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Conditions for an Effective Response from the South


In the art of war, each belligerent chooses the terrain considered most advantageous for its battle for the offensive and tries to impose that terrain on its adversary, so that it is put on the defensive. The same goes for politics, both at the national level and in geopolitical struggles.

For the last 30 years or so, the powers forming the Triad of collective imperialism (the United States, Western Europe, and Japan) have been defining two battlefields, which are still current: "democracy" and "the environment."

This paper aims first to examine the concepts and substance in the definitions of each of these two themes selected by the Triad powers and to make a critical analysis of them from the viewpoint of the interests of the peoples, nations, and states at which they are targeted, the countries of the South, after those of the former East. Then we shall look at the role of all the instruments brought into play by the strategies of imperialism to wage its battles: "liberal" globalization, with its accompanying ideology (conventional economics), the militarization of globalization, "good governance," "aid," the "war on terrorism" and preventive warfare, as well as the accompanying ideologies (cultural post-modernism). And each time we shall highlight the conditions for an effective response from the peoples and states of the South to the challenge presented by the reorganization of the Triad's imperialism.

1. "Democracy," What "Democracy"?

It was a stroke of genius of Atlantic alliance diplomacy to choose the field of "democracy" for their offensive, which was aimed, from the beginning, at the dismantling of the Soviet Union and the re-conquest of the countries of Eastern Europe. This decision goes back to the 1970s and gradually became crystallized in the Conference of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) and then with the signing of the final Act in Helsinki in 1975. Jacques Andreani, in his book with the evocative title Le Piège, Helsinki et la chute du communisme (The Trap: Helsinki and the Fall of Communism), explains how the Soviets, who were expecting an agreement on the disarmament of the NATO and a genuine détente, were quite simply deceived by their Western partners.1

It was a stroke of genius because the "question of democracy" was a genuine issue and the least one could say was that the Soviet regimes were certainly not "democratic," however one defined its concept and practice. The countries of the Atlantic Alliance, in contrast, could qualify themselves as "democratic," whatever the limitations and contradictions in their actual political practices, subordinated to the requirements of capitalist reproduction. The comparison of the systems operated in their favor.

This discourse on democracy then gradually replaced the one supported by the Soviets and their allies: "peaceful coexistence," associated with "respect" for the political practices of both parties and for "non-interference" in their internal affairs.

The coexistence discourse had had its important moments. For example, the Stockholm Appeal in the 1950s reminded people of the real nuclear threat implied by the aggressive diplomacy employed by the United States since the Potsdam Conference (1945), reinforced by the atomic bombing of Japan just a few days after the conference.

However, at the same time the choice of this strategy (coexistence and non-interference) was convenient — or could be convenient, depending on circumstances — to the dominant powers in both the West and the East. For it enabled the realities of the respective descriptions, "capitalist" and "socialist," to be taken for granted by the countries of both the West and the East. It eliminated all serious discussion about the precise nature of the two systems: that is, examination of the actually existing capitalism of our era (oligopoly capitalism) and "actually existing socialism." The United Nations (with the tacit agreement of the powers of the two worlds) changed the terms of "capitalism" and "socialism" to "market economies" and "centrally planned economies" (or, to be mischievous, "administered economies").

These two terms — both of them false (or only superficially true) — sometimes made it possible either (1) to emphasize the "convergence of the systems" — a convergence that was itself imposed by modern technology (a theory — also false — derived from a monistic, technicist concept of history) — and to make room for coexistence in order to facilitate this "natural" convergence; or, (2) on the contrary, to stress the irreducible opposition between the "democratic" model (associated with the market economy) and "totalitarianism" (produced by the "administered" economy), depending on the needs of the moments during the cold war.

Choosing to concentrate the battle around the discourse of "democracy" made it possible to opt for the "irreducibility" of systems and to offer the Eastern countries only the prospect of capitulation by returning to capitalism (the "market"), which should then produce — naturally — the conditions for democratization. The fact that this has not been the case (for post-Soviet Russia), or has taken place in highly grotesque forms (for ethnic groups here and there in Eastern Europe), is another matter.

