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Good Liberation Hero-Bad Liberation Hero

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By Stephen Gowans

It seemed almost inevitable that on the new day Western newspapers were filled with encomia to the recently deceased South African national liberation hero Nelson Mandela that another southern African hero of national liberation, Robert Mugabe, should be vilified. “Nearly 90, Mugabe still driving Zimbabwe’s economy into the ground,” complained Geoffrey York of Canada’s Globe and Mail.

Mandela and Mugabe are key figures in the liberation of black southern Africa from white rule. So why does the West overflow with hosannas for Mandela and continue to revile Mugabe? Why is Mandela the good national liberation leader and Mugabe the bad?

A lot of it has to do with the extent to which the liberation projects in South Africa and Zimbabwe have threatened white and Western economic interests—hardly at all in Mandela’s South Africa and considerably in Mugabe’s Zimbabwe.

The media-propagated narrative is that Mandela is good because he was ‘democratic’ and Mugabe is bad because he is ‘autocratic.’ But scratch the surface and economic interests peek out.

Land ownership in South Africa continues to be dominated by the white minority, just as it was under apartheid. What land redistribution has occurred has been glacial at best. In Zimbabwe, land has been redistributed from white colonial settlers and their descendants to the black majority. South Africa’s economy is white- and Western-dominated. Zimbabwe is taking steps to indigenize its economy, placing majority control of the country’s natural wealth and productive assets in the hands of blacks.

The centrality of economic interests in the Western demonization of Mugabe are revealed in York’s complaint about Mugabe’s plan to indigenize Canadian-owned New Dawn Mining company, a process which would force a few wealthy Canadians to surrender a majority stake in the mining of Zimbabwe’s mineral wealth. In York’s view, an African government giving its people an ownership stake in their own economy is unthinkable, but many wealthy countries, including Canada, have done the same.

Mandela, in contrast, rejected calls to nationalize South Africa’s mines, accepting Western and white domination of the country’s economy as a bedrock principle of sound economic management.

And so it is that Mugabe, the redistribtor of land and mineral wealth away from the descendants of white colonial settlers and foreign owners to black Africans is seen as devil incarnate in a Canadian newspaper that concerns itself with reporting the news from the perspective Canadian corporate interests. Canadian business wants the world to be open to profit-taking, and doesn’t care for governments that stand in their way. York reflects that bias. And Mandela didn’t get in the way of it.

Recycling the usual myths that make up the anti-Mugabe demonology, the Globe and Mail propagandist writes that Zimbabwe’s economic difficulties are due to Mugabe’s mismanagement, not to Western sanctions, erroneously describing sanctions as limited to travel restrictions on Mugabe and his closest associates. This overlooks Washington’s Zimbabwe Democracy and Economic Recovery Act, which has blocked financial assistance to Zimbabwe from international lending institutions, a major impediment to the country’s economic development. It’s as if York blamed the Soviet Union’s crippled post-WWII economy on communist mismanagement, eliding Operation Barbarossa and the Nazi invasion from history. In this, York follows the standard operating procedure of the Western propaganda system, attributing a country’s economic troubles to mismanagement and not the sanctions that cause them.

As to the democrat vs. autocrat dichotomy, it is a propaganda contrivance. It’s what Western governments and media use to legitimize leaders who protect Western corporate interests and demonize leaders who threaten them.

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December 6, 2013 at 11:48 pm

Posted in Mandela, Mugabe, Zimbabwe

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Class and Elections in Zimbabwe

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By Stephen Gowans

Unless the major parties in a parliamentary democracy agree on which classes ought to hold the dominant position in society, the politics of the country will be unstable. Electoral contests will pivot on fundamental disagreements, and the parties will be disinclined to play by the rules of ‘normal politics,’ putting pursuit of fundamental class interests ahead of scrupulously observing liberal democratic principles. By contrast, in Western countries, mainstream political parties agree on the fundamental questions of which class rules, and elections, therefore, are never titanic struggles between contending classes, but largely placid affairs in which conflict between liberal democratic principle and pursuit of fundamental interests never arise. This is even true when socialist parties whose origins are found in challenge to the rule of dominant classes have considerable popular support. While these parties may represent popular interests, they champion those interests only insofar as they can be satisfied within a capitalist framework in which the class interests of financial titans and corporate grandees are primary. Since all major parties agree on the fundamentals, in Western democracies, elections are only ever about policies that are permissible under the accepted rule of a single class, not about which class should rule. Not so in Zimbabwe.

In Zimbabwe, the two dominant parliamentary parties, Zanu-PF and the MDC-T, disagree on the fundamental issue of which classes Zimbabwean society should be organized in the interests of. Zanu-PF represents the national bourgeoisie, including black farmers and wealthy black investors. The Zanu-PF agenda has been the redistribution of European settler farmland to black indigenous farmers and indigenization of industry by mandating a majority ownership stake in industry for black Zimbabweans.

The MDC-T, largely the tool of North American and Western European investor interests, represents foreign capital, and promotes a pro-foreign-investment agenda. MDC-T’s supporters on the ground (as distinct from the party’s foreign-based support in Western governments and Western-funded NGOs) tend, more than Zanu-PF supporters, to be urban-based (though, in a largely agrarian society, it’s still the case that most MDC-T supporters are based in rural areas, though less so than Zanu-PF’s.) To these Zimbabweans, the MDC-T’s appeal lies in its promise that foreign investment will engender new employment opportunities and a rising standard of living.

In the July 31 elections, Zanu-PF leader Robert Mugabe defeated the MDC-T’s Morgan Tsvangirai in the presidential race, capturing 61 percent of the vote to Tsvangirai’s 34 percent. Zanu-PF also won a sizable parliamentary majority, taking 160 seats to the MDC-T’s 49. Tsvangirai complained bitterly that the election was flawed, and his patrons in London and Washington also called the legitimacy of the election into question. Notwithstanding the (predictable) protestations of Tsvangirai and his metropolitan backers, there are reasons to believe the election fairly represented the will of Zimbabweans.

The Zimbabwe government allowed observers from the African Union and the Southern African Development Community (SADC) to monitor the elections. Both bodies expressed some concerns, but released early reports endorsing the elections as largely free and fair. Nigeria’s former president, Olusegun Obasanho, who led the African Union observer mission, said: “From what I saw and from what has been reported so far from our observers who are out in the field the conduct of the election was peaceful, orderly, free and fair.” [1] The SADC observers encouraged the parties to accept the outcome of the election. It is fairly certain that Western observer missions would have impugned the integrity of any election the MDC-T did not win. For this reason, I suspect, they were not welcome in Zimbabwe, and shouldn’t have been.

Freedom House, an anti-Zanu-PF US-based think tank, which Edward Herman and Noam Chomsky described in their Manufacturing Consent as interlocked with the CIA, commissioned a summer 2012 public opinion poll in Zimbabwe. [2] The poll, a survey of 1,198 Zimbabweans, found that the MDC-T had “been suffering a decline in support, falling from 38 percent to 20 percent” between 2010 and 2012. “In contrast,” the survey pointed “to Zanu-PF having experienced a growth in popular support, moving from 17 percent to 31 percent in the same period.” While nearly half of the survey respondents did not declare a party preference, the researchers reported that “this undeclared category does not veil a systematic party orientation” and that “should these persons vote in the next election, their support is likely to be diffused across party categories.” A standard polling practice in these circumstances is to distribute the support of undeclared voters in proportion to that of declared voters. Following this practice, it would be expected that had the election been held last summer, Zanu-PF would have won 58 percent of the vote and the MDC-T 38 percent. Assuming voter preferences didn’t change radically over the year, there’s no reason to suspect that a robust Zanu-PF victory is indicative of a flawed election rather than an honest reflection of the political preferences of Zimbabweans.

