WAR BY OTHER MEANS BY STEPHEN GOWANS
May 10, 2005
In late April, 2005 US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice met with members of the Belarus opposition on a trip through Lithuania, to talk about how to elevate “mass pressure for change” (New York Times, April 22, 2005) with a view to ousting the government of Belarus’ president Alexander Lukashenko. Washington says Belarus is an outpost of tyranny, along with such other notable US bugbears as Cuba, Iran, North Korea, and Burma. Denounced as “the last dictator in Europe,” Lukashenko is dubbed a tyrant, who, it’s implied, has earned himself a place in Hades for his innumerable sins against the holy trinity of democracy, liberty and human rights. His tyranny, US officials say, must end. And the US, self-appointed crusader for democracy in the world, will see that it happens.
Nobody likes leaders who are branded tyrants, so opposition in the West to Lukashenko’s government hasn’t been hard to line up. But there are telltale signs that Washington’s latest campaign of demonizing a foreign leader has nothing whatever to do with democracy and human rights, and everything to do with Belarus being a friendlier place to the economic interests of its citizens than to those of American investors and corporations. Equally damning is Lukahsenko’s apathy to joining NATO, preferring to align Minsk with Moscow.
Under the leadership of pro-capitalist reformers, former Soviet republics and satellites have jettisoned their planned, publicly-owned economies. Not Belarus. Under Lukashenko, the country maintains a “Soviet-style command system” which centralizes “state control over the economy.” Eighty percent of Belarus’ enterprises are in state hands (New York Times, October 27, 2004.) And whereas Belarus’ neighbors have shown little interest in remaining within the orbit of Russia, clamoring instead to become members of alliances under the control of the West’s great powers, Lukashenko has sided with Moscow. Cling to a command economy and refuse to join NATO and it’s inevitable Washington will hand you an eviction notice.
Ousting by relatively peaceful means hold-outs who refuse to relinquish state-owned economies and insist obstinately on independence from the US has become something of a science at the US State Department, and a major – and successful – part of the country’s plans to extend its domination to all corners of the globe. As political scientist James Petras points out, US-engineered civil society revolutions and soft-coups are more effective than actual war in asserting US control (”Five myths and realities of US empire,” April 21, 2005, www.rebelion.org/noticia.php?id=14221) The US fought a long and costly war in Vietnam, but failed, in the decade of major conflict, to secure a victory and bring Vietnam wholly under its tutelage. The resistance in Iraq has thrown a spanner into the works of US plans for asserting control over Iraqi energy resources and turning modern Mesopotamia into a gusher of oil and reconstruction profits. And years of sanctions culminating in an air war, failed to topple Yugoslavian President Slobodan Milosevic and Serbia’s attachment to its socially owned economy. It would take a US-engineered soft coup to do that, and subsequent color revolutions to prevent such former Soviet republics as Ukraine and Georgia from hitching their economies to Russia, and not the US.
While the soft coups differ in their details, the basic structure is fairly clear. The aim is to take advantage of the political openness of the target country, using its multi-party structure and civil liberties, to build a parliamentary and extra-parliamentary opposition to challenge the government in the context of a multi-party election, which, weeks before it is held, will be denounced as fraudulent or unfair, in accordance with a predetermined script. Allegations of electoral fraud forms the basis for mass protests and civil disobedience, aimed at discrediting the government and forcing its resignation.
The successor government, comprising principal members of the opposition, usually selected by Western governments or their agents, is invariably pro-Western and pro-investment, and, having climbed to power on a ladder bought and paid for by Western imperialism, sets about discharging its obligations to its benefactors by overhauling the economy to mortgage it to Western banks and corporations. The parliamentary opposition, activist youth groups and pro-opposition media, angelized as “democratic” and “independent” in the Manichean manner of these operations, operates on lavish budgets furnished by such pro-imperialist organizations as the Soros, Ford, Carnegie and Rockefeller foundations and imperialist governments and their agencies, including the US National Endowment for Democracy and USAID. These foundations and agencies claim to be in the business of promoting democracy and civil society abroad, but exist to promote parties and movements sympathetic to advancing the financial and economic interests of Western capital. It’s no surprise that one of the first orders of business of the newly installed Democratic Opposition of Serbia, swept to power by US-backed youth activists who challenged the first round of the post-terror bombing elections in Yugoslavia, in which the Socialist candidate Slobodan Milosevic came second, and was due to advance to a run-off, was to begin the process of dismantling Serbia’s socially-owned economy and putting it up for sale.
