Universal human rights are intrinsically radical in espousing liberty, equality and fraternity for every single person. We must claim them.
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A Revolutionary Tract
A Human Rights Manifesto
by RON JACOBS
Julie Wark has written a manifesto for justice. Simply titled A Human Rights Manifesto, her book examines the UN Declaration of Human Rights and compares it to the current situation. In doing so, it is clear that we as a species have failed. While there is certainly plenty of blame to go around, from those activists who have resigned from the battle to those who have convinced themselves that the current political and economic systems are capable of remedying the daily violations of human rights, the bulk of the blame remains with the greatest violators of those rights. That means governments, their militaries and police officials, and their courts. The ultimate violator however, in every measurement Ms. Wark relates, is the current manifestation of the capitalist economy: neoliberalism.
This book destroys the myth that neoliberal capitalism is a positive force for humankind. It does so by merely stating the facts. Example after example of the cruelties and deprivations unleashed in the name of corporate and financial freedom leap from these pages. Thousands of children starving every day; forests, rivers and mountains ravaged, raped and destroyed by the machines ploughing under our planet’s future; wars undertaken and resistance destroyed to ensure the continued expansion until death of the capitalist system emanating from the world’s financial capitals. The perversion of local and national food economies via corporate manipulation of production through the commodification of food and artificial GMOs to the withholding of fertilizers and food via sanctions, humanity’s fundamental right to not starve is denied. Despite the ravages described in A Human Rights Manifesto, the author holds out an optimistic hope flickering in this litany of despair. That flicker emanates from that long-forgotten and ignored declaration.
It’s been clear to many for a while that humanitarian interventions are usually something else entirely. How else could one explain the increase in death that often occurs after the supposedly humanitarian troops arrive with their automatic weapons, their fighter planes and attack helicopters? How else can one explain the fact that when the original military phase of such interventions are over, the foreign troops remain, imposing the will of their political and corporate commanders back home? How else does one explain that in so many of these interventions, the majority of the civilians residing in said countries still find their lives at risk? The nature of these interventions and their non-humanitarian results have led many to scoff whenever the words “human rights” appear as a motivation. This skepticism feeds into the invaders’ dynamic quite helpfully, leaving their military power plays unchallenged in any meaningful way.
Ms. Wark’s book reclaims human rights for those whom they were originally intended. That is, for all humanity, especially those whose existence is considered unnecessary by the Goldman Sachs of the world. Instead of defining these rights in a manner that considers the right to buy and sell to be more important than the right to eat, Wark’s text is inspired by an understanding that human rights can only be human rights when they are applied to all of humanity, not just those of a certain nation, political or religious philosophy, and certainly not only to those with property and wealth.
Essentially anarchist in its analysis, The Human Rights Manifesto gives no government or economic system a free pass. Yet it is primarily a searing indictment of neoliberal capitalism.
Don Winslow is the author of several works of crime fiction. His novels are about people that travel in the smuggling of contraband, drugs and human. The laws of society rarely apply in Winslow’s world. Instead, it is usually the individual who is most brutal and amoral that succeeds. When the force of justice does appear, usually in the form of a renegade cop or private investigator, that justice is without mercy. I mention Winslow because Wark quotes his novels in her book. The quotes she chooses are not laudatory. Instead, they compare the morality of those who run and profit from the neoliberal capitalist economy to those that operate in the murderous economy Mr. Winslow writes of so graphically in his novels. The difference, the use of these quotes seems to claim, is just a matter of scale.
Perhaps the most interesting discussion in this book is the one presented by Wark concerning language and its (mis)use and manipulation. She lambastes the misuse of words like justice and the phrase human rights. Not only has their meaning been manipulated, it has been rendered meaningless. If the words describing a phenomenon no longer have any absolute meaning, then the phenomena become whatever those in power decide. In this world, justice becomes revenge and war becomes humanitarian intervention.
When the original UN Declaration was signed in 1948, it combined economic and political rights. After the major capitalist nations balked at the two elements being linked, the declaration was split and those nations objecting did not sign the part dealing with economic rights, which included statements detailing the right of all humanity to form labor unions, earn a fair wage, have shelter, health care, food and education. Washington and its cohorts knew that including these in any declaration of human rights would make the world they hoped to help build–the world we live in today–pretty much impossible. After all, without the commodification of food, education, shelter and health care, how would the financial-corporate nexus control the world like they do now?
Julie Wark’s book is a revolutionary tract. All it does is demands that the human rights claimed by the wealthiest and most powerful in our world be applied to everyone. It is a shame that such a demand has become a call to revolution. But, if that’s what is demanded, then we would do well to begin.
