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Counterinsurgency, Death Squads, and the Population as the Target: Empire Under Obama, Part 4
By: Andrew Gavin Marshall
Originally posted at The Hampton Institute
While the American Empire – and much of the policies being pursued – did not begin under President Obama, the focus of “Empire Under Obama” is to bring awareness about the nature of empire to those who may have – or continue – to support Barack Obama and who may believe in the empty promises of “hope” and “change.” Empire is institutional, not individual. My focus on the imperial structure during the Obama administration is not to suggest that it does not predate Obama, but rather, that Obama represents ‘continuity’ in imperialism, not “change.” This part examines the concept of ‘counterinsurgency’ as a war against the populations of Iraq, Afghanistan and spreading into Pakistan.
Continuity in the imperialistic policies of the United States is especially evident when it comes to the strategy of ‘counterinsurgency,’ notably in Afghanistan. As examined in Part 1 of this series, language plays a powerful role in the extension and justification of empire. George Orwell noted that political language was “largely the defense of the indefensible,” where horrific acts and policies – such as maintaining colonial domination, dropping atomic bombs on cities – can only be defended “by arguments which are too brutal for most people to face.” Thus, political language is employed, consisting “largely of euphemism, question-begging and sheer cloudy vagueness.” One specific example was provided by Orwell in his essay – Politics and the English Language – which holds particular relevance for the present essay: “Defenseless villages are bombarded from the air, the inhabitants driven out into the countryside, the cattle machine-gunned, the huts set on fire with incendiary bullets: this is called pacification.” Virtually the same process or strategy is today employed using words like counterinsurgency or counterterrorism. These military strategies are frequently employed, and the words are carelessly thrown around by military officials, politicians, intellectuals and media talking heads, yet little – if any – discussion is given to what they actually mean.
Near the end of the Bush administration in 2008, General David Petraeus was appointed as the Commander of CENTCOM (Central Command), the Pentagon’s military command structure over the Middle East and Central Asia, overseeing the two major ground wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. In 2010, Obama had appointed Petraeus as commander of the NATO forces in Afghanistan, and in 2011, he was appointed as CIA Director. Petraeus is a good starting point for the discussion on counterinsurgency.
Petraeus was previously commander of U.S. forces in Iraq, having quickly risen through the ranks to lead Bush’s “surge” in 2007. Prior to the surge, Petraeus was initially sent to Iraq in 2004 given the responsibility of training “a new Iraqi police force with an emphasis on counterinsurgency.” While in Iraq, Petraeus worked with a retired Colonel named Jim Steele, who was sent to Iraq as a personal envoy of Defense Secretary Rumsfeld. Steele acquired a name for himself in ‘counterinsurgency’ circles having led the U.S. Special Forces training of paramilitary units in El Salvador in the 1980s, where he turned them into efficient and highly effective death squads waging a massive terror war against the leftist insurgency and the population which supported them, resulting in the deaths of roughly 70,000 people.
Jim Steele had to leave a promising military career after his involvement with the Iran-Contra scandal – trading arms to the Iranians for their war against Iraq to finance the death squads in Central America – and so he naturally turned to the private sector. But he had so impressed a Congressman named Dick Cheney, that when Cheney was Vice President, he and Rumsfeld maintained a cozy relationship with Steele who was then sent to Iraq in 2003 to help train the Iraqi paramilitary forces. Steele, working with David Petraeus and others, helped establish “a fearsome paramilitary force” which was designed to counter the Sunni insurgency which had developed in reaction to the U.S. invasion and occupation, running ruthless death squads which helped plunge the country into a deep civil war. Petraeus’ role in helping to create some of Iraq’s most feared death squads was revealed in a 2013 Guardian investigation.
However, in 2005, the Pentagon had openly acknowledged that it was considering employing “the Salvador option” in Iraq in order “to take the offensive against the insurgents.” John Negroponte, who had been the U.S. Ambassador to Honduras when the U.S. was running death squads out of Honduras in Central America was, in 2005, the U.S. Ambassador to Iraq. The Pentagon and the CIA were considering what roles they could play, possibly using U.S. Special Forces, to help train Iraqi “death squads” to hunt down and kill “insurgents.”
Within the first three years of the Iraq war and occupation, the British medical journal, The Lancet, published research indicating that between 2003 and 2006, an estimated 650,000 – 940,000 Iraqis had died as a result of the war. A survey from 2008 indicated that there had been more than one million deaths in Iraq caused by the war.
This is referred to as a “counterinsurgency” strategy. In 2006, General Petraeus wrote the foreward to the Department of the Army’s Field Manual on Counterinsurgency, in which he noted that, “all insurgencies, even today’s highly adaptable strains, remain wars amongst the people.” A 1962 U.S. counterinsurgency guide for the U.S. war in Vietnam said it even more bluntly when it noted that, “The ultimate and decisive target is the people… Society itself is at war and the resources, motives, and targets of the struggle are found almost wholly within the local population.”
At the risk of being redundant, let me put it even more simply: counterinsurgency implies a war against the population. An insurgency is an armed rebellion by a significant portion – or sector – of a population against an institutional authority or power structure (usually a state or imperial power). Thus, for the American Empire – adhering to its rigid ‘Mafia Principles’ of international relations – an ‘insurgency’ is always a threat to imperial domination: if people are able to resist domestic power structures (say, a specific U.S. ally/client state), then other people around the world may try the same. The United States will seek to counter insurgencies for several reasons: to maintain the stability of their ally, to maintain the confidence of other allies, to maintain its reputation as the global hegemon, and to counter more direct threats to U.S./Western interests, such as the loss of access to resources or key strategic points, or in the case of U.S. military occupations, to crush any and all resistance.
In Part 1 of this series, I briefly summarized some major strategic reports written by key U.S. imperial planners, such as Henry Kissinger, Zbigniew Brzezinski, and Brent Scowcroft. A 1988 National Security Council-Defense Department Commission on Integrated Long-Term Strategy was co-chaired by Kissinger and Brzezinski, and directly acknowledged that most conflicts across the world were “insurgencies, organized terrorism, [and] paramilitary crime,” including “guerilla forces” and “armed subversives.” The report stated that the U.S. would have to intervene in these “low intensity conflicts” in which the “enemy” was “omnipresent” (or, in other words, in which the target was the population), because if the U.S. did not wage war against armed rebellions or uprisings around the world, “we will surely lose the support of many Third World countries that want to believe the United States can protect its friends, not to mention its own interests.”
This is a key example of ‘Mafia Principles.’ The Mafia is able to expand its influence not simply through coercion, but through offering ‘protection.’ Thus, businessmen, politicians or other individuals who pay dues to the Mafia are in turn given protection by the Mafia. If they are confronted with a problem – competition, threats to their position, etc. – the Mafia will use threats or force in order to protect their patrons.
Take, for example, a corrupt politician (I know, how redundant!) who is in the pocket of the Mafia. A mob boss may ask for a favour – to pass (or block) a particular law – and in turn, the politician gets protection from the mob. Suddenly, an up-and-coming young politician gains in popularity in opposition to the corrupted political figure. The politician asks the mob for some help (after all, the mob doesn’t want to lose the person in their pocket for the one who appears to be a wild card), and so the mob attempts to bribe or makes some threats to the aspiring political figure. If the bribes and/or threats don’t work, then force may be used. Suddenly, the aspiring political figure was found washed ashore along the city’s riverbanks.
This has served several purposes: the politician is kept in the pocket of the Mafia (always easier than trying to find a new point man), the mob maintains its reputation as an organization not to be challenged or disobeyed (fear plays a essential part in maintaining power), and the politician is more indebted than ever to the mob. Interests are secured, reputations are maintained, and power is strengthened.
An ‘insurgency’ in a client state or against a Western occupation poses such a threat to the local and international power structures of imperialism. Thus, the Empire must counter the insurgency in order to undermine the immediate threat to its forces (or those of its allies/clients), to maintain its reputation as what Obama recently referred to as “the anchor of global security,” and thus, to maintain the confidence of other allies around the world, and to pose a powerful threatening force to other populations which may attempt resistance. Interests are secured, reputations are maintained, and power is strengthened.
The notion that a counterinsurgency campaign is targeting a population resisting some form of authority – whether justified or not – and that such a strategy leads to enormous human tragedy, civilian casualties, suffering, chaos, destruction and human social devastation simply is of little significance to those who advocate for such doctrines. If the interest is in maintaining ‘power,’ the suffering of people is irrelevant. For the Empire, power and profit are what matters, people are incidental, and most often, in the way.
In the midst of the massive civil war in Iraq that Petraeus helped to bring about (with his ‘counterinsurgency’ operations of building death squads), Bush appointed Petraeus to head the planned “surge” of 20,000 U.S. troops into the country in 2007, which was hailed in the media and by the political class and their intellectual sycophants as a profound success.
By 2008, violence in Iraq was down, and this was of course interpreted as a success of the counterinsurgency/surge strategy. The reality was, as several commentators and analysts have pointed out, that the violence decreased because most of the ethnic cleansing in Iraq had taken place by then, and the Shia had won. One academic study noted that just prior to the surge, there was a massive ethnic cleansing that took place within Iraq, and so by the time the surge began, noted one researcher, “many of the targets of conflict had either been killed or fled the country,” and that, “violence has declined in Baghdad because of inter-communal violence that reached a climax as the surge was beginning.” The effect of the surge was not to reduce violence, but rather, noted the report: “it has helped to provide a seal of approval for a process of ethno-sectarian neighborhood homogenization that is now largely achieved.”
Even General Wesley Clark, former Supreme Commander of NATO who led the NATO war against Yugoslavia in the 1990s, wrote in 2007 that as the surge was taking place, “vicious ethnic cleansing is under way right under the noses of our troops.” Upon the disgraced resignation of Petraeus from the position of CIA Director (due to some insignificant political sex scandal) in 2012, the Washington Post reflected on the “surge” strategy back in 2007 which propelled Petraeus “to the top,” writing that the surge strategy was “about helping Iraqis.” Naturally, such a notion – in the Western media – is a given ‘fact’ without the need for qualification: we did it, therefore it is ‘good’; we did it in Iraq, therefore it was for the benefit of Iraq; we did it to Iraqis, therefore it was for Iraqis.
Counterinsurgency strategy – or ‘COIN’ as it is referred to in military parlance – shares a great deal with terrorist strategy, namely that, “the target is the people.” The difference, however, is that one is employed by a massive state-military power structure while the other is used by small networks of individuals (often) operating outside of state structures. Both, however, are typically driven by relatively small groups of violent extremists.
Obama briefly appointed General Stanley McChrystal – former commander of the JSOC forces running secret wars around the world – as the head of U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan in 2009, who was a strong advocate of “counterinsurgency tactics.” In March of 2009, Obama announced his strategy for Afghanistan and Pakistan as a dual ‘AfPak’ strategy, expanding the Afghan war theatre directly into Pakistan, a nation of some 180 million people and armed with nuclear weapons.
The strategy in Afghanistan was expected to drive militants into neighboring Pakistan, likely destabilizing the country. As the Obama administration began its “surge” into Afghanistan in March of 2009, under the leadership of General McChrystal, who formerly ran Cheney’s “executive assassination ring,” an additional 21,000 troops were sent to the country. The Pakistani military warned the Americans that they were worried that U.S. actions in Afghanistan would not only send an increased level of militants, including the Taliban, into Pakistan’s lawless areas, but that it could also “prompt an exodus of refugees from southern Afghanistan.” In May of 2009, under U.S. pressure, the Pakistani military launched an offensive against the stateless North West Frontier Province (NWFP), displacing over 2 million people.
This offensive was urged by State Department official Richard Holbrooke, as well as Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Admiral Mike Mullen and General David Petraeus. The Independent referred to the displacement which resulted as “an exodus that is beyond biblical,” creating roughly 2.4 million internal refugees within the span of a month. Across the world, only Sudan, Iraq and Colombia had larger internal refugee populations. The speed of the “displacement” reached up to 85,000 per day, matched only by the Rwandan genocide in 1994. The refugee crisis had subsequently “inflamed murderous ethnic rivalries” across Pakistan, noted the Wall Street Journal. However, by late August, Pakistan had returned roughly 1.3 million of the refugees to the areas from which they were displaced.
In October, Obama sent an addition 13,000 troops to Afghanistan. The Pakistani Prime Minister warned that this would “destabilize his country.” In December, Obama announced an intention to send an additional 30,000 U.S. forces to Afghanistan, bringing the total number of U.S. troops in the country to roughly 100,000.
In a 2009 State Department cable from Pakistan, Anne Patterson reported that U.S. policy and actions in Pakistan “risks destabilizing the Pakistani state, alienating both the civilian government and military leadership, and provoking a broader governance crisis in Pakistan without finally achieving the goal.” However, Patterson, seemingly without paradox, wrote that the U.S. strategy was “an important component of dealing with the overall threat” of terrorism.
Further, noted Patterson, the U.S. strategy in relation to Afghanistan, which included supporting an increased role for India, Pakistan’s long-standing state-enemy, was pushing the Pakistanis “to embrace Taliban groups all the more closely,” and that U.S. arms deals with India “feeds Pakistani establishment paranoia and pushes them close to both Afghan and Kashmir-focused terrorist groups while reinforcing doubts about U.S. intentions.”
Another 2009 diplomatic cable from Patterson in Pakistan noted that nuclear proliferations was “a bigger threat than terrorism,” while Pakistan had been building nuclear weapons “at a faster rate than any other country in the world,” according to a U.S. national intelligence official in 2008. U.S. support for India’s nuclear program (which is not a signatory to the NPT), has continued to cause Pakistan to refuse to sign the NPT, and had encouraged Pakistan to instead develop more nuclear weapons. Patterson described the relationship between Pakistan and the U.S. as one of “mutual distrust,” explaining that, “the relationship is one of co-dependency we grudgingly admit – Pakistan knows the US cannot afford to walk away; the US knows Pakistan cannot survive without our support.”
Patterson noted in a 2009 cable that most Pakistanis view America with “suspicion,” and that the Pakistani government was worried about the influx of militants and refugees from the U.S.-NATO war in Afghanistan, and that they would prefer to implement a strategy of “dialogue, deterrence and development” (instead of military operations) in regards to the country’s own troubled regions which were becoming hot-beds for the growth of extremist groups. Patterson recommended that the U.S. government instruct the Pakistanis that, “it will be difficult for international donors to support a government that is not prepared to go all-out to defend its own territory.” In other words: if Pakistan wants military and economic aid and IMF ‘assistance,’ it will have to continue military operations.
Fred Branfman, who examined in detail Wikileaks cables related to Pakistan, summarized their findings as thus: “A disastrously bungled U.S. policy toward Pakistan has led a majority of the Pakistani people to see the U.S. as their ‘enemy’ and strengthened jihadi forces in both the northwest territories and Punjab heartland and thus made it more likely that anti-American forces could obtain Pakistani nuclear materials.” As America continues its war in Afghanistan, it will “continue to destabilize the Pakistani state,” not to mention, so too will undertaking a ‘secret war’ inside Pakistan itself.
Since General Petraeus had so much “success” with creating death squads in Iraq, plunging the country into a deeper civil war, supporting the massive ethnic cleansing and undertaking a war against the population (“counterinsurgency” campaign), he was naturally the right choice for Obama to appoint in 2010 when it came to leading the “counterinsurgency” and “surge” into Afghanistan, replacing General McChrystal.
As revealed by Bob Woodward in 2010, under the Obama administration, the CIA was “running and paying for a secret 3,000-strong army of Afghan paramilitaries whose main aim is assassinating Taliban and al-Qaeda operatives not just in Afghanistan but across the border in neighboring Pakistan’s tribal areas,” likely working “in close tandem” with U.S. Special Forces undertaking “kill-or-capture” missions, all of which is approved by the U.S. and NATO commander in Afghanistan, General David Petraeus.
The Afghan “surge” of the Obama administration was a profound failure. Following the first year of the surge, 2010 was recorded as the “deadliest year” for Afghan civilians since the war and occupation began in 2001, with over 2,700 civilians killed, up 15% from the previous year, according to the UN. In 2011, the death toll reached another record high, with more than 3,000 civilians killed, according to the UN, an 8% increase from the previous year, and the number of deaths caused by suicide bombings increased by 80% from the previous year.
The U.S. troops presence was to be reduced significantly following the formal “withdrawal” in 2014, after which time Obama pledged to keep a “small troops presence” in the country. The remaining force would largely be geared toward “counterterrorism” operations in the country. In June of 2013, the “formal” handing over of security operations from U.S.-NATO forces to Afghan forces was initiated, with a 350,000-strong military and police force trained by NATO and the US to manage internal ‘security’ against the continued ‘insurgency’ in the country.
In other words, nearly thirteen years after a U.S.-NATO war and occupation began in Afghanistan, the war will continue indefinitely, and the “target” will remain as the population. In our media, we hear about deaths of “militants” or “Taliban” as if these are easily confirmed card-carrying or uniform-wearing groups and individuals (just as we report in regards to Obama’s global drone bombing terror campaign). Yet, these reports often go unquestioned, much like during the massive counterinsurgency war the U.S. waged in Vietnam, where the majority of the population was largely opposed to the imperial presence of the United States, and where those whom the U.S. killed were given the all-encompassing label of ‘Viet Cong’ – the “enemy.” So long as those who we murder in our foreign occupations are given the correct ‘label’ (whether Viet Cong, Taliban, al-Qaeda, or the ever-bland ‘militants’ and ‘terrorists’), our continued slaughtering is continuously justified.