Together, this apparatus of youth groups, “independent” media and the pro-privatization, parliamentary opposition is christened pro-democracy, in contradistinction to the government, which is denounced as anti-democratic, authoritarian and repressive. This provides the justification for massively interfering in the electoral affairs of the target country, not as an exercise in tilting elections in favor of Western economic and financial interests, which it truly is, but as selflessly performing good deeds abroad in promoting the spread of democracy, which it assuredly is not. Asked by a Russian radio station whether US meddling in the electoral affairs of other countries amounts to the US trying to export democracy, US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice explained that “democracy arose from within a state” but that the US “had supported private organizations and institutions in some countries to move the process along” (New York Times, April 21, 2005.) That the US does more than try to move the process along, and instead actively intervenes to skew electoral outcomes, is evident. The history of US interference in foreign elections, amply documented, is a long one (See William Blum, “Killing Hope: US Interventions in the Third World since World War II,” Common Courage Press, 1995; and Blum, “Rogue State: A Guide to the World’s Only Superpower,” Common Courage Press, 2000.) And it continues. As recently as April 5, the New York Times revealed that the US State Department had launched a concerted effort to block the return of the left-wing Sandinista Party in Nicaragua. This isn’t helping the process along, but hindering it. The possibility of a Sandinista victory, with the attendant threat of the interests of Nicaraguans being advanced at the expense of absentee banks and corporations is intolerable to US imperialism.
So too, in Venezuela, is the continued existence of the left-wing Chavez government, a continuing irritant, to which Washington is intent on putting an end, irrespective of what Venezuelans want. Chavez’s program of “endogenization” nettles foreign firms that have been exploiting Venezuela — with the help of successive Venezuelan governments – for longer than anyone can remember. Endogenization is development from within, using materials and labor from within, for the benefit of those within — that is, for the mostly poor ordinary Venezuelans, not for wealthy Wall Street investors. Sounding the alarm, the Wall Street Journal complains that this will “produce subsidy-dependent enterprises that compete unfairly with private Venezuelan companies and foreign firms” (Wall Street Journal, December 24, 2004.) Room for US shareholders and investors to accumulate capital unimpeded in far off lands, is, as a sine qua non of US imperialism, not negotiable. The Chavez government’s “heavy state hand running an economy walled off from international competition” (Wall Street Journal, December 24, 2004) can hardly be tolerated, anymore than economies walled off from foreign domination have ever been tolerated by the United States, or any other imperialist country. The preferred approach is for the expansionist capitalist power to carve out an exclusive area of exploitation for itself, walled off from its rivals. All doors must be kept open to the imperialist country’s own investors and corporations, not closed to produce domestic productive forces to raise living standards within.
Owing to Chavez’s unhealthy interest in raising the standard of living of Venezuelans, rather than first attending to the financial and economic interests of US corporations and financiers, Washington has put together a multi-agency task force to oust his government. The task force will pitchfork money to “foundations and businesses and political groups opposed to” Chavez’s endogenization program (New York Times, April 26, 2005.) The usual practice of squeezing underdeveloped (or what might be more appropriately called, stifled) countries financially is foreclosed to the US in its attempts to return Venezuela to its former subjugation; Venezuela’s oil wealth “has left [Caracas] with no need for the loans or other aid that the US could use as leverage” (New York Times, April 26, 2005.) Already Washington has tried to oust Chavez by welcoming (and possibly having engineered) a failed coup, backing an employers’ lockout, and promoting a recall vote on Chavez’s leadership. All have failed.
But it’s not only the policy of endogenization that irks Washington. There are other irritants: Venezuela’s striking of oil field development deals with China, a strategic rival; its raising of royalties on foreign oil companies; its investigation of possible tax evasion by the same firms to the tune of $2B; the announcement that private oil companies must form joint ventures with the state-owned oil company, PDVSA; planned hikes in the income tax rate on foreign oil companies, from 34 percent to 50 percent, which could slash 20 percent or $4.3B from the portfolios of foreign oil companies operating in Venezuela (Wall Street Journal, April 20, 2005); the use of oil revenues to subsidize food and defray the cost of expanding social welfare programs; the ending of a military exchange program with the US; the purchase of military hardware from Russia (and not from US manufacturers), signaling Venezuela’s intention to prepare itself militarily to defend its reforms against US aggression, and displacing profits the US arms industry considers its due; Chavez’s paeans to socialism; and Venezuela’s funneling of material assistance to Cuba, strengthening the survival chances of another outpost of independence. All this will ensure that US Secretary of State Rice, and her useful civil society agents, such as the US government-funded Reporters Without Borders (Rebelion, May 5, 2005, www.rebelion.org/noticia.php?id=14778) will continue to chirp about Chavez’s alleged democratic lapses.
