Issue #152, December 2008

Electronic Journal & Daily Report THE NEW TEXAS GAS WAR Fort Worth Communities Confront Corporate Colonization by Peter Gorman, Fort Worth Weekly FELTON FLOWS ON A California Town Beats Back the Water Cartel by Rachel Aronowitz, Terrain, Berkeley, CA COLOMBIA:… Read moreIssue #152, December 2008


James Bond Saves Evo Morales from the CIA!

by Juan Cole, Informed Comment

The reviews of director Marc Forster’s Quantum of Solace have complained about the film’s hectic pace (reminiscent of Doug Liman’s and Paul Greengrass’s Bourne thrillers), about the humorlessness of Daniel Craig’s Bond, and even about the squalid surroundings, so unlike Monaco and Prague, in which the film is set (with many scenes in Haiti and Bolivia). They have missed the most remarkable departure of all. Forster presents us with a new phenomenon in the James Bond films, a Bond at odds with the United States, who risks his career to save Evo Morales’ leftist regime in Bolivia from being overthrown by a “General Medrano”—who is helped by the CIA and a private mercenary organization called Quantum. In short, this Bond is more Michael Moore than Roger Moore.

The plot of the film was developed by producer Michael G. Wilson during the filming of Casino Royale. New York-born Wilson is from a show-business family (his father, Lewis Wilson, was the first actor to play Batman on screen, and his step-father, Albert Broccoli, was long the producer of the Bond films). But Wilson did a law degree at Stanford in the 1960s and worked for a while at a firm specializing in international law. Outrage at offenses against international law are as much at the heart of this film as the more personal vendettas of Bond and Camille (Olga Kurylenko).

Kurylenko, a Ukrainian, is the first Bond girl actually played by an actress from the former Soviet Union, and the St. Petersburg-based KPLO, a Communist group, denounced her, saying, “The Soviet Union educated you, cared for you, and brought you up for free, but no one suspected that you would commit this act of intellectual and moral betrayal.”

The KPLO then called James Bond “the killer of hundreds of Soviet people and their allies,” which suggests why they are still Communists—they have difficulty distinguishing between reality and fantasy.

The St. Petersburg Communists got the politics of the work all wrong. It is the closest thing to a progressive Bond film ever made, more Graham Greene (admittedly, Graham Greene on steroids) than Ian Fleming. Kurylenko, who grew up in a poor family headed by her mother, plays a Bolivian girl whose family was destroyed (and her mother and sister raped) by the haughty General Medrano. She is so organically a figure of the left that no distinction can be made between her private quest for vengeance on Medrano and the salvation of the pro-peasantry government of Bolivia.

The Bond films were never quite as right-wing as had been the novels. In From Russia with Love, Ian Fleming had the Soviet assassination unit, SMERSH, deploy the crazed serial killer Red Grant for its nefarious purposes. The films instead made SPECTRE, a private terrorist organization, the villain, depicting it as working against both Soviet intelligence and MI6 or British international intelligence. (Admittedly, the films were reflecting the steps toward détente that in some ways began with Johnson). The films were prescient about the potential for the rise of private terrorist organizations such as al-Qaeda as major players in their own right, able to confound the intelligence agencies even of powerful states.

Still, East Bloc leaders and troops are often depicted as sinister. An example is the rogue Soviet General Orloff in Octopussy, who conspires to set off an atomic bomb, made to look like an American device, to give aid to the peace groups in Western Europe in their quest to make it a nuclear-free zone, thus setting the stage for a successful Soviet take-over. (That film implicitly configures the movement against stationing nuclear warheads in Europe, spearheaded by figures such as the leftist historian E.P. Thompson, as advocates of a surrender to Moscow. That is about as far-right a position as you could take on the European peace groups of that time).

