Monday, December 7, 2009
A Brutal Darkness
Beyond the ocean
there lies what you seek
This side, you get what you try to avoid
hunger, strife and famine
All in a package of never-ending cycle
That side of world
the sun rises early and sets late
this side, the darkness rules the day
Amidst the chaos,
the mob decides the fate of many
men in combat decide the fate of millions
That side, people choose who will lead them
while, leaders from that side do so for this side
the barrels of guns from that side
aim dead the chests of people on this side
through the shoulders of leaders from this side
Missiles from that side
point the targets on this side
that may ever pose an imaginary threat to that side
and people are blown like balloons
not to create an uproar, not even a ripple in the sober world
That side, the courts resolve the disputes
here, the courts are overwhelmed
by influence, by intimidation, by corruption
A bench that weighs risks and benefits
not the theme of law,
A police machinery
that fears the politicians before holding a caught criminal
that desperately waits for a chance to plunder the treasury
They talk, we gossip
they argue and we wrangle
they debate and we wrestle
That side, a conflict ends with a solution
here, the next fire rages before the first subsides
and we keep perpetuating them
They dispatch the mercenaries to this side
and we compete to assist them
they dictate and we abide by
Fine if the process is condoned
and you risk elimination in case you protest
It's been centuries
the two worlds have run parallel
It is said they will converge some day
as the dark world on this side catches up
with the bright world on that side
But friend, I am terrorized,
is it going to happen the other way round?
Is the other side getting darker?
And few say,
the other side will converge to this side,
to give rise to the uniformly dark world
where the human dignity is the last thing to be respected
where the blood-thirsty scoundrels rule the day
where the well-dressed hypocrites assist the crooks
and the world becomes hell, and life an ordeal
And many say,
it is good to anticipate something bad
Though I am not sure
if it is any worse than a brutal darkness.
“I am a big believer in technology and I am a big believer in openness when it comes to the flow of information. I think that the more freely information flows, the stronger the society becomes, because then citizens of countries around the world can hold their own governments accountable. They can begin to think for themselves. That generates new ideas. It encourages creativity. And so, I have always been a strong supporter of open Internet use. I am a big supporter of non-censorship.”
“I recognise that different countries have different traditions.… I should be honest. As President of the United States, there are times where I wish information did not flow so freely [in America] because then I would not have to listen to people criticising me all the time. ... But the truth is that because in the United States information is free … that makes our democracy stronger and it makes me a better leader because it forces me to hear opinions that I do not want to hear. … The Internet has become an even more powerful tool for that kind of citizen participation.”
That is how the pious rhetoric of one of the world's best orators, the president of the world's only remaining superpower comes out fluently. A world led by such a brilliant champion of free information and thus democracy and civil liberty should be heading to a pretty good destination. That is indeed the case if we view the deeds of the great president through the eyes of the pliant committee that has chosen this orator for the Nobel Peace prize. The plethora of materials in the mainstream media if not in the extreme right wing ones depict a similar picture: while contrasted with the second rate non-US non-EU states like China, Russia and Iran, the US, even though in a palpable decline from its former status, represents a great hope to the quest of the mankind to peace, liberty and prosperity. To be precise, even though with its weaknesses, the US still symbolizes the progress of mankind to the better destination. This dictum was supposed to have been proved by the historical observation that the communists utterly failed in their attempt to challenge the paradigm.
This is the version that most of us are acquainted with while it comes to analyzing the contemporary world. That is what we read, hear or see in the television sets. Once we move to the real life to see for ourselves, however, a world altogether different unfolds itself.
Coming to the great orator of our time, Barack Obama, he just made the lousy announcement to escalate the unpopular war in Afghanistan by adding thousands of more troops with all the clumsy justifications rapped in his crafty rhetoric. This makes him a true successor of the rulers of the empire who have successfully drained the world of its most precious natural and human resources, dumped the planet with lethally toxic garbage and led to the extinction of millions of plants and animals, all because of their insatiable thirst to material prosperity. The invasion-cum-occupation of Iraq and Afghanistan were the other blocks in building the empire that was showing increasingly more prominent cracks. Obama was popularly believed to resist some of the most vulgar obsessions of his predecessors, but he has now proved this wrong by succumbing to the pressure from the generals of the imperial army. As someone commented recently, : The difference between Obama & Bush is that one is an ignorant clumsy salesman for US militarism, imperialism, & plutocracy; while the other is a well-spoken & polished salesman for the exact same things
The World as It is Now
This is how I am tempted to begin an article with deeper and wider insights about the traumatic past of the mankind. My point of quoting Obama in the beginning was to go beyond the veneer of 'free flow of information' that is touted so proudly by the capitalists as the great orator of our times has done in this case with the Chinese students during his recent trip to China.
The plain truth is that, as the alternative media outlets in the US and elsewhere have presented, it is simply not feasible for a president of a global empire to talk honestly about the free flow of information. As in the past, the empires have to look different from what actually they are; they must look doing something different from what they are actually doing. The moment their image matches the reality, their preeminence if not existence is threatened. They thus need the pious excuses for the crimes they commit and pleasant names for their devastating deeds like massacring thousands of innocents for the sake of a oil or gas reservoir.
That is why, as the supreme commander of the most lethal army in the world with trails of blood from all the five continents, the orator can not afford to allow the truly free flow of information. What comes for that is the flow of facts, pseudo-facts or plain lies all of which have fulfilled the criteria of either promoting or not threatening the interests of the empire. On occasions, the lies fed upon the people by the media of the empire have formed the pretext of invading a country killing hundreds of thousands of people exemplified by the WMD hoax prior to the invasion of Iraq.
