Arundhati Roy: Excerpts from her book: ‘Capitalism: A Ghost Story’

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new capitalist pyramid

(Yes, it’s long, but it needs to be; sorry.)

Rockefeller to Mandela, Vedanta to Anna Hazare—How Long Can the Cardinals of Corporate Gospel Buy Up Our Protests?
Mischievously, when the government or sections of the Corporate Press want to run a smear campaign against a genuine people’s movement, like the Narmada Bachao Andolan, or the protest against the Koodankulam nuclear reactor, they accuse these movements of being NGOs receiving “foreign funding”. They know very well that the mandate of most NGOs, in particular the well-funded ones, is to further the project of corporate globalisation, not thwart it.

Armed with their billions, these NGOs have waded into the world, turning potential revolutionaries into salaried activists, funding artists, intellectuals and filmmakers, gently luring them away from radical confrontation, ushering them in the direction of multi-culturalism, gender, community development—the discourse couched in the language of identity politics and human rights. …

The excerpt below written by Arundhati Roy appears in the “OUTLOOKindia” magazine: Mar 26, 2012 issue.

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“What follows in this essay might appear to some to be a somewhat harsh critique. On the other hand, in the tradition of honouring one’s adversaries, it could be read as an acknowledgement of the vision, flexibility, the sophistication and unwavering determination of those who have dedicated their lives to keep the world safe for capitalism.

Their enthralling history, which has faded from contemporary memory, began in the US in the early 20th century when, kitted out legally in the form of endowed foundations, corporate philanthropy began to replace missionary activity as Capitalism’s (and Imperialism’s) road opening and systems maintenance patrol. Among the first foundations to be set up in the United States were the Carnegie Corporation, endowed in 1911 by profits from the Carnegie Steel Company; and the Rockefeller Foundation, endowed in 1914 by J.D. Rockefeller, founder of Standard Oil Company. The Tatas and Ambanis of their time.

Some of the institutions financed, given seed money or supported by the Rockefeller Foundation are the UN, the CIA, the Council on Foreign Relations, New York’s most fabulous Museum of Modern Art, and, of course, the Rockefeller Center in New York (where Diego Riviera’s mural had to be blasted off the wall because it mischievously depicted reprobate capitalists and a valiant Lenin. Free Speech had taken the day off.)

J.D. Rockefeller was America’s first billionaire and the world’s richest man. He was an abolitionist, a supporter of Abraham Lincoln and a teetotaller. He believed his money was given to him by God, which must have been nice for him.

Here’s an excerpt from one of Pablo Neruda’s early poems called Standard Oil Company:

‘Their obese emperors from New York are suave smiling assassins who buy silk, nylon, cigars petty tyrants and dictators. They buy countries, people, seas, police, county councils, distant regions where the poor hoard their corn like misers their gold: Standard Oil awakens them, clothes them in uniforms, designates which brother is the enemy. the Paraguayan fights its war, and the Bolivian wastes away in the jungle with its machine gun.

A President assassinated for a drop of petroleum, a million-acre mortgage, a swift execution on a morning mortal with light, petrified, a new prison camp for subversives, in Patagonia, a betrayal, scattered shots beneath a petroliferous moon, a subtle change of ministers in the capital, a whisper like an oil tide, and zap, you’ll see how Standard Oil’s letters shine above the clouds, above the seas, in your home, illuminating their dominions.

When corporate-endowed foundations first made their appearance in the US, there was a fierce debate about their provenance, legality and lack of accountability. People suggested that if companies had so much surplus money, they should raise the wages of their workers. (People made these outrageous suggestions in those days, even in America.) The idea of these foundations, so ordinary now, was in fact a leap of the business imagination. Non-tax-paying legal entities with massive resources and an almost unlimited brief—wholly unaccountable, wholly non-transparent—what better way to parlay economic wealth into political, social and cultural capital, to turn money into power? What better way for usurers to use a minuscule percentage of their profits to run the world? How else would Bill Gates, who admittedly knows a thing or two about computers, find himself designing education, health and agriculture policies, not just for the US government, but for governments all over the world?

Over the years, as people witnessed some of the genuinely good the foundations did (running public libraries, eradicating diseases)—the direct connection between corporations and the foundations they endowed began to blur. Eventually, it faded altogether. Now even those who consider themselves left-wing are not shy to accept their largesse.

RIL owns 27 TV channels. But the reverse is also true. Dainik Bhaskar owns 69 companies with interests in mining, power generation, real estate and textiles. By the 1920s, US capitalism had begun to look outwards, for raw materials and overseas markets. Foundations began to formulate the idea of global corporate governance. In 1924, the Rockefeller and Carnegie foundations jointly created what is today the most powerful foreign policy pressure group in the world—the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR), which later came to be funded by the Ford Foundation as well. By 1947, the newly created CIA was supported by and working closely with the CFR. Over the years, the CFR’s membership has included 22 US secretaries of state. There were five CFR members in the 1943 steering committee that planned the UN, and an $8.5 million grant from J.D. Rockefeller bought the land on which the UN’s New York headquarters stands.

All eleven of the World Bank’s presidents since 1946—men who have presented themselves as missionaries of the poor—have been members of the CFR. (The exception was George Woods. And he was a trustee of the Rockefeller Foundation and vice-president of Chase-Manhattan Bank.)

At Bretton Woods, the World Bank and IMF decided that the US dollar should be the reserve currency of the world, and that in order to enhance the penetration of global capital, it would be necessary to universalise and standardise business practices in an open marketplace. It is towards that end that they spend a large amount of money promoting Good Governance (as long as they control the strings), the concept of the Rule of Law (provided they have a say in making the laws) and hundreds of anti-corruption programmes (to streamline the system they have put in place.) Two of the most opaque, unaccountable organisations in the world go about demanding transparency and accountability from the governments of poorer countries.

Given that the World Bank has more or less directed the economic policies of the Third World, coercing and cracking open the markets of country after country for global finance, you could say that corporate philanthropy has turned out to be the most visionary business of all time.

