Issue 245 of SOCIALIST REVIEW Published October 2000 Copyright © Socialist Review
The Great Olympic Swindle
Eds: Andrew Jennings and Clare Sambrook
Simon & Schuster £16.99
There is a stench of corruption about the Olympic Games. Salt Lake City 'won' the 2002 Winter Games after members of the International Olympic Committee received gifts and services totalling millions of dollars. Votes were given in return for jobs and scholarships in US colleges for family and friends, and for operations in US hospitals. First class air tickets were claimed for despite the fact they travelled second class or not at all, and 'services' meant simply old fashioned cash or sex.
Nagano, Japan, won the last Winter Games after donating $27 million to the IOC museum in Switzerland. Chasing the 1996 summer Olympics the six main bidders spent $85 million pursuing the votes needed to win.
IOC members are not elected by their country, but selected by Juan Antonio Samaranch. Samaranch is in complete control and the IOC over which he presides is unelected and accountable to no one but itself. Samaranch would be used to that. The book carries pictures of him as a 36 year old fascist marching in uniform through Barcelona at the head of a procession honouring a fascist leader. The secret police gave him star billing as a committed supporter of General Franco's regime.
After Franco's death he co-founded a pro-Franco party in Catalonia, the only one to contest the first free elections after the dictatorship. Not surprisingly humiliation followed and Samaranch left Spain to become its ambassador in Russia. Having been appointed head of sport by Franco and gaining a seat on the IOC, he skilfully manoeuvred his predecessor out of office. His past is well known but every effort is made to portray it as some youthful episode. Yet his dreams of a Nobel Prize and world acclaim have been destroyed by a series of corruption scandals which have broken over the heads of the IOC.
In an effort to free the IOC from scandal Samaranch convened an IOC 2000 Commission to plan for the new century. Among those involved in planning the reforms were representatives of Xerox, Swatch, the owner of Fiat and the head of NBC sport. The television company NBC gives the IOC billions of dollars and the IOC granted NBC coverage of five consecutive games without asking for any other bids. The one much trumpeted change at the Sydney games is the IOC's tough new stance on drugs. Samaranch repeatedly claims they are winning the war against drugs. At both the Seoul and Barcelona games there are reported cover ups after test results left the labs. At both Los Angeles and Atlanta positive results were suppressed.
During the Cold War both Russian and US athletes used drugs; the Americans introduced anabolic steroids, the Russians testosterone injections. Such is the corruption of sport that athletes see nothing wrong in taking drugs at whatever long term cost to their body if it brings them nearer an Olympic medal.
Samaranch is a great one for arguing that sport is separate from politics--no doubt there is no reference to his own political past in his Olympics Museum. But the modern Olympics has been dominated by politics from the Nazis staging the 1936 games at which the championship winning Italian football team was held up worldwide as symbol of fascism. In Moscow in 1980 and Los Angeles the US and Russia mutually boycotted each other's games.
Internally the arrival of the Olympic games in a city inevitably means a crackdown on the poor and any dissenting voices. As Jennings and Sambrook point out, 'The Russians cleansed Moscow of dissidents in 1980. Los Angeles made sure that demonstrations weren't held near the press headquarters and cleared homeless people off the streets. The Korean police, trained to club and teargas, sanitised Seoul. Barcelona's Gypsies were banished from Olympic areas.'
The Great Olympic Swindle is a devastating exposure of the IOC and of Samaranch in particular. The scale of their arrogance and contempt is breathtaking.
The Politics of British Arms Sales Since 1964
Manchester University Press £15.99
New Labour came to power promising 'tough choices' and modernisation. No institution was beyond reform. One of these stands, still unscrutinised and untouched, right at the heart of government. The Ministry of Defence (MoD) is the most wasteful, secretive and inefficient organisation--public or private--in the country. It also plays a key role in the export effort of Britain's military manufacturers.
Like the slave trade, the arms trade has deep roots in history. The recent years are explained extremely clearly in this new book. The date in the title is not arbitary, as it is the time when government started to play an official part in promoting arms exports. It was a Labour government in 1966 which established the structures that facilitate these sales.
Denis Healey, then defence secretary, provided the justification by saying that Britain could not afford to lose out in a lucrative market. He created the Defence Sales Organisation (now the more softly titled Defence Export Services Organisation) within the MoD to ensure that the US did not scoop the pool.
