Capitalism, anti-capitalism and “his plastic excuse”.

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Another comment has been received – this time from Dave on Fire. Thanks! 🙂

Dave suggests that although..

Correa’s movement is undoubtedly a Eurocentric, middle class consumerist affair, and may not do much to improve the lot of the indigenous peoples or their environment, I’m still cautiously optimistic that his election represents a very important and positive step.”

Dave’s idea is that because Correa kicks out Euro-American institutions, such as the IMF, the World Bank, and related gangs of thugs, it should somehow be considered progress in the “right direction”:

“In standing up to these colonialist institutions, Correa may not change the way Ecuador is run, but he will change where it is run. When the big decisions are made in Quito, not New York, Washington, London and Geneva, the Ecuadorean electorate will get a chance to change things. It’s perhaps a necessary step; we must always demand social justice, but it’s unrealistic to expect it from distant, opaque and unnaccountable financial institutions.”

We do not share Dave’s idealistic view on “democracy” or whatever that sham held up by elections is called this week. It is just as unrealistic from within and close to home as it is from far away. Anyone who has spent a bit of time on anti-capitalist literature and research would know that there is no such things as “democracy” – so what is this notion of the “electorate”? In particular the works of Michael Perelman [see: The Invention of Capitalism: Classical Political Economy and the Secret History of Primitive Accumulation] and Giorgio Agamben are illuminating in this context.

And even if…

“The smart way to keep people passive and obedient is to strictly limit the spectrum of acceptable opinion, but allow very lively debate within that spectrum – even encourage the more critical and dissident views. That gives people the sense that there’s free thinking going on, while all the time the presuppositions of the system are being reinforced by the limits put on the range of the debate.” [good ole Noam Chomsky]

From an anarchist position -from an anti-capitalist position-, it makes no difference whether capitalism is controlled from left or right, from the south or north – by this or by that outfit of entrepeneurs. The thrust of Correa’s neo-socialist progress for Ecuador is based on Chinese plastic and urban Brasilian consumerism — revolving around Ecuadorian middle class spending of remittances from emigrants on imported goods — and it shall all be financed and regulated and controlled and whatever the terms are by a clone of the IMF and the World Bank – just run by Latin Americans – the off-spring of the Conquistadores, the hangover of the “White Man’s plastic excuse”. Patriarchal business with some Iron Ladies interspersed as usual.

Correa’s Capitalism Light (another word for neo-socialism) and the nationalism that it spawns could go almost any way – but it will most certainly not go in an anti-capitalist direction and it will not improve the lot of the indigenous peoples (whom he threatens with military interventions if they complain) in their own terms; at best urbanise them by building roads and fast food diners in what is left of the jungle. No thanks!

The enemy of my enemy is not automagically my friend.

The appropriate measures for changing the world are far beyond what most people (want to) realise, so let us end on this note as food for some thought beyond oxymorons like electorate, democracy and related distractions:

The Revolution will not be funded – we need to go beyond the “the symbiotic relationship between the establishment Left/Non-Profit Industrial Complex” (meaning foundations and social service agencies) and the political and financial elite, an alliance that controls public discourse. This relationship makes nonprofits “the political arm of state-sanctioned violence.” [and] “the velvet purse of state repression”……..



10 thoughts on “Capitalism, anti-capitalism and “his plastic excuse”.

    Dave On Fire said:
    Monday, June 4, 2007 at 15:08 (672)

    Correa’s Capitalism Light … will most certainly not go in an anti-capitalist direction and it will not improve the lot of the indigenous peoples (whom he threatens with military interventions if they complain) in their own terms… The enemy of my enemy is not automagically my friend.

    Refuting things I didn’t actually say, aren’t you? Regardless of Correa’s agenda, capitalist and destructive as it doubtless is, the Ecuadorean people will be able to hold him – and, more importantly, his successors – to account far more easily than they would the IMF or World Bank.
    Perfect democracy is no more capable of existing than a perfect market, a point that is often missed in the mainstream discourse on either, but some are nevertheless more imperfect than others. An Ecuadorean capitalist is no less dangerous than a Yanqui capitalist, but a capitalist held to account by the Ecuadorean democratic system – imperfect as that system is – may be controlled by the people far more effectively than a capitalist in a highly opaque financial institution thousands of miles away.
    That’s not pie-in-the-sky idealism, and it’s certainly not seeing my enemy’s enemy as a friend.

