Corporate Imperialism

Corporations have always been forms or aspects of governments, agents and manifestations of state power. The earliest corporate charters were given to colonial governments that often were simultaneously for-profit business ventures and were operated accordingly — typically dependent on free stolen land and resources combined with a cheap workforce of impoverished immigrants, convict labor, indentured servants, and slaves. That is the origin of modern capitalism.

By definition, a corporation is a political entity and institution, a creature of government. A corporate charter is a legal and political construction offering legal rights and privileges that are protected and enforced by official authority and, when necessary, violent force. In some cases, from the East India Company ruling India to the American Robber Barons ruling company towns, corporations have operated their own policing and employed their own goons. And as long as political reform or populist revolution doesn’t take them out of power, they eventually become fully functioning governments.

Essentially, a corporation is no different than a central bank, an alphabet soup agency, a political party, etc. In fact, many regulatory agencies are captured by and act on the behalf of corporations, not on behalf of the people or their elected representatives. Even from the beginning, it was never clear whether corporations were entities beholden to governments or a new kind of governing body and political organization. The struggle between colonial corporations and the colonial empires was often about which elite held ultimate power, only later involving local populations attempting to seize power for self-governance. The American Revolution, for example, was as much a revolt against a corporation as it was against an empire.

We are living at a time when the majority (about two third) of the largest economies in the world are transnational corporations. These new corporations are not only seizing the power of governments or otherwise pulling the strings behind the scenes: bribery, blackmail, cronyism, etc. Acting beyond the level of nation-states, they are creating something entirely new — a global network of corporate governance that lacks any and all democratic procedure, transparency, and accountability.

Once colonial imperialism asserted itself, it was inevitable what corporations would become. The early ideology of corporatism had its origins in the Catholic Church, another vast transnational institution. But now corporations serve no other master than raw power, which is to say authoritarianism — national corporatocracy growing into an even more fearsome predator, transnational inverted totalitarianism ruled by psychopaths, dominators, and narcissists.

As our new Lord and Savior Donald Trump demonstrates, a successful plutocrat and kleptocrat can declare bankruptcy numerous times over decades and still maintain his position of immense wealth while using that wealth to buy political influence and position (with decades of ties to foreign oligarchs and crime syndicates involving apparent money laundering, only now being investigated but probably with no real consequences). Before Trump, it was Ronald Reagan who went from radio sportscaster to Hollywood actor to corporate spokesperson to politician to the most powerful man in the world. But if not a cult of media personality like that surrounding Reagan or Trump, we would be instead be ruled by an internet tycoon like Jeff Bezos (with his ties to the CIA and Pentagon) or a tech tycoon like Peter Thiel (with his dreams of utopian technocracy)— the results would be similar, an ever increasing accumulation of wealth and concentration of power.

Even more concerning are the powerful interests and dark money that operate behind the scenes, the Koch brothers and Mercer families of the world, the most successful of them remaining hidden from public disclosure and news reporting. The emergent corporate imperialism isn’t limited to individuals but crony networks of establishment power, political dynasties, and vast inherited wealth; along with lobbyist organizations, think tanks, front groups, big biz media, etc.

The money men (they are mostly men and, of course, white) are the celebrities and idols of the present corporatist world in the way those in past eras admired, worshipped, and bowed down to popes, monarchs, and aristocrats. This 21st century ruling elite, including the puppet masters that keep the show going, is as untouchable as that of the ancien regime and in many ways more powerful if more covert than the East India Company, that is until a new revolutionary era comes. There isn’t much room for hope. In all of these centuries of struggle between various ruling elites, democracy for all its rhetoric remains a dream yet to be made real, a promise yet to be fulfilled.

* * *

The East India Company: The original corporate raiders
by William Dalrymple

It seemed impossible that a single London corporation, however ruthless and aggressive, could have conquered an empire that was so magnificently strong, so confident in its own strength and brilliance and effortless sense of beauty.

