All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others
– George Orwell, Animal Farm
The 20th century was the century of the common man. By the word 'man', I mean humankind rather than exclusively the male sex. If Aaron Copland had been writing in this century, his famous piece would have been Fanfare for the Common Person
, not Fanfare for the Common Man
It was, after all, the common person who fought the great wars of the last century, both believing in the need to do so and being willing to do so. Democracy, such as it was back then, had to be protected in the First World War and Hitler and all he stood for had to be brought down in the Second. And it was the common person who did so.
However, the seeds of the day of the common person were sown in the 19th century when the United States stood up to be counted and, at enormous cost (one of the highest per capita loss of lives in any war in its civil upheaval), ended slavery and came out in full support of the precious peril of democracy and of a country run by the common man (common man this time, women still had not asserted themselves).
The 20th century also witnessed the great landowners, who had dominated in the 19th century, fall back − not completely knocked off their perch as they still exercise great power and influence today, but enough for the common person to gain the right to vote and to influence matters. If the 20th century saw the dawning of the day of the common person, then the 21st threatens to be the day of the great, multinational corporations.
Almost stealthily they have crept upon us under the guise of 'globalisation'. At the end of Animal Farm
, there was no difference between the pigs and the farmers. They still squabbled but it was about possessions. Orwell correctly anticipated the common interests that the powerfully rich of all countries would have and the acquisitive instincts that would draw them together to maintain their privileged place.
An example of globalisation: how many readers are aware that the Russian state-owned energy company, Rosatom, owns Uranium One which was based in Toronto? This latter company supplied weapons-quality uranium to the United States (the Clintons were involved in that deal and the Clinton Foundation received a big cheque). So, a Russian company was helping the United States protect itself – against whom?
And the ruling elite used, and use, slogans to mislead the herd and indoctrinate us with their propaganda. Orwell's quote may have come from a work of fiction but truth is oft more aptly revealed in fantasy form.
The dangers of the growing influence of the big international companies have to be understood. In America, many powerful companies contribute to the coffers of both main political parties; a tactic that ensures Wall Street has sufficient pull in the American legislative bodies to keep that country on a course approved of by Wall Street. The massive corporations justify this because one of their subsidiaries may fund the Democrats and another the Republicans or, the company may simply say, it supports the Democratic candidate in one state but the Republican in another due to their agreement with the views of the respective candidates. In Russia, it is even simpler. The oligarch-owned institutions based there simply put their own nominees into each party in the Duma. China simplifies it even further; the government, made up of the billionaire elite, controls the companies.
The film Robocop
took over from Orwell in fantasy and predicted a future where the large corporations simply run everything − even the police were a private concern and all had a profit motive. This is the extreme outcome of centralisation and private control by the major companies but it is a process currently taking place in the world where various phenomena interlink: industry, business, politics, political belief, cultures.
Today, we understand more than ever how other people and other races think (not much different from ourselves) and we appreciate, also more than ever, different backgrounds and culture; and that is all to the good. It will help towards harmony and stability. But we cannot let our world be dominated by big business behind the façade of which lurk the super-rich. Our world has to be a democratic world under the control of the people and with communal resources owned by the common person.
As far as Scotland is concerned, that means we must keep free from the large corporations that increasingly control the EU. And, if we do vote for independence when the time comes, that independence must be rationally based on our continued liaison with the rest of the UK, our main trading partner. We must also be aware of extreme right-wing groups hiding under umbrellas. Those umbrellas may have independence slogans on them but be wary. We could end up being controlled by the big companies − whether we know it immediately or not – and find ourselves amongst the less equal in this world.
Bill Paterson is a writer based in Glasgow