how the world sees america

Communists to Hezbollah Question U.S. Democracy

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What do nude bikers, North Korea admirers and activists knitters who "stitch and bitch" have in common? They were all out at Trafalgar Square this weekend demonstrating for their respective causes -- and questioning America’s use of the word democracy.

I stumbled into this motley scene searching for -- surprise -- a Starbucks to write in. Following the loud noises, I found myself in the square surrounded by George Bush’s face on “#1 Terrorist” placards. “Down with American Imperialism!” a teenage boy screamed. Not quite as welcoming as a beauty pageant, but it seemed like an interesting place to talk America.

The pro-Palestine march was the main draw for most, but the fringe elements quickly stole my attention. Along the perimeter of Trafalgar Square about a dozen communist and socialist information booths hung big red banners emblazoned with the hammer and sickle. Do they all hate America and its breed of capitalism, I wondered? The answer, I found out, was far more complicated.

The Workers Revolutionary Party, Young Socialists, led by a very old man with big glasses, demand free education and foresee a day when shovel-and-gun-totting workers will overthrow the British and American governments, and others like them. They are separate from the communist parties, which themselves are then split. Factions of the Communist Party of Great Britain (CPGB) bash one another with members of the Leninist-Marxist contingent hailing Robert Mugabe and Kim Jong Il, while the rest of the CPGB mock the “punk anti-Americanism” of their former comrades and emphasize the need for a gradual approach to achieving “genuine democracies” around the world. Sounds like Bush, but CPGB officer Mark Fischer assures me “my politics couldn’t be farther from Bush.” I believe him.

Stalingrad O'Neil.
Then there was the Jewish group Neturei Karta, infamous for attending Iran’s Holocaust conference early this year. And a member of the Islamic Committee for Human Rights sporting a Hezbollah cap and passing out pamphlets calling for a boycott of Israeli goods. They stood side by side against “fake American democracy” and “fake terrorists.”

“Robert Mugabe is a personal hero of mine” says an officer of the Marxist-Leninist Communists named Zane Carpenter. I pushed back: “average life expectancy is under 36, inflation is in the thousands.” His response was, “Who’s fault is that? America’s and the imperialists.” Giving up after some time, I change the topic and ask him about his interesting first name “Zane.” He tells me: “My father named me after Zane Gray,” the American pulp fiction writer who glorified the Wild Wild West. Interesting name for an anti-imperialist. Wonder why he never changed it. His photographer had changed his name to “Stalingrad O’Neil” -- or “Stally” for short.

Meanwhile, hundreds of nude cyclists rode by, protesting “car culture.” “It’s nearly midnight, destroy your cars,” an old man yelled. But it was only 3pm on Saturday.

Back to democracy. The communists groups don’t trust American or British democracy because “elections are rigged, just look at Bush in 2000,” and even if they are not, people are duped by the media which “represents bourgeois interests.” But a non-Marxist-Leninist member of the CPGB shared another perspective with me, praising America for being a “genuine democracy” born with an appreciation for equality. And he critiqued the far left for opposing everything American, going so far as to “support the Iranian theocracy” and/or “refusing to condemn 9-11” just because America did. This blind opposition was hurting their collective cause, he said.

So is it America’s elections that really gets these guys worked up? Or do they criticize American democracy at home because of another theme I’ve heard repeatedly in my travels: American moral arrogance abroad? Robert Mugabe is no praise-worthy democrat, but he doesn’t claim to be the leader of global democratic forces either. Nor could he act meaningfully should he choose to. It’s the contradictions and seeming hypocrisy in America's democratic agenda that people reject -- and some far leftists use to criticize the notion of democracy altogether. From Trafalgar Square, it looks like Bush's foreign policy deploys the word “democracy” cynically in order to advance America’s select national interests. But America is in a tricky position, since it may be that both objectives -- democracy and U.S. interests -- are real…

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Comments (27)

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Gatto, Joe

Jeremy Wells:

The crisis of survival that humanity faces has many aspects: global warming, unending wars for oil and profit, mass starvation, migration crisis, etc. The root cause lies with run-amok gangster capitalism that is looting the planet and it's peoples of the resources essential by people to live and survive.

