Wednesday, September 26, 2007


By Thomas Riggins

This article is a review of Naomi Klein’s important article in the October 2007 issue of Harper’s Magazine (“Disaster Capitalism: The new economy of catastrophe”) based on her new book, The Shock Doctrine.

A major theme in this article is the analogy between the effects of war and of “natural” disasters on people and the environment. The contrast between the Green Zone in Iraq (a safe haven) and the Red Zone (the rest of Iraq) is analogized with the aftermath of Katrina and the difference between the areas of New Orleans inhabited by the rich (reconstructed and prospering) and the poor (neglected and festering).

Just as areas of Iraq outside the Green Zone have been destroyed and the people brutalized by Bush’s war, so have many areas throughout the world faced the same type of treatment and the people have seen their regions “demolished by ideology, the war on ‘big government’, the religion of tax cuts, [and] the fetish for privatization.”

In many areas of the Third World infrastructure (what little there is) is failing under the assault of the philosophy of “free trade.” Klein gives as an example the failure of the sewer system in Jakarta (capital of Indonesia). Earlier this year, 57 people died and half the city was inundated by raw sewage. This was due to policies that cut back on public investment and social spending in order to enrich the private sector.

The same is happening here in the US. The bridge collapse in Minneapolis, the subway flooding in New York, all due to the neglect of the public sphere so that tax cuts and incentives can be dished out to the private sector. Klein points out that The American Society of Civil Engineers states that the US public infrastructure (“roads, bridges, schools, dams”) has been neglected to such an extent that it would five years and 1.5 trillion dollars just to get it back up to standard.

This is the background for the development of “disaster capitalism.” Ms Klein writes: “Every time a new crisis hits-- even when the crisis itself is the direct by-product of free-market ideology-- the fear and disorientation that follow are harnessed for radical social and economic re-engineering.” That is to say, the ruling class is using disasters, both natural and those brought about by their polices, to ram through social structural changes in their interests that they never could have brought about using the democratic process. Getting rid of public housing for the poor in New Orleans, for example.

What is happening is that private corporations are rushing to take over the role of disaster relief and reconstruction and make super profits as a result. They are aided and abetted by those politicians who push the ideology of free market capitalism and slam as “socialism” any measures by the public sector to solve social problems. It is quite instructive, in this regard, to compare Alan Greenspan’s rapturous description of the wonders of the free market in his book The Age of Turbulence, with what Naomi Klein has found on the ground in her travels around the world.

Klein sees the development of disaster capitalism as an evolution and extension of the older concept of “the industrial-mililtary complex” that President Eisenhower spoke of back in 1961 [originally “the industrial-military-congressional complex” because Ike knew the US Congress was a completely corrupt and complicit equal component of this complex -- as it still is-- but he allowed his speech writers to delete “congressional” to keep the illusions of bourgeois democracy alive for that fraction of the population that still voted].

This new "disaster-capitalism complex" she describes as one "in which all conflict - and disaster - related functions (waging war, securing borders, spying on citizens, rebuilding cities, treating traumatized soldiers) can be performed by corporations at a profit."

What has happened is that a state within a state has been created-- a virtual corporate run state that now carries out many of the functions that the state represented by the US government used to perform. The Bush administration, for example, gave out 3.4 billion dollars in no bid contracts to its corporate buddies to rebuild after Katrina. E.g., Blackwater provides guards for FEMA operations for $950 a day per guard!

Its all our tax payer money that goes to fund these corporate crooks. The "shadow state," Klein writes, "has been built almost exclusively with public resources... and is all privately owned and controlled." This is how the famous free market works-- it simply loots the public sector for its profits.

This new disaster capitalist market now, Klein says, has to be protected. That means NGOs, charities, and government entities are seen as potential enemies and rivals by the new corporate state. For example the mercenary providers, firms such as Blackwater, are looking for bigger and better contracts. They now say "they are better equipped than the UN to engage in peacekeeping in Darfur." Just give them a big for profit contract and the African Union troops can stay home.

And it is not just Darfur. Klein quotes a Lockheed Martin representative about the contracting out of the police and fire departments of American towns and cities to private firms: "What they do for the military in downtown Fallujah [leave it as a pile of rubble?--TR] they can do for the police in downtown Reno."

And if this isn't bad enough, Klein gives us a quote from Fast Company magazine on the results of the "War on Terror" [the unleashing of the US military as a result of the fluke 9/11 attack]. The "end result" will be "a new more resilient approach to national security, one built not around the state but around private citizens and companies .... Security will become a function of where you live and whom you work for, much as health care is allocated already."

This is another major theme of Klein's article. That the country is turning into a domestic copy of the Iraqi Green Zone. There will be gated and protected areas with state of the art schools, hospitals, police and fire protection, nice housing, etc. areas walled off from the rest of the common lower class herd of Americans, and all run by private companies.

We can see this trend in New Orleans today, Klein writes. Gated communities for the well off (mostly white) protected by private security forces, and FEMA villages: "desolate, out-of-the-way trailer camps for low-income evacuees, built by Bechtel or Fluor subcontractors and administered by private security companies that patrolled the gravel lots, restricted visitors, kept journalists out, and treated survivors like criminals."

An ominous new factor to note is, that heretofore terrorist attacks and national disasters used to send the stock market down. Now they make it jump up. The new disaster capitalists stand to make fortunes out of the human misery of these disasters now that the government just turns over no bid contracts for them to do the follow up. And they don't even have to do the work. There is little or no supervision or accountability. Any problems with poor results are explained away by the corporations and taken at face value by the Bush administration.

What used to be a "truism" of capitalist dogma, Klein says, is no longer so: namely, "that you couldn't have booming economic growth in the midst of violence and instability." At least for some parts of the economy and for the biggest corporations in the stocks representing aerospace, defense and homeland security, and, of course oil and gas just the opposite is the case. "The oil and gas industry," Klein says, "is so intimately entwined with the economy of disaster -- both as a root cause behind many disasters and as beneficiary from them -- that it deserves to be treated as an honorary adjunct of the disaster-capitalism complex."

