The Social Wars (courtesy Le Monde Diplomatique)
Ignacio Ramonet is Editor of the prestigious French publication, “Le Monde Diplomatique.”
In this op-ed piece for LeMonde, Ramonet debunks conventional wisdom that since 9/11, a new kind of violence is sweeping the planet. The French writer claims that compared to the last 25 years “almost all the radical protest groups engaged in armed struggle then have disappeared. And most of the high- and low-intensity conflicts that each year caused tens of thousands of deaths across the world have now passed into history.”
However, he warns us that the disappearance of armed rebellion by the poor of the world may soon be over. “It is not yet political violence. But we all suspect that it might be a lull before a storm. How long will it last?” Ignacio Ramonet asks. Read and reflect.
SINCE September 2001 and the war in Afghanistan people feel the world has
been dominated by political violence and terrorism. For over a year the
press has created an atmosphere of fear with images of bombings, massacres,
Hardly a week seems to pass without bloodshed in the world – Israel, Bali,
Karachi, Moscow, Yemen, Palestine. It feels as if a hurricane of conflict of
a new kind is sweeping the planet, and as if we face the prospect of a war
against terrorism even more cruel than the wars that preceded it – a war in
which the American invasion of Iraq will be merely one episode.
This impression is false. In fact, political violence has never been at such
a low ebb. Politically motivated insurrections, wars and conflicts have
rarely been so few. Surprising though it may seem, and contrary to the media
impression, the world is actually a calm and largely pacified place.
Look at the present geopolitical landscape and compare it with 25 or 30
years ago. Almost all the radical protest groups engaged in armed struggle
then have disappeared. And most of the high- and low-intensity conflicts
that each year caused tens of thousands of deaths across the world have now
passed into history.
Almost all the troubled zones fired by the Marxist project for creating a
better world have either been, or are on the way to being, extinguished.
There are now only a dozen or so focuses of violence worldwide: the whole of
the Middle East, Colombia, the Basque country, Chechnya, the Ivory Coast,
Sudan, Congo, Kashmir, Nepal, Sri Lanka, the Philippines. Admittedly,
radical Islam, devoted to the armed struggle, has appeared and moved to
centre stage. But even the spectacular actions of Islamic fundamentalism
cannot hide the fact that political armed struggle is far less widespread.
There are obviously other forms of violence at work. We could begin with the
economic violence perpetrated against the world with free-market
globalisation: the violence of the rulers against the ruled. Inequality is
reaching extraordinary proportions. Half of humanity lives in poverty, and a
third in misery; 800m people suffer from malnutrition; almost a billion are
illiterate; a billion and a half have no access to safe water; two billion
do not have electricity.
And incredible as it may seem, these billions of wretched of the earth are
keeping politically quiet. This is a great paradox of our time: we have more
people in poverty but less people in revolt than ever before. Can this
continue? Probably not.
Because Marxism is exhausted as an international motor of social struggle,
the world is in transition. We are in a phase between two cycles of
political revolution. Social injustice is more outrageous than ever, and
partly as a result of this other kinds of violence are extreme. In
particular the violence of the poor against the poor, and primitive forms of
revolt (1) expressed in illegality, criminality and insecurity. Little by
little, in one country after another, these moments of violence and revolt
are taking on the characteristics of what we could call social war.
Thirty years ago in Latin America and other parts of the world, a young man
with a gun might have enrolled in a political organisation committed to
armed struggle as a way of bettering the lot of humanity. Today a young man
with a gun would think first of himself, and viewing himself as a victim of
the way that the ruling classes have reneged on the social contract, he
might decide to break that contract by robbing a bank or shop. In Argentina
the rate of criminality has quadrupled since the big economic crisis began
in December 2001 and pauperised the middle classes
In Brazil, one of the most inequitable countries in the world – where the
electorate has just voted massively to elect the candidate of the poor,
Inacio “Lula” Da Silva, to the presidency – the scale of this social war is
extraordinary. In Rio de Janeiro alone, more under-18-year-olds were killed
by bullets between 1987 and 2000 than in all the conflicts in Colombia,
Yugoslavia, Sierra Leone, Afghanistan, Israel and Palestine put together.
During the past 13 years 1,000 young people have died in the confrontation
between the Israelis and the Palestinians; in the same period 3,937 were
murdered in Rio (2).
Faced with this rising tide of what the media calls insecurity, several
countries – including Mexico, Colombia, Nigeria and South Africa – now spend
more on fighting this social war than on national defence. Brazil spends 2%
of GDP on its armed forces and more than 10.6% on protecting the rich
against the despair of the poor.
The great lesson of the history of humanity is that in the long term people
will always revolt against worsening inequality. The present rise, in North
and South, of illegality and criminality, often primitive and archaic
manifestations of social agitation, is a clear sign that the world’s poorest
have had enough of social injustice. It is not yet political violence. But
we all suspect that it might be a lull before a storm. How long will it
(1) See Eric Hobsbawm, Primitive Rebels: Studies in archaic forms of social
movement in the 19th and 20th centuries, Praeger, New York 1959.
(2) El PaÃs, 11 September 2001.
Translated by Ed Emery