Few comments are made about the notion of the right of populations to resist foreign military occupations. Regardless as to whether or not we – as individuals – approve of particular militant groups in places like Afghanistan or Pakistan, we do not have the ‘right’ to dictate who rules those nations. And, in fact, our presence strengthens the more extremist, militant, violent and deplorable groups precisely because they are those which are best equipped to resist another – far more – violent, extremist, militant and deplorable group: namely, Western military occupation forces.
Here is a hypothetical: imagine you live in the United States, and the government collapses amid disarray and disagreement (I know, I’m being redundant again!), but then, China suddenly decides to send in its army of 2.2 million forces to occupy the United States in order to act as an “anchor of security” for the world. Imagine Chinese forces installed a puppet government, maintained an occupation for over a decade, and ultimately ruled the country by force. Surely, in the United States, armed resistance would emerge. Yet, who – in the U.S. – are those most likely to resort to armed resistance?
Chances are, such groups would emerge among the militant right-wing Christian groups spread out across much of the country, holding extremist ideologies which much of the population finds deplorable, but also being among the best armed members of the domestic American population. Other gangs and criminal groups would likely flourish, war lords and drug lords would rise to high places (as they have in Afghanistan, Mexico, and Colombia), and then the Chinese would resort to a ‘counterinsurgency’ strategy, in which the whole population is punished. This would ultimately increase support for the domestic militants, despite their deplorable ideologies, and a subsequent cycle of violence and destruction would likely ensue.
Surely, such a scenario is not desired – at least not by the many Americans I know and consider friends and family – but such is the scenario we impose upon countries and people all across the planet. This insanity must stop. There must be – in the West and most especially within the United States itself – the development of an anti-imperial/anti-empire social movement. It is not only a requirement out of some uncomfortable argument about the ‘economic costs’ of extending an empire around the world, but it is a moral necessity. As Obama himself stated in September of 2013, “for nearly seven decades the United States has been the anchor of global security.” That is seven decades of American imperialism on a truly global scale, for which the populations of the West must now make amends, and that can only be done by ending the empire. Nothing less than the absolute abolishment of imperialism – in all its modern forms – is of the utmost human necessity.
We can have destruction, or we can have dignity. We can have hypocrisy, or we can have honesty. We can have fascism, or we can have a future. We can have hatred, or we can have humility. We can have repression, or we can have possibility. We can have war, or we can have no more. We can have Empire, or we can have Humanity. We cannot have both. Clearly, those in power are not equipped with the principles or possible threat of having a ‘moral moment’ in order to make such decisions: Barack Obama is no exception. Obama is merely the latest political personification of imperial phlegm spewed forth from the charred chest of the American oligarchy as their chief representative, diligently applying Mafia principles to international relations.
The future of humanity – and the ending of empire – can only exist in hands of humanity itself, not a single human being with concentrated power, but rather, with the actualization – the decentralization – of power among the population.
When Hitler’s second in command – Hermann Goering – was asked at the Nuremberg trials about Nazi Germany plunging the world into war, he replied: “Why, of course, the people don’t want war… Why would some poor slob on a farm want to risk his life in a war when the best that he can get out of it is to come back to his farm in one piece. Naturally, the common people don’t want war; neither in Russia nor in England nor in America, nor for that matter in Germany. That is understood. But, after all, it is the leaders of the country who determine the policy and it is always a simple matter to drag the people along, whether it is a democracy or a fascist dictatorship or a Parliament or a Communist dictatorship… voice or no voice, the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same way in any country.”
It would seem, then, that the only ones qualified to determine foreign policy are those it affects the most – those who are sent off to kill, and those who are targeted to be killed – in short: the population. Peace is possible, if people are empowered. Otherwise, imperialism is inevitable, and extinction is nearly ensured. There is a choice: we can passively accept imperialism and internalize a sense of insignificance and apathy; or, we can acknowledge that the whole global imperial system and structures of domination were established and are maintained precisely because those few in power – the tiny minority of global oligarchs – who rule the world are very well aware that when people work together, locally and globally, change is inevitable. If people were so easily controllable, so automatically apathetic, or inherently insignificant, why are there so many institutions, ideologies, techniques, structures and systems designed to keep people that way?
We can have Empire, or we can have Humanity. The choice is yours.
Andrew Gavin Marshall is a 26-year old researcher and writer based in Montreal, Canada. He is Project Manager of The People’s Book Project, chair of the Geopolitics Division of The Hampton Institute, research director for Occupy.com’s Global Power Project, and hosts a weekly podcast show with BoilingFrogsPost.
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Egypt Under Empire, Part 3: From Nasser to Mubarak
By: Andrew Gavin Marshall
Originally published at The Hampton Institute
Part 2: The “Threat” Of Arab Nationalism
Between 1952 and 2011, Egypt was ruled by three military dictators: Nasser, Sadat, and Mubarak. Nasser placated labour unrest and imposed many social programs that benefited the population. Sadat subsequently began to break down the ‘social contract’ with Egyptian society, and when Mubarak came to power in 1981, the following three decades witnessed the imposition of a neoliberal order, complete with crony-capitalists, corrupted bureaucracies and a repressive police force. Three decades of increased poverty, polarized wealth and power, and increased labour unrest all laid the groundwork for the 2011 popular uprising.
As Nasser came to power in Egypt in 1952, he successfully crushed labour militancy in the country, and even executed two labour leaders as a symbol of the new regime’s lack of tolerance for radical labour actions. Nasser engaged in a power struggle for a brief period, before assuming complete power in 1954, at which point independent political organizations were banned and he “ushered in a populist-corporatist pact between labour and the state,” in which “the state controls the bulk of the economic, political, and social domains, leaving little space for society to develop itself and for interest groups to surface, compete, and act autonomously.”
Labour groups were organized “into a limited number of singular, compulsory, non-competitive, hierarchically ordered and functionally differentiated categories.” In 1957, the government created the General Federation of Egyptian Trade Unions (GFETU), monopolizing labour unions under the government, purging the radical leaders and co-opting the moderates. Since this period, “trade unions have functioned as an arm of the state rather than as democratic representatives of workers.” Thus, labour activism and actions largely subsided throughout the 1950s and 60s.
Despite violent repression of independent political organizations, communists and militant labour groups, Nasser became incredibly popular both within Egypt and across the wider Arab world. He established a one-party state and a large security apparatus “to crush any and all dissent.” However, his articulation and actions related to Arab nationalism and Arab socialism – the twin pillars of his ‘revolution’ – sought to free Egypt and the Arab world from imperial domination, and to undertake a social revolution domestically as “part of an informal social contract where the population accepted constraints on its political freedom in exchange for the promise of higher living standards and a stronger nation.”
A large network of social services was established, which “provided employment, education and healthcare, as well as subsidized transportation and food.” This program also entailed “spending large sums of money on the military, which was seen as the protector of the nation from external enemies.” These social programs helped to “create a modern middle class” in Egypt. The allegiance of the middle class to the authoritarianism of the regime was secured by the government guaranteeing state employment to all university graduates.
Nasser also implemented major agrarian reforms, which between 1952 and 1961, “redistributed about one seventh of the country’s cultivable land from large landowners… passed on to the landless and near landless fellahin rather than kept for direct use by the state.” This led to an “improvement of rural incomes and agricultural production,” and attempted to undermine the influence of the large landowning class of Egyptians.
With the defeat of Egypt in the 1967 Arab-Israeli War, Nasser’s government suffered a humiliating defeat, and Nasser’s death in 1970 led to the emergence of a new dictator, Anwar Sadat, also emerging from the military, who ruled the country from 1970 until 1981. Undertaking a policy of ‘de-nasserisation,’ Sadat sought to undo many of Nasser’s more progressive policies, earning him the favour of the West. Among such policies were to return the “confiscated” land to the large landowners within Egypt by employing an ‘open door’ market-oriented program called infitah. The intifah helped to create the conditions for a real estate and credit boom, ultimately adding to Egypt’s foreign debt as the country became increasingly dependent upon foreign financing and ‘investment.'
The infitah – or “opening” – wrote Hibbard and Layton, “offered an alternative vision of economic development to that of Arab socialism;” beginning a process of liberalization and an influx of Western capital, “to integrate Egypt into the Western capitalist system.” Sadat’s policies also oversaw the gradual elimination of Nasser’s social programs and “the abandonment of Nasser’s anti-imperialism.” The country quickly became more trade dependent, having to import staple foods, and foreign financing was limited to non-productive sectors of the economy. Egypt increasingly exported its labour to the Persian Gulf, which helped to reduce the problems of unemployment at home, and increased the country’s reliance upon remittances from its foreign workers sending their wages back home. In 1974, labour remittances, oil exports, tourism, foreign aid and the Suez Canal accounted for nearly a third of Egypt’s foreign income, a number that exploded to 75% in 1980. A new commercial elite developed with extensive ties to the state, while economic inequality between the rich and the rest of society accelerated.
Such policies did not occur without resistance, however, with opposition emanating from academics, state bureaucrats and workers, with strikes and “popular unrest” occurring throughout the mid-1970s, with a major transport worker strike in 1976 and large bread riots in 1977. Sadat responded to the labour unrest and food riots by sending in the military to crush the protests. Sadat oversaw the construction of an alliance between the large landowning class, the business class, and the conservative religious elite, and even sought to build ties with the Muslim Brotherhood. Further, Sadat rebuilt ties with the United States, and even established an alliance and peace treaty with Israel, negotiated by the Carter administration in the U.S. as the 1979 Camp David Peace Accords. With that, Sadat lost a great deal of popular support, and Egypt’s Islamists rejected him. Sadat was ultimately assassinated by an Islamist group in 1981.
In 1981, Hosni Mubarak then took control of Egypt, also emerging from within the military and continuing the trend of maintaining the military dictatorship established since 1952, and deepening the economic ‘reforms’ begun under Sadat. Under Mubarak, the military and economic elites became more closely integrated, and with the imposition on the Emergency Law following Sadat’s assassination, Mubarak wielded more authoritarian power, suspending the constitution and dismantling the rights of citizens, also allowing for “detention without charge, press censorship and other restrictions on civil liberties.” A new – parallel – legal system was constructed, relying upon military courts, purportedly for use against ‘terrorists’ but used to persecute any and all forms of political opponents.
Mubarak oversaw – during the 1980s and 1990s – a massively expanded entrenchment of neoliberal economic and social reforms in Egypt. Mubarak also pursued a major campaign against Islamists, who were making political gains with segments of the population by capitalizing on the poverty and popular anger toward the government, largely brought on as a result of the economic reforms. Mubarak’s Egypt thus became a major human rights violator, all the while receiving immense financial and military aid from Western governments, namely, the United States. The role of the security services – in particular the police forces under the control of the Interior Ministry – became more predominant throughout Mubarak’s rule, with torture and other abuses widespread.
The military plays a very large role in the economy as well, and under Mubarak, military officials were appointed as regional governors, village chiefs and put in charge of state-run companies. The military itself has undertaken large land expropriations, runs companies and factories, giving it a major role to play in manufacturing, agriculture, construction, gas and consumer industries. The military, however, keeps most of its economic activities secret, and does not pay taxes while often using “conscripted labourers” for its workforce.
Mubarak began to implement further ‘reforms’ to the agrarian sector along neoliberal lines during the 1980s. The Agriculture Minister Yusuf Wali began implementing agriculture sector liberalization policies in 1986, working “hand in hand with USAID and the World Bank.” The U.S. stressed “market-oriented” reforms and promoted export-led growth, as USAID invested $1.26 billion in the agricultural reforms. These reforms continued over the 1990s, and resulted in widespread dispossession of small farmers and a further alliance between economic and military-political elites.
The major neoliberal reforms in Egypt arrived under Mubarak with the signing of a 1991 Economic Restructuring and Adjustment Program with the IMF, demanding liberalization of trade and prices, privatization, and labour ‘flexibility,’ as well as the removal of several social safety net measures.
The ‘new economic elite’ that emerged in Egypt as a result of the IMF’s programs of the 1990s were closely tied to the ruling party, the National Democratic Party (NDP), and Mubarak’s son, Gamal, who headed the NDP. Prominent businessmen became more influential in policy-making circles and “the number of businessmen elected to Egypt’s parliament increased from 8 in 1995 to 150 by 2005.” Public spending on social services was dramatically cut, state-owned industries were privatized and employees fired, resulting in “staggering hardships for the majority.”
As labour was under sustained attack, they fought back, with twice as many labour protests in the 1990s than took place during the 1980s. With the 1991 IMF program, Egypt was firmly entrenched in a neoliberal ‘order,’ which would accelerate over the following two decades. Fifteen years following the IMF program’s beginning – by 2006 – Egyptian workers had been subjected to continuous hardships and exponentially increased their resistance to it.
The privatization program led to the unprecedented plundering of the Egyptian economy into the hands of relatively few economic elites. Out of 314 state-run companies, 209 were privatized by 2005, “leading to a massive displacement of public sector workers, and with it a further weakening of the struggling labour movement.” The number of workers employed by public sector companies was cut in half between 1994 and 2001. The IMF praised the privatization program in 2006 for having “surpassed expectations.” Wealth and power was concentrated “in the hands of a tiny layer of the country’s elite,” and a few large conglomerates dominated the major sectors of the economy. As Henry Veltmeyer wrote, “Mubarak – and the Egyptian state as a whole – represented an entire capitalist class.”
Neoliberal reforms were further implemented under Prime Minister Ahmed Nazif (2005-2011), which saw businessmen take a more direct role in managing the state, with six major government ministries being run by six major businessmen in the areas of trade and industry, housing, transportation, health, agriculture and social welfare. Taxes were dramatically cut for corporations and elites and dramatically increased for the rest of the population. Corruption and embezzlement of public funds was rampant as the privatization programs effectively subsidized “the private sector at the expense of the nation as a whole.”
The costs of food, fuel and transportation skyrocketed, while Prime Minister Nazif instructed protesting Egyptians to “grow up.” Thus, in 2006, Egypt witnessed a new wave of labour unrest. Independent forms of worker organization re-emerged and in 2006 alone, “there were 220 major strikes involving tens of thousands of workers in the largest strike wave that Egypt had seen in decades,” and which were increasingly linking up with peasant movements protesting against the large landowners.
In 2006, a three-day strike of workers at a weaving and spinning factory in El-Mahalla was “a major turning point in the history of the Egyptian workers’ movement,” marking a total work-stoppage and for a much longer duration than strike action prior and helped in the formation of new workers associations with more democratic accountability, directly challenging the state monopoly over unions.
The strike was “the largest and most politically significant industrial strike since a dispute in the same workplace in 1947,” having roughly 24,000 workers participating, with over 10,000 occupying the factory for three days and nights, and on the fourth day the government granted a concession by offering a 45-day bonus. This set off a wave of worker protests and strikes across the country over the following years. Between 2006 and 2009, an estimated 1.7 million workers participated in protest actions, including private and public industrial workers, postal workers, educational administrators, workers in transportation, tax collection, healthcare, and other sectors. The recent years of labour unrest has been referred to as “the largest social movement in over half a century” taking place within Egypt.
Between 2006 and 2008, Egypt recorded annual growth rates of 7%, and in 2009 – while much of the world was experiencing negative growth – Egypt recorded a 4.6% growth rate. However, between 2008 and 2009, poverty in Egypt increased from 20% to 23.4%, while roughly 40% of Egyptians live on less than $2 per day, one-third of the population is illiterate, and youth make up roughly 90% of the unemployed. Thus, while the neoliberal reforms of the previous three decades produced high growth rates, “it has [also] led to worsening living standards for the majority of the population and the increased concentration of wealth in the hands of a tiny minority.” Between 1998 and 2010, there were between 2 and 4 million workers who took part in between 3,400 and 4,000 strikes and other labour actions. There were 266 strikes and labour actions in 2006, 614 in 2007, and they reached roughly 1,900 in 2009.
As strikes escalated, the demands for higher wages and more democratic union representation evolved into demands for the end of the Mubarak regime (and the neoliberal reign of Prime Minister Nazif). One strike organizer in 2007 told a radio program, “We are challenging the regime.” At strikes, workers were chanting, “We will not be ruled by the World Bank! We will not be ruled by colonialism!” Images of signs at protests circulated, reading, “Down with the Government. We want a Free Government.” One strike leader who was arrested in 2007, said upon his release: “We want a change in the structure and hierarchy of the union system in this country… The way unions in this country are organized is completely wrong, from top to bottom. It is organized to make it look like our representatives have been elected, when really they are appointed by the government.”
The second Palestinian Intifada in 2000 helped spawn new social movements within Egypt. The Cairo Conference was held in 2002 in an attempt to organize disparate social groups around two main shared positions: anti-neoliberalism and anti-war. In 2004, this led to the formation of the Kefaya (“Enough”), the Egyptian Movement for Change. This was aided along by a major demographic change within the country, where by 2011, roughly 52% of Egypt’s population was under the age of 25, and it was this group which disproportionately lacked employment, with roughly 95% of post-secondary educated youth being unemployed or working in fields unrelated to their education with very low pay. It was this demographic which became increasingly mobilized around non-ideological movements such as Kefaya, organizing a series of anti-Mubarak protests between 2004 and 2005, demanding democracy and accountability. The younger members of this group then established the April 6 Movement, “an organization that emerged in support of the 2008 strike by textile workers in Mohalla al-Kubra.”
A number of other social groups and protests organizations emerged from 2004 onwards, including Students for Change, Youth for Change, University Professors for Change, Workers for Change, Artists for Change, and the People’s Campaign for Change, among many others. In 2005, as Kefaya organized a massive anti-Mubarak protest, an organization of Egyptian intellectuals was formed as the National Assembly for Democratic Transition. Lawyers, journalists and other professions increasingly took part in protests.
