Menace of Drugs: Is it Really that Simple?

Submitted by Lakhbir Khunkhun

I recently watched a motion picture titled ‘GOOD KILL’. It is about a war crime. It is about the ‘DRONE WAR’ unleashed by the US imperialism on various sovereign Nations’ people in the world, western Pakistan (Waziristan) and Afghanistan are worth mentioning along with Yemen and others. In the movie a U.S air force major (a drone operator) is asked by a cop, ‘how was his war on terrorism going’ and in reply he says: ‘same as your war on drugs’. I pondered if there was a relation. The relation is very much there. Same as the war on terror has no clear cut enemies but a purpose to extend the imperial agenda, the war on drugs has hardly anything to do with human suffering caused in process but a purpose to control the illicit money involved. And through criminalising some substances, controlling the population.

There is no doubt that a lot of the covert imperialist wars and religious/fundamentalist reaction to them in form of asymmetrical war (terrorism if you may) are funded by money coming from the vast underground drug economy. Whether it was the flooding of black ghettos in USA to undermine and defeat black panther’s movement or funding the contras in Latin America to defeat the growing anti-imperialist socialist movement. The agenda of a minority class ruling over majority people has been always same. Keep people divided, they are easier to control. Creating more and more legal scenarios like criminalising dissent by making words like ‘radical’ sound ominous or creating laws on drugs just to promote horizontal violence among people and facilitating easier incarceration of enemies. As you will see in the following text that it is not any otherwise.

Before we go any further, let’s take a look at how drugs work at the most fundamental level i.e., the human brain. Almost all drugs, including alcohol & religion (if you may), have the effect of producing endorphins which according to medicine experts are also produced naturally in brains from various humanly satisfying activities such as fulfillment of desires, self respect, love, watching a sun-rise, meeting an old friend, kissing or being kissed by your child etc. Following is the excerpt from a web-site 

Endorphins are among the brain chemicals known as neurotransmitters, which function to transmit electrical signals within the nervous system. At least 20 types of endorphins have been demonstrated in humans. Endorphins can be found in the pituitary gland, in other parts of the brain, or distributed throughout the nervous system. Stress and pain are the two most common factors leading to the release of endorphins. Endorphins interact with the opiate receptors in the brain to reduce our perception of pain and act similarly to drugs such as morphine and codeine. In contrast to the opiate drugs, however, activation of the opiate receptors by the body’s endorphins does not lead to addiction or dependence.

The question we must ask here is that, in a class society what is the likeliness of a kind of life for humans where they can live humanly satisfying and respectful lives. Where they also have equal opportunities to fulfill their desires? If we can answer this question wisely we might be on right track.

Now getting to the beneficiaries in the drug trade, who also make it impossible for the good Samaritans to understand the real phenomenon. I will extensively quote Wendy Kaminer .

“A sensible person … might wonder why we criminalize the use of cocaine and heroin, not to mention marijuana, while we tolerate and even celebrate alcohol consumption. Of course, we learned long ago that prohibition of alcohol was bound to fail. So a sensible person might propose that we consider ending prohibition of drugs like marijuana, cocaine, and heroin, which pose much less threat to the public safety than alcohol, or at least reduce harsh penalties for their use. But sensible people have had little influence over the nation’s drug policies.

All of this has led many to declare the government’s anti-drug crusade a failure. But one man’s failed government program is another’s success. The war on drugs has transferred a vast amount of wealth and power to those who would otherwise have to find honest work. One doesn’t have to be a public-choice scholar to recognize that the drug war, like any war, is merely “politics by other means,” and that those who benefit from it have no desire to see it ended anytime soon.

Who are the beneficiaries of the war on drugs?

A major beneficiary, of course, is the U.S. government, which has used the drug war as a pretext to shred the Bill of Rights and claim vast new powers over the American people. That the drug war would lead to the depredation of civil liberties and the erosion of the rule of law was inevitable, given that there is simply no way for the government to effectively enforce its drug laws while abiding by the Constitution.
And as libertarians and many other constitutionalists have tirelessly pointed out, Washington’s drug war is illegal because the power to prohibit drugs has never been given to the federal government. Just as with alcohol prohibition, any federal law prohibiting or restricting the production, sale, and use of drugs (marijuana, cocaine, heroin, etc.) would require a constitutional amendment.

