Chapter 14 – The capitalist holocaust 1914-2010
by Peter Cohen
The three holocausts discussed in the previous chapter are part of the global capitalist holocaust which since 1945 has been led by the US. The overall goal is to maintain domination of the world economy in order to maximize profits for the people who control the capitalist system. They comprise a fraction of 1% of the world’s population. Achieving their goal naturally involves attacking any and all nations, organizations and social movements that are not willing to subordinate themselves to imperial domination. As we have seen, these attacks take various forms – political, economic and military.
The world economy consists of imperialist nations and neo-colonies. The former include the leading members of the OECD, such as the US, the UK, Germany, France, Italy, Spain, the Scandinavian countries and Japan. All the others except Cuba and North Korea are neo-colonies. Some of them, particularly in Latin America, have entered a process of revolt, but their economies are still subordinated to imperialist interests.
Some neo-colonies were once formal colonies, but after 1945 they achieved or were granted nominal independence. One advantage for the imperial countries is that they no longer bear the costs of administration.
It is sometimes claimed that China is a growing threat to imperialist domination, having become the world’s leading export nation. Impressive statistics on the growth of the “Chinese economy” are cited to support this view.
But in China, Capitalist Accumulation and Labor Martin Hart-Landsberg & Paul Burkett have shown how dependent China is on foreign investment capital, and that
Chinese economic activity has become increasingly dominated by transnational corporations. For example, the share of foreign manufacturers in China’s total manufacturing sales grew from 2.3 percent in 1990 to 31.3 percent in 2000. From 1998 to 2003, the share of industrial value added produced by state enterprises in the non-resource based industrial sector fell from 17.3 percent to 6.7 percent, while the share accounted for by foreign enterprises rose from 11.4 percent to 17.1 percent (http://monthlyreview.org/commentary/china-capitalist-accumulation-and-labor).
Dominating the world economy involves integrating the neo-colonies in a world-wide division of labor, so that their production systems are subordinated to the demands of Western capitalists. Their financial systems are controlled from the financial centers in the imperialist countries. Subordination and control of a neo-colony normally requires the acquiescence of its own small class of capitalists to foreign demands.
Traditional imperialism aimed at securing raw materials, markets and profitable investment opportunities. During the second half of the 20th century, advances in transportation and communication technologies enabled intensified exploitation of labor world-wide in the neo-colonies. A global network for production and distribution developed. Consumer and industrial goods could be produced at much lower cost in the neo-colonies and shipped rapidly and cheaply to the rich countries, where they could and can be sold at a profit.
In most industries, capitalists are always trying to reduce the cost of labor power, i.e. wages. Within the imperialist countries, this has often led to relocation of production facilities, as in the US after 1945, when the New England textile industry was literally transplanted to the deep south, where unions were weak or non-existent and wages were lower.
The development of the global production network has involved wholesale relocation of production, sometimes known as “offshoring”, to low-wage neo-colonies such as Bangladesh, Indonesia, Poland, Hungary and Rumania. Ever since the leaders of the Communist Party of China embarked on the road to capitalism, production of everything from shoes to electronics has been moved there by Western corporations. Massive relocation has contributed to persistent and growing unemployment in the imperialist countries, together with downward pressure on wages.
The scope of the capitalist holocaust within the imperialist countries as well as the neo-colonies is as broad as life itself, affecting all aspects of existence, from pre-natal care, child care, health care and nutrition to education, employment, including slave labor, sexual relations and life expectancy. It has also involved enormous environmental damage and destruction.
The extent of the holocaust within individual countries reflects the balance – or imbalance – of forces in the class conflict between capitalists and workers, i.e. the people who actually produce the required goods and services. If the capitalist forces are superior in strength, the holocaust intensifies.
The effects of the capitalist holocaust have traditionally been most dramatic in the neo-colonies. However, growing number of workers in the imperialist countries, and even members of the middle class, are being reduced to the status of neo-colonial populations, particularly in the US and the UK.
It should be emphasized that benefits enjoyed by workers in the imperialist countries have not been bestowed on them by capitalists. Benefits such as regulation of working hours, job security, public housing, unemployment and/or sickness insurance, access to health care, and public-sector pensions, were obtained as a result of class struggle, normally in the form of mass political movements and action by labor unions. Capitalists have always opposed these benefits. For a number of years they have been intensifying efforts to eliminate or minimize them in both the European Union and the US, with a good deal of success.
It is not superfluous to point out that the world economy is not controlled by Communists. It is controlled by capitalists, which explains the prevalence of symptoms such as violent premature death, poverty, disease, unemployment, crime, inadequate housing and medical care, lack of education, undernourishment, prostitution, pornography and narcotics addiction. Non-violent premature death due to undernourishment, starvation and high rates of infant mortality is also a continuous symptom. Premature death due to organized violence is evident whenever capitalists decide that a situation can only be resolved to their advantage by force, directly or by proxy, as shown in the previous chapter.
Subordination of Latin America
The methods employed to protect the interests of Western capitalists in Latin America were described by US Marine Corp general Smedley D. Butler, who is quoted in Chapter 8. The ravages of organized violence and economic domination in Latin America over 500 years are described in Eduardo Galeano’sOpen Veins of Latin America, but his accountends in 1973.
On 11 September of that year the Chilean government’s attempt to establish a minimum of social justice was crushed by General Pinochet’s bloody coup d’etat, which was organized and supported by Washington. William Blum has pointed out that for the US government the only thing worse than a Marxist in power is an elected Marxist in power. As US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger said when Allende was elected in 1970 , “I don’t see why we need to stand by and watch a country go communist because of the irresponsibility of its own people.”
Mainstream accounts of the role played by Sweden in Chile in the early 1970s are normally restricted to the Swedish ambassador Harald Edelstam, who allowed Chileans hunted by Pinochet’s thugs to take refuge in the embassy. However, Sweden was also a member of the Inter-American Development Bank. When Allende became prime minister, the bank refused to lend money to Chile, which made it much more difficult for his government to finance reforms. Olof Palme’s Swedish government had no objections. After Pinochet’s illegal seizure of power, the bank announced that his government would have no problems obtaining loans. Once again, the Swedish government had no objections.
The standard mainstream account identifies Chile under Pinochet as “an economic miracle”. So it was, if miracles are measured by the magnitude of profits extracted by domestic and foreign capitalists. But measured by the condition of the working class in Chile and the extent of environmental damage, the Pinochet regime was a disaster. Details are available in Joseph Collins and John Lear, Chile’s Free-Market Miracle: A Second Look (1995). A few indicators are given below.
The policies of the Pinochet government are often termed “neo-liberal”, which is a euphemism even when it is used by critics. Neo-liberalism, the ideological foundation of the European Union, is nothing else but capitalism unchained.
The guiding principle of the capitalist class has always been that nothing should be allowed to interfere with the maximization of profits. From the mid-19th century onward, the growth of working class movements and the establishment of the Soviet Union and other socialist societies inhibited the application of this principle. But whenever the balance of forces in the class struggle has favored the capitalists, as in Chile 1973, the UK 1979 or Russia 1992, they are able to make headway.
In the Chilean case, Pinochet was advised by a group of homegrown so-called economists who had studied at the University of Chicago, where they had come under the malignant influence of Professor Milton Friedman. Officially, Friedman was a professor of economics. In reality, he was only one of the innumerable propagandists whose task is to spread the tired old nostrum that maximizing profits for capitalists will generate prosperity for everyone, workers and owners alike, and that restrictions imposed by a government will make everyone very unhappy.
The so-called theories enunciated by Friedman and his henchmen correspond to the
arguments of Bright, Cobden and Mussolini (see Chapter 3). Friedman worshipped at the shrine of the “free market”, i.e. an unfree market that is regulated by capitalists and the governments that serve them, as in Nazi Germany, often with the help of bullets and bayonets. The principal tenets of Friedman’s faith can be summarized as follow:
- Public-sector assets and services must be privatized.
- Public-sector spending must be cut, and social insurance systems must be dismantled.
- The labor market must be deregulated in the sense that labor unions must be abolished or crippled, and all directives that promote the well-being of workers, covering everything from the working environment to vacations, must be removed
- There shall be no restrictions on trade within or between countries.
- All regulations with an adverse effect on profit maximization, such as those designed to protect the environment, shall be cancelled.
These tenets were applied with a vengeance in Chile. Among other things,
- The size of the money supply was cut drastically.
- Public-sector outlays were also cut drastically.
- Import tariffs were removed.
- All provisions for regulating industry were cancelled.
- No limit was to be placed on the inflow of foreign investment capital.
- Public-sector companies and operations were auctioned off for a fraction of their market value. Of 507 such companies and operations that had been established before or during the Allende administration, 480 were divested.
- Suppliers of electricity and water were no longer subject to regulation.
- Price controls on pharmaceuticals and basic foodstuffs were removed.
- Schools, health-care facilities, prisons and parks were privatized.
- The labor market was deregulated. A new law in 1979 restricted the right to form or join a union, a right that is guaranteed in the UN’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights, to which Chile is a signatory. Private companies were given the unrestricted right to fire workers individually or en masse, for “business reasons”.
The effects of unchained capitalism in Chile were not difficult to predict for anyone with a minimum knowledge of historical reality. One example is the growth of Gross Domestic Product, generally regarded as the most important symptom of a healthy economy. Growth over the “Pinochet period” 1973-1989 showed an overall decline of 6.4%. In constant 1993 dollars, Chile’s per capita GDP was over $3,600 in 1973. As late as 1993 was $3,170. This was one of the worst performances in Latin America.
- In 1973 the working class received 60% of the national income. In 1989 it received 30%.
- About 20% of the Chilean population lived in poverty in 1970. In 1989 the proportion was 41.2%, of whom about one-third in absolute poverty.
- Share of population without adequate housing: 1972 27%, 1989 40%.
- The 40% of the population with the lowest calorie intake: 1970 2,019. 1980 1,751, 1990 1,629.
- Average unemployment 1973-1990 was 15.7% – officially. High unemployment involves lower productivity, which partly explains why growth in Chile’s GDP was so low in comparison with other countries.
- Virtually all environmental regulations were removed. Chile became one of the most polluted countries in the world. E.g. the drinking water in Santiago showed levels of manganese, iron and lead that were many times higher than the WHO norms. The water used to irrigate fruit and vegetables in and around the city had concentrations of coliform bacteria that were 1,000 times greater than the norm. The frequency of hepatitis, typhus and intestinal parasites was higher in Santiago than in any other Latin American city.
The rich became richer, of course. Distribution of income in Chile was the most unequal in Latin America. In 1989 the richest 10% of the population received 36.5% of the national income. The lower 50% received 16.8%. These figures are admittedly not as disastrous as in the US today, but they are bad enough.
Capitalists have never been interested in bringing freedom and democracy to the benighted inhabitants of Latin America – they are only in it for the money. For the ruling class in and outside Latin America, the Allende government was a symptom of the sort of pestilence normally associated with atheistic Communists, such as those in Cuba who have inflamed so many Latin Americans with their subversive ideas.
In 1964 the relatively progressive government of Brazil was taken out by a US-sponsored coup, and in the following years dictatorships violently replaced legally elected governments in Argentina and Uruguay, among other countries. It should be noted that anti-democratic coups in Latin America never occur without sponsorship by the US government.
However, the Communist-inspired ideas did not die away, and the dictators conceived a plan to eliminate dissent. It was based on terror, and was baptized Operation Condor. It was a conspiracy involving the security forces of Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Paraguay and Uruguay for identifying and arresting political dissidents in all these countries, transporting them across national borders if necessary, and liquidating them. For example, Argentinian and Uruguayan dissidents living in Paraguay were delivered by the domestic security forces to agents from their own countries. Agencies from Ecuador and Peru also participated.
The general approach was explained by the Argentinian Admiral Cesar Augusto Guzzeti in an interview in 1976:
There is no right-wing subversion or terror as such. The body of society is affected by a disease that corrodes the entrails and forms antibodies. These antibodies cannot be regarded in the same way as the microbe itself. The action of the antibody will disappear as the government controls and destroys the guerillas (both active and passive political dissidents). The admiral was quoted in Report of an Amnesty International Mission to Argentina, 6-15 November 1976, cited in Covert Action Quarterly, Number 50, 1994.