Historians propose many reasons: the fracturing of Mughal India into tiny, competing states; the military edge that the industrial revolution had given the European powers. But perhaps most crucial was the support that the East India Company enjoyed from the British parliament. The relationship between them grew steadily more symbiotic throughout the 18th century. Returned nabobs like Clive used their wealth to buy both MPs and parliamentary seats – the famous Rotten Boroughs. In turn, parliament backed the company with state power: the ships and soldiers that were needed when the French and British East India Companies trained their guns on each other. […]

In September, the governor of India’s central bank, Raghuram Rajan, made a speech in Mumbai expressing his anxieties about corporate money eroding the integrity of parliament: “Even as our democracy and our economy have become more vibrant,” he said, “an important issue in the recent election was whether we had substituted the crony socialism of the past with crony capitalism, where the rich and the influential are alleged to have received land, natural resources and spectrum in return for payoffs to venal politicians. By killing transparency and competition, crony capitalism is harmful to free enterprise, and economic growth. And by substituting special interests for the public interest, it is harmful to democratic expression.

His anxieties were remarkably like those expressed in Britain more than 200 years earlier, when the East India Company had become synonymous with ostentatious wealth and political corruption: “What is England now?” fumed the Whig litterateur Horace Walpole, “A sink of Indian wealth.” In 1767 the company bought off parliamentary opposition by donating £400,000 to the Crown in return for its continued right to govern Bengal. But the anger against it finally reached ignition point on 13 February 1788, at the impeachment, for looting and corruption, of Clive’s successor as governor of Bengal, Warren Hastings. It was the nearest the British ever got to putting the EIC on trial, and they did so with one of their greatest orators at the helm – Edmund Burke.

Burke, leading the prosecution, railed against the way the returned company “nabobs” (or “nobs”, both corruptions of the Urdu word “Nawab”) were buying parliamentary influence, not just by bribing MPs to vote for their interests, but by corruptly using their Indian plunder to bribe their way into parliamentary office: “To-day the Commons of Great Britain prosecutes the delinquents of India,” thundered Burke, referring to the returned nabobs. “Tomorrow these delinquents of India may be the Commons of Great Britain.”

Burke thus correctly identified what remains today one of the great anxieties of modern liberal democracies: the ability of a ruthless corporation corruptly to buy a legislature. And just as corporations now recruit retired politicians in order to exploit their establishment contacts and use their influence, so did the East India Company. So it was, for example, that Lord Cornwallis, the man who oversaw the loss of the American colonies to Washington, was recruited by the EIC to oversee its Indian territories. As one observer wrote: “Of all human conditions, perhaps the most brilliant and at the same time the most anomalous, is that of the Governor General of British India. A private English gentleman, and the servant of a joint-stock company, during the brief period of his government he is the deputed sovereign of the greatest empire in the world; the ruler of a hundred million men; while dependant kings and princes bow down to him with a deferential awe and submission. There is nothing in history analogous to this position …”

Hastings survived his impeachment, but parliament did finally remove the EIC from power following the great Indian Uprising of 1857, some 90 years after the granting of the Diwani and 60 years after Hastings’s own trial. On 10 May 1857, the EIC’s own security forces rose up against their employer and on successfully crushing the insurgency, after nine uncertain months, the company distinguished itself for a final time by hanging and murdering tens of thousands of suspected rebels in the bazaar towns that lined the Ganges – probably the most bloody episode in the entire history of British colonialism.

Enough was enough. The same parliament that had done so much to enable the EIC to rise to unprecedented power, finally gobbled up its own baby. The British state, alerted to the dangers posed by corporate greed and incompetence, successfully tamed history’s most voracious corporation. In 1859, it was again within the walls of Allahabad Fort that the governor general, Lord Canning, formally announced that the company’s Indian possessions would be nationalised and pass into the control of the British Crown. Queen Victoria, rather than the directors of the EIC would henceforth be ruler of India. […]

For the corporation – a revolutionary European invention contemporaneous with the beginnings of European colonialism, and which helped give Europe its competitive edge – has continued to thrive long after the collapse of European imperialism. When historians discuss the legacy of British colonialism in India, they usually mention democracy, the rule of law, railways, tea and cricket. Yet the idea of the joint-stock company is arguably one of Britain’s most important exports to India, and the one that has for better or worse changed South Asia as much any other European idea. Its influence certainly outweighs that of communism and Protestant Christianity, and possibly even that of democracy.

Companies and corporations now occupy the time and energy of more Indians than any institution other than the family. This should come as no surprise: as Ira Jackson, the former director of Harvard’s Centre for Business and Government, recently noted, corporations and their leaders have today “displaced politics and politicians as … the new high priests and oligarchs of our system”. Covertly, companies still govern the lives of a significant proportion of the human race.

