A Review of “The Darker Nations”

[Originally published in
Radical Notes, 18 March 2007]

Vijay Prashad, The Darker Nations: A People’s History of the Third World, The New Press, New York, 2007. Hardcover, 384 pp. Amazon/NP

The Darker Nations is a critical historiography of the Third World. Vijay Prashad’s deeply instructive as well as occasionally mordant looks at events and processes that made up the history of oppressed peoples in the 20th century comprise this brilliant work. It is a book profound for being peremptory, and absolutely necessary for being so relevant today that it is imperative for activists and researchers alike.

For one, the various assumptions that form a dominant paradigm of Eurocentrism need radical reproving. Yet that would merely amount to a criticism of the thesis itself. Prashad goes beyond that and proposes an alternative narration to the history – not just of the Third World, but also through its lenses, the peoples’ history of the world during the last century. Darker Nations in some ways could be appositely used to speak for aspirations of the oppressed everywhere. In this sense, the book is a celebration of collective hope, even as it traces the demise of a grand project based on it.

I

The thesis of the book circles around the Third World as a unique project on its own. Even as there have been far too many usages of “First” and “Second” Worlds in contrasts, the reader is never lost darker nationsto the main point: that is, the Third World was not merely in response or reaction to the prevailing ‘cold war’ grand narration, but it was more importantly an independent culmination out of unique historical necessities to combat neocolonialism and to promote internationalist nationalism.

To that extent, the author has conducted painful researches and unearthed valuable and often less quoted documents. The book thus does justice to the Suez Canal nationalization controversy and credits Nasser for his motives beyond cold war considerations. It brings Nehru alive through his letter drafted for the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) that argued against nuclearism, appealing to both Kennedy and Khrushchev. The book researches Che Guevara’s UN speech that assumed a necessary political standpoint for all oppressed countries: “As Marxists, we maintain that peaceful co-existence does not include co-existence between exploiters and exploited, between oppressors and oppressed.”

What, then, was common to the Third World? For the nationalist leaders, the fact that they were all colonized. Prashad writes, “For them, the nation had to be constructed out of two elements: the history of their struggles against colonialism, and their program for the creation of justice….The Third World form of nationalism is thus better understood as an internationalist nationalism.” (p.12)

Prashad’s assessment of “neopatriarchy” and domestic capitalism in the third world is quite worthwhile. This book is clearly a critical document for collective introspection of the oppressed peoples than an empty glorification of a united umbrella. In this sense, it is a necessary and long awaited work, which while marking the sites of struggle does not lose sight of the continuing struggles.

The author has cleverly named the chapters after the various sites of significance. Clever, because the chapters (Paris, New Delhi, Bali etc.,) have less to do with specific descriptions of the cities of those times than they have to do with bringing these otherwise disparate places together in context – at times stretching the contexts well out of bounds of the chapter title; at times celebrating the specificity with a poem by Neruda. One would be tempted to verify the header of the page several times while going through the texts just to make sure that she is in the right page. Yet such deliberate discursions are wisely scheduled to make for chapters that elucidate points contextually, rendering Prashad into a master narrator.

Illustratively, the author makes clear the intent of the book at the end of “Paris” chapter and perhaps leading one to wonder how much of the chapter was actually devoted to Paris. Of course that’s the idea of a project, the professor would convince us: each section needs to have scope for a flow into the next without exhausting every specific reference. It’s a project after all. A process, not a few events.

The book covers all that it promises to: Brussels meeting of “League against Imperialism”, Afro-Asian gathering at Bandung, Women’s conference at Cairo, NAM at Belgrade and Tricontinental Conference at Havana.

Prashad unearths the role of international communists in formation of the Brussels conference – a landmark event patronized by Einstein and attended by 37 countries/colonies. He writes about Pan-Africanism, Pan-Americanism, and Pan-Asianism in the context of colonial dominations, along with deconstructing the Kuomintang massacres of communists that might have contributed to severance of the ties between the Comintern and several nationalist leaders.

Prashad quotes W.E.B. DuBois in relation to Pan-Africanism within the Brussels context, although he omits Paul Robeson’s solidarity with the colored peoples at Bandung. It was in 1955 that Robeson sent his famous greetings to Bandung: “…peoples come from the shores of the Ganges and the Nile, the Yangtse and the Niger. Nations of the vast Pacific waters, greetings on this historic occasion. It is my profound conviction that the very fact of the convening of the Conference of Asian and African nations at Bandung, Indonesia, in itself will be recorded as an historic turning point in all world affairs.” Heralding it as a history-making conference, Robeson expressed, “Indeed the fact that the Asian and African nations, possessing similar yet different cultures, have come together to solve their common problems must stand as a shining example to the rest of the world.”

