A Day Of Rejoicing For The Empire By Gaither Stewart

Gaither Stewart
by Gaither Stewart
featured writer
Dandelion Salad

Nov 5, 2008

(Paris: November 5, 2008)

“Today we’re all Americans.” As after 9/11 those same incredible words echoed from the pages of France’s Le Monde this morning. Today, the day after, media of France and Italy (and assuredly of the rest of the world except Israel and a couple client dictatorships) competed with each other in praise of American democracy where “anything is possible”. The race barrier has fallen. Honor to the USA. For many non-Americans, the French press writes, Obama’s victory reflects what America has long meant for the rest of the world. Obama President is a return to America’s origins. The renewal of a promise.

In a 16-page Libération Edition Spéciale of the morning after, Laurent Joffren began his editorial with these words: “Finally hope! Please, for one hour, for one day, let’s don’t act blasés, prudent sceptical. After this already historic November 4 let’s admit that we were all taken with a sense of happiness. For one hour or one day let’s allow enthusiasm speak, that which is spreading across the planet…. It suffices to imagine for a moment the opposite outcome: a stiff, conservative Senator flanked by an ignorant mystic taking over for four years the brutal policies of George W. Bush. A moral nightmare, a political horror film.”

For Europe it’s the realization of Martin Luther King’s dream and the burial of the Reagan era. For European media in general the fact that a Black can become President of the USA makes that nation again great.

And above all it is a sense of relief.

Pravda writes: Only Satan would have been worse than the Bush regime. Eight years of hell are over after the great American soap opera … the most scandalous, dramatic unpredictable and the most expensive electoral campaign in US history.

On election day I realized I personally had heard no European who favored John McCain. No one. Paris’s Libération, a leftwing daily, predicted in advance that American whites would vote Democrat as never before. In Italy only Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, his cronies and supporters are disappointed, and certainly disillusioned.

Obama fascinates both Left and Right in France. Le Monde described Obama as a “brilliant candidate, intelligent, elegant, handsome, sincere and never aggressive,” qualities French admire. A political analysts from Sarkozy’s UMP (Union For A Popular Movement – Union Pour un Mouvement Populaire) concentrated his attention on Obama “the brilliant actor” who understands that the secret is to make of politics a spectacle, a show. “Obama’s organization is almost military. Political analysts in Paris refer in admiration of Obama’s trademark, his brand name, and a prerequisite for success in modern politics.

Nicolas Sarkozy’s staff labels Obama’s electoral campaign an “inspiration.” With the President’s popularity falling and next elections in 2012 already in mind, has been studying Obama’s electoral campaign as the model for French conservatives.

Soaring European stock markets on election eve reflected the elation and expectations pervading Europe, pervading the empire. Already on the day after cold realities returned as markets fell back. Europeans note that the economic and financial crisis riddling America imposes profound change. Just as Americans, Europeans realize that life in a paper economy must end. Laissez-faire and eternal debt have reached the limit. Socio-economic life without limits is beyond the realm of reason and possibility.

Though the election of an African-American to the White House marks a social change, a welcome message to the rest of the world, it also unlocks and throws open the door to discussion of the question of the future of capitalism as we know it.

Gaither Stewart, a Senior Contributing Editor and European Correspondent for Cyrano’s Journal, is a veteran reporter, raconteur, and essayist on historical and cultural topics. His observations, often controversial, are published on many venues across the web. His collections of fiction, Icy Current Compulsive Course, To Be A Stranger and Once In Berlin are published by Wind River Press. (www.windriverpress.com). His recent novel, Asheville, is published by Wastelandrunes, (www.wastelandrunes.com). He resides in Rome, with his wife Milena.

see

Barack Obama Acceptance Speech Nov. 4, 2008

Election Returns (links) + Obama wins + McCain Concession Speech

Between Hope and Reality – An Open Letter to Barack Obama By Ralph Nader

The Economy Sucks and or Collapse

Obama-Barack

Definitions: Mammon, The God Of Excess by Gaither Stewart

Gaither Stewart
by Gaither Stewart
featured writer
Dandelion Salad

Oct 22, 2008

Crossposted at Thomas Paine’s Corner (w/pictures)

(Rome-Paris) In an essay especially pertinent to contemporary American society, L’Exil d’Hélene, Albert Camus noted, “Greek thought always restrained itself behind the idea of limits. It never exceeded limits, neither the sacred, nor reason, because it denied nothing, neither the sacred, nor reason. It made allowance for everything, balancing shadow and light. Instead, our Europe, launched toward the conquest of totality, is the very daughter of excess (writing in the immediate aftermath of World War II, I’m certain Camus would note here not only Europe but especially the America of our times.) …. In its folly it extends the eternal limits, and immediately obscure Erinys fall on it and tear it apart.”

Reading Camus’ essay in the midst of the bedlam of the ongoing collapse of Capitalism falling to pieces around us helped me pinpoint the idea for this concluding essay of the Definitions series: Definitions: The Proletariat; Definitions: The Intelligentsia; Definitions: The Bourgeoisie. Mammon is the God of Excess and the very personification of the capitalist god (or rather its demon), even though now a fallen god.

The natural subject for this essay is Capitalism itself, in fact, the underlying subject of the whole essay quartet. However, since Capitalism is too vast to treat here, the god-devil image of Mammon is more accessible. For the very basis of Western society is the personification of a Weltanschauung, a view of life, which is the illusion of the possibility of a life without limits. Many readers have recognized the hubris of our economic-financial world this 2008 as the direct result of our attempt to exceed universal limits. For the worship of Mammon, the Golden Calf, the love of wealth, marks our times.

In the Bible, “Mammon” is not a demon but simply the Aramaic word meaning “wealth” or “property.” Sometimes it is translated as “money.” In the Middle Ages, in religious writings, in the fiery sermons of the fanatical Dominican monk in Florence, Girolamo Savonarola, and in literature, Mammon is personified as the demon of avarice and wealth.

For modern men as for medieval men Mammon is the personification of the excessive love of money and wealth. By extension then Mammon is the god of excess. Mammon demands that its worshippers strive toward excess, that they exceed the eternal limits of the Greeks. America has obeyed the abominable god’s commandments.

Excess! Surplus. Extravagance. Intemperance. Exceptionalism. Outrageous expectations. Exaggerated presumptions. Too much. Too big. Too fast. Too much of everything. Too, too, too….

Continue reading

Definitions: The Proletariat by Gaither Stewart

Gaither Stewart

by Gaither Stewart
featured writer
Dandelion Salad
The Greanville Journal

Sept 12, 2008

“Suppose that some great disaster were to sweep ten million families out to sea and leave ‘em on a desert island to starve and rot. That would be what you might call an act of God, maybe. But suppose a manner of government that humans have set up and directed, drives ten million families into the pit of poverty and starvation? That’s no act of God. That’s our fool selves actin’ like lunatics. What humans have set up they can take down…. Whoever says we’ve got to have a capitalist government when we want a workers’ government, is givin’ the lie to the great founders of these United States….”
A Stone Came Rolling
Olive Tilford Dargan

Dedication: To all those who must really work for a living. Continue reading

Beat The Dead Horse Or Putin’s Revenge By Gaither Stewart

Gaither Stewart
by Gaither Stewart
featured writer
Dandelion Salad

August 20, 2008

(Rome) The old adage according to which time is the great equalizer holds sway in a special way in contemporary totalitarian America. Unlike the old-horse-beaten-until-it-drops-dead knows it is being beaten, our people are beaten in such a horrendously clinical manner that they do not even realize they are being beaten. Though aware of their mortality, gently beaten human beings however have come to resemble the whipped horse in that they do not seem to realize they are dying from the blows. The problem is there is little or no public opinion. And that collective memory is dead.

A second old horse adage that you can lead a horse to water but you can’t make it drink no longer applies to Americans. We drink and drink and drink without even looking up at our tormentors. Without an iota of curiosity even as to who they are and what they are doing to us.

Vladimir Putin must have been astounded at how Georgia and its American puppeteers fell head over heels into the Caucasian trap. Ingenuously, facilely, Saakashvili, America’s puppet leader of Georgia, sent his US armed troops into South Ossetia shooting wildly at anything moving and challenging Moscow on its home territory. What could be crazier? On that first day European media showed the Georgian “invasion” of South Ossetia, just as the NEXT day it showed the crushing Russian response that reduced Georgia to the virtual reality of the US proxy state it has become.

For the first time since the collapse of the USSR, Russia went on the offensive. Its victory accomplished in a few hours rewrote the global balance of power. Yet, the American public knows little or nothing of these earth-shaking events. The NYT and Washington Post, CNN and Fox, speak only of a Russian invasion of Georgia, a country of wine growers and tourism operators. Don’t American people even wonder why this sudden outburst of military operations in peaceful Georgia which all of a sudden decided to challenge powerful Russia and invade territories inhabited by Russian citizens? Don’t people wonder why and how come Russian tanks are in no hurry to leave “independent” Georgia?

The result of these events is that two decades after the fall of Soviet Russia, the heart of Europe—I refer to Germany, France and Italy—despite their warnings to Moscow to withdraw have never been closer to Russia. If the most pro-American European leader, Italian Premier Silvio Berlusconi, must choose between Bush and Putin, he will unfailingly choose Putin. This European heart is not about to build the anti-Russian alliance Bush and Cheney dreamed of. Washington doesn’t grasp the elementary fact that Russia is an integral part of Europe which today is overflowing with Russian tourists, replacing in many places such as Venice the missing Americans. Maybe this unpleasant combination of events is why the NYT and Washington Post, CNN and Fox, didn’t tell the people the reality of the two-day military action—the first day, the Georgian incursion into South Ossetia, and the second, the crushing Russian response. That was the war! Instead the US media described in Cold War terms the fiction of an unprovoked Russian imperialist invasion of peaceful Georgia.

Only America, its tiny allies of the Baltic region, Georgia, to a certain extent Ukraine and pliable right-wing Poland, believed Russia would do nothing. Poland and Czech Republic, and most probably the Baltic states too, today still intent on pushing Russian borders back to the gates of Moscow, will soon come to terms with their European history and their rightful place in it. They will soon realize that their future is Europe, not the America that considers them territory for military installations.

The break between the heart of Europe and these temporary American satellites splits NATO, the European Union and the West in general. But it draws the heart of Europe and Russia nearer. The “war” in Georgia makes this tendency explicit. As soon as Moscow’s victory was evident, French President Sarkozy, current rotating President also of the Europe Union, flew to Moscow, then to Tbilisi, as Europe’s representative. Not a peace mediator, his mission was in effect to ratify the Russian victory, to recognize its sphere of influence in the Caucasian region and to seal America’s defeat. Georgia can now forget South Ossetia and Abkhazia as well as its ambitions for NATO membership. Who wants America’s satellite in NATO anyway?

This real Europe of Germany, France and Italy are not what imperialist neocon America dreamed of. Most certainly New World Order America didn’t count on a resurrected Russia capable of the re-conquest of lost territories of the Russian Empire and of a new relationship with Europe. Moreover, not even in its worst nightmare did America dream of exchanging its alliance with real Europe for a string of powerless satellites on the Baltic, or happy-go-lucky romantic Georgians.

Official reactions from Brussels are NATO reactions, that is, US-dominated NATO. And even NATO words are unexpectedly mild—“firmness” and demands for Russians withdrawal. Russia answers facetiously that its peace-keeping mission in Georgia may last a few more days. Meanwhile in Rome, without haste Berlusconi plans a trip to Moscow too, in early September. Georgia is not to interfere with the vacation period.

Saakashvili is known to be more American than Americans, his nation armed and supported by the USA. But armed and supported for what? Only for its oil and gas pipelines, of dubious value and a dubious future? Not at all.

The sad truth for Georgia is that its leader over-estimated American support for his stupid attempt to re-take the disputed territory of South Ossetia peopled by Russian citizens. In a way, this was also a case of the tail wagging the dog, As if the USA, already bogged down by Iraqis and Afghans, would seriously go to war with Russia over Georgia! Something about this reminds me of the American-instigated Hungarian uprising of 1956, crushed then by Soviet tanks.

Russia today is confident. It is not afraid as it was of the multi-colored revolutions in Ukraine and Georgia and NATO’s advance up to its borders. US humanitarian aid to Georgia or talk of Russia’s exclusion from the G 8 do not disturb Putin. He now knows he can count on the real Europe. Russia is not about to surrender to American demands and threats. NATO-USA accuses Russia of invading small countries, Russia charges NATO for supporting the criminal regime of Georgia. While NATO and Russia both claim that their relations will never be the same again, Russian tanks roam around the Caucasus region as they please. Europe has received Putin’s message to the world loud and clear. The Russians are truly back.

The question is, has the American public, busily drinking from the fount of NYT and Washington Post, CNN and Fox News, grasped the trap-like situation their arrogant, unrealistic, self-absorbed, narcissistic leaders have lead them into? For it is clear as day that a huge bill is falling due and the American people will ultimately have to pay it.

Gaither Stewart is a Senior Contributing Editor for Cyrano’s Journal/tantmieux, a novelist and journalist based in Italy. His collections of fiction, Icy Current Compulsive Course, To Be A Stranger and Once In Berlin are published by Wind River Press. (www.windriverpress.com). His recent novel, Asheville, is published by Wastelandrunes, (www.wastelandrunes.com).

see

Margolis: Dems onside with Bush on Georgia

Evidence of Georgian tanks + Poland Signs Missile Defense Shield Deal + NATO warns Russia

Crisis in the Caucasus. What Were They Smoking in the White House?

