Notes On The News
By Gwydion M Williams
In 1991, the USA seemed to have everything going for it. Eastern Europe and Russia were open to them in the way Western Europe and Japan had been after World War Two. Their ambiguous alliance with China gave them the opportunity to ease China along a pro-US road, in the same way that the British Empire had been eased into dependency in the 1940s and 1950s. The basis for an ‘American Century’ had finally arrived. Or so it seemed.
There were some important differences. The USA in the 1940s and 1950s had a ‘New Deal’ mentality—private enterprise had to operate within a secure state framework. Allies in Western Europe and East Asia were allowed and encouraged to build state-led economies behind barriers of trade protection. Welfare was seen as a necessity, ‘tax and spend’ was the order of the day.
To the new people who’d come to power in the 1980s, there should be no controls on business beyond those ‘pro-freedom’ controls that business wanted. Anything more was foolish, burdensome, even sinful. These bright sparks felt that they had nothing to learn from the New Deal period, which had done everything wrong, apart from just happening to turn the US into a Superpower. Guided by New Right wisdom, the USA would now surprise everyone.
They surprised everyone, without a doubt. They were handed the world on a plate. They knocked the plate over.
The Soviet collapse had begun in the mid-1950s, when Khrushchev decided that Stalin’s highly successful planned economy needed to be improved with ‘market forces’, rather than by giving workers more power over their own lives. Invading Hungary in 1956 and Czechoslovakia in 1968 established nothing except that Moscow would stop anything happening that differed from their own doomed ideas. The West only had to sit where it was and wait for the rival system to collapse.
The New Right came close losing in the last lap with ‘Black Monday’, the spectacular stock market crash of October 1987. They had however not forgotten all of the New Deal lessons. Instead of letting the economy ‘find its own level’, the solution chosen by sincere believers in capitalism back in the late 1920s and early 1930s, they pumped money into the economy and avoided a major slump. Within a couple of years, Gorbachev’s blundering had begun the Soviet collapse and it was all forgotten.
Wrongly forgotten. The New Right have been utterly incapable of creating anything. The former Leninist states saw a rapid economic decline in East Europe and especially Russia. Meantime some of the USA’s less wanted allies started experiencing a rash of troubles, ranging from the sudden demonisation of their ally Iraq to the rash of scandals that destroyed Italy’s Christian Democrats and damages the Christian Democrats of Germany.
As Russia spiralled downwards into poverty and crime, as Yeltsin made a political mess that included shelling Russia’s new democratic and insubordinate parliament, so China recovered its confidence. Many Chinese who’d backed the Tiananmen protests in 1989 decided they had been mistaken. In time, Russia too would recover its identity, with Putin re-integrating the country on the basis that liberalism had failed, as it obviously had and as former dissidents like Alexander Solzhenitsyn were happy to acknowledge (Guardian, [A]). Western liberals remain utterly baffled that people should be rejecting the West’s wise advice, merely because it delivers poverty, racism and crime. This applies equally to ‘neo-liberals’ and liberals of the Guardian sort.
Encouraging Islamists in Afghanistan was sensible when it was a bleeding ulcer for an expansionist Soviet Union. But people who’d worked with the Soviets were the only substantial secularists in the entire country. They could have been signed up for the US global project, as similar people have been in Eastern Europe. Mohammad Najibullah managed to hold on till 1992, ready to compromise and the USA missed a grand chance. It was as stupid as breakingthe back of Iraqi secularism by overthrowing Iraq. Liberals of all varieties are heirs of Oliver Cromwell, but most of them don’t know it, so they can’t bring themselves to back modern Cromwellian types. The most successful Muslim seculariser, Kemal Ataturk, managed it only because the West was busy with other matters and could not express its full hostility at the time.
