New Internationalist

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Issue 147

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NEW BOOKS

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This month’s books look at the emergence of a new theory of international co-exisitence – and the decline of an old one.

Editor: Kim Taplin

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Seeing green
By Jonathon Porritt
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Basil Blackwell 1984, £3.95
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From among the tired deja-vu of the run-up to the last British General Election one little incident stuck in my mind. A man called Jonathan Porritt, speaking for the Ecology Party, had a brief discussion on radio with politicians of other colours and made them sound like androids.

He was interested in truth and not tactics. Whereas even the most idealistic politician knows that at election time votes come first.

You can’t convert people to a new world view (or even, as Porritt might want to claim, redeem an old one) in 2.66 minutes. But he said enough to show that here was a doctrine as different from the industrial materialism shared by all the others, whether left, right or centre, as the sun is different from a light bulb. And it was an approach which invited a thorough-going commitment to a total and radical change of heart.

The response of one of his opponents was frightening. He dismissed Porritt, quite politely, as having ‘a single-issue campaign’. And I had the distinct impression that this was not just tactics on his part. His preconceived idea that ecology was something about saving whales, had simply sealed his ears. And he is not alone.

So how does one give the essence of the Green philosophy, in not much more space than Porritt had on the air, and without sounding like the ranter in the Saturday shopping street. waving aloft Seeing green instead of the Bible? (Both books are in the end about how to be saved.)

The Green analysis of the state of the world is of a once well-stocked, potentially paradisiacal planet plundered by greed, straddled and strutted upon by two ugly sisters of opposing ideology. The Green Alternative centres on the idea of stewardship. The Earth is a shared home, with other nations, with other species, with the generations past and to come. It suggests that this attitude is the rational one and that the so-called rationality, the ‘you have to live in the real world’ attitude of both capitalist and socialist is the madness. It points to the man-made, preventable disasters of famine, pollution and the nuclear terror, and instead of a cure, instead of crisis management, offers a different set of values. In the West the message is beginning to get through that leaner, healthier living prevents heart disease. People in that respect are beginning to take responsibility for themselves. Greens invite the same attitude to the body politic. Self-interest has come of age.

When people claim they’re ‘not political’, it’s usually said in a tone of apology or disdain. To both of these feelings the Greens have something to say. To the fearful they would put the question: are having to think and being counted really more frightening than the monstrous world that now presses its nose against our double-glazed windows? To the scornful they would say: here is politics that isn’t about defeating Them, not about big egos in small smoke-filled committee rooms, but creative, participatory - its only concern how, together, people can make a sustainably better quality of life. And not just on Sundays or after were dead. Greens try to think holistically: to be both practical and visionary. The ancient argument between the individual and the state becomes irrelevant; their key to survival is co-operation.

Green politics has gained ground since 1979. most visibly and dramatically in 1983 in the winning of 27 seats by Die Grünen in the West Germany Bundestag. Green strength in Britain lies not yet in the official political arena but in a groundswell of overlapping movements and ideas that include the peace movement, feminism and animal rights and a variety of communal and personal attempts at more integrated living, person with plant rather than cog in economic machine. The climate is right for the ‘good news’ this book brings, and I do not doubt that it will act like the packed seed-head of that cheerful Green symbol the sunflower, and establish whole gardens of new plants, to multiply some forty - some sixty - and some a hundred fold. I for one, having been going Green for years without knowing it had a name, now hereby come out.

Kim Taplin

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Depending on theory

Development theory in transition
by Magnus Blomstrom and Bjorn Hettne
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Zed books 1984
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Photo: Adarsh Nayar

Third World countries may have won their independence, but their economies for the most part remain tied to the requirements of their former colonial overlords. In many places the best land is still owned by foreign corporations who can extract benefits from it in the form of minerals and cash crops - while the local people suffer chronic shortages of the most basic commodities.

In a similar recession, back in the 1930s, a number of Latin American economists came to the conclusion that their countries would never be able to develop successfully until they freed themselves from this kind of dependence on Western nations in general, and the United States in particular. This strain of thought crystallised after World War II in the formation of a ‘dependency school’ of economists many of whom were working with the UN Economic Commission for Latin America. From there these ideas gradually spread round the world provoking a great deal of controversy.

There were two major attempts in the 1970s to use the lessons offered by the dependency theory to build new and more independent economies - in Julius Nycreres Tanzania and in Jamaica under Michael Manley. That neither experiment was notably successful in achieving self-reliance certainly contributed to the general decline in acceptance for this approach.

The contrasting success of other countries which had chosen a completely different path were a further setback. Japan, Hong Kong, Singapore, Taiwan and South Korea have chosen to tie themselves in very closely with the capitalist countries and have managed not merely to survive but actually prosper in a harshly competitive world.

