Earlier this year, the Sisters of St. Brigid invited me to speak at their Feile Bride celebration in Kildare, Ireland. The theme of the gathering was: “Allow the Voice of the Suffering to Speak.”
The Sisters have embraced numerous projects to protect the environment, welcome refugees and nonviolently resist wars. I felt grateful to reconnect with people who so vigorously opposed any Irish support for U.S. military wars in Iraq. They had also campaigned to end the economic sanctions against Iraq, knowing that hundreds of thousands of Iraqi children suffered and died for lack of food, medicine and clean water. This year, the Sisters asked me to first meet with local teenagers who would commemorate another time of starvation imposed by an imperial power.
Joe Murray, who heads Action from Ireland (Afri), arranged for a class from Dublin’s Beneavin De La Salle College to join an Irish historian in a field adjacent to the Dunshaughlin work house on the outskirts of Dublin.
Such workhouses dot the landscape of Ireland and England. In the mid-19th century, during the famine years, they were dreaded places. People who went there knew they were near the brink of death due to hunger, disease, and dire poverty. Ominously, behind the workhouse lay the graveyard.
The young men couldn’t help poking a bit of fun, at first; what in the world were they doing out in a field next to an imposing building, their feet already soaked in the wet grass as a light rain fell? They soon became quite attentive.
We learned that the Dunshaughlin workhouse had opened in May of 1841. It could accommodate 400 inmates. During the famine years, many hundreds of people were crowded in the stone building in dreadful conditions. An estimated one million people died during a famine that began because of blighted potato crops but became an “artificial famine” because Ireland’s British occupiers lacked the political will to justly distribute resources and food. Approximately one million Irish people who could no longer feed themselves and subsist on the land emigrated to places like the U.S. But seeking refuge wasn’t an option for those who couldn’t afford the passage. Evicted by landowners, desperate people arrived at workhouses like the one we were visiting. Our guide read us the names of people from the surrounding area who had been buried in a mass grave behind the workhouse, their bodies unidentified. They were victims of what the Irish call “Greta Mor”—”The Great Hunger.”
It was recently, as I tried to better understand the migration of desperate and starving people now crossing from East Africa into Yemen, that I began to realize how great the hunger was. During that same period, in the latter half of the 19th century, there were 30 million people, possibly fifty million, dying of famine in northern China, India, Brazil and the Maghreb. The terrible suffering of these unknown people, whose plight never made it into the history books, was a sharp reminder to me of Western exceptionalism. As researched and described in Mike Davis’s book, The Late Victorian Holocaust, El Nino and La Nina climate changes caused massive crop failures. What food could be harvested was often sent abroad. Railroad infrastructure could have been used to send food to people dying of hunger, but wealthier people chose to ignore the plight of the starving. The Great Hunger, fueled by bigotry and greed, had been greater than any of its victims knew. And now, few in the prosperous West are aware of the terror faced by people in South Sudan, Somalia, northeast Nigeria, northern Kenya and Yemen. Millions of people cannot feed themselves or find potable water.
Countries in Africa which the U.S. has helped destabilize, such as Somalia, are convulsed in fighting which exacerbates effects of drought and drives helpless civilians toward points of hoped for refuge. Many have chosen a path of escape through the famine-torn country of Yemen. The U.S. has been helping a Saudi-led coalition to blockade and bomb Yemen since March of 2015. Sudanese fighters aligned with Saudi Arabia have been taking over cities along the Yemeni coast, heading northward. People trying to escape famine find themselves trapped amid vicious air and ground attacks.
In March, 2017, Stephen O’Brien, head of the UN’s Office for the Co-ordination of Humanitarian Affairs, traveled to Yemen, Somalia, South Sudan and Northern Kenya. Since that trip, he has repeatedly begged the UN Security Council to help end the fighting and prevent conflict-driven famine conditions. Regarding Yemen, he wrote, in a July 12, 2017 statement to the UN Security Council that:
Seven million people, including 2.3 million malnourished (500,000 severely malnourished) children under the age of five, are on the cusp of famine, vulnerable to disease and ultimately at risk of a slow and painful death. Nearly 16 million people do not have access to adequate water, sanitation and hygiene, and more than 320,000 suspected cholera cases have been reported in all of the country’s governorates bar one.
This number has since risen to 850,000.
Ben Ehrenreich describes famine conditions along what the Israeli theorist Eyal Weizman calls the ‘conflict shoreline’, an expanding band of climate change-induced desertification that stretches through the Sahel and across the African continent before leaping the Gulf of Aden to Yemen. He notes that this vast territory, once the site of fierce resistance to colonial incursions, is now paying the heaviest price, in disastrous climate conditions, for the wealth of the industrialized north. As the deserts spread south, ever more dire conflicts can be expected to erupt, causing more people to flee.
Of a drought-stricken area of Somaliland, Ehrenreich writes: “People were calling this drought sima, ‘the leveller,’ because it affected all of the clans stretching across Somaliland and into Ethiopia to the west and Kenya to the south.”
“The women’s stories were almost all the same,” writes Ehrenreich, “differing only in the age and number of children sick, the number of animals they had lost and the number that survived. Hodan Ismail had lost everything. She left her husband’s village to bring her children here, where her mother lived, ‘to save them,’ she said. ‘When I got there, I saw that she had nothing either.’ The river and streams, their usual source of drinking water, had gone dry and they had no option but to drink from a shallow well at the edge of town. The water was making all the children sick.”
In 1993, at the Rio de Janeiro “Earth Summit,” delegates conveying the views of then-President George Bush Sr., voiced a refrain of the statement, “the American lifestyle is not up for negotiation.” U.S. demands of the summit incalculably restricted the changes to which it might have led. Representing President Bill Clinton six years later, Secretary of State Madeleine Albright defended planned bombardment of Iraq, saying “If we have to use force, it is because we are America; we are the indispensable nation. We stand tall and we see further than other countries into the future, and we see the danger here to all of us.”
There is danger that must be recognized. The danger is real and the danger is spreading. Violence spreads the famine, and the famine will spread violence.
I find myself repulsed by assertions voicing U.S. exceptionalism, yet my own study and focus often omits histories and present realities which simply must be understood if we are to recognize the traumas our world faces. In relation to conflict-driven famines, it becomes even more imperative to resist the U.S. government’s allocation of 700 billion dollars to the Department of Defense. In the U.S., our violence, and our delusions of being indispensable stem from accepting a belief that our “way of life” is non-negotiable. Growing inequality, protected by menacing arsenals, paves a path to the graveyard: It is not a “way of life.” We still could acquire a great hunger: a transforming hunger to share justice with our planetary neighbors. We could shed familiar privileges and search for communal tools to preserve us from indifferent wealth and voracious imperial power. We could embrace the theme of the Irish sisters at their Feile Bride gathering: “Allow the Voice of the Suffering to Speak” and then choose action-based initiatives to share our abundance and lay aside, forever, the futility of war.
A trip to Palestine resulted in deportations and harassment by security as the Israel authorities step up attempts to intimidate or frighten future travelers to the area. During our trip we experienced CS gas, checkpoints, apartheid in action and military harassment of Palestinians.
