Subject: ON POWER PYRAMIDS AND THE PRIVATIZATION OF STRATEGIC THOUGHT.
1 May 2007
Dear Colleagues and Friends of CEIMSA,
Some might argue that the hyperbolic drive for privatization of all resources --from fossil fuel to docile labor, from opulent wealth to excruciating poverty (and including all human sentiments)-- is a force so massive and so omnipresent that it can hardly be perceived, much less contested. (Who, after all, notices the presence of planet Jupiter in our solar system? Yet, without it we would not be here.) The effects of privatization are everywhere, and like the rotation of the earth --which we observe only fleetingly at "sunrise" and "sunset"-- it is hardly recognized for what it is . . . .
In the introduction to his 1983 book, Privacy, Studies in Social and Cultural History, former Harvard University radical (*) sociologist, Barrington Moore, Jr., put forth the following theorem:
The less one believes in the prospects of a perfectly just society the more one is likely to value protections against injustice. [This] consideration might strike some potential readers as a reflection of "late bourgeois" attitudes and values and therefore subject to immediate dismissal. But injustices and intrusions are not necessarily easier to bear because they come with a socialist label.(xi)
Moore's research on the nature and meaning of privacy begins with two definitions of this term: (1)"refusing access by other persons in specified situations, [and] (2)as private rights against holders of authority or other members of the same society." In this strictly secular analysis "personal privacy and private rights are linked by the notion of intrusion." Based on a series of anthropological studies of non-state societies, Moore observes in the first chapter of this book, entitled "Anthropological Perspectives," that "a variety of forces and situations ... have given rise to a concept of the public." Economic cooperation for survival and other widely accepted goals are the impetus which gave birth to the perception of a public sphere, as opposed to the private. Another source at the origins of public institutions is conflict, as long as the conflict can be resolved.
From the decisions of petty chieftains to those of the most powerful monarchs, the main concern of rulers has been to settle disputes and the main concern of subjects to obtain justice. The settlement of disputes and the administration of justice have been the main concrete manifestations demonstrating the existence of public institutions. Both kinship and religion have in many times and places provided the original structures out of which public ones could grow or upon which they could be grafted.(41)
Still another source of a conception of the public, Moore contends, comes from the education of young children, when they are made aware that they are members of a human society, and are inculcated with a sense of obligation to others and made conscious of the existence of obstacles to their own immediate gratification. In this way, child-rearing practices usually create a sense that society exists as something greater than the individual. This is a key element in creating an awareness of the dichotomy of public and private.
Moore concludes his chapter on "Anthropological Perspectives" by observing :
There remains a more inclusive alternative to privacy that prevails very widely in nonliterate societies: direct participation in decisions affecting daily life. ... Especially in societies lacking the formal institution of chieftainship, as is often the case with hunters-gatherers, every adult member of the band has an "input" into such decisions, ranked according to the individual's prestige in the band. From the standpoint of the individual it is obviously better to be able to influence a group decision in the direction one wants than to have some kind of protection as a defeated minority. To be sure, the fission and fusion so common among hunting bands often provide exactly this kind of protection by offering legitimate choices for all parties.(79-80)
Political power and the social organization of privacy vary from period to period and from place to place. In contemporary history the privatization campaign of the past decades in the United States and elsewhere, beginning in the period of Thatcher-Reagan-Gorbachev, has striking similarities with 16th- and 17th-century England, in the early phase of the industrial revolution, at the time of enclosures. Today, humanity is experiencing once again a drastic reduction in the public domain, accompanied by the impoverishment of social sentiments as well as powerful constraints on public access to vital material resources. Privatization has had a profound impact on political and economic structures which are protected by systems of organized violence. In this sense Barrington Moore, Jr.'s research in 1983 is useful for discovering where it is we have come from and where we are heading . . . .
* Note: Barrington Moore, Jr.'s radical research includes titles such as "Social Origins of Dictatorship and Democracy", "Reflections on the Causes of Human Misery", and "Injustice: The Social Bases of Obedience and Revolt." Working in the American radical tradition, Moore's social science research is a scientific attempt to discover the root origins of specific social phenomenon, independent of ideological constraints. He follows in a longer western tradition dating back to the Greek classics, and borrowing from Aristotelian metaphysics the first principles of causation (i.e. material cause, formal cause, efficient cause, and final cause). There is no evidence that he subscribes to the belief in "teleological cause", but his radical analyses do assume a common human nature, shared by the Jivaro head-hunters from the Ecuadorian Amazon rain forests, and Christian missionaries, and capitalist investors in Wal-Mart. The diversity of social conventions, Moore insists, can only be understood by looking at behavior and at the social and cultural context of behavior in different times and places where a particular set of conventions emerged for specific reasons.