The US did get one significant victory in the 1990s, the collapse of Peru’s ‘Shining Path’ Maoists. This, however, was done by methods that would not have been out of place in the 1950s. Peru’s Maoists were defeated by the efficient authoritarianism of Alberto Fujimori, an ethnic Japanese whose supremacy implicitly overthrew the ethnic divide created by the Spanish conquest, continued under independence dominated by white settlers. I had wondered at the time why there was so little ethnic assertion by Native Americans in South America: I am still not sure why it took so long, but everywhere it is happening.
The Shining Path failed, but their ideological allies in the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist) were proceeding quietly with their own guerrilla war. Which came to prominence in June 1991, when there was a mysterious massacre within the royal family that brought the current king to power. The USA was suspicious, at least Colin Powell was suspicious, but the USA still chose to support the monarchy against both Maoists and regular democrats. They also labelled a regular guerrilla army as ‘terrorist’, using criteria loose enough to have included the American Revolution’s ‘Minutemen’ if they had applied in the 1770s.
The rest you know, as Alistair Cooke once said, knowing that events were moving fast during Nixon’s final days. In Nepal, others will be telling you a lot more than I know.
“Angela Merkel will urge China today to drop regulations that force foreign companies to transfer proprietary technologies and designs to Chinese competitors.
“These ‘forced transfers’ top a list of complaints that business has asked the German chancellor to raise with Wen Jiabao, the Chinese premier, during her inaugural visit to Beijing.
“‘China is not a market economy. It is a centralised economy, which the government seeks to develop with the unwilling assistance of foreign companies,’ Jutta Ludwig, German business’s top political lobbyist in China, told the FT. ‘It is not transparent.’
“The complaints, to be published today by the BDI industry federation, also include the difficulties foreign companies face in obtaining timely and adequate redress before Chinese courts in intellectual property infringement cases.” (Financial Times, [B]).
There was always a lot of flimflam about China’s supposed turn to capitalism. Private enterprise was allowed, but in a social context. Foreign industry was given a role, but a much smaller one than it wanted, with the key restraint that China’s currency is not convertible, making it very hard to repatriate profits. And there has been a lot of transfer of technology, some of it amounting to copyright-piracy, the issue that German Chancellor Merkel was complaining about. Complaining while promoting more trade and closer ties, of course. Germany remains one of the world’s major manufacturers and cooperation with China is part of the game.
Deng’s policies should be seen as ‘Blue Maoism’, a reversion to the ideas that Mao proposed in his essay New Democracy and later discarded. It followed on from Mao’s own decision to do business with Nixon, at a time when a Soviet invasion of China was viewed as a very real possibility, and when the USA seemed to be losing the Cold War. Peoples China was negotiating from a position of strength, and has managed its own version of New Deal or Keynesian / Mixed Economy system.
In the late 19th and early 20th century, China was growing very slowly under its final dynasty. There was some modernisation, but the rural economy was also decaying. From 1870 to the revolution of 1911, GDP grew from 530 to 691, according to the OECD reckoning.[C]
The Republic of China tried to copy the West without understanding the West. It was a dismal failure, giving power to a swarm of destructive warlords and causing an actual economic shrinkage. From 691 to 562 when Chiang Kai-Shek took over, and down to 439 when he was booted out in 1949. Mao reversed the decline, while also strongly asserting China’s identity and independence. The economy also doubled under Mao, from 432 to 852. Maoist China performed significantly better than the Republic of India, which itself has been a considerable success compared to the most Third World countries.
China had got back control of its own territory for the first time since the Opium Wars. China had produced atomic weapons and missiles capable of launching a satellite into space. Though most of us didn’t know it at the time, China had also built a massive ‘Third Front’ of war industries in the interior. Both the USA and Russia thought about invading, but may have had some inkling of the ‘Third Front’, without being able to be sure how strong it was.
