art of resistance

(Interview) Adrienne Roberts: A Woman’s Work Is Never Done.

red_women_copy55291/Photo: See Red Woman’s Workshop/

Adrienne Roberts is a lecturer in International Politics at the University of Manchester since 2012. Her research and teaching interests are in the areas of international political economy, feminist political economy, debt and debt-driven development, and gendered dimensions of the carceral state and the criminalization of poverty.

Her work has been published in journals such as Third World Quarterly, International Feminist Journal of Politics, New Political Economy and Critical Sociology. Her book Gendered States of Punishment and Welfare: Feminist Political Economy, Primitive Accumulation and the Law (Routledge) was published in 2016. Roberts was a guest of the 10th Subversive Festival – European Left Against New World (Dis)order in Zagreb.

How is gender equality used as a stratgey of corporate business growth and a way of legitimizing capitalist exploitation?

It’s not only the corporations, but also a lot of the neoliberal government instutions, that have latched on the idea of gender equality as being smart economics. The idea is that it makes good economic sense to empower women. The problem here is how the empowering of women is understood, which is empowering women as workers and as consumers.

There’s been a lot of talk about the need to indrease women’s “human capital”, so that they can be integrated into the work force. What gets left out of those types of arguments is any attention to all the work that women already do, whether it’s dometic labour or home based work or various forms of the so-called informal labour. That is largely ignored in the debate that is positioned in a way that says that including women into the capitalist labour market leads to empowering.

What is the risk in enforcing such visions of empowerment?

The risk is that in ingoniring all of the other work that women are already engaged in, we risk further increasing the burden placed on women. It’s also important to talk about the power of women as consumers.

Different national economies and global economy in general haven’t recovered from the crisis of 2007/8, and we’re seeing stagnating levels of economic growth. Women are meant to be the real miracle workers, they are the ones that are going to get us out of it – empowered as workers and consumers. Valuing women as consumers risks obscuring all sorts of other inherent aspects of gender equality. Gender equality is underminded by the view that inequality is best solved by the integration into the capitalist market.

In connection to what you said about women as consumers, could we talk about feminism as a brand, the way it is often used as a marketing strategy, particularly in the Western countries, and then there are growing industries for empowering through “feminist” products?

There are many examples of how that’s done, and it depends on the type of feminism we’re talking about. This type of feminism is liberal feminism that isn’t challenging enough on a whole range of norms associated with femininty and capitalism.

All of the attempts to sell Dove products because they are somehow more natural and allow women to express their beauty naturally, but at the same time featuring images of women who are still being commodified and valued because they are attractive women, is a bad attempt to reconcile feminism with cosmetic industry. You see it in fashion magazines, like Vogue and Elle, which have explicitly adopted the feminist stance but don’t see any contradiction between that and continuously creating unrealistic and unachieveable standards of beauty.

How does this type of work contribute to feminism and does it at all?

There’s a lot of debates around that. I think it does. It’s obvious that feminism means a lot of different things to a lot of different people. In the USA, another example of this would be around Beyonce and her type of feminism, feminism of the famous, powerful and rich. They do have a message of empowerment and it does speak to a lot of people. Is that limited understanding of feminism? It is.

But this is a tricky question because it’s important for feminism not to alienate people and cause more separation, but there’s also danger in supporting feminism that is so inoffensive to the capitalist system, a system which is detrimental for women in so many ways. In such a narrow view of feminism, possibilities for major social changes are extremely limited.

Thinking about feminism globally, how can the feminism in the “developed countries” affect women elsewhere – like the “third world” labour, which now greatly depends on underpaid female wrokers? We can think about the relation of female workers and consumers of the garment industry as an example.

This is where the allegiance of different feminist organizations is important, and there are feminist groups that work on that. There are different feminist campaigns that have emerged globally, largely as respones to the corporate driven feminist agenda, and they are precisely about trying to draw attention to ways corporations exploit women through various industries, such as the garment industry, which is not well regulated.

This cannot only be tied to campaigns on consumption and western-based feminist movements by fair trade clothing, because that’s still too simplistic and too indvidualistic and not transformative enough. There are other ways consciousness can be raised among feminists in the West by linking up with the very people involved in making the products we consume. There are many venues where these sorts of discussions are happening now, around the world, like social forums. It’s an ongoing project and its future is yet to be determined.

WOMANKIND_Posters_RGB3 /Photo: For All Womankind/

You’ve wrritten a lot about the role of the state in forcing women to adhere to the historically shaped roles and categories, including those of paid and unpaid work. How crucial is the role of the state?

It’s essential. There are so many ways we can think about the involvment of the state historically and in the present moment, in producing and securing gender norms, inculding gender norms around paid and unpaid labour. In the book Gendered states of Punishment and Welfare, I am looking historically, up to neo-liberalism, at how the state is involved in creating specific gender norms.

Before the transition to capitalism you have the family working together for the most part, as an integrated unit, you don’t have the separation of what we now call productive and reproductive labour. Through a whole host of state policies in the early stages of transition to capitalism, a change is happening.

I am talking about state policies in England to create private property, done through different laws, and then the private property being regulated in a way that criminalizes peasantry, and says they are no longer able to collect food, fish, etc. All of these laws lead to creating wage labour, and people not involved in wage labour are to be punished. As we get further along the capitalist development, closer to the Industrial revolution and particularly after the Industrial revolution – these laws take on a more gendered form.

They are not just trying to create a class of wage labourers, they also say women need to behave in very particular ways if they want to be considered deserving of any sort of state support. If you are unmarried, if you have “bastard” children, you’re considered to be undeserving. There are similiar types of practices now, but with the move from the welfare state to work state, there is a disregard for all sorts of reponsilibilites women tend to have, and there is a rise of equality with the vengance within the criminal system.

