Friday, June 04, 2004

Oh, There's Blood On Their Shoulders, Too (Part 1)

For Fascism, there is conquest and the awfulness of the holocaust; for Stalinism, there's the Ukrainian Famine and the gulags. What of neo-liberal capitalism? Well, first, what of liberal capitalism? Of course one knows about its imperialism -- the ethnic cleansing and then full-blown genocide of American Indian, the slaughter in the Phillipines, etc, but often these are dismissed as growing pains or American eccentricity or incompetence (pace Niall Ferguson). But the ideology of the industrialists of Belgium, Britian, America, France, Germany and Italy are the real culprits here; the fault should not just lay at desks or thrones of villians like Theodore Rex or King Leopold.

Indeed, the example of India is usually extolled as indicative of the "good nature" of protoglobalism (and therefore an endorsement of its neoliberal apotheosis, under which we now suffer), often with a gratuitous mention of Marx's contemporary endorsement of Britain's Indian adventures. Only for the sake of argument will I concede India, but what, then, does it say that only one country had been successfully, from the welfare of its natives point of view, transformed -- that one country did not have a large portion of its population murdered, or "just" exploited and/or enslaved? Or artificially partitioned in such a way that, when colonialism went from hard to its modern soft version, massive ethnic strife didnt take place (though India of course massively fails this last test)?

Actually, the hardened ideology of proto-global capitalism was the mother of all fuckups from the start; like any cause that turns the formerly pragmatic and cautious into True Believers, men of "principle", who had discovered "laws" of nature upon which their ideology was built and self-perpetuated, became depraved for a cause, for a "principle". The sangfroid with which they dealt with the human carnage they wrought was made possible only because their characters were so perforated by "adherence to principle."

With this in mind, AJP Taylor, in his essay "Genocide", slapped a metal ruler upon the wrists of so many ignorant True Believers. The essay, and his general argument, deserve a reprise.

"When British forces entered the so-called 'convalescent camp' at Belsen in 1945, they found a scene of indescribable horror; the wasted bodies of 50,000 human beings who had died from starvation and disease. Kramer, 'the beast of Belsen', and his assistants were hanged for this atrocious crime. Only a century before, all Ireland was a Belsen. Nearly two million Irish people died of starvation and fever within five years; another million fled, carrying disease to Liverpool and the New World.

Thus Taylor compares the victims of the Holocaust to the human debris (potato-diggers and drunkards, all) of Ireland. Comparisons to the Holocaust are already a big no-no in world of Recieved Opinion; comparing the victims of the Holocaust to the victims of the Irish famine will therefore be deemed gratuitous. But if one can see beyond his own tribalism, the comparison is valid, and at any rate, neither Taylor nor I claim there is categorical moral symmetry.

Taylor then goes on to briefly relate the history of the crop failures; he does this with considerable irony and even sarcasm at the expense of those clinical historians who termed this and other human catastrophes as "natural." Then he dispenses with levity and lets them have it, only then to get into the meat of his argument, laying blame where it belongs:

"...The dead are dead. They have become so many figures in a notebook. But they were once human beings, and other human beings sent them to their death. The blight was 'natural'; the failure of the potato crop was 'natural'. After that, men played a part. There was food avaliable to save the Irish people from starvation. It was denied them. Nor did Ireland stand alone. Ireland was at this time part of the United Kingdom, the wealthiest country in the world. The British Government had insisted on undertaking responsibility for Ireland. When crisis arose, they ran away from it. The men in Whitehall were usually of humane disposition and the bearers of honoured names: Lord John Russell; Sir Charles Wood, later first Viscount Halifax; Sir Charles Trevelyan. These men, too, were in a sense victims. They were gripped by the most horrible, and perhaps the most universal, of human maladies: the belief that principles and doctrines are more important than lives. They imagined that rules, invented by economists, were as 'natural' as the potato blight. Trevelyan, who did most to determine events, always wanted to leave Ireland to 'the operation of natural causes'. He refused to recognise that only the gigantic operation of an artificial cause - the exertion of British power - prevented the Irish people from adopting the natural remedy and eating the food which was avaliable for them. Like most members of the comfortable classes of all times, he regarded the police and the law courts as natural phenomena.

[My emphasis]

He's quite right. Not only did the Natural Lawyers, in their adherence to "principle", fail to curtail human misery, they exacerbated the famine through a fidelity to contradiction they refused to acknowledge: if "nature" caused the famine, "human nature" also provided the remedy, which was the rebellion of the starving Irish who would have annexed all availiable foodstuffs of their British Overlords -- and if bayonets were employed to stop them (the threat of which actually DID stop them), the Irish would have been 'natural' in barbequing and eating the bayonet-wielders. Natural Law and 'natural law' dictates that the starving acquire food by any means necessary. Hence Taylor's point that this sort of "natural" response was thwarted by the entirely artificial presence of British force.