Prashad aptly summarizes what Bandung achieved: “a format for what would eventually become Afro-Asian and then Afro-Asian-Latin American group in the UN.” He also takes a stab at the inherent weaknesses of the member countries that lost moral grounds because of several reasons, from murdering communists to hoarding weapons, despite agreeing on some basic precepts of “cultural cooperation”.

“Principle Problem” of Raul Prebisch is explained in context to economic policies, in the crucial introduction to the role of UNCTAD, of which he was the founding general secretary. If Buenos Aires is visited for economics, Tehran is the metaphoric site of cultural struggles. Khrushchev’s betrayal of cultural workers in face of opposition to Shah regime is well articulated in a chapter that describes “roots of the Third World intellectual’s quandary was how to create a new self in the new nations”, thus reinforcing nationalism, democracy and rationalism.

Prashad’s political argument that the relationship between Third World and Second turned tumultuous after the demise of Stalin may draw some criticisms, but he amply demonstrates its foundations. He argues that the “new leadership led by Khrushchev and Bulganin adopted peaceful co-existence and pledged their support to the bourgeois nationalist regimes (often against the domestic Communists). The unclear situation suggested that the USSR seemed keener to push its own national interests than those of the national Communist parties to which it pledged verbal fealty” (p. 97).

Prashad makes a point that is vital to understanding of the Third World formation and crisis. In the Soviet Union, the Second World indeed “had an attitude toward the former colonies that in some ways mimicked that of the First World.” But this did not necessarily require pitiful stance at the Third World recipients. Prashad argues quoting Sauvy and Nkrumah that the Third World was not “prone, silent or unable to speak” before the powers. It was an independent political platform on its own, which according to Nehru stood for “political independence, nonviolent international relations, and the cultivation of the UN as the principle institution for planetary justice.”

So he asks, “What about the two-thirds who remained outside the East-West circles; what of those 2 billion people?” The narration of the author is instructive in a poetic sense. As obviously gigantic is the scope of such an inquisitiveness, he offers a plethora of factors/voices that could have been representing this Third World.

The book analyzes the various complexities of state politics in the Third World countries. It correctly mentions the several betrayals of communist workers in the hands of Moscow and Peking leaderships in the aftermath of Stalin and Mao. The book describes accurately the growing militarization of the developing nations. Prashad, while upholding the vision of the Third World, well encapsulates the elements of utopianism inherently present in some of the documents.

As an instance, the Arusha Declaration validated the twin principles of liberty and equality, individual rights and collective well-being. Prashad argues, “The main problem with the Arusha-TANU project, however, came not in its goals but in its implementation.” Though defying academic limitations, he does not give away credence to neoliberal economists/politicians like Rajaratnam of Singapore. Even as he describes the feud between Singapore on one extreme and Cuba on another, Prashad instructs us wisely about the pitfalls of economic liberalization. “The abandonment of economic sovereignty lost the national liberation regimes one of their two principal pillars of legitimacy. When IMF-led globalization became the modus operandi, the elites of the postcolonial world adopted a hidebound and ruthless xenophobia that masqueraded as patriotism”, Prashad writes.

Succinctly enough, Prashad encapsulates the present scenario: “The mecca of IMF-driven globalization is therefore in the ability to open one’s economy to stateless, soulless corporations while blaming the failure of well-being on religious, ethnic, sexual, and other minorities. That is the mecca of the post-Third World era.”

II

Prashad’s ending of the book with an obituary to Third World would have perhaps perplexed the writer he invokes in the beginning of his work: Franz Fanon. He even quotes the prophetic statements from The Wretched of the Earth: “The Third World today faces Europe like a colossal mass whose project should be to try to resolve the problems to which Europe has not been able to find the answers.”

Prashad’s persistent declaration in the book about demise of the Third World may bring back nostalgic chords, but would not undermine Fanon’s question. Have the problems that bore out of colonialism been resolved? The answer is no. Has Europe or the USA been able to find the answers yet? The answer is no.

In that case, is it not too early to declare the Third World a dead project? Moreover, is the author at times tending to air the lost leaders’ voices over the struggling peoples’?

No doubt, Prashad’s book is unique in its stress on women’s movements in the Third World – an aspect that’s comfortably overlooked when such taxonomies are applied to political texts. In his Cairo chapter, Prashad examines the role of women in Third World liberation struggles – from Rameshwari Nehru to Aisha Abdul-Rahman. This is significantly noteworthy, as women have joined the guerrilla wars as well as street protests in almost all of the Third World countries. And yet many progressive forces have difficulties in understanding gender relations, thereby resulting in mere “state feminisms”. However, was this chapter written because Cairo had women members on its podium necessitating a mention/discussion, or because a tribute to women activists is necessary to understand the Third World project? In either way, the book does not employ a lens of the women to understand the movement, although does a commendable job at understanding women struggles through the lens of the Third World. Considering that only this chapter has a portion devoted to a few women activists in context to Cairo, while the rest of the book mostly quotes the three “titans” or famous “fives” in explaining the history, I would say there are quite a few questions unanswered still.