The admiral spoke in the great tradition of the Western propagandists, who since the French Revolution have used biological and epidemiological terminology to describe their class opponents (see Chapter 6).
Many of the participants in Operation Condor had been trained at the School of the Americas that the US government had established in Panama in 1946 (now located in Fort Benning, Georgia and rechristened as the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation, WHINSEC). The school provides instruction in techniques for torture, assassination and subversion. Its graduates have served bloody dictatorial regimes throughout Latin America.
The US provided financing and technical assistance for Operation Condor. Wikipedia: “The United States participated in a supervisory capacity…” Secretary of State Henry Kissinger was advised about Condor, of course.
Condor was not limited to Latin America. It also involved assassinations in Washington DC. See Dinges, John and Landau, Saul, Assassination on Embassy Row (1980).
According to Martin Almada, Paraguay: The Forgotten Jail (available at Martinalmada.org), himself a former victim of Operation Condor, 50,000 people were murdered and 30,000 “disappeared”. His figures are based on the “terror archives”, which he discovered in Asunción in 1992. These archives are to be expected to underestimate the number of victims. Wikipedia estimates that the operation resulted in the death of 60,000 people, “possibly more”, in addition to the 30,000 “disappeared”; 400,000 were imprisoned. The dead and disappeared are estimated to have included about 3,000 children.
As far as I know, neither the Forum for Living History nor other mainstream guardians of historical untruth have ever condemned Operation Condor or identified it as a terror campaign that was waged on behalf of the capitalist ruling class. They refer to the supposed massacre of 8,000 people at Srbrenica, Yugoslavia as a “genocide”. It is not known which term they would use to describe Operation Condor.
Terror in Central America and the Caribbean
The terror and genocide led by the US in Guatemala to promote the interests of the United Fruit Company were discussed in Chapter 8. In order to defend the principles of democracy and Milton Friedman’s free market, bloody terror campaigns were also financed and supervised by the US in Nicaragua and El Salvador, among other countries.
The US had supported the dictatorial regime of the Somoza family ever since the early 1930s. The Somozas ensured that “their” country offered a stable business environment for US and European corporations, including the Wallenberg-owned Atlas Copco of Sweden. They were never condemned as undemocratic by the mainstream press in Sweden or any other Western country.
But when the Nicaraguans made the mistake of overthrowing Somoza and then elected a government dedicated to reforms similar to those in Republican Spain, Chile and elsewhere, it was time to enlighten the population of the West. The new government in Managua was immediately identified as a Communist-inspired threat to peace and stability in Latin America. President Ronald Reagan explained that Nicaragua, one of the world’s poorest countries, was a deadly menace to the US itself.
The terror unleashed by the Reagan regime on Nicaragua was known as the “Contra War” and involved assassination and sabotage. It also involved widespread and atrocious mutilation of the dead.
Fr. Miguel D’Escoto, a Catholic priest in Managua, Nicaragua, Foreign Minister in the Sandinista government in the 1980s, said of Reagan:
…as I pray that God in his infinite mercy and goodness forgive him for having been the butcher of my people, for having been responsible for the deaths of some 50,000 Nicaraguans, we cannot, we should not ever forget the crimes he committed in the name of what he falsely labeled freedom and democracy… To Reagan Nicaragua had to be re-conquered. He blamed Carter for having lost Nicaragua, as if Nicaragua ever belonged to anyone else other than the Nicaraguan people.
One of the most interesting aspects of the terror in Nicaragua was the provision of hit lists by the CIA. In addition to doctors, nurses, lawyers and teachers, the lists included a number of agronomists, because the Nicaraguan government had launched a program for environmental protection and management program that was the most advanced and ambitious ever developed in a peripheral country, and probably anywhere else, for that matter.
The US has been directing a campaign of terrorism against Cuba since the early 1960s, which has included everything from an illegal blockade to the introduction of deadly strains of virus that attack livestock.
Cuba is of course not a very large country, and like Nicaragua could hardly be considered a military threat against the capitalist system in the United States or anywhere else. But no country is too small to be punished when it does not assume he proper position of subservience. This was illustrated by the insane attack on the island of Grenada (pop. 90-95,000) in 1983, which Ronald Reagan justified in the grounds that the Grenadan government was building an airfield that would accommodate Soviet attack bombers, and the lives of American students at the university in Grenada were endangered. The airfield was in fact being enlarged by a British-French consortium to accommodate large jetliners that the government hoped would be full of tourists. The story about the students was rubbish. The real motivation for the attack was that the government of Grenada showed an alarming tendency toward developing a socialist economy. In addition, Grenadan president Maurice Bishop had refused to condemn the presence of Soviet troops in Afghanistan (see below).
In another case, George Bush Senior, who by his own admission likes to “kick ass”, attacked the Republic of Panama (pop. approx. 3.2 million) because the then head of state Manuel Noriega was getting uppity. He had cooperated with the CIA narcotics operation in Latin America for many years, as he proved at his trial. But in the late 1980s he refused to allow Panama to be used as a staging point for US aggression against Nicaragua, and there was also the troublesome matter of a treaty that had been signed during Carter’s presidency for transfer of the Panama Canal. So in December 1989 George Bush Senior ordered an attack, killed a satisfying number of Panamanian civilians, arrested Noriega, and kicked ass in general.
Capitalism and the environment
The environmental destruction caused by capitalism in Nicaragua and the rest of Central America is described in by Daniel Faber in Environment Under Fire: Imperialism and the Ecological Crisis in Central America (1993). The environmental situation in Central America has not improved since the book was published.
Central America is a region celebrated for its natural wealth and beauty. On the Pacific side, majestic volcanoes slope down to fertile checkerboard plains and rich coastal mangrove swamps. To the east, pine-covered mountains and cloud forests of the cooler interior highlands descend into dense tropical rainforests, sliced by steaming rivers headed for the sparkling warm waters of the Caribbean. Numerous freshwater lakes sit nestled in a rolling green landscape – an environment home to jaguars, monkeys, manatees, snakes, lizards, parrots, frogs, and other unique wildlife of almost infinite variety. North American songbirds such as the thrush, warbler, and flycatcher spend half the year in Central America’s lush jungles and highlands. For eons this crumpled isthmus has served as a bridge and transition zone for tropical and temperate life-forms from North and South America and nurtured prosperous Indian civilizations for thousands of years. Medical and agricultural treasures lie hidden in the more than 1,000 species of plants found nowhere else on the globe.
But today, Central America’s environment is under fire. Across the entire region, virtually every major ecosystem is rapidly being destroyed. The stark reality of this ecological devastation is shocking. More than two-thirds of the original tropical rainforests have been felled, with most of the deforestation taking place since 1950. At current rates of destruction the remaining forests will be gone in less than twenty years. Thousands of species of flora and fauna are in danger of extinction or have already been eliminated. Soil erosion is so bad that half of all farmland has been damaged, resulting in steady declines in agricultural productivity. The consequent destruction of major watersheds is responsible for the siltation of waterways, increased flooding and drought, and hundreds of millions of dollars in damage annually to the Central American economy.
The ecological crisis is also a matter of life and death for the region’s small farmers and workers. Deadly pesticides banned in the United States are exported to Central America where they poison thousands of agricultural laborers each year. Much of the land, water table, and food chain along the Pacific coast is severely contaminated with these carcinogenic poisons. Unburdened by protective regulations, industries freely dump toxic chemicals into the environment. These chemical wastes have combined with agricultural residues and untreated sewage effluents to destroy water supplies. In El Salvador, only one in ten people has access to safe drinking water, while in Honduras waterborne diseases annually account for 12 percent of all deaths.
The United States is also at war with nature in Central America. Over the last twelve years, the United States has supported brutal counterinsurgency campaigns and Vietnam-style “scorched earth” tactics, further devastating the forests and fields of Guatemala and El Salvador, while killing hundreds of thousands of people and displacing millions more. An undeclared economic and military war waged by the United States over the course of the 1980s against the Sandinista government also crippled many of Nicaragua’s environmental and social programs, considered by many international environmentalists to be some of the most innovative and far-reaching measures ever undertaken by a poor third world country. And even now, as many of these wars have, for the moment, ended (with the important exception of Guatemala), the United States has failed to develop a coherent policy for the economic and ecological reconstruction of the region, let alone a comprehensive program that would address the root causes of poverty, war, and environmental destruction. As a result, Central America is now facing a social and ecological crisis unparalleled in its history.
The ecological collapse described by Faber is of course not limited to Central America. It threatens all human societies that are exposed to capitalism. Although ignorance and human error are also factors, in general it is directly traceable to the drive to maximize profits. Faber correctly points out that “capitalist development is destroying its own material foundations of existence”. He is referring specifically to Central America and the effects of economic domination by Western capitalists. But these affects are evident in the imperialist countries as well, not least in the US, where capitalists have had a good deal of success in combating attempts to regulate environmentally hazardous activities.
This is reflected in Environmental and Occupational Causes of Cancer – A Review of Recent Scientific Literature, a report published in 2007 by the Boston University School of Public Health and the Environmental Health Initiative, University of Massachusetts Lowell. It states that:
Nearly one in two men and more than one in three women in the United States will be diagnosed with cancer at some point in his or her lifetime. Cancer is now the leading cause of death for individuals under age 85. Even though tobacco remains the single most significant preventable cause of cancer, it has been linked neither to the majority of cancers nor to many of the cancers that have increased rapidly in recent decades including melanoma, lymphomas, testicular, brain, and bone marrow cancers…
The authors cite several notable findings:
• Cancer evolves from a complicated combination of multiple exposures. Attempting to assign certain exposures (i.e. diet, smoking, environment, etc.) certain roles in causing cancer that will total 100% is inappropriate given that no one exposure single-handedly
produces cancer and many causes of cancer are still unknown. Comprehensive cancer
prevention programs need to reduce exposures from all avoidable sources. Cancer prevention programs focused on tobacco use, diet, and other individual behaviors disregard the lessons of science.
• Examples of strong causal links between environmental and occupational exposures and cancer include:
- Metals such as arsenic and cancers of the bladder, lung, and skin.
- Chlorination byproducts such as trihalomethanes and bladder cancer.
- Natural fibers such as asbestos and cancers of the larynx, lung, mesothelioma, and stomach.
- Petrochemicals and combustion products, including motor vehicle exhaust and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, and cancers of the bladder, lung, and skin.
- Pesticide exposures and cancers of the brain, Wilms tumor, leukemia, and non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.
- Reactive chemicals such as vinyl chloride and liver cancer and soft tissue sarcoma.
- Metalworking fluids and mineral oils with cancers of the bladder, larynx, nasal passages, rectum, skin, and stomach.
- Ionizing radiation and cancers of the bladder, bone, brain, breast, liver, lung, ovary, skin, and thyroid, as well as leukemia, multiple myeloma, and sarcomas.
- Solvents such as benzene and leukemia and non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma; tetrachloroethylene and bladder cancer; and trichloroethylene and Hodgkin’s disease, leukemia, and kidney and liver cancers.
- Environmental tobacco smoke and cancers of the breast and lung.
The sum of the evidence regarding environmental and occupational contributions to cancer justifies urgent acceleration of policy efforts to prevent carcinogenic exposures. By implementing precautionary policies, Europeans are creating a model that can be applied in the U.S. to protect public health and the environment. To ignore the scientific evidence is to knowingly permit tens of thousands of unnecessary illnesses and deaths each year.
The authors are presumably referring to the Europeans who are often labeled Communist or “left-leaning” by the defenders of capitalism in the US.
Obviously, everything that human beings do affects the environment in one way or another. But the greater part of environmental impact refers to production and consumption, including distribution. Reducing this impact requires monitoring and control of production, distribution and consumption. The question is whether control can be exercised without ownership.
