September 1, 2004

Notes From Bedlam

By Stephen Gowans

Communists For Kerry

It's one thing to be a laughing stock without intending to be, but it's a quite another to volunteer for the job. Which is what the four-member "Communists For Kerry" contingent did when it marched in the Anyone But Bush protest outside the Republican convention in New York City last weekend. The Washington Post quipped that the group's support is something "Kerry might prefer to eschew."

That Kerry shares nothing in common with Communists is obvious and that their support, if it meant anything, would be a liability to his campaign, is equally apparent; hence, the quip. But isn't it equally true that Communists share nothing in common with Kerry or ought not to?

As for the Anyone But Bush, which is to say, Vote For Kerry, "movement," I'm reminded that the December 1932 presidential election in Germany featured a similar Anyone But Hitler, which is to say, Vote For Hindenburg, movement.

Back in those days there were no "Communists For Hinderburg," a Communist being something very different then. (Today it's someone who works to elect Kerry in the US, gets out the vote for the Labor Party in the UK, and invites capitalists to join the party in China.) Back then the Communists ran their own candidate, Ernst Thaelmann.

Thaelmann was eschewed by the social democrats, who thought him either as bad as Hitler or not so bad but unlikely to win, and therefore to thwart the little corporal's bid for power.  So they backed Hindenburg, the establishment candidate. Hindenburg won which may, at the time, have been proclaimed a great victory for the "movement," but any sense of accomplishment was short-lived. Almost immediately, Hinderburg appointed Hitler to the post of Chancellor.

So the ABH movement got Hitler anyway, which is what the ABB movement will get: not Hitler, but Bush -- either the one with the silly smirk or the one with the bushy hair.

Billionaires For Kerry?

"Then there was Billionaires for Bush," recounted the Washington Post, "a satirical group outfitted in cocktail dresses and silk gloves, tuxes and top hats and cigarette holders. They waved placards emblazoned: 'It's a Class War and We're Winning.'"

Clever. But was there a Billionaires for Kerry contingent, waving placards emblazoned: "It's a Class War and We're Winning" at the Democratic convention? Just wondering.

Darfur: Why Now?

What seems to escape the attention of a lot of people who find ongoing satisfaction in working themselves up into a moral frenzy over the regular depredations, exploitation and inhumanity of the world, is that people are being plundered, murdered, humiliated, starved, terrorized, bullied, dispossessed and crushed every minute, in thousands upon thousands of places around the world.

Which isn't to offer a "poor are always with us" sop. We should be outraged.

And yet our attention at any one time is only ever drawn to one, or at most, a few, of those places, so that we come to believe that all the inhumane conditions of the world (at least those worthy of our urgent attention) are concentrated in one locale, and that plunder, starvation, dispossession and terror elsewhere, can be ignored, if, indeed, we ever grasped their existence.

Kosovo is a good example. There, for a few years, a low-level civil war raged, and few people outside of Serbia and governments that had a history of dominating smaller countries, noticed.

In time, these governments the US, the UK, and Germany at the core brought the civil war in Kosovo to the attention of the media (which mostly passed along what they had been told uncritically, their accustomed role) and in turn the public became engaged, and outraged, ready to accept some form of intervention to put an end to massacres, deportation and what was understood to be genocide. Maybe everyone didn't agree that the intervention should come in the form of an armed response, but some form of intervention was considered necessary.

And it came in the form of high altitude bombing. A long history of imperialist domination would have suggested that the US, British and German interest in Kosovo had little to do with saving ethnic Albanian Kosovars, and much to do with smashing the rump of the former Yugoslavia that refused to be drawn completely into the orbit of Western capitalism.  Serbia kept electing socialists, when all the other republics were electing pro-capitalist, anti-socialist "reformers" the kind of people who get nods of approval in plush boardrooms.

Today, any moral outrage at the goings on in Kosovo is the province of a very small group of people. Attention has been drawn to other brutalities, elsewhere. And yet all the events NATO said it intervened to put an end to ethnically-motivated murder, deportations, the destruction of religious artifacts are present in Kosovo today, only they're carried out by the ethnic Albanian population against Serbs, Roma, Jews and other ethnic groups.

