The Very Ugly American

Here’s an eye-opening article from the none-too-liberal Bloomberg on just how disliked we poor Americans are by our friends overseas, and how Asia in particular has lost faith in America in terms of human rights and the dollar.

Being an American overseas these days can be a surreal experience. Virtually everyone, it seems, seeks that 10-minute why-I’m-upset-with-the-U.S. conversation.

Recent stops in Bangkok, Hanoi, Kuala Lumpur, Singapore, Mumbai and Vientiane, Laos, featured myriad such moments, leaving little doubt that anti-American sentiment — or more to the point, anti-Bush-administration sentiment — is intensifying in Asia.

And is all this negativity manifesting itself economically? Yes, argues Joseph Quinlan, chief market strategist of Banc of America Capital Management in New York. It won’t make him many friends in Middle America, but Quinlan thinks the U.S. image as a “rogue nation” is a key force behind the dollar’s decline.

“The message from the foreign exchange markets” of late “seems to be simply this: The free ride for the rogue nation is over,” Quinlan argues. “No more guns and butter, or wads of foreign cash for a nation deeply enmeshed in the Middle East, heavily indebted at home and seemingly disengaged — some might say — from the rest of the world.”

The sinking dollar, Quinlan says, “could be a sign that the world is no longer willing to underwrite the designs of U.S. foreign policy. To a large extent, we believe a rebound in the U.S. dollar could hinge on a revamped foreign policy.”

Read the whole thing for more on the Asia angle. As I feared after Abu Ghraib, we are now looked upon with ridicule when we chide China for its awful human rights record. The pot and the kettle. While I reject that comparison, it was inevitable once those pictures circulated, and it will take a generation to recover our reputation.

The Discussion: 25 Comments

Thank you for the great link, very interesting article indeed.

December 20, 2004 @ 4:03 pm | Comment

I would like to refer readers to the comments that I made earlier this month in response to the December 14th article: “Will the US tighten the screws on China?” I know that my comments may be perceived by many to be anti-American, but I can assure you all that I am not in any way inherently anti-American.

Nevertheless, America has never really had any credibility when it comes to human rights, as I mentioned in my response to the December 14th article – it’s record since the end of World War Two for supporting puppet dictators throughout the developing world has been well documented enough, as has the fact the America has bombed 21 countries since the end of the Second World War, and that it has made serious and illegal interventions into the internal affairs of other sovereign nations on literally hundreds of occasions.

We are all, because it is well documented and supported by indisputable evidence, now well aware of the fact that the CIA played a major role in the arrest and jailing of Nelson Mandela, that they trained soldiers in El Salvador in the gentle arts of torture, and that the State Department even supported the genocidal Pol Pot in Cambodia. The United States, to put is quite bluntly, is an imperial mafia – and a bloody viscious one at that.

The current murderous and illegal invasion of Iraq is so obviously outrageous however, that, together with the images of US soldiers abusing Iraqi prisoners, has made the rest of the world stand up and take notice. The rest of the world is truly frightened, horrified. It’s all a reminder of just how fragile democracy and human rights really are in this world. A reminder too, of just how easily a seemingly-healthy so-called “democracy” can promisuously toy with the demagogues of fascism.

Still, the rest of the world is not, despite what some Americans may think, inherently anti-American. They are anti-Republican, yes, but more to the point, they are anti-US imperialism. They resent US imperialism in all of its forms, and in Europe especially, they resent US cultural imperialism, at least they dislike the more kitschy and crass side of US corporate culture.

Just take Euro Disneyland for example, which sits just outside of Paris. The average French citizen (I’m not talking only about the French intellectual elite here, but about the average citizen) treats such theme parks with a strong disdain, often referring to Euro Disneyland as a “Cultural Chernobyl” or a “Tragic Kingdom” that infringes on their community.

I spent two years living in South Korea, and nowhere else in the world have I come across such a widespread and deeply-felt dislike for US imperialism – economic, military and cultural.

People the world over resent the homogenising effects of global US corporate culture – and this includes not only the proliferation of fast food stores like KFC but also Hollywood films and other symbols of US imperialism like Mickey Mouse and Coca Cola.

Of course, not all of America’s cultural exports are disliked and looked down upon. Jazz music (a wonderful gift to the world developed largely by Black America) continues to be cherished the world over, and of course, there has always been a good flow of excellent literature pouring out of the hearts and minds of Americans – Steinbeck, Hemingway, Kerouac, Ginsberg, ad infinitum….

It is important too, I think, to realise that the rest of the world is fully aware of the fact that not all Americans are psychopathic evangelists. We liberals elsewhere in the world know that only roughly half of the voting population supported Bush during the last election, and that out of those who didn’t, many are decent, compassionate, intelligent liberals, with values that are very much the same as those of our own.

Rather than becoming increasingly inward-looking, rather than retreating in the face of such widespread disdain and criticism, all decent Americans, perhaps now more than ever, need to stand proud and to make their voices heard – both domestically and internationally. The rest of the world now needs you more than ever.

Best regards,
Mark Anthony Jones

December 20, 2004 @ 7:11 pm | Comment

What oyu should be more worried about is the way that America is seen in Europe.

Europeans don’t show their anger or upset as graphically as people in Asia, it simmers in the background rather than coming out in protests.

Europeans won’t blow buildings up or take hostages, but they form an important part of America’s trading relations and are a major source of revenue for America.

If people in Europe get annoyed enough then the diplomatic and economic effects will be very noticable. Particularly if America keeps shunning environmental policies and asking for help to fight terrorism.

It’s the quite ones that you need to watch out for .

