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AUSTRALIAN
MARXIST
REVIEW

Journal of the Communist Party of Australia

ISSUE 66December 2017

Caliban’s children: dehumanisation and imperialism

“On the other side of the ocean there was a race of less-than-humans.” Jean Paul Sartre, preface to The Wretched of the Earth, by Frantz Fanon (2014).

For generations, feudal and now capitalist governments and their press organs have been engaged in a propaganda war against the “other” in order to convince the populace of the need for war and enslavement against the “other”. The Crusades throughout the Middle East relied heavily on this, as did the Spanish Inquisition and colonisation of Latin America. The Native American people of North America were described as “dogs” and “wolves” who would prey on the “innocent” settler, and as such were hunted down like wolves by parties of settlers, who would even compare skulls as trophies, and weighed them the same as catching big game (Smith, 2011). In Australia, genocide and slavery was committed by the apartheid Australian government against the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, who were regarded as subhuman (Macintyre, & Clark, 2004; Smith, 2011). In all these countries, the end result was a new source of cheap/free labour, access to new capital and resources, and the expansion of financial or capitalist governmental control.

This is all without mentioning the expansive and horrific slavery, dispossession, racism, and other destructive forces created by dehumanisation and Imperialism. Indeed, the two forces have a dialectical relationship to each other. Marx explains that the base and superstructure of society have a dialectical materialist relationship with each other, with the base comprising both the means of production, and the relations to the means of production, while the superstructure comprises all aspects of ideology such as art, media, family, culture, and so on (Marx, 2007). By engaging in a dialectical relationship, the two structures shape and maintain the components inherent within each structure, moving in a continual spiral pattern (Marx, 2007).

Currently the main targets of dehumanisation are refugees, and the people living in Venezuela and North Korea, all of whom are robbed of agency, sovereignty, and individuality in the process. Dehumanisation carried out by the media has already been connected to the fear and hatred projected at refugees and migrants by recent research, and by examining the economic and ideological forces at play it is easy to analyse how this dehumanisation process is carried out again and again (Esses, Medianu, & Lawson, 2013).

Dehumanisation is an integral part of Imperialism, and vital for transforming the targets of Imperialism from sovereign people, into objects who need to be saved from a “crazed monster-dictator” through a “humanitarian” war, a capitalist contradiction if ever there were one (Harvey, 2015).

Why is there a perceived need for dehumanisation?

In the epoch of Imperialism, the need for dehumanisation against foreign populations has grown in connection to the need for monopolisation, exportation of finance capital, access to new resources, and the control of governments via capitalist bribery and financial manipulation (Lenin, 2010). Without an effective process of dehumanisation to separate the Imperialist nation from the subjugated nation, the class interests of the proletariat in each nation would quickly become apparent (Lenin, 2010). The working class of Australia has far more in common with the working class of Venezuela than it does with the government and bosses of Australia.

Despite the many critiques that can be made against Noam Chomsky, his examinations of social control, manufactured consent, and propaganda are useful from a Marxist perspective. The need for dehumanisation is essentially the need to manufacture consent and support for a new war, as well as the new enslavement and colonisation of a nation. This is done in order to obfuscate the class connections between the working class of Imperialist nations, and the working class of the Third World (colonised/exploited world). By doing this, the working class of the Imperialist nations are encouraged to abandon their class solidarity with the Third World, and instead support a “humanitarian” war to topple the government in whichever region is being targeted at the time.

This of course links to the Marxist theory of Base-Superstructure, in which the ideology of a society maintains the current economic system, and vice versa:

So, the media is shaped by the private ownership of capital, as well as the relationship the employees have to it, in this case the printing presses, office spaces, and even the computers used at the company. This base structure of capitalism reinforces the superstructure components of ideology, including liberalism and individualism, propaganda media (covered in greater detail below) and even the culture of the society. This then shapes the journalists and editors reporting on current and historical issues to reflect the current base structure, thereby reinforcing it.

In a greatly simplified format:

Means of production = isolating and alienating, and requires new resources.

Therefore:

Ideology and culture = isolating and alienating, and demands new resources.

Of course, the contradictions of capitalism and Imperialism mean that this dialectical exchange between the base and superstructure is prone to rupturing and collapsing.

How is dehumanisation and consent for war achieved?

Chomsky and Herman’s (2002) key work Manufacturing Consent: The Political Economy of Mass Media, proposes the Propaganda Model Theory (PMT) of mass media. The PMT suggests there are 5 filters that influence the distribution and pro-capitalist content of mass media companies, such as newspapers, television, and even memes in the 21st century. Through this process, the monopoly interests of capitalists and the capitalist government representing them can be projected to the general populace, in an effort to manufacture consent for the decisions of these two systems.

