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Book Reviews

Contents:

    * The biggest rogue
    * Socialist? Feminist?

The biggest rogue

Rogue States: The Rule of Force in World Affairs. By Noam Chomsky, Pluto Press, 2000.

Over the years, Chomsky has been described in various ways: as “the medic trying to cure a national endemic of selective amnesia”; as “the most dangerous man in the US”; as “the little boy who told the emperor he was naked” and, more recently by the New York Times, as “an exploder of received truths”. In this, his latest book, we find Chomsky very much living up to this long-standing reputation.

It is often said that if you've read one Chomsky book, you've read them all, which is perhaps true in so far as he is a relentless critic of US foreign and domestic policy, sinking his teeth deeper into the same old foe like a vengeful rottweiler with each new publication. Rogue States is no departure from the norm—it's Chomsky doing what he does best.

Through skilful analysis of internal documents combined with historical context, a meticulous scrutiny of the activities of the US State Dept and a thorough gleaning of the quality broadsheets both sides of the pond, Chomsky again sets himself the task of gauging the US and its allies by the standards they use as justification for the interference in the lives of others.

The Balkans, East Timor and Colombia come in for close scrutiny in separate chapters which reveal the extent of US collusion in the ongoing misery there. In Kosovo, observes Chomsky, the US “has chosen a course of action that undermines—perhaps destroys—promising democratic development”. The Clinton regime's praise for Colombia as “leading democracy” is stringently challenged by Chomsky. Citing Colombia's human rights record as one of the worst in the world, Chomsky provides ample proof that the Clinton/Blair doctrine of “new humanism”—the self-styled “historic mission of bringing justice and freedom to the suffering people of the world”—is a total sham. Colombia, notorious for its state terror, produces 300,000 refugees and 3,000 deaths per year at the hands of its security forces, yet is presently the biggest recipient of US military aid in Latin America. The same favoured nation status is reserved for Turkey, whose security forces, in their persecution of the Kurdish people, have destroyed 3,500 villages and created three million refugees. Meanwhile, the US is keen to promote the redeeming qualities of resource-rich Indonesia ahead of the political fate of East Timor at the hands of the former.

Chomsky further reveals the US to be wholly contemptuous and dismissive of UN resolutions and the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights it helped to bring into existence and to be severely lacking in any credible justification for its policies beyond its own borders. In the regard, Chomsky further highlights the US passion for free trade, pointing to the developing countries compelled not only to accept US cigarettes and other drugs and commodities but also to advertise them under threat of trade sanctions.

Sanctions and indeed debt “is a very powerful weapon of control” says Chomsky, with half the world subject to US unilateral sanctions, a cruel form of economic coercion condemned repeatedly by the UN. In a chapter on the paranoiac US relationship with Cuba, Chomsky reminds us that Cuba has suffered 40 years of embargoes—the longest in history, and in spite of two-thirds of the US population opposing the sanctions and in breach of WTO rules, all of which is dismissed with the defence that Cuba is a threat to US national security.

Though this can at times be a hard-going book for the uninitiated, the mountains of information make it an indispensable reference work and guide to the methods the powerful use to further their own interests to the detriment of so many. It is moreover an invaluable tool for deciphering the rhetoric the powerful use to rationalise their excesses.

JOHN BISSETT

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Socialist? Feminist?

From the Ashes of the Old Century, A Better World's in Birth . By Andrea Bauer. (64 pp. $4.50 from Red Letter Press, 409 Maynard Ave. S., Suite 201, Seattle, WA 98104, USA.)

This is the Political Resolution adopted by the 1999 convention of a US trotskyist organisation called the Freedom Socialist Party (FSP).

I'm not sure which “better world” the title of this pamphlet is referring to, but it is certainly not planet Earth. This is a world where the state capitalist dictatorships of the Soviet bloc were “workers states” and “. . . societies in which the profit system had been overthrown and production and distribution were organized essentially in the interest of working people”. A world where “nationalization of the credit system” is a socialist demand. A world where the working class must be led and directed by “trained, dedicated revolutionaries” rather than rely on our own conscious actions. Most unbelievably of all, a world where workers “. . . respond with anger and pressure, not cynicism and apathy, when the Second Internationalists (Labour and Social Democratic parties) fail to act as their representatives”.

Its somewhat upsetting that the FSP styles itself as a “socialist, feminist” organisation. An organisation which regards itself as feminist while defending state capitalist regimes as “workers states” should ask itself some questions. As a system of society in which the FSP claim the profit system had been overthrown we should expect women to have liberated themselves from the shit capitalism throws (disproportionately) on them. Was this really the case though? Not quite:

    “. . . women in Eastern Europe lived under a system of formal, legislated equality. Women had the legal right to work, and most barriers to women's employment were lifted. Mandated equality, however, is not the same as freedom. Women were not given a choice of lifestyle, but were obligated to work. Since “equality” was imposed by the state, there was no public dialogue about the changes in women's roles, and sexism and discrimination persisted, both in the public and domestic spheres. Women were still expected to do all of the child rearing and housework, for example, while working the same hours as men.”

In Romania, women were required to bear four, and then later five, children; many died from illegal abortions, or were allowed to bleed to death if they refused to reveal the names of illegal abortionists. (http://civnet.org/journal/issue3/cfbeco.htm)

Life for working class women in the state capitalist/”communist” states was a life not a million miles away from that of a working class woman in the openly capitalist “west”. What sort of liberation is offered by the “workers states” which the FSP see as a model for socialism if we are just going to continue being wage slaves and women are going to continue to be crushed by the burdens of a patriarchal class society?

Even the high percentage of women in national legislatures and public office in eastern bloc countries relative to the west is deceptive when comparison is made with percentages of women in the Party bureaucracy:

“In the bodies which did have real power—the communist parties' central committees, for instance—there were almost no women” (http://www.oska.org.pl/english/womeninpoland/perpectives/2.html).

Just like the western states these “workers' states” were systems of minority-class economic, political and social domination, with male authority figures at the top. That women are suffering disproportionately in the changeover period following the collapse of the eastern state capitalist bloc and losing many of what gains were won under state capitalism is an argument for abolishing the capitalist system altogether, not going “back to the future” to a “workers' paradise” that never existed.

BM
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