Posts Tagged ‘Alfredo Benz’

Vox Political: Youssef El-Gingihy on Western Imperialism in Iraq

August 21, 2016

Mike’s also put up an excellent piece by Youssef El-Gingihy, ‘Business as Usual in Iraq’. I think Mr Gingihy is a medical doctor. He’s certainly a very firm opponent of the privatisation of the NHS, and has written a book against it, How to Dismantle the NHS in 10 Easy Steps, published by Zero Books. I found a copy of this in the Cheltenham branch of Waterstones.

El-Gingihy makes the point that the Iraq invasion was not an aberration, but merely the continuation of American and British global imperialism. This isn’t about making the world safe for democracy, but in the forcible acquisition of other nation’s industries and resources. He points out that Tony Blair wasn’t Bush’s poodle, but took part in the invasion of Iraq perfectly willingly as part of the Atlantic Alliance. George Bush senior and Maggie Thatcher armed Hussein in the Iran-Iraq War, and his gassing of the Kurds in 1988 aroused no condemnation from us. The US military-industrial complex was determined to invade Iraq, because its acquisition was estimated to be worth $100 billion to the American economy. This was only the latest in a series of coups that have overthrown popular elected leaders in countries around the world, so that America can get its hands on their countries’ valuable economic assets. This goes back to the overthrow of Mossadeq in Iran in the 1953, who had the audacity to nationalise the Persian oil industry, and Salvador Allende in Chile in 1975, who was ousted because he was a Marxist and wanted to break up the great estates to give land to the peasants.

He also sees Bush’s decision to disband the Ba’athist army, whose troops then joined the jihadists fighting against the occupation and the Shi’a and other factions, which supported or benefited from it, as part of the imperial tactics of divide et conquera. As a result of the invasion, Iraq has been transformed from a secular dictatorship into a breeding ground for terrorists. There were only a few thousand globally at the time of 9/11. Now that number has increased to about 100,000. The number of Iraqis, who’ve been killed may be as high as 600,000 +. America maintains its global dominance through a network of 800 bases worldwide. At the time of 9/11, the Americans drew up plans to invade seven countries, and El-Gingihy notes how the wars and destabilisation have spread to other countries, like Yemen. He makes the point that if we really wanted to stop terror, we should stop supporting countries that are funding and supporting it, like Saudi Arabia. But that isn’t going to happen, because Saudi Arabia is our ally.

He concludes

Tony Blair famously called on history to be his judge. That judgement will be one of eternal damnation. He has already attempted a spirited defence but, as with Lady Macbeth, not all the perfumes of Arabia can relieve the stench of blood on his hands.

See his article: https://thexrayfactor.wordpress.com/2016/08/19/the-iraq-war-was-simply-business-as-usual/

Mike’s reblog is at: http://voxpoliticalonline.com/2016/08/20/the-iraq-war-business-as-usual-youssef-el-gingihy/

Everything Dr El-Gingihy has said is correct. The Iraq invasion was all about stealing the country’s oil and state industries. Iraq has the largest oil reserves after Saudi Arabia, and Aramco, the American-Saudi oil company, and the other oil magnates, desperately wanted to get their hands on it. The Americans also drafted legislation declaring that any rare crops still grown in Iraq were also automatically owned by American biotech companies. Iraq and the Fertile Crescent is the area where western agriculture started at the dawn of civilisation nearly 6,000 years ago. Then, Neolithic farmers began cultivating varieties of wheat, which have largely been superseded in the west, like emmer. These varieties may, however, have properties which have been lost in later varieties, and so are of intense interest to the biotechnology companies and agribusiness. A year or so ago there was even a feature about the renewed interest in emmer in farming in Britain on the Beeb’s farming interest show, Countryfile. The legislation cannot practically be enforced, but it means Iraqi peasant farmers in theory have to pay American biotech companies for the privilege of rearing crops they’ve been raising since literally the dawn of civilisation.

And the same goes with other parts of the economy, like industry. Halliburton and the rest of the big businesses pressing for war had Bush, who was deeply involved with them, pass legislation allowing them to acquire Iraqi businesses in recompense for possible damages they had sustained, even if, in fact, they had not suffered any damage. It’s a deeply iniquitous piece of legislation. Both of these laws were revealed in articles in Private Eye years ago. And it bears out what the Joseph Bronowski, the great scientist, broadcaster and Fabian Socialist said in The Descent of Man way back in the ’70s: War is theft by other means.

