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OUDU301 Course Essay Option 2 Gerry Downing T3606032

Course Essay Option 2: How might claims to universal

human rights and justice transform the international


This is full of lots of good examples and good general discussion, though marred by some
rhetoric which isn't really needed - for instance the general point about abolishing
exploitation can just be covered by reference to social/collective rights.

The essay is good on the whole but the examples are too long and you need to relate these
back to the general debates outlined in the book - you mention Huysmans (Zubaida would
also have been appropriate especially at the end), but don't say enough about this in terms of
the general debate. What the essay would have benefited from is in relating your specifics
more explicitly to those general debates.

On the whole though this is pretty good.


Discuss the relations between cultural claims, power and

universal human rights
When Marx wrote On the Jewish Question in 1843 he made the first socialist criticism of the
bourgeois secular regime of rights, the ideological foundation for his later critique of
capitalism as a whole. The basic argument is that the secular regime of rights as developed by
the American and French revolutions at the end of eighteenth century represented civil but
not human emancipation. He examines the Rights of Man and Citizen from the French
Revolution and passages from others constitutions to make his point. It equally applies to the
UN Declaration of Human Rights of 1948. In fact these rights presuppose increasing
inequality and alienation because they bifurcate human psyches, the citizen equal before the
law and in voting rights (eventually) and man as he really existed in society, oppressed and
Where the political state has attained its true development, man -- not only in thought, in consciousness,
but in reality, in life -- leads a twofold life, a heavenly and an earthly life: life in the political community,
in which he considers himself a communal being, and life in civil society, in which he acts as a private
individual, regards other men as a means, degrades himself into a means, and becomes the plaything of
alien powers. The relation of the political state to civil society is just as spiritual as the relations of
heaven to earth. The political state stands in the same opposition to civil society, and it prevails over the
latter in the same way as religion prevails over the narrowness of the secular world...But, the right of man
to liberty is based not on the association of man with man, but on the separation of man from man. It is
the right of this separation, the right of the _restricted_ individual, withdrawn into himself. (This is from
the Radio Islam site, the Marxists.org site is blocked! http://www.radioislam.org/marx/marxjew3.htm)

But of course the regime of rights was a big step forward compared to the arbitrary power of
monarchs, nobility and church in the ancien regimes. In examining the conflicting claims of
cosmopolitans vs. communitarians, cultural relativism, feminist arguments and Asian values
we will keep Marx’s vital distinction in mind and seek to show that a false dichotomy is

OUDU301 Course Essay Option 2 Gerry Downing T3606032

being posed here. However Jef Huysmans approach to the problem in Chapter 9 of Ordering
the International comes closest because he examines in best details the actual conditions of
life in Islamic societies and his ‘third way’, whilst flawed, is nonetheless best as it is based on
the real experiences of men and women. It is false to suppose a clash of civilisations as
Samuel Huntington and Osama Bin Laden does because societies are in internal conflict as he
correctly points out, the ‘cultural values’ of the communitarians do implicitly defend
reactionary practices like wife beating and female circumstances which are fiercely opposed
by women and male rights activists increasingly informed by the spread of television, mobile
phones, etc. But we can see that their arguments echo the alienation of civil man as against
‘life in the political community, in which he considers himself a communal being’ above. In
this their criticisms or cosmopolitanism is trenchant and rings true. However the ‘small is
beautiful’ opposition to efficient global organisation of trade and the international division of
labour, as advocated by the likes of George Monbiot, which has a patronising view of the
oppressed in which they are supposed to endure tyranny because he believes in biological
determinism.1 But it is also true that the manner of the imposition of ‘human rights’ is the
mode of advancement of the US exploitative-led neo-liberal agenda even if we were to ignore
the nauseating hypocrisy of George’s Bush’s and Condi Rice’s condemnation of the Russian
invasion of the sovereign state Georgia. ‘That’s what we do’ as Private Eye satirised Bush
saying on a recent front page.