The April 6 Youth Movement began to support the Mahalla workers’ strike in 2008, with founder Ahmed Maher having started a Facebook page that quickly reached over 70,000 members. As support grew, the government crack down ensued, with roughly 500 activists arrested over the following two months, including Maher (who was also tortured).
Since the Mubarak government made it illegal to hold meetings of more than five people, with a heavy-handed approach to information control and news censorship, Facebook and other Internet-based social media platforms quickly became very popular among young Egyptians. Roughly one in nine people in Egypt have Internet access, and 9% of those who have access used Facebook, making it the most visited website in the country, following Google and Yahoo. The Facebook page for the April 6 movement, reported the New York Times in 2009, was the page “with the most dynamic debates” among young Egyptians, “most of whom had never been involved with politics before joining the group.” The Facebook page provided a venue for young Egyptians “to assemble virtually and communicate freely about their grievances.”
The United States has been a major sponsor of the Egyptian dictatorship, giving it extensive leverage with the regime. Between 1948 and 2011, the U.S. provided Egypt with a total of $71.6 billion in bilateral foreign aid (most of which consisted of an annual aid package of $1.3 billion in military aid from 1987 to present), and since the peace treaty with Israel was signed in 1979, Egypt has been the second-largest recipient of U.S. ‘aid’ in the world (after Israel).
Another large international sponsor of the Egyptian dictatorship was the International Monetary Fund (IMF), which also heaped praise upon the Tunisian dictatorship of Ben Ali prior to its overthrow. In a 2010 report on Egypt, the IMF noted that the country had been following the Fund’s advice on economic reforms, though continued to recommend “phasing out energy subsidies” and increasing privatizations. The IMF further noted that, “the relationship between Egypt and the World Bank Group has been transformed and markedly improved over the last few years as a result of the progress Egypt has made in implementing reforms.”
In 2010, labour unrest continued throughout the country, with one strike organizer telling the press in May of 2010, “The government represents the marriage between authority and money – and this marriage needs to be broken up… We call for the resignation of Ahmad Nazif’s government because it works only for businessmen and ignores social justice.”
Egypt was clearly on the edge of an uprising, all that was required was a ‘spark’ – which came in the form of the Tunisian uprising in December of 2010 and January of 2011. With the overthrow of the long-time dictator, Ben Ali, in Tunisia, Egyptians were motivated to mobilize against Mubarak.
Andrew Gavin Marshall is an independent researcher and writer based in Montreal, Canada. He is Project Manager of The People’s Book Project, head of the Geopolitics Division of the Hampton Institute, Research Director for Occupy.com’s Global Power Project and hosts a weekly podcast show at BoilingFrogsPost.
 Rabab El-Mahdi, “Labour protests in Egypt: causes and meanings,” Review of African Political Economy (Vol. 38, No. 129, September 2011), page 390.
 Scott Hibbard and Azza Salama Layton, “The origins and future of Egypt’s revolt,” Journal of Islamic Law and Culture (Vol. 12, No. 3, October 2010), pages 198-199.
 Ibid, page 199.
 Rabab El-Mahdi, op. cit., page 390.
 Ray Bush, “Coalitions for Dispossession and Networks of Resistance? Land, Politics and Agrarian Reform in Egypt,” British Journal of Middle Eastern Studies (Vol. 38, No. 3, December 2011), page 395.
 Scott Hibbard and Azza Salama Layton, “The origins and future of Egypt’s revolt,” Journal of Islamic Law and Culture (Vol. 12, No. 3, October 2010), page 200.
 Ibid, pages 200-201.
 Ibid, pages 201-202.
 Ibid, pages 202-203.
 Angela Joya, “The Egyptian revolution: crisis of neoliberalism and the potential for democratic politics,” Review of African Political Economy (Vol. 38, No. 129, September 2011), page 372.
 Ray Bush, op. cit., pages 396-397.
 Angela Joya, op. cit., page 370.
 Scott Hibbard and Azza Salama Layton, op. cit., page 202.
 Rabab El-Mahdi, op. cit., page 395.
 Henry Veltmeyer, “Unrest and Change: Dispatches from the Frontline of a Class War in Egypt,” Globalizations (Vol. 8, No. 5, October 2011), page 612.
 Angela Joya, op. cit., pages 370-371.
 Rabab El-Mahdi, op. cit., page 395.
 Henry Veltmeyer, op. cit., page 612.
 Rabab El-Mahdi, op. cit., pages 397-399.
 Ibid, pages 387-388.
 Henry Veltmeyer, op. cit., page 611.
 Joel Beinin, “Egyptian Workers and January 25th: A Social Movement in Historical Context,” Social Research (Vol. 79, No. 2, Summer 2012), page 326.
 Ibrahim Awad, “Breaking Out of Authoritarianism: 18 Months of Political Transition in Egypt,” Constellations (Vol. 20, No. 2, 2013), page 278.
 Joel Beinin, op. cit., page 331.
 Angela Joya, op. cit., pages 368-369.
 Scott Hibbard and Azza Salama Layton, “The origins and future of Egypt’s revolt,” Journal of Islamic Law and Culture (Vol. 12, No. 3, October 2010), pages 206-207.
 Angela Joya, op. cit., page 369.
 Ellen Knickmeyer, “Fledgling Rebellion on Facebook Is Struck Down by Force in Egypt,” The New York Times, 18 May 2008:
 Samantha M. Shapiro, “Revolution, Facebook-Style,” The New York Times, 22 January 2009:
 Jeremy M. Sharp, “Egypt: Background and U.S. Relations,” Congressional Research Service, 27 June 2013: page 9.
 Patrick Bond, “Neoliberal threats to North Africa,” Review of African Political Economy (Vol. 38, No. 129, September 2011), pages 483-484.
 Joel Beinin, “Egyptian Workers and January 25th: A Social Movement in Historical Context,” Social Research (Vol. 79, No. 2, Summer 2012), page 339.
Egypt Under Empire, Part 2: The “Threat” of Arab Nationalism
By: Andrew Gavin Marshall
The following is Part 2 of my series, “Egypt Under Empire,” originally posted at The Hampton Institute
In 1945, the British agreed to renegotiate the Anglo-Egyptian Treaty of 1936, with the British seeking to protect their large military presence with their base at the Suez Canal. The negotiations had become frustrated with the Egyptians demanding the unconditional removal of all British troops, a prospect that was reviled by both the British and Americans, who were first and foremost interested in maintaining their imperial hegemony over the region. One of the major threats to Western imperial domination of the Middle East and North Africa (and thus, of Asia and Africa more generally) was the “rising tide” of Arab Nationalism.
Arab Nationalism was considered a threat for a number of reasons: it presented the possibility of small countries being able to unite as a common force, chart their own paths and determine their own sovereignty, remain ‘neutral’ in the Cold War, and threaten the West’s control of the region’s oil resources and transport routes long considered vital to energy, trade, and military expansionism. In short, Arab Nationalism was a threat precisely because it presented an ‘alternative’ for the poor nations and peoples of the world to follow, an independent form of nationalism not tied to or dependent upon the imperial powers, instead seeking to unite the ‘Third World’ – with its vast natural resource wealth and strategic locations – and thus, could potentially bring the downfall of Western imperial domination of the world.
As early as 1943, in light of the massive oil reserves in Saudi Arabia, President Roosevelt signed Executive Order 8926 which declared that, “the defense of Saudi Arabia [is] vital to the defense of the United States.” In 1944, President Franklin Roosevelt wrote a memo to the American Director of Economic Operations in the Middle East in which he made clear, “The Middle East is an area in which the United States has a vital interest.” That interest, of course, was oil. Roosevelt made clear that Middle Eastern oil belonged to the Western imperialist nations and not the Middle East itself, as he wrote that “the objective of the United States” in the Middle East “is to make certain that all nations are accorded equality of opportunity,” and that “special privileges… should not be afforded to any country or its nationals.” This was, of course, indirectly referring to France and especially Great Britain, the imperial hegemons of the Middle East at the time. The “equality of opportunity” to exploit the resources of the Middle East was simply referring to the expansion of America’s “vital interest” in the region.
American interest in Saudi Arabia and the Middle East more broadly did not die with Roosevelt. His successor, Harry Truman, was just as eager to “open the door” to the Middle East. A 1945 memorandum to President Truman written by the Chief of the Division of Near Eastern Affairs in the U.S. State Department, Gordon Merriam, stated: “In Saudi Arabia, where the oil resources constitute a stupendous source of strategic power, and one of the greatest material prizes in world history, a concession covering this oil is nominally in American control.” Adolf A. Berle, one of Franklin Roosevelt’s closest advisers, particularly in relation to the construction of the post-War world, years later remarked that controlling the oil reserves of the Middle East would mean obtaining “substantial control of the world.”
After the British left India in 1947 and Palestine in 1948, their largest military base outside Great Britain was on Egypt at the Suez Canal Zone. Yet, in 1947, the Labour government was determined to maintain “a firm hold in the Middle East.” Bilateral talks were held between the British and the Pentagon in 1947 in which they discussed the region, some twenty countries, in which the two powers recognized the region as “vital” to their security interests and agreed to “parallel policies.” This was agreed to by the newly-formed National Security Council (NSC), though the Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS) were hesitant, fearful that American forces would be drawn into the Middle East at a time when the size of the forces were being decreased while the demands of the emerging empire were increasing. Thus, the JCS stipulated that the “British should continue to maintain primary responsibility for the defense of the Eastern Mediterranean and the Middle East.” In 1947, even the U.S. State Department agreed that while “the security of the Eastern Mediterranean and Middle East… is vital to the security of the United States,” America’s security in the region depended upon the “strong strategic, political, and economic position” of Britain in the region.
As the British Empire continued its decline in influence, and the Soviet Union continued its increase in influence, the Americans became especially concerned with an expanded Soviet presence in the Middle East. In the early 1950s, Secretary of State Dean Acheson sought to exert control over the region “through the coordination of American, British, and indigenous [local Arab dictator] efforts under a concept of the defense of the Middle East as a whole.” Top State Department officials presented the plan to the Pentagon, who agreed, but were hesitant to commit troops to the region, instead favouring the building up of local allies (i.e., to establish strong regional proxies), and recommended the U.S. invite Turkey into NATO in an effort to move the strategic objectives forward. President Truman promptly invited Turkey into NATO in 1951.
In 1951, the U.S. Deputy Secretary of State George McGhee stated, “We wish to keep the area on our side where it is clearly cooperating with us, or to bring it firmly onto our side where it is wavering.” That same year, the Egyptian parliament – frustrated with the British – abrogated the Anglo-Egyptian Treaty in the face of widespread popular demands within the country, frustrating plans for a joint American and British military command of the region, which they wanted to establish within Egypt.
As tensions rose, fighting broke out between British and Egyptian forces, with mass protests and unrest in the streets across the country. It was at this point that the Egyptian army’s ‘Free Officers’ intervened and orchestrated the bloodless coup in 1952. The Americans were warned beforehand about the possibility of a coup, and expressed support for Nasser and the coup officers, feeling that they were “pro-Western,” though the U.S. Ambassador in Egypt added that they were “woefully ignorant of matters economic, financial, political, and international.”
As the Americans sought closer ties to Egypt, Secretary of State John Foster Dulles went to meet with Nasser, who explained that any alliance with the West – built upon the concept of the Cold War’s ‘struggle’ against Communism – would require the British to leave Egypt entirely. Nasser explained that for Egyptians, the main enemy was imperialism, not communism. He told Dulles, “I would become the laughingstock of my people if I told them they now had an entirely new enemy, many thousands of miles away, and that they must forget about the British enemy occupying their territory. Nobody would take me seriously if I forgot about the British.”
The United States continued to attempt to gain the favour of Nasser and the regime in Egypt, noting its strategic importance to the domination of the entire region. The CIA established ties with Nasser’s government in 1953, passing money to the regime, which Nasser (correctly) interpreted as a bribe. Nasser accepted the American approaches to his regime, hoping to keep the U.S. comfortable, though he articulated a ‘non-aligned’ position for Egypt, choosing neither the side of the Soviet Union or the U.S. in the Cold War. The Americans had to accept this position, as they were bluntly told by Nasser’s closest adviser: “You will never be able to get the oil of the Middle East if its people do not side with you… Either you win us forever, or you lose us forever.” The U.S. attempted to ‘win’ favour, by providing funding through the World Bank for the construction of the Aswan Dam.
Nasser’s suspicions grew, however, when World Bank funding came with ‘conditions’ which would allow for concessions to the British and Americans, specifically regarding the Suez Canal. Nasser felt the World Bank was cooperating with “the imperialist nations,” who were getting in the way of his attempted project to build a modern society for Egypt: to achieve a social revolution. Nasser then announced an arms deal with the Soviet Bloc in 1955, prompting the US and UK to cancel their funding of the Aswan Dam.
By 1956, the State Department acknowledged – in internal documents – that, “there seems little likelihood the US will be able to work with Nasser in the foreseeable future.” British Prime Minister Anthony Eden had even stated that he wanted to “destroy” Nasser. A State Department official noted in July of 1956 that, “Nasser is pursuing policies in the Near East opposed to reasonable U.S. objectives.” As the U.S. ended funding for the Aswan Dam, Nasser announced that Egypt would fund the project by nationalizing the Suez Canal. The British and French were furious, with Anthony Eden cabling President Eisenhower that they had to “be ready… to use force to bring Nasser to his senses.” The French compared the nationalization of the Suez Canal to Hitler’s seizure of the Rhineland, but the Americans remained hesitant to resort to military action, fearing that undertaking such a response would ‘compromise’ their position in the region. The British and French told the Americans that “military action is necessary and inevitable,” and hoped for U.S. support.
A special national intelligence estimate shared with the National Security Council in the United States noted that Nasser’s decision had “greatly strengthened his position, not only as leader of Egypt, but also as the spokesman and symbol of Arab nationalism throughout the Middle East.” The decision to nationalize the Suez Canal “has won wild acclaim from the Egyptian population, warm support from the greater part of the Arab world, and approval from the USSR.” The intelligence estimate noted: “Nasser’s action has strengthened anti-Western, anticolonial, and nationalist trends throughout the area, and if successful, will encourage future moves toward early nationalization or other action against foreign-owned oil pipelines and petroleum facilities.”
Referring to Nasser’s nationalization as a “dramatic act of defiance,” the intelligence document explained that this will “have an intoxicating effect on Arab nationalist sentiment,” and subsequently, “certain Arab states may be encouraged, both by example and persuasion, to take similar anti-Western actions.” All of these threats and possible actions “would be increased in the event of intervention by Western military forces or a substantial increase in Western arms shipments to Israel.”
A State Department policy paper from early August 1956 referred to Nasser as “an international political adventurer of considerable skill with clearly defined objectives that seriously threaten the Western world.” The State Department concluded: “Nasser intends to make full use of the resources of the Arab world, notably the Suez Canal and the oil, the resources and turmoil of the entire African continent, and the support of Muslims in Indonesia, China, Malaya, Siam, Burma and elsewhere” in order “to wield a power without limit.” Thus, the State Department noted, “it must be concluded that Nasser is not a leader with whom it will be possible to enter into friendly arrangements of cooperation or with whom it will be possible to make any feasible accommodations.” Nasser did not seek to become “a stooge of the Kremlin,” but rather, to take “a more ambitious” role as a “third force,” which would ultimately “be as inimical to the interests of the West as those of the Kremlin.”
The State Department paper went on to acknowledge that the regional resentment of populations against the West was legitimate in the historical context of Western colonialism and empire, but that it would be necessary to prevent the region coming together, to ‘divide and conquer.’ In the policy paper’s own words, the State Department acknowledged that “the hatreds, frustrations and resentments of the people of the Middle East and Africa certainly exist and there is no easy way of dealing with the problems which they create.” Tellingly, the report continued: “it is to the interest of the West that they be dealt with as nearly separately as possible and that no leader… be permitted to merge the emotions and resources of the entire Middle East and Africa into a single onslaught against Western civilization.” Thus, the West would have to implement “policies designed to reduce… Nasser as a force in the Middle East and Africa.” The memo bluntly concluded: “it is in U.S. interests to take action to reduce Nasser’s power.”
Still, however, fear of the popular reaction in the Arab, Muslim and African world prevented the United States from supporting military intervention in Egypt, as “anticolonial and anti-Western tendencies would be greatly reinforced and resentment of the continued presence of Western power elements in the Middle East would be intensified,” according to a National Intelligence Estimate.
In late October of 1956, the Israelis, British and French began their attack and invasion of Egypt. In a meeting with his National Security Council, Eisenhower declared, “How could we possibly support Britain and France if in doing so we lose the whole Arab world?” The United States and the USSR both publicly and internationally condemned the European-Israeli invasion of Egypt, demanded a ceasefire and a withdrawal of troops. The event was considered a victory first and foremost for Nasser’s Egypt, then for the Soviets and Americans, and a major defeat for the waning influence of the French and British in the region (and not to mention, increased hostility toward Israel, largely viewed as a Western imperial proxy in the region).
Nasser’s influence was especially increased following the Suez Crisis. Nasser’s support for nationalist movements in North Africa, particularly Algeria, increasingly became cause for concern. Pro-Western governments in the Middle East stood on unstable ground, threatened by the ever-expanding wave of Pan-Arab nationalism and indeed, Pan-African nationalism spreading from North Africa downward.
