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Volume 21 Issue 03,

January 31 February 13,


2004
India's National
Magazine
from the publishers of
THE HINDU
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COVER STORY

Empire and `Anglobalisation'


Interview with Jeremy Corbyn, British Member of
Parliament.
Jeremy Corbyn, Member of Parliament from Islington North in
London, has been a consistent advocate of the cause of
disarmament and peace in Britain's ruling Labour Party. He
counts relations with the Third World and human rights among
his other main political concerns. The left-wing MP was in the
forefront of the anti-war mobilisation all through 2003 and
believes that public action in the coming months could well force
a retreat from the militarist policies that now hold the stage.
Closely involved with the European Social Forum, Mumbai was
his first encounter with the WSF. Excerpts from an interview he
gave Sukumar Muralidharan:

Do you see something coming out of the WSF? Because it is so


dispersed and vast, there is a sense of participation and
exhilaration, but a hundred different agendas are being pursued.
Does this, as a Labour Party person, seem to you a strength, a
virtue in itself, or a weakness?
I think those that have spent their lifetime in Left politics find it
very difficult to conceive of something that lasts for four or five
days and doesn't reach any decisions, doesn't have any
programmes, doesn't have any bitterly contested elections for any
position. These are early days for the WSF and it is feeling its
way about. But if one is prescriptive and says that this is a
declaration we must agree on, we would spend the whole of our
days just discussing the declaration rather than the issues that
surround us. I think what one has to do is see how the WSF
informs people better and brings forward people who can engage
with government and the media. But above all, we should see
how the WSF can mobilise people on general themes like war,
poverty and justice in world trade.
The WSF is a combination of politically active people and singleissue campaigns. These single-issue campaigns are absolutely
fascinating, colourful and very demanding. And the political
parties are either excited by this or nervous, because there is an
alternative power base developing. What happens in the future, I
would hope, would be that we establish some kind of a small,
permanent presence of the WSF and that we then use that as a
way of pushing governments in areas of particular concern.
You would be going back to the United Kingdom just a few days
ahead of the tabling of the Hutton inquiry report (into the death
of British weapons scientist Dr. David Kelly). And this is
obviously an effort to establish some form of accountability in
government. Since accountability is one of the issues before the
WSF, how do you expect it to play in the U.K. in the context of
the Hutton inquiry report?
The Hutton inquiry has been an absolutely fascinating
experience. After Dr. Kelly was found dead, no inquest was held
and (Prime Minister) Tony Blair, rather surprisingly, set up a
judicial public inquiry. Lord Hutton then decided to interpret this
inquiry in a very broad way and called for and received a whole
lot of government communications that are normally denied even
to parliamentary select committees. And what these showed in
my view was a degree of cynicism in Downing Street relating to
decisions surrounding and leading up to the war. But also, it
demonstrated that the various confusing bits of evidence don't
add up. And so Tony Blair then sent a new statement to the
Hutton inquiry, which has not been published, which we

understand is supposed to be a clarification of a clarification. So


the report comes out on the 29th (January) - and the discussion
will be on the quality of evidence submitted by the Prime
Minister more than anything else, I suspect.
There is a certain degree of bewilderment in the rest of the world
over the way in which the U.K. was marching in lockstep with
the U.S. behind this war enterprise. We also knew well before
Kelly's death that the intelligence basis for the war was very
shaky. The dossier which the U.K. government prepared in
September 2002, which the U.S. used to pump up its claim about
Iraq's alleged purchase of uranium from Niger, had been
discredited. And the subsequent dossier was shown to be a
plagiarism from a 10-year-old research paper. Now all this
pointed to the manipulation of evidence leading up to the war.
But why is accountability being enforced only after the war has
run its course and tens of thousands of Iraqis have died. Did it
take the death of one British scientist?
A very fair point. Firstly, there is an uncomfortable message for
Parliament in all this, in that Lord Hutton's inquiry into the death
of Dr. Kelly has been more thorough, more public, better
researched and more effective in its performance, than any of the
parliamentary standing committees that have investigated the
lead-up to the war. I agree that it is strange that we should have a
public inquiry into the death of a scientist, but ten thousand Iraqis
have died after we were given nonsensical information about
weapons of mass destruction. Cluster bombs and depleted
uranium were used and no inquiry is held. A number of us in
Parliament have called for and voted for an independent judicial
inquiry surrounding the policy on the war in Iraq and we will
continue to press that. I cannot predict what Lord Hutton's
conclusions will be, but he will have to reach some definite
findings because of the huge discrepancies in the evidence that
was submitted. Dr. Kelly clearly knew a great deal. He clearly
did have an opinion on the whole issue.
ROB ELLIOTT/AFP

A cross-section of the participants in the rally on January 21.


