Days of Empire By William Bowles

5 January 2004

I suppose one can be forgiven for feeling depressed about the current state of affairs, after all the measure of the speed at which things change (for better or for worse) are not those of the average lifetime unless like all of us alive right now, we happen to be around when things really do change and unfortunately right now, not for the better.

But it’s all serendipity, an accident of birth really. Instead of being born in Balham I could have been born in Bangladesh. Instead of being born into a family of radicals, I could have been the son of a peasant farmer (or probably worse, the daughter) and whatever dreams I might have had, would have been no more than that, dreams. My chances of surviving into adulthood would have been drastically reduced and my chances of receiving even a basic education, virtually none.

However, I was born in Balham and so I suppose I should count my blessings. I’ve had an interesting and creative life, met a lot of interesting people and I like to think I’ve contributed something positive during my brief stay.

What prompted this introspection? Well it was a combination of things but above all, it was the photo of a blue-jeaned Tony Blair, hands on hips with a backdrop of imperial troops, telling us that what they (the troops) were doing was for a “noble and good cause”. Blair went on to say that their invasion and occupation of Iraq made them “new pioneers of 21st century soldiering”. In effect, they are the ‘new centurians’ but of course, by ‘professionalising’ them as performing merely the skill of ‘soldiering’ disconnects them from their masters and the forces of history. The last thing Blair wants is to have them perceived as centurians.

Realising that the building of the ‘new’ imperialism is not only not going too well and not going down too well with the voters either, has meant a change in tack. No more pageants or overt displays of power. The overnight appearance and just as rapid disappearance of Blair in Basra was no doubt to bolster the morale of the troops as they say. The admission that they are going to be stuck there as colonial occupiers until at least 2007 needed to delivered by the ‘commander-in-chief’ in person. Blair of course, took his appearance in the US satrapy to announce that the invasion was actually really about the removal of a ‘rogue state’ hence completing the arse backwards rationalisation for the invasion.

One of the most effective techniques of modern propaganda is to replace history and vested interests with those of the individual’s ‘quest’ for fame, immortality, wealth, power or whatever. Invariably, the Blair’s of this world are presented to us in this light. And it’s a very effective propaganda technique as most of us can relate to it. We might not like him and his obvious lack of honesty but he got where he did from his personal drive to succeed.

Driven by ‘higher ideals’, Blair is then disconnected from history and events flow from the ‘personal’ power wielded by him and his entourage. The only cause and effect is that of one man’s quest. Any thought that somehow Blair could be an agent of history driven by forces beyond his control is banished from our consciousness.

There was a time when the idea of democracy was driven by the dream that as individuals but through collective action, we could ‘take charge of own destinies’. Trade unions and then political parties became the expression of of this desire and most of the 20th century found increasing millions of us directly involved in pursuing this dream.

Today however, finds most of us in the so-called developed world, retreating in our droves from any idea of collective political action unless, like the outpouring of opposition to the invasion of Iraq, the nominal masters of the world went one step too far. But for the most part and for most of us, the idea of ‘taking charge’ is an idealist dream, a great idea but unrealistic.

Us ‘lefties’ relegated to some backwater might, just like Blair, be driven by some higher ideal but ideals that don’t have a hope in hell of being realised. After all, people came out in their millions to protest the war but what good did it do? Well yes, it didn’t stop the war but on the positive side, it scared the living daylights out of the ruling class, who thought that living a life on credit had effectively trapped us all. Comfortable (for the most part) in our comfortable houses, driving our comfortable cars, okay, working more hours per week than any country in Europe in order to pay the bills, but unlikely to be moved by the actions of our imperial masters. Unhappy, unfulfilled, drugged with consumerism — well yes, but should one expect anything more from life? It could be worse; you could have been born poor in Bangladesh.

Insulated from the reality that in fact, there is a wider gap between rich and poor than ever before under New Labour, the same propaganda that propels Blair also deadens us to our own reality. It’s the asylum seekers and the spongers, and people who don’t take life by the ‘scruff of the neck’ and ‘make something of themselves’ who have only themselves to blame. Plan for the future — invest in a pension fund. Well we all know what has happened to that particular dream for millions of people.

Talking of numbers, I came across a couple of Websites that are worth paying a visit to. I’ve taken the liberty of republishing two essays from these sites that are directly related to the issues I’ve indirectly referred to above. Both deal with the way in which the reality of the capitalist way of life is hidden from view behind the ideology of ‘neo-Darwnism’ that projects the idea that fundamental events are beyond our control, that somehow, we are all ‘victims’ of ‘human nature’.

The first, The Grip of Death, by Michael Rowbotham is the first chapter of a book that was actually published six years ago and it’s a searching investigation of the capitalist debt system that asks the obvious question, if every country is in debt to every other country, whose got all the credit? (

The second, It’s the Fiat Dollar Stupid by Doug Mcintosh deals with the wholesale state of denial by the mass media of the collapsing dollar as well as the way the public has been kept in total ignorance about the desparate state of affairs that terminal capitalism is in. ( And whilst I can’t agree with McIntosh blaming all those darn ‘furriners’ for the coming collapse of US capitalism, what the essay does reveal is just how blind and bankrupt the imperial masters really are. No amount of Blairist posturing nor his talk of ‘noble and good causes’ will alter these fundamental realities.

Both essays in their own way, expose the workings of a system that openly practices the double standard way of doing things and both reveal just how fragile is the way of life we have only recently gotten used to living. At the bottom of both essays is the reality of an economic system that has no real control over its own actions, that acts on a day-by-day basis, reacting to events and driven forces it has no real comprehension of. And I take no relish in being a Cassandra either, knowing that it will be those most vulnerable who will shoulder the brunt of the meltdown, just as we saw in Argentina recently. The crime is that we live in a world that has never been wealthier and more able to deliver all humanity’s basic needs. That terminal capitalism has unleashed awesome economic power that now paradoxically threatens to tear it apart and all because a relative handful
of people ‘control’ a system that is now rotten to the core.


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