Audacity, more audacity
PAMBAZUKA 2011-12-01, Issue 560
Samir Amin is proposing a way out of the current situation of capitalism in crisis. Nations should socialise the ownership of monopolies, de-financialise the management of the economy and de-globalise international relations.
The historical circumstances created by the implosion of contemporary capitalism requires the radical left, in the North as well as the South, to be bold in formulating its political alternative to the existing system. The purpose of this paper is to show why audacity is required and what it means.
1. Contemporary capitalism is a capitalism of generalized monopolies. By this I mean that monopolies are now no longer islands (albeit important) in a sea of other still relatively autonomous companies, but are an integrated system. Therefore, these monopolies now tightly control all the systems of production. Small and medium enterprises, and even the large corporations that are not strictly speaking oligopolies are locked in a network of control put in place by the monopolies. Their degree of autonomy has shrunk to the point that they are nothing more than subcontractors of the monopolies.
This system of generalized monopolies is the product of a new phase of centralization of capital in the countries of the Triad (the United States, Western and Central Europe, and Japan) that took place during the 1980s and 1990s.
The generalized monopolies now dominate the world economy. 'Globalization' is the name they have given to the set of demands by which they exert their control over the productive systems of the periphery of global capitalism (the world beyond the partners of the triad). It is nothing other than a new stage of imperialism.
2. The capitalism of generalized and globalized monopolies is a system that guarantees these monopolies a monopoly rent levied on the mass of surplus value (transformed into profits) that capital extracts from the exploitation of labour. To the extent that these monopolies are operating in the peripheries of the global system, monopoly rent is imperialist rent. The process of capital accumulation – that defines capitalism in all its successive historical forms – is therefore driven by the maximisation of monopoly/imperialist rent seeking.
This shift in the centre of gravity of the accumulation of capital is the source of the continuous concentration of income and wealth to the benefit of the monopolies, largely monopolised by the oligarchies ('plutocracies') that govern oligopolistic groups at the expense of the remuneration of labour and even the remuneration of non-monopolistic capital.
3. This imbalance in continued growth is itself, in turn, the source of the financialisation of the economic system. By this I mean that a growing portion of the surplus cannot be invested in the expansion and deepening of systems of production and therefore the 'financial investment' of this excessive surplus becomes the only option for continued accumulation under the control of the monopolies.
The implementation of specific systems by capital permits the financialisation to operate in different ways:
(i) the subjugation of the management of firms to the principle of 'shareholder value'
(ii) the substitution of pension systems funded by capitalisation (Pension Funds) by systems of pension distribution
(iii) the adoption of the principle of 'flexible exchange rates'
(iv) the abandonment of the principle of central banks determining the interest rate - the price of 'liquidity' – and the transfer of this responsibility to the 'market'.
Financialisation has transferred the major responsibility for control of the reproduction of the system of accumulation to some 30 giant banks of the triad. What are euphemistically called 'markets' are nothing other than the places where the strategies of these actors who dominate the economic scene are deployed.
In turn this financialisation, which is responsible for the growth of inequality in income distribution (and fortunes), generates the growing surplus on which it feeds. The 'financial investments' (or rather the investments in financial speculation) continue to grow at dizzying speeds, not commensurate with growth in GDP (which is therefore becoming largely fictitious) or with investment in real production.
The explosive growth of financial investment requires – and fuels – among other things debt in all its forms, especially sovereign debt. When the governments in power claim to be pursuing the goal of 'debt reduction', they are deliberately lying. For the strategy of financialised monopolies requires the growth in debt (which they seek, rather than combat) as a way to absorb the surplus profit of monopolies. The austerity policies imposed 'to reduce debt' have indeed resulted (as intended) in increasing its volume.
4. It is this system – commonly called 'neoliberal', the system of generalized monopoly capitalism, 'globalized' (imperialist) and financialised (of necessity for its own reproduction) – that is imploding before our eyes. This system, apparently unable to overcome its growing internal contradictions, is doomed to continue its wild ride.
The 'crisis' of the system is due to its own 'success'. Indeed so far the strategy deployed by monopolies has always produced the desired results: 'austerity' plans and the so-called social (in fact antisocial) downsizing plans that are still being imposed, in spite of resistance and struggles. To this day the initiative remains in the hands of the monopolies ('the markets') and their political servants (the governments that submit to the demands of the so-called 'market').
5. Under these conditions monopoly capital has openly declared war on workers and peoples. This declaration is formulated in the sentence 'liberalism is not negotiable.' Monopoly capital will definitely continue its wild ride and not slow down. The criticism of 'regulation' that I make below is grounded in this fact.
We are not living in a historical moment in which the search for a 'social compromise' is a possible option. There have been such moments in the past, such as the post-war social compromise between capital and labour specific to the social democratic state in the West, the actually existing socialism in the East, and the popular national projects of the South. But our present historical moment is not the same. So the conflict is between monopoly capital and workers and people who are invited to an unconditional surrender. Defensive strategies of resistance under these conditions are ineffective and bound to be eventually defeated. In the face of war declared by monopoly capital, workers and peoples must develop strategies that allow them to take the offensive.
The period of social war is necessarily accompanied by the proliferation of international political conflicts and military interventions of the imperialist powers of the triad. The strategy of 'military control of the planet' by the armed forces of the United States and its subordinate NATO allies is ultimately the only means by which the imperialist monopolies of the triad can expect to continue their domination over the peoples, nations and the states of the South.
Faced with this challenge of the war declared by the monopolies, what alternatives are being proposed?
First response: 'market regulation' (financial and otherwise).