If we accept that Kosovo was an unpleasant place before the imperial intervention, all that has changed is that Serbia is now in the midst of being fully integrated into Western capitalism with the expected grim and regrettable consequences for its population, and with consequences that are none too pleasant for labor elsewhere either. The dismantling of socialism in Eastern Europe, and the smashing of the Yugoslavian variety, has meant a massive increase in the pool of labor available to Western firms at a fraction of the price once commanded by workers in Germany, the UK and the US. It's no accident that a spate of German unions is accepting longer hours and leaner benefits with no increase in pay to protect their member's jobs from moving to low-wage former socialist countries teeming with the unemployed. And ethnic cleansing in Kosovo hasn't stopped at all. If anything, it's worse. The only stratum benefiting from NATO's intervention in Kosovo (and also from the dismantling of socialism in Eastern Europe and elsewhere) is the beneficiaries and representatives of Western capital which, considering their virtual sway over the state in NATO countries, was the driving force behind the intervention in the first place.

With Kosovo in mind, we might, then, ask what determines which of a seemingly endless array of inhumane conditions around the world is singled out, so that all other inhumane conditions disappear from our notice, and we become suitably worked up over this outrage and not that one?

Stephanie Nolen, a correspondent with the Toronto Globe and Mail remarked that "few in the West paid attention 20 years ago, when the Sudanese government unleashed a similar [to Darfur] campaign against ethnic groups in the south, or when it froze Darfur and other non-Arab regions out of economic development and political participation. Now that the region is on the map, there is an opportunity for the kind of pressure that got Khartoum to agree to a power-sharing deal that ended the war in the south earlier this year."(August 30, 2004)

What Nolen doesn't explain is why Darfur, after having been frozen out of economic development and political participation for years and where the killing began more than half a year ago -- is only now "on the map." Or why, for that matter, no one seemed to notice, much less care, about "a similar campaign against ethnic groups in the south"?

Is Darfur like Kosovo an unpleasant place whose unpleasantness can be cited as a reason for Western imperialist powers to intervene, in the name of humanity?

It seems significant that Darfur is home to large reserves of oil, and equally significant that the China National Oil Company owns the development concession. It is standard operating procedure in Washington to do what's necessary to eclipse China's rise as a great power rival, and since China's continued growth is dependent on imports of oil, most of which come from US-dominated Western Asian sources, upsetting China's efforts to achieve security of supply serves an important US foreign policy goal. Already, the US occupation of Afghanistan and troop presence throughout Central Asia has impeded China's plans to build a secure pipeline corridor to the petroleum rich Caspian Basin. And guess who, apart from Russia, France, India and Indonesia, owns oil field development rights in Iraq -- or did, until the US occupation threw who owns what up into the air? Iran: another country in which China has an oil stake. Needless to say, a US intervention in Sudan, in, say, the form of an occupation, would do to China's plans to establish a secure supply of oil what the US occupations of Afghanistan and Iraq have already begun. For the US, it means control of the spigot, and therefore a stranglehold over an emerging rival.

So it is that Darfur's suddenly being on the map, might lead one to wonder whether the populations of the Western imperialist countries are being manipulated, their moral outrage something that can be turned on and off to suit the conquest du jour.

Some will say, maybe this is so, and maybe intervention (if it comes) will reflect imperialist motives, but something good may come if, as a consequence, the killings and deportations stop.

Did the killings and deportations stop in Kosovo?

And what of the main (though hidden) goals of intervention plunder, exploitation and subjugation?

A Great Bargain?

It's a great bargain, says Democratic vice-presidential nominee John Edwards.

If Iran agrees to turn over all its nuclear fuel, so that it can't secretly churn out nuclear weapons -- say the way Israel has secretly churned out nuclear weapons (though in Israel's case, without a squeak of protest from Uncle Sam) -- the Kerry administration will allow Iran to have nuclear power plants.

So what if Tehran turns down the offer (great bargain though it is)?

That, says Edwards, will only prove Iran has a secret weapons program (though it could prove the country's ruling clerics know how to tell officious Americans to sod-off and mind their own business.)

What would Washington say if a United States of the World offered the US a great bargain: You keep your nuclear power plants, but give us all your nuclear fuel, and throw in that shit load of nuclear weapons you spent decades holding over the heads of countries that didn't want to accept permanent Third World status as drawers of water, hewers of wood, markets for your exports, and sites for building sweatshops?

Let's carry this one step further. Kerry offers his great bargain, and it's turned down. What then?

A strike on Iran's nuclear facilities, say like the one the US was contemplating on north Korea's facilities a decade ago?

So why does the US, which presides over a growing collection of nuclear weapons (including new bunker buster warheads to take out north Korean subterranean command facilities) want to ensure Iran and north Korea are nuclear weapons free, while having no intention of giving up any of its own nukes, or asking Israel to do the same?

Geez, you'd think there was a double standard.

Maybe the answer is this: Were Iran and north Korea armed with nuclear weapons, it would be so much more difficult for Washington to install puppet regimes, as in Serbia, Afghanistan and Iraq.

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Stephen Gowans