Launched to mark the start of bank bonus season, a new animation is setting out to increase public pressure on government to take on the banks and not sweep reform under the carpet. It ask politicians whether they have a plan to tame the bank, and if not, why not?
The minute-long animation is inspired by Rolling Stone journalist Matt Taibbi's description of investment bank Goldman Sachs as a giant vampire squid "sucking on the face of humanity".
The animation is backed by a wide range of influential pressure groups including: nef, Compass, PLATFORM, ResPublica, 38 Degrees, WDM, Positive Money, Tax Research and the Post Bank campaign.
Find out more at www.giantvampiresquid.org and send the film to your MP.
The government of the USA has planned for India to become an important consumer of its agricultural exports and crop science. India has also been planned as a host country for an agricultural research agenda directed by American crop-seed biotech corporations. This is to be achieved through a variety of programmes in India, some of which began their preparation two years ago. This agenda, labelled as US-India cooperation by India’s current UPA-2 government and by the USA’s current Barack Obama administration, has the support of the American farm sector, but not that of India’s farmers and cultivators. The clear and blunt objective is to increase US agricultural exports and to widen as quickly as possible the trade surplus of the US agricultural sector.
This agenda has become clear following the three business and industry meetings held during the visit of US President Barack Obama-’US-India Business and Entrepreneurship Summit’ in Mumbai on 6 November, ‘India-US: An Agenda for Co-Creation’ with the Confederation of Indian Industry (CII) in New Delhi on 8 November, and ‘US-India Conclave: Partnership for Innovation, Imperative for Growth and Employment in both Economies’ with the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FICCI) in New Delhi on 9 November.
The US agri-business view has been projected in India by the US-India Business Council, a business advocacy group representing American companies investing in India together with Indian companies, with a shared aim to deepen trade and strengthen commercial ties. In a document titled ‘Partners in Prosperity -Business Leading the Way’ (November 2010), the business council stated: “India requires an ‘Ever-Green Revolution’-a new program which would engage the country’s rural sector, providing water utilization and crop management ‘best practices’ to promote greater food security-this time based on technology to increase efficiency and productivity. The effort to vitalize India’s agriculture sector should be driven by business, and the first step is improving India’s farm-to-market global supply chain.”
This business-driven trade in agricultural goods and services was given formal shape two months ago during the inaugural meeting of what is called the India-US Agriculture Dialogue, on 13 and14 September 2010 in New Delhi. India’s Foreign Secretary Nirupama Rao and USA’s Under Secretary (Energy, Economic and Agricultural Affairs) in the US State Department, Robert Hormats, co-chaired the ‘Dialogue’. Under this agreement, India and the USA have set up three working groups for: ’strategic cooperation in agriculture and food security’, ‘food processing, agriculture extension, farm-to-market linkages’, and ‘weather and crop forecasting’. The ‘Agriculture Dialogue’ is designed to be the implementing process for the India-US Memorandum of Understanding for Cooperation in Agriculture and Food Security, signed almost a year ago by Obama and Singh. On 24 November 2009, they had agreed on a Memorandum of Understanding on Agricultural Cooperation and Food Security that will, according to the US State department, ‘’set a pathway to robust cooperation between the governments in crop forecasting, management and market information; regional and global food security; science, technology, and education; nutrition; and expanding private sector investment in agriculture”.
‘Agriculture Dialogue’ is the new name given to a US-India plan for trade and investment in agriculture, which saw its genesis on 18 July 2005 when Singh and then US President George W Bush announced the ‘US–India Knowledge Initiative on Agricultural Education, Teaching, Research, Service, and Commercial Linkages (AKI)’. At the time, apart from government officials from both sides representing agriculture and crop bureaucracies, Indian and American universities and the private sector were on the AKI board. The Indian agri universities were the Govind Ballabh Pant University of Agriculture and Technology (Pantnagar, Uttaranchal), the Tamil Nadu Agricultural University (Coimbatore, Tamil Nadu) and the Indian Veterinary Research Institute (Bareilly, Uttar Pradesh). India’s private sector was represented by Venkateshwara Hatcheries Ltd, Masani Farms (its owner was a National Horticultural Board director), ITC Ltd’s Agribusiness chief executive and Wal-Mart India. The American private sector was represented by Archer Daniels Midland Company and Monsanto.
The US-India AKI has been criticised from the outset as being the means with which American agribusiness will enter India’s farm and food logistics sector. It is the AKI and its associated trade and investment programmes (apart from the research collaborations between US agri industry and Indian state agriculture universities) which have helped the conversion of India’s national agriculture research system from being farmer- and cultivator-oriented to being business- and trade-focused. The key agent of such a change is the Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR) and its network of 49 institutes, six national bureau, 25 project directorates, 17 national research centres and 78 all-India coordinated research projects. Moreover, ICAR controls research, education and extension education in 44 state agricultural universities, five deemed universities, one central agricultural university (for the North-East) and four central universities. For the American agri industry-crop science combine, the ICAR network represents both scientific labour and ready access to a field testing system that is a tradition well over a century old, for the Imperial Council of Agricultural Research was established in Pusa (Bihar) in 1905.
How will American corporate farms, seed, biotech and agri equipment corporations make use of this access? The US-India Business Council drafted, in advance of the Obama visit, three ‘advocacy priorities’: (1) Opening up of multi-brand retail sector to ‘organised players’, by which it means American retail chains. ”As study after study has shown, doing so would bring efficiency, infrastructure, technology, and know-how to Indian farmers, food processors, food service providers, and other suppliers,” claims USIBC. (2) Backing up the Agriculture Dialogue by the lowering of tariff and non-tariff barriers which are ”affecting trade in fresh fruits and vegetables, poultry, pistachios, dairy products, and horticultural products - we also seek reduced customs duties on items such as processing equipment, restaurant equipment, and related goods”, says the USIBC. (3) Encouraging US companies to display to India their ‘’success stories of business sector intervention in agriculture and food processing”. Doing so can ”raise awareness in a positive way about how ‘best practices’ and technologies can deliver greater efficiencies” so that India can achieve the ‘Evergreen Revolution’.
During Obama’s visit, in both Mumbai and New Delhi, the business and financial media were already being treated to ‘awareness raising’ on this subject: ”Monsanto’s revolutionary cotton seeds have helped double India’s cotton output in just six years”, ”PepsiCo has helped Punjab diversify its agriculture by introducing major citrus orchards”, ”Cargill’s Nourishing India program provides nutrient-fortified edible oils to 25 million Indians per month”, ”McDonalds and Heinz have developed new efficiencies, transforming the lettuce and tomato industries in India” and ”Walmart’s wholesale cash and carry stores connect farmers directly to small retailers, eliminating costly intermediaries”. This barrage of propaganda has been carefully orchestrated on both sides, the Indian and the American.
By mid-2010, the position of the Ministry of Agriculture, Government of India, became clear. In an address during the 28-29 July 2010 ICAR-Industry Meet, Union Agriculture Minister Sharad Pawar said that his ministry recognises the role of the private sector in critical areas of agricultural research and human resource development. The conventional approach of public sector agricultural R&D has been to take responsibility for priority setting, resource mobilisation, research, development and dissemination. He then explained that agricultural extension, which has been neglected for several years now, is ”no longer appropriate”. The alternative, Pawar advised, is public-private partnerships through which public sector institutes (such as those in the ICAR network) can ”leverage valuable private resources, expertise, or marketing networks that they otherwise lack”. This is the undisguised merchant reasoning behind the creation of ‘Business Planning and Development units’ in five ICAR institutes (Indian Agricultural Research Institute, Indian Veterinary Research Institute, Central Institute for Research on Cotton Technology, National Institute of Research on Jute and Allied Fibre Technology, Central Institute of Fisheries Technology). These units will tackle intellectual property management, commercialisation of research, find investors and begin businesses. India’s National Agricultural Research System, therefore, has decided to now become a broker of its own output (publicly funded) and a speculator seeking profits from the country’s agricultural and food price crises.
In the same month (July), the Department of Industrial Policy and Promotion (DIPP) of the Ministry of Commerce released a discussion paper entitled ‘Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) in multi-brand retail trading’. This paper, said the DIPP, was circulated to “generate informed discussion on the subject” which will ”enable the Government to take an appropriate policy decision at the appropriate time”. However, that consultative pose was neutralised by the central government taking a position against the arguments protesting FDI in retail. The ‘limitations’ of current conditions in the Indian retail sector were described as:
The United States and European countries, which dominated every nook and corner of the world by constructing their own system of social justice, are now in a state of shock. The uncertainty about future has made experts convene meetings by the hour in European and US capitals. They spent billions of dollars of hapless taxpayers to bail out giant corporations.
They blame the inevitable failure of capitalism on excessive borrowing and consumption. They find fault with the “have-nots” and have started drafting policies to exploit them more. Imperialism is a system that serves the powers that be. It has no connections with democracy.
The present scenario has once again has proven economist’s observation that the capitalist system based on exploitation of the people will not sustain itself. World’s superpowers, which colonized other countries using military power for creating new markets, restructured their politico-economy after the first world war.
Unlike the feudalistic social structures of the past, capitalism has witnessed several falls within a short span of its birth.
The economic crisis of the early seventies created the neo-liberal models which are crumbling today. The new order of liberalism and globalisation was created to withstand the economic crisis of the seventies. Italy’s former finance minister Giulio Tremonti who saw in globalisation a big hope, later (within a span of few months) wrote a book on the dangers of globalisation.
As socialist countries emerged as a challenge to western capitalism in the seventies, capitalists started moving their investments to Third World countries in order to make more profits and to weaken the labour force in the US and the Europe.
The price paid by Western labourers for globalisation and neo-liberalism is unemployment. This rampant unemployment helped capitalism create a reserve army of labour in their own countries. The excessive profits capitalism earned by exploiting third world’s workforce went a long way in funding the social security guarantee schemes to please the unemployed.
The structural crisis of economy which began in the seventies lasted till early eighties. Reduction in industrial productivity, lesser growth rate, unemployment, macro instability of boom and recessions forced would-be US president Ronald Reagan and would-be British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher to frame globalisation as a policy, according to George Soros. Further he elaborates that today’s economic crisis has several unsolvable features within an entirely different capitalist structure.
In the last twenty years, globalisation has become so widespread that one feared of every nook and corner of the world would become the backyard of American imperialism. When globalisation, the highest form or manifestation of imperialism, is shaken, it is natural for economists and common folks to raise a question if the imperialist structure and its dependent countries could sustain themselves.
Every time capitalism collapsed, a new order such as the neo-liberalism of the 1970s was created to sustain it. However the present situation is completely different. Many capitalist economists have admitted that an all-new restructuring appears to be impossible. Many predict that the dominance of the US and the Europe would last only for a few more years.
Karl Marx’s Vision
When Karl Marx predicted this crisis 160 years ago, he was depicted as a terrorist and a mischief-monger. Karl Marx’s thoughts on economics referred to popularly as ‘Trajectories a la Marx’, explains scientifically why capitalism cannot sustain itself. Marx and Engels, establishing this by dialectical method, say that a communist society would be born from the ashes of a capitalist society. Karl Marx, who introduced to the world scientific socialism, is now remembered not just by capitalist magazines but also by religious leaders. “Karl Marx is proved right. Capitalist economics is suffering blows from all sides,” says the editorial of The Guardian in Britain.
“The criticism of capitalism by Karl Marx, the father of modern Marxism, is partly true,” says the religious leader from Canterbury. Keeping the capital and property under individual ownership is one aspect of capitalism; agency of capital is the other side of the same coin. Macro economic features help this structure sustain itself.
Capital will be accumulated in one place, either with individuals or with giant corporations. The owners of capital want to save it up. Credit Mechanism is born here. It is carried out through banks and money distribution. The nature of money distribution, being an endless one, becomes a threat to the capital accumulated through profits according to Gerard Dumenil and Dominique Levy in their essay Neo Liberalsim: It’s nature and contradictions. The present economic crisis has its roots here.
As Karl Marx rightly pointed out, one of the basic requirements of capitalism is buying labour force. Periodic replenishment of army of labour is central to determine the price of labour from time to time. Creating unemployment for a section of workforce and thereby stopping the pay hike of the rest of the workforce is a strategy to keep up the profits. These two aspects of capitalist mechanism has led to the 2008 economic crisis and the fall of capitalism. The economic crisis of the seventies and its resultant globalization helped free movement of capital. Giant corporations moved to third world countries such as India to increase their profits. Western giant corporations flourished. Capital kept accumulating.
