For the third time in about as many decades, the specter of massive famine looms over the Horn of Africa region and Ethiopia in particular. Some 13.7 million people are now estimated to be in need of urgent food aid, when at the same time the rations doled out to the poor peasants of Ethopia by aid NGOs and the UN World Food Programme have been slashed as the crisis has severely cut donations.(1) These programmes support some 12 million people in the area and the rations are already small as is, causing a further crisis. The Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi in 2002 already warned that the impending famine could be even worse than the great famine of 1984, which killed about one million people.(2) At that time, the actual famine was narrowly avoided. Continue reading “Famine looms over Ethiopia and the Horn of Africa”
The eventual downfall of the USSR has often been seen as a self-evident example of the failure of central planning, both as a principle and especially in practice. The critics of the USSR also point to the low standard of living of the population during its existence, the prevalence of famines, the low availability and shoddy quality of consumer goods, and its continued lagging behind the United States in production as more proofs of the failure of ‘socialist construction’. Although these criticisms are not entirely without merit, they need to be contextualized and qualified strongly to be properly understood. It is therefore important to provide a rough outline of the economic history of the collapse of the USSR and its meaning. Because the focus of this article is on the economic problematic, more detail than is usual will be presented about these issues, whereas some political, cultural and social developments of importance will be largely avoided. Continue reading “An Outline of the Economic Problems in the History of the Soviet Union”
The press agency Reuters has reported that Zelaya, the President of Honduras who was deposed by a rightist military coup, has finally returned to his home country.(1) This has not wholly been confirmed, but we may assume it true. Zelaya was deposed by the army with the connivance of the Supreme Court of Honduras and the ruling majority of its Congress after the latter accused him of attempting to change the country’s Constitution to allow multiple terms for the Presidency. The Constitution itself, bizarrely, forbids such attempts at altering it. Perhaps this was initially conceived as a democratic measure to prevent the caudillo style of ‘strong man’ government prevalent in the weak countries of Latin America, but the real effect has been precisely the opposite. A Constitution that does not permit its own alteration is not a democratic framework, but a chain that fetters the people, and is equally hateful to progress as is living by a covenant with God. In creating this clause, which is founded in the country’s 1982 Constitution following, its framers irrevokably planted a seed that could not but bloom into a political crisis at some later point.
That is not to say that Zelaya’s actions are themselves to be encouraged. Continue reading “The Prodigal Son Returns to Honduras?”
A Bomb Plot in New York
News of today indicates that the FBI has proceeded to arrest in New York City a number of conspirators, prisoner converts to islam, who are alleged to have attempted to buy heavy weaponry to undertake terrorist attacks on various targets in the city.
The FBI arrested four men Wednesday in what authorities called a plot to detonate a bomb outside a Jewish temple and to shoot military planes with guided missiles.
Officials told The Associated Press the arrests came after a long-running undercover operation that began in Newburgh, N.Y., about 70 miles north of New York City.
James Cromitie, David Williams, Onta Williams and Laguerre Payen, all of Newburgh, were charged with conspiracy to use weapons of mass destruction within the United States and conspiracy to acquire and use anti-aircraft missiles, the U.S. attorney’s office said.
The men had planned to detonate a car with plastic explosives outside a temple in the Bronx neighborhood of Riverdale and to shoot military planes at the New York Air National Guard base at Stewart Airport in Newburgh with Stinger surface-to-air guided missiles, authorities said.
In their efforts to acquire weapons, the defendants dealt with an informant acting under law enforcement supervision, authorities said. The FBI and other agencies monitored the men and provided an inactive missile and inert explosives to the informant for the defendants, a federal complaint said.
The investigation had been under way for about a year.
In June 2008, the informant met Cromitie in Newburgh and Cromitie complained that his parents had lived in Afghanistan and he was upset about the war there and that many Muslim people were being killed in Afghanistan and Pakistan by U.S. military forces, officials said.
Cromitie also expressed an interest in doing “something to America,” they said in the complaint.
Rep. Peter King, the senior Republican on the House Homeland Security Committee, was briefed on the case following the arrests.