Let us first establish what the difference is between the legal and political rights of individual
states and universal human rights which the UN declaration of 1948 proclaimed. Rights were
guaranteed by the state and applied to its citizens before 1948 although there was some
attempt to universalise rights, e.g. the Geneva Convention etc. after WWI. However the
experience of Hitler and the Holocaust gave the impetus to proclaim a regime of natural,
universal rights, the property of every individual on the planet, with the UN as guarantor. But
the Cold War meant that this did not get very far. There were seven votes against the 1948
Declaration, South Africa and Saudi Arabia, for obvious right wing reasons, and the USSR
and three satellites for two reasons. One was repressive like the other right wing votes but the
other reason was progressive; they objected to the Declaration because it contained no
reference to collective rights like food, water, housing, health care, etc. The soviet societies
claimed their legitimacy because they partially compensated for their repression by providing
a measure of these welfare needs. In the Cold War the ‘non-aligned’ movement tended to be
dictatorial (like Nasser’s Egypt) but talk a lot of (Arab) socialism and provide some welfare.
Of course other newly independent states opted for ‘democracy’ and US leadership (and
many opted for dictatorship and US leadership but ‘rights’ were never an issues here, the
worst of both worlds; these were ‘our bastards’) and some switched allegiances, like Egypt
under Sadat.

And here the rights debate is situated. What value is the right to vote in the conditions of
famine? Would the poor and hungry not accept a great diminution of legalistic ‘human rights’
if they were guaranteed decent welfare provisions? These arguments had force while the
USSR existed; the neo-liberal offensive, led-by the US, was kept at bay by working class
resistance and defence of the welfare states in the advances metropolitan countries. But the
Regan/Volker offensive in the early eighties in the US and Margaret Thatcher’s defeat of the
British miners in 1985set in train the series of events that led to the fall of the Berlin wall in
1989 and the USSR in 1991. Now at last history was ‘ended’ and we all can claim our
rightful human rights, a new world order has been established and ‘democracy’ has finally
triumphed, trumpeted the neo-cons.

OUDU301 Course Essay Option 2 Gerry Downing T3606032

Military intervention to insure the global spread of these values became the policy of the US
increasingly in the nineties and the first decade of this century. It is perhaps worth looking at
one case in some detail to throw some light on conflicting views of these values. Yugoslavia
began to break up under economic pressure and ideological offensive from Germany and the
US. The richer provinces of Croatia and Slovenia demanded independence because they
began to resent the transfer of their wealth to southern provinces like Bosnia-Herzegovina,
Kosovo and Macedonia. Serbia, readopting old great nation Serbian chauvinism under
Slobodan Milosevic waged war which included ethnic cleansing of non-Serbs from territory
he regarded as Serbian. Croatia likewise ethnically cleansed Serbs from their territory and
Bosnia-Herzegovina was little better. But the Serbs were the only ones demonised in the
western media; their crimes outweighed all the rest. But it is the intervention in Kosovo by
the US military that exposed the real thrust and hypocrisy of the rights propaganda.

In June 1999, just after NATO had bombed Yugoslavia, the US began the construction of
Camp Bondsteel. It was afterwards revealed that this had been planned months before the
bombing began. It was ostensibly set up to assist Kosovan refugees from Serbian reprisals. To
‘stabilise’ the province the US had secretly sponsored the Kosovan Liberation Army, (KLA),
which was a neo-fascist organising with strong links to organised crime, the Albanian and
Italian Mafia. They ethnical cleansed much of Kosovo of Serbs, Roma and dissident
Albanian inhabitants. Meanwhile the biggest US base since Vietnam was constructed in
seized land. According to the World Socialist Web Site,
In April 1999, British General Michael Jackson, the commander in Macedonia during the NATO
bombing of Serbia, explained to the Italian paper Sole 24 Ore “Today, the circumstances which we have
created here have changed. Today, it is absolutely necessary to guarantee the stability of Macedonia and
its entry into NATO. But we will certainly remain here a long time so that we can also guarantee the
security of the energy corridors which traverse this country.”
The newspaper added, “It is clear that Jackson is referring to the 8th corridor, the East-West axis which
ought to be combined to the pipeline bringing energy resources from Central Asia to terminals in the
Black Sea and in the Adriatic, connecting Europe with Central Asia. That explains why the great and
medium sized powers, and first of all Russia, don’t want to be excluded from the settling of scores that
will take place over the next few months in the Balkans.”
In 1997, the KLA was recognized by the U.S. as a terrorist organization linked to the drug trade.
President Clinton's special envoy to the Balkans, Robert Gelbard, described the KLA as, "without any
questions, a terrorist group". (Camp Bondsteel and America's plans to control Caspian oil URL:
http://www.wsws.org/articles/2002/apr2002/oil-a29.shtml - 16k - 26 Nov 2004)
It is clear from this that the human rights of the Kosovan Albanians, or indeed those of Roma,
Croatian and Muslims in the region, were only a cover for the real intention of the global
expansion and maintenance of the world hegemonic position of US imperialism. The
desperately poor but ‘liberated’ citizens of newly independent Kosovo live under US/NATO
occupation and look with increasing anger at the vast sums of money expended on this
massive base, apparently visible from space like the Great Wall of China. Although the US is
not a colonial power like the British and French were arguably the proliferation of these bases
(see figure 1, note the encirclement of the Caspian Sea and the Gulf) is their substitute for this
and a preparation for WWIII if one is necessary to maintain its hegemonic world position –
Georgia is the latest manifestation of this.