December 20, 2004 @ 7:18 pm | Comment

I’m sorry, but I a cannot accept that the CIA played any major role in the arrest and impisonment of Nelson Mandela without some widely accepted irrefutable evidence. Which is…? As for puppet dictators, we did in fact support a few. Nicaragua, Zaire and Iran come to mind. To call them puppets, however, shows a naive understanding of the dynamics involved. They didn’t exactly dance to our tune. As for El Salvador, yes, the CIA published some manual on torture methods which was reproduced in El Salvador. Stupidity, yes! Inappropriate, yes! Illegal, within the context of U.S. law, highly likely. The “sina qua non” key to the ESAF’s use of torture? Hardly.

December 21, 2004 @ 12:29 am | Comment

Much as I would like to believe the world has boycotted the US dollar because of war/lies/torture etc, the realtiy is that the greenback is being dumped for economic reasons.

The obsession withthe War on Terror has blinded Americans to the simple fact that their economy is going down, not helped by huge financial demands of waging war, not to mention oil prices, instability etc. And of course China can outdo/pirate or ignore corporations like IBM/General Motors/Pfizer can’t.

December 21, 2004 @ 1:54 am | Comment

Dear lirelou,

The CIAs involvement with the arrest and jailing of Nelson Mandela is well known to most people outside of America, and has been the subject of many documentaries and articles, and is now even covered by a number of university history courses.

Perhaps the most easily accessible document for an American to obtain that discusses this topic would be William Blum’s well known and widely read book, The Rogue State, which was published back in the year 2000.

William Blum once worked for the State Department, but left in 1967, abandoning his aspirations of becoming a Foreign Service Officer, because of his opposition to what America was doing in Vietnam. He bacame a journalist, and in the mid-1970s he worked in London with former CIA officer, Philip Agee on a project of exposing CIA personnel and their misdeeds. In 1999 he was one of the recipients of Project Censored’s awards for examplarary journalism for writing one of the top ten most censored stories of 1998 – an article on how in the 1980s, the United States gave Iraq the material to develop a chemical and biological warfare capability to be used against neighbouring Iran.

Blum documents the CIAs involvement in South Africa in his book, and as he says, when Nelson Mandela was released from prison in February 1990, then President George Bush senior personally telephoned the black South African leader to tell him that all Americans were “rejoicing at your release.” This was the same Nelson Mandela who was imprisoned for almost 28 years because, as Blum notes, “the CIA tipped off South African authorities as to where they could find him.” This was the same George Bush who was once the head of the CIA and who for eight years was second in power of an administration whose CIA and National Security Agency collaborated closely with the South African intelligence service, providing information about Mandela’s African National Congress. The ANC, like all left-leaning nationalist movements, was perceived by Washington as being “part of the infamous (albeit mythical) International Communist Conspiracy.”

On August 5, 1962, Nelson Mandela had been on the run for 17 months when armed police at a roadblock flagged down his car outside Howick, Natal. How the police came to be there was not publicly explained. In late July 1986, however, stories appeared in three South African newspapers, picked up shortly afterwards by The Guardian newspaper of London, and in part, by CBS television, which shed considerable light on the question. The stories told of how CIA officer, Donald C. Rickard by name, under cover as a consular official in Durban, had tipped off the Special branch that Mr. Mandela would be disguised as a chauffer in a car headed for Durban. This was information Rickard had obtained through an informer in the ANC.

One year later, at a farewell party for him in South Africa, at the home of the notorious CIA mercenary, Colonel “Mad Mike” Hoare, Rickard himself, his tongue perhaps loosened by spirits, stated in the hearing of some of those present that he had been due to meet Mandela himself on the fateful night, but tipped off the police instead.

In regards to your other point, sure, I agree that such dictators like Pol Pot, Batista, the Shah, Saddam Hussein, etc, did not always dance to Washington’s tune. In the case of Saddam Hussein, his disobedience was so intolerable, that Washington decided to remove him, and at all costs.

But nevertheless, this does not detract from my argument – I am justified in calling these rulers as “puppets” because that’s essentially what they were.

As the 1996 Amnesty International report says: “Throughout the world, on any given day, a man, a woman or a child is likely to be displaced, tortured, killed or ‘disappeared’ at the hands of governments or armed political groups. More often than not, the United States shares the blame.”

This, I would argue, is, very sadly, even more true today than it was eight years ago when this report was written.

Mark Anthony Jones

December 21, 2004 @ 4:03 am | Comment

I am sorry to say that it will not take a generation for America to recover its human rights reputation, since it never had one. Maybe you sincerely believe that USA is, or has been, on the forefront of human rights, but ask virtually any European, and they will respond with “death penalty”, “ethnic discrimination” (or “racial discrimination” as you would say), “social injustice”, etc. Then they will give you a mandatory thank you for saving them in the Great War, but point out that the list of cruel and pointless wars the USA has initiated ever since has grown quite long. They will name places such as “Song My”. They will remark on America’s unconditional support for Israel. They will conclude that America doesn’t give damn about international law. Finally they will point out how disgusted they are in general with the American fast food “culture”, where a majority of the population are obese, sacrificing the environment for even more comfort. Then they will say “so long” and leave you upset, embarassed, vexed or stupified.

It’s not that Europeans hate America. In fact they both hate and love it, and always have. It’s more that the current administration has pushed the limits way too far, causing troubles for everyone.

The Chinese take a similar approach. They pronounce “Bu-she” with the same disgust as Americans pronounce “Communism”. Yet they adore some aspects of the American capitalist culture.

December 21, 2004 @ 2:19 pm | Comment

Nik, I can’t disagree with you about our current administration.