The basics of today’s crisis
Capitalism drafted new plans after its crisis of the 1970s. They found new ways to circumvent the protests of the organized labour force and the struggles of the trade unions for pay rise. A new order is created to overcome the threat of Marxism and the united struggle of the oppressed sections.
Capitalist economic structure, which has profits as its basis, escaped from the well-organised workforce of the West and moved to poorer countries in search of cheap labour. This is what Karl Marx termed as the agenda of creation of unemployed labour force. This jobless army of labour helped control the pay hike of existing workforce in Britain. For instance, the oil tanker drivers of Britain did not enjoy any pay hike after 1992. If the present workforce is sacked, there is an army of labour waiting outside to fill up the vacant posts. This modus operandi has naturally created a change. This has driven capitalism to plunge into the present crisis. The crisis began when the capital and production were moved to third world countries.
With industrial manufacturing sector literally off-shored to third world countries in the last ten years, small productions, banking capital became the source of capital in imperialist or English-speaking countries. After the digital electronics boom of the 1990s, IT became widespread. 80 per cent of the population in Britain and US handle computers and are familiar with them. But the manufacturing of computers by giant corporations such as HP, Dell take place in countries like India and China. While the production was carried out elsewhere, it was the money from sales which helped accumulation of capital in the West. The owners of the capital, which was accumulated by exploiting cheap labour, found in their governments protectors. The governments created credit mechanism to please their people and help the movement of the capital.
Credit Mechanism through the banks
Credit mechanism is the business dynamism of providing the capital invested in stock markets and savings as loans to people and making profits from it in the form of interests. Housing loans are the highest form of this mechanism. As the interest rates of housing loans were slashed, the number of people opting for housing loans went up. The demand for houses increased. In US and Britain, the prices of homes went up by 60 per cent in 10 years. This helped increase the capital of corporations in the housing sector and that of the banks offering home loans. As a result, the dynamism of the capital went up and helped save capitalist economic structure. Thus capitalist credit mechanism helped rotation of the capital and capitalism. The profits associated with the capital invested in third world countries increased. Though there was a guarantee for the pay hike of the European workforce, it was deducted in the form of interest for loans and taxes.
According to economist Michael Robert, home loans were the prime mover of European capitalism as there was hardly any investment in the manufacturing sector. With most of the industrial manufacturing sector moving to the third world, the credit mechanism-dependent structure is crumbling down. Capitalism which kept itself going by reinvesting its profits, earned in the third world, is now struggling to find an alternative.
The consumerist society without the capacity for manufacturing in Britain has left each family with a debt burden of 59,350 sterling pounds. The debt has increased by 10.6 billion sterling pounds in the last 12 months. During 2007, the average per capita income was 1338 pounds and the average daily expenses were a little higher than this.
The ever-increasing cost of living in the West and the inability of the people to pay up their debts created a crisis for the banks. With the prices of homes increasing at 90 per cent rate, people stopped buying houses and the prices of homes hit an all-time low. The giant corporations and business tycoons started withdrawing their shares from the banks and the banks started to fall.
In the US, banks started take a beating since 2006. Yet the crisis accentuated only in 2008. Savings banks took the first blow followed by the commercial banks.
What do we do now?
Capitalism is attempting to create an illusion that the present crisis is just a credit crisis. It has been taking efforts and doing the campaign to avoid any pessimism arising among the public in the system of capitalism.
The dynamics of imperialist capitalism has come to a screeching halt. With the production capacities of manufacturing forces coming to a standstill and no alternative economic models in place, the capitalist structure presents temporary models to buy time. US government paid 700 billion dollars of taxpayers’ money to bail out banks. Britain’s Gordon Brown government acquired 50 billion shares to overcome the crisis temporarily. They are still searching for other coping mechanisms.
Imperialist countries talk about controlled capitalism and cooperation between banks; they don’t even whisper about the huge capital accumulated by giant corporations. They cannot exploit poorer countries like before by devising new schemes. The boom of Chinese capitalism and the modernization of manufacturing sector in the third world have become new external factors while dealing with the crisis. US-led economic monopoly is coming to an end. It will try to regain control again. What alternatives do the Leftists have? The mere boasting that Karl Marx predicted movement of capitalism from the West to the East and the fall of capitalism will not suffice.
Britain: The housing tsunami: Michael Robert. 2008
The politics of financial service revolution: Michael Morgan. 1991
The Globalisation Decade: A critical Reader : AAKAR BOOKS. 2006
Financial Time UK
The New Paradigm for Financial Markets: The Credit Crisis of 2008 and What It Means : George Soros.2008
PROTESTS OUTSIDE FCI GOWDOWNS (AND DISTRICT COLLECTORATES AND STATE SECRETARIATS)
DEMANDING FROM THE GOVERNMENT -
# DISTRIBUTION OF FOOD FOR FREE OR AT SUBSIDISED RATES TO ALL THE POOR AND VULNERABLE IN THE COUNTRY, INSTEAD OF LETTING GRAINS ROT
# LEGISLATION OF A COMPREHENSIVE NATIONAL FOOD SECURITY ACT WITH A UNIVERSAL PDS AND ENTITLEMENTS FOR CHILDREN, OLD AND THE SOCIALLY VULNERABLE.
In light of the recent Supreme Court order to distribute food grains to the poor rather than rotting in the FCI godowns, we announce the “Godamo Ke Tala Kholo Abhiyan”, a week of action and protests in the state, from 22nd to 28th September. This will be part of National Action Week which will be held across the country on behalf of Right to Food Campaign, with participation from PBKMS, Udayani Social Action Forum and many other organisations in West Bengal. Padyatras, meetings and press conferences will be organised throughout the week.
On June 4th about ten thousand Haitian peasants marched to protest US-based Monsanto Company’s ‘deadly gift’ of seed to the government of Haiti. The march was seven kilometers from Papaye to Hinche, in a rural area on the central plateau, and was organized by several Haitian rural social movements that are proposing a development model based on food and seed sovereignty instead of industrial agriculture. Slogans for the march included “long live native maize seed” and “Monsanto’s GMO & hybrid seed violate peasant agriculture.”
The poorest country in the Western Hemisphere, Haiti shares the Caribbean island of Hispaniola with the Dominican Republic. About 65 percent of Haiti’s population lives in rural areas and are subsistence farmers. On January 12 2010, a devastating earthquake leveled Haiti’s capital city Port au Prince, and 800,000 urban refugees migrated to rural areas. According to Chavannes Jean-Baptiste, coordinator of the Papaye Peasant Movement (MPP) and a member of La Via Campesina’s international coordinating committee, “there is presently a shortage of seed in Haiti because many rural families used their maizeseed to feed refugees.”
With sales of $11.7 billion in 2009, US-based transnational corporation (TNC) Monsanto Company is the world’s largest seed company, controlling one-fifth of the global proprietary seed market and 90 percent of seed patents from agricultural biotechnology. In May Monsanto announced that it had delivered 60 tons of hybrid seed maizeand vegetables to Haiti, and over 400 tons of its seed (worth $4 million) will be delivered during 2010 to 10,000 farmers. The TNC United Parcel Service is providing transport logistics, While Winner, a $127 million project funded by the US Agency for International Development (USAID) and focused on “agricultural intensification”, is distributing the seed.1 According to Monsanto, the decision to donate seed to Haiti was decided at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland: “CEO Hugh Grant and Executive Vice President Jerry Steiner attended the event and had conversations with attendees about what could be done to help Haiti.”2 It is unclear whether any Haitians were included in the conversations in Davos.
Some have charged that the Monsanto representative in Haiti is Jean-Robert Estimé, who served as foreign minister during the brutal 29-year Duvalier family dictatorship.3 While Monsanto vehemently denies this claim4, Estimé is included in an email exchange about the donation between Elizabeth Vancil, Director of Global Development Partnerships at Monsanto and Emmanuel Prophete, a Haitian agronomist working for the Minister of Agriculture.5 The domain for Estimé’s email address is for Winner (www.winner.ht).6
Many Haitians consider Monsanto’s seed donation to be part of a broader strategy of US economic and political imperialism. "The Haitian government is using the earthquake to sell the country to the multinationals," stated Jean-Baptiste. Vancil stated that opening up Haitian markets to Monsanto’s products “would be good.”7
Monsanto is emphasizing that the donated seed is hybrid and not genetically-modified (GM)8. However, hybrid seed will not increase Haitian farmers’ food sovereignty or self-reliance; Monsanto acknowledges that they will be unable to save seed to plant in the future9, and that although the seed is being provided free of charge, farmers will pay for it. “Providing an outright donation of seed would undercut one of the basic pieces of Haiti’s agricultural and economic infrastructure,” says Monsanto10, which is donating the seed to the government to sell to farmers. Winner is distributing the seed through farmer association stores, which will use the revenue to reinvest in other inputs, and help “farmers decide whether to use additional inputs (including fertilizer and herbicides) and…how to handle next year’s planting season.” 11
Haiti’s agricultural sector has already been decimated by US interference. In 1991, Jean Bertrande Aristide, Haiti's first democratically-elected president, was removed in a US-supported military coup. As a condition for his return, the US, IMF and World Bank required that Aristide open up Haiti to free trade. Tariffs on rice (Haiti’s staple grain) were reduced from 35% to 3%, government funding was diverted away from agricultural development to the nation's foreign debt, and subsidized rice from Arkansas (it was the Clinton administration) flooded the Haitian market. Haitian rice farmers were decimated12, and today almost all of the rice consumed in Haiti is imported. Sacks marked ‘US Rice’ are everywhere in the markets and neighborhood stores, on peoples’ heads and the backs of mules.
The US is now undermining Haiti’s food system from the ground. A letter from the Haitian Minister of Agriculture to Monsanto implies that GM seed may have been offered in addition to hybrid. “In the absence of a law regulating the use of genetically-modified organisms (GMO) in Haiti, I am not at liberty to authorize the use of Roundup Ready seed or any other GMO material,” stated Juanas Gue, Haitian Minister of Agriculture, in a letter to Monsanto13, which has already proven the length it will go to open new markets in developing countries for its GM seed and toxic chemicals. In 2005, Monsanto was found guilty by the US government of bribing high-level Indonesian officials to legalize GM cotton. Evidence indicates that in Brazil in 2004, Monsanto sold a farm to a senator for one-third of its value in exchange for his work to legalize glyphosate, the world’s most widely used herbicide (sold by the corporation as Roundup).14
According to Paulo Almeida, 31, a member of the Brazilian Movement of Landless Rural Workers who has been in Haiti since 2009 on a solidarity brigade organized by Via Campesina-Brasil, Monsanto also encouraged Brazilian farmers to illegally plant Roundup Ready soybeans. “They want to implant the technological package of the Green Revolution, which isn’t possible here in Haiti. There is no way to survive with monoculture here.”
The hybrid seed maize donated by Monsanto was treated with the fungicide Maxim XO, and the calypso tomato seed were treated with thiram, a chemical so toxic that the US government requires agricultural workers to wear protective clothing when handling seed treated with the fungicide. Monsanto's communications to the Ministry of Agriculture contains no explanation of the danger of these chemicals, or any offer of special clothing or training for Haitian farmers.15
Development of industrial agriculture in Haiti is related to plans to develop an export-oriented agrofuels industry in the country. In 2007 USAID published a report on the ‘prospects for solid and liquid biofuels in Haiti’16, while the Inter-American Development Bank’s Haiti strategy document for 2007-2011 states that removing “obstacles to export of agricultural products are a top priority,” and that “biofuel promotion is being explored specifically.”17
The Obama administration has a hypocritical and inconsistent policy on Monsanto and GM crops. When the Obamas moved into the White House they planted an organic garden, and one can only assume they did not plant GM or hybrid seed. In the US Monsanto monopolizes 60 percent of the entire seed maizemarket and 80 percent of the GM seed maizemarket. In March the administration convened public anti-trust hearings on competitiveness in the US seed market, and has yet to publish its conclusions. Yet the Obama administration is strongly promoting the interests of US agricultural biotechnology TNCs abroad. At the Biotechnology Industry Organization's annual convention in May, Jose Fernandez, assistant secretary for the Bureau of Economic, Energy and Business Affairs, stated that the US State Department (which controls USAID) will aggressively confront critics of agricultural biotechnology.18
Meanwhile, the US Supreme Court is presently deliberating Monsanto Co. vs Geertson Seed Farms, a case about the ecological and economic effects of genetic contamination of organic seed from GM pollen. A favorable decision for Monsanto will lead to the widespread contamination of organic alfalfa, which will destroy the organic milk industry in the US. Though Monsanto’s GM pollen has been contaminating Mexican corn for a decade, the corporation recently received license from the country’s government to conduct open field trials of GM maize in four states. Mexico is the cradle of maize, with thousands of native varieties. Contamination of Haitian maize with pollen from Monsanto’s hybrid corn will also occur, and could render the Haitian varieties unusable for saving and replanting, forcing farmers to become dependent upon the corporation.