The present film takes, to say the least, a different view of popular movements of the left. Morales is not mentioned in the film, but his movement was in the headlines while Casino Royale was being shot, as he challenged the old “white” elite and was denounced by the US ambassador as an “Andean bin Laden” and his peasant followers (many of them of largely native stock) as “Taliban.” Morales’ nationalization of Bolivia’s petroleum and natural gas and his redistribution of wealth from the wealthy elite to villagers were among the policies drawing the ire of George W. Bush and his cronies.

If Morales is not mentioned, Jean-Bertrand Aristide of Haiti is. The villain, Dominic Greene (Mathieu Amalric) remarks that while Aristide was president 2001-2004, he raised the minimum wage from 25 cents an hour to a dollar an hour. It was, he said, little enough, but caused the corporations that benefited from cheap Haitian labor to mobilize to have Aristide removed. (Aristide himself maintained that US and Canadian intelligence connived with officers at the coup against him and kidnapped him, taking him to southern Africa.) The Left analysis of American imperialism in the Western hemisphere is put in the mouth, not of a worker or ideologue, but rather of the collaborator in capitalist exploitation of America’s poor neighbors. Aristide’s story is a clear parallelism for the fate the CIA and Quantum are depicted as plotting for Morales.

Note that director Marc Forster’s father was from conservative Bavaria, and that the family was forced to relocate to Davos in Switzerland because they were targeted by the radical Baader-Meinhoff gang after the father became wealthy on selling his pharmaceutical company. Forster’s previous film, The Kite-Runner, sympathized with the Afghans oppressed by the Soviet invasion and even shows one character refusing to be treated by a Russian-American physician. That is, Forster is no glib Third Worldist. He and his screenwriters are simply performing the work of the intellectual, interrogating the way the wealthy and powerful in the Bush era casually overthrew (or tried to overthrow) foreign governments in the global south to get at the resources they coveted.

In the new film, Dominic Greene is a secret member of Quantum, a mercenary coup-making consulting firm. That is, it is represented as a private contractor to which the CIA is willing to farm out coup-making instead of doing it directly. Greene’s cover is that of the head of a conservation organization that buys up land in poor countries to ensure it is preserved from despoilment. In fact, he despoils it. In a complicated and not very plausible plot twist, Greene appears to be buying up land under which he is convinced there is oil, but in fact is trying to corner the market on Bolivia’s aquifers so as to overcharge the country for its water after the military coup unseats Morales.

The CIA is convinced to back Quantum both because it wants leftist governments in Latin America overthrown and because Quantum would re-privatize Bolivia’s fossil fuels. Greene observes to CIA field officer Greg Beame that the way the Bush administration bogged the US down in the Middle East allowed several Latin American countries to move left (obviously, the referents are Venezuela, Bolivia and Brazil). Beame’s partner, Felix Leiter (Jeffrey Wright) is uncomfortable with the coup plot and the collaboration with Quantum.

Britain’s own elite comes in for a drubbing. Quantum has placed a man close to the British prime minister, who is thus duped. M tries to call off Bond, with no success, and she is pressured by her superiors to bow to the CIA plan. This plot element is a veiled reference to Blair’s knee-jerk support for Bush. The notion of a mole from a mercenary corporation close to the PM recalls the allegations that far-right billionaire Rupert Murdoch was a spectral presence at every Blair cabinet meeting.

Of course, in real life the CIA did use a private set of organizations, the Mujahidin or Muslim holy warriors (Afghans and the Arab volunteers who became al-Qaeda) to overthrow the leftist government of Afghan leaders Karmal Babrak and later Najeebullah. CIA consultants with Hollywood have been careful, in films such as Charlie Wilson’s War, to play down the element here of “blowback” (where a covert operation goes rogue and produces an attack on the sponsoring country).

But this Bond film is explicit that the United States under Bush has become the bad guy, that US intelligence is in league with rogue mercenaries and brutal, rapist-generals who plot coups against elected governments. Bond therefore has to take on the United States government. (At one point, a SWAT team from the CIA Special Activities Division tries to capture Bond in a bar in La Paz, but fails because Leiter tips Bond off to their approach. The good American in this film is the one willing to betray the US government to a more virtuous MI6 field officer).

