The same old world disorder

Issue 

World Orders, Old and New
By Noam Chomsky
Pluto Press, 1994 311 pp., $34.95 (pb)
Reviewed by Phil Shannon

"The roots of policy lie deep in firmly established institutional structures of power". Chomsky's latest expedition to uncover the roots of foreign and domestic politics leads him through familiar thickets of hypocrisy, dense undergrowths of doctrinal camouflage and marshy swamps of rhetoric, to the interests of the business class — the "rich men in the rich nations" who, assisted by the rich men in the poor nations, rule the world, using state power to help achieve their ends, the "supreme value" of making profit.

The US business class had been leading the pack of corporate thugs for most of the Cold War, which the US and other Western powers launched in 1917 to contain the threat of the Russian Revolution. The revolution was a major challenge to the control they exercised over the labour, resources and markets of the world's poor countries and over their own domestic populations. In the succeeding seven decades, enormous profits were made and staggering destruction and misery unleashed on the world's people.

The criminal litany of US intervention over the entire globe is rescued from the Memory Hole yet again by Chomsky, a record which the end of the Cold War has not and will not change in essence because the wellspring of policy remains the same — economic control of the world's wealth by US and allied business classes, especially the trans-national corporations, enforced by military means when necessary, or by parliamentary forms when clients acceptable to the US are elected.

The only differences occasioned by the change of world orders after the Cold War are decorative — replacing the fantasy of Kremlin designs for world domination by other ogres (Middle East Hitlers, Islamic fundamentalists) to justify "criminal action abroad and entrenchment of privilege and state power at home". And it has required slight reform to the Pentagon system of public subsidy to private industry, as the decline of the "Soviet threat" has allowed Clinton, through his "peace dividend", to re-route some state spending for private gain from the Pentagon funnel to a more efficient and direct subsidy to industry sectors developing emerging technologies (such as biotechnology).

Essentially, argues Chomsky, it is business as usual in the new world order. The US "defence" budget, for example, remains much the same, and for the same reasons, as during the Cold War — foreign intervention against any threat of an independent course or rogue behaviour, whatever its political colouration, which encroaches on US control and repatriation of profits.

Clinton is at one with his predecessors in this respect, as all others, says Chomsky, demonstrating the farce of the electoral choice between "different representatives of the business party" because of the "constraints imposed on policy by concentrated private power".

The Cold War's end may actually be a worse omen for the world's people, argues Chomsky. With the deterrent of possible Soviet retaliation now absent, the US has a freer hand for interventions like the Gulf War slaughter and sanctions against Iraq, teaching bloodier lessons about the consequences of disobedience.

In addition, with eastern Europe returned to its pre-1917 Third World status, investors like General Motors are leaping at the chance to exploit the new sources of cheap labour — eastern Germany's workers, desperate for any job because of the unemployment that the capitalist miracle has bestowed on their formerly statised industries, receive only 40% of the wage of their "pampered" western counterparts.

The old "evil empire" has been absorbed into an increased globalisation of the economy under the control of a super powerful supra-state (IMF, World Bank etc cemented by GATT, NAFTA and other "investors' rights agreements"). This transnational concentration of power facilitates the Third World model of low wages, fewer workers' rights and fatter profits being more easily transported back into the rich nations by a global capitalist class.

Chomsky's analysis of the end of the Cold War slices through the glib euphoria of its Western victors. The ideological puffery that accompanied it is also a feature of the ongoing operations of the "free market democracies", and there is much vintage Chomsky as he puts the rhetoric to the reality test.

"Nothing is more inspiring than the fervent desire of corporation executives and political leaders to provide 'jobs"', as they lobby against unions, environmentalists and unwelcome government regulation, Chomsky notes. Explaining this suspicious altruism, Chomsky says, "'Jobs' is Newspeak for the unpronounceable term 'profits'", as increases to profits, in the name of "jobs", oddly seem to coincide with a decline in real jobs. Woodchipping perfectly illustrates this in Australia.

The gall of the business class knows no bounds. They lecture others on "economic rationality" and the sin of gorging at the public trough yet they demand, and their loyal servants in the ideological institutions of the media disguise, the amount of "government intervention in the economy in the service of private power", from tax concessions, subsidies, bail-outs and military Keynesianism to "state-aided market penetration abroad by a variety of means from violence to 'aid'".

All the old hits of Chomsky are here again in his new book — the Vietnam War, "Wilsonian idealism", Nicaragua, the Middle East (and, too, his libertarians' animus against Lenin, Trotsky and the rest of the Bolsheviks, unsupported in this case by any analysis of the documentary record or historical context).

Chomsky has included an important update on Israel and Palestine, arguing credibly that the limited self-rule for the Palestinians represents the search by the US "Godfather" and the "Godfather's Messenger", Israel, prompted by the militancy of the Palestinian Intifada, for "more rational forms of imperial control". Models are the British in India, Stalin's Soviet Union in Eastern Europe, Nazi Germany in France: handing the dirty work of population control over to elements of the colonised people (in this case, the Palestinian police).

Chomsky makes refreshing sense of the world. The Cold War was never about Russian expansionism or "national security". It was about the "security of profits" through control of the Third World and the domestic population. It was about the business class's fear of democracy. The post-Cold War order is about more of the same because the roots of policy, sunk deep into the capitalist soil, are still there.

Chomsky doesn't tell us how to uproot them, not does he disguise the difficulty of constructive resistance in a culture where demoralisation and political apathy are encroaching on traditions of collectivity and struggle, spreading criminal violence and other social pathology in its wake. Yet the facts, logic and moral outrage in the book are a call to arms for a new world of equality, freedom and real democracy.

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