    colono responded:
    Tuesday, June 5, 2007 at 17:23 (766)

    I wasn’t really refuting anything – just reiterating my point of view with a few added references and reasons for rejecting the illusion of democracy.
    To be honest I wasn’t really sure *what* you *were* saying, but now that you have spelled it out, let me just say that I what we disagree on is “democracy” – I do not in any possible way believe in democracy and accountability. You do. That is where we disagree.
    To be more precise, when you say “perfect” democracy I think of what we have now, more or less, since “democracy” was/is a system set up by a ruling class to maintain control over people who was to be led into the illusion that they had a say (called a vote every so and so many years).
    You seem to believe in that illusion; I don’t. I never will, and therefore, for me, the idea that there is more (or less or green or blue) accountability in one flavour of “democracy” than in another is completely besides the point and besides my political project(s). I have no desire to wallow in that mire!
    I’m very happy to discuss the issue on the basis of the texts I referred to – otherwise it is futile from my view point.
    With regards to the latter point I stuck in the Chomsky quote – you want to discuss and criticise within such a small little carefully defined area like whence the power of the elite emerges geographically. That for me is a spot on example of what Chomsky is talking about: it just reinforces the system, and that is the system that I am against.

    Dave On Fire said:
    Tuesday, June 5, 2007 at 18:38 (818)

    When I talk of perfect democracy I mean it leterally, the concept of power in the hands of the people. Nothing close to it has ever been accomplished. The democracies we know are systems of government, which I do not deny are heavily biased in favour of the elite. However, they were not designed by the elite as they were, generally, not designed at all but negotiated over centuries of struggle. Every improvement, every freedom has been fought for, and the struggle is neverending. For every freedom that we win, there are those who would undermine it, and integrate it into a new system of control, which must in turn be fought against.
    If we are to have any hope, we must participate in the struggle, and to participate effectively we must follow and understand what’s happening. Rafael Correa, his mindset, his prejudices, his agenda, may be no different to that of the current hegemons. A world dominated by the former would be no better than a world dominated by the latter. Is that to say that all conflict between the two is irrelevant? Surely not. You are too dismissive of what you call a clone of the IMF/World Bank run by Latin Americans; regardless of who runs it, if it is in conflict with the “real” IMF/World Bank, client nations will have the opportunity of exploiting the conflict between the two to negotiate on their own terms. United, the elites are strong; divided they would be weaker, more liable to be overthrown. While representative democracies arguably give the national elite more power over the people than vice-versa, the imbalance is certainly less than that of the distant and wholly unaccountable global elite imposing their will on the people through an increasingly irrelevant tier of national government.
    I think, strategically, that the end of the IMF monopoly is an important and relevant development. If you don’t, I’d be interested to see what you think is? Are all bad systems equally bad, and unimprovable, with social justice consequently completely and eternally out of reach? If so, why even bother? Or do you advocate an armed struggle? “The appropriate measures for changing the world” are, I’m sure you’ll agree, contrary to the interests of the ruling elite; isn’t it then at least as productive to discuss how to thwart that elite as to what measures we would take if we were in the place of that elite?
    I am familiar with Chomsky’s Propaganda model; that extremely lively debate within a ludicrously narrow spectrum serves to provide the illusion of free debate while dismissing that which falls outside the acceptable spectrum is surely obvious to anyone who’s read a newspaper. “Antiwar” pundits decry the self-serving, illegal and devastating invasion of a Iraq as a well-intentioned but ill-advised “misadventure”; neo-Keynesianism is presented as a left-of-centre position; our treaty-defying missile upgrade is, at worst, too expensive, while Iran’s treaty-compliant programe is, at best, “only” worthy of sanctions. With this as the “reasonable”, sanctioned dissent, any other positions may be shrugged off as extremist – which, on the spectrum defined by the establishment, they clearly are.
    I’m just having difficulty seeing how that relates to this conversation – but then, if you reduce my point to “whence the elite emerges geographically” I guess it does.