New analytical methods provided by contemporary communication theory allow additional insights into how social hierarchies are maintained. As opposed to natural hierarchies, social hierarchies are man-made. Sometimes they are entirely imaginary (as when "the tail wags the dog") and sometimes they are real but illegitimate (as when production determines human needs), which is a familiar reality in the system of monopoly capitalism, an economy which relies increasingly on the use of violence, including artificial scarcities. Often, however, social hierarchies exist in our daily lives as legitimate interdependent relationships which have come together because of perceived mutual benefits. These latter hierarchies are characterized by a fluidity and an openness that benefit from new information flows which may dissolve relationships or inspire new political alliances, according to felt needs. Legitimate hierarchies require democratic-friendly environments which generate diversity and which nurture a love for intellectual freedom and discovery (in contrast to authoritarian environments which impose a mind-numbing variety of choices from the top down, choices that make little or no difference, and where the love of power over others and the thrill for contests of domination/submission surpass most other feelings, including intellectual curiosity and kindness.
Learning to decode behaviors in the social reality of which we are a part is called social literacy, and it is upon this skill that our survival and the survival of many other species depend. But our education is largely occupied with teaching us to ignore the violence of the illegitimate hierarchies around us and (as long as it is not our ox that is being gored) to remain functionally illiterate, unable to read the systemic meaning of violence, as a necessary support for illegitimate hierarchies. The symbols from the reality around us are not decoded and instead of examining the context of these expressions for important meanings, we are educated to act in just the opposite direction, to interpret abstract references to abstract references to abstract references . . . ad nauseam, and to the total exclusion of any references to our immediate reality. This existential vocation of identifying the significance of symbols referring to symbols, referring to symbols . . . is like sitting in a barbershop chair and looking at the series of reflections from mirrors facing one another from opposite walls. But it is not only our hair that is being cut while we are lost in this seemingly infinite regression . . . .
The simple Rule of Extinction is a handy test to determine if a dependent hierarchy is legitimate or not, but first we must be able to identify the hierarchy. By imagining the removal of one or more levels from a power pyramid, we should be able to logically determine if the other levels are essential (i.e. legitimate). Thus in a natural dependent hierarchy of Sun - Earth - Moon, if we remove the Sun do the other levels become extinct, and so on and so forth . . . ? And likewise in a dependent social hierarchy of Boss/Man or Woman - Worker/Husband/Father - Worker/Wife/Mother - Son or Daughter/Sibling, if we remove the Boss/Man level of this dependent hierarchy do the lower levels disappear, etc . . . ? Or, to take a third example, with the temporary dependent social hierarchy of Bus Driver - Passenger, if we remove the Bus Driver, does the lower level still have meaning, and vice versa . . .?
Being socially illiterate is like looking at a book in a dark room, a book written in an unfamiliar language, where we see only the vague features of various letters from a foreign alphabet, letters strung together in what appears to be an arbitrary series of signs, one after the other, without pattern and ultimately without meaning. We cannot decode the symbols to understand the significance of the sentences, the paragraphs, nor of the text that is in front of our eyes, nor can we discover in this opaque environment any meaning, not even an explanation for why we cannot understand. When one is socially illiterate, one sees each event in isolation from other events. One cannot decode the significance of events and one cannot derive meaning from an experience when it is abstracted from its real context. No systemic understanding is possible, and we remain mystified.
We can identify an almost infinite number of illegitimate hierarchies in the daily lives of Americans and each one is necessarily located in a matrix violence. Below are four cases illustrating this culture of violence and the structures it serves to reinforce.
The political strategy of dominating women was legalized by the recent U.S. Supreme Court ruling that women in the U.S. will no longer be guaranteed legal control over their bodies when pregnant. In certain situations they must conform to state laws which can invalidate their choices and can even place their lives in danger by overruling the medical advice of their doctors.
The military strategy to expand the war in the Middle East, and the business strategy to increase profits at Abbott Pharmaceutical Laboratories is discussed on the news podcast,
The corporate strategy of constraining democracy in order to secure local power pyramids that serve to augment the private profits for a few, in violation of the interests of the many. In December 2006, Professor Noam Chomsky spoke at a City Life/Vida Urbana conference about corporate economics and democracy, concluding with a discussion of US imperialism in Latin America.
Distorting Camp David
by Norman Finkelstein
In addition to the above discussions of illegitimate power hierarchies, the 8 items below provide contemporary news and analyses which further illustrate the abuse of power in the face of weak democratic organization. The rules and regulations of most institutions that govern the lives of hundreds of millions of Americans often run counter to democratic traditions within the United States. The need to take control of these institutions is often understood at an intuitive level in American culture, where skepticism toward the wealthy and powerful is endemic, but political organization remains fragmented and is usually ineffective, leaving few alternatives to a life of alienation, which at best can be devoted to performing balancing acts on a wabbling "ladder to success" supported by illegitimate hierarchies.
Item A. is an article by Gabriel Kolko suggesting "a rational perspective" on the causes of our political economy in order to achieve possible solutions.
Item B. is an update by Noam Chomsky on the Arab peace initiative in Palestine.
Item C., an article by Federico Fuentes, discusses Bolivia's indigenous population and their movement to take control of their natural resources.