I joined the group in Dublin airport on the morning of September 8th and we flew out to Istanbul where we waited in a transit area cafe for a couple of hours. As it turned out our flight departure lounge for Tel Aviv was next to the cafe where we were sitting and we noticed that an extra layer of security was being prepared by ground staff for the Tel Aviv flight. After boarding, and a smooth Turkish Airlines flight to Ben Gurion Airport in Tel Aviv, we disembarked and queued up for passport control. I was on my own and after 2 or 3 questions (what was the purpose of my trip, had I been to Israel before, etc). I was given a one month visa and waved through. Meanwhile, however, trouble was brewing as I could hear the two Irish girls at the kiosk next to me being asked to bring the group leader over. I went directly through to the arrivals hall as I had not checked in any bags. Then began a long wait as myself and the few who got through unhindered discovered that security had rounded up as many of the group as they could find including those who had decided to wait in the luggage hall rather than in the arrivals hall. In all 21 were detained and 6 questioned, and of those 4 were deported (Elaine Daly, Fidelma Bonass, Joan Nolan and Stephen McCloskey) a few hours later. The four who were detained were informed that they were being deported to prevent ‘illegal immigration’ even though they had valid passports and return tickets. Around 4am the others were released and we finally boarded the bus and made the journey to our hotel in Bethlehem.
Fact Finding Program
Our tour, though coordinated in Dublin, was organised by the Siraj Centre, a non-profit organization licensed by the Ministry of Tourism and based in Palestine. Our Fact Finding Program included meetings with prominent peace activists, political officials, human rights organizations, settlers and Jewish tour guides. This makes the deportation of our group leader, Elaine Daly, even stranger as she has been organising trips with the Siraj Centre every year from Ireland since 2006.
Saturday 9th September: Day 1 Bethlehem
On our first morning we attended a talk by Prof. Mazin Qumsiyeh, a local university professor and activist, at the Natural History institute who emphasised the strong link between biodiversity, political struggle for the land and its safeguarding for future generations. It was interesting to note that it had been his son who had first drawn the infamous ‘shrinking’ map of the Palestinian territories showing their loss of land from 1946, 1947, 1967 to the 2000s.
Afterwards we headed over to the Lajee Center, a cultural centre beside the main Palestinian refugee camp in Bethlehem for a talk and a traditional dance display from the local children. Soon, however, they switched off the air-conditioning and when we asked why we were told that tear gas was coming through the system. Directly outside the window local youth were throwing stones at the Israeli army at the far end of the road. Soon more and more tear gas came into the building and the windows and doors were shut. For most on the tour it was their first experience of the burning effects of CS gas yet for the members of the Lajee Center it had become merely a nuisance. After about a half hour we were able to leave and go for a short tour of the area. We passed under the arch of Aida camp with a giant key symbolising the principle that Palestinian refugees, both first-generation refugees and their descendants, have a right to return. On our left were simple concrete buildings while on the right the street is cut off from Jerusalem by the Israeli West Bank wall and covered in murals and graffiti.
Sunday 10th September: Day 2 Hebron
The next day on the way to Hebron we stopped off at a small park beside a main road containing the tomb of Baruch Goldstein, the religious extremist who carried out the 1994 Cave of the Patriarchs massacre in Hebron. Goldstein killed 29 Palestinian Muslim worshippers and wounded another 125. He was then overpowered and beaten to death by the survivors. Goldstein was not allowed to be buried in a Jewish cemetery but his current burial site still attracts Jewish extremists. We drove on to the Cave of Patriarchs or Ibrahimi Mosque where the Goldstein massacre took place. There are now two separate entrances, one for Muslims and one for Jews, both of which we were able to enter. This building, over 2,000 years old, is believed to be the oldest continuously used prayer structure in the world. However, it was outside the Mosque at the military checkpoints we witnessed Israeli apartheid for the first time. Palestinians are barred from using the street and our guide was apprehended by two soldiers. Our group complained to the soldiers but only our guide responded saying he would get a taxi and meet us elsewhere. In the end, the group spontaneously applauded our guide for his patience and perseverance as he was removed from the area. Our waiting bus had only been 50 metres around the corner…
We walked through streets of Hebron going through different stages of clearance. In some places only a few Palestinians were left in the old stone buildings and Israeli street signs had been erected pointing to Jewish places of interest. In other streets nets had been used to stop settlers throwing objects on the shoppers below. Afterwards we were brought to meet with a settler where some asked questions about the settlements and their legality but this ended up with some storming out and others realising how it easy it was to become an Israeli citizen and participate in the land confiscations.
Monday 11th September: Day 3 Jerusalem
Our guides were Palestinian and Jewish and both were equally as good when it came to explanations and answering questions from our group. As we drove through East Jerusalem it was pointed out by our Jewish guide that Palestinians pay taxes yet their areas had bad roads and poor rubbish collection services.
Tuesday 12th September: Day 4 Nablus
In Nablus we visited Jacobs Well Church, and then to Balata Camp to meet with a representative from the Yafa cultural Center. The centre was set up in 1996 by the Committee for the Defence of Refugee Rights and offers a range of educational and creative programs to camp residents. We were brought around the closely-built neighbourhoods of the camp where some ‘streets’ were less than one metre wide. After lunch we had a tour in the old city of Nablus and visited the Samaritans Museum. The bustling old city gave us a feel for what many areas should have looked like and felt like without occupation.
Wednesday 13th September: Day 5 Ramalah
We began the day driving to Ramalah to meet with a speaker from Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS). BDS has become an extensive movement against Israeli apartheid and settler-colonialism. It is also a Palestinian-led movement made up of unions, academic associations, churches and grassroots movements across the world. We also met with a representative from Al Haq, an independent Palestinian non-governmental human rights organisation also based in Ramallah. According to their website: “Al-Haq documents violations of the individual and collective rights of Palestinians in the OPT, irrespective of the identity of the perpetrator, and seeks to end such breaches by way of advocacy before national and international mechanisms and by holding the violators accountable.” In the afternoon the group were brought on a sightseeing tour of Jerusalem which I did not participate in due to feeling unwell. Instead, I went with our Palestinian tour guide back to Bethlehem on the public bus. As the bus approached the wall we all had get off and pass through the many turnstiles and barricaded-off pathways to get to the other side of the wall. The queues moved quickly enough as the military generally do not carry out checks on Palestinians going home to the West Bank from Jerusalem in the evening. It is in the early morning that the long queues form as workers are stopped and permits scrutinised on the way to work in Jerusalem.
Thursday 14th September: Day 5 Bethlehem
The next day I went back to Jerusalem from Bethlehem on public bus No. 231. At a major checkpoint a male and female soldier got on the bus while about a third of the bus got off to have their permits checked outside. They questioned a Palestinian woman with children for about ten minutes on the bus before suddenly leaving the bus again and letting the others back on. These checks, the roadworks and traffic jams into Jerusalem added up to about 30 minutes onto our journey, a journey which should have taken only around 20 minutes. In the centre I crossed the road and entered into the Old City through Herod’s Gate. I headed through the old city markets to the Al-Aqsa Mosque but at various Israeli military check points I was stopped and informed that the Mosque was only open in the mornings. There were 4 or 5 groups of about 20 Israeli soldiers each walking and singing down the narrow streets towards the Western Wall. The area was being prepared for a swearing-in ceremony for Paratrooper recruits taking place that evening. After walking the Via Dolorosa and around to the Damascus Gate I got the bus back to Bethlehem. Later, after dinner with the group in a Palestinian restaurant in Bethlehem, a few of us took a taxi to visit the Banksy’s Walled Off Hotel about ten minutes drive away. The ‘Walled Off’ sits beside the massive wall which is covered in graffiti executed in many styles by various artists. Boasting the ‘worst view in the world’ the lobby contains a collection of art and there is a museum upstairs. People sat outside on the veranda between the hotel and the wall having a quiet drink in this most incongruous of places.
Friday 15th September: The Dead Sea
For our last day the group decided to visit the Dead Sea. After arriving at the resort, getting to the water’s edge meant walking down layer after layer of beaches as the Dead Sea evaporates. The recession of the water’s edge is believed to be about 1 m (3 ft) a year. The speed and breadth of the recession of the Dead Sea was a fitting symbol for the recession of the West Bank itself as more and more settlements and walls reduce further the size of the Palestinian territories.
