Monday, 16 February 2009

The Pro-Capitalist Narrative

A few weeks ago, I finished reading John Pilger's Freedom Next Time (2007). I had not read such a gripping book for a while!

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.

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