Coming closer to the theme of this forum, there has been this
book that is much cited in the U.K. and in fact has been
mentioned in some of the discussions here, by the historian Niall
Ferguson (Empire: The Rise and Demise of the British World
Order and the Lessons for Global Power, 2003). The term he
uses is not "globalisation" but "Anglobalisation" - in reference to
his belief that the British empire in some senses, created the
modern world, which the U.S. has been the historical legatee to
as imperial overlord. Forgetting his rather rose-tinted view of the
empire, does he have a point about the reason why the U.K. is
getting into lockstep behind the U.S. in all these modern day
imperial adventures?
It is an interesting theory and it is not wrong, in the sense that the
U.S. empire which exists around the world is a largely
commercial one. And the British empire of the late-19th century,
yes it did colour much of the world map pink, but in quite a lot of
the areas it didn't colour pink it had massive imperial interests. In
much of Africa, at the Congress of Berlin in 1884, it was
Germany and Belgium above all that wanted their names on the
map, (while) it was the British and the French who wanted trade
and they achieved an awful lot of that.
There are a few things happening that are of great interest - there
has been a sort of reinvention of the history of the empire by
right-wing historians who present the British empire as wholly a
force for the good. They don't talk about the genocide, they don't
talk about the slave trade or about the brutal treatment of the
indigenous people, or the straight lines all across Africa which

were the product of the Congress of Berlin.


Britain's relationship with the U.S. has been a curious one and a
very interesting one. The special relationship I would say, started
around the first World War, and ever since, Britain has been both
commercially and politically in hock to the U.S. Globalisation is
the power of multinational corporations. It is making the world's
three main economic institutions - WTO, the World Bank and the
International Monetary Fund - work in their interests. But it has
also been the imposition of a sort of Anglophile culture,
Americanised Anglophile culture - of fast foods, of film, of
media - on Third World countries all over the world. So it creates
a sense of values which owe themselves entirely to freebooting
American capitalism, much more than to any kind of European
cultural identity.
Is Blair being pushed along by the irresistible force of recent
history or are there more fundamental reasons of commercial
interest here?
I think Blair sees Britain as a kind of American bridgehead into
Europe. Whereas Europe - by which I mean France, Germany
and Italy and I'm not talking about individuals like [Italian Prime
Minister Silvio] Berlusconi here, but of the generality of the
political culture - see Europe as an identity of itself, as a
counterpole to the U.S. Blair came into office pledged to build
better relations with Europe because Thatcher famously sort of
hated everything "Europe". But then, Blair got very angry when
the E.U. would not support him on Iraq.
The argument he made was that he could be a voice for
moderation when the U.S. was embarked upon what was a
potentially very hazardous course. But has it worked that way or
has the U.K. been merely coopted into the worst excesses of this
militarist adventure?
I asked him this question during a meeting of our parliamentary
party and his words, I paraphrase him slightly, were "Look,
Jeremy, if I told you how good the influence was, it wouldn't be
any influence at all". So he then has to answer the tougher
question: if it is any influence at all, how come British nationals
at Bagram and Camp Delta (in Guantanamo Bay) have not been
released to face trial if there are charges against them anywhere
else? And what possible benefit has there been to Britain in all
this? I think he ends up being a prisoner to the U.S. in all this,
rather than an effective influence upon them. British troops have
gone into Iraq and soldiers have died and the contracts that are
being handed out - the war prizes that are being handed out - are

all going to George Bush's friends.


The decade (or two decades) of globalisation - all through this
period the U.S. and the U.K. have been marching to the same
beat in international affairs. Internally too, have they been
evolving the same way. Like, economically, they have been
moving away from manufacturing and public ownership and
control of basic services, towards growth based on Information
Technology and financial services. Is the regression of the
political culture in these countries partly accounted for by this
aspect?
Trade union membership has always been a politically huge
factor in Britain and to a lesser extent in the U.S. The influence
of manufacturing trade unions on politics has been enormous,
particularly on the Labour Party in Britain. The decline of
manufacturing industry and the growth of the service sector has
led to the growth of the sort of upwardly mobile class. But in the
last three years, the upwardly mobile class that was working in
computing and service industries and international transactions
has been threatened with job losses in exactly the way that
manufacturing workers were threatened two decades ago. So they
are now joining trade unions. And, in a sense, if you are working
as a computer operator, processing financial information, you are
no more an owner of that company than if you are a metal basher
at Ford in London, turning out wheels for cars.
Deindustrialisation has obviously had an effect on trade union
membership, but trade union membership is now going up again
in Britain.
Does that have any potential political implications, for instance
on foreign policy stances that the U.K. could take in the next few
years?
The close relationship with the U.S. is cultural, it is economic,
but above all it is a military relationship. In trade terms, Europe
is far more important than the U.S. or any other part of the world.
The influence of the U.S. is considerable at the political level in
Britain, but I suspect that as time goes on and the U.S. gets
involved in more and more conflicts over access to resources to
supply itself, then the political opposition that it faced over the
war in Iraq will get stronger. And certainly Blair will not be keen
on getting involved in any war having been through the political
problems he has already faced over Iraq.
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