To further examine the issue, let's take a general pattern of the interaction of the US with the other states rich in natural resources that has repeated itself innumerably in the past. A nation X contains huge natural resources, let's say, oil. That is desperately needed for the Americans for their century long addiction to the oil and the profligate consumption of everything possible. The corporations that form the backbone of the current version of the capitalist system then step in to help the government. Brilliant guys paid by the corporation are dispatched to the capital of the nation X to persuade the leadership there about the miracle that would be brought by exploring the oil. The assurances sought by the rulers there are made like condoning the human rights abuses or the authoritarian and often brutal administration. The promises are made to help the ruling family or the clique to remain in the power for unlimited period. The help of the CIA and even the US military is offered to suppress any revolt against the mechanism of the ruling clique.
In first and the usual scenario, the leadership of the desperate nation X is not only placated but also overwhelmed by the prospect of ruling the potentially wealthy state indefinitely. As the plans then materialize first offer is to help X in building the infrastructure required to start and sustain the production of oil including electrification, construction of the railway networks, ports and what not. The money required is to be lent by the benefactors US under the condition that only the American companies get the contracts. The next step is awarding the mining and drilling rights to the American companies with an arrangement that ensures around 80% oil for the company and the remainder to the wealthy elites of X including the rulers. The oil incessantly flows to the US helping the Americans emit a staggering 19 metric tones of carbon per capita while back home, the tribal people who barely emit a metric ton of carbon per capita are exterminated as the forests are desertified and the wildlife annihilated.
The rebellion of any of the future leader of nation X, which is highly likely given the naked exploitation is wisely anticipated and a trap for them laid deliberately. The debt provided to build the infrastructure (that eventually goes to the US itself through the engineering and other companies) is so huge that, X is effectively unable to pay it back in foreseeable future. Whatever small fraction of the oil wealth X earns goes to paying the interest and the principal remains as such. The cost of antagonizing the interests of the US are so immense that no reasonable leader will dare challenge the benefactors.
The second scenario is more ominous: the brilliant guys from the corporations fail to convince a ruler in a nation Y. The second force in the hierarchy approaches the leader: he is either overthrown in a military coup, most likely a bloody one; or simply his plane crashes and his successor emerges to behave diametrically opposite to what he had done. 'One More CIA Assassination' dominates the press for few days and the events in the nation X repeat themselves.
The third scenario is barely a mystery now as we have seen in Iraq and Afghanistan as failure of the models X and Y has invited the full-fledged military invasion, let's call it the model Z. Especially in Iraq, the activities of the 'brilliant guys' and the CIA Jackals were fruitless and thus the 'world's finest and most professional armed force' entered and devastated that country.
I must apologize this is not the story that I can tell with my observations; I was instead stunned as I read the subtleties of these clandestine acts that I was mildly aware of. This ominous story of why the world is so ugly and conflict-ridden is fluently told by one of the 'brilliant guys' with experience in about half a dozen such countries: John Perkins, with help of the first hand information about the inner workings of the empire. His book 'The Confessions of an Economic Hit Man' deals finely with the intricacies of the models X and Y above with the examples including Ecuador, Panama, Columbia, Indonesia and many more.
My point here is the extreme hypocrisy of the great orator on stating that the free flow of information and his democracy are making him a better leader. Instead I argue that what is making the empire what it is, is the ability of the elite-affiliated corporate media houses to disseminate a particular type of information by inundating all other types with the sheer over-abundance of the former. And the great orator is at the top of the empire which will castigate this particular person the moment he opposes the status quo.
Take, for example, the case of a model X involvement of the US that is often the illegitimate union between the US corporate interest and the ruling clique in an impoverished nation state. Despite the pious rhetoric, the current US president enjoys the company of those cliques that were preyed upon by his predecessors. What appears on the surface through the mainstream media and thus believed by the masses is that the US is supporting the case of democratization and economic growth of the particular country while forwarding the agenda that are 'mutually beneficial' to both the sides. In reality, however, they keep forwarding the interests of the US and the small proportion of wealthy elites in the poor nation at the cost of penury, starvation and death of millions of poor. A truly free flow of information would focus the plight of the indigenous people, the poor and the underprivileged while exposing the genocides committed by the ruling cliques and their army in collusion with the big companies.
This much for now about the Obama fiasco about the free flow of information that is understandable for the well-spoken & polished salesman for US militarism, imperialism, & plutocracy. What is more disturbing is the shameless refusal of these hypocrites to acknowledge what information authentically makes way to their puppet mainstream media, whenever that points fingers at them. This occurred when the Goldstone Report on the devastating Gaza invasion by Israel at the end of 2008 gave a balanced report. The rulers of the world in Washington unanimously called upon the orator to reject the 'biased' report that did a lot to expose the ugly face of US-Israel collusion on periodic genocides. The only fault of the Goldstone team was to pinpoint Israel for the horrendous war crimes that had occurred before the eyes of whole world and without a bit of hesitation or an attempt to conceal anything.
In effect, promoting the free flow of information (as is the case with democracy, civil liberties, opposition to torture, etc.) does not mean same thing for every one in this world where the logics can be skewed to justify the unjustifiable. China may well have created a huge firewall that prevents the access of the people to the internet resources that the Chinese leadership thinks are undesirable. That firewall is easy to recognize and thus comes easily to scrutiny and opposition. The invisible firewall in the capitalist world that involves not only the internet but also every other means of information is scores more effective than this visible firewall. The former helps the rulers and their crony corporations to commit horrendous crimes and still go unnoticed.
For example, an oil company gets permission to drill the land in certain part of the rain forest in Ecuador or Peru or some other country. We have already discussed how the governments in these countries fall into the trap of the MNCs and the US. The forest with all its flora and fauna is all the indigenous people there have got. They have thus got no option except resisting but they are no match to the armed forces potentially trained and aided by the 'world's finest and most professional armed forces', most probably through the notorious 'School of Americas'. They apply the guerilla tactics to hide-hit-and-run. Even then they can not sustain the pressure. Then they decide to come up bare-handed. They bring everyone form their community: the youth, the children and the elderly and line up on the way of the workers going for the dirty job. The workers have nothing to fight with these strangers and thus sit there and begin to chat with few of the protesters who can speak English. For sometime the work in halted and the naïve protesters are amazed how fine the 'peaceful' protests are working.
