Rajpal's Column

9th April 2000

Occupying people's heads -- and then their pockets.

By Rajpal Abeynayake
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Bill Clinton's abundantly ballyhooed visit to India recently provoked a string of jokes. One of them is particularly pungent.

The joke is that Clinton is being compared to a burglar who visits his neighbours. And he tells them "Hey you chaps are not very nice. You chaps have to be nice neighbours. So why don't you chaps keep all your doors and windows open at night? '' The neighbours, they are a little simple in the head.

So they do as the man suggests. The next day, they find all their belongings gone, VCRs, refrigerators, the whole lot. So, the next time Clinton visits his neighbours, he finds the doors are all fastened shut.

Alan Woods, the British thinker and activist who was here on invitation last week related the story. Clinton's call for free trade, and for India to open markets and remove all trade barriers seems to be a continuation of the unchecked and untrammelled effort of the United States of America to capture the global markets. The joke just says it all graphically.

Antonio Gramsci, the Italian ideologue who advanced the idea that cultural hegemony is the first step towards economic hegemony, said "if you can occupy people's heads, their hearts and minds will follow." In India, lipstick floozies such as Shoba De have been reflecting the kind of cultural hegemony that the US has created in this (once?) great land. ( This woman, a writer of cheap pornography, has exulted in a column last week that "Clinton mesmerized India.'')

Clinton is only the agent in the ultimate journey of transnational economies to pauperize India, and the rest of the underdeveloped world. Last week's events in Sri Lanka were precursors to the accelerated enthroning of transnational capital at the expense of the Sri Lankan labour and resources.

Eppawela, and the sideshow of the Members of Parliament raising their salaries several per cent, indicate that the Sri Lankan left - of - center government has cast aside any pretence. They are going to let the robber barons come in and play havoc, cliché though that may be. And they are going to open all the doors and windows for the burglar.

It's a pantomime, all this coming from Chandrika Kumaratunga government, which should have been the more enlightened dispensation, than say Mrs Bandarnaike's.

Mrs Bandaranaike studied up to seventh grade. Chandrika they say is Sorbonne educated, a radical, and somewhat of a devil may care. But, the seventh grade gumption of Mrs Bandranaike gave her the muscle to send foreign companies, such as Shell packing from Sri Lanka, in those carnival times in which life was so untested that anything seemed to be possible.

But, Kumaratunga is not the prodigal scion guilty of selling the family jewels, for the simple reason that all of the big brothers around her such as India and Pakistan are capitulating as well. Kumaratunga is in that light, just a cipher caught in the cyclone.

But, transnaitonalism and globalisation being the religion of the world, personalities don't even seem to matter any more. The Kumaratunga government has, for instance, privatized more enterprises than the capitalist UNP. "I submit that we stop the use of the words privatization, and use words that tell the truth. 

We are talking about alienation and surrender of the product of decades of work by thousands of people to a tiny minority of large investors. This is one of the greatest hold-ups of ours or any generation. '' That's to quote Susan George, who says that the only goal of transnational capitalism is to reduce the number of workers. (Because, workers merely impinge on shareholder value.)

(Incidentally, Jayantha Kelegama has an interesting article on transnational companies and free markets, in last Friday's Island, something which appeared after most of this article you are reading now was written.)

But, for us in a bleeding economy that has been looking at foreign investment as the last hurrah in very bleak times, it's difficult to think of transnational investment as enemy. Jayantha Kelegama or any clone economists will not be able to change in a hurry solid positive concepts about foreign investment that Sri Lankans have inculcated,.

Susan George says further that "the further news is that there is plenty of money sloshing around out there, and a tiny fraction, a ridiculously infinitesimal proportion of it would be enough to provide a decent life to every person on earth…… to close the North South gap, at least according to the UNDP which calls for a paltry 40 billion a year to do that . Frankly, that's peanuts.''

So if that sounded like Susan George's diatribe, it isn't, because UN statistics say something about the ridiculously lopsided effects of the burgeoning globalised economy. But, everybody is buying into that, including India now.

It goes without saying that most of the underdeveloped world (India's GDP is only 1 per cent of the global economy) doesn't have a choice against the incessant force of globalisation. The less is said about Sri Lanka in this context the better.

But, still there seems to be no mutiny in the so called Third World. All the Marxists have gone to sleep, or are just being batty. And if there is a thinker among us, he or she is worrying sick about the ethnic conflict. That particular tangle is a confrontation which, if it is shorn of all the ramifications, would translate as an economic war in the final analysis. It's a war for greater opportunity among the economically impoverished, howsoever didactic that may sound.

If privatization is the global sellout, the stock markets are the global casino, but all that is just a detail in the whole global scheme of things. Business and markets have begun to occupy the whole sphere of human existence, as one recent observer of global events put it. Unbridled globalisation, or so we have been told, is nature, its mother's milk, and is as natural as night follows day. It's a doctrine that has been propelled with millions of advertising dollars and promotional money. 

But, its also an easy doctrine to push, at least in this country, because everybody except a few like Jayantha Kelegama, is snoring. And after all, Kelegama is only an Economist writing to the papers.

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