The Freedom House poll revealed another, indirect reason, to view Zanu-PF’s electoral victory as probable. Both parties have more rural than urban supporters. This is largely inevitable. Roughly 60 percent of the country’s population is located in the countryside and two-thirds of the working population is employed in agriculture. But Zanu-PF supporters are more strongly rural-based (over three-quarters are) compared to MDC-T supporters (59 percent live in rural areas.) A party whose base more strongly skews to the rural population is likely to enjoy an electoral advantage in a largely agrarian society.

The Freedom House poll also points to class cleavages that separate Zanu-PF and MDC-T supporters. Zanu-PF supporters more strongly support land reform than do MDC-T supporters (who are less likely to be rural-based and therefore less likely to benefit from the program.) Zanu-PF supporters are also more strongly in favor of Zimbabweans having ownership stakes in Zimbabwe industry than are MDC-T supporters. The latter are more likely to think that “indigenization is only for elites who can buy or claim shares in foreign-owned companies”, and less likely to think that “indigenization will ensure economic benefits for all Zimbabweans.” This reflects the reality that urban proletarians are over-represented among MDC-T supporters, that they are not in a position to benefit from land reform, and that they are unlikely to be in a position to have accumulated sufficient wealth to acquire substantial equity shares in foreign-owned enterprises. Given that MDC-T supporters are less likely to directly benefit from Zanu-PF’s “masters in our own house” policies of land reform and indigenization, it’s no surprise that compared to Zanu-PF supporters, they’re less strongly against the interference of foreign governments in the affairs of Zimbabwe—an interference that would threaten policies whose benefit to them is indirect at best.

So long as Zimbabwe is ruled in the interests of the black rural petite bourgeoisie and wealthy local elite in the cities, and not in the interests of North American and Western European capital, the MDC-T will have no interest in a stable Zimbabwe. If the party agreed with Zanu-PF on the fundamentals of which classes Zimbabwean society should be organized on behalf of, it would be far more likely to accept its electoral defeats with equanimity. But as a tool for foreign investor interests, it has no remit to promote the smooth functioning of a society governed in the interests of indigenous farmers and local investors. It can, then, only benefit from contesting the legitimacy of every election it loses, in order to undermine the idea that Zanu-PF governs with the consent of the majority. From the MDC-T point of view, the only election in Zimbabwe that will ever be free and fair is the one it wins.

From the perspective of Zanu-PF, MDC-T is a threat to the “masters in our own house” policies on which the country has been built since achieving political independence, and hence is a threat to the idea that black farmers should own the country’s land and that a black urban elite should have majority control of the country’s industry. The alternation of Zanu-PF and the MDC-T in power would not be like Republicans and Democrats alternating power in the United States, or Conservatives and Labour doing the same in Britain. In these countries, the alternation of one party with another does not threaten the class basis of society. Whether a Republican or Democrat is in the White House, or Conservative or Labour PM resides at No. 10, the fundamental interests of bankers, wealthy investors, and major corporations dominate the policy decisions of the government. Labour in power hardly means that Britain is going to be governed in the interests of labor at capital’s expense, rather than the accustomed reverse. But in Zimbabwe, the MDC-T in power probably means a tectonic shift in class rule, with the interests of the rural petite bourgeoisie and black local urban elite yielding to those of North American and Western European investors.

The result of this is that it is in the interests of Zanu-PF, as tribune of black indigenous capitalism, to place its representatives in positions of power in the state and to use the state apparatus to perpetuate its rule and protect itself from the prospect of the MDC-T coming to power. Senior members of Zimbabwe’s security establishment have threatened not to “serve under the leadership of anyone who did not have liberation war credentials”, an obvious reference to Tsvangirai, who was not part of the liberation struggle. [3] It’s doubtful that they meant they would resign their posts if Tsvangirai became president. The state media is blatantly pro-Zanu-PF and fiercely anti-MDC-T and makes no effort to hide their partisan nature. By the same token, the private media, and Western-financed propaganda outlets that pose as ‘independent’ media, are blatantly pro-MDC and truculently anti-Zanu-PF.

There is reason to believe that if Zanu-PF lost an election to the MDC-T, that the black nationalist state would not yield power to the MDC-T or any other party that promoted the pro-foreign investment, open doors policies, favored in Western capitals. In the view of the security establishment, the MDC-T is a puppet of the West and Tsvangirai’s elevation to president would mean the reversal of the gains the black majority has made since it ousted the white minority settler state. They are resolved not to let this happen. In the 2008 election, Mugabe repeatedly warned that an MDC-T victory would not be tolerated. He told one crowd that, “You can vote for (the MDC), but that will be a wasted vote. You will be cheating yourself, as there is no way we can allow them to rule this country. We have a job to do and that is to protect our heritage. The MDC will not rule this country. It will never happen.” [4]

Admittedly, there was enough ambiguity in Mugabe’s words to wonder whether he was saying that the MDC-T would not be allowed to come to power, or that the electorate would not deliver Tsvangirai his coveted majority. However, one wonders whether the ambiguity was not deliberate.

Mugabe was not so opaque when he threatened civil war if Tsvangirai won the 2008 election. The Zanu-PF leader warned that liberation war veterans “said if this country goes back into white hands just because we have used a pen (delivered an electoral victory to the MDC-T—S.G.) we will return to the bush to fight. I’m even prepared to join the fight. We can’t allow the British to dominate us through their puppets.” [5]

Echoing the view that black majority economic rule is here to stay, no matter what the outcome of an election, Mugabe told supporters in June 2008 that:

We are the custodians of Zimbabwe’s legacy. We will only pass this on to those we know are fully aware of the party’s ideology; those who value the country’s legacy. We will pass on leadership to them, telling them to go forward. But as long as the British still want to come back here, I will not grow old; until we know we can longer have sellouts among us….If there are parties that go to the people promoting what they have to offer, that’s fine. But not those that are used by the Americans and British to reverse the revolution.” [6]

This could be read as an ultimatum. Zimbabwe is a state governed on behalf of the black rural majority and a black urban elite. If you accept this, fine, you’re free to participate in elections and we’ll respect the outcome of any election you should win. But if your intention is to champion the interests of North American and Western European capital at the expense of indigenous Zimbabweans owning Zimbabwe’s land and industry, the state will work against you. We will not allow you to come to power.

This may be shocking to anyone who has been inculcated with the view that liberal democracy is the highest political good. But Zanu-PF did not stand in the vanguard of a revolution to establish liberal democracy in Zimbabwe, but to make the indigenous population masters, both politically and economically, in its own house. What happens, then, when liberal democratic principles threaten the gains of revolution? It would be unrealistic to think that the revolutionaries will stoically accept the loss of their revolution in order to uphold liberal democracy.

Holding fundamental class interests above electoral principle is emblematic of ruling classes. Governments which have come to power through electoral means that have threatened, or were seen to threaten, the rule of the dominant class (even when they didn’t), have been routinely thwarted or undermined or overthrown by the state and its class allies abroad. Examples abound, but three are worthy of mention: Chile, 1973; Venezuela, 2002; and the most recent, Egypt, 2013 (where the elected Morsi government was deposed by the military, whose tightly-knit officer class owns a sizable part of Egypt’s economy. Christopher Hitchens once said that Egypt isn’t a country with a military, but a military with a country, an epigram which pithily identifies the class at the country’s apex.)

Like any ruling class, Zimbabwe’s black bourgeois elite and its rural petite bourgeoisie ally, use the state to defend its interests against contending classes, in this case, the propertyless at home, and the propertied aboard who seek to increase their holdings by securing access to Zimbabwe’s land, minerals, and labor.