It is important to note the relationship between the disaster capitalists and, Klein points out, "elite opinion makers." Not only do they have many members of Congress in their pockets (from both parties), but also many areas of the mass media is under their control and they fund "think tanks" to churn out propaganda in their interests (especially the National Institute for Public Policy and the Center for Security Policy).

So, Daddy Warbucks is alive and well. We can expect the US, I think, to bomb Iran for no other reason than to have an excuse to spend public money on corporations to sell the government the bombs and other weapons. Wars and disasters are ends in themselves-- an excuse to enrich the industrial- military complex [AKA disaster capitalism].

Wouldn't it be interesting if the Bushites were in Iraq not to "win" but simply to destroy as much as they could of both our own resources, human and material, and the Iraqi's, just so they could justify the transfer of billions, if not trillions, of dollars from the public funds of the US to the corporate allies of the Bush administration.

After all many, if not most, of the Pentagon big shots, after retirement, end up making real money on the boards of disaster capitalist companies. In any case, Iraq is a "win win" situation. Win, and you get the oil. Lose and you get to enrich the corporations anyway by all the expenditures. And, if Exxon can't have the oil, selling it for $80 a barrel is a good consolation.

Monday, September 24, 2007


MAO: A LIFE by Philip Short, New York, Henry Holt and Company, 2000. 782pp. [Part 10]
Reviewed by Thomas Riggins

This is an important work. Over the next few weeks I will be making entries one chapter at a time (there are sixteen). Comments are invited, especially from anyone who has read the book and wants to critique my take on a chapter, but anyone is welcome to comment.

Chapter 11 "Yan'an Interlude: the Philosopher is King"

In the summer of 1937 the leadership of the CPC had settled down in its new HQ at Yan'an in Shensi province. Here it would remain for the next ten years. Short tells us that "the myth of 'the Yan'an Way'" [i.e., the type of communist theory that Mao developed there] along with the Long March would become "one of the most enduring emblems of the system [Mao] was to create." He had two major tasks, according to Short. First, he had to build up his power as a leader and, second, he had to develop his own version of Marxist thought, or least put his "personal stamp" on Marxist theory.

There doesn't seem to be anything objectionable in Mao's theoretical work at this time, as reported by Short. Back in 1925 "he had called for 'an ideology produced in Chinese conditions'." This appears to be a reasonable demand. In 1935, at Wayaobu he got the PB to support a flexible sort of Marxism to be applied "to 'specific, concrete Chinese conditions', and condemned 'leftist dogmatism', meaning slavish adherence to Moscow's ideas." Again, this seems quite sound.

In early 1936 he maintained the CPC ought to, in his words, "run things by itself, and have faith in its own abilities." Short writes that he declared "Soviet and Chinese policies coincided... 'only where the interests of the Chinese masses coincide with the interests of the Russian masses.'" There should not, I think, be a contradiction between the two interests.

Later in the Fall of 1936 in "Problems of Strategy in China's Revolutionary War," he maintained that mechanically copying the Soviet experience ("cutting the feet to fit the shoes") would lead to defeat. Short says Mao, by "affirming the primacy of indigenous experience" was "consciously laying the groundwork for the idea of Marxism in a national form." Even so, dialectics should tell us that there is no necessary contradiction between internationalism and nationalism within the communist movement.

Short gives Mao credit for breaking "new ground" by "arguing that the particular and the general were 'interconnected and inseparable', which later provided a theoretical basis for contending that general Marxist principles must always exist in a particular national form."

At this time his two famous essays "On Practice" and "On Contradiction" were also written. "On Practice" can be "summed up in the aphorism, 'Practice is the criterion of truth'." This is nothing new, it goes back to Engels at least.

In "On Contradiction" he argued "it was necessary in any given situation to determine what was the principal contradiction, and which was its principal aspect." [In practice this has proved very difficult to do!]

Short thinks that Mao "cut loose from Stalinist orthodoxy" when he maintained that the superstructure can independently also react on the economic base and the productive forces and is not totally determined by them. Mao said, "In general, the material determines the mental. [But] we also, and indeed must, recognize the operation of mental on material things." But this is perfectly orthodox and can be found in Marx and Engels, especially in some of their letters.

1937 wasn't just spent on philosophy. Political and military battles were also being fought. Wang Ming, the Soviet trained leader, was pushing Stalin's line that the Japanese must be opposed by CPC unity with the GMD. Mao's view was that cooperation was possible without co-optation but Wang and other Soviet trained members of the PB were not concerned with the problem of co-optation. They seemed to favor unity at any cost.

Meanwhile the Japanese invasion continued unabated. Mao now wrote two works (1938) that have become classics. He argued in his "Problems of Strategy in Guerilla War' that when a small powerful nation attacks a weak large one, then most of the territory of the weak nation will be overrun. This was the case with Japan and China.

Just the opposite is happening in Iraq. There a powerful large nation has invaded a weak little nation (a specialty of the US military which only seems able to win against countries the size of Panama or smaller) but it controls almost nothing outside of the Green Zone, a few streets, sometimes, in Baghdad and some out lying sparsely populated areas. It is, in fact, bogged down.

This can be explained by the theory put forth by Mao in his second work: "On Protracted War" in which he said the fight against the invader would be long and difficult but, as Short put it, Mao thought the "people's determination to fight for their homes, their culture and their land would ultimately prevail." In did in China, as we know, and also in Vietnam, and appears to be succeeding in Iraq as well.

Both the Japanese, and now the US, seem covered by this quote from Mao's work:

The so-called theory that 'weapons decide everything' [is]
...onesided... Weapons are an important factor in war, but,
not the decisive factor; it is people, not things, that are de-
decisive. The contest of strength is not only a contest of
military and economic power, but also a contest of human
power and morale...

Wang Ming, again angling for power, rejected Mao's tactics. This split the PB down the middle. The issue was the defense of Wuhan from Japanese attack. Mao wanted to disperse to the countryside because he thought the city could not be held. Wang Ming wanted to hold the city and called on the population to defend it. However, the struggle between Wang and Mao would soon be over and Mao would be the winner. A Comintern statement in September 1938 settled the issue: "in order to resolve the problem of unifying the Party leadership, the [CPC] leadership should have Mao Zedong as its centre." It was signed by Dimitrov. Wuhan fell to the Japanese the next month.