And the number of coups promoted by America is a long one, and getting longer all the time. William Blum in an edition of his Anti-Empire Report links to a complete list of them, since the 19th century, which stretches on and on. it includes the overthrow of Alfredo Benz’ regime in Guatemala in the 1950s, because Benz nationalised the estates of the American United Fruit Company, which, along with the other landlords, treated their peasant workers as slaves. Benz was a threat to American business, and dared pass legislation giving greater welfare rights and power to the peasants. So he had to go. And Shrillary Clinton has followed. A few years ago she made sure that the coup that toppled a democratically elected socialist president in Honduras was not called a ‘military coup’, so that Obama could keep funding the country’s new, military overlords. These are, as you can imagine, the usual right-wing tyrants ruling through terror, violence, assassination and imprisonment. But they have the support of Obama and Shrillary, who no doubt claim the coup was in America’s best interest.

And so we continue to see the agony of the world’s weaker nations, all for the profit of western, chiefly American, multinationals.

Remember the chanting of the anti-war protesters during Gulf War 1 back in 1990? ‘Gosh, no, we won’t go. We won’t die for Texaco’? It’s even more relevant now.

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Michael Moore’s New Film against US Militarism and Imperialism

June 8, 2016

I don’t know if you’ve seen the posters already, but the Capped Crusader, Michael Moore, has a new film premiering here on Friday. It’s entitled ‘Where To Invade Next’, with slogan ‘Prepare to be Liberated’. Here’s the poster.

Moore Invade Film Pic

I don’t know anything about it, but my guess from simply looking at the poster, is that it’s about America’s wars in the Middle East, and the country’s long history of invading other countries to ‘liberate’ them, which in practice means the exact opposite: installing pliant right-wing dictators to keep the masses down and protect US corporate interests. Like the invasion of the Guatemala that overthrew President Alfredo Benz after he nationalised the banana plantations, which were owned by the US company, United Fruit. The invasion was sold to the American people as a necessary military action to free the country from Communism. Benz, however, was democratic Socialist, not a Communist, and the regime which replaced him was an extreme right-wing military dictatorship, which reduced the peasants on the plantations to virtual slavery. And that’s just one example from a long history of invasion and plunder going back to the 19th century and the war with Spain which gave the US, for a time, the Philippines and Cuba.

Everything Moore does is worth watching, and Moore has rightly won awards for films such as Fahrenheit 9/11 and Bowling for Columbine. This one should no be no exception. I don’t go to the cinema all that often, but I’ll try and see if this is playing near me.

Private Eye: MI6 Killed Congo President, Patrice Lamumba

February 6, 2016

Away from it’s cover spoofing Trump, there’s a rather more serious, and very interesting little article, Killing Times, on page 20 of this fortnight’s Eye. It’s about the American’s refusal to get drawn into supporting Britain’s denunciation of Putin for ordering the assassination Litvinenko. The Eye ascribes this to the Americans recognising that if they did so, Putin would respond by reminding them of their own sordid history in these matters. Such as the various CIA assassination attempts on Fidel Castro, and a 1960 plot, instigated by President Eisenhower, to kill the first democratically elected president of the Congo, Patrice Lamumba. The article goes onto inform it’s readers that it wasn’t just the Americans, who wanted to kill the African premier. The article goes on:

The British would never sanction such “uncivilised behaviour”, of course. Except, er, they did. In September 1960 Howard Smith of the Foreign Office’s Africa department wrote a memo to senior Whitehall officials and the Lord Privy Seal, Edward Heath, advocating a “simple way to stop Congo’s PM getting too friend with the USSR – “ensuring Lumumba’s removal from the scene by killing him. This should in fact solve the problem.” Was Smith instantly dismissed for his illegal proposal? He later became ambassador to Moscow and then head of MI5.

