about 'proletarian democracy' on one page and 'Soviet imperialism' on another, especially since in all other respects this is a good book. However, it's important to be clear about where we stand in relation to the Project for a New American Century. The US, in economic slump, mired in scandal, cannot afford another Marshall Plan. The need for a new imperialist strategy is as urgent as ever. The US government is not governed by Taliban-esque ideologues but by men and women with a very clear idea of the US's strengths and weaknesses.
Imperialism, as a great man once said, is the highest stage of capitalism. The new American Empire is not incoherent but capitalism itself.