Thursday, October 8, 2015

Exiled from Gardens of Eden (2015)

The Material World Column from the October 2015 issue of the Socialist Standard
‘First we were dispossessed in the name of kings and emperors, later in the name of state development, and now in the name of conservation.’ (A statement from the Indigenous peoples’ Forum at an international conference in 2004).
Just what degree of naivety are we to believe existed among the normally politically savvy international conservation bodies such as London Zoo, Kew Gardens and even Greenpeace UK? They were fully aware of the well-publicised plight of the evicted Chagos Islanders, yet they didn’t consider that the purpose behind Her Majesty’s Government’s initiative in setting up a vast marine reserve (exempting, of course, the huge American military base on Diego Garcia), may have been to further ensure the non-return of the native islanders. There was, in the words of the Chagos Conservation Trust, ‘some controversy’ over the removal of the local inhabitants but that merely involved compensation because the courts had upheld the legality of the expulsions.  However their website is careful to omit that it was the use of the royal prerogative powers of the Privy Council which legalised the eviction.
The real sharks these august organisations were protecting were the sharks in Whitehall and the Pentagon, while the small fish they were failing to defend were the people who once lived on the Chagos Islands. A sordid but isolated tale, perhaps? Not so. This column has previously drawn attention to the Bushmen being excluded from their ancestral home on the pretext of conservation reserves which still welcomed diamond mines and tourist resorts yet not the indigenous people.
In fact, throughout the world conservationists have been collaborating with governments in the removal of people supposedly in the interests of nature conservation but more often than not, for political and/or pecuniary motives. In a 2004 meeting of the United Nations International Forum on Indigenous Mapping, all 200 delegates signed a declaration stating that the ‘activities of conservation organizations now represent the single biggest threat to the integrity of indigenous lands.’
Great efforts are taken to conduct animal number censuses. The true figures for what Mark Dowie calls in his book ‘conservation refugees’ as in the title of his book  Conservation Refugees: The Hundred-Year Conflict between Global Conservation and Native Peoples, is more difficult to establish. If it can ever be known, it partly depends upon the semantics of words like ‘eviction,’ ‘displacement’, and ‘refugee’, and no one formally counts people displaced for the sake of environmental conservation, but they exist all over the world and have been banished from lands they thrived on for hundreds, even thousands of years. In 1962, there were some 1,000 official ‘protection areas’ worldwide. Today there are 108,000 with more being added every day.
The total area of land now under conservation protection worldwide has doubled since 1990, when the World Parks Commission set a goal of protecting 10 percent of the planet’s surface. That goal has been exceeded, with over 12 percent of all land, a total area of 11.75 million square miles, now classified as protected by governments and conservation groups. That’s an area greater than the entire land mass of Africa.
The locals who have been pushed off their lands could be as high as twenty million. Charles Geisler, a sociologist at Cornell University who has studied displacements in Africa, is certain the number on that continent alone exceeds 14 million. During the 1990s the African nation of Chad increased the amount of national land under protection from 0.1 to 9.1 percent. All of that land had been previously inhabited by what are now an estimated six hundred thousand conservation refugees. No other country besides India, which officially admits to 1.6 million, is even counting this growing new class of refugees. A study by Harrison Esam Awuh recorded approximately 3,058,000 conservation refugees, making up 28 different indigenous groups, displaced across 48 protected areas. 
Across the world millions of people – the majority of them indigenous – have been illegally evicted from their ancestral homelands in the name of conservation. Many evictions have been brutal, with little or no warning. Communities who once hunted or grazed livestock within the boundaries of nature reserves find themselves labelled squatters or branded as poachers. Whether they lose their land to conservation or other ‘developments’ such as mining, their once self-sufficient lives and livelihoods are destroyed. In the name of environmental protection conservationists have participated in the expulsion and the attempted cultural extinction of indigenous peoples the world over.
In the words of one Indian tiger reserve guard justifying the need to relocate the locals:
'These Gujjars don't want to work. Gujjars are lazy. Their women work while they eat posht. They don't want to move out because they want everything for free. They would never agree to leave this place because they wouldn't find free fodder and income outside Sariska. Therefore they need to be evicted from the forest forcefully if this sanctuary has to be saved.'

Anti-war (2008)

Book Review from the November 2008 issue of the Socialist Standard

Our Country Right or Wrong. By William Morris. Edited by Florence Boos. William Morris Society, 2008. 95 pages. £7.50.

Before he became a socialist in 1883, Morris had been a Liberal, towards the end on its Radical wing. As such he was in favour of trade unions, reforms to help the working class and a non-aggressive foreign policy. As this is the text of a talk given in January 1880 he was then still a Liberal, as can be seen from his praise of Gladstone as “a great statesman” and his raising of the Liberal slogan of the day of “Peace, Retrenchment and Reform” (“retrenchment” being what today would be called “cutting back on government spending”, a policy the modern Liberals have recently re-adopted).

