Monday, August 23, 2021

Arundhati Roy on Gandhi - 8e

Modernity has a rhetoric of justice and equality but its basic dynamic ensures that these things cannot be achieved. On the contrary, its primary commitment to money through control of the market (‘Money is their God’) ensures that large numbers of people are kept in poverty. The English ‘hold whatever dominions they have for the sake of their commerce…. They wish to convert the whole world into a vast market for their goods’. In the long run, the traits of the conqueror are inherited by the conquered.

In an article in Young India in Dec 1928, Gandhi had pointed out the unsustainability of the Western model of economic development. ‘God forbid, he wrote, ‘that India should ever take to industrialization after the manner of the West. The economic imperialism of a single tiny island kingdom (England) is today keeping the world in chains. If an entire nation of 300 million took to similar economic exploitation, it would strip the world bare like locusts’.

Two years earlier in Oct.1926, Gandhi had written in Young India that 'to make India like England and America is to find some other races and places of the earth for exploitation’. As it appeared 'that the Western nations have divided all the known races outside Europe for exploitation and there are no new worlds to discover’, he asked: ‘What can be the fate of India trying to ape the West?’ . He was not saying that all amenities should not be provided to people. He was saying that if these amenities are provided by using the same economic model as the modern West, then colonization of some group of people is inevitable. 

And of course that is exactly what has transpired. Without the access to resources and markets that the West had when it began its march towards modernity, India has had no choice, once it decided to "ape the West", but to rely on the exploitation of its own people and environment. For eg., it has been estimated that twenty million Indians (a conservative estimate) have been uprooted by steel mills, dams etc. 

He asserted, “I do not draw a sharp or any distinction between economics and ethics. Economics that hurt the moral well-being of an individual or a nation are immoral and, therefore, sinful. Thus the economics that permit one country to prey upon another are immoral…". If you thought that colonialism ended more than 50 years ago, you are mistaken. It is covert now rather than overt as in the past which makes it more dangerous because it passes unnoticed. Gandhi saw more clearly than anyone else that modern Western civilization must inevitably result in colonialism. 

Colonialism is not so much the relationship between two countries as an attitude of exploitation – it is the control of a nation’s resources, and not necessarily its other affairs, by and for some other power and not for its own people. The idea of colonialism is kept alive by systematic development – or ‘underdevelopment’ – of poorer nations as cheap sources of raw materials and vast markets for finished goods. Corporations are much more than purveyors of the products we all want; they are also the most powerful political forces of our time. 

The methods by which global corporations control land, labour and raw materials are a lot like the methods of the colonial government. Current multinationals differ only in their inability to marshal their own armies. It would be na├»ve to believe that Western consumers haven't continued profiting from these methods. It is said that the Third World has always existed for the comfort of the First. It was true in the time of colonialism and it is true now. 

This is seen in the unbranded points of origin of brand-name goods. The manufacturers of Nike sneakers have been traced back to the sweatshops of Vietnam, Barbie's little outfits back to the child labourers of Sumatra, Starbucks' lattes to the coffee fields of Guatemala. Many governments in the developing world protect lucrative investments by multinationals — mines, dams, oil fields, power plants and export processing zones — by deliberately turning a blind eye to rights violations by them. 

Foreign corporations were found to be soliciting, even directly contracting, the local police and military to perform such unsavory tasks as evicting peasants and tribes people from their land; cracking down on striking factory workers; and arresting and killing peaceful protestors. All this would be done in the name of safeguarding the smooth flow of trade. 

The developed countries, where these corporations are based, are unwilling to risk their own global competitiveness for some other country's problems. Corporations, in other words, were stunting human development, rather than contributing to it. The result is that in parts of Asia, Central and South America and Africa, the promise that investment would bring greater freedom and democracy is starting to look like a cruel hoax. Rather than improved human rights flowing from increased trade, governments ignore human rights in favour of perceived trade advantages. 

In The Great Derangement, Amitav Ghosh points out that carbon emissions had always been correlated to power in all its aspects. British imperial officials understood perfectly well that maintenance of military dominance was of great importance to the empire. In all the long sorry annals of national hubris and imperial greed, it was military dominance that enabled Western capital to prevail over indigenous commerce. Ghosh writes:

The Opium War of 1839-42 was the first important conflict to be fought in the name of free trade and unfettered markets, yet, ironically, the most obvious lesson of this period is that capitalist trade and industry cannot thrive without access to military and political power.

Martha Nussbaum has talked about “leaching away sovereignty” of smaller nations in the modern world. Suppose a poor nation, country A, wishes to provide a certain level of labor support for the working poor and a certain level of environmental protection for all. But a rich nation comes along and says that they want to set up a factory in that nation but the protections are too expensive and if they are not relaxed, they will move to country B which has more lax regulations. The resultant forced changes will be called 'improving the investment climate'. So the rich nation dictates the choices and rights of the poor nation. The latter is free in name only. 

Western values like democracy, freedom, free speech, human rights, etc. are just glossy masks for corruption, intimidation and violence. (Ironically, the leaders who have rediscovered this truth and have realized that the West can be bought are Putin and Xi.) That 'free markets' are actually based on brute force is shown in a passage from The Lotus and the Olive Tree by Thomas Friedman, who is a cheerleader of the American economic model (quoted in The Web of Freedom: J. C. Kumarappa and Gandhi’s Struggle for Economic Justice):

The hidden hand of the market will never work without a hidden fist . . . McDonald's cannot flourish without McDonnell Douglas, the designer of the US Air Force F-15. And the hidden fist that keeps the world safe for Silicon Valley's technologies to flourish is called the US Army, Air Force, Navy, and Marine Corps.


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