In the art of war, each of the belligerents chooses one or more battlefields which they believe will give them an edge in their offensive and then try to impose it on the enemy who is confined to a defensive position. This same applies in politics whether in national or geopolitical struggles.
Today and for the past thirty years or so, two battlefields for the ongoing war have been defined by three powers of global imperialism (USA, Western Europe and Japan): “democracy and “environment”.
First, this paper will try to unravel the concepts and substance behind each definition of the two themes chosen by the triad powers; it will also critically analyse them in comparison to the interests of the Peoples, Nations and States targeted (countries of the South and former East European countries). Secondly, the range of strategic instruments used by imperialism to conduct its war will be reviewed: “liberal” globalisation and the ideology behind it (conventional economics), militarisation of globalisation, “good governance”, “aid”, “war on terror” and preventive wars, and their associated ideological discourses (culturalist post-modernism). In counterpoint will be pinpointed the conditions for an efficient response by the Peoples and States of the South to the challenge posed by the offensive redeployment of triad imperialism
1. “Democracy”, what “democracy”?
By choosing democracy as the battlefield to launch their offensive which primarily aimed at dismantling the Soviet Union and re-conquering East European countries, the Atlantic Alliance diplomacy had a stroke of genius. This idea had been floated since the 1970s and soon materialised with the creation of the Conference on Security and Co-operation in Europe – Abbreviation CSCE – and signing of the Helsinki Final Act in 1975. In a book with a telling title by Jacques Andreani, (Le Piège, Helsinki et la chute du communisme; Odile Jacob 2005), the author explained how, following the agreement, the Soviets who expected NATO disarmament and real détente, were simply duped by their Western partners (1).
Yes indeed, it was a stroke of genius because “democracy” was a real issue. Obviously the soviet regimes could not be described as “democratic” to say the least, no matter how you define the concept and practice. Conversely, the peoples of the Atlantic Alliance countries think of themselves as “democratic”, overlooking the weaknesses and contradictions of their real political practice submitted to the demands of capitalist reproduction. System comparison obviously played out in their favour.
The Soviet and their allies’ “peaceful co-existence” concept implying “respect” for the political practices of either sides and “non-interference” with each other’s internal affairs was gradually replaced by the democratic discourse.
Co-existence has had its own credit. Let us remember how the Stockholm Appeal, in the 1950s, reminded the peoples of the real nuclear threat implicit in the US aggressive diplomacy options deployed since the Potsdam Conference (1945) and confirmed by the atomic shelling of Japan in the aftermath of the Conference.
Nevertheless, this strategy (co-existence and non-interference) seemed to suit (or occasionally suited) the dominant powers in both West and East. Their description as “capitalist” and socialist” looked real and natural with this type of discourse, and therefore the exact nature of both systems could never be seriously discussed. In other words, an insight into the nature of contemporary really existing capitalism (oligopolistic capitalism) or “really existing socialism” was not an issue. Instead, the United Nations Organisation replaced (with the implicit approval of the ruling powers of both worlds) the words “capitalism” and “socialism” by “market economies” and “centrally-planned economies” (or to be more malicious “administered economies”). It was easier with these two false descriptions which look only apparently and superficially correct, to occasionally underscore “systems convergence”, a convergence which is wrongly said to be imposed by modern technology (false because premised on a monistic technicist concept of history) so as to make room for co-existence and bring about “natural” convergence; and alternatively in cold war times to underscore irreducible opposition between the “democratic” model (associated with open market economy) and the “totalitarian” model (produced by “administered” economy).
The implied message in deliberately placing the battle on the “democracy issue” battlefield is a confirmation of systems “irreducibility” option in which case East European countries had no other choice than to surrender and return to capitalism (the “market”) which was to produce then – naturally – the conditions for democratisation. Whether this was not the case (of post-Soviet Russia) or was the case in only extreme caricatured forms (in the cases of ethnocracies in East European countries) is a different matter altogether.
It is noteworthy that the Atlantic Alliance countries’ “democratic” discourse is something relatively recent. Originally, did NATO not quite accommodate itself to Salazar, the Turkish generals and the Greek colonels? In the meantime, triad diplomacies lent their support to (and often installed) the worst dictatorships ever in South America, Africa and Asia.
Initially, the new democratic discourse has been met with much reluctance. Many outstanding leaders of the Atlantic Alliance saw it as much of an inconvenience for their “real-politik”. It took Carter as President of the United States (somehow like Obama today) to understand that “moral” sermon on the democratic theme could resonate with people. It was not until Mitterrand came to power in France that the Gaullist tradition of rejecting any “partitioning” of Europe imposed by US-condoned cold war strategy, was abandoned. It took Gorbatchev in USSR not to understand that rallying to this discourse could lead nowhere but to disaster.
It has then been hoped that the new “democratic discourse” would live up to expectations. It has appeared so compelling to “leftist” public opinions in Europe that they rallied round it including both the electoral left (of socialist parties) and the originally more radical opinions. With “Euro-communism”, the consensus became general.
Drawing the lessons from this victory, the ruling classes of imperialist triad have decided to pursue the strategy of centre-staging the debate on “democracy”. China has not been criticised for opening up its economy, but because its political management has been monopolised by the communist party. Cuba’s achievements which have no match across South America have been ignored, putting the focus instead, time and again, on its one-party-system. The same discourse has been on even in relation to Putin’s Russia.
Has this strategy been really aimed at making democracy prevail? The answer is clearly “no”, unless you are naive. The single and only objective is to force resisting countries to accept a “market economy” open and integrated in the so-called liberal but actually imperialist global system and to reduce them to the state of dominated peripheries in the system. Once achieved, this objective prevents the advancement of democracy in the victimised countries concerned and cannot, in any way, enhance the response to the “democracy issue”.
The chances of democratic breakthroughs in the medium term if not immediately would have been better in countries practising at least originally “really existing socialism” by allowing social struggle dialectics to play out on its own. This would have opened up realisable prospect of going beyond the limits inherited from “really existing socialism” (also distorted by its joining at least in part liberal economic opening) on “exiting the tunnel”.
Incidentally, the “democracy” theme has been invoked only against countries resisting globalised liberal overture. The others have been less criticised for their clearly autocratic political management. Saudi Arabia and Pakistan are perfect illustrations. But Georgia (pro-Atlantic Alliance) can also be cited and many others as well.
At best, the proposed “democratic” formula is no more than a caricature of an “electoral multiparty system” deprived of concerns for social progress but again and always – or almost always – associated with the type of social regression required and produced by dominant really existing capitalism (oligopolistic capitalism). The formula has already done a lot of damage to the credibility of democracy because peoples in disarray have given up and prefer instead to believe in backward-looking religious and ethnicity illusions.
As it appears, it is now necessary more than ever to step up radical leftist criticism (I underline radical, to differentiate it from confusing leftist and vague criticism). I mean the type of criticism which associates rather than dissociates the democratisation of societies (and not only their practice of political management) with social progress (in a socialist perspective). This criticism cannot dissociate the struggle for democratisation from the struggle for socialism. There can be no socialism without democracy and neither can there be democratic progress outside a socialist prospect.
2. Ecological issue and would-be sustainable development
Here again, one has to start with the real problem: continuous capitalist accumulation would lead to the destruction of our natural environment and ultimately life on the planet.
Again, the issue surfaced in the 1970s more precisely since the Stockholm Conference in 1972. But long neglected and marginalised in the array of dominant discourses and economic management practices, it was not until relatively recently that it was established as a new central agenda of dominant strategy.
Shortly after, the work of Wackernagel and Rees (first publication, 1996) instigated a major strand in radical social thinking about construction of the future.(2)
The authors not only defined a new concept, that of an ecological footprint. They also developed a metric for it, whose units are defined in terms of “global hectares”, comparing the biological capacity of societies/countries (their capacity to produce and reproduce the conditions for life on the planet) with their consumption of resources made available to them by this bio-capacity.
The authors’ conclusions are worrying. At the global level, the bio-capacity of our planet is 2.1 global hectares (gha) per capita(ie 13.2 billion gha per 6.3 billion inhabitants). In contrast, the global average for consumption of resources was already – in the mid-1990s – 2.7 gha. This “average” masks a gigantic imbalance, the average for the Triad (Europe, North America and Japan) having already reached a multiple of the order of four magnitudes of the global average. A good proportion of the bio-capacity of societies in the South is taken up by and to the advantage of these centres. In other words, the current expansion of capitalism is destroying the Planet and humanity and this expansion’s logical conclusion is either the actual genocide of the peoples of the South – as “over-population” – or at least keeping them in ever increasing poverty. An eco-fascist strand of thought is being developed which gives legitimacy to this type of solution to the problem.