To learn about this perspective:
World Socialist Web Site

"Our web site provides a source of political perspective to those troubled by the monstrous level of social inequality, which has produced an ever-widening chasm between the wealthy few and the mass of the world's people."

The two following stories posted July 4th, the depth and perspective of their analysis.

The July 4th holiday and the state of US democracy
By Bill Van Auken
4 July 2007

(We are reposting below an article written July 4th, 2006, by Bill Van
Auken, the Socialist Equality Party’s 2006 candidate for US Senate from
New York.)

"This July 4 marks the 230th anniversary of the Declaration of Independence, a document that launched a revolution against colonialism
and despotism, inspiring peoples all over the world. The creation of a new nation, founded on Enlightenment concepts of democracy, equality and
the rule of law, foreshadowed the French Revolution 13 years later and had international reverberations for generations thereafter."

The freeing of Lewis Libby: Government criminality and the class nature of American “justice”
By Bill Van Auken
4 July 2007

"The decision of the Bush White House to commute the jail sentence of Vice President Dick Cheney’s former chief of staff I. Lewis “Scooter”
Libby is a telling demonstration of both the criminal character of the US government and the inequality that pervades American society."

This is published daily free on the web and in several languages.

OnJuly 4th: Cuba Honors American People :

Heard about this discussion board on Louis Proyect's list. In Cuba, despite all the political differences between their government and the U.S. government, Cubans are very fond of U.S. movies, culture, music and products. My father and his parents lived in Cuba during World War II. They weren't able to get into the U.S. because the Roosevelt administration strictly enforced a very restrictive quota on Jewish immigration into the United States. They had no Jewish Adjustment Act, unlike Cubans and the Cuban Adjustment Act, in force in 1966, which permits any Cuban who gets to the United States to stay here.

Thanks for the invitation to participate here.

Cuba Honors American People
Marking US's Independence Day

Havana, July 4 (acn) Two concerts will be held on Tuesday evening in Cuba in honor of the American people marking US's Independence Day on July 4th.

One of the concerts will take place at Havana's Amadeo Roldán Theater and the other one will be held in eastern Santiago de Cuba, which is currently hosting the 27th edition of the annual Caribbean Festival.

As in previous years, Cuban artists will send their message of friendship to the American people as they celebrate the 231st anniversary of their Independence Day.

The Amadeo Roldán Theater will be hosting important jazz players such as José Luis Crego, known as the Greco, who will have several guests.

It will be a night dedicated to jazz, a musical style born in the US city of New Orleans, birthplace of renowned jazz player Louis Armstrong.

Cuban and American pieces have been included in the program of the concert that will ratify the historical ties between the peoples of both countries and their wishes for a better future.

I also run a free Yahoo news group on Cuba:

Walter Lippmann
Los Angeles, California


Sorry for the late comment, but I just wanted to point out that one reason Zimbabwe doesn't assume the mantle of world arbiter of deomcratic principles (or whatever) is that nobody asks it to. Nobody really gives a crap what Zimbabwe does one way or the other.

Everybody assumes America should play a role in everything. Fine, but you can't have it both ways and complain when America acts like it has a role to play in everything.

I don't think the US can win for trying. When it gets involved, it's blamed for the result (often fairly). When it abstains, it's blamed for that (often unfairly). There isn't a hot button issue on the planet that America isn't critized over, which really implies that America has something to contribute on every issue. For example, I don't recall anyone asking what Zimbabwe was going to do after the 2004 tsunami, but I remember plenty of complaining that the US had built its own early-warning system in the Pacific but had not provided one to the Indian Ocean.


PJ, I'm off to Scotland this week (because I'm waiting for India to finalize my press visa -- so I'm more or less stuck here) and then I'm off to India on Friday the 22nd. There's so much going on there, it'll be nuts. But its quite visually appealing over there, which I'm looking forward to capturing. As for Berkley, I've never been but would love to visit. It's a bit rainy here in London and the sun doesn't shine quite enough...