The treatment of US oil companies also lies at the heart of Washington’s recently lecturing Moscow over democratic back-sliding. The stern lectures, designed to lend the appearance of having sprung from a moralistic commitment to democracy, are nothing more than complaints about Russia losing some of its allure as an attractive place for US corporations and investors to do business. The problem is that while the Putin government still welcomes foreign investment, it has moved to keep “some strategic industries ∑ under state control,” (New York Times, April 26, 2005) industries US investors and shareholders would like to dominate. For anyone who cares to look, it’s not too difficult to find the economic and financial stakes that lurk behind Rice’s claptrap about democracy. She talks of “pressure” being brought to bear on Russia “to open its economy”; suggests that Russia “needs to get rid of inconsistencies,” in its “treatment of foreign oil companies” (which we can take to mean US oil companies especially, if not wholly); and echoes “rising complaints by American companies over canceled contracts for [oil] exploration and production, and over curbs under Mr. Putin on foreign majority ownership in oil exploration” (New York Times, April 20, 2005.) Going to bat for “American oil companies that ∑ have been barred from taking part fully in oil and natural gas ventures in Russia,” Rice complains about “Russian decisions to cancel foreign roles in energy exploration and to impose new roles allowing foreign oil companies to take only minority positions in partnership with Russian investors.” (New York Times, April 21, 2005.) When the former Russian president, Boris Yeltsin, eager to push through the US-designed shock therapy program that would finalize the demolition job begun by Mikhail Gorbachev in tearing down the socialist pillars of the old Soviet economy and erecting a new privatized, for-profit economy, ordered an artillery bombardment to deal with opposition to the plan, there were no stern lectures from Washington about backsliding on democracy. This can be attributed to the reality that for Washington, London, Bonn and Paris, the trinity of democracy, liberty and human rights are simply the pleasant sounding words that cover another trinity: rent, profit and interest.
To simplify the propaganda requirements of presenting the target government as anti-democratic, the US State Department trots out a hoary tactic, dating back to WWI, and earlier, of reducing the target government to one person, who can then be readily demonized and made the reviled object of a campaign for change. This resonates with the common understanding of human affairs, as, not being underlain by anonymous economic and social forces, but shaped on the one side by a series of power-hungry and murderous thugs who are motivated by ambition, lust, pride, prejudice, greed, misapprehension and sometimes plain stupidity, and on the other, by virtuous masses who aspire after democracy and liberty and are frequently led by great men of sterling qualities whose attachment to democracy and freedom is no less ardent than that of their adoring masses. According to this practice, the enemy leader must be denounced as an enemy of these great virtues, and therefore, as an enemy of the people. The struggle then is not to be understood in its reality as one of an antagonism of economic interests, between classes, and between exploiting countries and exploited countries, but of ideas and values, with the West’s intervention guided solely by the aim of spreading the values of democracy, liberty and human rights. Accordingly, the enemy leader is to be traduced as power-hungry, his limitless ambition for power estranging him from respect for democracy and freedom and leading him to limit civil liberties to hang on to, or expand, his power. He’s said to incline to dictatorial ways and to seek to push the boundaries of the rule of law (Chavez) or in the case of Slobodan Milosevic, Zimbabwe’s Robert Mugabe, and Alexander Lukashenko, is to be understood to be a dictator through and through.
The reality that these leaders have repeatedly faced their electorates, haven’t abrogated their country’s parliaments, haven’t outlawed their parliamentary oppositions, and haven’t arrogated onto themselves dictatorial powers, goes unchallenged. Instead, the calumny is repeated endlessly by agents of Western imperialism, its media, its civil society groups, its foreign offices and state departments, and so takes on the status of indisputable truth, creating a pretext to engineer a civil society coup against an allegedly repressive, dictatorial regime. But something is wrong. A coup of this form would be impossible were there no elections, no opposition parties, no opposition media and no space for the opposition to operate openly; that is, were these countries really as repressive and anti-democratic as they are said to be. It is only because they are not the authoritarian, repressive Leviathans that the requirements of propaganda demand they be, that the opposition is able to carry out its soft coup.
