SERFATY Abraham

Can it be said that human rights violations, the behaviour of dictatorships and oppression in general constitute an obstacle to economic and social development? How, in concrete terms, do these obstacles become manifest?

Interview between Abraham SERFATY* and Marc OLLIVIER**

* Abraham SERFATY, a Moroccan mines Engineer who was imprisoned for eighteen years by King Hassan II for political actions in favour of democracy and development, is an internationally-renowned human rights militant.
** Marc OLLIVIER, researcher in social sciences for the CNRS, is a member of the ISMEA and President of the work group on development inegalities of the INES network (International Network of Engineers and Scientists for Global Responsibility).


M.O. (Marc OLLIVIER): Man's ability to come up with and perfect methods of violence and repression concerning his fellowmen is without limitation and the experience humanity has accumulated in this area over centuries defies imagination. In our time, which is by the way characterised by great economic and social progress, the existence in a small number of countries of political systems founded on Law, recognition and defence of certain aspects of individual freedom and the actual putting into practice of citizen sovereignty, the majority of humanity remains nonetheless victim of dictorial political regimes, and find expressing their aspirations to a better way of life impeded by a whole arsenal of repressive means: imprisonment at random, torture, kidnapping and dissappearances, organised massacres, etc. One has only to read reports like those from Amnesty International and other non-gouvernemental humaniatarian organisations to realise the gravity and importance of institutionalised terror that weighs of the majority of human beings.
One must remember that methods of repression have always been necessary to make exploited classes or peoples accept economic inegalities and social injustices. Today as these social inegalities are becoming world-wide at the same pace as the economy, information flow or culture, and threaten international stability and security a lot more seriously than before, we see that methods of repression also redefined as being world-wide in scope and are becoming in their own right one of those global problems that threatens our future. However, although awareness of the major risks involved in modern wars has been widely enough developed, one cannot say the same for the immense effect of repression on the inegalities of development. Let's take a quick look at some of these effects: - acceleration of the brain-drain towards developed countries: the number of highly-qualified executives from Haiti, for example, is much greater outside of the country than within it, and all Third World countries are victim of this dramatic loss of know-how;
- effects on national investors just as on foreign investors of political instability due to the social tension (revolts, strikes, etc.) brought about by repression;
- the outrageous increase of corruption that goes hand-in-hand with all arbitrary power. Corruption influences technical and financial choices (priority given to large projects and to loans from foreign sources) and increases the outflow of capital to so called "tax heavens";
- massive military expenses promoting means of repression and local conflicts for reasons of "prestige" or diversion, which diminish just as much development ressources;
- destruction of riches and productive capacities, namely human capacities, brought on by repression, internal conflicts and the massacres that they cause (for example, in Rwanda, the Caucases, ex Yougoslavia, etc.);
- the near total suppression of all forms of human creativity that produces better well-being. It is absolutely necessary to promote awareness of the immense amounts of ressources wasted and the shortages to be regained resulting from the various forms of repression and terror. In general, one may notice that development inegalities are as big as the political regime of the country is dictatorial, the worst situation being that of countries in which an unshared, selfish power reigns.
Having spent eighteen years in prison under the King of Morocco, like thousands of Moroccans many of which are unfortunately dead after being tortured and undergoing bad treatment, it is obvious that you would be able to get a feeling for what these problems are. For what reasons have authoritarian, dictorial and often totalitarian regimes been allowed to monopolise political power in post-colonial States in which the population had struggled for independance and freedom? Have "block politics" at an international level played a role in this evolution?

