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Myths of Progress and the Temporality of Imperialism

It is commonplace in many intellectual and cultural spheres in the Anglo-Saxon world to refer to some places, regions, or states as “behind” others. For example, in the concerted attempt to synthesize feminist and neo-conservative rhetoric in the justification for the war and continued occupation of Afghanistan, the Bush and Obama administrations regularly referred to Afghanistan as being “behind” “the west” in terms of women’s rights, implying a linear progression from a patriarchal, tribal society which oppresses to women to a equitable, cosmopolitan one where women are nominally equals with their male counterparts. The selling of this particular narrative of progress was an important part of the CIA public relations strategy for shoring up support for the continued occupation of Afghanistan (see also: Stone, 2013).

Jorge Luis Borges once remarked that the lack of camels mentioned in the Koran proves its authentic origins in Arabia and the time of Mohammad: only an Arab author could have taken such an essential beast for granted so as not to mention it. The temporal discourse of some countries being “behind” and others being “ahead” (or maybe “on schedule” in rare cases) is much like the camel not in the Koran: it seems so normalized in our Anglo-American/European cultural worldview that the idea that temporal placement of individuals, groups, and countries functions as a means of making value-judgments about the subject goes generally without saying. Most readers of an Anglo-American background will know what is meant when Hillary Clinton says she won in the places that are “dynamic, moving forward,” while she lost in places that were “looking backwards”.

In the discipline of International Development Studies, which I am currently minoring in, this forward/backward notion of progress was quite explicit just a generation ago in Modernization Theory (McMichael, 2016). In the simplest terms, modernization theory proposed that liberal capitalist states were “developed” and “modern”, and therefore contemporary, while those “undeveloped” states in the socialist bloc and the third world were “behind” and “undeveloped”. The language of first, second, and third worlds also came from this period, which is also a value-judgment which implies these “worlds” are on different planes of existence based on their levels of development.

Empire, Optimism, and Time-Space compression

Before the 1900s, it would be extremely peculiar in European thought to imagine the future as radically different from the present. Even Enlightenment revolutionaries usually argued that what they were doing was restoring a correct and natural order which preceded the deformed order which oppressed them. The French revolution, arguably one of the most “progressive” political developments in history in terms of creating contemporary notions of sovereignty, democracy, and republicanism and overthrowing the aristocratic order, was largely rhetorically inspired by the Roman and Athenian republics and by the idea of Rousseau’s “state of nature”, rather than the idea of creating something entirely new.

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Progress, Restoration, or Both?

It was only in Victorian England, the centre of the British Empire and at that time widely regarded as the centre of the world economy, much like the United States today, (O’Brien and Williams, 2007) that the idea of “progress” as we now understand it began to have real intellectual legitimacy. The development of electricity and the telegram led to a kind of cultural time-space compression; things were happening faster, consumer goods were travelling further, information was more widely available – early indicators of what we now call globalization. Among the imperial bourgeois of England, deeply intertwined with the royal court of queen Victoria, this spawned the first generation of futurists, bringing together colonial officers, British industrialists, American tycoons, and professional inventors in a project to reshape the world according to a furious and destabilizing techno-capitalism.

It is around this period that we first see references to Great Britain being “ahead” of other civilizations at the time. New technology, regarded as “progress” in its own right, was seen as bursting forth from the Victorian form of social organization. This perceived techno-social supremacy accompanied the development of scientific racism and the idea of whiteness, where Darwinian evolutionary theory was hamfistedly applied to human societies to explain the apparent disparity in intellect between the Victorian “white race” and their colonial subjects. This notion of “social evolutionism” was at the foreground of early anthropology, as well as the Victorians’ own perception of self supremacy (Forte, 2016). Equally, social Darwinism came to explain the increasing stratification between capitalists and workers in industrial society, depicting the working class as dirty, uncouth, and holding on to old peasant ways which kept them from experiencing the full blessings that industrial wage-labour bequeathed them.

Think on Donald Trump’s recent remarks that a variety of Central American, Caribbean, and African countries are “shitholes”, or the affore quote from Hilary Clinton, who seems to place her voters at a higher stage of human achievement because they produce more GDP, while Trump voters (especially in the Midwest) are “deplorables”. Both these value-judgments imply superiority of the speaker’s own partisan political camp based on adherence and fulfillment of the Victorian ideal while revealing the disdain for various underclasses essential to such an elitist worldview.

The Victorian era also saw a number of norms and institutions that readers will likely see as resonant with contemporary “western” society: philanthropic charity (as distinct from classical charity), states of “permanent warfare” – recall Afghanistan from the introduction, which both Great Britain and the US became embroiled in, –  aversion to “provincialism” and preference for cosmopolitanism, and increased proletarianization and declining prospects for the majority of people (Forte, 2016).

Capitalist Realism, New Victorianism: Colonizing the Future

https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/3/34/Square_Victoria.JPG/220px-Square_Victoria.JPG
Victoria Memorial, Montreal, QC

The Victorian “forward acceleration” in the realm of culture accompanied, and was basically synonymous with, the rapacious accumulation of capital via exploitation and plunder, of Britain’s colonies. It should come as no surprise that the society which used terra nullius to build a “Greater Britain” (Forte, 2016) through the genocidal settler-colonies of Canada, the United States, Australia, and New Zealand regarded the future as terra incognita: unknown land, ripe for colonization (Morus, 2014). As residents of this “Greater Britain”, we in English-speaking North America have largely inherited the Victorian worldview. Pax Britanica has been succeeded by Pax Americana. Is it any wonder that all fantastical futures, from Star Trek to Elon Musk’s plans to populate Mars, are imagined as better, more benevolent forms of colonization?

Self-described “progressive” elites, everyone from neoconservative lobbyists to left-liberal academics, tell us that, “you can’t go backward,” or, “you can’t turn the clock back,” and, “a return to the past is impossible”. They insist that we are all going to be brought to “the future” – which seems to mean liberal democracy, globalization, and free trade. But this “progress” implies a perfect, linear arc of time through which history “progresses” towards an inevitable ontology. Such a constant acceleration, like the one imagined by the old Victorians and by today’s “new” Victorians (Forte, 2016), is neither reasonably possible nor desirable. Thus, while we are insistently told to subscribe to “progress”, we are also jarringly proscribed a “dead end” in liberal democracy.

With “progress” ending, so does history, according to liberalism/progressivism. This was Francis Fukuyama’s thesis, which suggested that liberal democracy and capitalism would eventually overtake the whole world, led by the imperial United States  (Fukuyama, 1992). Fukuyama has of course had to revise his thesis several times, as threats as varied as advancements in biotechnology to geopolitical rivals to the US shake his faith in the eventuality of global liberalism.

But Fukuyama’s thesis that there is no alternative to liberal capitalism continues to resonate in popular culture. We are presented at once with liberal utopianism about its own future and “capitalist realism” (Fischer, 2014) about the possibility of systems besides liberal capitalism. The 21st century, as an age of progress at the end of progress, is one that repeats older forms of optimism and progressivism in order to conceal the stagnation and decline of American imperialism. New Victorianism which mimes the old Victorianism of imperial Britain is one way we can see this, with the pattern of imperial decline being repeated in the US case. Another is the emergence of recyclable popular culture. The reader is likely familiar with how fashion, trends, and aesthetics seem to rise and fall in vogue in an increasingly rapid, cyclical fashion. The colour at the time of writing seems to be 80’s nostalgia, which recycles the “lost future” into a consumer package that at once satisfies nostalgia for a time when optimism seemed more tangible, and makes the return of optimism seem possible in spite of capitalist crises and imperial decline (Fischer, 2014).

There are two kinds of colonialism at play here which serve to narrow the popular imagination. On the one hand, the classical Victorian tendency insists that there is something valuable in the notion of progress – that we should take pride in being “ahead” and like messiahs we should spread our forwardness in the form of “nation building” and “opening up markets”. On the other hand, imagining a system besides liberal capitalism is forbidden, a colonial restriction of self-determination. Just as old and new Victorians said and continue to say that colonial subjects are incapable of governing themselves on their own terms, requiring them to accept liberalism, globalization, and capitalism, so too is imagining a system besides capitalism dictated as impossible. In fact, these two kinds of restriction on self-determination are interrelated, often to the point of being indistinguishable.

Dystopia of the Now: The view from Latin America

The silence on how Victorian progressivism and imperialism shapes our public imaginations is not only because ideology is often most effective when it is silent, but because public intellectual inquiry has been shaped to take its presumptions for granted. Bourdieu and Wacquant deal with the internationalization of US paradigms in their controversial piece “On the Cunning of Imperialist Reason”. The US has thus created an “international lingua franca” that ignores local particularities, and they point to various examples of the “symbolic dominion and influence” exercised by the US (Bourdieu & Wacquant, 1999). This “US ontology”, a product of US imperialism,  among other things proscribes a temporal “forwardness” positioning some countries as “ahead” and others “behind”, to the point that we have very few other ways of talking about international inequalities.

In this privileging of the temporal, globalist, and ultimately imperialist notion of progress, mainstream academia often ignores local conditions and realities. In the case of Latin America, we can see how this ideology of progress, and the privileging of the advancing imperial centre, plays out in reality. The very phrase Latin America comes from “modernizing” elites; the English “Latin America” comes from the Spanish Latinoamerica, which in turn comes from Latinidad, meaning to have  “Latinness”. This distinction was made by liberal elites in the newly-independent Spanish colonies to denote their proximity to the “Latin” or “European” world (Mignolo, 2005). Disdaining the provincialism of their compatriots, they sought to replicate European and American models (Burns, 1980).  Progress was equated with Europeanization, which under the tutorship of Britain, France, and the United States, also meant urbanization and industrialization at the expense of Indigenous societies and local cultural traditions. The result was increased foreign penetration of Latin American economies and dependency (Forte, 2018).

In the case of resistance, the “provincial” peasantry and indigenous peoples, were denounced as ignoramuses. “Reason” was the exclusive claim of the liberal, urban, European elite. The “reactionary” peasants were stuck in the past, while the elites were in the future (Burns, 1980).

Despite this history of repeated immiseration through “modernization”, and the increasingly obvious failure of the US-imposed model even within the US itself, self-appointed experts continue to claim that  Latin America is “underdeveloped” due to the persistence of feudal and traditional pre-capitalist forms of production within their economies and that therefore Latin American states should “develop” further i.e. expand the reach of capitalism in order to achieve prosperity. There is a magic belief that capital is benevolent, when in fact capitalism often breeds poverty, disease, and death. One can also hear echoes of elitist denunciations of the peasantry in the way that US authorities condemn “tyrants” and “populists” in the region.

Today, there are millions in Latin America who might be described as “victims of progress”. Progress “is a deep cultural bias of Western thought,” and it is the hallmark of the deterministic thinking of the Victorians, accepting “survival of the fittest” indicting those who do not survive capitalism as “failures” (Fischer, 2014). As such, there are cycles of “progress” and “modernization” in Latin America. With each cycle of capitalist “development” – expanding, appropriating resources, and incorporating people, spaces, and things into commodity production – Latin America is repeatedly decimated and  bound as a net exporter of raw materials, capital, and labour value back to the global “metropolis”. The constant cycles of capital, rather than “modernizing” the continent, reproduce a peculiar kind of savagery.

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Progress?

While modernization theorists tend to view institutions like the hacienda and the landed elite of Latin America, notorious for indentured labour and brutality, as a feudal anachronism to be swept away by a more mature capitalist system of land ownership resembling the European plot farms, the reality is that the hacienda is fundamental to the sustenance not only of the local elites of Latin America, but the capitalist mode of production; representing the tendency towards monopolization in agriculture, rather than a non-capitalist anomaly. This was one of the great insights of world-systems theorists Andre Gunder Frank, which he called  “development of underdevelopment” (Frank, 1969a, p. 9):

“the latifundium, irrespective of whether it appears today as a plantation or a hacienda, was typically born as a commercial enterprise which created for itself the institutions which permitted it to respond to increased demand in the world or national market by expanding the amount of its land, capital, and labor (sic) and to increase the supply of its products” (Frank, 1969b, p. 14).

The “modernizers” thus produce “savergry” in need of civilizing.

The illusion of Victorian progressivism is that Latin America’s “backwardness” and Greater Britain’s “advancement” are unrelated. In the worldview of the world’s elite, Latin America has simply failed to conform with “progress” and this is the cause of its problems. The reality is that imitation of European or US models is not only undesirable because they do not reflect local conditions, but impossible because all current and historical US and European models of enrichment and “progress” are contingent upon the impoverishment of Latin America.

Conclusion

Linear, Eurocentric, universalist narratives of progress are deeply embedded in our cultural worldview, both the mainstream and a variety of self-described “dissident” currents in the west. They are comforting, magic tales with familiar myths that many people are encultured into, and are exported across the world through media, communications, commerce, and military might. Yet, they cannot and do not speak for the rest of the world and their proscriptions are anything but universal. This is not a call for total rejection of the European experience or European philosophies, but an important contribution to the tradition of cultural criticism. With this criticism in mind, a future besides capitalist modernization is more readily to be understood on its own terms.

Image result for technicians wanted NASA recruitment posterCover Image: From NASA’s “Technicians Wanted” recruitment poster

References

Burns, E. Bradford. (1980). The Poverty of Progress: Latin America in the Nineteenth Century. Berkeley: University of California Press.

Bourdieu, Pierre, & Wacquant, Loic. 1999. “On the Cunning of Imperialist Reason”. Theory, Culture & Society, Vol. 16, no. 1: 41-58.