The United States, however, noting the power vacuum created by the defeat of Britain and France in the conflict, as well as the increasing support from the Soviet Union for nationalist movements in the region as elsewhere, had to decide upon a more direct strategy for maintaining dominance in the region. As President Eisenhower stated in December of 1956, as the Suez Crisis was coming to a final close, “We have no intention of standing idly by… to see the southern flank of NATO completely collapse through Communist penetration and success in the Mid East.” Secretary Dulles stated in turn, that, “we intend to make our presence more strongly felt in the Middle East.” Thus, the Eisenhower Doctrine was approved in early 1957, calling for the dispersal of “$200 million in economic and military aid and to commit armed forces to defend any country seeking assistance against international communism,” explaining that, “the existing vacuum… must be filled by the United States before it is filled by Russia.”
Support for the Eisenhower doctrine in 1957 came from the pro-Western governments [aka: dictatorships] of Libya, Lebanon, Turkey, Iran, Pakistan, Jordan, Iraq and Saudi Arabia, while opposition was strongest amongst Syria and Egypt. Nasser suggested that the Eisenhower Doctrine was “a device to re-establish imperial control by non-military means,” and he would thus “have nothing to do with it and felt it was directed at Egypt as much as at any communist threat.”
Indeed, Nasser was correct, as internal State Department policy planning papers reflected. While a great deal of the rhetoric from internal documents and public statements was directed at dealing with the threat of ‘communism’ and the Soviet Union’s influence in the region, Nasser and Egypt figured prominently in the internal discussion among U.S. policy-makers, noting the threat of a ‘Third Force.’ Thus, as the State Department noted, “efforts to counter Soviet penetration” of the region “must include measures to… circumscribe Nasser’s power and influence.” The U.S. was adamant that it must avoid “suspicion that our aim is to dominate or control any of the countries or to reimpose British domination in a different form,” and thus, “our actions will be largely self-defeating if they create a general impression that our objective is to directly overthrow Nasser.” It may be worth noting that the document said that while they wanted Nasser gone, the issue was simply that they did not want to give the “impression” (appearance) that they wanted him gone. Thus, the guise of stemming the spread of ‘communism’ became increasingly useful in a strategic context.
A National Security Council Operations Coordinating Board report from 1957 acknowledged that there had “been increasing manifestations of an awakened nationalism” in the Arab world, largely emerging in response to “a desire to end both real and imagined vestiges of the mandate and colonial periods.” Since the historic colonial powers of the region “were from Western Europe, this nationalism has assumed generally an anti-Western form” which has “created opportunities for Soviet exploitation” which has “placed the United States in a difficult position.” The “sympathy” that the United States has towards those who want to overthrow the oppressive structures of empire and domination – which is to say, the rhetoric of the American system as being supportive of democracy and liberation – often runs “into sharp conflict with actions required to maintain the strength of the Western alliance and to support our closest allies,” who happen to be ruthless tyrants.
While Britain and France viewed this nationalism “as a threat to their entire position in the area,” the United States felt that while such nationalism “represents a threat to the West,” it viewed it “as an inevitable development which should be channeled, not opposed.” While acknowledging that Nasser would “remain the leader of Egypt” for some time, the objective of the United States would be to determine “the degree to which it will actively seek to curb Nasser’s influence and Egyptian activities in the Near East and Africa.”
A 1958 National Security Council report on the ‘Long-Range U.S. Policy Toward the Near East’ noted that the region was “of great strategic, political, and economic importance to the Free World,” by which they meant, the Western imperial powers. This was especially true because the region “contains the greatest petroleum resources in the world and essential facilities for the transit of military forces and Free World commerce,” such as the Suez Canal. Thus, the report noted, “it is in the security interest of the United States to make every effort to insure that these resources will be available and will be used for the strengthening of the Free World,” with the added benefit of the fact that the “geographical position of the Near East makes the area a stepping-stone toward the strategic resources of Africa.”
The NSC document noted that, “In the eyes of the majority of Arabs the United States appears to be opposed to the realization of the goals of Arab nationalism,” believing “that the United States is seeking to protect its interest in Near East oil by supporting the status quo and opposing political or economic progress.” The status quo, of course, was to support ruthless dictators who impoverished their populations and gave their nation’s resources over to Western imperial powers. The Soviet Union, on the other hand, has a much better reputation within the Arab world, supporting the cause of Arab nationalism without demanding the same allegiance in the Cold War struggle that the U.S. was demanding of its autocratic allies in the region. Thus, “the prestige of the United States and of the West has declined in the Near East while Soviet influence has greatly increased.” The U.S. and Soviet Union were largely divided on issues related to Israel-Palestine, Arab nationalism and self-determination, U.S. support for its “colonial” allies in Western Europe, and the “widespread belief that the United States desires to keep the Arab world disunited and is committed to work with ‘reactionary’ [i.e., authoritarian] elements to that end.”
These beliefs, the report went on to note, were essentially true. The United States “supports the continued existence of Israel” and “our economic and cultural interests in the area have led not unnaturally to close U.S. relations with elements in the Arab world whose primary interest lies in the maintenance of relations with the West and the status quo in their countries,” identifying the rulers of Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, Iraq and Jordan as obvious examples. The report even acknowledged that the “police-state methods” employed by communist governments “seem no worse than similar methods employed by Near East regimes, including some of those supported by the United States.”
Acknowledging that the region had “extremes of wealth and poverty,” the Arab people largely blamed “external factors” such as “colonialism,” and “a desire on the part of the West to keep the Arab world relatively undeveloped so that it may ultimately become a source of raw materials.” The NSC also acknowledged that because of the U.S. alliance with the Western European colonial powers through NATO, “it is impossible for us to avoid some identification” with colonialism. However, the NSC noted, “we cannot exclude the possibility of having to use force in an attempt to maintain our position in the area,” though such force may only preserve Western interests “with great difficulty.”
Instead of “attempting merely to preserve the status quo,” the NSC document suggested, the United States should “seek to guide the revolutionary and nationalistic pressures throughout the area into orderly channels which will not be antagonistic to the West and which will contribute to solving the internal social, political and economic problems of the area.” However, this still required the United States to “provide military aid to friendly countries to enhance their internal security and governmental stability,” or in other words, to preserve the status quo. However, when a “pro-Western orientation is unattainable,” the document recommended to “accept neutralist policies of states in the area” and that the U.S. should “provide assistance… to such states.”
In terms of the ‘threat’ posed by Pan-Arab nationalism, the NSC report recommended that the U.S. publicly proclaim “support for the ideal of Arab unity,” but to quietly “encourage a strengthening of the ties among Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Iraq” in order to “counterbalance Egypt’s preponderant position of leadership in the Arab world” to support the political and economic power of “more moderate” states such as Saudi Arabia, Lebanon, Sudan and Iraq. The United States still had to “be prepared” to use force, however, in order “to reconcile vital Free World interests in the area’s petroleum resources with the rising tide of nationalism in the area.”
The National Security Council Planning Board produced a report in July of 1958 which noted a difference of views within planning circles, one of which was that the U.S. “must face up to the fact that Arab nationalism is the dominant force in the Arab world, and that it has assumed a radical form symbolized by Nasser.” Further, because “we back regimes which seem out of step with it, or otherwise seek to retard its impact, we are going to appear to oppose it.” Thus, the NSC put forward one suggestion that, “we must adapt to Arab nationalism and seek to utilize it, if we are to retain more than a steadily declining influence in the Arab world.”
Another view of the matter, the NSC paper articulated, was that, “because of the many disparities between our interests and the demands of radical Arab nationalism, the United States cannot afford to accommodate it,” as Nasser’s brand of Pan-Arab nationalism “may be virtually insatiable; it mat not stop its march until it has taken over large parts of Africa,” and thus, accommodation “may only bring a still more rapid loss of Western influence.” Ultimately, the NSC document noted, “if we choose to combat radical Arab nationalism and to hold Persian Gulf oil by force if necessary, a logical corollary would be to support Israel as the only strong pro-West power left in the Near East.” In other words, the United States would support Israel as a buffer against the spread of Arab nationalism.
Two days after the NSC document was issued, Secretary of State John Foster Dulles stated – during a meeting of the National Security Council – that, “Arab nationalism was like an overflowing stream – you cannot stand in front of it and oppose it frontally, but you must try to keep it in bounds. We must try to prevent lasting damage to our interests in the Near East until events deflate the great Nasser hero myth,” and that “we must try to deflate that myth.” President Eisenhower chimed in during the meeting, suggesting, “we could support self-determination by the Arabs as far as the internal governments of the various countries were concerned. Since we are about to get thrown out of the area, we might as well believe in Arab nationalism.”
The following month, in August of 1958, a Special National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) noted that many pro-West dictatorships in the region were experiencing major crises, such as Lebanon and Jordan (both of which the U.S. sent troops to that year), or having been overthrown (such as Iraq), or forced to make accommodations to Nasser (such as Saudi Arabia and Kuwait), and thus, noted the NIE: “the Western-supported conservative governments of the Middle East have seen their influence and authority slip away.” Arab nationalism, the NIE noted, “is a movement of long standing, with great emotional appeal, aimed at a renaissance of the Arab peoples and the restoration of their sovereignty, unity, power, and prestige.” Thus, while pro-West governments publicly spoke out against Western imperialism, they continued to maintain ties to the imperial powers “because they needed Western support in order to stay in power.”
The radical nationalist governments, on the other hand, “were far more distrustful of the West, more determined to eradicate the remaining Western controls over Arab political and economic life, and far more serious about achieving (rather than simply praising) the goal of Arab unity.” Further, these radical regimes “added a doctrine of social revolution and reform to the older tenets of Arab nationalism, and thus came into conflict with the traditional upper classes and social and economic systems of the Arab world on which the conservatives’ power rested.” Ultimately, the NIE noted, “it is necessary to think of Nasser and the mass of Arab nationalists as inseparable” and that “no rival is likely to challenge him unless he suffers a series of defeats.”
An NSC planning board paper from late August suggested that the United States should “seek to contain radical pan-Arab nationalism from spilling out beyond the Near East and undermining other pro-Western regimes.”
Indeed, few things are more frightening to imperial powers than the possibility of a good example. If a comparably small and poor country like Egypt could successfully defy the United States, France, Britain, Israel and the Soviet Union – to not become a proxy of any major power – and to chart its own path in international affairs and attempt a ‘social revolution’ at home, the rest of the world – the majority of the world being poor and living in Africa, Asia and Latin America – are paying attention. If Egypt could do it, so could they. What’s more, if the Arab countries could unite, then the African countries could unite, defying the fallacious borders carved up by European empires and creating powerful regional forces of their own.
In short, it amounts to a type of domino theory which was articulated by the Pentagon and other imperial planning bodies in the United States to justify their massive wars in Indochina and beyond, except instead of fearing the spread of Communism – with countries caving one by one (like dominos) to the appeal of the Soviet Union – the reality of the threat was much greater: a successful attempt of independent nationalism would encourage more to follow.
This is no less true today than it was when Nasser was in power. Perhaps the most important quote regarding the spread of Arab Nationalism in the 1950s – from the perspective of American imperial strategists – was when the NSC declared in 1958 that the United States should “seek to guide the revolutionary and nationalistic pressures throughout the area into orderly channels which will not be antagonistic to the West and which will contribute to solving the internal social, political and economic problems of the area.” Indeed, one could imagine such a statement appearing almost verbatim in the internal documents of the Obama administration related to Egypt’s ongoing revolution.
Andrew Gavin Marshall is an independent researcher and writer based in Montreal, Canada. He is Project Manager of The People’s Book Project, head of the Geopolitics Division of the Hampton Institute, Research Director for Occupy.com’s Global Power Project and hosts a weekly podcast show at BoilingFrogsPost.
 Peter L. Hahn, “Containment and Egyptian Nationalism: The Unsuccessful Effort to Establish the Middle East Command, 1950-53,” Diplomatic History (Vol. 11, No. 1, January 1987), pages 25-26.
 Maurice Jr. Labelle, “‘The Only Thorn’: Early Saudi-American Relations and the Question of Palestine, 1945-1949,” Diplomatic History (Vol. 35, No. 2, April 2011), pages 259-260.
 Letter from President Roosevelt to James M. Landis, American Director of Economic Operations in the Middle East, Concerning the Vital Interest of the United States in the Middle East, Foreign Relations of the United States, The Near East, South Asia, and Africa, 6 March 1944.
 Report by the Coordinating Committee of the Department of State, “Draft Memorandum to President Truman,” Foreign Relations of the United States, Diplomatic Papers, The Near East and Africa, Vol. 8, 1945, page 45.
 Lloyd C. Gardner, Three Kings: The Rise of an American Empire in the Middle East After World War II (The New Press, 2009), page 96; Noam Chomsky, “Is the World Too Big to Fail?” Salon, 21 April 2011: http://www.salon.com/2011/04/21/global_empire_united_states_iraq_noam_chomsky/
 Toru Onozawa, “Formation of American Regional Policy for the Middle East, 1950-1952: The Middle East Command Concept and Its Legacy,” Diplomatic History (Vol. 29, No. 1, January 2005), pages 120-121.
 Peter L. Hahn, op. cit., page 24.
 Ibid, pages 28-29.
 Toru Onozawa, op. cit., pages 125-127.
 Peter L. Hahn, op. cit., pages 34-35.
 Ibid, pages 36-39.
 H.W. Brands, “The Cairo-Tehran Connection in Anglo-American Rivalry in the Middle East, 1951-1953,” The International History Review (Vol. 11, No. 3, August 1989), pages 446-447.
 Ibid, pages 451-452.
 Barry Rubin, “America and the Egyptian Revolution, 1950-1957,” Political Science Quarterly (Vol. 97, No. 1, Spring 1982), pages 76-80.
 Amy L. S. Staples, “Seeing Diplomacy Through Bankers’ Eyes: The World Bank, the Anglo-Iranian Oil Crisis, and the Aswan High Dam,” Diplomatic History (Vol. 26, No. 3, Summer 2002), pages 410-414.
 Geoffrey Warner, “The United States and the Suez Crisis,” International Affairs (Vol. 67, No. 2, April 1991), pages 304-308.
 Ibid, pages 308-309.
 Document 40, “Special National Intelligence Estimate,” Foreign Relations of the United States, 1955-1957, Vol. 16, Suez Crisis, 31 July 1956.
 Document 62, “Paper by the Secretary of State’s Special Assistant (Russell),” Foreign Relations of the United States, 1955-1957, Vol. 16, Suez Crisis, 4 August 1956.
 Document 175, “Special National Intelligence Estimate,” Foreign Relations of the United States, 1955-1957, Vol. 16, Suez Crisis, 5 September 1956.
 Document 455, “Memorandum of Discussion at the 302d Meeting of the National Security Council, Washington, November 1, 1956, 9 a.m.,” Foreign Relations of the United States, 1955-1957, Vol. 16, Suez Crisis, 1 November 1956.
 Peter L. Hahn, “Securing the Middle East: The Eisenhower Doctrine of 1957,” Presidential Studies Quarterly, (Vol. 36, No. 1, March 2006), pages 39-40.
 Ibid, page 41.
 Document 161, “Paper Prepared in the Bureau of Near Eastern, South Asian, and African Affairs and the Policy Planning Staff,” Foreign Relations of the United States, 1955-1957, Vol. 12, Near East Region; Iran; Iraq, 5 December 1956.
 Document 178, “Operations Coordinating Board Report,” Foreign Relations of the United States, 1955-1957, Vol. 12, Near East Region; Iran; Iraq, 22 December 1956.
 Document 5, “National Security Council Report,” Foreign Relations of the United States, 1958-1960, Vol. 12, Near East Region; Iraq; Iran; Arabian Peninsula, 24 January 1958.
[30 – 34] Ibid.
 Document 35, “Paper Prepared by the National Security Council Planning Board,” Foreign Relations of the United States, 1958-1960, Vol. 12, Near East Region; Iraq; Iran; Arabian Peninsula, 29 July 1958.
 Document 36, “Memorandum of Discussion at the 374th Meeting of the National Security Council,” Foreign Relations of the United States, 1958-1960, Vol. 12, Near East Region; Iraq; Iran; Arabian Peninsula, 31 July 1958.
 Document 40, “Special National Intelligence Estimate,” Foreign Relations of the United States, 1958-1960, Vol. 12, Near East Region; Iraq; Iran; Arabian Peninsula, 12 August 1958.
 Document 42, “Paper Prepared by the National Security Council Planning Board,” Foreign Relations of the United States, 1958-1960, Vol. 12, Near East Region; Iraq; Iran; Arabian Peninsula, 19 August 1958.
An Anarchistic Understanding of the Social Order: Environmental Degradation, Indigenous Resistance, and a Place for the Sciences
An Anarchistic Understanding of the Social Order: Environmental Degradation, Indigenous Resistance, and a Place for the Sciences
By: Andrew Gavin Marshall
FOR ROUGHLY FIVE HUNDRED YEARS, INDIGENOUS peoples have been struggling against the dominant institutions of society, against imperialism, colonialism, exploitation, impoverishment, segregation, racism, and genocide. The struggle continues today under the present world social order and against the dominant institutions of ‘neoliberalism’ and globalization: the state, corporations, financial institutions and international organizations. Indigenous communities continue to struggle to preserve their cultural identities, languages, histories, and the continuing theft and exploitation of their land. Indigenous resistance against environmental degradation and resource extraction represents the most direct source of resistance against a global environmental crisis which threatens to lead the species to extinction. It is here that many in the scientific community have also taken up the cause of resistance against the destruction of the global environment. While Indigenous and scientific activism share similar objectives in relation to environmental issues, there is a serious lack of convergence between the two groups in terms of sharing knowledge, organization, and activism.
