What do Detroit and Iraq have in common? Both are the targets of disaster capitalism

The title above comes from a thoughtful and perceptive article by Margaret Kimberley, writer and activist with Black Agenda Report. Her essay called ‘The Plunder of Detroit and Iraq’ was republished in the Common Dreams online magazine, a nonprofit reader-driven independent news outlet dedicated to building a progressive community, an antidote to the corporate-controlled media. Kimberley accurately points out that disaster capitalism, driven by the imperative of corporate profits, has created and is responsible for the humanitarian catastrophes that we are now witnessing in Detroit and Iraq. Kimberley starts her essay by stating that ‘the ugly face of empire and disaster capitalism is visible all over the world’.

Detroit deindustrialised

Detroit exhibits all the classic signs of a city that has been systematically deindustrialised over many decades. Once the hub of the car industry in America, a city that exemplified the best US labour, industry and technology, Detroit is now a bankrupted city, with urban decay, declining infrastructure, a diminishing population, and a financial system that is preserving its own wealth while leaving the residents to struggle with making ends meet. Dollars and Sense magazine, which publishes articles on economic justice, critiques of the mainstream bourgeois economics and primers on economics for activists, published an extensive analysis of the decline of Detroit back in 2013. The authors of that article correctly note that there were the standard conservative-driven reasons given for the blight of Detroit – greedy unions, incompetent black American politicians, people taking easy loans from the big banks knowing that they could ill-afford repayments. Perhaps all of these are partially valid.

However, the major share of the blame for the deindustrialisation and subsequent decline of Detroit rests on the shoulders of the corporate class, the owners of the large multinational corporations, the large financial institutions that not only systematically withdrew from Detroit and undermined the living and working conditions of the majority of people. The new financial managers of Detroit, led by the emergency manager Kevyn Orr, are deliberately shifting the cost of the financial burden onto the working people. Detroit’s plan of adjustment, introduced by the city’s creditors, involves privatisating the city’s public assets, massive cuts to pensions and health services, the sell-off of the electricity and sewerage systems, and most scandalously of all, selling off the assets of the Detroit Institute of Arts. In the meantime, the residents of Detroit will have to continue living in squalid conditions, recorded in a photo-essay here.

Meanwhile in Iraq

The nation of Iraq lies in tatters, fractured by sectarian divisions enshrined in the post-2003 invasion political establishment. The country underwent terrible destruction as a result of sanctions, and they took their toll on the population. Food, medicines, the necessities of life were denied Iraqis as they struggled to overcome the destitution brought on by crippling sanctions. For instance, water purification became virtually impossible, because chlorine was banned as an import. What happens to drinking water if it is not regularly purified? What bacterial diseases spread when water supplies become contaminated?

Iraqis bravely resisted the US invasion, and brought the troops of the marauding empire into defeat. So the US empire, just like the Roman empire of old, resorted to the tried-and-true tactic of divide and rule, inflaming sectarian divisions by rewarding political office on the basis of religious affiliation. The current Iraqi Prime Minister, Nouri al-Maliki, was installed with US support, even though his political party has strong ideological ties to Iran. Maliki implemented the sectarian division of the country, worsening relations between Iraq’s ethnic and religious communities. Meanwhile, he did nothing to restore the once-functioning health and electricity systems that made Iraq a standout in the Arab world.

The Baghdad government is now tottering precipitously on the brink of total defeat, after its much-vaunted and American-sponsored army was routed by the Islamist guerrillas of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS). While this is a stunning defeat for American (and British) foreign policy in Iraq, the ISIS guerrillas, buoyed by a burgeoning Sunni insurgency that began back in 2013, will only worsen the sectarian hatreds that are currently inflicting damage on the country. Margaret Kimberley of the Black Agenda Report correctly notes that the Islamist guerrillas, once financed by Washington, represent a growing threat not just to the American empire’s interests in the region, but also undermine the existence of a corporate-viable Iraqi state that can be subjugated to imperial dominance.

The invasion of Iraq was driven by deep capitalist interests intending on exploiting the vast mineral and economic resources of the Arab region. The plunder of Iraq, just like the devastation of Detroit, is designed to enrich a tiny financial minority class while the majority are left to struggle to their own devices. Margaret Kimberley points out in her article that;

Iraq was invaded with soldiers, guns and bombs. Detroit was invaded by the corporate “suits” who made a fast buck for themselves. The end result is the same for Michiganders and Iraqis alike. They end up suffering in a plundered society while other people make out like the bandits that they really are.

The Obama administration, while marketing itself as an anti-war government, has actually continued to expend resources on propping up and extending the imperial reach of the US empire, while impoverishing the American people at home. The demolition of viable societies in Iraq and Detroit are not the result of any innate human propensities, but rather the end result of a specific political programme to enrich a capitalist financial oligarchy at the expense of working people. As Kimberley explains in her essay:

…millions of Americans live an existence far from the myth of the great country. They are struggling to survive just like millions in the so-called third world. It is the gangsters who run the show in Baghdad and in Michigan too.

It is time to overthrow this criminal regime. Go read Margaret Kimberley’s full article here.


One thought on “What do Detroit and Iraq have in common? Both are the targets of disaster capitalism

  1. “Margaret Kimberley of the Black Agenda Report correctly notes that the Islamist guerrillas, once financed by Washington…” That article you linked to is utter nonsense, of course the US had nothing to do with supporting the jihadists in Syria ever, (or for that matter the non-jihadist rebels there either), and indeed the main thing the US has been trying to push onto the FSA for at least 18 months is that it launch a full-frontal attack on Jabhat al-Nusra, a demand by the empire that the FSA has rightly refused to bow to. Of course the FSA has been at war with ISIS since last August, but on its own volition, for its own principled reasons, and anyway even that didn’t win them a bullet from the US. But that certainly didn’t mean the US sent a bullet to ISIS either. All fact-free outright conspiracism.

    More generally, your comparison of Detroit and Iraq is excellent. Indeed, the Detroit comparison is a better materialist way of understanding the class basis of the uprising in Syria than so much left-Islamophobic conspiracism is. It is interesting to listen to Qadri Jamil, a former minister in Assad’s government who was one of his left window-dressers, but who was sacked last year (perhaps because he had actually believed he could change from inside):

    “Mr. Jamil said his party (a microscopic left-reformist group – MK) had long believed that the economic liberalization policies that were the centerpiece of Mr. Assad’s early rule would “lead to a social explosion.”

    “He said those measures left 44 percent of Syrians in poverty, citing United Nations figures from 2009, and raised unemployment levels to 20 percent. The policies, he said, destroyed local producers in places like the Damascus suburbs of Zamalka, Harasta and Douma — now centers of opposition — while fueling the growth of the new rich.

    “All those towns whose names we are hearing now **are similar to Detroit in America,”** he said. “So how one cannot expect to have resentments in their circles? But nobody saw that in due time.”

    He got it – a former Assad whitewasher has more nous than much of the left in the rest of the world: the Syrian uprising is an uprising of the “Detroits” against the “new rich” – ie, the areas that have remained regime-loyalist.

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