Two outstanding Guardian articles caught my eye this week. One was Sarah Boseley’s feature yesterday: tobacco industry’s dirty war for the African market. Part of the Graun’s week long focus on the world’s richest and most lethal drug cartel, Boseley’s hard hitting expose is not to be confused with Jessica Glenza’s piece today; Tobacco companies tighten hold. The latter is aimed at Trump’s unsavoury contacts in the tobacco lobby and so, whatever its factual accuracy, should be seen as part of (neo) liberalism’s own less than squeaky clean war on the right wing populist who last November threw a small to middling spanner in the Wall Street works.
Boseley’s amply documented piece does as its headline suggests, throwing a spotlight on how British American Tobacco operates in Africa. Here’s a sample:
In Kenya, BAT has succeeded in delaying regulations to restrict the promotion and sale of cigarettes for 15 years, fighting through every level of the legal system. In February it launched a case in the supreme court that has already halted the imposition of tobacco controls until probably after the country’s general election in August, which are being contested by parliamentarians who have been linked to payments by the multinational company.
It takes no great genius to see that the cash value to BAT of that fifteen year delay will be an emperor’s ransom, Kenya being one of the most lucrative corners of an Africa market dear to tobacco industry hearts precisely because most of us in the Global North, this writer included, have shaken that particular monkey off our backs.
Speaking of ‘this writer’, it wouldn’t be a steel city scribbling without the obligatory carp on all things Guardian. It’s not directed at Boseley though. She has penned a fine piece and I wouldn’t change a word. At issue is the liberal worldview. The drive, comparatively recent for the reason just given, to expand tobacco markets in the ‘developing’ world isn’t some freakish anomaly in the North’s relations with the South, but of a piece with all such relations. These include the extraction of super profits – cottons in Bangladesh, iPhones in China, coffee in Vietnam – from labour kept artificially cheap by repression, hyper-casualisation and other factors that leave the UK gig economy in the dust. Most of all though, wages are held down by the vast reserve army of the unemployed corralled in by immigration controls; glaring exceptions to the principle of globalisation and the planetary equivalent of apartheid’s Pass Laws. The ensuing super profits are trousered not just by Apple and Primark but by our governments too. To the extent we use hospitals, libraries, schools and the rest we in the North are beneficiaries of, but by no means equal parties to, the most systematic extortion in human history.
Not only does the Guardian have little to say on the wider relations exemplified by the industry Boseley so eloquently nails; it fails to see that the wars it cheers on – call me an old softy but I’m willing to put some of that down to credulity – as just or humanitarian show themselves on closer inspection to serve those very same relations of exploitation. Which observation leads naturally enough to oil … to middle east … to Syria … to George Monbiot … and thence to that second excellent feature in this week’s Guardian.
Monbiot’s piece on Tuesday – The Lake District’s world heritage site status is a betrayal of the living world – sees him at his shining best: passionate, supremely articulate, in command of the facts. I’ve watched this writer’s progression from liberal environmentalist through to the realisation, albeit partial and implicit, that our biggest existential threat is posed by a system for organising wealth creation which guarantees that the environment and all else must come a poor second to the imperatives of profit accumulation.
That realisation has led him to widen his focus to other aspects of capitalism and/or its state machinery. (See his video blog, also this week, on the Grenfell killings.) That an insufficiently critical grasp of ‘univeralism‘ has led Monbiot to de facto defence of imperialist war on Syria, and stubborn vanity to unseemly conduct in debating the same, are no small matters but do not detract from what he does get right.
So George – why not stick to what you do best, mate?
Acknowledgement: on the relationship between immigration controls, high unemployment and super-profits I’m indebted to John Smith’s difficult but invaluable work, Imperialism in the Twenty-first Century. Likewise for the sharing of those super-profits by the different capitals and, through taxes and tariffs, the state.