The interest of this work goes beyond its conclusions. For it is a question of a calculation (I use the term “calculation” deliberately, rather than “discourse”) put in terms of the use value of the Planet’s resources, illustrated through their measurement in global hectares (gha), not in dollars.
The proof is therefore given that social use value can be the subject of perfectly rational calculation. This proof is decisive in its import, since socialism is defined in terms of a society founded on use value and not on exchange value. And defenders of capitalism have always held that socialism is an unreal utopia because – according to them – use value is not measurable, unless it is conflated with exchange value (defined in terms of “utility” in vulgar economics).
Recognition of use value (of which the measurement of economic footprints is but one good example) implies that socialism should be “ecological”, indeed can only be ecological, as Altvater proclaims (“Solar socialism” or “no socialism”). But it also implies that this recognition is impossible in any capitalist system, even a “reformed” one, as we shall see.
In his time, Marx not only suspected the existence of this problem. He had already expressed it through his rigorous distinction between use value and wealth, conflated in vulgar economics. Marx explicitly said that the accumulation of capital destroys the natural bases on which it is built: man (the alienated, exploited, dominated and oppressed worker) and the earth (symbol of natural riches at the disposal of humanity). And whatever might be the limitations of this way of putting it, trapped within its own era, it nonetheless remains an illustration of a clear consciousness of the problem (beyond intuition) which deserves to be recognised.
It is regrettable, therefore, that the ecologists of our time, including Wackernagel and Rees, have not read Marx. This would have allowed them to take their own proposals further, to grasp their revolutionary import, and, of course, to go further than Marx himself on this topic.
This deficiency in modern ecology facilitates its capture by the ideology of vulgar economics from its dominant position in contemporary society. This capture is already under way and, indeed, considerably advanced.
Political ecology (such as that proposed by Alain Lipietz) was located from the beginning within the gamut of the “pro-socialist”, political Left. Subsequently, “green” movements (and then political parties) located themselves in the Centre Left, through their expressed sympathy with social and international justice, their critique of “waste”, their concern with the fate of workers and “poor” peoples. But, apart from the diversity of these movements, we should note that none of them had established a rigorous relationship between the authentic socialist dimension necessary to rise to the challenge and a recognition, no less necessary, of the ecological dimension. To achieve this, we should not ignore the wealth/value distinction originated by Marx.
Capture of ecology by vulgar ideology operates on two levels: on the one hand by reducing measurement of use value to an “improved” measurement of exchange value, and on the other by integrating the ecological challenge with the ideology of “consensus”. Both these manoeuvres undermine the clear realisation that ecology and capitalism are, by their nature, in opposition.
This capture of ecological measurement by vulgar economics is making huge strides. Thousands of young researchers, in the United States, and, imitating them, in Europe, have been mobilised in this cause.
The “ecological costs” are, in this way of thinking, assimilated to external economies. The vulgar method of measuring cost/benefit in terms of exchange value (itself conflated with market price) is then used to define a “fair price” integrating external economies and diseconomies. And Bob’s your uncle.
It goes without saying that the work – reduced to mathematical formulas – done in this traditional area of vulgar economics does not say how the “fair price” calculated could become that of the actual current market. It is presumed therefore that fiscal and other “incentives” could be sufficiently effective to bring about this convergence. Any proof that this could really be the case is entirely absent.
In fact, as can already be seen, oligopolies have seized hold of ecology to justify the opening up of new fields to their destructive expansion. Francois Houtart provides a conclusive illustration of this in his work on biofuels (3). Since then, “green capitalism” has been part of the obligatory discourse of men/women in positions of power, on both the Right and the Left, in the Triad (of Europe, North America and Japan), and of the executives of oligopolies. The ecology in question, of course, conforms to the vision known as “weak sustainability” (in the usual jargon), in other words, marketisation of the “rights of access to the planet’s resources”. In the report of the United Nations commission which he chaired, presented to the United Nations General Assembly of 24-26 June 2009, Stiglitz openly embraced this position, proposing “an auction of the world’s resources (fishing rights, licences to pollute etc)”. A proposal which quite simply comes down to sustaining the oligopolies in their ambition to mortgage further the future of the people of the South.
The capture of ecological discourse by the political culture of the consensus (a necessary expression of the conception of capitalism as the end of history) is equally well advanced.
This capture has an easy ride. For it is responding to the alienation and illusion which feed the dominant culture, that of capitalism. An easy ride because this culture is actual, and holds a dominant place in the minds of the majority of human beings, in the South as well as in the North.
In contrast, the expression of the demands of the socialist counter-culture is fraught with difficulty. Because socialist culture is not there in front of our eyes. It is part of a future to be invented, a project of civilisation, open to the creativity of the imagination. Slogans (such as “socialisation through democracy and not through the market”; “the transfer of the decisive level for decision making from the economic and political levels to that of culture”), are not enough, despite their power to pave the way for the historical process of transformation. For what is at stake is a long “secular” process of societal reconstruction based on principles other than those of capitalism, in both the North and the South, which cannot be supposed to take place “rapidly”. But construction of the future, however far away, begins today.
3. Conventional economics, a central ideological instrument at the service of capitalist reproduction
Conventional economics discourse has described the current system as “market economy”; but as we have already indicated earlier herein, this is an incomplete and even misleading definition that may invariably be used to describe XIXth Century England, Sung and Ming China, Italian Renaissance cities.
“Market economy” theory has always been the backbone of “vulgar economy”, using the powerful description Marx inferred from his radical critique. This theory immediately and completely overlooks essential reality – social production relationships (particularly ownership as an immediate expression of such relationships erected as a sacred principle) – and replaced it with hypothetical society made up of “individuals” (who then become, in the final analysis, active agents of system reproduction and development). These “individuals” (homo oeconomicus) have no history, have never changed since the origin of mankind (Robinson), have been characterised by the same unchanged qualities (selfishness and ability to make calculations and choices at their service). Building on these foundations, “market economy” therefore does not correspond to a stylized formulation of the world of historic and real capitalism. This is building an imaginary system deprived of almost everything essential that characterises capitalist reality.
The critique of Capital unravels the ideological nature (in the functional sense) of this construction by vulgar economics since Bastiat and Jean Baptiste Say. Its function is simply to legitimate the current social order by establishing it as a “natural and rational order”. Later “subjective theories of value” and general economic equilibrium theory, which were developed in response to Marx in the third part of the XIXth Century, and their tardy heir’s that is, contemporary “highly mathematically expressed” economic theory described as classical, neoclassical, liberal, neoliberal (don’t mind the descriptions) never went beyond the frame defined by the fundamental principles of vulgar economics.
Vulgar economics discourse backs up the demands of producing and reproducing really existing capitalism.
Exclusive praising of “competition” is promoted on the centre stage as the unavoidable condition for “progress”, a quality denied to solidarity (despite history testimonies) which is confined to an excessively narrow definition as compassion and charity. Whether competition is between “producers” (capitalist producers, without paying too much attention to the oligopolistic form of contemporary capitalist production) or even between “workers” (which implies that the jobless, or “poor”, is responsible for the situation), the new language (“social partners” in lieu of conflicting classes) just as the practices – inter-alia of the European Union Tribunal, a staunch supporter of dismantling the unions considered an obstacle to inter-worker competition) – are backing up “competition” as an exclusivity.
Again, adopting competition exclusivity as a principle is requesting society to rally round “consensus” society-building and exclude in the process any attempt at imagining a different society” founded on solidarity. The consensus society ideology which Europe is about to adopt wipes out the transforming potential of a democratic message. It conveys the rightist libertarian message which considers – any – State as the “enemy of freedom” (meaning the enemy of capital-based free enterprise). It dissociates democracy practice from social progress.
4. Beyond vulgar economics, the real problems of contemporary world
Vulgar economics simply excludes from the range of its “analyses” the real major problems posed by the redeployment of historic capitalism in its effort to conquer the world; the nature of some of those issues will be briefly revisited in the following section.
