night. I’ve just finished John Grisham’s “The Last Juror”, set in 1960’s and
1970’s Mississippi. Looking for something different to listen to, I come
across a CD from the period by Max Roach, the Jazz drummer. Roach was one of
those who drove the bebop revolution in the late1940’s. Instead of killing
himself with heroin he was a prominent participant in the civil rights
movement, writing the famous ‘We Insist! Freedom Now Suite’. There’s a track
on this 1961 recording called Mendacity, with lyrics sung by Roach’s wife
Abbey Lincoln. Its first verse runs:
mendacity, it makes the world go round.
makes a speech and never hears the sound.
trail winds on and on in towns from coast to coast.
ain’t the one who’s straight, but he who lies the most.
Listening to it
brought to mind Blair’s love affair with America’s myths about itself. You can
understand admiration of some things American (the tremendous history of
struggle by US workers, the civil rights movement, Jazz, Arthur Miller, Joni
Mitchell, Steve Earle). However, Blair actually seems to admire all that is
worst about the USA and its political system. Does he not know that more than
40 million people have no health insurance, that more than 2 million people
are incarcerated in prison, the majority of them Afro-Americans? Less than 40
years ago people were being killed for fighting for democratic rights in a
system which masqueraded as a democracy.
rights in this fair land we know are not denied.
But if I
tried in certain states, from tree tops I’d be tied.
mendacity, it seems its everywhere.
It was only in
1964 that civil rights legislation was introduced giving black American’s
formal equality: the real thing was another matter. Yet when Blair makes
speeches about “the values we share”, it is difficult to believe he has ever
read a history book on the USA. Can he be so ignorant? Does he really believe
that Bush is a supporter of “freedom”? That American “democracy” dates back to
the revolution against the British? “All men are equal” said the founders of
the US constitution, but slaves were not counted as men, of course.
One of the
paradoxes of the USA is that although separation of religion and the state is
inscribed in the constitution many more people consider themselves to be
Christians than in most European countries. But historically it was a religion
which considered Native Americans and Afro-Americans as sub-human. The real
American holy trinity comprised the genocide of Native Americans, slavery, and
the apartheid system which was introduced after the slaves were declared to be
free. Abraham Lincoln who ‘freed the slaves’, according to US myth, actually
said that if he had to free the slaves to win the civil war, he would do it,
but if he had to keep slavery to win, he would do that.
America is a
country whose riches are the product of mass murder and oppression, resting on
a mountain of hypocrisy and lies. Mendacity. The reality is as much the
inverse of the propaganda as it is possible to be. Whereas British imperialism
had a more genteel ‘civilising mission’ combined with occasional blood-letting
when the ‘natives’ needed to be taught a lesson, the rising US imperialism
simply wiped out the native Americans, driving them off the land. Apparently,
God didn’t mind them killing the ‘savages’. Their Christianity accommodated
their rapacious acquisition of land and its resources.
Americans in the South could combine their weekly visit to the church with
donning the garb of the Klu Klux Klan, and burning out blacks or hanging them
from trees. Has Blair not listened to Billie Holiday singing “Strange Fruit”?
The racism in the North was more genteel but none the less real, as shown in
the film Far from Heaven where the central character feels the outrage of her
friends at the mere suggestion of a relationship with a black man, even though
none was taking place.
troops came to Britain after Pearl Harbour, many of the locals were shock by
the segregated army and the way that black troops were treated by the whites.
Neville Shute’s book, “The Chequer Board” tells the story of the barbarism of
this segregation, and British people who did not accept this inhumanity. And
the war-time experience of black US troops was a salutary one. How could they
fight a war for “freedom” and return to Jim Crow? In his Book “What Now?”
Walter Moseley recounts his father telling him that it was only when he
realised that German troops were trying to kill him that he realised he was an
American! Like many southern Blacks he left the south to find work and escape
Perhaps if Blair
had read any Arthur Miller, Bush’s witch-hunting talk of “you are with us, or
you are with the evil-doers”, might have called to mind the words of the
witch-hunting Judge Danforth in the Crucible:
“But you must
understand, sir that a person is either with this court or he shall be counted
against it, there be no road in between.”