The Force Be With Us But Not With You by Bruce Gagnon

Alexander Cockburn on Russia Today: McCain uses Ossetian bloodshed to score points

Why Not Simply Abolish NATO? by Rodrigue Tremblay

Russian General threatens Poland over missile deal

Georgia

***

War and Pain: Nothing New Under the Sun by Gaither Stewart

Gaither Stewart
by Gaither Stewart
featured writer
Dandelion Salad

August 8, 2008

The world goes round and round and human beings say and do the same things again and again, so that it seems there is truly nothing new under the sun. The perplexing unchangingness of man’s behavior and the ways of the world have again led me back to the ancient Greeks. And what do I find there? I find the same warmongers and pacifists of today, identical war parties and peace parties, arms industries and anti-war writers, the generals who predictably “just love war,” and, as one might expect, the same identical massacre of women and children as everyday in Iraq, now conveniently called “collateral damages.”

We are used to that military euphemism dating from the Vietnam War. We nearly skip over those terrible words.

Someday collateral damage might be called by its real name: “Crime against humanity.”

For this reason I have begun examining Greek classics for confirmation that human beings are not as innovative as we like to think. A recent look at Greek ideas on Power subsequently led me step by step to considerations of how Power in the time of the Greeks of 2500 years ago led inevitably to war, as it does today.

The Trojan Women

Euripides’ tragedy of 415 B.C. is considered the greatest anti-war play ever written. That conclusion is truly astounding, considering the number of major wars fought in the world’s major civilizations since those times. But, wait! Before going further I should situate this literary work in its proper framework: First of all, it took place in “peacetime”, in the aftermath of the fall of Troy to the victorious Athenians. Moreover, centralizing Athens had just brutally sacked the island state of Melos to force it into the Greek Federation, a military action that had shaken the people of Athens itself much as each new slaughter of civilians in Iraq or Afghanistan stuns some of us today: as was customary in those times all male citizens of Melos were massacred and women and children enslaved. At the same time the peacetime Greeks were preparing an unprovoked war against Sicily (read Iran for today), which in the long run did not work out well at all.

Such was the international atmosphere when playwright Euripides staged his protest.

Euripides’ tragedy is set in Troy in the period between the fall of the city-state of Troy and the departure of the Greek fleet for home. The same thing had happened there as in Melos: again the innocent civilians suffered most. Oh yes, the Trojan men were slaughtered, or somehow escaped, while the Trojan women were distributed among the victors. But as happens time and time again throughout history, the villains, the hated Athenian Odysseus, pretty Helen over whom the war was fought, and her former husband Menelaus, survived.

The focus in Euripides’ masterpiece is on the defeated Trojans. For a change the warlike Greeks are the bad guys. Men of both sides fought the war and suffered, but, as usual, the defeated suffered the most. Hecuba, the former Trojan queen, goes to Odysseus. The prophetess, Cassandra, Hecuba’s daughter, is given to Agamemnon. Andromache, wife of slain Trojan hero, Hector, goes to Achilles’ son, Neoptolemos. Helen, wife of Paris, is returned to her former husband, Menelaus. And so fearful were the Athenians of reprisals for their terror that they killed also the infant son of Hector.

First element: the hopelessness of war. One sees the hopeless despair of the women survivors in Troy, their fates as slaves and concubines of the victors. In our times we recall the despondent Mothers of Mayo in Argentina, the Iraqi mothers and wives and daughters, and the wives and mothers of American soldiers killed and maimed in Vietnam and Iraq.

Second element: the inhumanity of war. The lack of compassion on the part of the Greek warriors recalls the same degeneration of humanity as seen in Abu Ghraib and Guantánamo. So great is the savagery of the Greek victors that even the gods Athena and Poseidon turn on them and destroy many of their ships on the return voyage home.

Third element: the writer’s sympathy for the defeated. The tragedy by the Athenian playwright is pro-Trojan which would cause bewilderment in a tongue-tied American, anti-war critic of America in Iraq today. One wonders why we today are not capable of the same self-criticism Euripides was 2500 years ago? How many of us take a position and pronounce ourselves pro-Iraq in this war?

The uncomfortable truth is that the world of the Greeks was upside-down. It was ruled by tragedy and ruthlessness and disregard for human lives; war and death and destruction reigned. Yet, all who have read the classics know that its men of culture resisted. The great Greek tragedies—of Sophocles, Euripides, and Aeschylus—were committed expressions of cultural freedom directed against Power in all its forms. Though the Greeks were a male-dominated, martial society, the writers were the ethical conscience of mankind.

Euripides’ message to people and to gods and to all eternity was that war scars the defeated and the victors alike. What remains, he said, is that not even the post-bellum cleansing can remove the stain of blood and guilt. Still today America speaks of undigested Vietnam. We can well wonder how long it will be destined to speak of the guilt of Iraq.

Fourth element: the victims of war. Statistics of war dead are always misleading. In Greece, chiefly soldiers died. The women of Troy and Melos were enslaved. In our times, the great majority of dead are instead civilian, the collateral damage: in Vietnam, ninety per cent of the total dead were Vietnamese civilians as opposed to 59,000 American dead and its hundreds of thousands mutilated. In Iraq, probably ninety-nine per cent of the total dead are civilians.

Fifth element: Who profits from war? War profiteers are nothing new and should be recognizable by all of us for what they are. In Aeschylus’ Agamemnon, the Chorus, standing at urns filled with the ashes of young men warriors (recalling the body bags and caskets bringing the dead back from Iraq) recite: “For war’s a banker, flesh his gold.” The makers of swords and spears and helmets and shields of the time censored all talk of peace. Generals like two-gun General Patton singing of the “joy of war” and “crazed for sweet human blood” sorrowed at the very mention of the word “peace” … at which ordinary people always rejoice.

At first also the Greek wars seemed glamorous and righteous and heroic … young men off in adventure to see the world. But those wars too ended in slaughter. Men and gods now know that winnerless war always hurts also the innocent and pillages man. Conquerors never conquer completely and the defeated are never defeated completely. Vietnam and Iraq and Cuba and Nicaragua, to name a few, are the proof. But in the attempt, the innocent pay.

Sixth element: the absurdity of war. I offer this little très modern gossipy aside about Helen of Troy to lighten an admittedly heavy read. The Athenians and Trojans allegedly fought their bloody ten-year war over the bigamist and two-faced Helen. Helen or Helena, first Athenian as the wife of Menelaus, then Trojan as wife of Paris, then again back to forgiving Menelaus. Helen, it was said, had great hair, bland manners, a cute little wart between her eyebrows, little mouth and perfect tits. Menelaus erupted into Troy to kill her for her marital betrayal but he only had to take one look at her bared breasts before he dropped his sword.

In her life Helen apparently did little more than display her body … and betray. We do not know what she thought. Apparently she had no virtues. Most certainly she brought disaster to men. She has been defined as “an irresistible sorrow.” As Hecuba says in The Trojan Women, “a man in love once is never out of love again.” Perhaps chastised by conscience but still a slave of her passions, she Helen once referred to herself as “bitch that I am” and “whore that I am”—which I frankly find redeeming despite critics’ criticisms. She must have been capable of self-examination in a way that men warriors were not. Yet, for the Greeks too she was the confirmation of Horace’s cutting words that even before Helen “the cunt was the cause of wars.” Another story of Helen that I encountered in Thomas Cahill’s Sailing the Wine-Dark Sea was that when she found her sister with her throat cut, her mourning consisted of trimming the tips of her beautiful hair … but not too much.

Seventh element: the position of woman. It has been generously suggested that fabled Helen was just a victim of the gods. We might remember that in all her duplicity she was the subject of two Euripides plays: Helen and The Trojan Women. So maybe the words about woman’s role in ancient Greece are understandable even though hardly justified. For Greeks, woman was forever the “opposite”, the “other” of man, a non-man, defective, playing a negative role in relation to the male who was the first principle. The male was man by virtue of the exclusion of his opposite. Man and woman, the positive and the negative. Therefore man needed woman to survive. Down through the ages the male has always needed two things in women: the Mother and the cunt. Men admit it. Woman is the nature he wants to suppress but cannot live without: woman, fickle, beautiful, unknowable, mysterious, desirable, necessary.

Eighth element: patriotism. This is the difficult obstacle for modern Americans. We have seen the difficulty of being pro-Iraqi. However, the Athenian Euripides resolved the problem in this way: he was less against his Athens than opposed to all war makers. The purpose of his Trojan Women was apparently an attempt to shock and shake people to their senses as their leaders continued on their warlike path of conquest and the spread of their empire with the sword. The same dilemma goes for America today: in my mind opposition to the Iraqi war, rejection of Washington’s Cold War-terrorist bugaboo, convictions of a Washington-organized Twin Towers tragedy, are not unpatriotic principles. On the contrary.

Who in his right senses is not in accord with Euripides who screamed across Athenian stages 2500 years ago the same word pacifists cry today: “Enough!

Gaither Stewart is a Senior Contributing Editor for Cyrano’s Journal/tantmieux, a novelist and journalist based in Italy. His collections of fiction, Icy Current Compulsive Course, To Be A Stranger and Once In Berlin are published by Wind River Press. (www.windriverpress.com). His recent novel, Asheville, is published by Wastelandrunes, (www.wastelandrunes.com).

see

Stewart-Gaither

The Mother Of All Paradoxes: The American Social Model

Gaither Stewart
by Gaither Stewart With Patrice Greanville
featured writer
Dandelion Salad
The Greanville Journal (includes lots of photos)

August 1, 2008

The dismal demise of the American Dream (if it ever really existed), the dream not of what we believe it was but of what we wanted to believe it was.

“It seems to me that the nature of the ultimate revolution with which we are now faced is precisely this: That we are in process of developing a whole series of techniques which will enable the controlling oligarchy who have always existed and presumably will always exist to get people to love their servitude.” (Aldous Huxley in a 1962 speech at Berkeley)

Dateline: (Rome) July 31, 2008

IT’S UNDENIABLE THAT THE AMERICAN SOCIAL MODEL (the vaunted “American Way of Life”) is a paradox in the world. All you have to do is look around at other nations and the difference is clear as the Rome sky in July. Even today at the nadir of its profound social crisis because of its flagrant, outright failure, America continues unabashedly to hammer away at its people how fortunate they are, while simultaneously proposing itself to the world as the paradigm, the quintessence, the very epitome of western civilization.

There is the image of our leaders exuding goodness and, above all, good feelings. Sentimental feelings for the oppressed handed down to the good people of the Republic. I have read that sentimentality implies a lack of real feelings. That might be true. But I don’t want it to be true. I mean how often are we sentimental about some touching scene or memory that we want to hold. Yet, are we all lacking in genuine feelings? Because feelings often do escape us, fleeing, hiding, vanishing, then reappearing, stepping forward and backward into … into what? Into unreality? Into nothingness? I don’t want to believe so. But is our history not carrying us there, straight back into the faded American Dream?

Ah, the American Dream! To the degree the model appears to the rest of the world as honeycombed and as full of holes as Swiss cheese, the more America’s ideological operation morphs into a contest between good (the US model) and evil (the rest). America’s private struggle between good and evil becomes in turn the ideological platform and the inspiration-justification of puritanical, individualistic and greedy America’s age-old universal crusade against the rest of the world. Moreover, lest one forgets or believes the doctrinal crap, the American social system is all the more insidious for human society today because it has become the social model for the world of capitalist globalization.

How did it come about that the ballyhooed “American Dream” turned out to be nothing more than institutionalized social injustice? And cheapness and tackiness, to boot. Like the banal dialogue of an unreal, real-life sitcom. The self-righteous social trajectory described in the glowing terms of “freedoms” in the Bill of Rights (e.g. the right to have arms) is undermined by a social philosophy of niggardly, tight-fisted individualism implying the right to individualistically shoot down fellow students or foreigners called terrorists who resist. Thus the poisonous combination of that individualism (personal avarice and fuck-the-rest) and the glaring absence of an incisive workers’ movement (I have in mind a genuine popular political opposition) is the original sin that has led the nation and the world at large under its sway into the blind alley of entire unprotected social classes, irrational environmental hostility and pre-emptive, perpetual war.

The great paradox is that the list of declared, claimed and proclaimed—but not guaranteed—fictitious rights for Americans have deflated and become non-rights for others.

What do I have mind, specifically? We see it all around us. In places the world shrinks. In others, it expands. Things change and shift around. But America Land of the Free, part of the shrunken world, tries not to see its shattered dream. Dazzle their minds with impossible dreams. Implant in their mindsets visions of triumph. Then, mask the inevitable loss of hope by the masses. Feebly, old dreams try to resurface and again vanish. The glamorous glitter of once-upon-a-time has been reduced to a tacky faint flicker of the lonely used-car lot or the mottled colors of empty Burger Kings blinking in the night. Begrudgingly, struggling for former space and bickering and resisting, cars get smaller. Houses peel and run down. Legions of “Walmarters” experience a new sense of abandonment while new sets of beautiful celebrities look out of TV screens soothingly and travel around the world and buy villas on Lake Como. More and more American megacelebs like Madonna, Johnny Depp, Jack Nicholson, launched by the US mediaplex, are now world celebrities, but their acquired, discerning multimillionaire taste makes them spend a substantial part of their time in Europe and in other spots favored by the rich and famous.  Even Depp, despite his hip non-materialist image, is in fact a very rich bourgeois married to a similarly rich French actress, who enjoys more than five big residences in various continents, and the dilettante pleasures of playing winemaker and restaurateur in Paris.  He naturally prefers year-round residence in France. The point here is that for those who, as a result of wealth, leave behind their American provincialism, America is no longer the only game in town.

So what is happening elsewhere in the world?

Well, though Europe’s one hundred year old social state based on a spirit of solidarity is weakening and ceding ground to the brash, selfish American capitalist-individualistic-everyman-for-himself society and its neo-liberal allies of the European Union, the European Idea of the social state hangs on and resists. Europeans, as a rule, understand the idea of class better than Americans, where class is the dirty family secret. Thus, there is still a veritable abyss between on one hand the American market model based on individualism (that is the hosanna-ed American Dream), with a high (albeit slowing down) rate of mobility at the cost of a low level of protection of its people, and on the other the European system based on the social state, which is the European Idea.