Corporate-endowed foundations administer, trade and channelise their power and place their chessmen on the chessboard, through a system of elite clubs and think-tanks, whose members overlap and move in and out through the revolving doors. Contrary to the various conspiracy theories in circulation, particularly among left-wing groups, there is nothing secret, satanic, or Freemason-like about this arrangement. It is not very different from the way corporations use shell companies and offshore accounts to transfer and administer their money—except that the currency is power, not money.

The transnational equivalent of the CFR is the Trilateral Commission, set up in 1973 by David Rockefeller, the former US National Security Advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski (founder-member of the Afghan Mujahideen, forefathers of the Taliban), the Chase-Manhattan Bank and some other private eminences. Its purpose was to create an enduring bond of friendship and cooperation between the elites of North America, Europe and Japan. It has now become a penta-lateral commission, because it includes members from China and India. (Tarun Das of the CII; N.R. Narayanamurthy, ex-CEO, Infosys; Jamsheyd N. Godrej, managing director, Godrej; Jamshed J. Irani, director, Tata Sons; and Gautam Thapar, CEO, Avantha Group).

The Aspen Institute is an international club of local elites, businessmen, bureaucrats, politicians, with franchises in several countries. Tarun Das is the president of the Aspen Institute, India. Gautam Thapar is chairman. Several senior officers of the McKinsey Global Institute (proposer of the Delhi Mumbai Industrial Corridor) are members of the CFR, the Trilateral Commission and the Aspen Institute.

Coercing a woman out of a burqa is not about liberating her, but about unclothing her. Coercing a woman out of a burqa is as bad as coercing her into one.

The Ford Foundation (liberal foil to the more conservative Rockefeller Foundation, though the two work together constantly) was set up in 1936. Though it is often underplayed, the Ford Foundation has a very clear, well-defined ideology and works extremely closely with the US state department. Its project of deepening democracy and “good governance” are very much part of the Bretton Woods scheme of standardising business practice and promoting efficiency in the free market. After the Second World War, when Communists replaced Fascists as the US government’s enemy number one, new kinds of institutions were needed to deal with the Cold War.

Ford funded RAND (Research and Development Corporation), a military think-tank that began with weapons research for the US defense services. In 1952, to thwart “the persistent Communist effort to penetrate and disrupt free nations”, it established the Fund for the Republic, which then morphed into the Center for the Study of Democratic Institutions whose brief was to wage the cold war intelligently without McCarthyite excesses. It is through this lens that we need to view the work Ford Foundation is doing, with the millions of dollars it has invested in India—its funding of artists, filmmakers and activists, its generous endowment of university courses and scholarships.

The Ford Foundation’s declared “goals for the future of mankind” include interventions in grassroots political movements locally and internationally. In the US, it provided millions in grants and loans to support the Credit Union Movement that was pioneered by the department store owner, Edward Filene, in 1919. Filene believed in creating a mass consumption society of consumer goods by giving workers affordable access to credit—a radical idea at the time. Actually, only half of a radical idea, because the other half of what Filene believed in was the more equitable distribution of national income. Capitalists seized on the first half of Filene’s suggestion, and by disbursing “affordable” loans of tens of millions of dollars to working people, turned the US working class into people who are permanently in debt, running to catch up with their lifestyles.
Many years later, this idea has trickled down to the impoverished countryside of Bangladesh when Mohammed Yunus and the Grameen Bank brought microcredit to starving peasants with disastrous consequences. Microfinance companies in India are responsible for hundreds of suicides—200 people in Andhra Pradesh in 2010 alone. A national daily recently published a suicide note by an 18-year-old girl who was forced to hand over her last Rs 150, her school fees, to bullying employees of the microfinance company. The note said, “Work hard and earn money. Do not take loans.”

There’s a lot of money in poverty, and a few Nobel Prizes too.

But which of us sinners was going to cast the first stone? We watch Tata Sky, surf the net with Tata Photon, sip Tata Tea.

Hum Tata ka namak khate hain!

By the 1950s, the Rockefeller and Ford foundations, funding several NGOs and international educational institutions, began to work as quasi-extensions of the US government that was at the time toppling democratically elected governments in Latin America, Iran and Indonesia. (That was also around the time they made their entry into India, then non-aligned, but clearly tilting towards the Soviet Union.) The Ford Foundation established a US-style economics course at the Indonesian University. Elite Indonesian students, trained in counter-insurgency by US army officers, played a crucial part in the 1952 CIA-backed coup in Indonesia that brought General Suharto to power. Gen Suharto repaid his mentors by slaughtering hundreds of thousands of Communist rebels.

Twenty years later, young Chilean students, who came to be known as the Chicago Boys, were taken to the US to be trained in neo-liberal economics by Milton Friedman at the University of Chicago (endowed by J.D. Rockefeller), in preparation for the 1973 CIA-backed coup that killed Salvador Allende, and brought in General Pinochet and a reign of death squads, disappearances and terror that lasted for seventeen years. (Allende’s crime was being a democratically elected socialist and nationalising Chile’s mines.)

In 1957, the Rockefeller Foundation established the Ramon Magsaysay Prize for community leaders in Asia. It was named after Ramon Magsaysay, president of the Philippines, a crucial ally in the US campaign against Communism in Southeast Asia. In 2000, the Ford Foundation established the Ramon Magsaysay Emergent Leadership Award. The Magsaysay Award is considered a prestigious award among artists, activists and community workers in India. M.S. Subbulakshmi and Satyajit Ray won it, so did Jayaprakash Narayan and one of India’s finest journalists, P. Sainath. But they did more for the Magsaysay award than it did for them. In general, it has become a gentle arbiter of what kind of activism is “acceptable” and what is not.

Interestingly, Anna Hazare’s anti-corruption movement last summer was spearheaded by three Magsaysay Award winners—Anna Hazare, Arvind Kejriwal and Kiran Bedi. One of Arvind Kejriwal’s many NGOs is generously funded by Ford Foundation. Kiran Bedi’s NGO is funded by Coca Cola and Lehman Brothers.