The chief criticism against this work would primarily come from two quarters: One, from a strictly Third Wave (interesting how the growth of Third Wave coincides with the recognition of the Third World) feminist critique: independent struggles by women could have been much better encompassed within this book, given its scope. Prashad does a cursory mention of the alternative movement (considering that third-world women had a movement within, and against the larger movement) limiting it to a chapter and focusing on a couple of eminent speakers. Would the Third World have been different had the precepts for it not written by the “titans” and “giants”, but by women comrades who were voices of resentments against the hierarchies of nationalist and communist parties? Prashad does not dwell on this aspect.

Two, the criticism may become more scathing from the perspectives of militant activists. Third World, like Rome, was not built in a day. And certainly not through some leaders of few countries. Prashad is arguably right in crediting the giants and bringing forth the canons, but at the same time, these very leaders certainly rode the wave of success utilizing the larger unrest that was recognized by the anti-status-quo forces, often united through guerrilla wars, and almost going unnoticed after making vital impacts. Would the Third World have been different had the precepts for it not written by the giants, but by the larger oppressed peoples engaged in organized and otherwise struggles? We do not know for sure, but it would have been worthwhile to ponder over that a bit more than the book does.

The more crucial question then, is if such precepts were actually already written (or worked on with) by the peoples who did not find mentions in the historical documents that Prashad cites towards the book’s end spanning 60 pages. The focus of the book, although is in continuance of Prashadisque tradition of Afro-Asian unity, is slightly away from Africa. In fact, Mandela is mentioned just once in the book (that too as a pure travesty – citing a Ruth First memorial). The truth is Third World texts had been written in South Africa as well as in Nepal. However, such underground struggles went largely amiss from the work. Sure, the book by the author’s admission is inexhaustive and merely illustrative, but even a 300-page work could have inculcated some unknown peoples’ movements than chronicling lesser known leaders’ engagements.

Ironically enough, before proceeding to Havana chapter, Prashad mentions “From the early 1960s to the late 1970s, the rhetorical denunciation of imperialism reached its apogee even as the Third World began to lose its voice”. This is a dangerous statement to make if one considers that indeed from the 1970s onwards, the peoples voice in the Third World had immensely proliferated. No doubt the leaders – those giants who we find exalted throughout the work – had fallen to deaths or arrests, but the period thereafter also signaled the end of dominant and diplomatic voices, and somewhere alongside highlighted the obscure and powerful ones.

People who spoke truth to power were the people on the streets that challenged the nationalist parties which came to power in the pretext of newfound freedom from the foreign rulers. The growth of domestic capitalist classes in comfortable alliance with these nationalist parties were indication enough that the new powers were no less different from the old ones, except in their make-up and “patriotism”. In fact, these illusive weapons of nationalism and patriotism helped strengthen exploitative capitalism on basis of trusts of the “own” people. Such betrayals of faiths, notwithstanding goodwill of the famous leaders, were also being fought against on a daily basis in the Third World. Beyond the conferences and meetings and gatherings of Third World leaders under different names, there were large-scale protests of poverty and unemployment. Beyond the famous rhetoric of anti-nuclearism (while proliferating conventional weapons domestically) and socialist development (while harassing voices of dissent at home), people had on their own formed two classes in the society. The haves went to the ruling elites that apparently “voiced” the Third World for few years, and the have-nots remained with the unknown millions of peoples whose only commonality was their resentment against the power-grabbers. Be it Nehru or Indira in India, Sukarno or Suharto in Indonesia, the popular imagination went beyond such leaders that treaded the careful path all the while claiming to be representing the Third World.

Third World was neither the name of a place nor merely a documented project. And certainly it did not die. Considering that its origin was a necessity in itself, a necessity borne of conditions of colonialism, about which Sartre (another contextually grand omission from the book except for one mention – his writings on neocolonialism were far more instructive) writes in the preface to Albert Memmi’s ‘The Colonizer and the Colonized’: “Colonialism denies human rights to people it has subjugated by violence, and whom it keeps in poverty and ignorance by force, therefore, as Marx would say, in a state of ‘sub-humanity’.” This sub-humanity does not see its history changing with the midnight bells of colonialist departures. It takes quite a while for the real freedom to be conquested for even after the colonialists are gone. This is why South Africa’s period of struggle just began after Mandela came to power. South Africa’s Third World status will not die anytime soon.