This does not deny, however, that in the face of Western encroachment on local interests, that some target governments have not, in the interests of the politics of survival, sought to limit the reach of Western intervention, through measures that are then used to reinforce the carefully constructed image of the government as repressive and willing to do anything to stay in power. If one subscribes to the gangster theory of human affairs, a useful theory in the hands of US State Department propagandists, and much beloved in the US among some sections of the political left, limits on civil liberties are construed as the desperate measures of thugs trying to cling to power in the face of the rising opposition of the people against their oppression by tyrants, dictators and war-lords. But for those who have thought seriously about the politics of survival and have tried to grapple with the vexing issues of how governments, pursuing a course contrary to the interests of a hegemonic force, can secure their survival against the inevitable attempts of destabilization of foreign powers, the question does not easily reduce to one of demons versus angels.
Underground movements named Zvakawana and Sokawanele, (”enough is enough”), arose three years ago in the wake of Robert Mugabe’s re-election as president. The groups take their cue, and name, from other Western-backed “grassroots” movements, like Otpor in Serbia and Pora in Ukraine, which have had a hand in bringing pro-privatization, pro-NATO or simply pro-Western investor regimes to power. The names Pora, the Ukraine version, and Zubr, adopted by pro-Western activists in Belarus who oppose the pro-Russian regime of Alexander Lukashenko, mean “enough.” What they’ve had enough of, they say, is repressive crackdowns on dissent and electoral fraud which have prevented pro-West, pro-privatization parties coming to power. The government in Belarus, which leans toward Moscow, and whose economy is still largely state-owned, is emblematic of the kind of government, Washington, London, Paris and Bonn have little patience for. And so they’re painted in dark and menacing hues, and programs are put in place to remove these stains on the landscape of profitable investment opportunities and expanding US-controlled military alliances, all in the name of promoting democracy.
Members of Zvakwana say their movement is homegrown and free of foreign control (New York Times, March 27, 2005.) It may be homegrown, and its operatives may sincerely believe they chart their own course, but the group is almost certainly not free of foreign funding. The US Zimbabwe Democracy and Economic Recovery Act, signed into law by US President George W. Bush in December 2001, empowers the president under the US Foreign Assistance Act of 1961 to “support democratic institutions, the free press and independent media” in Zimbabwe. It’s doubtful Zvakwana has not been showered with Washington’s largesse.
Zvakwana’s denial that it’s under foreign control doesn’t amount to a denial of foreign funding. Movements, political parties and media elsewhere have knowingly accepted funding from Western governments, their agencies and pro-imperialist foundations, while proclaiming their complete independence (see Frances Stonor Saunders, “The Cultural Cold War: The CIA and the World of Arts and Letters,” New Press, April 2000; and “The Economics and Politics or the World Social Forum,” Aspects of India’s Economy, No. 35, September 2003, www.rupe-india.org/35/contents.html) Members of these groups may genuinely believe they remain aloof from their backer’s aims (and in the West it is often the very groups that claim not to take sides that are the favored recipients of this lucre), but self-deception is an insidious thing – and the promise of oodles of cash is hard to resist.
There’s no doubt Zvakwana is well-financed. It distributes flashy stickers, condoms bearing the movement’s Z logo, phone cards, audiotapes and packages of seeds bearing anti-Mugabe messages, en masse. These things don’t come cheap. What’s more, its operatives study “videotapes on resistance movements in Poland, Chile, India and Serbia, as well as studying civil rights tactics used in Nashville” (New York Times, March 27, 2005.) This betrays a level of funding and organization that goes well beyond what the meager self-financing of true grassroots movements — even in the far more affluent West – are able to scrape together.
If Zvakwana denies its links to the US, other elements of the Western-backed anti-Mugabe apparatus are less secretive. Studio 7, an anti-ZANU-PF radio program (ZANU-PF is Mugabe’s party), is funded by the Voice of America, hardly an agency whose existence can be said to be independent of promoting the aims of US capital around the world. The radio station SW Radio Africa, the self-styled “independent voice of Zimbabwe,” broadcasts from the UK by short-wave radio. It may call itself independent, but the broadcaster is as independent as the British Foreign Office is, which, one suspects, is one of the principal backers of the “international pro-democracy groups” (Globe and Mail, March 26, 2005) that fill the station’s coffers with the cash that allow it to operate. The radio station’s website evinces a certain fondness for British Prime Minister Tony Blair’s take on Zimbabwe, which happens to be more or less equivalent to that of Morgan Tsvangirai, the opposition leader, which also happens to be more or less equivalent to that of foreign investors, banks, and shareholders. That the station operates out of studios in London, and it seems, if it had its druthers, would not only put an end to Harare’s crackdown on foreign meddling in Zimbabwe’s internal affairs, but see to it that policies friendly to the rent, profits and interest of foreign owners and investors were allowed to flourish, should leave little doubt as to who’s behind the “international pro-democracy groups” that have put SW Radio Africa on the air.
