WOULD the post-Covid-19 world see a more equitable socioeconomic order, with bourgeois parties forced to tend to the planet and the life it sustains? Or are we heading towards more of the same — an unequal world spawning brutal conflicts and human misery?
Tariq Ali hosted an online Zoom discussion with Jeremy Corbyn and Arundhati Roy under his Stop The War banner. The topic was Coronavirus, War & Imperialism. The anti-war movement that Ali and others organised post-9/11 did not stop the American invasion of Iraq but it inspired strong voices against imperialism across the continents.
Also the fervour the anti-war protests infused has not waned, as can be seen from anti-Trump demonstrations raging periodically across Europe, Australia or Canada, and at home in the US. India seems to be the rare exception where, as was the case with George W. Bush, Donald Trump is officially admired when his name is mud everywhere else.
The anger and anguish over the racial murder of George Floyd blends into a force that has also been driving the movement against war around the world. But there are major challenges, and there are reasons for being cautious.
The anger over the murder of George Floyd blends into a force that has also been driving the movement against war across the world.
Consider the presidential candidates in the November elections. Neither the Democrat nor the Republican is averse to warmongering. It was a Democratic objective under Barack Obama to encircle China with America’s oversized war machinery, a policy Donald Trump is only reinforcing with less finesse and more viciousness. His threatening rhetoric adlibs Hillary Clinton’s against Iran and China, and the two though they belong to opposite parties are not distinctly dissimilar in critical ways. Daniel Ellsberg did reveal, didn’t he, that presidents belonging to both parties were complicit in pushing secret plans since the 1950s for a nuclear war on the USSR and its allies. In this regard, the US elections in November offer little joy.
Word has also been doing the rounds among anti-racism protesters in Minneapolis and beyond that Obama short-changed the black constituency he purported to serve. Someone had prematurely described his presidency as the end of history of racism, it is said.
Colin Powell’s public support for Joe Biden too can be seen in a similar vein, as one coming from the man who lied to the world for his troops to invade Iraq. And he favours the candidate who presided over the destruction of Libya and Syria as Obama’s deputy. All this happened without taking the foot off the accelerator in the continued bipartisan destruction of Afghanistan.
At the discussion on Saturday, Corbyn was optimistic that the post-pandemic world would be a chastised one in which mindless capitalism would give way to healthcare and education as a universal priority, which in turn should deepen the quest to save the earth and its environment from further degradation. Saving humanity and saving the earth are coterminous in this laudable worldview, the three participants agreed.
Corbyn’s optimism was anchored in the new awareness on all sides of the British equation that the reviled and short-changed National Health Service had emerged as the saviour of lives, including the prime minister’s, during the ongoing pandemic.
There is a chance that the rest of Europe would accept Corbyn’s post-Covid-19 vision of a non-discriminatory, state-funded health system taking root, thereby undermining the neoliberal argument for privatisation. Perhaps the Democrats would be willing to recast Obamacare into a truly genuine health welfare scheme in the wake of the coronavirus outbreak.
Corbyn also spoke up for Britain’s anguished community of immigrants. He leveraged the fact that the nurses and the poorly paid ancillary hospital staff of cleaners and ward boys in the UK, comprised a large number of immigrants who were at the helm of things at a very challenging time. This reality begs fresh questions of the basic plank that drove Brexit. What would be the fate of that divisive platform, which sowed deep discord within and between political formations in Britain?
Tariq Ali took the view that the 2008 global financial crisis had raised similar hopes of capitalism’s imminent course correction if not outright demise. However, far from surrendering any quarter, capitalism bounced back in a more vicious avatar.
Ali chose to stick to his familiar view, honed in experience no doubt, that mass movements and not parliamentary approaches would eventually bring about the needed change. But he did ask Arundhati Roy whether a challenge could be thrown by India’s bourgeois parties to Narendra Modi over human rights abuses in Kashmir and generally against his antagonism towards the poor, the minorities, and the country’s left and liberal activists, far too many of whom have been thrown in prison.
Corbyn referred to India but more positively. He took heart from the support he saw from practically all communities for Indian Muslims in their campaign against a religiously discriminatory citizenship law. The state turned it into a communal slugfest.
Arundhati Roy disabused both of their easy notions of the Indian situation. The knee and neck — reference to the way George Floyd was choked to death by the policeman — were interlocked across the world, she said. Kashmir was not bereft of this high-handedness nor was the rest of India. Roy gave credit to Rahul Gandhi as one opposition leader who was speaking out against the oppressive Indian regime. Sadly, he seems to be alone.
It was an engaging discussion, and the format attracted large participation. It was of course no substitute for Tariq Ali leading the students in a historic 1968 students’ uprising in Europe, or Jeremy Corbyn addressing an anti-Trump rally in Trafalgar Square during his visit, or Arundhati Roy preferring imprisonment over tendering apology to the supreme court. As happens with online discussions, not everyone was completely attentive. For example, someone in the audience wrote to ask if Ms Roy was single. She must have laughed, perhaps saying: “Singular”.
The writer is Dawn’s correspondent in Delhi.
Published in Dawn, June 9th, 2020