Talking about equality with vengance – a big part of your research focuses on the carceral state and gendered forms of poverty, especially in connection to the criminalisation of poverty.

With the criminal system during the welfare state, which was still highly gendered and problematic on many levels, women used to be thrown in reformatories, and now you have women who are treated increasingly harshly, who are thrown into prisons similar to men’s. You’re not seeing the disciplining of women in a gender specific way, as it was seen in the welfare state era.

This has horrifiying results because when we stop paying attention to reasons why people end up committing criminal acitvity, we lose sight of the fact that women who are in jail are almost always there either for drug related crimes or for property related crimes, petty thefts, etc. If they are there for violence it is normally for violence committed against an abusive partner.

The reasons for those crimes are rooted in women’s socio-economic position and gendered forms of precariousness that are produced by neoliberalism. To ignore that and assume that women have made a cost-benefit calculation and a rational choice to engage in crime and that the way we need to deal with that isn’t through social support and social services, but through a harsh state that will be punitive in its reaction to crime is a really wrong approach.

You also look at debt-development a lot, but unlike many researchers, you analyze it on a micro-level, on the level of households.

What’s been going on since 1990’s through the microcredit projects is that so-called development in the so-called Third world is presumed to be something that can happen and that can be enabled by providing loans at the small scale to indviduals and increasingly to women. Somehow the provisioning of these loans is magically going to enable them to start sustainable businesses to bring themselves and their communities out of poverty. The microcredit project has been discredited over the years, we have several decades of studies that have shown it has failed to deliver on its intended outcome.

But the idea behind it hasn’t disappeared by any means, we’re seeing it reinvented right now in the interest that the development agencies and states have in supporting small to medium enterprises, as well as the focus on enterprenourship and women particularly. Even when they’re not talking about microcredit as much, there is still this assumption to provide small amounts of loans and business training to women and that is how we will achieve development. That bypasses all of the existing issues around underdevelopment and it doesn’t address the role of the state in supporting and working towards the reduction of poverty.

And finally – how is it possible to develop deeply transformative feminism in a capitalist system, if gender inequality was so essential in the development of capitalism?

That is why feminism needs to be anti-capitalist. There are inherent limits to forms of gender equality we can attain in a capitalist system because it is historically founded on gender inequality and it always enables to continue to profit and accumulate by reproducing gender inequality. I don’t see a time where we can have gender equality in capitalism. This is still not a widely recognized feminist position, but it’s also important to fight battles as they come up.

One big problem of Marxist feminists is that their critique is of such great proportions, on a structural level, and it risks taking away the sense from the small battles within the capitalist system, which are all necessary and important for the immediate needs and everyday lives of so many people.

We need to hold on to the analytical understanding of the roots of the gender inequality, but that isn’t meant to be a demobilising approach that says that anything that’s not directly undermining the system is useless.

• • •

This interview was also published in Croatian, on H-Alter.

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art of resistance, Turkey

The Last Dance of Tarlabasi.

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This week, Istanbul on my mind. So much change in the last couple of years. In Istanbul, in Turkey, in countries around Turkey. A terrifying game of dominos, it seems.

I thought about Rena Effendi’s work The Last Dance of Tarlabasidone in 2011. It makes me nostalgic because that is when and where I first time fell in love with Istanbul.  With Effendi’s great work, Tarlabasi and its magic remain captured in time.

In spite of its run-down looks and reputation for widespread crime, Tarlabasi was a culturally vibrant neighborhood kaleidoscope – populated by Kurdish migrant workers from Anatolia, Roma gypsies, Greeks and African immigrants – from devout Muslims to trans-gender sex workers.

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But a big change happened – in 2011, Beyoglu municipality began a series of forced evictions – following the government’s plan for city “beautification”. Effendi described how as a result of this urban development initiative, many of the current Tarlabasi residents were being “bought out” and ordered to leave, as their homes are demolished to accommodate the construction of upscale residences.

Entire building blocks in Tarlabasi have been sold off to private companies, transforming the streets into ghostly barracks, pending reconstruction. Many of the neighborhood’s residents, their faces and lifestyles did not fit in with the new, “modern”, mandated look of Tarlabasi.

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Last Dance of Tarlabasi is a visual tale of this neighborhood and the way it struggled to survive the ruthless pace of Istanbul’s urban change.

All of this is captured very well in a sentence told by Ali Ber, a 45-year-old Kurdish migrant from Mardin. “I’ve lived here for more than 20 years; all my children grew up here. Why should I leave? If they want to make Tarlabasi better, why can’t I be part of it?”, Ber asked.

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How is the story of Tarlabasi revelant today, five years later? How is it relevant after the recent terrorist attacks in Instabul?

It is relevant because it shows what today’s world values, what capitalism values. Most of the people are getting eaten by the machine of capitalism, we are being crushed and squeezed, with very little place to breathe, to live decent lives.

We live in a time of crisis that cannot be fixed within the capitalist framework. Creating more and more fear is the method that is being used  – since most of the world’s leaders and politicians don’t seem to care for (long-term) solutions.

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People being pushed out of their homes, people dying in terrorist attacks, people being forced to work for way less than a minimum wage (it is slavery, so call it slavery), people jumping off bridges because they can’t pay the rent, people begging on streets, people selling kidneys to pay for their children’s education, people who dare to cross the sea in boats that look like walnut shells because there’s no safe ground for them, people who still don’t know where their children (their bodies) are because they happened to be at a wrong corner, at a wrong time, with wrong skin on their bodies and wrong language coming out of their mouth, people who live and die each day to see what wars (war on terror, war on drugs, war on war) look like on the ground, in reality – all of these people are the victims, and all of their stories are connected.

