Chapter 3: The World Strategy of Capitalism, by Samir Amin
A second retrospective analysis has been offered by Mr. Samir Amin in the name of the World Forum for Alternatives. This text is entitled Globalisation of social struggles. As in Prof. Perry Anderson’s text, we will simply take the passages concerning the interpretation of current mutations and reserve the more projective part for the second part of the book.
The World Forum for Alternatives
The idea for the Constitution of a forum bringing together social struggles and intellectuals working on the analysis of situations and the search for alternatives was born in 1996, at the 20th anniversary of the Tricontinental Centre in Louvain-La-Neuve. The idea took form in Cairo in March 1997 where a provisional Executive Board was constituted and a manifesto drawn up. The manifesto was signed by more than one thousand people across the world. In May 1998 it was decided to organise, at the beginning 1999, a meeting and a press conference at the annual meeting of the World Economic Forum in Davos. Several organisations and individuals worked together to bring this project to fruition. The Forum plans to establish links with a series of networks of social movements and also to set up working groups on social Movements and on Alternatives to the capitalist organisation of the economy.
Samir Amin, BP 3501, Dakar, Senegal
Tel/Fax: 221/821/821 11 44. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
François Houtart, Ave. St Gertrude 5,
B-1348 Louvain-La-Neuve, Belgium
Tel: 32/10-45 08 22. Fax: 32/10-45 31 52
Pierre Beaudet, Rue Jeanne Mance 3680-440,HTX 2K5, Montreal, Quebec
1. False deregulations
At the outset of the Davos initiative, there was significant involvement by the Mont Pèlerin sect”, following the “guru” Von Hayek. The sect advocated total economic liberalism with no reserves or borders, in other words a reactionary utopia of complete submission of societies to the exclusive unilateral logic of capital, their ‘adjustment’ -- in all its dimensions, political and social -- to the sole rationale of the project. The electoral victories of Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan in 1980 inaugurated the start of that programme. But after 1989-90, with the foreseeable implosion of the Soviet system, the ruling classes of the capitalist world were seized by a formidable revisionist orgy. History has finally achieved its goal, we dared to write. The socialist dream has ended, as has the dream of the independence of nations. We return, but this time on a world scale, to capitalism tried and true. The world media claimed that there were no alternatives to this, capitalism was our inevitable path. Exhausted, the national populist blocs of the Third world that were proposing to deepen their victory against previous colonialism with a modernisation-industrialisation presented in the perspective of “catching up”. Third world countries had to submit to plans called structural adjustment, and thus to the exclusive ambitions of capital expansion dominated by transnationals. Everything that the people had achieved through their struggles over the centuries was to be abrogated. This included the Welfare State in developed countries -- a regulation of a much too ‘social’ market. The French Revolution itself had to be brought into question. Davos was set up in this climate to be the high mass of the revisionists.
The real content of the programme of these gentlemen (and some ladies) is undeniable because at its base it guarantees maximum profit for capital, at the price of stagnation and growing inequality between the small minorities benefiting from the system and all the working classes, and between the nations of the triad and all the rest. It is a system that fatally engenders poverty, unemployment, and exclusion, often on a continental scale.
The programme therefore had to be dressed up with the strong affirmation of great words: speeches on ‘open society, the sign of equality automatically placed between Market and Democracy, the elegy of the so-called deregulation which had come to be the synonym of liberty (without clarifying whose), the anti-state speeches, the state which was considered to be the obvious synonym of bureaucrats, autocrats and idiots, no longer the possible instrument of the management of historic social compromises, founded on democracy. All these found their place in this campaign of orchestrated propaganda. We refuse to be trapped by misleading speeches. They have no scientific basis and are proven ungrounded every day.
