People's Democracy

(Weekly Organ of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)


No. 31

July 31, 2011


Mirrors: To Make the Dumb Speak & the Deaf Hear


R Arun Kumar


THE devil is in the detail. Eduardo Galeano provides us with a lot of those details in his book Mirrors. Chavez smelled sulphur when he addressed the UN General Assembly, ostensibly after 'the devil' had spoken; reading this book written by Galeano makes us all smell 'sulphur'. Galeano unmasks the devil lurking in the corner with his gift of the pen: “Humans are the only ones who create words so that neither reality nor memory will be mute”. Galeano uses words in the Mirrors to rekindle our historical memory and make us see reality as it is. Incidentally it is Galeano's another book, Open Veins of Latin America, that Chavez had gifted to Obama during their first interaction in a meeting of the Organisation of American States (OAS).


Mirrors is an unconventional book on world history. It is unconventional because, it neither has a foreword/preface/introduction nor begins with a page of contents. In fact, contents, follow the index of names, right at the end of the book. It is also unconventional because, the book need not be read from the first page – the reader can pick and choose, without feeling lost or disconnected. It is written in Galeaonic style, stating facts, contrasting them and spicing them with terse and cheeky one-liners. And this book has got lots of such facts from the ancient period to the present era. Of course, there could be a few sceptics who might question the veracity of the facts. Galeano puts his reputation at stake and does not offer any apologies for not quoting the sources, apart from just stating that such an exercise would 'take up as many pages as the book itself'. Whatever be the reasons, it saves us from getting distracted by notes and footnotes. Because of Galeano's superb writing style and presentation, readers would not love to be interrupted from the gripping narrative, which makes an interesting read. Certain facts stated in the book are so astonishing that they make us gasp, “Oh, is it!”


The origin of Santa Claus. Thanks to the ingenuity of an artist, Santa Claus, attired in blue or green was born in 1863. It was only in 1930 that another artist working for Coca Cola, the soft drink giant, had given him the present appearance – red and white Santa, representing the colours of Coca Cola. Such is the invasion of popular culture and imagination by this soft drink giant that it had successfully created a mythical creature and made him conquer the entire globe. This only shows the power of the modern industry that not only manufactures a myth, a brand, but also how it internalises this myth among the people, transcending all the borders – countries, regions, religions, cultures, etc.


Galeano also brings out the necessary and an all important correction in the study of world history. There are by now many books of history written about the various regions of the world, still the dominant trend is to give Europe the pride of the place. Galeano brings out various facts about the countries in Asia, Americas and Africa and questions this tilted presentation. He questions the European claims of 'discovering' Africa and the Americas by asking whether the natives of these lands were blind, deaf and mute. “Three centuries before Copernicus, Arab scientists Mu' ayyad al- Din al-'Urdi' and Nasir al-Din Tusi had come up with theorems crucial to that development (of modern astronomy). Copernicus used their theorems but did not cite the source. The three inventions that made Renaissance possible, the compass, gunpowder and the printing press came from China. The Babylonians scooped Pythagoras by fifteen hundred years. Long before anyone else, the Indians knew the world was round and had calculated its age. And the Mayans knew the stars, and the mysteries of time. Such details were not worthy of Europe's attention”. A question arises – why, in spite of being in possession of all this knowledge (in the fifth century the emperor of China possessed four thousand books in his library to the six owned by the emperor of Portugal), did not these countries advance in the modern era? As one important reason, Galeano points to the European subjugation of these lands and plunder of their natural and human resources.


In the background of the shoot-out in Norway, it would do well to remember, “Religious tolerance later crushed by the Catholic monarchs”, is a Muslim legacy in Europe.


Irrespective of what the facts are, the ruling classes in Europe and the US still consider themselves to be 'superior'. Their export of 'civilisation', 'human rights' and 'democracy' to other countries, stems from this arrogance. The cost of these exports can be easily understood when we look at Iraq, the land of Babylonia and Mesopotamia. Their craving for 'democracy' is visible from the support they have extended to Saleh of Yemen, the King of Saudi Arabia and the Khalifa of Bahrain and the coup d'etat in Honduras. Galeano quotes a Bolivian: “no coup d'etat ever occurs in the United States because it has no US embassy”. On human rights, imperialism is carrying forward the 'benevolence' of the Swiss bankers who founded the International Red Cross: “Compassion is unknown among those savage tribes (inhabiting the colonised countries)...Compassion is so foreign to them that their languages have no word to express the concept”! People of Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, not to speak of the rest of the third world, RIP. Please close your ears!