We are being forced to see these problems in a deeply fragmented way (which is exactly how the ruling classes of our time want us to see it),  but we need to move beyond fragments and see how things are connected, how we are connected.

And when you think about things that way, it is easy to realize that we are all (well, 99 percent of us at least) dancing the last dance of Tarlabasi.

//all photos © Rena Effendi//

For more on Effendi and her work, go to her official website.

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art of resistance, Egypt

Remembering Hassan Fathy: To Build With The People.

The house still stands at the end of the curved, dusty road at the foot of Cairo’s great Citadel. It still has character and mystery; now, however, it is a unique work of art amidst its modern concrete neighbours.

It is the house where Hassan Fathy lived; a mansion without its master. That master was an intriguing man; one to whom some bowed, and many more raised a sceptical brow. He was seen as eccentric and a dreamer — the strange man who built his house of mud — not the man the world now praises; the architect who laboured for the people.

That is how Yasmine El-Rashidi (writing for Al-Ahram Weekly) describes her visit to Hassan Fathy’s house, on the centenary of his birth.

gal-post68/Hassan Fathy, photo via Design with Nature/

Hassan Fathy was born in Alexandria in 1900, and died in Cairo in 1989. He was a notable architect, a man with a vision, a man who truly wanted to use his knowledge to help his community. His mission was to provide a decent housing for all Egyptians and especially the poorest, the peasants  who lived outside the cash economy.

When he got his degree and was out on his first job (he was assigned to build a school in a remote farming area of the Delta) a life-changing experience happened to him – one that would help put him on a path towards different architecture. On reaching the village, he was shocked by the poverty of its residents, and wrote:

I suddenly felt terribly responsible. Nothing had been done out of consideration for the human beings who spent their lives there; we had been content to live in ignorance of the peasant’s sickening misery. I decided I must do something.”

And he did something, and kept on doing it for the rest of his life. He brought back efficient and sustainable building techniques, but also trained ordinary citizens to make their own building materials and even construct their own homes. He did not incorporate western ideologies into his architectural techniques, he rather used old techniques which were cheaper, sustainable and energy efficient.

New Gourna Mosque/New Gourna Mosque, photo © Hassan Fathy/

He brought back the use of mud brick, also known as Adobe. As Simone Swan writes:

Adobe became Fathy’s technological passion, and he remained loyal to it not only because of its durability over millennia—some adobe structures in Egypt are more than 3000 years old—but also because of its thermal properties: In many desert climates it maintains comfortable temperatures within a range of three to four degrees centigrade (5-7°F) over a 24-hour cycle. Furthermore, it is plentiful: Approximately one-third of the world’s people already live in houses made of earth.

In a world were architecture is praised mainly for its aesthetic value, Hassan Fathy’s vission is more than necessary. In Architecture for the Poor, he writes:

Although I believe that the appearance of the building has the most profound effect upon its inhabitants, yet one cannot house men in the Parthenon. One’s beautiful designs must serve the humble everyday needs of men; indeed, if these designs are true to their materials, their environment, and their daily job, they must necessarily be beautiful.

Boys Primary School Courtyard, New Gourna/New Gourna Boys Primary School, photo © Roger Viollet/

Unfortunately, precisely because of his vision and commitment to society, Fathy encountered many setbacks during his long career. As Swan puts it: “His commitment to the poor made him an outsider in Egypt, one who was regarded as a threat to vested interests in industrial building materials, banking, real estate and large-scale contracting.”

Still, he managed to work on more than 160 projects during his lifetime. In 1946 he started working on the Gourna Village project where he incorporated new designs and urban planning with older, more sustainable building techniques. Decades later, the model village is falling into serious disrepair.  World Monuments Fund (WMF) made this video in hope of carrying out a project to safeguard the site.

In 1957 Fathy designed a prototype of temporary housing for Palestinian refugees, in 1967 he worked on New Bariz Village (Kharga), his best known community project.

In 1972 he published To Build With The People, a year later translated by Chicago Press and published as Architecture for the Poor, which catapulted Fathy’s work to international fame. The revised title was not Fathy’s choice, but that of the publisher, and it is precisely that revised title that illustrates the issues Fathy faced in his career in relation to his vision.

I think that there is a big problem in that English translation, just like there is a big problem when we talk about charity instead of solidarity. The problem lays in the dynamic of power, in the hierarchy, in looking down on.

Let me quote Eduardo Gaelano on this one: “I don’t believe in charity. I believe in solidarity. Charity is so vertical. It goes from the top to the bottom. Solidarity is horizontal. It respects the other person. I have a lot to learn from other people.

Fathy’s architecture was about people – seeing their needs, helping them, working with them, learning from them. Sure, they were peasants, they were poor, but they were also more than that, and Fathy’s architecture went beyond that. And it wasn’t and isn’t architecture that is limited to poor people. It was and is architecture that promotes sustainable, modest and yet beautiful way of living. That is what we all need to consider, rich or poor, if our wish is to preserve our nature, our culture and our future.

• • •

Previous Remembering… sessions:

Remembering Assia Djebar: I Write Against Erasure

Remembering Howard Zinn: To Be Hopeful in Bad Times

Remembering Pablo Neruda: Pablo Neruda, Presente!

Remembering Nadia Anjuman: One Day, My Hands Will Become Weavers

and more.

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Nekategorizirano

Arundhati Roy: The New American Century.

This article appeared in the February 9, 2004 edition of The Nation. It was adapted from Arundhati Roy’s speech to the opening plenary of the World Social Forum in Mumbai.

