The Rebel Road…

I know you’ve come to kill me. Shoot, coward, you’re only going to kill a man. – Ernesto Che Guevara

Colonialism and developing countries

leave a comment »

The process of colonisation, brutal as it came to be understood, had many implications for the people concerned in its manifestation as well as the people it was unleashed upon. These implications have been cultural, social and political in nature but the most important implication; indeed, the root cause of the process has always been economic. The economic ramifications are twofold. Firstly, there is the reason that the colonisers went to the colonies to access cheap local labour and raw material. However, the most important reason was that the colonisers had adopted a capitalist economy. In doing so, they had set themselves on an almost predestined path towards local market exhaustion.

Due to the crisis of over-production that is inherent to the capitalist mode of production the local labour was, through the processes of technological advancement, not just alienated from the fruits of their labour but was left poorer than the day before. This has the effect of negating the buying capacity of the masses. This coupled with a sophisticated machine of production that is the capitalist economy, geared towards the mindless pursuit of profit, brings about a condition whereby supply overshoots demand by many factors. This is the crisis of overproduction as explained by Joseph Stalin in his book Dialectical and Historical Materialism. Once this is understood it is easy to understand that colonisation was an almost reflexive self-preservation action on the part of these economies. The markets in the colonies were new and by any standard rich. It is no wonder that the British had such a stranglehold on the Indian subcontinent that was regarded at the time as the ‘Golden Bird’.

Neo-colonialism is a new phenomenon that refers, and not incorrectly so, to the domination of the developed nations in the present day world system. One could argue that such domination, based on the power held by these countries is justified. Indeed, this is the premise behind the powers of the vetoing members of the UN as well as the G-8. But one must also take into account that domination, by virtue of any precept, is domination on someone. It leads to a condition that any decision taken within the UN, whether for the betterment of a single country that deserves it or the world as a whole, is filtered through often rivalling interests of the developed countries. There are numerous examples of the developed countries impeding the growth of single countries or stalling steps for ensuring world stability and security for their own reasons. I shall focus on the later in my example. World disarmament has been talked about at length and has been accepted as a good foundation for future generations to build upon, yet the US refuses to sign this accord. Why is that?

It is precisely because it goes against the internal interests of this country to sign this document and seeing that the world super power does not have respect for UN resolutions, other countries refuse to sign it as well. This gives rise to, what I shall call the global glass-ceiling effect of sorts. The term originally defines the problems faced by women in progressing in a patriarchal society but the dynamics are virtually identical to the problems faced by the underdeveloped countries, trying to make progress in a world system geared towards the preservation of the interests of the developed counties.

Furthermore, instruments of debt perpetuation such as the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank (WB) give incentives to the underdeveloped countries to fulfil their short run goals by incurring long term debts on a scale that has long crossed the level of pay-ability. Whole economies have been wrecked by such measures taken by the WB and the most disturbing fact is that the motive behind such ‘help’ is not to alleviate the problems of an indebted country but to establish coercive leverage upon it. As in the case of Pakistan, the government is forced, through compliance of economic coercion, to adopt policies that benefit the developed countries, especially the US in the long run.

Lenin explains imperialism in the light of the creation of monopoly capitalism. He says, “The principal feature of the latest stage of capitalism is the domination of monopolist associations of big employers. These monopolies are most firmly established when all the sources of raw materials are captured by one group, and we have seen with what zeal the international capitalist associations exert every effort to deprive their rivals of all opportunity of competing to buy, for example, iron-fields, oil fields, etc. Colonial possession alone gives the monopolies complete guarantee against all contingencies in the struggle against competitors, including the case of the adversary wanting to be protected by a law establishing a state monopoly. The more capitalism is developed the more strongly the shortage of raw materials is felt, the more intense the competition and the hunt for the sources of raw materials throughout the whole world, the more desperate the struggle for the acquisition of colonies” (Imperialism, the Highest stage of Capitalism V. I. Lenin).

Globalisation, as can be seen, is a new link in a very old chain. It is an almost institutionalisation of Western capitalistic interests on a global level. The link between globalisation and inequality has long been established. According to Nancy Birdsall, there are two reasons for this. Firstly, the unequal sharing of the returns from what would become a super-efficient capitalist economy on a global scale. She attributes this to the characteristics of the world-market, which rewards those who enter it with the ‘right’ assets. Underdeveloped nations do not have these ‘right’ assets, all they can offer are cheap labour and resources that mostly they themselves cannot secure. The second reason is the imperfection of the phenomenon of markets. This means that an individual or a country can gain from the creation of negative effects. These negative effects, however, are not necessarily felt by the entity that produced them. In simple terms, one can create profit more recklessly without suffering the consequences of their actions.

Globalisation, therefore, is a new threat to the existence, freedom and sovereignty of the under-developed nations; the most sophisticated political and ideological beast yet to be unleashed by the West. It is, therefore, my contention that the urge to ‘gain support’, whether economic or political, through participating in the creation of this global polity be resisted for the eventual progress of any underdeveloped country.