The absence of a solid and stable workers movement in the USA (let’s just list it as the number one truant)—which should be this nation’s third party, (or in actuality, its legitimate second party, as Democrats, conceits aside, totally belong with the Republicans in the current single party system representing the corporatocracy)—is responsible for America’s anti-social answer to what is in essence a central social issue. Once-upon-a-time workers’ movements and trade unions in America chalked up some important achievements, once. That was a long time ago. The day of the Wobblies, for example. On the east side of the ocean the diverse histories of workers’ movements had a close relationship and connection with the rise of the nation states and the effects of the industrial revolution and the eventual emergence of the social state.

America’s dissonant, reactionary voice is instead the anti-social divergence of the model projected by the USA. Therefore the pernicious halo surrounding propagandistic Americanism. Therefore, the transformation of the American Dream into nightmare, which, intrinsically always was. That impossible dream, that at the very most dream-gone-wrong, that incubus, has in turn provided the foundations for an enduring Corporatism-Fascism, in America stubbornly referred to only as individualism.

The same individualism, the nightmare, the Americanism that has transformed our “duly elected” leaders into terrorists.

It should be clear that at the root of America’s social evil lies the truancy of an organized workingman’s movement, a stable and permanent nationwide movement that would provide the framework and structure for a workingman’s political party and an accompanying representative trade union to serve as a genuine balance of power in our one-sided, non-representative criminal political system. Who for example represents working people today? Who? Our millionaire congressmen? Our billionaire presidents? Or perhaps our corrupt, sellout political parties, the fundraisers necessary to elect our non-representatives?

The sad reality is that the workers’ movement in the USA never matured. It was never powerful enough to mark a permanent direction of the social organization of civil society. It never succeeded in creating permanent low cost cooperatives and mutualities, social clubs and educational societies and other forms of political-social expression to confront the Corporatist system of a nation that today hardly “makes” anything yet exports … it exports what? Democracy? Or terrorism?

In fact, the word “social” in the title of this essay is misleading, illusory. It is a travesty to use the word “social” in reference to the form of American society under a government that as Gore Vidal once said does nothing for its people. And it gets away with it! People don’t revolt. We should label this individualistic, eternally atomized, lift-yourself-up-by- your-bootstraps and to hell with everybody else society “anti-social” and rebel against it.

UNIVERSAL HEALTH CARE – One Aspect of a Just Society

In recent days I went to my local Universal Health Plan doctor in Rome for a health problem. I called the nearby office for an appointment, fixed for the next afternoon. When I arrived there was one patient ahead of me already in the doctor’s office. I was admitted after a five-minute wait. My wife and I had chosen this doctor rather than another as our primary doctor because she is young, dynamic and scrupulous and besides will also make home visits. I keep home visits by doctors in mind because when my father in North Carolina was paralyzed for years after a stroke, each time he had some new problem such as influenza he had to hire an ambulance to carry him the few blocks of the one-half mile to the office of this “good Christian man” who had been his doctor for many years. The Rome universal health care doctor examined me, asked the right questions about my medical history and sent me to a nearby radiological center for x-rays. Two days later I picked up the analysis, made another appointment with my primary doctor who after looking over the x-rays, prescribed the appropriate medication which I immediately picked up at the pharmacy. Within a period of four days, including two medical visits, the x-rays and analysis and medicine, my problem was resolved: Total costs to me: ZERO.

That is Italy’s universal health care at work, which despite cuts by today’s extreme rightwing, neo-liberal government still offers its people (both citizens and residents) universal health care. And, it bears mentioning, France’s system is even better, in fact, even today, under attack by Sarkozy, the French Bush clone, the best in the world.

The Italian social state—by far not the best in Europe—guarantees most workers one-month vacations, retirement at between 57 and 60 years, months-long maternity leave for both mother and father, unemployment pay, national category contracts, pensions, housing, food and other “social” benefits. That is a social system!

In Italy, in all of Europe, no political party, no candidate for public office, no politician at any level, would even dare run on an anti-social program. Budgetary cuts, savings, reforms, yes, but never the adoption of the American anti-social system. The American system is not even imaginable to most other peoples. Not in Europe. Not in Latin America or Canada or Iran or in any industrialized nation of the world. ONLY in the United States of America. That lack is enough reason for revolution. And that is just reason enough to refuse one’s vote for anyone less than a defender of social justice.

I don’t know what a universal health service for the USA would cost. Certainly only a minimal part of conducting perpetual wars or building a space shield or financing vassal states around the world or a fraction of the advertising costs for junk foods and products that make us obese and ignorant. In any case the point is not the cost. It is not an economic problem of the nation. We have to keep that in mind. The problem is the power of the greedy vested interests of medical associations, the pharmaceutical industry (the manipulative “Big Pharma” so eloquently shown in Michael Moore’s SiCKO), hospitals, and related medical care organizations. The problem is the power of money!

However, foremost and above all it is a problem of the a priori negation of anything smacking of a social state (as present in much of the world) in opposition to the concept of the capitalistic market economy of America which does less for its people than do Canada in the north or Mexico to the south, or France or Italy or Russia or Bulgaria, in fact less than every European country. (I can almost hear at this point the knee-jerk chauvinist programmed reaction of many American readers: “Go live in Bulgaria, then!”  To which I reply: My point is that Bulgaria gives its citizens, in proportion to its resources, wealth and potential, much more than America. Do not compare absolutes here as you have been misleadingly taught to do; keep things in proportion.)

The creation of a receptive atmosphere for the “social idea” should/would be the major role of a nationwide, organized workers’ movement. That lack, that default, that truancy, is methodically destroying the health of our nation. For workers everywhere represent the average national interest. What affects them affects the vast majority of the nation. What benefits them, benefits the vast majority of the nation. The decoupling of the workers’ interests from the interests of the “average citizen”, “middle class” America, etc., its portrayal as a corrupt, self-seeking “special interest”, is one of the all-time victories of capitalist propaganda in the United States. It needs to be debunked.

The USA with its individualistic everyman-for-himself society today ranks poorly among other industrialized countries in health care, 23rd in infant mortality, 20th and 21st in life expectancy for women and men respectively. Yet the USA spends more per capita for health care than other countries. Where does that money go? We all know the answer: it goes to a greedy health care system of doctors, hospitals, private health insurance and pharmaceutical giants and to their related inflated and inefficient bureaucracies, to their powerful respective lobbyists and into the hands of our “democratically” elected representatives.

So deeply engrained is the anti-social nature in the “American republic” that the brainwashed people themselves have been conditioned to believe that universal health care is contrary to their best interests. It just doesn’t make sense. The reality is vastly different than in the popular imagery.

America is a walk in and out of a world of shadows. Images and contrasts are strong, overpowering, and confused and bizarre. Drinking beer from bottles and cans but martinis from elegant crystal, parks with manicured paths patrolled by policemen on horseback but streets without sidewalks walked at the risk of loitering fines in hopes of finding a bus shelter rest station. How quickly in America you pass from light to shadow. And you wonder if you will get the chance to try again and do better next time.

No. It doesn’t make sense to continue whacking our way through this jungle of the world’s most bizarre and costly medical care system. Some twenty years ago I covered the American presidential elections for a European newspaper in the state of North Carolina where I grew up. The first question I posed to a cross-section of the population of that one state concerned universal health care. Not one single person at the time came out strong in favor of it. The most favorable response was “well, if they want to give it to me.” Most did not even know what universal health care meant. After my explanation, the knee jerk reaction of the great brainwashed citizenry was “We couldn’t choose our doctors!” or  “The Canadian system doesn’t work.” As if they knew! It does work!

Health costs continue to soar, care is compromised and quality is in free fall as obese Americans die of coronary disease. The health care world lies in the shadows. Health care for profit does not work. It cannot work. It is not a solution now and can never be a solution. Profit and greed stand in the way. No matter what the industry explains, health care will always be a right and a necessity, not merchandise like a Blackberry or an i-phone. It is estimated that a single payer (the state) universal health care system would save 100-200 billion dollars a year, it would cover everyone and it would guarantee more medical visits and hospital days to all. Now a recent encouraging poll shows that some 75% of Americans favor universal health care.

Many of “our” representatives say health care is not the domain of the state. That’s right! You heard me. HEALTH CARE IS NOT THE DOMAIN OF THE STATE! Bullshit! What can they mean? If health care is not the domain of the state, in what domain should health fall? Or was health care always intended for the world of shadows? It makes you wonder? Why can’t the USA treat its citizens at least as well as other countries do??

Part of the answer: a nation led by terrorists is not likely to care for its people, either.

Health care is one of the great mysteries. But what about the other social issues our government holds prisoner in the shadows? What about month-long paid vacations? What about more job security and a tiny bit less mobility? What about more taxes—make that simply fair taxes— for the super rich? What about a little less individualism and much more social solidarity? What about a third and a fourth political party? What about a workingman’s movement?

The headlines in this Sunday’s edition of Italy’s major daily newspaper, La Repubblica reflect the mood of the moment in only one of Europe’s social states:

“Precarious workers (workers without contracts) in revolt”

“Trade Unions in revolt against raising the pension age to 62!”

“Create conditions for a general strike!” (an exhortation)

“Fear is an invention.” (to keep the Left under control)

“Farewell to the future” (of our children if capitalism continues unimpeded)

“The Left failed, we need a new start from a workers position”

“The Left has nothing to lose but its chains”  (sic!)

As they say in Italy, “La lotta continua.” The struggle goes on. But when will the American masses truly join in?

Gaither Stewart is a Senior Contributing Editor for Cyrano’s Journal/tantmieux, a novelist and journalist based in Italy. His collections of fiction, Icy Current Compulsive Course, To Be A Stranger and Once In Berlin are published by Wind River Press. (www.windriverpress.com ). His recent novel, Asheville, is published by Wastelandrunes, (www.wastelandrunes.com).

Patrice Greanville is Cyrano’s Journal’s founding editor.

Originally published at http://www.bestcyrano.org/cyrano/?p=667

see

Medicaid: Why It’s Broken and How To Fix It

Americanism: “The Good, the Bad and the Ugly” by Gaither Stewart

Sicko by Michael Moore (full movie)

Socialism

What is Socialism? (archive of posts)

Americanism: “The Good, the Bad and the Ugly” by Gaither Stewart

Gaither Stewart
by Gaither Stewart
featured writer
Dandelion Salad

August 1, 2008

(Rome) It is a paradox that the Americanism of which Americans are so proud is the source of the pandemic anti-Americanism throughout the world. Precisely the same Americanism of which Americans boast generates a worldwide antipathy toward them. And today, not just toward the US government, but in many places—to begin with in Iraq, as testified by blog writers from there—that antipathy, that hate, is directed against Americans in general.

“We hate Americans!”

One wonders if there is some great misunderstanding at play. Is this a cultural matter? A lack of true information about Americanism and what it stands for? Are Americans simply misunderstood in the world?

However that may be, the nature of Americanism as it is understood by the majority of Americans and that perceived and experienced by non-Americans are so diametrically opposed that sometimes the two concepts seem to concern different historical times and different geographical places; Americans and the others seem to inhabit different worlds.

So what is it, this Americanism? From my vantage point I experience forms of Americanism chiefly in the context of the hegemonic tendencies, bullying globalization, arrogance, militarism and imperialism of the United States of America. One glaring, arrogant example is the construction of yet another US military base in the ancient city of Vicenza in north Italy, where (anachronistically) American soldiers in military dress jog over the cobbled streets of the city center, as if it were wartime, as if it were theirs, past cathedrals and Palladium architecture, weaving and dodging among startled women and children. This military display is a form of the Americanism become anti-Americanism in Europe. In this particular case the insistence on making of small and vassal Italy an aircraft carrier at the service of imperialistic America has alienated much of north Italy.

But speaking of Americanism I don’t have in mind only American militarism and its preemptive wars! Not by a long shot. I have in mind the homeland. For there is something in the exaggerated patriotism in the homeland itself that the others out there experience first hand. Those others who know America well detest the super patriotic, Amerika über alles America—the foreign specialists and US-based foreign journalists and academics and scientists, even those foreigners in the arts attracted by one of the admirable aspects of “America”—these days increasingly hard to find—i.e. the velocity and high ceiling afforded new ideas.

Even bedazzled non-American tourists of the kind who visit Disneyland and Las Vegas, who know little about American life, instinctively see the super patriotic flag-waving, Star Spangled Banner singing America as vulgar expressions of Americanism.

Finally, such worldviews coincide with the Americanism pinpointed, analyzed and criticized by a small but growing group of awakened Americans.

The implications of the term Americanism had long lingered in my mind before recently I heard the word used in an Italian talk show in reference to America’s foreign wars. My spontaneous thought was, OK, but that’s much too reductive. The thing is, once you use the word in that one context, it’s like opening Pandora’s box; you have to be prepared to take the next step and delve into what Americanism really is.

Je vous demande pardon! if I immediately begin to skirt too much around the edges. My excuse is that the subject is too menacingly broad to undertake in a single article. Still, digressions sometimes inevitably lead back toward the bull’s eye. Or, to use the old Italian seaman’s term, avanzare di ritorno—advance by return. And for that matter the first paragraph above already pinpoints the target.

WHERE TROUBLES MELT LIKE LEMON DROPS

“Somewhere over the rainbow
Way up high
There’s a land that I heard of
Once in a lullaby.”

The overly sweet, overly optimistic image returns like a leitmotiv. It both repels and attracts, the land that I heard of, the land that exists only in the imagery of dreamers. What I have in mind is a pet theme, the famous go-to-war-for “American way of life,” which for me again underlines America’s persistent claims of a monopoly on morality.

What is it, this American morality? This righteousness? Is it our religious roots in the fable of the Puritan settlers, those super religious people who in their hardships were bigots, perhaps also practitioners of incest and racists soon morphing into dogmatic chauvinists who early-on labeled their dissidents and different-thinkers witches and demons.

Pre-Americanism! The same Americanism initiated then which today fosters the rights of the rich to become richer, the strong to trample the weak and the contempt for and the crushing of anything smacking of the social in our land, real trade unions and, heaven forbid, universal health care.