The war on drugs generates huge profits that enrich drug dealers and drug warriors alike. The dealers get very wealthy shipping and selling their contraband. The drug warriors, for their part, receive billions of dollars a year from the taxpayers and bank a sizeable portion of the war booty their raiding parties routinely snatch up. And this plunder includes more than just “drug money” but any property they suspect might be involved in narcotics trafficking. As the economist Robert Higgs writes,

The drug war has been a bonanza even to law-abiding cops, as the altered forfeiture laws have given the police free rein to seize private property more or less at will. … If in the process of padding their budgets the police arrest a throng of street-corner entrepreneurs who subsequently land in prison. Largess from asset forfeitures and federal grants allows local police departments to augment their salaries, expand payrolls, and purchase sophisticated surveillance equipment, high-powered weaponry, and other menacing-looking paramilitary gear. Indeed, the militarization of America’s police departments over the last 35 years has largely been a function of the drug war.

And behind the frontlines of this war is a vast legal-industrial-imprisonment complex employing thousands of judges, prosecutors, criminal-defense attorneys, bail bondsmen, prison guards, and vendors. For the corporations operating privatized “correctional facilities,” the drug war provides a steady supply of warm bodies to fill their prison cells.

Another major beneficiary of the drug war is the banking system, which takes in hundreds of billions of dollars annually from narcotics traffickers. The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) describes money laundering as “the method by which criminals disguise the illegal origins of their wealth and protect their asset bases in order to avoid suspicion of law enforcement agencies and to prevent leaving a trail of incriminating evidence.”

Money laundering is more than just an opportunity for greedy bankers to collect fat commissions. The huge amount of cash churned up by the illegal drug trade has become a vital source of liquidity for the rickety fractional-reserve banking system. UNODC’s director, Antonio Maria Costa, told the British newspaper the Observer in late 2009 that proceeds from the illicit drug trade were “the only liquid investment capital” available to many banks on the brink of collapse. In fact, “a majority of the $352 billion of drugs profits was absorbed into the economic system as a result.” According to Costa, “Inter-bank loans were funded by money that originated from the drugs trade and other illegal activities. … There were signs that some banks were rescued that way.”

The CIA has long been involved in drug trafficking. This conflux of the intelligence netherworld and the narcotics-trafficking underworld has been written about by a variety of credible journalists and scholars. The reports usually involve the CIA working with drug traffickers, providing them assistance in return for intelligence and material support. Alfred C. McCoy, author of The Politics of Heroin in Southeast Asia, writes,

In most cases, the CIA’s role involved various forms of complicity, tolerance or studied ignorance about the trade, not any direct culpability in the actual trafficking … the CIA did not handle heroin, but it did provide its drug lord allies with transport, arms, and political protection. In sum, the CIA’s role in the Southeast Asian heroin trade involved indirect complicity rather than direct culpability.

Peter Dale Scott, a retired professor and the author of many books including Cocaine Politics: Drugs, Armies, and the CIA in Central America, and Drugs, Oil, and War: The United States in Afghanistan, Colombia, and Indochina, believes McCoy understates the extent of CIA involvement. Scott believes rather than being passively drawn into “drug alliances,” the CIA actively engages in narcotics trafficking in pursuit of certain “national-security” objectives and to finance “off-the-books” operations. Scott writes, “Far from considering drug networks their enemy, U.S. intelligence organizations have made them an essential ally in the covert expansion of American influence abroad.”

Robert Parry’s Lost History: Contras, Cocaine, the Press, & “Project Truth” and Alexander Cockburn and Jeffrey St. Clair’s Whiteout: The CIA, Drugs, and the Press are two well-researched books supporting Scott’s contention. And perhaps most notable is the reporting of the late Gary Webb. His “Dark Alliance” series published in the San Jose Mercury News in 1996 sparked a firestorm of controversy by asserting the CIA had engaged in cocaine smuggling as part of its covert operations supporting the Nicaraguan Contras. Though Webb was criticized at the time and driven out of the mainstream press for his investigative journalism, much of what he reported in the series was validated later by an inspector general’s investigation of the CIA.

The war on drugs has created shared interests for the world’s largest banks, drug cartels, and the U.S. intelligence apparatus. As the economist Michel Chossudovsky writes,

This trade can only prosper if the main actors involved in narcotics have “political friends in high places.” Legal and illegal undertakings are increasingly intertwined, the dividing line between “businesspeople” and criminals is blurred. In turn, the relationship among criminals, politicians and members of the intelligence establishment has tainted the structures of the state and the role of its institutions.