The Sixth Plenum of the CPC was also held at this time. Mao gave several speeches, quoted by Short. The following are, I think, particularly interesting ideas that Mao put forth:

"[The] sinification of Marxism-- that is to say, making sure that its every manifestation has an indubitably Chinese character-- is a problem which the whole Party must understand and solve without delay." [The Party is still working on this one!]

"Every communist must grasp this truth: 'Political power grows out of the barrel of a gun.' ... We are advocates of the abolition of war ... but war can only be abolished through war. In order to get rid of the gun, it is necessary to take up the gun."

Does that sound Orwellian? Or is it dialectics? Mao, Short says, understood the world by means of "reasoning by opposites, analysing the innate contradictions which, in his words, 'determine the life of all things and push their development forwards.'" Mao was also trying to reconcile Marxist dialectical thinking with some traditional forms of Chinese philosophy.

In November of 1938, due to increased attacks from the Japanese, Mao et al moved to the caves at Yangjialing some three miles to the north of Yan'an. It was at this time he also married the last of his wives-- Jiang Qing.

Over the next few years the struggle against the influence of Wang Ming intensified. This struggle became known as the Yan'an Rectification Campaign. This campaign was to inculcate the notion that Marxism must be adapted to Chinese reality, failure to do was labeled as "Subjectivism." "By the time it ended," Short says, "Mao would no longer be the first among equals. He would be the one man who decided all-- a demiurge, set on a pedestal, towering above his nominal colleagues, beyond institutional control."

This is a bit too much. No one is that powerful without the support of, and the ultimate possibility of, "institutional control." If Mao had too much power it speaks of the backward social conditions in China at the time, the lack of a democratic culture, and the difficulties of a two pronged attack on the Party coming from the GMD and the Japanese.[Similar conditions explain Stalin's power as well.] The CPC intrusted Mao with so much authority because his policies had proved to be correct where others claiming leadership had failed miserably. Short himself says that by 1941 under Mao's guidance the Party was prospering, while under the guidance of Wang Ming and his faction "it had come to the brink of destruction."

Mao also had the right idea in this 1941 campaign, i.e., to rectify subjectivism by fighting wrong ideas, not the people holding the ideas. That is, to fight the sin not the sinner. Mao was for "curing the sickness to save the patient" not "the harsh struggle and merciless blows" of the past. Good intentions, but not always lived up to.

Mao was against "book learning" Marxism. He stressed the importance of being able to read and practically apply Marxism-Leninism to the concrete conditions of China. Reading Marxist books and reciting "every sentence from memory" of Marx, Engels, Lenin and Stalin was worthless. Its too bad he didn't remember this before the Little Red Book was disseminated!

"We have some comrades who have a malady," he wrote, "namely that they take foreign countries as the centre and act like phonographs, mechanically swallowing whole foreign things and transporting them to China." This is still a problem. Many Maoist sects today do just this, mechanically applying the ideas of Mao, which were in large measure historically conditioned by time as well as place (i.e., mid 20th century China), to the problems of the world today. This also goes for Trots still living in 1917 Russia.

An important issue arises out of the Rectification Campaign. In the past the CPC had used fear and repression to make sure its line was adhered to. Mao realized that this was an incorrect policy for Marxists. As Short puts it, Mao adopted Confucius view of "the force of virtuous example" as the proper way to influence people to follow the party line. "The masses are the real heroes," Mao wrote.

This contrasted with Confucius who said the mass of the people "may be made to follow a course of action, but they may not be made to understand it." The dialectic between these two views explains a lot of the turmoil and violence ot revolutions.

"All correct leadership," Mao wrote, "is necessarily 'from the masses, to the masses.' This means : take the ideas of the masses [raw, unfiltered?] [and] then through study, turn them into concentrated and systematic ideas, then go to the masses and propagate and explain these ideas until the masses embrace them as their own, hold fast to them and ... test [their] correctness in action ."

Lenin thought that the ideals of socialism had to be imported into the masses from the outside. This agrees with Confucius. But he also thought the masses could understand them as well. Mao agrees with this ["through study", etc.]. Whence the Gulag? Either large segments of the masses have failed to understand and embrace the imported ideas (Stalin) or the party has failed to propagate and explain properly (Mao). But in practice both Mao and Stalin fell back on the "enemy agents and class enemies" explanation. This was the serpent in the garden of Marxism: only for Marxists the Fall was the result of not eating the fruit from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.

The case of Wang Shiwei is instructive. The Rectification Campaign called for inner party debate to correct problems. Wang, all the evidence shows that he was loyal party member, wrote a satire about the privileges that party leaders had (better food, etc.,). This was a very popular essay,but the leadership didn't appreciate it. Wang ended up denounced as a GMD spy and he and his supporters imprisoned. Also 40,000 members were expelled from the party and thousands were tortured and made to confess that they were enemy agents. It was all a farce. Mao's theories may have been correct but the "people" turned out to mean "the leaders." This may be the fate of revolutions in historically underdeveloped regions.

Wang was an intellectual and there was a great deal of hatred towards his "class" among the leadership with a peasant background. Mao ordered no killing this time around (not wanting a repeat of the AB-tuan fiasco of 1930). Mao ordered that Wang not be freed and not be killed. He stayed in jail from 1942 until 1947. In 1947 the communists left Yan'an. Before they left the local leader, He Long, had Wang killed with an ax. Revolution is not a tea party.

History is so unpredictable. As Short points out, in 1943 Chiang Kai-shek brought out his book, "China's Destiny". The author, seeing himself as the true ruler of China, didn't have a chapter about his ending up only ruling Formosa (Taiwan.) The same year Stalin abolished the Comintern (to please his allies in W.W. II). This meant that the CPC was now an independent party. This year also gave birth to the term "Mao Zedong Thought" and to Mao's "Selected Works." Mao's personality cult was also growing, evidenced by the song "The East is Red":

The East is Red, the sun rises.
In China a Mao Zedong is born.
He seeks the people's happiness.
He is the people's Great Saviour.