There are no deregulated markets except those in the fantastic imaginations of ‘pure’ economists. The detractors of such markets will not be self-regulated but exploited. In reality markets function because they are regulated. Thus the question is to know by whom, and to the benefit of whom. Deregulation is the fig leaf that covers clandestine regulation (in contradiction therefore to the fundamental rule of democracy that demands transparency) by the dominant capital of oligopolies. The MAI takes this quasi-mafiosi form of regulation by the transnationals to the extreme, as the project in question gives them the freedom to judge themselves -- to be simultaneously the judges and the judged, again, in contradiction to the fundamental rules of democratic law. The WTO is a black room, charged with rubber-stamping accords secretly concluded in the corridors of the Organisation (in the name of secrecy of private business) by the oligopolies. The precarious state of the salaried is not due to deregulation, but to the regulation of the work market by a single partner -- the bosses, we rarely see accepted rules so similar to those practised by the Mafia.
The implementation of a neo-liberal programme equally coincides - not coincidentally -- with the development of a structural crisis of capitalism of gigantic proportions. This programme therefore becomes the way of handling this crisis. The imbalance between production capacities on the one hand and those of consumption on the other, endlessly deepened by growing inequalities themselves the result of neo-liberal policies, engenders a surplus that cannot be invested in the expansion of productive systems. To avoid the devaluation of capital - what most billionaires fear most -- they need to create alternative means to fund the system. Monetarism, floating exchanges, foreign debt of third world countries and former eastern countries, the American deficit all these together make up the means for the management of this crisis. This explains the apparent paradox that is not one: that the levels of profit (especially those of investments) are increasing, stock market values rise every time ‘good news’ is announced - an economic stagnation, a dismantling of industry, or the growth of unemployment.
Of course the sole success of this policy has been to deepen the social catastrophe.
Simultaneously the most fanatic supporters of ‘deregulation’ remain entrenched in the ‘regulationist’, but there is no question of them allowing the migration of workers. Whereas if such migration were to be regulated while the trade in goods and the transfer of capital are given free reign, this results in the inevitable aggravation of development inequalities among nations.
2. The degradation of Democracy
Economic globalisation as laid out by neo-liberalism necessarily accompanies the degradation of democracy, which, if it does not permit social progress, loses its sense and credibility.
In rich and powerful countries with an established parliamentary tradition neo-liberalism feeds a dangerous trend towards what can be called ‘low-intensity democracy’, the alternative without being one so that, whether you vote white, green, blue or red, your fate no longer depends on the government you have chosen but on the whims of the market, on (secret) strategies of the oligopolies, on decisions of an ‘independent’ central bank (of citizens, but not financial markets). In other, more fragile, countries people’s hopes placed in the virtues of multipartism are systematically destroyed. Victories delivered to these people, at the price of wrong-headed and costly struggles, often too costly m human lives, are precarious. A multipartism, which is manipulable and manipulated risks becoming the only image that ‘market democracy’, gives to its people.
Under these circumstances it is not surprising that the world system produced through neo-liberal politics should be founded on hegemony, arrogance, military intervention and the cynical manipulation of double standards. Neo-liberalism systematically produces social crises and faces permanent revolt and inevitable explosions. This results in the need for a large police force and, among other things, a world police force; it must maintain the individualist strategy espoused by Washington and this is why despite market conflicts which could oppose them and despite declared reservations expressed in the area of defence of culture for example, the triad countries remain in the wake of the United States. They are incapable of liberating themselves from the logic of neo-liberal globalisation and it remains for the governments of the countries in question to simply encourage the arrogance of the United States. The bombing of Iraq, a decision taken unilaterally by Washington, despite reservations expressed by the UN is the most striking proof of this so far. We are sadly forced to note that never since the presence of Hitler have we seen a government so blatantly compose so false a report to give credence to its premeditated military aggression. Will the UN really suffer the fate of the League of Nations? Will it be considered to be an encumbrance and useless as has been said in the press on the other side of the Atlantic, and expressed in terms that hold a terrible reminder of the terms the power that be wielded against the League of Nations.
Neo-liberalism has not produced a “New World order” strengthening the security of people and peace. On the contrary, it has produced chaos and the increase in conflict.