“The entrance of Monsanto into Haiti will spell the disappearance of the peasants,” said Doudou Pierre Festil, a member of the Peasant Movement of the Congress of Papaye and coordinator for the National Haitian Network for Food Sovereignty and Security. “If Monsanto’s seed come into Haiti, the seed of the peasants will disappear. Monsanto’s seed will create problems of health and for the environment. Thus it is necessary for us to struggle against this project of death to do away with the peasants.”
“If the US government truly wants to help Haiti, it would help the Haitians to build food sovereignty and sustainable agriculture, based on their own native seed and access to land and credit. That is the way to help Haiti,” says Dena Hoff, a diversified organic farmer in Montana and member of Via Campesina’s international coordinating committee.
The United Nations estimates that 75 percent of the world’s plant genetic diversity has been lost as farmers have abandoned their local seed for genetically-uniform varieties offered by TNCs, and as GM and hybrid seed have contaminated native varieties. Genetic homogeneity increases farmers’ vulnerability to sudden changes in climate and the appearance of new pests and diseases, while seed agrobiodiversity, adapted to different microclimates, altitudes and soils, is fundamental for adapting to climate change.
Critics of Monsanto’s donation argue that the best way to ensure enough seed for Haiti is through the collection, conservation and propagation of local, native varieties in community seed banks. Haiti’s native seed varieties have developed and adapted to the different regions of Haiti over generations, in tandem with its people. Saving and replanting seed strengthens crops’ genetic plasticity, e.g. their capacity to adapt rapidly over generations to changing growing conditions, and also increases agrobiodiversity.
Island nations are particulalry vulnerable to climate change. If the US does not get its’ policy for Haiti right this time, there will not be another chance. Given the extent of food insecurity and environmental degradation in Haiti, the country must adopt a policy for food sovereignty in order for its people and biodiversity to survive. Ninety-eight percent of Haiti’s original tropical forest cover has been lost, there is widespread soil erosion, and desertification is increasing. Haiti cannot sustain further ecological destruction from the imposition of industrial agriculture. Alternatively, if the Obama administration supports a policy of food sovereignty in Haiti, the country could construct a model food system that could feed all Haitians healthy food, increase biodiversity and ecological resilience, and contribute to local, sustainable economic development. Recent research by agroecologists at the University of Michigan shows that sustainable, small-scale farming is more efficient at conserving and increasing biodiversity and forests than industrial agriculture.19 In order to implement a policy for food sovereignty, Haiti must develop without Monsanto’s seed.
Fortunately, Haitian peasants have a long history of resistance and struggle. Haiti was the first colony in the Western Hemisphere to have a successful slave revolt that resulted in an independent nation in 1804. Haiti became a global pariah to the emerging global powers, especially the US. “We defend peasant agriculture, we defend food sovereignty, and we defend the environment of Haiti until our last drop of blood,” states the Final Declaration of the march against Monsanto. “We commit to unite our forces to change this anti-peasant, anti-national state. We want to construct another kind of state, a state that defends peasant agriculture, a state that assists the rural men and women in the protection of the environment, and the conservation of soil and forest.” 20
Speaking from a stage in Charlemagne Péralte plaza, named for the Hinche-born leader of an armed movement against the 1915-1934 US occupation of Haiti, Jean-Baptise symbolically set Monsanto seed on fire, while others began to distribute packets of native seed maize to the cheering crowd. "We have to fight for our local seed," Jean-Baptiste told them. "We have to defend our food sovereignty." 21
Via News – June 15 2010
1 PR Newswire. “Monsanto Company Donates Conventional Maizeand Vegetable Seed to Haitian Farmers to Help Address Food Security Needs.” May 13 2010. http://www.prnewswire.com/news-releases/monsanto-company-donates-conventional-corn-and-vegetable-seed-to-haitian-farmers-to-help-address-food-security-needs-93713444.html.
2 Monsanto Company. “Monsanto donates maizeand vegetable seed to Haiti.” Monsanto Blog May 13 2010. http://www.monsantoblog.com/2010/05/13/monsanto-donates-seed-to-haiti/. Accessed June 7 2010.
3 Urfie, Fr. Jean-Yves. “A new earthquake hits Haiti: Monsanto’s deadly gift of 475 tons of genetically-modified seed to Haitian farmers.” Global Research. Canada. May 11, 2010.
4 Monsanto Company. “Haiti seed donation timeline.” http://www.monsanto.com/features/helping_haitian_farmers_timeline.asp. Accessed June 15 2010 @ 10:46 EST.
5 Email exchange dated April 1st between Elizabeth Vancil and Emmanuel Prophete, in which Jean Robert Estimé is included at a Project Winner email domain.
6 project winner.
7 Katz, Jonathan M. “Monsanto gives Haiti $4 million in hybrid seed.” Associated Press. May 14, 2010. http://www.politicalfriendster.com/showConnection.php?id1=6093&id2=238.
8 Monsanto Company. “Five answers on Monsanto’s Haiti seed donation. Monsanto blog May 20 2010. http://www.monsantoblog.com/2010/05/20/five-answers-monsanto-haiti/.
9 Katz, Jonathan M. “Monsanto gives Haiti $4 million in hybrid seed.” Associated Press. May 14, 2010. http://www.politicalfriendster.com/showConnection.php?id1=6093&id2=238.
10 Monsanto Company. “Monsanto donates maizeand vegetable seed to Haiti.” Monsanto Blog May 13 2010. http://www.monsantoblog.com/2010/05/13/monsanto-donates-seed-to-haiti/.
11 Monsanto Company. “Five answers on Monsanto’s Haiti seed donation. Monsanto blog May 20 2010. http://www.monsantoblog.com/2010/05/20/five-answers-monsanto-haiti/.
12 Holt-Gimenez, Eric. “Haiti: roots of liberty, roots of disaster.” Huffington Post, January 21 2010. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/eric-holt-gimenez/haiti-roots-of-liberty--r_b_431724.html.
13 Haitian Minister of Agriculture. Letter to Mr. Jerry Steiner, Executive Vice President for Sustainability and Corporate Affairs, Monsanto Company. March 26 2010.
14 Kenfield, Isabella. “Monsanto’s seed of corruption in Brazil.” North American Congress on Latin America. October 16 2010. https://nacla.org/node/1417 .
15 Bell, Beverly. “Haitian farmers commit to burning Monsanto hybrid seed.” Huffington Post. May 17 2010. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/beverly-bell/haitian-farmers-commit-to_b_578807.html.
16 Portnoff, Marc. “Prospects for solid and liquid biofuels in Haiti.” United States Agency for International Development. April 2007.
17 Inter-American Development Bank. “Country strategy with Haiti: 2007-2011.” November 2007. http://enet.iadb.org/idbdocswebservices/idbdocsInternet/IADBPublicDoc.aspx?docnum=1309702 .
18 Clapp, Stephen. “State Department official pledges to confront global biotech critics naysayers.” Informa.com. May 10 2010; Volume: 52, Issue: 09. Received via email on May 7 2010.
19 University of Michigan. “SNRE Professor Perfecto co-authors PNAS paper on family farms, biodiversity and food production.” ANN ARBOR, MI, February 22, 2010. http://www.snre.umich.edu/newsroom/2010-02-22/snre_professor_perfecto_co_authors_pnas_paper_on_family_farms_biodiversity_and_f
20 Final declaration of Haitian movements against Monsanto, June 4 2010.
21 Weekly News Update. “Haiti: Thousands of farmers reject Monsanto’s seeds.” http://weeklynewsupdate.blogspot.com/2010/06/wnu-1036-haitian-farmers-reject.html . June 7 201
The envisaged reconstruction of the Icelandic economy is behind schedule, to put it mildly.
Gross national product (GDP) in constant IKR prices contracted by 6.5% in 2009 (original forecast was 9.5%) but its FX/dollar value fell by 28% (original forecast was 20%). As detailed further in my attached letter of last April 26 to Poul M. Thomsen, the IMF official in charge of Iceland issues, the IMF projects GDP in 2013 to be 4.3% higher in constant IKR prices than in 2008 but 25% lower in FX/dollar terms. I made certain related comments in the letter on Iceland's debt servicing capacity in light of the Brussels Icesave guidelines to which Mr. Thomsen has not responded. Therefore, it is timely for Iceland's Althing to undertake a detailed review of the economic program agreed with the IMF so that, absent change of course, further damage to the economy may be avoided.
In this connection I believe that the increased income and consumption taxes (and related increase of indexed loan principals) recommended by the IMF would make a bad situation worse and serve to postpone difficult actions to strike at the roots of financial disequilibrium in the economy. Iceland's Supreme Court has taken the first step in that direction with its decision ruling the FX-indexation of IKR loans illegal, but Althing must take the initiative to abolish the price-indexation of IKR loans. FX- and price-indexation of IKR loans have not only stood in the way of professional and effective monetary management over the years, but they are also weapons of choice for ruthless promotion of their self-interest by financial market parties which contributed greatly to - with some benefiting from - the collapse of the króna and the entire economy in October 2008.
The economic program agreed with the IMF was partly based on ideas in the field of mainstream monetary economics on which Alan Greenspan, former US Fed Chairman, commented before a congressional committee on 23 October 2008. "Those of us [who considered those ideas sound] are in a state of shocked disbelief [because] the whole intellectual edifice collapsed in the summer of ," Greenspan said. For the past "40 years or more [he had been going] with very considerable evidence that that they were working exceptionally well." The IMF Executive Board has been of the same view for just as long but it has not re-examined its own modus operandi, cf. the monetary aspects of the AGS economic program which reflects an old and collapsed world-view.
The same is true of the Central Bank of Iceland, but its most recent statistics suggest that in the first half of 2010 the CBI provided 50 billion IKR in interest income on an annual basis to financial institutions for deposits with the CBI whose national economic value is hard to discern. Absent evidence to the contrary, here is about 50 billion IKR in government sector outlays which could be cut without any adverse effects - and might encourage financial institutions to search out profitable loan opportunities in the economy. But the main problem in government sector finance in the period ahead is how to create financial space for the Treasury to address urgent tasks following the Supreme Court's ruling on FX-indexation of IKR loans and, if Althing rises to the occasion, the abolition of IKR loan price-indexation.
According to CBI economic statistics deposits with deposit institutions were about 1640 bn. IKR at end-March 2010. Chances are that a large portion of deposits in excess of 5-10 million IKR are the product of opportunities for wealth accumulation present in the bubble economy which burst in October 2008, leaving a heavy debt burden for Iceland and its people. Information is not at hand on the distribution of deposits by amount, but if deposits in excess of 5-10 million IKR as of 30 June were about 1500 bn. IKR, then 10-20% taxation of such deposits would yield about 150-300 bn. IKR to the Treasury. Icelanders are not all equally able to lend support to Iceland's economic independence, but it cannot be truthfully said that wage-earners in general, the elderly and the disabled have not shouldered their responsibilities in this hour of urgent need.
Understanding the terrain on which we fight. from MR Zine “Post-modernism does not make this radical critique to promote the emancipation of individuals and of society through socialism. Instead it proposes a return to pre-modern, pre-capitalist alienations.
“The forms of sociability that it promotes are necessarily in line with adherence to a ‘tribalist’ identity for communities (para-religious and para-ethnic), an antipode to what is required to deepen democracy, which has become a synonym for the ‘tyranny of the people’ daring to question the wise management of the executives who serve the oligopolies.
“Post-modernist critiques of ‘grand narratives’ (the Enlightenment, democracy, progress, socialism, national liberation) do not look to the future but return to an imaginary and false past, which is extremely idealized. In this way it facilitates the fragmentation of the majority of the population and makes them accept adjustment to the logic of the reproduction of domination by the imperialist oligopolies.
“This fragmentation hardly disturbs that domination; on the contrary, it makes the task easier. The individual does not become a conscious, lucid agent of social transformation, but the slave of triumphant commodification. The citizen disappears, giving way to the consumer/spectator, no longer a citizen who seeks emancipation, but an insignificant creature who accepts submission.”