It would have been impossible, I believe, while Lenin was alive, for such a song about the leader to have been circulated in the Soviet Union.

Short tells that by 1944 W.W.II was nearing its end-- Italy was out of it and Germany and Japan were in retreat before the Soviets and Americans respectively. On July 22 of that year "the first and last overt attempt (until the early 1970s) to establish official lines of communications with the Chinese communists took place." This when the "Dixie Mission" began with the landing of a US plane at Yan'an.

The purpose of the mission was to broker an agreement between the GMD and the CPC. The CPC was willing to cooperate and be moderate. Mao had already put forth the ideals for a "New Democracy" stating that the "immediate goal was nor Soviet-style communism, but a mixed economy." Mao even thought about dropping the word "communist" because he said, "it might be more appropriate to call ourselves a Democratic Party." This was because he thought that, as Short says, "the United States was 'the suitable country' to aid China's modernization."

Stalin, by the way, had earlier told the US that the Chinese were "margarine communists"-- a view he held as he doubted the CPC represented real communism and he doubted that Mao's views were "orthodox." Short says his opinions also "fitted well with his efforts to further a" peace accord between the GMD and CPC.

Meanwhile, at Yalta the US and the USSR decided China should be a "buffer" between their two spheres of influence-- the Pacific Ocean on the one hand, and North-East Asia on the other. This is what Short says, ( two "dominated" areas) but if China is a "buffer" what is left of "North-East Asia"-- just territory that is already part of the Soviet Union in the first place (plus Korea). So Stalin is really putting China as a "buffer" between the USSR and the growing American Pacific "Empire" which will be centered in Japan. The real point, however, is that the Dixie Mission was put into play because Stalin agreed not to give any aid to the CPC in its fight with the GMD. This was all before the USSR declared war on Japan.

The CPC agreed to try and work things out peacefully with the GMD, but Mao was skeptical about Chiang's real sincerity. He might have been taking Oliver Cromwell's advice: "Trust in God but keep your powder dry."

On August 9, 1945 the USSR declared war on Japan. Zhu De ordered all the Red Army forces to take the surrender of Japanese forces who tendered it. Chiang, however, demanded that the Japanese should only surrender to GMD forces. Mao and the CPC naturally called upon Stalin for some support against Chiang's position.

What happened next caught the CPC off guard. On the 15th of August, just a few hours before the surrender of Japan, Molotov and the GMD "signed a treaty of alliance." Stalin, Mao thought, not for the first time, had stabbed the CPC in the back with respect to the GMD. The CPC had been sold out, says Short, "for Russia's national interests." Those two A bombs on Japan may have had something to do with it.

By November the Civil War was waging again, due to the GMD's unquenchble desire to get rid of the CPC, and with US backing. Stalin was now worried about his relations with the US, Short says, and decided to try and make a good impression on Washington.

The Soviet Union now told the CPC it "must withdraw from all major cities and communications routes within a week." In north China where there was now a Russian military presence, Peng Zhen, the CPC leader in the area was told by a Russian commander, Short quotes him,"If you do not leave we will use tanks to drive you out." Communists that were trying to stop the advance of the GMD forces by sapping the rail lines were told they would be disarmed by the Russians if they did not stop. The Sino-Soviet split may have its origins a little earlier than the 1960s it seems.

Peng Zhen was furious: "The army of one Communist Party," he said, "using tanks to drive out the army of another? Things like this have never happened before." They would happen again-- most notably when the Chinese Army in the 1970s actually attacked the Vietnamese (and was repelled). Russian tanks were also used against the Hungarians and the Czechs. They who sow the wind shall reap the whirlwind. But this time there was nothing the CPC could do. They obeyed the Russians.

Mao was stuck. The USSR-Chiang Treaty blocked the war to overthrow the GMD while the GMD could still attack the CPC and left him trying to get approval for actions the Soviets did not want to support. What to do?

President Truman to the rescue! The US Congress did not want to get involved in a Chinese civil war and wanted Truman to withdraw. Congress had grit in those days and Presidents were concerned about following the Constitution. Truman's new policy was to halt the hostilities between the CPC and the GMD and to get the Soviets out of Manchuria (which they occupied after the Japanese surrender.)

Under US pressure a ceasefire between the GMD and CPC was signed on 1-10-1946. The Soviets had agreed to turn over their areas in Manchuria to the Chinese government's troops and Chiang called a political conference of all the Chinese parties to work out future policies. But things didn't go Chiang's way. The Communists, moderate GMD elements, and other liberal groups had a majority and Chiang lost control of the conference. The conference then proposed a coalition government with the CPC , in which the GMD could have no more than 50% of the ministers, and an elected national assembly. Hmmmm. Communists and Capitalists working together as equals for the good of the people. Not possible! One side has got to outflank the other.

Mao, however, was happy and said that "a new era of peace and democracy has arrived." He rebuked the comrades who doubted that oil and water could mix. Mao gave a banquet and toasted Truman for contributing to "Chinese-American friendship."

It is interesting to note how Mao appeared to an AP reporter who was present, John Roderick. Roderick thought Mao had "an air of self-confidence and authority just short of arrogance" and gave an impression of leadership "which must have emanated from men like Alexander the Great, Napoleon and Lenin." He forgot Caesar.

Meanwhile, Chiang had no intention of sharing power with the CPC. The Cold War had begun, Churchill had given his "Iron Curtain" rant in Fulton, Missouri and Chiang persuaded Truman that the GMD must expand its territory to prevent a Communist takeover. The GMD attacked and the civil war was on again.

By the spring of 1947 the GMD forces were closing in on Yan'an and Mao and his forces had to flee. But Mao wasn't worried. They could have Yan'an he said and then quoted Confucius (The Analects): " 'If a thing comes to me, and I give nothing in return, that is contrary to propriety.' We will give Chiang Yan'an. He will give us China."

from PAEditor's Blog

Saturday, September 22, 2007


by Thomas Riggins

Clive James' "Cultural Amnesia: Notes in the margin of my time" is 896 pages long and made up of 106 essays ranging over the cultural and historical debris of the 20th century. It is reviewed by Adam Bresnick in the TLS for 9-14-2007.