The historical record shows that as long as the systems for production and distribution are in private hands, the vital decisions will be made by the owners of these systems, whose main goal is to maximize profits for shareholders. Attempts to regulate the behavior of capitalist enterprises may have led to marginal improvements, but there is no reason to believe that regulation will solve the problem. “Green capitalism” exists only in the minds of corporate communicators and advertising executives.
The state of the global environment indicates that the human species is faced with an emergency of colossal proportions. Meeting the emergency will require much more than imposing criteria for recycling or emissions limits and arranging conferences on the climate. It will require analysis of what is being produced and why. It will also require setting priorities. It seems reasonable to begin by setting goals for ensuring adequate income, nutrition, housing, health care and education for everyone on earth. The evidence shows that the capitalist system has not only been unable to do so, but that it is the cause of the prevalent inadequacies, which are often fatal.
Meeting the emergency will also involve making decisions about what should be produced, and what should not. For example, the negative environmental effects of automobiles and trucks have been evident for years. Vast systems for distribution and sale of virtually all sorts of products are based on the use of such vehicles. Production of them requires large amounts of energy and raw materials.
But even if there were general agreement that alternative systems for distribution should be constructed, that production of automotive vehicles should be phased out or strictly limited, and that alternative jobs for the workers who produce them should be created, nothing could be accomplished as long as the automotive industry remains in private hands. The owners have the decision-making power.
Food insecurity, hunger and starvation – endemic to capitalism
For most of human history, food insecurity was a major problem, even after agriculture was developed. The danger of insufficient agricultural production was persistent. From the global perspective, in the modern world under-production is not a hazard.
The world produces about 2.4 kg of foodstuffs per person per day, including meat, fish, fruit, vegetables and nuts, according to a report by the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) cited by Food First in San Francisco (http://www.foodfirst.org/).
The problem is not production. The problem is the capitalist system of distribution. For example, three privately owned corporations – Cargill, Dreyfuss and Archer Daniels Midland – control the major share of world trade in foodstuffs such as grain and rice, as well as food products and animal feed. The following portrait of Cargill (emphasis added) is taken from
Cargill’s approach is totally geared around scale, and as a result, power. Economic power over its suppliers – the farmers and family businesses whom it dwarfs – allow it to force down its input costs. Economic power over its customers – the food processors and retailers – let it set the selling prices, and dictate the nature of the product (as in the GMO case, discussed in the ‘Control Freaks’ report. Political power, largely over the US government, sets up the trading rules which favour its interests so strongly, over its suppliers, customers and foreign competitors.
In most of its markets, Cargill controls a share of at least 25%, and is the largest or second largest player. Cargill is in economic terms what it wants to implement ecologically: a global monoculture.
Its operating style is neatly summed up in a company ‘Future strategic profile’ in 1979, which listed nine “strategic basic beliefs”, including:
• ‘It is important to have market dominance / leadership in the business.
• The world is our oyster.
• We will maintain a low public profile.’
Cargill’s unofficial biographer Brewster Kneen noted in his 1995 classic, Invisible Giant – Cargill and its transnational strategies:
“In the world of capitalist business, the use of power has one primary objective: the accumulation of capital, and with it, more power. Cargill Incorporated is a shining example of a corporation successfully using power to accumulate capital, all the while shaping the global future of agriculture and eating practices of people around the world.
The role of capitalists relative to food supply and food scarcity was analyzed in detail in How the other half dies (1986) by Susan George, who explained that “Only the poor go hungry”. The deadly results of capitalist control of global agriculture have been summarized in a number of UN reports, as shown below.
FAO estimates that 1.02 billion people are undernourished worldwide in 2009. There are more hungry people than at any time since 1970, the earliest year for which comparable statistics are available.
Hunger has increased not as a result of poor harvests but because of high food prices, lower incomes and increasing unemployment due to the global economic crisis. Many poor people cannot afford to buy the food they need. http://www.fao.org/hunger/en/
Although 2009 may have been the worst year since 1970, symptoms such as declining real incomes and rising unemployment have been intensifying since the early 1970s, and will be discussed in the next chapter.
In the country with the greatest aggregate wealth in world history, on 17 November 2011 The Washing Post reported:
The data show that dependable access to adequate food has especially deteriorated among families with children. In 2008, nearly 17 million children, or 22.5 percent, lived in households in which food at times was scarce – 4 million children more than the year before. And the number of youngsters who sometimes were outright hungry rose from nearly 700,000 to almost 1.1 million.
Among Americans of all ages, more than 16 percent – or 49 million people – sometimes ran short of nutritious food, compared with about 12 percent the year before. The deterioration in access to food during 2008 among both children and adults far eclipses that of any other single year in the report’s history.http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2009/11/16/AR2009111601598.html
Almost two years later, on 24 August 2011, ABC World News reported:
As many as 17 million children nationwide are struggling with what is known as food insecurity. To put it another way, one in four children in the country is living without consistent access to enough nutritious food to live a healthy life, according to the study, ‘Map the Meal Child Food Insecurity 2011’.
Those hungry children are everywhere, and with the uncertain economy, the numbers are only growing, experts say.
The consequences of malnutrition can be severe. Several studies have shown that food insecurity affects cognitive development among young children. And for older children… school performance is affected. Additional research shows that with hunger comes more frequent sickness and higher healthcare costs.
Medical research has shown that lack of nutrition can permanently alter a child’s brain architecture, stunting intellectual capacity and a child’s ability to learn and interact with others. http://abcnews.go.com/US/hunger_at_home/hunger-home-american-children-malnourished/story?id=14367230
It is indisputable that undernourished children suffer from both physical and mental underdevelopment. I have not been able to find statistics on the number of people in the US who die of hunger-related diseases. On the global scale, information about hunger mortality is available athttp://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Starvation (footnotes have been removed):
- On the average, 1 person dies every second as a result, either directly or indirectly, of hunger – 4000 every hour – 100 000 each day – 36 million each year – 58 % of all deaths (2001-2004 estimates).
- On the average, 1 child dies every 5 seconds as a result, either directly or indirectly, of hunger – 700 every hour – 16 000 each day – 6 million each year – 60% of all child deaths (2002-2008 estimates).
The following UN reports illustrate the extent of hunger-related deaths within the capitalist system:
- Jean Ziegler. “The Right to Food: Report by the Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food, Mr. Jean Ziegler, Submitted in Accordance with Commission on Human Rights Resolution 2000/10”. United Nations, February 7, 2001, p. 5. “On average, 62 million people die each year, of whom probably 36 million (58 per cent) directly or indirectly as a result of nutritional deficiencies, infections, epidemics or diseases which attack the body when its resistance and immunity have been weakened by undernourishment and hunger.”
- Commission on Human Rights. “The right to food: Commission on Human Rights resolution 2002/25”. Office Of The High Commissioner For Human Rights, United Nations, April 22, 2002, p. 2: “Every year 36 million people die, directly or indirectly, as a result of hunger and nutritional deficiencies, most of them women and children, particularly in developing countries, in a world that already produces enough food to feed the whole global population”.
- United Nations Information Service. “Independent Expert On Effects Of Structural Adjustment, Special Rapporteur On Right To Food Present Reports: Commission Continues General Debate On Economic, Social And Cultural Rights”. United Nations, March 29, 2004, p. 6: “Around 36 million people died from hunger directly or indirectly every year”.
- Food and Agriculture Organization Staff. “The State of Food Insecurity in the World, 2002: Food Insecurity: when People Live with Hunger and Fear Starvation”. Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, 2002, p. 6: “6 million children under the age of five, die each year as a result of hunger.”
- Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations Economic and Social Dept. “The State of Food Insecurity in the World 2004: Monitoring Progress Towards the World Food Summit and Millennium Development Goals”. Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, 2004, p. 8: “Undernourishment and deficiencies in essential vitamins and minerals cost more than 5 million children their lives every year”.
- Jacques Diouf. “The State of Food Insecurity in the World 2004: Monitoring Progress Towards the World Food Summit and Millennium Development Goals”. Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, 2004, p. 4: “One child dies every ﬁve seconds as a result of hunger and malnutrition”.
- Food and Agriculture Organization, Economic and Social Dept. “The State of Food Insecurity in the World 2005: Eradicating World Hunger – Key to Achieving the Millennium Development Goals”. Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, 2005, p. 18: “Hunger and malnutrition are the underlying cause of more than half of all child deaths, killing nearly 6 million children each year – a figure that is roughly equivalent to the entire preschool population of Japan. Relatively few of these children die of starvation. The vast majority are killed by neonatal disorders and a handful of treatable infectious diseases, including diarrhoea, pneumonia, malaria and measles. Most would not die if their bodies and immune systems had not been weakened by hunger and malnutrition…”
- Human Rights Council. “Resolution 7/14. The right to food”. United Nations, March 27, 2008, p. 3: “6 million children still die every year from hunger-related illness before their fifth birthday”.
The food shortages generated by the capitalist system were illustrated in 1969-72, when the four major (capitalist) grain-producing countries cut back acreage in order to avoid over-production and keep prices high. This led to a fall of about 90 million tons in wheat production. In 1972, the Director General of the UN Food and Agriculture
Organization pleaded for only 8-12 million tons more of grain in order to avoid famine in India, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Tanzania and the Sahel region (Chad, Mali, Mauritania, Niger, Senegal and Upper Volta). The grain was not forthcoming.
In light of the above and the events of the past 200 years or so, we are obliged to conclude that hunger, malnutrition and death by starvation are endemic to capitalism. There are of course other factors that explain the huge numbers of premature deaths traceable to the operations of the capitalist system. A partiallist of fatalities is given in the table below. But before consulting the table it is worth inspecting three more holocausts – in India, Afghanistan and Iraq.
India is one of the neo-colonies which continuously manifest acute symptoms of capitalism. The history of Afghanistan since the 1970s illustrates how premature death by military violence is an inevitable outcome of the war on Communism. The destruction of Iraq is one of the most grotesque of the symptoms, but as we have seen it is hardly an exception to the rule.
India – the showcase of democracy
India gained formal independence from Great Britain in 1947, but remained a de facto dependent of Western capitalism. A few years after the establishment of the People’s Republic of China in 1949, Western propagandists started marketing India as “the showcase of democracy”. Its development as a flourishing market economy was going to demonstrate once and for all the superiority of capitalist democracy over the dictatorship and the “planned economy” imposed on the Chinese by the evil Communist regime of Mao Zedong.
However, the predicted outcome did not materialize. In Hunger and Public Action (2002), Jean Dreze and Nobel laureate Amartya Sen compared development in India and the People’s Republic of China. Among other things, they give improbable figures for starvation deaths of 16.5-29.5 million in the PRC.
But as pointed out by Noam Chomsky (http://www.spectrezine.org/global/chomsky.htm), Dreze and Sen’s comparison is not very favorable for the showcase of democracy. They state that newly independent India and post-revolution China had “similarities that were quite striking… But there is little doubt that as far as morbidity, mortality and longevity are concerned, China has a large and decisive lead over India”. The lead extended to education and other social indicators. Dreze and Sen estimate that in terms of mortality the annual body count for premature deaths in India is almost 4 million more than in China. “India seems to manage to fill its cupboard with more skeletons every eight years than China put there in its years of shame” (1958-1961). The “years of shame” are discussed in Chapter 16.
Chomsky points out that the arithmetic of “excess” deaths in India indicates a total of over 100 million by 1979.
Dreze and Sen argue that this is traceable to the “ideological predispositions” of the Indian and Chinese socio-economic systems. In China these led to “relatively equitable distribution of medical resources, including rural health services, and public distribution of food, all lacking in India” (Chomsky). In 1979 the post-Mao Chinese government set out on the road to a capitalist market economy, and Dreze and Sen state that subsequently “the downward trend in mortality [in China] has been at least halted, and possibly reversed”.
The situation in India has not shown a dramatic improvement in the quality of life for the vast majority of its inhabitants.
The Human Rights Council is an inter-governmental body within the UN system made up of 47 States responsible for strengthening the promotion and protection of human rights around the globe. The Council was created by the UN General Assembly on 15 March 2006 with the main purpose of addressing situations of human rights violations and make recommendations on them. http://www2.ohchr.org/english/bodies/hrcouncil/
The following text is from a statement submitted at the fifth session (11-18 June 2007) of the Human Rights Council by the Asian Legal Resource Centre (ALRC), an international Non-governmental Organization (INGO) that has General Consultative status with the Economic and Social Council of the United Nations.
