Sunday, August 10, 2008

A Glimpse of America

America, what TV shows and trash literature would have us believe, is nothing like that in reality. Yes, there are crowded cities with notorious slums like Harlem, occasional muggings, crimes, a few stooping scroungers around, small crowds in church sponsored soup kitchens in their battered pickups. There is all this. There are prejudice and malice, although waning, of redneck variety.

Plainly, to a visitor on a brief sojourn America appears to be vast and beautiful. We, in India live and die in ever-increasing stifling crowd. Our psychology is shaped and moulded accordingly. Their fear and our fear are different. They are chasing opportunities. This chase is becoming ever faster and consequently anxiety load is mounting. Our fear is primeval and elemental. Either one eats or starves and starves to death. People there generally live under a very large social security umbrella. That someone will starve to death is quite absurd. To us this is quite commonplace. Our fear is nobody will hear us and we will perish. The very first feeling after alighting at Kennedy airport is an incredible sense of space, solidity, quiet efficiency and speed. We had our trepidations about new and stricter security regime. These are enforced and enforced rigorously but courteously also. After 9/11 we cannot expect anything milder.

This feeling of space is a remarkable thing. A country three and half times larger than India with only one fourth of India’s population make it so attractive. A brief visit of six weeks is hardly of any consequence to grasp these matters of size and quantity. America’s riches and plenty vis-à-vis our poverty and squalor evoke envy and anger in us. An average American is quite good human being like his counterpart in any other part of the world. This reminds one of several things. The famous book “Ugly American” by William Liiderer and Eugene Burdich. Reminds one of Lenin also, who in the pamphlet known as Colonial Thesis wrote in one place that hatred of people of dependant countries towards the colonising powers was so great that they do not distinguish. Even the elements of the working class are not spared. Common Americans are bearing the brunt. Imperialism is capitalism when it emerges as finance capital of monstrous proportion. There is no national benchmark. If there had been an Iraqi imperialism its characteristics would have been the same. Chinese communists are intent upon building a vast capital base in order to make China an advanced country. Let us watch where are the levers of self-limitation to curb the aggressiveness natural to full-grown finance capital.

Meanwhile, the gigantic unleashing of the productive forces there stuns travellers like us from an extremely poor country. Commodities of any kind, products of any kind there is no dearth of them. While fiddling with a laptop I composed a letter to one of my very near ones, a subcontinental Marxist and expressed myself. The reaction was instant and bitter. What was not there? Atrocities, cruelties, brutalities of American imperialism. Everything. Only thing avoided glossed over is unbelievable growth of productive forces in America. Not only in America. Everywhere, wherever American ascendancy has been established. Admission of obvious does not necessarily make it historically justified. It should also be admitted that in several experiments of achieving socialism, including one that was attempted in Russia, went nowhere near American productivity. Of course this is only one aspect and this can never render the ideas and concept of scientific socialism something to be trifled with. Top level U.S universities pour out every year an impressive number of individuals with awe inspiring intellectual qualities who are rapidly becoming disillusioned with American condition, both economic and political. That American war in Iraq is sought to be buttressed by undiluted lies is there for everyone to see. Larger and larger number of American people are increasingly becoming aware of this. And it in U.S.A and Great Britain largest of demonstrations are being held against the Iraqi war. At least war in Iraq has very little to do with war against terrorism.

Recently concluded elections in the U.S.A were just not a matter of who secured the highest number of popular votes. Considering the whole backdrop this election results have alarmed the whole bi-partisan leadership, whether he is a Bush or a Kerry. As cheaply painted among anti American crowd all over the world Americans are not buffoons. They are quite intelligent people. Bush and Kerry are also intelligent in their own way. These election results have made them realize how dangerous was the mood of the American people, whether one was a republican or a democrat. That was why this cry for bonhomie by Bush and Kerry as soon as the elections were over. The fear is so great that Bush has commented that great American universities have acquired a pronounced left leaning. In a reputed university from an occasional chat or a casual remark thrown out by students and teachers, I had an impression that Bush had been substantially nearer to truth. This is not to endorse the naïve idea that American masses will run to barricades musket in hand to bring down American capitalism. American public life is far too rich to accommodate such comical indulgences. But among them a distinct feeling is emerging that American way of fashioning the world is no longer tenable. There is perceptible yearning for a change. How this will evolve is a thing to be watched and studied.