Written by redtribution

April 20, 2008 at 11:11 am

Posted in Uncategorized

The phenomenon of language – III

leave a comment »

Language has also sometimes played the role of unifying two nations or ethnicities. The Latino countries of Mexico and Spain are a classic example. The Mexican language is actually a derivative/dialect of the Spanish. The two varieties are rather similar in their syntax (by and large), but with more noticeable differences in the phonology. The reason for the Latino culture and values still being alive and observed in the Latin countries is the role which language is playing in sustaining these cultural ties. Their cultural ties have been so strong that the differences between Mexican and Spanish individuals are almost indiscernible. Mexico and Spain, through language, have kept the Latino cultural values alive. The Latin-American countries have a very rich set-up of cultural values. The Spanish language has served to bring the cultures closer (Fighting for faith and nation by Cynthia Keppley Mahmood, University of Pennsylvania Press, 1997).

While English is not spoken as a native language by the largest number of people, it is the most worldwide in its distribution, being an official language in 52 countries as well as many small colonies and territories. America and Britain claim to be the real ancestors of the language. English language has come to them naturally as the native language. America and Britain also have a similar set of cultures too. The two facts mentioned might compel one to think of a cause and effect relationship existing between them, but actually it is not so. Having the same language has not been the deciding factor for the similar cultures and ethnicities in Britain and America. It might have played its limited role but there is a range of other factors too, such as the geopolitical situation of the two countries, the same religion Christianity, and the political standpoint of the two countries. Religion has played a major role in the parallel cultures/ethnicities of America and Britain as Christianity rules most of their beliefs, attitudes and values (England, their England, by A. G. MacDonell, The Macmillan Company, 1933).

“England and America are two countries separated by a common language” — George Bernard Shaw. Had language been the contributory factor for the similar cultures between different countries then how could the 52 countries, having entirely different ethnicities and nationalities, be explained where English is the majority and official language of the country. We have seen that English has become the second language of choice around the world for ordinary people as well. About a fourth to a third of all humanity now understands and speaks it to some degree. But visibly, all these people have exclusively different cultures and ethnicities.

Study of the development of democracy, the role of the state, the emergence of new nationalisms and new xenophobic and racist behaviours and of the role of ‘ethnico-national’ or ‘linguistico-cultural’ minorities are the core problems faced by a majority of the states today. But taking the case of Canada, it can be said that it is a multicultural, multi-ethnic and multi-lingual state. There are several languages spoken in Canada by different ethnic groups. A multi-national state usually requires a great deal of work to keep together. Success or failure may be due to the success or failure at creating a functional multi-ethnic society. There are also people or nations united by something other than ethnicity, for instance religion. Language is not always a reason for uniting as well as dividing people or societies. Societies like Canada prove that different languages, cultures and ethnicities can and do co-exist within a dominion. Foreign nationals are living in Canada from about 50 member countries of the Commonwealth, including Indians, Pakistanis, South Africans, Jamaicans, and Trinidadians, etc.

Apart from the immigrants, even among the local Canadian nationals, languages other than English are also spoken, for example French, Czech, Dutch, and Haitian, etc. An entirely different ethnic group and a different language within Canada is in the Quebec province and the French language is spoken there. But this Quebec culture and language also exist within the larger united Canada. Canada, unlike Pakistan, is one of those nations that have accepted the reality of being a multi-national and multi-lingual country and gives the right to every ethnic or linguistic minority to observe their cultures, languages and ethnicities freely and that has saved them from facing a breakup of their country.

The multi-dimensional, relational and contextual nature of identity will be demonstrated through the case of Punjab. In the Indian subcontinent, before partition, the province of Punjab was ruled by Maharaja Ranjeet Singh. The common language that was spoken in the whole of Punjab then was Punjabi. It was the language of the Muslims as well as of the Sikhs of Punjab. Prior to partition, Punjab extended across both sides of what is now the India and Pakistan. West Punjab became part of Pakistan and the eastern wing went into the boundaries of India. The two wings were not equally blessed with natural resources. West Punjab was more fortunate and blessed in the sense that it had most of the rivers flowing through this side of the Punjab.

Due to the people ruling at that time, West Punjab was given preferential treatment in terms of development, growth and advancement. Therefore, there was fostering of hatred and malice towards western Muslims by the Sikhs who felt deprived on certain issues. These issues included a settlement of a longstanding dispute over the apportionment of Punjab’s river waters and the question of the allocation of the city of Chandigarh as the joint capital. Pakistani Punjab started becoming more urbanised and advanced and with this followed the development of the culture. The Muslim Punjabis and the Sikh Punjabis have resultantly become quite different from each other with regard to their cultures, values and standards in spite of the same language spoken in both the states, i.e. Urdu (Punjabi identities before and after the 1947 partition of Punjab by Ishtiaq Ahmed).

