In whose interests?
In late January, Robin Cook, British Foreign Secretary and master of Orwellian double-speak, made another keynote speech, devoid this time of any reference to “ethical dimensions” to foreign policy and instead focused on the advancing of “British values” of freedom and democracy around the world in the “national interest”.
Although he made references to “common interests”, “international interests”, and “national identity”, as well as the token allusion to democracy and diplomacy, it was the rehashing of the term “national interest” that sickened all but the brainwashed.
Cook speaks of national interest as politicians have for the past century, as if it were something tangible, something that can be seen, something unquestionable. It is indeed a much bandied about term—and many are prepared to take it for granted—but what does it mean?
Well, for one thing, it’s not something the lay person ponders too much. After all, if the politicians think something is in our interests then it must be just that. They know best and if we didn’t trust them we wouldn’t have voted for them. This is, in fact, the kind of mind-set politicians count upon before they can come out with such drivel.
That politicians continue to use terms like national interest is evidence that they premise their speeches on the assumption that the average person on the street is an imbecile. Moreover, the term is so designed, and used, as to distort our perception of reality. From the cradle to the grave we are discouraged from asking significant and searching questions, the type that might embarrass our betters and superiors. We are nurtured to mistrust our own ideas, to respect the views of the clergy, teachers, parents, politicians, the royals and all manner of counsellors and advisers. Little wonder, then, that so many injustices prevail and that so many can speak in defence of the government line, unwittingly acquiescing in their own exploitation, all in the national interest. But this is how it is. So many are prepared to accept that the government embodies the people’s interests.
The national interest conjures up an image that we are all one happy family, all pulling and working together for the good of all, that we all have something to be proud of, to defend and to benefit from. It suggests an absence of strife and antagonism and that the real enemy is “out there”. We’re meant to feel good about the national interest, secure in the knowledge that the well informed are thinking on our behalf. It harks back to the “bulldog spirit” of the blitz years, when even the king and queen seemed half decent because they had been bombed (“Gawd bless ’em all, Guv.”).
In reality, the national interest is anything the master class and their executive, the Blairs and Chiracs and Clintons of this world, deem it to be at any given time, or rather anything that helps perpetuate their ideology and keeps them in power; anything that can undermine the potential for political action geared towards real change. The national interest is the paternalistic jargon of a profit-hungry elite, trying to rationalise in our eyes the lengths they will go to accrue more profits at our expense. It is used by politicians largely to secure support for a course of action they are finding difficult to promote. It is designed to block serious discussion of an issue—who’ll argue against the national interest?—and to marginalise opponents, thus stifling deeper understanding of issues.
Thus, the national interest is a Labour government contemplating the selling of arms to Indonesia, Pakistan and Zimbabwe, the mobilisation of a Western coalition of 750,000 soldiers to tackle a third-world army of farmers in the Middle East. It is a government campaign urging us to shop our neighbours to the state’s protectors. It is an army of police wading into a picket line, truncheons swinging. It is the appointment of drug tsars and the teaching of the benefits of marriage to schoolchildren. The national interest is the Russian army in Chechnya, the USA in Vietnam, Israel’s airforce bombing Lebanon, and Uganda supporting Congolese rebels.
One thing is clear, while all the above can be pushed as national interests, none are in the interests of the working class. The interests of the majority—or the working class—are diametrically opposed to the interests of the capitalist, class. True, we all have basic needs and desires. whichever class we belong to, but talk about shared interests in a two class society is nonsense. The capitalist class have one real interest—and let them deny it—to maximise their investment and to accrue more profit. How many people get hurt and trod on in the process is of no consequence. Neither is much consideration given to environmental concerns. The working class, on the other hand, own little more than our ability to labour, an ability we sell to the master class. Our interest under capitalism becomes getting the best price for our labour power. Indeed such is the onus on us to sell our labour power at as a high a price as possible that its consequences dominate every aspect of our lives.
It has to be remembered that the master class depend on our complacency for their continued survival. Our silence, our willingness to accept everything they say without question, is the victory they celebrate every day. Our job should therefore be to doubt and question everything they say. If we stand for nothing we fall for anything. For we do have interests. As a globally exploited class, denied so many of the benefits of civilisation in a world of potential abundance, it is in our interests, our real class interests, to help put a stop to their insane system, not just for the future of humanity, but for the future of our planet.
Our real class interests lie in establishing a global system of society, devoid of borders or frontiers, social classes or leaders, states or governments, force or coercion, money, wages or salaries, a world in which production is freed from the artificial constraints of profit and used to its fullest potential and the benefit of all.
The two Chinas
The President of Taiwan (the Republic of China) is today Li Têng-hui, a spokesman for the big capitalists with the greatest stake in the island’s wealth. Opposing him and his colleagues of the Kuomintang are the island’s smaller capitalists, campaigning for Taiwan’s independence as a nation-state. China has threatened to invade Taiwan and impose Beijing’s rule should the Taiwan nationalists ever topple the Kuomintang. The large capitalists of China and Taiwan now engage in full trade relations and the difference in flag colour is largely irrelevant. While Taiwan remains under the rule of the Kuomintang and its new sister parties it remains a province of China in reality, under “renegade” rule in name alone. In the eyes of China’s—and Taiwan’s Chinese—capitalists, the real “renegades” are the Taiwanese capitalists seeking a “completely separate” nation-state, an ambition which is unlikely to be realised.
Li Têng-hui and Têng Hsiao-p’ing possibly manipulated the Taiwanese national elections by the staging of Chinese military manoeuvres in the Taiwan Strait at which Li could pose as the champion of Taiwanese independence and an opponent of China, stealing votes from the nationalists. Whatever the future of the two states, workers in Taiwan have to realise they have no interest in supporting either side in what is a struggle between gangs of rival businesspeople for the right to exploit the workers most efficiently.
Têng Hsiao-p’ing, the hero of the Chinese peasants, is now dead. A hero for the peasants of the 1930s fighting against the feudal landlords, he was no friend of China’s workers at the end of the century and is not to be missed by them any more than any other engineer of mass exploitation. While China’s government is still run by the so-called “Communist” Party, private businesses are proliferating and the greater exploitation of people and resources in the interest of profit is gaining ground as never before. Rampantly exploitative and pollutant capitalist industry is booming. (This includes the clearing of the Yangtse for greater commerce through the extermination of one of the world’s rarest species of dolphin.) China is now a trading superpower and the seeds of future conflict with the United States are steadily being sown.
A child goes to defend his masters’ interests in Chechnya
None of this is in the interest of the Chinese working class nor of the majority of humankind, who must still face the task of organising to establish a world community of common ownership of the Earth—if we, human beings, are to avert another, and final, world war, and survive as a life-form at all.