In a busy world with zillions of books should you invest your time in reading this gigantic tome? If the review is any indication of the contents of the book I would say both yes and no. It depends on your intellectual commitments. Clive is supposedly a "humanist" and opposes the hoary and meaningless abstraction of "totalitarianism." He appears, from the review, to be merely a conservative pro-imperialist intellectual snob. If you like that kind of writing this is the book for you.

You will learn that "Soviet communism and Nazi fascism are obverse sides of the same murderous coin." History doesn't appear to be one of James' strong points. He should read Isaac Deutscher's "Stalin" to find out the differences between a system dedicated to war, conquest and genocide and one that ended up brutal and backwards due to trying to improve the world without the material and moral means of doing so. The Catholic Church produced both St. Francis and Torquemada. The Soviet system produced its share of both but the Nazi's were Torquemada down the line.

James writes the following idiotic observation (based on reading cold war hacks such as Raymond Aron), "The liberal believes in the permanence of humanity's imperfection; he resigns himself to a regime in which the good will be the result of numberless actions, and never the result of conscious choice." So, I won't join the Society for the Abolition of Slavery because I would be making a conscious choice and should rather rely on the numberless actions, presumedly of "good" masters, to bring about some improvements in the imperfection of humanity. James may have a great "style" but he has a sponge for a brain.

Even Bresnick, who approves of the book and this way of thinking is forced to admit that "Jamie's literary and musical sensibility may be problematically conservative" [tastewise that is] and that sometimes he "gets carried away with himself [phrase making]" and also at times it is difficult "to take James seriously" (he seems not to have understood "Paradise Lost").

All in all this seems to be a book by a gifted stylist and intellectual narcissist
whose understanding of the world is warped by ruling class cold war ideology masquerading as a profound understanding of reality. Don't waste your time on this one.
from PA Editor's Blog

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

George Packer's "Planning for Defeat": An Analysis of a Plea for Occupation

By Thomas Riggins

The journalist George Packer has an article ("Planning for Defeat") about the situation in Iraq in the September 17, 2007 issue of The New Yorker. It is very informative, but unfortunately, veers from reportage into advocacy, and not just any advocacy, but advocacy of placing Iraq under semi-permanent military occupation by the US-- in fact making it an economic colony of American capitalism.

Additional information:
8 million Iraqis require emergency aid
About one-fourth of Iraqi children are malnourished
5 million Iraqis depend on the country's food rationing system; only 3 million have reliable access to it
3 to 4 million Iraqis are internally or internationally displaced
80% of Iraqis lack effective sanitation
70% lack sanitary water
50% unemployment
12,000 doctors have left Iraq due to the violence

--From United Nations, International Red Crescent, Oxfam, IRIN News, United for Peace and Justice

I relate some pertinent facts about the current situation in Iraq, from Packer's article, then present my justifications for the above conclusion. He tells us that Moqtada al-Sadr (the Mahdi Army , a fearsome and powerful Shia militia is loyal to him) is "perhaps the most important political figure" in the country. A most interesting observation considering that the US has spent four years fighting in Iraq, and spent billions of dollars trying to undermine him. At one time Bush and his generals even talked about "arresting" him. The dreams of a paper tiger!

Packer's article appeared before the Petraeus-Crocker farce was performed on Capitol hill (and for Fox news) last week. He reported that everyone concerned knew in advance what they were going to say, namely "military progress, a political stalemate among Iraqis, more time needed." He got that right.

Packer, who has been to Iraq, and whose New Yorker connections has given him access to the high and mighty, is in a position to tell us what the insider thinking is about Iraq, as opposed to the pabulum dished up in the mass popular media, And that is, with reference to the "military progress" that "the inadequacy of the surge is already clear, if one honestly assesses the daily lives of the Iraqis." The fact that the surge is being touted by Bush, the Republicans, most of the press, and of course Petraeus (the new Westmoreland) is because none of them ultimately give a hoot about the daily lives of the Iraqis.

And, as any freshman ROTC student could tell Petraeus, when an incompetent, but highly armed conventional army floods an area, the insurgency melts away only to return after the the invading troops have shot their wad. Thus, Packer writes, "The militias, which have become less conspicuous as they wait out the surge, are nevertheless growing in strength...."

The surge and heightened troop levels cannot be maintained. Special advisors to Gen. George Casey (Army chief of staff) have "estimated that the number of soldiers and marines who can be kept in Iraq into 2009 will be, at a maximum, a hundred and thirty thousand." That is pre-surge level. They will be facing, if what Packer said is correct about the growing power of the militias, an even more formidable insurgency that will emerge. Then, the boys playing soldier at the Pentagon will have even more problems.

Packer next discusses a report entitled "Phased Transition" put out by a think tank called the Center for a New American Security, which he calls "center-left." Only in America would this right wing pro-imperialist outfit be nominated "center-left."

It argues for a reduction of troops to 60,000 by 2009 and a "complete withdrawal by 2012. Thus not only would Iraq be the subject for next year's presidential election, but the next one after that as well. How long is Bush's albatross to be us?

The purpose of this timetable is to allow us to train the Iraqis to take care of themselves. This is an old refrain and we have already seen how likely it is that the comprador group we placed in power is likely to pull this off.

Packer talked to Colin Kahl who teaches "security studies" at Georgetown and helped write the report. "Kahl argued, President Bush needs to be forced to compromise now, or else the war will end in a precipitate, chaotic flight."

He then quotes Kahl directly, "If Bush keeps the pedal on the surge until the end of his Presidency, we will rocket off the cliff, and it guarantees that the next President will get elected on a pledge to get us out of Iraq now." But that is just what the left, and I would argue, everyone who has the real interests of the American people at heart and is not a shill for the big corporations, wants. Not a rocket off a cliff, but a pledge to get us out of Iraq now. Perhaps, however, rocketing off a cliff would be less costly in terms of human life and the erosion of our own values through this mindless warmongering of the Republicans and their allies than prolonging the agony of defeat another four years.