Divisions among leftists in the West over whether to support or oppose Zanu-PF originate in the question of which struggle is regarded as more important: the local bourgeois elite’s fight to preserve Zimbabwe’s land, natural resources, and labor as a sphere of exploitation that they alone can exploit, free from competition from foreign interests; or the struggle of the urban working class against exploitation by local (or foreign) capital. What’s clear is that those who side with Zimbabwe’s black national bourgeoisie will favor Zanu-PF and oppose MDC-T. At the same time, those who lean toward identification with Zimbabwe’s propertyless laborers can neither support Zanu-PF (which represents local private property interests) or the MDC-T (which represents foreign private property interests), if they’re honest.

Honesty, however, has not always been a virtue of Mugabe’s opponents on the left. Some have subtly, and others not so subtly, backed the MDC-T, because it opposes Zanu-PF, which they condemn as authoritarian (yes it is—as is any party in power.) This, of course follows the rule: the enemy of my enemy is my friend. Despite following this rule, left MDC-T supporters hypocritically accuse leftists who back Zanu-PF of genuflecting to the same rule. Your support of Zanu-PF is based solely on the fact that Mugabe is reviled by the US and British governments, they contend. Other leftists, some of whom command an inexplicable respect that appears to be based more on posturing than substance, have even gone so far as to formulate whacky theories about Mugabe being an agent of Western imperialism. If so, they forgot to let the imperialists, who have been working overtly since 2000 to depose him, that they’re targeting the wrong man.

To sum up, Zanu-PF has built a substantial base in the countryside through its land redistribution program. This offers the party an electoral advantage since most Zimbabweans are rural-based. Polling by Freedom House contests the idea that an MDC-T victory in the July 31 elections was a foregone conclusion and that Zanu-PF’s victory was unexpected, unlikely and indicative of a flawed election. On the contrary, according to the Freedom House poll, support for the MDC had been waning to at least the summer of 2012 and was lower than support for Zanu-PF, which had been growing. What’s more, observer missions from the African Union and SADC declared the elections to be largely free and fair.

In Zimbabwe, struggle between the local bourgeoisie and Western investors is played out in multiple arenas, including the electoral one. Elections in Zimbabwe pit a black bourgeois elite and its rural petite bourgeois allies, who control the state and use it to their advantage in the electoral arena, against North American and Western European investors, who use the apparatus of their states to interfere in Zimbabwe’s affairs, press into service ‘independent’ NGOs which they fund against Zanu-PF, and look to the MDC-T to promote policies which will advance their interests in Zimbabwe. MDC-T’s appeal on the ground is to Zimbabweans who don’t benefit from land reform and haven’t sufficient accumulated wealth or indigenous status to take an equity position in a foreign enterprise under indigenization laws. They believe that the MDC-T’s pro-foreign investment policies will generate job opportunities and raise their standard of living.

Because the MDC-T’s coming to power would not be like the alternation of power between mainstream political parties in the West, which pose no threat to the continued rule of the dominant class, but would seriously threaten the position of the national bourgeoisie, it is unlikely that Zanu-PF and the state would meekly accept an MDC-T electoral victory. The gains of black majority economic rule are more important to Zanu-PF than commitment to liberal democracy. All the same, there is no compelling evidence that MDC-T’s failure to win the July 31 elections has anything to do with the state in Zimbabwe biasing the election in Zanu-PF’s favour, rather than the MDC-T failing to garner sufficient popular support.

1. Patrick McGroarty, “In Zimbabwe voting, complaints and praise”, The Wall Street Journal, July 31, 2013.
2. Susan Booysen, Change and ‘New’ Politics in Zimbabwe: Interim Report of a Nationwide Survey of Public Opinion in Zimbabwe: June-July 2012, August 18, 2012, http://www.freedomhouse.org/sites/default/files/Change%20and%20New%20Politics%20in%20Zimbabwe.pdf
3. The Herald (Zimbabwe), June 23, 2011.
4. The Herald (Zimbabwe), March 24, 2008.
5. The Independent (UK), June 14, 2008.
6. The Sunday Mail (Zimbabwe), June 15, 2008.

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August 6, 2013 at 10:48 pm

Posted in Zimbabwe

US Ambassador Echoes Cecil Rhodes

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By Stephen Gowans

When in 1916 Bolshevik leader Vladimir Lenin expounded what historian V.G. Kiernan would later call virtually the only serious theory of imperialism, despite its shortcomings (1), Lenin cited Cecil Rhodes as among the “leading British bourgeois politicians (who) fully appreciated the connection between what might be called the purely economic and the political-social roots of modern imperialism.” (2)

Rhodes, founder of the diamond company De Beers and of the eponymous Rhodesia, had made the following remarks, which Lenin quoted at length in his Imperialism: The Highest Stage of Capitalism.

I was in the East End of London yesterday and attended a meeting of the unemployed. I listened to the wild speeches, which were just a cry for ‘bread,’ ‘bread,’ ‘bread,’ and on my way home I pondered over the scene and I became more than ever convinced of the importance of imperialism … My cherished idea is a solution for the social problem, i.e., in order to save the 40,000,000 inhabitants of the United Kingdom from a bloody civil war, we colonial statesmen must acquire new lands to settle the surplus population, to provide new markets for the goods produced by them in factories and mines. The Empire, as I have always said, is a bread and butter question. If you want to avoid civil war, you must become imperialists. (3)

Skip ahead 95 years. Here’s US ambassador to Libya, Gene A. Cretz:

We know that oil is the jewel in the crown of Libyan natural resources, but even in Qaddafi’s time they were starting from A to Z in terms of building infrastructure and other things. If we can get American companies here on a fairly big scale, which we will try to do everything we can to do that, then this will redound to improve the situation in the United States with respect to our own jobs. (4)

New York Times’ reporter David D. Kirkpatrick noted that “Libya’s provisional government has already said it is eager to welcome Western businesses (and)…would even give its Western backers some ‘priority’ in access to Libyan business.” (5)

A bread and butter question. Also a profit-making one.

What Ahmadinejad really said at the UN

Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s address to the 66th UN General Assembly meeting provided the Iranian president with the usual occasion to make the usual points and the Western media the usual occasion to misrepresent them.

Wall Street Journal reporter Jay Solomon wrote that Ahmadinejad “sought to stoke controversy by again questioning the Holocaust,” (6) reminding readers that Ahmadinejad had once called for Israel to be “wiped off the map”, a distortion that will live on in history through its mere retelling. (What the Iranian president really said was that Israel would dissolve as the Soviet Union had.)

I read the transcript of Ahmadinejad’s address, but found no questioning of the Nazi-engineered holocaust.

Here are his remarks on Zionism and the Holocaust.

They view Zionism as a sacred notion and ideology. Any question of its very foundation and history is condemned by them as an unforgivable sin.

Who imposed, through deceits and hypocrisy, the Zionism and over sixty years of war, homelessness, terror and mass murder on the Palestinian people and countries of the region?

If some European countries still use the Holocaust, after six decades, as the excuse to pay fine or ransom to the Zionists, should it not be an obligation upon the slave masters or colonial powers to pay reparations to the affected nations?

By using their imperialistic media network which is under the influence of colonialism they threaten anyone who questions the Holocaust and the September 11 events with sanctions and military action. (7)

It would have been more accurate for Solomon to have written that Ahmadinejad sought to stoke controversy by again questioning the legitimacy of Zionism and the manipulative use of the Nazi-perpetrated holocaust to justify it.

But these themes are unmentionable in the Western corporate media.

It is common practice to capitalize the Nazi-engineered effort to exterminate the Jews as the ‘Holocaust’, as if there had never been any other holocaust—or any at rate, any other worth mentioning. Even the transcript of Ahmadinjad’s address refers to ‘the Holocaust’ rather than ‘a holocaust.’

The Justice Process

It seems that the only argument US president Barack Obama could muster for why Palestinian Authority president Mahmoud Abbas shouldn’t seek recognition of a Palestinian state at the UN is that the ‘peace process’ would be derailed.

