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Letters

Vol. 22 No. 2 · 20 January 2000

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What’s wrong with the WTO

Michael Byers’s article on the lessons of Seattle (LRB, 6 January) managed to add to the already voluminous confusion on this subject, as much by what it did not say as what it did. It began with an accurate account of the way the WTO has failed sufficiently to advance the aspirations of the world’s poorest countries. It concluded with an approving nod to ‘the rise in power … of individual activists … educated, informed people concerned about some of the effects of economic globalisation’, many of them ‘retired professionals with time on their hands and access to the Internet’. The unwary reader might be misled by this into thinking that the triumph of the activists in Seattle will have helped right the wrongs of the developing countries with which his article began.

If only that were true. Poor countries have suffered under the WTO process principally because the results have not been as liberal as the rhetoric (on textiles and agriculture, for example). Most of the activists, though, are fighting against even the little liberalisation that has occurred. Calls for tighter labour and environmental standards have been spearheaded by such organisations as the AFL-CIO, whose concern for the welfare of foreign workers is of suspiciously recent date. They have realised that blatant protectionism is more palatable to feelgood moralists if dressed up as compassion.

Byers may feel that honing the IT skills of rich-country activists is an achievement that compensates for the damage done to millions of the world’s poor by the Seattle debacle. But he says nothing about this damage, except for a sneer about the ‘experts’ who ‘refuse even to discuss the merits’ of the writings of Adam Smith and David Ricardo by whom they are inspired. He may be interested to know that there has been some research on these issues since Ricardo’s time (indeed they are some of the most discussed questions in modern economics). It can no longer seriously be disputed that there is a strong link between openness to trade and economic growth in the medium to long term. How much this growth helps the poor depends on other things, of course. In East Asia, where trade has grown fast, poverty has been reduced very much more than in South Asia and Africa, which have remained more closed. East Asia has also benefited from high investment in education, but no one can seriously suggest there would have been less poverty if the region had been less open to trade.

On the contrary, throughout the world, such investments in education are themselves encouraged by the desire to attract multinational investment. One of the myths resounding through Seattle was that multinationals fly to where labour is cheap and governments weak. This is demonstrably false: the world’s cheapest labour and weakest governments are in sub-Saharan Africa, where multinational investment is negligible. Multinationals fly instead to where labour is most productive given its cost, and the evidence is unambiguous, everywhere from Ireland to Malaysia, that government spending on education and training attracts such firms rather than driving them away. They don’t come out of altruism, of course, but the education and training their presence encourages turn out to be the best assurance that economic growth will have a beneficial impact on the poor.

Just as it is troubling to those who romanticise the world struggle between labour and capital to realise that the interests of workers in America may conflict with those of workers in Africa, it comes as a surprise to many to realise that the most effective check on the power of one unaccountable corporation is often another corporation, and barriers to trade have been the saving of many a beleaguered cartel. Both globalisation and corporate accountability raise big and difficult issues, but simplistic analyses will not resolve them. Bill Clinton’s cynical sabotaging of the WTO talks will have cost the world’s poor far more than any benefit they will derive from his vapid scheme for debt cancellation.

Paul Seabright
Cambridge University

Michael Byers says that the negotiations towards a Multilateral Agreement on Investment ‘quickly attracted the attention of non-governmental organisations … in part because the OECD decided to be very open about the negotiations – going so far as to post various drafts on the Internet’. He is too generous to the OECD. The negotiations were conducted in secret from their beginning in 1995 until January 1997, when a draft was leaked to a Canadian NGO. Bootleg copies were then distributed via the Internet, starting an international campaign and forcing the OECD to post its official version on its website.

Brian Fewster
Leicester

A very feather upon the face!