Ron Jacobs is the author of the just released novel All the Sinners, Saints. He is also the author of The Way the Wind Blew: a History of the Weather Underground and Short Order Frame Up and The Co-Conspirator’s Tale. Jacobs’ essay on Big Bill Broonzy is featured in CounterPunch’s collection on music, art and sex, Serpents in the Garden. His third novel All the Sinners Saints is a companion to the previous two and is due out in April 2013. He is a contributor to Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion, published by AK Press. He can be reached at: email@example.com. ~ Ron Jacobs, CounterPunch
Like all great manifestos, this one not only dazzles with the sheer brilliance of its diagnosis of the contemporary world; it also gives us a new moral vocabulary in which to phrase our aspirations for political and economic change. And it is no accident that it should appear as, starting with the Green Movement in Iran and the Arab Spring, a new politics of dignity becomes visible around the world. Everyone should read it.
~ Pankaj Mishra, essayist and novelist.
In her well-argued Manifesto Julie Wark puts neoliberalism and the ruling elite of the neoliberal democracies of the West on trial. She asserts that the neoliberal system is intrinsically inimical to human rights. She supports this radical assertion with well-researched evidence. Rights, she says, are the basis of dignity, freedom and justice; without them no human being can be free. Neoliberalism is a rogue system that cherishes the non-human value of money instead of human values. She explains the political economy of neoliberalism in succinct and lucid terms that are not clouded by jargon, making this document a joy to read. Backed by grim statistics she argues that the present global order is a crime against humanity. She traces various crimes against the human race through various historical epochs to the present. She illustrates cogently how the atrocities of, for instance, the Khmer Rouge and of blood-thirsty African militias in the Congo and in other theatres of conflict, are in fact the crimes of neoliberalism. She portrays neoliberalism as an insidious system that promotes new forms of slavery, human trafficking and child labor. She makes the chilling observation that there are more people enslaved today than they were at the height of trans-Atlantic slave trade on which the wealth of nations like the USA is founded – most of today’s slaves are women and children. Foreign aid and humanitarianism are the empire’s neoliberal tool of conquest, subjugation and exploitation. Indeed, humanitarianism is a vehicle of Western hegemony. She denounces world governments and corporations as the criminals, but citizens who are enjoying the benefits of these policies and are indifferent to the plight of the rest of the world are not absolved. They are accomplices. And finally she defines what genuine human rights should be. The solutions that she proposes, to begin the world all over again involving what she calls the commoning, the human rights republic, and the universalizing of property, are quite radical, to say the least. These concepts, of course, need further development. This Manifesto would be a great companion for civil society organizations and individual activists. It should be required reading for both non-governmental and government agencies.
~ Zakes Mda, eminent South African novelist, poet, painter and playwright, whose most recent work is the highly acclaimed memoir Sometimes There Is a Vo
A Port Huron Statement for the Occupy Generation with a breath-taking vision of planting 'human rights republics' in the practices of daily life. ~ Mike Davis
Article 1 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights declares ‘All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights.’ Yet half the world’s population lives in extreme poverty without the conditions for freedom or dignity and with very few if any rights. Julie Wark’s Human Rights Manifesto is vivid, clear and passionate. Her case against neo-liberalism and her case for basic income is an appeal to common sense and a call to action.
~ Peter Cochrane, historian
Julie Wark’s manifesto is a call to action. It asks that you and I as global citizens insist that EVERYONE has the basic human rights that deliver not only freedom, justice and self-determination, but also individual dignity. Only a heartless person could read this and not feel an instant compulsion to act. ~ Dr Anita Heiss, Aboriginal Australian academic, author and activist
Many states have committed appalling crimes in the name of human rights. Julie Wark provides a great deal of material demonstrating this. She also very convincingly argues that the most basic human right is that of the guaranteed material existence of every member of society. Now, in 2012, when governments are engaged in a full-blown offensive against the conditions of existence of their populations, Wark’s defence of universal human rights in this Manifesto is admirable for its intellectual courage. ~ Daniel Raventós (University of Barcelona and President of Basic Income Network of Spain)
With this Manifesto, Julie Wark has provided an extraordinary and important
contribution to the literature on human rights. With great passion and
eloquence, she expands the concept of human rights to encompass economic
justice for all - the great animating principle of the Arab Spring and the
Occupy movement. While not everyone will agree with this formulation, it is
impossible to deny the power of her reasoning.
~ Michael Klare, Five College Professor of Peace and World Security Studies.