Soldiers from Belgium, the old colonial power, were present at the eventual murder of Lumumba in January 1961. But Britain did its bit. In 2013 the Labour peer Lord Lea revealed in the London Review of Books that three years earlier, shortly before her death, he had discussed Lumumba with Daphne Park-fellow peer, MI6 stalwart and British consul in Leopoldville at the time of the killing. “I mentioned the uproar surrounding Lumumba’s abduction and murder and recalled the theory that MI6 might have had something to do with it.’ We did,’ she replied, ‘I organised it’.”

See that, Mr Putin? That is how truly civilised countries behave.

This is interesting and important. America and the CIA are notorious for organising a series of assassinations and coups throughout the developing world. The various attempts to kill Castro are perhaps the best known, along with the overthrow of President Allende in Chile by General Pinochet and the coup against Benz in Guatemala. But in fact you can add a long string of other nations, including Brazil and Iran. In a speech I reblogged, the Democratic presidential candidate, Bernie Sanders, criticised this history of political murder and made it clear that for the sake of peace it should be abandoned.

You hear much less about British involvement in these matters, and you could be forgiven that we don’t do any such thing. This piece from the eye show how wrong this assumption is. Britain was involved with the coup against Mossadeq in Iran in 1953. Lobster has also covered in its pages a plot against Robert Mugabe in Zimbabwe in 1979 or so, as well as what seems to have been the assassination of Republican leaders by death squads deep within the British army in Northern Ireland. But that’s it. Mostly such pieces are confined to Lobster, which gets its information from bits and pieces released in the press, and tucked away in books about foreign policies, or the memoirs of former spies, ministers and civil servants. This secret history isn’t as well known as America’s. My guess is that the main reason for this is, unlike America, the ruling class were better over here at maintaining the cloak of secrecy. We didn’t have a Freedom of Information Act until Tony Blair, and that was rather milder than the American version. And unlike America, Britain hasn’t suffered the trauma of seeing a head of state impeached and put on trial, like Nixon at Watergate. The lives and reputations of the politicos and mandarins, who may have organised atrocities like Lamumba’s assassination have been preserved, because the British public have been kept – and most likely are still being kept – from finding out about them.

John Brunner on the 1979 SF Book Show, Time Out Of Mind

May 4, 2015

‘I have seen the future, and it doesn’t work!’

I found this edition of the BBC series, Time Out of Mind, over on Youtube. Broadcast in 1979, the series looked at four SF authors, who were either British, in the case of Ann McCaffrey, an American based in Ireland. Apart from John Brunner and McCaffrey, the other authors featured were Arthur C. Clarke, and Michael Moorcock and M. John Harrison. The fifth and final programme in the series was on that year’s SF convention in Brighton.

I vaguely remembered the series from the trailers running earlier in the evening, though I never watched it myself as I was probably too young. I’ve got a feeling it was broadcast long after my bed time.

Stand On Zanzibar

Brunner’s particularly interesting, as he’s known for writing very dystopian, near-future SF, such as his books The Shockwave Rider, The Sheep Look Up and Stand on Zanzibar. All of these are rightly classics of the genre, and I think Stand On Zanzibar has been republished under the Gollancz colophon as an ‘SF Masterwork’. It is indeed, though I think it’s also one of the most depressing books I’ve ever read. It’s very much a product of its time, which was the late 1960s-’70s concern about the ‘population bomb’ and the massive problems faced by an overpopulated world. It’s set in a near future, c. 2020, if I remember properly, in a massively overcrowded world, where living space is in short supply. The result is endemic domestic terrorist violence, and ‘muckers’ – frenzied spree killers. These are ordinary citizens, who’ve finally snapped under the strain of such oppressive conditions. They’ve taken their name from quite literally ‘running amok’.

In order to curb the population explosion, the government has passed eugenic legislation preventing those with genetic defects or inheritable diseases, like haemophilia, from having children. Recreational cannabis, on the other hand, is legal, but still vulnerable to the interest of organised crime.

Far more sinisterly are the attempts by the various government to find ways to control the population using genetic engineering. This includes the research of an Indonesian scientist, who the Americans send a special agent to extract.

Brunner, CND and Environmentalism

Brunner was politically active for a time in his life. He was a member of CND and attended their meetings and marches. The programme shows how he even took part in an exhibition of the horrors created by the bomb, and how this influenced him. He states on the programme that when he turned to writing near future SF, he didn’t have to do much research. While it was harder to write than stories set in the far future, where the imagination could run freely, he found that much of the nightmarish conditions he describes in his works have already happened. This includes the dangers of chemical pollution on the environment and agriculture in The Sheep Look Up.