Central Intelligence Agency, and Red Cell. 2010 (released). “CIA Report into Shoring up Afghan War Support in Western Europe,” Wikileaks.

Deaton, Angus. (2018). “The U.S. Can No Longer Hide From Its Deep Poverty Problem”. The New York Times

Fischer, Mark. 2014. Ghosts of my life: writings on depression, hauntology and lost futures. Winchester, UK: Zero Books.

Forte, Maximillian. 2017, “Progress, Progressivism, and Progressives: An Anthropologist’s Perspective.” Zero Anthropology.

Forte, Maximillian. 2016. The New Victorianism. Montreal, QC: Concordia University.

Frank, Andre Gunder. 1969a. Capitalism and Underdevelopment in Latin America: Historical Studies of Chile and Brazil. New York, NY: Monthly Review Press.

Frank, Andre Gunder. 1969b. Latin America: Underdevelopment or Revolution. New York, NY: Monthly Review Press.

Fukuyama, Francis. 1992. The End of History and the Last Man. New York, NY: Free Press Inc.

Lutes, Abram Johannes F. 2016. “Political Economy of Eurocentrism: The Post-WW2 “Development Project” As Colonialism.” Peripheral Thought.

McMichael, 2016. Development and Social Change. New York, NY: SAGE Publications.

Mignolo, Walter. 2005. The Idea of Latin America. New York, NY: Wiley.

Morus, Iwan Rhys. 2014. “Future Perfect: Social progress, high-speed transport and electricity everywhere—how the Victorians invented the future”. Aeon.

Nagle, Angela. 2017. “Enemies of the People.” The Baffler, No. 34.

Nitzberg, Alex. 2 November 2018. “‘The Troika of Tyranny’: Bolton Condemns The Cuban, Venezuelan and Nicaraguan Regimes“. Town Hall.

O’Brien, R. and Marc Williams. 2007. “The Industrial Revolution, Pax Britanica, and Imperialism.” Global Political Economy (2nd ed.). New York, NY Palgrave/Macmillan: 77-105.

Stone, Brendan. 2013. “Colonial Feminism, Liberal “Progress,” and the Weakness of the Left“. Zero Anthropology.

York, Richard, & Clark, Brett. 2011. “Stephen Jay Gould’s Critique of Progress”. Monthly Review.

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The Geneva Men: A Review of ‘Globalists’ by Quinn Slobodian

A review of Quinn Slobodian, 2017. Globalists: The End of Empire and the Birth of
Neoliberalism. Boston, MA: Harvard University Press.

https://images-na.ssl-images-amazon.com/images/I/51kcoHzJqyL._SX329_BO1,204,203,200_.jpgNeoliberalism and globalism have both become buzzwords used within the political discourse by intellectuals, journalists, as much as celebrities in order to describe and explain recent events. But what are really neoliberalism and globalism, and in what relation do they stand to each other? Quinn Slobodian argues in his recent book Globalists: The End of Empire and the Birth of Neoliberalism, that neoliberalism and globalism are commensurate concepts, an economic doctrine on the one hand and a political worldview on the other, both mutually reinforcing a particular form of contemporary capitalism. Slobodian puts the notion that neoliberalism lacks a clear referent to rest. Instead, he argues that neoliberalism and globalism have existed as a coherent body of thought since the 1920s. Tracing the origins and consequent development of these ideas, he offers the readers a richer, more precise history of both the idea and practice of neoliberalism-globalism, with particular attention to their relationship with sovereignty and democracy. As such, he provides us with a much needed historical and theoretical corrective to the oft repeated and yet often historically inaccurate theories of neoliberalism.

Donald Trump, who railed against ‘globalism’ on the campaign trail, was elected in 2016 partly on a platform of defying free trade agreements like the Trans-Pacific Partnership and NAFTA. Similarly, we have recently witnessed a proliferation of anti-EU forces from both the left and right in Europe, notably in form of Brexit in the UK and in Italy’s recent elections. Mexico has also recently elected the ‘populist’ Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, who threatens to destabilize NAFTA, at least as we know it. These political upheavals against the postwar world order make Globalists a timely and necessary reading for anyone interested in intellectual and economic history.

Central to Slobodian’s argument in Globalists is a rejection of the idea that neoliberalism can simply be reduced to ‘market fundamentalism’, a term central to Karl Polyani’s critique. Rather, Slobodian argues, neoliberalism is a form of regulation, rather than a radical opposition to regulation; it is a form of regulation that seeks to reshape societies to be more favorable to the interests of the market and of the capitalist class, in opposition to democracy and sovereignty if necessary.

Typically, histories of neoliberalism begin somewhere around the Reagan and Thatcher governments of the 1970s. However, Slobodian traces the history of neoliberalism further back, beginning in Austria in the 1920s with the fall of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and of the House of Hapsburg. During this time of the beginning of the end for the old empires of Europe, Austria held its first election with universal male suffrage, catapulting the radical Social Democratic Party to previously unforeseen influence in the government. Without the autocratic counterweight of the Hapsburg monarchy, conservative Austrian elites feared that their privileges and class power would be undone by the new democratic government. In response, the Austrian nomenklatura, now-infamous names like Friedrich Hayek and Ludwig von Mises among them, called for a renovation of the capitalist class’s approach to managing power. Their proposed solution was not only intended to the challenge social democracy and the global compounded rise of nationalism, socialism, but also more crucially democratic self-determination. To the capitalist class these forces represented different sides of the same basic threat: the rubes of the world, incapable of governing themselves, turned against their betters. In the words of Lionel Robbins, one of the first ardent globalists, ‘”Mines for miners” and “Papua for Papuans” are analytically similar slogans.’

Contrary to widespread belief, the Austrian School of Economics, as Hayek and Mises’ faction are often called, did not propose a regime of laissez-faire economics as we normally understand it. Rather, they sought to overcome the limitations of the old regime of mercantile colonialism, which divided the world territorially amongst competing camps of European capitalists, through the use of truly global institutions—the League of Nations, the European Court of Justice, the World Trade Organization, international investment law, etc. — to insulate markets. Their basic ethos could be summed up as follows: ‘International institutions should act as mechanisms for protecting and furthering competition without offering spaces for popular claims-making’ (p. 271). This, they believed, would protect the profits of the capitalist class against the laws of sovereign states, political instability, and demands raised by civil society and workers for greater equality and social justice. Many leaders of the early neoliberal movement relocated to Geneva in order to influence the shaping of these institutions, leading Slobodian to call them the ‘Geneva School’ (p. 7). The Geneva School was closely tied to business and finance, and its members moved easily between academic settings and lobby organizations such as the International Chamber of Commerce.

The popular (mis)understanding of neoliberalism is perhaps best represented by Karl Polyani’s description of the movement in The Great Transformation, where he uses the term ‘market fundamentalism’ to describe the Geneva School ideology. In this interpretation, neoliberals advocate for ‘disembedded’ markets which, separated from society, replace social bonds with atomized relations, giving rise to counter-reactions within society in the form of either xenophobic nationalism or revolutionary socialism. Slobodian, however, identifies the objective of the Geneva School instead as ‘enclosing’ markets in international institutions and treaties. Far from being fundamentalists with an irrational faith in the market, Hayek and Mises readily accepted that markets are ‘products of the political construction of institutions [which] encase them’ (p.7).

The first economic gathering to take the entire world as its subject was the World Economic Conference of 1927. Famous neoliberals like Mises, Gottfried, Haberler, Röpke, Hayek and the aforementioned Robbins all took a direct role in the conference and the subsequent declaration advocating global economic governance, codifying international opposition to ‘trade obstacles’ on the part of the European elite (p. 30). This is the first attempt documented in Globalists of neoliberals trying to conjure up a supranational federation of capitalists as a way to offset the dual pressures of national economic planning and decolonization.

The wave of independent nation-states rising from the ashes of empire after the world wars prompted greater urgency for such a supranational power. From the perspective of capitalists and their neoliberal lieutenants, these were adversaries to be thwarted. ‘For [Mises]’, writes Slobodian, ‘the real war was not between individual nations or empires but between the world economy and the nation as forms of human organization’ (p.109). It is from this capitalist project of ‘militant globalism’ against ‘economic nationalism’ 01b_wto_interior-(Heilperin, quoted on p. 130) that Slobodian traces the development of entities like the European Union, Free Trade Agreements and the Investor-State Dispute clauses they contain, as well as the World Trade Organization, and the neoliberal intellectuals’ instrumental role in their construction. While these institutions ultimately benefited the elites of the European countries and the United States, they required even the wealthy countries to acquiesce their sovereignty to dictates which spanned multiple sovereign jurisdictions, making them difficult to be challenged by any one government without inviting conflict.

Of particular interest to anthropologists, Slobodian focuses on neoliberal ambassadors’ deep interest in the area of culture. The globalists, from their vantage point in Geneva, left no intellectual or topical stone unturned. The Rockefeller and Ford Foundation, two of the largest funders of ethnographic projects to date, were generous in their support of neoliberal intellectuals seeking to broaden the conceptual scope of their project. The Rockefeller Foundation, for example, essentially bankrolled a study by Wilhelm Ropke in the Danube region which lambasted the locals for ‘economic simplism’ for seeking greater authority over their own economy (p. 75). Interestingly, Ropke considered this demand for economic control as a cultural phenomenon and sought to develop methods and instruments to reshape the culture of the Danube to be more accommodating to the global market.

Related imageGlobalists is effective in its ability to lay bare and substantiate with broad source evidence what Slobodian classifies as some basic truths about neoliberal ideology. The book also weaves a convincing narrative about these tenets and their implementation across the modern world. The basic principles Slobodian ascribes to neoliberal globalism are mostly described in negatives. The first is neoliberalism’s aversion to democracy, particularly to democracy that cannot be manipulated or neutered in some way. Slobodian demonstrates this through quotations from neoliberal intellectuals, Mont Perlin Society memos, and internal documents of the European Union, IMF, and other bodies. The second is neoliberalism’s aversion to the nation-state and sovereignty, which binds capitalists by certain obligations which may limit their profits and liquidity, something Mises was particularly adamant about. The third and final, related to the proceeding points, is neoliberal globalism’s resistance to politicization; that states or peoples should have levers by which to regulate or transform their social conditions is the antithesis of the neoliberal project. The neoliberal globe is one without politics, especially without politics that could potentially interrupt the smooth expansion of the market. This may also explain why we can observe an uncanny rise of disturbing pseudo-politics within the last decades.

Neoliberalism as a body of thought and its Geneva School ambassadors have had profound political, economic, and cultural influence on the modern world. Globalists does an excellent job of summarizing and explaining neoliberalism’s development, its core principles, and its direction. It is also a retort to lazy analyses of neoliberalism, which focus solely on aspects of economic policy or reform, and not on the other arenas of human life – culture, politics, international relations, etc. – which the Geneva School has actively and consciously sought to shape, along with Keynesians, imperial bureaucracies, business lobbyists, activists of certain stripes, and a host of other actors. Globalists is a valuable and refreshingly thorough book which clearly defines and scrutinizes the intellectual and practical components of neoliberalism in a manner which is deserving of commendation.

This of Dr. Quinn Slobodian’s most recent book was originally written for and published in the Journal of Extreme Anthropology as part of their forthcoming special issue on SOVEREIGNTY, which you can access here. A pdf of the review is available from the JEA page and on my academia.edu page.

As part of my work maintaining Peripheral Thought, we will soon publish a series of articles on SOVEREIGNTY, in part inspired by and intended to accompany JEA’s release of the special issue on the same topic. 

The suggested citation for this review is:

Lutes, Abram. 2018. “The Geneva Men: A Review of ‘Globalists’ by Quinn Slobodian” in Journal of Extreme Anthropology, Vol. 2, no. 2: Sovereignty.

 

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In Memoriam: Anthony Bourdain on America’s “uncomfortable” encounter with Mexico

Transcript of a monologue by Anthony Michael Bourdain, 1956-2018

Americans love Mexican food. We consume nachos, tacos, burritos, tortas, enchiladas, tamales and anything resembling Mexican in enormous quantities. We love Mexican beverages, happily knocking back huge amounts of tequila, mezcal and Mexican beer every year. We love Mexican people—as we sure employ a lot of them. Despite our ridiculously hypocritical attitudes towards immigration, we demand that Mexicans cook a large percentage of the food we eat, grow the ingredients we need to make that food, clean our houses, mow our lawns, wash our dishes, look after our children. As any chef will tell you, our entire service economy—the restaurant business as we know it—in most American cities, would collapse overnight without Mexican workers. Some, of course, like to claim that Mexicans are “stealing American jobs”. But in two decades as a chef and employer, I never had ONE American kid walk in my door and apply for a dishwashing job, a porter’s position—or even a job as prep cook. Mexicans do much of the work in this country that Americans, probably, simply won’t do.

We love Mexican drugs. Maybe not you personally, but “we”, as a nation, certainly consume titanic amounts of them—and go to extraordinary lengths and expense to acquire them. We love Mexican music, Mexican beaches, Mexican architecture, interior design, Mexican films.

So, why don’t we love Mexico?

We throw up our hands and shrug at what happens and what is happening just across the border. Maybe we are embarrassed. Mexico, after all, has always been there for us, to service our darkest needs and desires. Whether it’s dress up like fools and get pass-out drunk and sun burned on Spring break in Cancun, throw pesos at strippers in Tijuana, or get toasted on Mexican drugs, we are seldom on our best behavior in Mexico. They have seen many of us at our worst. They know our darkest desires.

