Hidden Agendas


NY: New
Press, 1999, pbk. 424 pp.

Review by
Anthony Arnove

Pilger is perhaps best known in the United States for his documentary Death
of a Nation
, a stunning expose on the genocide in East Timor. He has
written numerous books and articles and is currently working on a documentary
for ITV in Britain on the effect of sanctions on the people of Iraq.

latest book, Hidden Agendas, is a remarkable collection of his recent
journalism and commentary. Hidden Agendas weaves together the struggle
of Liverpool dockers sacked for showing solidarity and refusing to cross a
picket line; activists in East Timor fighting for independence from Indonesian
occupation; forced laborers in Burma; and activists in South Africa whose hope
for fundamental change after the end of apartheid has been sacrificed for
stable relations with multinational investors and corporations that dominate
the South African economy.

On this last
point, Pilger writes, "The most important ‘historic compromise’ [made by
the African National Congress] was not with the apartheid regime, but with the
forces of Western and South African capital, which changed their allegiance
from P.W. Botha to Nelson Mandela on condition that their multinational
corporations would not be obstructed as they ‘opened up’ the South African
economy, and that the ANC would drop its foolish promises in its Freedom
Charter about equity and the country’s resources, such as minerals,
‘belonging to all the people’."

In his vivid
accounting, none of these stories seems "dated" or disconnected, as so
often happens with compilations of a journalist’s work. Partly that is
because of the lens that Pilger applies to each story: each particular battle
is linked to a larger one.

"This book is
a tribute to people who, in refusing to attend the funeral [for socialism
declared in 1989] have brought to light the hidden agendas of governments,
corporations and their bureaucracies," he writes, explaining the book’s

One important
theme in Hidden Agendas is the growing connection between British and
U.S. militarism under the stewardship of Labor Prime Minister Tony Blair and
President Bill Clinton.

In the recent
NATO war in the Balkans and in the ongoing war against the people of Iraq—
through almost daily U.S. and UK bombings and imposition of sanctions that
have claimed the lives of more than 500,000 Iraqi children—Britain has been
eager to prove its value to the world’s superpower.

Americans ‘have made it clear’ that Britain’s ‘traditional role’ is
now best served watching over U.S. interests in Europe…. It also means
fulfilling Britain’s sub-imperial obligations as an American lieutenant in
the United Nations and other U.S.-dominated international institutions, as
well as in key areas of the world, like the Gulf."

is at his best discussing the hypocrisy of those who defend war in the
language of human rights and democracy. Labor Foreign Minister Robin Cook’s
stated commitment to usher in a new "ethical" foreign policy, he notes,
didn’t preclude selling Hawk fighter jets to Indonesia to use against the
people of East Timor, something that Cook had protested loudly against when
the Tories were the ones closing the deal.

backtracking, he argues, follows a long Labor Party tradition of promoting
dictatorships and arms proliferation, a record in some ways worse than even
that of the Tories. "New brand names come and go," Pilger writes.
"‘Preventive diplomacy’ and ‘humanitarian intervention,’ the latter
a veteran of the Gulf [War] slaughter…. ‘United Nations peacekeeping’
and ‘peace operations’ are current favorites."

Pilger also
shows the confluence between the ideology of Blair and Clinton, looking to the
market for solutions it has caused, emphasizing "personal responsibility,"
and attacking the remaining shreds of the social safety net, while
demobilizing popular opposition by gesturing to the dangerous forces allegedly
to their right.

The New Press
has done a great service in publishing Pilger’s book, but in shortening it
from the British edition published by Vintage, it made some regrettable
choices. In particular, the decision to leave out Pilger’s emotionally
devastating—and inspirational—account of the Liverpool dockers’ struggle
undermines the force of Hidden Agendas. The chapter on the dockers
shows how, despite the betrayal by the officials of their union and the
British Trades Union Council and their ultimate defeat, the solidarity they
formed with workers worldwide demonstrates the potential to challenge
capitalist globalization.

The Vintage
edition also includes additional articles on Australia, popular journalism,
Ireland, and poverty in Britain. The material on Australia is particularly
valuable given its role in recent developments in East Timor.

Regardless of
these omissions, the American edition of Hidden Agendas is an
inspirational collection of Pilger’s work.

Anthony Arnove is an editor at South End Press.