Having assessed all the cases in great detail, the conclusion that language (although one of the fundamental needs of a society and a marker for the delineation of different cultures and ethnic groups) is not itself the sole or even most powerful creator of ethnic divides becomes irresistible. Humanity is geared towards segregation and identity. Therefore, it is human nature to be identified with some ideal or some representation of who one is. Efforts to suppress these identities and differences can only lead to a never-ending discord within a society.

This is exactly what is seen in the case of Pakistan. Pakistan once constituted a rather impressive area with four provinces in the western part and one large province in the east. Now, due to our own narrow-mindedness and inability to see what was even then obvious, we have lost a major part of this.

The need of the hour is to shed our denial of problems and issues. As Muslims, we do not have one language. We do not have one geographical commonality. And we certainly fail to project the same religious outlook; a testament to which is the presence of sectarianism within Muslims themselves. Pakistan is a multi-ethnic, multi-lingual political state. Therefore, it is high time we learn from our mistakes and in doing so help alleviate the linguistic suppression of our fellow Pakistani brethren.


Written by redtribution

April 20, 2008 at 10:29 am

Posted in Uncategorized

The phenomenon of language – II

leave a comment »

In this column it will be highlighted how language dictates and enhances ethnic divides. Three cases will be considered, first of Arabic. How it distinguishes between South-Asian people as Hindus and Muslims. Secondly, the Urdu and Bengali controversy and thirdly the case of Rhineland separated into different ethnicities.

Arabic is the language of identity for the Muslims. All Muslims, regardless of where they reside on the globe, find an intimate relation to Arabic. It binds all the Muslims throughout the world close together despite the differences. At first, it was thought that Arabic should be made the national language since it was not only the language of the Quran and Hadith but all Muslims were familiar with it through their religious practices.

“Arabic played a very important role in South East Asia to distinguish between Hindus and Muslims. Hindi and Urdu are both similar in many ways. A lot of words are common between the two languages. Urdu is derived from Hindi along with a galaxy of other interior Asian languages, including Turkish. An Urdu speaking individual can easily understand Hindi and vice versa. But as far as ethnicity is concerned, both languages are different in many respects. Arabic is a beacon for the ethnicity of Muslims. Hindus and Muslims are bearing questions regarding the relationship of language to ethnic identity and ethnic group membership” (Language and Ethnicity in South and Southeast Asia by Harold F. Schiffman).

Fisherman says that far beyond being a mere means of communication, language is the “quintessential symbol” of ethnicity since it is “the recorder of paternity, the expresser of patrimony and the carrier of phenomenology”. Paternity, patrimony and phenomenology are for Fishman the three forces that constitute the essence of ethnicity (Language and Ethnicity among a Group of Pentalingual Albuquerque, Greg Thomson). In the case of Hinduism and Islam, ethnic differences come to be reflected in linguistic differences as with of Hindu Hindi and Muslim Urdu. But Arabic is a dividing factor between Hindus and Muslims, otherwise, despite different ethnicities both languages are somewhat the same. And Arabic highlights this difference in ethnicity further.

With the creation of Pakistan, there was an overall desire in the country to implement a language that would secure the integrity and ethnicity of Pakistan. At this time, the Urdu-speaking population voiced their demands for Urdu to be implemented as the national language, arguing that Urdu had been the lingua franca during the freedom movement of India and the language of the Muslims of India. A lot of people supported this demand. “Others were of the view that the majority language, i.e. Bengali, whose speakers comprised 56 percent of the total population should be introduced as the national language” (‘Ethnicity and Linguistic Diversity’, the US library of Congress). The adoption of only Urdu, it was argued, in a multinational and multilingual country would contribute to the emergence of a sense of nationhood. It is important to point out that, among all the five provinces of Pakistan, Urdu was not the language of any of the ethnic nationalities.

The introduction of Urdu as the national language caused a series of problems that could not be easily solved. There was agitation, protests and grievances from the side of the Bengalis. In the western part of Pakistan the official language of Bengali was not preferred and, likewise, Urdu in the eastern part was given a secondary status. Hence, the tension continued to grow and problems festered. It was due to this that the Bengalis believed that they were ethically misrepresented and misinterpreted. The important thing to observe here is that ethnicity, which is very important to a nation and language, again played an important part in separating a community as the state of Bangladesh emerged. To the Bengalis, losing their language was like losing their ethnicity. Language is a legitimate claim for every nation as it is a representative of the ethnic values of a nation.

In a meeting of Tamaddun Majlis held at Fazlul Haque Hall of Dhaka University on November 12, 1947, Mr Amin said, “It is not logical to enforce the use of any language other than Bangla on the people of East Pakistan. I firmly believe that there is no barrier to declaring Bangla as the state language of East Pakistan” (Daily Azad, November 15, 1947). The differences in language continued regardless of similarity in other ethnic factors. The differences in languages simply drove East and West Pakistan away from each other.