Capitalism – a parenthesis in history
The principle of infinite accumulation which defines capitalism is synonymous with exponential growth, and the latter, like cancer, results in death. Stuart Mill, who understood this, imagined that a “stationary state” would put an end to this irrational process. Keynes shared this optimism of the Reason. But neither was equipped to understand how the necessary overcoming of capitalism could come about. Marx, in giving its full place to the new class struggle, could, on the contrary, imagine overturning the power of the capitalist class, which is currently concentrated in the hands of the oligarchy.
Accumulation, which is synonymous with pauperisation, forms the objective framework of the struggle against capitalism. But the latter is principally expressed through the growing contrast between the wealth of dominant societies which benefit from their imperialist dividend, and the poverty of marginalised societies. This conflict has become the central axis of the choice between “socialism or barbarism”.
“Real and actual” historical capitalism is associated with successive patterns of accumulation by dispossession, not only at its origin (“primitive accumulation”) but at all stages of its manifestation. Once established, “Atlantic” capitalism became part of global conquest and re-shaped it on the basis of permanent dispossession for the conquered areas, which, as a result, became the oppressed margins of the system.
This “victorious” globalisation has proved incapable of maintaining sustainability. Half a century after its triumph, which seemed at one time to have begun the “end of history”, was itself challenged by the revolution in semi-marginal Russian and the (victorious) liberation struggles in Asia and Africa which constituted the history of the 20th century – the first wave of struggles for the emancipation of workers and peoples, the first wave of the “awakening of the South”.
Accumulation by dispossession continues in front of our eyes in the late capitalism of contemporary oligopolies. In the dominant areas the monopolistic dividend from which the oligopolistic plutocracies benefit is synonymous with the the dispossession of the whole of the productive base of society. In the marginalised areas, this pauperising dispossession is manifested in the expropriation of the peasantry and the plunder of natural resources from the regions concerned. Both of these practices form the necessary pillars for the expansion strategies of the late capitalism of the oligopolies.
On this analysis, I situate the “new agrarian question” at the heart of the challenge for the 21st century (4). The dispossession of the peasantry (of Asia, Africa and Latin America) is the major contemporary form of the trend towards pauperisation (in the sense that Marx gave this “law”) associated with accumulation. Its pursuit is inextricable from the harnessing of the imperialist dividend by the oligopolies, with or without agrocarburants. I deduce from this that the development of struggle in this arena and the future responses of peasant societies in the South (which make up nearly half of humanity) will broadly depend on the capacity or otherwise of workers and peoples to bring about advances along the road to constructing a genuine civilisation, freed from the domination of capital, and which I can only call socialism.
The pillage of the South’s natural resources demanded by pursuit of the model of wasteful consumption to the exclusive benefit of the wealthy societies of the North, does away with any development perspective worthy of the name for the peoples concerned and forms the other face of pauperisation on a global scale. On this analysis, the “energy crisis” is not the product of scarcity of the resources necessary for energy production (oil, of course), nor the product of the destructive effects of the energy-devouring modes of production and consumption currently in force. This description – an accurate one – does not go beyond the immediate and obvious evidence. The crisis is the product of the collective desire of the imperialist oligopolies to ensure they have the monopoly of access to the planet’s natural resources, however scarce they may be, so as to appropriate the imperialist dividend, whether the use of resources remains as at present (wasteful and energy-devouring) or whether it comes under the new correctives of “ecological” policies. I also deduce that the pursuit of expansionist strategies by the late capitalism of the oligopolies will necessarily collide with the growing resistance of the nations of the South.
The present crisis is, therefore, neither a financial crisis, nor the summation of multiple systemic crises, but a crisis of the imperialist capitalism of the oligopolies, whose supreme and exclusive power risks being challenged, once again, both by the joint struggle of the working classes and by that of the oppressed peoples and nations of the peripheries, however “emergent” they may appear. It is simultaneously a crisis of United States hegemony.
Oligopolistic capitalism, the political power of the oligarchies, vicious globalisation, financialisation, United States hegemony, the militarization of the management of globalisation at the service of the oligopolies, the decline of democracy, the pillage of the planet’s resources, the abandonment of the development perspective of the South are all inseparable.
The really challenge is, therefore, as follows: will these struggles succeed in converging to open up the path – or the paths – on the long road to the transition to global socialism? Or will they remain separate from each other, or even come into conflict rendering them ineffective and leaving the initiative to oligopolistic capitalism?
From one long crisis to the next
The financial collapse of September 2008 probably surprised the conventional economists of “benign globalisation” and took aback some of the fabricators of liberal discourse, who had been bathed in triumph since “the fall of the Berlin wall”, as we are accustomed to say. In contrast, the event did not surprise us – we were expecting it (without having predicted its actual date like Madame Soleil (a famous lady astrologer) – simply because for us it was a natural development of the long crisis of late capitalism set in motion in the 1970s.
It is good to look back at the first long crisis of capitalism, which formed the 20th century, as there is such a striking parallel between the developmental stages of these two crises.
The triumphant industrial capitalism of the 19th century was in crisis from 1873. Profits slumped, for reasons made clear by Marx. Capital reacted with a double move – both becoming more concentrated and expanding globally. New monopolies seized profits at the highest possible value, derived from the exploitation of labour. They accelerated the colonial conquest of the planet. These structural transformations allowed profits to take off anew. They led to the “Belle Époque” – from 1890 to 1914 – a period of global domination by capital of financialised monopolies. The dominant discourse of the period was a paean of praise to colonisation (the “civilising mission”) making globalisation synonymous with peace, a discourse to which working class European social democracy rallied in turn.
However, the “Belle Époque”, hailed as the “end of history” by the prominent ideologues of the time, ended with the world war, as only Lenin had foreseen. And the period which followed up to and after the Second World War was one of “wars and revolutions”. In 1920, the Russian revolution (the “weak link” in the system) having been isolated after the defeat of hopes for revolution in central Europe, financialised monopolistic capital restored, against the tide, the system of the “Belle Époque”. This restoration, which was denounced by Keynes at the time, was the origin of the financial collapse of 1929 and the depression which it set in motion up to the Second World War.
The “long 20th century” – 1873/1990 – is thus both the century that set in train the first deep systematic crisis of late capitalism (to the point where Lenin thought that this monopolistic capital constituted the “final phase of capitalism”, and also the century of a first triumphant wave of anti-capitalist revolutions (Russia, China) and of anti-imperialist movements by the people of Asia and Africa.
The second systemic crisis of capitalism began in 1971, almost exactly one century after the first, when the dollar went off the gold standard. Profit levels, investment and growth collapsed (never to recover their previous levels between 1956 and 1975. Capital responded to the challenge as in the previous crisis, with a double move both to concentration and to globalisation. It also put in place structures which were to define the second “Belle Epoque” (1990/2008) of financialised globalisation, permitting the oligopolistic groups to take their monopolistic dividend. The same discourse accompanied these moves: the “market” guarantees prosperity, democracy and peace; this is the “end of history”. The same rallying of European socialists to the new liberalism. However, this new “Belle Epoque” was accompanied from the beginning by war, of the North against the South, starting in the 1990s. And as the first financialised globalisation gave rise to 1929, the second led to 2008. We have now arrived at the crucial moment which heralds a probable new wave of “wars and revolutions”. And this despite the fact that the powers that be envisage nothing other than the restoration of the system as it was before its financial collapse.
The analogy between the developments of these two long systemic crises of late capitalism is striking. Nonetheless, there are differences of significant political import.
Emerging from the crisis of capitalism or emerging from capitalism in crisis?
Behind the financial crisis lies the systemic crisis of the capitalism of the oligopolies
Contemporary capitalism is first and foremost an oligopolistic capitalism in the full sense of the term (which it was only in part until the present). By that I mean that the oligopolies are in sole control of the reproduction of the production system in its ensemble. They are “financialised” in the sense that only they have access to the capital markets. This financialisation gives the monetary and financial market – their market, ie the one within which they compete among themselves – the status of a dominant market, which shapes and controls in its turn the labour markets and exchange of goods.
This globalised financialisation is expressed in a transformation of the bourgeois ruling class, which has become a shareholding plutocracy. The oligarchs are not only Russian, as is too often stated, but even more from the United States, Europe and Japan. A decline in democracy is the inevitable result of this concentration of power to the exclusive advantage of the oligopolies.
The new form of capitalist globalisation, which corresponds to this transformation, in contrast to that which characterised the first “Belle Epoque”, is equally important to unpack. I have expressed this in one phrase: the transition from imperialism conjugated in the plural (ie that of the imperialist powers in permanent conflict with each other) to the collective imperialism of the Triad (United States, Europe and Japan).