It is good to be reminded by Amit Chaudhuri that the colonial encounter between the British and Indians before 1870 involved a traffic in ideas as well as simple exploitation (LRB, 6 January). Indians were not passive victims of empire. They quickly forged their own literary and political tools with which to challenge the colonial view of modernity. Readers should not be misled into thinking, however, that there is anything very novel about Chaudhuri’s exposition of Indian social and intellectual history. There is a massive body of relevant historical work dating in particular from the Eighties. It is a travesty to suggest that Indian histories of this period are still a ‘blank’, consisting of little more than the work of the classical Indologists and ‘certain episodes in the Nationalist movement’. My colleagues in Calcutta, Delhi, Chicago and London would doubtless be happy to post him their basic undergraduate reading lists. But, in the meantime, one might point to the wide range of work which has been done on the positive as well as negative relationships between Indian literati and Western Orientalists and teachers. Beginning with the work of David Kopf and Blair Kling in the Sixties, the relationship between British Orientalism and the so-called Bengal Renaissance has been carefully explored. For instance, Sumit Sarkar’s brilliant essays on these issues have deplored the way in which many Indian intellectuals responded to Western educational projects by resorting to a monolithic interpretation of Hinduism. Richard Fox Young has shown how orthodox Hindu learned men kept up a barrage of criticism in Sanskrit against British polemics on Indian cosmology and religion. Other historians and literary scholars, from S.R. Kidwai to Javed Majeed, Christopher King and David Lelyveld, have worked on the formation and standardisation of Hindi, Urdu and other regional languages. In fact every theme that Chaudhuri cites has been discussed and debated at length. Two general points are worth making. First, much of this work has been published in relatively obscure journals and biographies in English or in Bengali and other regional languages by modest scholars who have no recourse to Western literary journals or to the international conference circuit. They should not be neglected for this reason. Second, in the days when historians occupied the high ground of debate in the humanities, literature and creative writing were often condemned to a few poorly-researched paragraphs of generality towards the end of a large tome. Now that novelists and literary critics have supposedly occupied that high ground, it would be a pity if they were to display a similar hubris in regard to history.

C.A. Bayly
St Catharine’s College, Cambridge

Amit Chaudhuri writes that ‘the British Empire may have showered Kipling with honours’ and later refers to his ‘public honours’. In fact no writer was ever more scrupulous about rejecting honours, public or imperial. Among others, he refused to become the Poet Laureate, a Companion of Honour, a knight (he was offered both the KCB and the KCMG) or a Member of the British Academy. He also twice turned down George V’s offer of the Order of Merit. Second, he writes that Kipling’s parents sent their son to ‘a private tutorial home in Devon when he was seven, where he was tortured by his landlady and her son, until rescued by his mother and taken back to India’. In fact he was sent to a boarding-house in Hampshire when he was five, rescued by his mother when he was 11 and sent to a public school in Devon just after his 12th birthday. He returned to India by himself at the age of 16. Third, Chaudhuri argues that the defeat of the Ilbert Bill ‘would have given Indian magistrates the right to try Englishmen’. In fact restrictions on senior Indian magistrates trying British subjects on criminal charges in the major cities had been removed in 1877, and the Ilbert Bill (which was modified not defeated in 1883) maintained that principle in the rest of the country, even if in practice it was largely negated by the concession that the accused could insist on trial by a jury, at least half of whose members would be British. Fourth, Chaudhuri quotes the notorious line ‘Oh, East is East and West is West, and never the twain shall meet’ to suggest that Kipling believed that peoples from different sides of the globe would never understand each other. But the concluding lines of the poem assert that men of similar courage and ability can be equals despite differences of class, race, nation and continent. Finally, Chaudhuri says that Kipling was ‘a spokesman for a particularly unpleasant racial theory’ and often a ‘deranged racial supremacist’. During two years’ research into Kipling’s ideas on race, politics and empire, I have found no evidence that he formulated any such theory or that he was the spokesman for anyone else’s.

David Gilmour
Edinburgh

Who’s a clot?

One cavil against Frank Kermode’s critically timely and characteristically judicious defence of Shakespeare as dramatic literature (LRB, 9 December 1999): Cloten’s fourfold iteration of Imogen’s appeal to her husband’s ‘meanest garment’ seems to suggest less her suitor’s incomprehension than his understanding all too well that she has ‘abused’ his princeliness. The clot just can’t believe that she can have insulted him so.