“This was a long, well-planned investigation, and it shows how real the threat is from homegrown terrorists,” said King, of New York.
The defendants, all arrested in New York City, were expected to appear in federal court in suburban White Plains on Thursday. They were jailed Wednesday night and couldn’t be contacted for comment. The FBI didn’t immediately return a telephone message Wednesday night seeking information on whether the men had lawyers.
It may immediately be emphasized that regardless of our quarrel with American policy at home and abroad, and perhaps with the structure of American society as it is now, nobody can expect the American government or its people to let themselves be targeted by terrorist groups seeking to ‘make a point’. Indeed, such activities are under current circumstances useless, as they do nothing to seriously damage American imperialism, they are likely to provoke a reactionary shift in American politics as a response to a perceived level of threat from inside and outside, and they are additionally likely to increase the general hostility towards the followers of Islam within the United States. All of these results are undesirable.
What it however also proves is the inanity of the supposed policy of the United States and its allies in waging war in Afghanistan and elsewhere in an attempt to wage ‘war on terror’, or to ward off the threat of terror. As the quote from the arrested themselves shows, the war in Afghanistan has provoked many, even safely inside the United States itself, to see the United States as such a menace to world peace and the survival of numerous peoples in the wider world, that they are as a result concluding that it is a legitimate target for terrorist strategies. In this way, the terror of sudden death from the air in Afghanistan today is translated into terror of sudden death by explosion for the inhabitants of New York City. Those who would take the ‘war on terror’ to the wider world are warned that if you inflame popular resentment against the United States and its allies, those fires may come to burn you. Wiser was the author of the Gospel of Matthew when he wrote: Put up again thy sword into his place: for all they that take the sword shall perish with the sword.2
The Lament of the Dongria Kondh
In other news, the native rights organization Survival International reports that the government of India has given permission to the British mining company Vedanta International to expropriate a holy mountain of the small Dongria Kondh people.3 The Dongria Kondh, about 8000 strong, live of hunting and gathering in a remote region of India, in which Vedanta is planning to undertake mining for bauxite, the valuable ore that is used in the production of aluminium.
This case is representative for countless such cases all over the world. While it must be said that it is not likely that peoples such as the Dongria Kondh can maintain their lifestyle in isolation from the world market and capitalist modernity forever, there is little reason nonetheless to applaud this blatant case of ‘primitive accumulation’ on the part of British capital and Indian government alike. The Dongria Kondh will not benefit by the creation of a bauxite mine, as it is likely that the expropriation of their customary land will cast them into the ever-swelling ranks of the proletariat of the underdeveloped nations.
Possibly they shall be forced by sheer necessity of survival to work in the same factory which has is the cause of their expropriation; here as ever capital acts as a vampire, sucking the blood of the living and ever seeking fresh bodies to exsanguinate. The productive capacities of modern society appear to the Dongria Kondh as Faustian machinery, to which they are to be sacrificed as were they ever so many victims of the Aztec sun gods, sacrificed so the sun of capital may ever bestow its light upon the world. The alternative is the disappearance entirely of the Dongria Kondh as they are pulled from their ancient fixed ways and thrown onto the dustbin of history. Being suddenly thrown into circulation as yet a fresh source of ‘free’ labor will be no blessing to these people, as it has never been to natives so uprooted from their land. The loss of land and the cohesion of community offered by the ancient ways of living destroys the independence and dignity of the communities involved as well as their means of survival.4 Few will adapt in time to the relentless machinery of capitalism, and those are likely to become Indian proletarians indistinguishable from any other of that great mass in time; all others shall die out, lamented and remembered only by anthropologists. Capitalism, after all, leaves not even a permanent tombstone for those it crushes under its wheels, a stronger Juggernaut than any hitherto seen in India. Much may be said about the backwardness of the tribal peoples in this region of the world as well as others, and we must not idolize their ossified isolation and neglect the often brutal and immovable internal hierarchies within the tribe, but if they are to be taken up into the ‘competition of peoples’, it must be done upon terms that can achieve a true Aufhebung, not Enclosure or destruction.
