Book Reviews

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GLOBAL TRADE UNIONISM[image, unknown] Book reviews

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In this months's books, two international peace makers offer their solutions for uniting the world: and a study of South Africa shows how big business helps keep it divided.

Editor: Anuradha Vittachi

[image, unknown] Paths to peace

Beyond Discrimination
by Theo L. Westow
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University Press of America (pbk)$11.50
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True Justice
by Adam Curle
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Quaker Home Service (pbk) £1.90
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These two books landed on my desk when the South Atlantic conflict was at its height They read like tracts for the times, although Theo Westow’s book was written in 1969 and has spent a while in search ofa publisher.

The context in which I read them gave a considerable sharpness to the questions they raised.

Theo Westow, in Beyond Discrimination, is concerned with the way in which nationalism divides our world For him it begins with the idea of the individual in his isolation, who then becomes the building block of the nation state. In his terminology, we need ‘persons’ not ‘individuals’.

The quality of the person is tobe concerned with relationships. He or she is aware of being a member of the human family and therefore, fundamentally, understands that quality of self-sacrifice which makes it possible to be a convinced member of a world community. The individual, by contrast, is always aware of rights, of boundaries which must not be crossed, of the danger posed by invasion from others.

Such ideals have to be given practical expression Westow’ s prescription is for nationalism to be absorbed into a supranational authority and he sees the United Nations as capable of fulfilling this role. The picture which emerges is somewhat idealised. ‘This structure must be genuinely representative of the whole human community, supple enough to remain adaptable to new needs, firmly enough in control to prevent individualistic nationalism from turning into anarchy..

He does little to cope with the problem of how such a body can exercise its power. All the problems of conflict between nation states are multiplied when there is one central authority seeking to manage angry minorities and persuade them that majority interest must prevail It seems likely that the structural solution will simply provide opportunities for dissident groups to rebel against the central rulers as an alternative to conflict between nations.

The Falkiands dispute put a question mark against any suggestion that a body like the United Nations would be able to exercise a moral authority that would be acceptable at a crisis point Every nation appears to be in favour of UN decisions except when they apply to themselves. The British Government believed that Israel should submit to UN resolutions but preferred to keep the Falklands issue in its own hands. Critical insights abound when other people’s interests are at stake: rationality disappears when the justice of one’s own cause is called into question the same mechanism that operates when we see exactly what to do with other people’s children but are unable to cope with our own. We need human beings, regions and nations who are capable of handling their aggression in a way that turns it to creative use rather than stifling it We will not be saved by structures.

By contrast, Adam Curle’s book, True Justice, is about the task of peacemaking. It hinges upon the Quaker conviction that there is ‘that of God in every human being’. The philosophy of Quaker peacemakers is based upon evoking from those in conflict their best selves. Writing of his own experience as a peacemaker, he says’when I have visited someone who might have been described as an’awkward customer’, I have tried to reject that description and go in the spirit of meeting a friend whom I like and respect It is remarkable what a difference this makes to human contact, it becomes alive and warm. I have also reminded myself of the strain, anguish and fear which most leaders experience in times of tension Leaders are lonely; the more grim their circumstances, the lonelier they become.’

This book centres upon personal solotions and not structural ones. It certainly is one very important strand in the whole process to which the human race must address itself if it is to survive. It needs, however, to be linked with a clear recognition of the economic realities which lie behind any justice in the distribution of the world’s resources.

Perhaps he would reject this criticism because his intention was precisely not to focus on the large issues which make people feel without resources to cope. I hope that what I am saying will be of encouragement to those people, of whom I meet so many, who do not see what they can do to alleviate the miseries of the world. But the great issues are built on the foundation of countless smaller ones. Every time we see love where there was hatred, we re-adjust the balance of the cosmos.’

Michael Hare Duke

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Dangers of moderation

Decoding Corporate Camouflage:
US business support for apartheid
by Elizabeth Schmidt
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Institute for Policy Studies (pbk) $4.95
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A New History of Southern Africa
by Neil Parsons
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Macmillan (pbk) £3.95
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[image, unknown] In 1971, General Motors took the unusual step of electing onto its board a black civil rights leader. The Rev. Leon Sullivan was famous, or infamous, for organising massive boycotts in Philadelphia of racially discriminatory businesses.

At his first board meeting. Sullivan challenged General Motors to withdraw its business from South Africa outright The give-em time attitude, he felt, was a sham: ‘people always want to go slow when the rights of black men are at stake’. But no- one on the board supported him. Four years on, frustrated by the criticism that he wasn’t helping to loosen the deadlock, he produced a more moderate plan.