Early the next morning we were back on the bus to Tel Aviv and Ben Gurion airport where there was some anxiety as the security checks were known to be more stringent in the departures area than in arrivals area. (Why? a form of damage limitation?) Once again our group was held up to the last minute for our flight to Istanbul. We had a much more pleasant time in Dublin airport where a welcoming committee was waiting for us with a Palestinian flag. Elaine and the other deportees had decided to hold off publicising the deportations so as not to create any unnecessary difficulties for the rest of the group’s departure from Tel Aviv. Of course, our problems were nothing compared to the daily experiences and hardships of the Palestinian people being forced through turnstiles, having to obtain multi-varied permits, losing land and dwellings, enduring constant military checks and an oppressive political/legal system (like the 17C Penal Laws in Ireland) all because of a particular nationality or religion. The trip left an indelible impression on us as individuals and as a group which would not be easily removed by the self-serving rhetoric of an all-powerful occupying force.
Since our return the issue of the deportations has been raised in various articles in the national newspapers. It has also been brought up during question time in the Dáil (the Irish parliament). Despite not being able to return to the West Bank again, Elaine is already planning to organise two trips to the West Bank from Dublin for 2018. All aboard!
• All photographs copyright Caoimhghin Ó Croidheáin
If it is a truism that after a war the victor writes the history, then it could be argued that the victor also chooses the language in which the history will be written. If it is a war of the colonised against the coloniser then the language takes on a special significance as typically the coloniser imposes their language on the colonised.
Paulo Freire described the way in which cultural conquest leads to the cultural inauthenticity of those who are invaded. They then start to take up the outlook of the invader in terms of their values, standards and goals. In Pedagogy of the Oppressed, Freire wrote that cultural invasion would only succeed if the invaded believed in their own cultural inferiority. When convinced of their own inferiority they would see the coloniser and his culture as being superior. Over time, as people become more alienated from their own culture they would see only positives in the culture of the invader and desire to become more and more like them, “to walk like them, dress like them, talk like them”.1
However, post-revolutionary, post-colonial situations are complex and reversal of cultural norms a difficult process. The African writer Chinua Achebe wrote about the problems of communication in post-colonial African countries asserting that African writers wrote in English and French because they are “by-products” of the revolutionary processes that led to new nations-states and not just taking advantage of the global French and English language book markets.2
This then leads to a difficult situation with competing groups, some using the native languages for the first time on a state level competing with the remnants of the old order who may only be able to speak the language of the former coloniser. As new nation states, post-revolution, usually have more pressing practical problems that need to be dealt with, and in a language the majority can understand, the cultural aspects tend to be put on the back boiler until some time in the future when they may even be forgotten about entirely.
Yet, the regularity with which language issues crop up around the world today is significant and points to a sharpening of political tensions. As inter-élite competition increases, language becomes a battleground upon which political power is augmented or maintained. The Italian political theorist Antonio Gramsci identified the problem very clearly when he noted that the rise in language issues meant that something more serious was bubbling below the surface. He believed that the makeup and widening of the governing class and their need to have popular support led to a change in the cultural hegemony in society.3 This usually happens when different ethnic or language groups in society become dissatisfied with the services and benefits the state bestows on them and assert a new identity based on language and ethnic history.
In most post-colonial situations language issues centre around struggle over which languages will be taught in schools, the language used in parliament and national media, and even place names and personal names. In a recent article by Aatish Taseer, he writes about the changing politics of India where place names have become sites of contention. He notes the fact that there are many competing ideas of history and even “names reflect that very basic need of having the world see you as you see yourself.” He believes that a former self-confidence in India has given way to a new oversensitivity and a desire to control India’s image.
Taseer sees the source of this oversensitivity as the strengthening of Hindu nationalism which has undergone changes in recent years. In the past people referred to Varanasi by its multiple names including its Muslim-era name Banaras and its ancient Sanskrit name, Kashi. The rise of Hindu nationalism has politicized culture and, according to Taseer, the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party has been built on a weaponized idea of history. Ignoring Muslim sensitivities as a minority ethnic group in India, the B.J.P. president, Amit Shah, described the Muslim period as part of a thousand-year history of slavery in Goa last year.
This monolithic view of Muslims and Muslim culture only serves to stereotype and demonise Muslims and imply that a minority group is oppressing a majority rather than the other way around. The maintenance of power by a linguistic and/or political majority by imposition of its beliefs and linguistic norms on a minority has a long history in Ireland since the formation of the Irish Free State in 1922. While initially the conservative nationalist forces which won the civil war after British withdrawal (except for the northern 6 counties) brought in some measures for the protection and promulgation of the Irish language (Gaelic), the project declined and soon became associated with the radical nationalist ideology of the defeated forces instead.
The weakness of the current situation for Gaelic can be illustrated with an example of a conservative backlash which played out in Dingle in 2011, a popular small town in the southwest of Ireland. The difficulties and complexities of name change could be seen in the decision to officially rename the town ‘An Daingean’, its original Gaelic name. As place names in Ireland are in English (Anglicised versions of Gaelic names) and Gaelic, they can become focal points for cultural conflict as Gaelic speakers try to move away from historical colonial influence. The local people fought back and after six years the President at the time, Mary McAleese, reinstated the town’s name back to the Anglicised version ‘Dingle’. Many of the local people saw the Anglicised name as a tourism brand and feared a loss of business through tourist confusion with its Gaelic name.
Similar preference for the language of the colonizer can be seen in a recent article on Algeria in The Economist. In the article the competing school languages of French and Arabic were joined by Berber, made even more complicated by the lack of decision on which of its six dialects to teach. Berber is spoken by around 25% of Algerians and was only recognized last year despite independence from France in 1962. The writer notes that “Algeria’s French-speaking élite prefer their old masters’ lingo.” One adviser to the education minister, Nouria Benghebrit, stated that Arabisation was a mistake and that Algerians “shouldn’t confuse the savage, barbaric colonialism of France with the French language, which is a universal vehicle of science and culture.”
These negative overtones towards Arabic and Berber have parallels in Ireland that Gaelic speakers will recognise from Irish history. In the late nineteenth century, the increased support for Gaelic provoked reaction from various quarters particularly in the academic field. T. W. Rolleston, speaking at the Press Club in 1896 described the language as unfit for thought or consideration by educated people. Supporters of Irish and other aspects of Gaelic culture were seen as parochial traditionalists looking backward and trying to hold back the tide of history.
The struggle for the recognition of Irish as a modern language meant suffering the indignity of a challenge from Rolleston to prove that a piece of prose from a scientific journal could be translated into Irish and then back into English by another translator, without loss of meaning. This was duly carried out successfully by Hyde and MacNeill, two leading Irish nationalists, and accepted by Rolleston. (Of course, the strong historical connection between Arabic and science should also be mentioned here.)
The dubbing of Gaelic speakers as ‘parochial traditionalists’ is still used to swipe at people who assert their linguistic rights [Gaelic is the first official language of Ireland alongside English], won through many decades of political and cultural struggle with the state. The association of Gaelic with radical nationalism has always been a thorn in the side of conservative Anglophiles in Ireland.
Linguistic issues around the world are shaped, as in Ireland, by problems such as negative attitudes, the difficulties of learning new, or old, languages, and élite control of the state and the education system. As Gramsci notes, when cultural conflicts arise we can be sure that something more serious is happening entailing a closer look at local ideologies of inter-élite and class struggles. In Ireland, the fortunes of the Gaelic language rose and fell according to the cultural and ideological needs of the ruling class. The language movements were harnessed when considered a political threat and dismissed when weak.