Item D., is an article by Michael Parenti in the growing imbalance of wealth and poverty and the cause and effect relationships of this social dynamic.
Item E. is an article by Dean Baker, explaining how "How the Wealthy Use the Government to Stay Rich and Get Richer".
Item F. is an article by Cambridge University, UK Professor Ha-Joon Chang on "How the Economic and Intellectual Histories of Capitalism Have Been Re-Written to Justify Neo-Liberal Capitalism".
Item G., from Professor Richard Du Boff, is an economic analysis of French politics at the time of the national elections, in the context of global economic warfare.
And finally item H., from Council for the National Interest Foundation, is a look at international relations with Palestine, excluding Israel and the United States.
We also invite readers to see the photos taken at our recent international conference on "Patriarchy and American Institutions". (Easy access is available at the bottom of the CEIMSA Colloquium page on The University of California server.)
Francis McCollum Feeley
Professor of American Studies
Director of Research
Universit Stendhal Grenoble 3
from Gabriel Kolko :
7 April 2007
A RATIONAL PERSPECTIVE ON OUR PRESENT CRISES
By Gabriel Kolko
It is understandable that intelligent people should be preoccupied with the crises reported in the daily press, but they are best comprehended in their historical context. That context, and the crucial causes and motives guiding American foreign policy since 1950, are crucial to understanding the often bewildering and multidimensional events since the year 2000. George W. Bush and his cronies have done incalculable damage and committed terrible follies, but it is a fundamental error to assume that he is somehow original and the genesis of our present crisis.
It is much riskier to focus on particulars as if they have no precedents or are not part of an older, longer historical pattern. Indeed, a major fault of many assessments of US actions abroad is precisely such a disregard for the circumstances that led to them and their historical framework.
The world has changed with increasing speed over the last half-century, and there have been more wars and upheavals over the past decade than any time since 1945. Given the weaponry now available and the growing political and diplomatic instability that has accompanied the demise of Communism, this is the most dangerous period in mankind's entire history. It is also the period of greatest changes in the balance of world forces, with the decentralization of not only powerful weapons but the reemergence of nationalist, ethnic, and religious factors. The breakup of the USSR and Communism was only partially the cause.
How global military, political, economic and other variables interact is very often unpredictable, to which one must add the domestic politics and public moods within crucial nations-of which the US is most important. World affairs are not only complex but also full of surprises-not only for us but also for those in Washington and elsewhere who aspire to control the destiny of humanity.
Contradictions and errors have been the principal characteristic of all ambitious nations, leading to wars that are not only far bloodier and longer than anticipated but also produce such unwanted political and social consequences as revolution or its opposite, reaction. The emergence of communism and fascism, and the sequence of wars over the past century, was merely confirmation of the fact that once fighting begins, human values and institutions-all the forces that create social stability--go awry.
George W. Bush inherited conventional wisdom regarding the world mission and universal interests that guide American policies on the world scene. The same ambitions have often been shared by leaders of other powers who believe that wars serve as effective, controllable instruments of national goals. What Bush did do, however, was intensify the most dangerous traits always inherent in American institutions and beliefs since 1945. He scarcely expected to get bogged down in the affairs of the Middle East, making Iran the strategically most important power in the entire region. Still less did he imagine that America's war would rip apart the existing fragile political arrangements and boundaries so that the specter of civil wars and bloodshed along sectarian and ethnic lines in the entire Middle East that may last for years to come. President John F. Kennedy and his successors earlier had also expected that their involvement in Vietnam would be limited and short.
But once the shooting begins-and America's "credibility" is at stake--priorities are decided for it where there is combat. Moreover, what is crucial is that its pretensions and ambitions have often led to very different parts of the globe-and the US often loses control over the military and political results of its many interventions. The world has always been very large and very complex, and it is becoming more so; the US may eventually adjust to that reality. But it has refused to do so in the past as well as the present.
Both Presidents George H. W. Bush-the incumbent president's father--and Bill Clinton radically altered the justifications for the United States' global foreign policy after Communism disappeared. The second Bush claims there is "a decisive ideological struggle" against Islamic fundamentalism and "terrorism," and it is the main rationale for wars the US is now fighting in Afghanistan, Iraq, and may perhaps also fight elsewhere. But his predecessors concocted variations of these themes based on fear and anxiety in large part to justify massive military spending after the demise of the USSR, and the US' "preemptive" interventions have been a rationale for American interventions for many decades.
Yet while an alleged Islamic threat took Communism's place throughout the 1990s, it did so in an often-contrived fashion that made exceptions for America's important alliances with Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, and other orthodox Muslim states. But Islam has existed for centuries, it has changed very little if at all, and the US often utilized fundamentalist religion in Iran, Afghanistan, and elsewhere after 1950 as an antidote to fight godless Communism. What was crucial was that the US needed a threat and alleged danger to legitimize to its own population its global role and readiness to intervene everywhere. This justification causes it to spend almost as much on its military machine as the entire rest of the world combined.