A.S.(Abraham SERFATY): I believe the situation must first of all be analysed starting with the internal problems of Third World countries. For most of the countries concerned, when independance was won it was the dominant classes, whether formerly or newly dominant, that took up power after the colonizers left it. Hidden under an ideology said to be nationalistic and for the people, their goal was essentially to continue to oppress the population in new ways and hang on to the advantages of former colonial powers in order to gain their support for this policy. However, in some cases this national liberation lead to genuine revolutionary movements wanting to put an end to colonial or imperialist exploitation; but in a context where armed struggles were the only way of acheiving this, they were naturally forced to look to the said "socialist" countries for help. Following this, they built their new States whilst being inspired by the doings of these countries, who at the time had strictly technocratic conceptions of development, those of simultaneous construction of State and Nation " from the top". At the time, the example of Ethiopia was considered by the USSR government as the model to be followed for all developmental strategy. Furthermore, the popular nationalistic ideology that left its mark on the independance of these countries commanded the forces of change to throw out whatever came from the former colonizers, including the notion of modern democracy. The experiments of "true" socialism or communautarism of the Ismanic "oumma" were opposed to the "bourgeoise" democracy and supposed superior to it; it is on this ideoligical foundation that regimes of Nasser, Castro, Khadafi, Boumedienne, etc. were built. For example, it is still difficult to make the political heads of the Arab world admit that the concept of democracy was forged through the history of Western European people and that this does not constitute a reason upon which to reject it. In this way the internal social and political contradictions of each country and confrontation on an international scale have lead to the founding of authoritarian regimes, that are often even dictatorial and oppressive.

M.O.: After having been through the formal independancies of the post-colonial era, that camouflage the persistance of economic dependance vis-à-vis the multinationals' system, are we not witnessing the birth of formal democracies which cover up the pursuit of the exploitation and exclusion of the poorest people in all countries? Why is democracy having such a hard time penetrating the Third World?

A.S.: In attemps to respond to this, we have to look back on the realities of the past; democracy in its current form ever present in the West is the product of a very long process forming civil society in these countries. Through such a secular process, scarred by numerous social battles and very violent political conflicts, this civil society has built up power to counter the absolutism that existed in earlier times, and continues to play a fundamental role in today's parlementary democratic States. A good example of this is action, specific to each country, of judicial powers in Europe. Either there is nothing that equals it or it is just starting up in most of Third World countries. In these countries, those who control the workings of the state have virtually nothing in their way to counter-balance their power, for the culture that displays freedom of the individual, civic rights and social solidarity has still not strongly taken root and the historical beginnings of these States rather remind one of despotism or colonial pillage.
Nevertheless, since the end of the confrontation between blocks and the near total destruction of the pre-capitalist social systems in the whole world, we see people coming forth and speaking out against arbitraryness and undue privileges, and for more social justice and democracy, especially in big cities of the Third World where great masses of youth are shut out from production. It is thanks to these aspirations and this new awareness that constructing the forces necessary to put in place new developement policies will be possible. How are we to rid ourselves of the barriers that oppressive regimes represent and better guarantee respect of human rights? I think we are in an area that is still hardly explored yet. Falling back on repressive and anti-democratic practices to various degrees effectively seems to be the easy way out for governments submitted to the dominance of international relations, the effects of which are gravely felt in all countries: in the South by misery and social violence, in the North by massive unemployment and increasing pollution, in the East by the collapse of the capacities of production, the simultaneous proliferation of mafias and destruction of public services and by the destabilising pace of inflation. But we see here and there in the world political and social movements that reveal the existence of very lively struggles for democracy: it is very important to understand the beginnings of these struggles, the factors of success that they bring about and the obstacles that explain their failures, in attempts of imagining how the forces of success that exist every where could be able to overcome developmental inegalities, beginning with imposing the recognition of men's, women's and childrens' rights. Here it is only natural to mention the experience of the South African populations, who have succeeded in building a new State upon the ruins of Apartheid. One of the very interesting aspects of this experience is made up of the very different and multiple forms of solidarity that were demonstrated over the whole world, namely in the United States, tangible in form, with this struggle against institutionalised racism, as well as the efficacity of international sanctions that were decided for and put into place under the auspices of the UNO.
Other interesting political experiences are taking place elsewhere, particularly in several South and Central American countries, equally in some cases with the aid of theUN in an entirely new way like in El Salvador, Cambodia, Mozambique, and more recently Haiti. In several Black African countries we can see similar processes in the form of "National Conventions", which are always accompanied by social mouvements protesting against oppression and corruption. The experience happening in Morocco must equally be mentioned, where progress towards democracy was obtained by forces which struggled in the first instance for respect of human rights during the 70's and 80's, on this ground renewing solidarity links with similar forces in France and in Western Europe. For example, I recently met the Secretary General of the Catalonian Labour Commission who said to me, "We have decided to focus our international solidarity on the Moroccan labour unions because our textile factories have closed in order to be moved to Morocco: in fact we think, along with Moroccan unionists, that improvement of the workers' situation in Morocco can only positively modify work conditions in Catalonia itself".

