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Silent Coup; How Corporations Overthrew Democracy
Claire Provost and Matt Kennard, Bloomsbury, £15
CORPORATION: dictionary definition: noun; a large company or group of companies authorised to act as a single entity and recognised as such in law.
Provost and Kennard’s take is to ask: by whose authority?
Silent Coup is investigative journalism at its best, charting the rise of corporate power after World War II, where the freedoms fought for were redefined. The freedom to exploit a country’s workers and resources was robust. Freedom from hunger, homelessness and poverty, not so much.
The trumpeted return of democracy was undermined by the increasing powers of the corporations. Here’s another trumpet: the Nobel Prize-winning poet Pablo Neruda on his home country, Chile, and referenced in the book.
“When the trumpet sounded, it was / all prepared on the earth, / the Jehovah parcelled out the earth / to Coca-Cola, Inc., Anaconda,/ Ford Motors, and other entities:/ The Fruit Company, Inc./ reserved for itself the most succulent, / the central coast of my own land, / the delicate waist of America. ”
The delicate waist of America was more or less ruled by The United Fruit Company, which was to become Chiquita Brands International. A banana republic.
The book asks a question of the fundamental principle of politics, namely: what is a country, how is it managed (aka governed), and who for? What does sovereignty mean?
The old definition and the pantomime of monarchs doesn’t interest many of us any more, but sovereignty – the supreme power or authority does. And it ain’t what it seems.
Silent Coup draws back the veil on all that.
Who pulls the strings of democratically elected governments? Who helped them get elected in the first place? Who brings them down when they don’t suit their agenda, and blocks their money? In short, how do the corporations manage democracy to suit their own ends and profits?
The book is nicely navigable in four parts; Corporate Justice, Welfare, Utopias and Armies. Rather like the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse.
Together they tell 30 true stories from around the world with the writers researching archives, visiting the scene of the “crime” or the lawsuit, and hearing difficult stories of abuse and exploitation at the hands of corporations.
That our media, bar a few honourable exceptions like John Pilger (and the authors themselves of course) has largely failed to investigate this democratic deficit is lamented in the epilogue Ugly Truths. “Our investigations had shown us how transnational companies and investors have been able to challenge, even overrule various state actions – and threaten our ability to respond to existential threats like climate change and atomic war.”
It is dedicated to their mentor Gavin (good trouble) MacFayden whose own forensic journalism and activism launched Provost and Kennard on their journey.
The case of a corporation threatening a country’s sovereignty is the subject of the first chapter using the example of the Canada-based company Pacific Rim suing the government of El Salvador for refusing to let it mine for their gold as it did not have the required environmental permits.
Particularly disturbing is the chapter on Occupied Palestine where a private company can advertise “tried and tested” weaponry on Palestinians, like the skunk juice and sponge bullets used by the Israeli Defence Force on Palestinians.
Silent Coup was launched at the opening of Matt’s father Peter Kennard’s new exhibition.
Kennard senior’s work is well known. John Berger has described it as: “Haunting. Eschewing words it insists on not being forgotten.” His main themes of war and poverty, and what links them, is the subject of Silent Coup the exhibition.
Kennard senior guides (shines doesn’t quite feel right) a light on what lay behind the gloss and powers of the corporate world – human suffering – through the various techniques of photo-montage, assemblage, drawing, photography and light projection. It’s a stunning show, mainlining the truth and you see it instantly.
Both the exhibition and the book ask us to consider which politicians are managed by corporations, support them or challenge them. This from ex-leader of the Labour Party Jeremy Corbyn in the book jacket: “We have to understand how this world-spanning corporate power came to build so powerful a global movement, so that we can take back our democracies and secure our collective future.’
No wonder he got taken down.
Both writers and the artist make you pay attention. If you pay attention it pays you back in the currency of increased awareness, knowledge and agency.
In the spirit of art as midwife to action, there is a public meeting at a/political, Saturday June 17, 5-7pm, to talk about how to engage and protest. I see this review as part of that process.
We owe them.
Exhibition ends July 1 for more info see: a-political.org
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