Another thing is coming into American life. In fact, Maurice Dobb pointed out long ago in England. Opulence has become so overwhelming that physical capitalism, so to say, or, entrepreneurial capitalism has become less attractive. Large number of power weilding coupon clippers are emerging who among themselves have all of the finance capital that would have decisive impact over the events. Except for political convenience they are least bothered by national prejudices. Stock market is their paradise and superprofiteering is their pinnacle of success. Faming sector in the U.S.A, Canada or Australia is a vast corporate affair where small-time American farmers have little to do. As a matter of fact this section of mostly American whites are fast disintegrating and disappearing.

Fabulously large cornfields, vineyards stretching up to horizon the both sides of expressway 90 spreading up to Canadian border show up a few important things. Alongside fully mechanized operation there are infrequently situated sagging sad looking white painted wooden farm houses, silos, corn bins, representing mid last century farm production. This kind of production has been devoured by big capital connected to huge food product and wine and spirit producing corporates. In this perspective small has no role. This is an economic impossibility. American farmers of classical stories of Mark Twain days have virtually disappeared. A part of them, after retraining, have become farm labourers. Parts of them are floating across the country to become carpenters, masons. road gang labour etc. working under the contractors. Farm production, on the other hand, is achieving greater and greater heights. U.S.A, Canada and Australia together can feed the whole world many times over if they really want it. And, moreover, farm production in the U.S.A is handsomely subsidized.

Consideration of comparative cost ratio and concentration of capital expenditure, info technology, space technology, molecular biology, genetics, military hardware, capital goods and the wealth accumulated through these have made the U.S.A the most desirable destination of all kinds of consumer goods, ranging from Japanese cars. And Chinese electronic goods and toys, Indian Vietnamese, Bangladeshi, Pakistani cotton garments, sweat shirts, footwear, hats, caps fruits vegetable, fish from Caribbean, China, The catalogue will require pages. And to cap it all outsourcing from poorer countries. American finance capital is in no way bothered about these. If popular sentiment could be soothed a little, if the administration can handle the unemployment situation a little skilfully it will go all out for outsourcing in every department. Only high-grade technology will be extremely carefully guarded. The American big bourgeois is a new personality. A new phenomenon. Its sentimental equations are different. Rhetorically making faces to America and rhetorically flattering lands of Tao, Confucius, Mahabharata and Ramayana will hardly help the mankind. Ordinary people like us discover a new realism when we find British girls and boys unhesitatingly carrying out the orders from a lady with heavy gold earrings and distinct Harianvy English in cleaning the aircraft at Heathrow. There is your globalisation and new realization.


fleuve-sous-terrain said...

Interesting how you see a country like America, especially with your eyes that I understand have sought and followed a lesser materialistic civilisational thought template all throughout. It'll be a good idea if you can post your earlier published columns on this blog. Those will stay on like an archive. After all, archival memory is what we all "intellectuals" are looking for constantly, fearful that instead of memory, a very mundane "presentness" is overtaking our lives. Write more, Ol' Man River!

Anonymous said...

Your article is informative, even for us Americans who aren't able to understand our own world.

Vondra said...

Well written article.

Rhett said...

Very informative.
I have always been fascinated by this country so bigger than ours -- I roughly worked out the size ration by looking at the world map -- and with such lesser population and topped with such excess. I find your perspective valuable and intelligent especially vis-a-vis the very popular 'rhetorically making faces to America and rhetorically flattering the lands of Tao, Confucius, Mahabharata and Ramayana' which seems to be the fad these days.

Rhett said...


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