Let’s lay aside the obvious difficulty of Barak the Bomber caring about peace, and that the ‘peace process’ has been off the rails for some time. His objection missed the point. Recognition of a Palestinian state isn’t a question of the peace process but of the justice process, and hardly a very satisfying one at that. What justice is there in Palestinians settling for one fifth of their country? Which is what, in any practical sense, UN recognition of the Palestinian territories as a state would amount to.

But it’s better than the status quo and a starting point.

For Zionists, the peace process is a little more appealing, but is the opposite of the justice process. It means getting Palestinians to settle for even less than one-fifth of their country, and to acknowledge the theft of it as legitimate.

An aside: Over 30 countries do not recognize Israel, among them Cuba, Venezuela, North Korea, Iran and Syria.

Rational Ignoramuses?

Do those who promote what Keynes called the fallacy of thrift (or fallacy of austerity, to give it a contemporary spin) really believe what they preach: that cutting pensions, laying off public servants, raising taxes on the poor, and closing government programs, is the way to avert a deeper economic crisis for the bulk of us?

Do they even care about the bulk of us?

Or is austerity simply a way of bailing out bankers and bondholders by bleeding the rest of us dry?

British prime minister David Cameron, on a trip to Canada to compare notes with fellow deficit-hawk Stephen Harper, the Canadian PM, remarked that “Highly indebted households and governments simply cannot spend their way out of a debt crisis. The more they spend, the more debts will rise and the fundamental problem will grow.” (8)

This was reported with tacit nods of approval in Canada’s corporate press, as if Cameron’s utterings were incontrovertible, rather than the ravings of an economic illiterate (in the view of economists), or the words of a political con artist (in the view of class struggle literates.)

Highly indebted governments simply cannot cut their way out of an economic crisis. The more they cut, the more aggregate demand weakens and the worse it gets. Greece’s continued slide into economic ruin underscores the point. The United States’ inability to drag itself out of the depths of the Great Depression, until arms orders brought the economy back to life, strikes an historical cautionary note.

But recessions are not without benefits for corporate plutocrats. It’s easier to cut wages, salaries and benefits during downturns, and to enjoy bigger profits as a result. Small competitors can be driven out of business. Unions can be weakened. And governments have an excuse to slash social programs that have pushed the balance of power a little too far in labor’s direction. Indeed, all manner of sacrifices can be extracted from most of us if we’re persuaded that debt is the cause of the problem and that belt-tightening is the physic that will cure it.

My bet is that Cameron and his fellow water carriers for moneyed interests are no dummies — but they’re hoping the rest of us are.

Knowing Who Your Friends Are
Here is the widely reviled (by Western governments) Robert Mugabe, president of Zimbabwe, at the 66th session of the UN General Assembly.

After over twenty thousand NATO bombing sorties that targeted Libyan towns, including Tripoli, there is now unbelievable and most disgraceful scramble by some NATO countries for Libyan oil, indicating thereby that the real motive for their aggression against Libya was to control and own its abundant fuel resources. What a shame!

Yesterday, it was Iraq and Bush and Blair were the liars and aggressors as they made unfounded allegations of possessions of weapons of mass destruction. This time it is the NATO countries the liars and aggressors as they make similarly unfounded allegations of destruction of civilian lives by Gaddafi.

We in Africa are also duly concerned about the activities of the International Criminal Court (ICC) which seems to exist only for alleged offenders of the developing world, the majority of them Africans. The leaders of the powerful Western States guilty of international crime, like Bush and Blair, are routinely given the blind eye. Such selective justice has eroded the credibility of the ICC on the African continent.

My country fully supports the right of the gallant people of Palestine to statehood and membership of this U.N. Organisation. The U.N. must become credible by welcoming into its bosom all those whose right to attain sovereign independence and freedom from occupation and colonialism is legitimate. (9)

It’s clear why he’s reviled by imperialists, but also by leftists?

If the Movement for Democratic Change’s Morgan Tsvangirai, favorite of the West, ever becomes president, expect a very different kind of address at future General Assembly meetings.

1. V.G. Kiernan, Marxism and Imperialism, St. Martin’s Press, New York, 1974.

2. V. I. Lenin, Imperialism: The Highest Stage of Capitalism, International Publishers, New York. 1939. p 78.

3. Ibid. p 79.

4. David D. Kirkpatrick, “U.S. reopens its embassy in Libya”, The New York Times, September 22, 2011.

5. Ibid.

6. Jay Solomon, “Iran adds Palestine statehood wrinkle”, The Wall Street Journal, September 23, 2011.

7. http://www.president.ir/en/?ArtID=30573

8. Campbell Clark, “Cameron, Harper preach restraint in teeth of global ‘debt crisis’”, The Globe and Mail, September 22, 2011

9. http://nehandaradio.com/2011/09/24/full-text-of-robert-mugabe-speech-at-un-assembly/

Written by what's left

September 24, 2011 at 9:24 pm

US Senator comes clean on Zimbabwe sanctions

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By Stephen Gowans

The received wisdom among Western governments, journalists and some concerned progressive scholars is that there have been no broad-based, economic sanctions imposed upon Zimbabwe. Instead, in their view, there are only targeted sanctions, with limited effects, aimed at punishing President Robert Mugabe and the top leadership of the Zanu-PF party. The sanctions issue, they say, is a red herring Mugabe and his supporters use to divert attention from the true cause of Zimbabwe’s economic meltdown: redistribution of land from white commercial farmers to hundreds of thousands of indigenous families, a program denigrated as “economic mismanagement”.

Yet, it has always been clear to anyone willing to do a little digging that there are indeed broad-based economic sanctions against Zimbabwe; that there have been since 2001, when US president George W. Bush signed them into law; that they were imposed in response to Zimbabwe’s land reform program; and that Zimbabwe’s economic meltdown happened after sanctions were imposed, not before.

US sanctions, implemented under the US Democracy and Economic Recovery Act, effectively block Zimbabwe’s access to debt relief and balance of payment support from international financial institutions. In addition, the EU and other Western countries have imposed their own sanctions.

On occasion, Mugabe’s detractors have been caught out in their deceptions about sanctions being targeted solely at a few highly placed members of Zanu-PF rather than the economy, and therefore Zimbabweans, as a whole. At those times, they have countered that while sanctions may exist, they have had little impact, and anyway, they play into Mugabe’s hands. As progressive scholar Horace Campbell put it: “The Zimbabwe government is very aware of the anti-imperialist and anti-racist sentiments among oppressed peoples and thus has deployed a range of propagandists inside and outside the country in a bid to link every problem in Zimbabwe to international sanctions by the EU and USA.”

Campbell turns reality on its head. The fact of the matter is that the US government has deployed a range of propagandists, both within and outside Zimbabwe, in a bid to link every problem in Zimbabwe to the alleged folly of redistributing land stolen by European settlers to the descendants of the original owners.

Campbell’s argument echoes similar sophistry used to excuse the US blockade on Cuba. Economic sanctions on Cuba, the Castros’ detractors argue, have had little impact on the island’s economy, and are used by the Cuban government to falsely link its economic difficulties to US economic warfare. The Castros, they say, stay in power by diverting attention from their own mismanagement and laying blame for their country’s economic problems at Washington’s doorstep. That this argument holds no water is evidenced by the reality that Washington could easily deprive the Cuban communists of their alleged diversionary tactics by lifting the sanctions, but choose not to.