After Mao’s death, Deng Xiaoping managed to push aside Hua Guofeng, Mao’s chosen successor after the still-mysterious falling-out with Lin Biao (Lin Piao). But as I said, what Deng created was ‘Blue Maoism; a move from hard-line egalitarianism to moderate socialism and a mixed economy
The West still regards Khrushchev and Gorbachev as brilliant, Deng as foolish for refusing to undermine his own system. They can’t understand why most Russians and Chinese don’t share this view.
A few years back, they thought that the Internet would soon correct this. I always thought this was an odd idea. California may wish they all were Californian, but does the rest of the world? California may host the ‘Free Tibet’ movement, but is open to being reminded that California once had native inhabitants, and could today’s Californians please explain what happened to them?
In fact nothing so subtle seems to be needed. Chinese identity was re-asserted under Mao and continues to assert its own significance. The bulk of public opinion takes a harder line than the current government, itself responding to left-wing pressures from within China:
“Sina.com, a popular Chinese Internet portal, has seen more than 18,000 posts from netizens opposing the auction of late Chairman Mao Zedong’s portrait.
“After the website published the news that Huachen Auction Company will begin the bidding for Mao’s portrait on June 3, thousands went online expressing hopes that the government authority will end the auction, Saturday’s China Daily reported.” [D]
[There is a long article at this website with more details of how Mao strengthened a previously disastrous China.)
As I mentioned last month, the sensible idea of an .xxx domain for pornography has been successfully defeated by right-wing opinion within the USA. It’s a decision that could have consequences, not least a clear demonstration that the USA does not intend to share control of an idea that was as much West European as North American. And if China installs its own nerve-centres and ignores USA-made rules, who can sensibly complain? Some interesting documents about the killing of xxx may soon emerge: I will report this if it happens.
Nothing will stop the US lecturing the rest of the world, of course:
“A leading US congressional human rights activist on Monday accused the German government of encouraging trafficking of women by “facilitating prostitution” for the World Cup soccer tournament it is hosting next month…
“Prostitution is legal in Germany and in a small number of counties in the US. Mr Smith accused the German government of providing venues and building brothels. His spokesman said it was well known that city authorities, including Berlin, were issuing special permits for street prostitutes and were seeking sponsors for condoms…
“Barrett Duke, of the Southern Baptist Convention, said that one ‘‘would have though that Germany would have renounced slave labour forever, considering her past abuses’’ [E].
You’d think that there was no such thing as prostitution in the USA. You’d never guess that the USA was one of the last countries to abolish chattel slavery, retaining it for the first nine decades of the new Republic. The immediate cause of the US Civil War was Southern resentment that Kansas and California had banned slavery. In both cases, this was the decision of the majority of the white inhabitants of those states, but resented by slave-owners who thought they had an agreement to protect slave-owning in new territories south of the Mason-Dixon Line. Lincoln was clear that he had no power to abolish slavery short of a constitutional amendment, which was unrealistic for as long as the block of slave states remained part of the USA. But he was going to keep it out of the newly settled West, and this was enough for seven states to secede between Lincoln’s election and his inauguration. They formed the Confederacy before Lincoln had any Presidential powers; when he called for troops to put down the secession, the seven were joined by four more, including Virginia.
The strong desire of Great Britain to ‘divide and rule’ was inhibited by the blatant fact that it was a war to defend slavery, abolished in the British Empire in the 1830s. British-ruled Canada had been a refuge for escaped slaves: non-slave states in the USA were obliged to return fugitive chattels under a clause that the South had insisted up when the US Constitution was created. (I do believe that it is the only constitution that includes specific protection for slave-ownership, as distinct from recognising it as an existing fact.)
Southern Baptist are broadly the majority of Baptists who identify strongly with the Confederate tradition.
As for trafficking in East European women, this has been one of the consequences of the New Right’s blundering in the post-Soviet era. Outside of the USA, the general view is that illegalities associated with prostitution are more easily fought if the core matter of voluntary prostitution is accepted as legal. In Britain the police are in favour of it, though there is very little prospect of politicians ever doing anything about it.