The European grouping has seventy million inhabitants, and more now. “Friedrich Naumann’s much-debated book Mitteleuropa interpreted the term as a Central European Union that would have included the western part of the Russian Empire, Poland and the Baltic states, as it contained so many various ethnicities” (Democracy and Ethnic war, Michael Mann) A feature of his concept was that it was aimed at establishing a supranational political order in which various nations and ethnic groups would have been permitted to live according to their own legal systems. “In Central Europe, unlike, for instance, in the Rhineland – as the Jewish migration became intense – the ethnicity in Rhineland got affected further due to different culture and languages. By the end of the Middle Ages, as the result of a long process, Rhineland had become a multi-ethnic region. The different people living in Rhineland were ethnically mixed. The cultural role of the various larger ethnic groups and their languages resulted in a peculiar convergence that was independent of national frontiers and, indeed, cut across them” (Central Europe: Myth and Reality, György Granasztói).

Inspired by different ethnicities of Rhineland one of Milan Kundera’s essay called attention in a very powerful manner to the special yet deeply European roots of the region’s culture. “Denying ethnic uniformity, Kundera put emphasis on cultural similarities on sensitivities, on languages and coincidences” (Central Europe: Myth and Reality, György Granasztói). He said that the role of language led to a rethinking of the notions of a community and of society and to a new emphasis on related ideas based on various ethnicities.

(to be continued)

Written by redtribution

April 20, 2008 at 10:24 am

Posted in Uncategorized

The phenomenon of language – I

leave a comment »

We live today, surrounded by technological marvels, in an age dubbed the ‘information age’, but this was not always so. Since the beginning of time, man has tried to better himself, to move beyond his limits, to prove that he is more than a simple combination of inorganic atoms. This effort has always proven to be very intimidating for any individual in his life. From the time of the primitive cave dweller who had to sustain himself by battling off predators, to modern times, where the race to success is more competitive than ever before. But one finds that such efforts have to be communal. One cannot hope to excel without the cooperation of others. Therefore, the most important question pertaining to language and any ethnic identity creation is whether language differences foster, within communities, sentiments of commonality and/or separation? Or is it such that language has no real impact on social class structure and nations?

Cooperation between individuals may be in the form of parental guidance, a teacher’s supervision or a peer’s assistance. For any successful cooperation, one needs to communicate effectively with their partners. It is here that any form of language comes into play.

‘Language’ is defined by the Oxford Dictionary as “a method of expression”. In more sociological terms, language is “a set of symbols, that expresses ideas, enables people to think, and communicate with one another”, as described by Diana Kendall (Sociology in our Times: the Essentials, p. 51).

The most important question one can ask about language is how it started.

There are many hypotheses for the origins of language among human beings. These range from natural-evolutionary origins, to religious accounts of language construction, to genetic justification for the Human Language Instinct (HLI). I shall explain a few of these here. The Ding-dong Theory, according to Dr. C. George Boeree (The Origins of Language), states that language originated as a consequence of human interaction with the environment. In this interaction, man learnt to ‘mimic’ sounds, which the environment created. For example, boom even now, is used to convey the concept of thunder. In religious accounts, God assigned man the duty of naming each and every aspect of his creation, and through this process, Adam, and his subsequent generation was able to not only identify, but relate about those objects. Soon, a language system emerged. In the case of the genetic justification of language, it is believed that human beings are unique in the way they possess a special attribute. Noam Chomsky in an interview says that, “Language is not taught, not even learned. It is something that your mind grows in a particular environment, just the way your body grows in a particular environment.” This view has been expanded now by the discovery of a gene in human DNA, which encodes for language construction and usage. This explains one of the reasons why homo-sapiens were the most successful in the evolutionary struggle, as opposed to other hominid species. It is, therefore, language that is said to be the basis of our collaboration and success. This view is in tandem with the modern sociological significance of language. It is also why language still proves to be an important factor in the modern world.

The second aspect of the topic is about ethnicity. It in turn is described as the set of characteristics shared by a set of people. According to Wikipedia, “Ethnicity is sometimes used as a euphemism for ‘race’, or as a synonym for minority group.” As described above, man had to work together through out history to achieve common goals. This led to certain groups of people coming closer as a community. As time passes, any group of people tend to depend more on each other. This leads to a condition where due to shared experiences, inter-personal boundaries are blurred and social cohesiveness sets in. Along the ages, new phenomena are encountered. These may be invaders, natural calamities, philosophical ideologies or other natural events. Each event increases or decreases social cohesiveness according to its own nature and time of occurrence. A distinct and unique culture emerges, therefore, an ethnic identity is established. This can be seen in the distinct cultures around the world. The Japanese oriental culture is very different in form and values from an aboriginal one. The Middle Eastern culture emphasises on religious identity and social cohesiveness, whereas Western culture emphasises on importance of individual views and liberty. These differing values and norms are a product of a nation’s culture, and in turn these norms reinforce a society’s culture in a never ending cycle.