George W. Bush is a lurking presence in this film, and appears to have almost single-handedly pushed Bond into championing the indigenous peasants against the white-tie global elite. The plotting of millionaires at a performance in Bregenz in Austria of Puccini’s opera, “Tosca,” to devastate and brutalize for their own gain the poor of Bolivia half a world away, recalls the scene in Michael Moore’s Fahrenheit 9/11 where Bush toasts his super-wealthy “base.” He was implicitly promising that their enterprises will be deregulated and their taxes lowered and the costs of those things passed on to the middle classes and workers.

The original Bond began his education at Eton (he was thrown out) and was a member of the British elite, even if he exhibited its otherwise hidden rough edges and occasionally ruthless methods (deployed against still more ruthless opponents such as Soviet assassination squads). Still, he defended the interests of his social class against challengers.

With this film, Daniel Craig’s Bond, who is from a considerably lower social class than Flemings’, has chosen to defy the white-tie set, and the Bush administration’s greed and lawlessness, and to stand up for the little people (including Camille, who symbolizes Morales’ Indios). At one point the smarmy CIA man Beame rejects any criticism from Bond of US imperialism, given Britain’s own long and sordid imperial history. But a country, and a people, always has a choice in each generation, of whether to do the right thing. They are not prisoners of their ancestors.

Craig’s Bond is an intimation of the sort of Britain that could have been, if Tony Blair had stood up to Bush and refused to be dragged into an illegal war of choice, and into other actions and policies that profoundly contradicted the principles on which the Labour Party had been founded (and you could imagine Craig’s Bond voting for Old Labour, while Flemings’ was obviously a Tory). In a way, this Bond stands in for Clare Short, who resigned as a cabinet minister from Blair’s government in 2003 over the illegitimacy of the Iraq War.

It is a sad state of affairs that Bush’s America now appears in a Bond film in rather the same light as Brezhnev’s Soviet Union used to. One can only hope that President Barack Obama can adopt the sort of policies that can get Bond back on our side.

NOTE: We take issue with the notion that the water-control angle is “not very plausible.” It is clearly a reference to the Bechtel corporation’s take-over of the water system in the Bolivian region of Cochabamba, sparking a local uprising in 2000.—World War 4 Report


This piece first appeared Nov. 16 on Juan Cole’s InformedComment blog.

From our Daily Report:

Bolivia: Bechtel surrenders
World War 4 Report, Jan. 24, 2006


Ukrainian Bond girl is traitor to USSR, say Russian communists
Unian News Agency, Ukraine, Oct. 27

Bolivian president censures United States
CNN, Sept. 24, 2007

Ryan Gilbey talks to Bond director Marc Forster
The Guardian, Oct. 24, 2008

Body of Lies: The CIA’s involvement in US film-making
The Guardian, Nov. 14, 2008


Reprinted by World War 4 Report, Dec. 1, 2008
Reprinting permissible with attribution



by William Wharton, CounterHegemonic

Yes, “nationalize the banks!”—the thoughtless slogan advanced by any number of ultra-left groups engaged in gross public displays of political masturbation. Yet, like the old saying goes, even a broken clock is correct twice a day. So, perhaps we can have a few words on the notion of bank nationalization in this tumultuous financial crisis which threatens to extend into every area of the economy with dire consequences for working people.

The banks, instead of acting like banks and extending credit to enterprises in need of capital, they are hording cash in fear of becoming entangled with other institutions that are hiding assets which are essentially worthless on their books. Such uncertainty has led to substantial freezing-up of lending activity.