And woe betide
anybody not ‘with us’.
supported the new McCarthyism which Bush has instituted with his Homeland
Security Act and the imprisonment of foreign nationals, many of whom were
kidnapped, and then deliberately incarcerated in Guantanamo Bay (illegally
occupied Cuban territory) in order to avoid constraints imposed by the US
constitution. Nor has his government challenged the US policy of sending
prisoners to other countries where they are tortured by other governments to
extract information for the Americans. Indeed Home Secretary Jack Straw
indicated that the government would use the ‘information’ extracted from such
torture, without, of course, supporting such methods. This is a government
which allowed British citizens to be illegally held without trial for 3 years.
Dave Douglas, a
US trumpeter, released a CD, “Strange Liberation”. The title was taken from
the words of Martin Luther King in relation to Vietnam. “The Vietnamese must
look upon us as strange liberators.” Douglas was touching on the parallel with
Iraq today. Bush and Blair are indeed strange liberators. Neither freedom nor
democracy can be given to a people, they must win it themselves.
Blair has sought
to emulate the conditions which operate in the US economy. The great ‘success’
of its economy is something which Blair and Brown have long spoken of
emulating. But behind the propaganda lies an industrial dictatorship far worse
even than the one which was gradually introduced here in the Thatcher years.
The growth of fabulous riches at the top of US society has been at the expense
of the majority of the population. John Gray, writing in False Dawn
incomes in America affect the working majority, especially the majority of
poor people who are in work. The US is the only advanced society in which
productivity has been steadily rising over the past two decades while the
incomes of the majority – 8 out of 10 – have stagnated or fallen. Such a
growth in economic inequality is historically unprecedented.”
Some get the
Some get the
Some get the
there’s plenty to spare
The job creation
which New Labour’s ideologues point to has been in jobs with poverty wages. It
is called the ‘Walmartisation’ of the economy in the USA: combining poverty
wages with a dictatorial regime, and a pathological hatred of unions. Walmart,
of course, has destroyed hundreds of local communities, driving small stores
out of business, destroying town centres.
Americanisation of British politics is something which Blair and his
ideological guides like Peter Mandelson and the SDP ‘intellectuals’ like Roger
Liddle consciously sought to introduce. It is based on the concept of the
voter as a consumer, with a candidate sold like a bar of soap. It is all froth
and no substance. It is the product of what prominent Green Party member Peter
Camejo has called the ‘two party dictatorship’. It is the political equivalent
of the contest between the big US brands, fighting to increase their share in
the market place. It is profoundly undemocratic, designed to block the
emergence of another political force, lacking the finances to challenge the
two party advertising juggernaut.
force which threatens the two party system is subject to every conceivable
attempt to stop its growth. The Democratic Party is currently involved in an
attempt to subvert the Green Party in the USA, funding forces within it which
are abandoning the struggle for a break with the two party system. “There is
no alternative” to the Democrats, is the message. Ralph Nader was demonized as
the man responsible for the election of Bush, though the Democrats failed to
explain how they could be beaten by an imbecile.
Britain, we are told there is ‘no alternative’ to New Labour. But it is the
undemocratic first past the post electoral system which blocks the emergence
of organisations to the left of New Labour. Many sections of the electorate
are not represented in Parliament. Yet with the introduction of an element of
proportional representation, as has been introduced in Scotland and Wales, we
have seen the emergence of the Scottish Socialist Party and Forward Wales.
The party which
was going to ‘transform’ politics has failed to ask why the last general
election produced the lowest electoral turn-out for nearly 100 years. It was
not disinterest, but the (correct) perception that people were not being
offered alternatives. Even with the introduction of the unrestricted right to
a postal vote, the turn out only increased by 2%.
there is very little difference between the major parties. And no amount of
mendacity by trade union leaders who portray the Blair government in glowing
terms, can disguise the reality. For instance the GMB’s Debbie Coulter
announced that the Blair government was the only one which was ‘protecting’
Education and Health, at the very time when news emerged that the government
was abandoning the 8% target for private companies carrying out elective
surgery. They can now have a crack at 100%.