Meanwhile, out in the empire, as long as it is distant, the Puritan legacy instills blindness to the use of cluster bombs from the stratosphere and hidden torture in places with foreign names like Guantánamo and Abu Ghraib … and while our neighbors in Haiti eat dirt, literally?

When I asked a friend and writer colleague in heartland America what he understands by Americanism, he stunned me and overwhelmed me with the following:

“From birth I have been immersed, enculterated, inculcated, and surrounded by the myriad toxic components of the ‘American Dream’ or ‘Americanism.’ There are some admirable aspects to ‘America’ but by and large we live in a spiritual/psychological sewer.” He then listed two dozen aspects of Americanism, which I repeat here: narcissism, greed, hyper-individualism, consumerism, capitalism, corporatism, faux democracy, media whoredom, asphyxiation of the Left, Christian fundamentalism, Mammon worship, moral retardation, militarism, imperialism, celebrity worship, wars on drugs and terrorism, prison industrial complex, mean-spiritedness, self-absorption, American exceptionalism, bullying, anti-intellectualism and the abandonment of many uninsured and homeless in the wealthiest nation on earth.

Whew! That is article, essay, denouncement and indictment.

The indictment raises many questions: Is that the American way of life? Do you recognize the indictment—for an indictment it is—as representative of “our way of life”? As Americanism? But most important do you accept and hold to that “way of life?”

Meanwhile more and more people of the world are answering, non merci, nein danke, no, grazie, no, muchas gracias, we can live without the American way of life.

ISMS AND MORE ISMS

The Greek “ism” suffix is a devilish affair indeed. Those three letters continue to create problems when applied to religious, philosophic, political or artistic movements or to tendencies or qualities of certain persons or groups: misunderstandings and disputes, hate and love, blind faith and war on whomever doesn’t fall in line. “Ism” wanders from Classicism to Futurism in the arts, from Romanticism to Realism in literature and from Nazism to Communism in European 20th century politics.

Today the West—the Occident!—uses the word Islamism in a negative sense—much as the word Communism or terrorism still emerges from a magician’s sleeve by a slick sleight-of-hand for our enemies in general—to slander Islam and the Islamic religion, its peoples and nations as something negative or to condemn political adversaries.

At The Same Time

others too are adopting the term Americanism. The way it is viewed is crucial. The Americanism seen by the others is America’s excessive admiration for non-admirable displays of American culture. For its unjustified optimism … where troubles melt like lemons drops. For its insistence on calling things by their opposites, such as peace for war. For the political correctness and false questions of “taste” and “sensitivity,” as Joan Didion once recalled, in the demand for more information about what really happened on 9/11; it was not the “appropriate time.”

In this sense the difference between Americanism and anti-Americanism is like the two sides of the same coin. The two concepts are the black and the white. Americanism becomes the backside of the moon. In Italian it is common to use the word Americanata to define an ostentatious, negative and unreliable action; an Americanata reveals the negative nuance of Americanism. A bad American film is always an Americanata.

The bitter truth is that the Americanism of many Americans, who, sheathed in their false consciousness, believe they are exceptional and the envy of the world, is an illusion. An illusion! A mirage in the desert. For the others out there, there is something childlike about their blind faith in their supposed superior life style and phony democracy that sometimes even sparks a feeling of commiseration and pity in other peoples who tend to consider them at the very best spoiled but dangerous brats.

And they continue to sing where troubles melt like lemon drops….

There was a time after World War II when other peoples imitated the way Americans speak, dress, walk and think. No longer! Once Americans were welcomed everywhere. No more! The aura of the “American dream” once made of Americanism a cult. Now the others do not understand why they feel unwelcome in America; they do not understand the reigning terrorism mania; they cannot understand the wars.

Although Americans have been spoiled, foreigners are becoming aware that the former personal freedoms that were once the key to Americanism have diminished. (Pardon these generalizations but sometimes in such matters surveys and polls and data are useless.) Though without comparing charts and scales on salaries and rents and economic aspects of life, Europeans realize their living standards are higher. Admittedly on the other hand, they do not yet appreciate the difficulties or the extent of the unfairness many many Americans face—unemployment and precarious employment, lack of basic health care, homelessness.

For arriving foreigners ten fingerprints and body searches at US entrance points serve to accentuate the sensation of “America-fortress-against-the-world and aggravate America’s globalization-imperialism urge. Europeans’ former positive, envious feelings toward America have vanished in the swirl and whorl of US militarism. The reality is that except in personal cases, few Europeans aspire to live in the USA today. As a rule only the very poor of the world seek to immigrate to the USA.

Before 9/11, I had occasion to live in New York City for a couple years in an apartment building on the Upper West Side in which the 16-man staff of service personnel were all Latin Americans, living frugally on low pay. Each of them confessed his dream of returning “home” to Mexico or to the Dominican Republic or to Peru as soon as he accumulated enough savings for a house or to open a business there.

In that immigrant microcosm the “American dream” was dead and gone.

Since the majority of people of the world seem to be infected with the disease, anti-Americanism is a good starting point to understand Americanism. But first, one wonders why has anti-Americanism contaminated the world? Once, the US government blamed it on the nefarious European Left and Radical Chic and Communists and also on Europe’s green envy of the American way of life.

That the real European Left from Sartre on has always been wary of America is true, but never as today.

Instead the real reasons as seen from Europe and Latin America stem first of all from stupid, arrogant and self-defeating US foreign policy. At the same time, French or Dutch can hardly believe the ignorance and naiveté of Americans about the world. While many Americans boast of their anti-intellectualism and their President has trouble finding strange places like Kenya or even Afghanistan on the map, the “green” media inform French and Italians that the waste and consumerism in the USA is destroying planet earth and Germans and Scandinavians are realizing that American democracy is a sham and has defiled the very word.

People are more and more aware that the Patriot Act and legislation subsequent to 9/11 have eroded America’s civil liberties. That the divide between rich and poor has never been more profound, the word “social” is taboo, and American capitalism has become more and more savage and vicious. For many others, American culture seems to be limited to mall shopping and TV sports, while America’s absurd theories of exportation of democracy and globalization as a solution to world poverty are widely scoffed at: exportation of democracy means war and globalizations means loss of jobs in Italy or France.

Europeans are right to wonder why Americans, even well intentioned people of the Left, cannot see the obvious. The answer is that their continuing faith in a mythical Americanism blinds them. And their false consciousness created and maintained by disgraceful mainline media that distorts the concept of freedom of the press.

American conservatives twist things around and point out that foreigners don’t know the USA. Nothing more false! Europeans are well-informed about the USA. In these months day after day arrive into peoples’ homes news and talk shows about the USA and its incomprehensible money-based electoral system. People are familiar with South Carolina and New England and Colorado. Italian TV and press have their correspondents following the primaries today because it matters to Europe, to the world, who is elected, they believe (naively). In this, Europeans show their good faith. They still believe there is a difference between America’s two political parties, when they could be suggesting and advising and pleading for third and fourth parties in the USA—in their own interest—something Americans seem loath to do.

Each new school shooting somewhere in the USA, each new massacre in Iraq and Afghanistan, the death tolls of US and European casualties, and analyses and media coverage of US events, the decline of the US economy, the falling stock market in New York and the threat of recession are all part of Europe’s daily fare.

I was perplexed this morning when my wife, an Italian, asked me in all sincerity as to why what happens in the USA so important to the rest of the world. My point is that though the world studies the USA, the others out there in the world are terrified of what the next fool-hardy, dangerous and unpredictable act this big oaf of a child will pull off in the name of its Americanism.

European American specialists often return to those Puritan individualists I mentioned earlier “who so passionately believed that they could individually establish a direct relationship with God,” who emigrated to North America and invented “an explosively new and radical ideology” that justified “an individualist rather than a social view of property.”

The decline of that idea we are all witnessing shows that in an individualistic world that is wholly private we lose our bearings; deprived of any public anchor, all we have are our individual subjective values to guide us. According to even a minimum social philosophy (which for Washington and US capitalism is straight out of Marx’s Communist Manifesto and Mao’s Little Red Book) one simple but pressing need would be publicly owned TV with the (impossible) mandate to provide a universal public service to guarantee ordinary citizens core news and comment free of hype and spin. While the U.S. spends little money on public TV, European governments finance and aggressively regulate broadcasting content so that state TV has remained more complete and in some countries surprisingly free.

American private broadcasters instead plead the First Amendment’s commitment to absolute free speech, making public interest regulation almost impossible.

THE IMPUSLE FOR U.S HEGEMONY IN THE WORLD

I often return to the passage from Mexican writer Carlos Fuentes’ masterpiece, The Death of Artemio Cruz, the gist of which is that one cannot commit what North Americans have committed against Mexico and expect to be loved. The historical imperialistic, hypocritical, vicious, greedy and vulgar attitudes of the United States toward its southern neighbor are the model for America’s drive for world hegemony and its urge to control other peoples. From the beginnings of the nineteenth century until the present era, the United States has attempted to export its “American dream” to Mexico. Hypocritically that manifest destiny vision tried to superimpose Protestant values, a capitalist free market and a consumer society onto a culture foreign to such Protestant values.

The results: Shouts of “Long Live Mexico” and “Death to the Yankees” today echo similar protests ringing out from Afghanistan to the Middle East.

It is fact that more and more peoples of the world consider America evil, distant and cut off from the rest of humanity. I believe American people too, no less than Europeans, could bear up under the reality that the message of Americanism is not true. You know, people do not need to be lied to. Most can take the truth. Or they might prefer the truth after they get used to it; our minds after all have the task of distinguishing between true and false.

Still, it continues to be bizarre that we live our little lives inside our shell and have no idea of what is taking place on the outside. Only a thin wall separates our shell of comfort and ease from the exterior world where torture continues. In my mind, the kind of Americanism spoken of here, a life style based on comfort and ease, reflect anti-reality, anti-man, anti-life.

If anything, we have to learn to live without illusions.

No matter how clever, how perceptive and well grounded its positions, official America—and many Americans—seem to see Iraq and Iran, Kosovo and Algeria, from a virtual point of view. Europeans see those peoples instead as real places in a real world. A fundamental difference in attitude toward war is that Europeans know what war is on home soil. They know that war is not peace. War means suffering and destruction and death. War does not bring democracy.

A glaring assumption of Americanism is that the US military is a force for good (as reactionaries like to put it). That the US is the guiding light for the world, and is in sole possession of moral authority.

Cold War Revisionism

Because I once felt lonely in my nascent revisionist ideas on Soviet Communism and Stalinism and doubted the validity of my own thinking, I have postponed the question of Soviet Communism, which is not as distant from the power of Americanism as it might seem. Though as a rule I dislike the constant revisionism (that ism suffix again!), it goes without saying that the last word about Lenin’s heirs has not yet been spoken.

So careful here, for we’re speaking of seventy plus years of the 20th century that changed our world. Nor can one dispute that the Bolshevik Revolution changed the face of America, too. The revolutionary myth and four great events remain fixed in the memory of some of us: the American, French, Mexican and Russian revolutions. However, in America the revolutionary legacy morphed into one of the worst aspects of Americanism.

Fear and terror of Revolution transformed Americanism into a “way of life”, crusaded for in uninterrupted anti-progress wars ever since, accompanied by the Nazification of America’s institutions.

Like the many questions today open to re-interpretation, Communism is not a closed issue. Likewise, Soviet Communism is not a closed issue. With the broadening of the European Union toward the East the question of Communism is recurrent today because the EU is formed by peoples with opposite perceptions of it. For many East Europeans Communism was a nightmare. Nor was the exit from totalitarian regimes in East Europe a happy one in that it led some of those countries to blind faith in a savage market economy and abandonment of the spirit of social solidarity.

However, for many people in the world the word Communism is not a dirty word. Former East Germans in Berlin have described to me the nostalgia for the sense of social solidarity in former East Germany. Though the totalitarian regimes in East Europe vanished and Communist parties are marginalized, for the 450,000,000 people of the now twenty-seven nations of the European Union the sensation of something missing is real. Even though controversial, the memory of Communism is alive. Though Communism in practice is no longer considered a credible alternative in free market democracy, and though it no longer aims at revolution and though it still suffers from the image of Soviet totalitarian past, its memory is alive. The question of Communism has not been settled.

George Washington, the Founding Fathers, Abraham Lincoln, John Kennedy have each been re-evaluated. I believe the time will come when also Joseph Stalin will be regarded with different eyes. In the end, the six to ten million or more dead will not all be charged to evil Uncle Joe. Most certainly he will not be charged with the Cold War, which engaged America’s chief energies for four decades and has now reawakened over the wars for oil and gas.

In the list of aspects of Americanism, anti-Communism is a cornerstone. Revisionism of Stalin (the word means steel man!) rings seditious. The suggestion that Josef (Koba) Vissarionovich Djugashvili was not the anti-Christ incarnated overturns the history of Americanism. Yet that historical revisionism circulates here and there among a small circle of academics who believe that history will judge Stalin a great leader, as suggested by the historians Grover Burr and Yury Zhukov in his Inoy Stalin, A Different Stalin. Maybe not in our lifetime, but Stalin will one day be recorded as no worse and maybe better for Russia than many Russian Tsars.

But the gulags? one objects. Gulags? Well, read Dostoevsky among other Russian writers to experience the gulag existence since the early phases of Tsardom and the formation of Russia.

Then what about his “Socialism in one country,” the abandonment of world revolution and adoption of Russian nationalism? Lenin and Trotsky’s program of world revolution was the romantic view: without a world Socialist revolution, the Russian Revolution was doomed. Trotsky charged Stalin with betrayal of the Russian Revolution because he aimed at limiting original and necessary revolutionary goals. Now, in comparison, Stalin’s “Socialism is one country” turns out to be Russian nationalism and paradoxically differs chiefly in degree and methods from modern European leaders struggling for independence within the European Union.