3. The meaning of crisis
This globalisation of neo-liberalism has entered the stage of dissolution. In the short space of a few years the absurd myth of freedom of the market which was to resolve social problems and lay the foundations for democracy has crumbled away. Social struggle in the workplace has begun again here and there, in France, Italy, Germany, Korea. The arrogant discourse of neo-liberalism has already got lead in its wings. At the same time, the extension of financial globalisation, in which Russia and the south-east Asian countries played a part in the second half of the 90s will lead to the financial bankruptcy of these same countries within a few years, contributing to the dissolution of one whole part of the system, that of a global market. These “economic crises” have been accompanied by political crises, be it Russia or ex-Yugoslavia, central Africa or the Middle East and all have appeared to be endless and without solution in the framework of political management of the said globalisation.
The crisis of the countries in South-east Asia and Korea was predictable and was foreseen by political analysts form the county in question. In the 80s, these countries, and also China, were able to take advantage of the world crisis by playing a part in globalisation of exchange of goods (through their relative advantage of cheap labour), and calling for foreign investment and by signing up their development projects within a nationally governed strategy (in the case of Korea and Korea, but not the South-east Asian countries). In the 90s Korea and South-east Asia became increasingly open to economic globalisation, while China and India underwent a certain isolation in this sense. Moving foreign capital surpluses were attracted by the high economic growth in these regions and by investing did not contribute to increased growth but rather to inflation in real-estate value and investment. As had been predicted, the financial bubble exploded only a few years later.
Political reactions to this crisis are interesting and new (in the sense that they are fundamentally different to those created by the crisis on Mexico for example). The United States and their supporter, Japan, tried to take advantage of the Korean crisis by dismantling their manufacturing system (on the false pretext that it was controlled by oligarchies!) and to subsume it to the control of.... American and Japanese oligarchies! The powers in the region tried to resist this take-over by questioning their role in economic globalisation (re-establishment of the control of exchange in Malaysia), or in the case of China and India, by completely suppressing their participation in this. It was this financial dissolution which led the G7 to evolve a new strategy, thus opening the door to a crisis in liberal thinking.
The Russian crisis in August 1998 was not the product of a “transposal” of the South-east Asian crisis as has often been claimed. It could have been foreseen and predicted, as it was the result of the policies, which had been implemented since 1990. These policies allowed the dominant world capital to directly and indirectly through its Russian commercial and financial intermediaries develop a strategy of pillaging the countries’ industry (through the massive transfer of surpluses generated by the industry to the intermediaries and to foreign capital). The destruction of the entire productive capacity of the country, and the prospect of being reduced to being an exporter of petrol and mined products played into the world geostrategic aims. Quite apart from the social upheaval this caused, it prepared a favourable base for the potential political dissolution of the country, following on from that of the ex-USSR. For the United States, Russia, like China and India are “too big” (only the US has the right to be a big country) and a threat to their world dominance.
The advance of this system towards crisis was accelerated when Russia entered the world market in 1994-1996. But it is interesting to note here that political reaction to this crisis (the relative neutralisation of the Elsine powers and the choice of Premakov as Prime Minister) possibly softened the return to the strategy of transition to capitalism and the reestablishment of a minimum of national control over this.
The political crises in the Middle East, ex-Yugoslavia and central Africa demonstrate that political management of globalisation associated with the dominance of the United States is increasingly confronted with difficulties.
In the Middle East the American-Israeli project to create a zone which is economically and financially integrated Washington and Tel Aviv has met with problems despite the unconditional support of the autocratic regimes and the US Gulf protectorates (which are themselves under the military occupation of the US). Faced with this defeat Washington opted for resolute support for Israel’s expansionist plan, rather than openly contravene the Oslo accord. Simultaneously the US is using the situation created by the Gulf War in 1990 to legitimise their military control over the biggest oil region in the world. But this means they have to maintain their aggression against Iraq such as witness operation “Desert Fox” (called operation Monika by the Arabs). This operation arrogantly violated all international laws.
