Newsnotes 2008 03

Notes On The News

By Gwydion M Williams

Fidel and Cuba: a success story

Putin / Medvediev – the West’s best friends

Kosovo: Break Every Rule

Beijing Olympics

Buckley: Conservative Nihilist [US Right]


Fidel and Cuba: a success story

Cuba was stolen from both Spain and the Cubans, when the USA barged its way into the Cubans’ War of Independence at the end of the 19th century. They also grabbed the Philippines from Spain, crushing the local independence movement with great brutality. Things were more moderate in Cuba, but the USA never let it go its own way, and in the 1950s was happy to support Batista as a dictator who had overthrown a weak democracy. Batista had been a moderate radical a few years earlier, carrying through reforms with support from the Cuban Communist Party. But by the 1950s he was just looking after the interests of the rich, both in Cuba and in the USA.

Wealthy USA citizens found Cuba a convenient holiday destination, close to home but nominally independent. Cuba could have vast numbers of casinos and a flourishing business in prostitution, under Batista’s supervision and safe from US politics, where such things were still mostly illegal and officially condemned. Cuba was also closer than Los Vegas, for most of the East Coast. All of this should be well-known: Graham Green told it in Our Man In Havana just before the revolution, and the high-level corruption features in The Godfather Part Two.

Castro overthrew Batista in 1959. He tried at first to work with the USA, but the USA wanted a lackey, not a partner. The pretext for hostility was that Castro refused to allow multi-party elections: that had never bothered the USA under Batista, or in many other places. It made a good pretext, but where there were elections and the USA dislikes the result, coups or invasions are normally organised. Castro knew that he had to set up a strong regime if anything was to be achieved.

We are told that the economy has been ruined under Castro. Undoubtedly the parts of Cuba designed to serve as the USA’s brothel and casino district have lost the lustre that once attracted prosperous visitors. But up until the Soviet collapse, and despite the USA’s total embargo and threats of invasion, Cuba was doing OK by Latin American standards. [A]:

Cuba Bolivia Argentina Brazil Chile
1950 11837 5309 85524 89342 23274
1960 14419 5516 114614 167397 32767
1970 16380 9459 174972 292480 49586
1980 25527 13995 232802 639093 63654
1990 31087 14446 212518 743765 84038
2000 26896 20991 320510 990076 149121
1960/1990 216 262 185 444 256
1960/2000 187 381 280 591 455

Cuba suffered by holding out against the USA after the Soviet collapse. Russia suffered worse during the years when it supposed that the USA was now on its side. If Cuba’s economy shrank, Russia’s shrank a lot more. Still worse was the fate of Yugoslavia, treated nicely by the USA while it was a moderate-socialist wedge in the Soviet Empire. Casually ripped apart when the USA thought it was more important to please Germany. Germany remembered its traditional friendship with the Croats, largely pro-Austrian in World War One and much more decisively pro-Nazi in World War Two.

Given the choices actually open to Cuba, I’d say Fidel did an excellent job. I wish him a happy retirement. Most likely enhanced by a lot more US setbacks, with their whole economy teetering thanks to gigantic bad debts and suspicion of enormous frauds.


Putin / Medvediev – the West’s best friends

Before the UK and USA overthrew Saddam, we in the Bevin Society told anyone who’d listen that whatever followed Saddam would be much less competent to Westernise Iraq, even if they weren’t flatly hostile. This now is too obvious to need arguing, but much the same people who expected the US to succeed in Iraq are showing deep hostility to Putin’s restoration of stability after Yeltsin had brought chaos and a declining authority.

Western-style liberalism in Russia was a strong minority movement in the 1990s: these days it is a joke. The Russian Communists are the most serious opposition. The residual liberals exist for nothing more than posturing for the benefit of the Western media. They claim the moral high ground, but anyone who went along with the ‘fix’ if 1996 has no right to protest now.

The ‘fix’ of 1996 followed on from Yeltsin shelling his own parliament in 1993 – which among other things ending the political career of a politician of Chechen descent who was speaker of that parliament. The sort of machine-politics that the West now calls dictatorial began in 1996, because Yeltsin was in severe danger of losing the Presidency to the Russian Communists. Ordinary Russians know it, even if it is seldom mentioned over here:

“‘Putin was a chosen successor, just as Putin has chosen his successor,’ says Sergei from Novosibirsk. Like many ordinary Russians, he nurses suspicions that Russia’s June 1996 presidential election was rigged to hand victory to Yeltsin, just months after he had tailed Gennady Zyuganov, the communist candidate, by a seemingly unbridgable margin.