The 300-year-old question of how to cope with the power and perils of large multinational corporations remains today without a clear answer: it is not clear how a nation state can adequately protect itself and its citizens from corporate excess. As the international subprime bubble and bank collapses of 2007-2009 have so recently demonstrated, just as corporations can shape the destiny of nations, they can also drag down their economies. In all, US and European banks lost more than $1tn on toxic assets from January 2007 to September 2009. What Burke feared the East India Company would do to England in 1772 actually happened to Iceland in 2008-11, when the systemic collapse of all three of the country’s major privately owned commercial banks brought the country to the brink of complete bankruptcy. A powerful corporation can still overwhelm or subvert a state every bit as effectively as the East India Company did in Bengal in 1765.

Corporate influence, with its fatal mix of power, money and unaccountability, is particularly potent and dangerous in frail states where corporations are insufficiently or ineffectually regulated, and where the purchasing power of a large company can outbid or overwhelm an underfunded government. This would seem to have been the case under the Congress government that ruled India until last year. Yet as we have seen in London, media organisations can still bend under the influence of corporations such as HSBC – while Sir Malcolm Rifkind’s boast about opening British embassies for the benefit of Chinese firms shows that the nexus between business and politics is as tight as it has ever been.

The East India Company no longer exists, and it has, thankfully, no exact modern equivalent. Walmart, which is the world’s largest corporation in revenue terms, does not number among its assets a fleet of nuclear submarines; neither Facebook nor Shell possesses regiments of infantry. Yet the East India Company – the first great multinational corporation, and the first to run amok – was the ultimate model for many of today’s joint-stock corporations. The most powerful among them do not need their own armies: they can rely on governments to protect their interests and bail them out. The East India Company remains history’s most terrifying warning about the potential for the abuse of corporate power – and the insidious means by which the interests of shareholders become those of the state. Three hundred and fifteen years after its founding, its story has never been more current.

 

Just Another Day in an Evil Corporation

“We have all been trained to identify more closely with the abusive personal and social dynamics we call civilization than with our own life and the lives of those around us, including the landbase. People will do anything—go to any absurd length—to hide the abuse from themselves and everyone around them. Everything about this culture—and I mean everything—from its absurd “entertainment” to its equally absurd “philosophy” to its politics to its science to its interspecies relations to its intrahuman relations is all about protecting the abusive dynamics.”
 ~ Derrick Jensen, Endgame

I noticed the following clear example of corporate propaganda. It starts off seeming like a real news report, but it becomes clear that this is just corporate news rationalizing away corporate wrongdoing. I don’t know if there is a direct conflict of interest. It could just be institutionalized bias in giving big business the benefit of the doubt even when the evidence is damning.

I was able to see this as corporate propaganda because I’d already seen other reports about it from sources outside of the mainstream. What caught my attention was the info left out and the way the reported info was spun. Several details I recall (hopefully I’m recalling correctly) from the other news report are:

  • The workers have long days (as I recall something like up to 15 hr days) which would, of course, be illegal in the US.
  • The workers have high quotas and are penalized if they don’t meet those quotas.
  • The workers have high incidents of repetitive injury which causes them to lose their jobs at high rates and I’m sure they don’t have disability compensation like we have in the US.
  • The workers are the poorest of the poor in a society that has almost no opportunity for the poor.
  • The workers have families who depend on their paychecks.

To be fair, this news report did report one unpleasant truth. They mentioned that the managers had a history of abusing workers.

These workers are young people from rural areas. This is their first employment and first time away from family. They are simultaneously isolated from everything they knew and they are surrounded by strangers. In fact, they are forced to live in a room with eight other workers and so have no personal space or time to themselves. They have little chance to make friends as they’re constantly working and there is high turnover. The factory is entirely enclosed and so the workers have their entire lives controlled by the corporation. Worse still, this oppressive factory exists in one of the most oppressive countries in the developed world. These workers have little if any legal recourse and I truly doubt they have union representation. These are just poor people to be used up in a year or two and then replaced (like cogs in a machine) by an endless supply of the desperately poor.

All of this is done to create cheap products for rich people around the world. Foxconn makes parts for companies such as Apple (iPhone and iPad), Dell, Hewlett-Packard, and Nokia.

The news report wasn’t half bad for corporate media. They were honest about some of the issues, but they had to spin it right at the end. Suicide cluster? They compare it to angsty teenagers who commit suicide because other angsty teenagers had committed suicide. They have got to be kidding. If they’re going to be in the business of corporate propaganda, they need to do a better job than that.