A Written statement submitted by the Asian Legal Resource Centre
The Prime Minister of India in his foreword in the ‘Report to The People’ dated May 22, 2007, claims: “In this 60th year of independence, the country should have the satisfaction of recording for the fifth year in a succession a rate of economic growth of over 8.5%.” The Asian Legal Resource Centre (ALRC) however is not sure whether the estimated over 200 million Indians who are presently suffering from malnourishment, and the many more million who have done so during past decades, will be satisfied with this growth.
The country’s overwhelming population is often given as an excuse to justify poverty and starvation in India. This theory is applicable only if the State itself is poor and has no means to procure enough food for its people. India is not poor, even though 70% of Indians are. India’s projected defense budget for 2007-08 is 24 billion US$ and it plans to spend further on its weapons upgrade programme. Defense spending of such proportions in a country where a section of the population equivalent to 2/3rds the size of that of the United States is undernourished or suffering from malnourishment, is difficult to stomach. The United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food has highlighted this contradiction of priorities in his report following his mission to India in 2005.
Poverty and resultant starvation in India is not limited to the lower caste, although they suffer the most. The lower caste forms only about 20% of the Indian population, whereas starvation and malnourishment affect about 53% of its entire population.
Wikipedia (emphasis added):
The World Bank estimates that India is ranked 2nd in the world of the number of children suffering from malnutrition, after Bangladesh (in 1998), where 47% of the children exhibit a degree of malnutrition. The prevalence of underweight children in India is among the highest in the world, and is nearly double that of Sub-Saharan Africa with dire consequences for mobility, mortality, productivity and economic growth. The UN estimates that 2.1 million Indian children die before reaching the age of 5 every year – four every minute – mostly from preventable illnesses such as diarrhea, typhoid, malaria, measles and pneumonia. Every day, 1,000 Indian children die because of diarrhea alone. According to the 1991 census India has around 150 million children, constituting 17.5% of India’s population, who are below the age of 6 years.
Malnutrition ensures that almost half of India’s children will never develop into normal human beings, neither mentally nor physically. When will NATO dispatch task forces to India to protect these children?
Wave of suicides among Indian farmers
Palagummi Sainath is the rural affairs editor of the Indian newspaper The Hindu. The following text illustrates the deadly effects of capitalism. It is taken from his article The Largest Wave of Suicides in History.http://www.counterpunch.org/2009/02/12/the-largest-wave-of-suicides-in-history
The number of farmers who have committed suicide in India between 1997 and 2007 now stands at a staggering 182,936… It is significant that the count of farmers taking their lives is rising even as the numbers of farmers diminishes, that is, on a shrinking farmer base. As many as 8 million people quit farming between the two censuses of 1991 and 2001. The rate of people leaving farming has only risen since then, but we’ll only have the updated figure of farmers in the census of 2011.
These suicide data are official and tend to be huge underestimates, but they’re bad enough. Suicide data in India are collated by the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB), a wing of the Ministry of Home Affairs, government of India. The NCRB itself seems to do little harm to the data. But the states where these are gathered leave out thousands from the definition of “farmer” and, thus, massage the numbers downward. For instance, women farmers are not normally accepted as farmers (by custom, land is almost never in their names). They do the bulk of work in agriculture – but are just “farmers’ wives.” This classification enables governments to exclude countless women farmer suicides. They will be recorded as suicide deaths – but not as “farmers’ suicides.” Likewise, many other groups, too, have been excluded from that list.
The spate of farm suicides – the largest sustained wave of such deaths recorded in history – accompanies India’s embrace of the brave new world of neoliberalism… The rate of farmers’ suicides has worsened particularly after 2001, by which time India was well down the WTO garden path in agriculture…
What do the farm suicides have in common? Those who have taken their lives were deep in debt – peasant households in debt doubled in the first decade of the neoliberal “economic reforms,” from 26 per cent of farm households to 48.6 per cent. We know that from National Sample Survey data. But in the worst (Indian) states, the percentage of such households is far higher. For instance, 82 per cent of all farm households in Andhra Pradesh were in debt by 2001-02. Those who killed themselves were overwhelmingly cash crop farmers – growers of cotton, coffee, sugarcane, groundnut, pepper, vanilla. (Suicides are fewer among food crop farmers – that is, growers of rice, wheat, maize, pulses.) The brave new world philosophy mandated countless millions of Third World farmers forced to move from food crop cultivation to cash crop (the mantra of “export-led growth”). For millions of subsistence farmers in India, this meant much higher cultivation costs, far greater loans, much higher debt, and being locked into the volatility of global commodity prices. That’s a sector dominated by a handful of multinational corporations…
Local varieties and hybrids were squeezed out with enthusiastic state support. In 1991, you could buy a kilogram of local seed for as little as Rs.7 or Rs.9 in today’s worst affected region of Vidarbha. By 2003, you would pay Rs.350 – ($7) – for a bag with 450 grams of hybrid seed. By 2004, Monsanto’s partners in India were marketing a bag of 450 grams of Bt cotton seed for between Rs.1,650 and Rs.1,800 ($33 to $36). This price was brought down dramatically overnight due to strong governmental intervention in Andhra Pradesh, where the government changed after the 2004 elections. The price fell to around Rs.900 ($18) – still many times higher than 1991 or even 2003.
Meanwhile, inequality was the great man-eater among the “Emerging Tiger” nations of the developing world. The predatory commercialization of the countryside devastated all other aspects of life for peasant farmer and landless workers. Health costs, for instance, skyrocketed. Many thousands of youngsters dropped out of both school and college to work on their parents’ farms (including many on scholarships). The average monthly per capita expenditure of the Indian farm household was just Rs. 503 (ten dollars) by early this decade. Of that, 60 per cent roughly was spent on food and another 18 per cent on fuel, clothing and footwear.
Farmers, spending so much on food? To begin with, millions of small and marginal Indian farmers are net purchasers of food grain. They cannot produce enough to feed their families and have to work on the fields of others and elsewhere to meet the gap. Having to buy some of the grain they need on the market, they are profoundly affected by hikes in food prices, as has happened since 1991, and particularly sharply earlier this year. Hunger among those who produce food is a very real thing. Add to this the fact that the “per capita net availability” of food grain has fallen dramatically among Indians since the “reforms” began: from 510 grams per Indian in 1991, to 422 grams by 2005. (That’s not a drop of 88 grams. It’s a fall of 88 multiplied by 365 and then by one billion Indians.) As prof. Utsa Patnaik, India’s top economist on agriculture, has been constantly pointing out, the average poor family has about 100 kg less today than it did just ten years ago – while the elite eat like it’s going out of style. For many, the shift from food crop to cash crop makes it worse. Meanwhile, even the food crop sector is coming steadily under corporate price-rigging control. Speculation in the futures markets pushed up grain prices across the globe earlier this year.
Meanwhile, the neoliberal model that pushed growth through one kind of consumption also meant re-directing huge amounts of money away from rural credit to fuel the lifestyles of the aspiring elites of the cities (and countryside, too). Thousands of rural bank branches shut down during the 15 years from 1993-2007.
Even as incomes of the farmers crashed, so did the price they got for their cash crops, thanks to obscene subsidies to corporate and rich farmers in the West, from the U.S. and EU. Their battle over cotton subsidies alone (worth billions of dollars) destroyed cotton farmers not merely in India but in African nations such as Burkina Faso, Benin, Mali, and Chad. Meanwhile, all along, India kept reducing investment in agriculture (standard neoliberal procedure). Life was being made more and more impossible for small farmers.
In fact, India’s agrarian crisis can be summed up in five words (call it Ag Crisis 101): the drive toward corporate farming. The route (in five words): predatory commercialization of the countryside. The result: The biggest displacement in our history.
Corporations do not as yet have direct control of Indian farming land and do not carry out day-to-day operations directly. But they have sewn up every other sector, inputs, outlets, marketing, prices, and are heading for control of water as well (which states in India are busy privatizing in one guise or another)…
The results of the capitalist holocaust in India can be observed by anyone who can afford a 3-4 week tour of the country. I recommend starting in New Delhi/Delhi, spending at least five hours on the streets both day and night. Observe the homeless people living in the streets, parks and waste areas. Many men and boys wear a cotton garment that comes down to their knees, exposing legs that look like matchsticks. Observe the hordes of beggars, many of them young women with naked infants in their arms. Next, a tour of the slums of Calcutta and Mumbai (formerly Bombay). Conclude with a trip to the state of Varkala, where the two Indian Communist Parties have had a majority in the legislature for many years. Varkala has the lowest poverty rate in India, as well as high levels of health care and education. However, the Communists do not control the national economy, so that Varkala is not exempt from the effects of capitalism.
Bhopal – “the worst industrial disaster in history”
The Green Revolution refers to new agricultural technology that was developed at a research station in Mexico in the late 1930s and early 1940s. It was aimed at increasing the amount of grain that could be harvested per unit of cultivated land, by developing hybrids with short (dwarf) stalks that could bear more kernels. The Green Revolution was highly publicized as one of the keys to reducing or eliminating food insecurity, since bigger harvests would enable the world’s supply of grain to offset population growth.
According to Wikipedia, The term “Green Revolution” was first used in 1968 by former USAID director William Gaud, who noted the spread of the new technologies and said,
“These and other developments in the field of agriculture contain the makings of a new revolution. It is not a violent Red Revolution like that of the Soviets, nor is it a White Revolution like that of the Shah of Iran. I call it the Green Revolution.” USAID stands for the United States Agency for International Development, an arm of the CIA devoted to political subversion and promotion of the interests of US corporations.
Research at the Mexican research station also included development of transportation infrastructure, primarily in the form of roads. However the promise of the Revolution has not been fulfilled and it has had a highly negative environmental impact, not least by drastically reducing biodiversity among cereal grains. The station was financed mainly by the Ford and Rockefeller foundations, for reasons which are easy to understand.
Successful cultivation of the seeds developed by the Green Revolution requires very large amounts of chemical inputs such as fertilizers, herbicides and pesticides, as well as advanced irrigation systems and a higher degree of mechanization, e.g. in the form of tractors.
Petroleum is the raw material for production of many herbicides, pesticides and artificial fertilizers, so that the Revolution would directly generate higher sales for oil companies, including those owned by the Rockefeller family. Greater mechanization would lead to generate higher sales of tractors and related equipment for the Ford Motor Company as well as companies such as Massey-Ferguson and John Deere. Tractors require fuel, of course, which would also benefit the Rockefellers. In addition, transporting grain in motor vehicles would add to the profits enjoyed by the Fords, and other truck manufacturers. In the words of Lester Brown, a consultant to the Rockefellers, ”…the multinational corporation (now known as the TNC, or transnational corporation) has a vested interest in the agricultural revolution along with the poor countries themselves” (cited by Susan George).
The first large-scale application of the Green Revolution was in India during the 1960s, as a result of heavy pressure on the Indian government from the US and the World Bank. Large landowners were delighted with the prospect of bigger harvests. Government subsidies helped to spread the new technologies, and by the start of the 1970s Indian agriculture was being transformed into an attractive business opportunity for corporations that could supply the inputs required. The higher grain yields did not have a significant effect on the food insecurity that afflicted the majority of Indians. The big growers focused on exporting grain, since prices on the international market were higher than in the Indian domestic market. Increasing mechanization led to reduced requirements for manpower, which helped the landlords press wages downward.
Union Carbide of the US was one of the corporations that decided to harvest profits in India. The company built a pesticide plant in the town of Bhopal in Madhya Pradesh, the second largest state in India. About 80% of the population are dependent on agriculture, so the plant was sited in a promising market. Unfortunately for the shareholders in Union Carbide, severe competition and a series of crop failures led to disappointing sales, and by the early 1980s the factory was losing a great deal of money.