The idea that power-hungry leaders exploit mild sanctions as a dishonest manoeuvre to disguise their failings is insupportable. Far from having little impact, economic sanctions devastate economies; that’s their purpose. Denying the role they play in ruining economies is tantamount to denying that dropping napalm on villages creates wastelands. John Mueller and Karl Mueller pointed out in a famous 1999 article titled “Sanctions of Mass Destruction” – it appeared in the May/June 1999 issue of the uber-establishment journal Foreign Affairs — that:

…the big countries have at their disposal a credible, inexpensive, and potent weapon for use against small and medium-sized foes. The dominant powers have shown that they can inflict enormous pain at remarkably little cost to themselves or the global economy. Indeed, in a matter of months or years whole economies can be devastated…

The improbable idea that sanctions have little impact invites the question: If they make little difference, why do Western governments deploy them so often? Supporters of the view that sanctions are minor inconveniences that punish a few powerful leaders, who then exploit them to draw attention away from their own economic management, expect us to believe that the leaders of major powers are simpletons who devise ineffective sanctions policies – and that they persist despite their sanctions playing into the hands of the sanctions’ targets.

If the sanctions supporters’ laughable logic and the reality that US sanction legislation is on the public record for all to see weren’t enough, legislation brought forward by US Senator Jim Inhofe ought to lay to rest the deception that sanctions haven’t torpedoed Zimbabwe’s economy.

The title of Inhofe’s bill, the Zimbabwe Sanctions Repeal Act of 2010, makes clear that sanctions have indeed been imposed on Zimbabwe and have had deleterious effects. According to the bill, now that the Western-backed Movement for Democratic Change holds senior positions in Zimbabwe’s power-sharing government, US sanctions against Zimbabwe need to be repealed “in order to restore fully the economy of Zimbabwe.” In other words, sanctions are preventing Zimbabwe’s economy from flourishing – the same point Mugabe has been making for years, cynically say his critics.

Yet, while the implication of Inhofe’s bill is that sanctions have undermined Zimbabwe’s economy (otherwise, why would economic recovery require their repeal?) Inhofe tries to disguise the role US sanctions originally played in creating an economic catastrophe in Zimbabwe, arguing that the sanctions were imposed only after Mugabe allegedly turned Zimbabwe into a basket case by democratizing patterns of land ownership. But it makes more sense to say that sanctions ruined the economy. After all, the purpose of economic sanctions is to wreak economic havoc. And what would be the point of trying to devastate Zimbabwe’s economy after Mugabe had allegedly already ruined it? Finally, in pressing for the repeal of sanctions to allow for economic recovery, Inhofe acknowledges that the sanctions do indeed have crippling consequences.

Inhofe may be able to argue (improbably) that the sanctions were imposed to punish Zimbabwe for Harare’s economic mismanagement (which would mean that Washington expected Zimbabweans to suffer an additional blow on top of the one already meted out by Harare’s alleged mismanagement — a pointless cruelty, if true); but he can’t argue that the sanctions didn’t undermine the country’s economy: his bill acknowledges this very point

Finally, the fact that Inhofe’s legislation seeks repeal of the sanctions because the MDC holds key positions in the Zimbabwean government, reveals that the MDC, as much as sanctions, is an instrument of US foreign policy. Sanctions were rolled out in response to land redistribution with the aim of crippling the economy so that the ensuing economic chaos could be attributed to land reform itself. With MDC members brought into a power-sharing government in key posts, it has become necessary in the view of Inhofe and others that sanctions be lifted to allow an economic recovery. If the bill is ratified and signed into law, the ensuing recovery will be attributed to the efforts of the MDC cabinet members, an attribution that that will be just as misleading as linking the destructive effects of sanctions to Zanu-PF’s efforts to fulfill the land redistribution aspirations of the national liberation struggle. The major part of Zimbabwe’s economic troubles – and a large part of the prospects for economic recovery – are sanctions-related.

Written by what's left

August 21, 2010 at 9:14 pm

Posted in Sanctions, Zimbabwe

It’s the regime change agenda all the time

with one comment

The United States, Canada and Australia are abusing the Kimberly Process, an initiative to prevent the sale of “blood” diamonds, in order to frustrate Zimbabwe’s efforts to establish a multi-billion dollar annual revenue stream from its rich Marange diamond fields. The aim is to keep up economic pressure on the country to undermine popular support for Robert Mugabe and his land reform and economic indigenization programs.

By Stephen Gowans

Zimbabwe’s Marange diamond fields hold out the promise of billions of dollars per year in diamond sales [1], a bounty that could help the southern African country develop economically, and place it among the world’s top diamond producers.

But if the United States, Canada and Australia have their way, Zimbabwe will have to find a way to sell its diamonds without a seal of approval from the Kimberly Process, “a joint governments, industry and civil society initiative to stem the flow of conflict diamonds – rough diamonds used by rebel movements to finance wars against legitimate governments.” [2]

Abbey Chikane, a South African businessman appointed by the Kimberly Process to monitor the Marange fields, recommended that the diamonds be certified. He also recommended that Zimbabwe’s army, which has guarded the fields from the anarchy of illegal diamond diggers hoping to strike it rich, continues to do so until the police are in a position to maintain order. [3]

Most African countries — including Zimbabwe’s neighbors South Africa, Botswana, Angola and Tanzania — backed up Chikane’s recommendation, as did India, China and Russia, which together represent the bulk of humanity. But the United States, Canada and Australia blocked certification.

The three countries, among the world’s richest, point to claims made by two ostensibly independent nongovernmental organizations, Global Witness and Partnership Africa Canada, to justify their decision. They say the Zimbabwe military is committing human rights abuses at the Marange fields and running a smuggling operation. [4]

So why did the Kimberly Process auditor recommend certification, despite allegations of human rights abuses and smuggling? First, the Kimberly Process seeks to prevent the sale of rough diamonds to finance rebel wars, not to prevent human rights abuses and smuggling. Second, Kimberly Process chairman Bernard Esau says there is “no proof of alleged human rights violations at the Marange diamond fields.” [5]

The United States, Canada and Australia, along with Britain and the European Union, have been actively seeking to drive Robert Mugabe and Zanu-PF from power for the last decade. Their regime change efforts are dressed up as “democracy promotion”, but Washington’s own documents make clear that “democracy promotion” is nothing more that helping the Western-backed, -conceived and -funded Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), which currently shares power with Zanu-PF, govern alone. The MDC would end, and possibly reverse, Zanu-PF’s policies of land redistribution and economic indigenization [6] — policies which are giving substantive meaning to the country’s hard fought for independence.

In order to undermine popular support for Zanu-PF and its policies, the United States, Canada and Australia, along with other Western countries, have imposed sanctions which have had a crippling effect on the economy. While they deny that the sanctions are anything other than targeted, and that they’re aimed only at top Zanu-PF leaders, the Zimbabwe Democracy and Economic Recovery Act, a US law passed in 2001, blocks Zimbabwe’s access to international lines of credit. Explicitly taking aim at Zimbabwe’s land redistribution program, the law has cruelly undercut economic development.

Zimbabwe’s land reform and economic indigenization programs remain an inspiration to poor and landless Africans of neighboring countries, who decades after liberation from European colonialism, apartheid and white settler rule, have yet to see any substantive change in their conditions. The economic indigenization program, which mirrors similar policies that South Korea, Japan, Venezuela, Canada and other countries have once used or currently use to promote domestic economic development, [7] requires that at least 51 percent of Zimbabwe’s economy be placed in the hands of Zimbabweans who were disadvantaged by colonial oppression and white minority rule.

While it’s true that Global Witness and Partnership Africa Canada are nongovernmental organizations, they are hardly independent of the Western governments that have worked for regime change in Zimbabwe. Global Witness is funded by the Canadian Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade, Britain’s Department for International Development, the European Commission, Ireland’s Department of Foreign Affairs, the Netherlands Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Swedish International Development Co-operation Agency and Norad. [8] Partnership Africa Canada receives its funding from many of the same organizations, including a Canadian government department (Foreign Affairs and International Trade) and agency (the Canadian International Development Agency.) [9]

Many NGOs active in Africa create the illusion of being independent of the Western governments that have historically despoiled the continent, while relying on the same governments to provide their funding. It’s highly unlikely that organizations whose existences depend on the support they can get from Western governments stray far from their funders’ interests and foreign policy imperatives. The implication that NGOs are independent of governments is deliberately deceptive.