Nor should there be much doubt that the aim of the opposition apparatus is to pull Zimbabwe back into the Western imperialist orbit after it spun off in its own direction in 2000 when Mugabe’s government accelerated its land redistribution program, breaking with the completely unworkable, willing buyer, willing seller policy that only allowed the government to redistribute the country’s arable land after the descendants of the former colonial settlers, absentee landlords and some members of the British House of Lords were done using it, and therefore willing to sell. Britain, which had pledged financial assistance to its former colony to help buy the land, reneged, leaving Harare without the means to expropriate with compensation the vast farms dominated by the tiny minority of white descendants of British colonists.
“Zimbabwe finally abandoned the ‘willing buyer, willing seller’ formula in 1997. The formula was crippled from the start by parsimonious British funding, and it was a clear that the program’s modest goals were more than Great Britain was willing to countenance. In a letter to the Zimbabwean Minister of Agriculture in November of that year, British Secretary of State for International Development Clare Short wrote, ‘I should make it clear that we do not accept that Britain has a special responsibility to meet the costs of land purchase in Zimbabwe.’ Referring to earlier British assistance funding, Short curtly stated, ‘I am told that there were discussions in 1989 and 1996 to explore the possibility of further assistance. However that is all in the past.’ Short complained of ‘unresolved’ issues, such as ‘the way in which land would be acquired and compensation paid – clearly it would not help the poor of Zimbabwe if it was done in a way which undermined investor confidence.’ Short was concerned about the interests of corporate investors, then. In closing, Short wrote that ‘a program of rapid land acquisition as you now seem to envisage would be impossible for us to support,’ as it would damage the ‘prospects for attracting investment’” (Gregory Elich, “Zimbabwe’s Fight for Justice,” Center for Research on Globalisation, May 6, 2005, globalresearch.ca/articles/ELI505A.html)
It was only after Mugabe embarked on this accelerated land reform program that Washington and London initiated their campaign of regime change, pressuring Mugabe’s government with sanctions, expulsion from the Commonwealth, assistance to the opposition, and the usual Manichean demonization of the target government and angelization of the Western backed opposition. As evidence of the success of the demonization campaign, Mugabe is almost universally reviled outside of Africa, no less so by the Western left, which had little to say about him prior to 2000, but denounces him fervently for his actions in the two decades immediately prior to 2000, for doing too little to challenge imperialism’s de facto hold over Zimbabwe. Now that he’s doing what he was faulted for not doing before, he’s a pariah.
Would You Let These Guys Sit On The UN Human Rights Commission?
According to UN Secretary General Kofi Annan, the United Nations Humans Rights Commission (UNHRC) has been undermined by the election of countries to its membership that seek “not to strengthen human rights but to protect themselves against criticism or to criticize others” (New York Times, April 28, 2005.) In the West, this is taken to refer to Zimbabwe, recently re-elected as a commission member, and Venezuela, as well as other “outposts of tyranny” that now and then happen to be elected to the commission. Annan’s criticism is not thought to refer to the United States, but it fits the country to a tee.
Both Zimbabwe and the US were re-elected to the commission in April, Zimbabwe’s re-election being greeted as a travesty, and the United States’ as proper and fair. The real travesty is that not a peep is raised about the United States’ participation in any body claiming to promote human rights. If human rights abusers were barred from serving on human rights commissions, the US would have long ago earned itself a permanent ban. Besides ushering numberless civilians, through its campaigns of terror bombing, into early graves, and many more into lives of permanent disability – a violation of the dearest rights of all, the rights to life and the security of the person – the US has in recent years notoriously committed human rights abuses at Gauntanamo Bay, at the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq, and at Kandahar in Afghanistan, and has detained US citizens indefinitely without charge as “enemy combatants.” Its former proconsul in Iraq, L. Paul Bremer, ordered the closure of an Iraqi newspaper (independent media from the other side) whose views were deemed detrimental to the goals of the occupation regime. And that’s just civil liberties. What of economic and social rights, such as the right to employment, shelter and health care, which the US refuses to recognize?