Dependency theorists point out, however, that the ‘success’ of the Far Eastern countries has been limited to certain areas. With the possible exception of Japan, economic growth has only been achieved at the cost of maintaining rigid social and economic structures. And the benefits have not filtered down to the mass of the population, with the rich becoming very much richer and the poor struggling to eke out a living.

In Development Theory in Transition Blomstrom and Hettne attribute the decline of dependency theory more to the heightened belligerence of global capitalism at a time of crisis and the new Cold War - rather than to the failure of its test cases or the arguments of its critics.

On the positive side the authors justifiably claim that the school has constituted ‘the Third World’s first real contribution to the social sciences’ and had a significant effect on development theory in general. It has also inspired far-reaching programmes of self-reliance in places like Cuba and Nicaragua. And at the most general level it has led to the crucial recognition that each country has its own unique development problems dictated by both internal and external conditions.

Michael Pearson-Smith


CLASSICS

The Black Jacobins
...being the book that showed how colonialism could be defeated

HISTORIAN, Marxist and cricket fanatic, C.L.R. James at 84 has become something of a cult figure. Born in Trinidad but living for many years in London he was closely involved in the struggles for political independence in Africa and the Caribbean - he knew both Kenyatta and Nkrumah.

The Black Jacobins tells the story of a bloody slave revolt. It took place in San Domingo - today’s Haiti - at the time of the French Revolution. The hero was Toussaint L’Ouverture. who rose from oppressed slave to victorious ruler of what had been France’s most lucrative colony.

James first published his fascinating account in 1938 at a time when the colonial independence movements were in their infancy - when it seemed to many that the British Empire would last a thousand years.

This was the atmosphere into which James, then a cricket correspondent, launched his history of the San Domingo revolution - demonstrating that, as long ago as the eighteenth century, black slaves had defeated Europe’s greatest powers and become rulers of their own country.

San Domingo supplied two-thirds of French overseas trade - with sugar, indigo and cotton. And it was also France’s biggest market for slaves from Africa; there were half a million slaves being worked to death on plantations under the control of 30,000 whites.

The revolt began in 1791 on the sugar estates, where the organization of their work made them, as James pointed out, rather like a modern factory proletariat. They were impelled and given courage by their voodoo beliefs - as the Mau-Mau were to he a century and a half later.

The Europeans could scarcely believe at first that the black slaves could have organized a revolt on their own. The rebellion spread like wildfire and it was a vengeful and violent affair. Though. as James points out, nothing that the newly free slaves did could compare with the barbarity of their former masters - who would regularly blow slaves up with gunpowder or bury them up to their necks.

Toussaint L’Ouverture, a slave until he was 45. was only one of the many competent leaders thrown up by the revolt. But he was the most distinctive. James compares him with Napoleon Bonaparte for his military and diplomatic skill. He organised his own ‘model army’ and soon became the acknowledged leader of the revolution. Supported by various allies, not least the yellow fever which decimated the white soldiers, Toussaint and his followers in turn defeated a Royalist French invasion, a Spanish attack and a British expedition. Finally, when Toussaint was in prison in France in 1804, the ex-slaves managed to beat off a huge invasion force sent by Napoleon.

The parallels with the US defeat in Vietnam are quite close. Of the 34,000 French soldiers sent to retake San Domingo, 24,000 died and 8.000 were sick or wounded. The British lost even more, some 40,000 - far more than they did in the Peninsular War against Napoleon.

The Paris mob, fighting for ‘liberty, equality and fraternity’ were passionately opposed to slavery and gave full support to ‘their black brothers in San Domingo’. But as the French Revolution proceeded it was gradually taken over by the merchants whose interests lay in restoring the lucrative trade in slaves and sugar. Bonaparte himself, according to James. ‘hated black people’.

Toussaint was convinced that San Domingo could only prosper if there were some agreement with France to buy the sugar and raw materials and supply the island with manufactured goods - an early example of the continuing debate around self-reliance. His followers feared that that this would mean a return to slavery and they refused to have any deal with Bonaparte. Haiti then became an independent nation based on self-sufficient agriculture.

James writes that, as a young man, he was tired of hearing about black people being oppressed and mistreated. He wanted to write a book in which Africans ‘took action on a grand scale’ and his history of Toussaint and the San Domingo rebellion continues to inspire black people everywhere.

In a new edition of the book in 1980 James tries to link the revolution with that of Fidel Castro’s Cuba. Both, he argues, are in a Caribbean tradition and both concern sugar islands resisting the major metropolitan powers of their day.

The Black Jacobins is an exciting, lively and well-researched account, with as many lessons for 1985 as it had for 1938. Like so many people whose ideas are ahead of their time C.L.R. James probably attracts more attention now than when he wrote his prophetic book back in the 1930s. But then life is like that. It just isn’t cricket.

John Tanner

The Black Jacobins
by C.L.R James
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Allison & Busby 1938
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