The 5 filters are:

  1. Ownership of the means of production (The mass media company).
  2. Advertising (Funding and Filler).
  3. Sourcing of information.
  4. Flak generation (Negative perception creation).
  5. Anti-Communism, Anti-“Terrorism”, and Anti-Masses.

The monopoly of ownership in the media and communications industry is staggering. In Australia, between 2015 and 2016, roughly 90% of industry revenue was generated by just 4 parent companies. This creates an echo effect, whereby each subsidiary regurgitates the commands and opinion of the parent company. In order to generate new profit, these companies must increasingly monopolise, creating larger scales of economy. In Australia, this can be seen through the current attempts to scrap (the rather weak) anti-monopoly media laws. Because these businesses are capitalistic in structure and ownership, they are bound by the logics and contradictions of capitalist and Imperialist production.

The majority of mainstream (which is code for profit-producing) media is in actual fact filler and advertisement. In order to generate profit, the vast majority of a traditional newspaper or news broadcast is positive advertisement aimed at consumers for new technology, existing businesses, or something related to these categories. Stories which conflict with or challenge this message of consumption or the government (in the case of public-funded news companies) are marginalised or ignored in order to not risk losing funding from advertisers.

In order to cut costs, a capitalist necessity, the “mass media are drawn into a symbiotic relationship with powerful sources of information by economic necessity and reciprocity of interest” (Chomsky & Herman, 2002. p.18). This means that large media companies tend to concentrate resources at the source of most “news” stories, such as Parliament House, the White House, 10 Downing Street, and so on. The dangerous aspect of this is that companies which offend or disagree with these sources risk having their access cut, thereby endangering their ability to generate new profits. The mass media companies therefore have an incentive not to oppose or challenge media releases from governments. However it is important to note that certain liberal and/or capitalist companies, such as The Guardian or the ABC may report and publish anti-government statements. The catch to this however is that the overwhelming majority of these are bound by two rules. 1) Critique of domestic policy may be allowed, but often not of international (Imperialist) policy. 2) There is a perceived market for these types of publications, and where there is a market a capitalist is certain to follow. These “anti-establishment” media empires are just as likely to follow the dictated truth of the government when it comes to foreign issues, such as issues involving Venezuela, the DPRK, the PRC, and Russia, to name but a few.

Flak is the process whereby companies and governments external to the media create powerful lobbying organisations or similar structures, in order to discredit and attack any program, group, or organisation which opposes the capitalist order. In the 20th century, this meant the lampooning of anti-war activists, anti-smoking doctors, and so on. In the 21st century, this meant the suppression of information, and attacks against the credibility of scientists who raised the issue of climate change, environmental catastrophe, or other issues. This also relates to anti-capitalist/pro-environment groups such as the “Stop Roe 8” highway expansion, located in the Bibra Lake Community.

Mainstream media companies frequently vilify activists, communities, and sovereign governments which oppose the interests of Imperialism and the governments of Imperialist nations. The three main aspects are the capitalist need to delegitimise Communism and Socialism, the attempts to label anti-capitalist forces as terrorists as per the War on Terror and a general anti-mass perspective which attempts to portray mass-movements as mindless, robotic, or sinister.

The result of Manufacturing Consent, and dehumanisation

The North Korean people are compared to unthinking or hive mind-like insects, animals with beast-like traits, and monsters intent on destroying the very foundations of Imperialism. Western authors also argue that as a nation, the North Korean people are less intelligent than the West, and therefore need to be wiped out or bred out of existence (Cooper, 2017; Jones, 2015). If that sounds like eugenics, that’s because it is. It is no surprise that the process of dehumanisation was perfected by the Nazi party, built upon the foundations of the colonial states Australia, Canada, and America.

The final result is that the capitalist media, and many working class people in the Imperialist world consider the North Korean people to be subhuman and worth less than themselves, perhaps best summed up by a former US Army General, and published by the New York Post, as “better a million dead North Koreans than a thousand dead Americans” (Peters, 2017). One American is apparently worth one thousand North Koreans, or put another way, a North Korean life is worth 0.1% of an American life. This is an almost textbook example of the ideology and culture created by the process of dehumanisation by media under Imperialism. If Western lives are considered more valuable than other lives, then obviously the next step is to ensure the survival and prosperity of Western lives at the expense of the global working class.