In the service of our appetites, we spend billions and billions of dollars each year on Mexican drugs—while at the same time spending billions and billions more trying to prevent those drugs from reaching us. The effect on our society is everywhere to be seen. Whether it’s kids nodding off and overdosing in small town Vermont, gang violence in LA, burned out neighborhoods in Detroit— it’s there to see. What we don’t see, however, haven’t really noticed, and don’t seem to much care about, is the 80,000 dead—mostly innocent victims in Mexico, just in the past few years. 80,000 dead. 80,000 families who’ve been touched directly by the so-called “War On Drugs”.

Mexico. Our brother from another mother. A country, with whom, like it or not, we are inexorably, deeply involved, in a close but often uncomfortable embrace. Look at it. It’s beautiful. It has some of the most ravishingly beautiful beaches on earth. Mountains, desert, jungle. Beautiful colonial architecture, a tragic, elegant, violent, ludicrous, heroic, lamentable, heartbreaking history. Mexican wine country rivals Tuscany for gorgeousness. Its archeological sites—the remnants of great empires, unrivaled anywhere. And as much as we think we know and love it, we have barely scratched the surface of what Mexican food really is. It is NOT melted cheese over a tortilla chip. It is not simple, or easy. It is not simply ‘bro food’ halftime. It is in fact, old– older even than the great cuisines of Europe and often deeply complex, refined, subtle, and sophisticated. A true mole sauce, for instance, can take DAYS to make, a balance of freshly (always fresh) ingredients, painstakingly prepared by hand. It could be, should be, one of the most exciting cuisines on the planet. If we paid attention. The old school cooks of Oaxaca make some of the more difficult to make and nuanced sauces in gastronomy. And some of the new generation, many of whom have trained in the kitchens of America and Europe have returned home to take Mexican food to new and thrilling new heights.

It’s a country I feel particularly attached to and grateful for. In nearly 30 years of cooking professionally, just about every time I walked into a new kitchen, it was a Mexican guy who looked after me, had my back, showed me what was what, was there—and on the case—when the cooks more like me, with backgrounds like mine—ran away to go skiing or surfing—or simply “flaked.” I have been fortunate to track where some of those cooks come from, to go back home with them. To small towns populated mostly by women—where in the evening, families gather at the town’s phone kiosk, waiting for calls from their husbands, sons and brothers who have left to work in our kitchens in the cities of the North. I have been fortunate enough to see where that affinity for cooking comes from, to experience moms and grandmothers preparing many delicious things, with pride and real love, passing that food made by hand, passed from their hands to mine.

In years of making television in Mexico, it’s one of the places we, as a crew, are happiest when the day’s work is over. We’ll gather round a street stall and order soft tacos with fresh, bright, delicious tasting salsas—drink cold Mexican beer, sip smoky mezcals, listen with moist eyes to sentimental songs from street musicians. We will look around and remark, for the hundredth time, what an extraordinary place this is.

The received wisdom is that Mexico will never change. That is hopelessly corrupt, from top to bottom. That it is useless to resist—to care, to hope for a happier future. But there are heroes out there who refuse to go along. On this episode of PARTS UNKNOWN, we meet a few of them. People who are standing up against overwhelming odds, demanding accountability, demanding change—at great, even horrifying personal cost.

This show is for them.

https://dailymotion.com/video/x2iiq08

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ANTHROPOLOGY ANTI-IMPERIALISM EMPIRE Featured GLOBALIZATION IMPERIAL DECLINE NEOLIBERALISM POLITICAL ECONOMY SOVEREIGNTY

NGO’s and Empire Maintenance: Aid distributors versus popular sovereignty

“If you have come here to help me, you are wasting your time. But if you come because your liberation is bound up with mine, then let us work together.”

Aboriginal activists group, Queensland, 1970s

Among the many foibles and spectacles which have characterized the presidency of Donald J. Trump, was his threat to withdraw humanitarian aid from foreign countries on two occasions, the first being a threat against any and all countries who did not vote for the US’s UN resolution to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, the other threatening to cut off aid to US ally Pakistan if Pakistan did not meet a series of demands, particularly compliance with the Trump administration’s strategy in Afghanistan.

In both instances, Trump and his UN ambassador Nikki Haley reiterated an old American myth that all US aid is disinterested charity, effectively accusing the Global South of being international welfare bums. They also assumed that US aid was indispensable to Global South countries’ survival. Yet, both Pakistan and Palestine in different ways sent a very distinct message; “we don’t care” and “we don’t need you”.

In Trump’s brash displays of bravado, he may have unwittingly contributed to the unraveling of one of US imperialism’s most effective “soft power” techniques for maintaining the loyalty of intermediaries in the Global South, namely international “aid”. International aid from the Global North cores to the Global South peripheries is by and large managed by government institutions like USAID in the United States and Global Affairs Canada (GAC) but enacted by private actors often referred to as Non-Governmental Organizations (NGO’s). NGO’s have proliferated since the 1980’s, interestingly in tandem with the rise of neoliberalism. Contrary to what much of their branding might suggest, they are essential pillars to the maintenance of imperialism today.

The “Caribbean letter”: On agency and neocolonialism in Haiti

In addition to Trump’s grandstanding, international aid has also captured recent news due to the scandals rocking once-respected Oxfam International, namely widespread sexual exploitation of Haitians by Oxfam employees and alleged use of prostitutes in Chad, and the arrest of Oxfam’s director for corruption charges related to his former role as president of Guatemala. Any of these scandals on their own would potentially topple one of the titans of the NGO industry, renowned in the Global North for its progressive credentials on issues such as gender and income inequality (though usually only from the perspective of imperial core navel-gazing), together they might mean a spectacularly quick demise.

Both these scandals have history behind them and were made possible by the deep structural characteristics of NGO’s as “force multipliers” (Forte, 2015) of US and Canadian imperialism. As a signed letter to The Guardian from Caribbean intellectuals and organizers pointed out:

“In 2008 some of us had written to Barbara Stocking, then Oxfam chief executive, objecting to a report that it sponsored, Rule of Rapists in Haiti, which labelled Haitians as rapists while hiding rapes by occupying UN forces. The year before, 114 soldiers had been sent home for raping women and girls, some as young as 11. No one was prosecuted. We wrote: “NGOs like Oxfam have known about rapes by UN forces, as well as by aid and charity workers, for decades. It’s the pressure of victims, women and [children] in the most impoverished communities, who had the courage to speak out that finally won … public acknowledgement.” There was no reply.

The latest revelations of sexual abuse by major charities…are but one facet of NGO corruption. The people of Haiti were the first to free themselves from slavery, but the colonial “masters” they defeated – France, Britain and the US – have continued to plunder and exploit, including through imported NGOs. Haiti has more NGOs per square mile than any other country and it remains the poorest in the western hemisphere. Corruption begins and ends with neo-colonial powers.

While celebrated for “doing good”, NGO professionals do well for themselves. They move between NGOs, academia and political appointments, enjoying a culture of impunity while they exercise power over the poorest. The Lancet described NGOs in Haiti as “polluted by unsavoury characteristics seen in many big corporations” and “obsessed with raising money”.

(Le Cointe, Altheia, Luke Daniels, Cristel Amiss et al., 13 February 2018)

This widespread abuse often goes unnoticed by the Global North public, whose tax dollars often subsidize these projects (Oxfam receives significant funding from the UK government). In fact, in a survey of the Canadian public, 91% of Canadians expressed at least “some confidence” while 41%, almost half, expressed “great confidence” in NGO’s (Barry-Shaw and Jay, 2012b). Canadians also see themselves as widely loved throughout the world (Barry-Shaw and Jay, 2012a). Yet, as the “Caribbean letter” demonstrates, Canadian NGO’s have more questionable reputations than the wider public might assume.

The normalization of NGO’s masks a series of insidious imperialist operations. In Haiti, NGO’s were used to conceal the increasing military role of the “international community”, headed by the United States, on the island. The US has twice intervened to overthrow popular Haitian president Jean-Bertrand Aristide, once in 1991 and again in 2004. The troops stationed in 2004 to quell pro-Aristide unrest remain in the country and are a key component to the management and distribution of international aid, and NGO’s are required to cooperate with these occupying forces. These same NGO’s, especially Quebec-based ones, cheered the overthrow of Aristide in 2004 (Forgie, 2014; Barry-Shaw and Jay, 2012b). Numerous NGO’s were also enlisted by the Clinton Foundation to engage in its “development projects”, which as we have discussed before, were in fact a scheme to loot poor Haitians. Such practices are more commonplace than the trusting Canadian public might assume, as state donors like USAID and GAC, or private foundations like the Clinton or Gates Foundation leverage their vast supply of funds to encourage NGO’s to act as maintenance tools for imperialism (Frogie, 2014; Reith, 2010).

BLUE-Green_Falcons_Team_With_Medical_Teams_International_to_Reach_Out_in_Haiti_DVIDS246857

That NGO’s describe such schemes as “partnerships” between themselves and government or corporate entities conceals the power imbalance between government and foundation funders and the NGO’s “on the ground”. Sally Reith (2010) describes this as the “Trojan Horse” of development discourses, implying a level, depoliticized playing field. Meanwhile, aid has a precisely political character to it, usually in favour of maintaining imperialism and neocolonialism (Engler, 2015). USAID, which is run by the US State Department, makes no secret of this, saying its purpose is to “further America’s interest while improving lives in the developing world” (emphasis added).

The Kennedy administration created USAID in 1961, and since then the agency has been the proving ground of US foreign assistance objectives. It has been proven that countries rotating onto the UN Security Council received on average 59% more aid. As soon as their term ended, aid would fall to historic lows (Kuziemko and Werker, 2006). In a related study, T.Y. Wang (1999) found that UN voting patterns on vital issues to American interests were successfully swayed through the practice of aid giving, rewarding compliance and punishing political defiance. NGO’s are often bound to these funding streams, making the name “non-governmental” seem quite unusual given their actual reliance on western government aid.

Youthful Idealism: From impetus for revolt to marketing technique

Related imageThese contemporary practices often coexist with NGO branding which promotes the role of western young people as “change-agents”, not only in their own societies, but across the entire world (Biehn, 2014). This is a legacy of the origin of NGO’s, especially in Canada, which grew out of attempts to neutralize the new anti-war left during the Pearson and Trudeau Sr. years. Many now-mainstream NGO’s such as CUSO, mostly composed of youth and students, were highly critical of the Vietnam war, and openly criticized the politicization of food aid by Canada as part of the Cold War. These organizations were lured by the relative tolerance of Pearson and Trudeau Sr.’s foreign policy, leading eventually to their institutionalization (Barry-Shaw and Jay, 2012b). CUSO was absorbed through a government coup of its board of directors, which ripped control of the organization away from its volunteers, while organizations like the Inter-Church Council (now KAIROS), had their funding slashed for criticizing neoliberal structural adjustment (Barry-Shaw and Jay, 2012a), the beginning of “funding discipline” as a technique for maintaining NGO’s as part of the imperialist nexus.

The idea that NGO’s were an expression of youthful change-making, however, was preserved, pivoted to neoliberal ends. Biehn (2014) scrutinizes this, demonstrating how recruitment messaging directed at potential volunteers enforces neoliberal, capitalist understandings of the problem of and potential solutions to global inequalities. Problems are thus decontextualized and depoliticized. The messages reinforce a desired image of the Western youth as a powerful actor, an impetus for change, and an inspiration (Biehn, 2014).

One of the organizations Biehn uses as a case study is International Student Volunteers (ISV). I had a colleague working on a research project with ISV, which we discussed. She was quick to express her frustration with the organization being dominated by a particular milieu of people, what I would call the professional-managerial stratum along with a particularly involved section of the liberal bourgeoisie. These “white and privileged” (her words) families dominated ISV much to her frustration (her project was to find ways to increase the diversity of ISV volunteers). In hindsight, I would argue this is to be expected, as Biehn points out, ISV-style volunteerism is a noteworthy instrument for reproducing the orientation and allegiance of Global North professionals with imperialism.

Similarly, I had peers embark on various humanitarian trips, usually ranging from one to two weeks, to Haiti immediately following and a few years after the earthquake. These trips, usually financed by a combination of Foundation sponsorship, NGO collaboration, and church-based fundraising, consisted of typical volunteerism – building cheap churches, schoolhouses, etc. Looking back, it is fascinating to me that none of these students reported back anything of the political unrest and popular resentment of Haiti in their glossy presentations once they returned home, and enthusiastically accepted the presence of US marines on the island without question. The sheltering of the future young professionals and aspirant bourgeoisie whilst providing them an “authentic” experience of aid and poverty, helps create the conscious ignorance which characterizes the transnational capitalist class (Biehn, 2014; McGoey, 2012).

South-South cooperation and the urgency of Solidarity

If any more evidence was required to demonstrate that Oxfam and similar NGO’s are part of the imperialist establishment, consider that Winnie Byanyima, the Executive Director of Oxfam, appeared at the 2014 World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. Ostensibly, Oxfam was there to represent the voices of “ordinary people” to the global conference of oligarchs and elites, though as Marc Wergerif (2018) points out, no one asked them to speak for them. The assumption by Oxfam that it speaks for “ordinary people” is undercut by its actual collaboration with US imperialism and the transnational capitalist class and its failure to actually advocate solid propositions of popular organizations like La Via Campesina peasants’ coalition, or the Bolivarian social movements, or god forbid movements in the Global South organizing more explicitly for sovereignty against imperialism, such as the Syrian reconciliation movement.