Murray Biggs
Yale University

A Ripple of the Polonaise

Timothy Garton Ash protests that statesmen like Clinton or Major surely bear more blame for the fate of Yugoslavia than a commentator like himself (Letters, 6 January). Of course. But my judgment that ‘if any individual voice in the public realm bears a measure of responsibility for the tragic inversion of priorities as Yugoslavia slid towards the abyss, it would be his’ does not confuse rulers with powers of political decision over the action of states, and writers with influence on public opinion. Heads of government do not act as individuals, and are not mere voices. They command massive material forces. As it happens, no one called as repeatedly and outspokenly as Garton Ash for aid and attention to be concentrated on ‘Central Europe’ at the expense of the Balkans, in the first half of the Nineties. But this is itself not relevant to the verdict in question, which is clearly a comparative judgment about publicists rather than politicians. It can be argued that no individual voice, his or any other, could have had any effect on the fate of Eastern Europe in these years. That is why the sentence is a conditional. Such a conclusion, however, would obviously be self-defeating for a political writer.

Garton Ash also objects to my discussion of Zbigniew Brzezinski’s vision of Europe, as without place in a review of his own work. On no evidence at all, he writes, I have identified his own opinions with those of Brzezinski. Here his reading has failed him, since I expressly pointed to differences between the two. The reason Brzezinski’s Grand Chessboard has a direct bearing on History of the Present is not that they are equivalent, but that the former confronts issues that the latter avoids, yet programmatically entails. Garton Ash expresses satisfaction that the ‘argument for Nato enlargement has been won’. But his book offers no word to explain why this fateful expansion was necessary. At the same time, it ends by telling us we must ‘see Europe plain and see it whole’, while saying nothing at all about the premier European power, the United States. In this double silence, we have a right to ask: so what were the arguments that won the day for pushing Nato forward to the Bug – who made them, in the name of which logic? The answer to that question takes us directly to the case made most cogently by Brzezinski, for the calculus of American power in Europe. If Garton Ash fundamentally disagreed with it, he has had plenty of opportunity to express his differences. A reader of History of the Present would search in vain for them. But if we are told to see Europe whole, we are entitled to take the injunction seriously: that is why it is not out of order, but fairand accurate, to say of The Grand Chessboard that ‘by and large this is the outer frame of the landscape sketched in History of the Present, in the real world.’

Christopher Hitchens demurs at another point I touched on. It is a canard, he writes, to say that George Orwell ever supplied officialdom with a secret list of suspect acquaintances: ‘one could hardly get more errors – or innuendos – into so few words.’ For the list was open, not secret; shared with friends, not sent to officials; and included virtually nobody Orwell knew personally. Indeed, far from being of any ominous intent, ‘it was actually more of a party game, played by himself and his friend Richard Rees.’

The facts are these. On 29 March 1949 Celia Kirwan, a former flame, visited Orwell in Cranham. Employed by British Intelligence (the Information Research Department set up by the Foreign Office for ‘an effective counter-offensive against Communism’), she reported to her superiors the next day that she had ‘discussed some aspects of our work with him in great confidence, and he was delighted to learn of them’. Case-officer Lt Colonel Sheridan annotated her account. A week later, on 6 April, Orwell wrote to Richard Rees asking him to locate and send from his former residence ‘a quarto notebook with a pale-bluish cardboard cover’ containing ‘a list of crypto-Communists and fellow-travellers which I want to bring up to date’. Once in possession of the notebook, Orwell wrote on 2 May to Kirwan, ‘I enclose a list with about 35 names,’ adding: ‘I don’t suppose it will tell your friends anything they don’t know. At the same time it isn’t a bad idea to have people who are probably unreliable listed.’ Fearful of disclosure, since ‘even as it stands I imagine this list is very libellous,’ he insisted it be returned to him without fail.