OUDU301 Course Essay Option 2 Gerry Downing T3606032

Figure 1
But there are, nonetheless, real issues of human right violations that the propaganda of rights
highlight and it does cause real social movements to develop. For instance in Iran not only
women’s rights are being fought for but workers rights also. Mansoor Oslanoo, leader of the
Teheran Bus Workers union and many other are in prison, five years for Oslanoo, for the
‘crime’ of attempting the un Islamic task of organising a trade union to fight for better wages
and conditions. Indeed the first strike he organised was to demand that they be paid their
wages, a rather fundamental human right. The Islamic regime of Ahmadinejad denounces the
women activists and the trade unionists as stooges of western imperialism and demands
national unity in the face of threatened US/Israeli attack. Should they cease their struggles to
fight off the assault or maintain the fight and how do they answer the ideological offensive of
the Iranian regime. Is it not Islamic culture to wear the hejab and to marry the husband
chosen by your father and accept the position of second class citizenship? Does not the Shi’i
champion the mustazifin, the oppressed, against the mustakbirin, the oppressor? (Ordering,
p282). Not in Iran with its billionaire oppressing mullahs. There is a developed civil society
with a large and prosperous middle class so while they have to endure many humiliations at
the hands of the religious police they have managed to maintain many rights and privileges
not available to their sisters in Pakistan and Saudi Arabia. As Jef Huysmans explains it is not
just the material wealth but also the clash between the Shi’i Muslims of Iran and the Sunnis
of Saud Arabia that allows for some room for manoeuvre. Therefore the culture of Islam
differs greatly from country and does really depend on how developed the civil society has
become, on size and the level of material wealth achieved by the middle classes and the
combatively of the working class and poor.
Egypt shows this more than any other country, with the possible exception of Turkey. The
cities have expanded enormously in the past decade and unemployment provides a ready
recruiting base for the Muslim Brotherhood. This brand of militant Islam, only one of at least
four contending ideologies within Islam, seeks to impose a literal interpretation of shari’a
law, advocates jihad against all liberal intellectuals and non-Muslims and it has carried out
many massacres like the one at Luxor a few years ago and is viciously repressed by the

OUDU301 Course Essay Option 2 Gerry Downing T3606032

Egyptian state. On the other hand the Egyptian working class trade unions are also
suppressed by the Egyptian state, they have been engaged in a very militant strike waves for
the past three years in the cotton mills, many led by women. The Muslim Brotherhood does
not approve but its influence is waning not only because of police oppression but because the
Egyptian working class seeks their right to fight for better wages and conditions on their own
behalf, not as a gift from a new Nasser. The rising battle for rights by the organised working
class is a rerun in certain respects of the bourgeois battle for rights of the American and
French revolutionaries of the eighteenth century but they can only achieve their rights when
they abolish exploitation itself. Then they will be able to tackle the material conditions that
fuel the oppression of women, gays and lesbians and all aspects of human oppression. That is
the difference between a civil regime of rights and a human regime of real economic and
social equality based on the production of the superabundance of wealth, which Marx
outlined in The German Ideology.

See Zoological determinism by Gerry Downing
http://www.cpgb.org.uk/worker/696/monbiot.htm Weekly Worker 696, Thursday November 8 2007. Critique of
Guardian article the same name of 23 October 2007.

A World of Whose Making? Making the International, Economic Interdependence and Political Order, eds,
Bromley, Makintosh, Brown and Wuyts, Pluto Press, OU, London, 2004.
A World of Whose Making? Ordering the International, History, Change and Transformation, eds, Brown,
Bromley, and Athreye, Pluto Press, OU, London, 2004.