Indigenous groups are often on the front lines of the global environmental crisis – at the point of interaction (or extraction) – they resist against the immediate process of resource extraction and the environmental devastation it causes to their communities and society as a whole. The continued repression, exploitation and discrimination against Indigenous peoples have made the struggle – and the potential consequences of failure – significantly more problematic. This struggle has been ongoing for centuries, and as the species heads toward extinction – as it is along our current trajectory – Indigenous peoples will be on the front lines of that process. Many in the scientific community have been struggling for decades to address major environmental issues. Here, the focus is largely on the issue of climate change, and the approach has largely been to work through institutions in order to create enough pressure to reform. Yet, after decades of organizing through academic and environmental organizations, lobbying governments, corporations and international organizations, progress has been slow and often ineffectual, with major international conferences being hyped up but with little concrete results. Indigenous peoples continue to struggle against the dominant institutions while many in the scientific community continue to struggle within the dominant institutions, though their objectives remain similar.
A major problem and disparity becomes clear: Indigenous peoples – among the most repressed and exploited in the world – are left to struggle directly against the most powerful institutions in the world (states and transnational corporations), while many in the sciences – an area of knowledge which has and continues to hold enormous potential to advance the species – attempt to convince those powerful institutions to profit less at exactly the point in history when they have never profited more. Indigenous communities remain largely impoverished, and the scientific community remains largely dependent for funding upon the very institutions which are destroying the environment: states, corporations and international organizations. Major barriers to scientific inquiry and research can thus be established if the institutions feel threatened, if they choose to steer the sciences into areas exclusively designed to produce ‘profitable’ forms of knowledge and technology. As humanity enters a critical stage – perhaps the most critical we have ever faced as a species – it is important to begin to acknowledge, question, and change the institutional contradictions and constraints of our society.
It seems only logical that a convergence between Indigenous and scientific activism, organization, and the sharing of knowledge should be encouraged and facilitated. Indeed, the future of the species may depend upon it. This paper aims to encourage such a convergence by applying an anarchistic analysis of the social order as it relates to environmental degradation, specifically at the point of interaction with the environment (the source of extraction). In classifying this as an anarchistic analysis, I simply mean that it employs a highly critical perspective of hierarchically organized institutions. This paper does not intend to discuss in any detail the issue of climate change, since that issue is largely a symptom of the problem, which at its source is how the human social order interacts directly with the environment: extraction, pollution, degradation, exploitation and destruction at the point of interaction.
This analysis will seek to critically assess the actions and functions of states, corporations, international organizations, financial institutions, trade agreements and markets in how they affect the environment, primarily at the point of interaction. It is also at this point where Indigenous peoples are taking up the struggle against environmental degradation and human extinction. Through an anarchistic analysis of Indigenous repression and resistance at the point of interaction between the modern social order and the environment (focusing primarily on examples from Canada), this paper hopes to provide encouragement to those in the scientific community seeking to address environmental issues to increase their efforts in working with and for the direct benefit of Indigenous peoples. There exists a historical injustice which can and must be rectified: the most oppressed and exploited peoples over the past five hundred years of a Western-dominated world are on the front lines of struggling for the survival of the species as a whole. Modern science – which has done so much to advance Western ‘civilization’ – can and should make Indigenous issues a priority, not only for their sake, but for the species as a whole. Indeed, it is a matter of survival for the sciences themselves, for they will perish with the species. An anarchistic analysis of the social order hopes to encourage a convergence between Indigenous and scientific knowledge and activism as it relates to resolving the global environmental crisis we now face.
GLOBAL CORPORATE POWER
Corporations are among the most powerful institutions in the world. Of the top 150 economies in 2010, 58% were corporations, with companies like Wal-Mart, Royal Dutch Shell, ExxonMobil, and BP topping the charts. According to Fortune’s Global 500 list published in 2012, the top ten corporations in the world were: Royal Dutch Shell, ExxonMobil, Wal-Mart, BP, Sinopec Group, China National Petroleum, State Grid, Chevron, ConocoPhillips, and Toyota Motor. The Global 500 corporations posted record revenues for 2011 at USD 29.5 trillion, up 13.2% from the previous year. Eight of the top ten conglomerates were in the energy sector, with the oil industry alone generating USD 5 trillion in sales, approximately 17% of the total sales of the Global 500. The second largest sector represented in the Global 500 was commercial banks, followed by the auto industry.
A scientific study conducted by the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich analyzed the ‘network of control’ wielded through 43,000 transnational corporations (TNCs), identifying “a relatively small group of companies, mainly banks, with disproportionate power over the global economy.” The researchers identified a ‘core’ of 1,318 companies which owned roughly 80% of the global revenues for the entire network of 43,000 TNCs. Above the core, the researchers identified a ‘super-entity’ of 147 tightly-knit corporations – primarily banks and financial institutions – collectively owning each other’s shares and 40% of the wealth in the total network. One researcher commented, “In effect, less than 1 per cent of the companies were able to control 40 percent of the entire network.”
Writing in the Financial Times, a former US Treasury Department official, Robert Altman, referred to financial markets as “a global supra-government,” explaining:
They oust entrenched regimes where normal political processes could not do so. They force austerity, banking bail-outs and other major policy changes. Their influence dwarfs multilateral institutions such as the International Monetary Fund. Indeed, leaving aside unusable nuclear weapons, they have become the most powerful force on earth.
The “global supra-government” of financial markets push countries around the world into imposing austerity measures and structural reforms, which have the result of benefiting the “super-entity” of global corporate power. The power and wealth of these institutions have rapidly accelerated in the past three decades of neoliberal ‘reforms’ promoting austerity, liberalization, deregulation, privatization and financialization. Neoliberal ideology was politically championed by Ronald Reagan in the United States and Margaret Thatcher in Great Britain, but was largely imposed upon the so-called ‘Third World’ (Latin America, Asia, and Africa) through major international organizations like the World Bank and the IMF. The results of this massive transfer of wealth and power to an increasingly connected and small fraction of the world’s population have been devastating for humanity and the world as a whole. This process guided by neoliberal dogma has been most often referred to as ‘globalization.’
As the 1980s debt crisis gripped the ‘Third World,’ the IMF and World Bank came to the ‘rescue’ with newly designed loan agreements called ‘Structural Adjustment Programs’ (SAPs). In return for a loan from these institutions, countries would have to adhere to a set of rigid conditions and reforms, including austerity measures (cutting public spending), the liberalization of trade, privatization, deregulation, and currency devaluation. The United States controls the majority shares of both the World Bank and IMF, while the US Treasury Department and Federal Reserve work very closely with the IMF and its staff. If countries did not adhere to IMF and World Bank ‘conditions,’ they would be cut off from international markets, since this process was facilitated by “unprecedented co-operation between banks from various countries under the aegis of the IMF.” The conditions essentially opened up the borrowing countries to economic imperialism by the IMF, World Bank, and transnational corporations and financial institutions, which were able to gain access and control over the resources and labour markets of poor countries. Thus, the 1980s has been known as the “lost decade of development,” as many ‘Third World’ countries became poorer between 1980 and 1990. Joseph Stiglitz, a former chief economist at the World Bank, wrote that, “such conditions were seen as the intrusion by the new colonial power on the country’s own sovereignty.”
The structural adjustment programs imposed upon the Third World devastated the poor and middle classes of the borrowing countries, often resulting in mass protests against austerity. In fact, between 1976 and 1992, there were 146 protests against IMF- sponsored austerity measures in 39 different countries, including demonstrations, strikes and riots. The governments, in response, would often violently repress protests. The government elites were often more integrated with and allied to the powerful institutions of the global economy, and would often act as domestic enforcers for the demands of international banks and corporations. For many countries imposing structural adjustment programs around the world, authoritarian governments were common. The IMF and World Bank structural adjustment programs also led to the massive growth of slums around the world, to the point where there are now over a billion people living in urban slums (approximately one out of every seven people on earth).
Further, the nations of the Third World became increasingly indebted to the powerful financial institutions and states of the industrial world with the more loans they took. The wealthy elites within the Third World plunder the domestic wealth of their countries in cooperation with global elites, and send their money into Western banking institutions (as ‘capital flight’) as their domestic populations suffer in poverty. The IMF and World Bank programs helped facilitate capital flight through the deregulation and ‘liberalization’ of markets, as well as through the opening up of the economies to unhindered exploitation. Some researchers recently compared the amount of money in the form of aid and loans going into Africa compared to that coming leaving Africa in the form of capital flight, and found that “sub-Saharan Africa is a net creditor to the rest of the world by a substantial margin.” The external debt owed by 33 sub-Saharan African countries to the rest of the world in 2008 stood at USD 177 billion. Between 1970 and 2008, capital flight from those same 33 African countries amounted to USD 944 billion. Thus, “the rest of the world owes more to these African countries than they owe to the rest of the world.”
The neoliberal ideology of ‘profit before people’ – enforced by the dominant states, corporations, banks and international organizations – has led to a world of extreme inequality, previously established by centuries of empire and colonialism, and rapidly accelerated in the past three decades. As of 2004, one in every three human deaths was due to poverty-related causes. In the twenty years following the end of the Cold War, there were approximately 360 million preventable deaths caused by poverty-related issues. Billions of people go hungry, lack access to safe drinking water, adequate shelter, medicine, and electricity. Nearly half of humanity – approximately 3.1 billion people as of 2010 – live below the USD 2.50/day poverty line. It would take roughly USD 500 billion – approximately 1.13% of world income (or two-thirds of the US military budget) – to lift these 3.1 billion people out of extreme poverty. The top 1% own 40% of the world’s wealth, while the bottom 60% hold less than 2% of the world’s wealth. As Thomas Pogge wrote, “we are now at the point where the world is easily rich enough in aggregate to abolish all poverty,” but we are “choosing to prioritize other ends instead.” Roughly 18 million people die from poverty-related causes every year, half of whom are children under the age of five. Pogge places significant blame for these circumstances upon the “global institutional arrangements that foreseeably and avoidably increase the socioeconomic inequalities that cause poverty to persist […] [policies which] are designed by the more powerful governments for the benefit of their most powerful industries, corporations, and citizens.”
In 2013, Oxfam reported that the fortunes made by the richest 100 people in the world over the course of 2012 (USD 240 billion) would have been enough to lift the world’s poorest people out of poverty four times over. An Oxfam executive, Barbara Stocking, noted that this type of extreme wealth – which saw the world’s richest 1% increase their income by 60% in the previous twenty years – is “economically inefficient, politically corrosive, socially divisive and environmentally destructive […] We can no longer pretend that the creation of wealth for few will inevitably benefit the many – too often the reverse is true.” A study by the Tax Justice Network in 2012 found that the world’s superrich had hidden between USD 21 and 32 trillion in offshore tax havens, meaning that inequality was “much, much worse than official statistic show,” and that “for three decades extraordinary wealth has been cascading into the offshore accounts of a tiny number of superrich,” with the top 92,000 of the world’s superrich holding at least USD 10 trillion in offshore accounts.
THE ENVIRONMENTAL IMPACT OF INEQUALITY
The human social order – dominated by states, corporations, banks and international organizations – has facilitated and maintained enormous inequality and poverty around the world, allowing so few to control so much, while the many are left with little. This global social and economic crisis is exacerbated by the global environmental crisis, in which the same institutions that dominate the global social order are simultaneously devastating the global environment to the point where the future of the species hangs in the balance.
Just as the dominant institutions put ‘profit before people,’ so too do they put profit before the environment, predicating human social interaction with the environment on the ideology of ‘markets’: that what is good for corporations will ultimately be good for the environment. Thus, the pursuit of ‘economic growth’ can continue unhindered – and in fact, should be accelerated – even though it results in massive environmental degradation through the processes of resource extraction, transportation, production and consumption.
Trading arrangements between the powerful rich nations and the ‘periphery’ poor nations allow for the dominant institutions to exploit their economic and political influence over weaker states, taking much more than they give. These trading relationships effectively allow the rich countries to offshore (or export) their environmental degradation to poor countries, treating them as exploitable resource extraction sources. As the resources of poor nations are extracted and exported to the rich nations, the countries are kept in poverty (with the exception of their elites who collude with the powerful countries and corporations), and the environmental costs associated with the high consumption societies of the industrial world are ultimately off-shored to the poor countries, at the point of interaction. Thus, international trade separates the societies of consumption from the effects of extraction and production, while the poor nations are dependent upon exports and exploiting their cheap labour forces. This process has been termed ecological unequal exchange.
Between the mid-1970s and mid-1990s, the majority of the world’s non-renewable resources were transferred from poor to rich nations, accelerating in volume over time (due to technological advancements), while decreasing in costs (to the powerful nations). Thus, between 1980 and 2002, the costs of resource extraction declined by 25% while the volume of resource extraction increased by more than 30%. Environmentally destructive processes of resource extraction in mining and energy sectors have rapidly accelerated over the past few decades, resulting in increased contamination of soils, watersheds and the atmosphere. Negative health effects for local populations accelerate, primarily affecting Indigenous, poor and/or migrant populations, who are subjected to excessive pollutants and industrial waste at nearly every part of the process of extraction, production and transportation of resources and goods.
In an examination of 65 countries between 1960 and 2003, researchers found that the rich countries “externalized” the environmentally destructive consequences of resource over-use to poor, periphery nations and populations, thus “assimilating” the environments of the less-developed nations into the economies of the powerful states, disempowering local populations from having a say in how their resources and environments are treated. Rich societies consume more than can be sustained from their own internal resource wealth, and thus, they must “appropriate” resource wealth from abroad by ‘withdrawing’ the resources in environmentally destructive (and thus, more economically ‘efficient’) ways. Apart from ecologically destructive ‘withdrawals,’ the rich nations also facilitate ecologically destructive ‘additions,’ in the form of pollution and waste which cause environmental and health hazards for the poor societies. This is facilitated through various trading arrangements (such as the development of Export Processing Zones), consisting of minimal to no environmental regulations, cheap labour and minimal restrictions on corporate activities.
While Japan and Western Europe were able to reduce the amount of pollutants and ‘environmental additions’ they made within their own societies between 1976 and 1994, they accelerated their ‘additions’ in waste and pollutants to the poor countries with which they traded, “suggesting a progressive off-shoring over the period onto those peripheral countries” not only of labour exploitation, but of environmental degradation. Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) by transnational corporations has been linked to extensive environmental hazards within the countries in which they are ‘investing,’ including growth in water pollution, infant mortality, pesticide use, and the use of chemicals which are often banned in the rich nations due to high toxicity levels and dangers to health and the environment, and greater levels of carbon dioxide emissions. Indeed, between 1980 and 2000, the total anthropogenic CO2 emissions from the rich countries increased by 21%, while over the same period of time in the poor countries it more than doubled. While forested areas in the rich nations increased by less than 1% between 1990 and 2005, they declined by 6% over the same period of time in poor countries, contributing to soil erosion, desertification, climate change and the destruction of local and regional ecosystems.
According to an analysis of 268 case studies of tropical forest change between 1970 and 2000, researchers found that deforestation had shifted from being directed by states to being directed and implemented by corporations and ‘economic’ interests across much of Latin America, Africa, and Asia. This was largely facilitated by the IMF and World Bank agreements which forced countries to reduce their public spending, and allowed for private economic interests to obtain unprecedented access to resources and markets. The rate of deforestation continued, it simply shifted from being state-led to “enterprise driven.”
Using a sample of some sixty nations, researchers found that IMF and World Bank Structural Adjustment Programs (SAPs) were associated with higher levels of deforestation than in countries which did not sign the SAP agreements, as they allowed rich nations and corporations to “externalize their forest loss” to poor nations. Further, “economic growth” as defined by the World Bank and IMF was related to increased levels of deforestation, leading the researchers to acknowledge that, “economic growth adversely impacts the natural environment.” World Bank development loans to countries (as separate from structural adjustment loans) have also been linked to increased rates of deforestation in poor nations, notably higher rates than those which exist in countries not receiving World Bank loans.
Military institutions and armed warfare also have significant environmental impacts, not simply by engaging in wars, but simply by the energy and resources required for the maintenance of large military structures. As one US military official stated in the early 1990s, “We are in the business of protecting the nation, not the environment.” While the United States is the largest consumer of energy among nations in the world, the Pentagon is “the world’s largest [institutional] consumer of energy.” The combination of US tanks, planes and ships consume roughly 340,000 barrels of oil per day (as of 2007). Most of the oil is consumed by the Air Force, as jet fuel accounted for roughly 71% of the entire military’s oil consumption.
Nations with large militaries also use their violent capabilities “to gain disproportionate access to natural resources.” Thus, while the US military may be the largest single purchaser and consumer of energy in the world, one of its primary functions is to secure access to and control over energy resources. In an interview with two McKinsey & Company consultants, the Pentagon’s first-ever assistant secretary of defense for operational energy and programs, Sharon E. Burke, stated bluntly that, “My role is to promote the energy security of our military operations,” including by increasing the “security of supply.”
In a study of natural resource extraction and armed violence, researchers found that, “armed violence is associated with the extraction of many critical and noncritical natural resources, suggesting quite strongly that the natural resource base upon which industrial societies stand is constructed in large part through the use and threatened use of armed violence.” Further, when such armed violence is used in relation to gaining access to and control over natural resources, “it is often employed in response to popular protest or rebellion against these activities.” Most of this violence is carried out by the governments of poor nations, or by mercenaries or rebels, which allows for distancing between the rich nations and corporations which profit from the plundering of resources from the violent means of gaining access to them. After all, the researcher noted, “other key drivers of natural resource exploitation, such as the IMF, World Bank, WTO, and global marketplace, cannot, on their own, guarantee core nation access to and control over vital natural resources.” Perhaps unsurprisingly, then, the United States – and other powerful nations – and the major arms companies within them are the largest arms dealers in the world.