This can be seen globally where the role of language can be positive or negative depending on the politics of the groups involved. Language is not inherently progressive or reactionary but acts as a carrier of culture as well as a means of communication. Openness towards diverse and different languages and cultures in society implies openness and tolerance towards different groups and a guard against monolithic simplification and racist provocation. When language issues arise they can also demonstrate that for minority groups, the survival of their language depends just as much on social and economic issues (emigration, unemployment, poverty) as the rights it is accorded by the state.
In Ireland, the refusal to accord linguistic rights by British colonialism to Gaelic speakers played an important part in the move of cultural nationalists to political nationalism and the subsequent War of Independence. Colonisers and conservative dominant élites both learned that their own ‘parochial traditionalism’ could be the author of their downfall in the play of history.
- Paulo Friere, Pedagogy of the Oppressed (London: Penguin, 1990) 122.
- Ali A. Mazrui, The Political Sociology of the English Language: An African Perspective (The Hague: Mouton, 1975) 218.
- Antonio Gramsci, Selections From Cultural Writings. Eds. David Forgacs and Geoffrey Nowell-Smith, trans. William Boelhower (Lawrence and Wishart, London, 1985) 183-184.
As an intended outcome of neoliberal doctrine and a natural stage of capitalist development, global financialization constructs a borderless nexus of power in which debt and austerity fuels a cultural, political and economic landscape bound to enduring structures of domination, and creates unprecedented wealth through the accumulation of suffering.
According to economist Richard Wolff, “Capitalism has always and everywhere oscillated between two phases.” One phase is operationalized by free-market doctrine, often referenced as economic liberalism, classical economics, laissez-faire capitalism, or neoliberalism which refers to a “new” or “revived form” of liberal economics. While some economists will distinguish differences between these terms, generally this free-market phase of capitalism is distinguished by a liberal economy where capitalist industry and markets prevail and experience very little (or no) government oversight. In this phase, the state primarily serves as an agent of capitalist interests.
The other phase of capitalism is often referred to as Keynesian economics, the welfare-state, state-capitalism or social democracy. This phase entails state intervention via substantive taxation, regulations, price controls and state administered social programs. To varying degrees, it is a mixed economy driven by both private and public sectors, yet allows for (or requires) the existence of significant social inequality while guaranteeing that a capitalist ruling class will manage the political system. Moderate examples of this phase include the New Deal in the U.S. and the social democracies in Western Europe between 1945 until 1990. More substantial examples of this phase include countries in which a significant portion of their societies’ productive enterprises are state owned and operated. This phase does not include the political economies of socialism or communism.
As Daniel Stedman Jones and anthropologist David Harvey have documented, the ascendance of neoliberal doctrine began in interwar Europe during the 1940s, but found fertile ground in post-World War II America, which provided an optimal ideological milieu for it to thrive and for its uncompromising political and cultural narrative to be crafted. Embraced and transmitted by a network of influential think tanks, corporations, financial institutions, business associations, politicians and journalists; the economic crisis of the 1970s provided a rich opportunity for its champions to roll out this long simmering plan. Since capitalists are well known for creating and exploiting crisis and suffering to pursue their interests, this well positioned network of free-market ideologues and profiteers expeditiously went to work. The core of their plan involved reversing (or not enforcing) New Deal and Great Society programs and the Nixon administration’s schizophrenic domestic polices; while simultaneously imposing a menu of liberal economic polices tied to a (nationalistic) conservative American values crusade (known as the “Culture Wars.”)
In 1973 the U.S. facilitated the overthrow of the democratically elected socialist president of Chile, Salvador Allende, and the installment of the brutal military dictator Augusto Pinochet. This coup d’etat allowed the U.S. to position Chile as a test laboratory for neoliberal restructuring as prescribed by Nobel Laureate economist and free-market ideologue Milton Friedman, along with his Chicago School of Economics trained “Chicago Boys” who ushered in the so called “Miracle of Chile.” Simultaneously in the U.S., Friedman’s liberal economic prescriptions were gradually being implemented throughout the 1970s by both Republicans and Democrats (here and here), then more aggressively in the Reagan (and Thatcher) era of the 1980s. Thereafter, neoliberal doctrine steadily gained cultural, political and economic momentum during the Clinton era and beyond. Steadily, financial institutions were being unleashed across the globe to fulfill their fundamental purpose: to create and seize upon all investment opportunities possible, not matter how brutal, so as to enrich themselves.
Many cultural scholars, including Stuart Hall, Nancy Fraser and David Harvey, emphasize how the neoliberal revolution was not only about economics, but more broadly with the adjoining culture wars, was a means to destroy mounting resistance to the original and long-standing social order of the United States. The social order to be preserved encompasses the intersecting structures of settler-colonialism, white supremacy, capitalism and heteropatriarchy. The threats to be destroyed included the Civil Rights, Black Power, Native American, Chicano, Feminist and LGBTQ liberation movements; as well as the Anti-War and New Left movements. While some within these struggles had revolutionary aims, including emancipation, sovereignty, economic equality; others pursued reforms involving recognition rights, representation and social equity within existing systems. According to Hall, legal scholar Tayyab Mahmud and political scientist Nancy Fraser, no matter the aims, all of these struggles threatened the foundations of the founders’ and the current rulers’ power and cultural design for America. Fraser goes on to explain:
[In the 1960s], this “Golden Age of Capitalism” was shattered. In an extraordinary international explosion, radical youth took to the streets—at first to oppose the Vietnam War and racial segregation in the U.S. Soon they began to question core features of capitalist modernity that social democracy had heretofore naturalized: materialism, consumerism, and “the achievement ethic”; bureaucracy, corporate culture, and “social control”; sexual repression, sexism, and heteronormativity.
As Stuart Hall explains, while racial inequity and terrorism, gender oppression and economic inequality in the U.S. thrived during the short-lived Keynesian (New Deal) era, it softened the blow of capitalism for some, while materially putting the common good on the radar. Yet as Fraser contended:
[T]he feminists of this era recast the radical imaginary. …Problematizing welfare paternalism and the bourgeois family, they exposed the deep androcentrism of capitalist society. Politicizing ‘the personal,’ they expanded the boundaries of contestation beyond socioeconomic distribution—to include housework, sexuality, and reproduction.
According to James Petras and Henry Veltmeyer, the neoliberal revolution on a global scale was largely a reaction to emancipatory movements of colonized peoples the world over struggling to take control of their countries and resources from imperial and colonial rule, often accompanied with strivings for agrarian reform. Tayyab Mahmud describes how the neoliberal revolution set out to impose a social order “across the globe to reverse the setbacks that the economic power and political hegemony of the wealth-owning classes had suffered on account of Keynesian welfare in the West, socialism in Eastern Europe, and nationalism in the global South.”
Embedded within the ideology of free-market capitalism is the notion that state intervention should be minimized so that capitalists are free to maximize market exchanges to their advantage, which in turn stimulates economic growth that benefits all of society. Fundamentally, ideology in inequitable societies is generated by myths that are constructed for the purpose of social control or hegemony. The myth of the free-market is an example of this rule in that state intervention on behalf of capitalism is a long-standing practice and necessity. According to John Clarke, “[d]espite its compelling qualities (natural, necessary, foundational, universal), [the market economy]…everywhere requires to be supported, nurtured, developed —while being protected from ‘interference’—and these nurturing processes require the care-taking work of states.”