So the assumption that “the Third World began to lose its voice” may have been made a little too early. Keeping in line of the eloquent narration of events as Prashad has done (for example, referring to revived “armed struggle not only as a tactic of anticolonialism but significantly as a strategy in itself”), the book perhaps wished away the Third World before examining its overbearing presence today. Do we have a Second World? I have no answer to that. But if the name Third World was admittedly accepted by the oppressed people of several continents basing on their historical heritage, then the phrase is as relevant today as it was before. Perhaps some countries would want not a place in it. Earlier, China was a question. Today, Singapore is. All the same, for the rest of the countries, nothing much has changed, except that the capitalist exploitation has intensified and expanded manifold, the national regimes have lost faith and people are more politically conscious.

If the Third World was imagined out of former colonies and if the colonial problem was chiefly an economic one, then the Third World has become even all the more relevant today. Simplistic as it may sound, there is a greater need for Afro-Asian-Latin solidarity today in the world than ever before. And Prashad, a remarkably profound scholar who gave to us treasures of arguments through his previous works about the need for alliances of the oppressed, would be among the firsts to acknowledge the necessity of such unity.

III

However, apart from remaining in want of more comprehensive analysis of women’s movements and of peoples’ liberation movements (both-dually oppressed by former colonizers as well as the nationalist rulers, and more importantly conflicted between the both – male and female comrades), the book also offers cursory looks at the external roles played by the First World in maintaining indirect subjugation of the Third.

Prashad rightly critiques the predominant views held by leftists about the role of the US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). He argues that such a minimalist assumption renders people of the Third World insignificant and often passive audience in the larger world stage. Whereas he is absolutely correct in this critique – largely identified by the radical feminist movements worldwide – there is no harm in going through the roles of the CIA that have been well documented in a work that does chronicle interactions of the Third World “leaders” with the First World instigators. Many conflicting situations have been initiated and fuelled through CIA interventions in the Third World politics and that should have found a deserved mention. For instance, a critique of the Nixon administration vis-à-vis the Third World (including the recently released notes with Kissinger) is found lacking.

One need not subscribe to conspiracy theories to gain insights about how the First World allies in the “neocolonial” period have acted towards the Third World: less through coercion, and more through lucrative measures such as economic aids, western education and religion. Prashad misses out on the role of the Catholic Church that was the first body to significantly recognize the Third World as an entity worth pondering over. The large money, the pool of debts that would crumble the economic backbone of the Third World came from the consent of the Vatican during the early 1960s.

Prashad mentions religion quite casually, when he describes how “Mother Teresa would soon get more positive airtime as the white savior of the dark hordes than would the self-directed projects of the Third World nationalist governments.” Immediately following this, he goes on to make references to military invasions and embargoes.

Here the book could have made a crucial connection between the recognition of the Third World by the First World through the Catholic Church decisions. Mother Teresa’s airtimes were neither incidental nor were to be seen only through a liberal critique. The missing piece is that Vatican Council II which was the 21st ecumenical (general) council of the Roman Catholic Church was crucial to recognition of the Third World in an official manner.

In fact this council brought the most far-reaching reforms within the Catholic Church in 1000 years. This most significant reform movement in the world’s leading religion was brought forth during its four sessions in Rome during (the first Council after its suspension in 1870). The idea was to aim for aggiornamento (renewal and updating of Catholic life and teaching). Such a vital step was taken by the Vatican as a result of emergence of the Third World. This council altered the nature of the church from being a European-centered institution to become a worldwide one so as to acknowledge the Third World countries, where it counted most of its followers. Mother Teresa and her likes were thus byproducts of this acceptance of the third force in the world.

Prashad says that Nehru, Sukarno and Nasser among other leaders did not use Third World to describe their domains, but does not corroborate their reasons, if any. For the framework of this book, the constant usages of “First World”, “Second World” and “Third World” is imperative, but considering that Prashad is eager to lash out against the “camp mentality” or “East-West” conflicts, he does avoid a critical exposition of the limitations that such three “Worlds” may bring for the readers.

One way to understand why the three “worlds” were not sufficient explanations (although necessary at many junctures) is to detail how the three worlds could not be thus compartmentalized either in degree or by their types. More importantly, the countries thus categorized under such headings definitely had uniquely different histories (colonial and otherwise), treated differently by their respective partners in their perceived specific worlds. On the one hand, Singapore had a different colonial experience than India. On the other, China’s Security Council membership put it on a unique platform, and there is no comparing between Soviet Union and Hungary. What is vital to this discussion is also the fact that there was not a yardstick that was used to specify categories either for the First, the Second or the Third. As much as the Third World was a movement against colonialism, such a usage of categories would still render it as a site affected by Eurocentric worldviews.

Prashad says Nehru et al., instead of calling themselves to be part of the Third World, “spoke of themselves” as the NAM, G-77 or the colonized continents. Although accurate, here the author’s own argument that kickstarts the book will be subject to questioning. Prashad says in the first line of the book, “The Third World was not a place. It was a project”. And yet he compares the project with some conferences and places (continents) to bring home the point that the leaders evaded “Third World”. Certainly there were other reasons why all Third World titans did not prefer the phrase (if at all). And that, we are still unsure of.