The directors of the company wanted to dismantle the plant and ship it to Indonesia or Brazil, but they couldn’t find a buyer. The alternative was an aggressive program for cutting costs, which led to a gas leak that killed 20,000 people.
Production of pesticides at the plant involved phosgene, a poisonous gas that had been used on the battlefields of World War 1. The Indian journalist Indra Sinha published a story in The Guardian on 3 December 2009, 25 years to the day after the disaster at Bhopal:
The first-world-war gas (phosgene) was used in the production of MIC (methyl-isocyanate), a substance 500 times deadlier than hydrogen cyanide, and so volatile that unless kept in spotless conditions, refrigerated to 0C, it can even react explosively with itself. Cooling it slows reactions, buys time, but MIC is so dangerous that chemical engineers recommend not storing it at all unless absolutely necessary and then only in the tiniest quantities. In Bhopal (at the Union Carbide plant) it was kept in a huge tank, the size of a steam locomotive.
In line with the cost-cutting program, between 1980 and 1984 the workforce was halved. The crew of the MIC unit was cut from twelve to six, its maintenance staff from six to two. In the control room a single operator had to monitor 70-odd panels, indicators and controls, all old and faulty. Safety training was reduced from six months to two weeks – reduced in effect to slogans – but as the slogans were in English, the workers couldn’t understand them.
After a worker at the plant was killed by a phosgene spill in 1982, a local journalist named Raj Keswani wrote a series of articles warning that a disaster could be expected at the plant. According to Indra Sinha:
By the time Keswani began his articles, the huge, highly dangerous plant was being operated by men who had next to no training, who spoke no English, but were expected to use English manuals. Morale was low but safety fears were ignored by management. Minor accidents happened routinely but were covered up. There were so many small leaks that the alarm siren was turned off to avoid inconveniencing the neighbors. A Union Carbide memo boasted of having saved $1.25m, but said that ‘future savings would not be so easy’. There was nothing left to cut. Then bosses remembered the huge tank of MIC. They turned off its refrigeration to save freon gas worth $37 a day.
A 1982 safety audit by US engineers had noted the filthy, neglected condition of the plant, identified 61 hazards, 30 critical, of which 11 were in the dangerous MIC/phosgene units. The audit warned of the danger of a major toxic release.
On 3 December 1984, just after midnight, death came out of a clear sky. From Union Carbide’s factory, a thin plume of white vapor began streaming from a high structure. Caught by the wind, it became a haze and blew downwards to mingle with smoke coming from somewhere nearer the ground. A dense fog formed. Nudged by the wind, it rolled across the road and into the alleys on the other side. Here houses were packed close, shoddily built, with ill-fitting doors and windows. Those within woke coughing, their eyes and mouths on fire…
[One of the survivors, Champa Devi Shukla, said:] We woke with eyes crying, noses watering. The pain was unbearable. We were writhing, coughing and slobbering froth. People just got up and ran in whatever clothes they were wearing. Some were in their underclothes, others wore nothing at all. It was complete panic. Among the crowd of people, dogs, and even cows were running and trying to save their lives and crushing people as they ran. All climbed and scrambled over each other to save their lives.
In the stampedes through narrow alleys many were trampled to death. Some went into convulsions and dropped dead. Most, struggling to breathe as the gas ripped their lungs apart, drowned in their own body fluids…
At least 8,000 people died on that night. Half a million were injured. In the years since, as more people died of their injuries and illnesses caused by inhaling the gas, the death toll has risen above 20,000.
The long-predicted gas leak at Union Carbide was, and remains, the worst industrial disaster in history…
Light came to city streets full of corpses sprawled in the agonized poses in which death had found them. They lay in heaps, limbs twisted, faces contorted.
In some places the dead were so many that it was impossible to walk without stepping on them. These were scenes from an apocalypse. The sun came up on choking, blinded people making their way to the hospitals. Some, desperate to relieve the agony in their eyes, were washing them in sewage water from the open drains.
The hospitals were full of the dying and doctors did not know how to treat them because they did not know which gas or gases had leaked, and Union Carbide would not release the information, claiming it was a trade secret.
A quarter of a century later, Union Carbide and its owner, the Dow Chemical Company, which acquired it in 2001, still refuse to publish the results of studies into the effects of MIC. With or without these studies, 25 years of suffering prove that mass exposure to MIC destroys bodies, minds, families and a whole society.
Abdul Mansuri speaks for thousands. “My breathing problems started after the gas and got worse and worse. I can truthfully say that I have never had a day’s health, or a day without pain, since ‘that night’”.
For some the pain, physical, mental, emotional, has been too much. Kailash Pawar was a young man. ‘My body is the support of my life,’ he said. ‘When my breathing is normal I feel like living. But when it becomes heavy, thinking stops and absolute pain takes over. I have become worthless.’ He was still in his 20s when he doused himself in kerosene and struck a match.
Today in Bhopal, more than 100,000 people remain chronically ill.
The compensation paid by Union Carbide, meant to last the rest of their lives, averaged some £300 a head: taken over 25 years that works out at around 7p a day, enough perhaps for a cup of tea.
After the night of horror, the factory was locked up. Thousands of tonnes of pesticides and waste remained inside. Union Carbide never bothered to clean it. The chemicals were abandoned in warehouses open to wind and rain.
Twenty-four monsoons have rusted and rotted the death factory. The rains wash the poisons deep into the soil. They enter the groundwater and seep into wells and bore pipes. They gush from taps and enter people’s bodies. They burn stomachs, corrode skin, damage organs and flow into wombs where they go to work on the unborn. If babies make it into the world alive, the poisons are waiting in their mothers’ milk.
Atal Ayub Nagar is a slim strip of housing sandwiched between Union Carbide’s factory wall and the railway line. It used to have no handpumps and fetching water meant a trek to a well in Shakti Nagar, half a mile to the south. People clubbed together to install two handpumps. At first the water seemed OK, but then oily globules began appearing. The water acquired a chemical smell, which grew gradually worse.
A private Union Carbide memo, obtained via a US court case, reveals that as far back as 1989 the company had tested soil and water inside the factory. Fish introduced to the samples died instantly. The danger to drinking water supplies was obvious, but Carbide issued no warnings. Its bosses in India and the US watched silently as families already ruined by their gases drank, and bathed their kids in poisoned water.
In Atal Ayub Nagar, many damaged babies were being born. The situation did not improve after the state government took possession of the site in 1998. The following year, when Greenpeace was testing soil and water around the factory, it visited this place and found carbon tetrachloride in one of the handpumps at levels 682 times higher than US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) limits. People drank this water, washed their clothes and bathed in it.
In August 2009, a sample of water from the same handpump was analysed by a Greenpeace laboratory in the UK. Carbon tetrachloride was found at 4,880 times the EPA limit. In the last decade, the water has become seven times more poisonous.
Serious industrial accidents can occur in any socio-economic system. The risk of human error or misjudgement can never be eliminated, as shown by the melt-down at the reactor in Chernobyl in 1986. But the root cause of the Chernobyl disaster was not the need to maximize monetary profits and/or minimize losses, which is the basic principle of the capitalist system. In contrast, it was the root cause of the disaster in Bhopal.
The destruction of Afghanistan
Afghanistan had been at peace with the USSR ever since the October Revolution and remained neutral during World War 2. Outside of Kabul and other towns, the majority of the people were the virtual subjects of landlords. The general condition of the country in the mid-1970s has been described by William Blum.
Afghanistan was a backward nation: a life expectancy of about 40, infant mortality of at least 25 percent, absolutely primitive sanitation, widespread malnutrition, illiteracy of more than 90 percent, very few highways, not one mile of railway, most people living in nomadic tribes or as impoverished farmers in mud villages, identifying more with ethnic groups than with a larger political concept, a life scarcely different from many centuries earlier.
In 1973 Muhammad Daoud led a coup that overthrew the monarchy and established a republic. In April 1978 Daoud’s government was overthrown by the People’s Democratic Party. The new government was led by Noor Mohammed Tanaki. It was committed to the principle of a secular state, although its members were Muslims. It was also committed to non-alignment in foreign relations.
The government’s domestic program was similar to many others that had alarmed the leaders of the West. Blum:
Reform with a socialist bent was the new government’s ambition: land reform (while still retaining private property), controls on prices and profits, and strengthening of the public sector, as well as separation of church and state, eradication of illiteracy, legalization of trade unions, and the emancipation of women in a land almost entirely Muslim.
The government canceled debts owed by peasants to landlords, abolished the usurious interest rates that kept peasants in continual debt-bondage, and started a program for construction of hundreds of schools and medical clinics in the countryside. Child marriage was prohibited, along with the custom of selling women as brides. The government also announced that females would be taught to read.
Within a few months the rich landlords, many of whom were Muslim clergy, had started a guerilla war against the new government, which they claimed was intent on repressing religion. Blum cites The Economist: “no restrictions had been imposed on religious practice”; the NY Times reported that the religious issue “is being used by some Afghans who actually object more to President Taraki’s plans for land reforms and other changes in this feudal country”; and a BBC reporter who spent four months with the rebels, said that they were “fighting to retain their feudal system and stop the Kabul government’s left-wing reforms, which are considered anti-Islamic”. Supporters of the rebels included the Iranian government under Ayatollah Khomeini.
According to Blum:
The United States began supporting Afghan Islamic fundamentalists in 1979 despite the fact that in February of that year some of them had kidnapped the American ambassador in the capital city of Kabul, leading to his death in the rescue attempt. The support continued even after their brother Islamic fundamentalists in next-door Iran seized the US Embassy in Teheran in November and held 55 Americans hostage for over a year.
In March 1979 Taraki asked the Soviet Union to send ground troops in aid of the Afghan army. Prime Minister Kosygin refused, explaining that this would have “extremely negative consequences in many different areas”, and would give “our common enemies” (i.e. the Western powers) an excuse for sending military forces into the country.
In September 1979 Taraki was removed from office and killed by members of his own party, led by his deputy prime minister Hafizullah Amin, who launched a campaign of repression that aggravated the tensions in Afghan society. The Soviets viewed Amin as a CIA agent. Blum writes “there is enough circumstantial evidence supporting the charge so that it perhaps should not be dismissed entirely out of hand”, and then provides the evidence. In any case Amin’s ruthless policies were discrediting the People’s Democratic Party and its reforms.
In December 1979 the first Soviet troops arrived in Afghanistan, presumably at Amin’s request. The Washington Post reported on 23 December that the US State Department did not charge “that the Soviets have invaded Afghanistan, since the troops apparently were invited”. On 27 December Amin was killed and replaced by Babrak Karmal, who had been vice-president in the government formed in 1978. Both Blum and Wikipedia state that Amin was killed by Soviet soldiers.
The US organizes a jihad
Below is the (translated) text of an interview with Zbigniew Brzezinski, National Security Adviser in the Carter Administration, published in Le Nouvel Observateur (France), Jan. 15-21, 1998:
Q: The former director of the CIA, Robert Gates, stated in his memoirs [From the Shadows], that American intelligence services began to aid the Mujahadeen in Afghanistan 6 months before the Soviet intervention. In this period you were the national security adviser to President Carter. You therefore played a role in this affair. Is that correct?
Brzezinski: Yes. According to the official version of history, CIA aid to the Mujahadeen began during 1980, that is to say, after the Soviet army invaded Afghanistan, 24 Dec 1979. But the reality, secretly guarded until now, is completely otherwise: Indeed, it was July 3, 1979 that President Carter signed the first directive for secret aid to the opponents of the pro-Soviet regime in Kabul. And that very day, I wrote a note to the president in which I explained to him that in my opinion this aid was going to induce a Soviet military intervention.
Q: Despite this risk, you were an advocate of this covert action. But perhaps you yourself desired this Soviet entry into war and looked to provoke it?
B: It isn’t quite that. We didn’t push the Russians to intervene, but we knowingly increased the probability that they would.
Q: When the Soviets justified their intervention by asserting that they intended to fight against a secret involvement of the United States in Afghanistan, people didn’t believe them. However, there was a basis of truth. You don’t regret anything today?