We must never forget that the origins of most of the world's problems go back many centuries and involve religion, boundaries, demography, nationalism-the list of causes of war and human misery is very long. The United States has scarcely been the cause of most of them. But even granted that international politics has been violent and quite irrational far, far longer, after the Second World War the American role was decisive in most places on the globe. Had Washington behaved differently after 1945 then many of today's international crises would be very different also. In short, the "American problem" after the Second World War became synonymous with the world's problem; virtually everything important involving change is now contingent on it.
The US since 1945 has poured fuel on the fire of atavism and irrationality, and it has blocked efforts to solve the domestic problems of countless nations in ways that were often quite sensible and equitable. It is worth contemplating what might have happened had it minded its own affairs and avoided making matters-good, bad, or neither- far worse, but especially preventing needed social and economic reforms. I have devoted one book to its interventions in the Third World alone, another on the Vietnam War, and dealt with yet many other cases elsewhere. There are also innumerable excellent detailed works that go much further.
The Middle East is currently the leading crisis facing the US and the world. President Woodrow Wilson predicted in 1919 that if the peace made after the war were not just "there will follow not mere conflict but cataclysm." The territorial settlements imposed on the Middle East after 1918 were entirely capricious, unjust, and arranged by the great powers with scant regard for local conditions or desires. An astonishing ignorance prevailed among most of the crucial decision-makers, not just the Americans. The reemergence of Islamic ideologies, the rise of secular nationalism in the region, Zionism and the seemingly intractable Arab-Jewish conflict, and much else is a result, to a crucial extent, of the role of outside foreign intervention.
The Second World War was further vindication of Wilson's fears, and today we are experiencing the irrationality of the settlements that followed the First World War in the Middle East. The vast region's nations and borders were created arbitrarily; in no area was the potential for chaos-the contested boundaries, the creation of a Jewish homeland, and much else--greater than this inherently volatile region. For there are no "natural" nations and boundaries in the Middle East and by attacking Iraq the US has reopened a potential for chaos and disorder in the entire vast region which surpasses, by far, both in size and economic importance the potential for instability which existed in Indochina, Brazil, or anyplace else where it mucked around. For while there were plenty of illusions in many other areas, in fact the turmoil the US is now creating in the Middle East is unprecedented. It could have been far different had the US not tried to control the fate of this region at all.
Communism is all but dead but the world's sufferings have, if anything, increased with the disappearance of what was the justification for the Cold War. The resources that the US and mankind might have devoted to making peace and meeting rational human needs and desires have instead gone to preparing for and making war. Today we confront the indefinite prospect of war and human suffering on a vast scale-but this has also been the case for at least the past half-century.
from Noam Chomsky :
9 April 2007
The Arab League Peace Plan of 2002 is what was called here the "Saudi Plan." It has just been renewed. In 2002, the US and Israel simply dismissed it, and I don't recall media commentary. It is pretty much a version of the international consensus that was articulated clearly for the first time in January 1976 at the Security Council, in a resolution brought by the major Arab states, vetoed by the US (again in 1980). With the Security Council eliminated by the veto, the same principles came up almost annually in the General Assembly, under pressure from the third world and the non-aligned movement, but with Europe also going along. The votes were usually something like 150-3 (US, Israel, sometimes a client state like El Salvador). Standard for General Assembly votes on a wide range of issues. The basic principle is a two-state settlement on the international (pre-June 1967) borders, with minor and mutual border adjustments, incorporating the wording of UN 242 (all states in the region have the right to exist in peace and security within recognized borders, etc.). In 1988 the Palestinian National Council formally accepted this proposal, having tacitly backed it since the mid-1970s. The reaction of the Israeli coalition government (Shimon Peres, Yitzhak Shamir) was to declare that there can be no "additional" Palestinian state between Jordan and Israel (Jordan, by implication, being a Palestinian state), and that the fate of the territories would be settled in accord with the guidelines of the Israeli government. That proposal was adopted without qualification by the Bush I administration (the Baker plan of December 1989). That is the most extreme rejectionist stand taken by any US administration. All of this is doctrinally unacceptable in the US, in fact the West generally, so suppressed. But the facts are uncontroversial.
The Arab League plan goes beyond earlier versions of the international consensus by calling for full normalization of relations with Israel.
By now, the US and Israel can't simply ignore it, because US relations with Saudi Arabia are too tenuous, and because of the catastrophic effects of the Iraq invasion (and the great regional concern that the US will go on to attack Iran, very strongly opposed in the region, apart from Israel). So therefore the US and Israel are departing slightly from their extreme unilateral rejectionism, at least in rhetoric, though not in substance.
