Turkeys Enjoy Thanksgiving?
19 January, 2004
January thousands of us from across the world gathered in Porto Allegre
in Brazil and declared reiterated that "Another World
is Possible". A few thousand miles north, in Washington, George
Bush and his aides were thinking the same thing.
Our project was
the World Social Forum. Theirs to further what many call The
Project for the New American Century.
In the great cities
of Europe and America, where a few years ago these things would only
have been whispered, now people are openly talking about the good side
of Imperialism and the need for a strong Empire to police an unruly
world. The new missionaries want order at the cost of justice. Discipline
at the cost of dignity. And ascendancy at any price. Occasionally some
of us are invited to `debate' the issue on `neutral' platforms provided
by the corporate media. Debating Imperialism is a bit like debating
the pros and cons of rape. What can we say? That we really miss it?
In any case, New
Imperialism is already upon us. It's a remodelled, streamlined version
of what we once knew. For the first time in history, a single Empire
with an arsenal of weapons that could obliterate the world in an afternoon
has complete, unipolar, economic and military hegemony. It uses different
weapons to break open different markets. There isn't a country on God's
earth that is not caught in the cross hairs of the American cruise missile
and the IMF chequebook. Argentina's the model if you want to be the
poster-boy of neoliberal capitalism, Iraq if you're the black sheep.
Poor countries that
are geo-politically of strategic value to Empire, or have a `market'
of any size, or infrastructure that can be privatized, or, god forbid,
natural resources of value oil, gold, diamonds, cobalt, coal
must do as they're told, or become military targets. Those with
the greatest reserves of natural wealth are most at risk. Unless they
surrender their resources willingly to the corporate machine, civil
unrest will be fomented, or war will be waged. In this new age of Empire,
when nothing is as it appears to be, executives of concerned companies
are allowed to influence foreign policy decisions. The Centre for Public
Integrity in Washington found that nine out of the 30 members of the
Defence Policy Board of the U.S. Government were connected to companies
that were awarded defence contracts for $ 76 billion between 2001 and
2002. George Shultz, former U.S. Secretary of State, was Chairman of
the Committee for the Liberation of Iraq. He is also on the Board of
Directors of the Bechtel Group. When asked about a conflict of interest,
in the case of a war in Iraq he said, " I don't know that Bechtel
would particularly benefit from it. But if there's work to be done,
Bechtel is the type of company that could do it. But nobody looks at
it as something you benefit from." After the war, Bechtel signed
a $680 million contract for reconstruction in Iraq.
This brutal blueprint
has been used over and over again, across Latin America, Africa, Central
and South-East Asia. It has cost millions of lives. It goes without
saying that every war Empire wages becomes a Just War. This, in large
part, is due to the role of the corporate media. It's important to understand
that the corporate media doesn't just support the neo-liberal project.
It is the neo-liberal project. This is not a moral position it has chosen
to take, it's structural. It's intrinsic to the economics of how the
mass media works.
Most nations have
adequately hideous family secrets. So it isn't often necessary for the
media to lie. It's what's emphasised and what's ignored. Say for example
India was chosen as the target for a righteous war. The fact that about
80,000 people have been killed in Kashmir since 1989, most of them Muslim,
most of them by Indian Security Forces (making the average death toll
about 6000 a year); the fact that less than a year ago, in March of
2003, more than two thousand Muslims were murdered on the streets of
Gujarat, that women were gang-raped and children were burned alive and
a 150,000 people driven from their homes while the police and administration
watched, and sometimes actively participated; the fact that no one has
been punished for these crimes and the Government that oversaw them
was re-elected ... all of this would make perfect headlines in international
newspapers in the run-up to war.
Next we know, our
cities will be levelled by cruise missiles, our villages fenced in with
razor wire, U.S. soldiers will patrol our streets and, Narendra Modi,
Pravin Togadia or any of our popular bigots could, like Saddam Hussein,
be in U.S. custody, having their hair checked for lice and the fillings
in their teeth examined on prime-time TV.
But as long as our
`markets' are open, as long as corporations like Enron, Bechtel, Halliburton,
Arthur Andersen are given a free hand, our `democratically elected'
leaders can fearlessly blur the lines between democracy, majoritarianism
craven willingness to abandon India's proud tradition of being Non-Aligned,
its rush to fight its way to the head of the queue of the Completely
Aligned (the fashionable phrase is `natural ally' India, Israel
and the U.S. are `natural allies'), has given it the leg room to turn
into a repressive regime without compromising its legitimacy.
A government's victims
are not only those that it kills and imprisons. Those who are displaced
and dispossessed and sentenced to a lifetime of starvation and deprivation
must count among them too. Millions of people have been dispossessed
by `development' projects. In the past 55 years, Big Dams alone have
displaced between 33 million and 55 million people in India. They have
no recourse to justice.
In the last two
years there has been a series of incidents when police have opened fire
on peaceful protestors, most of them Adivasi and Dalit. When it comes
to the poor, and in particular Dalit and Adivasi communities, they get
killed for encroaching on forest land, and killed when they're trying
to protect forest land from encroachments by dams, mines, steel
plants and other `development' projects. In almost every instance in
which the police opened fire, the government's strategy has been to
say the firing was provoked by an act of violence. Those who have been
fired upon are immediately called militants.