But you say, “Maybe you sincerely believe that USA is, or has been, on the forefront of human rights, but ask virtually any European, and they will respond with “death penalty”, “ethnic discrimination” (or “racial discrimination” as you would say), “social injustice”, etc.”

I speak up about all those things and say they are tragedies. But we are still a leader in human rights. When people are in trouble, when they need food dropped or relief, the US is usually the first to give. We also fuck up badly a lot, but our track record in human rights is generally good, with some unbelievably glaring exceptions for which there is no excuse. But we can find similar examples in the histories of most European countries as well. All in all, we’re pretty good, as proven by Lenin’s “vote-by-foot” equation: More people want to leave China for the US than the other way around. We can’t be that dreadful.

December 21, 2004 @ 4:12 pm | Comment

And Mark, while I greatly admire your intelligence, I think you are under the spell of some ideology, like Marxism, which quite honestly I find scary. One needn’t be a seer to see that Marxism has failed virtually every test, and I mean big-time. I mean, like indescribable tragedy and suffering on levels previously incomprehensible.

Capitalism has an inherent element of evil — those with the capital can dominate and exploit those who don’t have it. And yet, it’s been by far the most successful system the world has known. And your friends in China are more capitalistic than anyone. It’s worked like a dream in America, and it’s only now under Bush that I worry about it, because those on the bottom have traditionally been able to rise up under American capitalism, and Bush is making it hard to impossible to rise up; his dedication to entrenched wealth and power is bringing out the worst capitalism has to offer — exploitation, brutal class divisions and a whole lot of despair. But I’m going to trust in the system to correct itself, as it’s done in the past.

Please, tell us you’re not a Marxist. I can tolerate a lot, but I can’t tolerate ideological extremism, and if Marxism isn’t that, nothing is. While in theory it sounds attractive, it goes against the very nature of what man is– a competitive, predatory creature that likes to aspire always to something greater, be it more money, more power, more sex or whatever. The last thing man aspires to naturally is to be a faceless member of the proletariat.

December 21, 2004 @ 4:30 pm | Comment

I was a Peace Corps Volunteer in those halcyon days of that despotic, tyrannical, American supported, dictator Park Chung Hee. an odious regime, no doubt and yet the country, economically, made very impressive gains.
and yes, Mark, the “young” Koreans hate Americans and American Foreign policy with a pathological passion. Ironic, huh.
Considering that their prosperity has been achieved , at least in some part,by being protected by American blood and treasure.
They are prepared to believe the most vile canards regarding America without question. It seems they are not alone.
The world rants against the United States and yet there is this; The other 190 countries of the UN, that paragon of virue, has done nothing in Darfur, stood idly by for years while 3 MILLION died in the Congo, and Rwanda, Northern Uganda, the Balkans, ad nauseum.
And they have the chutzpah to hate US?!
You know Samantha Powers just returned from Darfur and guess what imperialistic, faunt of evil, despicable hegemon that they hoped/expected would help them?
go figure.

December 21, 2004 @ 5:13 pm | Comment

I know a lot of Europeans, many of them think that America is power hungry and self serving, and that it will justify almost anything to get its own way, including torture and not ratifying treaties on environmental protection. They also think that America’s ‘land of the free’ is a meaningless phrase. African Americans were denied the vote a century after the civil war, Japanese Americans were interned without trial, even if the couldn’t speak Japanese, after PEarl harbor, gay marriage bans being are being put forward for inclusion instate constitutions, there is open discrimination against religious groups, land, get real.

Ameirca has far fewer freedoms that most European countries but likes to believe that it has more. In reality the only freedom that America has, that countries like Britain and Holland do not have, is gun ownership.

December 21, 2004 @ 9:00 pm | Comment

Dear Richard,

I admire your intelligence too, and I enjoy having these debates with you precisely for that very reason, but I have to say that I am a little disappointed by this sudden, and I must say rather unexpected diatribe, that accuses me of being “under the spell” of a Marxist ideology.

Rather than engaging with my actual arguments, my actual ideas – all of which I go to the trouble of supporting with evidence in order to substantiate – you instead take the lazy way out by simply calling into question my sanity, suggesting that I might be an “extremist” if I happen to be influenced by the ideas of Marx or other Marxian scholars like Adorno, Marcuse, Sartre, Anderson, Chomsky, etc.

Anybody who studies sociology, literature, film studies, cultural studies, history, art, linguistics, psychology and even biology, needs to engage with the ideas of Marxists, in all of their diversity, because it is Marxism more than any other mode of thought which has influenced the course of these studies. In fact, if you can manage to keep up to date in all of these areas, you will soon discover that Marxist thinkers continue to exert a huge influence on all of these studies – more so than ever in fact!

I am well aware that, for many, Marx is a dead dog. However, we must be aware that whilst revolutionary Marxism is a dead dog, and a blood-stained one at that, as you point out Richard, many of Marx’s ideas are still alive and well.

But Richard, I think you are confusing Marxist thought with the ideologies and dogmas that were developed by historical figures such as Lenin, Stalin, Mao, etc. Anybody who knows anything about the ideas of Marx will know that Marx was not opposed to, but rather in favour of globalisation – he fully supported the Corn Laws of the time, and this is because he believed that the capitalist mode of production was a historically progressive one – much better than feudalism for sure. He argued that socialism could not be brought about through revolution during its industrial phase, but rather, that it would eventually grow out of the inherent contradictions of capitalism, once those contradictions could become accute enough, the product of a complete and total globalisation.

Lenin, Stalin, etc completely changed many of Marx’s ideas, they subverted Marx’s theories in order to suiit their own agendas, in much the same way that somebody like, say, George Bush can lay claim to the Bible and commit acts in the name of God.