Though Anna Hazare calls himself a Gandhian, the law he called for—the Jan Lokpal Bill—was un-Gandhian, elitist and dangerous. A round-the-clock corporate media campaign proclaimed him to be the voice of “the people”. Unlike the Occupy Wall Street movement in the US, the Hazare movement did not breathe a word against privatisation, corporate power or economic “reforms”. On the contrary, its principal media backers successfully turned the spotlight away from massive corporate corruption scandals (which had exposed high-profile journalists too) and used the public mauling of politicians to call for the further withdrawal of discretionary powers from government, for more reforms, more privatisation. (In 2008, Anna Hazare received a World Bank award for outstanding public service). The World Bank issued a statement from Washington saying the movement “dovetailed” into its policy.

Like all good Imperialists, the Philanthropoids set themselves the task of creating and training an international cadre that believed that Capitalism, and by extension the hegemony of the United States, was in their own self-interest. And who would therefore help to administer the Global Corporate Government in the ways native elites had always served colonialism. So began the foundations’ foray into education and the arts, which would become their third sphere of influence, after foreign and domestic economic policy. They spent (and continue to spend) millions of dollars on academic institutions and pedagogy.

Joan Roelofs in her wonderful book Foundations and Public Policy: The Mask of Pluralism describes how foundations remodelled the old ideas of how to teach political science, and fashioned the disciplines of “international” and “area” studies. This provided the US intelligence and security services a pool of expertise in foreign languages and culture to recruit from. The CIA and US state department continue to work with students and professors in US universities, raising serious questions about the ethics of scholarship.
The gathering of information to control people they rule is fundamental to any ruling power. As resistance to land acquisition and the new economic policies spreads across India, in the shadow of outright war in Central India, as a containment technique, the government has embarked on a massive biometrics programme, perhaps one of the most ambitious and expensive information-gathering projects in the world— the Unique Identification Number (UID). People don’t have clean drinking water, or toilets, or food, or money, but they will have election cards and UID numbers. Is it a coincidence that the UID project run by Nandan Nilekani, former CEO of Infosys, ostensibly meant to “deliver services to the poor”, will inject massive amounts of money into a slightly beleaguered IT industry? (A conservative estimate of the UID budget exceeds the Indian government’s annual public spending on education.) To “digitise” a country with such a large population of the largely illegitimate and “illegible”—people who are for the most part slum-dwellers, hawkers, adivasis without land records—will criminalise them, turning them from illegitimate to illegal. The idea is to pull off a digital version of the Enclosure of the Commons and put huge powers into the hands of an increasingly hardening police state. Nilekani’s technocratic obsession with gathering data is consistent with Bill Gates’s obsession with digital databases, “numerical targets”, “scorecards of progress”. As though it is a lack of information that is the cause of world hunger, and not colonialism, debt and skewed profit-oriented, corporate policy.

Corporate-endowed foundations are the biggest funders of the social sciences and the arts, endowing courses and student scholarships in “development studies”, “community studies”, “cultural studies”, “behavioural sciences” and “human rights”. As US universities opened their doors to international students, hundreds of thousands of students, children of the Third World elite, poured in. Those who could not afford the fees were given scholarships. Today in countries like India and Pakistan there is scarcely a family among the upper middle classes that does not have a child that has studied in the US. From their ranks have come good scholars and academics, but also the prime ministers, finance ministers, economists, corporate lawyers, bankers and bureaucrats who helped to open up the economies of their countries to global corporations.

Corporate philanthropy is as much a part of our lives as Coca Cola. Global finance buys into protest movements via NGOs. More troubled an area, more the NGOs.

Scholars of the Foundation-friendly version of economics and political science were rewarded with fellowships, research funds, grants, endowments and jobs. Those with Foundation-unfriendly views found themselves unfunded, marginalised and ghettoised, their courses discontinued. Gradually, one particular imagination—a brittle, superficial pretence of tolerance and multiculturalism (that morphs into racism, rabid nationalism, ethnic chauvinism or war-mongering Islamophobia at a moment’s notice) under the roof of a single, overarching, very unplural economic ideology—began to dominate the discourse. It did so to such an extent that it ceased to be perceived as an ideology at all. It became the default position, the natural way to be. It infiltrated normality, colonised ordinariness, and challenging it began to seem as absurd or as esoteric as challenging reality itself. From here it was a quick easy step to ‘There is No Alternative’.

It is only now, thanks to the Occupy Movement, that another language has appeared on US streets and campuses. To see students with banners that say ‘Class War’ or ‘We don’t mind you being rich, but we mind you buying our government’ is, given the odds, almost a revolution in itself.

One century after it began, corporate philanthropy is as much part of our lives as Coca Cola. There are now millions of non-profit organisations, many of them connected through a byzantine financial maze to the larger foundations. Between them, this “independent” sector has assets worth nearly 450 billion dollars. The largest of them is the Bill Gates Foundation with ($21 billion), followed by the Lilly Endowment ($16 billion) and the Ford Foundation ($15 billion).

Nilekani’s technocratic obsession with gathering data is consistent with that of Bill Gates, as though lack of information is what is causing world hunger.

As the IMF enforced Structural Adjustment, and arm-twisted governments into cutting back on public spending on health, education, childcare, development, the NGOs moved in. The Privatisation of Everything has also meant the NGO-isation of Everything. As jobs and livelihoods disappeared, NGOs have become an important source of employment, even for those who see them for what they are. And they are certainly not all bad. Of the millions of NGOs, some do remarkable, radical work and it would be a travesty to tar all NGOs with the same brush. However, the corporate or Foundation-endowed NGOs are global finance’s way of buying into resistance movements, literally like shareholders buy shares in companies, and then try to control them from within. They sit like nodes on the central nervous system, the pathways along which global finance flows. They work like transmitters, receivers, shock absorbers, alert to every impulse, careful never to annoy the governments of their host countries. (The Ford Foundation requires the organisations it funds to sign a pledge to this effect.) Inadvertently (and sometimes advertently), they serve as listening posts, their reports and workshops and other missionary activity feeding data into an increasingly aggressive system of surveillance of increasingly hardening States. The more troubled an area, the greater the numbers of NGOs in it.

Mischievously, when the government or sections of the Corporate Press want to run a smear campaign against a genuine people’s movement, like the Narmada Bachao Andolan, or the protest against the Koodankulam nuclear reactor, they accuse these movements of being NGOs receiving “foreign funding”. They know very well that the mandate of most NGOs, in particular the well-funded ones, is to further the project of corporate globalisation, not thwart it.

