The BBC Does Colonialism

The History of the World Part 5 – Age of Plunder

BBC (2018)

Film Review

This episode concerns the role of  plunder (ie colonialism) in the founding of the capitalist economic system. The major weakness of the fifth episode is its promotion of two notorious myths about Columbus that historians debunked several decades ago. The first maintains that most of Europe regarded the Earth as flat prior to Columbus. Untrue. Europeans sailors had known for centuries that the Earth was round from the way a ship disappears over the horizon (hull first and sails last). The other myth is that Columbus died believing he had reached India. This myth, traced to an 1828 biography by Washington Irving, is debunked by the explorer’s own writings.*

The primary outcome of Columbus’s voyage to the new world was the enslavement of hundreds of thousands of Native Americans and the pilfering of 45,000 tons of gold and silver (valued at £10 trillion in modern currency). The precious metals would be used to decorate churches and noble palaces and to fund religious wars during the Protestant Reformation.

The Catholic Church obtained their share of these riches (used to build St Peter’s Basilica in the Vatican) by selling “indulgences,” paper certificates that guaranteed Catholics entry to eternal life. It was mainly opposition to this corrupt practice that led Martin Luther to break with the Church in 1517.

In 1580 Ivan the Terrible hired Cossack warriors to invade Siberia, which was still ruled by a descendant of Genghis Khan. His goal: plundering 5,000 Siberian pelts from traders. With the start of the 300 year Little Ice Age in 1530, there was a thriving market for furs in Western Europe.

In the early 17th century, the Dutch East India Company captured and enslaved the Banda spice islands in South East Asia for their nutmeg crop. Believed to be a cure for plague, it was the most valuable commodity in the world. As the British East Indian Company also claimed the spice islands, this would lead to four Anglo-Dutch wars beginning in 1652. In 1667, the wars ended when the Dutch agreed to trade Manhattan Island for the main nutmeg islands.

The fifth episode ends with the creation of the world’s first stock exchange in Holland in 1608 and the resulting speculation in tulip bulbs. The world’s first recorded speculative bubble burst in 1637, ruining thousands of Dutch investors.


*Both myths are debunked in James Loewen’s 1995 Lies My Teacher Told Me

 

The US Military Occupation of Africa

The Shadow War in the Sahara

Al Jazeera (2017)

Film Review

The Shadow War in the Sahara is a thumbnail history of the US military occupation of Africa. The documentary begins with the 1885 Berlin Conference, at which the major European powers divided up all of Saharan Africa to better exploit its rich resources of gas, oil, copper, uranium, coltan and other rare earth minerals.

France initially came out the winner, controlling three-fourths of Saharan Africa until World War II. Even after all their Saharan colonies won independence (1945-62), France continued to maintain a military presence, as well economic dominance over most of its former colonies.

With the discovery of oil in the Gulf of Guinea in the sixties, this began to change – with the covert US support of armed rebellions in Ethiopia and Angola and its failed invasion of Somalia. Over time, most French troops have been replaced by US troops. While this was done in the name of “fighting terrorism,” the real US agenda has always been to secure oil and mineral resources in the face of Chinese domination over African oil.

Instead of employing military force and direct political intervention via the International Monetary Fund and their “structural adjustment”* policies, China has gained a major foothold in Africa in offering debt-free development loans and a policy of non-interference in domestic policy.

The US is the only major power to divide up the entire world into military command and control regions: USNorthcom (North America), USSouthcom (South America), USEUCom (Europe), USCentcom (Middle East and Central Asia), USPACom (Pacific region and Australia) and USAfricom.

Former Libyan ruler Omar Gaddafi successfully blocked the US from locating the USAfricom headquarters in Africa – so the US built it in Germany instead.

Prior to his assassination by US-backed rebels, Gadaffi was a powerful advocate for African unity. His primary goal in founding and bankrolling (from his massive oil revenues) the African Development Bank and an African Monetary Fund was to assist other African countries to resist western colonialism.

In 2009, he was elected chairman of the African Union, and in 2011 he cancelled major contracts with the powerful (US) Bechtel corporation and with France (for millions of dollars of military hardware). The punishment inflicted by the US and France was swift – a NATO bombing campaign in support of CIA-backed rebels charged with overthrowing his government.


*Structural adjustment describes a process by which the US-controlled IMF forces countries to privatize public utilities, cut public services and open third world economies to western investment as a condition of debt refinancing.