These are initiatives that monopolies and governments claim they are pursuing. In fact it is only empty rhetoric, designed to mislead public opinion. These initiatives cannot stop the mad rush for financial return that is the result of the logic of accumulation controlled by monopolies. They are therefore a false alternative.
Second response: a return to the post-war models.
These responses feed a triple nostalgia: (i) the rebuilding of a true 'social democracy' in the West, (ii) the resurrection of 'socialisms' founded on the principles that governed those of the 20th century, (iii) the return to formulas of popular nationalism in the peripheries of the South. These nostalgias imagine it is possible to 'roll back' monopoly capitalism, forcing it to regress to what it was in 1945. But history never allows such returns to the past. Capitalism must be confronted as it is today, not as what we would have wished it to be by imagining the blocking of its evolution. However, these longings continue to haunt large segments of the left throughout the world.
Third response: the search for a 'humanist' consensus.
I define this pious wish in the following way: the illusion that a consensus among fundamentally conflicting interests would be possible. Naïve ecology movements, among others, share this illusion.
Fourth response: the illusions of the past.
These illusions invoke 'specificity' and 'right to difference' without bothering to understand their scope and meaning. The past has already answered the questions for the future. These 'culturalisms' can take many para-religious or ethnic forms. Theocracies and ethnocracies become convenient substitutes for the democratic social struggles that have been evacuated from their agenda.
Fifth response: priority of 'personal freedom'.
The range of responses based on this priority, considered the exclusive 'supreme value', includes in its ranks the diehards of 'representative electoral democracy,' which they equate with democracy itself. The formula separates the democratisation of societies from social progress, and even tolerates a de facto association with social regression in order not to risk to discrediting democracy, now reduced to the status of a tragic farce.
But there are even more dangerous forms of this position. I am referring here to some common 'post modernist' currents (such as Toni Negri in particular) who imagine that the individual has already become the subject of history, as if communism, which will allow the individual to be emancipated from alienation and actually become the subject of history, were already here!
It is clear that all of the responses above, including those of the right (such as the 'regulations' that do not affect private property monopolies) still find powerful echoes among a majority of the people on the left.
6. The war declared by the generalised monopoly capitalism of contemporary imperialism has nothing to fear from the false alternatives that I have just outlined.
So what is to be done?
This moment offers us the historic opportunity to go much further; it demands as the only effective response a bold and audacious radicalization in the formulation of alternatives capable of moving workers and peoples to take the offensive to defeat their adversary's strategy of war. These formulations, based on the analysis of actually existing contemporary capitalism, must directly confront the future that is to be built, and turn their back on the nostalgia for the past and illusions of identity or consensus.
AUDACIOUS PROGRAMS FOR THE RADICAL LEFT
I will organise the following general proposals under three headings: (i) socialise the ownership of monopolies, (ii) de-financialise the management of the economy, (iii) de-globalise international relations.
SOCIALIZE THE OWNERSHIP OF MONOPOLIES
The effectiveness of the alternative response necessarily requires the questioning of the very principle of private property of monopoly capital. Proposing to 'regulate' financial operations, to return markets to 'transparency' to allow 'agents' expectations' to be 'rational' and to define the terms of a consensus on these reforms without abolishing the private property of monopolies, is nothing other than throwing dust in the eyes of the naive public. Monopolies are asked to 'manage' reforms against their own interests, ignoring the fact that they retain a thousand and one ways to circumvent the objectives of such reforms.
The alternative social project should be to reverse the direction of the current social order (social disorder) produced by the strategies of monopolies, in order to ensure maximum and stabilised employment, and to ensure decent wages growing in parallel with the productivity of social labour. This objective is simply impossible without the expropriation of the power of monopolies.
The 'software of economic theorists' must be reconstructed (in the words of François Morin). The absurd and impossible economic theory of 'expectations' expels democracy from the management of economic decision-making. Audacity in this instance requires radical reform of education for the training not only of economists, but also of all those called to occupy management positions.
Monopolies are institutional bodies that must be managed according to the principles of democracy, in direct conflict with those who sanctify private property. Although the term 'commons', imported from the Anglo-Saxon world, is itself ambiguous because always disconnected from the debate on the meaning of social conflicts (Anglo-Saxon language deliberately ignores the reality of social classes), the term could be invoked here specifically to call monopolies part of the 'commons'.
The abolition of the private ownership of monopolies takes place through their nationalisation. This first legal action is unavoidable. But audacity here means going beyond that step to propose plans for the socialisation of the management of nationalised monopolies and the promotion of the democratic social struggles that are engaged on this long road.
I will give here a concrete example of what could be involved in plans of socialization.
'Capitalist' farmers (those of developed countries) like 'peasant' farmers (mostly in the South) are all prisoners of both the upstream monopolies that provide inputs and credit, and the downstream ones on which they depend for processing, transportation and marketing of their products. Therefore they have no real autonomy in their 'decisions'. In addition the productivity gains they make are siphoned off by the monopolies that have reduced producers to the status of 'subcontractors'. What possible alternative?
Public institutions working within a legal framework that would set the mode of governance must replace the monopolies. These would be constituted of representatives of: (i) farmers (the principle interests), (ii) upstream units (manufacturers of inputs, banks) and downstream (food industry, retail chains ) and (iii) consumers, (iv) local authorities (interested in natural and social environment - schools, hospitals, urban planning and housing, transportation), (v) the State (citizens). Representatives of the components listed above would be self-selected according to procedures consistent with their own mode of socialised management, such as units of production of inputs that are themselves managed by directorates of workers directly employed by the units concerned as well as those who are employed by sub-contracting units and so on. These structures should be designed by formulas that associate management personnel with each of these levels, such as research centres for scientific, independent and appropriate technology. We could even conceive of a representation of capital providers (the 'small shareholders') inherited from the nationalisation, if deemed useful.