But why is this done? Because North Korea is sitting on a literal gold mine. Looking at all the resources that are still unused, the estimated value of the mineral resources alone in North Korea is $6-to-$10 trillion US (Bryan, 2017; Killalea, 2017). And that’s a conservative estimate. For comparison, at the peak of 2012-2013 boom the resource and mineral exports of Australia was worth a measly $157 billion (Department of Industry, 2017). The same coveting of new resources is happening to Venezuela, which exported minerals worth roughly $66 billion in 2010, although this has halved in recent years (Reuters, 2017). Venezuela also has the 2nd largest crude oil reserves in the world, and roughly $100 billion worth of Coltan, which is vital in the production of electronics such as phones, computers, cars, and perhaps most importantly 21st century weapons systems (Giunta, 2015).

Whether or not these governments are breaching human rights is not important, in the sense that we should not be the ones to decide on the issue. Not only that, but it is almost impossible to ascertain the truth of the allegations because of the propaganda-nature of capitalist media. If these governments are to be toppled, it must be by the hands and minds of the working class in those countries, and not because of foreign intervention from Imperialist countries who are only interested in accessing new cheap sources of labour, expanding the financial market, and controlling abundant resources. Unfortunately because of dehumanisation, the populations living in these countries are reduced to unthinking slaves who need saving by the glorious white knight of Imperialism.

The Imperialist world stands on the brink of two new wars; One with Venezuela and the other with North Korea. By drawing on historical precedents in Africa, Latin America, and the Middle East, we already know what the result will be: An American installed dictator or puppet government loyal to the USA global agenda, the exploitation of these countries’ environments, resources, and their people, and the horrific deaths of millions of working class people. The rate of these manufactured wars is increasing as the instability of Imperialism grows, which creates yet more opportunities for resistance and socialism, another of the internal contradictions of the economic system (Harvey, 2015).

If we are to prevent this, the CPA and all progressive people in the Imperialist world need to reject the dehumanisation of Venezuela and North Korea, and launch our own propaganda war against the capitalist media and government, to reject the attempts at manufacturing consent. If the Australian government knew they would face a general strike in response to a new war, it would severely dampen their desire to engage in such a war. It is our duty and responsibility to support and defend the working class of the world.

“Our symbol is ... Caliban ... Prospero invaded the islands, killed our ancestors, enslaved Caliban, and taught him his language ... What is our history, what is our culture, if not the history and culture of Caliban?”


References

Bryan, K. (2017, 1st July). North Korea could be sitting on trillions of untapped mineral resources. [Weblog]. Retrieved 20 September 2017, from http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/asia/north-korea-trillions-mineral- resources-nuclear-iron-ore-a7818651.html

Chomsky, N & E, Herman. (2002). Manufacturing Consent: The Political Economy of the Mass Media. (New ed.). United States, Pantheon Books.

Cooper, J. (2017, 15th July). Hive Mind: How Third World immigration into the West threatens prosperity and progress for the whole world. [Weblog]. Retrieved 20 September 2017, from The UNZ Review.

Department of Industry. (2017). Australian Mineral Commodities. [Weblog]. Retrieved 20 September 2017, from Australian Government: Department of Industry, Innovation, and Science.

Esses, V, Medianu, S & Lawson, A. (2013). Uncertainty, Threat, and the role of the Media in promoting the Dehumanization of Immigrants and Refugees. Journal of Social Issues, 69(3), 518-536.

Fanon, F. (2014). The Wretched of the Earth. (Reprint ed.). United Kingdom: Penguin Classics.

Giunta, C. (2015, 6th May). Follow the minerals: Why the US is threatened by Venezuela’s “Blue Gold”. [Weblog]. Retrieved 20 September 2017, from Venezuela Analysis

Harvey, D. (2015). 17 Contradictions and the End of Capitalism. United Kingdom: Profile Books.

Jones, G. (2015). Hive Mind: How your Nation’s IQ matters so much more than your own. United States: Stanford University Press.

Killalea, D. (2017, 3rd July). North Korea is sitting on $6 trillion in mineral resources. [Weblog]. Retrieved 20 September 2017, from http://nypost.com/2017/07/03/north-korea-is-sitting-on-6-trillion-in-mineral-resources/

Macintyre, S & Clark, A. (2004). The History Wars. (2nd ed.). Australia: Melbourne University Press.

Marx, K. (2007). Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts of 1844. United States: Dover Publications.

Peters, R. (2017, 4th September). The moral answer to North Korea threats: Take them out! [Weblog]. Retrieved 20 September 2017, from New York Times

Retamar, et al. (1974). Caliban: Notes towards a Discussion of Culture in our Americas. The Massachusetts Review, 15(1), 7-72.

Reuters. (2017, 10th January). Venezuela 2016 imports down more than half to $18 billion: president. [Weblog]. Retrieved 20 September 2017, from Reuters

Smith, D. (2011). Less Than Human: Why We Demean, Enslave, and Exterminate Others. United States: Saint Martin’s Press.

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