Richard, Marxian scholars today offer many valuable insights not only on literature and art, but also on historical events, our understanding of globalisation and its effects (which are both positive and negative) and, of course, on the nature of imperialism.

Even many of today’s economists, perhaps most of them in fact, are now turning to Marx, and are acknowledging the validy and strengths of his analysis of globalisation, and of course, a reading of Marx can offer many interesting insights on the nature of imperialism.

In the 1850s, Karl Marx believed that the spread of capitalism, or what today we would call globalisation (the cultural logic of which, as Frederic Jameson argues, is postmodernism), was transforming human society from a collection of separate nation-states to a world capitalist society where the principal form of conflict would be between classes rather than nations. According to Marx, the conflictual properties of capitalism could not be contained. A political revolution led by the working classes would overthrow the capitalist order and usher in a world socialist society free from the alienation, exploitation and estrangement produced by capitalist structures.

Needless to say, the pattern of historical change anticipated by Marx 150 years ago has been thwarted by the persistence of the nation-state system, its propensity for violence, and the grip that nationalism maintains upon our political identities. Marx’s reputation has also been tarnished as I said earlier, though very unfairly I think, by the appalling interpretation and application of his ideas in a number of failed so-called “communist” states.

Marx, as Scott Burchill points out, “was the first theorist to correctly identify capitalism as the principal driving force behind increasing levels of international interdependence, a process that he believed was both transforming human society and uniting the species.” With remarkable prescience, Marx argued that the very essence of capitalism is to “strive to tear down every barrier to intercourse”, to “conquer the whole earth for its market” and to overcome the tyranny of distance by reducing “to a minimum the time spent in motion from one place to another”.

Globalisation, according to Marx, was a progressive, if transient phase in human history. The universalising processes inherent in capitalism promised to bring not only unprecedented levels of human freedom, but also an end to insularity and xenophobia – as indeed, it largely has.

Richard, do you actually know what any of Marx’s theories are? Essentially, he argued that all human socieites can be defined by their dominant economic structure – by structure, he was actually referring to social relationships of production and reproduction. The economic structure of a society he defined by its social relations. Feudal social relations of production and reproduction are quite different from say, capitalist relations of production and reproduction.

He also argued that these social relations express themselves in jurisprudic forms – laws, legal systems, courts, politcal structures, etc. and that these super-structures, as expressions, also act to maintain and to strengthen these relations.

Essentially, a Marxian analysis is one which focuses on the conflicts inherent in these social relations of production and reproduction, and on how these conflicts are regulated or influenced by the super-structures that exist to maintain these relationships, and by examining the forces that challenge them.

Of course, Marx also argued that a mode of production (ie. a society based on a particular, dominant form of social relations) is historical, and that it is the inherent contradictions in these relations that, once fully realised and developed, creates fetters on further development, thus forcing the formation of a new dominant form of social relations. A lot has been written, for example, on how this process worked in Britain with th transition from feudalism to capitalism.

Each new mode of production, argued Marx, represents a progression, which is why Marx favoured capitalism over feudalism.

To test such arguments, and to find empirical weight and merit in them, is not to fall under the spell of any ideology. In fact, the strength of these ideas, which have been subjected to constant scrutiny and challenge for the last 150 years years, continue to hold enormous weight and influence across academia even today – more so than any other theory of thought in fact.

Finally Richard, the nature of human beings as you describe it above – the highly individualistic, “competitive, predatory” beings who you say naturally fight for supremacy and for money, only represents one side of human nature, as any anthropologist and social biologist will tell you. Darwin, whose theories greatly influended the development of Marx’s, recognised that human beings are inherently social creatures (which is why we evolved such complex systems of communication, like the ability to craft words for example) – and that it is largely through our abilities to work together in tribal groups, through unision, that we as a species have been able to survive and to prosper.

The nature of human beings isn’t so simple, so black and white Richard. Perhaps Americans are more likely than most to misinterpret Darwin’s theory of evolution, his concept of survival of the fittest, by attaching to it such “individualism”. Afterall, the ideology of individualism is nowhere celebrated more than in the United States of America – even to the point where individuals are given the right to buy and to possess guns. But if you read Darwin, and if you are up-to-date with the findings of today’s evolutionary science, then you will know that concepts like “democracy’ and “socialism” do not run contrary to human nature at all.

Richard, you say that you cannot tolerate ideological extremism. I find such extremism to be worrying as well.

But I do not regard or treat Marx’s historical materialism as ideology, nor do I follow his ideas with dogma. I am influenced by the Frankfurt School of Marxism (Gramsci, Adorno, Marcuse) as are some of America’s most important and distinguished academics today: Fredric Jameson, Perry Anderson, Marshall Burman, etc.

But I am also influenced by Sartre’s Marxist existentialism, by Chomsky’s Marxist anarchism, by the thoughts of structuralists like Levi-Stauss and postmodern deconstructionists like Foucault and Derida, by the ideas of Buddhism, by good old-fashioned liberal British empiricism, by Freud’s ideas and Darwin’s, and by many many other schools of thought.

I hope that you will manage to tolerate the contributions of a self-proclaimed “Marxian” like myself to the pages of this website. If not, then please let me know, and I shall refrain from making any further commentary.