Armed with their billions, these NGOs have waded into the world, turning potential revolutionaries into salaried activists, funding artists, intellectuals and filmmakers, gently luring them away from radical confrontation, ushering them in the direction of multi-culturalism, gender, community development—the discourse couched in the language of identity politics and human rights.

The transformation of the idea of justice into the industry of human rights has been a conceptual coup in which NGOs and foundations have played a crucial part. The narrow focus of human rights enables an atrocity-based analysis in which the larger picture can be blocked out and both parties in a conflict—say, for example, the Maoists and the Indian government, or the Israeli Army and Hamas—can both be admonished as Human Rights Violators. The land-grab by mining corporations or the history of the annexation of Palestinian land by the State of Israel then become footnotes with very little bearing on the discourse. This is not to suggest that human rights don’t matter. They do, but they are not a good enough prism through which to view or remotely understand the great injustices in the world we live in.
Another conceptual coup has to do with foundations’ involvement with the feminist movement. Why do most “official” feminists and women’s organisations in India keep a safe distance between themselves and organisations like say the 90,000-member Krantikari Adivasi Mahila Sangathan (Revolutionary Adivasi Women’s Association) fighting patriarchy in their own communities and displacement by mining corporations in the Dandakaranya forest? Why is it that the dispossession and eviction of millions of women from land which they owned and worked is not seen as a feminist problem?
The hiving off of the liberal feminist movement from grassroots anti-imperialist and anti-capitalist people’s movements did not begin with the evil designs of foundations.

It began with those movements’ inability to adapt and accommodate the rapid radicalisation of women that took place in the ’60s and ’70s. The foundations showed genius in recognising and moving in to support and fund women’s growing impatience with the violence and patriarchy in their traditional societies as well as among even the supposedly progressive leaders of Left movements. In a country like India, the schism also ran along the rural-urban divide. Most radical, anti-capitalist movements were located in the countryside where, for the most part, patriarchy continued to rule the lives of most women. Urban women activists who joined these movements (like the Naxalite movement) had been influenced and inspired by the western feminist movement and their own journeys towards liberation were often at odds with what their male leaders considered to be their duty: to fit in with ‘the masses’. Many women activists were not willing to wait any longer for the “revolution” in order to end the daily oppression and discrimination in their lives, including from their own comrades. They wanted gender equality to be an absolute, urgent and non-negotiable part of the revolutionary process and not just a post-revolution promise. Intelligent, angry and disillusioned women began to move away and look for other means of support and sustenance. As a result, by the late ’80s, around the time Indian markets were opened up, the liberal feminist movement in a country like India has become inordinately NGO-ised. Many of these NGOs have done seminal work on queer rights, domestic violence, AIDS and the rights of sex workers. But significantly, the liberal feminist movements have not been at the forefront of challenging the new economic policies, even though women have been the greatest sufferers. By manipulating the disbursement of the funds, the foundations have largely succeeded in circumscribing the range of what “political” activity should be. The funding briefs of NGOs now prescribe what counts as women’s “issues” and what doesn’t.

The NGO-isation of the women’s movement has also made western liberal feminism (by virtue of its being the most funded brand) the standard-bearer of what constitutes feminism. The battles, as usual, have been played out on women’s bodies, extruding Botox at one end and burqas at the other. (And then there are those who suffer the double whammy, Botox and the Burqa.) When, as happened recently in France, an attempt is made to coerce women out of the burqa rather than creating a situation in which a woman can choose what she wishes to do, it’s not about liberating her, but about unclothing her. It becomes an act of humiliation and cultural imperialism. It’s not about the burqa. It’s about the coercion. Coercing a woman out of a burqa is as bad as coercing her into one. Viewing gender in this way, shorn of social, political and economic context, makes it an issue of identity, a battle of props and costumes. It is what allowed the US government to use western feminist groups as moral cover when it invaded Afghanistan in 2001. Afghan women were (and are) in terrible trouble under the Taliban. But dropping daisy-cutters on them was not going to solve their problems.

In the NGO universe, which has evolved a strange anodyne language of its own, everything has become a “subject”, a separate, professionalised, special-interest issue. Community development, leadership development, human rights, health, education, reproductive rights, AIDS, orphans with AIDS—have all been hermetically sealed into their own silos with their own elaborate and precise funding brief. Funding has fragmented solidarity in ways that repression never could. Poverty too, like feminism, is often framed as an identity problem. As though the poor have not been created by injustice but are a lost tribe who just happen to exist, and can be rescued in the short term by a system of grievance redressal (administered by NGOs on an individual, person to person basis), and whose long-term resurrection will come from Good Governance. Under the regime of Global Corporate Capitalism, it goes without saying.

Indian poverty, after a brief period in the wilderness while India “shone”, has made a comeback as an exotic identity in the Arts, led from the front by films like Slumdog Millionaire. These stories about the poor, their amazing spirit and resilience, have no villains—except the small ones who provide narrative tension and local colour. The authors of these works are the contemporary world’s equivalent of the early anthropologists, lauded and honoured for working on “the ground”, for their brave journeys into the unknown. You rarely see the rich being examined in these ways.

Having worked out how to manage governments, political parties, elections, courts, the media and liberal opinion, there was one more challenge for the neo-liberal establishment: how to deal with growing unrest, the threat of “people’s power”. How do you domesticate it? How do you turn protesters into pets? How do you vacuum up people’s fury and redirect it into blind alleys?

Here too, foundations and their allied organisations have a long and illustrious history. A revealing example is their role in defusing and deradicalising the Black Civil Rights movement in the US in the 1960s and the successful transformation of Black Power into Black Capitalism.

The Rockefeller Foundation, in keeping with J.D. Rockefeller’s ideals, had worked closely with Martin Luther King Sr (father of Martin Luther King Jr). But his influence waned with the rise of the more militant organisations—the Student Non-violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) and the Black Panthers. The Ford and Rockefeller Foundations moved in. In 1970, they donated $15 million to “moderate” black organisations, giving people grants, fellowships, scholarships, job training programmes for dropouts and seed money for black-owned businesses. Repression, infighting and the honey trap of funding led to the gradual atrophying of the radical black organisations.