This includes policies protecting and facilitating economic activity (through trade agreements, tariffs and subsidies), providing stable and fertile conditions for market growth—including military and covert intervention—and ensuring that a majority of people adhere to its exploitative and inequitable demands through ideological, political and legal means. As Jeremy Bentham wrote in 1843, “Property and law are born and must die together. Before the laws, there was no property: take away the laws, all property ceases.” Accordingly, legal scholar Cass Sunstein points out how the U.S. Constitution (via negative rights) – all the things the federal government cannot do – bolsters the ideology and rule of law of free-market capitalism. With this understanding, Sunstein goes on to claim:
As we know and live it, private property is both created and protected by law; it requires extensive governmental assistance. The same point holds for the other foundation of a market economy, the close sibling of private property: freedom of contract. For that form of freedom to exist, it is extremely important to have reliable enforcement mechanisms in the form of civil courts.
More importantly, as Karl Polanyi poignantly claimed in 1944, a decade into the Keynesian project, free-market capitalism cannot “exist for any length of time without annihilating the human and natural substance of society; it would have physically destroyed man and transformed his surroundings into a wilderness.” “Ultimately,” according to Polanyi:
The control of the economic system by the market is of overwhelming consequence to the whole organization of society; it means no less than the running of society as an adjunct to the market. Instead of economy being embedded in social relations, social relations are embedded in the economic system.
Scripted by market fundamentalists and advanced through private sector and government partnerships, neoliberalism was constructed to serve as the predominant social imaginary that would propel U.S. hegemony into the 21st century. Spoken of with sacred reverence and disseminated with the discourse that the free-market is the only rational way of organizing social relationships, neoliberalism imposes market logic on citizenship and the public sphere. Consistent with the U.S. founding fathers’ original design, human beings are defined as economic maximizers and governed by individual self-interest, whose value is narrowly equated as being a flexible, self-sufficient worker and uncritical consumer. “This consumer citizen is glorified, construed as willing, resourced and capable of making empowered market-led choices” whereby the very idea of democracy is “a function of consumer choices, and the individual is solely responsible for her or his own well-being, success or failure” (Scott). As Hall, Massey, and Rustin summarized it, neoliberalism “is a reassertion of capital’s historic imperative to profit through financialisation, globalisation and yet further commodification… [and] includes class and other social interests, new institutional arrangements, [and] the exercise of excessive influence by private corporations over democratic processes.”
Beginning in the mid-20th century, Structural Adjustment Programs (SAPs) became the primary neoliberal instrument, whereby a nation’s illegitimate national debt facilitated financial colonization via the lending institutions of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank. According to the IMF, “the Bank and the IMF are twin intergovernmental pillars supporting the structure of the world’s economic and financial order.” SAPs are very specific free-market policies that debt-ridden “developing countries” (countries ravaged by franchise and settler colonization throughout the “global south”) must adopt in order to receive new loans to be able to make payments on preexisting debts. SAPs are promoted by the IMF, World Bank and other International Finance Institutions as the only reliable method of “reforming” a deficit-ridden economy and putting “underdeveloped” economies on the road to (free-market) development to enable them to participate more fully in international trade and commerce.
As Sabelo J. Ndlovu-Gatsheni contends, this conception of development “is an ideology of colonial and neo-colonial modernity… linked to liberal ideology and to the idea of progress” that became “another lever of justifying Western intervention and interference in the internal affairs of Africa.” Ndlovu-Gatsheni goes on to point out how this worldview means “that development of any kind could only take place within the parameters of the capitalist world system that manifested its ugly face within the non-Western world in terms of the slave trade, imperialism and colonialism.” The term and very idea of development now invokes neoliberal hegemony, impeding alternative imaginaries of progress and growth that are not rooted in the ideology of Western Enlightenment and modernity. Anything that deviates from the neoliberal conception of development is dismissed as undeveloped and primitive.
The IMF (largely controlled and funded by the U.S) and the World Bank are part of a network of powerful industrialized nations and financial institutions that are the drivers and beneficiaries of neoliberalism and financialization (here and here). The driving force behind the hardline neoliberal reforms or “conditionalities” attached to SAPs have long resided within the halls of power in the U.S. In 1989 this understanding led the English economist John Williamson to label these reforms as the “Washington Consensus,” which according to Williamson, entailed “a list of ten specific policy reforms, which I claimed were widely agreed in Washington to be desirable in just about all the countries of Latin America, as of 1989.”
The ideologically and operationally reform policies attached to SAP conditionalities include: fiscal discipline; redirecting public expenditure; tax reform; financial liberalization; adoption of a single, competitive exchange rate; trade liberalization (free-trade); elimination of barriers to foreign direct investment; privatization of state-owned enterprises; deregulation of market entry and competition; and secure property rights (Lopes). This list of ten “desirable” reforms is what power brokers in the U.S. were imposing on Latin America for three decades. It also played a significant role in fueling the surge of “Twenty-First Century Socialism” throughout Latin America (here and here).
Austerity measures are best understood by looking at the impact neoliberal policy mandates have on people’s lives once they are enacted. In practice, these vicious instruments of greed and power augment inequality, bolster white supremacy and deepen poverty. Austerity reinforces the fundamental social dynamic of unbridled capitalism – inherently linked to colonialism and white supremacy – which is dependent on a small opulent minority whose power and wealth is solely derived from the domination and exploitation of stratified and disposable groups of people. By design SAPs and their austerity mandates target those who are commonly exploited, dehumanized, subjugated, dispossessed and therefore impoverished by Western nations – Indigenous, Black and Brown people, women, children, the working class, the elderly and those who are sick and disabled.
As an essential instrument in the marketization and financialization (restructuring) of economies, austerity is an essential instrument in expediting the political, social and economic conditions used to rationalize the elimination of barriers that inhibit international investors from maximizing profits by exploiting basic human and civic needs. In practice this entails laying off workers, cutting wages and benefits, gutting social safety nets, while also raising taxes and increasing user fees on essential and life sustaining services. Austerity means reducing spending on and/or privatizing public works, utilities, infrastructure, programs and services, including water, electricity, education, pensions, affordable housing, environmental protections, public health and safety regulators, healthcare and more. It means prioritizing export production at the expense of production for local consumption. Austerity also requires labor market reform, which in addition to cutting wages, benefits and state pensions; also requires eliminating or weakening labor laws that protect the health, safety and job security of workers, including their collective bargaining rights. These labor market reforms are code for what is referred to as a “flexible workforce” (Council of Canadians; Global Exchange; Lissovoy).
The winners of SAPs are the rich, their corporations and their financial institutions (those who control both supply and demand), who are not only the direct beneficiaries of austerity as investor creditors but also as those who take over ownership of government services and infrastructure while receiving a range of government subsidies and bailouts. Of course, the survival, safety and security of the rich do not depend on the public services and programs that are being reduced, eliminated and privatized. Austerity, as the Council of Canadians reminds us, “takes from the poor and transfers it to rich multinationals, bondholders and other financial capitalists. …The more governments are held hostage by private credit rating agencies and the financial elite, the more austerity becomes the norm.”
According to ActionAid International Kenya, IMF/World Bank-targeted countries that fail to enact SAPs see their access to international finance cut off. Such threats to impoverished countries amount to blackmail, since many have no choice but to comply. According to a 2009 IMF working paper, if a borrower country defaults on its IMF/World Bank loans, there are two possible penalties: “reputational costs, which in the extreme could result in absolute exclusion from financial markets, and direct sanctions such as legal attachments of property and international trade sanctions imposed by the countries of residence of creditors.” Thus, as Anup Shah affirms, the ultimate goal of SAPs is to open up a nation’s economy and natural resources to the profit-seeking interests of powerful international investors and corporations, while undermining the fundamental rights and interests of its people. Africa Action went on to point out how:
The albatross of illegitimate debt diverts money directly from spending on health care, education and other important needs. African countries are forced to spend almost $14 billion each year servicing old, illegitimate debts to rich country governments and their institutions, the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF). Much of Africa’s foreign debt is illegitimate in nature, having been incurred by unrepresentative and despotic regimes, mainly during the era of Cold War patronage. More generally, many Africans question the notion of an African ‘debt’ to the U.S. and European countries after centuries of exploitation. They ask, ‘Who really owes whom?’