The main issue of the day then, as Phythian graphically explains, was the sale of arms to apartheid South Africa. A simple question, one might think, of right and wrong or, literally, black and white. The Tories wanted the sales to go ahead but the Wilson government agonised over the wording of the embargo, its economic effects and the familiar question of whether the equipment would be used for 'internal repression or external defence'. Eventually, it sent Buccaneer strike aircraft before complying with the embargo. Over 30 years later our government still repeats the same old mantra. Only the destination of the lethal stuff has changed.
The book moves rapidly and readably through the years of deceit, corruption and ministerial cover-up that have characterised the frantic efforts of government and manufacturers to lessen the effects of the downturn in equipment orders for Britain's own armed forces by boosting overseas sales. Chile, Indonesia, Malaysia, Saudi Arabia (with an especially interesting account of Aitken, the Saudi royals and backhanders) and the postwar Gulf arms market all come under close scrutiny.
Phythian is equally critical of Labour and Tory governments, which is not surprising as they have largely pursued the same policies. The Tories, however, have been more open. They will sell to almost anybody, with few questions asked. Labour, when in opposition, will attack them for lack of principle and then 'honour the contracts' when in government.
In the account of the shabby episode of the Labour government and its flip-flopping over whether to allow arms to Pinochet's Chile --it eventually sent two submarines--one event stands out. The workers at Rolls Royce in East Kilbride had refused to service the Avon engines for the Hunter aircraft that were used to bomb the socialist president Allende's residence. The engines were trapped, rusting at the factory. Despite threats and the government granting an export licence, the shop stewards refused to budge. Eventually in 1978 in a dawn raid by the police, haulage contractors, sherriff's officers and Chilean representatives, the engines were seized and smuggled back to Chile.
The book is worth buying just for the chapter on the New Labour government. Much of it is devoted to the rise and fall of foreign secretary Robin Cook who these days sounds more like an Anglo-Scottish landowner trying to justify grouse shooting out of season than the man who destroyed Tory arguments over arms to Iraq. The loser in too many battles with the MoD, he seems to have given up.
Phythian also deals competently with the issue of 'jobs' in the defence export industry. He shows that it is an unstable sector, heavily reliant on a few major customers, some of whom are regimes that have few democratic roots and a doubtful future. My own experience--as a former official of a defence industry trade union--having had to deal with hundreds of redundancies, swiftly led me to the conclusion that working for military manufacturers is not a wise career choice.
This book is deeply researched, well written and not aimed, as so many are, at fellow academics or defence specialists. It is a worthy successor to Anthony Sampson's The Arms Bazaar.
The origins of reggae music lie in the Jamaican sound system. A huge mobile disco designed to carry a beat at open air 'lawn dances', the sound system developed in 1940s Kingston as a response to a particular problem--how to bring music to a people without the means to buy record players.
As the supply of popular US rhythm and blues began to dry up in the late 1950s, the Sound System's owners turned to local musicians and singers to provide new single copy recordings with which to outdo rival competitors. This drive to develop new crowd pleasers was to create the opening for a distinctively Jamaican spin on rhythm and blues to develop--ska music. Jamaican musicians, many of whom were steeped in the traditions of jazz as well as older African-influenced musical forms, were not slow to seize the opportunity to develop forms that were specifically Jamaican. Add to this the tendency for Jamaican DJs to use microphones to liven up dances with rhymes and social comment, and it is no exaggeration to say that the template for today's rap and rave music was forged in Jamaica 40 years ago!
In many ways the history of Jamaican music is a history of music turned upside down. Sound system owners turned studio producers and then finally record label owners. It was not until the mid 1970s that 'performing groups' like Bob Marley and the Wailers emerged.
Another vital aspect of the development of the music into rocksteady and finally reggae was to be the anarchic (read: lack of) copyright laws that prevailed. This state of affairs was to have far reaching consequences for the path the music was to take. While poorly paid musicians and singers were never to reap the proper rewards for their work, it also meant that they were more likely to stay in touch with the concerns of their working class and poor audiences. Secondly, it meant that producers could improvise on popular tunes to produce new 'versions', which in turn led to remixes that saw the mixing desk itself develop into a new instrument.