The monopolies which emerged in response to the first crisis of profit levels had a basis in the reinforcement of violent competition between the major political powers of the period, and led to the major armed conflict begun in 1914 and followed, by way of the Treaty of Versailles, and the second war up to 1945 by what Arrighi, Frank, Wallerstein and I myself have called since the 1970s the “Thirty Years War”, a term which has been taken up by others.
In contrast, the second wave of oligopolistic concentration, begun in the 1970s, had an entirely different basis, in the context of the system which I have labelled, “collective imperialism” of the Triad (United States, Europe and Japan). This this new imperialist globalisation, the domination of the major powers was no longer exercised through a monopoly of industrial production (as was the case prior to this), but by other means (control of technology, financial markets, access to the planet’s natural resources, information and communications and weapons of mass destruction). This system that I describe as “apartheid on a global scale” implies permanent war between the States and the peoples of the recalcitrant peripheries, a war begun in the 1990s with the establishment of military control of the planet by the United States and their subordinate allies in Nato.
On my analysis, the financialisation of the system is inseparable from its confirmed oligopolistic character. There is a fundamental organic relationship between the two. This is not the prevailing point of view, not only in the voluminous literature by conventional economists, but also in most of the critical writing about the present crisis.
It is the system as a whole which is now in difficulty.
The facts are established: the financial meltdown is already in the course of producing not a “recession” but a real deep depression. But in addition, other dimensions of the crisis in the system have been revealed to public awareness even before the financial collapse. We know the big labels – energy crisis, food crisis, ecological crisis, climate change – and numerous analyses of these aspects of the current difficulties are produced daily, some of the best quality.
Nevertheless, I remain critical towards this type of treatment of the systemic crisis of capitalism, which keeps too distinct the different dimensions of the problem. I redefine the diverse “crises” as facets of the same problem, that of contemporary capitalist globalisation (whether liberal or not) based on the drain on resources which the imperialist dividend operates on a global scale, to the advantage of the oligopolistic plutocracy of the collective imperialism of the Triad.
The real battle is taking place on the decisive terrain between the oligopolies -which seek to produce and reproduce the conditions which would permit them to appropriate the imperialist dividend – and all their victims – workers in all the countries of the North and the South, oppressed, marginalised people condemned to give up all hope of development worthy of the name.
Emerging from the crisis of capitalism or emerging from capitalism in crisis?
This slogan was proposed by Andre Gunder Frank and myself in 1974.
The analysis that we put forward of the new grand crisis that we believed had begun led us to the major conclusion that capital would respond to the challenge by a new wave of concentration on the basis of which it would proceed to massive relocation. Later developments have largely confirmed this thesis. The title of our intervention in a colloquium organised by Il Manifesto in Rome at that date (“Let’s not wait for 1984”, in reference to the work by George Orwell brought off the back burner for the occasion) invited the radical Left of the period to stop coming to the aid of capital by seeking “ways out of the crisis”, but to get engaged in strategies for “ways out of capitalism in crisis”.(5)
I’ve stuck to this line of analysis with an obstinacy which I don’t regret. By this means I have conceptualised new forms of domination by the imperialist powers, based on new models of control substituting for the form monopoly of industry, which the rise of countries since labelled “emerging” confirmed. I dubbed the construction of a new globalisation as “apartheid on a global scale”, pointing to the militarised management of the planet, perpetuating under new conditions the polarisation inseparable from the expansion of “capitalism as it actually exists”.
The second wave of popular emancipation: a remake of the 20th century or better?
There is no alternative to the socialist way
The contemporary world is governed by the oligarchies. Financial oligarchies in the United States, Europe and Japan, which dominate, not only economic life, but also the politics of daily life. Russian oligarchies cast in their image which the Russian State tries to control. State rule in China. Autocracies (sometimes hidden behind the appearance of an electoral democracy “of low intensity”) forming part of the global system elsewhere in the rest of the planet.
The management of contemporary globalisation by the oligarchies is in crisis.
The oligarchies of the North are confident of remaining in power after the crisis is over. They do not feel threatened. By contrast, the fragility of the autocratic powers of the South is very clear. For this reason, the globalisation we are currently experiencing is itself fragile. Will it be threatened by the revolt of the South as in the previous century? Probably. But sadly. For humanity will only go -down the socialist route – the only humane alternative to chaos – when the oligarchic Powers, their allies and servants are put to rout at one and the same time in the countries both of the North and of the South.
Long live the internationalism of the people in the face of the oligarchies’ cosmopolitanism.
Can the capitalism of the financialised and globalised oligopolies be re-established?
Capitalism is “liberal” by nature, if by “liberalism” one means not the benign adjective that the term has given rise to but the full and complete domination by capital, not only of labour and the economy, but over all aspects of social life. There is no “market economy” (the vulgar term for capitalism) without a “market society”. Capital obstinately pursues this one objective: money. Accumulation for its own sake. Marx, and after him other critical thinkers like Keynes, understood this perfectly. But not our conventional economists, including those of the Left.
This model of capital’s exclusive and total domination was obstinately imposed by the ruling classes during the whole of the long crisis preceding 1945. It was only the triple victory of democracy, socialism and popular national liberation which permitted, from 1945 to 1980, the substitution for this permanent model of the capitalist ideal with the confrontational coexistence of the three social models of governance of the Welfare State and social democracy of the West, the actual socialism of the East and the popular nationalisms of the South. The loss of impetus followed by the collapse of these three latter models made possible a return to the exclusive domination of capital, known as neo-liberal.
I linked this new “liberalism” with a set of characteristics which appeared to me to deserve the appellation, “senile capitalism”. The book of this title, published in 2001, probably counted among those rare writings of the period which, far from seeing the “end of history” in globalised and financialised neoliberalism, analysed this system of late capitalism as unstable and destined to collapse, precisely because of its financialised dimension (its “Achilles’ heel”, as I called it).
Conventional economists have remained obstinately deaf to any questioning of their dogma. Even to the point that they were incapable of foreseeing the financial meltdown of 2008. Those presented by the dominant media as “critics” hardly deserved this label. Stiglitz remains convinced that the system as it is – globalised and financialised liberalism – can be returned to a safe footing, with a few corrections. Amartya Sen draws a moral without daring to acknowledge the present form of capitalism for what it necessarily is.
The social disasters which the institution of liberalism – “Capital’s permanent Utopia” as I called it – brought about have given rise to much nostalgia for the recent and distant past. But this nostalgia does not allow a response to the challenge. For it is the product of an impoverishment of critical theory which gradually came to stand in the way of understanding the internal contradictions and the systemic limitations of the post war period, whose decline, lack of direction and ultimate collapse appeared as unforeseen cataclysms.
Nonetheless, in the void created by these failures in critical thought, the way was paved for an awareness of new dimensions to the systemic crisis of civilisation. I refer here to the ecologists. But the Greens, who claimed to be radically distinct from the Blues (conservatives and liberals) and the Reds (Socialists) created an impasse for themselves, due to their failure to integrate the ecological aspects of the challenge with a radical critique of capitalism.
Everything was in place to ensure the triumph – ephemeral in fact, but experienced as “definitive” – of the alternative known as “liberal democracy”. A pathetic thought – actually, not a thought at all – which ignores Marx’s decisive remarks about the kind of bourgeois democracy that does not realise that those who make decisions are not the same people as those who are affected by them. Those who make decisions today, enjoying liberty reinforced by control over property, are the plutocrats of oligopolistic capitalism and the States which are their debtors. As things stand, the workers and the peoples affected are nothing but their victims. But such nonsense could actually appear believable for a short time, because of the systemic failings of the post-war period, whose origins were not understood by the pathetic dogmatists. Liberal democracy was able, therefore, to seem to be the “best of all possible systems”.
Today, the powers that be, who had foreseen nothing, are busy restoring the very same system. Their ultimate success, like that of the conservatives in the 1920s – denounced by Keynes without any support at the time – can only worsen the contradictions which are at the bottom of the financial collapse of 2008.
No less serious is the fact that economists “of the Left” have for a long time taken on board the essentials of the vulgar economics and accepted the (erroneous) idea of the rationality of the markets. These economists concentrated their efforts on defining the conditions for this rationality, abandoning Marx, judging “obsolete” his discovery of the irrationality of markets from the perspective of the emancipation of workers and peoples. In the perspective of these economists, capitalism is flexible, adjusting itself to the exigencies of progress (both technological and social) if forced to do so. These “Leftist” economists were not in a position to understand the inevitability of the crisis that broke out. They were even less well prepared to confront the challenges confronting peoples as a result. Like other vulgar economists they sought to repair the damage, without understand that, in order to do this successfully, it is necessary to set off on another road – one which outruns the fundamental logic of capitalism. Instead of seeking to emerge from capitalism in crisis, they think they can emerge from the crisis of capitalism.