The Battlefields Chosen by Contemporary Imperialism: Conditions for an Effective Response from the South
by Samir Amin
In the art of war, each belligerent chooses the terrain considered most advantageous for its battle for the offensive and tries to impose that terrain on its adversary, so that it is put on the defensive. The same goes for politics, both at the national level and in geopolitical struggles.
For the last 30 years or so, the powers forming the Triad of collective imperialism (the United States, Western Europe, and Japan) have been defining two battlefields, which are still current: “democracy” and “the environment.”
This paper aims first to examine the concepts and substance in the definitions of each of these two themes selected by the Triad powers and to make a critical analysis of them from the viewpoint of the interests of the peoples, nations, and states at which they are targeted, the countries of the South, after those of the former East. Then we shall look at the role of all the instruments brought into play by the strategies of imperialism to wage its battles: “liberal” globalization, with its accompanying ideology (conventional economics), the militarization of globalization, “good governance,” “aid,” the “war on terrorism” and preventive warfare, as well as the accompanying ideologies (cultural post-modernism). And each time we shall highlight the conditions for an effective response from the peoples and states of the South to the challenge presented by the reorganization of the Triad’s imperialism.
1. “Democracy,” What “Democracy”?
It was a stroke of genius of Atlantic alliance diplomacy to choose the field of “democracy” for their offensive, which was aimed, from the beginning, at the dismantling of the Soviet Union and the re-conquest of the countries of Eastern Europe. This decision goes back to the 1970s and gradually became crystallized in the Conference of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) and then with the signing of the final Act in Helsinki in 1975. Jacques Andreani, in his book with the evocative title Le Piège, Helsinki et la chute du communisme (The Trap: Helsinki and the Fall of Communism), explains how the Soviets, who were expecting an agreement on the disarmament of the NATO and a genuine détente, were quite simply deceived by their Western partners.1
It was a stroke of genius because the “question of democracy” was a genuine issue and the least one could say was that the Soviet regimes were certainly not “democratic,” however one defined its concept and practice. The countries of the Atlantic Alliance, in contrast, could qualify themselves as “democratic,” whatever the limitations and contradictions in their actual political practices, subordinated to the requirements of capitalist reproduction. The comparison of the systems operated in their favor.
This discourse on democracy then gradually replaced the one supported by the Soviets and their allies: “peaceful coexistence,” associated with “respect” for the political practices of both parties and for “non-interference” in their internal affairs.
The coexistence discourse had had its important moments. For example, the Stockholm Appeal in the 1950s reminded people of the real nuclear threat implied by the aggressive diplomacy employed by the United States since the Potsdam Conference (1945), reinforced by the atomic bombing of Japan just a few days after the conference.
However, at the same time the choice of this strategy (coexistence and non-interference) was convenient — or could be convenient, depending on circumstances — to the dominant powers in both the West and the East. For it enabled the realities of the respective descriptions, “capitalist” and “socialist,” to be taken for granted by the countries of both the West and the East. It eliminated all serious discussion about the precise nature of the two systems: that is, examination of the actually existing capitalism of our era (oligopoly capitalism) and “actually existing socialism.” The United Nations (with the tacit agreement of the powers of the two worlds) changed the terms of “capitalism” and “socialism” to “market economies” and “centrally planned economies” (or, to be mischievous, “administered economies”).
These two terms — both of them false (or only superficially true) — sometimes made it possible either (1) to emphasize the “convergence of the systems” — a convergence that was itself imposed by modern technology (a theory — also false — derived from a monistic, technicist concept of history) — and to make room for coexistence in order to facilitate this “natural” convergence; or, (2) on the contrary, to stress the irreducible opposition between the “democratic” model (associated with the market economy) and “totalitarianism” (produced by the “administered” economy), depending on the needs of the moments during the cold war.
Choosing to concentrate the battle around the discourse of “democracy” made it possible to opt for the “irreducibility” of systems and to offer the Eastern countries only the prospect of capitulation by returning to capitalism (the “market”), which should then produce — naturally — the conditions for democratization. The fact that this has not been the case (for post-Soviet Russia), or has taken place in highly grotesque forms (for ethnic groups here and there in Eastern Europe), is another matter.
The “democratic” discourse of the countries of the Atlantic alliance is in fact recent. At the outset, the NATO accommodated itself perfectly well to Salazar in Portugal, the Turkish generals, and the Greek colonels. At the same time the Triad diplomacies supported (and often established) the worst dictatorships that Latin America, Africa, and Asia had ever known.
At first the new democratic discourse was adopted with much reticence. Many of the main political authorities of the Atlantic alliance saw the inconveniences that could upset their preferred “realpolitik.” It was not until Carter was President of the United States (rather like Obama today) that the “moral” sermon conveyed by democracy made sense. It was Mitterand in France who broke with the Gaullist tradition of refusing the “division” imposed on Europe by the cold war strategy promoted by the United States. Later, the experience of Gorbachev in the USSR made it clear that rallying to this discourse was a guarantee for catastrophe.
The new “democratic” discourse thus bore its fruits. It seemed sufficiently convincing for “left-wing” opinion in Europe to support it. This was so, not only for the electoral left (the socialist parties) but also those with a more radical tradition, of which the communist parties were the heir. With “eurocommunism” the consensus became general.
The dominant classes of the imperialist Triad learnt lessons from their victory. They thus decided to continue this strategy of centering the debate on the “democratic question.” China is not reproached for having opened up its economy to the outside world, but because its policies are managed by the Communist Party. No account is taken of the social achievements of Cuba, unequalled in the whole of Latin America, but its one-party system is constantly stigmatized. The same discourse is even leveled against Putin’s Russia.
Is the triumph of democracy the real objective of this strategy? One has to be very naïve to think so. The only aim is to impose on recalcitrant countries the “market economy,” open and integrated into the so-called liberal world system. This is in reality imperialistic, its purpose being to reduce these countries to the status of dominated peripheries of the system. This is an objective that, once achieved, becomes an obstacle to the progress of democracy in the victimized countries and is in no way an advance in response to the “democratic question.”
The chances of democratic progress in the countries that practiced “actually existing socialism” (at least at the beginning) would have been much greater, in the medium term if not immediately, if the dialectic of social struggles had been left to develop on its own, opening up the possibility of surpassing the limits of “actually existing socialism” (which had, moreover, been deformed by at least partial adherence to the liberal economic opening) to reach the “end of the tunnel.”
In actual fact, the “democratic” theme is only invoked against countries that do not want to open up to the globalized liberal economy. There is less concern for highly autocratic political regimes. Saudi Arabia and Pakistan are good examples, but also Georgia (pro-Atlantic alliance) and many others.
Besides, at the very best, the proposed “democratic” formula hardly goes beyond the caricature of “multi-party elections,” not only completely alien to the requirements of social progress but always — or almost always — associated with social regression that the domination of actually existing capitalism (that of oligopolies) demands and produces. The formula has already largely undermined democracy, for which many peoples, profoundly confused, have now substituted backward-looking religious and ethnic illusions.
It is therefore more than ever necessary now to reinforce the critique of the radical left (I underline radical to distinguish it from the critique of the left, which is confusing and vague). In other words it must be a critique that associates, rather than dissociates, the democratization of society (and not only its political government) with social progress (from a socialist perspective). In this critique, the struggle for democratization and the struggle for socialism are one and the same. No socialism without democracy, but also no democratic progress without a socialist perspective.
2. “The Environment” or the Socialist Perspective of Use Value? The Ecological Question and So-called Sustainable Development
Here, too, the point of departure is an acknowledgement of a real problem, the destruction of the natural environment and, in the final instance, the survival of life on the planet, which has been brought about by the logic of capital accumulation.
Here, too, the question dates back to the 1970s, more precisely the Stockholm Conference of 1972. However, for a long time it was a minor issue, marginalized by all the dominant discourses and the practices of economic management. The question was only put forward as a new central plank in the strategy of domination relatively recently. Thus only much later did the work of Wackernagel and Rees (whose first English-language publication came out in 1996) produce a new, major reflection for radical social thought concerned with the construction of the future.2
Not only did Wackernagel and Rees put forward a new concept, that of the ecological footprint; they also elaborated a system for measuring it, which was defined in terms of “global hectares,” comparing the bio-capacity of societies/countries (their capacity to produce and reproduce the conditions of life on the planet) with the consumption by those societies/countries of the resources at their disposal through this bio-capacity.
The authors arrived at very disturbing conclusions. The bio-capacity of our planet, in human terms, is 2.1 global hectares (gha) per capita — in other words, 13.2 billion gha for a population of 6.3 billion people. However, the average world consumption of its resources was already — in the mid-nineties — 2.7 gha. This “average” hides an enormous disparity: the average for the countries of the Triad had already reached around four times the world average. A large part of the bio-capacity of societies in the South had been taken by the center for its own profit. In other words, the expansion of actually existing capitalism is destroying the planet and humankind while the continuation of the logic of this expansion requires either a veritable genocide of the peoples of the South who are in the way or at least keeping them under ever growing poverty. An eco-fascist current that legitimizes this kind of solution of the problem is developing.
The interest of this work goes beyond its conclusions. For it is a matter of calculation (and I stress calculation, not discourse) of the use value of the planet’s resources, measured in global hectares (gha), not in dollars.
Thus it has been proved possible that the social use value can be calculated absolutely rationally. This proof is decisive in its impact because socialism is defined in terms of a society based on use value, not on exchange value. And the defenders of end-of-history capitalism have always argued that socialism is an unrealistic utopia because — according to them — use value cannot be measured without being mixed with exchange value (based on “utility” of vulgar economics).
Taking into account use value (of which the ecological footprint constitutes the first good example) implies that socialism must be “ecological,” cannot be anything but ecological. As Altvater has observed, “Solar Socialism” or “No Socialism.”3 However, it also implies that it is impossible for any capitalist system whatsoever, even a “reformed” one, to take it into account, as we shall see later.
Marx, in his time, not only suspected the existence of this problem. He already formulated a rigorous distinction between value and wealth, which were confused by vulgar economics. He said explicitly that capitalist accumulation destroyed the natural bases on which it was founded: human beings (alienated, exploited, dominated, and oppressed workers) and the land (symbol of the natural wealth given to humanity). And whatever the limits of this expression, as always a prisoner of its epoch, it is nonetheless true that it shows a lucid awareness of the problem (beyond that of intuition), which should be recognized.
It is therefore regrettable that the ecologists of our era, Wackernagel and Rees included, have not read Marx. It would have enabled them to carry their propositions further, to understand their revolutionary impact better, and even, obviously, to go beyond Marx himself on the subject.
This deficiency of modern ecology makes it easier for it to be taken over by the vulgar economics that is in a dominant position in the contemporary world. This takeover is already under way — even well advanced.
Political ecology, like that proposed by Alain Lipietz, was first found in the ranks of the “pro-socialist” political left. Then the “green” movements (and, after that, the “green” parties) were classed as center-left, because of their expressed sympathies for social and international justice, their criticism of “waste,” and their empathy with workers and “poor” peoples. But, apart from the diversity of these movements, none of them had established a rigorous relationship between the authentic socialist dimension necessary to respond to the challenge and the no less necessary ecological dimension. To be able to do so, the distinction between value and wealth, as originated by Marx, cannot be ignored.
The takeover of ecology by vulgar ideology operates on two levels: reducing the calculation in use value to an “improved” calculation of exchange value; and integrating the ecological challenge into a “consensus” ideology. Both of these operations prevent a lucid awareness of the fact that ecology and capitalism are antagonistic in their very essence.
Vulgar economics has been capturing ecological calculation by leaps and bounds. Thousands of younger researchers, in the United States and by imitation in Europe, have been mobilized for that purpose.
The “ecological costs” are thus assimilated to the externalities. The common method of cost-benefit analysis for measuring the exchange value (which itself is confused with the market price) is thus used to arrive at a “fair price,” integrating external economies and “diseconomies.” And the trick is done!
Of course the work, which is highly mathematical when carried out according to this traditional method of vulgar economics, does not say how the calculated “fair price” can become that of the actually existing market. One is thus led to imagine fiscal and other “incentives” sufficiently effective in producing this convergence. The proof that it could be so is however lacking.
In fact, as we can already see, the oligopolies have taken over environmentalism to justify opening up new fields for their destructive expansion. François Houtart has given an excellent example in his book on agrofuels.4 “Green” capitalism is now the order of the day for those in power in the Triad (right and left) and the directors of oligopolies. The environmentalism in question of course conforms to so-called “weak sustainability” — to use the current jargon — that is, the marketing of “rights of access to the planet’s resources.”5 All the conventional economists have openly rallied to this position, proposing “the auctioning of world resources (fisheries, pollution permits, etc.).” This is a proposition which simply supports the oligopolies in their ambition to mortgage the future of the peoples of the South still further.