Over the past forty years, neoliberalism has escalated the United States’ imperialistic practice of covertly and militarily intervening in countries as a means to install authoritarian governments as part of its inherent and enduring empire-building mission. SAPs have served the important purpose of establishing U.S. outposts to function as logistical techniques of empire and correspondingly with the objective of building neoliberal and financial infrastructural power within client states and their geographic regions. These interventions also served as geopolitical strategies during the Cold War, rationalizing intervention into sovereign nations as a means to stop the expansion of communism (Steven Hiatt; Meltem Yılmaz Sener).
Since SAPs are an instrument of financial colonization and have therefore met with mass resistance that has widely exposed their violent and despotic nature, in 1999 the IMF and World Bank “put lipstick” on the SAP model, rebranded it and thereafter referred to it as a Poverty Reduction Strategy Paper (PRSP). Accordingly, Jenina Joy Chavez Malaluan and Shalmali Guttal pointed out how “little has changed in the substance, form and process of World Bank and IMF programmes. ‘Poverty’ is used as window dressing to peddle more or less the same Structural Adjustment Programmes (SAPs) to low-income countries that led them into a state of chronic economic crisis to begin with.” Malaluan and Guttal went on to explain:
[This model] has clearly failed over the past twenty years in numerous countries across Asia, Africa and Latin America. Countries as diverse as Kenya, Ghana, Ethiopia, Bolivia, the Russian Federation, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and Indonesia were all forced to apply the Bank-Fund development model at one time or another, and all have suffered from deep and shattering economic crises as a result… [Y]et today, the same policies continue to be supported even more ardently than before…in a new package called the PRSP.
It is reasonable to question if this model has actually failed or, in fact, is a complete success according to its intended purposes.
In its own defense, the IMF claims that its collaboration with its multilateral partners only promotes “good governance” to “combat corruption” (code for countries that pursue more participatory and redistributive political economies) by supporting market integrity, competition and economic development. The IMF goes on to explain that with its instruments of “surveillance, lending, and technical assistance, the IMF covers economic governance issues that fall within its mandate and expertise, concentrating on issues that are likely to have a significant impact on macroeconomic [neoliberal] performance and the sustainability of sound economic policies.” Sound indeed, for those who are on the winning end of its efforts.
Since neoliberal hegemony has ensured that financialization reigns supreme in the 21st century, SAPs/PRSPs are more freely being imposed and enforced in every region of the planet. In the wake of the European debt crisis beginning in 2008, which was a predictable outcome of the dynamics of global financialization, SAP/PRSP austerity-based conditionalities are being attached to loans for indebted Eurozone nations. In the case of Europe, three institutions known as the “Troika” (European Central Bank, the European Commission and the International Monetary Fund) are the drivers of wide-scale austerity. Depending on one’s ideological point of reference or personal interests, Greece has become a poster child for being either a victim of SAPs/PRSPs or a fiscally irresponsible nation. According to Warren Weertman, when SAPs/PRSPs were offered up to the Greeks, they “didn’t have to look far to see what impact the [PRSP] policies would have on them. Just across the Mediterranean lay an entire continent littered with examples of failed IMF policies.” This model has served as a final deathblow for many of the social democracies across Europe.
Ireland serves as both a unique and prime example of how the neoliberal revolution is restructuring nations in the northern hemisphere. With its long history of British colonization, Ireland has systematically been recolonized as an outpost for multinational corporations and banks beginning in the 1950s, and even more so in the 1980s. After the 2008 Eurozone crisis, Ireland was thus well positioned to serve as a laboratory for austerity in the era of financialization. Since then, Ireland has been mythologized by the financial press—and propagandized by the larger corporate media—as the “austerity-and-recovery-model” to be replicated in Greece and across Europe (Hearne; Mercille & Murphy; Tax Justice Network,
In line with what I have previously pointed out, from a winner’s perspective, the Irish model is indeed a success, as reported by economist Cillian Doyle in 2015:
Oh sure, there’s been a recovery for some. Ireland’s richest 250 individuals saw their combined wealth increase by 16% to a whopping 75 billion in the last year alone, so it’s fair to say they’re doing ok. Then there’s the multinationals, whose massive profits continue to enjoy de facto tax immunity. And things are even looking up for the politicians, who are planning to give themselves a pay increase as recognition for masterminding this great “recovery.”
What Doyle is referring to is Ireland’s sixty-year history of saving wealthy investors billions as an offshore financial center by offering low corporate tax rates, loopholes and laxity as incentives for transnational corporations to relocate to Ireland (often only on paper). In 1987, the “Wild West” of financialization occupied Ireland via a deregulated financial zone called the Dublin-based International Financial Services Centre (IFSC). The zone became notorious for being a host of choice for international “shadow banks.” Today Ireland or “Treasure Island” (as some corporations affectionately refer to it) is the home of over half of the world’s largest fifty banks and ten out of twenty of the top insurance corporations, while its stock exchange hosts about a quarter of all international bonds (Mercille & Murphy). There is little wonder why Ireland is promoted as the model to be replicated by the financial elite and their proxies in the media—it is an epicenter for global financialization and its instruments of intermediation, securitization, derivatives and hedge fund gambling. Accordingly, the Tax Justice Network reported in 2015 that “many toxic developments in ‘subprime’ markets that triggered the global financial crisis from 2008 can trace their lineage back to Ireland.”
As Rory Hearne reported in the Irish Examiner in July 2015, the Irish losers of the Troika who imposed austerity measures following the 2008 Eurozone crisis have been forced to endure the usual hardships. Between 2008 and 2014, unemployment, child-poverty and single-parent poverty have soared in Ireland. There have been major cuts in public housing and a marked increase in home repossessions, leading to a homelessness crisis in many parts of the country. Cuts to welfare benefits are decimating children’s benefits, fuel assistance programs, access to clothing and footwear and rent support.
These cuts are especially hard for one-parent families and people with disabilities and their caretakers. Ireland’s poor face higher user fees that limit their access to essential services, including water distribution, school transport, prescription drugs, accident and emergency services, chemotherapy treatment, etc. Spending on public infrastructure such as hospitals, schools, roads, transportation, internet and water and sewage treatment has been drastically reduced. Studies show that the quality of secondary- and primary-level education is declining due to cuts in public school funding along with teacher and other student support reductions. School dropout rates are on the rise, while spending on postsecondary education is being cut. Funding for youth organizations and drug prevention and treatment has been significantly reduced.
As is always the case in austerity-ravaged countries, large numbers of Irish youth are being forced to emigrate to find work. In addition, a recent study by Ireland’s National Suicide Research Foundation found that since these austerity measures have been in place, there has been an increase in self-harm rates by 31% in men and 22% in women and the male suicide success rate has increased by 57% (Hearn).
In the United States, the SAP/PRSP model has been imposed more duplicitously over the course of the last 40 years. The successful imposition of this model has involved a succession of corporate-inspired and state-facilitated policies that are reflective of SAP/PRSP conditionalities that have led to creeping austerity. These policies were complemented by a series of both related and unrelated events beginning in the 1970s, including an influx of women (resulting from the women’s movement) and immigrants (due to mass dispossession throughout Latin America) into the labor force, along with technological advances in production and new corporate governance models that prioritized the maximization of shareholder profits by cutting labor costs. All together, these events, along with intensifying attacks against organized labor, led to a surplus of workers and perpetual wage stagnation that enabled debt to become the fundamental catalyst for aggregate demand. Capitalism in the U.S. was once again being unbound from any form of democratizing and redistributive elements, while simultaneously being empowered by the deregulation of banking and finance along with the Federal Reserve’s intentional lowering of interest rates (Wolff).
