1990s >> 1998 >> no-1128-august-1998

Book Reviews: ‘Killing Hope’, & ‘Robert Owen and the Commencement of the Millennium’

American imperialism

Killing Hope: U.S. Military and CIA Interventions Since World War II by William Blum. Black Rose Books, Montreal, Canada. $19.99 (Canadian). £12.99 in UK, pp. 458. 1998

BIum hasn’t a clue as to what kind of society existed in the former Soviet Union, or eastern Europe. or what exists in China or Cuba today. And this is annoying to this socialist reader. Nevertheless, Killing Hope has much to recommend it, as a work of reference and an exposé of American policy in general, and the CIA in particular, since the end of World War II.

Blum’s account, and exposé, covers the entire world. He mentions that within days of the Japanese defeat in China they were being used by the Americans against Mao’s Red Army; how the U.S. influenced the Italian election of 1948; how they, together with Britain, supported the monarchists, and Nazi collaborators in Greece, even before the end of the war in Europe. Interference in the internal affairs of Albania, Germany, Cuba, most Latin American countries, Angola, Iraq, Libya, Afghanistan, and many more, are all detailed. Even the CIA’s involvement in the ousting of Gough Whitlam’s Labour government in Australia in 1975 is described in considerable detail – all in the interest of American capitalism, and its quest for world hegemony, which it has largely achieved. Truly a sordid business.

Blum’s account is particularly useful, because every important statement is reliably sourced.


Utopian capitalist?

Robert Owen and the Commencement of the Millennium by Edward Royle. Manchester University Press.

Robert Owen (1771—1858) is generally described as a philanthropist and utopian socialist. This book puts a question mark against the first claim and an even bigger one against the second. It also offers ample evidence that Owen, whatever else he presented himself as, was first and foremost a capitalist.

Royle concentrates on one of Owen’s later projects, the conimunity built on a green-field site in Hampshire and known as Harmony. Before that, Owen had played an important part in the development of New Lanark, a community based on four large cotton mills along the banks of the Clyde. Although Owen had joined a group of doctors, scientists and writers who were concerned about the conditions of factory (especially child) labour, their concern was to ameliorate such conditions, not to abolish them.

Cotton spinning mills were driven by water power, so industrialists like Owen moved into the countryside where they built new villages centred on their factories. Labour had to he attracted to such places and looked after as a scarce commodity. Communities were created in the countryside because the factories needed them. The factory master was in much the same position as the landed squire. He owned the property and provided for the work and leisure of his people. His self-interest combined with any humanitarian feelings to ensure concern for his people’s welfare. As Owen wrote in his autobiography. his chief object at New Lanark was “To discover the means by which the condition of the poor and the working classes could he ameliorated, and with benefit to their employers.”

Royle gives a relatively brief account of Owen’s enterprise at New Harmony in America, the so-called land of freedom and opportunity. In 1824 Owen, having had disagreements and disappointments at New Lanark. was ready to make a new start. He heard that the Rappites of Harmonie in Indiana were looking for a buyer for their community. He bought in, but soon realised his mistake. Unlike the docile and co—operative wage-slaves at New Lanark, the poorest families at New Harmony were accustomed to work only a few months each year and then to spend the rest of their time “in doing nothing, in drinking and in talking politics, which tend to nothing”.

The author spends most of the rest of his book telling us about the Harmony community. The details make fascinating reading. Owen does not emerge smelling of roses. His ”business methods show the gentle philanthropist to have had the financial teeth of a shark”. In 1833 Owen announced the formation of the Grand National Union of the Productive Classes, but he was not looking to create the alternative society to capitalism. Rather he used the Union to prepare followers for the reorganisation of society in paternalistic communities. Despite his opposition to the conviction of the Tolpuddle martyrs in 1834, he was never reconciled to the class conflict which the trade union struggle brought.

Royle quotes one acerbic critic’s view of the Owenites’ mission as “the relief of the upper classes from the gout; the middle classes from the ledger fever; the working classes from poverty; and all from misery”. At Harmony the aspirations of working men and women were sacrificed to the deniands of the profit system. Capitalism still held control, and the working people there remained its victims.

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