Notes On The News
By Gwydion M Williams
Privatising war is a very old idea and has never worked well. States developed costly professional military machines, for the simple reason that other systems are a lot more expensive in the long run. This should have been utterly obvious, but the smart-Alecs of the New Right believed their own nonsense about ‘miracles of the market’. Perhaps had nostalgia for the success of white mercenaries in the early years of African independence, the crooks and thugs glamorised by Frederick Forsyth in The Dogs Of War.
Mercenaries helped mess up Africa, which was trying to imitate Europe’s successes and where democratic governments were not reliably subservient to US interests. Mercenaries were also used in Indochina, but up against a real army they were marginal. The war was kept going by the US Army, a mix of professionals and reluctant conscripts. Helped a little by the second-rate professionals of the ‘Army of the Republic of Vietnam’, the pro-US forces who never were good enough to stand alone. But the ‘ARVN’ were at least soldiers of a sort. Actual mercenaries did not count.
The only useful alternative to professional military machines is an army of patriots, people offended by what’s happening to their country or by the presence of strangers in their country. Highly-paid foreign mercenaries in a country with high unemployment and displaced professionals is a very nice incitement to patriotism. The behaviour of ‘hired guns’ is also likely to be provocative. Soldiers no longer restrained by miliary discipline are likely to be even cruder and more aggressive than soldiers normally are. The big conflict in Fallujah was sparked off by the lynching of four private military contractors. What made them such a target of hatred, by people who must have known what was likely to follow?
The key to war is trust, or the lack of it. Trust vanished when the US failed to get Iraq working again, could not keep up even the level of civilisation that Saddam had maintained in the face of Western sanctions and threat of war. The USA’s mid-term elections showed that the US electorate were sick of the war, while Iraqis must have taken it as a signal that the occupation would end quite soon. It may not be like Saigon, with the US fleeing from the roof of their own embassy – but mostly because weapons have improved and the Resistance in Iraq regularly shoot down helicopters.
The recent kidnap of five Britons from the Iraqi finance ministry must have had heavy ‘insider’ involvement. People in police uniform are most likely actual police, or at least working closely with them. The subjects of the kidnap were a computer expert and four armed men, all working for private contractors and they don’t seem to want to give us any more details, curiously enough. Not a shot was fired, so what the hell was going on?
A tribal society lays all sorts of random obligations on its members. A state asks for taxes and otherwise leaves you free to live your own life, which is why large numbers of people have always opted to leave tribalism and join a civilisation, albeit taking some aspects of tribalism with them.
In the West since the 1960s, people have concentrated on asserting personal freedoms and shaking off traditional Christianity. The Right had a ‘window of opportunity’ in the 1980s, when the new morality had lost its first enthusiasm. They might have rolled back at least some of the changes. Instead they preferred to embrace elements of the counter-culture, including some individuals who morphed very smoothly from Hippy to Yuppie.
The aim was to lessen the role of the state and government spending. Government spending has not in fact shrunk, in real terms it has grown. But the general anti-state attitude meant that rich people avoiding tax could be seen as heroes rather than cheats. This suited a lot of rich and powerful people, characters who bought up huge chunks of the media and used it to spread their creed.
People making money in a society should pay tax to that society. Tax needed to keep the society in being, a necessary pre-condition of their wealth. The Left complained about inequality, the Right worked to convince as many people as possible that anyone with a bit of prosperity was part of the elite the Left were complaining about. So successful were they, that nearly half of US citizens seem to believe that they are either part of the richest 1%, or at least destined to be part of this elite group.
The real benefits have gone to people with at least a few million cash. It is better to talk about millionaires than ‘richest 1%’, because although there are a lot of millionaires about, more than a million in the USA, no one is stupid enough to suppose they are a millionaire when in fact they are not.
The Guardian recently featured an account of what has been happening, from a man who was involved in the actual workings of the system:
“Most clients wanted to dodge taxes. We processed instructions from London, Switzerland and New York for assets whose mysterious owners were veiled behind nominee directors and shareholders and unregistered offshore trusts. These arrangements typically involved three legal entities spread across different jurisdictions and included “flee clauses” to flit away at the first hint of investigation. One client, a stockbroker syndicate, ran an insider trading racket via Jersey involving hundreds of millions of dollars. Others outwitted the taxman though trade mispricing scams, selling prefabricated buildings to Trinidad for $1.20 each, or importing toilet rolls from China at $4,122 a kilo.” [A]
The weak new states of Africa were encouraged to boost production of their raw materials – sensible enough if you are a peasant farmer, not at all wise if your production is a big chunk of global output. Gluts produced price slumps, loans were easily available but a lot of the money came right back to Europe through ‘open’ and highly secretive financing.