We are therefore talking about institutional approaches that are more complex than the forms of 'self-directed' or 'cooperative' that we have known. Ways of working need to be invented that allow the exercise of genuine democracy in the management of the economy, based on open negotiation among all interested parties. A formula is required that systematically links the democratisation of society with social progress, in contrast with the reality of capitalism which dissociates democracy, which is reduced to the formal management of politics, from social conditions abandoned to the 'market' dominated by what monopoly capital produces. Then and only then can we talk about true transparency of markets, regulated in institutionalised forms of socialised management.
The example may seem marginal in the developed capitalist countries because farmers there are a very small proportion of workers (3-7 percent). However, this issue is central to the South where the rural population will remain significant for some time. Here access to land, which must be guaranteed for all (with the least possible inequality of access) is fundamental to principles advancing peasant agriculture (I refer here to my previous work on this question). 'Peasant agriculture' should not be understood as synonymous with 'stagnant agriculture' (or 'traditional and folklorique'). The necessary progress of peasant agriculture does require some 'modernization' (although this term is a misnomer because it immediately suggests to many modernisation through capitalism). More effective inputs, credits, and production and supply chains are necessary to improve the productivity of peasant labor. The formulas proposed here pursue the objective of enabling this modernisation in ways and in a spirit that is 'non-capitalist', that is to say grounded in a socialist perspective.
Obviously the specific example chosen here is one that needs to be institutionalised. The nationalisation / socialisation of the management of monopolies in the sectors of industry and transport, banks and other financial institutions should be imagined in the same spirit, while taking into account the specificities of their economic and social functions in the constitution of their directorates. Again these directorates should involve the workers in the company as well as those of subcontractors, representatives of upstream industries, banks, research institutions, consumers, and citizens.
The nationalisation/socialisation of monopolies addresses a fundamental need at the central axis of the challenge confronting workers and peoples under contemporary capitalism of generalised monopolies. It is the only way to stop the accumulation by dispossession that is driving the management of the economy by the monopolies.
The accumulation dominated by monopolies can indeed only reproduce itself if the area subject to 'market management' is constantly expanding. This is achieved by excessive privatisation of public services (dispossession of citizens), and access to natural resources (dispossession of peoples). The extraction of profit of 'independent' economic units by the monopolies is even a dispossession (of capitalists!) by the financial oligarchy.
DE-FINANCIALIZATION: A WORLD WITHOUT WALL STREET
Nationalisation/socialisation of monopolies would in and of itself abolish the principle of 'shareholder value' imposed by the strategy of accumulation in the service of monopoly rents. This objective is essential for any bold agenda to escape the ruts in which the management of today's economy is mired. Its implementation pulls the rug out from under the feet of the financialisation of management of the economy. Are we returning to the famous 'euthanasia of the rentier' advocated by Keynes in his time? Not necessarily, and certainly not completely. Savings can be encouraged by financial reward, but on condition that their origin (household savings of workers, businesses, communities) and their conditions of earnings are precisely defined. The discourse on macroeconomic savings in conventional economic theory hides the organization of exclusive access to the capital market of the monopolies. The so-called 'market driven remuneration' is then nothing other than the means to guarantee the growth of monopoly rents.
Of course the nationalisation/socialisation of monopolies also applies to banks, at least the major ones. But the socialization of their intervention ('credit policies') has specific characteristics that require an appropriate design in the constitution of their directorates. Nationalisation in the classical sense of the term implies only the substitution of the State for the boards of directors formed by private shareholders. This would permit, in principle, implementation of bank credit policies formulated by the State – which is no small thing. But it is certainly not sufficient when we consider that socialisation requires the direct participation in the management of the bank by the relevant social partners. Here the 'self-management' of banks by their staff would not be appropriate. The staff concerned should certainly be involved in decisions about their working conditions, but little else, because it is not their place to determine the credit policies to be implemented.
If the directorates must deal with the conflicts of interest of those that provide loans (the banks) and those who receive them (the 'enterprises'), the formula for the composition of directorates must be designed taking into account what the enterprises are and what they require. A restructuring of the banking system which has become overly centralised since the regulatory frameworks of the past two centuries were abandoned over the past four decades. There is a strong argument to justify the reconstruction of banking specialization according to the requirements of the recipients of their credit as well as their economic function (provision of short-term liquidity, contributing to the financing of investments in the medium and long term). We could then, for example, create an 'agriculture bank' (or a coordinated ensemble of agriculture banks) whose clientele is comprised not only of farmers and peasants but also those involved in the 'upstream and downstream' of agriculture described above. The bank's directorate would involve on the one hand the 'bankers' (staff officers of the bank – who would have been recruited by the directorate) and other clients (farmers or peasants, and other upstream and downstream entities).
We can imagine other sets of articulated banking systems, appropriate to various industrial sectors, in which the directorates would involve the industrial clients, centers of research and technology and services to ensure control of the ecological impact of the industry, thus ensuring minimal risk (while recognising that no human action is completely without risk), and subject to transparent democratic debate.
The de-financialisation of economic management would also require two sets of legislation. The first concerns the authority of a sovereign state to ban speculative fund (hedge funds) operations in its territory. The second concerns pension funds, which are now major operators in the financialisation of the economic system. These funds were designed - first in the US of course - to transfer to employees the risks normally incurred by capital, and which are the reasons invoked to justify capital's remuneration! So this is a scandalous arrangement, in clear contradiction even with the ideological defense of capitalism! But this 'invention' is an ideal instrument for the strategies of accumulation dominated by monopolies.