B: Regret what? That secret operation was an excellent idea. It had the effect of drawing the Russians into the Afghan trap and you want me to regret it? The day that the Soviets officially crossed the border, I wrote to President Carter: We now have the opportunity of giving to the USSR its Vietnam war. Indeed, for almost 10 years, Moscow had to carry on a war unsupportable by the government, a conflict that brought about the demoralization and finally the breakup of the Soviet empire.
Q: And neither do you regret having supported the Islamic intégrisme, having given arms and advice to future terrorists?
B: What is most important to the history of the world? The Taliban or the collapse of the Soviet empire? Some stirred-up Moslems or the liberation of Central Europe and the end of the cold war?
Q: Some stirred-up Moslems? But it has been said and repeated: Islamic fundamentalism represents a world menace today.
B: Nonsense! It is said that the West had a global policy in regard to Islam. That is stupid. There isn’t a global Islam. Look at Islam in a rational manner and without demagoguery or emotion. It is the leading religion of the world with 1.5 billion followers. But what is there in common among Saudi Arabian fundamentalism, moderate Morocco, Pakistan militarism, Egyptian pro-Western or Central Asian secularism? Nothing more than what unites the Christian countries.
Brzezinski’s concern for “the history of the world” is ambiguous, to say the least. He makes it clear that the US was not responding to the Soviet Union’s entry into Afghanistan. Instead, the US was attempting to provoke it.
In Unholy wars: Afghanistan, America and international terrorism, Pluto Press 2002 (3rd edition), the American journalist John K. Cooley points out that previous to the interview Brzezinski had repeatedly claimed that the US started supplying weapons to the feudal rebels in Afghanistan only after the Red Army entered the country. But over the next few years they supplied much more than weapons.
It may be asked, why did Western capitalist powers not support a government whose program included emancipating women, eliminating illiteracy and aiding poor farmers? The answer is that they never support such governments, because it is not in their interest to do so. Such programs involve dispensing public funds which should be used to enhance the climate for private investment.
Cooley shows that the US organized a mercenary army of more than 20,000 Islamic fundamentalists to fight in Afghanistan against the government in Kabul. They were recruited, financed, trained and equipped in cooperation with the UK, Israel and other countries, including Egypt, Pakistan, Morocco, Saudi Arabia and Jordan. The post-Mao Chinese government contributed substantial supplies of weapons and ammunition.
Blum sums up the situation that led to 12 years of devastating warfare:
The stage was now set for 12 long years of the most horrific kind of warfare, a daily atrocity for the vast majority of the Afghan people who never asked for or wanted this war. But the Soviet Union was determined that its borders must be unthreatened. The Afghan government was committed to its goal of a secular, reformed Afghanistan, The United States was determined that, at a minimum, this should be the Soviets’ Vietnam, that they should slowly bleed as the Americans had…
[It] was perhaps not as well thought out, but American policymakers could not fail to understand – though they dared not say it publicly and explicitly – that support of the Mujaheddin (many of whom carried pictures of the Ayatollah Khomeini with them) could lead to a fundamentalist Islamic state being established in Afghanistan every bit as repressive as in next-door Iran, which in the 1980s was Public Enemy Number One in America.
Neither could the word “terrorist” cross the lips of Washington officials in speaking of their new allies/clients, though these same people shot down civilian airliners and planted bombs at the airport. In 1986, British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, whose emotional invectives against “terrorists” were second to none, welcomed Abdul Haq, an Afghan rebel leader who admitted that he had ordered the planting of a bomb at Kabul airport in 1984 which killed at least 28 people. Such, then, were the scruples of cold-war anti-communists in late 20th century.
As we have seen, such were the scruples of “cold-war” anti-Communists ever since 1944. The essential point is that the US commitment to combating the Soviet Union by proxy was a commitment to blocking the reform program of the Kabul government and literally destroying Afghanistan. It was also a commitment to supporting and encouraging terrorists like Abdul Haq and the maniacal Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, who later boasted publicly that he had planned the attack on a school in Beslan, Russia, in 2004 that cost the lives of about 335 people, half of them children.
Throughout the war in Afghanistan the Soviet Union insisted that the conflict could not be resolved until the US and its allies stopped supporting the rebels and withdrew the proxy army, which had been equipped with advanced equipment such as Stinger missiles which according to Blum were used to shoot down at least eight passenger planes. The rebels also destroyed schools and medical clinics, and murdered teachers in the government program for eliminating illiteracy (as US-sponsored death squads did in Nicaragua).
The US insisted that the Soviet troops had to be withdrawn first. Negotiations continued with the help of the UN, and in April 1988 President Gorbachov signed an agreement to withdraw all Soviet troops by May 1989. The US State Department estimated that left on its own the government in Kabul would not last more than six months.
In fact the government lasted until the spring of 1992, three years after the Soviets retreated. This indicates that support for the government must have been widespread, in contrast to Western propaganda. Another reason was that the rebel forces were fighting each other, not least for control of the profitable narcotics trade. John Cooley notes that the US did nothing to interfere with it.
Known as Mujaheddin and continuously praised as “freedom fighters” in the mainstream Western media, the foreign mercenaries were intent on helping Afghanistan to return to the feudal state from which it had begun to emerge in the late 1970s.
By the time the government collapsed in 1992, more than one million Afghans had been killed, another three million disabled, and another five million had fled the country.
One of the most interesting spin-offs from the proxy war was the creation of the Taliban movement, with effects that are described by Cooley as “horrendous”. The foreign mujaheddin left Afghanistan after 1992 and continued their careers as terrorists in other countries, including Egypt and Algeria.
[The] wasting process (in Afghanistan) has continued almost incessantly ever since the CIA “victory” of 1989. Two-thirds to one-half of the Afghan population, over four million people, became refugees in Pakistan, Iran, Central Asia or beyond. As the new war (the US/UK attack) began in October 2001 after the terrorist attacks in the United States, new tides of refugees from the American bombardments surged through the Afghan countryside and across the frontiers into its neighboring territories. Much of Kabul, the capital, and other main cities had already been rubble since the 1980s. The surviving population was further tried by a disastrous drought in the late 1990s. The new war created new rubble, new homeless, and new human tragedies of all descriptions. By the end of 2001, there was little work, food or proper homes for most Afghans. Many depended on begging and whichever international charities could brave the war to help them clinging to life.
Worse, the two Islamic powers who had become the uneasy allies of the United States in the new war of 2001-02, Saudi Arabia and Pakistan, had by 1994 hatched a monster of Islamist extremism, the Taliban movement, which the George W. Bush administration in 2001 asked these allies to combat. The first Taliban were religious students, armed by Pakistan’s intelligence services, and former mujaheddin or holy warriors of the anti-Soviet war. For a time they brought some order and stability to regions ravaged by warlords and bandits. The price paid by the remnants of Afghan society, however, was horrendous. It included the virtual enslavement and sequestration of women, and the crushing of all opposition to the Talibans’ super-rigorous, pretended Sunni Muslim laws and protocols of conduct. Transgressors suffered the harshest punishments systematically inflicted since Europe of the Middle Ages and the Inquisition. There were: beatings or floggings for violations of dress codes for men or women, or of prescribed beard lengths or shapes for men; amputation of hands and feet for theft; stoning to death for adultery; burial alive for sodomy – punishments carried out in public.
The cruelest punishment of all, for women and for the society as a whole, as the Taliban conquered most of Afghanistan from their ethnic foes by the fall of 1998, was total exclusion of women from the work place, including teaching and medicine.
Like the Taliban themselves, the anti-Soviet jihad which gave rise to them was essentially the creation of Pakistan’s powerful Interservices Intelligence Directorate (ISI). From the mid-1980s on, the ISI steered the jihad into a new and trenchant, sectarian turn. By then, pro-Iranian Shi’ite militants beholden to the revolutionary and clerical regime which had overthrown the Shah in 1979 were bombing US Marines and diplomats, and kidnapping Americans and other Westerners in Lebanon.
In their sabotage and bomb attacks, they were already using methods which men like Saudi construction tycoon Osama bin Laden, allies of the CIA in the jihad of the 1980s, would perfect and apply later on. Fight fire with fire, was the US reasoning: combat the militant Shi’ism of the Iranians with the even greater militancy and violence of some of the groups who considered themselves orthodox, mainstream Sunni Muslims.
The carnage and the violent repression of basic human rights continued for many years afterward, as the freedom fighters fought among themselves, killing even more Afghans in the process.
In the autumn of 2001, when the Taliban controlled the country, George W. Bush discovered that the previous CIA client Osama bin Laden was living in a cave in the mountains of Afghanistan, equipped with a personal computer which he had used to engineer the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon on 11 September. Bush and his close ally Tony Blair identified the Taliban as evil incarnate, the mortal enemies of Western civilization. They demanded that the Taliban deliver bin Laden to the representatives of Western justice. The mainstream media seemed to be unanimous in their contempt for the Taliban, whose oppression of women was particularly repugnant to the champions of democracy.
Bush failed to identify bin Laden as an important figure in the US-sponsored jihad against Afghanistan during the 1980s. The evil mastermind of global terror had been instrumental in channeling money from Washington to the mujaheddin. His father had made a fortune in the construction industry, and was a partner of George Bush’s father in a number of business ventures in Texas.
In the run-up to the US attack on Afghanistan in 2001, the not excessively intelligent Tony Blair gave the game away. Photographed in left profile, with his chin jutting determinedly into the air, Blair said on British TV: “Our message to the Taliban is simple. Give up bin Laden, or give up power”.
Surprisingly few journalists seemed to understand the joke. In plain English, Blair stated that if the Taliban surrendered bin Laden, he and Bush would have no objection to their continued rule in Afghanistan.
When the Taliban asked to see the evidence connecting bin Laden to the 9/11 attacks, Bush and Blair refused to provide it. They then launched a war which as of this writing (March 2012) is still going on. They have been joined by forces from NATO, and from Sweden. The purpose of the war is unclear. The results have been as expected. No military success, plenty of civilian deaths, and a terrorized population.
There have been complaints about NATO killing civilians. NATO has announced on several occasions that they have not killed as many civilians as the Taliban have. However, a UN report released on 24 February 2010 stated that NATO killed 2,300 civilians in Afghanistan in 2009, of whom 346 were children. The UN says that the Taliban killed 128 children in that year. The true number of civilians killed by NATO will probably never be determined, since many of them are listed as “suspects” or “terrorists”, as in the Vietnam war.
It is probable that the current attempt to conquer Afghanistan is part of a strategic plan with several goals, including the encirclement of Russia, control of the southern tier of ex-Soviet republics, and eventual domination of the entire area of the former Soviet Union. In terms of mineral resources, this area is the global prize. This strategy is also in line with the teachings of Halford Mackinder (1861-1947), a British geographer who served on the British Imperial Council between the two World Wars. His writings have been influential in government circles in Washington ever since the 1930s.
Mackinder’s theory is summed up correctly by Wikipedia:
According to Mackinder, the Earth’s land surface is divisible into:
- The World-Island, comprising the interlinked continents of Europe, Asia, and Africa. This is the largest, most populous, and richest of all possible land combinations.
- The offshore islands, including the British Isles and the islands of Japan.
- The outlying islands, including the continents of North America, South America, and Australia.
The Heartland lies at the centre of the World Island, stretching from the Volga to the Yangtze and from the Himalayas to the Arctic. Mackinder’s Heartland was the area ruled by the Russian Empire and then by the Soviet Union, minus the area around Vladivostok… Mackinder summarized his theory as: ‘Who rules East Europe commands the Heartland; who rules the Heartland commands the World-Island; who rules the World-Island controls the world.’
The destruction of Iraq
Attacks on Iraq from 1991 onward cannot be explained by a single motive. They include establishing US dominance in the Middle East, securing oil reserves for US corporations and profitable contracts for Western companies, and implementing Israeli strategies that are a complement to US dominance in that they aim at establishing and maintaining effective control of the region. However, it is indisputable that the attacks were launched by capitalist countries in the interests of capitalists.