It is clear that for scientists – and anyone else – interested in addressing major environmental issues, the source of the problem lies in the very structure and function of our dominant modern institutions, at the point of interaction. In short: through states, armed violence, banks and corporations, international organizations, trade agreements and global ‘markets,’ the environment has become a primary target of exploitation and destruction. Resources fuel the wealth and power of the very institutions that dominate the world, and to maintain that power, they engage in incredibly destructive activities with negative consequences for the environment and the human species as a whole. The global environmental crisis is intimately related to the global social and economic crises of wealth inequality and poverty, labour exploitation, and ‘economic growth.’ To address the environmental crisis in a meaningful way, this reality must first be acknowledged. This is how an anarchistic understanding of the environmental crisis facing the world and humanity can contribute to advancing how we deal with these profound issues. For the sciences, the implications are grave: their sources of funding and direction for research are dependent upon the very institutions which are destroying the environment and leading humanity to inevitable extinction (if we do not change course). Advancing an anarchistic approach to understanding issues related to Indigenous repression and resistance to environmental degradation can help provide a framework through which those in the scientific community – and elsewhere – can find new avenues for achieving similar goals: the preservation of the environment and the species.
INDIGENOUS REPRESSION AND RESISTANCE
Indigenous peoples in the Americas have been struggling against colonialism, exploitation, segregation, repression and even genocide for over 500 years. While the age of formal colonial empires has passed, the struggle has not. Today, Indigenous peoples struggle against far more powerful states than ever before existed, transnational corporations and financial institutions, international organizations, so-called “free trade” agreements and the global ‘marketplace.’ In an increasingly interconnected and globalized world, the struggle for Indigenous peoples to maintain their identity and indeed, even their existence itself, has been increasingly globalizing, but has also been driven by localized actions and movements.
Focusing upon Indigenous peoples in Canada, I hope to briefly analyze how Indigenous groups are repressed, segregated and exploited by the dominant institutions of an incredibly wealthy, developed, resource-rich and ‘democratic’ nation with a comparably ‘good’ international reputation. Further, by examining Indigenous resistance within Canada to the destruction of the natural environment, I hope to encourage scientists and other activists and segments of society who are interested in environmental protection to reach out to Indigenous communities, to share knowledge, organizing, activism, and objectives.
A LEGACY OF COLONIALISM
Historically, the Canadian government pursued a policy of ‘assimilation’ of Indigenous peoples for over a century through ‘Indian residential schools,’ in what ultimately amounted to an effective policy of “cultural genocide.” In 1920, Canada’s Deputy Minister of Indian Affairs Duncan Campbell Scott bluntly explained: “I want to get rid of the Indian problem […] Our object is to continue until there is not a single Indian in Canada that has not been absorbed into the body politics and there is no Indian question, and no Indian Department.”
The segregation, repression and exploitation of Indigenous communities within Canada is not a mere historical reality, it continues to present day. Part of the institutional repression of Indigenous peoples is the prevalence of what could be described as ‘Third World’ conditions within a ‘First World’ nation. Indigenous communities within Canada lack access to safe drinking water at a much higher rate than the general population. Indigenous people and communities in Canada also face much higher levels of food insecurity, poverty, unemployment, poor housing and infant mortality than the rest of the population. Accounting for roughly 4% of the population of Canada (approximately 1.2 million people as of 2006), Indigenous peoples also face higher rates of substance abuse, addiction, and suicide.
Indigenous people – and especially women – make up a disproportionate percentage of the prison population. Further, as Amnesty International noted, “Indigenous women [in Canada] are five to seven times more likely than other women to die as a result of violence.” The Native Women’s Association of Canada has documented roughly 600 cases of missing or murdered indigenous women in Canada, more than half of which have occurred since 2000, while Human Rights Watch reported that the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) in northern British Columbia had “failed to properly investigate the disappearance and apparent murders of [indigenous] women and girls in their jurisdiction.”
RESOURCE EXTRACTION, ENVIRONMENTAL DEGRADATION, AND INDIGENOUS PEOPLES
Industries seeking to develop land and extract resources are increasingly turning to Indigenous territories to develop and seek profits on the land and environment upon which such communities are so often dependent for survival. At the point of interaction with the environment, Indigenous peoples are left to struggle with the damaging environmental and health consequences caused by state and corporate interests extracting resources and wealth from the land and environment.
The Alberta tar sands (or oil sands) is a primary example of this process. Many environmental, indigenous and human rights organizations consider the tar sands development as perhaps “the most destructive industrial project on earth.” The United Nations Environmental Programme identified the project as “one of the world’s top 100 hotspots of environmental degradation.” The dense oil in the tar sands (diluted bitumen) has to be extracted through strip mining, and requires enormous amounts of resources and energy simply to extract the reserves. It has been documented that for every one barrel of oil processed, three barrels of water are used, resulting in the creation of small lakes (called ‘tailing ponds’), where “over 480 million gallons of contaminated toxic waste water are dumped daily.” These lakes collectively “cover more than 50 square kilometres (12,000 acres) and are so extensive that they can be seen from space.” The processing of the oil sands creates 37% more greenhouse gas emissions than the extraction and processing of conventional oil.
While the United States consumes more oil than anywhere else on earth, Canada is the main supplier of foreign oil to the United States, exporting roughly 1.5 million barrels per day to the US (in 2005), approximately 7% of the daily consumption of oil in the US. The crude bitumen contained in the tar sands has been estimated at 1.7 trillion barrels, lying underneath an area within Alberta which is larger than the entire state of Florida and contains over 140,000 square km of boreal forest. In 2003, the United States Department of Energy officially acknowledged the reserves of crude bitumen in the Alberta tar sands, and elevated Canada’s standing in world oil markets from the 21st most oil-rich nation on earth to the 2nd, with only Saudi Arabia surpassing.
Alberta’s tar sands have attracted the largest oil companies on earth, including Royal Dutch Shell, ExxonMobil, BP, and Total S.A. Local indigenous communities thus not only have to struggle against the devastating environmental, health and social consequences caused by the tar sands development, but they also have to struggle against the federal and provincial governments, and the largest corporations on earth. The Athabasca River (located near the tar sands development) has been depleted and polluted to significant degrees, transforming the region “from a pristine environment rich in cultural and biological diversity to a landscape resembling a war zone marked with 200-foot-deep pits and thousands of acres of destroyed boreal forests.” Indigenous peoples have been raising concerns over this project for years.
Disproportionate levels of cancers and other deadly diseases have been discovered among a local Indigenous band, the Fort Chipewyan in Athabasca. These high levels of cancers and diseases are largely the result of the enormous amounts of land, air, and water pollution caused by the tar sands mining. One Indigenous leader in Fort Chipewyan has referred to the tar sands development as a “slow industrial genocide.” As pipelines are planned to be expanded across Canada and the United States to carry tar sands oil, this will have devastating impacts for “indigenous communities not only in Canada, but across the continent.”
Between 2002 and 2010, the pipeline network through Alberta experienced a rate of oil spills roughly sixteen times higher than in the United States, likely the result of transporting diluted bitumen (DilBit), which has not been commonly transported through the pipelines until recent years. In spite of the greater risks associated with transporting DilBit, the US agency responsible for overseeing the country’s pipelines decided – in October of 2009 – to relax safety regulations regarding the strength of pipelines. In July of 2010, a ruptured Enbridge pipeline in Michigan spilled 800,000 gallons of DilBit, devastating the local communities in what the government referred to as the “worst oil spill in Midwestern history.” In July of 2011, an Exxon pipeline spilled 42,000 gallons of DilBit into the Yellowstone River in Montana.
IDLE NO MORE: THE RISE OF INDIGENOUS RESISTANCE
In 2009, the Canadian Ministry of Indian Affairs and Northern Development announced the Federal Framework for Aboriginal Economic Development which sought to “improve the participation” of Indigenous people “in the Canadian economy,” primarily by seeking “to unlock the full economic potential of Aboriginal Canadians, their communities, and their businesses.” An updated report on the Framework in 2012 reaffirmed the intent “to modernize the lands and resource management regimes on reserve land in order to increase and unlock the value of Aboriginal assets.” As John Ibbitson wrote in the Globe and Mail, “businesses that want to unlock the potential of reserves, from real estate development to forestry and mining, need the legal certainty that a property regime makes possible.”
In late 2012, Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s Conservative Party introduced an omnibus Budget Bill (C-45) which amended several aspects of the Indian Act (without proper consultations with Indigenous groups). Bill C-45 also moved forward to “unlock” barriers to resource extraction, environmental degradation, and corporate profits with an amendment to the Navigable Waters Act, which dramatically reduced the number of protected lakes and rivers in Canada from 40,000 to 97 lakes, and from 2.5 million to 63 rivers.
Following the introduction of Bill C-45 to the Canadian Parliament, a group of four Indigenous women in the province of Saskatchewan held a “teach-in” to help increase awareness about the Bill, quickly followed by a series of rallies, protests and flash mobs where Indigenous activists and supporters engaged in ‘round dances’ in shopping malls, organized through social media networks like Twitter and Facebook. This sparked what became known as the ‘Idle No More’ movement, and on December 10, 2012, a National Day of Action took place, holding multiple rallies across the country. The immediate objectives of the Idle No More movement were to have the government “repeal all legislation that violates treaties [with Indigenous peoples], including those that affect environmental regulations,” such as Bill C-45 and the previous omnibus Bill C-38. The longer-term objectives of the movement were to “educate and revitalize aboriginal peoples, empower them and regain sovereignty and independence.”
Pamela Palmater, a spokesperson for Idle No More and a Ryerson University professor noted that Indigenous people in Canada were opposing Bill C-45 “not just because it impacts their rights, but also because we know that it impacts the future generations of both treaty partners,” referring to both Indigenous and non-Indigenous Canadians. “The question,” she added, “really should be whether Canadians will rise to protect their children’s futures alongside First Nations.”
Theresa Spence, an Indigenous chief from a northern Ontario community (Attawapiskat) went on a hunger strike for 44 days to support Idle No More and raise awareness about a serious housing crisis in her community. Spence only ended her hunger strike upon being hospitalized and placed on an IV drip. Her community of Attawapiskat had been experiencing a major housing crisis for a number of years, and in 2011, a state of emergency was declared in response to the fact that for over two years, many of the community’s 1,800 residents were “living in makeshift tents and shacks without heat, electricity or indoor plumbing.” James Anaya, a United Nations human rights expert expressed his “deep concern about the dire social and economic condition” of the Attawapiskat community to the Canadian government, which reflected a situation “akin to third world conditions.” The Conservative government of Stephen Harper (which came to power in 2006) blamed the crisis on the internal handling of funds within Attawapiskat, claiming that the government provided CAD 90 million in funding for the community since 2006. However, analysis of the funds revealed that only CAD 5.8 million in funding had gone toward housing over the course of five years. Meanwhile, estimates put the necessary funds to resolve the housing crisis alone at CAD 84 million. The former Minister for Aboriginal Affairs acknowledged that the government had known about the housing crisis for years, saying that it “has been a slow-moving train wreck for a long time.”
In 2005, the community of Attawapiskat had signed a contract with the international mining conglomerate De Beers to develop a diamond mine 90 km near their community. The mine officially opened in 2008, projecting a 12-year contribution to the Ontario economy of CAD 6.7 billion. In 2005, De Beers dumped its sewage sludge into the Attawapiskat community’s lift station, causing a sewage backup which flooded many homes and exacerbated an already-developing housing crisis, followed by another sewage backup potentially caused by De Beers in 2008. Afterward, the company donated trailers to the community to serve as “short-term emergency shelters,” yet they remained in place even four years later.
As the Idle No More movement took off in late 2012 and early 2013, members of the Attawapiskat community undertook road blockades leading to the De Beers mine. The company sought a legal injunction against the protesters, and the blockade was ended just as a large number of police were headed to the community to “remove the barricades.” After successfully blocking the mine from properly functioning for nearly twenty days, the company announced that it was considering taking legal action against the protesters.
The Idle No More mission statement called “on all people to join in a revolution which honors and fulfills Indigenous sovereignty which protects the land and water […] Colonization continues through attacks to Indigenous rights and damage to the land and water. We must repair these violations, live the spirit and intent of the treaty relationship, work towards justice in action, and protect Mother Earth.” The movement’s manifesto further declared that, “the state of Canada has become one of the wealthiest countries in the world by using the land and resources. Canadian mining, logging, oil and fishing companies are the most powerful in the world due to land and resources. Some of the poorest First Nations communities (such as Attawapiskat) have mines or other developments on their land but do not get a share of the profit.” As Pamela Palmater noted, Idle No More was unique, “because it is purposefully distances from political and corporate influence. There is no elected leader, no paid Executive Director, and no bureaucracy or hierarchy which determines what any person or First Nation can and can’t do […] This movement is inclusive of all our peoples.”
The Athabasca Chipewyan Indigenous band which had been struggling for years against the tar sands development were further mobilized with the eruption of Idle No More onto the national scene, including by establishing a blockade on Highway 63 leading to the tar sands development. As Chipewyan chief Allan Adam noted, “The way I look at it, the First Nations people are going to cripple this country if things don’t turn out […] Industry is going to be the target.” He also added: “We know for a fact that industry was the one that lobbied government to make this regulatory reform.” Indeed, this was no hyperbole.
THE STATE IN SERVICE TO CORPORATIONS
Greenpeace obtained – through access to information laws – a letter sent to the Canadian government’s Environment minister and Natural Resources minister dated December of 2011, written by a group called the Energy Framework Initiative (EFI), representing the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers, the Canadian Energy Pipeline Association, the Canadian Fuels Association, and the Canadian Gas Association. The letter sought “to address regulatory reform for major energy industries in Canada” in order to advance “both economic growth and environmental performance.” It specifically referenced six laws that it wanted amended, including the National Energy Board Act, the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act, the Fisheries Act, the Species at Risk Act, Migratory Birds Convention Act, and the Navigable Waters Protection Act. Referring to many of these laws as “outdated,” the letter criticized environmental legislation as “almost entirely focused on preventing bad things from happening rather than enabling responsible outcomes.”
Less than a month after receiving the letter, the Canadian Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver lashed out at activists opposing the construction of Enbridge’s Northern Gateway pipeline shipping oil from Alberta’s tar sands to the B.C. coast for shipment to Asia, stating, “Unfortunately, there are environmental and other radical groups that would seek to block this opportunity to diversify our trade… Their goal is to stop any major project no matter what the cost to Canadian families in lost jobs and economic growth. No forestry. No mining. No oil. No gas. No more hydro-electric dams.” Oliver went on, saying that such “radical groups” were threatening “to hijack our regulatory system to achieve their radical ideological agenda,” and accused them of using funding from “foreign special interest groups.”
Documents from the energy industry revealed that big corporations advised the Harper government not to amend the many environmentally related acts separately, but to employ “a more strategic omnibus legislative approach,” which resulted in the two omnibus bills over 2012, Bills C-38 and C-45, which included “hundreds of pages of changes to environmental protection laws […] weakening rules that protect water and species at risk, introducing new tools to authorize water pollution, as well as restricting public participation in environmental hearings and eliminating thousands of reviews to examine and mitigate environmental impacts of industrial projects.” The energy industry got virtually everything it asked for in the two omnibus bills, including – as their letter to the Harper government suggested – reforming “issues associated with Aboriginal consultation.”
Documents from Environment Canada showed how the minister informed a group of energy industry representatives that the development of pipelines were “top-of-mind” as the government pursued “the modernization of our regulatory system.” When the new legislation passed, the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency announced that it has cancelled roughly 3,000 environmental assessments, including 250 reviews related to pipeline projects. Other documents showed that at the same time the minister was informing energy corporations that he was serving their interests, he was to inform Indigenous leaders that any “changes to the government’s environmental assessment or project approvals regime” were “speculative at this point” and that they would “respect our duties toward Aboriginal peoples.”
As the Harper government became the primary lobbyist for the Alberta tar sands, documents showed how the government compiled a list of “allies” and “adversaries” in its public relations campaign, referring to energy companies, Environment Canada and the National Energy Board as “allies,” and the media, environmental and Indigenous groups as “adversaries.” The Canadian government even ran an “outreach program” where diplomats would attempt to secure support among American journalists for the Keystone XL pipeline project – taking oil from the Alberta tar sands to the Gulf Coast in the United States.
As the Canadian government revised its anti-terrorism strategy in early 2012, it listed “eco-extremists” alongside white supremacists as a threat to national security. A review of Canadian security documents from the national police force (RCMP) and the Canadian intelligence agency (CSIS) revealed that the government saw environmental activism such as blockades of roads or buildings as “forms of attack” and “national security threats.” Greenpeace was identified as “potentially violent,” as it had become “the new normal now for Canada’s security agencies to watch the activities of environmental organizations,” noted one analyst.
IDLE NO MORE AND OIL PIPELINES
The government of Canada acknowledged in early 2013 that it expected – over the following decade – that there would be “a huge boom in Canadian natural resource projects,” potentially worth CAD 600 billion, which is foreseen to be taking place “on or near” Indigenous lands. One Indigenous chief in Manitoba warned that the Idle No More movement “can stop Prime Minister Harper’s resource development plan and his billion-dollar plan to develop resources on our ancestral territory. We have the warriors that are standing up now, that are willing to go that far.”
In an official meeting between the Harper government and the Assembly of First Nations in January of 2013, Indigenous ‘leaders’ presented a list of demands which included ensuring there was a school in every indigenous community, a public inquiry into the missing and murdered Indigenous women, as well as several other very ‘moderate’ reforms. For the government, the objectives were much more specific, as internal documents revealed, written in preparation for Harper’s meeting with Indigenous leaders. As one briefing memo stated, the government was working towards “removing obstacles to major economic development opportunities.”
