FREEDOM, one of the most mischievous concepts, covers much and many: individual, society, country, class, philosophy, political science, jurisprudence, teacher, student, education boss, artist, author, singer, worker, capitalist, economic, political, ecological, cultural, ideological, conscience, thought, expression, association, press, plunder, exploit, appropriate, expropriate, dominate, protest, resist, revolt and overthrow domination. In cases, opposing positions arise. The positions clash regularly and invariably.
With a varied rendition over ages and by interested parties, the concept appears a tool for many, from aristocrat and autocrats to pauper and the exploited. The Aristotelian concept of freedom is far, far away from the concept the proletariats uphold. Mediaeval empires executed their freedom until vanquished by opposing forces. Today’s imperialism enforces its freedom rampantly to define definitions, rationale and propaganda, and implements its intrigues until resisted by people. Nature has its freedom and it faces the curtailment of its freedom.
Thence, the concept of freedom is neither universal nor absolute. Alternatively, it is relative and dependent upon time, space and motion. Freedom is neither class-neutral nor isolated from the nature and economy.
Today, the question, freedom, has turned more complicated than it was in the mediaeval age or early years of capitalism. The reason is the increased economic and political power of the dominating interests. The power imperialism holds today is beyond the imagination of the feudal lords or the bourgeoisie in its infancy or the bourgeoisie immediately after capturing political power. The increased power has increased the freedom of dominating interests while the dominated classes face an opposite reality: a gradual curtailment of spaces, rights and accesses which seems a diminishing law of the freedom of the exploited. Imperialism is a major question related to freedom today. This goes not only in cases of dominated classes but to countries/ states considered independent/ politically independent/ having sovereignty.
The ways imperialism operates, the imperialist world order is arranged, imperialist geo-strategy and -tactics pursued adversely impacts/ curtails/ threatens freedom of people/ nations/ countries/ states. Even if someone likes to ignore imperialism in its entirety and likes to ignore imperialism’s worldwide political and military power, the observers/analysts, if they like to be objective, cannot ignore power of the MNCs, the multilateral lending agencies, international banks/financial institutions, the owners of world markets including the world markets of food, energy, raw materials, media, armaments — all these are indivisible parts of imperialism.
The power of these powerhouses impacts the freedom of everyone, from individual to dominated classes, from communities and local market places to nations and states, from politics by a single political party to politics at the national level by political parties, from education to legislation, from environment to tourism, from media and mining to agriculture and industry, from trade to monetary and fiscal measures; and these impact every citizen of subdued countries. It is not that countries only in the third and fourth worlds face this reality. Even countries/ states considered developed/ in the global north are not free from these ‘blessings’. Literature/ findings of studies on imperialism are rife with supporting facts. Investigative reports by journalists and leaks made by whistleblowers carry overabundant evidences of these acts of ‘benedictions’ by the lords of the world. Freedom, in this reality, seems a straw-stuffed knight to these countries/states, therefore. After the WeakiLeaks and the leak by Edward Snowden, only ignorant, idiots, rascals and persons on masters’ payroll nourish confusion on the issue.
This reality of bondage changes only when people/ nations/ states stand against these lords. There are a few examples in today’s world. These are the countries defiant. Even then, it turns very difficult for these countries/ states to carry on their acts for deciding their destinies.
Media/ information war, engaging unarmed and armed Contras — proxies, subversion, sabotage, obstructions in arenas of international politics, interferences, sanctions, manipulations in the world markets these defiant countries chiefly rely on are organised against these countries.
Different interpretations and aspirations the term freedom makes are evident from the voice of a rightist economist, revered by many rightist politicians and economist in many countries. ‘History’, sermons Milton Friedman, ‘suggests only that capitalism is a necessary condition for political freedom.’ (‘Capitalism and freedom’, New Individualist Review, vol 1, no 1, April 1961, Intercollegiate Society of Individualists, Philadelphia, US) Shall any of the exploited by capitalism, any of the victims of capitalism, ever accept this interpretation of political freedom? None shall ever accept it. In case of economic freedom, the answer, none, is bolder. On the question of environmental-ecological freedom, the answer today is the boldest possible; because the role of capitalism in the destruction of environment and ecology nowadays carries no confusion: capitalism is the chief and the only culprit demolishing people’s liveable environment and ecology.