Thus the Cold War remains a sore spot. For Soviet Russia there was NATO and US aggressiveness to contend with. There were the US-NATO military bases encircling the USSR, symbols of many aspects of continuing Americanism. Many Americans and Germans of those times agreed that the United States had fought the wrong war. The generals were ready to march on Moscow, again. Post-war German writer Wolfgang Borchert’s Verrostet träumen Waffen von Kriegen described the nearly rusted arms (in the generals’ fantasies) dreaming of wars to be fought. They should combat the real enemy: the Russkies. Moscow had good reason to believe that the US goal was the overthrow of the Soviet regime.

In post-war West Germany the former Nazi General Reinhard Gehlen (1902-1979) and chief of Hitler’s Soviet intelligence service headed the nucleus of surviving German intelligence … under American direction. Gehlen’s Org, a nest of former SS and Gestapo killers, war criminals responsible for the deaths of millions in the Soviet Union and East Europe, became a decisive component of the CIA’s growing worldwide apparatus. Its thousands of experienced operatives, older and more cosmopolitan than incoming CIA recruits, had a major effect on the future culture of the CIA and thus on America.

So dependent was American intelligence on their Nazi brothers that it has been said that the new CIA was built around the Gehlen Org, the history of which is still misty today. The creation of the Gehlen Org thus constituted the most extreme provocation, contributing to the general climate of hostility, which came to be known as the Cold War.

The Cold War deformed our immature minds; not only two generations of Americans were brainwashed and hoodwinked; a whole world was brainwashed and hoodwinked. But, in the long run, I like many others concluded that despite the brainwash and the Cold War, Russia was Russia, complex, grand, enigmatic; but it was Russia.

CONCLUSIONS

For anyone with eyes to see it is clear that the reasons for the clash of the United States with the world today—while its presidential candidates traipse around the electoral circuit speaking of the new wars to come—are to be found in that complex of historical, social and political factors and the false values, which constitute today’s Americanism. That is, “our way of life,” in the name of which our increasingly illegitimate political leaders pontificate and send our troops, “our boys”, around the world, which, far from defending social justice or the downtrodden, serves to separate the people of America from the rest of the world.

A growing number of Americans realize that the time has arrived for a radical shift in American thinking. All those little placards of the electoral campaign bearing the word change reflect the necessity. Yet, with the Americanism mindset described above, revolution is still hardly conceivable in the minds of the masses.

A close analysis and dissection of the American values that constitute Americanism will be necessary in order to create a new set of values. A new mindset that will include a basic conception of social justice to counteract and replace the pervasive and visible sense of gloom and hopelessness in the obesity of consumerist America.

And that, I hope, I believe, is where people like us count.

________________________________________________________________________________
Addendum: I have excerpted a few lines from my short story of New York: “Brooklyn Bridge-Arch Number Six” about a Hispanic muralist and Americanism.

“I’m painting the history, past, present—and future—of the city,” he (the Hispanic immigrant, painting his mural on arch number six.) whispered.

From clouds and nocturnal mists of memory emerged outlines of arriving ships—they were the Anglo-Saxons and the Dutch. Ghostly silhouettes of Indians with their indistinct faces painted white looked toward the sea. Out of ocean mists then came waves of blacks, with round faces and frightened eyes. New houses crept up the island of Manahatta like waves of the sea. Blue and gray uniforms and cannons and flags and luxurious mansions rose from the ground. Layer after layer—boatloads of dark foreigners with cardboard suitcases and packed ships departing with soldiers, railroads like spokes of a wheel and subway tracks in tunnels, parks with mansions on one side, slums on the other, dandies and rag pickers. The colors were speaking, crying and screaming, brilliant under powerful searchlights from above, the colors of the skins, white, yellow, red, brown, black. Palaces, cinemas and vaudeville halls, beer parlors, art galleries, train stations and stadiums, ships on white rivers turning black, smoke and steam, pale women and silent girls seated in long lines of old urban factories. In the night his story was exploding onto the walls of Arch No. 6. The banks, the Stock Exchange façade shrouded in ticker tape and bands of strikers whose ranks are gradually transformed into homeless sleeping in doorways, in parks, in subway stations. And in the lower right corner ranks of policemen in blue face to face with legions of the city’s homeless.)

Gaither Stewart is a Senior Contributing Editor for Cyrano’s Journal/tantmieux, a novelist and journalist based in Italy. His collections of fiction, Icy Current Compulsive Course, To Be A Stranger and Once In Berlin are published by Wind River Press. (www.windriverpress.com ). His recent novel, Asheville, is published by Wastelandrunes, (www.wastelandrunes.com).

Originally published at http://www.bestcyrano.org/THOMASPAINE/?p=587

Murder In The Cathedral by Gaither Stewart

Gaither Stewart
by Gaither Stewart
featured writer
Dandelion Salad

July 30, 2008

Murder In The Cathedral

or

How the Sainthood of the Archbishop Became the Epiphany of the King

The worldwide influence of the Roman Catholic Church emanates from the Holy See, the Church’s central government headed by the Pope, physically located within the territory of the Vatican State inside the city of Rome with a population of 821. The Holy See has diplomatic relations with world nations which maintain two separate embassies in Rome: one to Italy and one to the Holy See! Now why the hell, one wonders, should Argentina or the USA, China or Gabon maintain diplomatic relations with a church? Likewise the Holy See has embassies around the world, the nunciatures, while from day to day, from year to year, insists on meddling in Italy’s and world affairs. After his election as Pope in 2006, one of the first acts of Benedict XVI was a triumphant cortege through the streets of “Italy”, just across the Tiber River from the Vatican.

(Rome) One Sunday morning in the unlikely setting of the residential wasteland of Queens, NY, a friend I only thought I had known cited the famous quote of T.S. Eliot, words, he said, that had changed his life. As we lumbered through the barren streets of a non-descript neighborhood of non-descript houses and miniscule front yards of dry yellow grass, he suddenly took my arm and apropos of nothing pronounced:

“The last temptation is the greatest treason:
To do the right deed for the wrong reason.”

To the two young men walking through dismal Queens, both inebriated with the hubris of youth and morning vodka, two doubters unmindful of even the possibility of God and the debate raging about it, those words spoken in the suburban desert rang simple and humbling, menacing and earth-shaking. Silence followed. Neither of us commented.

I have never seen the play performed and of the film of the same name I recall chiefly the scenes of debauchery of two young friends of 12th century England, one a King, the other his Chancellor. But, the text of Murder in the Cathedral is enduring, as befits a Nobel writer (1948). From time to time I pull out the azure and deep red Faber & Faber edition of the book, anxiously awaiting the lines I first heard on that hot Queens street. In these spring days of Pope Benedict’s bid for more and more temporal power and after seeing a documentary on the tragedy of the murder of Archbishop Thomas Becket, I repeated that old ceremony.

Maybe you have to live in Rome to be aware that the church-state struggle not only continues but has intensified. The Roman Catholic Church seems to see temporal power as the chief aim of its ministry on earth. In any case, without any pretences of literary criticism on my part, I find that Eliot’s play is an auspicious start for a look at the age-old struggle. Though much has been written about the issue and I fear I will not find much original to say, the importance today of the subject of secular vs. religious power justifies the effort … also for the reader. So, pray stay with me.

Perhaps it is a matter of approach, which I intend changing: unlike T.S. Eliot I am more interested in the social aims of King Henry II than in the qualms of conscience of Archbishop Thomas Becket.

The Event

In 1163, the two friends, Thomas Becket (1118-1170), Archbishop of Canterbury and the English King, Henry II (1133-1189), quarreled over the respective power roles of church and state. So stormy and furious was the dispute that Becket subsequently escaped to France to rally support for the Catholic Church against the pressures of the State of Henry II. Seven years later, after an apparent reconciliation with his old friend Henry, he returned to England only to be murdered in his Canterbury cathedral by four of Henry’s knights.

His assassination foreshadowed similar political murders of Martin Luther King and of Archbishop Oscar Romero at the altar of a chapel in El Salvador in 1980, both murdered by reactionary death squads sponsored by the local oligarchy in cahoots with US military and intelligence operatives. Like Becket’s early relationship with the King, Oscar Romero was at first considered an ally of the ruling oligarchy of El Salvador in the grip of US imperialism. After he was named Archbishop in 1977, mounting repression, attacks on the clergy, murders of priests and the misery of the poor changed his views. Romero became a spokesman for the poor and the message of Liberation Theology so despised and feared by the popes of Rome. Oscar Romero boycotted the new President’s inauguration on July 1, 1977, denying him the blessing of the Catholic Church, and declared the election invalid. Romero outlined in a sermon a moral justification for mutiny against state power. As Thomas had intimated 800 years earlier, Romero said: “If they kill me, I shall arise in the Salvadoran people. If the threats come to be fulfilled, from this moment I offer my blood to God for the redemption and resurrection of El Salvador. Let my blood be a seed of freedom.”

Finally in 1997 the procedure for his canonization began. Though he is widely called San Romero in El Salvador, a martyr for the faith, the Roman Church still drags its feet. Joseph Ratzinger, or Pope Benedict XVI, has no love for Liberation Theology which he fought tooth and nail. Recently the Pope said cryptically that Romero “merits beatification”, a statement since deleted from official transcripts. Meanwhile controversial figures such as Josemaria Escriva de Balaguer, head of Opus Dei and the Italian mystic Padre Pio who claimed he healed the blind have recently become saints.

In the England of Henry II, the Crown and the Church were at war for supremacy. Thomas was weaker and had to die, a martyr’s death. Three years later he was canonized and pilgrims flocked to his tomb, including a repentant Henry II himself, in search of epiphany.

The reality was less a story of martyrdom—which Thomas in Eliot’s play viewed suspiciously as a human weakness—than it is a story of a political assassination, relevant in all times, as in the USA, as in El Salvador. While Romero’s assassination was in the name of capitalist imperialism, Thomas was murdered by the State of King Henry II in order to supplant Church law with his State courts and trial by jury (especially in the case of criminal clerics who normally escaped real punishment in church courts) and constitutional and legal reforms—the wrong thing though for the right reason.

Eliot’s play—and his view—is thus not just about the murder of Thomas à Becket. It is also about standing up for what is right in the face of the temptations of both power and glory. Henry expected Thomas to allow him to exploit his friendship and his church title in order to abuse the power of the Church for the benefit of the State. Thomas refused—a courageous display of not giving into power’s pressures. Here, the right thing for the wrong reason!

In our lives we don’t have someone as powerful as Henry II breathing down our necks (not yet, at least). But we do face moral challenges. How to say No … at the risk of being different? Join the majority or dare to remain independent? Display your intelligence or be “cool” all-American and act dumb?

As Oscar Romero showed, power struggles are not all the same. But the issues in this play are disturbingly real and perilously relevant to today’s world: man’s nearly meaningless place in the conflicts of the era of authoritarian military-industrial power combined confusedly with the churches of philistine fundamentalism, God-is-on-our-side hypocrisy dominating human affairs.

On the first level, Eliot’s Murder in the Cathedral is a play in verse about the dangers of temptations on the way to sainthood or power. Thomas Becket resisted several temptations coupled with cajolery and threat. He is offered a return to political power alongside King Henry while at the same time he is accused of disloyalty to the nation and his ecclesiastical office and threatened physically. He is tempted with a return to his halcyon youth with his friend Henry, and the concomitant danger of being forgotten by history.

Though tempted by sainthood and lured by power, Thomas sees martyrdom and pleasure as human weaknesses. To the tempters he responds with those famous words:

Now is my way clear, now is the meaning plain;
Temptation shall not come in this kind again.
The last temptation is the greatest treason:
To do the right deed for the wrong reason.

Temporal Power

The temporal power of the Roman Catholic Church refers to the political and governmental activities of the Church as distinguished from its spiritual mission, its eternal power in contrast to secular power.

As Dostoevsky showed in The Legend of the Grand Inquisitor, centuries after Jesus Christ a world church grew up in His name. The Popes of Rome named themselves His vicars on earth. The former Papal States in Italy which included Rome had achieved the status of a country with relations with other countries. When on Christmas day in the year 800 the Pope crowned Charlemagne Emperor, the Church gained power over the entire Holy Roman Empire. Church and State were one. In our times, though officially separated, Church and State are often one. Temporal power remains distant from religious doctrine and the pastoral mission, its temporal bent is in fact one of the Church’s worst aspects. Despite the Church’s explanation that temporal power is one of those unavoidable bridges that must be crossed in order to disseminate the Catholic faith, what can the doctrine of Jesus Christ have to do with power on earth? Besides, over and over again religions have shown they have no capacity whatsoever for temporal power.

We don’t have to go far to see the proof in practice today in the exercise of power in the USA under the sway of the mystical sort of Americanistic religious persuasion bordering on voodooism infected with the disease of false religion.

As Henry II had done before him, Napoleon abolished the Church’s temporal power and in his conquests dissolved the Papal States as natural rivals for power. Temporal power was then restored to the Church by the Congress of Vienna of 1815 when Napoleonic laws were abolished. Immediately the reactionary Church back in power returned to the destruction of modern improvements, forcing society back to medieval days, in Italy banning vaccination against smallpox which then devasted Papal lands. The Jews were again locked in the Rome ghetto, while the Church’s historic neglect of the environment made of Latium—except for rich Papal estates—the most godforsaken and abandoned part of Italy.

Finally, the new Italian Republic which united the diverse states of the peninsula declared an end to the Papal States. Formally, the Church’s temporal power ended in 1929 with a treaty, the Concordat, between the Vatican State and Italy, according to which the papacy was to have no more political interests in Italy and the rest of the world.

Did its meddling end? Not by a long shot. The influence of the Roman Church continues to be worldwide. It has diplomatic relations with many nations of the world, which maintain in Rome two embassies: one to Italy and one to the Holy See! Now what the hell is the Roman Church doing with embassies? And why should Argentina or the USA, Gabon or China, maintain diplomatic relations with a church? And from day to day, from year to year, from election to election, the Church continues to meddle in Italy’s and world affairs. After he was elected Pope in 2006, one of the first acts of Benedict XVI was a triumphant cortege in “Italy”, just across the Tiber River from the Vatican.