The abolition of pension funds is necessary for the benefit of distributive pension systems, which, by their very nature, require and allow democratic debate to determine the amounts and periods of assessment and the relationship between the amounts of pensions and remuneration paid. In a democracy that respects social rights, these pension systems are universally available to all workers. However, at a pinch, and so as not to prohibit what a group of individuals might desire to put in place, supplementary pensions funds could be allowed.
All measures of de-financialisation suggested here lead to an obvious conclusion: A world without Wall Street, to borrow the title of the book by François Morin, is possible and desirable.
In a world without Wall Street, the economy is still largely controlled by the 'market'. But these markets are for the first time truly transparent, regulated by democratic negotiation among genuine social partners (for the first time also they are no longer adversaries as they are necessarily under capitalism). It is the financial 'market' – opaque by nature and subjected to the requirements of management for the benefit of the monopolies – that is abolished. We could even explore whether it would be useful or not to shut down the stock exchanges, given that the rights to property, both in its their private as well as social form, would be conducted 'differently'. We could even consider whether the stock exchange could be re-established to this new end. The symbol in any case – 'a world without Wall Street' – nevertheless retains its power.
De-financialisation certainly does not mean the abolition of macroeconomic policy and in particular the macro management of credit. On the contrary it restores its efficiency by freeing it from its subjugation to the strategies of rent-seeking monopolies. The restoration of the powers of national central banks, no longer 'independent' but dependent on both the state and markets regulated by the democratic negotiation of social partners, gives the formulation of macro credit policy its effectiveness in the service of socialized management of the economy.
AT THE INTERNATIONAL LEVEL: DELINKING
I use here the term 'delinking' that I proposed half a century ago, a term that contemporary discourse appears to have substituted with the synonym 'de-globalisation'. I have never conceptualised delinking as an autarkic retreat, but rather as a strategic reversal in the face of both internal and external forces in response to the unavoidable requirements of self-determined development. Delinking promotes the reconstruction of a globalisation based on negotiation, rather than submission to the exclusive interests of the imperialist monopolies. It also makes possible the reduction of international inequalities.
Delinking is necessary because the measures advocated in the two previous sections can never really be implemented at the global scale, or even at a regional level (e.g. Europe). They can only be initiated in the context of states / nations with advanced radical social and political struggles, committed to a process of socialization of the management of their economy.
Imperialism, in the form that it took until just after the Second World War, had created the contrast between industrialised imperialist centers and dominated peripheries where industry was prohibited. The victories of national liberation movements began the process of the industrialization of the peripheries, through the implementation of delinking policies required for the option of self-reliant development. Associated with social reforms that were at times radical, these delinkings created the conditions for the eventual 'emergence' of those countries that had gone furthest in this direction – China leading the pack, of course.
But the imperialism of the current era, the imperialism of the Triad, forced to retreat and 'adjust' itself to the conditions of this new era, rebuilt itself on new foundations, based on 'advantage' by which it sought to hold on to the privilege of exclusivity that I have classified in five categories.The control of:
• access to natural resources of the planet
• global integration of the monetary and financial system
• systems of communication and information
• weapons of mass destruction.
The main form of delinking today is thus defined precisely by the challenge to these five privileges of contemporary imperialism. Emerging countries are engaged in delinking from these five privileges, with varying degrees of control and self-determination, of course. While earlier success over the past two decades in delinking enabled them to accelerate their development, in particular through industrial development within the globalized 'liberal' system using 'capitalist' means, this success has fueled delusions about the possibility of continuing on this path, that is to say, emerging as new 'equal capitalist partners'. The attempt to 'co-opt' the most prestigious of these countries with the creation of the G20 has encouraged these illusions.
But with the current ongoing implosion of the imperialist system (called 'globalisation'), these illusions are likely to dissipate. The conflict between the imperialist powers of the triad and emerging countries is already visible, and is expected to worsen. If they want to move forward, the societies of emerging countries will be forced to turn more towards self-reliant modes of development through national plans and by strengthening South-South cooperation.
Audacity, under such circumstances, involves engaging vigorously and coherently towards this end, bringing together the required measures of delinking with the desired advances in social progress.
The goal of this radicalization is threefold: the democratisation of society; the consequent social progress achieved; and the taking of anti-imperialist positions. A commitment to this direction is possible, not only for societies in emerging countries, but also in the 'abandoned' or the 'written-off' of the global South. These countries had been effectively recolonized through the structural adjustment programs of the 1980s. Their peoples are now in open revolt, whether they have already scored victories (South America) or not (in the Arab world).
Audacity here means that the radical left in these societies must have the courage to take measure of the challenges they face and to support the continuation and radicalisation of the necessary struggles that are in progress.
The delinking of the South prepares the way for the deconstruction of the imperialist system itself. This is particularly apparent in areas affected by the management of the global monetary and financial system, since it is the result of the hegemony of the dollar.
But beware: it is an illusion to expect to substitute for this system 'another world monetary and financial system' that is better balanced and favorable to the development of the peripheries. As always, the search of a 'consensus' over international reconstruction from above is mere wishful thinking akin to waiting for a miracle. What is on the agenda now is the deconstruction of the existing system - its implosion - and reconstruction of national alternative systems (for countries or continents or regions), as some projects in South America have already begun. Audacity here is to have the courage to move forward with the strongest determination possible, without too much worry about the reaction of imperialism.