“Even if the results were genuine, many see that campaign, with heavy use of ‘administrative resources’ such as courts and police and fawning support for Yeltsin from oligarch-owned TV, as establishing a model the Putin team has extended and perfected. The difference: today’s TV is directly or indirectly controlled by the state, not oligarchs.” [B]

The ‘fix’ of 1996 was probably in Russia’s best interest: the Russian Communists showed no sign of having learned anything from Brezhnev’s era of stagnation. It might have been better if they had had a competent leader in the 1980s, rather the bungling Gorbachev. They could have kept what they had in 1991 and improved it by sensible stages, much as the Chinese did, though Mao had left a strong base and an economy that grew fast all through the Cultural Revolution.[G] But once the Russians had broken the old system, it could not have been rebuilt by people nostalgic for what they had lost.

Another thing that might have happened was that the West could have been generous. George Soros tells us that he proposed a ‘Marshall Plan’ for Russia, and was laughed at by the geniuses of the New Right. Why he let himself be silenced is not explained: perhaps he lacks self-confidence, for all his posturing and gigantic wealth. He was exactly right, and even to have tried and failed would have given him enormous moral stature.

The USA should have followed the Keynesian pattern of massive aid that worked in 1945-55, not the foolish alternative that failed decisively in 1919-1929. But these smart-Alecs made their names denouncing Keynesianism. They missed their ‘window of opportunity’, and now it’s too late to save the USA from decline.


Kosovo: Break Every Rule

It’s a long-established rule that pieces of sovereign states cannot break away without permission. It’s nothing to do with the often-cited ‘Peace of Westphalia‘: Westphalia did no more than confirm the ambiguous status of the ‘Holy Roman Empire’, which was neither a single state nor a federation nor a collection of independent states. Outside of the Holy Roman Empire, state borders were respected except when a state had been decisively defeated and could be broken up at the victor’s whim.

Yugoslavia under Tito unwisely redefined itself as a collection of six sovereign states, without regard for the various minorities, mostly Serb, who often lived right next to Serbia proper. But Kosovo was never more than autonomous, attached to Serbia. There was a massive separatist movement among the ethnic Albanians, including the armed rebels of the Kosovo Liberation Army. Serbia left Kosovo alone while it was struggling to protect the Serbs of Bosnia and the ethnic-Serb areas of the Republic of Croatia. But Serbia was too slow to move away from Yugoslavia’s moderate socialism, at a time when the USA supposed that socialism was finished and that all remaining hold-outs should be swept away. Besides, Germany was keen to support its old ally Croatia, while Britain under Thatcher was very ready to rat on its old ally Serbia, the state whose claim to Bosnia was the starting-point for World War One.

The USA could have shown it was fit for its global role, by negotiating a peaceful break-up of Yugoslavia, with each piece coming under European Union supervision as a guarantee of fairness. This would have sensibly included redrawing Tito’s borders, with ethnic Serb areas coming into Serbia. Kosovo was not a bad candidate for independence, at least the majority-Albanian parts of it. But the Kosovo Albanians should have been forced to negotiate it, the Serbs offered prizes in the hope of winning them over to it. Two Kosovos could have been created, one for mostly-Albania areas and one for where the Serbs were the majority Instead the Serbs have been cheated yet again and the Kosovo Albanians given everything they wanted. Serbs had already been largely chased out, except where they had their own enclaves, principally an area in the north.

It’s not just Serbs. The Roma (gypsies) are also being expelled. They tried to stay neutral and ending up being rejected by both sides. Most of the territory is now ethnic-Albanian and it is they who are driving out the last of Kosovo’s Roma.[C]

What has happened is neither law nor justice. It is sheer gangsterism, a loyal follower rewarded and a sharp punishment for an opponent who is weak enough to punish safely.

Serbia was weak enough to pick on. But the USA’s main opponents are far too strong to punish safely. Iraq, intended as a demonstration of strength and a way to keep oil prices low, has ended up with exactly the opposite effect. Oil had just gone over $100, and the USA finds that a lot of its ‘financial assets’ are bad debts.

Despite which, the USA is in charge for now. The United Nations has dithered – Spain, Russia, China and Romania are among the countries stopping it from endorsing this latest US illegality, in the way it endorsed the invasion of Iraq and much else that it should have stood against. It should rename itself, call itself the Subordinate Nations Dependent On The USA.

‘This is not a precedent’, say several newspaper pundits. They admit is being seen as a precedent by various minorities who’d like to see the precedent. Never the less, they say it is not.