The US in the days of Kennedy-style liberalism played a large role in ensuring Africa would be a mess. The Congo was a test case for the UN and it was shown that the UN was both biased and useless. Patrice Lumumba was moderate and democratically elected, but not to the USA’s taste and so they brought him down.
Late in May, Channel 4 showed a program called Brits Get Rich In China.[B] Of course it was rich Brits getting richer by being a part of a system that moves production out of Britain. What follows when Britain entirely stops manufacturing things?
Some foreign investors also get ripped off, or perhaps have been foolish, one can never be sure. One of the three featured businessmen seemed an obvious target, except that there were cameras there and the program served as a gigantic free advert for everyone involved. It was mentioned that actually getting the money can be tricky. China has kept a system that makes it very hard to take money out of China, regardless. So it gets re-invested, and money-games of the sort that damaged the Asian Tigers in the 1990s are much harder.
“Few missed the coincidence of Paul Wolfowitz resigning from the World Bank on the same day Tony Blair was bidding farewell to Washington. Nor did the travails of Alberto Gonzales, the US attorney-general, who faces a vote of no confidence in the Senate next week, and who is closely associated with the alleged US excesses in the “war on terror”, escape parallel.
“Seven Republican senators have joined the Democrats in calling for Mr Gonzales to go over the alleged politically motivated firing of eight federal prosecutors late last year. One way or another most of the hardliners who dominated the first Bush administration have fallen by the wayside in the past 20 months – although for largely unrelated reasons. ” (Bush hawk is brought down, [C])
The anti-Bush forces have used a mix of hypocrisy, dishonesty and pomposity to bring down their targets – business as usual, in the USA. It is not just that the Neo-Cons have dropped the USA into a deep hole in Iraq, nothing they did has gone well:
“‘Alberto Gonzales should go, not because he’s an ideologue but because he is incapable of running a department,’ said the former official. ‘That is what ultimately caused Paul Wolfowitz’s downfall’.” (Ibid)
The core Neocons have proved true to Trotskyist roots. They sound brilliant but they can’t run anything. Nor can they stand back and ‘front’ for someone competent. In their Marxist phase, they were true to the pre-1914 Marxism that Trotsky stuck to for most of his life. He got pulled into Lenin’s very different system by the sheer excitement of the situation, and in defiance of everything he had been saying about Lenin between 1904 and 1917. He’d called Lenin a dictator when Lenin was trying to build an efficient party on the assumption that a Capitalist Democracy was the next ‘stage of history’. When Lenin decided to forget about ‘stages of history’ and establish a dictatorship that dispersed Russia’s elected Constituent Assembly, Trotsky was happy to be a henchman.
Trotsky brought very few followers with him into the Bolshevik Party: by some definitions you could say he joined in 1917 with zero followers. But he had oratory and cleverness and a name that sounded solidly Russian (he’d borrowed it from a jailer in one of his spells in prison). This did OK for a while, but only for as long as Lenin was there and Trotsky would obey him. Once Lenin was dead, Trotsky would work with no one and no one much would work with him. He became the Grand Oppositionist, founding a strain of Marxism that was adept at talking its way round the difficulties of real power. This is fine when you are not in charge, but means you not fit to exercise power if you get it
There has never yet been a competent political movement that drew a sharp distinction between Lenin and Stalin. You can be for both or bitterly against both or see both as part of something that’s maybe good to have far away and outside your own society. But to draw a distinction is to lose touch with reality. The Soviet Union’s decline began about the time that Khrushchev officially decreed that there was an enormous difference. This meant that history could not be understood and it was impossible to ease off the dictatorship that Lenin had created and that Stalin had used to create a viable system.
‘A system similar to fascism’, the critics will say. And be quite right, as far as their thinking goes. But in the 20th century, dramatic political change has mostly involved some sort of ‘ system similar to fascism’. Turkey was a notable success, the only Muslim country to seriously Westernise under Ataturk’s popular despotism. Even if you didn’t need to modernise, simple survival for the world’s richest nations has meant building a system similar to fascism, done within the rules of democracy by Roosevelt from 1933 and Britain’s wartime coalition government.