Arundhati-Roy/Arundhati Roy, photo © Dinesh Khanna/

In January 2003 thousands of us from across the world gathered in Porto Alegre in Brazil and declared–reiterated–that ‘Another World Is Possible.’ A few thousand miles north, in Washington, George W. Bush and his aides were thinking the same thing.

Our project was the World Social Forum. Theirs–to further what many call the Project for the New American Century.

In the great cities of Europe and America, where a few years ago these things would only have been whispered, now people are openly talking about the good side of imperialism and the need for a strong empire to police an unruly world. The new missionaries want order at the cost of justice. Discipline at the cost of dignity. And ascendancy at any price. Occasionally some of us are invited to ‘debate’ the issue on ‘neutral’ platforms provided by the corporate media. Debating imperialism is a bit like debating the pros and cons of rape. What can we say? That we really miss it?

In any case, New Imperialism is already upon us. It’s a remodeled, streamlined version of what we once knew. For the first time in history, a single empire with an arsenal of weapons that could obliterate the world in an afternoon has complete, unipolar, economic and military hegemony. It uses different weapons to break open different markets. There isn’t a country on God’s earth that is not caught in the cross-hairs of the American cruise missile and the IMF checkbook. Argentina’s the model if you want to be the poster boy of neoliberal capitalism, Iraq if you’re the black sheep. Poor countries that are geopolitically of strategic value to Empire, or have a ‘market’ of any size, or infrastructure that can be privatized, or, God forbid, natural resources of value–oil, gold, diamonds, cobalt, coal–must do as they’re told or become military targets. Those with the greatest reserves of natural wealth are most at risk. Unless they surrender their resources willingly to the corporate machine, civil unrest will be fomented or war will be waged.

In this new age of empire, when nothing is as it appears to be, executives of concerned companies are allowed to influence foreign policy decisions. The Center for Public Integrity in Washington found that at least nine out of the thirty members of the Bush Administration’s Defense Policy Board were connected to companies that were awarded military contracts for $76 billion between 2001 and 2002. George Shultz, former Secretary of State, was chairman of the Committee for the Liberation of Iraq. He is also on the board of directors of the Bechtel Group. When asked about a conflict of interest in the case of war in Iraq he said, ‘I don’t know that Bechtel would particularly benefit from it. But if there’s work to be done, Bechtel is the type of company that could do it. But nobody looks at it as something you benefit from.’ In April 2003, Bechtel signed a $680 million contract for reconstruction.

This brutal blueprint has been used over and over again across Latin America, in Africa and in Central and Southeast Asia. It has cost millions of lives. It goes without saying that every war Empire wages becomes a Just War. This, in large part, is due to the role of the corporate media. It’s important to understand that the corporate media don’t just support the neoliberal project. They are the neoliberal project. This is not a moral position they have chosen to take; it’s structural. It’s intrinsic to the economics of how the mass media work.

Most nations have adequately hideous family secrets. So it isn’t often necessary for the media to lie. It’s all in the editing–what’s emphasized and what’s ignored. Say, for example, India was chosen as the target for a righteous war. The fact that about 80,000 people have been killed in Kashmir since 1989, most of them Muslim, most of them by Indian security forces (making the average death toll about 6,000 a year); the fact that in February and March of 2002 more than 2,000 Muslims were murdered on the streets of Gujarat, that women were gang-raped and children were burned alive and 150,000 driven from their homes while the police and administration watched and sometimes actively participated; the fact that no one has been punished for these crimes and the government that oversaw them was re-elected…all of this would make perfect headlines in international newspapers in the run-up to war.

Next thing we know, our cities will be leveled by cruise missiles, our villages fenced in with razor wire, US soldiers will patrol our streets, and Narendra Modi, Pravin Togadia or any of our popular bigots will, like Saddam Hussein, be in US custody having their hair checked for lice and the fillings in their teeth examined on prime-time TV.

But as long as our ‘markets’ are open, as long as corporations like Enron, Bechtel, Halliburton and Arthur Andersen are given a free hand to take over our infrastructure and take away our jobs, our ‘democratically elected’ leaders can fearlessly blur the lines between democracy, majoritarianism and fascism.

Our government’s craven willingness to abandon India’s proud tradition of being non-aligned, its rush to fight its way to the head of the queue of the Completely Aligned (the fashionable phrase is ‘natural ally’–India, Israel and the United States are ‘natural allies’), has given it the leg room to turn into a repressive regime without compromising its legitimacy.

A government’s victims are not only those it kills and imprisons. Those who are displaced and dispossessed and sentenced to a lifetime of starvation and deprivation must count among them too. Millions of people have been dispossessed by ‘development’ projects. In the past fifty-five years, big dams alone have displaced between 33 million and 55 million in India. They have no recourse to justice. In the past two years there have been a series of incidents in which police have opened fire on peaceful protesters, most of them Adivasi and Dalit. When it comes to the poor, and in particular Dalit and Adivasi communities, they get killed for encroaching on forest land, and killed when they’re trying to protect forest land from encroachments–by dams, mines, steel plants and other ‘development’ projects. In almost every instance in which the police opened fire, the government’s strategy has been to say the firing was provoked by an act of violence. Those who have been fired upon are immediately called militants.

Across the country, thousands of innocent people, including minors, have been arrested under the Prevention of Terrorism Act and are being held in jail indefinitely and without trial. In the era of the War against Terror, poverty is being slyly conflated with terrorism. In the era of corporate globalization, poverty is a crime. Protesting against further impoverishment is terrorism. And now our Supreme Court says that going on strike is a crime. Criticizing the court is a crime too, of course. They’re sealing the exits.