Overall the most enduring legacy of the music is the degree to which the producers were able to push the available technology to its limits in pursuit of new experimental rhythms and recording techniques. Consider the irony that in the mid-1970s, while Anglo-American rock bands were deemed 'progressive' for playing keyboards the size of bungalows and warbling on about wizards flying around in space ships, Jamaican producers like Lee Perry and King Tubby were pioneering the revolutionary aural assault that was 'dub music'.
Lloyd Bradley interviews key figures in the music's development and provides a valuable historical context. It is simply not possible to understand the vibrancy of ska without noting the optimism and mini-boom that accompanied the country's independence, nor the militancy of roots reggae without noting the impact of both the US inspired Black Power movement coupled with Rastafarian demands for social justice. Alive to the reality of class society in Jamaica, Bradley constantly stresses the central point that reggae music at its best articulates the hopes and aspirations of 'The Sufferahs', the ghetto poor and ordinary Jamaicans. In turn he locates its decline in the 1990s with the increasing US sponsored economic clampdown that elevated gangsterism both in the ghettos and in the 'slack' lyrics that predominate in much 'dancehall'.
What marks this work apart from other histories is his tracing of the important links back and forth to Britain, charting the contribution made by the children of the Windrush immigrants. Here he also notes the significance of Rock Against Racism in bringing the music to the wider attention of white kids by billing reggae groups and punk acts together under the slogan 'Black and white unite and fight'. This immensely readable book is not only a must for reggae fans, but cultural history of a very high order.
University of California Press £11.50
This is a book about immigrants and immigration, the realities and the perceptions. The author takes the passport as the structure within which the discussion is framed. The chapters are titled with the headings found in a passport--name, place of birth, date of birth. The experiences and histories of individuals are mixed with photos and poems which develop the book's theme. The structure is not a historical narrative, rather it reads more like a personal memoir. The passport is a dehumanising document for the many poor immigrants who labour in the sweatshops of the west--this is contrasted with the passport in the hands of the rich, the business traveller.
Immigrants are portrayed as people who are fighting to make new lives and form new identities. This is linked to the labour needs of global capital, which forces people to seek new lives and ways to survive. A quote from Richard Rodriguez gives a flavour of the book: 'Before professors in business schools were talking about global economics, illegals knew all about it...The illegal immigrant is the bravest among us. The most modern amoung us. The prophet....The peasant knows the reality of our world decades before the Californian suburbanite will ever get the point.'
Kumar, with his photos, poems and dialogue, injects humanity into the bureaucratic immigration process. When an immigration officer looks for the 'identifying marks' the officer simply sees a scar whilst the immigrant remembers an incident--a personal story related to the mark.
The sheer prejudice is brought out in the way in which immigrants are treated. For example Arabs, and more specifically Muslims, have become the new threat to American 'democracy'. When the Oklahoma bombing occurred it was immediately assumed this was the work of Middle East terrorists. The lynch mobs were out and an Arab woman miscarried as her house was surrounded. This happened despite the fact that out of six previous bombing incidents, five were carried out by Americans.
Kumar explains when we see a photograph of Mumia Abu-Jamal that this is not just a picture of a man in dreadlocks looking back at us, but 'an African-American male in prison, a part of a racial population that--a mere 11 percent of the national population--today makes up for a full 40 percent of the death row in this country [America]!'
The chapter titled 'Date of Birth' discusses the birth of India as an independent nation and how this was tragically intertwined with partition. For Kumar this independence is a charade and he contrasts the present day celebrations, the flaunting of huge wealth, the nuclear tests and ever present poverty with the hope and vitality of 'the insurrectionary peasant movement of Telegana'.
When Kumar returns to his home town in India he is asked what kind of place America is. He answers--a place where the bosses of Xerox threatened to close a plant down unless the workers took a 50 percent pay cut, a place where the ratio of earnings of an average worker to a chief executive officer is 1 to 120.
Kumar's book throws up questions, making the reader think about everyday things from a different point of view. It is well worth reading.
The Unrelenting Conflict
Book Guild Publishers £15.95
This book, written by a Zionist, is a cry of protest against the attitude and behaviour of the British government regarding its promise, the Balfour Declaration of November 1917, to establish a national home for the Jewish people in Palestine. Britain held the Palestine Mandate from 1922 until the establishment of the state of Israel in 1948. The history of that period shows how the British imperial overlord did everything in its power to influence countries to close their doors to desperate Jewish refugees. The only option--coinciding with the dream of the Zionists for a Jewish homeland--seemed to be Palestine. And even there the Balfour Declaration was nullified. Thousands of desperate 'illegal' immigrants were sent back to the countries they had fled from in their unseaworthy vessels, to death by drowning or by gas chamber. The Labour government of 1945 onwards, and Ernest Bevin in particular, were even more intransigent and scheming in these matters than previous regimes.