Crisis of United States’ hegemony
The recent meeting of the G20 (London, April 2009) did nothing towards a “reconstruction of the world”. And it is perhaps no coincidence that it was followed hard on its heels by a meeting of NATO, the armed wing of contemporary imperialism, and by the reinforcement of its military involvement in Afghanistan. The permanent war of the “North” against the “South” has to continue.
We already knew that the Triad Governments – the United States, Europe and Japan – are pursuing the single goal of a restoration of the system as ti was before September 2008, and we shouldn’t take seriously the interventions of President Obama and Gordon Brown on the one hand, and those of Sarkozy and Angela Merkel on the other, all playing to the gallery. The supposed “differences” between them, of which they are accused by the media, without any real substance, are nothing but an attempt by the leaders concerned to give weight to their naïve opinions. “Re-establish capitalism”, “reform the financial sector”: grand words to evade the real questions. This is why the restoration of the system, which is not impossible, will solve no problems, but rather aggravate them. The “Stiglitz Commission”, set up by the United Nations, is signed up to this strategy of constructing an optical illusion. Of course, we would expect nothing else from the oligarchs who hold the real power or from their political debtors. The point of view that I have elaborated, which emphasises the links between domination by the oligopolies and the financialisation necessary for its management of the global economy – inseparable from each other – is well supported by the results of the G20.
Of more interest is the fact that the invited leaders of the “emerging countries” have kept silence. Only one intelligent sentence was uttered during the course of this three-ringed circus, by the Chinese President, Hu Jintao, who noted “in passing”, without emphasis and with a (sardonic?) smile that we will have to envisage the creation of a global financial system which is not founded on the dollar. A small number of commentators immediately made the connection – a correct one – with Keynes’ proposals in 1945.
This “remark” calls us back to the reality: that the crisis of the capitalist system of the oligopolies is inseparable from the crisis of United States hegemony, on its last gasp. But who will take over? Certainly not “Europe” which doesn’t exist beyond the Atlantic treaty area and which does not aspire to independence, as the NATO meeting demonstrated once more. China? That “threat” invoked by the media ad nauseam (a new “Yellow Peril”), doubtless in order to legitimise the Atlantic alignment, is baseless. The Chinese leaders know that their country does not have the means and they themselves do not have the will. China’s strategy is to work for the promotion of a new globalisation without hegemony. Which neither the United States nor Europe considers acceptable.
Therefore, the chances of a possible development in this direction rest fully with the countries of the South. And it is no coincidence that UNCTAD is the only institution within the United Nations family to undertake very different initiatives from those of the Stiglitz Commission. It is no coincidence that its director, the Thai Supachi Panitchpakdi, considered until now a perfect liberal, has dared to propose in the organisation’s report, “The Global Economic Crisis”, dated March 2009, realistic advances aligned with the perspective of a second moment of “the awakening of the South”.(6)
For its part, China set in train the – gradual and controlled – construction of alternative regional financial systems, free of the dollar. These initiatives round out, at the economic level, the promotion of political alliances among the “Shanghai Group”, the major obstacle to NATO’s war-mongering.
The NATO Assembly, meeting at the same time in April 2009, ratified Washington’s decision not to commence its military disengagement, but, on the contrary, to increase it, on the fallacious pretext of the struggle against “terrorism”. President Obama is no doubt employing his talent in trying to save the Clinton followed by the Bush programme for military control of the planet, the only means of prolonging the existence of the threatened American hegemony. Obama scored points and obtained the unconditional capitulation of Sarkozy’s France – the end of Gaullism – which reintegrated NATO’s military command, always difficult while Washington spoke with Bush’s voice, lacking in intelligence, but not in arrogance. Moreover, Obama, like Bush, took it on himself to lecture, with little respect for the “independence” of Europe, when it was invited to accept the integration of Turkey into the European Union!
Towards a second wave of victorious struggles for the emancipation of workers and peoples.
Are new advances in the emancipation struggle of peoples possible?
The political management of the global domination of oligopolistic capital is necessarily extremely violent. For, in order to retain their positions as wealthy societies, the imperialist Triad are constrained to reserve, for their own benefit exclusively, access to the planet’s natural resources. This new requirement is at the bottom of the militarization of globalisation which I have dubbed, “The Empire of Chaos” (the title of one of my works, published in 2001), an expression taken up by others, since.
In the wake of Washington’s undertaking to gain military control of the planet and carry out for this purpose “pre-emptive wars” on the pretext of a struggle “against terrorism”, NATO took on itself the title of “representative of the international community”, and in doing so marginalised the UN, the only organisation entitled to speak under this description.
Of course, the real objectives could not be acknowledged. To conceal them, the Powers concerned chose to instrumentalise the discourse of democracy and granted themselves a “right of intervention” to impose “respect for human rights”!
In parallel, the absolute power of the new oligarchic plutocracies has hollowed out the content of practice of bourgeois democracy. Whereas governance in former times required political negotiation between the different classes in societies making up the hegemonic bloc necessary for the reproduction of the power of capital, the new political governance of society under the capitalism of the oligopolies, set in train by means of systematic depoliticisation, has instituted a new political culture of “consensus” (modelled on that of the United States), which substitutes consumers and political spectators for active citizens, the basis of authentic democracy. This “liberal virus” (to take up the title of my work published in 2005) abolished the possibility of alternative choices and substituted a consensus based only on respect for procedural electoral democracy.
The origin of this drama is the strangulation followed by the destruction of the three models of social governance evoked above. We have turned the page on the first wave of struggles for emancipation, but have not yet opened the book at the second wave. In the twilight world that separates them is “the time of monsters”, as Gramsci writes.
In the North, these developments are at the root of the loss of sense in democratic practice. This step backward is masked by the claims of the discourse known as “post modernist”, according to which nations and classes have already left the stage to cede their place to “the individual” who has become the active subject of social transformation.
In the South, other illusions take the stage. Whether they take the form of the illusion of an autonomous national capitalist development, signed up to globalisation, which holds sway among the ruling and middle classes of “emerging” countries, comforted by the immediate success of recent decades. Or backward-looking illusions (quasi ethnic or quasi religious) in the countries left to fend for themselves.
More serious is the fact that these developments give comfort to the general adherence to “the ideology of consumerism”, the idea that progress is measured by the quantitative growth of such consumerism. Marx showed that it is the means of production that determines that of consumption and not the reverse, as vulgar economics claims. The perspective of a superior humanist rationality, the foundation of the socialist project, is, therefore, lost to view. The gigantic potential that the application of science and technology offers to the whole of humanity, and which ought to allow the genuine flourishing of individuals and societies, in the North as well as the South, is wasted under the exigencies of its submission to the logic of the endless pursuit of capital accumulation. Yet more serious is that the continued progress of the social productivity of labour is associated with a staggering usage of the mechanisms of pauperisation (visible on a global scale, among other things by the general offensive against peasant societies), as Marx understood.
Adherence to the ideological alienation produced by capitalism does not only attract the opulent societies of the imperialist powers. The peoples of the peripheries, largely deprived, it is true, of access to acceptable levels of consumption and blinded by aspiring to consumption like that of the North, have lost sight of the fact that the logic of the development of historical capitalism makes it impossible for the model in question to be generalised to the whole planet.
We can understand, then, the reasons for which the financial collapse of 2008 was the exclusive result of the sharpening of the internal contradictions that belong to the accumulation of capital. Only the intervention of forces bringing with them a positive alternative allows us to imagine a way out of the simple chaos produced by the sharpening of the internal contradictions of the system (it was in this spirit that I have opposed “the revolutionary path” to the model of bypassing a system rendered historically obsolete by “decadence”) (7). And, in the present state of affairs, social protest movements, despite their apparent increase, remain on the whole incapable of challenging the social order associated with the capitalism of the oligopolies, lacking as they do a coherent political project fit to meet the threat.
From this point of view, the present situation is very different from that of the 1930s, when the forces of socialism on the one hand and fascism on the other confronted one another, producing the Nazi reponse in the latter case and the New Deal and the Popular Fronts in the former.