As for the guys in this video, Stally was certainly an interesting character. What was great about him was how boldly he wore his name. When I asked why he chose it, he said "Thought it would help getting pictures put in left magazines". Then it turned out over time that the name became a liability and editors would shorten it to S. O'Neil. Now, Stally tells me, he really doesn't care what people refer to him as as long as they buy his pictures.

There were many people at this rally, it seemed to me, who didn't identify as passionately with their causes as their names or faces would lead one to expect. One girl around my age let loose a bizarre giggle when I asked her how she got involved in the Pro-Palestine movement and said, "I just got an icecream and popped up here" and then asked me, "what's up with Palestine? Why's everyone here?" This certainly was not representative. But when I saw her I thought she'd be die-hard, down for the cause. But, it's late here so excuse the cliche: "you cant judge a book by its cover."

Fair Play:

One wonders why when PJ finds other peoples names such a hoot, that with out a shred of evidence he (I assume) then insinuates alcoholic dependency from a video grab still

Still has no one thought Pj that people who live in glasshouses should not throw stones
Perusing through

to find out what PJ is short for Dear oh Dear!
eight from bottom PJ I wouldn't laugh too loud!

May be PJ can also forward the WP a photo of his good self so we can compare his fine features to that of Stalingrad's as I'm sure he's stunningly handsome so won't mind in the least!


This was a hoot. I love the pic of Stally O'Neil. From the looks of him, I suspect it Stoli O'Neil would be more appropriate.

Amar, what's your next assignment going to be? I would LOVE for you to visit Berkeley CA and report what they think of Americans in that foreign land.


I think at the local level, America is a true democracy. That matters a lot. At the national level things change cause so much moneys involved.


Look at a damned history book. Every political movement is lace curtains put over an oligarchy. Not news.

colorado kool aid:

They do this kind of stuff because they are idiots. They don't know anything and are only operating with lower brain stem activity. There is no hypocrisy in our "democracy agenda" -- never has been and isn't now. These folks just like to hear themselves talk . . . something they can do in this country, not something they could do in Mugabe's. I pay no attention to these kind of nut jobs.


Democracy needs a large, vital, educated middle class.


Democracy is not just about elections. That's what people miss. elections, great, you get hamas or what's happening in Iraq. What is needed is a good definition of democracy, when it is what it is: rule of law, education etc. It's interesting stuff to debate

Lexy R.:

They are right to say democracy can be a dictatorship. What exactly is "democracy" - its an excuse for a tyranny of wealthy and political elite, especially in advacned capitalist nations like the U.S.


A very interesting and radical group. There is a grain of truth even in their extreme views.


Just answered your request. Apparently, the piece is being kept in reserve for your private perusal...


"Sir, your wishes are my orders"! Unfortunately... the guy is not an American... All he's managed to do in the US, in recent years, is live in a Zen monastery...

Leonard Cohen - Democracy Lyrics

It's coming through a hole in the air,
from those nights in Tiananmen Square.
It's coming from the feel
that this ain't exactly real,
or it's real, but it ain't exactly there.
From the wars against disorder,
from the sirens night and day,
from the fires of the homeless,
from the ashes of the gay:
Democracy is coming to the U.S.A.
It's coming through a crack in the wall;
on a visionary flood of alcohol;
from the staggering account
of the Sermon on the Mount
which I don't pretend to understand at all.
It's coming from the silence
on the dock of the bay,
from the brave, the bold, the battered
heart of Chevrolet:
Democracy is coming to the U.S.A.

It's coming from the sorrow in the street,
the holy places where the races meet;
from the homicidal bitchin'
that goes down in every kitchen
to determine who will serve and who will eat.
From the wells of disappointment
where the women kneel to pray
for the grace of God in the desert here
and the desert far away:
Democracy is coming to the U.S.A.

Sail on, sail on
O mighty Ship of State!
To the Shores of Need
Past the Reefs of Greed
Through the Squalls of Hate
Sail on, sail on, sail on, sail on.

It's coming to America first,
the cradle of the best and of the worst.
It's here they got the range
and the machinery for change
and it's here they got the spiritual thirst.
It's here the family's broken
and it's here the lonely say
that the heart has got to open
in a fundamental way:
Democracy is coming to the U.S.A.