For the Idle No More movement, which does not consider itself to be ‘represented’ by the Assembly of First Nations leaders, the objective is largely “to put more obstacles up,” as Martin Lukacs wrote in the Guardian. Indigenous peoples, he noted, “are the best and last defense against this fossil fuel scramble,” specifically in mobilizing opposition to “the three-fold expansion of one of the world’s most carbon-intensive projects, the Alberta tar sands.”
In March of 2013, an alliance of Indigenous leaders from across Canada and the United States announced that they were “preparing to fight proposed new pipelines in the courts and through unspecified direct action,” specifically referring to the Northern Gateway, Keystone XL and Kinder Morgan pipeline projects. One Indigenous leader at the formation of the alliance warned, “We’re going to stop these pipelines one way or another.” Another Indigenous leader commented: “We, as a nation, have to wake up […] We have to wake up to the crazy decision that this government’s making to change the world in a negative way.”
The territories of the ten allied Indigenous groups “are either in the crude-rich tar sands or on the proposed pipeline routes.” One Indigenous leader from northern British Columbia referred to the Canadian government, stating, “They’ve been stealing from us for the last 200 years […] now they’re going to destroy our land? We’re not going to let that happen […] If we have to go to court, if we have to stand in front of any of their machines that are going to take the oil through, we are going to do that. We’re up against a wall here. We have nowhere else to go.”
Roughly one week after the Indigenous alliance was formed, an ExxonMobil pipeline carrying Alberta tar sands oil through the United States ruptured in the town of Mayflower, Arkansas, spilling thousands of barrels of oil into residential neighbourhoods and the surrounding environment. Exxon quickly moved in with roughly 600 workers to manage the cleanup and sign checks “to try to win over the townsfolk and seek to limit the fallout.” The United States Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) put in place a “no fly zone” over Mayflower, Arkansas, within days following the oil spill. The ‘no fly zone’ was being overseen by ExxonMobil itself, thus, as Steven Horn commented, “any media or independent observers who want to witness the tar sands spill disaster have to ask Exxon’s permission.”
Between March 11 and April 9 of 2013 (in a span of roughly thirty days), there were 13 reported oil spills on three separate continents, with more than a million gallons of oil and other toxic chemicals spilled in North and South America alone. The oil spills included an Enbridge pipeline leak in the Northwest Territories in Canada (March 19), a tar sands ‘tailing pond’ belonging to Suncor leaking into the Athabasca River in Alberta (March 25), a Canadian Pacific Railway train derailment spilling tar sands oil in Minnesota (March 27), the Exxon spill in Mayflower (March 29), oil-based hydraulic fluid spilling into the Grand River from a power plant in Michigan (March 31), a CN Rail train derailment in Ontario (April 3), a drilling leak in Newfoundland (April 3), the Shell pipeline leak in Texas (April 3), a condensate spill at an Exxon refinery in Louisiana (April 4), and a pump station ‘error’ in Alaska (April 9). Another spill took place in June on Kinder Morgan’s Trans Mountain pipeline in British Columbia, one of the pipeline extensions being opposed by Indigenous groups.
Meanwhile, Stephen Harper was in New York in May, speaking to the highly influential US think tank, the Council on Foreign Relations, where he explained that the proposed Keystone XL pipeline “absolutely needs to go ahead,” adding that it was “an enormous benefit to the US in terms of long-term energy security.” TransCanada, the company aiming to build the Keystone XL pipeline, along with the government of Alberta, hired a team of lobbyists with connections to the Obama administration and Secretary of State John Kerry in particular to pressure the US government to approve the pipeline. In late April, the president of the American Petroleum Institute confidently declared, “When it’s all said and done, the president will approve the pipeline.” In late May, the CEO of TransCanada said, “I remain extremely confident that we’ll get the green light to build this pipeline.”
Leaders from 11 different Indigenous bands in the United States “stormed out” of a meeting in May being held with federal government officials in South Dakota in protest against the Keystone XL pipeline. The leaders criticized both the project and the Obama administration, with one leader commenting, “We find ourselves victims of another form of genocide, and it’s environmental genocide, and it’s caused by extractive industries.” Another Indigenous leader who walked out of the meeting warned, “What the State Department, what President Obama needs to hear from us, is that we are going to be taking direct action.” TransCanada has even been supplying US police agencies with information about environmental activists and recommendations to pursue charges of “terrorism” against them, noting that the company feared such “potential security concerns” as protests, blockades, court challenges, and even “public meetings.”
While Indigenous communities in Canada and elsewhere are among the most repressed and exploited within our society, they are also on the front lines of resistance against environmentally destructive practices undertaken by the most powerful institutions in the world. As such, Indigenous groups are not only standing up for environmental issues, but for the future of the species as a whole. With the rapidly accelerating ‘development’ of the tar sands, and the increasing environmental danger of huge new pipelines projects, resistance to how our modern society treats the environment is reaching new heights. Indigenous organizing – much of which is done along anarchistic ideas (such as with the Idle No More movement) – is presenting an unprecedented challenge to institutional power structures. Thus, there is an increased need for environmentalists, scientists, and others who are interested in joining forces with Indigenous groups in the struggle against environmental degradation and the potential extinction of the species. In Canada, there is an even greater impetus for scientists to join forces with Indigenous communities, for there is a state-sponsored assault upon environmental sciences that threaten to devastate the scientific community in the very near term.
THE CANADIAN GOVERNMENT’S ATTACK ON ENVIRONMENTAL SCIENCE
Since Stephen Harper’s Conservative government came to power in 2006, there has been a steady attack upon the sciences, particularly those related to environmental issues, as the government cut funding for major programs and implemented layoffs. One major facet of this attack has been the ‘muzzling’ of Canadian scientists at international conferences, discussions with the media, and the publication of research. At one conference hosted in Canada, scientists working for Environment Canada were forced to direct all media inquiries through the public relations department in an effort “to intimidate government scientists.” Under new government guidelines, scientists working for the Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) cannot publish material until it is reviewed by the department “for any concerns/impacts to DFO policy.” The Canadian Association of University Teachers (CAUT) expressed in a letter to Stephen Harper their “deep dismay and anger at your government’s attack on the independence, integrity and academic freedom of scientific researchers.” Hundreds of Canadian scientists marched on Parliament Hill in July of 2012 in what they called a “funeral procession” against the government’s “systematic attack on science.”
One of the world’s leading science journals, Nature, published an editorial in March of 2012 calling on the Canadian government to stop muzzling and “set its scientists free.” Journalists requesting interviews with Canadian government scientists on issues related to the Arctic or climate change have had to go through public relations officials, provide questions in advance, adhere to “boundaries for what subjects the interview could touch upon,” and have a PR staffer “listen in on the interviews.”
Dozens of government agencies and programs related to environmental sciences have had their budgets slashed, scientists fired, or were discontinued altogether. The Environmental Law Centre at the University of Victoria lodged a formal complaint with Canada’s Federal Information Commissioner about the muzzling of scientists, outlining multiple examples “of taxpayer-funded science being suppressed or limited to prepackaged media lines across six different government departments and agencies.” Natural Resources Canada now requires “pre-approval” from the government before any scientists give interviews on topics such as “climate change” or the “oilsands.”
The attack upon the sciences is part of the Harper government’s 2007 strategy, Mobilizing Science and Technology to Canada’s Advantage, which directed “a major shift away from scientific goals to economic and labour-market priorities,” aiming to focus on science and research which would be directly useful to industry and for commercial purposes. The Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC) has been steered by the government “toward industry-related research and away from environmental science.” The government’s minister of state for science and technology noted that the focus for research was to be on “getting those ideas out to our factory floors, if you will, making the product or process or somehow putting that into the marketplace and creating jobs.” Further, the National Research Council (NRC) was “to focus more on practical, commercial science and less on fundamental science” which wouldn’t be as beneficial to corporate interests. The minister of state for science and technology, Gary Goodyear, announced it as “an exciting, new journey – a re-direction that will strengthen Canada’s research and innovation ecosystem for many years to come.” The president of the NRC noted that, “We have shifted the primary focus of our work at NRC from the traditional emphasis of basic research and discovery science in favour of a more targeted approach to research and development.”
As Stephen Harper said, “Science powers commerce,” but apparently to Harper, that is all it should do, even though many scientists and academics disagree. The implications should be obvious: just as society’s interaction with the environment is unsustainable, so too is the dependency of the sciences upon those institutions which are destroying the environment.
Regardless of one’s position in society – as a member of an Indigenous group, an activist group, or within the scientific community – all of human society is facing the threat of extinction, accelerated by our destruction of the environment sourced at the point of interaction (the location of extraction) between the dominant institutions of our world and the natural world itself. Roughly half the world’s population lives in extreme poverty, with billions living in hunger, with poor access to safe drinking water, medicine and shelter, monumental disparities in wealth and inequality, the production and maintenance of unprecedented weapons of death and destruction, we are witnessing an exponentially accelerating plundering of resources and destruction of the environment upon which all life on Earth depends. If there has ever been a time in human history to begin asking big questions about the nature of our society and the legitimacy of the institutions and ideologies which dominate it, this is it.
An anarchistic understanding of the institutions and ideologies which control the world order reveals a society blinded by apathy as it nears extinction. The institutions which dictate the political, economic and social direction of our world are the very same ones destroying the environment to such an extent that the fate of the species is put at extreme risk. To not only continue – but to accelerate – down this path is no longer an acceptable course of action for humanity. It is time that socially segregated populations begin reaching out and working together, to share knowledge, organizational capacity, and engage in mutual action for shared objectives. With that in mind, it would appear to be beneficial not only for those involved – but for humanity as a whole – if Indigenous peoples and segments of the scientific community pursued the objective of protecting the environment together. Acknowledging this is easy enough, the hard part is figuring out the means and methods of turning that acknowledgement into action.
This is again where anarchist principles can become useful, emphasizing the creative capacity of many to contribute new ideas and undertake new initiatives working together as free individuals in collective organizations to achieve shared objectives. This is not an easy task, but it is a necessary one. The very future of humanity may depend upon it.
For notes and sources, download the paper here.
Andrew Gavin Marshall is a 26-year old researcher and writer based in Montreal, Canada. He is Project Manager of The People’s Book Project, chair of the Geopolitics Division of The Hampton Institute, research director for Occupy.com‘s Global Power Pro-ject, and hosts a weekly podcast show with BoilingFrogsPost.
Meet the Next Country That Might Explode into Protests Against Corporate Plunder and Slave Labor Working Conditions
Meet the Next Country That Might Explode into Protests Against Corporate Plunder and Slave Labor Working Conditions
Will the wave of global unrest crash on Indonesia next?
By: Andrew Gavin Marshall
Originally published on AlterNet
Indonesia – a Southeast Asian archipelago that is home to the largest Muslim population on Earth – is a key global hot spot for corporate plundering, worker exploitation, land grabs and environmental devastation. Simultaneously, the country is becoming a tinderbox for militant labour unrest, peasant rebellion and indigenous resistance. After 500 years of domination by imperial powers, the population of Indonesia is organizing and resisting the ‘new order’ of global corporate colonization. Much like Brazil and Turkey, Indonesia has been praised by the imperial powers as a “model democracy” and the IMF hails its progress as an “emerging economy.” The illusions of Turkish and Brazilian state-capitalist ‘democracy’ have been revealed by massive urban uprisings. The conditions are present for Indonesia to become home to its own national uprising, the only question may be: what will be the spark?
Indonesia: A “Model Democracy” and “Emerging Economy”
Indonesia has been roundly praised by the major imperial powers as a “model democracy” – assuming they have any legitimacy to judge what that may be, with former World Bank president and Pentagon official in the Bush administration, Paul Wolfowitz, having written that Indonesia was “an example for other aspiring democracies,” having shown a “remarkable” achievement in “building democratic institutions.” Then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton praised the “great transformation” of Indonesia since the dictatorship of Suharto, stating: “If you want to know if Islam, democracy, modernity and women’s rights can coexist, go to Indonesia.”
President Obama even praised Indonesia’s “extraordinary democratic transformation” which demonstrated “that democracy and development reinforce one another.” British Prime Minister David Cameron proclaimed that Indonesia could “inspire” young Muslims around the world “to choose democracy as their future.” German Chancellor Angela Merkel said that Germans “view Indonesia as a model of peaceful and tolerant development,” and even suggested that the way in which Indonesia tackled its debt was “an example of what can be achieved and what Europe has to achieve.” Perhaps, Greece and Spain – in time – could become what Merkel views as “model democracies” along the lines of Indonesia.
Indonesia is the largest economy in Southeast Asia and one of the top 20 economies in the world – listed among the major “emerging economies” – with one of the cheapest labour forces in Asia, which the New York Times explained was “a main reason [corporations] are attracted to Indonesia.” In 2013, Indonesia was listed as the world’s 12th largest exporter of textile products, with the minimum wage averaging $80-160 per month (as determined by local governments), compared with $75 in Cambodia and $37 in Bangladesh.
In a country of 240 million people, roughly 120 million live on less than $2 per day, though the government maintains that only 12% of the population – 30 million – live in poverty (which it defines as less than 86 cents U.S. per day), while 40% of children under the age of five suffer from moderate to severe ‘stunting’ due to malnutrition.
Despite the mass poverty and increasing growth of slums, a small section of Indonesian society has witnessed a remarkable growth in wealth, with the explosion of shopping malls, luxury cars and goods, and high-rise buildings. For Indonesia, “wealth and poverty are both on the rise.” The combined wealth of the country’s 40 richest individuals equaled that of its 60 million poorest citizens. Standard Chartered Bank noted that, “despite the rhetoric about middle classes contributing to growth in Indonesia, 82 percent of the population is living on less than four dollars a day.” Further, most of the economic ‘growth’ was experienced only by the consumer elite within the country.
A Pew Research Poll released in 2013 noted that only 37% of Indonesians felt their economy was “doing well,” with the number one concern needing to be addressed was that of rising prices, ranked above economic disparity, unemployment and sovereign debt. Roughly 75% of Indonesians felt that the economic system “generally favors the wealthy,” with 60% saying inequality had increased in recent years.
A Human Rights Watch researcher noted that with the “routine” trampling of rights for religious and ethnic minorities in Indonesia, along with brutal repression of peaceful protests, the imprisoning of political prisoners, along with torture and denial of medical care for prisoners, “the country is by no means a bastion of tolerance.” A former Indonesian economic minister recently noted that “the outlook for Indonesia becoming a well-functioning democracy is fast deteriorating,” with a tiny elite controlling the country while most people “have few prospects for improving their lives.” A former Indonesian foreign minister suggested that the country was fast in need of “a second wave of democratic reforms,” as when economic conditions worsen, “we will have a reaction on the street” since there existed within the country, a “dissatisfaction at a deeper level with the current state of democracy.” Even the Wall Street Journal noted that with the country’s continuous economic growth, “underneath lies a restlessness for real change that would affect the common person.”
But let’s not let facts get in the way of further praise; the IMF certainly doesn’t.
The Rising “Restlessness” from “Underneath”
The IMF has written in glowing terms of the success of Indonesia’s “structural reforms” which have led to “healthy” balance sheets for corporations and financial institutions. Growth forecasts remained above 6%, though more work could be done, noted the IMF: ending fuel subsidies, investing in infrastructure (meeting the demands of corporations), and to continue with “reforms” to labour laws, allowing for reduced wages, less benefits and protections for workers, and thus, attracting “foreign investment.”
In April of 2013, the IMF warned that “emerging Asia” needed to be careful about asset bubbles – like those that helped plunge the U.S. economy into crisis – and recommended the countries of the region “liberalize rigid labour and product markets,” thus allowing for cheaper labour in what is already a region for some of the cheapest labour on Earth.
Being the 12th largest exporter of textile products in the world, Indonesia is home to a significant sweatshop economy, marred by pervasive exploitation of labour. One Taiwanese-owned sweatshop employs nearly 10,000 people, mostly women, who work for 50 cents per hour making shoes for Nike, where the employees were verbally and physically abused. Indonesia is home to Nike’s third largest manufacturing base, following China and Vietnam, exploiting roughly 140,000 workers.
Indonesia’s ‘labour law’ – which was passed several years earlier – provided for slightly increased wages and severance pay in the event that a company decides to ‘downsize’ its workforce. Corporations have gotten around this law by hiring labour as ‘contract workers’ and firing them without benefits (what Indonesians call “outsourcing”). While corporations have been able to find legal loopholes – or simply ignore the law altogether – they have been facing increased pressure from labour unrest in recent years, and not merely in the textiles sector.
As the economy boomed in recent years, the labour force wanted a greater share of the benefits. Strikes had been increasing with demands for higher wages by mine workers, supermarket clerks, pilots and others who have “disrupted business operations – and could potentially deter foreign dollars.” The country had 53 strikes in the first seven months of 2010 alone, and they were continuing through subsequent years.
A strike took place at a plant owned by the French retail giant Carrefour in 2011 in protests against the company’s avoidance of adhering to Indonesia’s labour laws and in demand of higher wages. The strike was organized by one of the country’s largest trade unions – Kasbi – which represents 130,000 workers and has as its slogan, “Young, brave, militant.” Increasingly, labour organizers and workers have been connecting through social media, gaining access to more information than ever before and facilitating new ways to organize.
During the strike wave of 2011, Indonesia’s investment chief complained about the labour unrest in his country in an interview with the New York Timeswhere he expressed his fears that it would “reduce profit margins and competitiveness,” adding: “My concern is this will trigger a domino effect … it may trigger pressure for a rise in wages that not all companies can afford.” In May of 2013, Basri would go on to be appointed as the country’s finance minister.