Days after the re-election of the US and Zimbabwe, and Washington’s predictable denunciation of Zimbabwe’s renewed participation in the commission, a UN human rights monitor revealed that US forces in Afghanistan had engaged in “arbitrary arrests and detentions and [committed] abusive practices,” including torture (New York Times, April 30, 2005.) A day later, M. Cherif Bassiouni, a professor of law at De Paul University in Chicago, was told his mandate as independent human rights monitor had been cancelled. The reason? According to the UN, “this was a decision made in light of the fact that more than three years after the Taliban, the human rights situation in Afghanistan has evolved to the point where it could be monitored under ordinary procedures of the high commissioner for human rights without need of an independent expert” (New York Times, April 30, 2005.) Arbitrary detention and torture hardly seem to represent an evolved human rights situation.
If that weren’t enough, a few days later, the New York Times pointed to “growing evidence that the United States has sent terror suspects to Uzbekistan for detention and interrogation” as part of “the so-called rendition program under which the Central Intelligence Agency transfers terrorism suspects to foreign countries to be held and interrogated, [linking] the United States to other countries with poor human rights records” (New York Times, May 1, 2005.) In the days before Uzbekistan turned over its territory to the US as part of the latter’s growing military presence in Central Asia, following the al-Qaeda attacks on New York City and Washington of September 11, 2001, the US State Department denounced Uzbekistan as “an authoritarian state with limited civil rights” that tortured prisoners (New York Times, May 1, 2005.) Now that Uzbekistan has been pressed into service by Washington as part of the US imperialist project, its human rights abuses and employment of torture to extract information from prisoners is tolerated, and more than that, welcomed and taken advantage of. The lesson for Zimbabwe’s ZANU-PF government is this: if it wants to be left in peace, even hailed as a friend of democracy and liberty, it should stop trying to remediate the wrongs of colonialism, abandon its project of lifting millions of black Zimbabweans out of misery through land redistribution, and turn over Zimbabwe’s jails to the torture of terrorism suspects on behalf of the CIA. Then the country will be elevated to the esteemed position of friend of democracy and liberty, and welcomed by the US and Kofi Annan to its seat on the UN Human Rights Commission.
Instead, Zimbabwe’s renewed participation on the commission is being held up as a reminder of a pressing need to abolish the UNHRC, in favor of a successor commission that would be able to block the ascension of weaker nations that have been targeted for Western engineered-civil society revolutions. The current practice of regional groups electing their representatives would be replaced by one in which membership in the commission would depend on a two-thirds vote of the General Assembly. This is offered by Annan as a solution to the problem of commission members using the organization as a forum to deflect criticism or criticize other countries. But setting a two-thirds vote standard would hardly prevent the commission from being used as a forum in which one bloc pursued its interests at the expense of another bloc or of an individual country, but would simply allow the commission to be dominated wholly by the bloc of US subaltern countries, and therefore turned into the exclusive tool of Western imperialism against outposts of independence.
“Observers for the Southern Africa Development Community, the association of the 14 neighboring nations, said the voting had been conducted in an “open, transparent and professional manner” and endorsed the vote” (New York Times, April 4, 2005.)
“To place a stamp of legitimacy on the election,” complained the New York Times, “Mr. Mugabe has invited hundreds of foreign observers, mostly from friendly nations like Russia, Africa and China” (New York Times, March 31, 2005.) The West, not surprisingly, also set up observer missions, to do the opposite of what the New York Times claimed Russia, China and Zimbabwe’s neighbors were about to do: in the US and EU case, place a stamp of illegitimacy on the election. All one had to do in the weeks leading up to the vote was open The New York Times and Washington Post to see that no straw was too short to clutch at to fit the facts to the story that Zimbabwe’s election was unfair. Whether it was or wasn’t, was never clear, in the same way it was never clear in advance of the investigations that followed, whether Iraq really had weapons of mass destruction, or whether the Yugoslavian government of Slobodan Milosevic had really unleashed a campaign of systematic extermination directed against ethnic Albanians. If you wanted to believe, there was plenty of copy to help you up on your high-horse. It you leaned more toward a skeptical bent, the only evident truth was that media accounts didn’t add up and many had the unmistakable signature of campaigns of manipulation. Only after both lies had served their useful purpose in providing pretexts for war and the subsequent Western conquest of both nations, did investigations show the claims were utterly false. The media’s self-proclaimed skepticism, pursuit of truth in the interest of the public good, and vigilance against political snow-jobs, had proved be a political snow-job itself.