Earlier, tribal peoples were succesful in resisting another plan in the state of Orissa to mine the Gandhamardan mountain range, thanks to the solidarity of the Dalits, who have no reason to be enthousiastic about the ‘progress’ brought by foreign investment.5 That their objections often wore the cloak of mysticism and spiritualist superstition is to be rejected, but he who cannot stand naked before his enemies must go in the most effective battle-dress, which in many parts of the world is still religion.
An End to the Civil War in Sri Lanka
The Sri Lankan government has jubilantly announced to the world their victory over their long-standing enemies of the LTTE, the nationalist insurgency of the Tamils of the north of the island. Photographs have been shown of the dead body of Velupillai Prabhakaran, the leader of the LTTE (generally known as the Tamil Tigers).6 The Tamil Tigers had a poor reputation, based on their use of suicide bombing, assassinations as well as recruitment of young soldiers, but the successive Sri Lankan governments often responded with equal violence and terror, even during the last stages of their recent campaign indiscriminately bombing Tamil fugitives, killing hundreds.
The origins of the conflict lie as usual in the history of British colonialism in the area. The British took Ceylon in 1796 from the Dutch, and transformed it from merely a fortified trading post into a veritable plantation for tea and indigo. Since the indigenous Sinhalese were resistant and considered untrustworthy workers, the British imported scores of Tamil from the south of India as plantation workers, and educated a small number of them to fill lower administrative colonial posts. This served the double advantage of lowering the costs of administration (a British official in the colonies being endlessly more demanding than a local and therefore unsuited for rote clerical tasks) as well as dividing the population of the island into two camps, making one dependent on British protection against the indigenous majority. Divide et impera has ever been the motto of imperial rule, especially in the direct exercise of sovereignty over colonies. Much harm has come from it in postcolonial times, as the disappearance of the old colonial power has given governments and militants in many a newly independent nation free rein to settle old ethnic and economic scores. Much here is worsened by religious bigotry between the Buddhist Sinhalese and the Tamil, who are majority Hindu with a Christian minority. Both sides have treated the Muslims on Ceylon with contempt.
After the independence of the country in 1948, the Sinhalese majority increasingly sought to supplant the Tamil minority as rulers over the island, jealous of their privileged position relative to their numbers. Anti-colonial nationalism went hand in hand here, as often, with repression of minorities in the process of forging a strong national unity by the dominant ethnicity. The name of Ceylon was changed to Sri Lanka in 1972 as part of this, although it must be noted the British have continued to use the island for military purposes, as was officially enshrining the dominance of the Sinhalese language. The Tamil resisted, initially politically, but voting along ethnic lines did nothing to diminish the potential for strife. The LTTE formed as a result of this repression of the Tamil and a subsequent search for a separate national state in the north, facing the Tamil region of India. The violence of the hammer of Sinhalese nationalism upon the anvil of Sri Lanka was countered by the LTTE with an equally fierce hammering of Tamil politicians and officials inclined to reconcile themselves to the situation, mostly in the form of assassinations. LTTE jealousy of any alternative Tamil organization and anti-Tamil pogroms in Colombo and elsewhere led to a cycle of civil war that has lasted 26 years.
The main victims of this civil war have been the Sinhalese and Tamil populations of Sri Lanka both, neither of whom have gained much and both of whom have lost much in the endless strife. The civil war in Sri Lanka is but one example of the ways in which anti-colonialism has of necessity generally taken on nationalist forms, since only in the form of the nation-state can a people in the current political framework of capital claim and enforce their independence. Few indeed are inclined to federalism or power-sharing with any other group after centuries of oppression by outsiders, lack of self-determination and the dignity of independence, and purposeful policies of division by the colonial powers besides. Almost every ethnic-religious group in the underdeveloped world has followed the historical path of nationalist formation, with the advantage that the strength of the peoples in this vast majority of the world to resist imperialism and exploitation has greatly increased. But the price has been a steep one, and has been paid in the blood of many, especially by minority ethnic and religious groups in the respective newly minted states. These wars constitute the painful birth of the postcolonial world, and although lamentable cannot entirely be avoided. However, if the cycle of civil war, ethnic strife and militarist corruption is to end, the people of Sri Lanka as well as elsewhere must organize themselves on the basis of an internationalism that shows that they are no longer too insecure about their status as an independent people to extend a hand to their fellow exploited humans. Only when this is done and the workers of the world truly unite against exploitation, and fight for their emancipation not against each other but against capital, can the real development of their societies begin.