The author writes: “The phrase ‘East-West conflict’ distorts the history of the Cold War because it makes it seem as if the First and Second Worlds confronted each other in a condition of equality.” He contends that the USSR was socially and economically way behind due to its unique recent history. “The dominant classes in the First World used the shortages and repression in the USSR as an instructive tool to wield over the heads of their own working class, and so on both economic and political grounds the First World bore advantages over the Second.” Whereas this could be one truth, it does underscore the fact that more countries on the earth joined the Second World than they could be declared as the First World also because of the lacunae starkly evident in the First World. Whereas massive racism was predominant in the First World, economic depression and political censorships in the capitalist countries also contributed to popularity of the Second World.

A connection between the third world “project” and the United Nations (UN) is well established in the book. What perhaps amiss is a discussion on manners in which either of them might have contributed to the downfall of the other. Prashad says, “Today there is no such vehicle for local dreams”. The larger question then would be if the United Nations played a role in obliterating its dependant. On the other hand, a stark reality in the post-Iraq scene is the redundancy of a forum such as the United Nations today that effectively has no role either in shaping a collective conscience or implementing a pro-people agenda. Least of all, the UN has failed to safeguard the sovereign nations from external aggressions. It has failed to overcome the elitism of its Security Council, almost unquestionably letting the powerful countries to run their own little League of Nations inside the UN. Amidst such cynicism that the UN has contributed to, what responsibilities must the Third World project shoulder.

Amidst several responsibilities, the Third World still has to its credit a Non-Aligned News Agencies Pool (NANAP), a fact that is missing a mention in the book. Over 40 news agencies in non-aligned countries of Africa, Asia, Latin America and Europe have pooled their resources for the exchange of news reports and information to defy the vertical information flow of corporate media. The “Pool” was adopted at the Fourth Summit Conference of Non-Aligned Countries, held in Algiers in 1973. During that period, the New World Information and Communication Order was also proposed to democratize the knowledge domain of the world. No doubt, UNESCO was criticized by the American and European intellectuals, but the MacBride Commission succeeded in recognizing the divergent voices of the Third World in order to challenge the media hegemony world over. Responsibilities of the Third World still include an informed opposition to militarization, providing alternative channels to western corporate media, campaigning for need-based distribution of world resources, and most of all, representing the popular voices of dissent, opposition and celebrations. One wonders if the struggles to attain the above has waned any bit, if looked from the peoples’ perspectives. And in this context, the Third World still holds hopes, possibilities and victory. One is perhaps disappointed if the Third World is perceived to be voicing only a limited elite constituency – often opposed to the peoples’ dissents.

IV

Hence, finally, the book questions not the constitution of the Third World itself. If it was brought around through its various leaderships under certain historical period, what expectations should we have of this “project”? Were such leaders to be expected to play the truly internationalist roles, and to what avail? In the preliminary draft thesis on the National and the Colonial Questions, for the Second Congress of the Communist International, Lenin wrote: “Petty-bourgeois nationalism proclaims as internationalism the mere recognition of the equality of nations and nothing more. Quite apart from the fact that this recognition is purely verbal, petty-bourgeois nationalism preserves national self-interest intact, whereas proletarian internationalism demands, first, that the interests of the proletarian struggle in any one country should be subordinated to the interests of that struggle on a world-wide scale, and, second, that a nation which is achieving victory over the bourgeoisie should be able and willing to make the greatest national sacrifices for the overthrow of international capital.” Between the elite internationalism founded on peaceful co-existence and peoples’ internationalism based upon rejection of the international capitalist order, did the Third World got somewhere hijacked or we refuse to acknowledge its existence because we already defined its proponents?

Needless to state, the criticisms above demand for more literature for inclusion into the book, than specifically target the author’s works. Such a case arises only because the book is an extraordinarily brilliant effort that is bound to encourage readers to plunge more into the relevance of the subject. All of that credit goes to the humanely written, accessibly crafted work that shuns academic elitism and genuinely attempts at a peoples’ history of the oppressed world.

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International Women’s Day!

“Violence against women has yet to receive the priority attention and resources needed at all levels to tackle it with the seriousness and visibility necessary.”

UN Secretary-General’s in-depth study on violence against women (2006) (A/61/122/Add.1)

Before we reach another consensus on violence against women, let us examine the existing differences. For, whereas it is far easier (because it is pacifying) to share the knowledge that violence against women continues to exist, it is rather discomforting (because it is agitating) to throw lights on why it is so.

