By Gaither Stewart
Continued. Read Part I of the article here
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 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 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.
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, 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. 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).