For more detailed info, here is the section from the Wikipedia article on Foxconn:

In June 2006, allegations of Foxconn operating abusive employment practices came to light as reported by Mail that were later denied by Foxconn.[8][9] Apple launched an investigation into these claims.[10] The result was that the claims of mistreatment of employees were judged by the Apple inspection team to be largely unfounded, but the inspection team also discovered that at peak production times some of the employees were working more hours than Apple’s acceptable “Code of Conduct” limit of 60 hours and 25% of the time workers did not get at least one day off each week.[11] These same workers complained there were not enough overtime work during off peak periods. The auditing team also discovered that workers had been punished by being made to stand at attention for extended periods,[12] and junior employees were subjected to military-style drills.[13]

Foxconn admitted that it makes workers do an extra 80 hours overtime per month while the local labor law only permits 36 hours[14] Foxconn sued Wang You and Weng Bao of China Business News, the journalists responsible for revealing these practices, for $3.77 million and filed a successful court ruling to have the journalists’ assets frozen.[15] Some disagree with the demands and the court ruling.[16] Reporters Without Borders sent a letter to Apple Computer CEO Steve Jobs to implore Foxconn to drop the case.[17] Later Foxconn reduced the demand to a symbolic 1 yuan (12 U.S. cents), withdrew the request to freeze the journalists’ personal assets and initiated legal proceedings to sue their employer.[citation needed]

In a conversation between a Reuters journalist who had visited the Foxconn factory and a BBC interviewer broadcast on 27th May 2010,[18] the Reuters journalist commented that “many workers told us that throughout their shift…they are not allowed to speak at all, so there is absolutely no conversation at all between workers during their shift”.

It obviously annoyed me that this was corporate propaganda at worst and corporate spin at best. However, what specifically annoyed me was that this was just another day in the world of capitalism. Our wealth is built on immense suffering. Factories like this exist all over the world. People are abused by management, driven to suicide and harmed by unsafe working conditions. They’re poor when get these jobs and they’re poor after the company gets rid of them (if they don’t get rid of themselves first).

The same mentality that allows Foxconn to operate as it does also allows BP to operate the way it has been operating. While the rich get richer, the poor suffer and the environment is destroyed. This is how capitalism operates, how it has always operated.

This disgusts me. We in the West like to feel morally superior because we no longer enslave our own poor and we no longer persecute our own indigenous, but our capitalist system is dependent on countries that still do these things. I can’t even begin to explain how much this disgusts me. I really don’t see the average transnational corporation being any better than the average totalitarian government. These people are the worse of the worse. Even studies have proven that people who get positions in upper management show higher rates of sociopathic behavior. It’s just an obvious fact. Anyone with eyes to see can see the obvious. Yet, corporate media goes on spinning their stories.

This kind of evil is in some ways worse than something like the oppression under a Hitler, Stalin or Mao. At least, we (in the “civilized” world) can look back at those totalitarian governments and see them honestly as manifestations of the worst in humans. The immorality of corporations, however, is so much more subtle and hidden. We don’t have to see or even know about all of the suffering. It happens elsewhere to other people. I’m continually surprised by how ignorant most people are (including educated people) about what goes on in the world, but what saddens me is that most people don’t seem to care. It breaks my heart again and again.

No matter how outraged I feel, I can’t do anything to stop it. Every major corporation does business in oppressive countries. In capitalism, there is no choice between buying products from moral or immoral companies. They’re all immoral… or at least they’re all part of the same immoral system. Foxconn, for example, makes parts for all of the major technology companies. Most of the time, you don’t know (and can’t find out) where products and parts are made and where the natural resources were taken and how. Few people want to know… just as long as it doesn’t harm them personally. The only way to not contribute to the evil that is capitalism would be to entirely go off the grid and not even buy so much as a nail to pound two boards together.

To be honest, corporations in and of themselves aren’t the real problem. They are just a symptom of the disease. We all are the disease. We all are a part of the corruption and despair. It’s just a fact that capitalism as it exists couldn’t continue as it is without all of our support, whether overt or implicit. The same poor who are oppressed also join the various militaries of the world and oppress others. The wealthy may think they’re above it all, but they’re not. The disease touches everything, corrupts everything. Pollution and violence knows no political boundaries. The rich and the poor blindly follow along the path that those before them have travelled. The suicide of the Foxconn workers is just a sign of the collective suicide that the human species is committing.

