DAVID CROMWELL talked to London-based Australian journalist John Pilger about his latest television documentary, The New Rulers of the World, which examines the real meaning of the "global economy", including the virtually unknown and bloody history
of how globalisation took root in Indonesia
Anything less than a rigorous accounting of power is — in the eyes of John Pilger — a serious failure of journalism. Interviewed last year by Professor Anthony Clare for BBC Radio 4's In the Psychiatrist's Chair, Pilger said: "A journalist covering political affairs, international affairs, really should be outside — so outside — the establishment ring, that he or she makes enemies." Pilger fits the bill.
In his own words, he is "anti-authoritarian and forever sceptical of anything the agents of power want to tell us". Pilger reports "from the ground up, not from the point of view of the powerful and those who, in one way or another, want to control or exploit us".
In his latest documentary, The New Rulers of the World, Pilger presents the compelling argument that economic globalisation is but the latest phase of colonial domination of the weak by the powerful. Globalisation — deceptively described by Western leaders as "irreversible", "irresistible" and "not a policy choice, [but] a fact" — is being deliberately moulded by powerful international forces such as the World Trade Organisation, the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund.
The film reveals "free" trade as nothing other than forced trade, with victims aplenty falling by the wayside. Some of these victims are the 1 million Indonesians who were slaughtered in Suharto's Western-supported coup in 1965 that led to Western control of that country's economy, as Pilger documents.
It's that kind of link between economic globalisation and mass abuses of human rights that sets Pilger's work apart from relative newcomers to the field. How else does Pilger's take on globalisation differ from the relatively safe analysis served up some?
"A lot of the people who are in the broad anti-globalisation coalition", he responds, "subscribe to the view that the new rulers of the world are the multinational corporations. I don't agree. I think it's a combination of state power — with state power still dominant — and the multinational corporations. The two are really wedded together. It's risky to start describing the world as simply run by corporations."
Pilger points out that "the United States government has never been more powerful" and that major US corporations have been "the beneficiaries of massive government subsidy, a kind of socialism for the rich". The rise of the transnational corporation has been enabled and maintained by "centralised state power". This power, Pilger maintains, is the "engine room of globalisation".
In the hour-long documentary, screened in Australia on August 21, the "global economy" is stripped bare, revealing a world "where the divisions between rich and poor have never been greater". A world in which 1.2 billion people live in severe poverty — including two-thirds of the world's children — and more than 1 billion do not have enough to eat. More than 1 billion people still have no access to clean water. More than 1.2 million Iraqis have been killed by the West's "genocidal" regime of economic sanctions, in one of the greatest crimes against humanity in the modern era.
All of these shocking facts raise barely a murmur in the "free" press. But then, as Noam Chomsky — US linguist, social critic and long-time friend of Pilger — once observed, "What is being reported blandly on the front pages would elicit ridicule and horror in a society with a genuinely free and democratic intellectual culture".
The documentary highlights the impact of globalisation on Indonesia. I asked Pilger why he decided to focus on this country. "Indonesia's a very good example because it brings in the roles of the World Bank, the IMF, foreign investors, [as well as] the exploitation of natural resources and of labour. So all the ingredients of the globalised economy can be found in Indonesia."
Also, as Pilger reports, the country is a "a major client of the British arms industry" and was described by the World Bank — ironically, just before the Asian economic crash in 1998 — as a "model pupil".
The film presents the virtually unknown account of how globalisation took hold in Indonesia. In the wake of Suharto's seizure of power in the mid-1960s, which was backed by the US and Britain, some of the most powerful capitalists in the world, such as David Rockefeller, met with Suharto's ministers at a secret meeting convened by Time magazine in Geneva.
"The whole of the Indonesian economy", reports Pilger, "was redesigned in a week. This was the direct result of the bloodbath in Indonesia the year before. Indonesia then fell under the control of a group called the Joint International Governmental Working Group, which was all the main Western governments, the World Bank and the IMF. They effectively ruled Indonesia and guided the Suharto economy for many years."
It's an astonishing revelation, and typical of Pilger's drive to get to the heart of significant matters and expose the dirty reality of a US-led vision of "global markets", "freedom" and "human rights".
His previous documentary, Paying the Price — Killing the Children of Iraq, sent shock waves through Washington and London. Pilger gave space to former high-level UN diplomats to denounce US/British sanctions as "genocidal", with the deaths of over 4000 children under the age of five every month.
Since that broadcast, the US and Britain have intensified efforts to frame the debate about Iraqi sanctions as though they are wholly the responsibility of Saddam Hussein. The latest talk of "smart sanctions" is but the latest step in the same propaganda offensive.
Hans von Sponeck, one of two UN humanitarian coordinators featured by Pilger who resigned in disgust at the West's policy, said recently that the US/UK proposals are mere "tinkering at the edges of the sanctions regime".
"I believe passionately", says Pilger, "that journalism is about lifting rocks, and not accepting the official line. As a journalist, it is my duty, surely, to tell people when they're being conned or told lies."
And the whole edifice of a global economy, understands Pilger, would not be possible without official untruths and media complicity. Politicians tell us that the poor have "lost out" on the "benefits of free trade". The solution to poverty, we are told by representatives of the rich West, is for these benefits to be "spread more evenly throughout society" by continuing the process of economic globalisation which has already caused so much harm.
Pilger notes that while the cliches of corporate propaganda may have changed — "the American way of life" has become "globalisation" and "the new world order" — the objective remains the same: "to expand the power of capital, mostly Western and US capital, into most aspects of our lives so that almost everything is a commodity and the only value is measured by cost and consumption."
Pilger concurs with Indian activist Vandana Shiva's observation that the forces of globalisation, and especially the corporate media, are generating a form of brainwashing, a "monoculture of the mind". "Media language", says Pilger, "has systematically appropriated positive concepts, emptying them of their dictionary meaning and refilling them". "Reform" now means regression or destruction. Selling off public enterprises, such as the railway system, is "breaking up monopolies". "Deregulation" means a shift from public protection to private power. This insidious corruption of language encourages people to accept that global capitalism is as healthy and inevitable as the need to consume oxygen.
One of the myths that John Pilger wishes to demolish with The New Rulers of the World is "the received wisdom ... that people these days are apathetic". Pilger expands, "The opposite is true... the fact that several million people in the last six months have demonstrated all over the world against the imposition of various forms of the global economy has been ignored by the 'free' press. Most people have had no idea of the extent of the opposition to globalisation".
Compassion and outrage, not apathy, typifies public reaction when the truth is told about the machinations of Western power. The New Rulers of the World looks set to be a major contribution to the rapidly growing resistance to state-corporate totalitarianism.
[David Cromwell's book, Private Planet, is published in the Britain by Jon Carpenter. Visit <http://www.private-planet.com> to order. John Pilger's web site is <Pilger.com>.]