Newsnotes 053 – April 1996

Notes on the News

Chinese “expansionism”

200 years ago, the Chinese Empire was rather larger than the present Peoples Republic of China, and large parts of the present United States of America belonged either to Indians or to Mexicans.

All through the 1930s and 1940s, the USA was hoping to Christianise and Americanise China through their Chinese Nationalist allies. But amazingly enough, the Chinese showed a preference for remaining Chinese. The success of Mao’s guerrillas was as much due to their status as hard-line nationalists as any sort of social revolt.

Faced with a spreading Communist- Nationalist synthesis in East Asia, America found it wise to be much more modest in its demands on the remaining non-Communist Nationalists. They also did not give up on the remnants of their China policy. They used their UN veto to keep up the absurd pretence that the tiny island of Taiwan was the real China, with the actual government in Peking not acknowledged. ‘Ibis was dropped only when Nixon decided that America needed China as an ally against a USSR that seemed to be strong and expansionist.

With the fall of the USSR, the USA had a bout of rather inept Machiavellianism, trying to discard allies who were “surplus to requirements”. The End of History having occurred in 1989, there was no need to plan for a stable future. Only things did not quite work out. Rumania went easily enough, but the whole power of the USA has not yet been able to finish off Saddam Hussein. China is also now unwanted, yet far too strong to tackle. They are merely pointlessly annoyed by loose talk that China was next on the list for a “velvet revolution”.

If there were a New World Order worthy of the name, a large self-governing nation like Taiwan would be free to decide its own destiny. But the USA has made sure (hat International Law can never be applied against the USA. And it therefore has no credibility with anyone else. Who can blame the Chinese continuing to play power politics in a blatantly unjust world?


Over in America, the closest equivalent to Major is President Clinton. There is a consensus that he is not much good at running the country or enacting serious reform. But he is a great campaigner, and looks likely to win for that reason.

America is a land where freedom is more talked about than actually practised. America is much more ready than Britain to interfere with the unconventional. It is not really supposed to be free except for the WASP mainstream. But since the US constitution defines itself by abstract freedom for all persons regardless of race creed or colour, the actual opinions of the society do not get enforced. Hence the widespread anger that has expressed itself through Buchanan.

Mr Patrick Buchanan is no WASP, of course. The oldest stratum of the society Is no longer able to express itself coherently. Their feelings were expressed neurotically by Nixon, more coherently by Reagan, who was the acceptable face of bigotry; incoherently through Joe McCarthy in the 1950s.

Barry Goldwater – a descendant of Jewish converts to WASP values – began the effective right-wing revolt against America’s post-war corporatism. As Republican Presidential Candidate in 1964, be lost the election but shifted the pattern of politics. Shifted it from something that worked to something that did not, and yet he gets called Conservative. Most likely Buchanan hopes that he can repeat the trick. But can he?

Contrary to what Buchanan etc. have said, the US economy is doing fine. It is just that the rich have got almost all of the benefits. The whole Nixon /

Reagan tax cutting has tilted things heavily in their favour. If society was no more unfair than it was in mid* 1970s, the American middle class would be doing fine. Buchanan prefers to go after soft targets, foreign imports.

Another weakness of the whole Christian Right is that they dare not go after the people they should really be mad at. The Evangelical Right are mere Mickey Mouse Puritans; they are against unpopular minorities like gays rather than against sex in general.

Christianity, like freedom, is much talked about and little practised in America. I low many Americans would ever turn the other cheek, as Jesus commanded? They’d be much more likely to draw a gun. As for Chastity or Holy Poverty, forget it. Christianity is valued only as the ultimate source of respectability. Actually doing what the Bible commands is something else.

Major rules Tories OK

“Survival of the fittest” in the fierce competition of modem politics might be expected to produce the best person to lead a national party. But best for what? Not best at running the country, nor even best at preserving party fortunes. Free competition can be expected to favour the person who is best at winning that particular competition, regardless of whether they have any other skills.

Major is in charge because he was very clever at sliding into power when Thatcher fell. He won an election by completely false promises of a “period of Stabilization” after the upheavals of the Thatcher years. He remains in power because he has been good at playing off one rival against another. The series of leaks and rumours concerning the protection of small business made it clear that Heseltine  was merely Deputy Dog, with Major still very much his master. (Nothing serious will be done to protect small business, of course.)

Democracy or Plurocracy?

Democracy works when it makes decisions for a single pre-existing social unit. Two nations overlapping in the same territory is another matter. The norm is for the majority in a given area to predominate, but with a strict recognition that this is naturally two distinct communities rather than one.

One can have “plurocracy” – two or more distinct communities with the largest ruling as it will. It has the same external forms as democracy, but democracy assumes a single people or Demos. In Northern Ireland, the two communities have much more in common with outside groups than with each other. An election in Britain would be a meaningful choice within a single “Demos”. In Northern Ireland, it will merely confirm that Protestants have a majority, which was never in any doubt

Within the United Kingdom, England has a comfortable predominance and sets the tone for British society. Minor nations need allowances as the price for accepting this unequal union. Scotland would certainly be vastly better off if had got away in 1970s. Talk of the “West Lothian question” – the anomaly of Scotland both running its own affairs and playing a part in controlling the destiny of the whole society – ignores the much greater anomaly of several nations of very unequal size in a union with few formal protections for minorities. If Scotland is to stay in union with a much larger neighbour, it needs substantial compensation.


See Virtual Reality and vomit! The brightly-coloured synthetic worlds that hit the news a couple of years back turn out not to work very well. The human brain is not at all happy when the eye says one thing and the middle-ear says another. The appearance of being stationary on a moving ship or train causes nausea, which can be eased by looking out the of the window and seeing the actual movement. The illusion of movement for a sedentary visitor to Virtual Reality is even less easy to cure.

The cynical nastiness of “Cyberpunk” is getting swept away now that world-wide communication and cheap computers are being used by ordinary people. It is no longer a refuge for people who cannot cope with ordinary life. Ordinary life is gradually colonising it – but with what consequences?

A reviewer said that Microsoft magnate Bill Gates’s vision of the future, that it “looks much like the present, but with more computer application.” Much the same could have been said in the 1950s, when exactly the same sort of world-wide communication was being forecast. Only then it was 1950s social values that were supposed to be eternally cherished in a bright new ever-changing world.



These newsnotes appeared in April 1996, in Issue 53 of Labour and Trade Union Review, now Labour Affairs.  You can find more from the era at and