Tony Benn's most recent book is More Time For Politics: Diaries 2001-2007. He is President of the Stop the War Coalition.


Time to rethink the power balance

The first reaction by those who experience injustice is rage. But responses such as "Why has this happened to me?" and "Who gave them the right to do this?", understandable as they are, are personal in character and usually leave the one concerned frustrated without making any progress in getting the injustice remedied. Progress needs different channels.

Those who favoured the foundation of trade unions had to experience the injustice of parliament making them illegal. It was only after the Tolpuddle Martyrs were transported to Australia for swearing an oath to the Friendly Society of Agricultural Labourers that the law was changed. And it was not until the newly legal trade unions realized that the Parliament that made oppressive laws was wholly undemocratic, representing only four per cent of the adult population, that the Chartists and later the Suffragettes emerged to campaign for universal suffrage.

Similarly, the rage against apartheid in South Africa led Mandela and the ANC into a sustained global campaign that ultimately transformed Mandela from his status as a convicted terrorist into his present position as the unofficial president of humanity, with a statue in Parliament Square. Even Gandhi, who believed in non-violence, was regularly imprisoned; it is interesting that he, Mandela and Archbishop Tutu are now recognized as the greatest moral teachers of our time.

Progress is not like a train where you sit in your compartment and are taken to your destination. It has to be a common effort.

In every generation, there is anger against injustice and the hope that it may be possible to build a fairer society. Those in power can live with our fury, presenting it as terrorism and thereby justifying the oppression of those who rage against the system, but they can't so easily deal with people inspired by hope and prepared to set up an organization, spread the word and campaign for what they want to achieve. The powers-that-be in every society try to keep us frightened about some external or internal threat. They divide us by colour, sex or religion; they demoralize us with league tables and examinations where a majority has to lose; they encourage cynicism and the feeling that everyone working in politics is corrupt, so that people won't even bother to make the effort, believing it is bound to fail.

This generation may have the capacity to destroy the human race, but it is also the first generation in human history that has the know-how, the technology and the money (if we spend it wisely) to solve the problems we face. The younger among us, I think, understand better than their elders that anger is no substitute for effort.

The old national frontiers are little more than historical accidents. As new empires grow we need a new coalition that no longer excludes the weaker nations. Globalization is all about maximizing profit, subsidizing the gamblers who dispose of the wealth, and backing up the whole process with military force regardless of its human consequences. Internationalism, on the other hand, crosses world frontiers and brings together not only those who create the world's wealth for a handful at the top, but also the victims of the abuses of wealth.

International institutions, however, have become as unrepresentative as the British Parliament was in 1832. Imagine if we were to extend the franchise of these institutions so that the nations represented at the UN voted according to the size of their populations, shifting the balance of power from the millionaires to the many. The reformed General Assembly would elect a Security Council in which all continents are represented, replacing the permanent members who date back to the 1945 wartime alliance. The UN would next elect or appoint the heads of all major international organizations – IMF, World Bank, WHO, FAO and so on – and consideration should be given to a UN policy for the regulation of multinational corporations, the entrenchment of trade union rights, the control of the arms trade and the establishment of minimum standards of health and safety.

It is a big job to take on but there is no real alternative. We need to provide the basic framework for a more democratic world system. Anger management is not a case for the psychotherapist.



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