Monday, January 08, 2007

Holiday reading lessons

As usual I failed to estimate the number of books required for a Christmas with the family but was fortunately able to stock up in King St Newton at Gould’s and Elizabeth's. Some interesting points from two of my purchases. Dallek's John F. Kennedy discusses the Alliance for Progress. This was the expression of the belated American realisation that Castro’s revolution and the rise of communism in Latin America were a response to real grievances. Amidst much self-congratulation the Kennedy administration announced that US policy would now support social reforms and democracy. However fairly quickly it became clear that existing regimes were disinterested in this advice, and the threat of Communism continued to grow. Thus US policy, as distinct from rhetoric never really shifted from the agenda of supporting anyone against Communism, an agenda that made the superpower dependent on its regional clients. All rather like the fairly recent self-congratulation by the US cheer squad that past US support for undemocratic regimes in the Middle East was a mistake that was now in the past. Governments don't change policy that quickly. Dutt's India To-Day (1940 edition). Dutt was a Stalinist hack, the staunchest defender of Moscow in the British Communist Party. But this is his best book. Two observations he makes seem valuable. He describes how before 1914 British policy on India was emphatic that political reforms would not led to Indian self-government on Dominion lines. During the War however British policy verbally shifted to a position that India was to be prepared for self-government, but by 1940 very little progress had been made to this goal. Dutt highlights the contradictory rhetoric of British politicians. The Viceroy said in 1929 that 'the natural issue of India’s constitutional the achievement of Dominion status', but Lloyd George said in 1922 that Britain would under 'no circumstances relinquish her responsibility in India'. All rather like Iraq today, there is rhetoric that Iraq has self-government etc. Those troops will be withdrawn at any moment on the request of the Iraqi government, but this seems as distant as genuine Dominion status. It was only after 1945 that the British government fundamentally shifted its position. Dutt's Stalinist Marxism leads him to argue that British imperialism once played a progressive and modernising role, but with the rise of finance-capitalist imperialism ceased to do so and aligned itself with reactionary forces such as the princes. He describes how within Congress in the late 19th century those who opposed the leadership's accommodating position towards Britain however tended, in the absence of 'any scientific social or political theory', to accuse the Congress leadership of being 'denationalised' and thus exalted the most reactionary aspects of Indian society as truly national in a 'disastrous combination of political radicalism and social reaction'. Thus campaigns for cow protection and to keep the age of consent for marriage at 10 rather than 12. Lacking any social base the radicals could fall back only on individual terrorism. This combination of radicalism and reaction seems similar to Islamic fundamentalism today.

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