    Dave On Fire said:
    Tuesday, June 5, 2007 at 18:38 (818)

    um, I seem to have forgotten to close an italics tag :S

    colono responded:
    Tuesday, June 5, 2007 at 20:01 (875)

    I really think that you should spend a bit of time with Perelman’s Classical Political Economy (or rather the updated edition called The Invention of Capitalism..).
    The system was clearly designed, violently so – with very specific purposes in mind! – but of course, as EP Thompson so well puts in the widely discussed postscript on the rule of law in Whigs and Hunters, this does not negate or make irrelevant, at all, to the contrary, that there is scope for fighting for freedoms and rights within that system. But it makes absolutely imperative to recognise that it was designed in a misleading manner.
    But it is simply, for me, all too uncritical, uninformed even, to reject that the system was designed – I did not refer to Chomsky’s model – only his specific point – and wanted to draw attention to Perelman’s great exposition of Professor (Adam) Smith’s two anthropologies, as he calls it. He might be wrong, I might be wrong – you may be right – but once I saw the careful, scholarly work of Perelman I changed my mind about a lot of things. His stuff is simply required reading for any anti-capitalist; meet him here:
    Perhaps you are not an anti-capitalist / anarchist? Rather a liberal/reformist/republican – which might be why you cannot see how this relates to the exchange we’re having…
    Additionally, the works of Marcus Rediker also show aspects the concerted/designed origins of capitalism (which is the system we are talking about) – a very violent imposition where there was no negotiation, only resistance! Also, for the very early days of violent imposition of capitalism, see Silva Federici’s “Caliban and the Witch”.

    Dave On Fire said:
    Wednesday, June 6, 2007 at 04:48 (241)

    When you say “the system”, are you now referring to capitalism rather than to (semi/pseudo) democratic government? The two aren’t exactly indistinguishable or inseperable. Of course the capitalist system was not demanded by popular struggle, and I would never suggest that it was!
    I will look at the Perelman material as you suggest – and if you want a label then while I am certainly not republican/reformist/liberal/anarchist, anti-capitalist will do at a stretch.

    colono responded:
    Wednesday, June 6, 2007 at 12:17 (553)

    Based on research on the origins of the liberal/conservative, Euro-American system of governance – in particular the history of (the justifications and articulations of) private property – I have no other alternative than to realise that capitalism (and its specific mode of production based on exclusive, private property) is a system that essentially is inseparable from liberal/democratic governance (whatever that may be in isolation from capitalism I have no idea!?!).

    I simply cannot see how you can separate them? The French Revolution was (led by) a middle class, private property seeking movement (as many social movements were before that, too!; see Richard Schlatter’s: Private Property: The History of an Idea) – and the primary purpose of “the system” (that would be “democratic government”) is to protect private property – mainly for those in possession not only of private property, but capital (and ownership of the means of production).

    With regards to labels – I do not really care too much about them, but it is a central point in anarchist and anti-capitalist history and philosophy (state communism apart, of course) that the state and the private property that it protects on behalf of the elites, is one and the same thing: dominance over the people (for profit).

    It is true that within both elements, on both sides of the coin, there are struggles – within the state as well as within the corporate workplace – and neither side of the struggle can be separated from one another, since the institutionalisation of a won (or lost for that matter) struggle on either side will be reflected on the other (labour laws, social welfare, right, liberties etc. etc.). They way in which they are bound up in complex ways – and given the intentions of the ruling classes – it is entirely silly to say that they are “different systems”. When a labour law protects workers, it also protects the capital owners from further critique of the foundational unfair employment contract, which remains central no matter what kind of social-democratic welfare notions are protecting the worker from extreme abuses.

    One of Perelman’s initial chapters, which in the 1983(?) edition is called “Dark Designs”, combined with the chapter towards the end called “The two anthropologies of Professor Smith” (quoting from memory) will do quite a bit to make it clear that “the system” (all of it) was designed by the same people with the same intentions.

    The anarchist and anti-capitalist movements have always worked on that presumption. Until the inseparability is accepted we shall wallow in the mire that Chomsky so well describes – and with regards to labels, one must accept to fall within the liberal/reformist section, as far as I can see it, as long as the acceptance that state and capital is one and the same mess remains absent from one’s philosophy.

    I think that these are general/widespread ideas within the anarchist/anti-capitalist movements and reflected in most gatherings in those movements, in both theoretical discussion and practical actions.