M.O.: It seems therefore that some aspects of yesteryear nationalism are becoming obsolete, and that solidarity running tranversally accross peoples is created by occupying cultural, economic and political grounds at the same time, as much on a regional scale as on an intercontinental scale. It is not for this reason that the role of States and governments lose importance: this can be seen in the rapid transformations of the UN's action and in the emergence of new claims with regard to the policies of international development organisations.

A.S.: Yes, and it is in this way that South Africa's new gouvernment, through the voice of Nelson Mandela, brought forth as soon as it was inaugurated the problem of the transformation of international relations which favours fairer development. But very powerful contradictory forces can equally be seen: during the Gulf War, while trying to appear to fight Saddam Hussein's attack on Koweit, the coalition forces lead by the US carried out the systematic destruction of Irak's infrastructure and industrial capacities slowing up its development for years to come. In the same manner, the exactions and the destruction that some of the members of the ex-Federation of Yugoslavia commit on one another can only produce a very deep-rooted economic and social regression in this region of Europe. Dramas analogic to this are happening in Rwanda and several countries of the former Soviet Empire. It has also become known that France, Italy and Spain, faced with internal confrontations that are tearing apart an Algeria deeply suffering from problems caused by the debt and corruption of its Heads of State, envisage working together to create a "rapid intervention force" which is clearly directed against the peoples of North Africa.
Evolution of this type, whether already started or still only threatening, shows us the risk of seeing inegalities in development worsened and further broadening of global areas doomed to economic ruin and social and political chaos is not negligeable. We must conclude the struggle for the respect of human rights and the strengthening of democracy does not only concern individuals or groups of individuals, but also entire peoples, that are not collectively victims of violence and repression. One must nevertheless recognise that many aspects of the economic, social, cultural and political realities of today's world are still difficult to interpret, especially if we consider the major events of recent times: the collapse of States founded on "true socialism" and its subsequent dramas like the Gulf War and the transformations taking place in the near East, as well as the rapid changes of great amplitude that characterise the Pacific zone.

M.O.: Many repressive actions appear equally to be linked to financial and monetary constraints imposed upon Third World countries by the IMF and the IBRD in the form of "Structural Adjustment Programmes". We are therefore lead to asking the question of whether or not these organisations, officially supposed to favour developmental policies, have become implicated in the area of repression and attacks on human rights. In fact some aspects of the Structural Adjustment Programmes imposed by the IMF in order to re-establish balance in the foreign accounts of most of the Third World States have provoked resistance and massive protests, particularly concerning the price increase of the most highly necessary commodities. The governments in question responded to the protests by using repression, often quite violent in nature. This is especially true for South America and some African countries. In such situations one can clearly see the links between economic policies of governments that are authoritarian and corrupt and their acts of repression against the population. For the most part the monetary and financial imbalance from which suffer the near totality of these countries is in fact due to excessive loans taken out by these governments during the 70's and 80's, waste of the State's ressources in unproductive expenditures (arms, importation of consumer goods, construction of ruinous palaces and useless economic projects) and massive capital leaks to Western banks destined to sheltering the fraudulous private fortunes of the privileged classes. Recourse to violence and repression of social uprisings allows the instigators of these imbalances to bring their consequences to bear on the population. They have in a large way succeeded in doing so in countries like Mexico, Brazil or Peru , in which the forein debt is particularly high, and also in many other countries, amongst which those of North Africa are particularly well off.
Better yet, the burden of Third World debt and the interest payments that go along with it have made it possible for the international finance system to make the populations in question pay several times the amount of the initial loans. In this way and under the constraints of this repression a genuine money pump has been brought into existence. This money pump deprives the people of the endebted countries of the ressources that are necessary to their development. It seems only too clear to me that, from this standpoint, attacks on human rights and repressive regimes have an essential economic function and play a very important role in the origins and worsening of inegalities in development. But how is one to accept that international organisations, that are in principle responsible for the promotion of economic and social development of the peoples, become accomplice to such practices?

