issue 175 - September 1987
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Heat and protest
We are grateful to Peter Stalker for his in-depth reporting on the current situation in Chile (NI 174) but we'd like to make a few points.
While he is correct in saying that opposition activity is at a low ebb, it is not quite true to say that this is a time of 'tranquillity', even by Chilean standards. This summer saw the worst massacre of opposition activists since 1976, with 12 alleged members of an underground armed group being shot dead by CNI secret police.
It is also misleading to say that the protest movement from 1983 to 1986 has come to nought. As Peter Stalker himself describes, there is now a considerable political space for the opposition in which to organize, meet, publish, and hold cultural events. This space did not exist before 1983, and it is largely the result of that protest movement
A bit of good news, indicative of a renewed yearning for unity, is that the MDP left alliance has been recently replaced by a broader alliance - the United Left Front, which in addition to the MDP parties takes in the MAPU, Christian Left and Radical Party.
Finally, we are looking for young people to join the voluntary work scheme organized by the Chilean students movement, for six weeks in January-March 1988. Interested NI readers should contact Carol Billinghurst on 01-272 4293.
Chile Solidarity Campaign
In The Shady World of Underground Work (Keynote NI 173) Vanessa Baird says 'And complicity is appealing.' I wonder. Is complicity appealing to her? Or is it perhaps observation of a more general kind, on the way we behave? Or is it irony? If it is irony, is it not open to misinterpretation?
Similarly, Walter Johnson, in his piece in the same issue, The New Order, says at one point .... even public works projects are contracted out to private sector firms unencumbered with unionized government employees.' (My italics). I am afraid I do not know whether such irony is considered or whether it is ingrained. If it is ingrained, then, surely, it ceases to be irony and becomes instead an established aspect of the opinion of whoever utters it? Without wanting to be alarmist, this I believe is the process by which it is possible to become an unwitting ally of a view, which you on one level appear to be fighting.
Ry à Tousmasc
Vanessa Baird replies: The power of irony lies in its capacity to trouble and provoke rather than preach. But since it relies on nuance it can run the risk of misinterpretation. I hope that the context of the two examples cited would have made the message clear. But I agree with your point about the danger of 'ingrained' irony.
While your article on the Soviet shadow economy (NI 172 Underground Work) was reasonably accurate your photo was not. Over the past few winters the USSR has been acquiring large consignments of Egyptian oranges which instead of filtering onto the market via unreliable or semi-closed channels, have been sold openly - but quite officially - on most street corners of Moscow. This was partly to combat the very 'underground' that you're talking about.
Rev. H. Bridge
Tunbridge Wells, UK
I was annoyed to see Unilever singled out in your attack on the multinationals in NI 172.
During three years of travelling in Africa and the Middle East I visited many hundreds of household products factories. Unilever's were always the cleanest and best maintained and jobs in their factories were highly sought-after. Were it not for Unilever, consumers would be obliged to buy second-rate and possibly dangerous goods and workers to toil in poor or even dangerous conditions provided by cost-cutting local companies.
Incidentally, I do not work for any part of Unilever.
There are few magazines to rival the NI for a clear world-view - but a few errors seem to have invaded your country profile of Oman (NI 173). The most obvious mistake is in the map. Masirah is not in the desert (that location is probably an oil camp). It is the island to the East - best known for its USAF base.
The demographic data stated - population of 1.2 million - takes no account of the 1 million expatriates, Baludins, Indians and Europeans.
Oman's military expenditure, often criticized as 'excessive', is another statistical pitfall as much 'military' expenditure is for civilian use, such as roads, runways, aircraft, health-care, and docks.
Editor: We are scratching our heads over the mysterious migration of Masirah on our map. Thank you for pointing out this error and for drawing attention to the additional population and the civilian use of military expenditure.
Your NI 172 on Unilever had excellent and informative coverage of how multinational capitalism penetrates into every aspect of life, exploiting and acting purely in pursuit of profit rather than human need. However, the solutions you offer are patently inadequate. Monitoring by governments, which by nature act in the interests of capital will solve nothing. How can governments like Thatcher's, Reagan's or that of South Korea develop co-ordinated laws to control multinationals when it is clear that these governments are in the pocket of big business and finance capital?
The harsh economic reality is that you can't 'regulate' what you don't control, and you can't control what you don't own. It is up to the masses of ordinary people in the world to take control of these companies through socialist nationalization, to use the immense resources and power of these monolithic companies for the benefit of all rather than the profits of a few.
You say that the sound of the record is 'slick but rather antiseptic ... reminiscent in places of Herb Alpert .. .It seems a long way away from the townships'. You give the record two stars for entertainment, but five for politics, presumably because of the lyric content - warning Pinochet and Botha that the end is near.
Isn't it about time that we came to understand the political nature and context of music itself, outside of lyric content? I would argue that slick Herb Alpert-style music is politically reactionary. We can't turn music-industry fodder into progressive and relevant music simply by sticking some left-wing lyrics on top.
