Thursday, 13 February 2014


War and Empire.
Peace and Democracy.

[Roar.mag. has been looking at the nature of State violence, security, and democracy. I want to place this debate in an historical context]

The United Nations tells us that there are 196 countries in the world, all of whom are eligible to be members of the Organisation.
 These countries of the world are not natural entities, occupied and organized by their native communities into ‘states’. Some countries are monarchies, ruled by royal families; many are governed by a wealthy elite – plutocracy; or at the will of  individuals, autocracy/ dictatorship;  the rules of a religious sect – theocracy. Few countries operate as democracies, governed by the votes of all citizens, in the interests of all the citizens.

Empires in time and space.
 Over the last 3000 + years the lands of Europe, Arabia, the Americas, Africa, Asia have all been dominated at one time or another by military/religious/ trading Empires; and  sometimes occupied by vast and violent armies whose leaders and kings were determined to colonise, enslave,  and to exploit the resources of their lands.
For example, Julius Caeser [50BC] led the Romans from Italy to Babylon, to Britain; to Spain, to France, Germany, Egypt, Arabia to establish the Roman Empire, later to become the Holy Roman Empire.  The Norsemen [1060AD] and the Vikings, spread from the Baltic to Canada, to Britain, Ireland, France, Germany, Italy, Sicily and established the Norman Empire. The Portugese, the Spanish, and the British [from 1415 to the present day] used their maritime powers, including pirates, privateers/trading companies, to conquer the world for trade, setting up  companies, colonies and enslaving the natives.

 The British Empire became the largest in the world.  Assyrians [1000BC], attacked  Persia, Iraq, Syria, Saudi, Jordan, Turkey, Egypt. The Byzantine Empire [550AD], centred on Greece, controlled the Mediterranean Basin. The Ottoman Empire [1300AD to 1914] extended its dominance from Constantinople in Turkey, to Russia, Greece, the Balkans, Austria, Spain, France, Egypt, the whole of North Africa, Caucasus, Jordan, Arabia. The French Empire [1800] during the time of  Napoleon Bonaparte controlled Europe.  The Mongol Empire [1200AD] under the rule of Ghengis Khan, and his family,  spread from Mongolia, to China, Siberia, Ukraine, Poland, Austria, Russia, Korea, Tibet, Afghanistan,Vietnam to become the largest land Empire in history.
Along with all the other empires that have existed over time and territory, there are very few lands and peoples that have not been occupied, attacked, colonized and enslaved by Imperial armies. At the points where one empire encroached on another, there would be constant and horrific violence.
The centres of violence today were the centres of  imperial invasion in the past. For example, recent reports describe  the struggles of Egypt, Tunisia and Yemen as well as Syria to gain independence and democracy as if they had been taken over recently.  Such reports pay little attention to the fact that they have been invaded and occupied for a very long time by many different  attackers, from 1000BC to 2000AD.
 Imperial conquest was associated with the religious wars between the Christians [Catholics/Protestants/Orthodox] and Muslims [Shiite/Sunni], Jews and Buddhists, Hindus and Sikhs. Jordan, and the city of Jerusalem, [the so called Holy Land] was the site of the Crusades between the Christians of the Holy Roman Empire and the Muslims in the Middle Ages. For example,  Richard the Lionheart  became well known for his crusades against Saladin [1187AD].
During the times of ‘empire’, and Holy Wars, democracy was not relevant. In many cases the Empires were totalitarian or authoritarian. The ruling powers were determined to impose their will upon the peoples of their empire. In some cases in history, for example, during the Roman Empire and Norman Empire and Ottoman Empire,  this meant chopping off the feet and hands, noses and ears, heads, of any opponent or terrorist, and crucifying anyone who protested and challenged the authority of the Emperors: To do so was to declare opposition to their ‘Gods’. Throughout history, Empires have been set up and maintained by military leaders, determined to enforce the supremacy of the rulers. In such states, the citizens were suspect, deprived,  lacking any rights; destituent, destitute.  For a long time, the forces of state were directed to maintain the power of dictatorship. These states have always been plutocracies, ruled by a powerful, ruthless, wealthy elite. These states have been about ‘control’. It would be normal for the governments  to suppress the citizens,  to prevent troubles amongst hostile communities, and manage all outbreaks of protest.
As we have seen, ‘Empires’ have existed over at least 3000years. It is worth noting that the demand and the  search for ‘empire’ continues. In 1884, Leopold of Belgium, and Bismarck of Germany set up the notorious Berlin Conference, intent on the partition of Africa on behalf of the Germans and the Belgians; the Portugese, the Spanish, French, British, and Dutch. The allocation of territories was done by drawing lines on a map, without any regard for the location of native communities, but a total regard for resources and riches.
From 1914 to the present day, Austria, Hungary, Serbia, France, Turkey, Greece, Spain, Italy, Britain, China and Japan pursued conflicts in order to confirm their claims to ‘empire’; and the Germans, and later the USA, waged wars to establish their claims to ‘empires’. The Germans failed in defeat, while the Americans established their hegemony across the world with thousands of military bases, and unequalled economic power.