The deepening of the crisis can not be avoided, even supposing eventual resuscitation – which is not impossible – of the domination of oligopolistic capital. In these conditions the radicalisation of struggles may not be impossible, even if considerable obstacles remain.
In the countries of the “Triad” [the United States, Europe and Japan] such radicalisation would require the expropriation of the oligopolies to be on the agenda, which appears to be excluded for the foreseeable future. Consequently, the theory that despite the turbulence stirred up by the crisis, the stability of the Triad countries is not under threat should not be ruled out. The risk of a “remake” of the wave of emancipation struggles of the last century, that is, a challenge to the system confined to the peripheries is serious.
A second stage of the “awakening of the South” (to re-use the title of my 2007 work, a reading of the Bandung period as the time of this awakening) is on the agenda. On the best hypothesis, the advances made in these conditions could force imperialism to retreat, and to give up its insane and criminal project of the military control of the planet. And on this hypothesis the democratic movement in the countries of the dominant could make a positive contribution to the success of this neutering process. Moreover, the retreat of the imperialist dividend from which the societies concerned are benefiting, brought about by an international rebalancing in favour of the South (and of China in particular) could very well help to awaken a socialist consciousness. But on the other hand, the societies of the South could be faced with the same challenges as in the past, resulting in the same limitations on their advancement.
A new internationalism of workers and peoples is necessary and possible.
Historical capitalism is anything but enduring. It is only a brief parenthesis in history. A fundamental challenge to it – which our contemporary thinkers, by and large, imagine to be neither “possible” nor “desirable” – is nonetheless a necessary condition for the emancipation of oppressed workers and peoples (ie the people of the margins, 80% of humanity). And the two dimensions of the challenge are inseparable. There will be no way out of capitalism by virtue of the struggle of the people of the North alone, or of the oppressed people of the South alone. There will only be a way out of capitalism when, and to the extent that, these two dimensions of the same challenge align with one another. It is not “certain” that this will happen, in which case capitalism will be “overtaken” by the destruction of civilisation (beyond the sickness of civilisation, to use Freud’s terms), and perhaps of life on the Planet. The scenario of a possible “remake” of the 20th century remains within the bounds of the requirements for an engagement of humanity on the long road of transition to global socialism. The liberal disaster demands a renewal of the radical critique of capitalism. The challenge is that of a permanent construction/reconstruction of internationalism of workers and peoples, in the face of the cosmopolitism of oligarchic capital.
Construction of this internationalism can only be envisaged through successful new revolutionary advances (like those begun in Latin America and Nepal) offering the perspective of overtaking capitalism.
In the countries of the South, States’ and nations’ fight for a negotiated globalisation without hegemonies – the contemporary form of delinking – maintained by organising the demand of the working class can constrain and limit the oligopolistic powers of the imperialist Triad. Democratic forces in the countries of the North must support this fight. The “democratic” discourse being proposed, and accepted by the majority of the Left, such as it is, the “humanitarian” interventions carried out in its name as also the miserable practices of “aid” remove from their consideration any real confrontation with this challenge.
In the countries of the North, the oligopolies are already clearly part of “community property” whose management cannot be confined to special interests alone (the crisis of which has demonstrated catastrophic results). An authentic Left must have the courage to envisage nationalisation, the first unavoidable stage in their socialisation by the deepening of democratic practice. The current crisis allows us to conceive of a possible integrated front of social and political forces bringing together all the victims of the exclusive power of the present oligarchies.
The first wave of struggles for socialism, that of the 20th century, showed the limitations of European social democracies, the communisms of the Third International and the popular nationalisms of the Bandung era, the stifling and annihilation of their socialist ambitions. The second wave, that of the 21st century, must learn the lessons. In particular, the association of socialisation with economic management and the increased democratisation of society. There will be no socialism with democracy, but equally there will be no democratic advance outside of a socialist perspective.
These strategic objectives invite us to consider the construction of “convergence in diversity” (to use the expression of the World Forum for Alternatives) of forms of organisation and struggles of the oppressed and exploited classes. And it is not my intention to condemn in advance any of these forms which, in their own way, may renew links with social democracy, communism or popular nationalism, or may distance themselves from any of these.
From this perspective I believe it is necessary to reflect on the renewal of a creative Marxism. Marx has never been more useful or necessary in understanding and transforming the world, today even more than yesterday. To be a Marxist in this spirit is to begin from Marx and not to end with him or with Lenin or Mao, as the historical Marxisms of the previous century conceived and practised it. It is to render to Marx what belongs to him: the intelligence to have begun a modern critical way of thinking, a critique of the capitalist reality and of its political, ideological and cultural representations. Creative Marxism must have the objective of enriching without hesitation this critical way of thinking par excellence. It must not be afraid of integrating the results of reflect in any domain, including contributions which were wrongly considered to be “alien” by the dogmas of the historical Marxism of the past.
Conclusion: the powerlessness of vulgar economics
In times of “crisis” like ours, the powerlessness of vulgar economics becomes fully apparent.
In this connection, the newspaper, Le Monde floated a nasty question: “ How come the Harvard “aces” had not anticipated the crisis …?” Are they simply dumb then? Certainly not. But their intelligence is wholly busied with the sole avenues retained by vulgar economics and the false theory of an “imaginary capitalism of generalised markets”. Just as some clever minds of the past believed that the debate over Angel sex could contribute to understanding the world better !
Engaged in ways of analysing markets on the basis of “imperfect information” vulgar economics is then compelled to substitute the analysis of capitalist reality for an endless set of hypotheses (for which the maths have become essential) on “anticipations”. But anticipations can make you predict anything and everything, something Keynes with his clever and realistic mind had comprehended.
What are these“anticipations”? And of whom ? This is all talk. Are they anticipations by labour force sellers? These poor men know they have no choice. They also know that the only way they can improve the sale terms of their labour force is through organisation and collective class struggle. Are they those of the “consumers” who can “choose” (their “supermarket”?) and their possible financial investments? These poor souls finally have to seek the advice of their bankers who really decide for them. Are they those of industrialists who can decide whether or not to invest? History has demonstrated what Marx and Keynes had understood, i.e. that cycles of overinvestment and capital devaluation produce reality. Are they those of capital owners who can choose between risky investment and preference for liquidity? Financial bubble is a recurrent reality and its causes and mechanisms have been perfectly analysed once again by Marx, in combination with his discovery of the extreme alienation of vulgar economists (“money makes money”, without going through production). Conventional economists will always exclude that alienation from their range of reflections. Are they those of stock exchange dealers? We know that the best position is to do like the sheep do by following the general movement and that this practice necessarily broadens the swinging angle.
Society as imagined by vulgar economists inevitably got to a point where it is drowned in an ocean of anticipations because it has been reduced to a sum of individuals. This is nothing but an ideological expression in the negative sense though perfectly functional to legitimate the real practices of dominant capital. Vulgar economists who believe they are doing a scientific job are not even aware of this. They cannot understand that to do a scientific job and get closer to understanding objective reality, they need to start with a radical criticism of the initial base of their reasoning.
Conventional economists are not critical thinkers. They are at best “technocrats”, “executives”, i.e. executing agents at the service of capital, today turned into oligopolies.
This is why their “criticisms” of the system have always been marginal and most of the reform proposals they believe to be “realistic” are actually perfectly unrealistic. And when reality does not suit them for whatever moral reason (“too much poverty” or even “too many inequalities”), they inevitably drift towards lip service and sermon as policy.
A best-seller by an Economics Nobel Prize winner (strictly reserved for vulgar economists) is therefore bound to be mediocre at best.
The book by Joseph Stiglitz pompously titled “Another World” is a prime example. (8)
Stiglitz “discovered” in 2002 that the Washington Consensus was not a good thing; he discovered the real behaviours of the IMF, WTO etc. More than half of this bulky 550-page book boasted about “revelations” known by others for the past 30 or 40 years! Stiglitz believes he is the first person to have said what he said because he never read the work done by critical thinkers (and will probably never do so). This is not even out of arrogance but sheer ignorance. Here’s one funny example: Stiglitz “discovered” that in 1990, a few oligopolies reached an understanding on a few prices. That was great! And what did he propose to restore “competition”: an “anti-trust” law and recourse to courts in the US style!