According to Tayyab Mahmud and David Harvey, this new “state-finance nexus” extensively unleashed the reach of financial markets throughout society, primarily entangling Black, Brown and Indigenous people, poor whites and the working-class in general in a new credit-debt driven economy. Costas Lapavitsas points out that in the wake of escalating neoliberal austerity mandates, finance capitalism and its predator creditor character thus became the supreme arbiter of wages, job security and working conditions as well as a means to access essential (and privately controlled) goods and services including housing, public utilities and infrastructure (including education), social services, health care, pensions, etc.
According to the United Nations International Labor Organization (ILO), “the international integration of financial markets has been a major driver of falling wage shares…in advanced economies.” Referring to the ascendance of neoliberalism, the ILO went on to claim that the “switch in the 1980s to corporate governance systems based on maximizing shareholder value and the rise of aggressive returns-oriented institutions, including private equity funds, hedge funds and institutional investors, put pressure on firms to increase profits, especially in the short term.” Greased by neoliberal ideology and practices, finance capital’s call for even more profits has only intensified demands for even greater worker flexibility within a landscape with very little to no worker protections and union density.
Lost within financialization, according to Byasdeb Dasgupta and Eckhard Heine, is the long run perspective for a “real economy” (one that produces goods and services) and sustainability of emerging surplus accumulation patterns and trends. Instead, the financialized economy prioritizes buying and selling in financial markets and depends on a short-term and quick time approach to maximizing shareholder power, enticing speculative returns from every circuit of global capital and exploiting variations in interest and foreign exchange rates in different capital markets. As Dasgupta points out, since it cannot derive high rates of surplus from the real economy for expansion, it depends on “labor in transit” in order to guarantee the requisite surplus generation to further the cause of finance. Continuous movement is its primary feature in that workers move from job to job and back and forth from unemployment to employment while also continuously moving from one location to another. Naturally, these dynamics make labor solidarity even more difficult.
Working in concert with financialization, neoliberal ideology reinforces the market-based belief in individual responsibility, which complements the restrictive legal parameters by which subjugated groups are expected to engage in desperate strategies for survival. People are therefore made to think, feel and act as neoliberal subjects who are expected to engage in the speculative financialized economy as risk-taking “debt instruments” who alone are responsible for determining if they survive or thrive. As Max Haiven aptly put it:
[Financialization] offers up a toolbox for understanding social life. In an age of neoliberal austerity, we are all encouraged to approach ourselves as isolated risk-managers, judiciously investing our energies towards our own personal goals and objectives and seeking always to better our position and “corner the market” in whatever sphere of life.
The regime of austerity that is attached to unfettered capitalism requires those who are systematically impoverished to endure a perpetual gauntlet of unemployment, low-wages, job and housing insecurity, food insecurity, exposure to toxins, psychological stress, chronic health conditions, medical emergencies, expensive and highly inadequate health care and no social safety nets. This forces the most vulnerable in society to take on insurmountable debt as targets of predatory lending tactics through the provision of “overextension” (loans or extensions of credit that are larger than what the borrower can repay) (Mahmud). Overextension is also known as subprime lending, which is a term that found its way into the national lexicon via the mortgage crisis associated with the “Great Recession” of 2008.
Overall, the unleashing of financial capitalism on already inequitable societies, such as that of the U.S., has only intensified neoliberalism’s debilitating impact on social movements worldwide, notably through “the mechanisms of the debt crisis in the Global South and mass layoffs at the heart of the labor movement in the Global North” (Arrighi & Silver). This is a landscape where debt is sutured with discipline and where mass suffering fuels an economy that strengthens pre-existing power structures, while creating immense wealth for a few from nothing of intrinsic value (Korten; Mahmud).
Plagued by overwhelming debt from mortgages, student loans, credit cards, automobile loans and other predatory schemes; workers are even more fearful of upsetting their employers. This especially holds true in terms of workers taking collective action to make basic improvements in their wages and working conditions. For those whose wages do increase, instead of buying the consumer goods they produce, it is immediately extracted by creditors, health and other insurance companies and drug monopolies. Those who still aspire to live “The American Dream” by becoming homeowners are forced to lock themselves even further into debt serfdom through high cost and high interest home mortgages. Within this landscape, those who are targeted most by the predatory nature of the financialized economy are serially being exploited as workers, indebted “customers” and increasingly in “pay for success” derivative schemes, otherwise known as Social Impact Bonds (Hudson; Greenwood & Scharfstein; Martin, Kersley, & Greenham).
As has always been the case under capitalism, desperation, uncertainty, exploitation, inequity and inequality are central to its power. Financialization is considered to be a natural stage of capitalist development and takes these realities to a whole new level. Its power structures are aligning domestic and international policy agendas to fit its interests, resulting in the expansion and intensification of militarism, imperialism, colonization, genocide, exploitation, inequity and disenfranchisement. Since these forces are driven by Western powers, white supremacy and Christian hegemony (and their associated constructs of patriarchy) are deeply embedded within their ideologies and practices, particularly in the United States.
It is important to remember that capitalism was born from the imperialist settler colonial and chattel slavery empires of Europe and the Americas. This made for a perfect union between the ideology of white supremacy and the economic and political relations under capitalism, especially since imperialistic aspirations, settler colonial rule and capitalist structures all require certain people to be ideologically constructed as inferior to enable them to be identified as disposable and/or exploitable labor. Capitalist production was well positioned to be an integral component of structural racism, therefore incentivizing more intensive and expansive racialized methods of resource appropriation and accumulation by dispossession. These structural dynamics provided fertile ground for neoliberalism and financialization to flourish in the 21st century.
As Paula Butler claims, “Racism—more precisely, white supremacy—has been a constitutive element of colonialism and the establishment and expansion of capitalism in the modern era, from the 15th century to the present.” According to Bhattacharya, Gabriel and Small, “capitalist expansion has depended so heavily on mythologies of race and their attendant violence that the double project of racial and economic subjugation is a constitutive aspect of this expansion.” In effect, capitalism and white supremacy are structurally bound.
Neoliberal-fueled financialization strengthens capitalism’s imperialist propensity to seize and occupy territory and material and virtual sources of wealth in order to racialize and subjugate its occupants so as to exploit and dispose of them at will. According to Bhattecharyya et al. “The power of whiteness lies in its capacity to impoverish, starve, contaminate and murder, all seemingly within the bounds of legality.”
Arturo Escobar named these horrific global realities “social fascism,” while S.B. Banerjee referred to these forms of structural violence as “necrocapitalism” or death capitalism.
Banerjee defines necrocapitalism as, “contemporary forms of organizational accumulation that involve dispossession and the subjugation of life to the power of death.” Necrocapitalism “creates states of exceptions where ‘democratic rights are confined to a political sphere’ while continuing forms of domination, exploitation and violence in other domains.” Paula Butler claimed that the term necrocapitalism “captures the ideological and material context of unfettered market forces in which capital’s right to profit legally and legitimately eradicates livelihoods and subjugates life, thus producing death.”