This same problematique of delinking / dismantling is also of relevance to Europe, which is a subset of globalization dominated by monopolies. The European project was designed from the outset and built systematically to dispossess its peoples of their ability to exercise their democratic power. The European Union was established as a protectorate of the monopolies. With the implosion of the euro zone, its submission to the will of the monopolies has resulted in the abolishment of democracy which has been reduced to the status of farce and takes on extreme forms, namely focused only on the question: how are the "market" (that is to say monopolies) and the "Rating Agencies" (that is to say, again, the monopolies) reacting? That's the only question now posed. How the people might react is no longer given the slightest consideration.
It is thus obvious that here too there is no alternative to audacity: 'disobeying' the rules imposed by the "European Constitution" and the imaginary central bank of the euro. In other words, there is no alternative to deconstruct the institutions of Europe and the euro zone. This is the unavoidable prerequisite for the eventual reconstruction of 'another Europe' of peoples and nations.
In conclusion: Audacity, more audacity, always audacity.
What I mean by audacity is therefore:
(i) For the radical left in the societies of the imperialist triad, the need for an engagement in the building an alternative anti-monopoly social bloc.
(ii) For the radical left in the societies of the peripheries to engage in the building an alternative anti-comprador social bloc.
It will take time to make progress in building these blocs, but it could well accelerate if the radical left takes on movement with determination and engages in making progress on the long road of socialism. It is therefore necessary to propose strategies not 'out of the crisis of capitalism', but 'out of capitalism in crisis' to borrow from the title of one of my recent works.
We are in a crucial period in history. The only legitimacy of capitalism is to have created the conditions for passing on to socialism, understood as a higher stage of civilization. Capitalism is now an obsolete system, its continuation leading only to barbarism. No other capitalism is possible. The outcome of a clash of civilizations is, as always, uncertain. Either the radical left will succeed through the audacity of its initiatives to make revolutionary advances, or the counter-revolution will win. There is no effective compromise between these two responses to the challenge.
All the strategies of the non-radical left are in fact non-strategies, they are merely day-to-day adjustments to the vicissitudes of the imploding system. And if the powers that be want, like le Guépard, to 'change everything so that nothing changes', the candidates of the left believe it is possible to 'change life without touching the power of monopolies'! The non-radical left will not stop the triumph of capitalist barbarism. They have already lost the battle for lack of wanting to take it on.
Audacity is what is necessary to bring about the autumn of capitalism that will be announced by the implosion of its system and by the birth of an authentic spring of the people, a spring that is possible.
BROUGHT TO YOU BY PAMBAZUKA NEWS
* Samir Amin is director of the Third World Forum. A selection of his books is available from Pambazuka Press.
* Please send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org or comment online at Pambazuka News.
 Samir Amin, Sortir de la crise du capitalisme ou sortir du capitalisme en crise ; Le temps des cerises, 2009.
 Samir Amin, Ending the crisis of capitalism or ending capitalism. Pambazuka Press 2011
 Samir Amin, Du capitalisme à la civilisation ; Syllepse, 2008.
 Aurélien Bernier, Désobéissons à l’Union Européenne ; Les mille et une nuits, 2011.
 Jacques Nikonoff, Sortir de l’euro ; Mes mille et une nuits, 2011.
 François Morin, Un monde sans Wall Street ; Le seuil, 2011.
Millennium Development Goals--A Critique from the South
by Samir Amin
translated by James H. Membrez
September 30, 2010
The Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) were adopted by acclamation in September 2000 by a resolution of the UN called the 'United Nations Millennium Declaration'. This procedural innovation, called 'consensus', stands in stark contrast to UN tradition, which always required that texts of this sort be carefully prepared and discussed at great length in committees. This simply reflects a change in the international balance of power. The US and its European and Japanese allies are now able to exert hegemony over a domesticated UN. In fact, Ted Gordon, well-known consultant for the CIA, drafted the MDGs.
The claim is made that the MDGs follow up on the conclusions reached in the cycle of summits organised in the 1990s. That's going a bit too far. The preparatory meetings to these summits had tried something new by organising assemblies of so-called civil society representatives parallel to the official conferences, where only state representatives were seated.
Although things had been organised to reserve the best places for the charitable NGO's, which are beneficiaries of financial support from large foundations and states, and largely to exclude popular organisations fighting for social and democratic progress (authentic popular organisations are always poor by definition), the voices of the latter were sometimes heard. In the official conferences themselves, the points of view of the triad and of the South often diverged.
It is often forgotten that the triad's proposals were rejected in Seattle not only in the streets, but also by states from the South. It is also important to remember that the reconstruction (or at least the first signs of reconstruction) of a group (if not a front) of the South took place at Doha. All of these divergences were smoothed away by the supposed synthesis of the MDGs.
Instead of forming a genuine committee for the purpose of discussing the document, a draft was prepared in the backroom of some obscure agency. The only common denominator is limited to the expression of the pious hope of reducing poverty. In what follows, I will examine how these goals are formulated and the conditions required to reach them.
Eight sets of goals were defined over a period of 15 years, between 2000 and 2015 (http://www.un.org/millenniumgoals/index.html). The accomplishment of each of the targets that specifically define them is based on measurable indicators, generally altogether acceptable in themselves.
Each of these goals is certainly commendable Who would disapprove of reducing poverty or improving health? Nevertheless, their definition is often extremely vague. Moreover, debates concerning the conditions required to reach the goals are often dispensed with. It is assumed without question that liberalism is perfectly compatible with the achievement of the goals.
Goal one: Reduce extreme poverty and hunger by half.
This is nothing but an empty incantation as long as the policies that generate poverty are not analyzed and denounced and alternatives proposed.
Goal two: Achieve universal primary education.
UNESCO devoted itself to this goal beginning in 1960, hoping to achieve it in 10 years. Progress was made during the two decades that followed, but ground has since been lost. The almost obvious relationship between this lost ground, the reduction in public expenditures, and the privatisation of education is not examined in fact nor in theory.