The book suffers, however, from huge sins of omission which badly distort the description of the politics of the situation. The callous attitude of the British police and administration towards the Jews is well documented, but not touched on in relation to the ordinary (not high class) Arab population who suffered from it even more badly. The numerous Arab attacks on Jewish settlements are recorded in detail, but none of the attacks by Zionists on Arabs such as Deir Yassin, immediately after the establishment of Israel--some 250 civilians were murdered in cold blood and the killing was justified by Menachem Begin, later Israeli prime minister. He intended to frighten the life out of the Arabs before the ethnic cleansing of 1 million of their number during the ending of the mandate and creation of the State of Israel in 1948. The book ends here and this frightful episode is not touched on.
The exclusion of Arabs from the burgeoning Zionist economy, which kept the majority in poverty, well below the living standards of the Jews, and was a major cause of bitterness and strife against the Zionists, is not touched on. The British administration did nothing to oppose this. In fact all its duplicity and double-dealing in its regime of divide and rule counted for little against this major opening to the development of the Arab national movement, and enabled people like Haj Emin el Husseini, who became the Mufti of Jerusalem probably with British connivance, to rise to the leadership of the Palestinian national movement. He enjoyed a long stay and close relationship with Hitler during the war, and fully supported his policies--such as the murder of all Jews. This fascist leadership of the national movement in Palestine was unique in the Arab world.
Another point the author might have touched on but did not, was that the overwhelming majority of Jews in Eastern Europe were anti-Zionist until the Holocaust, voting instead in large numbers for the Jewish Social Democratic Workers' Party--the Bund. The book therefore offers no clarification of the real political set-up in Palestine. The one thing it clearly brings out is the shocking duplicity, indifference to life and callousness of the imperial overlord during its mandate. This was the case not only in Palestine, but wherever the British Empire ruled till it withdrew, leaving behind it in every country a torn, feuding heritage that lives on till this day in India and Pakistan, in large swathes of Africa and other ex-colonies.
Figures from the 1999 annual 'Statistics South Africa Survey' based on interviews across 30,000 households shows that joblessness, poverty and quality of life continue to drop or remain the same for the majority of black South Africans. Of the 2.4 million households living below the poverty line only 2 percent are white. Twenty nine percent of black people are unemployed compared to 5 percent of white people. Only 56 percent of black households have access to running water, 60 percent have electricity, 17 percent have flush lavatories and fewer than three in five black families live in proper houses.
The figures show that the majority of people living in South Africa remain economically oppressed, and that levels of inequality and impoverishment created under apartheid continue today despite the election of a popular ANC government now in its second term.
Patrick Bond's new book Elite Transition charts the destruction of progressive economic and social policy aspirations from the end years of apartheid to today as a new elite emerges espousing neo-liberal principles. He also looks at the role of the ruling class over the last few decades of apartheid in laying the groundwork for the protection of privilege, profit and status. In doing so, he puts forward an analysis of why few inroads have been made to redress the economic imbalances inherited from the apartheid era, and why, as the ANC-led government continues down the neo-liberal road, even fewer inroads will be made.
Using the crisis of housing in South Africa as an example, Bond exposes the barbarity of a system that expects people forced to live in squalor and sub-human conditions under apartheid to now pay to upgrade their status to one that is only marginally better. The example of continued rent boycotts shows the ongoing struggle ordinary people are waging against the system. He also shows how this has led to a shift to the right of the ANC leadership.
But what separates this work from other studies on South Africa is that it addresses the shift towards neo-liberalism within the context of globalisation and looks at the effects of the forces of international capital.
Bond places South Africa within the framework of what he calls 'the rising new internationalism'--the growing anti-capitalist movement that has shown itself in Seattle, Washington and Millau. He looks at the growing movement against Third World debt, and the WTO, IMF and World Bank and the role of these agencies in the destruction of the lives of millions of people. 'Think globally, act locally' is an underlying message throughout the book.