Basically, this is a plea for opposing your country’s foreign policy if it is “wrong”. So, not “my country right or wrong”, but only “my country if it is right”, by which Morris understood anti-imperialist and anti-war. For him, Britain, under the then Tory government of Lord Beaconsfield (Disraeli), was wrong to support Turkey against Russia in the Balkans, to attack the Zulus in South Africa and to invade Afghanistan (which ended in disaster). Incidentally, in saying that Britain should oppose Turkey (because of its massacre of Christians) Morris was taking up the exact opposite position to that taken by Marx (who thought Turkey should be supported against Russia), not that Marx is a model to be followed here.

Later, after he had become a socialist (partly from disillusionment with the Gladstone Liberal government that came to power later in 1880), Morris argued that war and imperialist adventures could not be avoided by a change of foreign policy – a moral or ethical foreign policy was impossible under capitalism, a lesson the “Stop the War” movement of today has yet to learn.

Florence Boos, in her introduction (which is as long as the text), argues that Morris’s position at the time was influenced by the 19th century peace movement, whose origin and history she outlines. She seems to exaggerate the extent to which Morris could be regarded as a pacifist. After all, the chapter “How the Change Came” in News from Nowhere does envisage violence even if started by the ruling class. But she does quote from a lecture on “Communism” that Morris gave in 1893 in which he argues:
“The change effected by peaceful means would be done more completely and with less chance, indeed with no chance of counter-revolution . . . In short I do not believe in the possible success of revolt until the Socialist party has grown so powerful in numbers that it can gain its end by peaceful means, and that therefore what is called violence will never be needed.”
That’s not a bad way of putting it.
Adam Buick

Globalization (2001)

Book Review from the January 2001 issue of the Socialist Standard

Globalization: Neoliberal Challenge, Radical Responses. By Robert Went, London/Sterling VA: Pluto Press, 2000.

Robert Went argues that though the world economy is nothing like as "globalised", nor corporations as "footloose" as many believe, there are far-reaching changes going on in the functioning of capitalism. It could be argued that while none of the factors which are seen to make up "globalisation" is new in itself the scale and ferocity of current economic restructuring and attacks on wages and conditions do make for a distinct epoch in the capitalist system. The effects, with which we are all too familiar, are spelled out by Went. These trends lead to:
"greater social inequality as the result of a dual polarisation process, both within countries and on a world scale among different countries; to progressive levelling down of wages, working conditions and social security; to extensive migratory flows; to life-threatening ecological deterioration and destruction; to a greater role for unaccountable international institutions and regional entities; and to further whittling-away of democracy."
This is all part and parcel of the profit system of course, but Went points to the relative world-wide intensification of these processes and the economic reasons for them.

"In the mid-1970s," he points out, "an end came to the expansive period throughout the capitalist world." Basically, around this time growth expressed as a percentage increase in Gross National Product slowed up and with this process the rate of profit also began to drop. The priority for the capitalist class was to salvage the rate of profit. First and foremost this meant attacking the working class and increasing exploitation—pushing down wages and curtailing working-class organisation. Accommodating our aspirations to a half-decent life was no longer a price they could pay. Went claims that since around the mid-1980s the rate of profit has been steadily rising so "perhaps for the first time in history, increasing profit rates do not lead to more economic growth". While growth falls, profits rise and this has only been possible through upping the tempo of class robbery—getting "leaner and meaner". In short then, "globalisation" has been a symptom of, and a response to, a period of crisis in the capitalist system. The boom in currency speculation and weird financial wheeler-dealing is another symptom of this depressive period.

It is probably too obvious to comment that capitalism has always been a globalising system, seeking out possibilities for profit in every nook and cranny on the planet. But it is this period of crisis that has compelled the system to attempt to fully extend its laws and relations into every aspect of human life and experience. As Went states:
"money can be made by turning more and more things into commodities; patents on animals, plants and human genes; leisure time (television, shopping expeditions, amusement parks for day trippers, casinos); culture (media commercialisation, corporate sponsorship of museums, exhibits and cultural events); sex (sex tourism, pornography, sex lines) and human organs".
Once again, none of this is entirely new, but the scope and ferocity of the never-ending pursuit of profit by the capitalist class grows by the day. Above all, this surely points to a system which is decadent, destructive and poisonous to humanity. That it continues in a world in which we have long been able to produce an abundance for all points to the only solution there can possibly be to the situation described and analysed in this book—capitalism as a world system must be ended by working-class socialist revolution.

Though it sort of hints at it, nowhere in this book is it stated explicitly that the root cause of poverty and exploitation is the minority class ownership and control of the means of production and distribution and production for the market. This is what we've got to sort out and it is therefore disappointing that the author issues a rallying call for the creation of a movement to achieve things such as "reregulation of the financial sector", "control over the labour process" and "redistribution of income", especially when elsewhere he accepts that such things will never again be possible. This is basically a call for renegotiating our conditions of exploitation under capitalism when the book itself is stuffed full of evidence of the need for the long overdue abolition of the system and its whole stinking edifice.
Ben Malcolm