Like Old Imperialism, New Imperialism relies for its success on a network of agents–corrupt local elites who service Empire. We all know the sordid story of Enron in India. The then-Maharashtra government signed a power purchase agreement that gave Enron profits that amounted to 60 percent of India’s entire rural development budget. A single American company was guaranteed a profit equivalent to funds for infrastructural development for about 500 million people!

Unlike in the old days, the New Imperialist doesn’t need to trudge around the tropics risking malaria or diarrhea or early death. New Imperialism can be conducted on e-mail. The vulgar, hands-on racism of Old Imperialism is outdated. The cornerstone of New Imperialism is New Racism.

The best allegory for New Racism is the tradition of ‘turkey pardoning’ in the United States. Every year since 1947, the National Turkey Federation has presented the US President with a turkey for Thanksgiving. Every year, in a show of ceremonial magnanimity, the President spares that particular bird (and eats another one). After receiving the presidential pardon, the Chosen One is sent to Frying Pan Park in Virginia to live out its natural life. The rest of the 50 million turkeys raised for Thanksgiving are slaughtered and eaten on Thanksgiving Day. ConAgra Foods, the company that has won the Presidential Turkey contract, says it trains the lucky birds to be sociable, to interact with dignitaries, school children and the press. (Soon they’ll even speak English!)

That’s how New Racism in the corporate era works. A few carefully bred turkeys–the local elites of various countries, a community of wealthy immigrants, investment bankers, the occasional Colin Powell or Condoleezza Rice, some singers, some writers (like myself)–are given absolution and a pass to Frying Pan Park. The remaining millions lose their jobs, are evicted from their homes, have their water and electricity connections cut, and die of AIDS. Basically they’re for the pot. But the Fortunate Fowls in Frying Pan Park are doing fine. Some of them even work for the IMF and the WTO–so who can accuse those organizations of being antiturkey? Some serve as board members on the Turkey Choosing Committee–so who can say that turkeys are against Thanksgiving? They participate in it! Who can say the poor are anti-corporate globalization? There’s a stampede to get into Frying Pan Park. So what if most perish on the way?

As part of the project of New Racism we also have New Genocide. New Genocide in this new era of economic interdependence can be facilitated by economic sanctions. New Genocide means creating conditions that lead to mass death without actually going out and killing people. Denis Halliday, who was the UN humanitarian coordinator in Iraq between 1997 and 1998 (after which he resigned in disgust), used the term genocide to describe the sanctions in Iraq. In Iraq the sanctions outdid Saddam Hussein’s best efforts by claiming more than half a million children’s lives.

In the new era, apartheid as formal policy is antiquated and unnecessary. International instruments of trade and finance oversee a complex system of multilateral trade laws and financial agreements that keep the poor in their bantustans anyway. Its whole purpose is to institutionalize inequity. Why else would it be that the US taxes a garment made by a Bangladeshi manufacturer twenty times more than a garment made in Britain? Why else would it be that countries that grow cocoa beans, like the Ivory Coast and Ghana, are taxed out of the market if they try to turn it into chocolate? Why else would it be that countries that grow 90 percent of the world’s cocoa beans produce only 5 percent of the world’s chocolate? Why else would it be that rich countries that spend over a billion dollars a day on subsidies to farmers demand that poor countries like India withdraw all agricultural subsidies, including subsidized electricity? Why else would it be that after having been plundered by colonizing regimes for more than half a century, former colonies are steeped in debt to those same regimes and repay them some $382 billion a year?

For all these reasons, the derailing of trade agreements at Cancún was crucial for us. Though our governments try to take the credit, we know that it was the result of years of struggle by many millions of people in many, many countries. What Cancún taught us is that in order to inflict real damage and force radical change, it is vital for local resistance movements to make international alliances. From Cancún we learned the importance of globalizing resistance.

No individual nation can stand up to the project of corporate globalization on its own. Time and again we have seen that when it comes to the neoliberal project, the heroes of our times are suddenly diminished. Extraordinary, charismatic men, giants in the opposition, when they seize power and become heads of state, are rendered powerless on the global stage. I’m thinking here of President Lula of Brazil. Lula was the hero of the World Social Forum last year. This year he’s busy implementing IMF guidelines, reducing pension benefits and purging radicals from the Workers’ Party. I’m thinking also of the former president of South Africa, Nelson Mandela. Within two years of taking office in 1994, his government genuflected with hardly a caveat to the Market God. It instituted a massive program of privatization and structural adjustment that has left millions of people homeless, jobless and without water and electricity.

Why does this happen? There’s little point in beating our breasts and feeling betrayed. Lula and Mandela are, by any reckoning, magnificent men. But the moment they cross the floor from the opposition into government they become hostage to a spectrum of threats–most malevolent among them the threat of capital flight, which can destroy any government overnight. To imagine that a leader’s personal charisma and a c.v. of struggle will dent the corporate cartel is to have no understanding of how capitalism works or, for that matter, how power works. Radical change cannot be negotiated by governments; it can only be enforced by people.

At the World Social Forum some of the best minds in the world come together to exchange ideas about what is happening around us. These conversations refine our vision of the kind of world we’re fighting for. It is a vital process that must not be undermined. However, if all our energies are diverted into this process at the cost of real political action, then the WSF, which has played such a crucial role in the movement for global justice, runs the risk of becoming an asset to our enemies. What we need to discuss urgently is strategies of resistance. We need to aim at real targets, wage real battles and inflict real damage. Gandhi’s salt march was not just political theater. When, in a simple act of defiance, thousands of Indians marched to the sea and made their own salt, they broke the salt tax laws. It was a direct strike at the economic underpinning of the British Empire. It was real. While our movement has won some important victories, we must not allow nonviolent resistance to atrophy into ineffectual, feel-good, political theater. It is a very precious weapon that must be constantly honed and reimagined. It cannot be allowed to become a mere spectacle, a photo opportunity for the media.