Best regards,
Mark Anthony Jones

December 22, 2004 @ 12:55 am | Comment

Mr. Jones. Thank you very much for the courtesy of a detailed reply. I note some conflicting elements already (i.e., Rickard was supposed to meet with Mandela that night – yet he learned of Mandela’s itinerary that night through an informer?). But I shall research this. Again, thank you for your courtesy. I would note that the Nelson Mandela who went into prison, was not the same Nelson Mandela who came out. But that will not change the facts of CIA involvement if such proves to be the case.
I disagree with your characterization of Mad Mike as a notorious CIA mercenary. Notorious mercenary, certainly. CIA funded, certainly, along with a lot of others. Pity we didn’t let Moise Tshombe set up Katanga as an independent republic. One corner of Africa might have been a happier place. But, again, I shall look for the facts. Thank you.

December 22, 2004 @ 1:26 am | Comment

Dear Richard and ABC,

I agree with Richard when he says that America has a track record of protecting human rights that is “generally good”, but I cannot agree with his statement that America is a “leader in human rights”.

True, as Richard says, America does often respond to global humanitarian disasters by donating food and medicines, etc. – even to their arch enemies, like Iran, as they did in response to that country’s terrible earthquake not so long ago. This is something which all Americans, quite rightly, ought to be proud of.

And although the United States is certainly less democratic than many other countries in the developed world (European democracies are certainly more representative), and although, as ABC quite rightly points out, many Europeans enjoy noticably more freedoms than do US citizens, it is still fair to say that America has a “reasonable” track record on protecting its citizens human rights. Not as good as many other Western countries, but “reasonably good” nevertheless.

The problem though, lies with America’s double-standards, for while they might have a history of showing “reasonably good” respect for human rights within the realms of their own national borders, they have, consistently for at least the last 50 years, shown very little respect for human rights elsewhere. In fact, no other country has a worse human rights record when viewed from this angle.

Even before World War Two, the United States kept itself busy launching invasions of other lands. In 1915 for example, US Marines landed in Haiti, where they stayed for 19 years. The first thing they did was to occupy the customs house, and the occupying army suspended the salary of the Haitian President until he agreed to sign off on the liquidation of the Bank of the Nation, which then bacame a branch of City Bank of New York.

The President and other blacks were then barred entry into the private hotels, restaurants and clubs of the foreign occupying power. The US didn’t dare to re-establish slavery, but they did impose forced labour for the building of public works, and in the process, they killed a lot of people.

It wasn’t easy to quell the fires of resistence either – Charlemagne Peralte was labelled a terrorist for daring to lead the resistence, was exhibited in the public square, and then crucified on a door to teach the people a lesson.

This civilising mission ended in 1934, when the occupiers withdrew, having created a National Guard to exterminate any possible trace of democracy. They did the same in Nicaragua and the Dominican Republic soon after.

This is really the story of 20th century America – and so far to date, of 21st century America too. America has bombed at least 21 countries since the end of World War Two alone! And they have made hundreds of serious and illegal interventions in many other countries aside from these throughout the world as well.

As all of Amnesty International’s annual reports from 1996 on all clearly alert us to, America is responsible, in part at least, for more deaths, more torture, more disappearances, more human suffering, than any other nation on earth.

This has been the yearly pattern for at least the last 50 years – it is not, as Richard seems to be suggesting, only a recent phenomenon, brought about the “current administration”.

To suggest that America is a “leader in human rights” just doesn’t wash with me I’m afraid, and I know that such a remark would not only surprise, but would also upset and greatly anger many people the world over – not just for its blind ignorance, but also for its callousness.

A few months ago The Lancet (the most highly respected medical journal in the world) reported on the research of several independent teams, all of whom came to the conclusion that “at least 100,000 Iraqi civilians, mostly women and children and the elderly, have died as a result of the current illegal, cowardly, murderous invasion and occupation of their country. Try telling the friends and relatives of these vicitms that America is a “world leader in human rights”, and see what kind of reaction you will get.

Mark Anthyony Jones

December 22, 2004 @ 2:09 am | Comment

Dear lirelou,

You say that you “disagree” with my characterisation of Mad Mike as a notorious CIA mercenary, but rather than challenging my characterisation, you proceed to agree with what I say: “notorious mercenary, certainly,” you write. “CIA funded, certainly,” you say. I’m puzzled.

Also, I never stated that Rickard only learnt of Mendela’s movements through an informer on the night that he tipped off Special Branch. He learnt of this prior to that, and had, through his informer, arranged to meet Mandela at some later stage, but on the day that he was scheduled to meet him, decided instead to tip off Special Branch. I see no contradictions or conflicting elements in this.

I was first alerted to the CIAs involvement in the arrest of Nelson Mendela back in 1995 by a 14 year old school student in London, where I was teaching. She produced for me a research project, a biography of Mendela, in which she discussed this. Fortunately, I had taught her well, for she had remembered to include most of her sources in a bibliography, so I was able to track the source of her information to The Guardian newspaper.

At any rate, the only reason why I mentioned the role of the CIA in having Mendela arrested and sent to prison, was to illustrate some of the ways in which the United States has either illegally intervened in the affairs of other nations, or as in this case, has aided particular regimes in the interest of crushing democracy and or nationalist movements who they feared would not support US corporate interest.

Another good example would be their support of Indonesia’s Suharto, and the way in which they gave him the green light to invade East Timor – they considered Fretlin to be a Marxist-inspired nationalist movement of the same mould as the ANC.

The Labor Government of Australia at the time, headed by Prime Minister Whitlam, also turned a blind eye to this planned invasion, as did the Australian corporate media.

There are dozens of other such examples of where the US has behaved in this way. I point all of this out not because I am ant-American, which I most certainly am not, but because the truth needs to be known, and because America now more than ever, seems prepared to act in ways that are even more brazen and threatening.

All decent-minded Americans (and most Americans, I like to believe, are decent-minded) need to take a stand now; need to challenge such imperialism now. To further retreat into isolationism would be to let the rest of the world down, and, for that matter, it would be to let America down.