A corporatist transition happened in almost all countries in the 20th century. Sometimes via hard-left politics, sometimes nationalist, sometimes fascist, sometimes within the older forms of 19th century democracy. Hitler could close down democracy via the normal democratic channels, and this lesson was learned. Also that it was dangerous to let anyone do this, because Hitler could not be stopped short of total ruin of the system he had built up. But other more viable systems were built, and Third World leaders learnt.
“Death and injury on the roads is the world’s most neglected public health issue. Almost as many people die in road accidents – 1.2 million a year – as are killed by malaria or tuberculosis. Around 50 million are injured. Some 85% of these accidents take place in developing countries. The poor get hurt much more often than the rich, as they walk or cycle or travel in overloaded buses. The highest death rate is among children walking on the roads.” (George Monbiot, [D])
One million, 200 thousand per year adds up to six million every five years, the common estimate for the number of Jews killed by the Nazis. (Rather less than the likely total exterminated from a whole range of ethnic groups, including Gypsies and Serbs, but that’s another story.)
How to stop it? One commentator said:
“Its nothing to do with corporations, its to do with Government and politics. Here in the UK we kill around 3,000 a year, and injure 10 times that many. We could cut it in half tomorrow. All we have to do is have random concealed placement of speed cameras, and reduce town max speed to 20 mph, and have Swedish limits on drink-driving.” (Ibid.)
This, we are told, would be an Orwellian infringement on Freedom. Never mind that the vision of 1984 was of cameras inside the home, not in the street where life is inherently public. Freedom is taken to be freedom for aggressive bullies, the right to be high-tech baboons.
Web censorship is up, we are told. The complaint is against foreign governments: “a number of states in Europe and the US were not tested because the private sector rather than the government tends to carry out filtering.” [E]
What Yahoo News mentioned, but the BBC left out, is that “topics blocked are those considered antithetical to social norms, such as pornography, gay and lesbian content, and gambling. Social filtering also was carried out by countries like France and Germany, where websites that deny the Holocaust or promote Nazism are blocked. The survey found that Myanmar, China, Iran, Pakistan and South Korea have the ‘most encompassing national security filtering,’ targeting the websites of insurgents, extremists, and terrorists.” [F]
The World Wide Web remains officially under US control, with the US government keeping a firm grip on the ‘root servers’. Repeatedly refusing to allow a voluntary ‘xxx’ domain where pornographers could peddle their wares where it is legal and not bother anyone else. The mix is the key to New Right news-mongering, along with a refusal to mention facts that don’t boost their cause.
“There is a heated and complicated debate going on right now over the decision by the Chavez-led government of Venezuela not to renew the television concession which for years has pertained to Radio Caracas Television (RCTV)…
“RCTV were leaders in the 2-day coup in April 2002. This coup was not only one that used the military, but also the media. During the coup, RCTV cancelled their usual programs and broadcast a two-day string of black and white fuzziness, Hollywood movies, cartoons, and infomercials. This is widely confirmed by Venezuelans. When RCTV finally covered the coup, they reported that Chavez had signed his resignation and peacefully left his post as president after his supporters had opened fire on an innocent opposition march. The images RCTV broadcasted of the violence among the marchers were later proved to have been secretively arranged so to block from view the reality; pro-Chavez marchers were firing in self-defense after having been attacked by hidden gunmen…
“RCTV is well-known not only for constant dishonest anti-Chavez propaganda and a complete lack of dignified analysis, but for massive amounts of advertising for sex hotlines, pornographic programs back to back between 1 and 5am, and other behavior that was considered to be irresponsible and in violation of laws protecting children.
“There remain approximately three other major stations which are entirely opposition-run and very similar to RCTV in their programming. Over the years since the coup, the Chavez administration has negotiated with these stations behind the scenes. The stations have agreed to curb a lot of their ridiculous anti-Chavez propaganda and sexually explicit programming, so as not to have their concession closed. RCTV was absolutely uncompromising, and subsequently, it lost its concession.” [G].
Where have you seen that in Britain’s ‘free’ media? This magazine can freely access and report it, of course. But with so many other voices, truths get shouted down.