The drug war is not about squashing narcotics trafficking, nor is it about protecting Americans from the ravages of drug addiction. The ugly truth is the war on drugs is one of America’s most lucrative industries, funding police salaries and supporting the country’s vast prison system. It is apparently also propping up a bankrupt financial system and reportedly providing the spooks at Langley with cash to finance their black ops. Ending the drug war would require fundamentally rethinking decades of official policy, closing down multiple government agencies, as well as undermining the powerful, entrenched corporate interests that have developed over the last 40 years. Perhaps this is why U.S. government will make sure the war on drugs never ends. Meanwhile, civil liberties are violated, the Constitution is trashed, lives are ruined, and the death toll mounts.

Today, if you ask a member of public what they think of drugs you will often find that those who deal and consume drugs are often viewed in a criminal way, as a blight on an otherwise good society and that every ill in society would solve itself if it wasn’t for the drugs trade. It is also the view that the agents of law enforcement benevolently try their best, in vain, against what is perceived to be the “social scourge” that individuals who usually trade these narcotic consumer goods are portrayed to be. This view is so universal that it is hard to dislodge, since every institution from the corporate media to the church denounces the drugs trade and urge the keeping of the prohibition.

This is why we need to see drugs in a different way. As S. Taylor-Wickenden writes (from an Imperialist Nations citizen’s perspective) Why we need to see drugs in a different way.
and I quote:

This is where a sober analysis of drug trade becomes crucial. What is missing is an analysis which looks for much larger, intractable problems than the simple Hollywood inspired ‘good cop vs. bad dealer’ and this is what a Marxist analysis does. It aims to show the real effects the war on drugs has and how the drugs prohibition helps to keep the profits flowing for the mega rich and how it keeps the powerful in power.
Since the United States is the chief superpower in this era, we shall concentrate largely upon the drugs trade there, since it has the biggest involvement and also reaps the biggest benefit from this trade. It is also useful to point out that economists tend to avoid the topic of drugs as a commodity, simply because of the negative universal portrayal of this commodity. Our analysis definitely treats drugs as a commodity like any other and contextualises it with a class analysis to show the inherent abuses of power because of the existence of the drugs trade. It is my hope that drugs can be seen in a different light altogether, as a break from the simple and misguided dichotomy which we find as the prevailing opinion of the day.

Historical Application

The first major war involving drugs as a commodity were the Opium Wars in the 19th Century. The aim of the war was to open the isolationist Chinese economy to exploitation, global trade, and partial colonial take-over. The Opium wars were a series of conflicts involving the European imperialist powers represented chiefly by the United Kingdom. France was a secondary player in the region to Britain. The wars were fought from 1839 to 1842 and 1856 to 1860. These were chiefly fought over trade of the narcotic called opium, which the British used to extend their imperial influence and profits at the expense of the Chinese Empire. During the Treaty of Nanjing and Tientsin, China had to cede Hong Kong Island and also Southern Kowloon as a territorial concession. The Chinese peasantry were subjected to massive poverty and decline in their living standards, while the Chinese bourgeoisie benefited from the trade, got rich, and later dominated the state with such drug merchants such as Chiang Kai Shek, head of state in the interwar period.

It was the British East India Company’s operations in Bengal, by then occupied by Britain, which produced the opium in their factories undoubtedly putting the workers under starvation wages to feed the profits of men such as John Napier and Charles Elliot. The goods were then shipped to the coast of China and then sold for a good profit. China began to lose control of its finances and also, with the growing number of addicts in China rising, the Emperor Daoguang demanded action to stop this addiction from afflicting the Chinese people. Instead of legalisation, the supporters of suppression won the day and the Chinese then arrested Chinese opium dealers. They laid siege to the firms and demanded that their stock be destroyed. In response, the British brought their gunboats and ravaged the coast of the Chinese mainland leading to further land incursions by other European powers during the Second Opium War which, led to land concessions and pro “free-trade” concessions.

The consequences of this were China’s “century of humiliation”, opening up to Christian religious missionaries, destitution for its people, land concessions and control of swathes of territory for the benefit of European empires. For Britain, this meant an expansion of trade in East Asia for well over a century. For us, this shows the first example of how government complicity in the production, exchange, and distribution of the drugs trade emerged from Victorian Britain and how it was openly used in an imperial way to subjugate and pacify the country for exploitation. On a more general level it shows us that “free markets”, as was the norm during the Victorian Britain, have an undeniable dependence on the state, and without the state, those markets could not have opened up East Asia by themselves.
In the 17th century the same effect was achieved by selling “fire water” to the Native Americans. The British and their colonies would trade their alcohol for furs and pelts and other goods which the Native Americans gave with such naïve innocence. Our current superpower, the United States of America, was founded on such trades with the Native American population, culminating in 8 million deaths and a replacement of one population by another. It is therefore not hard to see the pivotal role which drugs and narcotics play in the imperial power game of states.