The plan has overwhelming international support, of course from the Third World (the "South"), which, as mentioned, has been in the lead in pressing the basic proposal for 30 years, but also again Europe. It's supported by the Arab states and by Iran. Hezbollah has been quite clear that though it does not like it, it will not disrupt any agreement that the Palestinians reach. Hamas has indicated that it will support it. That includes its most militant faction, headed by Khaled Maashal in Damascus, who said that Hamas would accept an Arab consensus -- namely, the Arab League plan, now renewed. A large majority of Americans supported the Saudi plan when it was announced, and presumably still do, though I don't know of current polls. That leaves the US-Israel in their usual stance of splendid isolation, opposing a diplomatic settlement -- not just in words, but in deeds: the massive settlement/infrastructure projects in the West Bank, and all the rest.
In fairness, it should be pointed out that there was one week in which the US-Israel departed from their unilateral rejectionism: in January 2001, in Taba Egypt. Israeli and Palestinian negotiators came close to a settlement on all outstanding issues, and in their last press conference, stated jointly that with a little more time, they could finalize an agreement. Israeli Prime Minister Barak called off the negotiations early, presumably to prevent that outcome. The Clinton administration didn't object. We don't know more about the internal discussions. Shortly after came Bush-Sharon, and formal negotiations stopped, but informal (Track II) negotiations continued, leading to the Geneva accord between high-level Israeli and Palestinian figures, but unofficial. It received strong world support as usual. Israel rejected it. The US ignored it. It was dismissed with little-disguised ridicule in the mainstream US press, where it was noticed at all. It was quite detailed, more or less in line with the Taba negotiations and the international consensus. There certainly is a basis for settlement, and it's been well-known for a long time what the basic contours are, but it cannot progress as long as it is blocked by the US.
The pretense here is that the US has been an honest broker, but didn't pay enough attention to diplomacy under Bush, matters now being remedied by Rice. The posture cannot survive inspection of the extensive public record, which is therefore suppressed, in the familiar fashion.
from Federico Fuentes :
22 April 2007
by Federico Fuentes
For Bolivia's indigenous majority, the year 1781 is engrained in popular memory as one of open rebellion against Spanish colonialism. Led by Tupak Katari, the indigenous Aymaras of the highlands lay siege to the city of La Paz for several months. Whilst Katari was finally overpowered, captured, and quartered, he became a historic reference point for indigenous struggle, promising just before he was murdered that "I will come back, and I will be millions."
So it is that once again, after more than 500 years of colonialism, the millions of indigenous Bolivians are once again rising up to take control of their destiny, propelling for the first time an indigenous person, Evo Morales, into the presidency of the country.
This new wave of rebellion is the focus of radical journalist Ben Dangl's first book The Price of Fire: Resource Wars and Social Movements in Bolivia. Dangl is no stranger to this topic, having reported on events unfolding in Bolivia for a number of years, including as an eyewitness of the 2003 uprising, for amongst others Z Magazine, The Nation, and Green LeftWeekly, as well as editing the online magazine Upside Down World, an invaluable source of information on political change in Latin America.
In his book, Dangl returns to Bolivia to provide readers with a vivid insight into why Bolivia has become such an important battleground between combative social movements and foreign transnationals over, what he calls, the "price of fire" -- access to basic elements of survival such as gas, water, land, coca, employment, and other resources.
Whilst providing much valuable information on the origins and impacts of neoliberalism in Bolivia, the book's most important contribution is Dangl's tracing of the origins and distinct features of the new actors in Bolivian society -- coca growers of the Chapare region, neighborhood committees of El Alto, a movement of landless peasants, and feminist and cultural organizations amongst others -- providing important insights into their nature. Crucially, Dangl allows those at the center of this struggle to tell their story, introducing readers to numerous well-known, and not-so-well-known, protagonists.
It is through interviews with street vendors, members of neighborhood committees, Aymara journalists and sociologists that Dangl provides a window into the world of the people of El Alto, central actors in the writing of Bolivia's new history. He provides readers with a deep understanding of the politics of this radical city, sketching out how the history of this city, ignored for decades by the government, has been vital to the creation of strong bonds of solidarity and struggle amongst alteos.
Dangl articulates how the fusing of the habits and skills of the miners, left unemployed by privatization, and the organizational structures and traditions of the rural Aymaran ayllus, have created a collective identity of community cohesion and organization. Dangl elucidates how, for the majority informal workforce of El Alto, their involvement in unions provides a "sense of collective identity . . . important to vendors who operate in an often isolated and economically competitive atmosphere."
A similar outline is made of the coca grower, or cocalero, movement in the Chapare region, who, faced with the US-imposed "war on drugs," were forged into one of the most combative social movements of the country.
Whilst the influences of the miners' unionism impacted more strongly due to historic factors, Dangl explains that the "syndicatos, community organization similar to unions" are much more than simply instruments of struggle, acting to "organize work cycles and distribution of land, and mediated disputes."
Recounting her story, Leonilda Zurita, who helped establish the first woman's federation of cocaleros in 1995, explains the role of these syndicatos. Zurita says to Dangl: "[Many] women in the Chapare don't know how to read or write. So the best school for the women is the union. There we have empowered people. We learn about which laws are in favor of us and which are not. This has all shown us that the union organization is important to defend mother earth, defend the coca, and defend our natural resources."
