Ten years after his exile to the United States from the Soviet Union, Lithuanian-born Valdas Anelauskas finds that capitalism American-style, or 'free market' without a safety net, is much worse than Soviet communism.

By Kenneth Rapoza

October 1999

Boston: The US literary icon Mark Twain once observed, 'It was wonderful to find America but it would have been more wonderful to miss it.'

Such sentiments sum up the book Discovering America As It Is* by Lithuanian-born Valdas Anelauskas.

The book painstakingly examines the role of the United States in development and asks whether the world should follow in the footsteps of a nation with such an anti-social domestic and foreign policy.

What makes the book more than a fashionable romp against US power is Anelauskas himself. Like most Lithuanians, he violently opposed the Soviet domination of his homeland; he saw his father arrested, robbed of his private property, and sent to Siberia.

Anelauskas quickly became a dissident and later wrote about human rights abuses inside the Soviet Union for such US newspapers as the New York Times. When his father was released from Siberia he cared more about losing his property, than losing his nation or dignity.

Anelauskas rejected Communism even more and, eventually, was expelled from the Soviet Union and came to the United States in 1989 as a high-profile exile. In 1990 he was speaking with such right-wing conservatives as Newt Gingrich and Jesse Helms in Washington, DC.

But 10 years on, and 13 chapters into his book, Anelauskas has had a change of heart.   He now says capitalism American-style, or 'free market' without a safety net, is much worse than Soviet communism.

'There were many things I didn't like about Communism, like the lack of intellectual freedom, which I couldn't accept. But that's me. Not everyone didn't like it or considered that a problem,' he says.

'But for many people it was much better then than what they've got now in Russia and Lithuania.'

Anelauskas compares statistics on the much-talked-about income gap in the United States, asking why other rich capitalist nations don't have the same economic divide.

He examines the hot button political issue of family values and blames 'ultra-capitalism' for a moral breakdown in the United States.

Anelauskas believes, like many Americans, that family values is mere political lip service and that the family is valued insofar as it can support commerce.

He tackles US housing, from suburbia's reliance on the automobile and middle-class isolationism, to the low-crime, tourist-friendly, wealth enclaves that cities like Boston and New York have become in the new economy.

Ordinary citizens have seen their health care disappear while taxes have gone up. In all of this, public education is still considered a mess, public universities are far from free, and states only provide free health coverage to the poorest of the poor, he writes.

Anelauskas comes up with some surprising statistics. The number of home-schooled students who have left the public education system is roughly 1.5 million, 'more than the combined public school enrolment of 41 states'.

The rise of home schooling 'reflects people's broadening dissatisfaction with formal US education', he asserts.

He does not mention the religious reasons that lead many parents to home schooling. Issues like creationism vs. evolution, for example, and fundamental Christian values, also reportedly have led many parents to opt out of traditional, free, public education.While Anelauskas sees that as a form of US dissidence, he wonders where citizen resistance really stands.

He mentions human rights and child advocacy groups lobbying in defence of health care,  ducation, child care and housing. Still, he says, the majority of the population isn't thinking about such issues.

'In this way things can only get worse unless the majority of people here would stand up and say enough is enough,' he writes in the chapter called 'Oppressed Minds' - which he credits to the South African anti-apartheid activist Steven Biko.

What Anelauskas fears is not the clash of civilisations, but their elimination and the headlong flight from what is civilised itself.

He quotes billionaire investment guru George Soros in a 1997 article published in the magazine Atlantic Monthly: 'The main enemy of the open and democratic society, I believe, is no longer the communist but the capitalist threat,' - which coincides with Anelauskas' own belief.

No fan of fearful and dominant laissez-faire capitalism, he goes so far as to highlight US military intelligence operations in modern-day Europe.

ECHELON, a code-name for a spy system left over from the Cold War to intercept Soviet communications in Europe, is now used to ferret out un-American thought, or to uncover commercial information to provide US companies with an advantage over foreign rivals.

'Permanent conflict between the US and the rest of the world seems inevitable,' Anelauskas says in his book, which appears obviously written for an audience outside the United States.

He makes clear that Discovering America As It Is is for European and developing- world policy-makers who, being faced with powerful US influence at home, need to be asking: 'If this is the American Way, why should the world be rushing to embrace it?'

Yet it is more than a book for policy-makers, it is for common Americans and foreigners alike who still consider the United States a seductive mistress that alone has the power to turn dreams into realities.

The book would appear to contain everything which anyone would declare was a fault of the United States.

Anelauskas walks dangerously close to ranting about the US government's lack of gratitude for all he and his fellow Soviet dissidents had done to aid the West's Cold War victory over the Soviet bloc. There are early tales of his colleagues working as used-car salesmen here once their anti-Soviet non-profit directorships ran out of money when Communism collapsed.

He makes no excuse for his bitterness and is not an optimist about globalisation's future. 'By no means do I claim to be neutral. My feelings towards American extreme capitalism are the same as toward Soviet communism: I wish it the same demise,' he writes in the introduction.

'I long for the day when [we] can supersede it, regarding one of humanity's very mistaken directions.'

Anelauskas' research is carefully documented in nearly 100 pages of end notes from leading US news organisations, government agencies and think-tanks from the political right and left.

This is much more than a radical's revenge piece and the author steers clear of conspiracy theories.

Still the book has the feel of a particularly sad movie. There certainly is nothing to smile about. - Third World Network Features/IPS


*Discovering America As It Is by Valdas Anelauskas, 584 pp, Clarity Press, Atlanta, paperback

About the writer: Kenneth Rapoza is a correspondent for Inter Press Service, with whose permission the above article has been reprinted.