His code of conduct for American companies doing business in South Africa, nicknamed the’ Sullivan Principles’, caught on rapidly. Companies that had been getting uneasy about defending their ethical stance took refuge behind the new code, which was full of well intentioned principles like ‘equal pay for equal work’. But, as women in the West have begun to realise, that’s a meaningless right to offer where the opportunity of obtaining equal work is pretty well nonexistent.

In Decoding Corporate Camouflage, Elizabeth Schmidt shows how the ‘moderate’ code actually helps prolong the exploitation of black workers. Despite its polysyllabic title, it’s a succinct, clearly argued and fact-packed study that documetits the ways in which big business willingly collaborates with a racist and violent government to reinforce apartheid.

A New History of Southern Africa is a history textbook that tells the colonial story from the ‘native’ viewpoint; meticulously researched, economically priced, and fascinatingly illustrated with many original photographs. A step in the right direction for teachers and students. C. S. and A. V.


Open Veins of Latin America
...being the book that turns history into prophecy

A GIRL IS QUIETLY reading Open Veins of Latin America to her companion on a bus in Bogota, Colombia Finally she is so seized by the language that she stands up in front of the rest of the passengers to proclaim its message to the whole bus.

This, admittedly, is a story told by its author. But I don’t doubt it for a minute. Even reading the book now for the second time — and some years on — I can’t resist quoting choicer phrases to anyone in earshot.

Latin America’s unequal land distribution, for example, is a system which ‘vomits people’ into the cities. And the Latin elites who siphon five billion dollars a day into foreign bank accounts are the ‘pimps of misery’.

The words fly along the page sweeping up all the facts, the vision and the anger as they go. For, as Galeano himself describes it, this is a book’about political economy in the style of a novel about love or pirates’.

At first sight this is just another history of Latin America, a continent which, he says, has specialised in losing ‘ever since the first Europeans ventured across the oceans and buried their teeth in the throats of the Indian civilisations’. And, sure enough, he works his way through from Christopher Columbus to General Pinochet. But this is history with a clear purpose: ‘history as a prophet who looks back’. So the veins opened by the Conquistadors are open today to General Motors and will probably remain open tomorrow to the foreign countries who have always profited at Latin America’s expense.

The years are travelled at a cracking pace. He tells of the Spanish lust for gold and silVer that sent Francisco Pizarro (‘an illiterate pig-breeder’) marching in triumph into the Inca capital of Cuzco. And he explains how Spain still managed to remain poor at the end of all the pillage, with the gold passing on to the industrial centres of Europe.

‘Spain is like the mouth that receives the food, chews it and passes it on the other organs, retaining no more than a fleeting taste of the particles which happen to stick to its teeth.’

Then the stage is set for ‘King sugar and other agricultural monarchs’ — like cotton, coffee and bananas. The more a product was desired on the world market, he asserts, the greater the misery it brought to the Latin American people.

The more they exported, the greater the dependence. So the New York stock market disaster of 1929 ‘fell like a huge block of stone into a puddle’. Coffee and banana prices plummeted and peasants were evicted on all sides as unemployment soared.

The United States helped local dictatorships cope with the unrest Sandino’s ragged rebel army in Nicaragua hurled sardine-cans filled with stones at the US invaders until their leader was assassinated on US orders on his way to peace talks.

This is not just history. The wealth and power still run out of the veins to all parts of the world. And Galeano reports from a present-day tin mine in Bolivia, where the miners feel the first symptoms of silicosis within a year and are dead within ten.

‘A miner passes in a hurry..)’ That’s a new man,’ they told me. “See how fresh he looks in his army pants and yellow jacket? Just came on thejob, and how he works! He still thinks he’s smart Still doesn’t feel an)’thing.’

The importance of Open Veins of Latin America is not that it reveals many new truths, but that it opens many more eyes to the old ones. For a decade or more before its first publication in 1971 the radical economists of the continent had been explaining the dependence and subjugation of the people of Latin America But the prose was dense and alienating. In Galeano they found a voice that could take the message into the streets.

‘One writes,’ he says, ‘to answer the questions that buzz in one’s head, obstinate flies that disturb one’s sleep.

‘I wrote Open Veins to try and spread some ideas of other people, and some experiences of my own which might dispel a little of the fog. Is Latin America a region condemned to humiliation and poverty? Condemned by whom? Is God, is Nature to blame? The oppressive climate, racial inferiority? Religion, customs? Or may not its plight be a product of history, made by human beings and so unmakeable by human beings.’

Peter Stalker

Open Veins of Latin America:
Five centuries of the pillage of a continent
by Eduardo Galeano (1971)
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Monthly Review Press (pbk) $7.50/£4.05
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New Internationalist issue 117 magazine cover This article is from the November 1982 issue of New Internationalist.
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