The most important consequence of the development of an ethnic identity is the emergence of ethnic divides between different societies and nations. This leads to an ‘us versus them’ approach towards people of opposing ideals and norms. This is the beginning of nationalism within a society.

It is here that the main concern regarding the inherent potency of the idea of ethnicity resides. The idea of nationalism has three stages. At the first stage, the members of the nation believe that they are special and unique. Due to feelings of alienation or oppression from an outside source, a group of people are made aware of how they are different. Native characteristics are revived and now the people gain what is termed as ‘national consciousness’. At the second stage, this idea is taken a bit farther and the people rise up against any oppression they are facing. This is a stage of struggle. This sows the seeds, for the third stage of nationalism, though not all nations get to this stage. At the third stage, consolidation occurs and the nation comes together in a political and economic manner to constitute a now organic nation. This view is supported by the writings of Mr K. R. Minogue, who describes these three stages in his book titled Nationalism.

The main problem with this model is that since the people acquire ‘nationdom’, they are imbued with the idea of them being unique. This concept of uniqueness is such that soon the people may believe their uniqueness is in and of itself unique. This is what contributed to the concept of the Uber-Aryan German race, according to the distortion of Nietzscheian ideas by Adolf Hitler and the lumpen elements of German society, which later comprised the Nazi army in the pre-World War II era. One can understand what the idea of nationalism, left unchecked, is able to breed. Fascism is, therefore, a natural consequence of nationalism. This is not to say that all nationalistic ideologies become fascist, but only that fascism is the logical extreme. This is the biggest drawback of nationalism and a debilitating failure as an ideology in the contemporary world.

In the Clash of Civilisations, Samuel Huntington incorrectly suggests that all the conflicts within the world from this point on will not be based on ideological imperatives, rather on cultural differences. However, there is no doubt that language plays an important part in our cultural heritage and fostering a feeling of ‘belonging’ to some community. If this is so, then any rift in society emerging as a consequence of linguistic differences should pose a grave concern for us all. Conflicts emerging between nations can have disastrous effects. A society may become xenophobic as is the case with the Muslims today, or oppressive as is the case with imperialist US. Next week we will examine two opposing points of view about language.

(to be continued)

Written by redtribution

April 20, 2008 at 10:22 am

Posted in Uncategorized

The new world order – II

leave a comment »

According to C. K. Prahalad and Stuart L. Hart in their article, “The Fortune at the bottom of the Pyramid”, MNCs do produce in countries of their operation but technology, however, is not transferred. All the research is conducted in home countries and monopoly is maintained over new techniques. More importantly, in contrast to the exacerbating problem of unemployment in nearly all the Third World countries, which demands more labour-intensive industries, highly capital-intensive methods of production are employed that only worsen the unemployment problem.

Prakash Sethi explains in his book, Setting Global Standards: Guidelines for Creating Codes of Conduct in Multinational Corporations that pay structures offered by the MNCs create wide disparities within different urban income groups. This, therefore, attracts the top manpower and leaves the domestic market lacking in entrepreneurship. Through superior brand and advertising skills, it becomes a status issue to work with an MNC, a global arrangement, rather than a modest domestic one. Beside these urban inequalities, a severe impact emerges within rural-urban bias, as MNCs mostly work in the urban sector. As a result, rural sector is further lagged behind and gap only enlarges.

“If developing countries place too many restrictions on the MNCs or tax them too heavily, MNCs will leave such countries and look for greener pastures. Second, because some developing countries are so heavily indebted to international banks and foreign governments, they often cannot borrow additional money for development projects unless they follow very strict conditions imposed upon them by lenders. One condition requires developing countries’ governments to cut spending on social services, thereby saving money that can be used to repay national debts. Although this sounds logical, these spending cuts clearly harm very poor citizens who rely on the government services for the most basic necessities of life.”
—- Bradshaw and Wallace, 54.

The most crucial factor in robustly raising the volume of sales of MNCs’ products is huge allocation on advertising and marketing expenditures, and sophisticated techniques used to exhibit an elite orientation for these products. Resultantly, consumption patterns are changing and people are consuming less important products in trade off for more important products like food. This also leads to blind trail for Western styles and values and local styles and values seems outdated and unloving. But more importantly, with aggressive advertising and marketing strategies, MNCs seem to have increased the needs of the people. It creates a psychological pressure on people, even those who cannot afford, that they have the need for their products. This mental make-up makes people worse-off as it breeds extra demands but fixed resources. Consequently, frustration is generated in pursuing those “needs”.

“It is also necessary to whip up the population in support of foreign adventures. Usually the population is pacifist, just like they were during the First World War. The public sees no reason to get involved in foreign adventures, killing, and torture. So you have to whip them up. And to whip them up you have to frighten them.”