In this book published in 2002, Stiglitz ignored financialisation; he hardly said anything on it, judging it inoffensive and even useful … The remarkable work done by late Giovanni Arrighi on financialisation as the ultimate stage of declining hegemonies was totally ignored. (9) … Of course, Stiglitz was surprised by the 2008 financial meltdown and not a single line of his book indicated the serious nature of the threat. And yet, on these same dates, others (including myself) had analysed the globalised liberal system as unstable by nature and bound to collapse through its financial crisis (the system’s Achilles’ heel as I wrote). Stiglitz naturally did not know anything about this.
One can only smile at the idea he had of himself “revealing to the world” the system’s “deficiencies”.
Not surprisingly what I called the “Stiglitz Report” meaning the report of the Commission designated by the current Chairperson of the UN General Assembly – Padre Miguel D’Escoto – but unfortunately chaired by Stiglitz, who probably imposed his narrow and limited perception of the problems in drafting the final document – did not venture out of the reactionary conventional orthodoxy. (10) In fact, I see the resulting “failure” – the fact that the countries of the South renounced being represented at the Assembly by qualified officials – as a positive sign. It suggested that the countries of the South had understood that the report – under the pretence of a “global consensus” and…. realism – adhered to the North’s “response to crisis” strategy and that its proposals were likely to be “acceptable” for oligopolies. Is that changing the world? Come on!
5. Globalisation militarisation, “aid”, post-modernism
To maintain their monopoly guaranteed income, oligopolies cannot content themselves with draining their own “national economies” alone. Given their global dimension, they can even drain more from the economies of dominated, emerging and marginalised peripheries. Looting the resources of the whole planet and worker overexploitation provide the material for imperialist guaranteed income, which in turn, constitutes the condition for a social consensus that has then become possible in the opulent societies of the North.
The discourses on democracy and ecology are serving as a wrapping paper to hide the real objectives pursued.
Vulgar economics constitutes the keystone of capitalism ideology and this should have been known since the “Critique of Political Economy” (under the title, Capital by Marx). Because it involves a “non-reality” (generalised markets), the building of vulgar economics does not deserve to be described as scientific as we are made to believe. Its real social function is similar to that of witchcraft in ancient times. Like the latter, it voluntarily resorts to a language incomprehensible to the ordinary citizen whose decision-making power it annihilates by so doing and then delivers would be “objective” “truths”. In counterpoint, the language of genuine social thinking has always remained crystal clear as have been the writings by Marx even the most difficult ones; they educate the citizens.
Defeating military control of the planet by imperialists
The real challenge confronting the peoples is first and foremost the militarisation of globalisation because military control of the planet by the United States and their subordinate allies (NATO and Japan) has become the unique weapon of last resort allowing for imperialist guaranteed income without which the system cannot survive. “Empire of chaos”, as I have been describing the system since 1991 and permanent war against the peoples of the South are synonymous. This is why defeating the triad armed forces, forcing the United States to abandon their bases deployed on all continents, dismantling NATO must become the primary strategic objectives of democratic progressive forces in both North and South. (11)
This is probably the objective pursued by the “Shanghai Group” which has engaged in reviving the spirit of “Non-alignment” to be defined now as “non-alignment with imperialist globalisation and the triad political and military project”.
I would like to suggest here a comparison with the history of Bandoung. Even before the Conference called by the same name, (1955) and “non-alignment” (1960), radical reflection groups had stood up to propose the States of Asia and Africa, possible and efficient counter strategies that will force the imperialism of that era to back up. The author of these lines has had the honour of being a member of one of these groups for the Middle East since 1950. Today, similar initiatives are absolutely necessary.
“Aid”, an additional tool for controlling vulnerable countries
‘”International aid”, described as something essential for the survival of “Least Developed Countries” (UN terminology to designate many African and a few other countries) is relevant here because the real objective of aid, which is destined to the most vulnerable of the peripheral countries, is to erect an additional obstacle to their joining an alternative South front.(12)
Aid concepts have been narrowly framed; its architecture was defined in the Paris Declaration on Aid Effectiveness (2005), a document written by OECD staff and later imposed on recipient countries. The overall conditionality defined by an alignment with the principles of liberal globalisation is omnipresent. There are places where it is explicitly expressed like when it says to favour liberalisation, to open up markets, to become “attractive” to foreign private investments. In others, it is an indirect statement like respect for WTO rules. Therefore, any country refusing to adhere to this strategy unilaterally defined by the “North” (the Triad) loses eligibility for aid. From this perspective, the Paris Declaration is a regression – and not a progress – compared to the practices of “development decades” (1960-1970) when the principle of free choice by the South countries of their system and economic and social policies was admitted.
Under such conditions, aid policies and their apparent immediate objectives are indissociable from the geopolitical objectives of imperialism. Obviously, the different regions of the Planet do not have identical functions in the globalised liberal system. It is therefore not enough to indicate whatever constitutes their common denominator (trade liberalisation, opening up to financial flows, privatisation etc.).
Sub-Saharan Africa is perfectly integrated into the global system and not at all “marginalised” as many people unfortunately too often speculate without thinking: the external trade of the region represents 45 % of its GDP, compared to 30% for Asia and South America and 15% for each of the three regions making up the triad. Quantitatively therefore Africa is “more” and not “less” integrated but in a different way (13).
The geo-economy of the region is based on two sets of productions which are decisive in the shaping of its structures and definition of its position in the global system: (i) “tropical” agricultural exports: coffee, cocoa, cotton, peanut, fruits, palm oil etc, (ii) hydrocarbons and mining: copper, gold, precious metals, diamond etc. The former provide the “survival” means beyond the food produced for their own consumption by farmers who are financing the State’s graft on the local economy and also the reproduction of the “middle classes” through public spending. The local ruling classes are more interested in these productions than the dominant economies. The latter are much more interested in the proceeds from the natural resources of the continent. The interest today is in hydrocarbons and rare minerals and tomorrow it may well be in reserves for the development of agro fuel, the sun (when long distance conveyance of solar energy becomes possible in the next few decades), water (when its direct or indirect export will be made possible).
The race for securing rural territories that can accommodate the expansion of agro fuels has already started in South America. From this perspective, Africa offers vast possibilities. Malagasy has ignited the movement and has already conceded large areas of lands in the western part of the country. The implementation of the Congolese Rural Code (2008) inspired by Belgian cooperation and FAO will certainly allow agribusiness to secure agrarian lands on a large scale for the purpose of “developing” them just as the Mining Code had allowed the plundering of the colony’s mineral resources in the past. The useless farmers will pay the price; their foreseeable extreme impoverishment will perhaps attract the interest of future humanitarian aid and “aid” programmes for poverty reduction! In the 1970s, I had come across an old colonial dream for the Sahel consisting in evicting the population (useless Sahelians) and having them replaced by (Texan style) export-oriented extensive cattle raising ranches.
The new phase of history that has just started is characterised by sharpened conflicts for access to the natural resources of the planet. The triad intends to have exclusive access to this “useful” Africa (that of reserves of natural resources) and prevent the “emerging countries” whose needs in that area are already overwhelming and will grow bigger and bigger, from gaining access to them. The guarantee of this exclusive access requires political control and reducing vulnerable African States to the state of “client States”.
It is therefore not misleading to consider that the objective of aid is to “corrupt” the ruling classes. Beyond financial levies (alas widely known though usually commented upon as if donors played no part in it!), aid discharges very well this political function having become “essential” (since it has become an important source of budget financing). It is then necessary to conceive aid to become permanent and not to prepare for its disappearance through consistent development. Also important is the fact that this aid should not be exclusively and entirely reserved for the ruling classes, the “government”. It should also arouse the interest of the “oppositions” capable of succeeding them. At this point, the role of the so-called civil society and some NGOs becomes relevant. To be really politically efficient, the aid in question should also contribute to maintaining farmer integration into this global system, as this integration feeds an additional source of government revenue. Therefore “aid” should also be interested in progress in the “modernisation” of exports crops.
The rightist criticism of aid proceeds from the idea that it is up to the countries concerned to end this dependency by opening up more to foreign capital. In substance, this is what Sarkozy’s speech, in Dakar, and Obama’s, in Accra, meant. This oratory process is used to elude the real issue. Aid being an integral part of imperialist strategy, it seeks in reality to marginalise the useless and cumbersome African peoples so that the resources of Africa can more easily be pillaged!
The “naive” leftist criticism shared by many NGOs is to make as if one could take “donors” for their word when they proclaim pledges. This criticism is then confined to pointless discourses on “absorption capacity”, “performance”, “good governance” promoted by the “civil society”. It claims for “more” and “better” aid!! In counterpoint, radical discourse deploys in the prospect of self-centred development. Aid, as it may be imagined within this framework, then proceeds from the logic of international solidarity between the peoples in the face of capital cosmopolitism.