 

 

 

Robbing From Nature and People to Produce Profit

 

Eco Social Justice on the Global Frontlines

Vendana Shiva (2017)

The following is a compelling Earth Day presentation by Indian activist Vendana Shiva linking ecocide and genocide to the brutal “free market” drive to rob from nature and people to produce profit.  This wide ranging talk combines a unique perspective on the violent British colonization of both India and North America, the more recent role of major chemical and food companies (eg Dow, Dupont and Monsanto) in imposing free trade treaties such as GATT and the TPP, and the growing anti-corporate resistance movement in India and elsewhere.

Vendana begins by describing an agricultural conference she attended in 1987, at which the major chemical manufacturers laid out plans to increase their profits by introducing GMO seeds and lobbying for laws and treaties that would prohibit seed saving by farmers. She goes on to talk about Navdanya, the nonprofit organization she founded in 1984 to resist the so-called “Green Revolution” that imposed industrial farming on Indian farmers. In promoting seed saving and other traditional organic farming methods, Navdanya was influenced by Gandhi’s use of sustainable self-reliance as a weapon against colonialism.

At the 1987 conference, the chemical companies bragged the entire world would be growing GMO crops by 2000. Thanks to strong global citizens movements, this never happened. Ninety percent of the world’s food is GMO-free, thanks to wholesale rejection of this technology in Europe, Africa and Asia. Likewise only 30% of the world’s food production is industrialized.

Vendana maintains the primary purpose of industrial farming isn’t to produce food but to increase profit. Due to the massive energy input it requires, factory farming is an extremely inefficient method of food production. Traditional farms producing a diversity of crops will always provide more nutritional output than an industrial farm producing a single monoculture crop.

She blames the forced introduction of industrial farming for India’s high level of malnutrition – 1/4 of the general population and 1/2 of Indian children lack adequate nutrients in their diet.


*GATT (General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade) was the international treaty that created the World Trade Organization (WTO) in 1995 (under President Bill Clinto)n.

Capitalism, Colonialism and the Failure of Industrial Agriculture

This presentation by anti-GMO and anti-globalization activist Vendana Shiva focuses on colonialism and its fundamental role in capitalism. She quotes from 17th century philosophers Bacon and Locke, who laid the groundwork for a capitalist philosophy that is clearly at odds with most human needs.

Their determination to “dominate” (in some cases they use the world “rape”) the natural world went hand in hand with early capitalists’ determination to dominate and enslave third world peoples and steal their lands.

Industrial farming is an excellent example of this attempt to “dominate” nature. Although it’s promoted as a method of reducing world hunger, it actually feeds fewer people because it destroys soil, kills pollinators and reduces access to fresh water. Its true purpose is to produce immense profits for a handful of rich capitalists.

At present industrial agriculture, which only produces 20% of the food people eat, is responsible for 70% of global disease and malnutrition and 75% of the damage capitalism causes to the global ecology.

Letter from a Modern Day Mandela

ocalan

photo credit: http://www.freeocalan.org/

Open Letter to the Guardian

Guest post by Abdullah Ocalan

On Thursday 5 December 2013, the Guardian published an editorial article on the occasion of Nelson Mandela’s death. The article included a significant(!) comparison between Mandela and some other names like Jawaharlal Nehru, Aung Sang Suu Kyi, and me.  As long as they approach the issue with a hegemon’s mindset, the potentates will certainly continue to make such comparisons among those figures wining the affection of their peoples. However, any comparison has its own inner problems.

The time of the struggles, varying geographic and political conditions and even the characteristic differences between the figures will render such comparisons problematic. First of all, for me, being remembered together with a leader for whom all the world shed tears shows the extent to which our struggle line has taken universal dimensions. It also demonstrates the fact that our case couldn’t be explained as a struggle only against an unjust treatment.

Writing on the capabilities of a leader with exemplary methods of struggle and negotiation just after his death needs some more pondering on the history and politics of risk-takers, in order to get a better understanding of the conditions of those who haven’t been afraid of struggling in the front line throughout history.

There are clear-cut differences between the front-line strugglers and deskbound analysts. The greatest difference is to witness the death of your comrades and your people, live the experience moment to moment, and do right and wrong.  Restricting the esteem and dignity of such an important leader with ‘the prison’ is a beleaguered approach which holds in contempt the self-realized political struggle of a people with over 40 million population voluntarily approving this leader as the representation of their own will.  How objective and just would it be to turn a blind eye on the national identity the Kurdish people have achieved after a 40-year-long freedom struggle, and on our peace efforts for a democratic solution to the Kurdish question.

