Monday, 16 February 2009
John Pilger is one of the few writers who does not shy away from shedding light on those narratives that tend to be brushed aside or even suppressed by numerous pro-capitalist groups and individuals in countless countries around the world. Although he does not identify himself as a Communist, his harsh critique of the neoliberal economic model is reminiscent of the material penned by several leftist authors.
In order to write the aforementioned book, Pilger travelled to a number of places such as South Africa and Afghanistan. In the chapter about the latter country, he highlighted the role played by more than one foreign administration in nurturing the Taliban movement. Indeed, Pilger wrote that "The Afghani muhajedin - and the Taliban and al-Qaida - were effectively created by the CIA, its Pakistani equivalent the ISI, and Britain's MI6" (p. 364). Why did these administrations feel so compelled to interfere? Pilger wrote that "The immediate problem...was the coming to power of Afghanistan's first secular, modernist government, which promised unheard-of social reforms" (p. 364). According to Pilger, "the new government outlined a reform programme that included the abolition of feudalism, freedom of religion and equal rights for women" (p. 365). A female surgeon who ran from the Taliban in 2001 described the period of the new government in the following way: "Every girl could go to high school and university. We could go where we wanted and wear what we liked...We used to go to cafes and the cinema to see the latest Indian films on a Friday...It all started to go wrong when the mujahedin started winning...They used to kill teachers and burn schools...It was funny and sad to think these were the people the West had supported" (p. 365).
When the media in a country is owned by extremely rich and powerful pro-capitalist individuals, it should come as no surprise that whereas a great effort is made to praise excessive individualism and capitalism, socialist values or projects are rarely given any attention. As various pro-capitalist communication entities focus on and echo the same stories, it becomes possible to talk about a "pro-capitalist narrative". In a nutshell, the latter aims to indoctrinate people that no matter how serious the problems associated with capitalism and the neo-liberal economic philosophy appear to be, it is much better to embrace such ideologies instead of talking about socialism.
The selective attention of the media is not a recent phenomenon. With reference to the aforementioned book, Pilger wrote that "In the early 1980s, the historian Mark Curtis surveyed five hundred articles in the British press that dealt with Nicaragua. He found an almost universal suppression of the triumphs of the Sandinista government in favour of the falsehood of 'the threat of a communist takeover', which was then Anglo-American propaganda. 'It would take considerable intellectual acrobatics,' he wrote, 'to designate Sandinista success in alleviating poverty - remarkable by any standard - as unworthy of much comment by objective indicators...One might reasonably conclude that the reporting was conditioned by a different set of priorities, one that conformed to the stream of disinformation from Washington and London.'" (p. 14).
The creation of a narrative that serves as a means to an end is not only limited to the discourse about capitalism. When the US was trying to win popular support to attack Iraq before the first Gulf War in 1991, the "incubator story" was repeated over and over until hardly anyone questioned it. Even though the HBO movie Live From Baghdad was said to be based on facts, it also suggested that the "incubator story" was true. Subsequent investigations revealed that the story was manufactured and promoted in the mainstream media so that the public opinion in several countries would endorse the US's military plans. According to an Internet article, "Midway through the movie [Live From Baghdad], an actor playing CNN anchor Bernard Shaw informs viewers that 'more allegations of Iraqi brutality emerged today as Kuwaiti refugees testified before a congressional committee.' He segues to a tearful young woman declaring, 'They took the babies out of the incubators, took the incubators and left the babies to die on the cold floor!' It is a real clip of the 15-year-old Kuwaiti, identified at the time as Nayirah "to protect her from reprisals," who in August 1990 said those words to an ersatz "congressional committee" operating out of Hill and Knowlton headquarters...The incubator story was a fabrication, first invented for the London Daily Telegraph by an exiled Kuwaiti housing minister, picked up by Reuters, and then propagated by the international PR firm Hill and Knowlton, which received $10.7 million from the Kuwaiti government for this and other services...The story was repeated by the Americans to the U.N. Security Council and by President George Bush in a January 1991 speech before he ordered the bombing of Iraq. The incubator tale was a lie from start to finish -- exposed after the war by ABC's John Martin and denounced by the respected rights group Middle East Watch as "a complete hoax." Nayirah was a member of the Kuwaiti Royal Family, daughter of Kuwait's Ambassador to Washington."
As the pro-capitalist narrative appears to gather strength in certain parts of the world, it is very easy to notice how the pro-Socialist or even pro-Communist narratives are suppressed, brushed aside, or twisted beyond recognition. Following some research that I had carried out, I discovered a number of books such as USSR: The Velvet Counter Revolution (EPO Distribution, 1991). The latter consists of a collection of articles written by Ludo Martens, a prominent Marxist-Leninist individual. Perhaps the most interesting thing about this book is that several articles were penned during the last few years of the Soviet Union's life. Whilst reading various articles, I was amazed to notice the amount of criticism made by a Marxist-Leninist person of certain events that had taken place in the Soviet Union since 1956. Martens often referred to errors made by a number of Communist parties without the need to reject Marxism-Leninism as an ideology. The fact that such books are practically never seen here in Malta makes it terribly hard for a person to think positively about the main goals of Marxism-Leninism.
With every person who ends up believing that there is no alternative to capitalism and to neo-liberalism in particular, the pro-capitalist narrative would have secured another victory for its creators and another loss for the millions of human beings who are suffering from malnutrition and poverty on a daily basis.