Image result for via campesina

Furthermore, why should a transnational foundation, run mostly by cosmopolitan professionals from the Global North and a handful of compradors, speak for “ordinary people” as a homogenized mass, and not their national representatives? Wergerif says it will be popular practices and movements that will provide the solutions for global challenges, not the schemes of agencies like Oxfam. One should note that as US imperialism continues to experience an economic and strategic decline, its beneficiaries are increasingly desperate to portray its maintenance as humanitarian, internationalist, and benevolent in nature. Meanwhile, we can see an increasing trend towards South-South cooperation in the form of Latin American integration and Chinese partnerships with Africa and the Bolivarian states, anti-EU groundswell in the form of Brexit, and a general working-class rage catapulting both right and left forces to prominence in the Global North. As Wergeif says, these “people’s everyday practices” have done much more to unravel the foundations of systematic inequality than the docile managers at Oxfam could accomplish. What directions these anti-systemic trends will take remains to be seen, but it is certain that they will increasingly delegitimize NGO’s as vehicles for social change.

References

Ayed, Nalaha. 15 February 2018. “Oxfam scandal highlights spectrum of abuse: local staff, recipients — aid workers, tooCBC.

Barry-Shaw, Nikolas and Dru Oja Jay. 2012a. “NGOs and empire: Canadian aid agencies take empire building seriously” in Briarpatch.

Barry-Shaw, Nikolas and Dru Oja Jay. 2012b. Paved with Good Intentions: Canada’s development NGOs from idealism to imperialism. Halifax, NS: Fernwood Press.

Biehn, Tristan. 2014. “Who Needs Me Most? New Imperialist Ideologies in Youth-Centred Volunteer Abroad Programs” in The New Imperialism, Volume 4: Good Intentions, Norms and Practices of Imperial Humanitarianism. Edited by Maximilian C. Forte. Montréal, QC: Alert Press, 77-87.

Chandran, Nyshka. 3 January 2018. “Pakistan is ditching the dollar for trade with China — 24 hours after Trump denounced the countryMSNBC. 

Cornwall, Andrea. 2003. “Whose Voices? Whose Choices? Reflections on Gender and Participatory Development.” World Development Vol. 31, no. 8: 1325-1342.

Donnan, Shawn. 1 January 2018. “Donald Trump threatens to withhold US aid to PakistanFinancial Times.

Engler, Yves. 2015. Canada in Africa: 300 years of aid and exploitation. Halifax, NS: Fernwood Press.

Forgie, Keir. 2014. “US Imperialism and Disaster Capitalism in Haiti” in The New Imperialism, Volume 4: Good Intentions, Norms and Practices of Imperial Humanitarianism. Edited by Maximilian C. Forte. Montréal, QC: Alert Press, 57-75.

Forte, Maxmillian C. 2015. “Introduction to Force Multipliers: Imperial Instrumentalism in Theory and Practice” in The New Imperialism, Vol. 5: Force Multipliers: The Instrumentalities of Imperialism. Montreal, QC: Alert Press, 1-87.

Le Cointe, Altheia, Luke Daniels, Cristel Amiss et al. 13 February 2018. “NGO crimes go far beyond OxfamGuardian. 

McGoey, Linsey. 2012. “Philanthropcapitalism and its critics.” Poetics Vol. 40, no.2: 185-199.

Kuziemko and Werker. 2006. “How Much Is a Seat on the Security Council Worth? Foreign Aid and Bribery at the United Nations” (draft) in Journal of Political Economy (forthcoming).

Nichols, Michelle. 21 December 2017. “Defying Trump, over 120 countries at U.N. condemn Jerusalem decisionReuters. 

Perez, Sonia. 13 February 2018. “Guatemalan ex-president, Oxfam chief held in corruption case.ABC News. 

Ratcliffe, Rebecca and Ben Quinn. 11 February 2018. “Oxfam: fresh claims that staff used prostitutes in ChadGuardian.

Reith, Sally. 2010. “Money, power, and donor–NGO partnerships.” Development in Practice 20(3): 446-455.

Staff. 3 January 2018. “‘Jerusalem is not for Sale’: Palestine to Trump after US threatens to cut $300mn aidRussia Today.

USAID. N.D. “Who We are”.

Wang, T.Y. (1999). “US Foreign Aid and UN Voting: An Analysis of Important Issues” in International Studies Quarterly, Vol. 43, no. 1: 199-210.

Marc C. A. Wegerif. February 2018. “People’s everyday practices, not the elites of Davos, hold the human economy answer to inequality” Pambazuka

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AFRICA ANTHROPOLOGY EMPIRE Featured GLOBALIZATION IMPERIAL DECLINE NEOLIBERALISM POLITICAL ECONOMY SOVEREIGNTY

Empires of Aid and Compassion: Foundations as Architects of Neoliberalism

They seriously and very sentimentally set themselves to the task of remedying the evils that they see in poverty, but their remedies do not cure the disease: they merely prolong it… the proper aim is to try and reconstruct society on such a basis that poverty will be impossible.

(Oscar Wilde on philanthropists, quoted in Global Justice Now, 2016. Emphasis added.)

The existence of, and significance, of philanthropic foundations and their influence are increasingly becoming part of public discussion. Foundations have come to be significant in US partisan politics after the 2016 election, with criticism from both the left and right being directed towards Bill and Hilary Clinton’s Clinton Foundation, including its scandalous kickbacks schemes in Haiti, and its dependency on donations from the Saudi royal family. Asra Nomani also brought attention to the dominance of organizations funded by one of Clinton’s most generous financial backers at the Women’s March on Washington, George Soros, who also heads the Open Society Foundation, a significant philanthropic actor in its own right. More recently, Donald Trump’s philanthropy has also come under scrutiny.

Perhaps the most critical analysis of modern philanthropic foundations available to the wider public is a report by the UK pressure group Global Justice Now. Their report Gated Development: Is the Gates Foundation always a force for good? (2016), which provides a damning assessment of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation (BMG for short), received little attention in the mainstream media, apart from an article in the UK paper The Independent. The article summarizes the Global Justice report as saying that the Gates Foundation promotes neoliberal economic policies and “corporate globalization” in service of its allies and funders, including major transnationals, agricultural companies, and pharmaceuticals.

Given the Gates Foundations’ significant investments in ExxonMobil, Dutch Shell, Coca-Cola, Pepsi, and McDonald’s, and its significant ownership of pharmaceutical intellectual property (McGoey, 2012), Global Justice’s claim deserves more attention than it has been given by the media. The Gates Foundation purports itself to be at the forefront of improving quality of life in the Global South, yet invests in some of the largest transnationals involved in destructive resource extraction and exploitative labour practices throughout the world, to say nothing of Microsoft’s own exploitative, neoliberal growth schemes (Microsoft is one of the largest funders of the Gates Foundation besides Warren Buffett and the Gates themselves), which provided the surplus wealth necessary to create such a massive philanthropic enterprise.

Transnational Oligarchs, gangsters turned self-appointed Saviors

The Gates Foundation is often seen as the global vanguard of what its proponents call “philanthrocapitalism” – the application of business strategies to the distribution of charity and aid through philanthropic organizations. Such a strategy and ideological fixation has recently come under criticism, even by the “cautious fans” of philanthropic organizations, pointing out how profit-maximizing logics when applied to international development often result in shortsightedness (Youde, 2013; Edwards, 2009)

Looking at history, it is clear that this is by design, rather than by accident. Birn (2014) provides a historical comparison between the Gates Foundation and the Rockefeller Foundation. Both foundations have been significant in shaping the development of global health policy, operating on similar models, which the Rockefeller Foundation pioneered and the Gates Foundation claims to innovate upon. Thus, the contemporary hype around “philanthrocapitalism” is more of a re-brand of old-fashioned oligarchic foundations rather than anything substantially new. Both Gates and Rockefeller disbursed charity strategically, as way to secure their for-profit companies’ investments, fend off radical alternatives, and promote development strategies which keep recipients dependent on their aid and their products.

It is difficult sometimes for the public to imagine philanthropic foundations, which spend lots on public relations emphasizing the selfless “good” their work does, are actually doing harm or advancing private interests. I myself remember growing up in an environment saturated with stories of the benevolence of Bill Gates, “the billionaire who wants to give it all away”. Gates in those days, and to an extent still does today, possessed a veneration as a kind of philosopher-king, making it somewhat unthinkable to question in decent company why this one individual should have more wealth than the GDPs of forty-five countries. This is consistent with the capitalist moral ethos which Linsey McGoey (2014), an expert in philanthropic foundations, says that philanthropy helps reinforce.

bono-philanthropy

Yet this humanitarian morality, what Maximillian Forte calls “moral narcissism” (2012), hardly stands up to examination. After all, as the Global Justice Now report points out, the practices of the BMG Foundation are consistently part of a strategy to bolster the investments of its funders and those companies it holds shares in. Funds and resources are often disbursed not to the poorest of the world’s population, but to countries and populations that the BMG can expect a return from (Global Justice Now, 2016). Furthermore, similar programs could easily be funded through state revenue acquired by taxing such large personal fortunes as that of the Gates and Buffets, thus private, unelected actors are taking over what was historically the responsibility of democratic, sovereign state formations (Global Justice Now, 2016; St.-Pierre, 2014). Such philanthropic elites often circumvent their obligations to their fellow citizens in the form of taxes through elaborate tax evasion schemes, such as those uncovered by the Paradise Papers.

Biopower and “Compassionate” Biological Imperialism

Each of these two über-powerful foundations [Rockefeller and Gates] emerged at a critical juncture in the history of international/global health. Each was started by the richest, most ruthless and innovative capitalist of his day” (Birn, 2014)

The use of philanthropic foundations towards the insurance of capitalist ends is particularly evident in global health governance, a sector itself pioneered by the Rockefeller Foundation. Rockefeller’s motivation for establishing global health as a humanitarian sector was primarily driven by his desire to stave off criticism of his business practices and combat the rise of militant labor unions and radical socialist organizers within his US workforces, especially after armed guards massacred striking workers at a Rockefeller-owned mine (Birn, 2014; Youde, 2013). The Rockefeller Foundation represented the entrenchment of philanthropy, as opposed to church charity, which explicitly understood itself as being a defensive investment in alleviating suffering among the masses to forestall said masses from taking issues into their own hands.

Michel Foucault described biopower as “an explosion of numerous and diverse techniques for achieving the subjugations of bodies and the control of populations” (1976) pursued by states and the administrators of various capitalist power structures. In the case of global health governance, the “bio” in biopower is quite literal. The BMG, in continuation of its predecessor the Rockefeller Foundation, is one of the largest players in global health governance, policy, and research development today. It is the second-largest funder of the World Health Organization, second only to the United States government, and owns most of the HIV/AIDS research being conducted in the world today, leading to increasing concern among the scientific community about the independence, accountability, neutrality and purposes of HIV research being conducted (Birn, 2014). Meanwhile, Brazil and India were both served lawsuits for subsidizing the manufacture of cheap, no-name HIV and Malaria treatments (St-Pierre, 2014).

Further exercise of oligarchic-imperialist biopower by Gates Foundation includes reproductive health aid and in agricultural reform, pushing alarming agendas. Research shows that the BMG’s promotion of genetically modified seeds has served as an instrument to displace Indian peasants, as intellectual property ownership over seed DNA is given priority over traditional land rights. Meanwhile, concerns have emerged that Gates Foundation-funded hospitals and medical facilities are performing forced sterilizations and other non-consensual population control operations on African women as part of BMG’s reproductive health programs.

Africa: The Philanthropic Playground

Nowhere is this philanthropic power-grabbing most pronounced than on the African continent. After all, it is usually African children, African cities, and African landscapes that are used as props for philanthropic advertising, a sadistic showcase of desperation if there ever was one. The BMG is of course active in creating these “poverty porn” productions, but these visual manifestations of imperial humanitarianism also enlist the talents of celebrities, such as U2’s Bono, who readily embrace the “private sector” as a solution to “Africa’s problems”. Nowhere do these philanthropists indict colonialism, imperialism, or neo-colonialism in Africa for contributing to the continent’s many problems, because this of course would indict them and their own enterprises in perpetuating Africa’s status as a vast dependency.

The “concern” generated by such imagery, and the push for “innovative” solutions aggrandized by them, is mobilized selectively. For example, Mozambique’s public healthcare system, dubbed a model for the developing world, was gutted after the fall of the USSR (Mozambique’s main financier and ally) and USAID support was redirected to be filtered through NGO’s and Private-Public Partnerships (P3’s), some overseen and lobbied for by the BMG. P3 hospitals poached Mozambique doctors away from the public service with promises of higher salaries, eventually causing the public health system to completely implode, and for health services in Mozambique to be operated primarily by private actors (St-Pierre, 2014). This is consistent with Global Justice Now’s accusation of promoting “corporate globalization” (2016) – using aid as an instrument to force the privatization of robust public services, transforming them into profitable commodities for sale with captive markets of desperate citizens looking for adequate health services.

One should also scrutinize the positions of humanitarian imperialists like Bill and Melinda Gates about issues not immediately within their sphere of influence. The language of humanitarian imperialism has existed quite comfortably for some time now in the circles of militarists and interventionists overseeing US imperialism’s operations on the African continent. It was the same humanitarian imperialist discourse of “saving” that was used in the US-NATO intervention in Libya (Forte, 2012), which after months of indiscriminate bombing and support for jihadi terrorist organizations, resulted in the looting of that countries oil and mineral wealth and the absolute collapse of Libyan society. The fall of Libya’s pan-Africanist, anti-imperialist oriented government also created a power vacuum quickly filled by the US African Command (AFRICOM), which is now waging wars throughout the continent.  Given that statistically speaking, wealthy Americans are the demographic most likely to support foreign military interventions abroad, and often lobby for such interventions, it would not be ridiculous to suspect that philanthropists like Bill and Melinda Gates were quite pleased with the Obama administration’s interventionist strategy in Libya, and the subsequent expansion of AFRICOM, seeing it all as part of the West’s great humanitarian project. A 21st-century white man’s burden.