The ‘New Wave’ and Literary Modernism

Brunner’s like Moorcock and the other members of the British ‘New Wave’, in incorporating the techniques of literary modernism into his work. Moorcock in the programme dedicated to him said he wanted to use the techniques of such avant-garde literary authors as James Joyce. He was bitterly disappointed when his literary aspirations were rejected by the rest of the SF milieu, who considered these models to be pseudo-intellectuals.

Brunner acknowledges that in creating the background for the world on Stand On Zanzibar, he took John Dos Passos as his model, and included clippings from newspapers, even poetry. These clippings also show how rooted the book was in present-day reality. Several of the clippings explaining the ‘muckers’, for example, are taking from 1960s reports of real spree killers. As for the ‘partisans’ and their terrorist campaigns in America, this looks like it was based very much on the urban terrorists that emerged in the late 1960s and ’70s, like the various paramilitary groups in Northern Ireland, the Baader-Meinhof gang, the various French Maoist rebels and the Weathermen, Black Panthers and Symbionese Liberation Front in America.

America as Dystopia

The show also makes the point that although Brunner’s British, he’s popular in America, partly because he speaks with a mid-Atlantic voice. Brunner is shown talking to friends and his publisher in the US. But Brunner was also very critical of the US. He says that he took America as his model for the dystopias he created, as much of what he describes in his books has already happened there. He follows this with the statement I’ve quoted at the top of this piece ‘I have seen the future, and it doesn’t work’.

Folk Music and Dancing

I also found the episode interesting, as Brunner was a folkie, who lived in the small town of South Petherton in Somerset. He and his wife were the organisers of the town’s folk festival. I found it rather incongruous that an author, who was concerned with the future and the problems that it would throw up, should also be a fan of, among other things, such very traditionally English pastimes as, um, Morris dancing. Brunner and his wife are shown opening the festival, and watching a group of Morris men dancing with the white flannels, handkerchiefs and bells.

Here’s the video:

Population Explosion or Population Crash?

While Stand On Zanzibar is a classic, it’s also somewhat dated. Europe and America don’t have the teeming, claustrophobically overcrowded cities of books like Stand On Zanzibar, or Harry Harrison’s depiction of similarly terribly overpopulated world, Make Room! Make Room!, filmed as Soylent Green. Indeed, birth rates around the world are falling, and in some parts of the West, China and Japan they’re actually below replacement level. Some demographers are talking of a ‘population crash’, and the problems this will cause. This in its turn has created its dystopian prophetic fiction in the film Children of Men, with Clive Owen and Thandie Newton. This imagines a world where humanity has become sterile. No children have been born for 18 years. The result is political instability, violence and ruthless control by a Fascist state. The only hope in this dystopia is presented by an immigrant woman, who has become pregnant.

Spree Killers and Religious Violence

We also don’t have intelligent, supercomputers cooled in liquid helium, like Shalmaneser. Other predictions are so accurate, as to be actually prosaic, such as influence of the media and the emergence of the pop video. Unfortunately, so are the ‘muckers’ – such as the maniacs, who walk into schools, restaurants or cinemas with guns and begin shooting. The book’s also accurate in that some of the crazed killers are religious fanatics. In the book the religious violence is carried out by Christians. This is true of part of the American extreme Right, as shown in the Militia movement and their fears of an atheist government, which will begin sending Christians to death camps run by FEMA as part of the establishment of a one-world global dictatorship.

The Pieds-Noirs and the Legacy of Algeria

Other predictions look dated, but contain a kernel of truth that has been subsequently hidden, but still remains a powerful influence in contemporary politics. Two of the characters, for example, are a brother and sister, Pieds-Noirs – former French-Algerian settlers, who have been forced out of the colony after independence. Despite the decades that have passed since France lost its war against its former colony, Pieds-Noirs still suffer from considerable stigmatisation because of the atrocities the former colonial overlord committed. Now, nearly five decades or so later, there is little special shame attached to the Algerian War. Nevertheless, it has influenced French politics in that many of the Arab, Muslim population of France are the descendants of Algerians, who chose to emigrate to the former colonial power. These have formed an immigrant underclass, who have suffered racism and discrimination. Much of the political disaffection French Muslims come from this background of emigration, dislocation and resentment by the host society.