I have often wondered why many socialist, ecological and libertarian groups who have stood up magnificently against US imperialism in Central America or imperialism in South Africa have clammed up when Northern Ireland is mentioned.
The media, in general, gives a distorted picture of this conflict which in its latest phase has cost around 2,500 lives and other forms of suffering. I realize that much of your work is devoted to developing countries, but I feel that this bloody war is being allowed to plod on largely ignored by too many. Any attempt to put the issues objectively to a wider audience could help raise concern and understanding and bring forward a solution. In short, it could save lives.
Please do not include my name if you should print any of this as I am ex-British Army, and it could create problems.
Name and address supplied
The need for a uniting theme for Green programs (NI 171) is evident. You are right in saying, 'One attractive alternative possibility would centre on the idea of employment.' Among all the wastes of world resources, the most serious is the waste of the human resource, work.
I have for some time puzzled over the failure of the Indians and the success of the Chinese in the elimination of hunger. The most evident explanation lies in the Chinese focus on the full utilization of their most abundant resource, human work. Fair distribution of work opportunity ends hunger.
William M. Alexander
San Luis Obispo, US
Unless I missed it, the only reference to Vietnam in your China issue (NI 170) was a passing mention in Jay Lawrence's article Ghetto-blasters and foreign devils.
It ill-suits a journal such as yours to ignore China's ongoing military operations - overtly on Vietnam's northern border, and covertly from the Kampuchean border - against the only people who have ever succeeded in ousting two major imperialist occupations, at the most devastating cost to themselves.
Quang Ngai, South Vietnam
In your recent excellent coverage of Green activities and resources around the world (NI 171) you omitted the Values (Green Party of Aotearoa) Party.
To put the record straight - we have been in existence since 1972 and have continuously published our own newspaper/ newsletter formerly VIBES, now Linkletter.
NZ Values (Green Party of Aotearoa)
The views expressed in these letters are not necessarily those of the New Internationalist
Margaret St Clare has been living in the Zimbabwe
It's great to be back home. Let me say that plainly in case there might be doubt further on. For all the critical distance that living in Zimbabwe has brought me, much deeper is my appreciation of how precious it is to be an insider again. So a happy 'yes' of belonging underlies the worried 'no' of the observer.
Especially at home with my relatives here in the west of Scotland and Northern Ireland; they instantly pick up how I am feeling and respond warmly. They talk openly and at great speed about themselves, their families, me, other people, social changes. What a culture of fast chat, wheaten bread, tea and soda scones, fruit cake - dissolving the 'taciturn Scot' image that even I had harboured. Is it an English myth?
Spring came to London the day I flew in from Africa, bringing smiles in the street, naked lunchtime torsos and babies out for family walks in the soft evening light of blossoming Camberwell. As I finish writing this, it is summer in Oban. In the Highlands even a glimpse of sun through the clouds gives you a sense of perfect beauty. Those that live here pay for the privilege through the long harsh winter, sea winds, rain, rain, rain, and in summer, the midges. Likewise the loveable aspect of my home and culture is coupled with different kinds of disturbing familiarities.
When I arrived at Gatwick, the first thing I noticed apart from the hundreds of lily-white long-nosed faces, was the duty-free advertisement in the train to Victoria. 'We take off more at the airport,' it stated. Gradually the innuendo dawned on my Africa-innocent mind and it all came back. Sex - not real sex, but a matey hint of indecency - is everywhere.
Such media sex is never far from violent abuse and leaves me with feelings of deep revulsion. Newspaper stories drag commuters into the deeps of the rapist and the murderer with little ecstatic cries of outrage; advertising images link beauty, enjoyment, excitement or prestige with suave or blatant abuse of women. And leaving aside sex for pure violence, newspaper headlines on stories about political speeches or negotiations use words like 'smash', 'attack' and 'slams'. Surely such brutal language in the Western media has helped to spawn social violence; not least international terrorism? Certainly the unresolved problems of colonial legacies might be important too. But we ignored the Palestinians until they robbed our headlines with bombings and hi-jacks, and now we think of them only as terrorists.
When I imagine my Zimbabwean friends coming to Britain, I shudder to think how the brutality of our city culture must assault their minds. As far as I know, Shona has no swear words.
In rural cultures, whether in Scotland or Zimbabwe, respect for human dignity is fundamental. even in the midst of material poverty and political oppression. Our modern exploitation of sex and violence for commercial ends shows a spiritual degradation that I find deeply disturbing. All the more so since it seems to be an end, whether of more efficient production or administration, an expanding market or a compliant electorate.
Do we really want to usher everyone into our moral abyss? Sometimes I wonder if the poor lost their dignity and adopted our violent attitudes, what kind of revenge they would take on us. Or should that read, 'When the poor lose their dignity.?'