Book Reviews: ‘Rogue State’, ‘The Culture of Make-Believe’, & ‘The Future of Success’
Who’s a rogue state?
‘Rogue State: A Guide to the World’s Only Superpower’. By William Blum. (Zed Books, 2002)
The name William Blum will not be familiar to many readers in Britain and the majority of those in the USA who learn about him will probably despise him as a traitor. He was intending to make a career in the State Department but found that he could not accept America’s policy in the Vietnam war and left the service. True-blue Americans might have let this “weakness” pass by condemning him as a “wimp”, but he then committed the unpardonable sin of starting to disclose the truth about the shadier actions of their glorious government . He wrote about the members of the CIA and followed that up by an on-the-spot exposure of their involvement in the overthrow of the Allende government in Chile. Soon afterwards he extended his searches to CIA staff and activities in Europe.
The recent up-date of his book Rogue State, first published in 2000, collects together not only his wide and carefully researched exposure of CIA tricks and misdeeds worldwide. It also looks in devastating detail at a whole range of US government actions and policies
and at the totally amoral and illegal methods used to carry them out. Lying, murder, criminal interference in elections and other affairs of nations across the globe, covert and overt terrorism, corruption of the UN, continuous brainwashing of its own electorate… The list is almost endless; and all this carried out under the most cynical worldwide propaganda umbrella of “developing democracy” and spreading the “noblest civilised values”.
Many of us will already know, or suspect, some of what Blum has to say, but the sheer power of his detailed exposures makes his book , if not a “must”, a very fine source of ammunition against the present leader of world capitalism, in fact of the world. His listing (with comments) of US global interventions since 1945 and his detailing of little-known US voting at the UN General Assembly over a period of about ten years; these alone are worth the cost of the book.
The slight weakness from a socialist viewpoint is his failure to make a strong enough connection between his many trenchant criticisms and their direct link with the capitalist drive for control and profit. He is quite clear about America’s fifty-year long imperialist expansion and all the accompanying hoodwinking of the American people with endless “wicked enemy” propaganda. He has no illusions about 11 September (“after the attack it was Christmas every day for the security establishment and its corporate cohorts”) : and he knows that the US destruction of Afghanistan was carried out to safeguard its proposed oil pipeline to the Indian Ocean. All this is excellent; it’s just a pity that Blum does not add the clincher argument for socialism that, to those who can see, is so implicit in all his facts.
Depths of alienation
‘The Culture of Make-Believe’. By David Jensen, (New York, Context Books, 2002)
‘The Future of Success’. Robert B. Reich, (New York, Knopf, 2001)
The stream of books coming out of America on the Holy Global Empire of capitalism continues unabated. The tale is of two classes: arrogant winners and collateral losers, private wealth and public poverty, triumphalist insecurity for the elite and traumatic insecurity for the mass. The system is enthusiastically praised, superficially criticised, but never seriously opposed. There Is No Alternative – or, if you prefer the sporting metaphor, capitalism is the only game in town.
With Derrick Jensen’s 700-page blockbuster you get more or less what it says in the blurb: “the atrocities that characterise so much of our culture – from . . . modern slavery and corporate misdeeds to manufacturing disasters, death squads in developing nations and the destruction of the natural world”. The text is discursive, even gabby. There is no index, which suggests that the author wants you to read it as a novel for entertainment, not a polemic for study.
To give Jensen his due, he’s good on slavery:
“. . . the power relationship between slaveholders and slaves can be broken into three components. The first is social, and involves the use or threat of violence by the slaveholder to control the slave. The second is psychological, and has to do with convincing the slaves to perceive their slavery as actually being in their own best interests. The third is cultural, and has to do with transforming force into a right of the powerful and obedience into a duty of the powerless. . .”
He can’t bring himself to explicitly oppose wage slavery and the capitalist system of which it is an integral part. Instead he seeks to shock us with the revelation that his solution is to get rid of civilisation. On the last page we get a sanitised biblical story: the appropriately-named Ham, rather than being condemned to perpetual enslavement, feels a happy, fecund sense of freedom.
As an economist, Robert Reich is more upfront about capitalism, which he takes for better and for worse. The good news is for consumers, who can “shift allegiance with the click of a mouse” because they live in “the age of the terrific deal”. But the bad news is about quality of non-consuming life: more frenzy, less security, loss of time and energy for friendship, community and self.
Reading through Reich’s prose, with its chapter heads like “Of geeks and shrinks” and “The sale of the self”, gives the impression that the author is writing about and for people very much like himself. Of the 6 billion people in the world only perhaps a billion or so have regular employment, and by no means all of those worry about their CV and how they present themselves at interview. Yet Reich asserts that:
“In the new economy, you get ahead not by being well liked but being well marketed… Talented people are even selling shares in themselves… Once, the worst thing that could be said of someone was that he had sold out. Now the worst thing that can be said is that he’s not selling”.
By this reckoning, capitalism has plunged depths of alienation that Marx could only have had nightmares about.