The US government’s relationship with Saddam Hussein began in the late 1950s, when he was employed by the CIA to assassinate Abd al-Karim Qasim, who was then the Prime Minister of Iraq, according to a UPI story dated 4 November 2003, available athttp://www.informationclearinghouse.info/article2849.htm
The US was upset with Qasim because he had withdrawn Iraq from the anti-Soviet Baghdad Pact and was buying arms from the Soviet Union. He was also appointing Iraqi Communists to positions in his government. An assassination was organized by the CIA, who trained Saddam in murder techniques, but he botched it and fled to Egypt. In February 1963 Qasim was killed in a coup by the Ba’ath Party. Saddam became head of the party’s secret intelligence organization.
Ba’athists began hunting down Iraqi Communists. Their task was made easier by hit lists provided by the CIA. Saddam Hussein was in charge of the killings. He later became the de facto head of the country.
During the 8-year war between Iraq and Iran in the 1980s Hussein had the full support of the US. Ronald Reagan’s special envoy Donald Rumsfeld visited Baghdad on several occasions and assured Hussein that he could count on Washington, which provided Iraq with money, food and military intelligence. Rumsfeld’s first visit was apparently in December 1983, as reported by the National Security Archive at The George Washington University (Washington DC) at http://www.gwu.edu/~nsarchiv/NSAEBB/NSAEBB82/press.htm
In the words of Colonel Robert Bowman (Wikipedia: “Former Director of Advanced Space Programs Development for the US Air Force in the Ford and Carter administrations, and a former United States Air Force Lieutenant Colonel with 101 combat missions in Vietnam. He holds a Ph.D. in Aeronautics and Nuclear Engineering from the California Institute of Technology”): “Saddam was a son-of-a-bitch. But he was our son-of-a-bitch”.
Iraq was also involved in a dispute with Kuwait regarding oil and territorial rights as a result of the Sykes-Picot Agreement of 1916, in which British and French imperialists drew the modern map of the Middle East. In 1990 Hussein was lured into invading Kuwait by the first Bush administration, which wanted a pretext for establishing a military presence in Saudi Arabia and had previously intimated to Hussein in various ways that Washington would not interfere in the Iraq-Kuwait dispute.
In July 1990 Hussein was given a green light to invade Kuwait by April Glaspie, then US ambassador in Baghdad. The full text of her discussion with Hussein is given in Guerre du Golfe, by Pierre Salinger and Eric Laurent (1991). In August 1990 Glaspie publicly admitted the truth. She was immediately placed on sick leave and as far as I know has not been heard from since.
Bush Senior then ignored all attempts to achieve a peaceful resolution of the Iraq-Kuwait situation. He described Hussein as “worse than Hitler” and warned that Iraqi aggression ”could be world war tomorrow”. On one occasion he explained that “Our jobs, our way of life, our own freedom and the freedom of friendly countries around the world will suffer if control of the world’s great oil reserves fell into the hands of that one man, Saddam Hussein” (cited in Blum). He later explained that the fight wasn’t about oil, but about “naked aggression” which the US would not tolerate.
Bush spent a good deal of money bribing various countries to join a coalition against Iraq, and also rammed a resolution through the Security Council that enabled the use of “all necessary means” to force Iraq to pull out of Kuwait. He assembled a force of about half a million American troops in the Persian Gulf area.
On 2 August 1990 the assault began with a massive bombardment of Baghdad, including non-military targets. These included a baby-food factory which the US claimed was a biological-warfare laboratory. The government of New Zealand confirmed that it was indeed a baby-food factory (Blum).
The rest of the “war” was simply a mass slaughter of soldiers and civilians. It included the massacre – a “turkey shoot” – of Iraqi troops who were fleeing in retreat along the Basra road while the Iraqi government was calling for a cease-fire. The Independent noted that it was “sickening to witness a routed army being shot in the back” (Blum). One of the barbarous massacres was described by Seymour M. Hersh in Overwhelming Force, The New Yorker, 22 May 2000 (http://cryptome.org/mccaffrey-sh.htm).
The US forces used Depleted Uranium (DU) shells throughout the war, which contributed to a dramatic rise in the number of deformed newborns in Iraq as well as widespread environmental pollution. Several hundred thousand US troops were also poisoned by DU.
An inspection group from the UN stated that the bombardment had had “a near apocalyptic impact” and had transformed Iraq into a “pre-industrial age nation” (Blum). Non-military infrastructure had been targeted and destroyed. This is a war crime according to international law. Water-treatment plants were crippled by the bombing, so that the water supplied to hospitals was contaminated.
On 22 May 1991 the Washington Post reported the findings of a team of Harvard doctors who had visited Iraq. They found that the death rate of children under age 5 was two to three times as high as before the war “as a result of the delayed effects of the Gulf Crisis.” The doctors forecast that in the coming year typhoid, cholera, malnutrition and other health problems caused by the war would result in the deaths of at least 170,000 children over and above the normal death rate.
Immediately after the war ended officially, the US succeeded in imposing an embargo that effectively deprived the Iraqi people of adequate access to food, medicine and other forms of aid.
Francis A. Boyle is Professor of International Law at the University of Illinois and a widely acknowledged expert in his field. He is a member of the bars of the Supreme Judicial Court of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts and of the Supreme Court of the United States of America. On 18 September 1991 he submitted a text to the Secretary General of the UN, which reads in part:
RE: INDICTMENT, COMPLAINT AND PETITION BY THE 4.5 MILLION CHILDREN OF IRAQ FOR RELIEF FROM GENOCIDE BY PRESIDENT GEORGE BUSH AND THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA…
On behalf of The 4.5 Million Children of Iraq, I hereby submit to you this Indictment, Complaint and Petition for Relief from Genocide by President George Bush and the United States of America (hereinafter referred to as the “Respondents”).
This Indictment, Complaint and Petition accuses the Respondents (1) of committing the international crime of genocide against The 4.5 Million Children of Iraq in violation of the International Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide of 1948 and in violation of the municipal legal systems of all civilized nations in the world; (2) of a gross and consistent pattern of violations of the most fundamental human rights of the 4.5 Million Children of Iraq as recognized and guaranteed to them by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights of 1948; (3) of the complete negation and denial of all the rights guaranteed to the 4.5 Million Children of Iraq by the 1989 Convention on the Rights of the Child; and (4) of the systematic violation of the special protections of international humanitarian law guaranteed to the 4.5 Million Children of Iraq by the Fourth Geneva Convention of 1949 and Additional Protocol I thereto of 1977…
The 4.5 Million Children of Iraq demand (1) the termination of the international economic embargo and all forms of bilateral economic sanctions against Iraq; (2) the massive provision of international humanitarian relief required in order to save themselves from death, disease, malnutrition, starvation, and extermination at the hands of the Respondents; (3) monetary compensation for the harm done to them as well as all other forms of relief deemed necessary and appropriate; and (4) the institution of criminal proceedings against Respondent Bush for committing the international crime of genocide by the appropriate international organs as well as by all States of the World Community under their respective municipal legal systems…
The indictment was ignored by the UN. It was also ignored by media throughout the world, with two exceptions. One was an article in The Guardian. Professor Boyle told me that the other was a bulletin broadcast by a small radio station in Canada.
As noted, Bush Senior had described Saddam Hussein as worse than Hitler. In the autumn of 2001 the NY Times reported that a State Department spokesman at a press conference in Washington was asked why the Bush administration had not removed Hussein. The answer was that he was considered necessary for maintaining the balance of power in the Middle East.
Sanctions and bombs
The Gulf War was only the first phase in the destruction of Iraq. The embargo and subsequent sanctions imposed by the US through the UN were apparently not sufficient. So-called no-fly zones were established by the US and the UK, independently of the UN. The few remaining aircraft in Iraq were not permitted to enter these zones. The official explanation was that the three powers wanted to protect Iraqi Kurds from Saddam Hussein.
The attitude of the US government in general and the US president William Clinton in particular was illustrated in the spring of 1992, when Clinton had been in office for only a few months. He evidently felt a need to prove that he wasn’t afraid to “kick ass”, in the elegant words of Bush Senior, who was visiting Kuwait at the time.
Someone fabricated a story that the Iraqis planned to assassinate Bush during his visit, and the fantasy was duly publicized in the US media. Something obviously had to be done. Clinton ordered a missile strike on Baghdad. The next day a front-page article about the bombing in the International Herald Tribune included a picture of an Iraqi man carrying his dead 10-year old daughter in his arms and weeping.
An article in the column to the left of the picture reported on a meeting Clinton was attending on the US West Coast. He was asked how he felt about the attack on Baghdad. He answered “I feel pretty good about what happened yesterday in Baghdad”. He had won his spurs.
The US and the UK began bombing Iraq on a regular basis, and intensified their attacks in the late 1990s. On 7 August 2000 John Pilger reported that on 2 May Peter Hain, Minister for Foreign affairs in the UK Labour Party government, had told the House of Commons that:
‘we are not conducting a bombing campaign against Iraq’… The Royal Air Force, together with the US, bombs Iraq almost every day. Since December 1998, the Ministry of Defence has admitted dropping 780 tonnes of bombs on a country with which Britain is not at war. During the same period, the United States has conducted 24,000 combat missions over southern Iraq alone, mostly in populated areas. In one five-month period, 41 per cent of casualties were civilians: farmers, fishermen, shepherds, their children and their sheep – the circumstances of their killing were documented by the United Nations Security Sector. Now consider Hain’s statement that no bombing campaign exists. In truth, it is the longest such campaign since the Second World War”.
Protocol 1, Addition to the Geneva Red Cross Convention… Part IV, Section 1, Chapter III, Article 54.2 of the Geneva Convention: “It is prohibited to attack, destroy, remove or render useless objects indispensable to the survival of the civilian population such as food, livestock, agricultural areas and drinking-water installations and supplies and irrigation works..”
The no-fly zones may or may not have protected the Kurds. They certainly did not protect other Iraqis, any more than they protected Libyans in 2011. The sanctions involved an “oil for food” program which was supposed to enable the Iraqi government to sell oil and use the proceeds to purchase food, as well as medicine. In reality the proceeds were deposited in a bank in New York and controlled by the US government, which made sure that very little was spent.
The first administrator of the oil-for-food program was the Irishman Dennis Halliday, who worked for the UN for many years. In 1998 he resigned in protest, stating
The conditions in Iraq are appalling. Malnutrition is running at about 30% for children under 5 years old…. This is directly attributable to the impact of sanctions, which have caused the breakdown of the clean water system, health facilities and all the things that young children require… It’s incompatible with the UN Charter, with the Convention on Human Rights, with the Convention on the Rights of the Child…
In 2003 Halliday received the Gandhi International Peace Award. In his acceptance speech he said
I often have to explain why I resigned from the United Nations after a 30 year career, why I took on the all-powerful states of the UN Security Council; and why after five years I continue to serve the well-being of the people of Iraq. In reality there was no choice, and there remains no choice. You all would have done the same had you been occupying my seat as head of the UN Humanitarian Program in Iraq. I was driven to resignation because I refused to continue to take Security Council orders, the same Security Council that had imposed and sustained genocidal sanctions on the innocent of Iraq. I did not want to be complicit. I wanted to be free to speak out publicly about this crime. And above all, my innate sense of justice was and still is outraged by the violence that UN sanctions have brought upon, and continues to bring upon, the lives of children, families – the extended families, the loved ones of Iraq. There is no justification for killing the young people of Iraq, not the aged, not the sick, not the rich, not the poor. Some will tell you that the leadership is punishing the Iraqi people. That is not my perception, or experience from living in Baghdad. And were that to be the case – how can that possibly justify further punishment, in fact collective punishment, by the United Nations? I don’t think so. And international law has no provision for the disproportionate and murderous consequences of the ongoing UN embargo – for well over 12 long years.
The second administrator of the program, Count Hans von Sponeck of Germany, also resigned after a short time. In a lecture in Stockholm in 2002 he described the inhuman conditions that had been imposed on the Iraqis.