This capture of ecologist discourse is providing a very useful service to imperialism. It makes it possible to marginalize, if not eliminate, the development issue. As we know, the question of development was not on the international agenda until the countries of the South were able to impose it by their own initiatives, forcing the powers of the Triad to negotiate and make concessions. But, once the Bandung era was over, it was no longer a question of development but only of opening up the markets. And ecology, as it is interpreted by the dominant powers, is just prolonging this state of affairs.
The capture of ecologist discourse through consensus politics (the necessary expression of the concept of end-of-history capitalism) is no less advanced. This capture has been easy, for it responds to the alienations and illusions on which the dominant culture feeds, which is that of capitalism. It has been easy because this culture really does exist, in place and dominant in the minds of most human beings, in the South as well as in the North.
In contrast, it is difficult to express the needs of counter culture of socialism. A socialist culture is not there, in front of us. It is the future to be invented, a project of civilization, open to inventive imagination. Formulae (like “socialization through democracy, not through the market” and “dominance of culture instead of that of economics and politics in service to it”) are not enough, in spite of the success they have had in initiating the historical process of transformation. For it will be a long “secular” process: the reconstruction of societies on principles other than those of capitalism, both in the North and in the South, cannot be “rapid.” But the construction of the future, even if it is far off, starts today.
3. Conventional Economics: An Ideological Instrument That Is Central to Capitalist Reproduction
The discourse of conventional economics refers to the current system as the “market economy.” It is inadequate, even deceptive: as we have already pointed out, it could equally well describe England in the 19th century, China of the Sung and Ming dynasties, and the towns of the Italian Renaissance.
The theory of the “market economy” has always been the backbone of “vulgar economics.” This theory immediately and wholly eliminates the essential reality: social relations of production (particularly, ownership as the immediate expression of these relations, promoted to a sacred principle). It is replaced by the hypothesis of a society constituted by “individuals” (who, in the final analysis, become active agents in the reproduction of the system and its evolution). These “individuals” (homo œconomicus) are ahistorical, identical with those who, since the origins of humanity (Robinson Crusoe), have possessed the same, unchanging qualities (egoism and the capacity to calculate and make choices that benefit themselves). The construct built on these foundations — the “market economy” — therefore does not correspond to a stylized formulation of the world of historical and real capitalism. It constructs an imaginary system into which it integrates almost nothing of the essentials of the capitalist reality.
Marx’s Capital unmasks the ideological nature (in the functional sense of the word) of this construct of vulgar economics since Frédéric Bastiat and Jean-Baptiste Say, whose function has been simply to legitimize the existing social order, likening it to a “natural and rational order.” The later theories of value — utility and the general economic equilibrium, developed in response to Marx in the last third of the nineteenth century, as well as those of their heir, contemporary mathematicized economics, described as classic, neoclassic, liberal, neoliberal (the name does not really matter) — do not diverge from the framework defined by the basic principles of vulgar economics.
The discourse of vulgar economics helps to meet the requirements of the production and reproduction of actually existing capitalism. It promotes, above everything else, a eulogy of “competition,” considered as the essential condition of “progress.” It denies this attribute to solidarity (in spite of examples from history), which is confined to a straitjacket of compassion and charity. It can be competition between “producers” (i.e. capitalists, without really taking the oligopolistic form of contemporary capitalist production into consideration) or between “workers” (which assumes that the unemployed, or the “poor,” are responsible for their situation). The exclusivity of “competition” is reinforced by the new language (“social partners,” instead of classes in conflict) as well as by practices — of, among others, the European Union Civil Service Tribunal, which is a fierce partisan of the dismantling of trade unions, an obstacle to competition between workers.
The adoption of the exclusive principle of competition also invites society to support the aim of building a “consensus” that excludes the imagination of “another society” based on solidarity. This ideology of the consensus society, which is well on the way to being adopted in Europe, destroys the transformative impact of the democratic message. It conveys the libertarian right-wing message that considers the State — of whatever stripe — as “the enemy of freedom” (which should be interpreted as the enemy of the freedom of enterprise of capital) and divorces the practice of castrated democracy from social progress.
4. Real Problems of the Contemporary World, beyond Vulgar Economics
Vulgar economics simply removes from the field of its “analyses” the real major problems posed by the unfolding of historical capitalism in its conquest of the world. We shall now briefly recall the nature of these questions.
At the Heart of Today’s Problem: Capitalism of Oligopolies, Which Has Been Generalized, Globalized, and Financialized
Capitalism has reached a stage of centralization and concentration of capital out of all comparison with the situation only 50 years ago, and I thus describe this capitalism as one of generalized oligopolies. “Monopolies” (or, better, oligopolies) are in no way new inventions in modern history. What is new, however, is the limited number of registered oligopolies (“groups”) which stands at about 500, if only the colossal ones are counted, and 3,000 to 5,000 in an almost comprehensive list. They now determine, through their decisions, the whole of economic life on the planet, and more besides. This capitalism of generalized oligopolies is thus a qualitative leap forward in the general evolution of capitalism.
The reason given for this evolution — and usually it is the only one — is that it is the inevitable result of technological progress. This is only very partially true — and even so, it is important to specify that technological invention is itself commanded very largely by the requirements of concentration and gigantism. For much production, efficiency not only does not demand gigantism but, on the contrary, “small” and “medium” enterprises. This is the case, for example, with agricultural production, in which modern family agriculture has proved to be far more efficient. But it is also true of many other types of production of goods and services, which are now subordinated to the oligopolies that determine the conditions of their survival.
In actual fact, the most important real reason is the search for maximum profits, which benefits the powerful groups who have priority access to capital markets. Such concentration has always been the response of capital to the long, deep crises that have marked its history. In recent history, it happened for the first time after the crisis that started in the 1870s and for the second time, exactly a century later, in the 1970s.
This concentration is at the origin of the “financialization” of the system, as this is how the oligopolies siphon off the global surplus value produced by the production system, a “rent monopoly” that enables oligopolistic groups to increase their rate of profit considerably. This levy is obtained by the oligopolies’ exclusive access to the monetary and financial markets which thus become the dominant markets.
“Financialization,” therefore, is not, in any way, the result of a regrettable drift linked to the “deregulation” of financial markets, even less of “accidents” (like subprimes) on which vulgar economics and its accompanying political discourse concentrate people’s attention. It is a necessary requirement for the reproduction of the system of generalized oligopolies. In other words, as long as their (private) status goes unchallenged, the talk of bold “regulation” of the financial markets is in vain.
The capitalism of generalized and financialized oligopolies is also globalized. Here, again, “globalization” is in no way a new characteristic of capitalism, which has always been “globalized.” I have even gone further in the description of capitalist globalization, stressing its inherently “polarizing” character (producing a growing gulf between the “developed” centers of the system and its dominated peripheries). This has taken place at all stages of capitalist expansion in the past and present, and it will in the foreseeable future. I have also advanced the thesis that the new phase of globalization is necessarily associated with the emergence of the “collective imperialism of the Triad” (the United States, Europe, and Japan).
The new globalization is itself inseparable from the exclusive control of access to the natural resources of the planet exercised by collective imperialism. Hence the center-peripheries contradiction — the North-South conflict in current parlance — is central to any possible transformation of the actually existing capitalism of our time. And more markedly than in the past, this, in turn, requires the “military control of the planet” on the part of the collective imperialist center.
The different “systemic crises” that have been studied and analyzed — the energy-guzzling nature of production systems, the agricultural and food crisis, and so on — are inseparable from the exigencies of the reproduction of the capitalism of generalized, financialized, and globalized oligopolies. If the status of these oligopolies is not brought into question, any policies to solve these “systemic crises” — “sustainable development” formulae — will just remain idle chitchat.
The capitalism of generalized, financialized, and globalized oligopolies has thus become an “obsolete” system, in the sense that the socialization of oligopolies, that is the abolition of their private status, should now become the essential strategic objective in any genuine critical analysis of the real world. If this does not happen, the system by itself can only produce more and more barbaric and criminal destruction — even the destruction of the planet itself. It will certainly mean the destruction of the societies in the peripheries: those in the so-called “emerging” countries as well as in the “marginalized” countries.
The obsolete character of the system as it has reached the present stage of its evolution is itself inseparable from changes in the structures of the governing classes (“bourgeoisies”), political practice, ideology, and political culture. The historical bourgeoisie is disappearing from the scene and is now being replaced by the plutocracy of the “bosses” of oligopolies. The drift of the practice of democracy emptied of all content and the emergence of ultra-reactionary ideological expressions are the necessary accompaniment of the obsolete character of contemporary capitalism.
The domination of oligopolies is exercised in the central imperialist Triad under different conditions and by different means than those used in the countries of the peripheries of the system. It is a decisive difference, essential for identifying the major contradictions of the system and then imagining the possible evolutions in the North-South conflict, which will probably increase.
The collective imperialist Triad brings together the United States and its external provinces (Canada and Australia), Western and Central Europe, and Japan. The globalized monopolies are all products of the concentration of national capital in the countries that constitute the Triad. The countries of Eastern Europe, even those that now belong to the European Union, do not even have their own “national” oligopolies and thus represent just a field of expansion for the oligopolies of Western Europe (particularly Germany). They are therefore reduced to the status of the periphery. Their asymmetric relationship to Western Europe is, mutatis mutandis, analogous to that which links Latin America to the United States (and, incidentally, to Western Europe and Japan).
In the Triad, the oligopolies occupy the whole scene of economic decision-making. Their domination is exercised directly on all the huge companies producing goods and services, as well as on the financial institutions (banks and others) that pertain to their power. And it is exercised indirectly on all the small and medium businesses (in agriculture as in other fields of production), which are often reduced to the status of subcontractors, continually subordinated to the constraints that the oligopolies impose on them at all stages of their activities. The oligopolies of the Triad operate in the countries of the periphery using various methods that will be described later on.
Not only do the oligopolies dominate the economic life of the countries of the Triad. They monopolize political power for their own advantage, the electoral political parties (right and left) having become their debtors. This situation will be, for the foreseeable future, accepted as “legitimate,” in spite of the degradation of democracy that it entails. It will not be threatened until, sometime in the future perhaps, “anti-plutocratic fronts” are able to include on their agenda the abolition of the private management of oligopolies and their socialization, in complex and open-endedly evolving forms.
Oligopolies exercise their power in the peripheries in completely different ways. It is true that outright delocalization and the expanding practice of subcontracting have given the oligopolies of the Triad some power to intervene directly into the economic life of various countries. But they still remain independent countries dominated by local governing classes through which the oligopolies of the Triad are forced to operate. There are all kinds of formulae governing their relationships, ranging from the direct submission of the local governing classes in the “compradorized” (“re-colonized”) countries, above all in the “marginalized” peripheries (particularly, but not only, Africa), to sometimes difficult negotiations (with obligatory mutual concessions) with the governing classes, especially in the “emerging” countries — above all, China.
There are also oligopolies in the countries of the South. These were the large public bodies in the former systems of actually existing socialism (in China of course as in the Soviet Union, but also at a more modest level in Cuba and Vietnam). Such was also the case in India, Brazil, and other parts of the “capitalist South”; some of these oligopolies had public or semi-public status, while others were private. As the globalization process deepened, certain oligopolies (public and private) began to operate outside their borders and copy the methods used by the oligopolies of the Triad. Nevertheless, the interventions of the oligopolies of the South outside their frontiers are — and will remain for a long time — marginal, compared with those of the North. Furthermore, the oligopolies of the South have not captured the political power in their respective countries for their own exclusive profit. In China the “statocracy” of the Party-State still constitutes the essential core of power. In Russia, the mixture of State/private oligarchies has returned autonomous power to the State that had lost it for a while after the collapse of the Soviet Union. In India, Brazil, and other countries of the South, the weight of the private oligarchy is not exclusive: power rests on broader, hegemonic blocs, including mainly the national bourgeoisie, the middle classes, the owners of modernized large estates (latifundia) and rich peasants.
All these conditions make it impossible to confuse the State in the Triad countries (which functions for the exclusive use of the oligarchy and is still legitimate) and the State in the peripheries. The latter never had the same legitimacy as it has in the centers and it may very well lose what little it does have. Those in power are in fact fragile and vulnerable to social and political struggles.