1. Associated Press (May 20, 2009).->
2. Matthew 26:52.->
3. Survival International, “Government approves controversial mine” (18 May 2009). http://www.survival-international.org/news/4561.->
4. There is much evidence on the negative impact of loss of native land claims on the peoples involved, in terms of survival as well as perception of well-being. See e.g. Survival International, “Progress Can Kill: How Imposed Development Destroys the Health of Tribal Peoples”. http://www.survival-international.org/lib/downloads/source/progresscankill/full_report.pdf->
5. Peter Foster, “Mining in Orissa threatens Dongria Kondh tribe”, in: The Daily Telegraph (21 April 2008).->
6. “Sri Lanka’s 26-year war ends as LTTE leader Prabhakaran killed”. Indo Asian News Service (May 18, 2009).->
The multinational, NATO-led invasion and occupation of Afghanistan, undertaken in response to the terrorist attack by the islamist organization Al-Qaeda who were said to have been harbored in Afghanistan by the Taliban government, has developed into a disastrous quagmire. Not only has it proven impossible for the imperialist powers of NATO to actually control events in Afghanistan and prevent continuous attacks on their soldiers as well as on the institutions of the newly planted government of Hamid Karzai, but the presence of NATO forces has greatly strengthened both the force and popularity of the Taliban.
The Taliban itself was mostly a Pakistan-based Pashtun organization, appealing to religious sentiment to form a coherent force, which drove out the extortionist warlords of Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, Burhanuddin Rabbani and others from the Afghan lands. However, their religious and anti-modernist inventions of tradition with regard to the demands of islam in Afghanistan itself quickly made them not only a byword for deepest obscurantism and religious fanaticism internationally, but also made them intolerable for the Afghan population themselves. Various warlords continued to combat them, while the Afghan people were waiting for an opportunity to rid themselves of all the different forces attempting to subjugate them altogether. However, all experience has shown that all peoples prefer the devil they know to any foreign invader, even if the latter operates under the flag of supposed liberation of the people involved, and Afghanistan also proves this rule true. The Taliban are now stronger than ever, since the devastation wrought by the imperialist forces has caused many an Afghan villager to join the forces of religious illusion, which at least provides the benefits of suggesting a kind of heavenly justice where no earthly order or control can be found. It has also strongly repudiated the foreign occupation of the country, unlike the few imported Afghan liberals which mostly appear as collaborators to a harrassed population seeking peace. The Taliban moreover have a reputation for resisting corruption, as many islamist movements do, and Karzai’s government has been nothing if not corrupt.
What then is the purpose of occupation? Richard Holbrooke, the American envoy in Afghanistan and Pakistan himself has stated the following: “First of all, the victory, as defined in purely military terms, is not achievable, and I cannot stress that too highly. (…) What we’re looking for is the definition of our vital national security interests”.1 Holbrooke recognizes the impossibility of victory even as thousands more soldiers are sent into the country, many pulled out of the other failed American adventure in ‘nation-building’, Iraq. But what then are these national security interests Holbrooke speaks of? Indeed the American government feels aggrieved because the spectacle of the terrorist attacks on New York City itself, heart of the empire of capital, was according to them planned and undertaken from the borderlands of Afghanistan and Pakistan, one of the least developed areas on earth, where old feudal ties and religious barbarism are still strong. The weakest of all attacking the strongest of all in their own base is an example to the world of a kind that the American empire cannot afford.