A.S.: This is why it seems obvious to me that the current workings of international relations and the absolute power exercised by technocratic structures and by the banks and the financial system of the Western countries has to undergo deep change and make room for new ways to organise work, spreading of revenu and financial regulation taking into account the aspirations and the needs of human beings as a whole and of Southern populations like those of the North. In order that this may be done, a different outlook on international relations is required; this is very difficult to acheive because the forces upon which we can depend are very dispersed but it is not impossible if we pay attention to shifts in social and political reality. New solidarity seems to be being built up in Asia in zones of development centering on China and Japan, as well as in South America between the countries in the south of the continent; other types of solidarity at several levels will unavoidably appear within the unit that comprises Canada, the US and Mexico, beyond the official treaties; debates on topics like what orientation should be given to the European Union and the future of its relations with the countries of the former socialist bloc equally reflect the same needs for deeply renewed international relations in order to face the global risks that threaten our future.

M.O.: Are the protection of human rights and the struggle for democracy forming a sufficient ideological basis for constructing the development strategies capable of reducing economic and social inegalities and strengthening the collective security of the nations?

A.S.: This is a whole new way of looking at not only international relations but avenues of development for the countries of the South, North and East that is currently in gestation and that has to be upheld. On one hand, bankruptcy and collapse of the communist regimes brought with it a broad loss of fondness for "true socialism" and the models it supported for fifty-some years. These models were based on very technocratic interpretations of Marxism and remained rigidly submitted to the chauvinistic and exlusivist aspects of popular nationalism. They were submerged in the flood of ultra-liberal ideas, according to which Man is reduced to a single dimension, that of consumer, and that make room neither for social and cultural dimensions nor for his need for solidarity and collective security. This the negation of all culture and every tangible contribution of the peoples and their history. Behind this charicature-type conception of freedom and sayings like "everyone for themself", money is genuine Master and it is in fact an ideological and spiritual emptiness that takes over.
On the other hand, we notice a resurgence of the impact of the great religions in the face of this ideological emptiness, religions that have made their mark on the history of humanity for they put forth ideas of justice and equality of men, even though they are not able get rid of exclusivist attitudes, each of them claiming that they are better than the other religions and in this way being able to open the way to intolerant and agressive fundamentalist movements. The new vigour found in tribal-like reactions, clan solidarity and marches for "ethnic purification", particularly in Europe, but also in a lot of other countries, can no doubt also be analysed, atleast partially, as consequences of this ideological emptiness. In this situation, all men who are able to make the least bit of sense as to what their responsabilities are come round to thinking that their efforts must absolutely be focused on redefining moral foundations and ethics based on humanism in the political struggle, because in losing sight of these foundations any ideology for social change can produce the dramatic situations that we have come to know throughout the world.
With this as starting point, men will certainly succeed in construction progress-oriented social ideologies that integrate the aspirations to justice that is evoked by religion, whilst also taking into account the analytic and critical approaches of the sciences, namely the social sciences, amongst which we find Marx's precious contributions to the understanding of our social and economic system (and not as a doctrine of partisan politics). A witness to such approaches are found in the works of Teilhard de Chardin and of other philosophers. And these are not the only ones. This futuristic ideology integrating all the cultural heritages and all experiences of social and political struggle without leaving any out in order to provide a basis for the responsibility and solidarity of human beings vis-à-vis their collective destiny, is a gestation before our eyes. Our ability to control our future depends on its development and influence.

M.O.: In delevoped countries, how can we get involved in the elaboration of this new vision of development which is based on the respect of others and the community of destiny between men and between peoples?