But while the book does provide a scathing critique of neo-liberalism and capitalism there are omissions and weaknesses. Bond gives no real political analysis of the crisis in the South African Communist Party (SACP) and the impact of Stalinism on the policy direction of the SACP leadership. And he fails to provide a critique of why left wing leaders in the mass democratic movement have shifted so far rightwards. Partly this stems from his inability to distinguish between mass popular movements and workers' movements concerned with providing real political alternatives to the system. Instead he talks about the need for international solidarity and grassroots mobilisation and leaves it at that.
In feeling his way around the consequences of the political shifts taking place, Bond fails to provide us with a class analysis of the crisis in South African society. He fails to address how the neo-liberal politics of the new elite is serving to polarise South African society, not on the basis of race, but on the basis of class.
But the book is important. Bond sets out how the Clinton/Blair neo-liberal cry that 'there is no alternative' is being challenged. As activists around the world prepare to shut down the World Bank and IMF in Prague, it is clear that people are demanding alternatives.
The Struggle for Accountability
Ed: Jonathan A Fox and L David Brown
MIT Press £21.50
The World Bank deserves its name. A huge multi-tentacled bureaucracy, it lends around $22 billion a year across the globe. Most of its lending is on a strictly commercial basis. It lends in order to make money and forgiveness is not in its vocabulary. It is, however, more than a big bank sucking wealth from the poor to give to the rich. Established alongside the IMF at Bretton Woods at the end of the Second World War, it plays a key role in opening up world markets for multinational capital. Many of its loans are conditional on the privatisation of state assets like water or the deregulation of activities like oil extraction.
The banks' preferred instrument is the mega-project--typically a giant dam or highway. It will be financed by a massive loan, most of which goes on huge contracts to western construction companies, engineering firms, consultancies and so on. The human consequences of these projects is horrifying. Between 1986 and 1993 World Bank projects involved, according to its own inadequate figures, the forcible resettlement of 2.5 million people. In addition there are huge ecological costs.
However, there is a rich history of resistance to the bank and the best parts of this book give details of these struggles in Indonesia, the Philippines, Brazil and elsewhere. In Ecuador in 1994 hundreds of thousands of indigenous people demonstrated against the introduction of free market reforms into agriculture as required by the bank. The Pan-American highway was occupied. Food supplies to the towns were stopped. Government buildings were occupied. The near insurrection in Ecuador last January did not come out of nowhere.
This is a 'pre-Seattle' book written by academics and environmental activists who have been part of the international campaigns over the last 20 years against World Bank mega-projects. At least one of these has succeeded. In 1995 Wolfensohn, president of the bank, dumped the giant Arun III road project in Nepal. The World Bank has been forced to talk of its commitment to sustainable, participatory development. It now says that its mission is to combat poverty.
The reality is the opposite. The bank remains an essentially secretive organisation, a brutal imperialist instrument. It consults endlessly with NGOs but it still deals with corrupt, murderous regimes. It gets much too soft a ride from the authors of the book. While they recognise with some pride that the fear of another highly public campaign, like that against the Narmarda Dam, stalks the comfortable corridors of World Bank HQ, their starting point is that the World Bank can be reformed.
As the anti-capitalist movement progresses from outside the doors of the World Bank in Washington to Melbourne, Prague and beyond there is an urgent need for a good history of the IMF and World Bank. This book does not quite fill that role. It tries to be too respectable, hoping to continue a dialogue with what it sees as the progressive elements inside the bank. But there is some useful information in here which we can use as ammunition in our campaigning activities.
The Unfinished Revolution
TUP books £8.99
In the early 1970s trades councils throughout the country were swept into the political and industrial struggles which developed in opposition to the attacks of the Heath government. Their role was to build wider support for those taking strike action, and to take forward the argument for political opposition to the government and the bosses.
South Shields Trades Council (SSTC) did that to the full and was recognised nationally for its contribution to the struggle. Jack Grassby was its president and his record of what happened is an important contribution to the history of the working class in the north east.
Although unemployment was low, it had started to accelerate. A new development was youth unemployment, which met a fierce emotional response from trade union members. In South Shields, the trades council organised a campaign for benefits to be paid to school and college students. This was given wide and enthusiastic support, and was pursued energetically by local MPs in parliament. The campaign won important changes in the DHSS rules and was reported in the national press--the Times had an editorial on the South Shields campaign in December 1971.
