21. A LEVEL PLAYING FIELD? By William Bowles

September 2001

I know I’m going to get a lotta flack for this one but I have to speak my mind on this. The collapse of the Soviet Union in 1990 precipitated a catastrophe on a vast scale in the former Soviet republics and much of the developing world, one which is conveniently papered over under the heading, ‘The harsh realities of globalism, to which you are all going to have to adjust’.

The other nite, I was listening to the public radio broadcasts from around the world that SAfm puts out from midnite to sometime in the am. One dealt with the coming famine in Tajakistan, a country of 6 million people which, following the collapse of the USSR descended into civil war which destroyed what economy it had and left its population pauperised and now, virtually totally dependent on the international drugs trade. Drugs destined for the US which spends billions of dollars a year fighting! Now there’s an irony for u. At the source, one million people are now threatened with starvation.

Well anyway, I’m listening to this broadcast and they interview an old man who tells us that when Tajakistan was part of the USSR, he had a decent pension and his two eldest sons had jobs which supported his extended family and they didn’t starve. Now they have nothing, nada, zilch! He was going to have to chop down the few remaining trees on his land in order to survive the winter and he had no idea what would happen next year. He finished by saying that he never dreamt that he would end his life like this. What does this comment tell us about the west’s notion of ‘democracy’ and freedom to choose?

But think about it, Africa as a whole has suffered the same catastrophe and for the same reasons. You can argue that the USSR had an unequal relationship with the African countries it supported and indeed exploited the relationship as part of its on-going (national) struggle with the US but at least many of the neo-colonial countries had reasonably stable societies and the possibility of moving on to better things, given that the balance of power between East and West guaranteed them some space to live in.

Instead, the overthrow of the “Evil Empire” has brought instability and chaos to millions of people, who now have no hope of any kind of future. Instead, some, and I emphasise some, have the bread to chunder Coca Cola and drive around in Beamers whilst their fellow citizens have the ‘freedom’ to freeze and starve and watch their reasonably well ordered societies collapse as the ethnic/racial/religious, even linguistic divisions broke these societies apart under the impact of disintegrating economies.

Damn it! we even bomb them for succumbing to the predations of an unfettered global capitalism as in Yugoslavia or Iraq, or wherever instability threatens the global order or ‘business as usual’. The US armed both Iraq and Iran for the duration of their 10 year war. Henry Kissinger, who was US secretary of state at the time, is on record as saying that he hoped they kept fighting each other for ever!

This is how the sleight of hand works:

The West destroys them through embargoes, isolation, sabotage, economic and otherwise. Undermines their wholly different economies, deprives them of access to technology and capital and the world markets, and finally bankrupts them with an arms race they were either to stupid or paranoid enough to compete in.

The whole damn thing finally collapses and the West says as these societies disintegrate, “Look I told you so, they were like that all along. Under the surface, nothing has changed, their still a bunch of savages. Let’s bomb the fuck out of them and put them back in their place, where they belong, at the bottom!” And, I might add, once more be wholly dependent on the West for everything.

I’d like to see what would happen to the US of A if it went through the same ordeal with its racial and ethnic divisions! Even in the EU there are Basque, Flemish, Corsican and Irish nationalists and god knows who else, lurking round every corner. What a load of sanctimonious bullshit they peddle us about how they’ve got their act together, isn’t it about time we got ours?

And predictably, as the Palestine tragedy blows up in our faces again, we hear the same old crap about how “unreasonable” the Palestinians are and that they’re not making enough “compromises”. If only they’d resign themselves to the ‘reality’ that they’re a captive nation, carved up into little enclaves, patrolled by an occupying army, whose presence is justified by the armed settlements built in the middle of Palestinian communities in the first place.

Why don’t they simply ask for nothing and let Israel’s ‘little’ imperialism rule the roost and continue to protect Western interests in the region. It’s not much too ask is it? And this atrocity is done under the name of a people that suffered the horrors of the Nazi extermination camps. ‘My’ people I might add, or at least my mother’s half of me.

The reality is that Israel is a Euro-American outpost in the Middle East, consisting largely of people from Europe, or of European descent who brought with them a European culture, technology, capital and especially attitudes into a region, which had been carved up by British Colonialism, and economically backward except for Eygpt and the British made sure didn’t last long.

A region where countries have been double-crossed and stabbed in the back by the British Empire for the past 100 years. Dragged into the various and sundry World and local wars by one imperialist power or another and then confronted with one of the aftermaths of a largely European war in the form of the state of Israel. This is the reality that the ‘pundits’ ignore as they push their ‘reasonableness’ at us. And we recoil in horror at the rage expressed by the Palestinians because we can’t understand why they’re so angry?

And as we struggle with our own ‘reality’ here in South Africa, where the ‘miracle’ of democracy came true, and we didn’t turn into another African ‘basket case’, we’ve now been dumped unceremoniously into the maelstrom of unbridled global capitalism.

Which put another way, means coming to terms with the fact that we’re no longer useful to Apartheid’s former ‘handlers’ (a CIA term) and the comfortable, protected existence a tiny, white minority had doesn’t really count for much in the scheme of things. It’s not worth protecting. We better tow the line, get on the program, wise up, get real, or else we’ll fuck you up too! It’s sink or swim.

And as with all the other countries that are required to buy into the whole deal, we realise that we’re simply not equipped to deal with this new ‘reality’ that’s been forced on us literally overnite. No wonder it’s so difficult for white South Africans to understand what’s really going on. They’re not equipped for this new reality either, they’ve been living in a European outpost too, along with a European mindset, never mind being an Afrioan.

Never mind that most black South Africans have never had the privilege of living in a well equipped ‘European’ house, let alone having a European mindset, which translated means, expecting things to be there, to work, for the trains to run on time, all of it powered by a cheap, disenfranchised labour force. A labour force which is now expected to behave like one which has fought for and won concessions from capital over the last century, including a half decent education and a decent standard of living for the majority as well as a range of political freedoms. It’s saying, “behave like us” and when it doesn’t work out that way, the same sleight of hand is performed. A level playing field?

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