Across the country,
thousands of innocent people including minors have been arrested under
POTA (Prevention of Terrorism Act) and are being held in jail indefinitely
and without trial. In the era of the War against Terror, poverty is
being slyly conflated with terrorism. In the era of corporate globalisation,
poverty is a crime. Protesting against further impoverishment is terrorism.
And now, our Supreme Court says that going on strike is a crime. Criticising
the court of course is a crime, too. They're sealing the exits.
Like Old Imperialism,
New Imperialism too relies for its success on a network of agents
corrupt, local elites who service Empire. We all know the sordid story
of Enron in India. The then Maharashtra Government signed a power purchase
agreement which gave Enron profits that amounted to sixty per cent of
India's entire rural development budget. A single American company was
guaranteed a profit equivalent to funds for infrastructural development
for about 500 million people!
Unlike in the old
days the New Imperialist doesn't need to trudge around the tropics risking
malaria or diahorrea or early death. New Imperialism can be conducted
on e-mail. The vulgar, hands-on racism of Old Imperialism is outdated.
The cornerstone of New Imperialism is New Racism.
The tradition of
`turkey pardoning' in the U.S. is a wonderful allegory for New Racism.
Every year since 1947, the National Turkey Federation presents the U.S.
President with a turkey for Thanksgiving. Every year, in a show of ceremonial
magnanimity, the President spares that particular bird (and eats another
one). After receiving the presidential pardon, the Chosen One is sent
to Frying Pan Park in Virginia to live out its natural life. The rest
of the 50 million turkeys raised for Thanksgiving are slaughtered and
eaten on Thanksgiving Day. ConAgra Foods, the company that has won the
Presidential Turkey contract, says it trains the lucky birds to be sociable,
to interact with dignitaries, school children and the press. (Soon they'll
even speak English!)
That's how New Racism
in the corporate era works. A few carefully bred turkeys the
local elites of various countries, a community of wealthy immigrants,
investment bankers, the occasional Colin Powell, or Condoleezza Rice,
some singers, some writers (like myself) are given absolution
and a pass to Frying Pan Park. The remaining millions lose their jobs,
are evicted from their homes, have their water and electricity connections
cut, and die of AIDS. Basically they're for the pot. But the Fortunate
Fowls in Frying Pan Park are doing fine. Some of them even work for
the IMF and the WTO so who can accuse those organisations of
being anti-turkey? Some serve as board members on the Turkey Choosing
Committee so who can say that turkeys are against Thanksgiving?
They participate in it! Who can say the poor are anti-corporate globalisation?
There's a stampede to get into Frying Pan Park. So what if most perish
on the way?
Part of the project
of New Racism is New Genocide. In this new era of economic interdependence,
New Genocide can be facilitated by economic sanctions. It means creating
conditions that lead to mass death without actually going out and killing
people. Dennis Halliday, the U.N. humanitarian coordinator in Iraq between
'97 and '98 (after which he resigned in disgust), used the term genocide
to describe the sanctions in Iraq. In Iraq the sanctions outdid Saddam
Hussein's best efforts by claiming more than half a million children's
In the new era,
Apartheid as formal policy is antiquated and unnecessary. International
instruments of trade and finance oversee a complex system of multilateral
trade laws and financial agreements that keep the poor in their Bantustans
anyway. Its whole purpose is to institutionalise inequity. Why else
would it be that the U.S. taxes a garment made by a Bangladeshi manufacturer
20 times more than it taxes a garment made in the U.K.? Why else would
it be that countries that grow 90 per cent of the world's cocoa bean
produce only 5 per cent of the world's chocolate? Why else would it
be that countries that grow cocoa bean, like the Ivory Coast and Ghana,
are taxed out of the market if they try and turn it into chocolate?
Why else would it be that rich countries that spend over a billion dollars
a day on subsidies to farmers demand that poor countries like India
withdraw all agricultural subsidies, including subsidised electricity?
Why else would it be that after having been plundered by colonising
regimes for more than half a century, former colonies are steeped in
debt to those same regimes, and repay them some $ 382 billion a year?
For all these reasons,
the derailing of trade agreements at Cancun was crucial for us. Though
our governments try and take the credit, we know that it was the result
of years of struggle by many millions of people in many, many countries.
What Cancun taught us is that in order to inflict real damage and force
radical change, it is vital for local resistance movements to make international
alliances. From Cancun we learned the importance of globalising resistance.
No individual nation
can stand up to the project of Corporate Globalisation on its own. Time
and again we have seen that when it comes to the neo-liberal project,
the heroes of our times are suddenly diminished. Extraordinary, charismatic
men, giants in Opposition, when they seize power and become Heads of
State, they become powerless on the global stage. I'm thinking here
of President Lula of Brazil. Lula was the hero of the World Social Forum
last year. This year he's busy implementing IMF guidelines, reducing
pension benefits and purging radicals from the Workers' Party. I'm thinking
also of ex-President of South Africa, Nelson Mandela. Within two years
of taking office in 1994, his government genuflected with hardly a caveat
to the Market God. It instituted a massive programme of privatisation
and structural adjustment, which has left millions of people homeless,
jobless and without water and electricity.