Contemporary Drugs Trade

The invasion of Afghanistan in October 2001 unleashed a vast increase in the global production of opium. Opium production in Afghanistan before the invasion was 75% of the worlds total in 1999; after the invasion it comprised of 90% of the worlds total produced in the year 2000. The product was then sold as heroin to the European and Russian Markets. The Taliban used the opium for 96% of its revenue. The other sources coming from Pakistan and the Bin Laden family. The BBC quoted a UN report in 2009, which stated that the opium market, worth $65bn (£39bn), funds global terrorism, caters to 15 million addicts, and kills 100,000 people every year.

According to Global research, $65 billion is the tip of the iceberg. The extent of the drugs trade in monetary terms amounts to between US$300 and $500 billion world-wide. Most of the funds are laundered by massive financial institutions, such as HSBC who, let it be known, laundered $22 billion of drug money through their affiliate HBUS; they got lightly fined to the tune of $1.9 billion although it is only 1/12th of their profits. The US government and the enforcement agencies ignore the financial aspect of this illegal trade and, as a result, not even one banker got prosecuted or imprisoned for breaking the US law. When we compare this to the imprisonment of the small-time domestic drug dealer and the consumer of drugs, it strikes the sober analyst of this problem as grossly negligent at the very least and premeditated at the very worst!

Catherine Austin Fitts, a former investment banker from Wall Street who was interviewed by Oliver Villar, gives us this astonishing insight into the trade:

“Essentially, I would say the governments run the drug trade, but they’re not the ultimate power, they’re just one part, if you will, of managing the operations. Nobody can run a drug business, unless the banks will do their transactions and handle their money. If you want to understand who controls the drug trade in a place, you need to ask yourself who is it that has to accept to manage the transactions and to manage the capital, and that will lead you to the answer who’s in control.”

Villars also corroborates this testimony that since the international drugs trade is around US$300 billion to $500 billion a year and that half of that, something between $150-$250 billion and over, actually goes to the United States. What does this say if you use an imperial political economic approach? It means that the imperial center, the financial center, is getting the most, and so it is in no interest for any great power (or state) to stop this if great amounts of the profits are flowing to the imperial center. It is also wise to note the criminalized status of drugs. It is criminalized in society, but when it comes to the economic and financial sector, it is actually decriminalized. So we have some kind of contradiction and paradox where it would be great if it would be criminalized, but when it comes to the financial sector, it is lax, unregulated, and as we know, the US Federal Reserve can monitor any deposit over $10,000, so it’s not that they don’t know – they know what’s going on. If this is the case, it is no surprise to see a vast number of money laundering banks, which include: HSBC, Western Union, Bank of America, JP Morgan Chase & Co, Citigroup, Wachovia amongst many others that have allegedly failed to comply with American and British anti-money laundering (AML) laws.

The Bush and Obama Departments of Justice spent trillions of dollars fighting the combined “war on terrorism” and “the war on drugs”, while simultaneously allowing US banks to launder money for the cause that the US is supposedly at war with! This is an active demonstration of the contradictions of Capitalism in a global microcosm. The fight against global Jihad finds itself in the same contradiction because many of the terrorist cells are funded by the Gulf States and Saudi Arabia, who are in turn funded by the United States’ and Europe’s addiction to oil. This key contradiction is the reason why the US cannot win “the war on drugs” and “the war on terror” because it is undermined by its very own private institutions belonging to finance and oil bourgeois. Thereby, or so we think, underlining a conflict of interest of these bourgeois.

Drugs: The Great Game

Another aspect to the war on drugs is its use of foreign and domestic policy as a tool. On April 4th 1948 Jorge Elicére Gaitán, a populist, Liberal politician who promised land reform, was murdered by the US backed ultra-conservative oligarchy which now rules Colombia; this started what is now known in Colombia as “La Violencia”. The Cold War was the justification the US needed to use state violence in which 300,000 people died from 1948 to 1958. The people most liable to be murdered were trade union members, students in associations, peasant organizations, and the same kind of what are considered subversive elements in Colombia. Undeniably, more trade unionists are killed in Colombia than in the whole world combined. It has the lowest rate of unionization in the whole continent and it has actually come to the point where there are not many more unionists to murder. Since 2002 onwards more than 250,000 people have lost their lives in the state-sponsored terrorism.