The President and his general are telling us that the surge is working, especially in Anbar province where the Sunnis are "working with us." But, Packer points out, "without a functioning state in Iraq, U.S. support of these Sunni forces could easily lead to renewed violence and warlordism."

That the Iraqi "state" is nonfunctioning, a joke really, was recently demonstrated when it attempted to expel the U.S. State Department''s murderous mercenary private army, Blackwater, from the country. One phone call from Condoleezza Rice put Prime Minister al-Malaki in his place and let him know who really runs the show in Iraq: Blackwater stays.

So, what are the options for solving the problems we have created for ourselves and the Iraqis by Bush's criminal intervention. Since Congress won't impeach him and turn him and his accomplices over to an international war crimes tribunal and then pay for the reconstruction of Iraq and compensate the Iraqi victims of this mass murderers assault upon them (the only just solution), some less satisfying resolution is necessary.

How about "partition"? This is Senator Biden's solution. He thinks he is playing Risk. "But," Packer reminds us, "the idea of partition can't be imposed by outsiders [sorry Senator] and, so far, has no support from Iraqis [except the Kurdish minority]."

There has been a positive development, from the secular point of view. That is that "Civil war and sectarian rule have tarnished the prestige of religious parties and increased the appeal of a nonsectarian government." One of the weaknesses of this article is the lack of any comprehensive discussion of the role of the labor movement, or the Communist Party and other secular forces (the women's movement for example) in the current struggle to rid the country of the illegal occupation.

But what if there is no good way to exit Iraq? What it the choice is either build up more troops and fight to the finish, or immediate withdrawal a la our flight from Saigon and the rest of Vietnam? Packer quotes Stephen Biddle (Council of Foreign Relations) who says all the step by step withdrawal plans involve a reduction of combat forces, but it is our forces that are protecting us and "capping violence around the country" so gradual withdrawal "means that the violence is only going to increase." This increase will fuel demands to just get out entirely. So why not just "do it sooner" and save all the lives that would be lost in the meantime. An excellent argument for an immediate withdrawal.

Packer also gives us the opinions of David Kilcullen who was an advisor on General Petraeus's staff. The issue for him is "What do we want Iraq to look like" once we are on the way out and finally gone. The question shows the problem of imperialism. It doesn't matter what we want. Its up to the Iraqis to do what they want.

As long as we are in the "we want" mode the killing will go on. Kilcullen also participated in a "strategic-assessment team" (these people have no idea what they are doing) that at least put the lie to Bush's version of what is going on in Iraq (democracy and freedom). The team decided that we should work, over the next two years, on attaining "sustainable security" but it also appears that most of the team "believed that it was too late to achieve this goal." Nice.

We must work for "core American interests" in Iraq. Kilcullen lists six which he gave to the State Department and White House. We are really in a bad way if they hadn't figured these out on their own. They are all either outrageous and/or ridiculous and are unattainable because of the war not attainable as a result of it. Here they are, with suitable comments of my own.

1. Keep the oil and gas flowing. The real purpose of the war-- to steal the
Iraqi oil, as even Greenspan now tacitly admits. It will flow after we leave.

2. No safe haven for Al Qaeda. The evidence is that Iraqis will get rid of Al
Qaeda on their own. Al Qaeda gets more powerful because we are in Iraq.

3. Contain Iranian influence. Forget it.

4. Prevent a Rwanda scale humanitarian catastrophe. He's got to be
Kidding. We have already caused a humanitarian catastrophe that
is greater that Rwanda.

5. Restore American credibility. Get out of Iraq, stop threatening Iran, and
put the screws on Israel until it makes an honest deal with the
Palestinians, gets out the West Bank, and returns the Golan Heights.
Otherwise, forget it.

At this point in his article Packer ceases to be a reporter and becomes an advocate for the failed imperialist policies of US monopoly capitalism. He also, if he really believes what he says, shows he has learned nothing about the causes and consequences of US policy.

"The notion," he writes, "that Iraq and the Middle East will be more stable without an American occupation, as the Center for American Progress claims, misunderstands the role that America has come to play in Iraq: as a brake on the violent forces let loose by the war."

Let me get this right. The US starts the war, it becomes violent, and the US is the brake to stop the violence. Mr. Packer should be a contestant on "Do You Know More than a Fifth Grader." But he better not take the Middle East as one of his subjects. This is the argument the Germans gave after taking over Poland and other areas of Europe. Gott in Himmel, we can't leave now, look at the violence that would breakout.

If we don't remain an occupier, Packer says, "Iraq's predatory neighbors will take advantage of the power vacuum to pursue their own interests." Well, all the neighbors have said, and it is objectively true, that their best interests would be a free, independent and stable Iraq free of a foreign occupation. The only predator is the US who has invaded and taken over (or is still trying to) a country in a, lets hope, vain attempt to control its oil and set up a government to its liking regardless of the interests and desires of the people.

It is incredible both that Packer can advocate for such a brazen criminal continuation of war and murder and that The New Yorker would give him the pages to do so.

Packer also says, "the burden of proof lies on anyone who claims that Iraqis without Americans around won't be substantially worse off and might even fare better." This simple minded attempt to shift "the burden of proof" away from the warmongers to the peace movement and the critics of Bush's folly won't stand up.

The millions of Iraqi dead and wounded, the displacement of millions more as both internal and external refugees, the destruction of the country's infrastructure, its medical and educational systems, the barbarous treatment of the civilian population by the occupation forces and its mercenary contingents, the attempts to privatize and loot its natural resources, the creation of sectarian violence, the murder of hundreds of thousands of its children, all this is the gift of the Americans and the continued occupation promises more of the same.

In the face of this The New Yorker has the cheek, and the moral insensitivity to publish an article that says that those who advocate peace and the cessation of war and occupation "have the burden of proof" that the Iraqi people would be better off without us. Well, just ask them. Every poll shows they want us gone, one way or the other gone, and they don't want to be occupied. There has never been an imperialist power that didn't think the "natives" were better off under its control than on their own.