Encouraged by this success the 'School Leaver's Guide to Survival' was widely circulated. This gave solid advice and encouragement on claiming benefits, but it went further in warning people off joining the armed forces. The enraged response from the South Shields Gazette was: 'Poisoning Young Minds'. The demand for copies from the labour movement was immense.
Credit must also be given to the campaign for the full heating allowance for pensioners. In 1973 the Tory government conceded and 400,000 pensioners benefited. The SSTC also played a strong supporting role in the miners' strikes of 1972 and 1974, and the struggles against the closure of Palmer's Yard and Jarrow Tube Works. Probably the greatest contribution to the industrial struggle was the victory of women workers at Barbour's for recognition and for a substantial wage increase.
The campaigns and achievements are well documented in this book, which is mainly a compendium of newspaper reports, letters and leaflets interleaved with Grassby's rather sparse commentary. Considering that he played a leading part in these struggles, his style is dispassionate and at times oddly academic in a book which celebrates the self activity of the working class. It might have benefited from the direct voices of those many individuals whose lives were changed through their involvement in the various campaigns.
More fundamentally, Grassby shies away from serious political analysis. His final chapter does put forward some ideas but these can be quite demoralising. He suggests, for instance, that 'the period can be seen as a precursor to the Reagan/Thatcher era'. This is nonsensical because it ignores everything that happened between these periods. The Labour government of 1974, the Social Contract, the policing role of the trade union bureaucracy, rank and file resistance, and finally the treachery of the TUC 'Concordat' which accepted that solidarity action should be outlawed. All effectively disarmed the class and opened the door for Thatcher's attacks in the 1980s. The need then, as now, was to establish a credible left alternative to Labour and the trade union bureaucracy. If not, then the 'unfinished revolution' will remain unfinished.
Enjoy this book for its inspiring history of the struggles in South Shields, but follow Jack's advice and fill in the political bits yourself.
Across the Red River
Victor Gollancz £18.99
Over 800,000 people were murdered in Rwanda in 1994. It sent violent shockwaves throughout central Africa, resulting in the deaths of hundreds of thousands more. Through most of this human suffering Christian Jennings was there. Across the Red River describes his experience of reporting for the mainstream media from this region for over three years. Beginning in post-genocide Rwanda he gives a naive and typically western account of the country. However, as the book progresses the complex tapestry of Rwanda's political and socio-economic environment comes to the fore. Of particular interest are his critiques of aid agencies, the United Nations and French interventions, all of which acted, to varying degrees, as facets of neo-colonial domination.
Jennings then moves to neighbouring pre-crisis Burundi. This is the most enlightening section of the book, giving in-depth behind the scenes insights into the unfolding of a little known conflict and ongoing massacre. After returning to Rwanda to experience the ineffective attempts to bring perpetrators of the genocide to justice, he travels to eastern Zaire to report on the sprawling refugee camps based on the border with Rwanda. He suddenly finds himself on the front line of a war when the camps are violently broken up and the refugees repatriated by an alliance of regional and international forces under the auspices of a popular Zairian liberation movement.
Across the Red River is a highly descriptive account of central Africa's scenic beauty juxtaposed with a similarly descriptive but altogether more horrifying human factor of death, decay and depravity. Jennings skilfully intersperses the narrative with turns of comedy and farce, giving the reader relief from the harsh nature of the regional reality. Yet apart from the claustrophobic atmosphere of violence, fear and poverty, he fails to furnish the reader with any sense of the real lives of Africans living in the region, predominantly confining his social interactions with expatriate journalists, aid workers and soldiers. In fact problems with his narrative go deeper than that. At times his approach to Africans is very callous, and he reinforces some of the myths regarding the regions stereotypical status as the 'heart of darkness'.
Before turning to journalism Jennings served in the French Foreign Legion. This experience gave him improved access to military personnel in the region and a professional military knowledge. In light of this his book contains good investigative reporting into arms deals by the world's core powers who directly supplied the tools of slaughter. However, this is often marred by a distasteful 'boy's own' fascination with the technicalities of weaponry. In a similar vein his approach is dominated by factual narrative that too often ignores his own feelings in what is obviously a highly emotive area. Consequently the lack of empathy for Jennings can leave the reader detached from the unfolding of events.