The Soviet Empire crossed the borders of nominally independent states without bothering what anyone thought about it. Fair enough for Poles and others to protest about that. But what they are doing now is absurd. A unique protest by Poland and the Baltic states, nations complaining that two foreign states are failing to intrude on the complainants’ sovereign territories, and instead make a link through international waters.
“Planned in the early 1990s after the collapse of the Soviet Union, the gas-pipeline project was intended to reduce Russia’s dependence on having to transit through such countries as Belarus and Ukraine to export its gas to Europe. The 1,200-kilometer line would transport gas from Russia’s Baltic Sea coast through international waters offshore Poland and the Baltic states to a landfall… on Germany’s coast.
“Sikorski said, “Poland is particularly sensitivity to corridors and deals above our head. That was the Locarno tradition, that was the Molotov-Ribbentrop tradition. That was the 20th century. We don’t want any repetition of that.” He was ominously referring to the two poignant moments in 20th-century history when Poland got squeezed between Europe’s great powers.” [F]
The West is offended that Russia no longer believes in ‘Open Legs’ economics. That they are doing as the West does, rather than as the West preaches.
Regarding the 1930s, there would have been no Nazi-Soviet Pact if Stalin hadn’t suspected that the alternative was a mending of fences between the British-French-Polish alliance and Nazi Germany, with German prestige reduced but with the Soviet Union the obvious target. Or if Czechoslovakia hadn’t earlier been humiliated and broken up with British agreement, with Poland making no objections and getting chunks of disputed territory during the post-Munich carve-up:
“Poland, however, occupied Tesín (1000 km2, with a predominantly Polish population) in northern Moravia already on 1 October, pursuant to demands made on Czechoslovakia as early as 21 September. The negotiations required by the Munich Agreement began only on 25 October 1938. As a result of them, on 1 December Poland received further territories, this time in northern Slovakia, comprising 226 km2, with 4,280 inhabitants, less than 0.3% of whom were Poles.” [G]
Hitler made no territorial demands on Poland—many historians consider he genuinely wanted Poland as an ally in his planned conquest of the Soviet Union. But he wanted the ‘Free City’ Danzig re-integrated into the Reich; it was overwhelmingly German and the Poles had made a point of not trading through it. He also wanted an extra-territorial road through the Polish Corridor to link East Prussia with the rest of Germany. That was the specific issue on which the World War started.
“White middle-aged Americans are less healthy than their English counterparts, research suggests.
“Americans aged 55 to 64 are up to twice as likely to suffer from diabetes, lung cancer and high blood pressure as English people of the same age.
“The healthiest Americans had similar disease rates to the least healthy English, the Journal of the American Medical Association study found…
“The researchers suggested the lack of social programmes in the US, which in the UK help protect those who are sick from loss of income and poverty, could partly help explain why there was a greater link between Americans’ wealth and disease” [H]
The USA spends twice as much per head, and gets a rather worse service overall. This is never mentioned in all of the debates about the failings of the NHS.
“Americans spend far more on health care than the inhabitants of other rich countries, but their life expectancy is below the wealthy world’s average…
“Two factors contributing to America’s poor showing have nothing to do with the victim’s health. These are a high rate of road-accident mortality, and the highest homicide rate in the rich world.” (Economist, [K]).
It’s a shade late to be commenting on Labour’s reshuffle / sackings, the events following the startling revelation that a very small fraction of British criminals might have been deportable at the end of their sentences. In practice the courts have mostly been refusing to send criminals who’ve served their sentence to countries where their lives would have been at risk. But the press howled and Blair obeyed.
Clarke was obviously going to be visibly punished, not for anything he’d done, but for having been successfully smeared as guilty. Unexpectedly, Jack Straw was also demoted. There was speculation that it was because he had been uncertain on Iraq, maybe opposed to action against Iran.