But the word is passed from the security personnel nearby to higher authority that the workers have been 'kidnapped' by the protesters and a truck full of men in combat with AK-47s speeds to the spot. The workers are then 'rescued' and the protestors beaten brutally while some of them who had made to the 'black list' of the generals are dragged to the truck often not to appear again anywhere. The girls and the women are raped after the rescued workers are safely sent back in another vehicle.
The other day, there remains no evidence of either the kidnapping or the rescue as the bloodstains, the rags and pieces of flesh of the protesters are cleansed on the same day and the work in the field resumes without obstruction. The news that travels to US and Europe becomes: 'Fifty Oil Workers Kidnapped by The Rebels' and from there travels throughout the world as the media there quote from AP, AFP or Reuters. The news item elaborates how the rebels held the workers and threatened them not to work before the army intervened and rescued. What is conspicuously missed in the supposedly balanced piece of the reputed media outlet is the plight of the indigenous people and the actual turn of events on the ground that no journalist could observe firsthand. Instead a blatant lie highlighting the atrocities of an imaginary or real but unrelated rebel group may find space in the hind-part of the article as the source of information on the ground can easily link the incident with the group.
What if a brave journalist can visit such sites and observe such atrocities firsthand and tell the truth to the world? The people in the third world find a tragic analogy between the fates of those unfortunate Latin Americans and themselves and thus sympathize them. Even the 'rebel' intellectuals from US and Europe like Noam Chomsky and Tom Engelhardt would fiercely attack the oil companies and the colluding government of the US and the Latin American countries for the outrageous lie as they can read between the lines even of the previous 'conventional' news item. But that matters next to nothing for the rulers in the Washington and the consumers in the US and Europe whose profligate consumption keeps the oil companies thriving and the poor people being massacred. Even if they mock to have sympathy to the devastation of the human lives and the entire ecosystems, what does that mean so long as their consumption pattern keeps driving the greedy corporations into action.
Thus neither the distorted nor the true flow of information can have any meaningful impact in the lives of the beleaguered indigenous people residing above the oil reservoirs whose misery keeps being exacerbated until all the natural asset in their land is drained and their environment devastated. Even then, this great orator named Obama or his successor will be singing the praise of the 'free flow of information' and boast how free it is to communicate in their vibrant democracy named the US, the tribes that are struggling now may well be extinct and the huge rainforest giving live to millions of plants and animals and emitting the life-saving oxygen for mankind may have been converted to deserts. The rivers that once had sprinkling fresh water and beautiful fishes will be carrying the toxic refuge and causing cancer and other diseases to the people who survive the disasters.
This has been how the corporate capitalism based on greed and insatiable desire to material prosperity has bought the conscience of an honest community worker and a potentially great leader turning him into a well-spoken & polished salesman for something quite unexpected at the outset. Added with his capability to justify the crimes glibly with gently crafted and not unpleasant words, the world can now expect more insidious and subtle developments that can be more detrimental to the dispossessed of the world more than ever. This is where the world stands today, end of 2009 and the beginning of 2010.
The World Back Then
Looking back, the past is no less traumatic. It is pretty naïve to imagine the human history to have been dominated by the positive virtues of life like love, harmony and peace. That is indeed the case if we choose to either not study or ignore the horrible tale of the past. Once we study, however, that changes everything. We then begin to wonder how savage this creature called man can turn in its quest to pleasure and dominance. The human history has been literally the game of spilling the blood of one another while one group has been harvesting the outcome of labor of the other one. Oppression, coercion, exploitation, repression, subjugation are some of the terms used to explain this human behavior. Empire-colony relationship has been, by far, the most important and visible form perversely legitimizing such an interaction.
I will begin by cursorily examining few of the major upheavals of the past that represented the tip of the iceberg with innumerable others having never been noticed by the literature. That will show the uninterrupted sequence of the revolutions, the conflicts and violent repressions bringing phases of acute changes in people's lives that were otherwise more or less stagnant. Notwithstanding the misery, starvation and death of millions of people caused by the major upheavals, the changes also meant variably positive developments in the lives of different people.
At the outset, I will confront the argument of the modernization theorists that the disparities that exist in the world today are the result of difference in the magnitude of a process loosely termed as 'modernization' in different parts of the world. That will also challenge the assumption that the world is en route to a more prosperous, stable and harmonious place with more territory in the world catching up with the well-modernized western societies. That will also uncover the subtle way in which the process of 'modernization' of one part of the world has inevitably perpetuated the strife, misery and thus bleak 'modernization' in the other part of the world. Our arguments will be instead in line with the rival of Modernization theory, the World System Theory.
The Horrors of Past
Even in the Chekhov's stories depicting the life of Russian people in the late nineteenth century, people are found boasting about the glorious past that had vanished in the present due to some unfortunate turn of the history. They perceive that the world is incessantly moving along a wrong path. Each new moment thus becomes worse to live than the previous one. Today also, people have the tendency to euphemize the dark parts of the past while contrasting them with the miserable present life.
That is, however, in broadest generalization possible. Different people perceive the different and even the same events of the past differently depending on the real or perceived impact of the events to their lives. Just to start with, let's take one of the least known genocides of the history, the Taiping Rebellion that devastated China in 1850 with an estimated death toll of 20,000,000 over a period of a dozen violent years. That was led by the half-mad convert to Christianity named Hung Hsin-Chuan with his 'Kill the idolaters' war-cry. Even though the Christian missionaries repudiated the rebellion later, it was their blessing to it early during the course that needs special attention as we now move to the background of the genocide.