In ex-Yugoslavia and central Africa, the chaos created by neo-liberal options are unceasingly encouraging ethnic cleansing and will find no solution, even military solutions, within the framework of global neo-liberalism.
4. Arguments for managing the world system
The themes advanced ad nauseam by the massive propaganda machines orchestrated by the dominant media to legitimise this unacceptable world system have lost their credibility whether they are talking about “democracy”, “terrorism” or “nuclear danger”.
The quality of democracy is either confederated or refused according to the whim of the day of the powers that be who are so devoted to neo-liberal globalisation. Thus, those of the Russian leadership who subscribed to the injunctions of the G7 and the IMF are the “democrats” despite their conquest of Parliament through the use of canons, the Tsarist Constitution drawn up in 1993 and their declaration that they will ignore the election results.
The theme of terrorism, as one knows, gives rise to an unstoppable flow of media commentaries. But never to our knowledge has the role of the government of the United States and its agencies (particularly the CIA) been questioned in this respect as it continues to fund, train, equip and give permanent and continued support to the Taliban terrorists in Afghanistan. It is with a certain wry amusement that we note how many of the staunchest supporters of “women’s rights” in the American establishment do not question the US support of the Taliban even though the latter’s behaviour in this area is well known! There are, no doubt, other interests at stake, such as those linked to the oil fiefdoms of central Asia! A certain third world country accused, wrongly or rightly, of having sheltered a group of terrorists suffers severe condemnation and subjected to a blockade which starves its people. Under this harsh light of international law which we claim to have set up to judge the crimes of the highest leaders of state would we ever judge the US whose victims mount up in multiples of those of all the other terrorists.
When Israeli soldiers killed a woman and her six children on Lebanese territory, which they have occupied in violation of all UN resolutions, this is not called terrorism. When the Lebanese citizens take their revenge and kill Israeli soldier this is quite clearly an act of terrorism!
These examples of the cynical use of the double standard could be recounted without end. It would be seen that the only criterion of condemnation or praise is the degree to which the perpetrators refuse or submit to the injunctions of the instruments of neo-liberal globalisation.
The fears of the people faced with the exponential growth of the production of arms of mass destruction, both nuclear and other are quite legitimate. But the dominant system tries to neutralise these fears using a “non-proliferation treaty” of nuclear weapons which imposes what some call nuclear apartheid, that is to say, giving certain countries the right (the five of the Security Council, but also Israel) to hold such arms. As though the main danger is not precisely from these quarters which we know will not hesitate to use these weapons in cases where its “long-distance bombings” (which therefore don’t put our boys in danger) are shown to be ineffective.
The rise of social struggle and the disintegration of entire areas of financial globalisation, the loss of credibility of the dominant discourse have already given rise to the crisis in the neo-liberal system and its ideology. It is in the light of this crisis that we must examine the defence plan proposed by the G7 after the crisis in South-east Asia.
This is why the G7 and its institutions, from one day to the next, change discourse. The term regulation, which has been until now completely forbidden, is non resurrected and it finds its place in the discourse of these leaders: we must “regulate the international financial stakes!” The economist in chief at the World Bank, Mr. Steglitz, proposed opening a debate to define a new “Washington Post consensus”. The speculator George Soros, published a study under the eloquent title “The crisis of Global Capitalism.” We should be clear that this is a strategy, which is working to the same objectives: to allow the dominant capital of transnationals to remain masters. None of the people concerned are credible. They have all been responsible for the disaster. It affords a somewhat cynical pleasure to watch these people trying to place the responsibility for the failure of their system on others.
But we should not underestimate the danger that this reaction could mean. Many well-intentioned people are in danger of being duped. The World Bank has already been trying over the past few years to engage NGOs in its discourse of the “struggle against poverty”.
Faced with these plans to pursue the plan for liberal globalisation, which does not concern the people at all, we must independently develop our own proposals for alternatives, based on social struggle and which only the victims of the system can lead.