The Federal Reserve and Congress have tried a series of measures to gently coax the banking sector into once again performing its role. First, they decreased the cost of money by lowering interest rates. This did not work. Then the Fed moved to end the logjam more directly by purchasing commercial paper—short-term no-collateral loans frequently used by businesses to cover shortfalls. This has apparently not worked either. Finally, the interest rate cut was made into a global action as central banks around world implemented cuts in unison. This also appears to have had little positive effect.

The only option left is to cut to the root of the problem—that’s right, the US state will have to take direct control of the banks. Provisions of the recently passed “Bailout Bill” allow the Treasury Department to take an ownership stake inside of financial institutions that decide to accept state funding. This represents a partial nationalization of the banks and will allow state actors a voice in decisions made by previously wholly private enterprises.

Such a move should allow socialists to move beyond just the blanket rhetorical call for nationalization to a more detailed, and far more useful, conversation of just what nationalization could mean. Economist Doug Henwood, for example, has consistently advocated for the creation of a banking sector in the image of a highly-regulated state utility. Even more radical is his proposition that such a banking utility could also be de-centralized and serve as means to foster local community development and undercut other predatory lenders such as check-cashing and pay-day loan businesses.

Such a socialist vision understands banking as less of a profit-generating enterprise and more of a financial traffic cop moving funds rationally and efficiently from one productive enterprise to another. Such discussion is not held entirely on a theoretical plane. A bank such as the one roughly described above exists in the MondragĂłn cooperative sector in the Basque area of Spain. The Caja Laboral Popular (Working People’s Bank) serves to ensure the financial viability of this network of worker-run cooperatives by allocating social capital and servicing the financial needs of cooperative members. The CLP has allowed cooperative production to move beyond the boundaries which would have been placed on it by private investment banks while serving as a key reserve to allow the network to weather downturns, even severe ones, in the general capitalist-directed economy.

There are however, important differences between the CLP and the impending maneuver by the US Treasury Department. The CLP rests upon and emerged out of a democratically run socio-economic project. The MondragĂłn cooperatives produce useful items for domestic and global consumption. Conversely, US banks are part and parcel of an economic system with a logic dictated in important ways by financial capital. Instead of useful items, financial capital logic results in speculative bubbles as it desperately attempts to replicate itself in the most rapid and voluminous ways. Even if partial nationalization steadies credit markets, it will do little to change the fundamentals of the US economy. What is most needed at this moment is a change in both form and content.

The great challenge for the left in the US in the coming period is twofold. On the one hand we need to use the conceptual and economic opening provided by the failure of the banking system to agitate around concrete demands for publicly-controlled essentials—healthcare, water, education… Private enterprise has not only ruined the financial system; it has made our bodies less healthy, our environment less livable, and our minds less enlightened.

Simultaneously, we must develop imaginative and innovative schemes to re-start useful productive enterprises in the US. In doing so, we should be careful to remember the need to transform both form and content. There are no easy solutions or pre-fabricated schemes to employ here. The MondragĂłn cooperative sector, for instance, has run into serious problems regarding democratic functioning and social equity as it has spread its production globally. As a general guide though, we can say that production can best be organized and the economy can most efficiently be re-started by worker-run cooperatives which develop into interlinked beehives of productive activity.

If we leave either task—securing social necessities or re-starting production—up to the capitalists, we can be certain that far bleaker days of permanent war, debtor’s prison and general state-sponsored repression are ahead.

So, go ahead Henry Paulson, nationalize the banks. Let it be a wakeup call to democratic socialists and anarcho-syndicalists that the moment for serious politics, and serious thinking, has begun.


William Wharton is editor of The Socialist, monthly magazine of the Socialist Party USA.

This piece first appeared Oct. 9 on the blog CounterHegemonic.

See also:

Globalization, Oil Shock and the Iraq War
by Vilosh Vinograd
World War 4 Report, September 2008


Doug Henwood’s Left Business Observer


Reprinted by World War 4 Report, Dec. 1, 2008
Reprinting permissible with attribution