Martin Luther King Jr made the forbidden connections between Capitalism, Imperialism, Racism and the Vietnam War. As a result, after he was assassinated, even his memory became a toxic threat to public order. Foundations and Corporations worked hard to remodel his legacy to fit a market-friendly format. The Martin Luther King Junior Centre for Non-Violent Social Change, with an operational grant of $2 million, was set up by, among others, the Ford Motor Company, General Motors, Mobil, Western Electric, Procter & Gamble, US Steel and Monsanto. The Center maintains the King Library and Archives of the Civil Rights Movement. Among the many programmes the King Center runs have been projects that “work closely with the United States Department of Defense, the Armed Forces Chaplains Board and others”. It co-sponsored the Martin Luther King Jr Lecture Series called ‘The Free Enterprise System: An Agent for Non-violent Social Change’. Amen.

A similar coup was carried out in the anti-apartheid struggle in South Africa. In 1978, the Rockefeller Foundation organised a Study Commission on US Policy toward Southern Africa. The report warned of the growing influence of the Soviet Union on the African National Congress (ANC) and said that US strategic and corporate interests (i.e., access to South Africa’s minerals) would be best served if there were genuine sharing of political power by all races.
The foundations began to support the ANC. The ANC soon turned on the more radical organisations like Steve Biko’s Black Consciousness movement and more or less eliminated them. When Nelson Mandela took over as South Africa’s first Black President, he was canonised as a living saint, not just because he was a freedom fighter who spent 27 years in prison, but also because he deferred completely to the Washington Consensus. Socialism disappeared from the ANC’s agenda. South Africa’s great “peaceful transition”, so praised and lauded, meant no land reforms, no demands for reparation, no nationalisation of South Africa’s mines. Instead, there was Privatisation and Structural Adjustment. Mandela gave South Africa’s highest civilian award—the Order of Good Hope—to his old supporter and friend General Suharto, the killer of Communists in Indonesia. Today, in South Africa, a clutch of Mercedes-driving former radicals and trade unionists rule the country. But that is more than enough to perpetuate the illusion of Black Liberation.

The rise of Black Power in the US was an inspirational moment for the rise of a radical, progressive Dalit movement in India, with organisations like the Dalit Panthers mirroring the militant politics of the Black Panthers. But Dalit Power too, in not exactly the same but similar ways, has been fractured and defused and, with plenty of help from right-wing Hindu organisations and the Ford Foundation, is well on its way to transforming into Dalit Capitalism.

Dalit Inc ready to show business can beat caste’, the Indian Express reported in December last year. It went on to quote a mentor of the Dalit Indian Chamber of Commerce & Industry (DICCI). “Getting the prime minister for a Dalit gathering is not difficult in our society. But for Dalit entrepreneurs, taking a photograph with Tata and Godrej over lunch and tea is an aspiration—and proof that they have arrived,” he said. Given the situation in modern India, it would be casteist and reactionary to say that Dalit entrepreneurs oughtn’t to have a place at the high table. But if this is to be the aspiration, the ideological framework of Dalit politics, it would be a great pity. And unlikely to help the one million Dalits who still earn a living off manual scavenging—carrying human shit on their heads.

Do we need weapons to fight wars? Or do we need wars to create a market for weapons? It’s the one thing that the US hasn’t outsourced to China.

Young Dalit scholars who accept grants from the Ford Foundation cannot be too harshly judged. Who else is offering them an opportunity to climb out of the cesspit of the Indian caste system? The shame as well as a large part of the blame for this turn of events also goes to India’s Communist movement whose leaders continue to be predominantly upper caste. For years it has tried to force-fit the idea of caste into Marxist class analysis. It has failed miserably, in theory as well as practice. The rift between the Dalit community and the Left began with a falling out between the visionary Dalit leader Dr Bhimrao Ambedkar and S.A. Dange, trade unionist and founding member of the Communist Party of India. Dr Ambedkar’s disillusionment with the Communist Party began with the textile workers’ strike in Mumbai in 1928 when he realised that despite all the rhetoric about working class solidarity, the party did not find it objectionable that the “untouchables” were kept out of the weaving department (and only qualified for the lower paid spinning department) because the work involved the use of saliva on the threads, which other castes considered “polluting”.

Ambedkar realised that in a society where the Hindu scriptures institutionalise untouchability and inequality, the battle for “untouchables”, for social and civic rights, was too urgent to wait for the promised Communist revolution. The rift between the Ambedkarites and the Left has come at a great cost to both. It has meant that a great majority of the Dalit population, the backbone of the Indian working class, has pinned its hopes for deliverance and dignity to constitutionalism, to capitalism and to political parties like the BSP, which practise an important, but in the long run, stagnant brand of identity politics.

In the United States, as we have seen, corporate-endowed foundations spawned the culture of NGOs. In India, targeted corporate philanthropy began in earnest in the 1990s, the era of the New Economic Policies. Membership to the Star Chamber doesn’t come cheap. The Tata Group donated $50 million to that needy institution, the Harvard Business School, and another $50 million to Cornell University. Nandan Nilekani of Infosys and his wife Rohini donated $5 million as a start-up endowment for the India Initiative at Yale. The Harvard Humanities Centre is now the Mahindra Humanities Centre after it received its largest-ever donation of $10 million from Anand Mahindra of the Mahindra Group.

When Mandela took over, socialism disappeared from the ANC agenda. Today, a clutch of Mercedes-driving ex-radicals and trade unionists rule the country.

At home, the Jindal Group, with a major stake in mining, metals and power, runs the Jindal Global Law School and will soon open the Jindal School of Government and Public Policy. (The Ford Foundation runs a law school in the Congo.) The New India Foundation funded by Nandan Nilekani, financed by profits from Infosys, gives prizes and fellowships to social scientists. The Sitaram Jindal Foundation endowed by Jindal Aluminium has announced five cash prizes of Rs 1 crore each to be given to those working in rural development, poverty alleviation, environment education and moral upliftment. The Reliance Group’s Observer Research Foundation (ORF), currently endowed by Mukesh Ambani, is cast in the mould of the Rockefeller Foundation. It has retired intelligence agents, strategic analysts, politicians (who pretend to rail against each other in Parliament), journalists and policymakers as its research “fellows” and advisors.