Mark Anthony Jones

December 22, 2004 @ 2:45 am | Comment

Mark, I’m really sorry to disappoint you, but I recoil from Marxism almost, but not quite, as I do from Nazism. While I am well aware of the clichee that Marxism is different because its goals are pure and good, and while I know that Karl Marx had some great ideas and has been much misunderstood by those who mangled his ideas, I still have a lot of trouble with someone telling me he is, in the 21st Century, a Marxist.

When you alluded in a comment to your being a Marxist, things suddenly became clear to me — your lengthy, highly buttoned-down replies that mirror Noam Chomsky essays I’ve read, the slams at America and the praise for the CCP… I’m sorry, but I see evidence that you are at least to some extent blinded by ideology. If you can’t see how Marxism is tragicallly and hopelessly flawed, there’s nothing I can do about it. It might be, as I said earlier, wonderful in theory, but it has never, ever worked, and it fails to take into account the ruthlessness and thirst for power that unfortunately drives a lot of people who choose to become political leaders. I keep an open mind, we argue about all sorts of things, but I have got to tell you, when you say you are a Marxist you instantly discredit yourself in the eyes of most people. And the more you try to defend Marx and his philosophy, the worse it gets for you, because Marxism was discarded by nearly all responsible political scientists, historians and thinkers many years ago. Now, some of Marx’s theories on economics are intriguing and worthy of discussion. But to call oneself a Marxist in today’s world — it’s strange and it’s sad. You’re too smart for that.

December 22, 2004 @ 10:06 am | Comment

Mr. Jones,

Although you are quoting a single source on the Rickard story, I now accept it is most likely true. That said, Mandela’s arrest based on Rickard’s tip does not meet the sine qua non of leading to his 28 year incarceration. Mandela’s biography, posted at (likewise single source), states that following Mandela’s acquittal on treason charges in 1961, he set about organizing the military wing of the ANC, Umkhonto we Sizwe. He was then arrested in Aug 62 and sentenced to 5 years imprisonment. Following the South African roundup of other ANC and UWS leaders, he was tried with them and convicted of attempting to overthrow the government by violence, and in Jun 64 sentenced to life in prison.

The Nelson Mandela arrested in 1962 was by many definitions a terrorist. By your inference, Rickard was acting in the U.S. government’s interest to suppress liberation movements and support apartheid. This was the same U.S. government which was showing itself capable of using military force within it own borders to enforce racial integration. I would suggest that, assuming the report to be true, Rickard acted for one of two reasons: First, he was tipping off the SA government on the whereabouts of a terrorist in good faith. Or, he was tipping off his counterparts in the SA intelligence to build relations and gain some “quid pro quo”. (My gut reaction is the latter.) In any event, his action, while resulting in Mandela’s arrest, led to a 5 year sentence. The fact that the SA police were able to round up so many of Mandela’s fellow ANC and UWS members by 1964 suggests to me that Mandela would have been in the dock whether Rickard existed or not. Since this is the case, I can hardly allege that modern South Africans owe Rickard any debt of gratitude. For Mandela would still have been jailed “for life” and the Nelson Mandela that emerged from that 1964 sentence would still have been the Nelson Mandela that much of the world rightly reveres today.

By the way, I note that your previous text repeats the Blum site verbatim. Do you ever use quotes? Ah, and as to puppet governments. If they won’t dance to your tune when you pull the string, what makes them puppet? Weigh all the evidence and place it in context. A fine mind should never just parrot others.

On Hoare, I believe you’d do better to look at British intelligence, not American. I always preferred Rolf Steiner and Roger Faulques myself.

December 22, 2004 @ 7:42 pm | Comment

Dear Richard,

This, I think, is a significant difference between Americans, as a general rule of thumb, and Europeans. If an academic or student in Australia, New Zealand, Britain, or just about anywhere in Western Europe (particularly in France and Spain) were to describe themeslves as a Marxist, nobody would bat an eyelid, and that’s because to be a Marxist is common, normal almost, in these countries today. At least it is common for people to admit to being, in some way, influenced by the ideas of Marx or Marxian thinkers. There is no stigma attached to the label. Yes – more so now than before the collapase of the former Soviet Union even.

I disagree with you entirely when you say that “nearly all responsible scientists, historians and political thinkers have discarded Marxisim – this is simply not true, and if you are up to date with the world’s academic journals and debates, you will soon see that you are very very wrong to assume this. Marxists in fact, continue to dominate debates in all of these areas of study. Just take a look Richard, at say, for example, university courses on postmodernity, art and architecture – even university courses in the USA. If you look at the recommended reading lists, and examine the course topics, you will see that the main texts represent the views of Marxists (usually American Marxists). David Harvey’s “The Condition of Postmodernity” and Fredric Jameson’s “Postmodernism, or the Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism” for example. Probably no other two writers on this topic have had such a huge impact on academic debates and discussion in this field. Their books are necessary reading for students, not only in American universities, but in universities the world over.

Likewise, just to give you another example, the American Marxist writier, Marshall Burman, probably more than any other writer, has influenced the whole course of debate and discussion on studies of modernity. His book, “All that is solid melts into air” is a classic, and is necessary reading in universities the the world over. The other main contributor to modernity studies is also a Marxist – Perry Anderson.

Sociologists and those who study literature and film studies, as well as those who engage in cultural studies – anybody in fact who seriously studies the concept of “nationalism”, cannot fail but to read Benedict Anderson’s classic book, “Imagined Communities”. It, perhaps more than any other book, has shaped debate and influenced discussions on the topic of nationalism, and continues to do so today – and Benedict Anderson (the brother of Perry Anderson mentioned earlier) is a well known Marxist.