“What does a scanner see? I mean, really see? Into the head? Down into the heart? Does a passive infrared scanner ? see into me ? into us ? clearly or darkly? I hope it does see clearly, because I can’t any longer these days see into myself. I see only murk. Murk outside; murk inside. I hope, for everyone’s sake, the scanners do better. Because if the scanner sees only darkly, the way I myself do, then we are cursed, cursed again and like we have been continually, and we’ll wind up dead this way, knowing very little and getting that little fragment wrong too.”

Hypocritical Critics of Government

Many Libertarians and Tea Party protesters like to claim that taxation is theft. The idea is that the Federal government does nothing to earn that money. It just takes our hard earned cash and then takes credit for redistributing the wealth. So, no value is added. This argument is so weak as to be laughable.

First, of course value is added. The Federal government adds the following values: oversight and regulation; services and goods provided or guaranteed (e.g., public roads, internet, public schools, state universities, utilities, military, police, emergency services, postal service, medicare, medicaid, disability, 40 hr work week, overtime, safe working conditions, child labor laws, abolition of slavery, Constitutional rights and freedoms, jury of your peers, etc); and on and on. Yes, the government redistributes wealth in doing all of this. So?

One response is that, no matter how good the benefits may seem, taxation is still theft.

One argument is that we have no choice in being taxed, we aren’t freely giving to the government. My response is that each of us is as free to leave the country as we are to leave our jobs. In some countries, people aren’t free to just leave, but that isn’t so in the United States. You can seek citizenship or asylum in another country. You can disappear into the wilderness and no IRS agent will track you down in the wilderness.

The other argument is that, even if we are free to give taxes or free to leave this society that is funded by taxes, the government still hasn’t earned the money it redistributes. Just because politicians provide services and goods that keep the public happy, it doesn’t mean politicians have the right to our money in the first place. Why not have a voluntary tax? To be honest, it’s as voluntary as your job. If you don’t pay your taxes, there are legal consequences. If you don’t show up for work, there are consequences as well. Did your employer earn your labor? No. We live in a society where we are forced to work or else be homeless, and the opportunities for self-employment are few and difficult (with most small businesses failing because our capitalist system favors big businesses).

Similar to the politician, what does the owner or CEO of an international corporation do to earn so far beyond the worker who actually makes things in the factory? Nothing tangible, for sure. Also, what does the international corporation do to earn the resources it takes from nature which took thousands or millions of years to form? Nothing. Like the politician, they just took it. Why has it been standard practice for both corporations to swindle land from the indigenous or else terrorize them into leaving? Didn’t the indigenous people earn those natural resources for having lived there for thousands of years?

Why is it that those who criticize taxation tend to do so in defense of capitalism and often even big business? If you think the actions of politicians is unfair, then to be fair you should also consider unfair the actions of business owners, CEOs and upper management. To be honest, it’s the workers who actually make things, who keep the economy going. In the past, prior to capitalism as we now know it, the person who made things was the typically same person who sold it and profited from it.

If government is theft, then capitalism is even greater theft. Politicians make relative little money as politicians, but business owners and CEOs make massive amounts of money. The only reason politicians do the bidding of corporations (i.e., owners and CEOs) is because politicians know they have highly profitable corporate jobs waiting for them (as lobbyists to encourage other politicians to further do the bidding of corporations).

So, there ya go. One can still criticize the government for not being perfectly fair, but if you don’t apply the same criticisms to capitalism you’re a hypocrite. Of course, many (specifically Libertarians) will gladly admit our capitalist system is imperfect and unfair, but they’ll make the unfounded claim that it’s not real capitalism, it’s not a free market. Well, it’s the only capitalism we’ve ever had. Yes, there has been an occasional experiment to implement a different capitalist system, but no such experiment has been implemented on the largescale and the experiments on the smallscale don’t tend to last long. If you’re going to defend capitalism based on an ideal, then it’s hypocritical to criticize those who defend our democratic government based on their own ideals.

I covered all the possibilities I could think of, but no doubt the pro-capitalist/anti-government types would have further arguments about why their idea/ideal is better than the ideas/ideals of everyone else.

Are Republicans Evil?

“When fascism comes to America, it will be draped in the flag and carrying a cross.”
 ~ Halford E. Luccock

There has recently been revealed scandal after scandal within the Republican party. The scandal involving the Bush administration and GITMO can only be interpreted as war crimes. If any politician ever was evil, it would either be Bush or one of his crony friends.

Now, there is yet another scandal involving Republicans. Is there no depth of depravity that rightwingers won’t descend to?