Like every year, academic and administrative reports of all kinds will be generated to commemorate March 8. After all, since we have a non-profit United Nations and we have corporate profiteers, we will eventually need to reach a consensus on issues such as violence against women. And amidst the thousands of articles and hundreds of televised tear-jerkers we will encounter in the coming month, the information overload would have done the damage, if we do not stay alert about few conditions that need addressing:

1. Suspect the Messengers:
The kinds of messages about women may be misgivings. Indeed, most channels that provide news about women’s progress and violence are owned and controlled by men. Whereas it is undoubtedly true that many men are truly understanding of their gender positions and many women are too willing to play the assigned roles, it is still wise to suspect the men in the month of IWD message boards.

2. Women’s Rights are Universal Rights: Some will talk about women’s rights as a domain that applies to women only. Indeed, women’s rights are women’s prerogative only as a practice, but everyone’s concern as a scope. Just like they fool us by writing different history books for African-Americans, and the Americans as though American history does not include the minorities, it is highly suspect that women’s rights are not matter of concern for men.

3. Workplace for women vs Women for workplace:
Most arguments about women’s rights focus on necessities to prepare the women for the workplace. Its like Amartya Sen saying that the question should not be if democracy is good for a country, but it should be directed towards making the country good for a democracy. Well, frankly speaking, he could be wrong. Just as JFK was while demanding that people give to the country without asking what the country can do for them. That’s the populist tone. The reality is women don’t need to be prepared for workplace. Workplaces need to be geared to serve women.

4. International Woman has a meaning:
It means, women identify with each other across different boundaries. This identification has an undertone: that is, they accept the differences across cultures. To be truly international means understanding that there are differences across nations, and hence across women from different nations. There is no place for homogenization of women as one entity. So yes, White women are different from Black women are different from Asian women are different from Latina women are different from Muslim women are different from Hindu women are different from Swahili-speaking women who are different from Greek women. Women have different social locations among themselves, and hence understanding them holds the key. Let no one lead us into an essentialist notion of women’s problem. Different women face oppressions of different nature. The similarity is the most striking: that women are oppressed simply because they are women.

5. Are women human?: MacKinnon’s question is still valid. No amount of cultural excuses (from first world pornography to third world dowry) makes all women full human today. Ruling classes of the world still consider women as accessories to either their power ladder, or to their social justice tokenism. Their domestic adornment or cheap working class market value. Their television anchoring revenue system or their make-up kit industry. Just as Aishwarya Rai cannot be allowed to cry in public because Revlon will probably run into losses, Tamara MaidenName cannot challenge her greedy boss for uneven wages because he will merely retaliate.

International Women’s Day must not be allowed to promote card and gifts companies to indulge in exhibitionism of annual love to the mothers and sisters and wives and friends. It is rather a day to remind all of us in the world that a separate battle is on. This one is a battle of all. A battle that is waged by the true majority of the world, the women. A battle, that addresses the core inconsistencies of capitalism.

Originally written for Womens Rights Blog.

Capitalist Tsar of a Lost Superpower

Ironies in the post Soviet days surpass those that characterized it. Despite longueurs of economic progress that “Tsar Putin” has made an exhibition out of, it must appear to be ironical that every publication worth its name declares there is more poverty and less equality in Russia these days than they ever were during Soviet days.

But what’s even more satirical are the suggestions from the concerned quarters that see this as an essential problem of the formerly controlled economy, than as an obvious aftermath of the presently capitalistic one. Considering that the crisis is evident (and multiplying) after the collapse of communism, it should come as no uncommon sense to perceive the root of disarrays. And yet the more populist and political correct accusations are aimed at the former era than the present regime.

Well, that’s not such a surprising finding if we traverse back at the hundreds of thousands of myths that the private capital masters have spread over past few decades about the merits of capitalism. In such ways the myths have been reinforced that even the biggest apostles of capitalism would have to pause awhile.

Its over 15 years since the USSR dissolved in its political form, and yet the only path that its economy has taken for the majority of people is downwards. This, despite absence of any capricious elements in an otherwise compromised economy. Apart from a few oligarchs who have been prosecuted, the country has seen one of the more stable forms of capitalistic expansions by business interests. Despite talks of nationalization or renationalization, only sectors affected thus far have been oil and gas. International currencies, free market and prosperous middle classes are characterizing the country in its free-est market condition in its entire history.

And yet, inequalities of wealth among the population are greater. Poverty, unemployment, crime, and prostitution are way higher. Social security is nearly absent and “terrorism” is at the highest. The country is struggling even to hold bilateral talks, its Nato membership pleas challenged by its own people.

Kremlin is gaining notoriety for “getting rid” of its enemies: Murders of eminent people include journalists (Anna Politkovskaya), research scholars (Indologist Grigory Bondarevsky), scientists (Alexander Krasovsky and Viktor Frantzuzov), security service agents (Alexander Litvinenko), and top officers (Andrei Kozlov- vice president of Central Bank, and Alexander Plokhin, director of Foreign Trade Bank), to mention only a few.