Industrial revolution is supposed to have started late in the eighteenth century. England as the leader of the revolution needed the largest chunk of the world market to sell its products and earn the profit. Among its many ventures aimed at expanding the market, the Opium War with China of 1840 will be referred here. The war was literally fought and won by Britain for the right of forcing opium on China. The war came in the aftermath of the incident in which the Chinese Commissioner Lin Tse-hsi snatched and destroyed the 20,000 cases of opium carried mainly by the British merchants in a crackdown after China incurred a huge economic loss as a result of the opium trade in China by the East India Company before 1834 and by all British merchants after that. That was intolerable for the mighty British empire that then declared the war in the name of national honor. To end the costly war, China was forced to sign a humiliating Treaty of Nanking in 1842 that led down five ports to be opened to foreign trade, which especially meant the opium trade then. Also, Britain took possession of Hongkong and extorted a large sum of money as compensation for the opium that had been destroyed, and for the costs of the war which the Britain had forced on China. In addition to foreign trade, China had to accept the Christian missionaries that were now protected by the treaty: foreigners from the west were not subject to Chinese law or Chinese justice. Even the converts of the missionaries claimed the special protection of this 'extra-territoriality'.
That was how the Hung Hsin-Chuan was produced and his brutal Taiping Rebellion that devastated more than half of China.
This example will serve as an prototype to examine how different people view the past event differently. For the British people today, it was merely one among the innumerable deeds their rulers committed in the past in order to bring the present day prosperity for them. It thus deserves indifference if not praise for what it implied for them. For the Chinese people, however, that is one in the chain of the traumatic episodes of the past forced upon by the empires. The humiliation of the defeat in the war and the outrageous treaty can now be expressed but not avenged as such. The result is that the Chinese people today bear a share of strong resentment that those during the war had against the empire.
This also shows why the 'Past was glorious, present is wretched' dictum does not apply everywhere. From here onwards, we will proceed with a different type of changes that took place in the history. Revolutions, as they are termed, are quite different from the usual 'conflicts' though they also see the bloodsheds. Though we have heard and read a lot about different revolutions in the history, it is an arduous task to understand them and their implications in real terms and in details. Though it is beyond the scope of this article to go in to the details of all or even one of the revolutions, I will try to deduce some relevant points about few of the major revolutions.
The Revolutions: French Revolution as the prototype
What does the Bolshevik Revolution mean for the world today? In essence it was the consolidation of the state power by the communists in the crumbling tsarist Russia amid the chaos of the WWI. For the 'liberal capitalist democracies', that means an enormous setback in the gradual democratization in the world as the largest nation state in the world suffered under authoritarianism for seven and a half decade. It was more dangerous than the other revolutions in the history because it showed the tendency to propagate the revolutionary ideals to the other parts of the world. This led to the formation of a rival camp challenging the hegemony of the capitalist world after few decades of the revolution. It was thus one of the most 'evil' happenings of the history.
For the worker population of the world, however, Bolshevik revolution means something diametrically opposite to this. The twist in the fate of the workers and peasants over the seven decades of the Soviet rule apart, the event of the revolution was the best development ever possible for the worker population of the world crushed and exploited by the capitalists ever since the onset of the industrial revolution. When the capitalist world was gasping under brutal Great Depression, the direction of the Soviet Russia fascinated many in the other world.
Among the many revolutions in the history of world, the Bolshevik revolution in Russia thus deserves a special position. Having occurred in relatively recent past, we know much better about this one than many other revolutions. Here I will proceed with the other powerful predecessor of the Bolshevik revolution that took place more than a century prior to this: the French Revolution. That was indeed the first genuine revolt of the masses against the privileged classes, then led by the monarch. The other revolutions were also able to change the course of history but the French revolution was qualitatively different from them. To contrast the French Revolution with the other petty revolutions of the history, I will briefly refer to two of them first: the English and the American Revolution.
The English Revolution that was completed with the beginning of truly constitutional monarch in 1688 was essentially the struggle between the feudal monarchy and its apparatus on the one side and the rich merchants and landowners through the parliament on the other side. For the peasants and the serfs that formed the bulk of the population, it meant little. The crushing exploitation of that section of the population remained unchanged. Beheading the King Charles I in 1649 under the leadership of Oliver Cromwell symbolized a real threat to the feudal class that dared to challenge the emerging new riches. That was a new thing in itself but kept little meaning in terms of the quest of the masses to liberty and justice.
To take another example, the American Revolution of 1776 was nothing but the revolt of the American offspring of Britain against the undue taxation by the British parliament and lack of representation. By pushing the settlements further west, the revolutionaries were themselves eradicating the native population of the continent in their quest for more land and thus more money. When they eventually won under the leadership of George Washington and proclaimed the Declaration of Independence, a new independent republic called USA was born. This struggle was won by the colonists when the old rivals of England (France and Spain) joined them against England. The boom in slave-trade was now yet to come as the plantations were now expanding in the colonized land. It was thus the triumph of the capitalists who had severed their feudal roots while leaving Europe. This formed then the fertile ground for a different form of exploitation under the capitalist system that included slavery among many others. The negroes in America had to wait till the civil war of 1861-1865 even to get something written in paper about their rights, though in practice, it was still like a fruit in the sky.
These two examples serve an important purpose to illustrate that all the revolutionary changes in the world are not necessarily for the betterment of the masses. French revolution was, in contrast to these two, a revolt by the masses, with institutionalization of few of the achievements though most of them were wasted or reversed during the terrible later part of the revolution. Contrasted to the Bolshevik revolution, it was its failure to construct anything concrete and long-lasting at the end that needs to be emphasized. In fact, the achievements of the revolution were eventually preyed upon giving way to other version of feudalism at the end; in Nehru's words: "……but after several years of terrible strain and conflict, the Revolution exhausts its energy and turns on itself and begins to eat up its own children."