Goal three: Promote gender equality and empower women.
The equality in question is reduced to access to education and the empowerment is measured by the proportion of wage-earning women. The neoconservative Christian fundamentalists of the US, Poland and elsewhere, the Muslims of Saudi Arabia, Pakistan and other countries, and the fundamentalist Hindus agree on eliminating any reference to the rights of women and the family. Without discussion, declarations on this question are only empty talk.
Goals four, five, and six: Reduce infant mortality by two-thirds and maternal mortality by three-fourths; stop the spread of pandemic diseases (AIDS, malaria, tuberculosis).
The means implemented in these areas are assumed to be completely compatible with extreme privatisation and total respect for the 'intellectual property rights' of the transnational corporations and, curiously enough, are recommended in goal eight concerning the supposed partnership between North and South.
Goal seven: Ensure environmental sustainability.
A general principle is asserted 'to integrate the principles of sustainable development' into national and global policies, but no definite content is made explicit. Moreover, any mention of the refusal of the US to promote conditions necessary for environmental protection (For example, their rejection of the Kyoto Protocol) is carefully avoided.
It is presupposed, then, that the rationality of capitalist economic strategy is compatible with the requirements of 'sustainable development'. That is obviously not the case since capitalist strategy is founded on the concept of the rapid discounting of economic time (with the timespan governing investment decisions never exceeding a few years at maximum), while the questions raised here relate to the long term. The specific goals are thus in fact reduced to nothing much: reduce by half the population having no access to clean water, improve living conditions in the slums - two ordinary goals of simple public health.
The criteria for measuring the results (CO2 emissions, change in the ozone layer) undoubtedly make it possible to monitor the degradation of the environment, but certainly not to curb it. Note the strange timidity of the writers concerning biodiversity. There is no question of infringing on the greater rights of the transnationals. They propose only 'to observe' the evolution of land areas protected from the destruction of biodiversity. But above all not to stop it.
Goal eight: Develop a global partnership for development.
The writers straightaway establish an equivalence between this 'partnership' and the principles of liberalism by declaring that the objective is to establish an open, multilateral commercial and financial system. The partnership thus becomes synonymous with submission to the demands of the imperialist powers. Progress in access to the market is measured by the share of exports in the GDP. An increase in this ratio is thus synonymous with progress regardless of the social price.
To carry out this 'liberal partnership' would require, in the end, nothing more than the fight against poverty (the only 'social' goal allowed). To this is added, like hair in soup, 'good governance', a phrase favoured by the US establishment that is never defined and is taken up uncritically by the Europeans and the institutions of the global system.
The real goals of dominant capital
A critical examination of the formulation of the goals as well as the definition of the means that would be required to implement them can only lead to the conclusion that the MDGs cannot be taken seriously. A litany of pious hopes commits no one.
And when the expression of these pious hopes is accompanied by conditions that essentially eliminate the possibility of their becoming reality, the question must be asked: are not the authors of the document actually pursuing other priorities that have nothing to do with 'poverty reduction' and all the rest? In this case, should the exercise not be described as pure hypocrisy, as pulling the wool over the eyes of those who are being forced to accept the dictates of liberalism in the service of the quite particular and exclusive interests of dominant globalised capital?
Besides, the MDGs cannot truly be taken seriously by their promoters in the imperialist triad, which implements them only when it is convenient and ignores them otherwise, nor by states in the South that, not wanting to take any risks at the present time, refrain from formally rejecting the proposals. In another time, a text of this type would not have been adopted and the states of the South would have, at least, imposed a compromise.
The MDGs are part of a series of discourses that are intended to legitimise the policies and practices implemented by dominant capital and those who support it. The real goals, openly recognised as such, are:
1. Extreme privatisation, aimed at opening new fields for the expansion of capital. Such privatisation calls into question the existence of national state property, which should be liquidated on open markets, by foreign capital among others. Beyond that, privatisation aims at eliminating public services, particularly in education and health.
Here, the ideas developed in the MDGs concerning the elimination of illiteracy and the improvement of health lose all credibility. The privatisation of property and access to important natural resources, in particular petroleum and water, facilitates the pillage of these resources for the wastefulness of the triad, reducing the discourse of sustainable development to pure, empty rhetoric.
2. The generalisation of the private appropriation of agricultural land. Just as with agricultural and food products, land, too, must be subjected to the general law of the market. This general offensive aims at nothing less than extending the policy of 'enclosures' (referring to the 'enclosures' implemented in England in the 16th and 18th centuries and then extended to the rest of Europe in the 19th century. Its success would lead to the destruction of the peasant societies that make up nearly half of humanity.
This destruction, now underway (and liberalism would like to see the tempo accelerated), is already the major cause of pauperisation in the third world, which results in emigration from the countryside to the urban slums. But that is of little importance, since the minority of so-called modernised rural producers who will survive the massacre, and be subjected to the demands of agribusiness, will produce the profits that the latter aspires to capture. Nothing else matters.
3. Commercial 'opening' within a context of maximum deregulation. This is a way of lifting all obstacles to the expansion of a trade that is as unequal as it can possibly be in conditions characterised by a polarised world development and a growing concentration of power in the hands of the transnationals that control the trade in raw materials and agricultural products. The example of coffee illustrates the disastrous social effects of this systematic choice. Twenty years ago, all coffee producers were paid $9 billion dollars and all the consumers paid out $20 billion for this same coffee. Today these two figures are respectively $6 and $30 billion. The gap between them is the gigantic profit margin. It goes without saying that in these conditions campaigns in favour of so-called fair trade, even when their promoters are moved by the most impeccable moral intentions, are not up to the challenge. The correction of these deteriorating terms of trade for the producers can only be obtained by the political intervention of government authorities - both national legislation and international negotiations and legislation.