ORF’s objectives seem straightforward enough: “To help develop a consensus in favour of economic reforms.” And to shape and influence public opinion, creating “viable, alternative policy options in areas as divergent as employment generation in backward districts and real-time strategies to counter nuclear, biological and chemical threats”.

I was initially puzzled by the preoccupation with “nuclear, biological and chemical war” in ORF’s stated objectives. But less so when, in the long list of its ‘institutional partners’, I found the names of Raytheon and Lockheed Martin, two of the world’s leading weapons manufacturers. In 2007, Raytheon announced it was turning its attention to India. Could it be that at least part of India’s $32 billion defence budget will be spent on weapons, guided missiles, aircraft, warships and surveillance equipment made by Raytheon and Lockheed Martin?

Do we need weapons to fight wars? Or do we need wars to create a market for weapons? After all, the economies of Europe, US and Israel depend hugely on their weapons industry. It’s the one thing they haven’t outsourced to China.

In the new Cold War between US and China, India is being groomed to play the role Pakistan played as a US ally in the cold war with Russia. (And look what happened to Pakistan.) Many of those columnists and “strategic analysts” who are playing up the hostilities between India and China, you’ll see, can be traced back directly or indirectly to the Indo-American think-tanks and foundations. Being a “strategic partner” of the US does not mean that the Heads of State make friendly phone calls to each other every now and then. It means collaboration (interference) at every level. It means hosting US Special Forces on Indian soil (a Pentagon Commander recently confirmed this to the BBC). It means sharing intelligence, altering agriculture and energy policies, opening up the health and education sectors to global investment. It means opening up retail. It means an unequal partnership in which India is being held close in a bear hug and waltzed around the floor by a partner who will incinerate her the moment she refuses to dance.

In the list of ORF’s ‘institutional partners’, you will also find the RAND Corporation, Ford Foundation, the World Bank, the Brookings Institution (whose stated mission is to “provide innovative and practical recommendations that advance three broad goals: to strengthen American democracy; to foster the economic and social welfare, security and opportunity of all Americans; and to secure a more open, safe, prosperous and cooperative international system”.) You will also find the Rosa Luxemburg Foundation of Germany. (Poor Rosa, who died for the cause of Communism, to find her name on a list such as this one!)

Though capitalism is meant to be based on competition, those at the top of the food chain have also shown themselves to be capable of inclusiveness and solidarity. The great Western Capitalists have done business with fascists, socialists, despots and military dictators. They can adapt and constantly innovate. They are capable of quick thinking and immense tactical cunning.

But despite having successfully powered through economic reforms, despite having waged wars and militarily occupied countries in order to put in place free market “democracies”, Capitalism is going through a crisis whose gravity has not revealed itself completely yet. Marx said, “What the bourgeoisie therefore produces, above all, are its own grave-diggers. Its fall and the victory of the proletariat are equally inevitable.”

Capitalism is in crisis. The international financial meltdown is closing in. The two old tricks that dug it out of past crises—War and Shopping—simply will not work.

The proletariat, as Marx saw it, has been under continuous assault. Factories have shut down, jobs have disappeared, trade unions have been disbanded. The proletariat has, over the years, been pitted against each other in every possible way. In India, it has been Hindu against Muslim, Hindu against Christian, Dalit against Adivasi, caste against caste, region against region. And yet, all over the world, it is fighting back. In China, there are countless strikes and uprisings. In India, the poorest people in the world have fought back to stop some of the richest corporations in their tracks.

Capitalism is in crisis. Trickledown failed. Now Gush-Up is in trouble too. The international financial meltdown is closing in. India’s growth rate has plummeted to 6.9 per cent. Foreign investment is pulling out. Major international corporations are sitting on huge piles of money, not sure where to invest it, not sure how the financial crisis will play out. This is a major, structural crack in the juggernaut of global capital.

Capitalism’s real “grave-diggers” may end up being its own delusional Cardinals, who have turned ideology into faith. Despite their strategic brilliance, they seem to have trouble grasping a simple fact: Capitalism is destroying the planet. The two old tricks that dug it out of past crises—War and Shopping—simply will not work.

I stood outside Antilla for a long time watching the sun go down. I imagined that the tower was as deep as it was high. That it had a twenty-seven-storey-long tap root, snaking around below the ground, hungrily sucking sustenance out of the earth, turning it into smoke and gold.

Why did the Ambanis’ choose to call their building Antilla? Antilla is the name of a set of mythical islands whose story dates back to an 8th-century Iberian legend. When the Muslims conquered Hispania, six Christian Visigothic bishops and their parishioners boarded ships and fled. After days, or maybe weeks at sea, they arrived at the isles of Antilla where they decided to settle and raise a new civilisation. They burnt their boats to permanently sever their links to their barbarian-dominated homeland.

By calling their tower Antilla, do the Ambanis hope to sever their links to the poverty and squalor of their homeland and raise a new civilisation? Is this the final act of the most successful secessionist movement in India? The secession of the middle and upper classes into outer space?

As night fell over Mumbai, guards in crisp linen shirts with crackling walkie-talkies appeared outside the forbidding gates of Antilla. The lights blazed on, to scare away the ghosts perhaps. The neighbours complain that Antilla’s bright lights have stolen the night.

Perhaps it’s time for us to take back the night.

*     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *

‘Arundhati Roy ‘We’ ~ A Geopolitical Documentary’ from Scott Ewing Plus (3 years ago)  ‘We is a fast-paced 64 minute documentary that covers the world politics of power, war, corporations, deception and exploitation.

It visualizes the words of Arundhati Roy, specifically her famous Come September speech, where she spoke on such things as the war on terror, corporate globalization, justice and the growing civil unrest.

It’s witty, moving, alarming and quite a lesson in modern history.

‘We’ is almost in the style of a continuous music video. The music used sets the pace and serves as wonderful background for the words of Ms. Roy and images of humanity in the world we live all in today.’

 

10 responses to “Arundhati Roy: Excerpts from her book: ‘Capitalism: A Ghost Story’

  1. Just stunning.

    Points out that hopes that a global system (one of the post-American Century possibilities) has the defect that it metastasizes the US-style security state to each of the poles of the mulit-polar world. And it sometimes also metastasizes US defense corporation relationships to those other national power poles of a multipolar world — in this case Raytheon in India.