It was wonderful that on February 15 last year, in a spectacular display of public morality, 10 million people on five continents marched against the war on Iraq. It was wonderful, but it was not enough. February 15 was a weekend. Nobody had to so much as miss a day of work. Holiday protests don’t stop wars. George Bush knows that. The confidence with which he disregarded overwhelming public opinion should be a lesson to us all. Bush believes that Iraq can be occupied and colonized as Afghanistan has been, as Tibet has been, as Chechnya is being, as East Timor once was and Palestine still is. He thinks that all he has to do is hunker down and wait until a crisis-driven media, having picked this crisis to the bone, drops it and moves on. Soon the carcass will slip off the bestseller charts, and all of us outraged folks will lose interest. Or so he hopes.

This movement of ours needs a major, global victory. It’s not good enough to be right. Sometimes, if only in order to test our resolve, it’s important to win something. In order to win something, we need to agree on something. That something does not need to be an overarching preordained ideology into which we force-fit our delightfully factious, argumentative selves. It does not need to be an unquestioning allegiance to one or another form of resistance to the exclusion of everything else. It could be a minimum agenda.

If all of us are indeed against imperialism and against the project of neoliberalism, then let’s turn our gaze on Iraq. Iraq is the inevitable culmination of both. Plenty of antiwar activists have retreated in confusion since the capture of Saddam Hussein. Isn’t the world better off without Saddam Hussein? they ask timidly.

Let’s look this thing in the eye once and for all. To applaud the US Army’s capture of Saddam Hussein, and therefore in retrospect justify its invasion and occupation of Iraq, is like deifying Jack the Ripper for disemboweling the Boston Strangler. And that after a quarter-century partnership in which the Ripping and Strangling was a joint enterprise. It’s an in-house quarrel. They’re business partners who fell out over a dirty deal. Jack’s the CEO.

So if we are against imperialism, shall we agree that we are against the US occupation and that we believe the United States must withdraw from Iraq and pay reparations to the Iraqi people for the damage that the war has inflicted?

How do we begin to mount our resistance? Let’s start with something really small. The issue is not about supporting the resistance in Iraq against the occupation or discussing who exactly constitutes the resistance. (Are they old killer Baathists, are they Islamic fundamentalists?)

We have to become the global resistance to the occupation.

Our resistance has to begin with a refusal to accept the legitimacy of the US occupation of Iraq. It means acting to make it materially impossible for Empire to achieve its aims. It means soldiers should refuse to fight, reservists should refuse to serve, workers should refuse to load ships and aircraft with weapons. It certainly means that in countries like India and Pakistan we must block the US government’s plans to have Indian and Pakistani soldiers sent to Iraq to clean up after them.

I suggest we choose by some means two of the major corporations that are profiting from the destruction of Iraq. We could then list every project they are involved in. We could locate their offices in every city and every country across the world. We could go after them. We could shut them down. It’s a question of bringing our collective wisdom and experience of past struggles to bear on a single target. It’s a question of the desire to win.

The Project for the New American Century seeks to perpetuate inequity and establish American hegemony at any price, even if it’s apocalyptic. The World Social Forum demands justice and survival.

For these reasons, we must consider ourselves at war.

• • •

For more Arundhati Roy wisdom, see:

Arundhati Roy: There’s A Lot of Money in Poverty

Arundhati Roy: The President Took The Salute

Arundhati Roy: Feminism & Foundations, Burkas & Botox

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art of resistance, India

Arundhati Roy: There’s A Lot Of Money In Poverty.

The following is an excerpt from Arundhati Roy’s great new book, Capitalism: A Ghost Story (Haymarket Books, 2014).

ARUNDHATI ROY/Arundhati Roy, photo via anniepaul.net/

By the 1920s US capitalism had begun to look outward for raw materials and overseas markets. Foundations began to formulate the idea of global corporate governance. In 1924 the Rockefeller and Carnegie Foundations jointly created what is today the most powerful foreign policy pressure group in the world—the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR), which later came to be funded by the Ford Foundation as well. By 1947 the newly created CIA was supported by and working closely with the CFR. Over the years the CFR’s membership has included twenty-two US secretaries of state. There were five CFR members in the 1943 steering committee that planned the United Nations, and an $8.5 million grant from J. D. Rockefeller bought the land on which the United Nations’ New York headquarters stands.

All eleven of the World Bank’s presidents since 1946—men who have presented themselves as missionaries to the poor—have been members of the CFR. (The exception was George Woods. And he was a trustee of the Rockefeller Foundation and vice president of Chase Manhattan Bank.)

At Bretton Woods, the World Bank and IMF decided that the US dollar should be the reserve currency of the world, and that in order to enhance the penetration of global capital it would be necessary to universalize and standardize business practices in an open marketplace. It is toward that end that they spend a large amount of money promoting Good Governance (as long as they control the strings), the concept of the Rule of Law (provided they have a say in making the laws), and hundreds of anticorruption programs (to streamline the system they have put in place). Two of the most opaque, unaccountable organizations in the world go about demanding transparency and accountability from the governments of poorer countries.

Given that the World Bank has more or less directed the economic policies of the Third World, coercing and cracking open the market of country after country for global finance, you could say that corporate philanthropy has turned out to be the most visionary business of all time.