These particular flaws are clearly of note but they are generally compensated by cutting first hand accounts of the key factors involved. From the colonial period to the present day, central Africa has been dominated by the commercial and strategic interests of the world's key powers. Issues of imperialism and corruption permeate Across the Red River. From the overt French intervention in Rwanda to rescue historical allies guilty of genocide to the covert US assistance toward the liberation of former Zaire leading to Africa's 'first world war' which continues to be fought today. From the supply of arms and military training to help Africans kill each other to the supply of loans and developmental 'expertise' to help Africans exploit each other. This is the strength of the book. Jennings successfully demonstrates the knock-on effects of the Rwandan genocide throughout the region, highlighting the dynamic interplay of national, regional and international forces. It is a book that should be read by those wanting a factual but non-academic account of the region's contemporary situation, its inherent contradictions and neo-colonial domination.
If anyone needs further motivation for joining anti-capitalist protests, then this book will do the job. It is packed with shocking accounts of corporate greed, corruption of government and wilful neglect of human safety and need.
Private Finance Initiatives (PFIs) began with the Skye toll bridge in what seemed to be an example of Tory ideology gone mad. The bridge cost £25 million to build. The Scottish Office contributed £13 million, the European Investment Bank £13 million--more than enough to publicly finance the bridge. But this was to be the flagship PFI, so companies were allowed to contribute £14 million. In 18 years, the tolls will reap them around £37 million. Meanwhile, the impoverished people of Skye have no choice but to pay £5.70 to leave or return home.
The corruption, secrecy and economic madness of the Skye project have been associated with all subsequent PFIs. Yet New Labour continues to promote them with vigour. PFI hospital, road and prison projects are springing up everywhere, all designed to meet corporate demands rather than public need.
With great style, Monbiot exposes corporate power in Britain: the supermarket chains that bribe councils (allowed by law) and exert corrupt pressure to subvert planning restrictions; the companies that have taken over and distorted research in universities and are now moving on to schools; the way corporations are protected from prosecution by law when they kill or destroy the environment, but can use the law to prosecute anyone who threatens their profits.
The charade of state regulation is also exposed. A wonderful chapter that would sit well in Orwell's 1984 simply lists some of the regulators in Britain: the polluters from chemical giants in charge of government environmental agencies; the sackers in charge of getting people back to work; the sellers of dud pensions in charge of regulating pensions, and so on.
The dirty dealings of corporations are exposed rarely--by whistleblowers, journalists and determined protesters. One particularly shocking exposť involved Monsanto, a company involved in GM foods that clearly has friends in New Labour. This huge US corporation produced a drug, rBST, which is injected into cows to increase milk production. The company's 'independent' scientists deemed rBST safe, and from 1993 the drug was widely used in the US. In 1998 rBST made Monsanto $200 million.
In 1997 six researchers in Canada revealed that they had been forced to approve rBST without adequate testing. Moreover, testing that had been done showed the drug was likely to cause cancer and other illnesses in humans.
The scandal began to unravel. Monsanto men had been placed on key health and safety bodies, including the UN Joint Expert Committee on Food Additives (JECFA). The initial Monsanto tests were grossly flawed. It also emerged that in 1985 the British government secretly granted Monsanto a license to test rBST on British herds. For three years 38 farms were allowed to use the drug on cows. Unbelievably, they were also allowed to sell the milk, without special labelling. The New Labour government has refused to answer questions on this issue.
Monsanto's attempts to force countries worldwide to use rBST highlighted the new rules governing world trade so favoured by the corporations and that were the focus of so much anger in Seattle. If the JECFA had declared rBST safe, then countries would not have been allowed to prevent it from being sold within their borders. If Europe had refused to accept the poisoned milk, the US could have lodged an appeal with the WTO, which could then have levied punitive sanctions against EU countries. This has, in fact, happened in other cases.
Any book about corporate power could easily lead to a sense of helplessness. Monbiot avoids this by reporting with great empathy some of the many protests that have knocked corporations back. He also urges us on to further protests--with the aim of containing corporate power and protecting democratic government from its excesses. It doesn't seem to have occurred to him that corporate power runs contrary to democracy. The idea that it can be contained and somehow work democratically for the benefit of humanity is an illusion.
Corporate power is not something new, nor is the destruction of the environment and people's lives by corporations a recent development. The state has never been able to control corporations, and the very essence of production under capitalism is that profit comes before human need.
Monbiot brilliantly exposes the evils of corporations, but the beast of capitalism that creates them is not identified. The tiger remains -- and we all know that you can't strip a tiger claw by claw. Protest, yes, but let's aim higher.