So it is that when it came to Zimbabwe, the Western media did what it always does, and what it must do – limn the world in ways that mesh with the economic and financial interests of the ruling classes in New York, London and the West’s other financial centers, which after all, are the owners of the West’s corporate media. Hence, Mugabe was portrayed as a brutal tyrant who had to go. Unmentioned was that his exit would clear the way for the implementation of an economic program by the Western-backed opposition that would benefit the very same class of investors and corporate shareholders, and would be far more pleasing to this absentee financial oligarchy than Mugabe’s balking at IMF demands and committing lese majesty in expropriating private property, and what’s more, doing it without compensation.
If imperialism can’t have direct political control over a territory it must have reliable local rulers to ensure its investments are safeguarded against expropriation and tribute is reliably returned to the metropolis. This Mugabe wasn’t doing. Still, the way most people imbibed the Western media’s hogwash, you’d think the fictions spun by the Bush administration and Blair government that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction, or that forensic investigators had to walk over corpses in Kosovo, hadn’t been uncritically accepted, even legitimized, by the doyens of the Western media, and that what you read in the newspaper, especially if it justifies the strangulation of weak countries, should be regarded with a critical eye. Days after Zimbabweans went to the polls, the New York Times noted with concern that “(n)on-governmental election watchdogs cited several troubling issues, led by the fact that one in every four voters was apparently turned away from the polls, ostensibly because they were not properly registered” (New York Times, April 1, 2005.) Had they not been turned away, it’s a good bet that the same “non-governmental” election watchdogs would have expressed alarm at one in every four voters being admitted to the polls, despite improper registration! This was a heads I win, tails you lose, situation. No matter how squeaky clean the vote was, Mugabe was going to be accused of stealing the election. And while the watchdogs were sanitized as non-governmental, it’s doubtful they weren’t in some way connected with governments in the West, among the private “non-governmental” organizations Rice admits the US government gives money to, to “help the process along.”
Among the many patently tendentious complaints about the election, the most ridiculous was the assessment of the vote arrived at by the United States, the European Union and “international human rights groups”, that is, the apparently neutral face for the former. They “denounced the election process as seriously tilted in favor of the ruling party, which” they said “controls every daily newspaper, all broadcasting outlets, the military, the police force and the electoral mechanisms” (Washington Post, April 2, 2005.) By changing one word, “party,” to “class,” you can transform Western imperialism’s denunciation of the election into a classic Marxist critique of elections in capitalist democracies: “The election process is seriously tilted in favor of the ruling class, which controls every daily newspaper, all broadcasting outlets, the military, the police force and the electoral mechanisms.” Was that the trouble with the election – that it was as biased as any other in a capitalist democracy? Only this time the bias has failed, working against the US and European ruling classes, who count on “free and fair” elections to return their candidates, not the Sandinistas in Nicaragua or Hugo Chavez in Venezuela or Mugabe in Zimbabwe. Indeed, so obviously tendentious are the assessments of US and EU electoral monitors, it’s clear that the only independence they can claim is independence from rival governments, in the same way the “independent” media in Zimbabwe are only independent of one side in a struggle for power. This, Konstantin Kosachyov, head of the Russian State Duma International Affairs Committee summed up, in connection with the Western-disputed referendum in Belarus, which backed the continued presidency of the bugaboo of Western ruling classes, Viktor Lukashenko.
“If it is the [candidate] who is suitable [to the US that wins] the evaluation will be one way. If a different candidate wins, the evaluation will be another. So we are talking about the fact that if the candidate is liked, the election, before hand, will be found to be democratic; if he is not liked, the elections will be undemocratic. The US evaluations of the Belarus referendum are of a predetermined character. It is likely that the recent elections in Afghanistan were no better or more democratically organized that the Belarus elections, but the US gave the elections a positive evaluation” (Interfax, October 21, 2004.)
Western governments, their agencies, and the misnamed “independent” civil society groups they bankroll all wear the uniform of their imperialist masters. But it should be added that the same criticism, that evaluations of elections are of a pre-determined character, are just as legitimately leveled at the Russian State Duma International Affairs Committee. The only difference is that Russia’s blind spots, and those of China and Zimbabwe’s neighbors, reflect their own local interests. It’s unclear whether the Yanukovich government of Ukraine, which leaned more strongly to Russia than the West, tried to rig the last election in Ukraine, as those who wore the uniforms of their Western imperialist masters alleged, and would have alleged had it done so or not. But what is equally clear is that Moscow would have declared a Yanukovich election legitimate, whether it truly was or wasn’t, in the same way it will legitimize any election which allows Alexander Lukashenko to remain in power, thereby blocking the advance of the Western-backed Belarusian opposition, which aims to pull Minsk out of the Russian orbit and place it firmly within the grasp of the American. The US has its slate of candidates, and Russia, its own. Whether these candidates come to power legitimately or otherwise, through soft coups or elections, is of little moment; what counts is whose financial and economic interests they’ll advance. Those of the US and Russia, contrary to a popular misconception, are not, simply because Russia has been returned to the bosom of the capitalist church, wholly the same.