It is thus quite clear that Richard Rees first learnt of the existence of the notebook from Orwell’s letter to him; that Orwell had promised Kirwan to produce a list from it as assistance to ‘her friends’, of whose identity as an apparatus of surveillance he was in no doubt; and that he was very anxious to keep the list hidden. In this he was successful. To this day, the target-list he sent Kirwan of his prime suspects is a state secret (or, as the editor of his Complete Works delicately puts it, ‘a card has been placed in the PRO file holding Orwell’s correspondence with Celia Kirwan indicating that a document has been withheld by the Foreign Office’). In that sense, we don’t know exactly how many personal acquaintances of Orwell it contained. But that we can be sure it included a good number is clear from the larger list that fills the notebook, which abounds with fellow writers for Tribune, London literary figures, political trouble-makers of all kinds, with unequivocally personal judgments attached. Who doubts that Orwell knew Stephen Spender, C. Day Lewis, Isaac Deutscher, Tom Driberg, Kingsley Martin etc? With 99 suspects laid out in Volume XX of the Complete Works before us, we are still not privy to the full scope of Orwell’s vigilance, since the editor in turn has withheld another 36 names for fear of contemporary libel.

The nature of the list, even with truncations, speaks for itself. Enumerating his suspects, Orwell did not just classify degrees of political unreliability. Racial origin, national outlook, sexual orientation, even physical deficiency, feature as well. Chaplin is ‘Jewish?’; Deutscher a ‘Polish Jew’; Mikardo ‘Jewish?’; Zilliacus ‘Finnish? Jewish?’; Zuckermann ‘an English Jew’; Cedric Dover a ‘Eurasian’; Robeson a ‘US Negro – very anti-white’. Priestley and A.J.P. Taylor are ‘anti-American’; Hugh McDiarmid ‘very anti-English’. Spender tends towards ‘homosexuality’ and Driberg is a ‘homosexual’; G.D.H. Cole is not just ‘shallow’ and a ‘sympathiser’, but a ‘diabetic’ to boot. Of course, the sheer outlandishness of a roll-call in which such improbable figures as Orson Welles, Janet Flanner, P.M.S. Blackett, not to speak of Fiorello LaGuardia and Senator Claude Pepper from Florida, even make an appearance, could be regarded as mitigating the gravamen of the list. But annotations such as these would have been familiar fare to the functionaries who filed them. It is a case where the French phrase invites a North American response: si ça marche comme un canard et ça crie comme un canard, camarade, c’est bel et bien un canard.

The political convictions that led Orwell to his collaboration with British Intelligence are no mystery – he was trying to get the Voice of America and the US Army of Occupation in Germany to finance the dissemination of his work at the same time. Many would regard his action as no more than patriotic duty. But it is quite possible to respect his memory – Christopher Hitchens has often written warmly of him – without approving his service to the secret state, just as one can admire Raymond Aron, a more substantial thinker, despite his collusion with the Algerian War. What isn’t possible is to wish away the record. Neither will stand up as examples of intellectuals who had no truck with power.

Perry Anderson
London N1

Maiden Lady (and proud of it)

In her review of the two biographies of Elizabeth David, Rosemary Hill (LRB, 9 December 1999) describes David’s sister Felicité Gwynne as ‘a somewhat pathetic figure who typed her sister’s books, helped with the research and admired her success without aspiring to it’. This is a sad reduction of Felicité’s life and spirit. Felicité was devoted to ED’s work but she was equally devoted to her own work at John Sandoe’s bookshop in Chelsea, which she helped found. There her large personality captivated those who appreciated the larger than life and dismayed the rest. I had the pleasure of working at Sandoe’s during most of the Seventies and found her a sometimes difficult colleague and an enlarging friend. She could be terrifying. Once a hapless customer spoke of me to her as her ‘son’. She threw the books she was holding to the floor and announced: ‘I have remained a maiden lady out of choice, not necessity, and will not have spare children wished upon me by passers-by!’ We didn’t see that customer again for a while.

David Cronin
New York

Unreliable Friends

Has David Dyzenhaus (Letters, 25 November 1999) actually read Anthea Jeffery’s book on the work of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission? Has he read the TRC Report itself? I note that he lives in nice, safe, and overwhelmingly white and wealthy Canada, a country with one of the most restrictive immigration policies in the world. I quote from Felipe Fernandez-Armesto’s book Millennium.