It's coming from the women and the men.
O baby, we'll be making love again.
We'll be going down so deep
the river's going to weep,
and the mountain's going to shout Amen!
It's coming like the tidal flood
beneath the lunar sway,
imperial, mysterious,
in amorous array:
Democracy is coming to the U.S.A.

Sail on, sail on ...

I'm sentimental, if you know what I mean
I love the country but I can't stand the scene.
And I'm neither left or right
I'm just staying home tonight,
getting lost in that hopeless little screen.
But I'm stubborn as those garbage bags
that Time cannot decay,
I'm junk but I'm still holding up
this little wild bouquet:
Democracy is coming to the U.S.A.

I also left something on Erasmus to your attention, after the Cambridge/Cambridge piece... although it was not the quote you had requested (could not find it!); but the spirit of Erasmus lingers on there, and that is all that matters, really.

Hope you don't lose any sleep on this.

Take care.

Amar C. Bakshi:

JRLR, any thoughts on defining democracy. I heard the slogan "democracy is dictatorship". Do you think a more robust, nuanced definition of democracy, stated by administration officials could convince more people of its value (along with a more transparent and consistent implementation of those values)? Am thinking this issue over now (though a bit low on sleep) and would love thoughts.


Neturei Karta has a lot of explaining to do....


Zane Gray, that's classic!



Mark Fischer, Officer, Communist Party of Great Britain:

[Editor's Note] I asked Mark Fischer to sketch the differences between several groups and their stances on America for readers. Mark was the final person I interviewed in the video.

* CPGB (ML)- is an unreconstructed Stalinist organisation. Big fans of
Uncle Joe, the purges, the Five Year Plans, etc. A genuine communist
critique of Stalin and Stalinism identifies its key betrayal of everything
we are meant to stand for in the notion of 'Socialism in one country'. (The
original 1917 revolution was premissed on the world (or, at least, a
European) upsurge). An islolated socialism - even in an advanced country -
is impossible, let alone the grindingly poor USSR. However, Stalin
basically said 'bugger the world, we have everything we need at home' - a
sort of glorification of USSR backwardness and its peculair features. This
engendered a process in the international communist parties that saw them
first transformed into branches of Soviet state diplomacy (ie: 'defence of
the USSR' became their raison d'etre, not making revolutions in their own
country) and second, into mini-national chauvinists themselves who would
put the interests of 'their'nations first. (Although I am not a Trotskyist,
he makes a perceptive point about the Soviet patriot notion of 'Socialism
in one country' introducing a "centrafugal" dynamic into the world
communist movement; today, the Soviet communists might put USSR first and
demand every other communist do the same; tomorrow, the French, British, or
Chinese would say, 'hold it - why don't we do the same for our little slice
of the globe?').

Thus nationalism infected our movement. So, 'official communist' parties
from that Stalinist mode would be anti-US because - initially - that
obviously chimed with the foriegn policy priorities of the USSR, then later
because their own country might have frictions with America.

The CPGB (ML) - as old school Stalinists - would have anti-Americanism in
their DNA.

* The WRP YS is an even more bizarre organisation in its way - don't have
time to go into detail, but essentially this is a Trotskyist organisation
that is regarded as beyond the pale by more or less every section of the
left and workers movement. It prostituted itself to various unsavoury Arab
regimes in the 1970s/80s - that and the allegance of Vanessa and Corin
Redgrave allowed them to have a daily, colour newspaper at a time when that
could not be achieved by mainstream publications like the Times or
Guardian! - and which imploded in the mid-1980s in a storm of accusations
of sexual abuse, etc. It was/is a cult in other words - it isn't even what
most of the rest of the left is, ie: a sect.

Its history of relations with regimes such as Saddam's would mean it is
probably still viscaral in its hatred of the Great Satan. I couldn't say
for certain. I actually don't know anyone who reads its press anymore.


Is that the latest version of "All Hell Broke Loose", Amar?

While you're preparing to leave for India, I'm off to stitch... a little.

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