Outposts Of Independence
Following Washington’s standard operating procedure in fomenting civil society revolutions to oust governments that preside over outposts of independence, money and assistance is funneled to a complex of political opposition parties, grassroots movements and “independent” media, while Western imperialism-connected foundations and agencies pick up the tab for a phalanx of PR consultants, polling firms, and ad agencies to advise the opposition. The massive intervention in the internal affairs of foreign countries is justified by denouncing the targeted government as undemocratic, dictatorial, tyrannical, brutal or dangerous, or some combination thereof. Hence, the fiction is created that Washington’s intervention isn’t an exercise in building an apparatus to re-assert or establish US control, but is simply the US doing good deeds abroad in promoting democracy, liberty and human rights. Astonishingly, this fiction is almost never questioned. Such contradictory assertions by the US State Department as, Belarus’ President Alexander Lukashenko is “Europe’s last dictator” and he must be challenged by openly operating and legal opposition parties at the next election, go unquestioned.
Governments that seek to remain neutral from the US, or wrest themselves from the US orbit, will be targets for regime change, and so will be subject to the full-force of a program of demonization and destabilization. This isn’t a matter of preference, exercised by whoever happens to be in the White House at a given moment, but is a law of imperialism that must govern the behavior of the US state so long as effective power remains in the hands of a financial and corporate oligarchy, whose interests demand unceasing expansion at the expense of other countries.
Successful efforts by an imperialist bloc to quash the independence of countries from control and domination from outside, and therefore to expand the areas of the world available for exclusive exploitation, have regressive consequences for the people of the target countries, but also for the bulk of the citizens of the countries that comprise the imperialist bloc. The ceaseless expansion of imperialist countries incites conflict and recalcitrance, as it must, regularly plunging part of the population of the imperialist bloc, usually the most disadvantaged, lured into the military by the promise of an income, education, training and health care, into war. The other part, free from the terrors of combat, is nevertheless condemned to live with the menace of attack from abroad, made more real in the United States with the al-Qaeda attacks of September 11, 2001. Terrorism, according to a now cancelled US State Department report, hasn’t diminished as a result of the intensification of Washington’s wars of conquest, but has increased (Seattle Times, April 16, 2005.) The stepped up overseas deployment of the men and women of the US Army, Air Force, Navy and Marines hasn’t made Americans safer; it has made them more vulnerable.
The absorption of previously planned and publicly owned economies into the imperialist orbit, and the destruction of programs of reform aimed at reducing the desperation of the target country’s population (land reform programs, for example), provides investors and shareholders in the metropolis with expanded opportunities to employ desperate people at desperation-level wages under insufferable working conditions, drawing from an inexhaustible pool of even more desperate people. Were economies national and self-sufficient this might have no material consequences for the population of the imperialist countries. But economies are not national and self-sufficient; they have, on the contrary, long ago been integrated, by imperialism, into one world economy. As a consequence, a competition of all against all, for jobs and industry, intensifies with each planned and publicly owned economy that falls, with each program of reform that is quashed by the demands of absentee investors and shareholders. The opening of new labor markets and the continued desperation of black Africans relegated by the history of colonialism to live grim lives on arid soil, and therefore to become an inexhaustible source of fresh low-wage labor for corporations looking to fatten their bottom lines by employing desperate people at progressively lower wages, reverberates through the West. The implications for labor in the metropolis are already fully manifest in Western Europe, in growing downward pressure on wages, intensifying upward pressure on the length of the working day, the progressive dismantlement of the welfare state, and obstinately high levels of unemployment.
The resistance of outposts of independence to the attempts of imperialist countries to force them into the imperialist orbit, shouldn’t, therefore, be looked upon as distant events that can be regarded from the sidelines impersonally, as if they were unconnected to the lives of the observer, and that our only task was to pass moral judgment on the motives of the imperialists and the tactics of the resistance from a position of neutrality. We can profess to be neutral, but we are, willing or not, inextricably bound up in these events. They have personal consequences for all us – attractive and lucrative ones for investors and shareholders, unhappy ones for those of us who must sell our labor to live, and live only so long as our labor increases capital. Wish a pox on both their houses, and we wish a pox on our house, too, for our house is the same as the one in which the outposts of independence dwell.
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