The Marange diamond fields, then, present a problem to Western governments that have been working to undermine popular support for Zanu-PF and its policies. How can sanctions work if they’re offset by billions of dollars per year in diamond sales?

The answer, of course, is that a rich flow of diamond revenues, and anything else that promises to make life better for Zimbabweans, counters the aims of the sanctions, and therefore, under the logic of Western foreign policy, must be blocked.

To frustrate Zimbabwe’s efforts to benefit from the Marange fields, the United States, Canada and Australia have abused the Kimberly Process. The initiative is intended to prevent rebel movements using rough diamonds to finance wars against legitimate governments. Is there any evidence this is happening in Zimbabwe? None at all.

But the flaw in the Kimberly Process is that it operates on the principle of consensus. That means that participants who seek to deny certification can, for their own mischievous political reasons, withhold their approval and therefore prevent consensus, invoking some unrelated humanitarian principle as justification.

“We want to be orderly, to do like what other countries in the region are doing,” said Mugabe last May, “but countries like the US, Britain, Australia and Canada want to take advantage of us by ensuring the process creates the same effect like sanctions on us; that we should not be allowed to sell our diamonds.”

“They have been heard saying what happens to our sanctions if Zimbabwe sells its diamonds? It is the regime change agenda all the time.” [10]

1. Celia W. Dugger, “Report on Zimbabwe diamond trade angers rights groups”, The New York Times, June 8, 2010.

2. http://www.kimberleyprocess.com/
Accessed June 25, 2010.

3. Celia W. Dugger, “Report on Zimbabwe diamond trade angers rights groups”, The New York Times, June 8, 2010.

4. Celia W. Dugger, “Zimbabwe diamonds fail to get conflict-free approval”, The New York Times, June 24, 2010.

5. “No proof of diamond fields human rights violations: KP,” The Herald (Zimbabwe), June 28, 2009.

6. Stephen Gowans, “US Government Report Undermines Zimbabwe Opposition’s Claim of Independence”, what’s left, October 4, 2008, http://gowans.wordpress.com/2008/10/04/us-government-report-undermines-zimbabwe-opposition%e2%80%99s-claim-of-independence/

7. Ha-Joon Chang, Bad Samaritans: The Myths of Free Trade and the Secret History of Capitalism, Bloomsbury Press, 2008. The author, a South Korean who teaches economics at the University of Cambridge, is hardly a favorite of the South Korean Ministry of National Defense. In July, 2008 the ministry banned from military barracks Bad Samaritans, along with 23 other books, labeled anti-capitalist, anti-American and pro-North Korean. Also included were books by Noam Chomsky. “Military expands book blacklist”, The Hankyoreh, July 31, 2008; Chose Sang-Hun, “Textbooks on Past Offend South Korea’s Conservatives,” The New York Times, November 18, 2008.

8. http://www.globalwitness.org/pages/en/our_funders.html
Accessed June 25, 2010.

9. http://www.pacweb.org/partners-e.php
Accessed June 25, 2010.

10. Takunda Maodza, “President slams KPCS”, The Herald (Zimbabwe), May 28, 2010.

Written by what's left

June 25, 2010 at 10:05 pm

Posted in Imperialism, Zimbabwe

Russ Feingold: Defending the top one percent from the bottom 99

with 5 comments

US Senator Russ Feingold is displeased. The legislation he helped draft in 2001 to cripple Zimbabwe’s economy as punishment for the country’s land reform program, which redistributed the land of 4,000 settlers to 300,000 landless indigenous families, has been exposed for what it is: a major instrument in a program of economic warfare designed to restore the property of expropriated farmers and drive the land reform program’s champions, Zanu-PF, from government. Feingold is counterpunching with new legislation which he hopes will prove less of a liability to US propaganda, which has misdirected blame for Zimbabwe’s economic meltdown to Zanu-PF policies. At the same time, the new legislation aims to strengthen the West’s agent on the ground, the Movement for Democratic Change.

By Stephen Gowans

New US legislation introduced by US Senator Russ Feingold to update a 2001 bill that has been used to cripple Zimbabwe’s economy is aimed at supporting members of Zimbabwe’s coalition government who support US goals of restoring the property rights of settlers, while pressuring land reform champions to step down from government posts.

The current legislation, ZDERA, the Zimbabwe Democracy and Economic Recovery Act, was passed into law in 2001 as an instrument to be employed in the program of ousting the Zanu-PF government. Zanu-PF, a merger of forces that had played the leading role in the country’s liberation from settler minority rule, provoked Western reaction when it rejected harsh conditions imposed by the IMF in the late 1990s and then introduced a fast-track land reform program. The land reform program expropriated settler farms without compensation, redistributing land to indigenous Zimbabweans. The beneficiaries of the program were over 300,000 previously landless families who were resettled on land previously owned by 4,000 farmers, mostly of British origin.

ZDERA, which blocked Zimbabwe’s access to loans, credits and debt relief from international financial institutions, plunged the country into an economic abyss. To bleed Zanu-PF of popular support, the United States, Britain, the European Union and other Western governments launched a propaganda offensive, blaming the ZDERA-induced economic meltdown on Zanu-PF mismanagement. At the same time, they backed the formation of a new opposition party, the MDC (Movement for Democratic Change), which brought together the settler community, trade unions and non-governmental organizations (NGOs). The MDC and its NGO partners have received generous assistance from Western governments and foundations, and have championed an agenda congruent with overseas investor rights and the interests of the settler community.

US Senator Russ Feingold has introduced new legislation to update a 2001 bill he co-wrote that has been used to cripple Zimbabwe’s economy. Feingold and others have tried to blame the effects of the 2001 bill, known as ZDERA, on Zanu-PF mismanagement.

Since the MDC’s formation in 2000 a virtual low-level civil war has convulsed the country, with the MDC, its civil society allies, and its Western backers seeking to oust Zanu-PF from power through electoral and extra-electoral means. Elections held in 2008 produced a parliament divided roughly evenly between Zanu-PF and the MDC (the MDC having fractured, by this point, into two factions.) Morgan Tsvangirai, leader of the largest MDC faction, won the first round of voting in the presidential election, but failed to obtain a majority, forcing a runoff. Alleging that Zanu-PF partisans were using violence to intimidate his supporters, Tsvangirai withdrew from the ensuing runoff, effectively conceding the presidency to Robert Mugabe, the Zanu-PF candidate. This left the country divided, with neither party able to convincingly command the support of a majority. To avoid paralysis, the parties agreed to the formation of a coalition government. Mugabe would serve as president and Tsvangirai as prime minister.

For the MDC’s Western backers, the outcome was neither as good as desired, nor as bad as it could have been. MDC members were part of the cabinet, and therefore could affect policy, but Zanu-PF controlled the police and military, and therefore was in a position to block any attempted roll back of the party’s land reform program, as well as its (newly introduced) economic indigenization agenda. And it was precisely land reform and economic indigenization (a policy mandating majority ownership of the country’s enterprises by indigenous Zimbabweans) that Western governments bristled against.

Another minus from Washington and London’s point of view was the coalition government requirement that all members call for the lifting of sanctions. The official Western position, mimicked by the MDC, was that there were no sanctions, only targeted “restrictive measures” that exempted the population at large and punished a few key members of Zanu-PF. By denying the existence of sanctions, the West could blame Mugabe for the country’s economic turmoil, thereby providing Zimbabweans with a reason to turf Zanu-PF from government.

However, the West’s story wasn’t believable. ZDERA, with its obvious punitive implications for Zimbabwe’s economic welfare, could be pointed to as evidence of Washington’s hostility to Zimbabwe’s agenda of investing its liberation struggle with substantive content. (Zimbabweans want more than their own flag. They want control of their land and resources, too.) The ZDERA bill was readily available for all to see, in black and white, tangible evidence of the sanctions regime the United States denied existed. Requiring the MDC to climb aboard the anti-sanctions bandwagon, which already included the South African Development Community and the African Union, made the task of crippling Zimbabwe’s economy and blaming it on Mugabe all the more difficult.