A.S.: In every country of the world, democratic forces which presently contribute aid to this very difficult task rely on the common principles that we have already covered. They also necessarily have equally common goals, such as deep reform of international monetary and financial policies that worsen development inegalities instead of putting them right. But these forces of democracy are restricted to adjusting their actions to the realities of each country and to the history of each people. In particular, in today's world they can no longer remain prisoners to the strategies of development founded uniquely on State control, which means they must accept inner pluralism and gather together salary workers as well as national private business men.
This is not to say that the role of the State is negligeable; on the contrary, because nowadays big developmental operations can no longer be realised without the capital and technical contributions coming from abroad. These contributions cannot be left uncontrolled between the hands on multinational firms. National interests must be able to make use of State means to harmonise development objectives in the framework of long term indicative planning, democratically elaborated, taking into account all of the country's interests as well as organising the control of the launching of a project by the social categories concerned therein: national business men, labourers, users of the service, etc. The picture that is being drawn here is one of mixt economy, with the participation of all those concerned as being indispensable, in this way being guaranteed by the State's democratic workings and organisation.
Of course this cannot be fully accomplished if the democratic forces are satisfied with acting only within each country; withdrawal into oneself and more or less autarkical plans have shown their weaknesses. Besides, the democratic forces already show their ability to find a different type of organisation to change 'fists-up' relationships on the international scene. For example, it is clear that no development experience could work if it remains isolated. Even if the democratic mouvement has presently gone further in Morocco, it will not acheive its goals of liberation and development if it is not linked up with the struggles and successes of the same type in Algeria and Tunisia. This is a difficult problem to resolve given the impasse in which the Algerian people currently find themselves, but there is no way out if one has to chose between the repressive and corrupt regime currently in power and the religious fundamentalism that tears society into antagonistic factions. The few democratic centres of resistence that remain in this country are the only who represent a tolerant and co-operative alternative ready to serve national interests. We can even see the possibility of further opening this perspective of co-operation: in fact, the democratic movements in North Africa are starting to strengthen the links they have with the popular aspirations in the countries north of the Mediterranean Sea, who are also victims of the current system dominated by international relations, to take action together in favour of profoundly tranforming relations. Equally, co-operation is developing with the ONG's on an international scale, which makes it possible for the democratic forces of all countries to actively make themselves heard inside UN agencies and to co-ordonate their actions in favour of international policies which are more favourable to genuine development.

M.O.: Finally, what conclusions can be drawn from the experience of struggles for human rights and democracy in the field of development?

A.S.: As early as 1956, I got very actively involved in Morocco's first developmental programmes, which took place against an extremely technocratic idealogical backdrop that dominated the whole world at the time. The misadventures in the hands of the dictatorship and the repression that I went through in my country and thoughts on the experiences of other countries have lead me to think that the goal of development cannot be limited to economic and technological notions. All aspects of Man have to be taken into account to realise genuine development, and such a development must be carried out under the direction and through the intervention of human beings directly concerned. Therefore in my eyes, the basis of all development must be founded on the creative expansion of all the members of society and on the "release of creative subjectivity" as Julia Christeva would say.
Such a demand naturally entails two essential conditions: the existence of a freedom space in which the rules of democracy allow for all initiative to bossom and a concerted regulation of social relations; and in other respects the deep rootedness of the peoples concerned in their history and culture, which is to say the acceptance and recognition of their identity. The alternative to the inegalities in development that currently render fruitless the immense majority of ressources available to humanity and that constitute the grounds upon which grave threats on international security start and evolve is therefore in my opinion the putting into practice of a radically new policy for development that would be propped up by three essential and complementary columns:
- first of all the putting into action of the creative energies of all human beings;
- secondly, the defence of human rights and freedom in democratically organised societies,
- and lastly the respect and recognition of all national identities built by the peoples' history.

Paris, October 1994


This interview was carried out within the framework of the international work group on development inegalities, created by the INES, for the exploration of responsabilities and possibilities of scientists' actions vis-à-vis the global problems brought into being by development inegalities. Please send your questions, critics, proposals, etc...to the following address:

Marc Ollivier
tel/fax: (33) 76 73 12 35 Email: mollivier@ismea.org

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