Today, Zurita is a senator with the Movement Towards Socialism -- Political Instrument for the Sovereignty of the Peoples (MAS-IPSP), which emerged as a political response, primarily of the cocaleros of the Chapare, to "policies that were destroying their livelihoods."
It is also from the ranks of these cocaleros that Morales emerged, who, as Dangl points out, helped develop MAS into "an 'anti-imperialist' and 'anti-neoliberal' party that, amongst other platforms, advocated the decriminalization of coca production and putting natural resources, such as gas and oil, under state control."
Dangl also sketches out the development of important social organizations such as the Movement of Landless Peasants, the Coalition in Defense of Water and Life, and feminist organization Mujeres Creando. Throughout all the close observations of the different dynamics at play within these, and other movements, not only in Bolivia but in the rest of South America, Dangl continues to return to what binds them together, their struggle to recuperating control over their natural resources.
Dangl summarizes this view at the end of the chapter "Occupy, Resist, Produce" -- a slogan made famous by the occupied factories movement of Argentina: "At the heart of each of these occupations," in this case the occupation of factories in Argentina, land in Bolivia and Paraguay, and a jail in Venezuela, "is the question of property and ownership, and whether or not a privileged elite or poor majority should use these resources."
In focusing on this question, Dangl goes beyond just introducing readers to the social movements of Bolivia, towards making an important contribution to the debate on the dynamics of social change, the role of the new left governments, and the question of state power, which makes the book an invaluable resource for those interested in the unfolding discussion.
Dangl's position departs from the viewpoint that the "regional integration building between progressive Latin American governments" has helped shift the balance of power "away from Washington and multinational corporations and into the hands of Latin American social movements and left of center governments"; rather, he argues, the real possibility for transformation comes from those social movements who "wield a power to organize and create an alternative social fabric that is in many cases stronger than the state."
This leads to two shortcomings in his analysis. First, it simply lumps together all the left of center governments, without drawing a distinction between, for instance, the governments of Morales and Hugo Chavez (Venezuela) on one hand and those of Lula (Brazil), and Tabare Vasquez (Uruguay), and Bachelet (Chile) on the other hand.
Secondly it also downplays the importance of state power. Dangl refers to well-known Uruguayan leftist commentator Raul Zibechi's analysis of the October 2003 uprising, who wrote, "it could be argued that if unified, organized structures had existed, not as much social energy would have been unleashed. The key to this overwhelming grassroots mobilization is, without a doubt, the basic self-organization that fills every pore of the society and has made superfluous many forms of representation."
Yet, as Dangl himself notes, the key factor in the rise of Morales was that "while other leaders of leftist unions or parties at the time focused their energy solely on campesino, or indigenous, issues, Morales -- an indigenous coca farmer originally from the altiplano -- spoke to campesinos, indigenous, and cocalero voters."
It is precisely because Morales and the social movements who make up the base of MAS focused on creating a "unified, organized structure" -- MAS-IPSP -- and using this instrument not only to win elections, but to take power, that the two central demands of the social movements -- nationalization of gas and constituent assembly -- have become reality, notwithstanding some of valid criticisms Dangl makes of the shortcomings in their implementation.
Morales has been able to unite Bolivia's diverse, regional movements into a powerful movement for a project of national liberation aimed at not just recuperating control of national resources, but also "nationalizing" the state.
By occupying the existing state, Morales, working together with Bolivia's social movements, hopes to weaken the opposition of the capitalists and use it to lay the groundwork for a new state based on the inclusion of Bolivia's indigenous majority. However, this is a battle that the movements, along with the government, will have to wage both in the Constituent Assembly, and on the streets. To do otherwise would lead to the dispersion, demoralization, and ultimate defeat of the social movements.
Federico Fuentes is a frequent writer for the Australian socialist newspaper, Green Left Weekly, and maintains the blog Bolivia Rising. He is a member of the Democratic Socialist Perspective, a tendency within the Australian Socialist Alliance.
from Michael Parenti
Date: 26 April 2007
Mystery: How Wealth Creates Poverty In The World
by Michael Parenti
There is a mystery we must explain: How is it that as corporate investments and foreign aid and international loans to poor countries have increased dramatically throughout the world over the last half century, so has poverty? The number of people living in poverty is growing at a faster rate than the worlds population. What do we make of this?
Over the last half century, U.S. industries and banks (and other western corporations) have invested heavily in those poorer regions of Asia, Africa, and Latin America known as the Third World. The transnationals are attracted by the rich natural resources, the high return that comes from low-paid labor, and the nearly complete absence of taxes, environmental regulations, worker benefits, and occupational safety costs.
The U.S. government has subsidized this flight of capital by granting corporations tax concessions on their overseas investments, and even paying some of their relocation expenses---much to the outrage of labor unions here at home who see their jobs evaporating.