And the renowned economic theoretician Milton Friedman admits in the next sentence: ‘Clearly it [capitalism] is not a sufficient condition. Fascist Italy and Fascist Spain, Germany at various times in the last seventy years, Japan before World Wars I and II, tzarist Russia in the decades before World War I are all societies that cannot conceivably be described as politically free.’ (ibid) He likes to ‘forget’ the state of the matured bourgeois democracies and of its surrogates — neocolonies, underdeveloped and newly ‘independent’ ‘democracies’, the pseudo-, sham and banana ‘democracies’ (yes, ‘democracies’, not ‘republics’) in the periphery.
About 250 years ago, another great economist and philosopher, Adam Smith, admitted that free private market is most conducive to wealth creation. (The Wealth of Nations, first published in 1776) What is the reason? Anyone can infer: the freedom of the free private market, which is freedom of the capital that organises and operates the powerful machine, a holy cow to capitalists. With that free roaming-all grazing cow, what freedom can a factory worker or the class the worker belongs to access, enjoy and materialise? Lenin in a number of his works specified the answer with detailed and specific examples: Do the workers have the money power to rent in a big assembly hall to have their meetings, hire an office for their union, organise a powerful labour press or a powerful publicity work, even if there is no legal obstruction, baton charge, engagement of hoodlums, meeting breakers, crafty work of agents provocateurs? (It is not a direct quote from Lenin.) Where goes the freedom of conscience, expression, association, assembly, press, etc? Do those not sit safely in the moneybags of the market makers?
Freedom, the concept, is neither abstract nor lurks in utopia. It is not limited as a concept only. Property relations, rights over property and class power equation in specific period in specific society decide its interpretations spanning from lives of citizens to political power of classes to the realisation and implementation of class rights. Context is a factor defining freedom. Freedom enjoyed by appropriators in society dominated by the appropriators is boundless while the appropriated never get a glimpse of the bright star called freedom. The power of the appropriated decides how much freedom they can have as a sleeping lion is always a fool compared with a shrewdly and stealthily running rat. ‘The concept of freedom, even when restricted to the political context, has a number of uses, interpretations or meanings, and the social and political systems designed to implement political freedom vary considerably. Invariably political freedom involves a certain social and legal standing within a set of rules and institutions. That legal standing is generally explicated in terms of a set of rights, but different social orders recognise different rights, and they restrict rights on the basis of different criteria. [….] Seen in this way, the problem of political freedom is this: What rights do members of a given political community have? What rights should they have?’ (William T Blackstone, ‘The concept of political freedom’, Social Theory and Practice, vol 2, no 4, Fall, 1973, Department of Philosophy, Florida State University, US)
The more any society fragments into conflicting camps the more opposite interpretations of and claims to rights to freedom emerge. But the conflict — conflicting concepts — remains alive. It is in case of individuals as well as in case of classes. An individual capitalist or the class of capitalists’ perception of freedom is diametrically, it is appropriate to say inimically, opposite to the perception of a worker or the working class exploited by the capitalists because of contradiction between economic relation and political system. It is not a diagonal line connecting to two opposites, balancing between two opposite interests. Engels in Anti-Duehring (Foreign Languages Press, Peking, China, 1976) discusses the question citing examples of feudal lords, guild restrictions, differential duties, nobility’s freedom from taxation, etc. Engels, then, writes: ‘Freedom does not consist in an imaginary independence from natural laws, but in the knowledge of these laws and in the possibility which is thus given of systematically making them work towards definite ends. [….] Freedom of the will therefore means nothing but the capacity to make decisions with knowledge of the facts. [….] Freedom therefore consists in command over ourselves and over external nature, a command founded on the knowledge of natural necessity; it is therefore necessarily a product of historical development.’ (ibid)
Freedom in all areas, expressions, manifestations, requirements and rights, in cases of classes, economy, politics, ideology and ecology don’t move beyond this ‘capacity to make decisions with knowledge of the facts, command over ourselves and over external nature.’ To people, to the exploited, the question of freedom is a question of aut vincere aut mori — to conquer or die. And, people cannot die; thence, people have to conquer freedom.
Farooque Chowdhury writes from Dhaka.
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