Re­vealed in the Par­adise Papers

Who’s who in leak of off­shore se­crets

The Guardian Weekly - - Front page - Micah White

The ul­tra-rich are still stuck on our planet and ac­tivists must en­sure that there is nowhere for them to hide

The street-level re­sponse to the Par­adise Papers, the mighty fol­low-up punch to last year’s Panama Papers, has been cu­ri­ously tepid. This is prob­a­bly not what many ac­tivists, and the 100 me­dia or­gan­i­sa­tions in­volved in the leak, ex­pected to hap­pen. In strik­ing con­trast to the bomb­shell re­lease of the Panama Papers in mid-2016 that im­me­di­ately trig­gered a 10,000-per­son-strong protest in Ice­land lead­ing to the res­ig­na­tion of prime min­is­ter Sig­mundur Davíð Gunnlaugs­son, the Par­adise Papers have thus far made many head­lines but no up­ris­ings.

The world was dif­fer­ent – ar­guably bet­ter – 18 months ago when com­men­ta­tors widely be­lieved, as Rana Foroohar put it at the time in Time mag­a­zine: “the Panama Papers could lead to cap­i­tal­ism’s great­est cri­sis”.

Many ac­tivists jus­ti­fi­ably, and op­ti­misti­cally, an­tic­i­pated that the largest leak in hu­man his­tory would pro­vide the ev­i­dence nec­es­sary to spark an on­go­ing series of protests world­wide that would yield last­ing change.

Then Brexit hap­pened, alt-right na­tion­al­ism surged and Don­ald Trump was elected pres­i­dent of the United States. In other words, the Panama Papers protests, and left­ist ac­tivism more gen­er­ally, were quickly over­shad­owed by a dra­matic string of vic­to­ries for the crim­i­nally rich who now fig­ure promi­nently in the Par­adise Papers.

That is why I want you to en­ter­tain the pos­si­bil­ity that this time around the ab­sence of pre­dictably re­ac­tive street protests that dis­si­pate as spon­ta­neously as they erupt – and quite frankly, have not yielded sys­temic change in re­cent years – is a pos­i­tive sign.

Rather than be­ing an en­cour­age­ment to suc­cumb to de­featism, or a re­treat into an equally false tri­umphal­ism that un­con­vinc­ingly claims our move­ments are win­ning, the eerily quiet re­sponse to the Par­adise Papers is a long-over­due in­di­ca­tion that ac­tivists ev­ery­where are ei­ther open to, or ac­tively in­volved in, reimag­in­ing revo­lu­tion­ary ac­tivism in the 21st cen­tury.

The de­creas­ing ef­fec­tive­ness of protest is a symp­tom of grow­ing class seg­re­ga­tion. The rich and pow­er­ful are not ex­is­ten­tially threat­ened by protests in the street be­cause our streets are not their streets.

Sure, noisy mobs might force one or two tax evaders to take a less pub­lic role – per­haps even re­sign from of­fice – but the fun­da­men­tal eco­nomic in­jus­tice of our so­ci­ety is not cor­rected.

I sus­pect many of us are no longer swayed by the the­atri­cally mil­i­tant rhetoric used by Brooke Har­ring­ton, a Copen­hagen Busi­ness School pro­fes­sor, whose re­sponse to the Par­adise Papers is char­ac­ter­is­tic of the pro­gres­sive left: “It won’t be lost on wealth man­agers and those in the off­shore in­dus­try that we are reach­ing sort of French Rev­o­lu­tion lev­els of in­equal­ity and in­jus­tice.” Gaz­ing back­ward in this way is detri­men­tal to mov­ing for­ward.

As long as we keep as­sum­ing that the next rev­o­lu­tion will look like the great modernist rev­o­lu­tions of the past whose script was dra­matic street protests fol­lowed by the col­lapse of the regime, then we will con­tinue to be un­able to imag­ine into ex­is­tence to­mor­row’s rev­o­lu­tion.

The fun­da­men­tal les­son of the Panama and Par­adise Papers is twofold. First, peo­ple ev­ery­where, re­gard­less of whether they live in Rus­sia or Amer­ica, are be­ing op­pressed by the same mi­nus­cule so­cial cir­cle of wealthy elites who un­duly con­trol our gov­ern­ments, cor­po­ra­tions, uni­ver­si­ties and cul­ture.

We now know with­out a doubt that there is a global plu­toc­racy who em­ploy the same hand­ful of com­pa­nies to hide their money and share more in com­mon with each other than with the cit­i­zens of their coun­tries. This sets the stage for a global so­cial move­ment.

Sec­ond, and most im­por­tantly, these leaks in­di­cate that our Earth has bi­fur­cated into two sep­a­rate and un­equal worlds: one in­hab­ited by 200,000 ul­tra high-net-worth in­di­vid­u­als and the other by the 7 bil­lion left be­hind. While street protest is los­ing its ef­fec­tive­ness, there is a force that could ter­rify these elites: the spec­tre of a ruth­less and glob­ally in­escapable class jus­tice.

Un­like in the 99%’s world where youth lan­guish for months and years in jail for al­legedly steal­ing a back­pack or $5 worth of candy or a bot­tle of wa­ter, in the world oc­cu­pied by the 1% get­ting caught steal­ing mil­lions from the pub­lic through tax eva­sion might be em­bar­rass­ing but is rarely pros­e­cuted. That must change.

The ul­tra-rich live in a dif­fer­ent world, but they are still stuck on our planet and ac­tivists must en­sure that there is nowhere to hide. Protesters must frighten the uber-rich with a so­phis­ti­cated move­ment to es­tab­lish a new bind­ing global le­gal regime ded­i­cated to pros­e­cut­ing fi­nan­cial crimes against hu­man­ity.

With the im­pe­tus to re­ori­ent our protests away from the old model of get­ting an­gry in the streets in the hopes of top­pling cor­rupt in­di­vid­u­als and to­ward the new af­fir­ma­tive ap­proach of found­ing a plan­e­tary le­gal regime – an in­ter­na­tional crim­i­nal court that ruth­lessly pros­e­cutes tax eva­sion as a crime against hu­man­ity – could be the great­est gift of the Par­adise Papers. And only ac­tivists can make it hap­pen.

Micah White is one of the co-cre­ators of Oc­cupy Wall Street

Daniel Pu­dles

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