As early as 1995 the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) reported that 567,000 Iraqi children under the age of five had died as a result of the sanctions. On 5 December 1996 US Ambassador to the UN Madeleine Albright was interviewed on the CBS program 60 Minutes. The reporter Lesley Stahl said “We have heard that a half million children have died. I mean, that’s more children than died in Hiroshima. And, you know, is the price worth it?”
Albright answered “I think this is a very hard choice, but the price – we think the price is worth it.”
Albright did not deny the figures.
“I am willing to make a bet to anyone here that we care more about the Iraqi people than Saddam Hussein does.” U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, CNN Town Hall Meeting, Columbus, Ohio, February 18, 1998
Defenders of democracy in the West have consistently challenged estimates of the fatalities that resulted from sanctions and bombings, which range up to more than 1 million. In any case the sanctions were correctly described by the House of Representatives Democratic Whip David Bonior in February 2000: “infanticide masquerading as policy.”
There was much more to come.
The second Gulf War
The history of the non-existent WMDs and the other lies and deceptions that led to the attack and occupation of Iraq by the forces of the Free World is too well-known and documented to require repeating. The brutality of US and UK soldiers and of mercenaries such as those employed by Blackwater has been extensively documented.
The Western powers have consistently tried to obscure reports on the number of Iraqis who have died as a result of the war. In 2004 a team from the Johns Hopkins School of Public Health in Baltimore, Maryland performed a survey in Iraq and calculated that there had already been “about 100,000 excess deaths” in the 18 months since the war had started. The survey was immediately attacked as unreliable. In October 2006 the results of another survey by doctors from Johns Hopkins were published in The Lancet, estimating excess deaths at 654,965 as of June 2006. It comprised interviews with more than 12,800 people. It was also criticized for inaccuracy by promoters of the war and subservient journalists. Most of the critics did not mention that 92% of the fatalities were confirmed by death certificates.
In an article in the Los Angeles Timeson 17 December 2005, Andrew Cockburn pointed out that the Johns Hopkins team was headed by Les Roberts, who had also headed a team from Johns Hopkins that in 2000 had estimated the number of deaths in the Congolese civil war at 1.7 million. The methodology was the same as in Iraq, and was not criticized in the mass media or elsewhere. The result was accepted by the UN Security Council as a basis for immediate action. There were no significant protests from the Western mass media. Cockburn pointed out that Saddam Hussein was reported to have killed about 300,000 Iraqis.
On 28 March 2007 the BBC posted an article referring to a report from the chief scientific adviser to the British Ministry of Defence, in which he advised the British government not to criticize the survey. He stated that the methods used were “robust” and “close to best practice…given the difficulties of data collection and verification in the present circumstances in Iraq”.”
The Opinion Research Business (ORB) is an independent London-based polling agency whose clients include the BBC and the Conservative Party. On 28 January 2008 the ORB published a report that estimated Iraqi deaths at 1,033,000, within a range of 946,000 to 1,120,000.
Well over a million Iraqis have died, more than four millions are refugees, and the country’s cultural heritage has been looted or destroyed. Iraq is in shambles. The country is a disaster zone and will remain so for the foreseeable future. American and other Western corporations have made a good deal of money there, however.
One of the most grotesque aspects of the occupation of Iraq was the public outrage generated by the exposure of the “extraordinary rendition” operations, the photographs that documented torture at the Abu Ghraib prison, and the revelations that the Bush administration had both approved and ordered torture. It was as if the School of the Americas had never existed. The postwar torture programs in e.g. Vietnam and Latin America were never mentioned in the mainstream media. As Professor Alfred McCoy has pointed out, 46,000 Vietnamese died in the Phoenix Program, but neither CIA officer William Colby nor anyone else was ever punished.
President Obama stated clearly that there is no point in prosecuting those who bear the ultimate responsibility, because
We have been through a dark and painful chapter in our history. But at a time of great challenges and disturbing disunity, nothing will be gained by spending our time and energy laying blame for the past.
This should be good news for bank robbers on Wall Street and elsewhere. Let bygones be bygones, as in postwar Germany and elsewhere.
Although the number of American soldiers who have been killed and maimed in the brutal Iraq war is only a small fraction of the number of Iraqi casualties, this morning (3 March 2010) I came across a photo and a text that summarizes the effects of the Iraqi holocaust on Americans and Iraqis alike, athttp://www.antiwar.com/blog/2010/03/02/a-photo-to-pass-along/
From Stan Cox:
I want you to look very closely at this picture and try and keep it in your mind’s eye. This was a perfectly healthy twenty two-year-old young man who in the service of his country got half of his head blown off. I think that’s important, I think that’s newsworthy. Let me tell you how newsworthy I think it is. I think that it’s more important than chocolate cake recipes and far more important than comic book reviews. It is more important than who fell and whose well at the winter Olympic games.
It is far more important than any self-serving load of crap banged out by Pseudo Doctor Amy. It is more important than American Idol or Lost or any other mindless goat droppings the public chooses to chew on. This is some American mother’s son, her little boy, he may be gay or straight or transgender but his life is fucked forever.
How did this come to happen to this poor mother’s son? It came to happen because the people in the media who are supposed to foster a public debate on such public issues as war instead used their franchise to promote articles about chocolate cake and comic book reviews. They see their free press as free to choose not to look when bad things happen. They feel no need to explain to his parents or to anyone that the war that blew off half of this poor boy’s head was based on out-and-out lies.
It was a war perpetrated by people who hoped to gain from it, be it in oil or pipelines or service contracts and like the media they don’t care that this mother’s son is mangled and mutilated. Do you care? I’ve been married twice for a combined twenty-five years and in that time I doubt my wives ever baked a chocolate cake. I don’t read comic books or watch goat crap TV but you see I’ve got a son about this boy’s age. My heart aches and my mind fills with rage because the people that have the power and authority to show this picture would rather talk about American Idol and from where I sit that makes them an accomplice to a war crime.
Because not content to ignore the current victims they support more crimes and call for more wars. Several years ago in Iraq parents waited for their children at a bus stop. An errant coalition missile struck the bus stop and blew the elementary school-age children to pieces. Needless to say this wasn’t widely reported but the parents in a frenzy began fighting over the body parts of their children. Little arms and legs, little headless torsos identifiable only by the shirt or dress they were wearing. Imagine the horror, imagine the type of people who could do such a thing. How do they live with themselves? How do they sleep at night?
They do it by watching Lost and American Idol and by eating chocolate cake. They read comic books and watch sports. It makes life easy because the media will not intrude on their fantasy world but instead will promote the fantasy. Oh, but who won the gold medal in curling and who was eliminated on American Idol?
Estimating the scope of the capitalist holocaust
The table below is a partial accounting of the victims of the capitalist holocaust since 1914. For reasons which will be discussed below, the holocaust is not recognized as such in the mainstream version of history, e.g. in the information distributed by the Forum for Living History.
The table does not include deaths from hunger prior to 1970, the number of Russians who have died as a result of the introduction of capitalism into the former Soviet Union, or the number of Palestinians who have been killed directly or indirectly by Israel since 1948.
The figures do not include the harvest of death between the two world wars, except for the war that Japanese capitalists launched against China, or from many of the military actions initiated throughout the world by capitalist nations since 1945, e.g. in Latin America.
The table does not include deaths from easily preventable disease among children over the age of 5. It does not quantify the misery resulting from slave wages, child labor, lack of basic medical care and unemployment. The World Bank estimates that about 1.9 billion people, or roughly one-third of the world’s population, are living on incomes of USD 2 per day or less.
Nor do the figures include the number of children whose brains and bodies will never be fully developed because they do not receive enough nourishment during the first 10 years of their lives.
The figures do not include the unquantifiable waste of human intelligence and energy in a system that bars so many people from acquiring a reasonable education and/or adequate housing. Nor the unquantifiable suffering of billions of human beings who will never have a steady job or a decent income.
The figures do not include the 246 million child laborers who are being exploited for profit, according to the International Labor Organization. Almost three quarters of them work in dangerous environments such as mines or factories, or with hazardous substances such as chemicals and pesticides. Others produce clothes and rugs that are sold in the West.
The figures do not include the number of children and adults of both genders who are forced by the capitalist system to sell access to their bodies to tourists from the OECD countries in order to earn enough money to keep themselves and their families alive.
However, statistics are available on the trade in trafficking, which expanded quickly in Europe after the dismantlement of the Soviet Union and the economies of the Eastern European countries. Relevant data as of 2007 were provided at
http://www.unglobalcompact.org/docs/issues_doc/labour/Forced_labour/HUMAN_TRAFFICKING_-_THE_FACTS_-_final.pdf The situation has not improved since then.
An estimated 2.5 million people are in forced labor (including sexual exploitation) at any given time as a result of trafficking. Of these:
- 1.4 million – 56% – are in Asia and the Pacific
- 250,000 – 10% – are in Latin America and the Caribbean
- 230,000 – 9.2% – are in the Middle East and Northern Africa
- 130,000 – 5.2% – are in sub-Saharan countries
- 270,000 – 10.8% – are in industrialized countries
- 200,000 – 8% – are in countries in transition
161 countries are reported to be affected by human trafficking by being a source, transit or destination
People are reported to be trafficked from 127 countries to be exploited in 137 countries, affecting every continent and every type of economy
- The majority of trafficking victims are between 18 and 24 years of age
- An estimated 1.2 million children are trafficked each year
- 95% of victims experienced physical or sexual violence during trafficking (based on data from selected European countries)
- 43% of victims are used for forced commercial sexual exploitation, of whom 98% are women and girls
- 32% of victims are used for forced economic exploitation, of whom 56% are women and girls
- Many trafficking victims have at least middle-level education
Estimated global annual profits from the exploitation of all trafficked forced labor are US$ 31.6 billion. Of this:
- US$ 15.5 billion – 49% – is generated in industrialized economies
- US$ 9.7 billion – 30.6% – is generated in Asia and the Pacific
- US$ 1.3 billion – 4.1% – is generated in Latin America and the Caribbean
- US$ 1.6 billion – 5% – is generated in sub-Saharan Africa
- US$ 1.5 billion – 4.7% – is generated in the Middle East and North Africa15
In 2006 there were only 5,808 prosecutions and 3,160 convictions throughout the world. This means that for every 800 people trafficked, only one person was convicted in 2006.
An undeclared war on humanity
The insatiable demand of the ruling class for higher profits is an inevitable result of the dynamics of capitalism. Grow or die, lunch or be lunched, is the iron law of market economics. The need for growth is objective and unlimited, and is not a function of individual will. The capitalist system is inherently cancerous, as shown by the history of the automotive industry.
The evidence shows that the drive for growth does not acknowledge limitations in the form of national boundaries or expressions of the popular will. This was explicitly recognized by the champions of the system in the 1980s, when they began using the term “globalization”. The process of globalization is considered to be a law of nature, both desirable and inevitable. But in reality it is simply a euphemism for the iron law of growth.
Just as an untreated cancer ultimately destroys the life of the very organism that it feeds on, so has modern capitalism evolved into an undeclared war on the humanity which it exploits. Nothing and nobody can be allowed to resist.
However, resistance has never been eliminated. The class struggle has continued in various forms, and the people of Cuba have set a remarkable and inspiring example. Today, there are signs that resistance to capitalism is increasing throughout the world, although not always in coherent or fully conscious form.
In a relatively small but significant case, the overwhelming majority of the people of Iceland voted twice to reject the demand that they should pay for the damage inflicted by a privately owned bank. We have seen that any deviation from the pattern of submission, however small, as in the case of Grenada, is liable to be punished severely. Retribution is surely in store for the Icelanders, especially because they may have set a dangerous example for others who are being sold into debt-slavery, as in the Baltics.
We have seen that the existence of the Soviet Union was a serious obstacle to the growth of German big business. It continued to be an obstacle to capitalists in general until it was dismantled in 1988-1992. The People’s Republic of China was also an obstacle until the leaders of the Chinese Communist Party set out on the road to capitalism around 1980.
In addition to these major obstacles, an internal capitalist crisis began developing in the early 1970s. Ensuring growth in terms of profits and markets became a persistent problem. The inevitable response to the problem was the emergence of a new and higher form of Fascism, which will be discussed in the next chapter.