The Days of Triumph
The French Revolution began, though symbolically, when the people of Paris stormed and captured the old prison of the Bastille and set the prisoners free on the auspicious day of 14 July 1789. That came in the aftermath of the incident in which the soldiers of the King Louis XVI refused his orders to force the dissenters, the Commons, in a meeting of the State-General opened by king on May 4, 1789. As everywhere else, feudalism ruled France with brute as the peasants suffered under grinding poverty as their hunger and misery were only exacerbated by the endless taxation aimed at lavish lives of the ruling aristocrats and the royal family. 'Apres moi le deluge' or 'After me the deluge' Louis XV, the father of the king had truthfully told as he had bankrupted the state by reigning it for fifty-nine long years.
Compounding this millennia-long exploitation of the masses were the war adventures of the ruling cliques that further bankrupted the states back then (Not that this no longer exists now!). They sucked the scant resources along with preying the young sons of the peasants. Defeat in the 'Seven-years War' (1756-63) with England in a worldwide struggle had cost dearly to France. After that came the French participation in the American War of Independence in 1776 in which France attempted to avenge the utter defeat in the previous war. These expenditures added to the profligacy of the King and the queen nicknamed 'Madame Deficit' were enough to ruin the economy that depended on taxing the poor including the infamous 'Salt Tax' while exempting the landlords. "The grass has sprouted, go to the fields and browse on it", the governor of Dijon was reported to have said to the people during one of the many hunger riots. The number of the officially declared beggars in France in 1776 was eleven Lakhs.
In this background came the fall of the Bastille making the mob of Paris Supreme even though momentarily. This event was in itself unprecedented, but more unprecedented things were now to follow in quick succession astonishing and shocking the whole world while terrorizing the kings and nobles. There was, however, no talk of deposing the king and the States-General began functioning as the national assembly while the monarchy was supposed to have been constitutional. The Revolution was now en route and several groups emerged and began to fight for the mastery. It is in this process that the most extraordinary persons and attitudes were born that would later lead the 'French Terror' in the later part of revolution.
It is simply impossible to go into the details of the events that characterized the revolution, much of which is still alien to me. What matters most for us in this article is, however, the historical emergence of the attitudes capable of changing the fate of millions of people. We will thus deal with the dynamics of the revolution as briefly as possible with due emphasis to the dramatic twists in the proceedings. What followed in the revolution was the struggle among four groups: the Royalists, the Moderate Liberals, the Moderate Republicans and the extreme Republicans with the masses behind them. These tendencies to different directions represented themselves in the assembly as well making a tussle inevitable.
That, however, did not impede the assembly from making a bold Declaration of the Rights of Man soon after theoretical abolition of the feudal rights and privileges that included the resolution to abolish serfdom, feudal courts, exemption of the nobles and clergy from taxation, and even titles. Understandably, the king refused to sanction the resolution and the Paris mob forced him not only to sanction it but also to move to Paris from secluded palace in Versailles. The vast property of the church was confiscated by the state, better law-courts were established to replace the old feudal courts.
This was enough for the middle-class that dominated the assembly and indeed more change in the direction was potentially hazardous to their interest. To the masses of peasants and the common people in the towns nothing sufficed so long as the hunger kept crushing them. Thus began the other step in revolution: the struggle between the moderates and the so-called extremists, the republicans and the masses.
Plateau and the Early Turmoil
As the assembly led by Mirabeau began to ally with king Louis and to shoot down the peasantry in the provinces, the people of Paris invented a new tool to forward their revolutionary agenda: the Commune of Paris that now rivaled the assembly. The death of the moderate liberal Mirabeau early in 1791 and the attempted flight of the King Louis and Queen Marie on June 21, 1791 acted like gasoline in the flame as the stagnation in the politics had come to a head. The assembly and the government of the time dealt with the situation so absurdly that they continued to shoot down the people who demanded that Louis be dethroned.
Whatever was taking place inside France was so utterly profane for the other feudal states in Europe that they were dead set to decimate that seed of revolution as early as possible. That created a persistent threat to the revolutionaries who were now forced to fight with scanty foods and rags and often without boots. France was defeated in the war with the invaders Austria and Prussia in 1792. This forced the Revolutionary Commune of Paris to order an attack on the king's palace on August 10, 1792 as the king and all the royalists were suspected of treachery during the war. Even though the king got many of the revolutionaries shot down by his Swiss guards, that did not stop the Commune from forcing the assembly to depose and imprison the king.
The anger of the people of Paris combined with the persistent fear roused by the traitors, spies and their intrigues was enormous. Then they began arresting the people whom they suspected and filling the prisons with them. That followed bringing out the prisoners from the prison, and after a mock trial, killing most of them. Over 1000 persons were killed in these 'September massacres'. Significantly, in September occurred the first victory of the French troops over the invading Austrians and Prussians. After the National Convention, the new body taking place of the assembly, met on September 21, 1792, the first thing done was the proclamation of the Republic. That followed the trial of Louis XVI and he was beheaded by the guillotine on January 21, 1793.
There was no going back now. France was a Republic now, looked upon with awe and terror by its neighbors. The challenges were nonetheless innumerable. Terrible privations with scarcity of food, clothing, boots and even the arms tended to cripple the army that had to fight so fervently with the feudal and 'kingly' enemies. The euphoria of having brought the freedom acted crucially in making people donate whatever little was left with them to the army voluntarily. That made the revolutionary army so unique in the history of warfare that their rapid movement with nascent baggage became the model in the following century as that played vital role in preventing the foreign armies from invading their beloved republic. The tremendous sea power of Britain was, however, unassailable and it started a blockade of all French ports. That added with incessant inflow of the false currency notes into France by the French émigrés did a lot to ruin the French economy.