The hypothesis that this vulnerability will be “transitory” and likely to attenuate with the development of local capitalism, itself integrated into globalization, is, even for the “emerging countries,” unquestionably mistaken — a hypothesis that derives from the linear vision of “stages of development” (formulated by Rostow in 1960). But conventional thought and vulgar economics are not intellectually equipped to understand that “catching up” is impossible in this system and that the gap between the centers and the peripheries will not “gradually” disappear.
The oligopolies and the political powers that serve them in the countries of the Triad pursue their sole aim of “emerging from the financial crisis” and basically restoring the system as it was. There are good reasons to believe that this restoration — if it succeeds, which is not impossible, although more difficult than is generally thought — cannot be sustainable, because it involves returning to the expansion of finance, which is essential for the oligopolies if they are to appropriate monopoly rent for their own benefit. A new financial collapse, still more sensational than that of 2008, is therefore probable. But, these considerations apart, the restoration of the system, designed to expand the fields of activities for the oligopolies again, would mean aggravating the process of accumulation by dispossession of the peoples of the South (through seizure of their natural resources, including their agricultural land). And ecologist discourses on “sustainable development” will not prevail over the logic of expansion of oligopolies, which are more than capable of appearing to “adopt” them in their rhetoric — as we are already seeing.
The main victims of this restoration will be the nations of the South, both the “emerging” countries and the others. So it is very likely that the “North-South conflicts” are destined to become much greater in the future. The responses that the “South” will give to these challenges could thus be pivotal in challenging the whole globalized system. This may not mean questioning “capitalism” directly, but it would surely mean questioning the globalization commanded by the domination of the oligopolies.
The responses of the South must indeed focus on helping to arm their peoples and States to face the aggression of the oligopolies of the Triad, to facilitate their “delinking” from the existing system of globalization, and to promote multiple substantial alternatives of South-South cooperation.
Challenging the private status of the oligopolies by the peoples of the North themselves (the “anti-plutocratic front”) is certainly an absolutely strategic objective in the struggle for the emancipation of workers and peoples. But this objective has yet to become politically mature and it is not very likely to happen in the foreseeable future. Meanwhile, the North-South conflicts will probably move to center stage.
Capitalism, a Parenthesis in History
The principle of endless accumulation that defines capitalism is synonymous with exponential growth and this, like cancer, ends in death. Stuart Mill, who had understood it, thought that a “stationary state” would halt this irrational process. Keynes shared this optimism of Reason. But neither of them was able to understand how the necessary surpassing of capitalism could be imposed. However, Marx, by assigning the new class struggle its role, could imagine overthrowing the power of the capitalist class, which is today concentrated in the hands of the oligarchy.
Accumulation, which is also another word for impoverishment, constitutes the objective background for struggles against capitalism. But it takes place mainly through the growing contrast between the opulence of the societies of the center, which benefit from the imperialist rent, and the destitution of the societies in the dominated peripheries. This conflict thus becomes the central theme of the alternative of “socialism or barbarism.”
Historically, “actually existing” capitalism has developed in successive forms of accumulation through dispossession, not only at the outset (“primitive accumulation”) but at all stages of its development. Once constituted, this “Atlantic” capitalism set out to conquer the world and to rebuild it on the basis of permanent dispossession of the conquered regions, which thus became the dominated peripheries of the system.6
This “victorious” globalization has proved incapable of imposing itself for long. Hardly half a century after its triumph, which might have seemed even then to inaugurate the “end of history,” it was challenged by the revolution of the Russian semi-periphery and the (victorious) liberation struggles of Asia and Africa which mark the history of the 20th century — the first wave of struggles for the emancipation of workers and peoples.
Accumulation through dispossession has been continuing under our eyes in the late capitalism of contemporary oligopolies. In the centers, the rent-seeking monopolies, from which the oligopolistic plutocrats benefit, are tantamount to the dispossession of the whole productive base of society. In the peripheries, this pauperizing dispossession is illustrated by the expropriation of peasantry and the pillage of the natural resources of the regions concerned. Both these practices constitute essential planks in the expansion strategies of the late capitalism of oligopolies.
In this context, I put the “new agrarian question” at the heart of the challenge for the 21st century. The dispossession of peasantry (Asian, African, and Latin American) constitutes the main contemporary form of the tendency towards pauperization (in the sense that Marx gave to this “law”) that is associated with accumulation. Its implementation is inseparable from the harnessing of the imperialist rent by the oligopolies, with or without agrofuels. I deduce from this that the development of struggles on the land, the answers that will be given through them to the future of the peasant societies of the South (almost half of humanity), will determine the capacity of workers and peoples to progress towards an authentic civilization, liberated from the domination of capital, for which I see no other name than that of socialism.7
The pillage of the natural resources of the South, which is made necessary by the continuation of the wasteful consumption model for the exclusive benefit of the rich societies of the North, destroys all prospect of development worthy of the name for the people of the South; and it thus constitutes the other face of impoverishment at the world level. Hence the “energy crisis” is not created by the scarcity of certain resources necessary for its production (oil, of course), nor is it the result of the destructive effects of the current energy-guzzling forms of production and consumption. While these are real, they constitute only immediate and visible evidence of the problems. Rather, this crisis has been produced by the desire of the oligopolies of collective imperialism to ensure their monopoly of access to the natural resources of the planet, whether they are rare or not, in order to appropriate the imperialist rent, whether or not the use of these resources remains as it is at present (wasteful and energy-guzzling) or becomes subject to new corrective “ecological” policies. I thus predict that the pursuit of the expansion strategy of the late capitalism of oligopolies will necessarily come up against growing resistance from the nations of the South.
From One Long Crisis to Another
The current crisis is neither a financial crisis, nor an ensemble of multiple systemic crises, but the crisis of the imperialist capitalism of oligopolies, whose exclusive and supreme power risks being challenged, once again by the struggles of all the popular classes and by those of the peoples and nations of the dominated peripheries, whether or not they seem to be “emerging.” It is simultaneously a crisis of US hegemony. The capitalism of oligopolies, the political power of oligarchies, barbarous globalization, financialization, the hegemony of the United States, militarization of the management of globalization in service to the oligopolies, the decline of democracy, the pillage of the planet’s resources, the abandonment of the development perspective of the South: all these are indissolubly linked.
The real challenge is this: will the struggles succeed in converging to open the way, or ways, to the long road of transition to world socialism? Or will they remain separated one from another, even coming into conflict with each other, and thus be ineffective and leave the initiative to the capital of oligopolies?
It is worth going back to the first long crisis of capitalism, which shaped the 20th century, as the parallel between the stages of development in these two crises is really striking.
The industrial capitalism that triumphed in the 19th century entered into crisis in 1873. The rate of profits collapsed, for the reasons shown by Marx. Capital reacted in two ways: concentration and globalized expansion. The new monopolies seized the rent levied on all the surplus value generated by the exploitation of labor and accelerated the colonial conquest of the planet. These structural transformations enabled them to obtain soaring new profits and opened the way to the “Belle Epoque” — from 1890 to 1914 — of globalized domination by the capital of financialized monopolies. At that time, the dominant discourse praised colonization (the “civilizing mission”) and described globalization as synonymous with peace. The social democracy of European workers rallied to this discourse.
And yet the “Belle Epoque,” which was proclaimed as the “end of history” by the leading ideologues of the era, ended in a world war, as only Lenin had foreseen. And the period that followed, up until the aftermath of the Second World War, was to be a period of “wars and revolutions.” In 1920, the Russian revolution (the “weak link” in the system) having been isolated after the defeat of the hopes for revolution in Central Europe, the capital of the financialized monopoles restored the “Belle Epoque” era, against all odds. This restoration, which was denounced by Keynes at the time, was at the origin of the financial collapse of 1929 and the subsequent depression that continued until the Second World War.
The “long 20th century” — 1873 to 1990 — thus saw both the unraveling of the first deep systemic crisis of ageing capitalism (to the point that Lenin thought that this monopoly capitalism constituted the “highest stage of capitalism”), as well as the first, triumphant wave of anti-capitalist revolutions (Russia, China) and the anti-imperialist struggles of the peoples of Asia and Africa.
The second systemic crisis of capitalism started in 1971, when the dollar lost its convertibility to gold, almost exactly a century after the first crisis. The rates of profit, investment, and growth all fell (and were never to return to the same levels they had enjoyed from 1945 to 1975). Capital responded to the challenge in the same way as in the preceding crisis: by a double movement of concentration and globalization. Thus it established the structures that were to define the second “Belle Epoque” — 1990 to 2008 — of financialized globalization that enabled the oligopolistic groups to maintain their monopoly rent. There was the same accompanying discourse: the “market” guaranteed prosperity, democracy, and peace — it was the “end of history.” And, as before, the European socialists rallied to the new liberalism. Yet this new “Belle Epoque” was, from the outset, marked by war, waged by the North against the South, starting in 1990. And as the first financialized globalization led to 1929, the second produced 2008. We have now reached this crucial moment which heralds the probability of a new wave of “wars and revolutions.” All the more so because the powers that be cannot envisage anything else than the restoration of the system as it was before the financial collapse.
The analogy between the developments of these two long, systemic crises of ageing capitalism is striking. However, there are differences, the political implications of which are important.
The Second Wave of Peoples’ Emancipation: Will It Be a Remake of the 20th Century or Something Better?
The contemporary world is governed by oligarchies. There are financial oligarchies in the United States, Europe, and Japan who dominate not only economic life but politics and everyday life just as much. There are Russian oligarchies who imitate them and whom the Russian State tries to control. There is statocracy in China. Then there are autocracies (sometimes masked by a certain façade of “low-intensity” electoral democracy) that form part of this world system elsewhere on the planet.
The management of contemporary globalization by these oligarchies is now in crisis.
The oligarchies of the North are counting on staying in power, once the period of crisis is over. They do not feel threatened. On the other hand, the fragility of the powers of autocracies in the South is very visible. Thus the current globalization is vulnerable. Will it be challenged by the revolt in the South, as happened in the last century? Probably, but that is not enough. Because, for humankind to embark on the path to socialism, the only human alternative to chaos, it will be necessary to defeat these oligarchies, their allies, and their servants, both in the North and in the South at the same time.
Capitalism is “liberal” by nature, that is, if by “liberalism” is meant not the pretty appellation that the term inspires but the full exercise of the domination of capital, not only over work and economy, but over all aspects of social life. There is no “market economy” (the common way of saying capitalism) without “market society.” Capital relentlessly pursues its sole objective — making money. Accumulation for itself. Marx, and other critical thinkers after him like Keynes, understood this perfectly. But not our conventional economists, including those of the left.
This exclusive and total domination of capital had been inexorably imposed by the governing classes during the whole of the preceding long crisis up to 1945. Only the triple victory — of democracy, socialism, and the national liberation of peoples — made it possible, from 1945 to 1980, to replace this permanent model of the capitalist ideal by the conflictual coexistence of three regulated social models, which were the Welfare State of social democracy of the West, actually existing socialisms of the East, and popular nationalisms of the South. The loss of impetus and the consequent collapse of these three models made it possible to return to the exclusive domination of capital, called neoliberalism.
The social disasters that liberalism let loose — “the permanent utopia of capital” as I put it — inevitably inspired much nostalgia for the past, both recent and more distant. But these nostalgias did not facilitate an appropriate response to the challenge. For they were a product of the impoverishment of critical theoretical thinking which gradually made it impossible to understand the internal contradictions and limits of the post-WW2 period, whose erosions, drifts, and collapses appeared like unforeseen cataclysms.
Nevertheless, in the vacuum created by the decline in critical theoretical thinking, a new awareness of the systemic crisis of civilization has been able to develop. I am referring here to environmentalists. But the Greens, who claimed to distinguish themselves radically from the Blues (conservatives and liberals) and the Reds (socialists), have become trapped in an impasse because they have not integrated the ecological dimension into a radical criticism of capitalism.
Thus everything was set to ensure the triumph — temporary, in fact, but believed to be definitive — of the alternative of so-called “liberal democracy.” It is a miserable way of thinking — veritable non-thought — that takes no notice of Marx’s decisive remarks about this bourgeois democracy and that ignores the fact that those who decide are not those who are affected by the decisions. Those who decide, enjoying the freedom reinforced by the control of property, are today the plutocrats of the capitalism of oligopolies and the States that are their debtors. Obviously the workers and peoples concerned are hardly more than victims. But such nonsense may have seemed credible, at least for a short while, because of the drift of the post-war systems, whose origins the poverty of dogmatics could no longer comprehend. Liberal democracy could then seem the “best of all possible systems.”
