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By Christopher Carrico

Posted on 12 September, 2010 on

http://ccarrico.wordpress.com? ?  



Before the toppling of Saddam Hussein¶s statue in Firdos Square, Baghdad, the iconic
moments of American capitalist triumphalism were the fall of the Soviet Union and
Eastern European socialism, and the spread of the neo-liberal paradigm in the West,
the post-socialist countries, and much of the developing world. The same years, from
the coming to power of Deng Xiaoping in 1978 to the present, have been years of
capitalist restoration in China, and remarkable capitalist growth during a time when the
economies of the West and its adjuncts have stagnating;.

The rise of the Washington Consensus had to do with the defeat of other possibilities of
internationalism. However flawed, existing socialisms and existing Third World
nationalisms did provide the idea of an alternative to capitalism, and to the liberal
democratic paradigm that is an outgrowth of its hegemony. Around the world, people
looked to Moscow, Beijing, and the Non-Aligned Movement as inspirations for non-
capitalist paths of development.

Like the defeat of the Soviet Union and its satellite states, the fates of China and the
Third World in recent decades can be summarized in terms that are in keeping with the
models of the proponents of the Washington Consensus. China has adopted the
Washington Consensus with Chinese characteristics. Since 1978, China has taken a
clear path of capitalist restoration, and socialism with so-called ³Chinese characteristics´
means, in spite of decades of militant communist struggle, that Chinese elites have very
successfully adopted the American market model. Rapid capital accumulation in China
has been possible (as American and European ³primitive accumulation´ were in
previous eras) through the cold, brutal, and violent exploitation of labor and resources.

With the fall of the Soviet Union, capitalist restoration in China, and the widespread
capitulation of Third World elites to the interests of big capital, the only ³International´
that seems to remain is the   
   . This leaves emancipatory politics
with two seemingly dead-end paths: (1) appeal to the liberal democratic ± human rights
paradigm of the United States, the United Nations, etc., make alliances through the
international institutions that are maintained by and support the major capitalist states;
or (2) retreat into localism, parochialism, communalism and particularism that does not
make effective and progressive linkages with international movements.

This blog will explore the first of these two dead-end paths, with the intention of
returning to the question of how to move past these impasses in subsequent writings.

  ! !"    #

Actually existing liberal democratic ± human rights institutions are themselves full of
overlapping contradictions. First of all, nothing can happen under existing
arrangements unless powerful nation-states decide to move forward with an intervention
or action of some kind. The steps of intervention after a vague ³pressure´ that
rhetorically denounces rights violations, are economic trade sanctions, and finally,
military intervention. The usefulness of either for any organization or group of
organizations seeking equality and freedom is questionable or at least highly
compromised from the start.

Let¶s take the question of economic sanctions first. In Palestine the imposition of
sanctions seems to hurt the most poor and vulnerable, while strengthening the radical
Islamist party, Hamas, as the sole organization that is capable of delivering basic goods
and services that the state is otherwise unable to provide.
In Iraq, a stringent financial and trade embargo was in place from 1990 until the U.S.
invasion of 2003. Whether these sanctions, by themselves, significantly weakened
Saddam Hussein¶s hold on power is a matter of debate, but what is clear is the lives of
millions of ordinary Iraqi citizens were affected. Estimates of excess deaths from this
period of blockade range from very cautions estimates issued by U.N. and American-
allied sources, to larger claims made by the Iraqi state and by anti-sanctions activists.
UNICEF reported in 1999 that 500,000 children had died as a direct result of sanctions.
This estimate seems to be within the range of what was discovered by evidence-based
studies conducted by Colombia University, by the Lancet, and other studies conducted
in a scientific peer-reviewed manner. Saddam Hussein¶s Baath government claimed
that the total number of excess deaths was much higher: 1.7 million died from
sanctions, bombings, and poisoning from depleted Uranium. Former U.S. Attorney
General Ramsey Clark also argued that these numbers generated by the Iraqi
government were roughly accurate.