Image result for sirte us intervention
Sirte, Libya, post US-NATO “Humanitarian” Intervention

Conclusion

While the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation are perhaps the most obvious culprit given their foundation’s massive size, one should not let other foundations like the Clinton Foundation, the Trump Foundation, George Soros’ Open Society Foundation, or new entrants like the Zuckerberg Foundation, off the proverbial hook. It should be evident that philanthropic foundations, being extensions of capitalism and of the financial and political dominance of capitalists, operate according to the rules of profit-maximization and continued accumulation by dispossession. Far from being passive entities in this process, they are often its active architects and thus deserve to be regarded and scrutinized in the same way any for-profit corporation performing similar roles should be.

References

Birn, Anne-Emmanuelle, 2014. “Philanthrocapitalism, past and present: The Rockefeller Foundation, the Gates Foundation, and the setting(s) of the international/ global health agenda.” Hypothesis Vol. 12, no.1: 1-27.

Connett, David. 19 February 2016. “Gates Foundation accused of ‘dangerously skewing’ aid priorities by promoting ‘corporate globalisation‘” Independent.

D’Souza, Dinesh. 2016. “How the Clinton Foundation got rich off poor HaitiansNational Review.

Edwards, Michael. 2009. “Why ‘philanthrocapitalism’ is not the answer: private initiatives and international development” in M. Kremer et al., eds., Doing Good or Doing Better: Development Policies in a Globalising World, 237-250.

Forte, Maximillian. 2012. Slouching Towards Sirte: NATO’s War on Africa and Libya. Montreal, QC: Baraka Books.

Foucault, Michel. 1976. The History of Sexuality Vol. 1. Paris, FR: Editions Gallimard.

Global Justice Now. 2016. Gated Development: Is the Gates Foundation always a force for good?

Greenwald, Glenn. 2016. “Why Did the Saudi Regime and Other Gulf Tyrannies Donate Millions to the Clinton Foundation?The Intercept.

McElwee, Sean, Brian Schaffner and Jesse Rhodes. 1 March 2017. “How Wealthy Donors Drive Aggressive Foreign Policy” in The Nation.

McGoey, Linsey. 2012. “Philanthropcapitalism and its critics.” Poetics Vol. 40, no.2: 185-199.

Morgan, Wesley and Bryan Bender. 10 December 2017. “America’s Shadow War in Africa.Politico.

Nomani, Asra. 2017. “Billionaire George Soros has ties to more than 50 ‘partners’ of the Women’s March on Washington.Women in the World. 

St-Pierre, Emile. 2014. “Iatrogenic Imperialism: NGOs and CROs as Agents of Questionable Care” in Maximilian C. Forte, ed. The New Imperialism, Volume 4. Good Intentions: The Norms and Practices of Imperial Humanitarianism. Montreal, QC: Alert Press, 37-55.

Youde, Jeremy. 2013. “The Rockefeller and Gates Foundations in Global Health Governance.” Global Society Vol. 27, no. 2: 139-158.

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IMPERIAL DECLINE

Translation: CETA comes into force – a scandal for democracy

This piece by French theorist and political economist Jacques Sapir, originally posted on his blog in French and republished in Italian by Voci Dal L’estero is now featured in English here on Peripheral Thought. Sapir argues that, in addition to the risks to public health and environmental integrity, The Canada-EU Trade Agreement (CETA) is a serious violation of the principles of national sovereignty and democracy. The translation below has been edited for clarity. 

CETA, a free trade treaty between Canada and the European Union, which finally came into effect on Thursday, September 21, is a striking demonstration of how states have renounced their sovereignty, leaving room for a new law, independent of the law of the states themselves, and not subject to democratic control.

CETA is, on paper, a “free trade treaty”. In reality however, it targets non-tariff regulatory norms that states may adopt, particularly regulations in the field of environmental protection. In this respect, CETA could start start a race to dismantle these protections. Added to this are the dangers deriving from the investment protection mechanism contained in the treaty. CETA creates a protection system for investors between the European Union and Canada, which thanks to the establishment of an arbitration tribunal, will allow them to sue a state (or the European Union) in the case of which a public measure adopted by that State may compromise what the treaty calls the legitimate earnings gains from the investment”. In other words, the so-called Investor-State Dispute Settlement (ISDS) clause (or RDIE) is in practice a mechanism for hedging future earnings. And this is a unilateral mechanism: within this framework, no state can, for its part, sue a private enterprise. It is clear therefore that the CETA will put investors in a position to oppose policy measures that are contrary to their interests. This procedure, which is likely to be very expensive for states, will certainly have deterrent effects with a simple process threat. In this respect, let us not forget that following Dow Chemical’s statement of wanting to bring the case to court, Québec was forced to step back on the ban on a substance suspected of being carcinogenic contained in a herbicide marketed by this company.

There are also doubts about reciprocity: it is said that the Treaty opens Canadian markets to European companies, yet the European Union market is already open to Canadian companies. Just look at the disproportion between the populations to understand who will earn what. Beyond this, there is the wider problem of free trade, in particular the interpretation of free trade that emerges from the CETA treaty. At the heart of the treaty are the interests of multinationals, which certainly do not coincide with those of consumers or workers.

The risks represented by CETA therefore concern public health and, without doubt, sovereignty. But even more serious is the threat the treaty poses. At the time of its final vote in the European Parliament, four groups voted against: the Left Front, the environmentalists of ELV, the Socialist Party and the Front National. An alliance perhaps less abnormal than it seems, if one takes into account the problems posed by the treaty. It is instructive to note that it has been rejected by the delegations of three of the five founding countries of the European Economic Community and the second and third largest economies of the Eurozone. Nevertheless, it was ratified by the European Parliament on 15 February 2017, and it is now up to the ratification of individual national parliaments. Nevertheless, it is already considered partially in force before ratification by the national representative bodies. CETA therefore came into force provisionally and partially on 21 September 2017 in regards to aspects concerning the exclusive competence of the EU, with the exclusion for the moment of certain aspects of competing competencies that will need to be voted on by EU member countries , in particular those elements of the treaty dealing with arbitration tribunals and intellectual property. But even despite this, about 90% of the provisions of the agreement are already in force. This is a serious problem of maintaining political democracy. As if this were not enough, even if a country were to tomorrow reject the ratification of CETA, the already in-force aspects of the treaty would still have to remain in effect for another three years.

This is not what is normally understood by the phrase “free trade treaty”. This is a treaty whose purpose is essentially to impose rules adopted by multinationals on individual parliaments of the Member States of the European Union. If one wanted to give  a demonstration of the profoundly anti-democratic nature of the EU, this treaty would act as a pinnacle example.

This poses a challenge to the democratic credentials and legitimacy of those who have been advocating the treaty. In France, only one of the candidates for the presidential election, Emmanuel Macron, had declared openly in favor of CETA. Jean-Marie Cavada, one of the treaty’s main supporters, also voted in the European Parliament for the adoption of the Treaty. Thus, in the presidential election, and not for the first time in French history, the so-called “party from the outside which in a timely fashion had been denounced by Jacques Chirac from the hospital of Cochin for becoming defenders of the establishment. [1]

Prior to his appointment as Edouard Philippe’s government minister, Nicolas Hulot had taken a firm stand against CETA. His stay in government, under these conditions, has produced a turnaround. As a Minister of Environmental Transition, he certainly did not regret some last Friday morning on Europe 1. He acknowledged that the evaluation commission appointed by Edouard Philippe in July picked out several potential dangers contained in the treaty. But he also added: Negotiations have now come to such a point that unless we risk a diplomatic incident with Canada, which we would certainly want to avoid at all costs, it would have been difficult to block ratification”. This is a perfect description of the irreversibility [sic] mechanisms deliberately incorporated in the treaty. Let us not forget, too, that before being appointed Minister of Environmental Transition, the former television presenter had repeatedly stated that CETA was  not compatible with the climate”. One can imagine how hard that sword was to swallow.

For his part, since his election, Emmanuel Macron has tried to present himself as defender of the planet, answering Donald Trump’s slogan “Make America Great Again” with his own “Make the Planet Great Again “. He has often reiterated this slogan, both at the United Nations and on his trip to the Antilles after Hurricane Irma. But it can not be ignored that his commitment to CETA and its submission to the European Union environmental rules, which still has delayed on the issue of endocrine disrupters, show that his actions are not ecologically motivated and gestures towards environmental issues are best distasteful public relations performances.

We must have a full awareness of what the application and implementation of CETA means, including the dangers it poses as the national sovereignty, democracy and security of the country.

[1] Haegel F., “Mémoire, héritage, filiation: Dire le gaullisme et se dire gaulliste à RPR”, Revue française de science politique, vol. 40, no. 6, 1990, p. 875

Jacques SapirJaques Sapir is a graduate of the IEPP in 1976, he supported a postgraduate doctorate on the organization of work in the USSR between 1920 and 1940 (EHESS, 1980) and a Ph.D. in economics, Soviet economy (Paris-X, 1986).  He taught macroeconomics and finance at the University of Paris-X Nanterre from 1982 to 1990, and at ENSAE (1989-1996) before joining the School of Higher Studies in Social Sciences in 1990. He has been the Director of Studies since 1996 and heads the Center for the Study of Modes of Industrialization (CEMI-EHESS). He has also taught in Russia at the High College of Economics (1993-2000) and at the Moscow School of Economics since 2005.He leads the IRSES research group at the FMSH, where he co-organizes with the Institute of National Economic Forecasting (IPEN-ASR) the Franco-Russian seminar on the financial and monetary problems of development in Russia.

Categories
ANTHROPOLOGY ANTI-IMPERIALISM COLOMBIA LATIN AMERICA

Decolonizing Latin America as Social Geography: Comments on Charles Mann’s 1491.

[Image: Presencia de América Latina (Presence of Latin America, 1964–65) is a 300 square meters (3,200 sq ft) mural at the hall of the Arts House of the University of Concepción, Chile. It is also known as Latin America’s Integration (Wikimedia Commons)]

The origins of Latin America and the Caribbean as a place involve layers of designations of space and place, forming a lexicon which constructs our mental understanding of the geographies incorporated into “Latin America” and “the Caribbean”. Both of these categories, like other socially constructed geographies such as “Europe” (a product of the emergence of what is now Europe as a center of the capitalist world-system), defy rigidly scientific understandings of geography. Europe is, geologically speaking, a peninsula of Asia, and while Latin America roughly corresponds with South America, Latin American cultural designations extend into North America via Mexico (and even into the United States according to many Mexican, Puerto Rican, and Chicanx nationalist theorists).

Latin America, or more accurately Latinoamerica, is a Spanish European term, later instrumentalized by French imperialism, to justify its presence based on the “Latinaity” of the region, while “Caribbean” is derived from Carib, an indigenous people of the region, but also has a colonial root. During the days of early Spanish rule, racist mythologies made “Carib” and “Cannibal” synonymous in colonial records and cultural memory, and thus the Spanish by designating the region as the “Caribbean”, also designated the entirety of the populations of that region as cannibals (Hulme, 1992).

1732 Map of the “West Indes”, what we now call the Caribbean (Herman Moll).

It is because of these colonial interventions into the social geographies of what we call Latin America and the Caribbean that theorists like Mignolo (2005) call for a rejection of the category of Latin America as a colonialist regional conception forged by Creole elites in collaboration with the Europeans. Mignolo extends this argument saying that the imagining of a “homogenous” Latin America works to “render invisible” indigenous populations of African descent and the Chincanx/Latinx population of the US.

Yet, at least for now, Latin America is still with us as a social-geographic category. But despite of (or maybe because of) its persistence as a category which subsumes so many others, its meaning is constantly contested. Indeed, how could it not be? As Sanabria writes:

“Dozens of countries and territories with half a billion citizens; hundreds of languages spoken; millions of people concentrated in huge megacities, many others living in rural communities; every imaginable ecological niche spread over eight million square miles of land and sea; diverse historical trajectories, some pointing to Africa, some to Europe, and others firmly rooted in the New World; a long history of movement (diasporas) within and across national boundaries; hundreds or thousands of groups with their own self-ascribed, ethnic identity; a multiplicity of overlapping racial types and classifications, far from stable and rooted in biology; widely diverse notions of sexuality and gender relations; dozens of religious traditions and hundreds of diverse rituals, both secular and religious; widely dissimilar ways of construing health and classifying and treating illness; hundreds of different foods and cuisines; dozens of musical and dance traditions; a wide array of secular and religious popular celebrations with African, European, and New World influences—this is Latin America and the Caribbean…yet, what makes this a space or area of study and research? On the basis of which criteria or ideological positions do scholars delimit what is and what is not “Latin America” and the “Caribbean”?” (Sanabria, 2005, p. 17).

In recent years, numerous forces have tapped the diversity that is the conceptual world of Latin America described by Sanabria in order to advance their own visions and agendas. From the US creation of Latin American Studies to advance imperialist interests, to diaspora identity politics discourses, to the emergence of Bolivarianismo as the definitive ideology of the new Latin American left, what is and what will be Latin America is a crucial question for many vested interests.