You can call your cat a duck, but it still won’t take to water. (Or won’t unless it’s a Lake Van cat.) Anything that can happen once can happen again with much less effort. There are 69 members of an outfit called the Unrepresented Nations and Peoples Organization. That’s not the limit to possible separatists: the Basques are not there, and nor is South Ossetia. North Ossetia is a reasonably contented autonomous region within the Russia Republic, South Ossetia is officially part of Georgia but has declared itself independent. The important difference from Kosovo is that Basque or Ossetian independence does not suit the USA. But why should that matter, in the long run?

[It was indeed used as a precedent, when anti-Russian protestors overthrew the democratically elected government in Kiev and Crimea decided it wanted no part of a Ukraine that was run by bunglers with no coherent policies except hatred for Russia and all things Russian.]


Beijing Olympics

China has a lot of people in jail, but it is also a very big country, and a country stressed by poverty and rapid social change. The USA has no such difficulty, but the USA now has one in a hundred of its adult population in jail. Taking the population as a whole, the USA has 750 prisoners per 100,000 people, South Africa 341 per 100,000, Iran: 222 per 100,000 and China 119 per 100,000.[E]

Race comes into it, race and the massive failure of 1960s dreams of Civil Rights. Civil Rights and ‘Affirmative Action’ were ruined by the Republican Party’s insistence that all serious action against covert racism was ‘interference with the rights of the individual’.

It may well be true that it was ‘interference with the rights of the individual’, as the USA traditionally defined such things. The USA was established in the 1770s to be a republic, but not a democracy. The US Constitution does not mention democracy or one-man-one-vote in all of its provisions for elections, it was initially an undemocratic electoral system run by an elite. From the 1830s it became a democracy of sorts, but only for white men. This may offend later ideals, but not really the views of the Founding Fathers. The USA was set up by an alliance of former British colonies that mostly had legal slavery at the time of independence: from Virginia southwards they were dependent on it. Rejecting ‘Affirmative Action’ was a reasonably interpretation of the original principles of the US Constitution. But it was certainly not wise politics. Britain has more or less integrated most of its Afro-Caribbean population, almost all of whom arrived here from the 1950s. The USA is in practice highly segregated.

But that doesn’t mean it is nice for the whites, not for whites outside of the ruling circles. “While one in 106 adult white men are incarcerated, one in 36 Hispanics and one in 15 African-Americans are behind bars, according to Pew’s examination of Justice Department data from 2006. Younger black men fare even worse, with one in nine African-Americans ages 20 to 34 held in cells.” [F] This is discriminatory, but it also means that you’re worse treated by the ‘Criminal Justice’ as a white man in the USA than you would be as any sort of man in almost any other country.

A Chinese man in the People’s Republic has a much smaller chance of going to jail than a white man in the USA. White Racists who thought the Republican Party would look after them were deeply mistaken. They are less badly off than Hispanics and African-Americans, but considerably worse off than if they’d stuck with New Deal principles.

This is the context in which to assess US protests about the Beijing Olympics. Spielberg was within his rights: he offered to help the Chinese ceremonies as a gesture of friendship. Anybody can break a friendship if they feel like it: it may turn out to be a mistake, but it is their mistake to make. But calls for a boycott are totally unreasonable. The Moscow Olympics were different: the Soviet Union had blatantly broken the rules by invading Afghanistan in 1979. The boycott in 1980 may have saved Poland from invasion when Solidarity was making it ungovernable.

Some bloggers have mentioned the 1936 Berlin Olympics: I don’t think ‘Schindler’s List’ Spielberg has done so. It would beg far too many questions. By 1936, Hitler had dismantled democracy and established massive discrimination against Jews. All of this was a big change and deterioration since Germany had originally been given the Olympics. So why no boycott except from a few people on the Far Left?

The answer is simple enough: at that time there was a lot of support and admiration for Hitler. Most Britain and the USA saw Germany as friendly up until 1938.

So what has China does in Sudan that is so terrible? The fighting in Western Sudan began with an armed secessionist movement, the sort of thing the USA disapproves of outside of Kosovo. Sudan is not run well, but it has a coherent government and might be much worse off without it, just as Congo / Zaire is maybe worse off than the dire condition it was in under Mobutu. China is taking the view that it is really none of China’s business. The West thinks that African governments must be forced to yield to Western pressure, regardless of the outcome. A government suppressing a rebellion is sometimes unacceptable and sometimes not. There are no real principles involved.

You also get a lot of shouting about Tibet. Mostly from people who couldn’t tell you the difference between West Tibet and East Tibet (more familiarly Outer Tibet and Inner Tibet) and who have probably never heard of the Sakya lamas. Western Tibet was a distinct unit and might have established itself as an independent state, as did the former Outer Mongolia. But that would have meant cutting ties with East Tibet, where the Dalai Lama was born – in an area ruled by a warlord who recognised the territory as part of China, as it happens. Most of those who make propaganda about Tibet have not idea of the real issues.