Yet that is not all. For although enthousiastic American military press articles would have us believe that the fight against their shadowy enemy of Al-Qaeda has achieved major victories with the elimination of some of their top leaders, this is of itself a sideshow. Indeed, the US shows little interest in even bothering with finding Osama Bin Laden, despite this renegade son of the Saudi elite having been depicted as the veritable puppetmaster of ‘international terror’ and the anti-Christ of Western morality for years; by which is meant that prolongation of his very existence after his attack on New York City would be a continuous loss of prestige on the part of the United States and the wealthy nations in general. If they are willing to accept that loss now, what then keeps them in these barren lands?
There are several considerations. The first here is the fact that Afghanistan is the primary producer in the world of opium. That addictive soporific that British imperialism used to destroy the Chinese empire has now turned against its manipulators: the highly addictive drug heroin is produced by means of opium, and heroin is considered a serious blight and instability problem in the Western nations, where great wealth allowing purchase of exotic drugs goes together with great despair and alienation making that purchase desirable. The Taliban, who do not desire any illusions other than their own brand of religious fanaticism, had actually succesfully wiped out much of the opium production in 2001.2 The newly installed pro-Western government in Afghanistan however has not been so successful, since the warfare in Afghanistan has destroyed most opportunities for growing regular crops – indeed, Afghanistan now again produces 92% of the world’s opium, representing half the annual product of the country.3 The Taliban of course have recognized this situation, and are now supporting the opium growers, whom they ‘tax’, providing their main source of income for warfare against the occupiers. Since they no longer attempt to repress the only viable crop in the drought and war-ridden countryside of Afghanistan, this has greatly increased the fervor for islamism on the part of the Afghan farmers. Of course, the effects of opium on Afghanistan’s own institutions can be foreseen: if mighty China’s celestial bureaucracy, the oldest and strongest on earth, could be torn apart by the corruption due to opium within the span of a few decades, what resistance then could former warlords, now government officials, offer to the bribery of the drug trade? The imperialists’ weapon of old is now undermining their very efforts at providing a modern and capital-friendly structure to Afghanistan’s institutions. Yet they dare not give up on it, not just because of the great amount of government and police officials in the United States who are parasitic upon the drug trade and depend on its continued yet ever-failing ‘war on drugs’, but also because if they cannot even determine what crops Afghan farmers shall sow, then this is truly an admission of total defeat in the effort to control Afghanistan’s economy. Indeed, the various invading powers have even had to resort to the ignominious weapon of counter-bribery, but this has mostly failed. This should come as no surprise since local production prices come to about thirty-three dollars from an acre of wheat, and between five hundred and seven hundred dollars from an acre of poppies.3
Karzai’s weakness has also left Afghanistan as wracked by class and ethnic differences as it ever was, meaning that any attempt at ‘nation-building’ by the NATO forces is going to be an exercise in futility, comparable to the game of whack-a-mole. The corruption inherent in the newly installed government has mostly benefited the local landlords, who exploit the share-cropping opium farmers and at the same time take bribes for normal government functions. Many of these landlords are the same people who operated as warlords in the pre-Taliban phase of recent Afghan history. Moreover, the forces from the north, many of ethnic Uzbek and Tajik descent, are angry about the weakness of the resistance against the Pashtun Taliban, who are their old enemies in the struggle over Afghanistan’s agricultural land as well as smuggling routes. Karzai himself is a Pashtun, but few of his ethnicity support him, and it is likely that the old Northern Alliance will reform – an alliance of northern forces that combated the Taliban in the days of their reign. This alliance will challenge Karzai, whose loyalty to their interests they doubt. This year new elections for the presidency of Afghanistan are to be held, and if the northern candidate wins, this means the internal strife in Afghanistan will come even closer to a boiling point, which neither bodes well for the peace of the area and its supposed defenders nor for the Afghan people.