Comparing me with Nelson Mandela in your article, you had referred to me as “feared and worshiped”. Here, not only can I see more easily the writer’s desire to be the state chronicle of a history which tramples on the world’s oppressed, but also I discern the codes of the purposive enmity harbored against both of the compared figures, whose only resource for facing the enslaving, massacre and denial policies is their own self-belief.

It is too evident to need proof that a person who has spent the last 14 years of his life in a prison-island alone and under solitary confinement can be a “source of fear” only for those who have put him into chains. The chains speak for themselves ….

In reply to those who, instead of analyzing the fear spread by the hegemons, are busy giving advice and teaching lessons to those struggling against these hegemons, I should say, in all modesty, that Dear Madiba and me have more parallels than contrasts.

Everybody knows that the ordeal succeeded in facing the Apartheid regime was an accomplishment of not only the South African people, but at the same time of the leader in whom they had unsuspectedly confided their fate.  No matter their numbers, the many ludicrous comments made on Mandela’s credibility come from the quarters which  adopt a remote and trivial approach to the ‘struggle of the oppressed’ rather than making a close and reasonable analysis.

The self-organization processes of the communities subjected to suppression and discrimination would differ from the common practices, especially when they begin to make a true analysis of the notion of capitalist modernity. Traditionally, the organizational options of ‘the book’ are already known. But time proceeds forward and circumstances change, in company with historical determinism. Changing conditions will bring about changes in the behavior and attitude of individuals and organizations, either captive or free. When it comes to the PKK, instead of bringing about pragmatic progress, these changes have led to the political and ethical progress for a movement which has transformed itself on the basis of the struggle for democratic modernity and the developing direct democracy examples in the world.

The 12 September 1980 fascist coup followed by many organized coups against our community as well as the international conspiracy act against me and our movement share one thing in common with other interferences in other struggles of the oppressed; and that is the silence of the international community in the face of these interventions.  Despite the progress in the international democratic standards in the 21st century, due to the state propaganda characteristic of the international conspiracy, the dehumanization of the struggling leaders held captive still continues, based on poor intellectual standards.

How odd it is that a credible newspaper in Britain has not noticed the recent democratization progresses that we have made in Mesopotamia. As far as the approach is concerned, I hope it to be only ‘odd’, not more. Looking at the general approach of the article, what I see is not only the “oddness”; rather, every line is a dead giveaway to a hierarchic and ‘from above’ viewpoint.

Here, those opposing peace are accusing us of starting negotiations, are dehumanizing me in the eyes of the new generations and defaming our movement which has adopted peace and settlement as its main principle.  They are running and organized activity to blacken the reputation of our efforts for democratic modernity.  How odd it is that racist notions and old propaganda rhetoric which have even lost their reputation in Turkey are still being repeatedly covered in the international press.

The only topic to be discussed after Mandel’s demise should be Apartheid, a regime which history would remember only with shame. Nobody would keep a memoir of Apartheid and its leaders; nobody would shed tears for them; whereas Mandela has become a shining star for the peoples of Africa.  Our historical mission is to ensure the ever brilliance of this star for the peoples of the Middle East. The friendship developed on the basis of principled and political integrity between the peoples’ movements and particularly our movement, relies on the changing dynamics and the horizontal nature of their policies.  To believe that these laws of goodwill and friendship have been developed on the basis of fear can only be explained by having no knowledge about the metamorphosis eras the Kurdish political movement has undergone and failing to observe its democratic inner reflections of the peaceful and negotiating perspective of this movement.

Likewise, negotiation and struggle are both important processes in determining the future of peoples’ movements and those leading these processes are figures winning the confidence of the peoples, not ‘feared’ ones. If not so, it wouldn’t be possible for these movements to be represented both in the parliamentary system and the local politics , as it wouldn’t have been possible to succeed in the years-long armed struggle.

My recommendation to the editorial board of the Guardian is to do more research and analysis on the role of the women in our political movement and the resulting transformative effects. Then, they would certainly encounter such an infinite experience so as to take off their colonialist hat, though ashamedly.

Abdullah Ocalan
The Prison Island of Imrali

Abdullah Öcalan Apo, is one of the founding members (1978) of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) in Turkey. Like the early ANC, the PKK is labeled as a “terrorist” organization by the US and its allies. Link to “Free Ocalan” website: http://www.freeocalan.org/