It’s maybe helpful in the long run that ordinary Chinese are seeing that Western friendship is very uncertain. It’s not likely to go far: China could create a global economic crisis by selling its gigantic dollar holdings, a move that would probably be very popular among Chinese if the West insulted China’s big Olympic show. (Even more popular if they included a cash gift of ten dollars or even a hundred dollars to every citizen as part of a switch to the Euro: reserves are more than a trillion dollars.)

Because of what China might do, Bush is being very moderate and sensible and will help make their Olympics a success. That’s the advantage of being strong in the New World Order. US citizens should be fixing their own country, not denouncing the rest of the world.


Buckley: Conservative Nihilist

The late William F. Buckley did for US conservatism what the serpent did for the Garden of Eden. Serious conservatism knows that it is not about liberty, at least not liberty beyond traditional and conservative bounds.

Buckley was a pioneer of a dysfunctional conservatism that has notably failed to conserve anything. He paved the way for first Barry Goldwater and then Reagan and the NeoCons. ‘Libertarianism’ is essentially a fraud, loud insistence on the absoluteness of liberty combined with a failure to defend it when only poor people are hurt. They mostly back conscription, at least in warfare. They refuse to see that a market economy that fails to employ people who’re very ready to do an honest days work is a much bigger interference with freedom than a state that takes tax from those well able to pay.

The whole tax thing has been a fraud as well. The rhetoric suggests that all taxes are bad and total abolition would be a good idea. This never gets anywhere near reality, for the simple reason that any human society that didn’t tax had some alternative system of social obligations. No society without tax has got beyond the tribal stage – some authentic anarchists would be very happy if it was all tribal, but that’s not libertarianism. The rhetoric that all taxes are bad has translated into a system where taxes are shifted from the rich onto the poor, with state expenditure remaining much the same share of the economy.

Neo-Cons, the latest wave of libertarians, have been good at capturing power within the USA but utterly hopeless at translating US wealth and strength into someone solid. Bill Clinton was not much better, but he avoided seeming so bad. Got away with trashing Yugoslavia and leaving Iraq in limbo.

The really big error, the one that will probably wipe out and reverse whatever the New Right have achieved in the West, was the breaking away from the stuffy-sounding principles of Financial Probity. These were in fact reliable rules for long-term survival, even if chances for short-term profit were missed. The massive gambling by Hedge Funds and similar broke an elementary rule, don’t foul your own nest.

The ‘miracle of the market; was supposed to take care of it, and of course it didn’t. Unlike functional conservatism, libertarianism made the error of thinking markets to be omnipotent and infallible, rather than reasonably efficient in familiar circumstances. Danger signals from 1987 onwards were ignored: the New Right has always been good at finding excuses. They should have asked, ‘why is almost everything an exception to our rules?’ The simplest explanation is that the rules are junk

The New Right benefited by the demoralisation of Left by the unexpected regeneration of capitalist economics. Interestingly, what Marxists had called ‘bourgeois values’ collapsed at about the same time. That was Marxism’s big error, seeing the 19th century connection between capitalism and bourgeois values as something fundamental. Without a functioning bourgeoisie you could not have capitalism, it was supposed. But it turned out you could, ex-hippies made very efficient capitalists or industrialists.

Marx never looked properly at examples beyond Europe, saw them as primitive cases of the ‘Asiatic Mode of Production’. If he’d looked more closely, he’d have found that groups equivalent to the European bourgeoisie in other societies had very different values. China and India had economies as sophisticated as Europe in the 18th century, but they had no intention of starting something like capitalism, any more than they’d have gone selling their grandmothers. It was totally against their values.

Even in the west it was doubtful. Industrial society began in Britain, but well away from the centres of power. It was closely tied to a large stratum of independent and sometimes rich people who were Nonconformists, excluded from the government and state apparatus and out of tune with it, yet allowed to operate fairly freely as business people, traders and manufacturers. The result could have been a stable social order based on those values, using technology only where it fitted. It could have happened but it didn’t and libertarianism flourished in a social vacuum, an uncomfortable shift of values within Europe and of economic power from Europe and the USA to East Asia.



[A] Figures from Angus Maddison’s The World Economy: Historical Statistics – a book generally accepted as the best source for such matter.

[B] []

[C] []

[D] []

[E] []

[F] []

[G] This is also from Maddison. I got suspicious when I noticed that books and articles about China’s growth under Deng never compared overall performance under Mao and Deng. Though Deng raised the growth rate, he also had the advantage of US help: they wanted him to succeed.

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