— Chomsky, 3

Cliff Kincaid explains in the article, “George Soros and the Press” that another way foreign direct investment is controlled in a local country is to invest in the capital market there, that is, private portfolio investment. But this leads to enormous shakiness. The money can be put in and out of an economy in a matter of few moments. Stock markets can collapse in minutes. Based on free market myth, 1990s saw a huge rise and fall in portfolio investment. The liveliest example is the Asian financial crisis in 1997. At the will of one individual, George Soros (widely held belief), many countries saw a very hard time. Heavy reliance on private portfolio investment is detrimental in the long-run, although it may provide a great support in the short-run as uncertainty has the power to ruin economies by brining destabilisation in different markets within an economy.

According to Anup Shah’s article, “The US and Foreign Aid Assistance”, other than these money-making sources of foreign financial flows there are public and private aids coming in from abroad. It is essentially a non-commercial and concessionary term resource. These measures are introduced expressly for the purposes of getting developing countries to open their markets. Therefore, it involves all kinds of resource transfers as well, like benefiting trade structures for a country. The official development assistance (ODA) from different countries is decreasing overtime in terms of percentage of total GDP. Only three countries are fulfilling the internationally recognised UN criteria of 0.7 percent ODA-GDP ratio. Among the industrialised countries, the US is disbursing 0.25 percent.

Where the purpose of ODA is to assist the developing countries, empirically given regional distribution of funds suggest a totally different story. South Asia with more than half of the poor population of the world receives $4 per person in aid; whereas the Middle East with income five times more than South Asia receives six times more aid in per capita terms. Poverty has nothing to do with the aid allotment to a country. Aid allocations to countries even vary with varying military budgets, amazingly proportionally with expenditure. Allotment of aid to LDCs with military expenditure more than 4 percent of GDP is double than those having less than 4 percent.

It is the political and strategic considerations that account for the amount and distribution of foreign aid. Donors are almost sole decision-makers of aid distribution. Almost always, politically and economically, it is in their self-interest to disseminate funds. The situation may be different when there is need for emergency funds or some other reason but eventually it comes back to self-interest.

In the 1940s, when the US started giving aid, the only motivation following the Marshal Plan was to stabilise the post-WW-II economies of Europe so that they can avoid the increasing influence of communism from the USSR. The same motive was later translated for the newly emerging Third World in the Cold War scenario. The empirical data is in support of the fact that most important geographical regions received more aid than geographically less significant areas. And whenever there was a change or the objectives were achieved, there was a clear shift in the aid patterns by major donors. For example, in 1960s, only to counter the threat of Fidel Castro in Cuba and the fear of communist takeovers in other Latin American countries, Alliance for Progress was launched. Aid is also an important tool in the hands of Western powers to support or undermine the governments of their own choice in the developing world.

This aid further gives diplomatic leverage to big powers at different forums. Aid disbursement is also dictated by purely economic motivations to create the space for private investment and explore potential markets in the developing countries. Theoretically, foreign aid is justified on the grounds that it serves to fill two-gaps, saving and investment gap and foreign exchange gap to expand manufacturing and industrial base of the recipient countries.

As is clearly obvious, the MNC is an entity that preys upon poverty, or to be more precise, the poor. It is an entity that is dedicated to the mindless pursuit of maximised profit at the cost of an exterior agent or consideration. It is a phenomenon that ensures world hegemony within the context of the world – a hegemony maintained by such measures as foreign aid control. It is through these measures that the MNCs get first world governments to exercise power over the governments of the developing countries in order to force ‘open’ markets. There is no justification for the extreme violation of human rights associated with the dynamics and workings of the MNCs in third world nations. There can be no such justification for such actions. It is also clear that the MNCs, as bearers of the rights of private property, are in clear contention with the good of the majority, i.e., the working class. The question now is that should such a verifiably oppressive entity be given free reign in society via liberal policies?


Written by redtribution

April 20, 2008 at 10:20 am

Posted in Uncategorized

The New World Order – I

leave a comment »

“The evidence strongly suggests that global income inequality has risen in the last twenty years. The standards of measuring this change, and the reasons for it, are contested – but the trend is clear. The ‘champagne glass’ effect implies that advocacy of globalisation is not enough; international organisations need to move beyond integration into the world economy as the primary goal of policy”
— Robert Hunter Wade.

Ever since globalisation has started, the financial situations of countries have been heavily determined by fluctuations in foreign financial resources. Moreover, importance of public and private investment in financial assets and aid coming from the developed countries to developing and underdeveloped countries is gaining stronger roots. This global flow is taking place mainly in two ways: first, by direct and portfolio investment in the Third World countries and second, by public and private developing assistance to these countries. Private foreign direct investment (FDI) in the Third World countries has shown a tremendous growth as can be observed from a rise in annual rate of $ 2.4 billion in 1962 to $ 120 billion in 1997. The engine of this incredible increase in private FDI is the emergence of multinational corporations (MNCs) as giant players in the world economy.

