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Nigel Harris


(Summer 1965)

From International Socialism (1st series), No.21, Summer 1965, p.33.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

Southeast Asia, Illusion and Reality in Politics and Economics
Lennox A. Mills
University of Minnesota Press, 45s.

Professor Mills has written a 345-page survey of south-east Asia which is, in terms of mere information, competent if limited – most of the elementary information is here in one way or another. But then such information is in many other places also, so it is difficult to take this compilation as its own justification. Behind the information, the understanding of the author is rather shallow, and his style a little wooden – he sees no broad trends, and scarcely ever speculates. Occasionally the style lapses into a casual jocularity that grates, and the author’s viewpoint is solidly for current American foreign policy: there are robber barons ringing the Northern borders, and poor misguided lambs here in the south. Like Hermann Finer, Mills sees politics in the bric-a-brac of facts, unrelated to a general critical viewpoint.

If this book is an introduction for students, there are better anthologies written by different hands, specialists in each of the countries concerned. If it is for specialists, it is singularly lacking in new information or interpretations. If it is meant to bring the existing text-books up-to-date, it is itself already very much out-of-date: the shape of Burma is now clear, Diem is only an echo, Sarit has gone, Malaysia is a question-mark. Mills very usefully combines discussion of the economic problems of the area and its politics, and at least that is a mercy, but there is little else to be said for this survey which marks it out from its predecessors. It will be fortunate when such books can no longer be written because there is too much information available on each country.

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