4. The equally uncontrolled opening up of capital movement. The fallacious pretext advanced is that deregulation would make it possible to attract foreign capital. Yet it is well known that China, which attracts more of this capital than other countries, has maintained a tighter control over foreign enterprises. Elsewhere, direct foreign investments are targeted at little more than pillaging natural resources. In fact, the IMF imposed the opening of 'capital accounts' in order to facilitate the indebtedness of the US, allow speculative capital to engage in pillaging raids, and subject the currencies of the South to systematic undervaluation. This undervaluation, in turn, makes it possible for local assets in these countries to be purchased for next to nothing, to the evident advantage of the transnational corporations.
5. States are forbidden in principle from interfering in economic affairs. Internally, the state is reduced to narrow police functions. Internationally, it is reduced to guaranteeing debt service, as the first priority in public expenditures. The debt is hardly anything more than a particularly primitive form of exploitation and pillage.
This model is presented as being without an alternative because it is imposed by the 'objective' requirements of globalisation, which negates the power of national states. In reality, the causal relation is just the reverse: this particular form (among other possible ones) of globalisation is allotted the objective of destroying the ability of nations and states to resist the expansion of transnational capital.
That is why all these principles, openly adopted by the writers of the MDGs, can only produce what I have elsewhere described as apartheid on a world scale, reproducing and deepening global polarisation. As a counterpoint, the restoration of a margin of autonomy for states and the recognition of the legitimacy of state intervention (the definition even of democracy) within a multipolar perspective are the inescapable conditions required to attain the social objectives proclaimed by the MDGs.
In fact, then, the social goals proclaimed by the MDGs do not constitute the real goals of the whole exercise. Their supposedly democratic packaging must, in turn, be subject to a legitimate doubt. No democracy can possibly take root if it does not support social progress, but, instead, is associated with social regression. This is undoubtedly the reason why the vapid term 'governance' is served up as an accompaniment to the empty rhetoric of the MDGs.
The writers of the document appear to have paid no attention to the facts. In the course of three decades following the Second World War, the highest rate of growth known in history took place, along with full employment and notable upward social movement and, if not always a reduction in inequality, the stabilisation of structures aimed at more equitable income distribution. But it appears that because the systems in existence at that time regulated markets, these procedures were 'irrational' and their results 'bad'. In the course of the following three decades, accompanying the welcome deregulation, there has been a collapse of growth, a breathtaking increase in unemployment, precariousness, and other manifestations of pauperisation, and mounting inequalities. Yet it appears that this system is nevertheless better and more rational. That is undoubtedly because in the preceding systems the rate of return for capital was in the range of four to eight per cent and since then it has doubled, moving to between eight and 16 per cent.
The new doctrinaire liberalism
The central question concerns the concept of development maintained, explicitly or implicitly, in the MDGs. It can be formulated in this way: In the successive globalised economic and political systems of modern times, who was forced to adjust to whom? The subjects in question can be class or social groups, regions or nations.
In capitalist logic founded on private property, it is capital (the firm) that commands and employs labour. Workers do not have direct access to the means of production, which are not used to their liking. In its global expansion, capitalism is polarising, that is, it is founded on asymmetrical adjustment. The peripheries are shaped to serve the model of accumulation in the dominant centres. The ideology of capitalism ignores the concept of substantive development, for it recognises only expanding markets.
It is significant that the term 'development' appeared only after the Second World War, supported by the governments of the Asian and African states that arose from national liberation movements. In this sense, the 1955 conference of Asian and African states at Bandung was the birth place of the project of developing the new third world. It was a multidimensional project of modernisation: of the economy (through industrialisation), the society, and the state.
This modernisation project appears within a type of globalisation and is not at all an invitation to economic and cultural autarky. But it does imply that in this process the North would adjust to the requirements for the development of the South, development conceptualised as a 'catching up'.
Globalisation in this context is then recognised as having to be the result - beyond the conflicts - of negotiations between partners who recognise the divergence of their interests.
At each of these steps, capitalist globalisation rests on transnational social alliances, without which the models of accumulation in the dominant centers and dominated peripheries could not be reproduced.
The 'colonial' model, challenged after the Second World War, involved the management of the societies of the peripheries by local comprador classes of a given type (merchant intermediaries, large landowners). The new model resulting from decolonisation involved social reforms that deprive the older comprador classes of their power and substitute hegemonic blocs of a new type (national populist). This model is the basis of the successes (not the failures) of the economic and social transformation of the Third World in the 1950s,1960s and 1970s. But it was always fought - with violence - by the powers of the imperialist triad.
The turnaround in the political conjuncture beginning in the 1980s brought us back to former times, before development, which has, in effect, been shown the door. It is significant that the new language of the dominant economics even abandons this term and substitutes 'structural adjustment' (adjustment of the societies and economies of the South to the requirements of the pursuit of accumulation in the North). Simultaneously, this turnaround in the balance of power to the benefit of capital appears everywhere - in the North as well as the South - as a strengthening of the subjection of labour to capital. The new doctrinaire liberalism acknowledges only expanding markets, not the deliberate political transformation of social and economic structures.
Although imposed on the societies of the South with extreme brutality, the new model had to be clothed in a discourse that gives it the appearance of legitimacy. It was necessary to reintroduce the word 'development' (as in the MDGs) but empty it of all meaning. This was done by reducing it to the fight against poverty and for good governance.