Corporate-endowed foundations administer, trade, and channel their power and place their chessmen on the chessboard through a system of elite clubs and think tanks, whose members overlap and move in and out through the revolving doors. Contrary to the various conspiracy theories in circulation, particularly among left-wing groups, there is nothing secret, satanic, or Freemason-like about this arrangement. It is not very different from the way corporations use shell companies and offshore accounts to transfer and administer their money—except that the currency is power, not money.

The transnational equivalent of the CFR is the Trilateral Commission, set up in 1973 by David Rockefeller, the former US national security adviser Zbignew Brzezinski (founder-member of the Afghan mujahidin, forefathers of the Taliban), the Chase Manhattan Bank, and some other private eminences. Its purpose was to create an enduring bond of friendship and cooperation between the elites of North America, Europe, and Japan. It has now become a pentalateral commission, because it includes members from China and India (Tarun Das of the CII; N. R. Narayana Murthy, ex-CEO of Infosys; Jamsheyd N. Godrej, managing director of Godrej; Jamshed J. Irani, director of Tata Sons; and Gautam Thapar, CEO of Avantha Group).

The Aspen Institute is an international club of local elites, businessmen, bureaucrats, and politicians, with franchises in several countries. Tarun Das is the president of the Aspen Institute, India. Gautam Thapar is chairman. Several senior officers of the McKinsey Global Institute (proposer of the Delhi Mumbai Industrial Corridor) are members of the CFR, the Trilateral Commission, and the Aspen Institute.

The Ford Foundation (liberal foil to the more conservative Rockefeller Foundation, though the two work together constantly) was set up in 1936. Though it is often underplayed, the Ford Foundation has a very clear, well-defined ideology and works extremely closely with the US State Department. Its project of deepening democracy and ‘good governance’ is very much part of the Bretton Woods scheme of standardizing business practice and promoting efficiency in the free market. After the Second World War, when communists replaced fascists as the US Government’s Enemy Number One, new kinds of institutions were needed to deal with the Cold War. Ford funded RAND (Research and Development Corporation), a military think tank that began with weapons research for the US defense services. In 1952, to thwart ‘the persistent Communist effort to penetrate and disrupt free nations,’ it established the Fund for the Republic, which then morphed into the Center for the Study of Democratic Institutions, whose brief was to wage the Cold War intelligently, without McCarthyite excesses. It is through this lens that we need to view the work that the Ford Foundation is doing with the millions of dollars it has invested in India—its funding of artists, filmmakers, and activists, its generous endowment of university courses and scholarships.

The Ford Foundation’s declared ‘goals for the future of mankind’ include interventions in grassroots political movements locally and internationally. In the United States it provided millions in grants and loans to support the credit union movement that was pioneered by the department store owner Edward Filene in 1919. Filene believed in creating a mass consumption society of consumer goods by giving workers affordable access to credit—a radical idea at the time. Actually, only half of a radical idea, because the other half of what Filene believed in was a more equitable distribution of national income. Capitalists seized on the first half of Filene’s suggestion and, by disbursing ‘affordable’ loans of tens of millions of dollars to working people, turned the US working class into people who are permanently in debt, running to catch up with their lifestyles.

Many years later, this idea has trickled down to the impoverished countryside of Bangladesh when Mohammed Yunus and the Grameen Bank brought microcredit to starving peasants with disastrous consequences. The poor of the subcontinent have always lived in debt, in the merciless grip of the local village usurer—the Baniya. But microfinance has corporatized that too. Microfinance companies in India are responsible for hundreds of suicides—two hundred people in Andhra Pradesh in 2010 alone. A national daily recently published a suicide note by an eighteen-year-old girl who was forced to hand over her last 150 rupees, her school fees, to bullying employees of the microfinance company. The note read, ‘Work hard and earn money. Do not take loans.’

There’s a lot of money in poverty, and a few Nobel Prizes too.”

• • •

For more Arundhati Roy wisdom, see:

Arundhati Roy: The President Took The Salute

Arundhati Roy: Feminism & Foundations, Burkas & Botox

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art of resistance, India

Arundhati Roy: The President Took The Salute.

A month ago, I published Arundhati Roy’s Feminism & Foundations, Burkas & Botox, excerpt from her new book Capitalism: A Ghost Story. Here is another great excerpt, the preface The President Took The Salute.

Capture/Arundhati Roy, photo by Chiara Goia for The New York Times/

“The Minister says that for India’s sake, people should leave their villages and move to the cities. He’s a Harvard man. He wants speed. And numbers. Five hundred million migrants he thinks, will make a good business model.

Not everybody likes the idea of their cities filling up with the poor. A judge in Bombay called slum dwellers pickpockets of urban land. Another said, while ordering the bulldozing of unauthorized colonies, that people who couldn’t afford to live in the cities shouldn’t live in them.

When those who had been evicted went back to where they came from, they found their villages had disappeared under great darns and duty quarries. Their homes were ocuppied by hunger – and policemen. The forests were filling up with armed guerrillas. They found that the wars from the edge of India, in Kashmir, Nagaland, Manipur, had migrated to its heart. People returned to live on city streets and pavements, in hovels on dusty construction sites, wondering which corner of this huge country was meant for them.

The minister said that migrants to cities were mostly criminals and ‘carried a kind of behavior which is unacceptable to modern cities.’ The middle class admired him for his forthrightness, for having the courage to call a spade a spade. The Minister said he would set up more police stations, recruit more policemen, and put more police vehicles on the road to improve law and order.

In the drive to beautify Delhi for the Commonwealth Games, laws were passed that made the poor vanish, like laundry stains. Street vendors disappeared, rickshaw pullers lost their licenses, small shops and businesses were shut down. Beggars were rounded up, tried by mobile magistrates in mobile courts, and dropped outside the city limits. The slums that remained were screened off, with vinyl billboards that said DELHIciously Yours.