I find it hard to believe that the US is mad enough to invade Iran, or even try bombing the reprocessing facilities. (Facilities that Iran is entirely entitled to have, as David Morrison detailed in the last L&TUR.) The USA have failed to pacify Iraq and being dependent in Iraq on religious Shia close to Iran, people who would join Iran against the USA if a war was started. And if this is the plan, it could surely have been done with Straw still there. He has never yet taken a bold stand against New Labour folly. I don’t think it can really be a punishment demotion.
People are overlooking that if Blair moves on and Brown moves up, there is a vacancy for Chancellor. And that Straw is now nicely placed to fill the gap without further shufflings. Straw as Chancellor would round off a ministerial career with the last of the ‘big three’. It would also leave him well placed to be the next leader if Brown failed. Not impossibly old (born 1946) if Brown was a success and then quit after 8 or 10 years.
“It goes to the heart of who we are and where we came from. Our human ancestors were still interbreeding with their chimp cousins long after first splitting from the chimpanzee lineage, a genetic study suggests. Early humans and chimps may even have hybridised completely before diverging a second time. If so, some of the earliest fossils of proto-humans might represent an abortive first attempt to diverge from chimps, rather than being our direct ancestors.” (New Scientist, 17th May.)
This is quite separate from current arguments about the Flores ‘hobbit’, which is clearly not ancestral. The creatures’ level of culture seems high for the smallness of their brain, and it is puzzling how they got to an inaccessible island. But maybe a sympathetic early-human took them there to save them from less tolerant neighbours. Taught useful tool-making skills to 3 foot silly creature that were about as bright as a five-year-old and probably able to talk in a fashion. Or maybe the fossils are just odd modern humans, that remains in debate.
Regarding ancient full-sized humans, I had already thought about the oddity of several distinct hominids with different aspects of modern human, including the ‘flat-faced man of Kenya’. Did several different subspecies hybridise and mingle their different proto-human features?
Palaeontologists have tended to assume either separate species or else free interbreeding. But while all monkeys and all other apes breed quite freely or else according to male dominance, something else must have happened in the human line. The human norm requires some sort of ceremony and also family approval before breeding. Children outside of it are not accepted as kin and not supported. This needn’t mean western-style marriage, polygamy was widespread, and concubinage, and marriages might be allowed between people of the same sex. But always with some sort of structure, and with ceremonies that even a stupid human could manage, but which I doubt you could train a chimp to manage, and quite possibly beyond the capacities of some of the early hybrid half-humans.
Among our remote ancestors, the successful hybrids might have created a culture that limited the breeding of new members to that culture, or to other hybrids smart and flexible enough to learn the rules. Hunter-gatherers don’t often fight, they just avoid each other. But over the course of centuries and millennia, this could mean the not-quite-humans getting pushed onto worse lands and gradually going extinct.
Or ending up as chimps.
For some years, a few people had wondered if australopithecines were ancestors of chimps and maybe gorillas also, because nothing like an ancestral chimp has yet been sound. Some said this was wrong, the australopithecines were already too human. But if there was hybridisation, several ways to go, a separation of quasi-humans into several populations could have happened. Quasi-humans joining creatures already adapted to jungle pests and illnesses.
[A] Gulag outcast turns Kremlin apologist, [http://www.guardian.co.uk/international/story/0,,1764105,00.html]
[B] Merkel to tackle Chinese over ‘forced transfer’ of technology, [http://news.ft.com/cms/s/a4a616d6-e92f-11da-b110-0000779e2340,s01=1.html]
[C] The World Economy: Historical Statistics, by Angus Maddison, Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, 2003.
[D] Chinese netizens oppose auction of Mao Zedong’s portrait, [http://english.peopledaily.com.cn/200605/20/eng20060520_267178.html]
[E] Germany ‘aiding prostitution during World Cup’, [http://news.ft.com/cms/s/bfae11a6-d95b-11da-8b06-0000779e2340,s01=1.html]