A series of documents prepared this revision in the meaning of words. The agencies set up to manage the rest of the world (85 per cent of the earth's population, the dominated peripheries) by collective imperialism (the triad) here fulfilled the functions expected of them. The World Bank (which I call the ministry of propaganda for the G7) produced, in this spirit, distressing documents called Poverty Reduction Strategy Papers (PRSP). The IMF (the triad's collective colonial monetary authority) imposed the priority of debt service, the debt itself being the means of imposing structural adjustment. The World Trade Organisation (WTO), far from being an institution responsible for managing world trade, is devoted to the objective of shaping the productive systems of the peripheries to the needs of the commercial expansion of the North, that is, to operate like a collective ministry of colonies.
The European Union - lined up with the general offensive of the imperialist triad - integrates the relations between the EU and the African, Caribbean and Pacific Group of States (ACP) within this same context, pursued literally in the convention for the development of the ACP.
It could be asked why the governments of the countries of the South have subscribed to all of these commandments drafted in the imperialist centers. The response, in general terms, is that we should look to the social hegemonic blocs mentioned above that make possible the reproduction of asymmetric globalisation. There is a new comprador class in the countries of the periphery that actually derives its existence from the new model of globalised liberalism. This comprador class participates in the new government arrangements.
It is possible to distinguish those that are probably unique to so-called emerging countries (China in the first place). In these countries, the current governments live on illusions: they think about 'catching up' (through strong growth) while they are constructed as the industrialised peripheries of tomorrow, and dominated by the new monopolies on the basis of which the imperialist centers reproduce their domination (monopolies of technology, access to the planet's natural resources, and weapons of mass destruction). They think of building a 'strong and independent nation', but in that connection must ignore that the US prepares 'preventative wars' against them that will not allow them this opportunity. History will undoubtedly be given the responsibility to dissipate these illusions.
Here I will place more emphasis on the rationales offered with respect to the most vulnerable peripheral regions, Africa in particular. The discourse developed in this regard by dominant thought is well known: Africa is marginalised in the new globalisation. This is by its own fault, having sunk into an excessive nationalism during the Bandung period. It can only get out of this difficult situation if it accepts being 'more integrated' into globalisation by a totally uncontrolled opening that will allow foreign capital to 'develop' it. The miseries associated with this option, for which there is no alternative, will only be 'transitory' and can be attenuated by programs that 'fight against poverty'. This option will require, moreover, democratic political management called 'good governance'.
This discourse abounds in contradictions and inadequacies. Africa is no less integrated into globalisation than other regions, but it was and is differently integrated. The forms of the new proposed integration, based on agro-mineral specialisation, are not new but are, on the contrary, a return to the old. These forms can only accentuate the pauperisation and exclusion of huge masses of the population, in particular the peasants. But simultaneously and independently, they facilitate the pillage of the continent's natural resources (petroleum, minerals, and wood), which is probably the principal objective of large transnational capital in Africa. Foreign direct investments will come to Africa for nothing else.
The responsibility of the current government teams - and behind them the new comprador classes - should not be excused. But that does not absolve the dominant forces in the imperialist centers of the global system from responsibility either.
The New Partnership for Africa's Development (NEPAD) is undoubtedly part of the new liberal thinking, but not with any great conviction it seems. It should be remembered that originally behind this initiative was the justified refusal of the racist 'afro-pessimist' discourse and the proclamation by Thabo Mbeki in 1998 that 'Africans should and can appropriate modernity', a way of indicating the renaissance of Africa that he called for. But Mbeki rushed into the same discourse of specifying that that appropriation should be done 'in cooperation with the developed countries', ignoring, or pretending to ignore, that that has never been the case up to now.
The NEPAD document lines up with liberal thought on the discourse of 'good governance'. This is a concept that is useful as a way to dissociate democratic progress from social progress, to deny their equal importance and inextricable connection with one another, and to reduce democracy to good management subjected to the demands of private capital, an 'apolitical' management by an anodyne civil society, inspired by the mediocre ideology of the US. This discourse comes at the very moment when the interruption in the construction of the state imposed by structural adjustment has created, not conditions for a democratic advance but, instead, conditions for the shift towards the primacy of ethnic and religious identities that are manipulated by local mafias, benefit external supporters, and often degenerate into atrocious 'civil wars' (in fact conflicts between warlords). As Bernard Founou-Tchuigoua argues, it is less a question of a North-South partnership (here EU/ACP) than a new phase in asymmetrical structural adjustment.
The NEPAD document's exposition, its hesitations or anodyne character, acquires its meaning in this context. For example, the wish to alleviate the debt is expressed, but this is done precisely because the debt has fulfilled its function of imposing structural adjustment. NEPAD also proposes an 'integrated' (Pan-African) development, just like the EU, giving its preference to arrangements with regional African groups. But, in the end, this document remains, as far as its proposals on trade, capital transfers, technology, and patents are concerned, aligned with liberal dogmas.
I will say in conclusion that a system of this type hardly has any future. Neither the MDGs nor NEPAD will make it possible to attenuate the seriousness of the problems and curb the resulting processes of political and social involution. The legitimacy of governments has disappeared. Thus conditions are ripe for the emergence of other social hegemonies that make possible a revival of development conceived as it should be: the combination of social progress, democratic advancement, and the affirmation of national independence within a negotiated multi-polar globalisation.
The possibility of these new social hegemonies is already visible on the horizon.
I bet that at the end of 2015, no one will propose a balance sheet of the achievements of the MDGs or NEPAD, which will have been long forgotten.
s. e. anderson is author of "The Black Holocaust for Beginners"
Social Activism is not a hobby: it's a Lifelong Commitment.