    There are going to be some related discussions at the upcoming Knowledge Lab: – since I don’t know you I have no idea to which degree to you have been following these movements and the lists and gatherings where discussions of this kind take place (that was why I asked), but it surely is obvious that no academic curriculum or corporate press (or mainstream labour union) would ever reveal any of this – and only a few minor publishing houses engage with this stuff-, so unless we actively break out of the mould there is of course no chance that we’ll ever be exposed to any such patterns of thought and analysis.

    Dave On Fire said:
    Wednesday, June 6, 2007 at 15:00 (666)

    Your point that I could be better informed in anticapitalist theory is well taken, I will try to remedy my ignorance.

    I had simply been trying to say that kicking out the imperialist financial institutions brings control closer to the people. That’s a relative, not an absolute; undeniably, an elite would ultimately still be in control. But that elite would have to make concessions, marking an immediate improvement, and while the system of control would persist, it would be weakened. Hugo Chavez has reduced poverty in Venezuela, and is vastly widening the debate in its media. Rafael Correa may or may not – probably not – wish to do any such thing, but he and his successors will now have that option, which wouldn’t even have been there before. I think that’s progress. If you think that’s a point of view so close to the establishment truth as to reinforce it, forgive me for trying to find a little ray of sunshine, a small victory to celebrate.

    colono responded:
    Wednesday, June 6, 2007 at 15:36 (692)

    The reason why I am reluctant to celebrate with you- and have repeatedly been writing about the issues in this blog – is that while Correa distances himself from the specific Euro-American capitalism, he is going to bed with Chinese and Brasilian capitalism.

    The problem, as I see it, with the IMF and related gangsters, is that “the economy, stupid” is in control of things – and that people have to bend over backwards to its “complex” dynamics. Now the Ecuadorian people have to bend over to Chinese and Brasilian economic demands – this will no doubt make some richer, maybe many richer, but it will be on the basis of a system that at its core needs poor people as readily-available, surplus labour – so it will, per definition, always exclude a great many people. No doubt about that either.

    The changes in Ecuador is a move from one form of capitalism to another – or rather from one coffee-club of state-capitalists to another.

    While there is certainly going to be some improvements (however, do see E.P. Thompson’s great exposure of that term in “Customs in Common”!!) in Ecuador for some people, they are improvements of the kind that will further entrench the liberal/capitalist system, so that critique will not become easier, but more difficult. Better accountability really means less unstable; less unstable really means more secure; more secure really means less changeable. One step forward, to steps back.

    There is no shortage of the historically based critiques of the role that social-democrats played in this context in various European countries: polishing off the system to make it look nice – just makes it stronger and impossible to get rid of.

    The improvement will be a consequence of entrepeneurialism and industrialism – better roads, more cars, bigger factories (spiced with a nationalism that really needs no strengthening in Ecuador) – with a “better distribution of the profits”. But it is the very profit seeking motives based on waged labour that I am against.

    Capitalism just sucks, even if made to look nice.

    Who is Correa’s agricultural minister? A friend of Noboa whose first action was directed against small-holding, independent banana farmers, whose existence means less profits to Noboa and less “progress and improvement” in Ecuador.

    Chavez has his own critics – and I don’t mean the middle classes who despise him-, but the grass-roots, anarchist sectors who feel marginalised by the state in Venezuela. There is no doubt that Chavez does a lot of great things – such as introducing cooperative labour forms in the heavy industry – but when the industry is aluminium cans for global capitalism soft drinks, I just dont know what good that is……. A workers’s cooperative producing missiles, is that a good thing?

    Dave On Fire said:
    Wednesday, June 6, 2007 at 16:29 (728)

    The danger posed by Chavez – and judging by the MSM demonisation, it’s a real one – is that of a good example. Coke cans or missiles, Venezuela is showing that, far from being a catastrophe, doing away with neoliberalism can be one of the best things a country can do.

    And perhaps it’s sheer media whitewash, but the story I’d got was that Correa was locked in conflict with the “corrupt” existing political establishment – from which he’d been forced to pick his cabinet.

    I also think you’re being a little soft on the IMF. It’s not just the complexities of economics, when they use their influence to completely redesign – or “structurally readjust” – a country’s economy to serve external capitalists. With the very existence of a Venezuelan – or Brazilian, or Chinese – rival, that influence will be halved. And national leaders are often (usually?) twisted, corrupt elites themselves, there are examples of nations that have defied the IMF and, in doing so, vastly improved the lives of most of their citizens.

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