Since then the Bavarian Pope and his bishops pressure Italy on a spectrum of civil issues such as marriage and the role of the family, contraception, abortion, euthanasia, same sex marriage and all progressive legislation. Internationally, the Pope makes statements in favor of peace but carefully refrains from serious criticism of the United States from where come substantial funds to pay for the huge Church bureaucracy. In ethics, the Church line is the “defense of life” in all its aspects. But during his recent visit to the USA, Pope Benedict didn’t take strong positions against capital punishment there.

Faith and Politics

Before shifting my point of view to Henry, a few words about Eliot’s faith and a guess at his reasons for writing this powerful text, the second and underlying level of his play. The question is germane. Though he embraced Christianity, one wonders if Eliot really believed? In his play, King Henry only hovers in the background as the representation of Thomas’ past of pleasure, the present of contrast and threat, and the mysterious future. Thomas à Becket stands on center stage. As if Eliot were searching in the Archbishop’s psyche for answers about his own faith—the temptations, doubts and hesitations Eliot the super but uncertain intellectual felt about his faith and his choices.

Among spiritual thinkers and seekers, Eliot had read especially Dante and returns to him as often as to Shakespeare. Dante, whose universe is dominated by Satan and whose Hell has much more to do with Church politics and secular politics than religion. Eliot must have known what he would say if only he had faith! If only he lived in a world of faith. In the voice of Thomas Becket in the end seeking to purify his motives for accepting martyrdom, Eliot says it: “I have had a tremor of bliss, a wink of heaven, a whisper, And I would no longer be denied.”

Most certainly the writer had his doubts. Not as Dostoevsky, yet, a tremor. A clairvoyant glimpse toward the future. I believe Eliot wanted to believe but I don’t believe he really believed or even believed he believed. Born to an age of avant-garde thought defined by its rejection of faith in God, Eliot made faith respectable. Yet his faith seems to have been based chiefly on hope. And it was largely aesthetic, prompting Harold Bloom’s remark that T.S. Eliot aspired to the triple identity he claimed of royalist, Christian, and classicist “with considerable bad faith.” In his Notes Toward the Definition of Culture written after World War II, Eliot wrote of religion in the USSR some lines pertinent today, especially the last phrase:

“From the official Russian point of view there are two objections to religion: first, of course, that religion is apt to provide another loyalty than that claimed by the State; and second, that there are several religions in the world still firmly maintained by many believers. The second objection is perhaps even more serious than the first: for where there is only one religion, it is always possible that that religion may be subtly altered, so that it will enjoin conformity rather than stimulate resistance to the State.” (my italics)

Or the concomitant danger of conformity of the State to religion, he might have added, to reflect the case of puritan America.

You can encounter those super believers anywhere, those supercilious religious people who feel superior, convinced that God sustains their actions. The result is the disconcerting assurance that the wars against Iraq and Afghanistan are holy and that war crimes are just. In their view the just war is a religious war. Religious wars are just. Religion is at the heart of many of history’s wars. The fundamentalist Fascist State has always used religion as a tool to manipulate people. The organized religions through which Power works become malleable tools for perpetrating the crime of wars of conquest. This is not necessarily the fault of the religious impulse in human beings. It is the fault of organized religion which today justifies the odious slogans of “our way of life” and “they (the others) hate our freedoms.” It is the way the self-proclaimed vicars of Christ exploit organized religion.

If not for Eliot’s own religious hang-up, his play Murder In the Cathedral could have centered on politics, not morality and religion. Instead the play is seen strictly from the Church’s point of view.

In that sense the murder of Thomas Becket at Canterbury was of less importance then than the assassination of Archbishop Romero in El Salvador today. Thomas’ was in fact more a rogue killing by soldiers who thought they were carrying out what their King wanted done. Maybe Becket died from an act of stupidity—which was most certainly not the case of the murders of Oscar Romero and Martin Luther King. In the latter, power knew exactly what it was doing.

Still, because of the power of the Church in the England of Henry II, murdering an archbishop was a dangerous act. Not so for the perpetrators in the El Salvador of our times where the hierarchy of the Roman Church stood on the side of brutal imperialist-capitalist power. To Eliot and the modern reader, Thomas’ murder was of less importance than the democratic belief that not even the king is above the law. For that reason, I believe, Eliot centered the play on Becket’s motives for sainthood, not on his resistance nor on Henry’s potential quest for redemption, and who knows? perhaps he really hoped for an epiphany. Though the play was written at the time of the rising of Fascism and Nazism in Europe and can be understood also as an individual’s opposition to authority as in the Greek play Antigone, Becket’s internal struggle over his opposition to Henry II is in my reading secondary.

Having come into conflict with secular authority, the Archbishop is visited by a succession of tempters urging him alternately to avoid conflict and give in to the King, or, to seek martyrdom. While three priests consider the rise of temporal power, Becket instead reflects on the inevitability of martyrdom, which, though he embraces it, he also interprets as a sign of his own fatal weakness. Eliot’s Becket thus becomes a Christ figure whose role is the martyr, reflecting the writer’s own quest for faith—aesthetic or genuine, who knows? In any case, like Christ, Eliot’s Becket is led step by step to provoke violence against himself and to submit to it. Self-murder or suicide? Or martyrdom of both suffering and the resulting glory?

Henry II, Great Grandson of the Norman Conqueror

Though the King never appears in Eliot’s play, his shadow is a powerful presence, his power fills Thomas’s past and present. “O Henry, O my King” he laments, while chorus chants: “The King rules.” Yet, though a shadow, the King is human. And Power is real. The priests declaim: “But as for our King, that is another matter.” Or: “Had the King been greater, or had he been weaker Things had perhaps been different for Thomas.”

Though the author T.S. Eliot leaves little room for partisanship, after a time I began to side with the shadow which is King Henry. In real life the King’s his struggles against a strong-willed wife and unruly sons and his relationship with his friend Thomas Becket detract from his accomplishments and lasting influence on Anglo-Saxon judicial systems. Eliot however did not favor the King role at all which the Tempter notes when he offers Thomas eternal glory after a martyr’s death:

“When King is dead, there’s another king,
And one more king is another reign.?
King is forgotten, when another shall come:
Saint and martyr rule from the tomb.”

Henry II improved the affairs of his kingdom, reaching from Scotland to the Pyrenees. Though he failed to subject the Church to his courts, his judicial reforms endured. His centralized system of justice and modern court procedures available replaced the old trial by ordeal. He initiated the concept of “common law” administered by royal courts, thus encroaching on feudal courts and on the jurisdiction of Church courts. He decreed that priests should be tried in royal courts, not in Becket’s ecclesiastical courts.

Henry’s aim was the overthrow of the feudal system, unknowingly paving the way for the role of the bourgeoisie and capitalism and making him an active link in Marx’s historical dialectic. To achieve that he had to control the Church by combining under the crown of England both State and Church. Neither Becket nor the faith could stand in his way. He didn’t eliminate the Church; he absorbed it and used it. For the same reasons modern political leaders of West and East use it, wrapping themselves in religious language and religious issues—our Christian values, our Christian heritage and God is on our side.

Now, a leap ahead of five centuries to the English Revolution and the three civil wars beginning in 1642. Henry II couldn’t know what he was setting in motion and would have been horrified at the results. For the most radical achievements of the English bourgeois revolution were the temporary abolition and permanent weakening of the monarchy, confiscation of both Church and aristocratic estates. Though not a working-class movement with a revolutionary theory, the English Revolution declared the monarchy “unnecessary, burdensome, and dangerous to the liberty, safety and public interest of the people.” Henry’s impulse resulted centuries later in the execution of the King, a redefinition of the English monarchy and the “dangerous and useless” House of Lords, and the proclamation of a republic.

That is not to say that those 17th century men were particularly foresighted. Still, until recent times western men could see our problems in secular terms because our ancestors had put an end to the use of the Church as a persecuting instrument of political masters.

As long as the power of his State was weak, as Henry II understood, the Church could tell people what to believe and how to behave, as does Pope Benedict XVI—I just read he is called in the USA “ B16” as if he were a stratospheric Flying Fortress bomber. For behind the threats and censures of the Church, all the terrors of hell fire are real for its unfree believers-subjects. Under Church control as in El Salvador social and political conflicts became religious conflicts.

In 17th century England the haute bourgeoisie was terrified of the revolutionary torrent it had let loose. It needed a reformed monarchy responsive to its interests, to check the flow of popular feeling. It also needed the Church of England, The fear then was today’s fear: that the people of our world will rise in revolt in mighty numbers against the rotten capitalist order, which as Marx predicted is rapidly hanging itself with its own rope. Religion was truly seen as the “opium of the people.”

For organized religion remains largely the close and inalienable ally of political power.

A second lesson of the historically under-rated English Revolution was the Revolution’s need for organization. Men must choose sides. To decide, they must know what they are fighting for. One learned that freedom of assembly and freedom of speech are the first freedoms to fight for. The ruling bourgeoisie needed the people … yet it feared them. Therefore it kept also the monarchy as a check against too much democracy. The condition of the petty bourgeoisie of 17th century England was similar to that of the former middle class in the USA today, where what was once the middle class, filled with all its false consciousness, is dependent on the corrupt system, dominated, crushed and rocked to sleep by the blandishments and rewards given them by the minute upper class.

Therefore, in order to change things, the urgent need for a movement of the lower classes—and an informed and educated class to lead the way—both liberated from the binds of religious fundamentalists in the pay of the system.

Is that not where we are today in the good old USA?

Civilizations and cultures have meanwhile gone their own ways, some helped along the way, some hindered. Revolution to revolution, social progress and social setbacks. Who knows if civilization has really peaked and its time is up? While we battle for survival, the question of social evolution remains open. The State-Church equation is different today. The issue is Power itself, Power in which religion is so enmeshed as to be one and the same with the disastrous results before us.

As Thomas Becket says to the tempter suggesting a return to his past of power and glory, “singing at nightfall, whispering in chambers”:

“We do not know very much of the future
Except that from generation to generation
The same things happen again and again.
Men learn little from others’ experience.
The same time returns. Sever
The cord, shed the scale. Only
The fool, fixed in his folly, may think
He can turn the wheel on which he turns.”

Gaither Stewart is a Senior Contributing Editor for Cyrano’s Journal/tantmieux, a novelist and journalist based in Italy. His collections of fiction, Icy Current Compulsive Course, To Be A Stranger and Once In Berlin are published by Wind River Press. (www.windriverpress.com ). His recent novel, Asheville, is published by Wastelandrunes, (www.wastelandrunes.com).

He lives in Rome.

Published previously at http://www.bestcyrano.org/THOMASPAINE/?p=687

see

With God on Our Side: One Man’s War Against an Evangelical Coup in America’s Military

The Russians Are Back by Gaither Stewart

Gaither Stewart
by Gaither Stewart
featured writer
Dandelion Salad

July 25, 2008

(Rome) “With Russia it’s always like that,” writes contemporary Russia’s most read author, Viktor Pelevin. “You admire it and you cry, but when you look at what you admire up close, it can make you vomit.” That’s Pelevin, and others of the young generation. A mixture of compassion and fury. The rage of a young Russian against the post-Communist society that missed the curve and stuck the country in a repugnant swamp. But it’s also compassion for the Old Russia that he defends against superficial criticism and despite his violence he is solidary with its misery and its grandeur.

Strategically located at the crossroads of Eurasia, Russia’s geographical position enhances its power and influence which again today extends over much of the planet. Its military-industrial complex equals that of America and besides it has the world’s greatest natural gas reserves. America cannot afford to underestimate Russia on the basis of the economic collapse of the Soviet Union twenty years ago. Now Russia is back and is here to stay.

1. In the immediate post-World War II years American policy-makers agreed with defeated Germany that the United States had fought the wrong war. Until the last moment German generals had hoped that the Allies would allow Germany to surrender to the West and then fight the “real war” in the East, together. American generals too were hankering for the right war, and this time against Soviet Russia. Even “rusting arms too dreamed of wars,” wrote the young German Wolfgang Borchert on his return from the Eastern front, (Verrostet träumen Waffen von Kriegen.) Now, together, shoulder-to-shoulder, Germans and Americans should fight the real enemy: the Russkies.

The common enemy for Americans and Germans alike was Communism and the USSR. When I say “Americans,” of course, I mean the American ruling oligarchy, the US ruling class, not the masses, who, benighted for generations, are essentially propagandized by the corporate media to love or hate whomever or whatever such privileged class deems necessary to their strategic goals. Long before the war started, as is true for all class wars, some American political leaders (as well as British) began to consider WWII as a war against Communism not against Nazi Germany and sided with the Nazis against the Communists. According to one view of history, the war against Communism began with the German invasion of Russia in 1941 and ended in 1991 when the Soviet Union collapsed. Germany and Japan had fought the first part of the war; from 1945 the USA took over. (Others, with ample justification, put the beginning of the war against Soviet communism to the formation of the first Soviet government in 1917, and the cordon sanitaire and military expeditions that followed.)

As many of our readers will recall, after the war America was so dependent on Nazi Intelligence—Gestapo, SS and Abwehr—for information about Russia that it built the new CIA around Hitler’s intelligence chief in East Europe, General Reinhardt Gehlen. Gehlen had held intact Germany’s spy network in the East and saved for the new times German intelligence documentation about the USSR. Gehlen sold his data to the USA and his organization produced propagandistic materials used to justify growing American intelligence budgets and at the same time sharpened US/USSR hostilities by a systematic exaggeration of the Soviet Communist menace. This soon bloomed into a cottage industry, in a fertile soil of extreme gullibility and vast pools of reactionary political agitation lodged at all levels of American society, from academia to back country hillbillies.