One of the key battlefields of this contest is history, and pre-Columbian history takes on a special significance in particular. Competing narratives of the pre-colonial and colonial eras inform the legitimacy of various political and cultural worldviews. Thus, the renewed interest in accurate histories of these periods provokes controversy. Mann’s work 1491: The Americas Before Columbus is one such history. An excerpt of his work in The Atlantic (2002) with the same title as his book centers on two of his more interesting contributions,  – amalgamations of decades of other  research, fieldwork, and debate, – that (1) pre-colonial indigenous populations were numerous, numbering at least in the tens of millions, and (2) indigenous civilizations molded and crafted the ecology of the continent in monumental and lasting ways.

These contributions are significant, though not necessarily unique. Mann cites numerous other theorists and engages in many intimate interactions with them, before proposing is own synthesis. Sanabria (2005), who’s Anthropology of Latin America and the Caribbean, is intended as a survey text of the discipline, posits many of the same positions as Mann, though in less detail, imply that Mann’s claim that these positions are slowly gaining clout in the mainstream seems to be at least somewhat correct.

Firstly, understanding precolonial populations as vast and numerous helps us conceptualize what exactly colonialism was in a new way. The scale of human suffering and cultural destruction is of holocaust proportions. However, it is my position that Mann’s presentation of the numbers problem is undertheorized. While noting casually the combination of colonial actions and accidental introduction of diseases, Mann fails to analyze how these two forces worked in conjunction to accomplish genocides of indigenous peoples. For example, Mann might note how atrocious working conditions for Aztec slaves in Spanish mines, or the French forceful selling of unsanitized sugar to the Huron, worked to exacerbate plague and epidemic directly in service of colonial economics. In this sense, Mann makes a valuable contribution to a certain extent to our understandings of what happened in colonialism but why it happened is remarkably absent, and worth investigating. Put another way, what anthropologists call power systems and what Marxists call material conditions, is not addressed by Mann.

Mann’s second contribution is theorized more deeply. The idea that the American continents have been meddled with, often in drastic ways, by human activity for centuries before colonial contact is a controversial one. Mann particularly points out that contemporary environmentalists’ understanding of areas like the Amazon rainforest as untamed and untouched wilderness defies the archaeological evidence; Mann goes so far as to present fieldwork suggesting that the Amazon is itself a creation of human actions, an engineered rainforest created by Inca and Aztec mass-scale landscape planning.

I postulate that this contemporary environmentalist conception, the idea of untamed and untouched preserves, is firmly rooted in terra nullius colonial ideology, a suggestion Mann hints at but does not explicitly come out and say. We can see this reified from North (PETA interventions against Inuit seal hunting) to South (Conservationist support for land grabs in the form of humanitarian purchases of preserves in Brazil). Conservational ideology legitimizes itself by projecting the idea of untouched nature preserves (never mind that by designating a space a “preserve” is, itself an act of human intervention), onto indigenous peoples.

This is especially important to critique in the context of Latin America, where the negotiation of space and place is ongoing, and often dramatic in how it is resolved. We should understand the indigenous impact upon how we understand Latin American space and place as neither reflexively environmentalist, nor trapped in the mythic pre-Colombian process, but as holistic, ongoing, and shaped by the contours of history, culture, and political economy.

REFERENCES

HULME, P. (1992). Colonial Encounters: Europe and the Native Caribbean 1492-1797. London, UK: Routledge.

MANN, C. (2002). “1491”. The Atlantic. Retrieved from:

MIGNOLO, W. (2005). The Idea of Latin America. New York, NY: Wiley.

SANABRIA, H. (2005). The Anthropology of Latin America and the Caribbean. London, UK: Routledge.

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UNCATEGORIZED

America’s “Good Guys” in Venezuela: Terrorists and racist lynchers

[Pictured: Oscar Pérez, a disgruntled Venezuelan police intelligence officer, reads an anti-government manifesto in a video he posted on Instagram. Pérez and his compatriots hijacked a police helicopter and lobbed grenades at the Venezuelan supreme court.] 

Oppositional Performance Art, Democratic Farce

Last weekend, on Saturday the 29th of July, the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela officially opened elections for its Constituent Assembly, a body of elected delegates which will eventually convene to develop a new constitution for the country to be presented and approved by plebescite by the Venezuelan people. This will be the second time in recent history that Venezuela has undertaken such a process, the first being on the initiative of late President Hugo Chavez Frias. Just as during the Chavez years, there is a right-wing opposition movement, the Mesa de la Unidad Democrática (MUD), which opposes the Constituent Assembly process as somehow fraudulent and a power grab by a greedy executive strongman.

This opposition movement, led by former oligarchs and US-trained “leaders” like MUD chief Leopold Lopez, are the darlings of the media. Canadians have been saturated with beaming coverage of the Venezuelan opposition from the supposedly independent and investigative CBC, which has not presented a single Chavista or pro-government commentator on its programming, while in the US the usual suspects – CNN, Fox, MSNBC, and the New York Times – have all peddled the mythos of the opposition, which the US has supported with millions of dollars in covert funding since 2007, and which wikileaks has revealed consistently supported since 2004 in preparation for overthrowing the left-wing Socialist Unity Party-Communist Party (PSUV-CPV) coalition government then led by Chavez and currently led by President Nicolas Maduro (Beeton, et al. 2011) [see especially cable 06CARACAS2104_a and cable 09CARACAS1132_a].

It is quite strange to use so much taxpayer money, logistical resources, and manpower allotted towards “democracy promotion” on an opposition whose electoral activity has consistently proven to be precisely undemocratic, opposing the “socialism” of the government while 75% of Venezuelans support socialism, holding rigged, sham referenda, and tampering with actual parliamentary elections. There are also reports that armed opposition gangs have attacked voting centers intended for the Constituent Assembly. This is acceptable to their sponsors in Washington because the term “democracy” in US foreign policy circles does not actually mean rule by the polis, but conformity to the liberal world order and willingness to submit to neo-colonial status under US imperialism.

Not only is this “opposition” wholly undemocratic, but it promotes its agenda through terrorist activity and racist violence. Gangs of Gurimbas, composed mostly of wealthy students and paid protesters, and military and police dissident have been especially belligerent in their efforts to bludgeon the government’s mostly working-class, African, and indigenous popular support base into submission.

Terrorism Anywhere Else

The helicopter attack on the Venezuelan supreme court by a pro-opposition military general grabbed international, and especially US, media attention and refocused coverage on the supposedly rising discontent among the Venezuelan population which the Chavismo government. Disgruntled police intelligence officer Oscar Pérez hijacked a police helicopter, which he and his compatriots used to throw four grenades into the supreme court building in Caracas and fire fifteen shots into the interior ministry during a conference.

perez-attack-guardian
Details of the attack by Perez and co. mapped (source: The Guardian)

The attack was hailed, especially in the Washington Post, as a heroic and selfless act against a tyrannical government. The bourgeois media, ever intent on advancing its agenda of regime change in Venezuela, thus neglected some key information about Perez and the nature of the attack itself. President Maduro identified the attack as “terrorism”, and under the internationally recognized legal definition, he is correct. International law makes a distinction between terrorism and armed struggle, and Perez’s attack on civilian infrastructure clearly falls in the category of the former, however much the US media in collaboration with the State Department mind try to portray it as the latter.

 

 

Perez, in his Instagram “manifesto” wears a purple ribbon tied around his left arm, which he says shows his allegiance to “the truth and to Christ”, a gesture that signals something of an affiliation to the Christian right, which has a long history of fascism in Latin America. Perez’s Instagram also features images comparing himself and his police team to one of God’s angels and images of Jesus Christ cleansing the world in a crusade. Hardly the secular democrat darling the Washington Post would have you believe he is. Instagram has been flooded with fake Perez profiles since the incident and his original account has disappeared, but these images are recurring throughout the replica accounts.

A Taste for Strange Fruit

When Abel Meeropol wrote the lyrics to “Strange Fruit”, which were hauntingly brought to life in song by Billie Holiday, he had the racist lynchings in the United States targeted against Blacks by ex-Confederates and the KKK in mind, but he could have easily been writing about the actions of the Venezuelan opposition against Black and Brown Chavistas. American poster-boy Leopold Lopez was intimately involved in coup attempts to oust the late Chavez, and during that time called for Black pro-Chavez mayors to be lynched (Beeton et al. 2011, Grandin, 2015), and as head of the MUD continues to ignore, and thus remains complicit, in the racist actions of MUD-affiliated Gurimba groups.

Orlando Figuera was set alight in Altamira on May 20. (archives)
Orlando Figuera, a Black Chavista, was singled out and set on fire by a Gurimba opposition group (source: venezuelanalysis.com)

Like most of the sordid realities of the MUD and Gurimbas, incidents of attacks against Blacks by the opposition, like the one on Orlando Figuera (burned alive), or Danny José Subero (beaten to death with clubs), including attacks on young children, have gone without condemnation or even comment by western media or by either the Canadian or American governments, who prefer their “concern” to be focused exclusively on the government. Reminiscent of the events leading up to the Libyan “humanitarian intervention”, which also featured an anti-Black opposition, there is bipartisan support in the United States and tripartite support in Canada, including from the supposedly “left wing” NDP, for opposition organizations that I can only image make the KKK salivate given the extent of Gurimba anti-Black terror and the impunity which the media affords them. Any government brutality in Venezuela is small potatoes compared to the viciousness of Gurimba violence.

Conclusion: The Spectre of Recolonization

Given their US and Canadian sponsorship, and their emphasis on anti-working class and anti-black sectarian attacks, it is safe to compare the MUD and the Gurimbas to the US-backed contras of yesteryear and the overall US-MUD project in Venezuela to the more recent attempt at recolonization under the guise of humanitarianism, with disastrous consequences, Libya. It is more than likely, given the consistent support for the opposition, the escalation of a diplomatic and economic sanctions regime, that the US’s next maneuver will be an attempted intervention, which will work to restore Venezuela to its historically patronized status as part of “America’s backyard”. This would be a complete unraveling of the achievements of Hugo Chavez, who ended this submissive colonial status with surprising decisiveness, like Castro and Gaddafi had done for their countries before him.

While the Anglo-North American Left tends to have much more sympathy for progressive Latin American states than it does Arab or African ones, I remain skeptical that there is yet sufficient anti-war and anti-imperialist clout among mainstream “left” organizations, particularly the social democrats and other center-left tendencies, to head a strong anti-intervention movement. However, understanding the racist and violent nature of the forces which seek to replace the current Venezuelan government demands a substantial response, and there are organizations working towards this end. Readers are especially encouraged to contact the Hands Off Venezuela coalition.

It should be clear that the MUD opposition possesses no democratic legitimacy whatsoever, and that its activities represent an obstruction and violation of the basic foundations of democracy, of self determination, and of collective rights. Regardless of the errors of the current government, attempts to replace it, in the current context, only represent a reactionary, pro-imperial process which would undermine any sense of majority rule and popular sovereignty in Venezuela.

References

 

BEETON, D., J. Johnston, & A. Main (2011). “Venezuela”. Wikileaks: The World According to US Empire. New York: Verso. pp. 515-545.

BIGWOOD, J. (n.d.). “Buying Venezuela’s Press With U.S. Tax Dollars.” North American Congress on Latin America. 

GILBERT, C. (2017). “Strange Fruit: Venezuela has an Opposition that Nobody Should Support.” venezuelanalysis.com 

GRANDIN, G. (2015). “Leopold Lopez is not Venezuela’s Savior.” The Nation. 

KOERNER, L. (2017). “Three Dead in Venezuela as Violent Protests enter 9th Week.” venezuelanalysis.com 

LOPEZ, V. (2017). “Venezuela: Police helicopter attacks supreme court with grenades.” The Guardian. 

STAFF (2017). “Monitor País: 86% «de acuerdo» con que Gobierno promueva inversión privada“. Hinterlaces

STAFF (2017). “Opositores violentos asediaron 200 centros de votación en todo el país y asesinaron un GNB en Táchira.” ALBA Ciudad. 

 

 

 

Categories
UNCATEGORIZED

Mussalaha (Reconciliation) in Syria

Reconciliation” has become something of a buzzword in Canada, the country of my birth, underpinning much of the mainstream discourse around the historical mistreatment of indigenous people and the future of relations between settlers and natives. One might be surprised to learn that Reconciliation is also a buzzword in Syria, but for rather different reasons. Mussalaha” (تصالح), reconciliation, has been a priority of the Syrian Arab Republic as part of its strategy to end internal strife in Syria since the 2012 constitutional reforms.

There is no denying that the war in Syria has transformed the country, and obviously in many ways for the worse; proud and ancient cities lay in ruins, millions have been forced to flee their residences and the homeland their ancestors have inhabited for centuries, terrorist gangs backed by Syria’s neighbors and by the United States continue to plague the country. Yet, as the war shifts in favor of the Syrian government, there is an ember of hope for the masses of  Syria (though you wouldn’t know it from mainstream media), and that hope is Mussalaha. Mussalaha has played a key role in the Syrian government’s political as well as military victories, and holds important implications that country, and the world’s, future.

The Mythologies of Imperial Divide-and-Conquer

In order understand the significance of this concept, it is necessary to understand Syria’s recent history, as well as to dispel some often-peddled myths about Syria, its people, and its government. Thankfully, due to the tireless work of committed independent journalists, historians, anti-imperialist and solidarity activists, and even some research by traditionally pro-imperialist journals and think-tanks, there is a wealth of evidence to construct a counter-narrative to the one promoted by the imperialists in the US State Department and corporate media.