Packer could care less for the Iraqi people. What is important is that "Iraq still matters to the United States, whoever is in the White House, and it will for years to come." The reason? Iraq sits "in the geographical heart of the Middle East, on top of all that oil"-- don't forget that OIL (we want it desperately-- it should be ours). Oh yes, there is "radicalism" too. Where does that come from? Could people be radical because we occupy their country? Let's occupy their country to prevent radicalism.

Packer knows all of this by the way. But national (corporate) interest will out. "Whenever," he writes, "this country decides that the bloody experience in Iraq requires the departure of American troops, complete disengagement [Iraqis be damned!] will be neither desirable nor possible [!]. We might want to be rid of Iraq, but Iraq won't let it happened." Not as long as it is "on top of all that oil."

Thursday, September 13, 2007


Thomas Riggins

Unless Obama changes his position on Iraq, I think the answer is, at present, No! This is why I think so.

The New York Times reports (9-13-07) that while Obama wants to withdraw COMBAT brigades by the end of 2008 he wants to leave some forces behind "to strike at terrorists, train Iraqi soldiers and protect American interests."

But to strike at terrorists will require leaving combat troops in Iraq so this is really not a withdrawal but merely a troop reduction and a continued occupation disguised as a withdrawal.

We all know what "protect American interests" means. It means protect the imperialist corporate interests of the major war industries that are making super profits out of the occupation and the oil interests who want to privatize as much as possible of the Iraqi reserves (the much ballyhooed new oil law benchmark pushed by Bush AND the congress).

"What's at stake," Obama says, "is bigger than this war: its our global leadership." Is this not a confession that the goal of US imperial hegemony is part of Obama's outlook?

Its true that according to recent polls 56% of the American public agree with Obama and that only 20% favor complete withdrawal. Its also true that Obama would be better than any likely Republican as president. But progressives cannot, I believe, support continued occupation of Iraq, nor a program based on protecting the interests of US imperialism in the region. A program that can only lead to more and bigger disasters for the American people in the long run.

Obama supporters should struggle with him to improve his position on an Iraqi withdrawal. In the meantime, I think progressives, at this time, should be supporting the Kucinich campaign as a educational pressure tool to move the front runners to the left.

We should also be supportive, on the issue of Iraq, with the position of Gov. Bill Richardson who favors complete withdrawal and said, with respect to Obama's position, "Leaving behind tens of thousands of troops in Iraq for an indefinite amount of time is nothing new. [Obama's] plan is inadequate and does not end the war."

Finally, I think my position is more consistent than not with the following quote from the Iraqi Communist Party:

"A national consensus is emerging in Iraq, among the major political forces, that there should be a clearly defined objective timetable for a speedy withdrawal of the occupying forces, linked to rebuilding the Iraqi armed forces. Up to now, Bush has adamantly refused to be committed to such a timetable, obviously preferring an open-ended military presence and occupation. While an immediate withdrawal is widely seen by Iraqis as not feasible, it is increasingly not acceptable to have an open-ended foreign military presence, especially with the evident responsibility of the Americans for certain aspects of the deteriorating security situation."

Based on this, it might be a feasible position for Obama to call for the UN to take over the training of the Iraqi forces and for all (except for Marine guards at the embassy) US troops to be out of Iraq as soon as possible on a timetable proposed by the Iraqi government and the progressive people's forces represented by the CPI and its allies. While this would be a great advance for Obama, the slogan of the US peace movement should remain "Out Now!"
from PAEditor'sBlog

Monday, September 10, 2007


by Thomas Riggins

Monday's New York Times (9/10/07) has an interesting op ed piece by Roger Cohen ("A U.S. General's Disquiet.") The general in question is Lt. Gen. Peter Chiarelli who is presently the Def Sec's (Robert Gates) senior military advisor. Cohen's piece is about an upcoming article in the journal Military Review by the general. (along with Maj. Steven Smith.) Let's see if we can figure out the reasons for his disquiet from the information provided by Cohen.

Here are some quotes Cohen has taken from the general's article. "Much of our government and interagency seem to be in a state of denial about the requirements needed to adapt to modern warfare." This would imply that we are not ready to engage in such warfare and that Iraq is a big mistake

The view Chiarelli descries is "that all we have to do to win our modern wars is kill and capture enough of the enemy." This seems to be the view of Bush and his advisors as all their emphasis is on battling the "enemy" and trying to impose order through force. Chiarelli knows, however, that modern warfare requires much more than just the fighting aspects. There are hearts and minds to be won over as well.

"If," he says, "we are unable to do a better job than our enemies of influencing the world's perception, then even the most brilliant campaign plan will be unlikely to succeed." But the world's perception will be based on our actions as they really are not on issuing better press releases than our "enemies." For example, if there is little support for our mission in Iraq in the perception of the world, it is because none of the reason's we have given to explain why we are there make any sense. How can we do a better job of influencing the world's perception, when that perception is probably already correct?

The general also thinks that the U.S. has been damaged by, Cohen says, "some military leaders and service members" who, Chiarelli writes, "have not internalized the moral and ethical codes that define who we are as an armed force and nation." More than the military is involved here. The use of torture, the invasion of Iraq (a war of choice), the mass killing of women and children by our forces, etc., was thought up and put into motion by the civilians in the Bush administration. The military just implemented what Bush and Cheney and their gang told it to do. As for abstractions such as ethical and moral codes, they really only exist in the actions and behavior of human beings. What you see is what you get. The U.S. military's morality is Abu Ghraib, just as it is Bush's morality as well.

The general is right when he says such actions damage "our credibility as a fighting force, our mission and indeed our standing in the world." But what can be done about it. We are our actions. The general says, "Too often, we are reluctant to admit mistakes." Again, it is a mistake to think of these foul moral actions as "mistakes" rather than the inner essence of war itself and of the American military, or any military, that wages a war of aggression and invasion of another country. This was, after all, a war of choice and is in itself a moral obscenity. There is no way to change that perception.