Chechnya crisis, high corruption rate, growth of the Russian “Mafia”, racism by “skinheads”, ban on Communists to conduct parades are not the only features that characterize a fragmented country unable to celebrate its national and cultural diversity. According to the Reporters Without Borders, Russia ranks below many African countries in terms of its press freedom ranking, indeed out of 168 countries, its rank is 147 (worse than Mugabe’s Zimbabwe)! In terms of corruption, Russia is the top most corrupt country in the world, according to Transparency International’s global corruption reports. Lets not even bring up the controversial but almost accurate Amnesty International which maintains horrific databases.

“The Road Ahead”:
And yet, most economists suggest that even greater private investments hold the key for a country like Russia to gain a foothold. Putin has been acclaimed on one hand for raising the nationalist level among the people so as to take back the country to the days of Tsarist glory (implying the biggest feudal society in the contemporary times where private capitals will be concentrated in the hands of selected domestic business houses). This is the more popular choice considering the general anti-Americanism prevailing among the people and unduly being milked by the Americanized leaders of Europe themselves to further their political (read: democratic) ambitions.

And on the other hand, from the critics’ quarters, he has been advised to opt for greater concentration on capitalistic expansion so as to make way for a truly “free market” (implying the establishment of a neo-American society where money will engage people as a commodity, and take away the human elements that are needed for any progressive dissent).

The third front is, alas an alternative, least explored. While visiting Borders book store, I usually chuckle at the sections such as History and Government & Politics. Several racks of books are collected under different sub-headings for easy perusal. It is there that one understands how silently, and effectively the alternatives are purged. You will surely find subheadings such as “Russian History”, and “Russian Government”, but under parenthesis they have carefully typed out phrase: “Non-Soviet”.

Somewhere between Tsarist oppressions and Capitalistic expansions, the Soviet intentions are conveniently buried. And it’s most ironically absent in Putin’s Russia.

Corporate Perceptions of Telecom Monopolists

In what could be the most visibly grotesque appraisal of monopolistic trends of capitalism, Jeffrey Nelson for Verizon Wireless says, the telecom industry of America is highly competitive. Washington Post quotes him as saying that consumers can choose among numerous handset models and four major providers of cellular services: Verizon, AT&T, Sprint Nextel and T-Mobile. “If you don’t like what one company enables,” he said, “find somebody else.”

Perhaps what’s lost on the corporate communicators is the fact that “four major providers” are signs of monopoly, and not of competition. American capitalism is on its path to perfection in the sense of its graduations. In the film production industry, six studios control over 90 percent of theater revenues. The newspaper industry is owned by only six major chains now. Book publishing industry is handled by seven firms and five largest groups account for all major music production in the country.

One may feel nostalgic about the good old days when the situation was not this drastic, and private families were free to own as much as they wanted to since there were communication regulations in place. One may even argue that after the deregulations bills were passed in 1996, things have started looking murkier with consolidations and clustering of firms at the forefront. But I will not debate at that forum.

The fact of the matter is then, and now, we have failed to understand the nature of capitalism to predict its inevitable trends. What the Washington Post article perhaps says could be a tribute to success of cell phone industries elsewhere in the world where more features are available for the users. But again, that’s a matter of relativity in discussion. What is crucial to understand here is neither the features and plans, nor the brand availabilities (although both these factors are attractive on the surface); but the true accessibility of the technology to all concerned.

In the race to have the best of the services limited to the few of us, is there a ceiling on the accessibility of technology? One would perhaps muse that contrary to my apprehensions, technology has become more accessible today than it was few decades back. But that would be to challenge the very nature of the collective course of human actions. Nothing will remain constant and progress is inevitable with collective endeavors at the research, training and development levels. A progress by default is merely a movement in propelled direction. Only a progress that inculcates struggles to uplift common aspirations is of any intrinsic value.

The gifts of technology, by and large have not been shared by the world populace. And in an era of abundant resources at our disposal and accompanying funds to realize many potentials, it should not come as a surprise as to why the distribution of technological assets has failed to earn commendable results.

The answer lies in the pattern of controlled and monopolized territories of technological know-hows and their ownerships. Even where there is an apparent distribution of access, it is owing to the “market demands”, not for human needs. Of course the phrase “market demands” is as elusive as one can get, considering that the market is as real as its proponents make it to be. The demands are “created” out of profit needs riding the waves of accompanying hypes (what they call in more civilized sense as ‘advertising’).