Why does this happen?
There's little point in beating our breasts and feeling betrayed. Lula
and Mandela are, by any reckoning, magnificent men. But the moment they
cross the floor from the Opposition into Government they become hostage
to a spectrum of threats most malevolent among them the threat
of capital flight, which can destroy any government overnight. To imagine
that a leader's personal charisma and a c.v. of struggle will dent the
Corporate Cartel is to have no understanding of how Capitalism works,
or for that matter, how power works. Radical change will not be negotiated
by governments; it can only be enforced by people.
This week at the
World Social Forum, some of the best minds in the world will exchange
ideas about what is happening around us. These conversations refine
our vision of the kind of world we're fighting for. It is a vital process
that must not be undermined. However, if all our energies are diverted
into this process at the cost of real political action, then the WSF,
which has played such a crucial role in the Movement for Global Justice,
runs the risk of becoming an asset to our enemies. What we need to discuss
urgently is strategies of resistance. We need to aim at real targets,
wage real battles and inflict real damage. Gandhi's Salt March was not
just political theatre. When, in a simple act of defiance, thousands
of Indians marched to the sea and made their own salt, they broke the
salt tax laws. It was a direct strike at the economic underpinning of
the British Empire. It was real. While our movement has won some important
victories, we must not allow non-violent resistance to atrophy into
ineffectual, feel-good, political theatre. It is a very precious weapon
that needs to be constantly honed and re-imagined. It cannot be allowed
to become a mere spectacle, a photo opportunity for the media.
It was wonderful
that on February 15th last year, in a spectacular display of public
morality, 10 million people in five continents marched against the war
on Iraq. It was wonderful, but it was not enough. February 15th was
a weekend. Nobody had to so much as miss a day of work. Holiday protests
don't stop wars. George Bush knows that. The confidence with which he
disregarded overwhelming public opinion should be a lesson to us all.
Bush believes that Iraq can be occupied and colonised as Afghanistan
has been, as Tibet has been, as Chechnya is being, as East Timor once
was and Palestine still is. He thinks that all he has to do is hunker
down and wait until a crisis-driven media, having picked this crisis
to the bone, drops it and moves on. Soon the carcass will slip off the
best-seller charts, and all of us outraged folks will lose interest.
Or so he hopes.
This movement of
ours needs a major, global victory. It's not good enough to be right.
Sometimes, if only in order to test our resolve, it's important to win
something. In order to win something, we all of us gathered here
and a little way away at Mumbai Resistance need to agree on something.
That something does not need to be an over-arching pre-ordained ideology
into which we force-fit our delightfully factious, argumentative selves.
It does not need to be an unquestioning allegiance to one or another
form of resistance to the exclusion of everything else. It could be
a minimum agenda.
If all of us are
indeed against Imperialism and against the project of neo-liberalism,
then let's turn our gaze on Iraq. Iraq is the inevitable culmination
of both. Plenty of anti-war activists have retreated in confusion since
the capture of Saddam Hussein. Isn't the world better off without Saddam
Hussein? they ask timidly.
Let's look this
thing in the eye once and for all. To applaud the U.S. army's capture
of Saddam Hussein and therefore, in retrospect, justify its invasion
and occupation of Iraq is like deifying Jack the Ripper for disembowelling
the Boston Strangler. And that after a quarter century partnership
in which the Ripping and Strangling was a joint enterprise. It's an
in-house quarrel. They're business partners who fell out over a dirty
deal. Jack's the CEO.
So if we are against
Imperialism, shall we agree that we are against the U.S. occupation
and that we believe that the U.S. must withdraw from Iraq and pay reparations
to the Iraqi people for the damage that the war has inflicted?
How do we begin
to mount our resistance? Let's start with something really small. The
issue is not about supporting the resistance in Iraq against the occupation
or discussing who exactly constitutes the resistance. (Are they old
Killer Ba'athists, are they Islamic Fundamentalists?)
We have to become
the global resistance to the occupation.
Our resistance has
to begin with a refusal to accept the legitimacy of the U.S. occupation
of Iraq. It means acting to make it materially impossible for Empire
to achieve its aims. It means soldiers should refuse to fight, reservists
should refuse to serve, workers should refuse to load ships and aircraft
with weapons. It certainly means that in countries like India and Pakistan
we must block the U.S. government's plans to have Indian and Pakistani
soldiers sent to Iraq to clean up after them.
I suggest that at
a joint closing ceremony of the World Social Forum and Mumbai Resistance,
we choose, by some means, two of the major corporations that are profiting
from the destruction of Iraq. We could then list every project they
are involved in. We could locate their offices in every city and every
country across the world. We could go after them. We could shut them
down. It's a question of bringing our collective wisdom and experience
of past struggles to bear on a single target. It's a question of the
desire to win.
The Project For
The New American Century seeks to perpetuate inequity and establish
American hegemony at any price, even if it's apocalyptic. The World
Social Forum demands justice and survival.
For these reasons,
we must consider ourselves at war.