"...The British rulers of the 1840s were no worse than those who later sent millions of men to their deaths in two world wars; no worse than those who now plan to blow all mankind to pieces for the sake of some principle or other. But they were also no better. Though they killed only two million Irish people, this was not for want of trying.

Now Taylor hammers the ten-penny nail into the coffin of the Society of the Invisible Hand; he effects this by quoting Jowett:

"I have always felt a certain horror of political economists since I heard one of them say that the famine in Ireland would not kill more than a million people, and that would scarcely be enough to do much good."

Of course nowadays

"[t]he successors of these economists are in the same spirit. They preach the virtue of a little healthy unemployment, and do not rely on the whip of starvation only because it has been taken from their hands. If the particular crime comitted in Ireland.. could not happen now, it is not because present-day statesmen are an improvement on their predecessors. It is because the common conscience of mankind no longer allows statesmen to live up to their principles.

[Again, my emphasis]

One is reminded of these "successors", the Free Traders, who decry the "principle" of agencies like USAID dumping taxpayer-paid domestic grain on starving nations. Of course such gifts aren't always the charity some take them to be, but the point is that the Free Traders don't object morally, they object because of their arbitrary "principles" which they self-flatteringly call "laws." While it is true that though the United States has often bestowed gifts of food on poor starving nations, it is often to serve a cynical aim, which was to alter native tastes and to establish a future market whilst also placating the farmer voting bloc at home (See Earl Butz, Richard Bell, and Richard Nixon). There is a legitimate complaint to be lodged against this sort of cynicism, even though the act itself is necessary and humane. Yet the Free Marketers only complain because the credits to buy this excess grain are given or cheaply loaned to the starving country -- the starving, like anyone else, must pay market price or perish! But I am getting ahead of Taylor.

"Here was the peculiar tragedy of the Irish famine. The common conscience failed to work, or at least did not work effectively. It is easy to understand how Trevelyan and the rest thought they were doing their duty. They were handling human beings as ciphers on a bit of paper. They looked up the answers in a textbook of economics without ever once setting eyes on the living skeltons of the Irish people. They invented a distinction between those who were starving because of the potato blight and those starving from normal distress. They excused the Irish for being hit by the blight once. They condemned them for persisting in planting potatoes after blight appeared -- as though the Irish could do anything else.

Remember what the reactionaries in the 80s said regarding the Ethiopians? "Why dont they just move?" Though this was said more often out of ignorance and bigotry it was also the Invisible Fist's "principle" bubbling up through garden-variety ethnocentrism. But then,

"[m]ost of all, these enlightened men feared that the whole social structure would topple down if men and women were once given food which they could not pay for.


...Everything combined against the Irish people. Ignorance played a large part... No enterprising newspaper correspondent described the horrors in Ireland for the English press... Nearly all Englishmen regarded Ireland as an inferior version of England, inhabited by lazier and less efficient people."

How familiar this sounds. But notice that aside the blame Taylor lays at racism/tribalism, he uses the phrase "less efficient" as a deliberate jab at one of the Liberal economists' favourite mantras, "efficiency", with which they have always ignored human costs. Indeed, if tribalism has been put in temporary abeyance by the descendents of these "economists" (note that their age-old slag on Latinos, "indolent and inefficient" has now been dropped because Latinos' powers of labour -- always great -- are now used by the Globalists in America in rather the same way their predecessors used that of Chinese and Irish immigrants), it is not because tribalism is morally abhorrent in of itself, rather it's because their artificial "principles" suffer unto them this rather ironic about-face. It's easy for them to have hated Mexicans when Mexicans held land that the proto-globalists wished to steal (and this theft was just as often rationaized on grounds of economic effieciency as it was on grounds of "security" and Manifest Destiny), yet now that Mexican immigrants perform menial duties for near-slave wages, they are considered paragons of efficiency. Likewise the Irish are now considered somewhat human, no longer crazy drunken Papists; yet this is not because of any moral reformation of the Invisible Hand, but because the Irish have long been economically assimilated. It's easy to forget the "drunken papacy" of a tribe when its modern nation-state is a tax paradise for these men of "principle" and when its waves of immigrants had a large hand in building the infrastructure with which the Invisible Hand enrichens itself and is empowered to "Ireland" the rest of the world as it seems fit (though of course conforming to "principle").

Next, I'll go through Taylor's pre-emptive demolition of the Globalists' argument that relief can be adequately given by private charitible organisations -- the Invisible Hand's position that governments should not be in any business that does not conform to economic "rules" and therefore that, if there is human misery it is appropriate that it only be dealt with by market forces or by charitible organisations.

Edit -- Consider this a draft. I've bitten off more than I can chew for the time allowed me. Instead of a Part 2 I'll just redo the whole thing, tie it to the second part and conclusion and post it whole. So long for a few days.