New kinds of policemen parolled the streets, better armed, better dressed, and trained not to scratch their privates in public, no matter how grave the provocation. There were cameras everywhere, recording everything.

Two young criminals carrying a kind of behavior that was unacceptable to modern cities escaped the police dragnet and approached a woman sitting between her sunglasses  and the leather seats of her shiny car at a traffic crossing. Shamelessly they demanded money. The woman was rich and kind. The criminals’ heads were no higher than her car window. Their names were Rukmini and Kamli. Or maybe Mehrunissa and Shabbano. (Who cares.) The woman gave them money and some motherly advice. Ten rupees to Kamli (or Shabbano). ‘Share it’, she told them, and sped away when the lights changed.

Rukmini and Kamli (or Mehrunissa and Shabbano) tore into each other like gladiators, like lifers in a prison yard. Each sleek car that falshed past them, and almost crashed them, carried the reflection of their battle, their fight to the finish, on its shining door.

Eventually both girls disappeared without a trace, like thousands of children do in Delhi.

The Games were a sucess.

Two months later, on sixty-second anniversary of India’s Republic Day, the armed forces showcased their new weapons at the Republic Day parade: a missile launcher system, Russian multi-barrel rocket launchers, combat aircraft, light helicopters, and underwater weapons for the navy. The new T-90 battle tank was called Bhishma. (The older one was Ajrun.) Varunastra was the name of the latest heavyweight torpedo, and Mareech was a decoy system to seduce incoming torpedos. (Hanuman and Varja are the names painted on the armored vehicles that patrol Kasmir’s frozen streets.) The names from the Bhagavad Gita, the Ramayana, and the Mahabharata were a coincidence. Dare Devils from the Army’s Corpes of Signals rode motorcycles in a rocket formation; then they formed a cluster of flying birds and finally a human pyramid.

The army band played the national anthem. The President took the salute.

Three Sukhoi fighter jets made a Trishul in the sky. Shiva’s Trishul. Is India a Hindu republic? Only accidentally.

The thrilled crowd turned its face up to the weak winter sun and applauded the aerobatics. High in the sky, the winking silver sides of the jets carried the reflection of Rukmini and Kamli’s (or Mehrunissa and Shabbano’s) fight to the death.”

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art of resistance, India

Arundhati Roy: Feminism & Foundations, Burkas & Botox.

Here is a great excerpt from Arundhati Roy’s Capitalism: A Ghost Story, published on Verso Books.

“Why do most ‘official’ feminists and women’s organizations in India keep a safe distance between themselves and organizations like say the ninety-thousand-member Krantikari Adivasi Mahila Sanghatan (Revolutionary Adivasi Women’s Association) that is fighting patriarchy in its own communities and displacement by mining corporations in the Dandakaranya forest? Why is it that the dispossession and eviction of millions of women from land that they owned and worked is not seen as a feminist problem?
RS6338_DSC_5839-hpr                     /Arundhati Roy, photo via Naomicanton/

The hiving off of the liberal feminist movement from grassroots anti-imperialist and anticapitalist peoples’ movements did not begin with the evil designs of [corporate-endowed] foundations. It began with those movements’ inability to adapt and accommodate the rapid radicalization of women that took place in the 1960s and ’70s. The foundations showed genius in recognizing and moving in to support and fund women’s growing impatience with the violence and patriarchy in their traditional societies as well as among even the supposedly progressive leaders of left movements.

In a country like India, the schism also ran along the rural-urban divide. Most radical, anticapitalist movements were located in the countryside, where patriarchy continued to rule the lives of women. Urban women activists who joined these movements (like the Naxalite movement) had been influenced and inspired by the Western feminist movement, and their own journeys toward liberation were often at odds with what their male leaders considered to be their duty: To fit in with ‘the masses.’ Many women activists were not willing to wait any longer for the ‘revolution’ in order to end the daily oppression and discrimination in their lives, including from their own comrades. They wanted gender equality to be an absolute, urgent, and nonnegotiable part of the revolutionary process and not just a postrevolution promise. Intelligent, angry, and disillusioned women began to move away and look for other means of support and sustenance.

As a result, by the late 1980s, around the time when the Indian markets were opened up, the liberal feminist movement in India had become inordinately NGO-ized. Many of these NGOs have done seminal work on queer rights, domestic violence, AIDS, and the rights of sex workers. But significantly, the liberal feminist movement has not been at the forefront of challenging the New Economic Policies, even though women have been the greatest sufferers. By manipulating the disbursement of the funds, the foundations have largely succeeded in circumscribing the range of what ‘political’ activity should be. The funding briefs of NGOs now prescribe what counts as women’s ‘issues’ and what doesn’t.

The NGO-ization of the women’s movement has also made Western liberal feminism (by virtue of its being the most funded brand) the standard-bearer of what constitutes feminism. The battles, as usual, have been played out on women’s bodies, extruding Botox at one end and burkas at the other. (And then there are those who suffer the double whammy, Botox and the burka.) When, as happened recently in France, an attempt is made to coerce women out of the burka rather than creating a situation in which a woman can choose what she wishes to do, it’s not about liberating her but about unclothing her. It becomes an act of humiliation and cultural imperialism. Coercing a woman out of her burka is as bad as coercing her into one. It’s not about the burka. It’s about the coercion. Viewing gender in this way, shorn of social, political, and economic context, makes it an issue of identity, a battle of props and costumes. It’s what allowed the US government to use Western feminist liberal groups as moral cover when it invaded Afghanistan in 2001. Afghan women were (and are) in terrible trouble under the Taliban. But dropping daisy cutters on them was not going to solve the problem.”

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