Lets take history courses as another example – say, the English Civil War. Despite constant revisionism, especially during the 1980s at the time of the Reagan/Thatcher dynamic, Marxist interpretations faced enormous scrutiny and challenge. And yet, Christopher Hill’s central argument that the English Civil War represents a bourgeois revolution still, today, holds enormous weight, and in fact, continues to shape all real debate on the Civil War topic.

Who are, today, the most influential thinkers when it comes to cultural studies and studies of literature? In Britain, and throughout Europe, I would say few could rival the influence of the late English Marxist, Raymond Williams. His books, “Key Words”, “Culture and Society” and “Marxism and Literature” are among the most widely read and discussed books in the world of academia when it comes to cultural studies. Just about every student in Australia and Britain who studies literature or cultural studies would have read and have used at least one of his books – and that’s no exaggeration!

Take a good look at those who are now at the forefront of anthropological studies – many are Marxists, like the French academic, Maurice Godellier.

I could go on all day in this vein – but my point would simply to be to challenge your claim that Marx’s ideas are dead, and that nobody responsible in academia calls themselves a Marxist anymore. You couldn’t be more wrong! There are so many Marxists out there in academia, that it is just impossible to name them all – and as I said in my earlier response, they are a very varied group, with different ways of understanding and applying the ideas of Marx. There is nothing ideological of dogmatic about them.

When you say that Marxism has “failed”, what do you mean? Once again, I think you are referring to political movements that call themselves “Marxist”, or who claim to represent or somehow reflect the views of Marx.

As I said in my earlier response, Marx’s ideas and theories do not, in themeslves, constitute an ideology. Marxist theory is simply an analytical tool to help understand society. It is a view, which, as I said earlier, holds that the basis of all societies, the fundamental structure of any given society, rests in its social relations of production and reproduction. It also holds that the dominant force, or dynamic, that drives societies forward, lies inherent within the conflicts that occur between opposing relations. That is to say, that the dialectical relationship between class forces is what drives or propels human societies forward.

Maxism is nothing more than this! There is nothing mystical or religious in it, nor is there anything ideological about it.

In fact, Marx owes a huge debt to Hegel and Darwin for coming up with these ideas – something which he, of course, acknowledged.

Albert Einstein, a self-proclaimed socialist, based his entire theory of relativity on dialectics – and yet, I never hear anybody accuse Einstein of having been under the spell of an ideology!

Only the CIA were worried about Einstein’s socialism, which is why they kept a file on him, just as they did with Charlie Chaplin (another well known socialist).

Richard – you are confusing Marxist theory with the theories and political ideologies of certain 20th century movements – the Bolsheviks, the Maoists, etc. Yes, all of these movements have failed – but they really have absolutely nothing to do with Marx’s ideas and theories. Nothing at all. Just because Lenin borrowed a few phrases from Marx and used them, along with his own rhetoric, to help build up his own political movement, shouldn’t blind you to the fact that Leninism has little to do with what Marx had to say.

Secondly, nobody claims that everything Marx wrote as gospel – least of all Marxists. His basic premise though, as described above, has endured for a good 150 years – and has, over the last 50 years, been subject to enormous scrutiny and challenge. The fact that it has not only survived, but through the process of constant debate and challenge, has been greatly strengthened to the point where it now if not dominates, at least greatly influneces all debate, is a real testimony to its strength as an analytical tool.

Richard, your cavalier dismissal of Marxism (a product I think, of you having mistaken Marx’s ideas as the fallen ideology and failed experiements of a number of 20th century political movements) reads like something directly out of the McCarthy period – a relic from Cold War America. Your views on Marxism, in Western Europe, even at the high school level, would be considered anachronistic to say the least.

Thirdly, I don’t think that I “slam” America – I certainly am very critical of its imperialist record, but I am also well aware of all of America’s more charming points – some of which I have already highligthed elsewhere on this website – the gift of jazz, its wonderful literature, etc.

I know that, according to the United Nations Development Index, the United States is ranked as the 8th best country in the world to live in – in terms of overall living standards, welfare, education, freedoms, etc – which, considering the number of countries in the world, makes for a pretty impressive effort.

My praise for the CCP is overstated by you as well – it has always been conditional, and I have always praised their efforts cautiously, but I think fairly. This hardly reflects some kind of ideological stance on my part, as you suggest. For starters, I am, as you should know if you have read my comments on this site carefully enough, ambivalent when it comes to my judgments on China, the CCP and globalisation: I have pointed out that globalisation is a double-edged sword for China, as it is to all countries.

The crux of my arguments about China is simply that there is good room for optimism, and that the CCP, for all of its faults, is generally steering the country in the right direction.

This hardly seems to be the reflection of an ideology Richard – not one of any kind, be it Maoist or Leninist or capitalist or anything else.

I have always on this website taken the trouble to support my views, my cautious optimism, with empirical evidence. If anything Richard, I would say that all of my contributions to this website, if anything, reflect the good old-fashioned British empiricism within me – that instinct to show balance, and to weigh up all the evidence and to judge it all in light of the broader picture. That instinct to present a balanced view.

My application of Marx’s ideas I have really only used on this site when discussing the effects of globalisation – which I did in the November 14th thread, in response to Pomfret’s address on China. In this respect, I agree with Marx, in that I consider globalisation to be historically progressive – its effects are both good and bad, and are subject to constant flux. I can agree with him on this, because I have found sufficient empirical evidence to support this view.