Chiarelli's disquiet is also seen in the following. "The U.S." he writes, "as a nation -- and indeed most of the U.S. government-- has not gone to war since 9/11. ... the American people and most of the other institutions of national power have largely gone about their business." This is because most people know that this war has nothing to do with 9/11. The events of 9/11 were cynically manipulated to justify the invasion and war in Iraq which had already been decided upon by the Bush followers. This war is not for the American people, nor is it in their interests. They know it and that is why the military is fighting alone and the nation is shopping, or as Cohen puts it, "maxing out credit cards." Its a good sign the American people are not behind the military, except pro forma, because it means the people still have a sense of the moral imperatives the military and the Bushites have clearly lost.

He understands what is at stake. "Our current problems raise the legitimate question of whether the U.S., or any democracy [with two probably stolen back to back presidential elections!] can successfully prosecute an extended war without a true national commitment." I think it cannot. The war in Iraq will be lost because it does not deserve to have such a commitment. It is an unjust and illegal war, certainly it is an immoral one. The U.S. military should not be the plaything of a president who uses it for his own corrupt motives and if it becomes such a plaything it should not be surprised to see the American people distancing itself from it. The military is not completely at fault. Congress failed in its duty to make the president stand down, and it failed to prevent his highjacking of the military for his own purposes. But generals such as Chiarelli also failed to speak up and, by working for Robert Gates rather than for the men and women of the armed forces, have failed in their moral duty to the nation.

Thursday, September 06, 2007


by Thomas Riggins

There is an interesting review by the British philosopher Anthony Kenny in the August 17, 2007 issue of TLS: "Reason to believe". It is a review of a book by atheist turned Christian Alister McGrath and his wife Joanna Collicutt McGrath. The book is "The Dawkins Delusion? Atheist fundamentalism and the denial of the divine." This a very small book, only 98 pages.

The McGraths take exception to Dawkins's recent book "The God Delusion." Kenny points out, as have others, that Dawkins's book "has a strident and aggressive tone." Dawkins also thinks "that religion is the root of all evil." This is an idealist position which ignores the role of social and historical circumstances in the development of religions and confuses secondary causative factors with primary.

The McGraths don't understand why Dawkins is so hostile to religion, so Kenny gives them two reasons to consider. First the rise of Christian fundamentalism in the US "which endangers" the teaching of science. Kenny could have added it also endangers any progressive transformation of modern industrial society with its war mongering ultra patriotic jingoism and its manipulation by the ultra right neoFascist forces associated with the military-industrial-congressinal complex which dominates political power in the US.

Second is the rise of Islamic fundamentalism "which has spawned extremist groups willing to murder thousands of innocent people...." The McGraths, however, think this is besides the point. They decry fundamentalism, but think Dawkins too is a fundamentalist-- an atheist one.

But it seems to me ridiculous to compare Dawkins's militant atheism to the kind of beliefs that lead people to blow up medical clinics providing abortions or to suicide bombers. They claim, according to Kenny, that "atheism as well as religion has given rise to massacres, and true religion, as exemplified by Jesus of Nazareth, is hostile to violence. Kenny thinks "These points are fairly taken."

Lets not give away the store here! " True religion" is no better exemplified by "Jesus of Nazareth" than by any other religious leader. Nor was Jesus hostile to violence. Just read John 2:13-17 where he makes himself a scourge (whip) and drives perfectly law abiding merchants and business people out of the Temple-- overturning tables, seizing other people's money and dumping it on the floor, etc. This is not the action of someone hostile to violence. And don't forget Matthew 11:34ff, "Think not that I am come to send peace on earth: I came not to send peace, but a sword." His so called followers have certainly spent a great deal of their time wielding the sword.

Interestingly enough, Kenny thinks Dawkins to be stronger in just the area the McGraths find him weakest. This is in the McGraths, or at least Mr. McGraths's own area of specialization-- i.e., historical theology. Kenny says Dawkins is often more accurate in his interpretations than is McGrath. He gives some examples which indicate that Dawkins's view of Christianity is more in accord with historical orthodoxy than McGrath's. McGrath seems to have a liberal academic version of the faith that would be unrecognizable to the vast majority of Christians.

McGrath claims, according to Kenny, that Dawkins fails to distinguish between religion and belief in God. Buddhists are religious but don't believe in God, Evangelicals believe in God but their behavior is not religious (!). It appears that crazy fanatical behavior is not religious by definition.

Kenny says that the real distinction should be between belief in God and faith (accepting a particular revelation.) Dawkins's real target, according to Kenny, is people who accept a creed. Kenny quotes Dawkins as follows:

What is really pernicious is the practice of teaching children that faith itself is a virtue
Faith is an evil precisely because it requires no justification and brooks no argument.
... Suicide bombers do what they do because they really believe what they are
taught in their religious schools: that duty to God exceeds all other priorities, and
that martyrdom in his service will be rewarded in the gardens of Paradise.

McGrath objects to this definition of faith, but it is a feeble objection. Kenny again thinks Dawkins is closer to the real historical workings of faith than McGrath's views. As far as God is concerned, Kenny agrees with the McGraths's rejection of the principal argument Dawkins gives against the existence of God.

I think it does appear to be dumb argument. It goes like this. Humans are exceedingly complex and it was very improbable that they would develop. God is even more complex so it is even more improbable that It should exist. The question, however, the McGraths say, isn't if God is probable or not, but is he actual.

Since there is no proof either way, the theist and the atheist are in the same boat, according to Kenny, and so the appropriate stance is that of agnosticism. Kenny also agrees with the McGraths that Dawkins has done more harm to science than religion. He justifies this by saying:

Most people have a greater intellectual and emotional investment in religion
than in science, and if they are once convinced that they have to choose
between religion and science and cannot have both, it will be science that
they will renounce.

Marxists don't think people should be put in the position of having to make such a choice. Since they believe that it is an alienated social reality that gives sustenance to religious beliefs, they maintain that if the social question is answered religion as we know it, the great creedal (and warring) faiths, will die out much as the paganism of ancient Greece and Rome has died out in Protestant countries.

Thomas Riggins is the book review editor of Political Affairs and can be reached at