The transnationals push out local businesses in the Third World and preempt their markets. American agribusiness cartels, heavily subsidized by U.S. taxpayers, dump surplus products in other countries at below cost and undersell local farmers. As Christopher Cook describes it in his Diet for a Dead Planet, they expropriate the best land in these countries for cash-crop exports, usually monoculture crops requiring large amounts of pesticides, leaving less and less acreage for the hundreds of varieties of organically grown foods that feed the local populations.
By displacing local populations from their lands and robbing them of their self-sufficiency, corporations create overcrowded labor markets of desperate people who are forced into shanty towns to toil for poverty wages (when they can get work), often in violation of the countries own minimum wage laws.
In Haiti, for instance, workers are paid 11 cents an hour by corporate giants such as Disney, Wal-Mart, and J.C. Penny. The United States is one of the few countries that has refused to sign an international convention for the abolition of child labor and forced labor. This position stems from the child labor practices of U.S. corporations throughout the Third World and within the United States itself, where children as young as 12 suffer high rates of injuries and fatalities, and are often paid less than the minimum wage.
The savings that big business reaps from cheap labor abroad are not passed on in lower prices to their customers elsewhere. Corporations do not outsource to far-off regions so that U.S. consumers can save money. They outsource in order to increase their margin of profit. In 1990, shoes made by Indonesian children working twelve-hour days for 13 cents an hour, cost only $2.60 but still sold for $100 or more in the United States.
U.S. foreign aid usually works hand in hand with transnational investment. It subsidizes construction of the infrastructure needed by corporations in the Third World: ports, highways, and refineries.
The aid given to Third World governments comes with strings attached. It often must be spent on U.S. products, and the recipient nation is required to give investment preferences to U.S. companies, shifting consumption away from home produced commodities and foods in favor of imported ones, creating more dependency, hunger, and debt.
A good chunk of the aid money never sees the light of day, going directly into the personal coffers of sticky-fingered officials in the recipient countries.
Aid (of a sort) also comes from other sources. In 1944, the United Nations created the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF). Voting power in both organizations is determined by a countrys financial contribution. As the largest donor, the United States has a dominant voice, followed by Germany, Japan, France, and Great Britain. The IMF operates in secrecy with a select group of bankers and finance ministry staffs drawn mostly from the rich nations.
The World Bank and IMF are supposed to assist nations in their development. What actually happens is another story. A poor country borrows from the World Bank to build up some aspect of its economy. Should it be unable to pay back the heavy interest because of declining export sales or some other reason, it must borrow again, this time from the IMF.
But the IMF imposes a structural adjustment program (SAP), requiring debtor countries to grant tax breaks to the transnational corporations, reduce wages, and make no attempt to protect local enterprises from foreign imports and foreign takeovers. The debtor nations are pressured to privatize their economies, selling at scandalously low prices their state-owned mines, railroads, and utilities to private corporations.
They are forced to open their forests to clear-cutting and their lands to strip mining, without regard to the ecological damage done. The debtor nations also must cut back on subsidies for health, education, transportation and food, spending less on their people in order to have more money to meet debt payments. Required to grow cash crops for export earnings, they become even less able to feed their own populations.
So it is that throughout the Third World, real wages have declined, and national debts have soared to the point where debt payments absorb almost all of the poorer countries export earnings---which creates further impoverishment as it leaves the debtor country even less able to provide the things its population needs.
Here then we have explained a mystery. It is, of course, no mystery at all if you dont adhere to trickle-down mystification. Why has poverty deepened while foreign aid and loans and investments have grown? Answer: Loans, investments, and most forms of aid are designed not to fight poverty but to augment the wealth of transnational investors at the expense of local populations.
There is no trickle down, only a siphoning up from the toiling many to the moneyed few.
In their perpetual confusion, some liberal critics conclude that foreign aid and IMF and World Bank structural adjustments do not work; the end result is less self-sufficiency and more poverty for the recipient nations, they point out. Why then do the rich member states continue to fund the IMF and World Bank? Are their leaders just less intelligent than the critics who keep pointing out to them that their policies are having the opposite effect?
No, it is the critics who are stupid not the western leaders and investors who own so much of the world and enjoy such immense wealth and success. They pursue their aid and foreign loan programs because such programs do work. The question is, work for whom? Cui bono?
The purpose behind their investments, loans, and aid programs is not to uplift the masses in other countries. That is certainly not the business they are in. The purpose is to serve the interests of global capital accumulation, to take over the lands and local economies of Third World peoples, monopolize their markets, depress their wages, indenture their labor with enormous debts, privatize their public service sector, and prevent these nations from emerging as trade competitors by not allowing them a normal development.
In these respects, investments, foreign loans, and structural adjustments work very well indeed.
The real mystery is: why do some people find such an analysis to be so improbable, a conspiratorial imagining? Why are they skeptical that U.S. rulers knowingly and deliberately pursue such ruthless policies (suppress wages, rollback environmental protections, eliminate the public sector, cut human services) in the Third World? These rulers are pursuing much the same policies right here in our own country!