President Chirac complains of the ‘anglo-saxon’ model threatening Europe, he
misses the point. Blair is no innovator. He has swallowed the American model
of the world. Blair is a follower not an equal partner with “the only
super-power in the world”. He has given their imperial ambitions cover. There
could have been no pretence of a “coalition of the willing” without British
The US is known
for its cult of success. After all, the American Dream paints a picture that
anybody can ‘succeed’ if only they have the will to do so. Individuals can, of
course. But the fact that Colin Powell climbed up the ladder does not change
the fact that Afro-Americans, as a whole, are at the bottom of the social
heap, that they live in geographical ghettos and so on.
Alan Milburn has
expressed the New Labour equivalent of this cult of ‘success’. We are, he
said, “a party of aspiration”. What he meant was a party of personal
aspiration. Historically, of course, the Labour Party was a product of a
collective movement of the working class. The ambition of the labour
movement was originally to organise a struggle to improve the lives of the
working class as a whole. Its history is full of people who ‘got on’ and
abandoned the movement and any collective outlook. In the old days British
social democracy used to speak of striving for equality as opposed to the Tory
party’s conception of “equality of opportunity”. But new Labour, as with much
else has appropriated this Tory ideological baggage.
mendacity, it seems it’s everywhere.
which Bush speaks of, the values’ which Blair says we share with the USA, is
the freedom of the US ‘military-industrial complex’ (of which even a
Republican like Eisenhower famously warned against when he left office) to
impose its will across the globe; to impose its model of ‘democracy’ and to
justify it with lies. The America to look to for inspiration is not that which
Blair admires. It is the America which struggles against the witch hunt
launched by Bush. It is the America which struggles for trade union rights
under very difficult conditions. It is the America where trades union
activists struggle against trade union leaders who identify their interests
with US big business. It is artists who have the courage to challenge the
with-hunting atmosphere, epitomised by Steve Earle, writing sympathetically
about John Walker Lind in the wake of 9/11.
It is only
possible for Blair and his sycophants to support Bush because they share the
same ‘vision’ of a world in which the Darwinism of the ‘free market’ has
reduced billions to poverty and degradation.
In the run up to
the British General Election, revelations emerged over the advice of the
Attorney General on whether or not the Iraq war would be ‘legal’. It was clear
from this and other releases that the government was seeking justification for
a decision already taken rather than examining ‘evidence’. Blair was labelled
‘Bliar’ by the anti-war movement. The insistent denials have made him more
culpable in the eyes of millions of people. He is today a hated figure,
arguably nearly as hated as Margaret Thatcher.
Asked by a US
journalist whether the US could have gone to war without British support,
Blair said, “I don’t know. I think the United States, in the end, would do
whatever was necessary for its own security. But it was important that we did
not leave this up to the United States alone. I also profoundly believe that
September 11th was an attack on the free world…It was an attack on
America, because America is the leading power of the free world.”
The mendacity of
Blair is staggering, though, of course, no surprise. British social democracy
from the end of the second world war supported the ‘special relationship’
between British capitalism and the US regime. It supported the cold war. But
even Harold Wilson did not send British troops to Vietnam.
the USA, Governor Arnold Swarzenneger is in trouble as a result of the
campaign of the California Nurses Association against his efforts to scrap a
law which sets a minimum patient/nurse ratio in hospitals. Such a law is
anathema to Arnold’s neo-liberal big business backers, the very ones that
Blair is inviting into the British NHS. At the same time Bush’s proposal to
privatise Social Security is proving very unpopular.
night in Britain one of the most striking images was that of Blair standing
behind Reg Keys, an anti-war candidate whose son died in Iraq. He secured more
than 4,000 votes in Blair’s constituency. He said he hoped that Blair could
find it in his heart to apologise and maybe even visit some of the soldiers
injured in Iraq. The Prime Minister stood there, frozen in the spotlight,
empty eyed, but visibly squirming. His victory speech, on the success of his
“historic third term”, gave the impression of a bruised and battered man
rather than someone who had won his third General Election in a row. There was
no elation. He paid a heavy price for his alliance with Bush. He should
remember the way that the Tory Party unceremoniously ditched Thatcher when
they thought she was a liability.