As the corporate media continues to focus on how the fallout of the European debt crisis and the Central Banks’ (the Troika) austerity prescriptions are affecting (or inflicting) European countries, finance capital continues its original mission of targeting and pillaging entire continents populated by Black, Brown and Indigenous people. In this persistent quest, billions of people are subjected to a life of unrelenting hardship and suffering, while the perpetrating institutions and governments refuse to acknowledge the racialized power structure that is fueling the global political economy. Since the Western power structures that are responsible for the brutality of neoliberalism and financialization are the “rule of law,” formal redress and accountability is nonexistent. Instead, racial violence is effectively denied and veiled by racially coded discourses that invoke color-blindness, soft multiculturalism, and philanthropic intent or by hiding behind airs of neutrality and economic rationalism. The slick beneficiaries and agents of neoliberalism and financialization deflect and spin charges that their wealth is derived from exploitation and barbaric practices of dispossession structurally tied to historic and ongoing manifestations of white supremacy and colonization.
Under this globalized cultural political economy, seeking relief or justice within state institutions and civil society is largely futile. In the 21st century, civil, political and economic rights are more than ever at odds with the interests of capital. Governments either function as proxies for finance capitalism or face being subjugated by it. This ensures that national governments are even more unresponsive to the needs and demands of those who reside within their borders, borders that are non-existent for financial investors and increasingly punitive for dispossessed groups, often referred to as “illegal immigrants” and “refugees.” As Nancy Fraser put it, there is “a new form of imperialism that doesn’t have the clean geography of the colonists there and the colonized here.”
In this landscape, banks and other global financial institutions are setting and enforcing the rules that govern social relations in societies across the globe, including relations between states and their citizens. States have largely become subjects of bond markets and Central Banks, (such as the Troika). These are the layers of power that operate above states and control what states can or cannot do. In sum, the plutocrats of this finance empire have no national loyalties, they possess no conscience, their domain knows no borders, their institutions have no center and their wealth has no real material value. Thus, looking to the state for protections or engaging in traditional strategies of resistance needs to be seriously reconsidered.
A fake anti-semitism campaign masterminded by the usual Zio suspects, their Israel lobby colleagues and their stooges in the corridors of power, continues to sweep across UK universities… and our political parties, especially shambolic and rudderless Labour.
The University of Central Lancashire cancelled an event due to be held last month entitled “Debunking Misconceptions on Palestine and the Importance of Boycott Divestment and Sanctions” organised by the University’s Friends of Palestine Society. The University said it would contravene the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s new definition of what constitutes anti-semitism and would therefore be unlawful. The event went ahead, off campus, at the premises of a local voluntary organisation.
Exeter University banned students from staging a re-enactment called Mock Checkpoint, in which some dressed up as Israeli occupation soldiers while others acted the part of Palestinians trying to go about their daily lives. The event was approved by the students’ guild but banned for “safety and security reasons” less than 48 hours before it was due to take place. An appeal was rejected.
At Leeds former British ambassador Craig Murray was asked by the trustees of the University Union to provide details of what he was going to say in his talk “Palestine/Israel: A Unitary Secular State or a Bantustan Solution” just 24 hours before he was due to speak. Craig reluctantly gave them an outline to allow the lecture to go ahead. He writes in his blog: “I have just been told by Leeds University Union I will not be allowed to speak unless I submit what I am going to say for pre-vetting.
I am truly appalled that such a gross restriction on freedom of speech should be imposed anywhere, let alone in a university where intellectual debate is meant to be an essential part of the learning experience. I really do not recognise today’s United Kingdom as the same society I grew up in. The common understanding that the values of a liberal democracy are the foundation of society appears to have evaporated.
Also at Leeds the student Palestine Solidarity Group was refused permission to mount a visual demonstration outside the Leeds Student Union Building or to have a stall inside.
At Liverpool Professor Michael Lavalette was contacted the day before he was due to speak with a demand that he sign the University’s ‘risk assessment’ for the event. This included reading the controversial IHRA definition of anti-semitism and agreeing with it. He emailed his response in which he carefully avoided mention of the dodgy definition and the meeting went ahead.
The University of Manchester allowed a series of talks marking Israeli Apartheid Week (IAW) to go ahead, but only after several meetings and imposing strict conditions which the organisers called “unheard of…. other societies and groups do not face the same problems.” University authorities, however, vetoed the students’ choice of academic to chair an IAW event on BDS over concerns about her “neutrality”, and other speakers had to acknowledge the British government-endorsed definition of anti-semitism.
Meanwhile some reports say that a conference with the title “International Law and the State of Israel: Legitimacy, Responsibility and Exceptionalism” to be held at University College Cork at the end of this month has been cancelled thanks to pressure from Zionist groups. StandWithUs Israel, in cahoots with Irish4Israel, claim the University has been persuaded to impose added security stipulations and other limitations that “amount to a de-facto cancelling of this hateful event”. But these are desperation tactics. Checking with the organisers I’m told the event is “100% going ahead”. The Irish, it seems, are not as easily pushed around as the English. The conference, if you remember, was chased away from Southampton University two years ago by a similar campaign against free speech. The ‘official’ reason, as usual, was security concerns.
Now comes the scandal of the 26 year-old Exeter student, noted for her work on anti-racism, being smeared by the Zionist Inquisition for her Pro-Palestinian activism.
She is accused of having tweeted two years ago: “If terrorism means protecting and defending my land, I am so proud to be called terrorist”. So what? As everyone and his dog knows, or ought to know, the Palestinians are perfectly entitled, under international law, to take up arms and resist a brutal illegal occupier. As Malaka Mohammed herself says:
It may appear as a radical statement that could raise serious concerns at both the University of Exeter and its Students’ Guild. However, it is my honest belief, and as I will attempt to explain, these kind of statements by Palestinians in general, and me in this instance, are most commonly in response to efforts by Israel advocacy groups and the Israeli government to demonize and dehumanize Palestinians. This is done by using the emotive dog whistle by Israeli descriptors of ‘terrorist’ and ‘terrorism’ whenever referring to the ‘Arab’ population. Palestinians who throw stones in response to Israeli soldiers invading their villages are labelled violent thugs, rioters and terrorists. Palestinians who non-violently protest the illegal occupation are portrayed as violent individuals who terrorize Israeli Jews. Practically any Palestinian who resists the Israeli occupation and its plethora of human rights violations, war crimes and serious violations of international humanitarian and human rights law is stigmatized in this way.
After reading that, I dropped the Vice-Chancellor a line:
Sir Steve Smith, Vice-Chancellor University of Exeter
Dear Sir Steve,
I’m writing as a graduate of Exeter University with fond memories of the place, and because I’m shocked to see its good name besmirched by ludicrous accusations linking Palestinian PhD student Malaka Mohammed (aka Shwaikh) to anti-semitism and supporting terrorism.
As an acknowledged international relations specialist you will know the score regarding Israel’s decades-long illegal occupation of the Palestinians’ homeland and its brutal subjugation and merciless dispossession of the Palestinian people. You will also, I imagine, understand who the true terrorists and anti-semites are.
Lest we forget, the US defines terrorism as an activity that
(i) involves a violent act or an act dangerous to human life, property, or infrastructure; and
(ii) appears to be intended
– to intimidate or coerce a civilian population;
– to influence the policy of a government by intimidation or coercion; or
– to affect the conduct of a government by mass destruction, assassination, kidnapping, or hostage-taking.
And the US has used this definition to terrorise and degrade individuals, groups and countries it doesn’t happen to like.
Ironically it’s a definition that fits the US administration itself – and the thuggish Israeli regime – like a glove.
I sincerely hope that amidst the flurry of investigations going on you will take steps to ensure that plucky Ms Mohammed/Schwaikh ceases to be victimised by tiresome Zionist Inquisitors and is allowed to get on with her studies, and from now on free speech prevails across the beautiful Exeter campus.
Sir Steve is said to earn £400,000 a year according to this report. Perhaps he and many other university bosses need rousing from their plumptious comfort zone.
I’m with Craig Murray on this. I too don’t recognise our society today as the same one I grew up in. Who had the impudence to change our values regarding free speech?