Isnt it time that liberal critics stop thinking that the people who own so much of the world---and want to own it all---are incompetent or misguided or failing to see the unintended consequences of their policies? You are not being very smart when you think your enemies are not as smart as you. They know where their interests lie, and so should we.
Michael Parenti's recent books include The Assassination of Julius Caesar (New Press), Superpatriotism (City Lights), and The Culture Struggle (Seven Stories Press). For more information visit: www.michaelparenti.org.
from Dean Baker
The Conservative Nanny State
How the Wealthy Use the Government to Stay Rich and Get Richer
by Dean Baker
from Post-Autistic Economics Review :
27 April 2007
Kicking Away the Ladder
How the Economic and Intellectual Histories of Capitalism Have Been Re-Written to Justify Neo-Liberal Capitalism
by Ha-Joon Chang
(Cambridge University, UK)
from Richard Du Boff :
Date: 26 April 2007
Subject: Economic Misinformation in the French election...
The elections in France demonstrate the power of faulty economic analysis, and more generalized problems with arithmetic, to shape ideas and possibly the future of not only a nation, but a continent.
The United States has faced similar problems with its debate over Social Security, in which the majority of Americans were convinced - based on verbal and accounting trickery - that the program is facing serious financial problems when the baby boom generation retires. (It isn't).
In France, Nicolas Sarkozy, the right-wing candidate, has taken the lead after Sunday's election with 31.2 percent of the vote, against Sgolne Royal, the left-of-center candidate of France's Socialist party, who garnered 25.9 percent. They face a runoff election against each other on May 6.
The general theme that has propelled Sarkozy into the lead is that the French economy is somehow "stuck" and needs to be reformed to be more like ours. It is also widely believed that France needs to be made more "competitive" in the global economy, since competition is tougher now in a more globalized world.
New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman has been the most popular proponent of the idea that French workers must lower their living standards because of the global economy. "All of the forces of globalization [are] eating away at Europe's welfare states," he writes . . . "French voters are trying to preserve a 35-hour work week in a world where Indian engineers are ready to work a 35-hour day." For Friedman and most of the pundits, this is impossible.
It is important to understand that there is no economic logic to the argument that the citizens of any rich country need to reduce their living standards or government programs because of economic progress in developing countries. Once a developed country has reached a certain level of productivity, there is no economic reason for its residents to take a pay or benefit cut, or work more hours, because other countries are catching up to their level. That productivity, which is based on the country's collective knowledge, skills, capital stock, and organization of the economy, is still there, and in fact it increases every year. To the extent that international competition is being used by special interests to push down the living standards of French or German or U.S. workers - and it is - it just means that the rules for international commerce are being written by the wrong people. It is a problem of limited democracy and lack of representation for the majority, not a problem that is inherent to economic progress.
Another mistake that is commonly made in this debate is to compare France's income or GDP per person to the U.S., by which France lags: $30,693 for France versus $43,144 for the U.S. (these are adjusted for purchasing power parity). But this is not a fair comparison, because the French do not work nearly as many hours as we do in the United States. Economists do not say that one person is worse off than another if she has less income simply due to working fewer hours. A better indicator of economic welfare in such a comparison is therefore productivity, which is as high or higher in France as it is in the United States.
Now for some arithmetic regarding France's notoriously high unemployment rate among young people, which shaped politics there and influenced world opinion during the youth riots in 2005. The standard measure of unemployment puts the unemployed in the numerator, and unemployed plus employed in the denominator (u/u+e). By this measure, French males age 15-24 have an unemployment rate of 20.8 percent, as compared to 11.8 percent for the US. But this difference is mainly because in France, there are proportionately many more young males who are not in the labor force - because more are in school, and because young people in France do not work part time while they are in school, as much as they do in the United States. Those who are not in the labor force are not counted in either the numerator or the denominator of the unemployment rate.
A better comparison then is to look at the number of unemployed divided by the population of those in the age group 15-24. By this measure, the U.S. comes in at 8.3 percent and France at 8.6 percent. Both countries have a serious unemployment problem among youth, and in both countries it is highly concentrated among racial/ethnic minorities. But the problem is not much worse in France than it is in the United States.
Sarkozy proposes making it easier for employers to fire workers, cutting taxes (including inheritance taxes), pushing back against the 35 hour work week, and other measures that will favor upper-income groups and owners of corporations. These measures will certainly redistribute income upward, as we have been doing in the United States over the last 30 years. But once again, there is little or no economic evidence that these measures will increase employment or economic growth.
Royal proposes a series of measures to boost economy-wide demand - including raising the minimum wage, unemployment benefits, and state-subsidized employment. These make some economic sense, since they at least have a chance - mostly by boosting aggregate demand and spending power of consumers - to create more employment.
If France makes a historic shift to the right in this election, it will be largely due to economic misinformation.
Mark Weisbrot is co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research, in Washington, D.C. (www.cepr.net).
From Council for the National Interest Foundation :
27 April 2007
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