Beyond sanctions, when the stakes are high enough for the material interests of the
capitalist powers, the UN Security Council, NATO, or a ³coalition of the willing´ led by an
American unilateralism, is willing to go to war, using human rights as one of its
justifications. In a recent article in the September 2, 2010 issue of Guyanese
 , I argued:

³There is an element of the appeal to human rights in every American imperial

intervention of recent times. In the Iraq War, even after the world learned that Iraqis did
not have weapons of mass destruction, the war was still justifiable on the grounds that
Saddam Hussein was a dictator, and a gross violator of human rights.

In Afghanistan, the war is said to not just be about the µhunt for al Qaeda¶ but also to be
about the freedom of the people of Afghanistan. In particular, in fighting a war in
Afghanistan, the US claims to be fighting against extreme forms of gender oppression,
and other forms of cultural tyranny, not just against the Taliban.

The case against Iran has being built for years. The high profile sentencing of Sakine
Mohammadi Ashtiana to be stoned to death for adultery is used by imperialists as
another reason why sanctions against (and possibly even an invasion of) Iran is the
right thing for the µcivilized¶ world to do. The fact that in Iran, homosexuality is
punishable by the death penalty will also, no doubt, be invoked as a justification.´

Organizations such as the International Committee Against Stoning have the difficult but
necessary task before them of working to bring an end to theocratic government of the
Islamic Republic of Iran, and yet also are trying to make clear to the international world
that economic sanctions or a military invasion are guaranteed to do a tremendous
amount of damage to the people of Iran, with little guarantee or probability that causes
of human rights will be advanced.

As Alain Badiou notes with typical precision, ³A military, imported type of µdemocracy¶
does not exist and never will.´

The human right abuses of Islamic countries are also opportunistically used by those
who are opposed to immigration to Europe from North Africa and the Middle East on the
grounds that people from these majority Islamic countries still practice a culture of
³barbarism´, and refuse to assimilate to the secular and enlightened ideas of ³civilized´
Europe. The same justifications are used for the systematic harassment of all who do
not appear to be culturally French, as reasons for the banning of the 
 , as well as
reason for the massive deportation of the Roma ³gypsies´ who many French seem quite
comfortable referring to as ³a criminal race.´

While Iraq under Hussein was a draconian, authoritarian state, the same might be said
of today¶s China, whom the United States enjoys good economic relations with. And
while the Taliban reign in Afghanistan was a regime of state terror against its own
population, the same can be said for the ruling elite of Saudi Arabia, who have
remained close American allies until the present: in spite of extreme forms of gender
oppression, the death penalty for homosexuality and adultery, and     
that 15 of the 19 hijackers of September 11th, 2001 were from Saudi Arabia. Two were
from the United Arab Emirates, one was from Egypt, and one was from Lebanon.   


In contrast to the situation in Saudi Arabia, there are governments that are demonized
by the United States and its allies, in spite of the fact that they are not regimes of violent
fundamentalism like the Saudi state. In recent years, in Latin America and the
Caribbean, we have seen the return of a New Cold War that is purely rhetorical, with no
attempt to ground it rhetoric in either reason or in facts. In the case of Venezuela under
the government of Hugo Chavez, the first Venezuelan government that has
demonstrated that it has any sort of concern for the majority of the Venezuelan people
is portrayed in the American media as the South American equivalent of Saddam

An even more extreme case was that of Jean-Bertrand Aristide, a Catholic priest of the
liberation theology tradition, with the overwhelming support of the Haitian people.
President Aristide headed the first Haitian government with some respect for human
dignity, after Haitians had experienced decades of state terror at the hands of the
Duvaliers. When Aristide¶s policies began to become inconvenient for Haitian elites, the
French government and American capitalists, his portrayal in the capitalist media
quickly changed from that of champion of democracy to an absurd caricature of a
µbrutal¶ dictator. He was removed from power by the American military, and a Haitian
government more willing to carry out the wishes of the island¶s wealthiest families and of
capitalist investors from abroad was installed.

I leave my blog this week with the open ended question: how do we begin to rebuild a
movement that is progressive, but is not beholden to the hypocritical American definition
of progress embedded in its liberal democratic human rights paradigm?