    The two obvious points of collapse in the current system — David Harvey has a lecture about 17 contradictions of capitalism — are:
    — war and consumerism don’t work anymore be cause they both hasten the destruction of the planet’s exhaustion of the resources used for war and consumerism and the deterioration of the infrastructure that facilitates low-cost processing of natural resources into consumer goods.
    — capitalism is fundamentally focused on corraling the financial (flexible) resources that can be quickly directed elsewhere where they might be most profitable. In destroying workers, vendors, consumers, communities, and governments in order to capture capital, capitalism destroys all of the relations that it needs in order to accomplish anything but sit on its capital or play inventive fantasy games to increase it like credit default swaps or other creative financial mechanisms. And what we saw is that pure financial plays, devoid of connection to the real economy, create bubbles and crashes that feed back into impoverishing the real economy and creating more financial wealth for the game. That play eventually destroys itself when the crash does not or cannot draw a bailout and reset.

    After Jane Hamsher’s dissection of US veal pen NGO’s the analysis of NGO’s is straightforward, accurate, and not widely known in the US. The trap in credit unions and other interlocking local networks of cooperative ventures (a favorite of Prof. Richard D. Wolff) comes in for some discussion from Roy.

    It is helpful to look at the collapse of global capitalism from a global perspective because some countries are more fragile and more subject to collapse than others but still do not put strains on the global system. And from the perspective that no one ever envisions because it is so unknown and it’s possibility of liberte, egalite, fraternite are still unknown. What ensures that the successor ideology/system is no worse than the previous one (capitalism)? A socialist transition to communism seems on historic evidence to have been a bust that even in its best case ends in state capitalism, which is also the condition of its worst case. At the moment there is no vision of what to do when, say the collapse of the US and US power comes, not to mention wider possibilities for collapse.

    Arundhati Roy does not seem as sanguine as most bloggers.

    For myself, I think we all have been whistling in the dark for at least five years with no model of action and no conception of what we will do ourselves if the well-prophesied collapse of capitalism actually takes place in the the next five years or slightly more. In part because we don’t realize or anticipate what sort of global supply-chain disruption will occur that brings the system down to begin with or how likely it is to occur spontaneously or from a natural resource collapse.

    • it seems, then, that david harvey and roy seem in accord on a few points. she is a force of nature of the most elegant kind for me. i’ve only rea excerpts of a few of her essays, but she’s published a score of books at least. the only non-fiction one is titled ‘the god of small things’, which title is so evocative of what must be inside…that i could kiss her.

      as the grassroots black autonomy folks say: there will always be the tendency for new systems to create have and have-not disparities, and iirc, that’s why they recommended small or local community decisions as to how to proceed, check-and-balance, etc. it sort of made me think of the zapatista caracoles, from the ground of local meetings, sent up the chain to larger meetings, debated, decided, then sent back to the grass. and if something didn’t work, start over, reimagine what would work best for the most.

      i’m not understanding: socialism transitioning to communism; does it have to be so? state capitalism is china; is it also russia?

      i liked what welsh terrier said, dunno if i can do it justice. as in: his vision of socialism is not so an economic system so much as a socio-political system in which The People decide how to advance toward justice of all kinds. i kept it somewhere; i’ll see if i can dig it up.

      my experience with miz hamsher an NGOs was a bit different, but that’s to be expected, i suppose, given personal experience. ;-)

      capitalism also grabs the planet’s resources to create more capital, runs an insane for-profit mass-incarcerceration system in this country, wages war for resources and hegemony, Rabble-farms whole poor populations via fines, closed schools, neoliberal austerity programs, toxic waste dumps from extractive industry…well you know the list. but i loved wall street fantasy products. ;-)

      • Capitalism ends in the same sense that fuedalism ended. Creating bonds of power and service (patronage, “mentorship”) with some other service that the military (feudalism) and economic (capitlism) service for protection that have been tried. Does some other form of human interaction come to dominate social life and survival than these two types of fealty? We don’t know until we see them appear widely instead a pilot projects. Yes, captialism has damn near well turned everything into a commodity that it could and well outside the economic sphere. Just look at the scope of what the economists who wrote Freakonomics claim for their domain.

        • ooopsie; i’d thought it was spoof with a quick scan.
          https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Freakonomics

          yes, i keep wondering why worker coops haven’t caught on more widely, and i even wrote a post once asking that question, providing a few possible answers, including a couple about initial funding, yada, yada. ellen brown’s still chugging on community banking, others on community gardens, vertical gardens, (can’t say i see either as true alternatives for a few reasons, at least for the present), local electrical and water coops, which we have here, etc.

          but to me, (broken record here) what it will take, and it will come i hope, that as more folks can’t put food on the table, can’t find jobs and discover the social safety net is empty as the shelves at the local food banks…when, as you say, ‘hope has died’, there will come a burgeoning level of higher consciousness around the globe which will emphasize that we are all siblings (thank you, jason), and need to care for one another in any way we can. imagination (thought form) comes before implementation. oops, i lost the other two things i’d meant to say…

          but yes, hannah arrendt’s ‘on revolution’ offered robespierre as a cautionary tale of hero, i guess, to monster. this from a long passage i’d saved:

          “The extent to which the ambiguous character of the revolutions derived from an equivocality in the minds of the men who made them is perhaps best illustrated by the oddly self-contradicting formulations which Robespierre enunciated as the ‘Principles of Revolutionary Government’.