Zimbabweans want more than their own flag. They want control of their land and resources, too.

All of this has given rise to the need to discard the discredited ZDERA, to remove an obvious target that critics of US foreign policy have been able to point to, to mobilize opposition to US economic warfare against Zimbabwe. The success of these critics has rankled Feingold, who whines that the attacks on ZDERA are nothing more than ”Mugabe’s propaganda” which allow Zanu-PF “to win local regional support.”

At the same time, the United States wants to step up assistance to the MDC, which, while part of the coalition government, is not in a strong enough position to roll back Zanu-PF’s land reforms. With the MDC now controlling some levers of government, the United States has the option of directing advice, material assistance and loans and credit to MDC-controlled ministries, freezing out ministries under Zanu-PF control.

Out of these requirements has come the Zimbabwe Transition to Democracy and Economic Recovery Act. The aim is to do exactly what ZDERA (which Feingold had had a hand in drafting) aims to do: strengthen the MDC and weaken Zanu-PF, in order to clear the way for the MDC to come to power to carry out the US agenda of restoring property rights.

It is no accident that Feingold’s new bill, and the statement accompanying its introduction, dwell on Zanu-PF’s “continued disrespect…for property rights,” a reference to the expropriation of settler farms and their redistribution to landless indigenous Zimbabweans. It’s no accident because that’s precisely what the new act, and ZDERA as well, is intended to overturn: the negation of private property rights to serve public policy goals, in this case, redress of an historical iniquity and recovery of indigenous sovereignty.

As the world’s hegemonic power, the United States has taken on the role of policing the globe to keep it safe for investors, bankers, bondholders and transnational corporations. In keeping with the domination of the US state by corporate executives, corporate lawyers, and investment bankers (i.e., people who own and control productive property), US foreign policy aims to keep the world open to foreign investment and trade and its riches in the hands of those who are already wealthy. This means, among other things, upholding private ownership claims to productive property, and defining as intolerable, even criminal, any violation of this principle. Expropriation of productive property, including of settler farms, especially where it is done without compensation, is a clear violation, (though the original expropriation of indigenous farmland at the point of a gun by European settlers merits no indemnification, apology, or corrective action by the global hegemon. Since Britain and the United States refused to assist in the redress of the original colonial expropriation — indeed, did all they could to hinder it — Zimbabweans took it upon themselves to remedy the wrong themselves. The United States polices the world on behalf of the property rights of those who are wealthy, not the dispossessed the wealthy robbed.)

US policy, then, brooks no abridgment of the right of individuals who currently hold productive property to continue to enjoy that property, and acts to vouchsafe their property against its being brought under public control, as socialist or communist governments may do, or being transferred to local business people (including landless families), as economic nationalist governments may do. The violation of the principle of private property by the 99 percent of the world that has none, has always been sufficient to arouse the hostility of the US government, which has always acted on behalf the remaining one percent. Feingold’s new bill is a continuation of this tradition.

Written by what's left

May 15, 2010 at 9:26 pm

Posted in Zimbabwe

The NED, Tibet, north Korea and Zimbabwe

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By Stephen Gowans

Vin Weber, a former chairman and current board member of the US National Endowment for Democracy, has written an article in The Washington Times defending the NED against calls to eliminate its funding. [1]

The NED was established by the Reagan administration after the CIA’s role in covertly funding efforts to overthrow foreign governments was brought to light, leading to the discrediting of the parties, movements, journals, books, newspapers and individuals that received CIA funding. This undermined the efficacy of these agents as tools of US foreign policy.

As a bipartisan endowment, with participation from the two major parties, as well as the AFL-CIO and US Chamber of Commerce, the NED took over the financing of foreign overthrow movements, but overtly and under the rubric of “democracy promotion.”

As the NED’s president Carl Gershman explained,

“It would be terrible for democratic groups around the world to be seen as subsidized by the C.I.A. We saw that in the 60’s, and that’s why it has been discontinued. We have not had the capability of doing this, and that’s why the endowment was created.” [2]

Thus, the NED was founded, as New York Times reporter John Broder explained in 1997, “to do in the open what the Central Intelligence Agency has done surreptitiously for decades.” [3]

As part of the NED-program of regime change, governments the US foreign policy establishment targets for overthrow are demonized as anti-democratic while the recipients of NED largesse are angelized as pro-democratic. What links targeted governments is not their electoral democratic practices – which can range from absent to present — but their economic policies, which tend to be restrictive of foreign investment, imports, and property rights. What links the recipients of NED grants is not their attitude to electoral democracy, but their embrace of US policy.

Tibet

The NED’s angelization of the Dalai Lama is a case in point. The Dalai Lama is hardly a democrat, yet he has received Washington’s lucre for decades, including from the CIA and later the NED. Tibet’s “spiritual leader”, as he has been anointed in the West, presided over a backward theocratic feudal society, before fleeing to India after a botched uprising against the Chinese government, which had supported the dismantling of Tibetan feudalism. As Michael Parenti explains,

“Until 1959, when the Dalai Lama last presided over Tibet, most of the arable land was still organized into manorial estates worked by serfs. These estates were owned by two social groups: the rich secular landlords and the rich theocratic lamas…The Dalai Lama himself ‘lived richly in the 1000-room, 14-story Potala Palace.’

“There also were slaves, usually domestic servants, who owned nothing. Their offspring were born into slavery. The majority of the rural population were serfs. Treated little better than slaves, the serfs went without schooling or medical care, They were under a lifetime bond to work the lord’s land–or the monastery’s land–without pay, to repair the lord’s houses, transport his crops, and collect his firewood. They were also expected to provide carrying animals and transportation on demand. Their masters told them what crops to grow and what animals to raise. They could not get married without the consent of their lord or lama. And they might easily be separated from their families should their owners lease them out to work in a distant location.

“As in a free labor system and unlike slavery, the overlords had no responsibility for the serf’s maintenance and no direct interest in his or her survival as an expensive piece of property. The serfs had to support themselves. Yet as in a slave system, they were bound to their masters, guaranteeing a fixed and permanent workforce that could neither organize nor strike nor freely depart as might laborers in a market context. The overlords had the best of both worlds.” [4]

The NED calls the former feudal overlord, the Dalai Lama, seen here with George W. Bush, “a devoted democrat.” The slaves and serfs of the old Tibet might disagree.

The old Tibet, then, was hardly a society of peace and tranquility ruled over by a benign ruler. It was a class society torn by conflict and predicated on brutal, naked, exploitation. Despite this, a February 16, 2010 NED press release describes the former Tibetan feudal overlord “not only as a moral and religious leader respected throughout the world but as a fellow democrat who shares America’s deepest values.” [5]

In the same press release, the NED urged the Obama administration “to express America’s strong support for him” (a “devoted democrat”) “and what he represents – genuine autonomy for the Tibetan people.” [6] But why should the NED urge the US administration to express support for autonomy in Tibet, when Washington has never supported autonomy for the Basques, Corsicans, the Kurds in Turkey, the Scots and Irish nationalists, or the South Ossetians?

“The answer is obvious: the United States does not support separatist movements in countries they consider their allies. The targets are either countries they consider rivals, like Russia or China, or countries that are too weak to resist, and where they can obtain totally dependent client states from the breakup – which is what happened with Yugoslavia.” [7]

Weber’s defense of the NED comes in response to a call from Shika Dalmia, a senior analyst at the Reason Foundation, urging the Obama administration to cut funding to the NED on grounds the organization has outlived its original mandate, overthrowing communism.