So what is this thing about Russia anyway? The Russian “threat” that provokes intervention? Like Napoleon and Hitler, also America’s two-gunned General Patton had the dream of a triumphal march straight to Moscow. Nach Moskau! incited Gehlen. To Moscow! echoed Patton. Though Patton didn’t get marching orders, for subsequent decades the United States followed Nazi policies in the East. Nazi war criminals and their collaborators in East Europe became America’s allies and colleagues. Some were parachuted into the USSR. Others staffed US intelligence gathering organizations. Ex-Nazis were also sent to the USA and used to fuel anti-Communism. Film and literature has described how the Gehlen Org, aided by the USA, Vatican and Red Cross, set up postwar “rat lines,” or “Operation Odessa”, an escape route to save SS and Gestapo men from war crimes trials, changing their identities and sending them off by submarine to sanctuaries in Argentina and Paraguay and Chile to organize for the next round against Communism and Russia.

2. One can imagine that the hostility America bears toward Russia derives from something buried deep in America’s puritanical chromosomal-genetic make-up. One has to wonder who these Russians are that America feels it has to encircle, circumscribe and contain, and dictate and preach to and look down on. Is it really only competition for world domination? Maybe it is also jealousy. Envy for Russia’s still vast lands. For its great culture. Perhaps it is something Russia has that America lacks. The cynic would say that today it has to do with the great natural gas reserves in Siberia. However that may be, the source of the perceived Russian threat is a mystery.

We now know that the Cold War subtly deformed countless immature minds.  Not only two generations or more of Americans were brainwashed and hoodwinked; a whole world was hoodwinked. Yet, despite the brainwash and the Cold War, despite what was instilled into our generation about Stalin and Communism gone wrong, there were people who loved Russia anyway. Some came to understand that Russia would always be Russia.

In his beautiful book, Dictionnaire Amoureux de la Russie, editions Plon, Paris, 2007, Dominique Fernandez describes the dance, la danse, as much more than a pastime in Russia. Speaking of the extraordinary ability of the world’s greatest dancers, Nijinski and Nureyev, to levitate and hang suspended in the air for several instants, Fernandez writes, “It is a necessity of the (Russian) soul, impatient to break away from the weight of matter, the battle of the spirit against the body.” This French writer and lover of Russia chose the dance as emblematic of the indomitable spirit of Russians to rise above normal human limitations, a national characteristic shown over and over again throughout Russian history. The Italian Slavist and poet, Angelo Maria Ripellino, hoped to compile a history of Russian letters based on the dance, a repetitious and obsessive theme in Russian literature: the dancing feet in Pushkin, the obscure leaps of Lermontov’s characters, Blok’s serpentine dances, Bely’s mountebanks.

In a discussion of Russian’s values, Fernandez writes, “For him food, money, vacations are necessities, not values. Books, theater, music, hikes in forests, gathering mushrooms, family solidarity, hospitality, voilà Russian values.” The Soviet period did not undermine these basic values; it enhanced them. One important achievement of the Soviet system, Fernandez notes, was low prices for culture enjoyment. Culture in Russia has no relationship with wealth. Even people with low incomes fill theaters and opera houses, concert halls and museums still today. And the state lavished support on artists of all types, a fact recognized even by Nureyev at one point, despite his ostensible defection to the West, chiefly for career advancement reasons.

Paradoxically this people of the far north are mentally people of the South. Russians love especially Italy, and in their emotionality they often resemble them. Maybe because Russians also have a penchant for disorder, procrastination, inefficiency, qualities more than redeemed by their fantasy, poetry, nobility and confidence in life. In his book, La Tregua (The Truce. Abacus, London, 1987), Primo Levi, the great writer from Turin, describes his liberation from Auschwitz by Russian soldiers and the subsequent errant train voyage in the joyous chaos of Russian troops returning home from the war which first carried him north through Poland and Ukraine. Levi and the liberated Italians observed the Red Army soldiers homeward bound in a kind of “disorderly and multicolored biblical migration….” So what is their strength, Levi wondered? “It is an interior discipline born from the harmony, reciprocal love and love for their homeland; a discipline that triumphs—precisely because it is interior—over the mechanical and servile discipline of the Germans. It was easy to understand why they prevailed.”

According to Primo Levi “even the Soviet bureaucracy was an obscure and gigantic force, not ill-disposed toward us (the Italian enemy) but only suspicious, negligent, ignorant, contradictory, and in fact blind like a force of nature…. The Soviet Union (at war’s end) is a gigantic country that harbors in its heart gigantic ferments, among others, a Homeric faculty for joy and abandonment, a primordial vitality, a pagan talent, virgin, for manifestations, rejoicing, country fairs.”

Both Fernandez and Levi mean that the characteristics of the Soviet era did not represent a dramatic rupture with Tsarist Russia. Now that enough time has passed and some minds are free of Cold War brainwash, we can see that the Soviet Union was ALSO the continuation of Tsarist Russia, only with a more “modern” state, that is the Communist state. Authoritarianism, Caesarism, bureaucracy, social inequalities and privileges, all enduring Russian realities, remained in the Soviet Union, albeit not in the same acute dimensions as under the Tsars, as they are today in the Capitalist Russia Pelevin depicts. Today as yesterday, and the day before, such traits belong to Russia, not to a specific political system.

Russians are used to suffering, especially from authority. But they lack in critical spirit (in this they are not exactly alone as witness whom we elect in the US and in Italy and France these days) and always have. Russians follow the rules only as much as they are forced to.

So is their obedience based on innate conformity? On resignation? Or is it laziness? Mental habits forged by authority? Dominguez writes that the positive traits remaining from the Communist system are gradually being erased today: austerity and moral dignity are ceding to the vulgarity of imports from the West. Still, degradation is slower than elsewhere because Russians have an exceptional force of both passivity and resistance. Maybe also because of the enormity of the country and the isolation of entire regions in the long winters thus far it has been saved from the fate of Prague, once one of the world’s most beautiful cities, which the thirst for money has transformed into a tourist souk. The callousness of today’s new Russia is predictably most visible in the big cities, especially in Moscow, now as yesterday a state within a state. Or maybe it is just the sensation of an emptiness left by the disappearance of the old eras.

Those qualities and characteristics of Russians, noted by non-Russians and Russians themselves, account for the feeling of the “differentness” of the Russian people and also for the Asiatic quality of Russian Communism. Communism elsewhere, Russia’s philosopher Nicolas Berdyaev, rightfully predicted, would be less integrated than in Russia, more secular and less likely to try to take the place of religion … and most likely more bourgeois.

Bourgeois! The theme running through Russian letters reflects the people’s instinctive hate for the bourgeoisie. The Anglo-Saxon worship of reserve and even dissimulation is distant from the Russian mentality. Reserve—as observed in Britain, for example–is considered a false social role. One reason for the initial success of the Bolsheviks around the world was their overt hate for the false bourgeoisie. Russians mistrust the surface of things. The raw and crude is more likely to be free of deception. Form is suspect. Form exhibits the lie while concealing the truth. Human greatness and a too well turned phrase are suspect. Systems ands rules are departures from the human. Russians prefer living life to playing roles. They live interiorly.

Despite the threats, America’s hostility and the temptations of capitalist values, this northern people with a southern mentality and a capacity for levitation has returned. The Russians are back, and how!

3. Liberationism of East Europe became the theme of the so-called Free World after WWII. In that period, one said, the USA “stopped beating a dead Nazi horse.” America convinced itself with its own propaganda that war with the USSR was inevitable. The atmosphere in rubble-infested Germany, a country of military uniforms and military vehicles everywhere, resembled the carefree spirit of wartime. It was as if the hot war had not really ended. Or it was just a hiatus, a pause while everyone rested up from the previous effort before the war would resume in earnest.

Ultimately the Soviet attempt to unify East Europe (mainly as a defensive buffer) failed. The geo-political future was again uncertain. After the break with Russia in 1989 the nations of former East Europe wondered whether the national states would return or were destined to pass from Russian domination into the hands of expansive Germany, into former Mitteleuropa. “Napoleon’s victory over the Austrians at Ulm,” the Germanist and historian Claudio Magris told me in an interview in Trieste in that same 1989, “was the victory of modern Europe of unification over the old Hapsburg-Danubian Europe of separate states, of the totalizer over the particular. Napoleon signified the modern fever for everything new; Austrian civilization instead defended the marginal, the secondary.”

Hitler’s defeat and the ultimate economic collapse of the USSR (chiefly as a result of being forced to join an arms race it could ill afford) continue to condition Europe today. Both events—as anticipated by American planners– strengthened American hegemony. Today the dilemma remains: unification and sameness in Europe or national states and the particular. People in the East want the material wealth of the West, they want it now, but like Dutch and French and Irish and Italians, also Poles and Czechs are cautious about surrendering their separateness, the particular. That is Europe’s quandary: an economic super-state of multinationals or the particular and separateness.

While it re-gathered its forces after the collapse of the USSR, Russia remained silent, aloof and apart, a wounded animal, fearful of its future but preparing for its resurrection.

The reasons the USA joined in so gleefully in the bombing of Belgrade—a contemporary European capital—during the Balkan wars of the 1990s are now clear. Russia was the reason! Time lends transparency to historical events that are jumbled when they happen. Russia then was still defenseless. The USA could do as it liked in the world. Russia had lost many other lands during the watershed years from 1989. But it supported Serbia, the home of the Southern Slavs, Russia’s brothers, and a nation which still, defiantly, refused to embrace the neocon siren song of unbridled capitalism as the solution to all social questions. Actually Serbs were hardly more cruel and criminal than Croats and Bosnians and Albanians in the widespread slaughter in disintegrating Yugoslavia of the 1990s. But USA-dominated NATO decided to bomb, with America in the role of chief executioner. It was determined to crush Serbia and detach from it the cradle of the Serbian state, Kosovo, destined to become another American vassal state and the host of one of America’s biggest military bases in Europe. Thus, in 2007 Kosovo became another link in the chain of America’s encirclement of Russia.

Old habits of containment of Great Russia are hard to break!

Yet some people understood that Russia was not the enemy. It was their enemy, the enemy of America’s neo-liberal policymakers. Nor was Socialism the enemy. It was theirs, too. Sometimes events get out of control. They just seem to happen, caught up in the swirl of history. But still, we try to interpret and to understand. And then take a stand for or against. Understanding is like discovering a new world, like converting to a new faith. Revolt invades your life and everything is different from what it once was.

Since all of history, opaque and ambivalent, is open to revision, I have come to believe that Soviet Communism, including Stalinism will also be reassessed (fact is, it IS being reassessed). If we bother to look and truly see through the hype and brainwash, history is there to remind us that Stalinism and Soviet nationalism were also Russia’s response to western encirclement and various forms of warfare since the Revolution. So Russia’s reactions today are not surprising, as America continues to encircle it and push back its borders, with US-NATO military bases in Turkey, Iraq, Kosovo, Georgia, Italy, Germany, Poland and elsewhere, the infamous and useless missile shield, and is now trying to engulf Ukraine, something like New England to the United States.

4. The German nomad poet Rainer Maria Rilke called two places his home: Bohemia where he was born and the Russia he came to love. He spent years studying the language and Russian history and translating Dostoevsky and Chekhov into German. The Russia he knew was of before the Revolution that he did not support. Still, I understand the rootless poet’s remark to Leonid Pasternak (the painter and father of Nobel writer and poet Boris Pasternak) concerning his love for Old Russia: “What do I owe Russia? It made me what I became … all my deepest roots are there …. But even if we don’t live to see it at its resurrection, the profound, the real, the other surviving Russia has only fallen back on her secret system, as she did before, under the Tatar yoke; who could doubt that she is still there and is gathering her forces in that dark place, invisible to her own children, moving leisurely with her own slowness on to a possibly still-remote future?”

Recognition of that secret strength, appreciation of the Russian world outlook and the international aspect of the Russian Revolution are essential to understanding the revolution’s success and grasping the significance of Soviet Communist Internationalism and the slogan Workers of the world unite. Lenin warned that without proletarian socialist revolutions in West Europe the Russian Revolution was doomed to defeat by capitalist counter-revolution. Originally Russian revolutionaries led by Trotsky and Lenin had no illusions that a revolution in Russia alone could succeed: permanent and international revolution was the key to victory. Trotsky and Lenin had to have in mind the world outlook inherent in Russians.

At the heart of Russian Communist Internationalism lies an age-old and very Russian idea: all-human brotherhood. I think no understanding of Russia and Russian Communism is possible without an awareness of that aspect. Actually Russians are Europeans too, except they are more cosmopolitan than most, certainly much more cosmopolitan than inward-looking Americans. Dostoevsky was the very embodiment of the Russian concept of all-human brotherhood (vsyechelovechnost). In fact, until the great wars of the Twentieth century nationalism was largely foreign to Russian mentality. Nicolas Berdyaev, existentialist thinker and prolific writer, who broke with Marxism and Bolshevism and left Russia for West Europe in 1922, wrote that Russian Communism was actually the transformation and deformation of the old Russian messianic idea of international brotherhood (not to be confused with America’s religious missionary fixation!), and in that sense a reflection of the Russian religious mind. Even if history has demonstrated again and again that the Russian idea of universal brotherhood is utopian, Berdyaev insisted that Soviet Internationalism derived from that ancient, deep-seated Russian idea.

Communism and religion! The theme returns again and again. It must when speaking of Russia! The cornerstone of Russian ethics was traditionally charity, which Russians do not confuse with justice as in Anglo-Saxon ethics. In Russian eschatology Christ’s return at the end of all things is not a judgment but the fulfillment of the world to come—the new, third world. Traditionally Russians sought personal salvation in repentance and a moral life in which the dominant ethical attitude was charity and the brotherhood of all men.

Russia’s major poet after Pushkin, Aleksandr Blok, wrote his greatest poem, Dvenadtsat’ (The Twelve, 1918) about the Russian Revolution. In the first winter of Bolshevik Russia a band of twelve Red guardsmen, apostles of destruction (and renewal), march through the icy streets of Petrograd, looting and killing. They are led by a Christ figure, “crowned with a crown of snowflake pearls, / a flowery diadem of frost,” who appears beneath a red flag. The poem sold some two million copies in three years, was on the Vatican index and was long banned in Fascist countries.