          He started by defining the aim of constitutional government as the preservation of the republic which revolutionary government had founded for the purpose of establishing public freedom. Yet, no sooner had he defined the chief aim of constitutional government as the ‘preservation of public freedom’ than he turned about, as it were and corrected himself: ‘Under constitutional rule it is almost enough to protect the individuals against the abuses of public power.’ With this second sentence, power is still public and in the hands of government, but the individual has become powerless and must be protected against it. Freedom, on the other hand, has shifted places; it resides no longer in the public realm but in the private life of the citizens and so must be defended against the public and its power. Freedom and power have parted company, and the fateful equating of power with violence, of the political with government, and of government with necessary evil has begun.” [snip]

          “On a more sophisticated level, we may consider this disappearance of the ‘taste for political freedom’ as the withdrawal of the individual into an ‘inward domain of consciousness’ where it finds the only ‘appropriate region of human liberty’; from this region, as though from a crumbling fortress, the individual, having got the better of the citizen, will then defend himself against a society which in its turn gets ‘the better of individuality’. This process, more than the revolutions, determined the physiognomy of the nineteenth century as it partly does even that of the twentieth century.”

          oddly, i’d discovered this forgotten page and site while looking for welsh t’s comment; his site hasn’t been updated for a couple years, but this ‘ladder of awareness’ might be useful…. a different use of ‘inner and outer’. ;-) gorgeous nautilus light graphic, too.

          http://www.paulchefurka.ca/LadderOfAwareness.html

  2. Is capitalism the problem? Or is it human nature itself? Humans have always had the problems of war, inequality, cruelty, etc. Capitalism is a system that is clearly out of control, but what can replace it and insure that humans don’t just do it all again in a different way.
    Maybe focusing on capitalism obscures the real problem, we somehow allow psychopaths to “lead” us. Maybe we need to get past the need to be led.

    • philosophers have debated ‘human nature’ forever, eh? some of us focus on capitalism itself because it’s inherent design is that capital needs to produce more capital, but see thd above.

      do ‘we allow psychopaths to lead us’? or has capitalism so outpaced Democracy™ in so many nations that the average person might be faulted for confusing the two? the point of arundhati’s oeuvre has been to show that bernays was right: control the framing of the message by NGOs and media that few twig to what’s truly afoot.

      creating Democracy Heroes™ by NGO (and she left out a host of them) seems to be altogether too easy. same for pimpinghegemonic military conquest as ‘humanitarian necessity’, or the heroes of the ‘climate justice’ movement while being funded by the same oligarchs causing the planet’s burning.

      but as to getting past the need to be led, yes. and i did find welsh T’s explanation of his vision, though far longer than my shorthand version.

      “In my little world (h/t Bob Ross), socialism must be first and foremost a political, not an economic, system. When we dive headlong into talking about labor and means of production and all the “textbook” stuff, I think we’ve buried the horse under the cart. We’ve probably buried the cart as well.

      The basis of socialism, as I define it, has to be “equally shared power” (i.e. political power). Absent that, all the rest is mere theory (meorey?) Socialism, as in social, means “of the people”; Capitalism, as in money, means putting money ahead of people. Make this a battle over the welfare state or over government control and we’ve already lost.

      In addressing those mired in capitalist delusion, I do not engage them in dead-end discussions about “sharing shoes” or government-run corporations or the welfare state. Rather, I focus on something that very few, in my experience, are willing to argue against. I ask them whether those who are wealthy or who have been economically successful should have a greater voice in determining national, state or local policies. Even the die-hard,market-driven types are not comfortable extolling capitalism’s virtues to this extent.

      When I talk about socialism, I talk about human empowerment. I talk not about economic equality but about political equality. The trap, here, is that ultimately, capitalists cannot successfully defend the undemocratic, perversion of the democratic ideal that capitalism’s inevitable extreme concentration of wealth produces. The tiny crack in the dam occurs when capitalists acknowledge that capitalism always has and always will produce a class-driven system not just in the economic sphere but in the political sphere as well. And, once the dam leaks, it’s not long before the whole thing collapses.

      Socialism’s cry, if it is to advance, must be a call for political equality before any theoretical vision for economic restructuring should be promoted. To fail to see this will have the masses running away from you and hiding their shoes.”

      • Yep, there will be no socialism without human empowerment and there will be no human empowerment unless we rid ourselves of the psychopathic leaders.
        Yes, I exaggerate and hyperbolize a lot about the deciders to try highlight what we’re really dealing with. But I look at history and see it littered with psychopathic leaders, Kings, Queens, serfs, etc., and see the same thing only different now.
        That’s why I’ve talked about the need for “human-proof” systems if there ever could be such things. It seems humans will always find a way to insert the lust for power and things into the equation, if we let them.

    • Capitalism is the problem to the extent that it asserts there is no other means of running an economy. It is a particular institutionalization of human nature in which the culture of institutions can bring out the worst in human beings and actually socialize good people into malevolent ones. With its domination of politics and culture, something not quite as total as 50 years ago, capitalism is inching up on being as totalitarian a system as the offshoots of it that produced the two world wars.

      To the extent that human nature itself is a social construct and not a natural law, each civilizational form creates its own twist on human nature, starting with classical civilizations’ documentation of virtues and vices. What human nature we know from the social sciences and sciences comes from the social construction of those fields. There is an observer-object uncertainty that is similar to the observational problems of quantum theory. The observed state changes from being watched.

      And classical civilization of kings and empires and urbanization wound up being a problem that was solve, at least in the West, by exchanging “service” for “protection” from a warlord landowner, who himself bargained for land and protection–that is, feudalism. And it became a problem as well.

      No doubt whatever succeeds capitalism as a civilization will also be problematic and give way to something else. Marx modeled that in his dialectical thinking about modern society. But then the problem he tried to solve was how to get that to continue to maintain a just society. He never solved it, and Marxists have argued the issue in all sorts of ways. To the point that most throw up their hands and argue to have the revolution first and then see what people work out — practically satisfying but not philosophically a closure of Marx’s issue.

      Coming back full circle, my view is that human beings respond in unpredictable ways to new systems of doing things, but they also start to game the system to their satisfaction and too much of the continued expectations of the old system remain to fully make an abrupt and radical change in human behavior. Also, attempts to force the change generally end up as monstrous brutality.

      But that’s a whole different perspective of response to environmental, economic, and political collapse.

  3. i keep this quote handy, as well:

    To love. To be loved. To never forget your own insignificance. To never get used to the unspeakable violence and the vulgar disparity of life around you. To seek joy in the saddest places. To pursue beauty to its lair. To never simplify what is complicated or complicate what is simple. To respect strength, never power. Above all, to watch. To try and understand. To never look away. And never, never to forget.

    ~ Arundhati Roy

  4. awesome stuff. she really is great ain’t she?

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