The Corporate Take-Over of the Nation State

One of the most extreme of the novels predictions, and one which mercifully hasn’t occurred yet, it the literal corporate takeover of entire states. Another of the characters is the president of a small, west African nation. Unable to improve conditions for his people through normal politics and democracy, he literally signs it away to an American corporation. In return, that company promises to invest in his nation, develop it economically, and provide jobs and training for its people. It also, as Brunner makes clear, condemns them to corporate slavery.

This hasn’t quite happened like that yet, but there are some close parallels. The Socialist government of Alfredo Benz in Guatemala in the 1950s was overthrown by a CIA-backed coup, after Benz nationalised the banana plantations of the United Fruit company, an American corporation. Similarly, Mahmud Mossadeq, the Prime Minister of Iran, was overthrown by the Americans in the 1950s after his government nationalised the oil industry, including British-Persian Oil, which then became BP.

And the TTIP, if launched, will allow multinationals to sue national governments if they dare to pass legislation, which threatens to harm their business. Veolia has used similar legislation to sue the Egyptian government, after it raised the minimum wage for Egyptian workers.

The Psychological Legacy of Slavery and the Experience of Black Politicians

Another part of Brunner’s novel, that still retains its contemporary relevance, is that one of his characters is a Black American politician. This isn’t quite so novel as it was when the book was written, coming when Blacks in America were still very much fighting for their civil rights. America now has its first Black president in Obama. Nevertheless, the issues of racism, Black alienation from what they see as White power structures, and the psychological legacy of slavery, still remain a powerful presence. Although physically fit and able-bodied, the Black politician suffers from a psychological weakness in one of his arms, due to being told about how one of his slave ancestors had his amputated as a punishment by his owners. The organiser of a recent campaign against an exhibition on the White exhibition of Africans as subhuman others, staged a year or so ago by one of the Museums, stated that amongst her reasons for opposing it was a concern for the psychological health of Black people. She pointed to studies of young western Blacks, who have suffered Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder through material showing or discussing the sufferings of their slave ancestors.

Ambiguous Endings and Political Message

Brian Aldiss, discussing Brunner’s work in his study of the history of SF, The Trillion Year Spree, criticises him for failing to take an explicit stance. Despite being a very political novel, Brunner doesn’t take a party-political stance. There’s one incident, for example, in which an elderly lady is forcibly moved out of the home she has lived in for most of her life by the local authorities. This can be read in two ways. It can be seen as council busybodies, enforcing bureaucratic red tape and over-regulation, regardless of the harmful effect this has on the lives of ordinary people. Or it can be read in the opposite view, as local authorities blindly committed to corporate interests and commercial redevelopment.

Brunner also leaves the final results of his characters’ actions on the wider society ambiguous. One of the last sections of Stand On Zanzibar is entitled ‘And See Which Seed Will Grow’, taken from the line in MacBeth which about peering into the sands of time. He hints at their being two possibilities for the world and its millions: either pacification through specially engineered food introduced into its peoples’ diet. Or the possibility of genetically engineering humans themselves, as presented by the Indonesian biologist.

At the end of The Shockwave Rider, the authorities organise a plebiscite, which will hopefully liberate humanity from tyranny. This asks them to vote between two statements. These seem to offer strikingly different alternatives, but when read closely, don’t actually mean very much, and actually say pretty much the same thing. The book then concludes ‘Which way did you vote?’

Again, as in Stand On Zanzibar, the final result, the choice made by humanity, is never shown. There’s the possibility of hope, or a little more hope. But it doesn’t end with a total solution that will automatically improve everything, and the outcome is decidedly mixed.

Warning: 70’s Fashions on Display

I think Brunner died a little while ago. This documentary gives provides an insight into the life and views of one of Britain’s great writers of dystopian SF. As I said, his book’s don’t make an explicit party-political statement, but in his anti-nuclear activism, environmentalism and critiques of corporate power, Brunner does share many of the concerns of the Left.

You should be warned, however, that as the documentary was made in 1979, it shows it in some truly horrendous ’70s fashions.