Best regards,
Mark Anthony Jones

December 22, 2004 @ 7:50 pm | Comment

Dear lirelou,

Thanks for your interesting and insightful response.

If you read my original response to you, where I provide details of the CIA connection, I do in fact, at times, quote Blum – so yes, I do use quotes. Normally in fact. However, I must admit, that, because I write all of these contributions from my work office, during work time, I am normally quite pressed. As it so happended, I was quite busy at the time that I wrote up that response, and so I decided to take the lazy way out, and to simply type up much of what is on the Blum site verbatim – as you have noticed.

I do apologise for this, but I did nevertheless acknowledge the fact that this information had come from Blum’s book, and I did quote from the text at times.

I accept your point that Mandela most probably would have ended up in the dock even without Rickard’s help, and I accept too, your point that his life sentence was the result of a later charge that was brought against him after the 1962 arrest.


But none of this really detracts from the overall argument that I was presenting, does it?

As to your point about puppets – well, as I implied earlier, a puppet ruler does not necessarily need to dance to every string in order to be considered a puppet.

You shouldn’t take the analogy too literally. Why? I shall explain:

Firstly though, let me say that I take your point that such dictators like Saddam Hussein and Pinochet, etc were not really (literally) puppets, in the sense that they were relatively free to treat their country’s citizens in whatever way they could choose and or get away with, and of course, they could allow trade to take place with whom ever they wished. Such “dicators” were at times able to ally themselves with whoever they chose, and were able to switch their alliances when desired. They exercised a certain independence from Washington, no doubt.

If we take the example of Saddam Hussein, we can see that his relationship with the US was always ambivalent, and was subject to continual flux. Perhaps it is more accurate to say that he had a certain “partnership” or “close relationship” with the US.

But many people continue to use the word “puppet” to decribe such characters because, when it comes down to it, these “partnerships” rest largely on the fact that a superpower like the US has certain imperial interests in the countries that are governed by these “partners/puppets”. There are significant areas of importance in this world for superpowers like the US, such as the flow of oil from the middle east or Venezeula, or there are strategic places like the Panama canal for example. If these dictators attempt to step on the feet of the US in these cases, then they are severely punished – Saddam Hussein being a good case in point.

In other words, the Saddam Husseins and the Shahs of this world are expected to tow the line, at least when it comes to making decisions that effect the interest of corporate America. If they don’t, the consequences can range from having financial aid and trade deals severed, all the way to having widescale economic sanctions place upon them, and at times even war. The US uses all kinds of diplomacy to manipulate the behaviours and policies of their “friends”. In this sense, I think it is still fair to use the word “puppet” to describe such dictators – though I am quite happy to use an alternative if it will make you feel more comfortable. Perhaps the term “partner” or “close associate” would be better?

And I haven’t parroted anything verbatim this time – honest!

Best regards,
Mark Anthony Jones

December 22, 2004 @ 8:56 pm | Comment

Mr. Jones,
I enjoyed the exchange of views very much and look forward to reading your comments in the future.
Merry Christmas to you all.

December 23, 2004 @ 1:09 am | Comment

Dear lirelou,

I enjoyed our little exchange of views as well, and I thank you most sincerely for your willingness to engage in such discussions with me.

Merry Christmas to you too, and I hope the Year 2005 will prove to be an intellectually stimulating and rewarding one for you!

Best wishes,
Mark Anthony Jones

December 23, 2004 @ 1:15 am | Comment

I know all about Marx. It’s the phrase Marxist and all that it encompasses. It has, with some justification, taken on nearly as much of a stigma as “Nazi.” You can say you appreciate and agree with some selected theories of Karl Marx. But to label yourself as “a Marxist” — that strikes me as very strange, considering all the baggage associated with the term. It really damages your credibility, and if you can’t see that there’s not much I can do. I watch every news and politics program I can, and I hear all sorts of economists talk, and I have never heard one identify himself as a Marxist, at least not since the 1980s. And for good reason; no one would ever listen to them. It’s fine for them to talk about Marx’s economics, but once identified as a Marxist they would lose all credibility, as the term has come to be synonymous with ideology, tyranny, a misunderstanding of human nature, failed economics and general misery and despair. But hey, whatever floats your boat….

December 23, 2004 @ 10:14 am | Comment

Dear Richard,

As I said earlier, only in America, perhaps, does this stigma exist.

In other countries, like in Britain, Australia, New Zealand, and all of Western Europe, the words “Marx” and “Marxist” and “Marxian” are not associated with all of the negative attributes that you have ascribed to them.

Still, it matters little how one decribes his or her intellectual leanings. What matters most is whether an argument can be logically sustained, and to do this, arguments must be validated and supported by empirical evidence.

Let us then, drop the dispute about whether or not I am wise to label myself a “Marxist”, and concentrate instead on the actual ideas and viewpoints that are being developed and debated on. That would be far more productive, I think.

Merry Christmas Richard!

Best wishes,
Mark Anthony Jones

December 23, 2004 @ 6:57 pm | Comment

It’s a deal. Merry Christmas to you, as well. Or, as we say in the politically correct United States, Happy Holidays.

December 23, 2004 @ 8:25 pm | Comment

Yes! Being an atheist I really ought not to use “Christmas” rhetoric either – of course, I in no way wish to imply by this other little confession of mine that I in any way look down upon those who hold religious convictions – because I can assure all those who are religious, that I do not hold any prejudices against any doctrines of faith. I’m very much a product of multicultural secularism!

So yes Richard, let me re-phrase my earlier address to you, in the interests of being, like you, politically correct: “Happy holidays!”

Take care,
Mark Anthony Jones

December 23, 2004 @ 8:58 pm | Comment

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