What makes the book further interesting is the contemporary feel to the historical facts. Sample this. We read about Libya as the first country where aeroplanes were used to bomb – grenades at that instance. He quotes from the commander of the air force, “The bombardment has been marvellously effective at demoralising the enemy”. Read this along with the section about the Brazilian argonaut Alberto Santos Dumont, the father of the modern aeroplane: “Why did I invent this thing? Instead of spreading love it has become a cursed weapon of war”. Immediately plays before us Libya. According to the media, one positive aspect to emerge from bombing Libya is, the Eurofighter and the French Rafale jets, extensively used in the Libyan war, have proved their 'capabilities'. Indian government's decision to short-list these two fighter jets for beefing up air 'defence' is hence justified! Israelis too test many of their weapons on the Palestinians to impress our country and win its defence contracts. “Now the Palestinians, who never played it (hunting Jews, a favourite sport of the Europeans), are paying the bill”. Alberto Santos Dumont committed suicide!


On the origin of WTO. Galeano writes that Zeus the father of gods wanted to appoint a god for trade and he decided to appoint his son Hermes – qualification, “he was the best liar”. Not forgetting George Bush, Nobel laureate Obama, together with the IMF-WB-WTO triumvirate would put Hermes to shame. The people of Greece will in fact readily identify Hermes with the IMF and the European Union. They were forced to take loan from the IMF, accept its conditions and implement 'austerity' measures. They were promised, “The ‘rescue package’ would see Greece through to 2013 and revive its sagging economy”. Greeks have found this to be a big lie intended to lead them into an abyss of debt. They should well remember, “Free trade, which obliges you to sell, forbids you to eat” and all the protesters beaten by the police, “Under the laws of the market, freedom oppresses”.


Mirrors is a book where the questions of race, gender and sexuality are extensively dealt. Right from the philosopher Aspasia, whose lectures Socrates used to attend by adjusting his own classes, from our very own practice of Sati, he dealt with various instances where women – branded and unbranded – are subjugated. Also it deals with the question of the environment and its plunder, sports, literature, art, music and many other facets of human life.


Dimitrov defines fascism as “the open terrorist dictatorship of the most reactionary, most chauvinistic and most imperialist elements of finance capital”. Mirrors reflects this. IBM, the computer giant helped the Nazis by setting up a “far reaching, high speed automated system for identifying complete Jews, half-Jews and those who had more than a sixteenth part of Jewish blood circulating in their veins”. In case the Nazis thirst remained unquenched even after drinking so much Jewish blood, “Coca Cola came up with Fanta, for the German market in the middle of the war”. “Rockfeller sponsored their research” carried out in the concentration camps, “Standard Oil fuelled their jets” and “Ford supplied trucks and jeeps”. Swiss bankers are indebted to the Nazis – they made profits from the purchase of gold teeth from the concentration camps. It is this bloodied and soiled money that is still dominating the world.


Mirrors thus is a thoroughly anti-imperialist book, which exposes the real face of capital. Though history has examples of socialist countries, alternate to capitalist social system, Galeano does not appreciate them and unfortunately, he neither offers any other alternatives. He is comfortable with Marx, Che and to an extent with Fidel Castro and the Cuban revolution. He does not hide his discomfort towards Lenin, Soviet Union, the erstwhile socialist countries in East Europe, China and of course, Stalin. In fact Galeano is not alone. This is a worrying, but an emerging trend witnessed in many places and among many people. While Marx had expounded the theory, Lenin developed it further, built a revolutionary organisation and put it to practice – correctly analysing concrete conditions. It is true that there were mistakes committed in the process of practising socialism in these countries. That should not, however, lead us to denounce them altogether, nor their exemplary achievements. Moreover, without a disciplined party, tempered by the scientific theory of Marxism-Leninism, it is hardly possible to stand up to the capitalist State, forget overthrowing it. Anarchism, both as a theory and practice is a complete failure, though it still attracts some finest of the minds and considerable number of youth.


In spite of this limitation, with its exposure of capitalism and imperialism, Mirrors certainly helps the fight for another world. It is a perfect example of 'exposure' as Lenin wanted it, in 'What is to be done?' (Sorry, Galeano!) A powerful warning to the exploiters is given through the pen of Florence Nightingale, the legendary nurse: “Let us not be sure that these patient millions will remain in silence and patience forever. The dumb shall speak and the deaf shall hear”.


Galeano is an optimist: “Perhaps they (dangerous dreams or broken promises or hopes betrayed) are hiding here on earth. Waiting”. Mirrors is another weapon in the kitty of all those 'who tremble with indignation at every injustice'.