These days, the powers that be, who had not foreseen anything themselves, are doing their best to restore the same system. Their eventual success — like that of the conservatives of the 1920s, whom Keynes denounced without finding any echo in that epoch — can only exacerbate all the conditions that are the cause of the financial collapse of 2008.
The recent meeting of the G20 (London, April 2009) in no way begins any “reconstruction of the world.” And it is perhaps no accidnet that it was followed by that of the NATO, the militarized arm of contemporary imperialism, and by the reinforcement of its military occupation in Afghanistan. The permanent war of the “North” against the “South” must go on.
We have already seen that the governments of the Triad — the United States, Europe, and Japan — are pursuing their sole objective of restoring the system as it was before September 2008. More interestingly, the leaders of the invited “emerging countries” kept silent. Only one intelligent sentence was uttered during this Grand Circus, by Chinese President Hu Jintao, who observed, “in passing,” without insistence and with a (mocking?) smile, that we will eventually have to envisage the creation of a world financial system that is not based on the dollar. A few rare observers immediately — and correctly — made the connection with Keynes’ 1945 proposals.
This “remark” reminds us of the reality: that the crisis of the system of oligopoly capitalism is inseparably linked to that of the hegemony of the United States, which is running out of steam. But what will take its place? Certainly not “Europe,” which does not exist apart from Atlanticism and has no ambition to become independent, as the NATO meeting once again demonstrated. China? This “threat,” which the media endlessly conjure up (a new “yellow peril”), is baseless. The Chinese authorities know that their country does not have the means and they have no will. The strategy of China is content with working towards a new globalization without hegemonies. This is not considered acceptable either by the United States or by Europe.
Thus the chances of a possible development in that direction lie entirely with the countries of the South.
A New Internationalism of Workers and Peoples Is Necessary and Possible
Whatever you like to call it, historical capitalism is anything but sustainable. It is only a brief parenthesis in history. Challenging it fundamentally — which our contemporary thinkers cannot imagine is “possible” or even “desirable” — is however the essential condition for the emancipation of dominated workers and peoples (those of the periphery, 80 percent of humanity). And the two dimensions of the challenge are indissoluble. It is not possible to put an end to capitalism unless and until these two dimensions of the same challenge are taken up together. It is not “certain” that this will happen, in which case capitalism will be “overtaken” by the destruction of civilization (beyond the discontents of civilization, to use Freud’s phrase) and perhaps of all life on this earth. The scenario of a possible “remake” of the 20th century thus remains but falls far short of the need of humanity embarking on the long transition towards world socialism. The liberal disaster makes it necessary to renew a radical critique of capitalism. The challenge is how to construct, or reconstruct, the internationalism of workers and peoples confronted by the cosmopolitism of oligarchic capital.
The construction of this internationalism can only be envisaged by the success of new revolutionary advances (like those initiated in Latin America and Nepal) which open up the prospect of surpassing capitalism.
In the countries of the South, the struggle of States and nations for a negotiated globalization without hegemonies — the contemporary form of delinking — supported by the organization of demands of the popular classes — can circumscribe and limit the powers of the oligopolies of the imperialist Triad. The democratic forces in the countries of the North must support this struggle. The “democratic” discourse proposed by the dominant ideology and accepted by the majority of left wings (such as they are), “humanitarian” interventions, and pathetic practices of “aid” do not genuinely confront this challenge.
In the countries of the North the oligopolies are already clearly “common goods” whose management cannot be entrusted to private interests alone (the crisis having shown the catastrophic results). An authentic left must have the courage to envisage nationalization as a first essential step towards their socialization through the deepening of democratic practice. The current crisis makes it possible to conceive a potential crystallization of social and political forces rallying all the victims of the exclusive power of the reigning oligarchies.
The first wave of struggles for socialism, that of the 20th century, showed up the limitations of European social democracies, of communisms of the Third International, and of popular nationalisms of the Bandung era: the loss of momentum and finally the collapse of their socialist ambitions. The second wave, that of the 21st century, must draw the lessons. In particular it must associate the socialization of economic management with the deepening of democracy in society. There will be no socialism without democracy, but equally no democratic progress outside a socialist perspective.
These strategic aims make it necessary to think about the construction of “convergences in diversity” (to take up the expression of the World Forum for Alternatives), of forms of organization and of struggles by the dominated and exploited classes. And I do not intend to condemn in advance those forms which, in their own way, get back to the traditions of social democracies, communisms, and popular nationalisms or move away from them.
It seems to me necessary to be thinking about the renewal of a creative Marxism. Marx has never been so useful and necessary to understand and transform the world as he is today, perhaps more so than in the past. To be Marxist in this spirit is to begin with Marx, not to end with him, or a Lenin, or a Mao, as the historical Marxisms of the last century conceived and practiced it. It’s to render unto Marx what is his: the intelligence of having begun modern critical thought, critical of the capitalist reality and critical of its political, ideological, and cultural representations. Creative Marxism must unhesitatingly pursue the aim of enriching such critical thinking par excellence. It must not fear integrating all contributions resulting from reflection in all fields, including those contributions that were wrongly considered as “foreign” by the dogmatists of historical Marxisms of the past.
In Conclusion: The Impotence of Vulgar Economics
At moments of “crisis” like ours, the impotence of vulgar economics is all too evident.
Thus Le Monde posed a mischievous question: “How is it that the pundits of Harvard had not foreseen the ‘crash’ . . . ?” Are they just imbeciles then? Certainly not. But their intelligence is completely focused on the only paths acceptable to vulgar economics and the false theory of an “imaginary capitalism of generalized markets.” Just as the brilliant minds of another epoch believed that the debate on the sex of angels could contribute to a better understanding of the world!
Vulgar economics, focusing on analyzing the markets operating on the basis of “imperfect information,” is thus forced to replace an analysis of the capitalist reality by an endless game (for which mathematics becomes indispensable) of hypotheses concerning “expectations.” These hypotheses make it possible to foresee all and nothing, as the subtle and realistic intelligence of Keynes had realized so well.
What are these “expectations”? They are but a series of tricks. The expectations of those who sell their labor? These unfortunate workers know that they have hardly any choice. They also know that they cannot improve the conditions of selling their labor power except by organization and collective class struggle. The expectations of consumers who “choose” (their “supermarket”?) and “choose” potential financial investments? These unfortunates are forced to take the advice of their bankers, the real deciders. The expectations of entrepreneurs who decide whether or not to invest? History shows, as Marx and Keynes understood, that cycles of overinvestment and depreciation of capital impose their reality. The expectations of owners of capital who choose between risky investment and preference for liquidity? Repeatedly there have been financial bubbles, and their reasons and mechanisms — which were perfectly analyzed, once again, by Marx, together with his discovery of the supreme alienation of vulgar economists (“money makes more money,” M makes M’, without passing through production) — will always remain outside the thinking of our conventional economists. The expectations of speculators on the stock exchange? We know that the best position is what is taken by the sheep who follow the general movement and that this necessarily accentuates fluctuations.
The shipwreck in the ocean of expectations is the inevitable product of reducing society to a collection of individuals and to deliberate ignorance of the major realities by which real capitalism is defined (classes, private property, the State, nations, etc.). This is only an ideological formulation in the negative sense of the term; it is extremely functional in giving legitimacy to the real practices of dominant capital. The vulgar economists who claim that their work is scientific are not even conscious of what they are doing. They cannot understand that, to do scientific work, to approach an understanding of the objective reality, one must begin with radical critique of the starting point of their reasoning.
Conventional economists are not critical thinkers. They are, at best, “technocrats.” I like to use the Anglo-Saxon word “executive” for them: they are agents of execution, once at the orders of capital, now at the orders of the oligopolies.
That is why the “critiques” that they may make of the system are always marginal and their proposals for reform that they believe are “realistic” are in reality perfectly unrealistic for the most part. And when, for some moral reason or another, the reality upsets them (“too much poverty” — in fact, “too much inequality”), the drift towards pious wishes and sermons in the guise of policy becomes inevitable. The bestseller of a Nobel Prize winner for Economics (strictly reserved for vulgar economists) is therefore at best a mediocre work. That of Joseph Stiglitz, which bears the pompous title Another World, is a good example.8
Stiglitz “discovers,” in 2002, that the Washington Consensus was not good; he discovers the reality of the behavior of the IMF, the WTO, etc. More than half of the 550 pages of this overblown work are dedicated to “revelations” which others have known about for 30 or 40 years! Stiglitz believes he is the first one to say them, never having read the work of critical thinkers (and probably he never will). And it is not even arrogance, but quite simply ignorance. An amusing example: Stiglitz “discovers” that in 1990 there was an agreement on prices by some oligopolies! Extraordinary! And what does he propose in order to re-establish “competition”? An anti-trust law and litigation, US-style!
In his book, Stiglitz disregards financialization, about which he says hardly anything and which he believes to be inoffensive, even useful. The remarkable work of the late lamented Giovanni Arrighi concerning financialization being the last stage of hegemonies in decline is obviously totally ignored.9 Evidently Stiglitz was surprised by the financial collapse of 2008, about which there is not even one line indicating the seriousness of the threat. And yet others (including myself), by the time of his “discovery,” had analyzed the globalized liberal system as being by nature unstable, condemned to collapse through financial crisis (the Achilles heel of the system, as I called it). Stiglitz evidently ignored all that.
The idea he has of himself, “revealing to the world” the “defects” of the system, can thus only make one laugh.
It is therefore not surprising that what I have called “the Stiglitz report” does not break with the reactionary, conventional orthodoxy. That report was issued by the commission designated by the then President of the United Nations General Assembly, Padre Miguel D’Escoto, which was unfortunately to be headed by Stiglitz, who probably imposed his superficial and limited perception of the problems in the final version of the document.10 The “failure” that resulted — the fact that the countries of the South decided not to be represented at the June General Assembly at the level required — was in fact, for me, a good sign. It implies that the countries of the South had understood that this report — under the pretext of “global consensus” . . . and realism — would be in line with the North’s strategy to “respond to the crisis” and that its proposals were of the kind that would be “acceptable” to the oligopolies. Change the world? You must be joking!
5) The Militarization of Globalization, “Aid,” Post-Modernism
To maintain their monopoly rent, the oligopolies cannot content themselves with deducting their levies from their “national economies” only. Their globalized dimension enables them to deduct still more from the economies of the dominated, emerging, and marginalized peripheries. The pillage of the resources of the whole planet and the super-exploitation of workers supplies the substance of the imperialist rent. In turn, this constitutes the conditions for the social consensus that then becomes possible in the opulent societies of the North.
The discourses on democracy and ecology serve as masks to hide the real objectives.
Vulgar economics is the keystone of capitalist ideology, as should have been understood since the appearance of “critique of political economy” (the subtitle of Marx’s Capital). Vulgar economics, because it concerns a “non reality” (generalized markets), does not deserve the name of science that it claims. Its real social function is like that of sorcery in ancient times. Like the latter it resorts to a language that is deliberately unintelligible to citizens, aiming to eliminate their power of decision by bombarding them with “truths” that are claimed to be “objective.” In contrast, the language of authentic social thought always remains clear, like the writings of Marx, even at its most difficult: they educate people.
Defeating the Military Control of the Planet by the Imperialists
The real challenge that people face is first of all the militarization of globalization. In fact, the military control of the planet by the United States and its subalterns (the NATO and Japan) has become the only way, at last resort, to make it possible to levy the imperialist rent without which the system cannot survive. The Empire of Chaos, as I have been describing it since 1991, and the permanent war against the peoples of the South are one and the same thing. This is why one of the first strategic objectives of the progressive and democratic forces in the North and in the South must be to defeat the armed forces of the Triad, to force the United States to abandon its bases spread over all the continents, and to dismantle the NATO.11
This is probably the objective of the “Shanghai Group” which has begun to renew the spirit of “non-alignment,” in the sense of “non-alignment on imperialist globalization and the political and military project of the Triad.”
I believe there is a parallel here with the history of Bandung. Even before the conference of this name (1955) and “non-alignment” (1960), radical groups of thinkers were mobilized to propose possible and effective counter-strategies for the peoples of Asian and African countries to force the rolling back of the imperialism of that epoch. The author of this paper had the honor and pleasure of participating in one of these groups for the Middle East from 1950. There is need for similar initiatives today.