For the Russian masses, who welcomed the revolution, Communism as such was something Western, imposed upon the people’s revolution by the Communist Party, which after years of chaos succeeded in disciplining and organizing in its elemental force the nihilistic masses. In the early years of the revolution there was a legend about Bolshevism and Communism: Bolshevism was the revolution of the Russian masses, “Communism”, something foreign.

It has often been said that one reason for Bolshevism’s success in harnessing the Revolution is that Russians are a people but not a nation. The author and religious thinker Vladimir Weidle in fact lamented the “dismaying abyss between upper-class culture and the culture of the people.” The state symbolized by Orthodoxy and the double-headed eagle was always distant from the people, while their Tsar was a godlike “Little Father”, a minor divinity to this unruly people. Stalin understood this well and became the hard and unyielding Vozhd-Leader and Little Father.

5. Europeanized Russians, the Westernizers in opposition to the Slavophiles, never had a love affair with the Russian people. Though the early generation of Marxist intellectuals, nearly all Westernizers, considered the masses an obstacle to the new society they wanted to create, they nonetheless shared with the people a rejection of bourgeois Liberalism, a feeling for the boundlessness of the great land and an awareness of its majesty. Years earlier Tolstoy had reflected popular abhorrence for bourgeois Liberals: “I sit on a man’s back, choking him and making him carry me, and yet assure myself and others that I am very sorry for him and wish to ease his lot by all possible means, except by getting off his back.” Such thinking is naturally terrifying to bourgeois capitalism.

Soviet Communism in this sense came to resemble the Great Russian nationalism of the Tsars. Thus it was an easy and obligatory step for Soviet Russia to become something different than the original revolutionaries imagined. Nationalism! Resistance against foreign intervention. Socialism in one country. Naturally, this was also somewhat inevitable given the all-out hostility exhibited by the Western powers toward the new system.

Today one can also compare more clearly Soviet Russia and modern Russia. One suspects that beneath the cynicism of today’s leaders and the greed of the new rich still beats another rhythm, a human Russian rhythm, generous and different from egotistic and self-seeking Europe. For the land is deep within Russian guts. Despite the capitalist corporatist stamp he has put on modern Russia, authoritarian Putin is still very Russian! Some things return, others remain intact—the renewed colors of the city of Moscow of two centuries ago—rose, red, yellow, blue, ochre … and the green roofs. Yet, something is still not right—there is a kind of uncertainty or risk in the air, the absence of the sense of security the Tsarist and Soviet states guaranteed. When considering Russia you have the feeling that anything can happen from one moment to the next. I think the uncertainty, again as in post-revolutionary Russia, has to do with American encirclement and Russians’ concern that their government can handle it.

Some personal impressions of perestroika times as a journalist in Moscow reflect the spirit of this land that is easy to love. You feel magnified by the great Russian language all around you. You feel its dignity. A Russian once reminded me of the dichotomy of the Russian language—the simultaneous hope and the terror people speaking the language had caused in the world—on one hand the hope Communism offered the oppressed and the disillusionment of its tragic ultimate reality. Yet, you feel the differentness of Russia. You begin to grasp the Russian world outlook, an appreciation for the idea of Mother Russia and the facility of genuine patriotism for this enormous territory, which for Russians is a world. Though it is a truism that politics is everywhere primary, causes are often empty. Though Stalin proved—with plenty of help from the West’s machnations, that utopia contains its own dystopia, sometimes today it seems it never took place. Yet only a short generation ago Russians still felt Stalin. His ghost still lived. Something in the air smacked of old times, Stalinist times and further back. You come to realize that not everything is the fault of one side or the other. One side was not all white and the other all black.

6. When you consider the encirclement of Russia today, the Ukrainian question returns. Ukraine is a potential threat to New Russia and its authoritarian corporatist model. Ukraine is a threat to US-Russian relations in general. Ukraine’s apparent choice for the West in the State Department-abetted bourgeois “Orange Revolution” of 2004-2005 again sharpened the tensions between Russia and the West. How would economic success of a western-oriented, neo-liberal Ukraine affect Russians, leaders in Moscow wondered? What if the Russian people wanted to follow the Ukrainian example?

With fifty million inhabitants, Ukraine is the France of the East. Therefore, where Europe ends in the east is not just a rhetorical question: since 1991 Europe and the USA have steadily pushed the eastern borders right up to the frontiers of Russia. A weakened post-Soviet Russia was unable to stop that advance. Not only the ex-Soviet satellite countries in East Europe from Bulgaria to Poland changed sides, but also parts of the USSR itself, with their rightwing, nationalist segments reactivated—Lithuania, Estonia, Latvia and Ukraine—turned toward West Europe.

But Ukraine is a different matter. Ukraine was the cradle of Russia, the center of the first Slavic state, Kievan Rus. Western emotions about the new-old country of Ukraine are as confused as those of the Ukrainian people themselves, forever divided between East and West. They too are a big people with a desire to decide their own fate, a fate that has led them down disastrous paths in their long history. The major problem has been their two souls. Their eastern soul has held them close to their big brothers, the Great Russians; their western soul led desperate and rabid nationalists to close collaboration with Nazi Germany against Soviet Russia. Ukraine’s western soul—the representation of re-energized upper-class interests– aspires to become part of capitalist Europe; its eastern soul prefers a privileged relationship with Russia.

In 2004 the “Orange Revolution” swept pro-western reformists into power in Ukraine. A year later the Kremlin’s candidate won out in the country’s first free parliamentary elections and became Prime Minister. The elections were the confirmation of the traditional division of the country between East and West. Ancient divisions stall all efforts at the formation of a unified nation.

Lying at the crossroads between Europe and Russia, Ukraine is marked by three powerful currents: the linguistic, historical, pro-Russian soul; the nostalgic, big nation, central planning, pro-Soviet soul; and a vaguely democratic, capitalist, neo-liberal pro-western soul. Yet, for many Russians and Ukrainians, the two peoples are nearly one and Ukrainians are often referred to as “Little Russians.”

The rapid move westwards of big and powerful Ukraine justifiably alarmed Russia. In the 1990s, Ukraine contributed troops to “peacekeeping” operations in Kosovo. It sent troops to Iraq. For Moscow the Ukrainian announcement in May 2002 of its intention to seek membership in United Europe, NATO and WTO was the last straw.

Western Ukraine has close historical ties with Europe, particularly with Poland. Ukrainian nationalist sentiment has always been strongest in the westernmost parts of the country, which became part of Ukraine only when the Soviet Union expanded after World War II.

The Eastern Ukraine is a different story. During the 10th and 11th centuries Kievan Russia was the largest state in Europe, The cultural and religious legacy of Kievan Rus laid the foundation for Ukrainian nationalism. In the late 18th century, Russia absorbed Ukrainian territory. Following the collapse of Tsarist Russia in 1917, Ukraine had a short-lived period of independence (1917-20), before it was re-conquered and absorbed into the Soviet Union. A significant minority of the population of Ukraine are Russians or use Russian as their first language. Russian influence is particularly strong in the industrialized east of the country, where the Russian Orthodox religion is predominant.

The Ukrainian Republic was the most important economic component of the former Soviet Union after Russia itself. After independence in December 1991, Ukraine initiated privatization but resistance within the government itself blocked reforms. By 1999 industrial output fell to less than 40% of the 1991 level. Ukraine’s dependence on Russia for energy supplies and the lack of structural reform make its economy vulnerable. Though the post-Communist era seemed closed, the change was illusory. The coalition government has its ups and downs, marked by disastrous economic policies, corruption and the gas war with Russia. At the same time, Russia remains Ukraine’s largest trading partner and the East and South of the nation prefer Russia to the West. Ukraine’s impulse toward the West has slowed. Though it cannot reasonably choose between the West and Russia because it assumes it needs both, in the contest between Russia on one hand and Europe-USA on the other, I believe Moscow in a fair battle will always win.

Russia had retreated from West Europe for fifty years. Now with its gas as a weapon its retreat has ended. Since much of Europe’s economic future depends on Russia’s gas, European efforts at “democratizing” Russia have stopped. Only friendly relations count. Europe can no longer push hard for Ukrainian “democracy.” But America can and does. Pushy, abrasive, arrogant US foreign policy accounts for Ukraine’s hesitancy. For Russia, a Ukraine in the camp of the USA would be like Canada suddenly taking control of New England, or Mexico taking over Texas.

America can flail and threaten and push and pull, but that will not stop Russians. They are back to stay.

European Union support for Ukraine’s membership in the WTO and a show of respect for the democratic choice of the Ukrainian people ring friendly and cooperative—to western-oriented Ukrainians. To Russia and eastward-looking Ukrainians it sounds threatening, with an underlying note of economic blackmail. In reaction, Russia supports pro-Russian political leaders who threaten revolt by the eastern and southern parts of the Ukraine, while Russia can either cut off Ukraine’s gas supply or raise its price.

Thus, the question of where the West ends and Russia begins is not unimportant for the rest of the world. Russia is again a global actor. Alongside India and China, Russia has assumed a protagonist role. Much of the empire is gone but Russia’s aspirations—and raw power—remain. Today Russia, however reluctantly, is showing its muscles in a game of hazards and risks and maneuvers reminiscent of Cold War brinkmanship. Moscow has tried negotiating with Iran on the nuclear issue. It mediates with Hamas in Palestine.

A strong Russia worries Washington (not that difficult when we consider the US ruling class has responded in a notoriously thin-skinned and paranoid way to any “threats” to its overwhelming superiority), less so Europe. In fact, a strong Russia to counter uncontrollable American unilateralism appeals to much of the world: Cold War at low risk is better than America’s hot war in Iraq or its nuclear threats launched at Iran, and who knows who else. On the other hand, a weak Russia is a danger for the world’s balance of power. The disappearance of the USSR paved the way for “pre-emptive war America”, its hands free to strike when and where it liked. America is never friendlier with Russia than when it is divided and poor, its economy in shambles, its empire dismantled.

Washington cannot control China or India. Nor in the end can it contain Russia.

7. Nonetheless the encirclement of Russia continues. Turkey is an old story, but last spring NATO’s new ally, Bulgaria, agreed to host three US military bases for 2500 American troops, the first time in the 1325 years of its history that foreign troops are stationed in Bulgaria. The heart of the agreement is that American soldiers can be sent from Bulgaria to third countries without specific permission from Bulgaria. And now the Czech Republic has agreed to host missile shield sites. Less than principled ideological agreements, these are forms of diplomatic prostitution between opportunistic political bureaucrats representing eviscerated states and a Washington crew myopically bent on supremacy over its former foe at any cost.

Bulgaria and Czech Republic and Georgia and Kosovo as links in the chain around Russia are emblematic of the nearly incalculable extent of the U.S. global empire, all of which frightens and irritates Russia. According to the US Department of Defense there are seven hundred U.S. military locations in foreign countries; the true number is estimated at 1,000. According to the Department of Defense the USA has troops in 135 of the world’s 192 countries. The Pentagon has even turned much of Italy into a gigantic strategic base, a permanent super-carrier in the underbelly of Europe. It is hard to know just how many troops are stationed abroad. Statistics vary of America’s true military strength, as they vary for most powers. Secrecy rules. Officially the U.S. has about 1,500,000 troops, approximately 250,000 abroad. But the number of those abroad might be much higher because of secrecy. Nor do we know what kind of forces they are: regular troops, CIA troops or “beyond the law” special forces and mercenaries. And although such meddlesome power is certainly paid for with American treasury, it is by no means subject to democratic review and control. In fact, foreigners—including Russians—understand far better what we are up to around the world than Americans themselves.

Gaither Stewart, Senior Contributing Editor for Cyrano’s Journal/tantmieux, is a novelist and journalist based in Italy. A longtime student of Russian culture he maintains particular interest in developments affecting Russia also after the overthrow of Communism. His essays and dispatches are read widely on many leading Internet venues. His collections of fiction, Icy Current Compulsive Course, To Be A Stranger and Once In Berlin are published by Wind River Press. (www.windriverpress.com). His recent novel, Asheville, is published by Wastelandrunes, (www.wastelandrunes.com).

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The Communist Bugaboo By Gaither Stewart

Dandelion Salad

By Gaither Stewart
www.bestcyrano.org/THOMASPAINE
7/4/08

Dedicated to those who continually raise the bugaboo of the Communist menace to the make-believe, hypocritical, lying and socially perfidious “American way of life”.

(Rome) I visited the tomb of Antonio Gramsci in the Poets’ Cemetery in Rome. An inconspicuous urn resting in the center of the mound contains the ashes of the Marxist philosopher and founder of the Italian Communist Party. The tombstone bears only his name and his dates—1891-1937. The fresh red flowers indicate that the site is tended.

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Strutting Fascism And Swaggering Militarism By Gaither Stewart

by Gaither Stewart
Writer, Dandelion Salad
Rome, Italy
June 12, 2008

“We work for the moral and traditional values which Socialists neglect and despise….”

–Benito Mussolini

It’s their strutting. That detestable image of the strutting that links them, the strutting and prancing Fascists and their swaggering and parading military cousins, up front for their conveniently concealed corporatist controllers. A strutting and swaggering couple they are, Fascism and the entrenched class of war. Their distorted visions of gallantry and nation come so naturally to both. The spick and span generals, employers of mercenaries and killers, chin in, chest out, and their majors and their colonels (especially the generals in the offices and the majors in the tents), thick chests covered with ribbons and medals and rows of multicolored decorations—awarded for killing. And the political Fascists! Defiant chins thrust forward, hard fists clinched, swaggering and prancing and strutting across the stages of piazzas nations and continents—in support of the killing.

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The Winds Of The Right Over Europe By Gaither Stewart

By Gaither Stewart
Writer, Dandelion Salad
May 5, 2008

(Rome) I feel sick.

She says I’m sick in the head.

Actually I’m sick in the heart, sick in my viscera. My head reels, I feel chronic vertigo.

She says it’s only paranoia.

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