Alongside the boom in the private FDI, there has been a marvelous growth in the private portfolio investment in LDCs as a significant element in private capital flows. This can be seen by a growth of 1150 percent in just eight years from $ 7.5 billion in 1989 to $ 86.3 billion in 1997. Beside these commercial motives of direct and portfolio investment, there is a considerable component of foreign aid in the foreign inflows of capital in the Third World countries. Public foreign aid is mainly directed through bilateral and multilateral funding, credit and technical assistance flows and is known as official development assistance (ODA). It has grown modestly in absolute terms but has fallen as percentage of developed-country GNP allocations from 0.51 percent in 1960 to 0.25 percent in 1996. Other than public foreign aid, there is a private non-governmental way via private NGOs that is more of a voluntary and local-based method according to Todaro in the article ‘The Great Gadfly’.

But the real questions that this article will attempt to address are: Does this international flow of foreign financial resources has helped the process of development in Third World countries in any way? Has MNCs business improved the poverty situation? Has foreign aid made life of masses in the underdeveloped countries any better? In short, has the MNC, as an economic entity, contributed to the betterment of society? Whatever the reason may be, it is quite evident that the situation in the underdeveloped countries has worsened ever since this novelty of foreign direct investment has begun.

Multi-national corporations have now been ruling greater part of world business. With the passage of time, the volume of sales of many MNCs has increased more than the GDP of many developing countries. Intra-firm MNC sales of intermediate products amount for a quarter of total international exchange and 80 percent of global trade is controlled by top 500 MNCs according to Nawal El Saadawi in his article, ‘Neo-colonialism and Media’s dark age’. But the distribution of all this trade among different regions of the world is highly asymmetrical where LDCs receive around 2 percent, Africa receives less than 3 percent and the top nine countries receives 71 percent of total investment. This is understandable as MNCs only want their profits to be maximised and they will do so wherever they will get the opportunity.

In fact, MNCs have factually turned into international industrial units looking for any prospects of expansion and thus profits. When compared to the total global exports, MNCs’ sales volume is greater, $ 7 trillion in 1995, and these sales are on the rise at 30 percent higher rate. This is an illustration of increased economic influence of major global industrial units even in comparison with that of the developed countries.

“Spreading the benefits of economic development and technological innovation may indeed be required to achieve and maintain peace and prosperity. But the proliferation of MNCs does not guarantee such an outcome. Despite intensifying international competition, MNCs are not promoting the ineluctable convergence and integration of national systems of innovation, trade and investment, nor are they forcing deep convergence in the national economies in which they are embedded. They cannot do so because they themselves are not converging towards global behavioural norms” (Dorimus, 3).

The important point to note is that the growing power of MNCs is now challenging the state structure. Thus, most important outcome of this enormous economic weight is that the MNCs in countries of their operation are in a position to decisively alter and adjust the policy and authorities’ decisions in their favour. MNCs also get relaxation in tariffs and quota structures from local governments. More often, these decisions are clearly detrimental to development. This is truer in the Third World countries where government structures are already weak and policy decisions can be molded by bribing few officials at the top. External relations office of these MNCs mostly concentrates on these foul tactics, further undermining the institutions.

“With the growing influence of these MNCs, it is feared that they even gain such a position from where they can affect decisions in the political realm, which is very dangerous for a country’s national sovereignty. Increasing business circle of these corporations is seen as a way of economic subjugation of the poor countries. Also, they take more money and resources out of the economy than what they pay in taxes to local governments, a point raised in favour of MNCs. Silvia Borzutsky comments on the inverse nature of Globalisation and good governance in the Third World, “In practice, globalization entails an expansion of the power of the developed countries and multinational corporations at the expense of the power of the third world governments. The governments of the LDC have found themselves deprived of the means and mechanisms that would allow them to control their economic policies. Instead, we have seen the expansion of the power of institutions such as the IMF and the World Bank, as well as the power of the governments of the industrialized countries and large corporations” (Borzutsky, 26).

Mostly, supporters of MNCs business argue on the basis of neo-classical theory that MNCs help fill domestic savings and investment needs gap, thus helping the developing countries. But quite the contrary, investment done by MNCs is of almost no use as a big chunk of profits earned is diverted back to the countries of MNC origin. Rather, the situation is aggravated by the fact that MNCs crowd out local investors who become incompetent in front of fair and unfair games played by giant corporations. In addition, their oligopolistic nature only enhances their power as they can easily play around with profits and prices by colluding and deciding the areas of operation among themselves. Long production chains within MNCs help them avoid high taxes by ‘transfer pricing’.

(to be continued)

Written by redtribution

April 20, 2008 at 10:18 am

Power and women representation

leave a comment »

Ever since the formation of society all those millennia ago, power has played a major part in social construction. Indeed, it is power that brings about every level of segregation within any social structure. This segregation may be of a technical nature, i.e. the separation of the employer from the employee, or it may be of a social nature, i.e. husband from wife. But what one must keep in mind is that it is the exertion of power, and its maintenance that brings about this divide.