The narrative which underlies coverage by large corporate conglomerate media usually goes something like this: The government of Syria is a ruthless dictatorship of the Al-Assad family, which hordes power for itself and its political allies in the Alawi religion. In 2011, there was an uprising against this dictatorship by the marginalized Sunni Muslim majority which was violently repressed by the government using chemical weapons and “barrel bombs” (in quotation marks as the term “barrel bomb” has yet to be clearly defined). Faced with great repression, the protesters turned to armed struggle. Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad, in an elaborate conspiracy, implanted radical Islamist elements into the resistance which led to the growth of modern terrorist organizations like Ahrar Al-Sham, Jahabat Al-Nusra, and Al-Qaeda and ISIS outfits in Syria.

The most comprehensive and richly historicized rebuttal of this narrative is Stephen Gowans‘ recent book Washington’s Long War on Syria (2017), which I will cite extensively (you can read an excerpt of the book here). The first myth Gowans dismantles is the idea that the 2011 protests were a peaceful “popular uprising”, using sources that would certainly not be considered “pro-Assad” by any standard. For example, Gowans quotes an article by Rania Abouzeid published in Time shortly before the 2011 protests, “Even critics concede that Assad is popular and considered close to the country’s huge youth cohort, both emotionally, ideologically and, of course, chronologically.” Abouzeid added that unlike “…the ousted pro-American leaders of Tunisia and Egypt, Assad’s hostile foreign policy toward Israel, strident support for Palestinians and the militant groups Hamas and Hezbollah are in line with popular Syrian sentiment.” (Abouzeid, as quoted in Gowans, 2017. Emphasis added.). The same article features interviews with Syrian youth whom express support for Bashar Al-Assad’s political coalition, the National Progressive Front, for implementing fully public education and enforcing secularism.

Image result for pro assad rally syria
An almost iconic photo, a pro-government rally in the city of Saba, Syria,  draws thousands (Reuters, 2011).

On the protests which triggered the so-called “Syrian revolution”, Gowans demonstrates that these were in large part riots led by unpopular organizations like the Muslim Brotherhood who have been trying to topple the secular NPF government, with extensive US support, since the 1980s, and were violent from their outset – attacking public infrastructure and innocent bystanders, as well as, interestingly, calling for solidarity with various Al-Qaeda and proto-ISIS militias in Libya. These groups would go on to form the militias which, composed mostly of foreign fighters from Saudi Arabia to Sweden with covert US and Israeli support, would go on occupy and terrorize vast swaths of Syria.

We should also note the not insignificant fact that western media has propagated the idea that the Syrian government has deployed an arsenal of chemical weapons (in particular Sarin gas) during the course of its military campaign against these forces, including on civilians. What coverage of these alleged attacks ignores is that only one of these alleged attack sites has been subjected to an independent United Nations fact-finding mission (as they are required to be under international law) and the results of that mission were that the the Syrian government did not use chemical weapons. Therefore, all allegations of “Assad gassing his own people” and other such sensationalism are by default presumptions of guilt and should be immediately suspect, especially considering that the Syrian government surrendered its chemical weapons stores in 2013 and that the United States and its allies have blocked any independent investigations of attack sites. Prize-winning journalist Seymour Hersh (2017) believes this to be intentional, using insider sources from the US military to demonstrate an active campaign to demonize the Syrian government.

Hersh’s allegations are significant, because they come at a time when the US narrative on Syria is quickly unraveling. Several voices close to the US establishment; namely The Century Foundation, the New York Times, and former UN prosecutor Clara Del Ponte, have all had to make admissions that the narrative Gowans’ and other independent researchers and journalists have dedicated to deconstructing is indeed flawed. Sam Heller (2017), writing for the Century Foundation makes perhaps the most dramatic admission. Commenting on US President Donald Trump’s decision to pull funding from covert CIA support for Syrian rebel groups, he writes:

The program was intended to build a moderate rebel force that could apply serious enough military pressure on the regime to force Assad to step aside as part of a negotiated political settlement. But the latter part of that objective, a compelled transition, was always fantasy. As for the “moderate rebel force,” for the last several years much of America’s support has gone to “Free Syrian Army” (FSA) factions that have functioned as battlefield auxiliaries and weapons farms for larger Islamist and jihadist factions, including Syria’s al-Qaeda affiliate.

(Heller, 2017. Emphasis added)

This admission of funding outright terrorist forces in Syria (not a “moderate opposition” by any stretch) is a significant victory for peace activists, anti-imperialists, and everyone else who has worked to oppose the demonization of the Syrian state and US-NATO interventionism and warmongering. With the facts now established, we can better appreciate the role Reconciliation plays in Syrian state policy as both a political and ideological struggle against US-backed proxies and sectarianism.

 The National Ministry of Reconciliation and Political Reform

Of course, assuming that all is well and good within the ranks of the Syrian government would be an asinine simplification. The unleashing of the war in (or more accurately “on”) Syria revealed the need for state reforms in order to maintain stability and prevent sectarianism from being instrumentalized by the insurgency. These manifested in the 2012 constitutional reforms, which included removing the Ba’ath Party’s exclusive claim to executive office, expanding parliamentary powers, and creating mechanisms for reconciliation between different ethno-religious groups, including the National Ministry of Reconciliation, led by Dr. Ali Haidar of the opposition party the Syrian Social-Nationalists, and the forthcoming Committee of National Reconciliation. Canadian journalist Eva Bartlett interviewed Haidar in 2014. In the interview, Haidar provides an outline of the philosophy and policy objectives of Mussalaha: 

Reconciliation isn’t that we are making a deal with armed insurgents. The idea is to restore the state of security in Syria. In our work towards reconciliation, we look at two main sectors: One, the insurgents, and the other, Syrian civilians living in areas controlled by the insurgents.

Regarding the insurgents, we differentiate between the Syrian insurgents and the foreign militias. The latter refuse any dialogue with the government and are simply terrorists in Syria. And unfortunately, they are large in numbers and are the leaders of the dominant insurgent groups. The only people we communicate with are armed Syrians, not with the foreign militias.

We encourage armed Syrians to cut any ties with the foreign militias. Then, we negotiate with them on how to reconcile. We’ve been very successful, in many areas, having them disarm and go back to their normal lives. We’ve had thousands of successes.

The second focus is on Syrian society. Syrians are suffering in all respects: their security and safety, the economy, social services, education, the large number of martyrs and injured, the kidnapped, the missing, the internally-displaced… We are trying to find a solution to each one of these cases. That is the deepest meaning of ‘reconciliation’: to return people to their normal lives.

(Haidar, as quoted in Bartlett, 2014. Emphasis added)

From this, we can conclude that Reconciliation is a nationalist project. “Nationalist” not in the sense that it is ethnic or volkish but nationalist in what some might call the “Civic” sense, that is Nationalism as the construction of a community around the State – of unifying the religious, ethnic, and national groups within Syria into a coherent Syrian community which neither submerges or emphasizes these differences, but compliments them. This is a vision, according to Syrian state hagiography, that was first expressed in the 1936 Syrian rebellion and is the guiding vision of the  philosophy of Arab Socialism. This necessarily, as Haidar clarifies, includes expelling foreign fighters and insurgents, but is at its heart an inclusive project.

Dr. Ali Haidar, photographed in his office by Eva Bartlett (2014).

This policy stands in stark contrast to the image of the Syrian government, with Bashar Al-Assad at its head, as a divisive force. But understanding that Syrian state policy is primarily about maintaining social unity and preventing breakdown into sectarianism, it begins to make sense why over 50% of the Syrian population supports the Syrian government and Bashar Al-Assad specifically, why refugees tend to be fleeing from rebel-held territory and have a relatively positive view of the government (a fact I can attest to personally in addition to the linked study) and why refugees have started to return to Syria now that the war has shifted in favor of the government.

Syrian Sovereignty and the Reinvention of the Border

Of course, the concept of a “National” (read: State) Reconciliation might seem outlandish in the framework of neoliberalism, which has increasingly overrun the so called “left”, particularly in North America. Compare, for example, the attitude of the Canadian left to the US “humanitarian intervention” in Grenada in the 1980s to attitudes to the recent  interventions in Libya or Syria. There was no debate along the lines we see today; that maybe anti-imperialism should be sacrificed for the sake of “human rights”, that x, y, or z “third world dictator” had “killed his own people” and thus did not deserve our support, or that we should narcissisticly uphold “our” western models of liberal democracy as the only legitimate form of popular rule.

There are, of course, numerous things worth criticizing about the various parties and formations which made up the 1980s left, but one common position which has proved correct over the last thirty years is the understanding that the construction of centralized, yet ultimately pluralistic, states serve as one of the most powerful tools of decolonization in the contemporary era. This is precisely the kind of state that countries which have made some of the most world-shaking strides in decolonization – China, Algeria, Libya, Zimbabwe, Cuba – have all constructed on socialist foundations.

Mussalaha urges us to harken back to this understanding of what decolonization, self-determination, and democracy means, both in the first world left’s defense of third world states in the crosshairs of American Empire, and in our political programs for our own countries. Of significance in the case of Syria, both in geostrategic and ideological terms, is the existence of internationally recognized borders. The dynamics of “border control” have been precisely what has allowed the Syrian state to win victories and repel US imperialism, its proxies, and ISIS forces, and it has been precisely US efforts to either force open Syria’s borders or to fracture the country into various ethnic enclaves which have allowed the US to exercise undue influence there. While this reality’s universal implications are not the focus of this article, it is worth noting the importance of unitary state power and borders in combating imperial terra nullius.

Syrian Government Rebuilding Aleppo City (Photos, Video)
Syrian workers begin repairing streets in newly-liberated Aleppo, a key area of reconstruction for the Syrian state (SouthFront Database, 2017).

What we can say however, is that the Syrian Reconciliation project requires both a conceptual and spatial recognition of “Syria” as a political unit, which both the sectarian projects of imperialist intervention and the neoliberal discourse of left-liberals both seeks to negate in their reiterations of “ancient” Sunni vs Shia rivalries, “Alawite minority rule”, and other overt focuses on the divisions within Syrian society and exploiting them for regime-change ends (often neglecting actual minority persecution, such as the mass killing of Alawites, Christians, and Shia by opposition forces). This overcoming of sectarian division and the misapplied transference of neoliberal identity politics by left-liberals to political sectarianism to the Middle-east will be elaborated on in Part 2.

 

Conclusion

As the US vision for a fragile, recolonized Syria crumbles and forces like ISIS and Al-Nusra lose ground to the Syrian Arab Army and its domestic and international allies, and the bipartisan warmongers of the US government must begrudgingly concede defeat, I expect that the media of the “international community” (read: US imperialist world order) will produce some combination of weeping and wailing about the defeat of the nonexistent “democratic uprising” against the government and of quiet deflection away from the reality of the failure of a US campaign against another sovereign country. Because, after all, Syria, like Vietnam before it, has proven to the world that the military might of the United States is, in fact, not invulnerable to resistance, and that it can even be overcome. While the rebuilding and reconciling in Syria will take many years to come, the impending defeat of the long war on Syria is an inspiration for the modern age.

References

ABRAHMS, M., D. Sulivan, et al. (2017). “Five Myths About Syrian Refugees“. Foreign Affairs. 

BARTLETT, E. (2014). “As Foreign Insurgents Continue to Terrorize Syria, the Reconciliation Trend Grows.” Dissident Voice. 

GOEL, T. (2017). “Half a million Syrians return home as Syrian gov’t, allies liberate more areas.” Liberation News. 

GOWANS, S. (2017). Washington’s Long War on Syria. Montreal, QC: Baraka Books

HELLER, S. (2017). “America Had Already Lost Its Covert War in Syria – Now its Official“. The Century Foundation. 

HERSH, S. (2017). “Trump’s Red Line.” Die Welt. 

STAFF (2017). “Future Syrian Reconciliation Committee to Comprise Only Syrians – Minister.” Sputnik. 

STEELE, J. (2012). “Most Syrians back President Assad, but you’d never know from western media.” The Guardian. 

WORTH, R. (2017). “Aleppo After the Fall.” The New York Times. 

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Canada 150, Ricardo Duchesne, and the Genocidal Impulse

My university harbors a white supremacist.

Dr. Ricardo Duchesne is a tenured professor in the Department of Social Science at the University of New Brunswick, on its Saint John campus. Duchesne’s belief system is based on a belief in the uniqueness of “western civilization” and the inherent superiority of “European” and white culture in relation to others. Duchesne, proceeding from this position, has attacked “multiculturalism”, “mass immigration”, and, most famously, was involved in a spat with a Vancouver city Councillor after Duchesne described Vancouver as being transformed from a “serene, community-oriented, British city” into “a loud, congested Asian city (still attractive only because of the architectural and institutional legacy of past White generations).”

While there are numerous covert and overt white supremacists within Canadian academia, I have chosen to single out Ricardo Duchesne in this article for three reasons:

1) He is attached to the same institution as I am (though in different capacities, I am a student and he is a tenured professor).

2) He has chosen to act politically on his beliefs, founding an organization called the Council of European Canadians, which exists to “defend the interests of European Canadians,” which apparently has members across Canada.

3) Duchesne’s ideas represent an interesting example of how white supremacy operates in Canada and North America more broadly. That is, in a settler-colonial society which has come into being through the domination and genocide of indigenous peoples.