In early 2012, Nike paid a $1 million out-of-court settlement for not having paid 4,500 workers at a factory for over 600,000 hours of overtime over the course of two years. The chairman of Indonesia’s trade union Serikat Pekerja National noted, “This has the potential to send shockwaves through the Indonesian labour movement… We have only just begun.”
In October of 2012, roughly 2.8 million factory workers across the country went on a one-day strike supported by several unions in 24 cities. In the capital of Jakarta, more than 700 companies were shut down for the day, while the government deployed 11,000 police officers and 4,000 military personnel to “secure” the rallies throughout the city. The mass protests were in opposition to companies hiring labour as “contract workers” and in demand of higher wages. Rallies were held across Jakarta and the country, where trade union leaders gave what the Financial Times referred to as “fiery speeches,” while the managing director of the American Chamber of Commerce in Indonesia complained that corporations viewed the existing labour laws as “counter-productive.”
The mass protests continued into November, at which point the government announced it was considering a minimum wage increase of up to 50%, though corporations were warning they would move their factories elsewhere. Following continued agitation over the course of the month, which saw demonstrators entering factories, urging workers to join them and shutting down production, the new governor of Jakarta approved a 44% increase in the province’s minimum wage. Tens of thousands of workers continued to protest, while business leaders complained that, “the minimum wage should be lower.” As the protests threatened the President’s major infrastructure development plans, one large corporate group warned: “The frequent protests are obstructive… They are getting to be too much and must be stopped.”
As the Asian Development Bank (ADB) warned earlier in 2012, while many governments in Asia had been experiencing rapid economic growth, rising inequality had become a major problem that could lead to social unrest and create “pressure to take on populist policies that are economically not very wise.” It advised Asian countries “to do something about it.”
In December, President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono (commonly known as SBY) declared an end to the “era of cheap labour,” noting that wages were set to increase in a few provinces, though added that the government could not tolerate “disturbances in the production process.” A government economic minister stated in a speech that, “We should also take sides with businesses. Companies unable to comply with the minimum wage increases should immediately file a report with the government to demand a wage freeze. We will definitely facilitate them.” The threat of unrest and resistance had prompted several Asian countries – including Indonesia, Thailand, Vietnam, Malaysia and China – to begin increasing their minimum wages by the end of the year.
As 2013 arrived and the wage increases were set to take effect, companies were finding their way around the new laws. Several Nike plants hired police and military officials to intimidate workers into signing away their rights to higher wages. Even before the New Year, roughly a thousand companies were seeking exemptions from the government in paying the higher wages. By mid-January, 941 companies had sought exemptions, by which time the government had granted 47. Thousands of workers took to the streets in protest, often met with police brutality or violence from “organized thugs.”
By early February, the government announced that of the total of 941 companies wanting exemptions, “we will grant about 80 percent of them.” Instead, 500 companies were given a “delay” in paying higher wages, with more expected. Labour groups were increasingly threatening action and agitation in response. Tens of thousands of workers continued to take to the streets in protest, demanding companies adhere to the law, that the government enforce it, and requesting a health insurance and pension system. Business groups were threatening to layoff up to a million workers and close 1,300 factories if they were forced to follow the law. One business group complained that companies were “facing tough times.”
On May 1 – the international labour day known as ‘May Day’ – tens of thousands of workers in Jakarta went on a one-day strike and march, bringing the city to a “standstill.” Roughly 50,000 people protested outside the Presidential Palace, not only demanding better wages and conditions, but also opposing the government’s new plan to raise fuel prices (by cutting subsidies). The Indonesia press reported that roughly 135,000 workers joined the May Day marches, as business groups complained such protests were a threat to “economic growth.”
Like any good state-capitalist ‘democracy,’ Indonesia went on to ignore the will of the people and bow to the will of the IMF. Following the advice of the IMF and World Bank, the government of Indonesia passed a law in mid-June to reduce fuel subsidies and increase the cost of fuel by 44% over the coming weeks. Thousands of protesters took to the streets over several days, met with tens of thousands of police and security personnel. Students and other groups joined demonstrations across the country, noting that increased costs of fuel raise the prices of other goods and services, such as food, clothing and public transportation. The cut to subsidies was designed to “ease investor concerns” about Indonesia’s finances. During the protests, the police used excessive force – as well as hiring “local thugs” – to attack protesters, and arrested 229 students in 62 cities, with roughly 118 students injured during protests, often by being fired upon with rubber bullets.
Can it really be said that Indonesia is a “model democracy” when so much of its economic “growth” is built on the backs of the mass exploitation of workers, and for the benefit of undemocratic global corporations? Indonesia is a model, perhaps, but not of democracy: it is a model for the global corporate plutocracy.
Though it has been fifteen years since the end of dictatorship, Indonesia’s transition to democracy has barely begun. The democratic aspirations of Indonesians are not seen in the luxury cars, shopping malls or high-rises that span the cityscapes – as the idolatries of economic ‘growth’ – but rather, it is seen in the workers who emerge from the factory sweatshops and take to the streets en masse, demanding the promises of democracy and economic growth be realized at long last.
Extractive Industries and Exploited Communities
Suharto’s ‘New Order’ witnessed the carving up of much of Indonesia’s wealth for American, British, French, German, Japanese and other corporations from the powerful countries of the world. The neoliberal era – from the 1980s onward – witnessed an exponential increase in corporate colonization, a process that accelerated with Indonesia’s transition from dictatorship to ‘democracy.’
In the early 1970s, the American oil company Mobil Oil discovered one of the world’s largest natural gas fields at Arun, located in Aceh province. For three decades, the Indonesian military waged a battle against the Free Aceh Movement (GAM), which sought autonomy from the country, leaving 10-30,000 people killed. When Mobil merged with Exxon in 1999, it retained control of the Arun project, and the military continued to attack local villages with the direct support of ExxonMobil. A lawsuit against Exxon alleges that the company “supervised, controlled and directed” military personnel who committed major human rights abuses between 1999 and 2001.
The region of West Papua was not part of Indonesia, but was a separate Dutch colony struggling for independence in the early 1960s. The U.S. and U.N. negotiated an agreement in 1962 where West Papua would be under the “interim control” of Indonesia for six years, at which point the country would vote for independence or to be part of Indonesia. When Suharto took full power in 1967, he negotiated an agreement with Freeport to grant a mining concession in the region. When the election in 1969 saw overwhelming support for independence, Suharto declared the area “a military operation zone” and sent in the military to crush the people’s local movement. Repression was rampant for decades, with up to 100,000 West Papuans having been murdered since 1969 in what some have referred to as a “slow-motion genocide.” Despite the region’s immense natural wealth, it remains as Indonesia’s poorest province. The Freeport mine itself has created “irreversible ecological devastation” to the region, with hundreds of thousands of tons of waste dumped into waterways and valleys daily.
The U.S.-based Freeport mine in West Papua – the largest copper and gold reserves in the world – experienced a three-month strike in 2011, where workers were demanding higher wages. Workers were paid as low as $1.50 per hour, while the mine made the company $5 billion in 2010 alone. Eventually, after a great deal of violence and injuries, including one death, the workers agreed to a 37% wage increase (far from their demands for a five-fold increase), but one union official noted, “This is not the end of our struggle.” Freeport had been paying millions of dollars directly to the police which guard its facilities, who had – on occasion – opened fire on the workers as they were protesting against the mine. In the ten years between 2001 and 2011, Freeport had given $79.1 million to Indonesian police and military forces.
As Amnesty International has noted, the police and security forces in Indonesia were often implicated in “torture, excessive use of force and unlawful killings.” Freeport’s chairman in 2005 explained: “There is no alternative to our reliance on the Indonesian military and police… The need for this security… as well as the decisions regarding our relationships with the Indonesian government and its security institutions, are ordinary business activities.”
Tin mining on the Indonesian island of Bangka has been popular among imperialists since the Dutch colonized the country in the early 19th century. Combined with the neighbouring island, Belitung, tin mining on these islands accounts for 90% of Indonesia’s tin, with the country being the second-largest exporter of tin in the world, used largely for consumer electronics. Indonesia supplies companies such as Samsung, Foxconn, Apple, Sony and LG with tin from these islands. The miners get paid low wages and workplace injuries (and deaths) have been on the rise in recent years. Further, the “lucrative but destructive trade… has scarred the island’s landscape, bulldozed its farms and forests, [and] killed off its fish stocks and coral reefs.” This destruction has often resulted in protests, some numbering over tens of thousands of locals.
In November of 2012, the U.S. Undersecretary of Commerce for International Trade Francisco Sanchez, stated that the United States hoped to “double its trade with Indonesia over the next five years,” as U.S. corporations were getting “excited about the opportunities” in the country for ‘growth.’ Sanchez traveled to Indonesia to encourage more trade between the countries, and he was accompanied by a delegation of corporate leaders from Cisco Systems, General Electric, and Honeywell International, among others.
Among the “opportunities” for growth – inspiring the ‘excitement’ of multinational corporate plunderers – is the profit that can be extracted from partaking in major land grabs and the destruction of the environment, with the added bonus of displacing thousands of peasant and indigenous communities in the process.
Land Grabs Lay Waste to Indonesia
Massive land grabs have been accelerating around the world since 2009, driving Indigenous peoples and farming communities off the land as foreign investors lay waste to the environment and create cash crops for export to rich countries. Oxfam noted in 2011 that the global land grabs were “already leading to conflict, hunger and human rights abuses,” since the ‘investment’ deals ignore the rights of those who live on the land, “leaving them homeless and without land to grow enough food to eat and make a living.” Land grabbing has been encouraged by the World Bank and IMF, most aggressively in Africa, but have spread across the world, from Central America to Indonesia.
In April of 2013, a Canadian mining company – East Asia Minerals Corporation – announced that it was working with the Indonesian government to “re-zone” nearly 2 million hectares of protected forest in Aceh for “industrial activities,” including mining, logging, and palm oil plantations. The company announced in a press release that they were working with the government to reclassify zones from “protected forest” to “production forest.”
Environmental groups warned that the reclassification could put biodiversity at risk, including endangered rhinos, elephants, orangutans, and tigers. Scientists from the Asia chapter of the Association for Tropical Biology and Conservation released a declaration stating: “Aceh forests are essential for food security, regulating water flows in both the monsoon and drought seasons to irrigate rice fields and other cash crops… Forest disruption in Aceh’s upland areas will increase the risk of destructive flooding for people living downstream in the coastal lowlands.” Despite opposition from environmental groups, scientists, human rights groups and local communities, the “model democracy” government said it hoped to approve the plan “as soon as possible,” which the mining company said was “positive news.”
This “positive news” has the effect of not only destroying what’s left of the third largest rainforest on Earth – and causing irreversible harm to its biodiversity – but it is also displacing the Indigenous and small farmer communities that live off the land and forests, most of whom are not compensated and forced to either migrate to urban slums or work for minimal wages at the companies that stole their land. Many communities resist, but are met with the “heavy-handed security and paramilitary forces.” In the previous ten years, more than 10 million hectares of land was “given away and converted to plantations,” destroying thousands of communities and laying waste to the environment in the process.
Over 600 conflicts over land in Indonesia were reported in 2011, including 22 deaths and hundreds of injuries. A national human rights commission in Indonesia reported over 5,000 human rights violations in 2012, largely linked to companies involved in deforestation. The founder of the Indonesian Peasant Union – with a membership of 700,000 – noted that the rapid expansion of palm oil plantations “has spawned a new poverty and is triggering a crisis of landlessness and hunger,” marred by forced evictions, violence, torture and even death.
A director of Friends of the Earth in Indonesia noted: “Who controls the land in Indonesia controls the politics. Corruption is massive around natural resources. We are seeing a new corporate colonialism. In the Suharto era you were sent to prison for talking about the government. Now you can be sent there for talking about corporations.” The police presence around plantations has been increasing, as has violent repression as the government “is trying to clamp down on mass protests.”
In the span of thirty years, global agribusiness, pulp and paper companies have turned the islands of Sumatra and Borneo – the third and sixth largest islands in the world – into near wastelands, threatening the incredible biodiversity – including endangered tigers, rhinos and elephants – to develop biofuels, vegetable oil and toilet paper. Scientists and environmentalists recently warned that “one of the 21st century’s greatest ecological disasters is rapidly unfolding.” In a matter of years, more than half of the third largest rainforest on Earth has been destroyed, and 70% of what remains is marked for “transition” into plantations. Nearly one million hectares of rainforest are destroyed every year in Indonesia, with scientists suggesting the endangered wildlife on the region will be extinct within a couple decades.
One Greenpeace official in Indonesia explained: “This is the fastest, most comprehensive transformation of an entire landscape that has ever taken place anywhere in the world including the Amazon. If it continues at this rate all that will be left in 20 years is a few fragmented areas of natural forest surrounded by huge manmade plantations. There will be increased floods, fires and droughts but no animals.” A director of Indonesia’s largest environmental group, Walhi, noted, “The legacy of deforestation has been conflict, increased poverty, migration to the cities and erosion of habitat for animals. As the forests come down, social conflicts are exploding everywhere.” Coal, copper, and gold mining companies are moving into Sumatra and Kalimantan, causing widespread deforestation and violent conflicts with local communities. The rare of deforestation is also increasing rapidly in the poorest province of West Papua.
In May of 2013, the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) reported that Indonesia – with the third largest tropical forest coverage in the world – was “not doing enough to protect its forests.” While Indonesia passed a moratorium on deforestation in May of 2013, a number of loopholes make it almost meaningless.
Due to its rapid rate of deforestation and the draining of peatlands, Indonesia is one of the world’s largest emitters of greenhouse gasses, ahead of Saudi Arabia, Australia, Brazil and France. The large paper company – APRIL (Asia Pacific Resources International Holdings) – has come into conflict with multiple villages in Sumatra as it undertakes a project to destroy 450,000 hectares of rainforest, an area which holds roughly 1.5 billion tons of carbon. A local village leader noted: “We would die for this [forest] if necessary. This is a matter of life and death. The forest is our life. We depend on it when we want to build our houses or boats. We protect it. The permits were handed out illegally, but now we have no option but to work for the companies or hire ourselves out for pitiful wages.”
The devastation to rainforests has not merely been confined to Indonesia, but has spread at an alarming rate across much of Southeast Asia, including Vietnam, Thailand, Laos, Cambodia and Burma, largely being driven by export-led growth, monoculture plantations, and the construction of dams and other large-scale infrastructure projects. The increasing rates of deforestation are exacerbated by the global explosion in land grabs, with the World Bank and other financial institutions like Deutsche Bank funding land grabs across Southeast Asia in which Indigenous people “are bearing the brunt of the seizures.”
In late June, fires started on or near major palm oil plantations owned by large companies became so large that the pollution spread across Malaysia and Singapore, causing a “hazardous” pollution warning in Singapore in the “worst haze” the country ever faced. Soon after, the Indonesian government announced it was investigating eight companies that might have started the fires on Sumatra, though the companies immediately blamed small landholders. An official from the Rainforest Action Network noted, “This recent smog is just the most visible part of the serious deforestation and human rights crisis sweeping Indonesia… Widespread, illegal burning to clear rainforests and peatlands for palm oil and pulp and paper plantation expansion is unfortunately a well-established yearly ritual in Sumatra.”
Farmers, workers, Indigenous people, women, youth, students and NGOs have been forming groups in which they pledged “resistance” in an “alliance against land grabbing” by the government and international corporations. Police have been using excessive force against protesters and Indigenous communities, and several peaceful activists have been imprisoned for opposing land grabs, deforestation and the construction of plantations.
The Indonesian People’s Alliance (IPA) formed in 2013 as an alliance of dozens of civil society groups, seeking to unite forces across Indonesia and internationally to oppose trade “liberalization” and respect national sovereignty. An IPA coordinator declared: “We have been told to preserve our forests, but large industry continues to wreck our environment and marginalize our own people. We cannot continue washing their dirty laundry.”
In June, a “militant peasant organization” – the Alliance of Agrarian Reform Movement (AGRA) – protested in the thousands against land grabbing in Indonesia, stating that the land “needs to be distributed back to the peasantry through genuine agrarian reform.” An official from the Asian Peasant Coalition (APC) – a regional Asian alliance of peasant organizations – noted that resistance was growing not only within Indonesia, but across much of Asia, where peasants were working to launch an “anti land grabbing campaign.”
Is an Indonesian Revolution in the Making?
The circumstances certainly exist – with 120 million people living on less than $2 per day, mass exploitation of workers, labour unrest, violent state repression, land grabs and corporate plundering, peasant and indigenous resistance, environmental devastation, and political corruption – for Indonesia to potentially witness a mass uprising. Workers are organizing across the cities against labour exploitation, while peasants and indigenous communities are organizing across the countryside against land grabs and environmental degradation, and increasingly, they are organizing and working together.
While the leaders of the imperial powers and institutions of the world praise Indonesia as an “emerging economy” and “model democracy,” the population of Indonesia is rising up against the corrupt, plutocratic elites, violent repression, environmental devastation, widespread exploitation and plundering that comes with those buzzwords. In short, the people of Indonesia are struggling to turn their country into a real model for democracy, and for the economy to emerge in respect of that ideal, not against it.
The demolition of a park in Istanbul sparked the urban uprising in Turkey, and the plan to raise bus fare sparked the urban uprising in Brazil. So perhaps the question is not ifIndonesia will experience similar circumstances, but rather: when, and what will be the spark?
Only time will tell, and no doubt, the Indonesians will let us know when it has happened.
Andrew Gavin Marshall is an independent researcher and writer based in Montreal, Canada. He is Project Manager of The People’s Book Project, head of the Geopolitics Division of the Hampton Institute, the research director of Occupy.com’s Global Power Project, and has a weekly podcast with BoilingFrogsPost.