The Terror and the Decent into Chaos
The story now takes the turns, each of the later of which is uglier than the previous one. There is no single dominating figure like Lenin during the Bolshevik Revolution who can give a specific direction to the movement. The events mentioned above act only to polarize further the different groups in the convention. A newly elected commune was there in Paris to dominate the social life. Inside the convention, the major struggle for power was between the moderate republicans or Girondins and the extreme republicans, the Jacobins in which the later eventually won. That followed the exclusion of the most of the Girondin deputies from the convention in June 1793 followed by the final step to abolish the feudal rights. The lands that belonged to feudal lords were now restored to the local communes or municipalities and thus became the common property.
The first step towards the terror was taken when the Convention dominated by the Jacobins appointed two powerful and dreaded committees named Committee for Public Welfare and Committee for Public Safety. The terrible 'Law of Suspects' was passed in September 1793 under which any suspect could be tried and sentenced to death. Twenty-two Girondin deputies were tried and rapidly sentenced to death a month later. This was when the revolution had begun 'eating up its own children' as more was to follow. The ruling clique was now supreme and speaking against them even in assembly could lead one to trial and guillotine. Turning to the other children of the revolution, the Committees with the power of life and death, objected to the Commune of Paris and eventually crushed the sections of the Commune that joined the people in the street with the people at the top giving vitality to the revolution. Then they crushed the Commune itself with a ruthless cruelty early in 1794. That was, as Nehru sees, the beginning of the end of the real revolutionary period though the terror rapped with revolution was to drag for six more months.
Guillotining the 'suspects' without hesitation, however, could not prevent the fallout among the Jacobin leadership and that was now to sow the seeds of their own destruction. The guillotining of the prominent Jacobin Hubert and his supporters was the first big break in Jacobin party followed by the execution of Danton in April 1794. Danton's crime was that he protested against Robespierre, the despot, for sending too many people to guillotine. This was followed by forty-six days of new terror that saw as many as 150 people tried at one occasion. This occurred after a law was passed making it a crime punishable by death, to spread false news to divide or stir up the people, to undermine morality and corrupt the public conscience. Anyone differing from Robespierre and his henchmen could thus be sentenced to death.
The dreaded person Robespierre could not, however, escape from falling on the same trap that he had laid so deliberately: on July 27, 1974, the convention arrested him and he was guillotined the next day marking a devastating and painful end to a great revolution that had now drifted to a sheer terror.
This was then followed by the counter-revolution that saw the brutal White Terror once again intended to cage the people and a bourgeois government was formed on October 1795. In this volatile background comes the rise of Napoleon with his reign as eventful as the revolution itself in the history of France. Unfortunately, that is clearly beyond the scope of this article and will be dealt somewhere else.
In retrospect, the terror that was born to a genuine revolution appears unmistakable. But it will be terribly unjust to view the revolution without keeping it in proper historical prospective. The regressives and the status quoits today take the French Revolution as the precedent of most dreaded events in the history to be thoroughly and unconditionally denounced. A rationale way to judge this great event of history would demand placing the events in their proper historical position before analyzing. Thus we have to study about the world in the late eighteenth century to understand the spatial relationship of the revolutionary France and its implications for the revolution. Studying the events prior to and after the revolution in France help us understand the chronological relationship among different events.
As H. G. Wells puts it: Far more people were hanged in England and America under the savage criminal law, especially in defence of property, than were sent to the guillotine under the Terror in France during the same period. And there were other important causes that intensified the terror one way or the other; as Nehru notes, the republic was surrounded by enemies, traitors and spies and many of those guillotined were avowed opponents working for the destruction of the Republic. That was added by the opposition and treachery of some of their own great generals, like Lafayette, that made the revolutionaries paranoid about the intrigues of the enemies of the republic. The pervasive fear, suspicion and the anger thus played the main role in making the revolutionaries more brutal in their deeds supposed to 'safeguard' the republic.
To sum up, such is the irony of history that, the millennia-long acts of decimating millions of peasants, serfs, slaves and workers in the quest of the feudal and bourgeois classes for pleasure and dominance are easily overlooked. We are indifferent if not ignorant about all these evil happenings of the past. But the loss of around 4,000 lives in less than sixteen months during the course of French Revolution becomes so big a loss that the Revolution is vilified as the worst event in the history. That is because the present world values people with different wealth and power differently. As most of those killed during the Revolution were from feudal or middle-class, that event became a disastrous one. There are many instances in history in which a loss of 4,000 lives over a few days gets barely recorded in the 'official' history books. The typical example of the extreme duplicity of our times is the Taiping Rebellion that I mentioned early in this article during which an estimated 20,000,000 innocent Chinese people were culled over a dozen years since 1850. Compared to French Revolution, the number of people who know about this event is negligible. Consequently the number of people who despise the British as a result of its brutal Opium War is also negligible. Indeed such obfuscations play a crucial role in making the savage history like that of Britain look glorious even as the British 'scholars' keep going to Africa to study and research about the 'Savage' Africans.
All the damage done by the Revolution to the feudal social order was, however, not repairable. As Nehru notes: "No counter-revolution could bring back the serfdom again, and not even the Bouborn kings-the French dynasty was Bouborn- when they came back, could take back the land which had been distributed to the peasantry. The common man in the field or in the town was far better off than he had ever been before. Indeed, even during the terror, he was better off than before the Revolution. …The Revolution fell, but the republican idea spread throughout Europe, and with it went the principles which had been proclaimed in the Declaration of the Rights of Man."
