Progress and Development: The Eternal Duo
But how can progress be distinguished from 'development', if at all? A most prominent item on today's humanitarian global agenda, apart from mantras like good governance, social capital, neo-liberal communitarianism, grassroots empowerment, civil societal capacity-building and gender sensitization, is certainly the notion of sustainable development. This has become almost a catchword of sorts in the Third World, decolonized state nations that are more or less grappling to muster a political system around pluralistic identities of nationhood enmeshed in ethnicity, language, religion, region and mutual distrust. It is almost as if 'softy states' are hanging loose and can only be brought back on to the fast track of development by way of external intervention and advocacy on the past of the Eurocentric West.
Development, it may be appreciated at this point, is not anything extrinsic like politics imposed from the above without any regard whatsoever to the end-users of limited political resources. Actors who are supposed to interface with their very own institutions are nearly always better comfortable if left alone with the material conditions of daily life that breed organic ethos of community existence. This is where the colonial masters went wrong in Asia, Africa and South America when they bled the colonies white and left behind a legacy of comprador bourgeois and crony capitalism that, in turn, fostered a repressive state apparatus and a perverted anti-people bureaucratic managerial state system that was not only anti-people but was also occasionally anti-progress.
What Richard Cobden implies by 'Cabinets or Foreign Offices' is actually this mechanistic attitude of the political elite [in capitalist systems] and party leadership [in socialist societies] that are smug in the cocoon of their mistaken convictions that people at the top echelons of power, authority and influence have necessarily a working knowledge of 'the greatest good of the greatest number'. This is not a utilitarian or even a welfarist state approach - it is actually self-defeating as amply evidenced in the erstwhile USSR where an insane arms and space race with the United States [incidentally the only country in the entire world to have actually materially gained from the First and Second World Wars with minimum military casualties] led the once powerful communist country to a more or less incredible situation of mind-boggling bankruptcy.
Military hardware and nukes were being manufactured at the cost of basic consumer requirements like bread, potatoes and vodka, following Stalin's rhetoric of an entire generation making sacrifices [read being purged if found to be politically incorrect] for the cause of a better Russia of the future. Moscow's huge and sprawling department store GUM was always nearly empty while the party's top brass were running around in their imported limousines, shopping in dollar shops selling Swiss chocolates and watches, Scotch whisky, French champagne and perfumes. Add rampant corruption and repression to accept a second-hand political ideology not originating from the ground realities of people and you have ideal recipes for killing fields like the infamous Prague Spring.
Back to Basics: Public Action Enterprises
We are reminded of Professor Mohammad Yunus of Bangladesh in this respect - the magician of the Grameen Bank ['rural bank'] microcredit revolution who even hugely impressed Hilary Rodham Clinton. What Professor Yunus still does is amazingly simple - he organizes self-help groups in the manner of cooperatives and tries to make them economically self-reliant in areas as humble as poultry, weaving, dairy and even small-scale production. But when such cottage industries are linked ['forward and backward integration'] in the larger context of market forces they become formidable in their control of the overall agrarian and even the urban economy. Peasant women in Bangladesh carry mobile telephones to communicate with distant markets, distributors and dealers! This may sound incredible but it is true nevertheless, proving the validity of Cobden's observation.
Operation Flood in Anand [Gujarat, India] and the Lijjat and Kissan enterprises are other such brilliant instances of people working toward their common good [based on innovative techniques like outsourcing of manpower and material resources, subcontracting or leasing of plant and machinery, breaking down the production process to delimit financial risk liability ventures somewhat akin to Adam Smith's exposition of the division of labor dynamics] without any outside intervention whatsoever. One must remember that neither India nor Bangladesh tends to practice authoritarian r'gime maintenance. What was possible once in Beijing's Tiananmen Square when the People's Liberation Army crushed pro-reform students under tanks and armored carriers is unimaginable in either India or Bangladesh [that secured its liberation in 1971 by way of Indian military cooperation]. So democracy is an essential requirement if 'the progress of freedom' is to continue unabated.
Voice of the People: Evolution of Democratic Policy Prescriptions
By democracy we ordinarily mean popular authority or rule. As made popular by Jean Jacques Rousseau, one of the ideologues of the French Revolution [that effectively altered the course of European history by beginning the disintegration process of the medieval and feudalistic Age of Empires], the voice of God is heard in the voice of the People. This was a far cry from the autocratic self-styled pronouncement of French Emperor Louis XIV - 'I am the State'. It was no wonder that Louis XVI's wife Marie Antoinette [later sentenced to die to rather unceremoniously at the guillotine] had once expressed her wonder in such a naive fashion on hearing about the simmering discontent among the Parisian mob standing in endless queues or bread lines and more often than not starting violent riots among themselves - 'If they cannot eat bread why don't they eat cake!'
This vulgar ignorance of the ruled on the part of their rulers is rather inimical to democracy. But we must remember that democracy as dynamic capacity-building agency in the post 9/11 world has all of a sudden underscored its long-ignored extrinsic quality. Democracy is not really insular, stretching from the East Coast to the West Coast of the US. If the notion of external sovereignty has suffered quite extensively since the height of the Cold War when the world was almost vertically divided into the NATO and Warsaw Pact countries [save the NAM states being led by Nehru, Nasser and Tito], the idea of external democracy has gained much popular and diplomatic acceptance.
Simply put, powerful nations can no longer ignore internal human rights or civil rights agendas vis-'-vis world public opinion. But this is what the US is consistently trying to follow as its most shortsighted foreign policy since the Malta Summit Conference when President George Bush Senior and CPSU General Secretary Mikhail Gorbachev officially declared the end of the Cold War, a historic event that even prompted Francis Fukuyama to write a banal work on the end of history and the last man.
Since the days of its Nineteenth Century isolationist Munroe Doctrine the US has put up apparently impregnable walls around itself that couldn't even be dismantled during the Marshall Plan for the Reconstruction of Europe after the Second World War or establishment of first the League of Nations [as an initiative of President Woodrow Wilson's historic Atlantic Charter] and then the UNO, the International Monetary Fund, World Bank and now the omnipotent World Trade Organization that apparently dictates the movements of a new specter of the new millennium, namely Globalization.
The US foreign policy has always been designed on lines of 'muddle and meddle' - Vietnam, Korea, Bay of Pigs, Iran Contra scandal, Afghanistan and now Iraq. The country boasts of democracy and swears by it, boiling with righteous motivation to export Yankee democracy around the underdeveloped world, but has, however, classified the JFK assassination archives for no apparent reason whatsoever. Clandestine covert operations, the strategic defense initiative [Star Wars], research in biological and chemical weapons - you name it and you would find the dirty trick invariably up America's [read the CIA and FBI's] sleeves. In fact, it is the only nation to date that has used atomic weapons during a war, destroying Hiroshima and Nagasaki in the process to avenge the Pearl Harbor attack and crippling generations of Japanese children long after the holocaust as a result of toxic radioactive radiation carried forward genetically by succeeding generations.
Since the Gulf War fought by Senior Bush as the much-hyped Operation Desert Storm so graphically shown by CNN across millions of idiot boxes around the world, nobody knows exactly how many innocent Iraqi children have died from malnutrition, disease and hunger due to the US-imposed and UNO-condoned sanctions against Iraq. The US condemns Osama bin Laden but should actively engage in soul-searching regarding its own virulent international terrorist status in our contemporary unipolar world where might is right in a Hobbesian state of affairs where human life, property and security are all indeed 'solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, short'. The US, in brief, should radically reorient its foreign policy to address the dignity of human life and internal sovereignty of nation states around the world.