In a Washington Times article, Dalmia wrote that the NED,

“…was founded by President Reagan in the heyday of the Cold War to contain communism. Communism has since evaporated, and democracy has spread like wildfire in the former Soviet Union, Still, President Obama proposes to hand the NED $109 million this year. This despite the fact that NED has been dogged by controversy, the least of which being that it once spent $1.5 million to defend democracy in the Soviet bastion called France. Worse, although NED gets all its funding from the government, it is structured like a private entity over whose board – an improbable hybrid of representatives of business, unions, and other concerns—Congress has little control. The upshot is that sitting presidents have used it to do things abroad that Congress wouldn’t approve. In the mid-1980s, for instance, it directed funding to the political opponents of the then-president of Costa Rica—long a beacon of democracy—simply because he opposed Reagan’s Nicaragua policy.” [8]

Predictably, Weber rejects Dalmia’s arguments. “Take the example of her contention that communism has ‘evaporated’,” he counters, “and tell that to the defectors who have risked everything to escape the hell on earth that is nuclear-armed North Korea.” [9]

Hell on earth? Is this like the hell on earth that is a ghetto in the hyper-nuclear-armed United States, or the hell on earth that is the Gaza blockaded by a nuclear-armed Israel backed by the hyper-nuclear-armed Pentagon?

North Korea

As a member of the US foreign policy establishment, Weber ought to be careful about talking of hell on earth, for Washington is among the principal authors of unnecessary torment in this world. Iraq, site of the greatest contemporary humanitarian catastrophe, is a hell on earth, and it was created by the United States, for reasons that have nothing whatever to do with what Washington said motivated the country’s Iraq sanctions policy and invasion. What did US B52 bombers create in Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia if not hell on earth? And what condition prevailed after the atomic bombings of Hiroshima, and Nagasaki, and the fire-bombing of Dresden?

Hell on earth in north Korea didn’t begin with the US demolishing every building over one-story, but it did nothing to relieve it. The torment didn’t end either when Washington practiced nuclear terrorism by deploying battlefield nuclear weapons on the Korean peninsula or when in 1993 it announced it was targeting strategic nuclear missiles on north Korea, a country which, at the time, had no nuclear weapons.

The NED’s role in overthrowing communism played its own part in creating hell on earth in north Korea by bringing about the collapse of the country’s markets. Decades-long sanctions have also made life tougher, precisely as intended by US policy makers. And unremitting military pressure from the United States, a military behemoth, has forced north Korea, a military pipsqueak, to channel a punishingly high percentage of its meagre resources into self-defense, depriving the country of the capital it needs for productive investment. If there is a hell on earth in north Korea, it exists because the United States has created one, deliberately, systematically, and with the intention of crushing a top-to-bottom alternative to Third World dependency on the United States.

Jestina Mukoko

Meanwhile, the NED has celebrated Jestina Mukoko, a Zimbabwean who was arrested in December 2008 by Zimbabwe state security agents, who Mukuko claims tortured her.

Mukoko is variously connected in leadership roles with organizations funded by the NED and United State Agency for International Development (USAID.) She is, for example, “the executive director of the Zimbabwe Peace Project, a grantee of the” NED [10], as well as a member of the board of the Zimbabwe Election Support Network, an organization interlocked with a number of other Western-funded anti-Mugabe groups, and which receives its funding from the NED and USAID.

Jestina Mukoko, center, feted in Washington for her role as a US government-funded regime change agent. Honored by US Secretary of State Hilary Clinton and US First Lady Michelle Obama for services to the empire.

To understand why Mukoko was arrested, it helps to place her activities in the context of the Mugabe government’s efforts to carry through land reform, the West’s opposition to the expropriation of white settler farmland, and the efforts of the United States to enforce respect for private property rights through a campaign of regime change in which Mukoko plays a role.

The following points, therefore, are salient:

1. The United States is openly working to exclude Zimbabwe’s Zanu-PF party (which champions land reform and economic indigenization) from government, and to replace it with the Movement for Democratic Change (which advocates policies that would inevitably strengthen foreign domination of Zimbabwe’s land, labor and natural resources.)
2. The US-sponsored regime change campaign operates through the NED and USAID-financing of domestic activists, like Mukoko.
3. While the ostensible objective of NED and USAID-sponsored activities in Zimbabwe is the promotion of democracy and human rights, the real aim is the installation of a government committed to facilitating the pursuit of US and Western interests, including allowing the sale of agricultural land to foreign investors. That the United States and its foundations have the slightest concern for promoting democracy and human rights is belied by the US practices of detaining people without charge in secret prisons, the scandals of Abu Ghraib, Bagram and Guantanamo, the furnishing of aid and support to such notorious autocracies as Egypt and Saudi Arabia, and the backing of the Israeli blockade of Gaza to punish Gazans for exercising their democratic rights in electing Hamas. The NED does, however, care deeply about the interests of US corporations, banks and investors which, after all, play the dominant role in shaping US policy and whose representatives staff the key positions of the US state.

In other words, Mukoko is deeply connected to a US state which is openly hostile to Zimbabwe and its land reform and economic indigenization programs, and seeks to oust the Zanu-PF element of the current government. Is it any wonder she has drawn the attention of the Zimbabwe’s security services?

This mercenary on behalf of US interests recently travelled to Washington where she was feted by US Secretary of State Hilary Clinton and US First Lady Michelle Obama, an act not too much different from Petain traveling to Berlin to be showered with honors by Ribbentrop and Eva Braun. What would the US security state do to a US-based jihadist who took money from a foundation financed by the Iranian government to promote the rise of an Islamic Republic in the United States and who would later travel to Tehran to be personally presented with official honors by Mabouchehr Mottaki, the Iranian foreign minister?

At the ceremony honouring Mukoko’s services to the empire, Michelle Obama expressed shock that Mukoko “was interrogated (by Zimbabwe security agents) for hours while forced to kneel on gravel…” [11] This was precious, coming from the wife of a president whose country has spent the last decade kidnapping militants who oppose their southwest Asian countries being dominated by the United States and its corrupt puppet regimes and then subjecting them to stress positions, water-boarding and other “enhanced” interrogation techniques, when they’re not being shipped off to allied countries to face more unrestrained forms of torture, or are simply being assassinated. Belaboring the Eva Braun analogy, Obama’s shock was like Hitler’s partner complaining about the Soviets exchanging territory with Finland by force, long after the Nazis had gone on their rampage through Europe.

In his book Age of Empire, historian Eric Hobsbawm observed that,

“The age of democracy turned into an era of public political hypocrisy, or rather duplicity, where those who held power only said what they really meant in the obscurity of the corridors of power. Thus was born an enormous gap between public discourse and political reality”…

…a disparity all too evident in the NED’s public pronouncements.

[1] Vin Weber, “Vin Weber: Defending the well-endowed,” The Washington Times, March 11, 2010.

[2] David K. Shipler, “Missionaries for Democracy: U.S. Aid for Global Pluralism,” The New York Times, June 1, 1986.

[3] John M. Broder, “Political Meddling by Outsiders: Not New for U.S.,” The New York Times, April 1, 1997.

[4] Michael Parenti, “Friendly Feudalism: The Tibet Myth,” Michael Parenti Political Archive, http://www.michaelparenti.org/Tibet.html

[5] National Endowment for Democracy, “How to welcome the Dalai Lama to Washington,” February 16, 2010.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Diana Johnstone, “Breaking Yugoslavia,” New Left Project, March 3, 2010, http://www.newleftproject.org/index.php/site/article_comments/breaking_yugoslavia/

[8] Shikha Dalmia, “Busting the well-endowed,” The Washington Times, March 4, 2010.

[9] Weber.

[10] Michael Allen, “Activist demands accountability and end to impunity in Zimbabwe,” Democracy Digest, March 12, 2010.

11. Ibid.

Written by what's left

March 22, 2010 at 10:50 pm

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