"The kings of Europe challenge us, we throw them the head of a king!" Danton, a great leader of Revolution had told addressing the crowds after guillotining Louis XVI on January 21, 1793. For the moment the challenge did little damage to the kings of Europe as they eventually surrounded, defeated, humiliated and killed Napoleon through protracted isolation after a decade of French hegemony under Napoleon before they were satisfied. The curious mixture of imperialism and republicanism during Napoleon's rule is equally fascinating for any student of history. The victory of the European Kingly states against Napoleon and reestablishment of monarchy in France was, however, well short of preventing the seed of republicanism from being sown in the land of Europe and elsewhere. That seed of enlightenment sown by the French Revolution remained dormant for a period but only to sprout and grow fast in the later part of the history eventually making the institution of Monarchy almost a thing of the past.
A Past more Traumatic with no Glory
This is how the French Revolution has left its legacy making the late eighteenth century an important landmark in the history. Importantly, that period corresponded with the Industrial Revolution and more big events were to follow. The chain of events are thus astonishing and at times, shocking.
Looking forward standing at that historical moment in 1789 fills anyone today with a strange emotion and I am tempted to ask myself a few questions: How far and in which direction has the mankind drifted all along these two and a quarter centuries? Have the technological advancements that have decreased the need for human manual labor made the life necessarily better? Or, has the world been incessantly deteriorating as a decent place to live as fewer and fewer people keep controlling the lives of billions of people? What precisely is the role of the different revolutions in the history that showed people the glimmer of hope amid pervasive darkness, stagnation and dismal living conditions?
Answering these questions demands a more detailed inspection of the events in the following centuries even though any description of those events is bound to be incomplete. There occurred major events taking a huge human casualty like the two disastrous world wars. They were compounded by the other innumerable intra-state and inter-state conflicts. The two important revolutions in Russia and China also saw a huge loss of human lives during as well as after the completion of revolution. The recession and eventual collapse of the European empires left us with terribly traumatic events like partition of India that wiped out a significant proportion of the population.
Equally important have been the periods of economic downturn that have cruelly starved and killed many people while causing misery and suffering to millions. The economic burden of the wars and the conflicts and the adverse human right conditions resulting from them have worked in tandem making the living conditions of millions of people extremely poor. The authoritarian regimes that shoot their own people without blinking their eyes still enjoy the power and legitimacy and more importantly, there are no meaningful prospects of a powerful revolt against the regime and the support for them by the global powers for strategic reasons have helped institutionalize such tendencies.
To follow this tragic turn of the history that gave rise to the present bizarre world, some more specific trends and event deserve to be mentioned here. They will help us elucidate the historical role played by a new reality in the last two centuries: the rise and hegemony of the US that ahs been overwhelmingly important global reality after the fall of the European powers in the first half of twentieth century. The challenge posed to the hegemon by the communist USSR and the resulting cold war were able to dominate the world stage for four decades making a disastrous nuclear war a reasonable possibility. The eventual victory of the US in the tussle and the utter collapse of the USSR added a new chapter in the history as the US now began to use its clout as the sole super-power in the world stage.
So where were the little-mentioned parts of the world while the world politics kept being dominated by the rivalry of the super-powers first and by the unchallenged hegemony of the sole superpower next? This insight will contribute importantly in our effort to understand the events of the past more or less comprehensively. The description of French revolution during late eighteenth century and the Opium War and Taiping Rebellion of mid-nineteenth century have helped us a lot in understanding the world during those periods in the history. Coming to the twentieth century, mostly we are preoccupied with the tolls taken by the world wars and two communist revolutions. Skipping these crucial events in the history, I prefer here to explore the neglected part in the history of twentieth century. That brings me to Latin America and my description will focus the decades of extreme brutality by the military Juntas in the late twentieth century as that will more or less bridge the events that we have described till now with the present. Also we will cover the realities of a new continent after having discussed about the events in Asia and Europe.
Latin America with its Open Veins: 19th and early 20th Century
As expressed by the great Latin American writer Eduardo Galeano in his 1973 masterpiece Open Veins of Latin America, the part of the world bleeding the most with chops from the empires has been Latin America. From Europe, the centre of the world for the last three centuries, we will now turn to this exploited corner of the world to explore the events that were scores bloodier than the French Revolution but did not have even the fraction of the glorious component that the Revolution carried. The tragic history of the people in Latin America mimics that of most of us in Asia and Africa.
As I have briefly mentioned above, the establishment of an independent republic of USA depended on eliminating the native population of North America by the colonizing Europeans. They were busy expanding their plantations further west and south for a period by employing the slave labor and could pay a little attention outside the continent. That was, however, not the case to remain as such for long. Wealth and power has an evil tendency to corrupt the people. The little known South American continent, till now occupied by the European powers as every other corner of the world, came to new strategic importance as the Europeans had given birth to a child that now tended to rival them.
Interestingly, the Spanish colonies in Latin America revolted after Napoleonic France became their colonizer in Napoleons heyday early in the nineteenth century. The eventual defeat of France, however, could not reverse the movement for independence. It was natural for the European Kingly states to help Spain regain its lost glory by crushing the rebellion. This period saw the most heroic resistance by the people against he invaders led by El Liberatador, the Liberator, Simon Bolivar. By this time, the US had been strong enough to challenge the European powers and president Monroe's threat to the European powers not to indulge in influencing Latin America came to the rescue of Latin America. The clout of the Monroe Doctrine, as the policy has since been known as, continues even today. The chivalrous act of their friend in the north, however, cost dearly to the people of Latin America, as Nehru notes: They were protected well enough from Europe but there was no one to protect them from the protector- the United States.