What kind of state do we live in now?  It is without doubt that during these ‘Empire days’ very few states operated as ‘democracies’: And even those that claimed to be should be described as plutocracies.  
The  recent  ‘Occupy’  movements in the USA and the EU,  and ‘new democracy’ protests in North Africa and Arabia have led to renewed debates about ‘democracy’ and ‘state power’.
Those territories that have been subjugated by Imperial forces over time have all  been controlled by wealthy military elites, who have expressed full support for the Emperors and the Empire. In North Africa, Mauritania, Morocco, Tunisia, Algeria, Libya, Egypt, Sudan  have all been subjects of Imperial rule: whether  by Assyria/Roman Empire/Byzantine Empire/British Empire/ Ottoman Empire over 2000 years, and they will not know what it is to be ‘independent’, nor to be ‘democratic’. It was clear that President Morsi of Egypt saw his election as giving him absolute power.  In future, for these countries, it will be essential for them to learn how to rule themselves in peace and how to organize a democracy in which the interests of the majority, and the minority, are served in peace?  and has nothing to do with conflict or war. Democracy depends upon voting, negotiating, discussion, compromise in peace.
Even in those countries that are considered to be ‘modern’, independent, industrial, innovative, with electronic systems of government and finance, it is difficult to identify ‘democracies’.

The rule by the 1%
What has become clear over the last ten years is that 80% of the wealth of the globe [GDP] is controlled and managed by 0.01% of the global population.  $45 trillion is the property of 12 million people. It is declared that 7.2 billion people across the globe [plus or minus 12 million] have access to $11 trillion. This majority is poor.
 So whatever the history of many countries, they are still ruled by a wealthy minority elite: the 1%.
One of the implications of ‘Empire’, whether the rulers or the ruled, is that the majority are subdued, controlled, governed, managed by a wealthy minority elite.
Even in 2014, we have to be careful as to how we define, develop, practice ‘democracy’. It is possible to argue that there are no ‘democracies’. There are many plutocracies, and autocracies, and monarchies, and some theocracies: all of which identify the minority elite.
What is more, if we accept that wealth is power, it follows that power is exercised by the wealthy minority who own most of the riches. In such political situations, it is impossible for the poor majority to have absolute power. As has been clear in Syria, it is possible for the wealthy ruling minority of the Alawites, led by the Assads, to organize  military forces and weapons so as to subdue and defeat all other communities. In Egypt the poor majority Muslim Brotherhood has been unable to control the minority military elite of al-Sisi.
These examples indicate that where the distribution of wealth is located, the wealthy minority elite is able to establish permanent positions of power.
The examples further illustrate that the allocation of territory and the identification of a State, lead to the exercise of political power by one  group over others in the form of a plutocracy  or a  theocracy or autocracy. In these cases, the formation of a State government has little to do with democracy; and  is often the expression of the assertion of  dominance  by the ruling group. The development of the State becomes the establishment of rules and regulations, and the organization of procedures, systems, institutions to secure the dominance of the ruling group.
In the past, the State is a system of control, designed to maintain the power of the ruling minority. The government is expected to take all action to prevent troubles, and to manage the power of the plutocracy. In these terms ‘the state’ exists to protect the interests of the ruling elite, and to manage the behaviour of the ‘ruled majority’.
We are still embroiled by the systems of ‘Empire’: the political, military, financial, religious elites.

In the future, we all have to learn how to establish, organize, operate a democracy in the interests of all citizens, and break the ties with the days of Empire! The ‘revolution’ must be ‘democratic’.

No comments:

Post a Comment