Then there are as ever the considerations of the ‘cash nexus’. Under the Taliban, Afghanistan had a very differentiated and high import tariff system, which used high valuations of the currency to determine its quantity in a given case. The Taliban’s hold over the country was not strong enough to fully enforce this, and indeed effective tariff rates were significantly lower. Nonetheless this formed a significant source of non-drug income, in particular since many smugglers used Afghanistan to import goods which were subsequently re-exported illegally to Pakistan, a country which also has significant protectionist measures and is very reliant on income from its foreign trade.4 Under the current regime, these tariffs have been significantly lowered, accession to the World Trade Organization is pursued, and further attempts are planned at reducing transport costs and indirect taxes on exporters, mainly in the hope of attracting foreign investment. The importance of export from a poor country like Afghanistan is easy to underestimate: the warlord Achmad Shah Massoud, who led the Northern Alliance against the Taliban, received his main income from taxing the production and export of gems from the mines of the Panjsher Valley in northern Afghanistan, which produce among other things valuables such as lapis lazuli and emeralds.5 Massoud was killed by the Taliban shortly before the attack on New York City of September 11, 2001.
Also of importance concerning trade is the strategic location of Afghanistan: oil and gas-rich countries of Central Asia suffer from poor location and lack of connections to world ports, and Pakistan in particular has aimed at causing a pipeline to be created through Afghanistan, which would connect the Central Asian states with its own ports in Beluchistan by means of Herat. Both the Pakistani and American government as well as such companies as UNOCAL had in fact been negotiating this pipeline just before the events following the Taliban occupation and the Al-Qaeda attacks disrupted the plans. At the same time, the Pakistan-supported Taliban had greatly reduced the costs of transport and security in Afghanistan, which enhanced trade, particularly the above-mentioned smuggling into Pakistan itself. This undermining of Pakistan’s own financial basis, as mentioned very dependent on its transit location, is an activity of Pakistan’s own security forces, which consider their own government to be pro-imperialist and wish to replace it by a religiously inspired resistance regime.5 In the case of both Afghanistan and Pakistan, such neo-Mahdist regimes garner much legitimacy from the lack of legitimacy of the alternatives, in particular the existing and prior state bureaucracies, which have mostly been predators on the extremely poor peasant populations of both countries. The removal of the Taliban by the Western forces has destroyed the safety of the roads that prevailed in most of Afghanistan, which in turn drives local farmers even more towards opium production. Marketing of wheat on the international market legally is now much more difficult than marketing of opium is illegally, even if little of the market price in the West of heroin is captured by the Afghan farmer. Foreign capital, including Chinese mining interests, has however certainly expressed interest in developing Afghanistan’s own gas fields as well as the significant resources of iron ore and coal the country possesses. The USSR had spent hundreds of millions on exploration of these resources when they occupied the country, and if only safety could be guaranteed for capital movements in and out of Afghanistan, it is quite likely that American and other foreign companies shall endeavour to absorb Afghanistan into the world market as well.6
A deal with the Taliban, therefore, seems the most beneficial option for the Western interests. If the Taliban can be appeased and counted on to provide, or at least not disturb, the ‘security’ needed for foreign investment, and in turn the Taliban do not hinder the development of capitalism in that country, then imperialism shall have cleared the way once again for capital’s adventures in foreign shores. The degree of foreign capital’s vulnerability to extortion by the many local landowners, warlords and so forth does not make this likely, however. More likely, the NATO forces shall be forced to withdraw sooner or later after having to deal with the Taliban on the latter’s terms, and much shall be as it was before in Afghanistan. The tens of thousands of dead Afghans and the loss of men and prestige on the part of the Western empires will be the only ‘result’ of the Afghan expedition.
1.Associated Press article, Feb. 18, 2009.->
2.“Opioids in Afghanistan”. http://www.opioids.com/afghanistan/index.html. ->
3.Anderson, J.L. “The Taliban’s Opium War”. The New Yorker (July 9, 2007).->
4.“Afghanistan: Trade Policy and Integration”. World Bank report. http://go.worldbank.org/ORI5Y663A0. ->
5.Rubin, B. The Political Economy of War and Peace in Afghanistan. Council on Foreign Relations, 1999.->
6.Daly, J.C.K. “Analysis: Afghanistan’s untapped energy riches”. UPI article, Oct. 24, 2008. Also: “Ahadi: Afghanistan’s Economic Fortunes”, interview by Greg Bruno. Council on Foreign Relations, Apr. 15, 2008.->