“Aid,” a Complementary Instrument to Control Vulnerable Countries
“International aid,” presented as being indispensable for the survival of the “least developed countries” (UN terminology for many African countries and a few other ones), plays its role here. Because its real objective, aimed at the most vulnerable countries of the periphery, is to create an extra obstacle to their participation in an alternative front of the South.12
Concepts of aid have been confined within a straitjacket. Its structures were defined in the Paris Declaration on Aid Effectiveness (2005), which was drawn up by the OECD, then imposed on the beneficiaries. The general conditionality, alignment with the principles of liberal globalization, is omnipresent. Sometimes it is explicit: promoting liberalization, opening the markets, becoming “attractive” to private foreign investment. Sometimes it is indirect: respecting the rules of the WTC. A country that refuses to subscribe to this strategy — which has been unilaterally defined by the North (the Triad) — loses its right to be eligible for aid. So that the Declaration of Paris is a step back — and not an advance — in comparison with the practices of the “development decades,” the 1960s and 1970s, when the principle of free choice by the countries of the South to follow their own system and economic and social policies was recognized.
In these conditions, aid policies and their apparent, immediate objectives cannot be separated from imperialism’s geopolitical strategies. For the different regions in the world do not have the same functions in the globalized liberal system. It is not enough to mention their common denominator (liberalization of trade, opening to financial markets, privatizations).
Sub-Saharan Africa is very well integrated into this global system, and in no way “marginalized” as it is claimed, unfortunately all too often without thinking. Its foreign trade represents 45 percent of its Gross National Product, compared to 30 percent for Asia and Latin America and 15 percent for each of the regions constituting the Triad. Africa is thus quantitatively “more” and not “less” integrated, but in a different way.13
The geo-economy of the region depends on two production systems that determine its structures and define its place in the global system:
1.the export of “tropical” agricultural products: coffee, cocoa, cotton, peanuts, fruits, oil palm, etc.; and 2.hydrocarbons and minerals: copper, gold, rare metals, diamonds, etc. The former are the means of “survival” (apart from food for the auto-consumption of peasants), which finance the transplanting of the State onto the local economy and, through public expenditure, the reproduction of the “middle classes.” This kind of production is of more interest to the local governing classes than to the dominant economies; in contrast, what interests the latter is the products of natural resources of the continent. Today it is hydrocarbons and rare minerals. Tomorrow it will be the reserves for developing agrofuels, the sun (when long-distance transport of solar electricity becomes feasible, within a few decades), water (when its direct or indirect “export” becomes possible).
The race to convert rural areas for the expansion of agrofuels is under way in Latin America. In this field, Africa has tremendous possibilities. Madagascar has started the movement and already conceded large areas in the west of the country. The implementation of the Congolese Rural Code in 2008, inspired by Belgian aid and the FAO, will no doubt enable agribusiness to take over agricultural land on a massive scale to “exploit” it, just as the Mining Code has already enabled the pillage of the mineral resources of this former colony. ”Useless” peasants will pay for it, and increasing destitution that awaits them will perhaps attract future humanitarian assistance and “aid” programs to reduce poverty! In the 1970s I learnt about an old colonial dream for the Sahel, which was to expel the population (useless Sahelians) in favor of extensive, Texas-style ranches raising livestock for exportation.
The new phase of history that has opened is marked by the sharpening of conflicts for access to the natural resources of the planet. The Triad intends to reserve for itself the exclusive access to this “useful” Africa (that of natural resource reserves) and to prevent such access by the “emerging countries” whose needs in this respect are already great and likely to increase. Guaranteeing exclusive access means political control and reducing African countries to the status of “client states.”
It is not therefore wrong to consider that the aim of aid is to “corrupt” the governing classes. Apart from the financial appropriations (which, alas, are well known and for which we are led to believe that the donors are in no way responsible), aid has become “indispensable” as it is an important source of financing budgets and fulfils a political function. It thus becomes necessary to think of aid as being permanent and not prepare for its elimination through a serious development effort. Hence it is important that it is not reserved exclusively and wholly for the classes in power, for the “government.” It must also give stakes to “oppositions” that are capable of succeeding them. The so-called civil society and certain non-governmental organizations (NGOs) have a role to play here. The aid in question, if it is to be really effective politically, must also help to maintain the entry of peasants into this global system, this entry bringing another source of revenue for the State. The aid must also be concerned with progress in “modernizing” export crops.
Right-wing criticism of aid is based on the notion that it is for the countries concerned to take action to liberate themselves from this dependence by opening up still more to foreign capital. This was the substance of Sarkozy’s speech at Dakar and Obama’s at Accra. This oratorical appeal avoids the real question. For aid, an integral part of the imperialist strategy, in fact seeks to marginalize the peoples of Africa who are useless and troublesome, the better to continue their pillage of African resources!
The critique made by the “do-gooder” left, which is that of many NGOs, accepts that the “donors” will honor their pledges. It limits itself to pointless talk about “absorption capacity,” “performance,” “good governance,” promoted by “civil society.” It calls for “more” and “better” aid! Radical critique, on the contrary, supports autonomous development. One can imagine that aid in this context would derive from peoples’ international solidarity, confronting (and against) the cosmopolitanism of capitalism.
Poverty, Civil Society, Good Governance: The Feeble Rhetoric of the Dominant Discourse
This dominant discourse claims that its objective is to “reduce, if not to eradicate, poverty” by supporting “civil society,” in order to substitute “good governance” for “governance” that is judged “bad.”
The very term “poverty” stems from a language which is as old as the hills, that of charity (religious or otherwise). This language belongs to the past, not to the present, much less to the future. It predates the language created by modern social thought, which tries to be scientific — that is, to discover the mechanisms that give rise to a visible and observed phenomenon.
The overwhelming mass of literature about poverty focuses exclusively — or almost — on “locating” the problem and quantifying it. It does not pose questions such as “what are the mechanisms that create the poverty under discussion?” Do they have some connection with the fundamental rules (like competition) that govern our systems and in particular — as far as the countries of the South receiving aid are concerned — with the development strategies and policies conceived for them?
Has the concept of “civil society,” even if it is taken seriously (not to speak of its random use), been raised to the level at which a concept should be in order to take its chance and be worthy of inclusion in a serious debate that purports to be scientific? As it is proposed, “civil society” is associated with an ideology of consensus. It is a twofold consensus:
1.that there is no alternative to the “market economy” (itself an indiscriminate expression that serves to replace an analysis of “really existing capitalism”); 2.that there is no alternative to representative democracy based on multi-party elections (conceived as “the democracy”) that serves as a substitute for the conception of democratization of society, which is a process without end. On the contrary, the history of struggles has seen the emergence of political cultures of conflict, based on the recognition of the conflict of social and national interests, which gives quite another meaning to the terms of “left” and “right.” It attributes to creative democracy the right and power to imagine alternatives and not just “alternations” in the exercise of power (changing the names for doing the same thing).
“Governance” was invented as a substitute for “power.” The opposition between these two qualifying adjectives — good or bad governance — calls to mind manichaeism and moralism, substitutes for an analysis of reality as scientific as possible. Once again this fashion comes to us from the other side of the Atlantic where the sermon has often dominated political discourse. “Good governance” requires the “decider” to be “just,” “objective” (choosing the “best solution”), “neutral” (accepting a balanced presentation of arguments), and above all else “honest” (including, of course, the blander, financial meaning of the word). On reading the literature produced by the World Bank on the subject, one finds oneself — judging from the grievances presented, usually by men of religion or of law (and few women!) — back in the East of ancient times, of the “just despot” (not even enlightened!).
The underlying ideology is clearly being used to simply eliminate the real question: what social interests does the governing power, whatever it is, represent and defend? How can the change of power progress so that it gradually becomes the instrument of the majorities, in particular of the victims of the system, such as it is? It goes without saying that the multi-party electoral recipe has shown its limits in this respect.
Post-modernism caps the discourse called by some the “new spirit of capitalism,” but it would be better to call it the ideology of the late capitalism/imperialism of oligopolies. A recent book by Nkolo Foe gives a powerful description of how this functions very well to serve the real interests of the dominating powers.14
Modernism originated in the discourse of the Enlightenment in the 18th century in Europe, together with the triumph of the historical form of European capitalism and imperialism that goes with it, which subsequently conquered the world. It suffers from contradictions and limitations. The ambition to be universal that it formulated is defined by the affirmation of the rights of man (but not necessarily of woman!), which are in fact the rights of bourgeois individualism. Real capitalism, with which this form of modernity is associated, is moreover an imperialism that denies the rights of the non-European peoples who have been conquered and subordinated to the levying of the imperialist rent.
Criticism of this bourgeois and capitalist/imperialist modernity is certainly necessary. And Marx effectively undertook this radical critique, which it is always necessary to update and study more deeply.
The new Reason considered itself emancipatory; and so it was, to the extent that it freed society from the alienations and oppressions of the Anciens Regimes. It was thus a guarantee of progress, but a form of progress that was limited and contradictory because it was capital which, in the final instance, was to manage society.
Post-modernism does not make this radical critique to promote the emancipation of individuals and of society through socialism. Instead it proposes a return to pre-modern, pre-capitalist alienations. The forms of sociability that it promotes are necessarily in line with adherence to a “tribalist” identity for communities (para-religious and para-ethnic), an antipode to what is required to deepen democracy, which has become a synonym for the “tyranny of the people” daring to question the wise management of the executives who serve the oligopolies. Post-modernist critiques of “grand narratives” (the Enlightenment, democracy, progress, socialism, national liberation) do not look to the future but return to an imaginary and false past, which is extremely idealized. In this way it facilitates the fragmentation of the majority of the population and makes them accept adjustment to the logic of the reproduction of domination by the imperialist oligopolies. This fragmentation hardly disturbs that domination; on the contrary, it makes the task easier. The individual does not become a conscious, lucid agent of social transformation, but the slave of triumphant commodification. The citizen disappears, giving way to the consumer/spectator, no longer a citizen who seeks emancipation, but an insignificant creature who accepts submission.
1 Jacques Andreani, Le Piège, Helsinki et la chute du communisme, Paris: Odile Jacob, 2005.
2 Mathis Wackernagel and William Rees, Notre empreinte écologique, Montréal: Ecosociété, 1999.
3 Elmar Altvater, “The Plagues of Capitalism, Energy Crisis, Climate Collapse, Hunger, and Financial Instabilities,” paper presented at the FMA, Caracas, 2008.
4 François Houtart, L’agroénergie, solution pour le climat ou sortie de crise pour le capital? Charleroi: Couleur Livres, 2009
5 Aurélien Boutaud and Natacha Gondran, L’empreinte écologique, Paris: La Découverte, 2009.
6 Giovanni Arrighi, The Long Twentieth Century, London: Verso, 1994; Giovanni Arrighi, Adam Smith in Beijing, London: Verso, 2007. The concept of accumulation by dispossession, introduced by Arrighi, like that of “permanent primitive accumulation” which I proposed, characterizes historical capitalism, originated in Europe, through contrast with another path of development to capitalism, inaugurated by China during the Sung and Ming dynasties (Arrighi-Amin correspondence). See, also, Samir Amin, Sur la crise, Pantin: Temps des cerises, 2009, Chapters 2 and 3.
7 Cf. the work of Samir Amin, Sam Moyo, Archie Mafeje, and others in Samir Amin, Sur la crise, op cit, Chapter 5.
8 Joseph Stiglitz, Un autre monde, contre le fanatisme des marches, Paris: Livre de poche, 2009.
9 Arrighi, The Long Twentieth Century, op cit.
10 The UN documents in question here are published on UN Web sites.
11 Samir Amin, L’Empire du Chaos, Paris: Harmattan, 1991; Samir Amin, L’hégémonisme des Etats-Unis et l’effacement du projet européen, Paris: Harmattan, 2000
12 Samir Amin, “Aid, for What Development?” (in a book published in English by Fahamu, forthcoming in 2009)
13 Samir Amin, “Is Africa Really Marginalized?” in, Helen Lauer (ed), History and Philosophy of Sciences for African Undergraduates, Ibadan: Hope Pub, 2003.
14 Nkolo Foe, Le post modernisme et le nouvel esprit du capitalisme, Sur une philosophie globale d’ Empire, Dakar: Codesria, 2009; Samir Amin, Modernité, religion, démocratie, Critique de l’eurocentrisme et critique des culturalismes, Paris: Parangon, 2008; Samir Amin, Sur la crise, op cit, Chapters 2 and 3; Jacques Rancière, La haine de la démocratie, Paris: La Fabrique, 2008.
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