In this backdrop then it should come as no surprise to us when we see the entire media industry of America are dominated by three understanding, friendly (as long as they don’t consolidate further) mini empires called Time Warner, Disney and NewsCorp. There are scores of other rulers who are defined as new media monopolists by several research scholars and to avoid the academic traps I will not dwell on them. But just as a pointer to the issue than covering it comprehensively, I am deliberating here on the obvious questions we may need to scratch the surface for:

Cooperative economies have produced immense technological benefits. For instance, the erstwhile soviet system did produce the ultimate scientific progresses we have attained thus far: our exploration of the space. And yet we are ever so ready to dismiss the method while reaping the benefits claiming our consumerist society (where getting enslaved to market lures holds the key) as more conducive an environment for technological progress than the socialist society (where minimum standards defined lives of scientists and farmers alike—a notion entirely lost to the imagination of class society pundits).

However, without questioning the merits of competition and fairness –they are different concepts unfortunately, and no matter how soothing it may sound to some liberal economists, there is no such thing as ‘fair competition’ except in their utopian lexicon—one can safely preclude any form of competition from the capitalistic society.

Coming back to the Verizon staff, the four major telecom giants have a history of throttling competitions on their necks and emerging as “giants” than mere fellow traveling companies. The accompanying limitations of power-sharing are also mutually understood notions. The fact that they are monopolists fooling an entire country in a way Lincoln clearly knew– although he once said briefly you could not fool everyone all the time—is best paraphrased by Verizon’s best friend (in the press of course they are rivals and what-not) AT&T:

“This whole issue is a giant red herring. This is a fiercely competitive industry which has grown almost entirely through the force of competition in the marketplace, more innovative devices and services, and continually lower prices.” (AT&T spokesman Mark Siegel.)

If Verizon and AT&T are right, then the rest of us must be fools for sure. The question is for how long this grand Ayn Randian narrative of capitalism-as-citadel-of-competition will be believed? And for how long our media will report these as problems with “four major providers”, and not as inevitable consequence of capitalism?

Perhaps when our media wont be corporate themselves anymore. Well, that’s the point!

Suddenly Convenient Liberal Press of a Nuclear State

New York Times is as liberal as one can get. Dutifully criticizing the intelligence of Bush administration, it venerates the need of White House warnings. Elitism be dead. Long live the elites!

Regarding the much touted North Korean nuclear programs, the most trusted Daily editorializes:

“The North Koreans had and have an illicit nuclear arms program….. If that’s not bad enough, consider some frightening truths. There is no doubt that Iran is moving ever closer to mastering the skills it will need to produce the fuel for a nuclear weapon — and blithely defying the Security Council’s demand that it stop. But even America’s closest European allies have little stomach for a showdown with Tehran, while Russia and China have strong economic incentives to look the other way. Which means that Washington is the only one left out there to warn the world about the dangers of a nuclear-capable Iran. Make no mistake: there are real and present dangers out there. But who still believes warnings from this White House?”

Ooops…did we read that right? Of the liberal press claims about the need for warning from Washington. Yes, there are “real and present dangers” as NYT suggests, but a cursory look at current international relations would suffice to hand over the warrants to “in here” before warning us of dangers “out there”.

Iraq, Iran, North Korea are apparently the insane, mad, barbaric, and dangerous countries because they have a nuclear agenda where they do not seek blessings of the western powers, rendering their programs to be of some unproven sort. So unproven that, when CIA’s lies gets caught. the national media then treat it as a side story of no consequence, performing its role as fourth estate accomplice. And yet, America and the big powers of Europe are clearly the divine lots in the nuclear club since they are the pronounced pundits of nuclearism!

Along with the McDonaldization of hegemonic ideas, other normalizing factors numbing one’s intelligence at this juncture relates to this all-illusive nuclear club. What exactly is this holy alliance all about? What would lead a smart, informed team of editors at newspapers like NYT not to mention for once that, whereas it is highly deplorable that we underestimate the nuclear agenda of potential N-club members, it is equally imperative that the founding members and board members of this club first be warned about their aggrandizing status as unchecked war-mongers. That, there is no such thing as “illicit” nuclear program, and “legal” nuclear program, and the press has a certain sense of responsibility to uphold fairness before reinforcing such stereotypes that apply the western countries in one manner and the uncouth ones in another (illicit) way. Had United Nations given permission to the existing club members to build nuclear weapons, let alone go to war against sovereign countries?

That, the “real and present dangers” are not so much in suspected quarters of ravished Iraq, enraged Iran or taunted North Korea, as they are in evident military business operations of the very country houses New York Times, and that unashamedly continues to harass occupied territories, whose officers are charged with countless rapes on hapless and innocent citizens, and which refuses to even lower its defense budget in view of its utter failure to prove its legality, claims and whose intents to warn countries before invading them is by itself malapropos.

Its not a “Suddenly Convenient Truth” regarding North Korea that rattles NYT. Indeed, quite the contrary. Such criticism of Bush administrations are suddenly convenient perspectives taken for sake of partisan comforts in an opportunistic parliamentary democracy. The inconvenient truth perhaps was uttered by Albert Camus decades back: “I would like to love my country and still love justice”.