Due to the Chinese Communist revolution’s success in combating the drugs trade from 1949 onwards, and also the victory of the Communists in Vietnam in 1975 with their success in fighting the addictions of their people, they reduced the profits of the drugs organisation and the profits of the imperial backers of these organisations. It is a historical footnote to state that Chiang Kai Shek was a drug merchant himself before he took state power and that many involved in the anti-communist reactionary counterinsurgency in Vietnam had links to the international drugs trade. The drug organisations’ production was historically based in Indonesia, Malaysia, and Thailand due the historical importance of the Opium Wars and Britain’s global hegemony at the time. The shift of the drugs trade is mirrored in the shift of global power from one country to another (i.e. from Great Britain to the United States). The US has always sought dominion over Latin America as stated in the Monroe Doctrine. It is, therefore, not a giant leap of the imagination to state drugs are a directly imperial commodity along with oil and finance.

In aggregate, the US has spent about US$1 trillion throughout the globe on “the war on drugs/terror”. There are a few questions we should be asking ourselves about these parallels, which are more than a coincidence. Has it failed the drug money-laundering banks? Has it failed the key Western financial centers? Has it failed the narco-bourgeoisie in Colombia – or in Afghanistan, where we can see similar patterns emerging? No. Is it a success in maintaining the political economy? Yes! It is with real irony that one must imagine the cognitive dissonance the global feral elite are going through and how “oppressed” they claim to be! This feeling of isolation they feel in their gated communities we see in Colombia and Mexico, laundering drugs and oppressing the working-class, demonstrates Marx’s idea that the narco-bourgoisie, by oppressing the working-class, oppress themselves in many ways by their very own system! And why this shows the universal need for a Socialist revolution, which will come across with the need to abolish private property. Which will, in the end, benefit all classes.

Social Solution

The drugs trade is a global phenomenon, which is intimately linked to imperial power since the 17th century in its modern form. It stands up to logic that to end the drugs trade, there must be a global anti-imperial movement, with the right analysis identifying the link between the global drugs trade and US hegemony. The legalisation, taxation, and regulation of all drugs in the UK for example is only one piece of the puzzle. Drugs, as Russel Brand and Matthew Perry have said in recent interviews, should be viewed as an illness; treating drugs users with clean needles for their own use to stop, for example, the spread of the HIV virus.

Treatments could include centres where abstinence based recovery is the norm and that these young men and women are found jobs, a good education, a good home, and plenty of social contact and emotional support to help them recover and lead a better life. To me, this means following a Socialist plan for the economy. Simultaneously, this should be in conjunction with a fully public National Health Service, renationalised, which is paid for by National Insurance and is free at the point of use. The corporations behind the NHS should be put under democratic workers’ ownership with a national plan to put their monopoly on pharmaceuticals firmly in the people’s hands.

Our foreign policy should keep this in mind for its agenda: Helping improve people’s lives all across the world and decreasing the death toll in countries like Colombia, Afghanistan and Somalia by dismantling the international structures of the trade and by reducing the demand for those drugs, and destroying the need to produce many of the world’s most addictive narcotics, the profits of which go into the hands of reactionary global terrorist organisations. If this model can be adopted by Socialist governments, it stands to reason that the world could, with a lot of hard work, become a more peaceful and enlightened place to live in.”

To conclude, I would just like to raise a few points which might be seriously considered when talking about ‘menace of drugs’ or such topics.
1. Why is it that the US war on drugs ends up making billionaires on one hand and a whole population of black youth in jails?
2. What right any state has to declare one substance illegal and celebrate the other much worse one?
3. Who gives rights to the pharmaceutical companies (the legal drug dealers) to make addicts of whole generations of school going children (as in US 20% are diagnosed with psychological disorders and have to take medicine) and dehumanized work force (addicted of Zoloft a depression medicine)?
4. Which addiction category would suffice for the Gambling and sex addicts?
5. What future holds for all of us in terms of a respectful and free life?

References:

1. Wendy Kaminer. American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU)
2. S Taylor Wickenden. Author ‘Empire and the history of drug trade’

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