Poverty, civil society, good governance: the poor rhetoric of the dominant discourse
This allegedly self-assigned objective of the dominant discourse is “to reduce or even eradicate poverty” by relying on the “civil society” to replace a “bad governance” by a good one.
The very term of “poverty” pertains to a language as old as the world, the language of charity (of a religious or other origin). This language belongs to the past, not the present and certainly not to the future. It precedes the formation of a developed language by modern social thinking which seeks to be scientific that is, by discovering the mechanisms that engender an observable and observed phenomenon.
The massive literature on poverty exclusively – or almost –puts the focus on “locating” the phenomenon and quantifying it. It does not ask some upstream questions such as: what are the mechanisms that engender the poverty in question? Can they be related to fundamental rules (like competition) forming the base of our systems? And in particular, concerning the assisted South countries, the development strategies and policies designed for them?
Even taken seriously (therefore overlooking its abusive use), does the “civil society” concept has the necessary elevation that is required of a concept to kick off and be given consideration in a serious and scientific-oriented debate?
As proposed to us, “the civil society” in question is associated with a consensus ideology. A double consensus: (i) that there is no alternative to the “market economy” (a gross expression by itself to serve as a substitute for the analysis of past and contemporary “really existing capitalism”); (ii) that there is no alternative to representative democracy founded on electoral multiparty system (conceived as “democracy”), to serve as a substitute for a society democratisation concept which by itself is a never-ending process.
In counterpoint, struggles in history have allowed the emergence of conflictual political cultures founded on the recognition of conflict of social and national interests, giving, inter-alia, some meaning to the terms “right” and “left” by which the right and power to imagine alternatives and not exclusively “alternations” in the exercise of power (changing names to do the same thing) is conferred on creative democracy.
”Governance” is an invention substituted for “power”. The opposition between the two adjectives – good or bad governance – is reminiscent of Manichaeism and Moralism substituted for reality analysis as scientific as possible. Once again, this fashion came from the USA where sermon has often dominated political discourse. “Good governance” implies that the “decision-maker” is “fair”, “objective” (retains the “best solution”), “neutral” (accepting symmetrical presentation of arguments), and on top of all “honest” (even of course in the meanest financial sense of the term). Reading the literature produced by the World Bank on the subject is like you are re-reading the grievances submitted – in general, by religious and/or law men (few women!) – to the “just despot” (not even enlightened!) in the ancient times of the Orient.
The visible ideology behind this is simply trying to overlook the real issue: what social interests does the incumbent regime whatever it may be represent and defend? How can the transformation of power be advanced such that it gradually becomes the instrument of the majorities, in particular, that of the victims of the system as it is? Given that the multiparty electoral recipe has shown its limitations on this aspect.
Post modernist discourse concludes the discourse titled by some “new spirit of capitalism”, but which should be better described as the ideology of tardy capitalism/imperialism of oligopolies. I wish to refer the reader to the book written by Nkolo Foe (Le Post modernisme; Codesria 2009) who strongly established the perfectly functional substance aimed at serving the real interests of the dominant forces (14).
Modernism was inaugurated by the discourse of Enlightment in the European XVIIIth Century, in parallel with the triumph of European historical form of capitalism and imperialism the latter being consubstantial, and later conquered the world. It conveys its contradictions and limitations. The desire for universalism which it formulates is defined by the affirmation of human rights (not necessarily women’s) which in substance are those of bourgeois individualism. What is more, the real capitalism with which this form of modernity is associated is an imperialism that denies similar rights for non-European peoples conquered and submitted to the demands for producing an imperialist guaranteed income to the benefit of oligopolies.
Criticism of this bourgeois and capitalist/imperialist modernity is certainly necessary. And Marx had indeed engaged in this radical criticism which it will always be necessary to update and deepen.
The new Reason wanted to be emancipating; and it was to the extent that it freed the society from the alienations and oppressions of the old regimes and as such constituted a guarantee for progress, more precisely a form of limited and contradictory progress because this Reason is that of a society ultimately managed by capital.
Post modernism proposes no radical criticism that would lead to the emancipation of individual and society. Instead, its proposal is to return to pre-modern and pre-capitalist alienations. So the forms of sociability it tries to promote is bound to be in keeping with “tribalist identity” membership of (Para-religious or Para-ethnic) communities at the opposite extremes of what is required to deepen democracy which has become synonymous with “tyrannizing the people” who dare question the wise management exercised by executives at the service of oligopolies. The criticisms levied against the “grand discourses” (Enlightment, democracy, progress, socialism, national liberation) are not future-oriented; instead they look back at an imaginary and false past and by the way perfectly idealised. The extreme fragmentation of popular majorities has thus been facilitated, making them accept to adjust to the logic of reproducing the domination of oligopolies and imperialism. Fragmentation does not hinder domination; it even makes it easier. Far from being a conscious and lucid agent of social transformation, the individual in question is enslaved to triumphant merchandizing. The citizen gives in to being a consumer/spectator. He/she is no longer a citizen longing for emancipation; he/she has become instead a colourless being who accepts submission.
1 Jacques Andreani, Le Piège, Helsinki et la chute du communisme; Odile Jacob, Paris 2005
2 Mathis Wackernagel et William Rees, Notre empreinte écologique; Ecosociété, Montréal, 1999 (find english original)
3 François Houtart, L’agroénergie, solution pour le climat ou sortie de crise pour le capital?; Couleur Livres, Charleroi 2009
4 Samir Amin,
5 Samir Amin et André Gunder Franck, Let’s not wait for 1984
6 CNUCED, Avril 2009, site de l’organisation
7 Samir Amin, Révolution ou décadence ?
8 Joseph Stiglitz, Un autre monde, contre le fanatisme des marchés; Livre de poche, Paris
2009. (find English original)
9 Giovanni Arrighi, The long XXth century; Verso, London, 1994
10 Samir Amin,A Critique of the Stiglitz Report, Web site Pambazuka
11 Samir Amin, L’Empire du Chaos, Harmattan 1991
Samir Amin, L’hégémonie des Etats-Unis et l’effacement du projet européen; Harmattan
12 Samir Amin, Aid, for what development; contribution dans le livre publié en anglais par Fahamu (en cours de publication, 2009)
13 Samir Amin, Is Africa really marginalized?, in, Helen Lauer (ed), History and philosophy
of sciences; Hope Pub, Ibadan, 2003.
14 Nkolo Foe, Le post modernisme et le nouvel esprit du capitalisme, Sur une philosophie globale d’ Empire; Codesria, Dakar 2009
Samir Amin, L’hégémonie des Etats-Unis et l’effacement du projet européen; Harmattan
13 Samir Amin, Aid, for what development; contribution dans le livre publié en anglais par Fahamu (en cours de publication, 2009)
13 Samir Amin, Is Africa really marginalized?, in, Helen Lauer (ed), History and philosophy
of sciences; Hope Pub, Ibadan, 2003.
14 Nkolo Foe, Le post modernisme et le nouvel esprit du capitalisme, Sur une philosophie globale d’ Empire; Codesria, Dakar 2009
Samir Amin,Modernité, religion, démocratie, critique des culturalisme; Parangon 2008
Samir Amin, Sur la crise, op cit, chap 2 et 3.
Jacques Rancière, La haine de la démocratie, La Fabrique 2008.
15 Samir Amin, Beyond liberal Globalization; Monthly Review, NY, dec 2006
16 Je fais ici référence à l’ouvrage “classique” de Rostov (Les étapes de la croissance, 1960)
Ma thèse sur l’accumulation à l’échelle mondiale (première rédaction,1957) s’inscrivait avant la lettre contre la vision linéaire de Rostov.
17 Jacques Berthelot, contributions diverse, sites web de l’auteur
Via Campesina, publications diverses
18 Sortir de la crise globale, ed Jean Marie Harribey et Dominique Plihon; La découverte
19 Le cercle des économistes, Fin de monde ou sortie de la crise, ed Pierre Dockès; Perin
Christian Saint Etienne, La fin de l’euro; Ed Bourin, 2009
20 Samir Amin, Sur la crise, sortir de la crise du capitalisme ou sortir du capitalisme en crise; Le Temps des Cerises 2009
21 CNUCED, Avril 2009, site de l’organisation