Most of the really successful and enduring colonies which Europeans founded outside Europe to be, like South Africa, new “home countries" of their own – in what became North America, Siberia, Australia, and the South American cone – succeeded by extruding or exterminating, massacring or marginalising the indigenous peoples. South Africa’s history of mastering and exploiting native and neighbouring sources of labour looks positively benevolent by comparison. There are and can be no Native American or Aboriginal or Samoyed equivalents of the ANC.

Perhaps as David Dyzenhaus tucks into his morning bowl of Wheaties, he would care to reflect on Hitler’s comment on the plan to resettle the Ukraine with 100 million Volksdeutsche farmers: ‘When we eat wheat from Canada, we don’t think about the despoiled Indians.’

Neil Wilson
Cape Town

The real problem with Anthony Sampson’s ‘authorised biography’ of Nelson Mandela is that the discussion which has been taking place in the letters pages of the LRB should have taken place in his book. Sampson records that when Mandela’s notes were seized by the police in 1963, they were found to contain, in addition to ‘titbits’ about war from Field Marshal Montgomery and about political leadership from Harry Truman, 62 pages of Stalinist Marxism, including a passage from Stalin’s Foundations of Leninism. Sampson quotes Mandela’s own comment: ‘Under a CP government, South Africa will become a land of milk and honey … There will be no unemployment, starvation and disease.’ What Sampson does not do is discuss this. There is no serious effort to get into Mandela’s mind, or his life, at the time he wrote these words. Whether or not Mandela had actually joined the South African Communist Party, or was contemplating doing so, or was trying to gain a deeper understanding of his political allies, or had some other motive – these were questions for a biographer to explore.

Sampson does Mandela, and Southern Africa, and his readers a substantial disservice with this hands-off approach. There is no reference in his book to the prison camps set up in exile by the ANC and the SACP to house their own dissident members although there were a substantial number of them, especially after the mutiny in the ANC army in Angola in 1984, another subject not raised by Sampson. Yet after his release from prison in February 1990, Mandela had a largely honourable role in this matter. When I visited Johannesburg a few weeks later, I was told by Eddie Koch of the Weekly Mail that Mandela had in his presence defended the right of the magazine to publish details of abuses in prison camps run in exile by the Namibian nationalist party, Swapo, despite angry recriminations against Koch and the Weekly Mail from young ANC militants who were meeting Mandela. Two months later, in April, the first publicly verifiable report of torture and executions in ANC camps, particularly at Quatro camp in Angola, appeared in the now defunct Sunday Correspondent. Shortly afterwards, Mandela made the first public acknowledgment by an ANC leader that torture had indeed taken place in exile. In September 1991 Mandela, on behalf of the ANC, appointed a three-person commission of inquiry, headed by a barrister, Thembile Louis Skweyiya, into abuses that had taken place within the organisation in exile. As I reported in the exile magazine Searchlight South Africa in April 1993, Mandela’s action was the outcome of a ‘very sharp conflict’ within the National Executive Committee of the ANC between ‘internal’ leaders who wanted to know what had happened in exile in order to avoid scandal in the coming election campaign, and exile leaders who wanted to keep this secret. Decisively, Mandela ‘gave his support to those in favour of holding the inquiry and, later, of publishing its report; and this grouping prevailed’. Nothing on this topic appears in Sampson’s book, despite the report of the Skweyiya Commission (August 1992), a report by Amnesty International in December 1992 and the report of a further ANC inquiry headed by Dr Sam Motsuenyane (August 1993), and the findings of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission which Mandela’s successor, President Mbeki, one of the leaders in exile, tried to suppress.

Paul Trewhela
Aylesbury

<em>Uncle Ben’s Review of Books</em>

In the issue of the LRB dated 9 December 1999, the notification of a price rise is combined with two mentions of Uncle Ben’s Rice – one revealing that Elizabeth David ‘quite liked’ it, raising the suspicion that the London Review now looks to product placement to pay the rent.

James Thomson
Brush Prairie, Washington

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