The workplace has always been thought to be a ‘man’s domain’, but this point of view is being challenged on many fronts. After the introduction of women in the labour force, in the post-World War era, more and more women have joined the labour-force in ever equalising ratios, but this is not to imply that the treatment given to them, or the prestige and wage value attached to their work, is by any means equal to that being given to men. It is common knowledge that women have to work twice as hard as men, and yet are paid half as much. This view is supported by the observation made by Shulamith Firestone in the article, ‘The women’s rights movement in the USA: New View’, published in 1968, where it is said:

“The average woman earns approximately $ 2,827 annually, a little over half the average man’s earnings ($ 4,466). Despite the talk about businesswomen, how many businesswomen do you ever see? How many women in any managerial or decision making position? How many professionals? Ninety five percent of all professionals are still male. Academic opportunities are shrinking, not growing; even the women’s colleges and magazines are run by men. Nor does anyone mention the fact that future prospects look even dimmer. The routine jobs that were granted to women, a lollipop to appease their hunger for real and important work, will be the first to go, come automation. Perhaps men will have their way after all, and women will go back to the home they never should have left.”

Society is not merely an abstract concept of the greater whole. It is composed of individuals, with individual needs, wants, rights and duties. Whereas needs and wants may be individually determined, rights and duties are socially ascribed. This is to say that society decides what individual rights are, and what duties or qualities that individual has to perform or correspond to, in order to be eligible to those rights.

This is the concept of the social contract. This is the theory that forms the basis of social justice and is supported by almost all religions and philosophers. The founding premise behind the theory of the social contract is one of equality, as presented by Rousseau, “Political authority and obligation are based on the individual self-interests of members of society who are understood to be equal to one another, with no single individual invested with any essential authority to rule over the rest.” While the essential observations made according to the study of ‘the social contract’ remain true, the notion that “some men are more equal than others”, cannot be discounted either. Even Hobbes accedes to the monarch having absolute authority as a necessity for social existence. ‘Unquestionable’ power, must therefore, in Hobbes opinion, be a prerequisite for the current social reality. Indeed, Lenin himself accounts for the unequal statuses of individuals in a pre-socialist society when he says, in his book The Proletarian Revolution and the Renegate Kautsky:

“Secondly, it is obviously wrong. It is natural for a liberal to speak of ‘democracy’ in general, but a Marxist will never forget to ask: ‘For what class?’ Everyone knows, for instance (and Kautsky the ‘historian’ knows it too), that rebellions, or even strong ferment, among the slaves in ancient times at once revealed the fact that the ancient state was essentially a dictatorship of the slave owners. Did this dictatorship abolish democracy among, and for, the slave-owners? Everybody knows that it did not.”

This ‘unquestionable’ power, finds a correlate in the social construction of gender identities as well. This is the power of the male, the patriarch, the leader. The father, the husband, the brother or the son. The power is absolute and undeniable. One has merely to glance at supra-patriarchal societies like Pakistan to learn that laws such as the Hudood Ordinance or like the concessions made to killings made in the name of ‘honour’, to realise that it is almost as if the system conspires against the woman.

And it does.

The continuance of such a system of hegemony propagation entails some necessary conditions. These are as follows:

The classification of the act of demanding rights as deviance,

Strict and immediate retribution against such a demand,

Institutionalisation of such retribution, and

Carrying out retribution in such a way that it reinforces popular perception.

If one is to examine the truth behind all these statements, one must try and find real life examples for such systems of oppression. And one does find many real life examples for this. I will attempt to explain two of these.

Honour killing in Pakistan has been rampant for as long as one care research. A woman killed in the name of family honour and pride, tortured, shot, knifed, axed or plainly beat up by her father, brother, husband or son is so ‘usual’ that it does not even elicit a base revulsion from an average middle class Pakistani. The myth of the family honour being carried on the shoulders of the family’s women is so perfectly ingrained that there is no breaking out of the cycle. This, coupled with the manner of drafting of the laws, and dispensing justice, i.e. the proceedings of the legislature of Pakistan are at odds with women’s rights. A popular but relevant example is that of the previous rape law, where a woman had to present four men of good social standing to testify in her favour for the charge of rape to be established. This, in an age where such clarification can easily be made with DNA finger-printing and forensic medical testing. Although this law was changed after the Hudood laws were amended, but does this not represent an institutionalisation of the oppression of women? In my opinion it does.

One is ready to call a female a member of the ‘fairer sex’, but one should ask oneself, do we mean pretty and beautiful or fragile and weak?

Similarly, at the workplace, we see that the dynamics of interaction are much different. At informal meetings, such as those carried on in the office café, we find that men will talk openly with each other, liberally using slang and swear words as they see fit to suit the situation. A great amount of physical contact is also seen between peers of the same gender. This situation is drastically changed with the introduction of a female in the group. Suddenly, the spines stiffen, the words become more formal and physical contacts next to disappear. The most visible account of this occurs in vertically sectioned hierarchical meetings, i.e. boss and employee meetings, which may be informal or semi-formal in nature.

These observations lead us to ask this question: does the communication between men and women vary according to their economic status and the class they belong to?

The answer is, invariably, yes.