Purpose

I hold no illusions that this piece will convince Duchense to abandon his disgusting views, in my experience such people will only renounce their colonial mythologies when directly and aggressively pummeled into renouncement (and even then, very rarely), and I am not in a position to do that as of now. What I do hope is that this will help the reader understand and deconstruct the logic of Eurocentric, white supremacist views by narrowing in on a particular case. I especially hope some fellow UNB students, especially on the Saint John campus, will be aware of the paucity of Duchesne’s worldview.

Duchesne has an advantage over those who might criticize his views from a liberal standpoint in that his work is steeped in political economy (at one time his thesis supervisor was Marxist historian Georges Rude). Liberals often assume that racists are unintelligent or ignorant (often creating classist stereotypes of rednecks and country bumpkins to serve as projections of their own racism), but Duchesne is far from ignorant, however wrong he might be. His philosophy is an eclectic fusion of both right-wing Hegelianism and banal ethnocentrism with interesting appropriations from Marxism and Dependency Theory (in a grossly bastardized form, of course). In an ironic way, Duchesne demonstrates the effectiveness of historical materialism as a method, employing it selectively to bolster his ideas of European superiority and give them an air of objectivity. In order for there to be a  “left” response to such claims, we cannot cede the territory of objective political economy and retreat to postmodern relativism. As such, it is my goal here to begin to criticize Duchesne’s philosophy and epistemology with historical and material facts.

I should note that Duchesne is an immigrant from Puerto Rico. This presents some challenges to the approach of Liberal identity politics, which tends to attribute perspectives to the sum of people’s identities. By this logic, it might be assumed that Duchesne would default to anti-racism because of his experience as a non-European immigrant, yet this is clearly not the case. I will not speculate on why Duchesne holds the views he does, but I will attempt to disprove them.

Faustian Civilization, the underlying myth

In order to criticize though, it is first necessary to understand. Duchesne believes in a “Faustian impulse” at the heart of everything western. The abstract, and historically quite arbitrary, concept of “western civilization” is united by this “prime-symbol” of expansionism, of “pure and limitless space” (Spengler, as quoted in Duchesne, 2012). In this way, Duchesne unifies historically divergent and often antagonistic cultures – Indo-Europeans, Francs, Vikings, Slavs, Spaniards, and Brits –  into “Europeans”. Not only does this flatten historical differences between these peoples (Slavs historically did not get along with Vikings or Francs, who did not get along with each other), the qualifier for “Faustian impulse” seems quite ahistorical itself.

What constitutes the Faustian impulse? According to Duchesne, it is the Indo-European legacy of a collective, rather than despotic, elite who garnered respect from victory in various forms of mobile warfare. This rather vague generalization apparently constitutes the expansionist spirit which unites Vikings and Romans, who not only warred with each other, but had vastly different socioeconomic realities. Rome was a land empire managed with a centralized military force, while the Vikings were a loose, often divided coalition, focused mainly on raiding their neighbours and not on permanent conquest.

Duchesne’s “evidence” for this Faustian expansionism is hilariously scant. For example, Duchesne claims in both his essay “the Faustian impulse and European exploration” (2012) and his book, The Uniqueness of Western Civilization (2011), he claims that all Europeans inherited the Indo-European knack for map-making and cartographic expedition. Duchesne argues that because there are only 15 non-European explorers out of 274 recorded explorers, the Europeans simply must have been more driven to explore! Again, I cannot emphasize enough how hilariously elementary this “evidence” is.

Duchesne of course produces more “evidence” for his argument but it is based on the above underlying assumption. He praises early Greek cartography while lambasting Indian and Chinese civilization for being “disinterested” in exploration (this argument does not address the existence of the Silk Road or the potential for merchants to act as explorers). To my knowledge, India and China are the only non-European civilizations which Duchesne contrasts with “Western” Civilization. This betrays a selection bias which is wholly racist in its presentation of non-European civilizations as complacent and unmoving. Duchesne might be surprised to learn that other, non-European, civilizations were indeed very interested in exploration and cartography. For example, the Muslim Caliphates were aware of Australia several centuries before the Europeans, and the Pacific Islander indigenous peoples have extensive records of the Pacific Ocean.

Image result for piri reis map
The Piri Reis Map, named for a 16th-century Turkish/ Ottoman (i.e. non-European) cartographer.

Historical Whiteness and White myth-making

All that Duchesne says about “Western” Civilization and “Europeans” sounds hilarious when properly examined because his work projects a collective identity – the European identity – far into the past when, in fact, the idea of Europe is a recent one. There is no unified notion of “Europe” before 1492. There is no Europe and there is certainly no concept of a unified “white race” before the advent of capitalism and capitalist-imperialism. The unity of “Europeans” did not come into being out of a shared “spirit”, but out of the economic realities of the capitalist mode of production.

This also explains why the racial category of “white” is constantly in flux, and indeed reveals further gaps in Duchesne’s Faustian grand narrative of Europe. Slavs, Italians, and the Irish, while “European” geographically speaking, have historically had a contentious relationship with “whiteness”. In fact, the Irish and Italians were never considered whites until midway through the twentieth century (see Ignatiev, 1995), while Slavs continue to occupy a contentious position within whiteness, in many ways now defined by American imperialism’s attitude towards Russia and its neighbors.

Duchesne also neglects the question of non-white European peoples, especially the Roma and the Saami (indigenous people of northern Scandinavia). Are these peoples part of the “Faustian impulse”? Oddly enough, the Roma are the only people who can trace their genetic and cultural ancestry directly back to Indo-European migrants and yet they seem rather disinterested in pursuing their Faustian impulses and more concerned with surviving the state-sanctioned racism directed at them by white Europeans.

If Duchesne’s ahistorical conflation of Europe, whiteness, and the Faustian impulse is false in Europe, it is even more so in the colonies! Take Canada, for instance, Duchesne’s chosen home. Duchesne imagines that Canada is a product of the union of the French and British nations in a historic project and destiny. This romanticism of settler-colonialism is a gross simplification of the actual process of settlement. Most British settlers were not plucky explorers or devout missionaries of the Judeo-Christian worldview, but rather surplus populations that the crown felt did not belong in the capital; orphans (or “boat children”), Irish rabble-rousers, prostitutes, and other proverbial human waste picked off the streets of London and deported. The French for their part had no real settlement program until competition with England over the fur trade encouraged them to establish Quebec and Acadia, again populated with deported surplus populations, especially from the French countryside.

Of course, Duchesne might explain away this population management aspect of colonization as some sort of path to redemption for these dumped populations, as many settler-colonial hagiographies do. However, the persistence of class-based eugenics and social cleansing of the poor and homeless in Canada and the United States well into contemporary times shows that settler-colonial societies have always sought the dispossession and exclusion of designated surplus populations rather than their redemption.

There is one point in Duchesne’s argument that is correct: that the process of settlement created new nationalities out of these populations. It is true that Quebecois, Acadians, Anglo-Canadians, and Anglo-Americans are all national identities distinct to North America and produced by settler-colonialism. But this produces a problem for Duchesne’s epistemology – if these nations are distinctly North American are they still European? Duchesne assumes that they are because they are white nations (because remember, the assumption is that European = White).

Speaking of surplus populations, Duchesne’s mythology most significantly ignores the plight of indigenous peoples in “European” Canada. In a disgusting video on the Council of European Canadians’ website produced by Red Ice Creations (a noted “alt-right” media group which has also promoted Holocaust Denial), white supremacists respond to the supposedly “anti-white” phrase “go back to Europe” by alleging that the territories of the United States and Canada were, basically, won fair and square in some sort of epic war of hegemony. Such a claim would be hilarious if not for the harm it causes to our collective understanding of reality.

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Some of Red Ice’s videos, showcasing their flirtation with sleek-looking white populism and conspiracy theory.

What Duchesne wants to ignore, and what we Canadians are taught to ignore as we are compelled to celebrate this July 1st, is that this land was not claimed by some heroic feat of the Indo-European spirit, but stolen through a series of cheap tricks, broken promises, and mass slaughter of innocents, and it is this series of criminal, hypocritical activities which the collective identity of “white” or “European” rests upon. This country’s history is not a story of European warrior-princes carving out “pure and limitless space”, but of gangsters, soiling the earth in blood in search of the next fix of saleable commodities. Europe was not born out of a “Faustian impulse”, but a genocidal impulse.

Indigenous societies and in defense of their title

Duchesne, and I would speculate most white supremacists, subconsciously know this. They know that whiteness is a fragile identity which they must cling to precariously at the expense of others. They know that what unites German, British, Welsh, Irish, French, Basque, Spanish, Dutch, and Italian-descended North American whites is not centuries-old ethnic consciousness but a manufactured identity which only exists in the context of genocidal capitalism. Duchesne in fact explicitly warns against whites adopting the “shame” of acknowledging historical (and I would add ongoing) genocide in North America, arguing that this would unravel the cohesion of the European identity.

This is compatible with historical accuracy in Duchesne’s worldview because, in typical Eurocentric fashion, he dismisses Indigenous civilizations as “tribes” and ignores their achievements. In a recent talk, Duchesne defended the use of the term “Aboriginals” over “First Nations” because indigenous peoples did not constitute nations on three grounds (1) there was a lack of state-formation in Indigenous societies, (2) the indigenous population was relatively small, (3) they lacked cartographic or exploratory impulses (again with the “Faustian impulse”!).

This is a reproduction of terra nullius (“no one’s land”) ideology, the idea that the space we now call the Americas was “empty” of civilization and thus free to claim by settlers. There are, of course, numerous examples that prove that this is not the case. Not just the mighty Maya and Aztec states to the south, but numerous “Canadian” indigenous states besides; in Duchesne and mine’s own home province, the Mi’kmaq and the Wulastoq/Maliseet possessed a binational state in the form of the Wabanaki Confederacy. We know this because there is explicit recognition of the Wabanaki state as such in the Peace and Friendship Treaties signed with the British, an inter-state treaty agreement. 

A state I am more familiar with (and there is significantly more research on), the Iroquois (Haudenosaunee) Confederacy was territorially significant, comprising much of central-eastern North America, and a centralized state with a monopoly on force, i.e. a state in the Weberian sense. Again, this fact was recognized by the European powers. The Articles of Agreement and Peace signed September 24th and 25th, 1664, between the Iroquois and the British, Articles of Treaty of Peace proposed by Six Ambassadors from the Iroquois to the French signed in 1665, and Article 15 of the 1713 Treaty of Urecht all recognize this.

While the exact pre-colonial population of North America is (and likely always will be) up for debate, recent scholarship seriously contests Duchesne and other academics’ claims that the indigenous population of North America was only a few thousand. Research for Stannard’s work American Holocaust: The Conquest of the New World (1992), places pre-Columbus North American populations in the tens of millions. It would be a strange occurrence indeed if only a few thousand of these tens of millions lived in the bountiful forests, plains, and mountains of what is now called Canada. Indeed, it would defy everything we know about how populations choose to inhabit space. The current indigenous depopulation is a product of genocide, not a reflection of the “normal” population levels of Indigenous nations.

Finally, while I do not think it is particularly important to establish non-European civilizations as sufficiently “Faustian” to constitute nations, I do have a rejoinder to the implicit assumption of indigenous peoples as primitive and tribal due to their supposed lack of map-making. The work of M.G. Lewis (1998) on native map-making and “charte” art post-1540 shows that many indigenous societies, while not constructing formal maps in the Eurasian fashion, did possess records of places and spatial relations which they found easily transferable to cartography, implying an extensive knowledge of place and explorations into the territory of indigenous neighbors.

Conclusion

Frantz Fanon wrote in Wretched of the Earth (2008) that “Europe is literally a creation of the Third World,” and I cannot think of a discourse where this becomes more apparent then in the deconstruction of white supremacist ideologies. Everything that makes the various white and European nations white and European exists only because of imperialism and colonization, it exists only because of the exploitation and appropriation of resources from other lands and nations, it exists only because of genocide of non-Europeans.

Today, July 1st, marks the inauguration of “Canada” under the British North America Act, which explicitly defines Canada as an instrument of British imperialism and settler expansion. If settlers (or “Euro-Canadians” as Duchesne calls them) are to have a sustainable future, they must work to actively reject “Europe” and whiteness as defining characteristics, and seek collective reconciliation with indigenous people. At the absolute minimum, Canada must become a multinational state in both policy and practice which recognizes the unconditional right to self-determination for Indigenous people.

Duchesne might see the “demographic threat” to white Canadians as a tragedy, but the real tragedy is the demographic threat that the lie of whiteness has posed to indigenous people for these last 150 years. It is high time Duchesne and all Europeanists are thoroughly rejected as having anything good to say about Canada and its future and time the Indigenists take center stage in showing us the way forward.

Note: A previous version of this piece described Dr. Duchesne’s affiliation as the Department of Sociology. A colleague of mine pointed out that this was incorrect, and leading some readers to believe that Duchesne’s department was connected to the Department of Sociology at the UNB Fredericton campus. In the interest of accuracy and preventing confusion, the piece has been edited to read “Department of Social Science” at UNB Saint John, which is his correct affiliation.

References

DUCHESNE, R. (2012). “The Faustian Impulse and European Exploration,” Fortnightly Review.

DUCHESNE, R. (2011). The Uniqueness of Western Civilization. Boston: Brill Publishing.

FANON, F. (2008). The Wretched of the Earth. orig. 1961. Trans. Richard Philcox. New York: Grove Press.

IGNATIEV, N. (1995). How the Irish Became White. New York: Routledge Publishing.

LEWIS, M.G. (1998). Cartographic Encounters: Perspectives on Native American Map-Making and Map Use. New York: University of Chicago Press.

STANNARD, D. (1992). American Holocaust: The Conquest of the New World. New York: Oxford University Press.