Tuesday, 3 February 2009
To many people born and bred in the highly-competitive and excessively individualist cultures that are encouraged in capitalist countries, any discourse praising collectivism and co-operation over cut-throat competition might sound rather odd. In a discourse entitled Abuses of Socialism are Intolerable (1993), Kim Jong Il had stated "Collectivism is an essential quality of socialism and a source of the latter's superiority and validity. Collectivism is, in short, the concept of valuing the interests of the collective more than one's own individual interests. In socialist society, where all the working people have been transformed into socialist working people, the whole society becomes one big family whose members are united with one another through their common interests. Collectivism in socialist society finds expression in a high regard for the interests of the state and society. Socialist collectivism does not set the interests of the state and society against those of individuals; it ensures that they coincide....Socialist collectivism is against the pursuance of only individual interests at the expense of those of the state and society, yet not against the interests of individuals" (pp. 142-143).
Apart from reading North Korean government literature, I have also read other material about the country; material written by individuals who have lived and worked in North Korea. Indeed, I have recently finished reading Michael Harrold's Comrades and Strangers: Behind the Closed Doors of North Korea(2004). Mr Harrold was the first UK citizen who spent more than 5 years working in the country. Although he never became an enthusiastic supporter of the North Korean government, he did admit that "Despite the propaganda bluster about battling to raise production output and resisting the enemy to the last drop of one's blood, life was peaceful, if not idyllic, and far less frenetic than what I was used to back home. There weren't the pressures associated with finding and keeping a job. There were none of the financial concerns of paying mortgages, taxes and bills. Housing was guaranteed, the children's education would be taken care of; medical treatment was provided free of charge" (pp. 347-348). On a similar note, Kim Jong Il had asserted the following in the same discourse mentioned above: "In our country there are no jobless people, nor anyone who cannot receive education and medical treatment, nor are there vagrants or beggars...In our country our Party, a Juche revolutionary party, bears the responsibility for the destiny of the people as a political guide of society, leads them forward and takes meticulous care of all aspects of their life..." (p. 145).
I do not believe that this world has any perfect government or country. One can always identify things that could be improved or changed. In the case of North Korea, although capitalist supporters might use every mistake or problem as an indicator that "socialism does not work", it is fundamental to bear the country's specific circumstances in mind. With thousands of US troops stationed in South Korea and with talk of using aggression against North Korea in the US, one should not be so surprised to read about the importance given to the North Korean military forces by the region's government. How would you feel if you knew that the world's strongest military power was toying with the idea of bombing you to smithereens???
As far as the capitalist countries are concerned, it is amazing to notice that whilst thousands are losing their jobs (please see the Layoff Tracker for more information), the millions of individuals whose well-being depends on their monthly salaries are still almost constantly exposed to countless articles as well as TV features about the holiday destinations of various celebrities and about the exclusive dresses that are going to be worn by a very small percentage of the world's population during the Oscar ceremony. As one hops from one TV channel to another, it seems much easier to find the same celebrity on different channels than to witness the difficulties faced by thousands of individuals as they struggle to find jobs and to stay away from the grip of poverty. Such a situation brings to mind the following words uttered by Kim Jong Il during his 1993 discourse: "The long-cherished desire of the people to live free from any worries can only be realised in a socialist society in which the party and the state take responsible care of the people's life. In a capitalist society a carefree life for the working people is inconceivable. In this society even those who are fairly well-to-do are always fearful of sudden bankruptcy, job-loss and poverty. Living a prosperous life in idleness without any thought for others cannot be regarded as a genuine human life...The most important aspect of people's lives is to realise the demand of their political integrity to unite and cooperate with one another amid the love and trust of the social community. People cannot lead a life worthy of human beings and develop their political integrity in capitalist society in which the dignity and personality of the working people are trampled underfoot without scruple because of the privileges enjoyed by capital...Destroying the socialist order of life is a criminal act which makes the popular masses the victims of crime and social evil" (pp. 137-138).
All the photos shown above were taken by Eric Lafforgue during his visits to North Korea in 2008.
One of the articles was about success and failure. I would like to share the following paragraphs from it as food for thought:
"Failure can either break us or make us. Those broken by failure are haunted by unpleasant memories. These memories are like shadows that lurk in front, behind, beside, beneath and above. It is also a cage that traps the mind, preventing it to entertain possibilities of freedom and success. They are convinced that they cannot do it; therefore, they will not try.
For those that failure could not break are those who became made “men.” Failure to them is not a ghost, but a friend who taught them well. It is also a stepping stone to wisdom. These men and women are convinced that true failure only happens when one gives up." (bold font added)
Monday, 2 February 2009
As the first African-American President and as an individual who was not bred in the surroundings of the White House, there seems to be a popular belief that Obama is not "one of them"; he is not perceived as one of the ultra-rich US politicians who cares mainly about the fostering of big business. This belief was also strengthened during his electoral campaign with several messages that were aimed at minority group members and millions of US citizens who are facing increasing financial woes. With every week that went by prior to the election, we kept hearing the message "Yes, We Can!" Change was said to be in the air.
Now that Obama is in the White House, what changes can we expect? Domestically, it is hoped that he will be able to introduce more regulation as far as the financial arena is concerned and that he will be able to reverse a great deal of the damage that was done during the Bush years. Internationally, it is hoped that Obama represents the type of man who will build bridges with other countries and who will, as far as a situation allows, use brains rather than brawn.
Although I strongly believe that Obama will be a much better president than George W. Bush, I think that he has one major flaw; he is not willing to carry out any radical changes to the economic system that is associated with the alienation and the exploitation of the typical worker in the US. Deep down, Obama is a capitalist. And as long as he embraces capitalism, the US will never witness the day when every citizen can enjoy free health care, free education, free housing, guaranteed employment...Competition, rather than co-operation, will remain at the forefront of daily life and this will only serve to create a great deal of social unrest.