How have the Latin American countries and the people endured these two centuries since the 1823 when the Monroe Doctrine was put to effect? This shrewd analysis of Andrew J. Bacevich a professor of history and international relations at Boston University fits perfectly with the reality of Latin America-US relations:
From the outset, Americans evinced a compulsion to acquire territory and extend their commercial reach abroad. How was expansion achieved? On this point, the historical record leaves no room for debate: by any means necessary. Depending on the circumstances, the United States relied on diplomacy, hard bargaining, bluster, chicanery, intimidation, or naked coercion. We infiltrated land belonging to our neighbors and then brazenly proclaimed it our own. We harassed, filibustered, and, when the situation called for it, launched full- scale invasions. We engaged in ethnic cleansing. At times, we insisted that treaties be considered sacrosanct. On other occasions, we blithely jettisoned solemn agreements that had outlived their usefulness. (taken from his recent much acclaimed book The Limits of Power: The End of American Exceptionalism)
The following period of the nineteenth century saw the Big Brother Policy of 1880 and the Spanish-American war of 1898 with the defeat of Spain that led to the end of Spanish empire in Carribbean and pacific. This was the other step in the consolidation of the Geo-political power of the US that would eventually multiply in the following years.
The year 1904 saw the evolution of the Roosevelt Corollary in same lines as the Monroe doctrine. The stimulus for the corollary came when the naval force of Britain, Italy and Germany erected blockades along the Venezuelan coast and even fired upon the coastal fortifications in 1902 after the Venezuelan president Cipriano Castro was no longer able to placate the demands of the European bankers. Roosevelt then threatened military action against the European powers and they eventually retreated. Roosevelt Corollary to Monroe Doctrine, as it was called, asserted the right of the US to intervene in the Latin American nations' affairs.
Along the same lines the Panama part of Columbia was snatched by the US by orchestrating a revolt by the Panamanians. Any interference by Columbia was prevented by the US Nashville and Panama proclaimed independence on November 3, 1903. That was all that was required for the US to open the Panama canal and control it by paying a petty amount to their brainchild panama. This strategic reward achieved through force gave an unprecedented impetus to the US economy. All along the years in late nineteenth and early twentieth century, the US also indulged with the military inventions in Latin America named the Banana Wars for their financial incentives. The countries involved were Cuba, Dominican Republic, Haiti, Mexico, Nicaragua and Panama.
This brief description of the early events brings us to the years of terror in Latin America later in the twentieth century. Leaving the early decades of cold war when the US did anything to prevent the Soviet influence from entering the continent, we will now focus on the obscene collusion of the US with the Juntas through a series of military coups and despotic regimes that battered the whole continent with ruthless cruelty.
The US-Juntas Collusion
The first one in the series was the Operation PBSUCCESS of 1954 which overthrew the democratically elected government of Guzman in Guatemala. That was followed by a series of attempts to assassinate Castro and subvert the Cuban government after the successful Cuban Revolution of 1959. Indeed The Cuban Project" (aka Operation Mongoose) was to be a coordinated program of political, psychological, and military sabotage, involving intelligence operations as well as assassination attempts on key political leaders. Even a U.S. Senate Select Intelligence Committee report later confirmed over eight attempted plots to kill Castro between 1960 and 1965, as well as additional plans against other Cuban leaders.
It is pretty easy to list the coups and the military regimes that ruled Latin America over the last half-century. Indeed the US proudly publicizes its genocidal deeds of the past through periodically declassifying the secret CIA documents making it further easier to corroborate the observations of the past. The human cost in terms of starvation, penury, torture and plain murder during the period was enormous and no history book can claim to articulate all this while doing justice to all those who suffered. Theirs were the lives that were sacrificed in huge numbers, yet not enough to create an uproar as the loss of few thousand 'precious' lives of aristocrats and bourgeois during the French Revolution did.
The pretext of the US intervention in Latin America was, of course, preventing the 'Communist Subversives' from forcing an authoritarian regime in the Latin American countries and thus promoting democracy (though the term "democracy" bears the most pejorative connotation ever possible in this context). Brazil saw the 1964 military coup against the left-wing president Jao Goulart. The socialistic policies of the democratically elected Chilean President Salvador Allende formed the pretext of the 1973 coup by Pinochet prompted by the right-wing aristocrats backed by the US. Bolivia saw the 1971 coup by Hugo Benzer to overthrow the leftist General Juan Jose Torres. In Uruguay, considered the "Switzerland" of South America, Juan María Bordaberry seized power in the June 27, 1973 coup. The other countries in the list included Peru, Nicaragua, El Salvador and Argentina.
The culmination of all these events was horrific. Operation Condor was thus born that followed the agreement between the security services of the Southern Cone and other South American countries to repress and assassinate political opponents in a coordinated way. The 'opponents' could be the left-wing intellectuals, human right activists, journalists, trade union leaders or simply the 'suspects' that could be anyone the security forces deemed to be dangerous to the state. The collusion among the Generals made it extremely difficult for the dissenters to save lives by fleeing their country even as the CIA-backed intelligence mechanism was more than enough to cull most of them. This synchronized state terror is among the worst terrors of any kind in the history.
The rewards of the genocides were huge for the US as its geo-political clout vis-à-vis the rival USSR kept growing as it installed its client governments one after another in Latin America and elsewhere. Equally important other reward was the promotion of the US financial and economic interests by promoting neo-liberal economic policies through the barrels of the guns of the Juntas. It thus guaranteed no dissent to the pro-elite anti-masses policies that eventually swiped the whole world in the last few decades as the part of the so called wave of 'Globalization'
To sum up, as the prosperity of the Europeans today can be traced back to their ruthless overt empires of the past few centuries, the same of the US can be traced to the bloody conflicts and the brutal regimes in Latin America and elsewhere all of which were the results of the covert American Empire. To orchestrate a crime of any scale was justified so long as it served the interest of the Superpower. The events in the history that are now touted to have been directed at establishing democracy and resisting authoritarianism often contributed to the opposite end. This is how the exploited parts of the world have fared in the past leading to their present misery.