The "democratic" discourse of the countries of the Atlantic alliance is in fact recent. At the outset, the NATO accommodated itself perfectly well to Salazar in Portugal, the Turkish generals, and the Greek colonels. At the same time the Triad diplomacies supported (and often established) the worst dictatorships that Latin America, Africa, and Asia had ever known.

At first the new democratic discourse was adopted with much reticence. Many of the main political authorities of the Atlantic alliance saw the inconveniences that could upset their preferred "realpolitik." It was not until Carter was President of the United States (rather like Obama today) that the "moral" sermon conveyed by democracy made sense. It was Mitterand in France who broke with the Gaullist tradition of refusing the "division" imposed on Europe by the cold war strategy promoted by the United States. Later, the experience of Gorbachev in the USSR made it clear that rallying to this discourse was a guarantee for catastrophe.

The new "democratic" discourse thus bore its fruits. It seemed sufficiently convincing for "left-wing" opinion in Europe to support it. This was so, not only for the electoral left (the socialist parties) but also those with a more radical tradition, of which the communist parties were the heir. With "eurocommunism" the consensus became general.

The dominant classes of the imperialist Triad learnt lessons from their victory. They thus decided to continue this strategy of centering the debate on the "democratic question." China is not reproached for having opened up its economy to the outside world, but because its policies are managed by the Communist Party. No account is taken of the social achievements of Cuba, unequalled in the whole of Latin America, but its one-party system is constantly stigmatized. The same discourse is even leveled against Putin's Russia.

Is the triumph of democracy the real objective of this strategy? One has to be very naïve to think so. The only aim is to impose on recalcitrant countries the "market economy," open and integrated into the so-called liberal world system. This is in reality imperialistic, its purpose being to reduce these countries to the status of dominated peripheries of the system. This is an objective that, once achieved, becomes an obstacle to the progress of democracy in the victimized countries and is in no way an advance in response to the "democratic question."

The chances of democratic progress in the countries that practiced "actually existing socialism" (at least at the beginning) would have been much greater, in the medium term if not immediately, if the dialectic of social struggles had been left to develop on its own, opening up the possibility of surpassing the limits of "actually existing socialism" (which had, moreover, been deformed by at least partial adherence to the liberal economic opening) to reach the "end of the tunnel."

In actual fact, the "democratic" theme is only invoked against countries that do not want to open up to the globalized liberal economy. There is less concern for highly autocratic political regimes. Saudi Arabia and Pakistan are good examples, but also Georgia (pro-Atlantic alliance) and many others.

Besides, at the very best, the proposed "democratic" formula hardly goes beyond the caricature of "multi-party elections," not only completely alien to the requirements of social progress but always — or almost always — associated with social regression that the domination of actually existing capitalism (that of oligopolies) demands and produces. The formula has already largely undermined democracy, for which many peoples, profoundly confused, have now substituted backward-looking religious and ethnic illusions.

It is therefore more than ever necessary now to reinforce the critique of the radical left (I underline radical to distinguish it from the critique of the left, which is confusing and vague). In other words it must be a critique that associates, rather than dissociates, the democratization of society (and not only its political government) with social progress (from a socialist perspective). In this critique, the struggle for democratization and the struggle for socialism are one and the same. No socialism without democracy, but also no democratic progress without a socialist perspective.

2. "The Environment" or the Socialist Perspective of Use Value?
The Ecological Question and So-called Sustainable Development

Here, too, the point of departure is an acknowledgement of a real problem, the destruction of the natural environment and, in the final instance, the survival of life on the planet, which has been brought about by the logic of capital accumulation.

Here, too, the question dates back to the 1970s, more precisely the Stockholm Conference of 1972. However, for a long time it was a minor issue, marginalized by all the dominant discourses and the practices of economic management. The question was only put forward as a new central plank in the strategy of domination relatively recently. Thus only much later did the work of Wackernagel and Rees (whose first English-language publication came out in 1996) produce a new, major reflection for radical social thought concerned with the construction of the future.2

Not only did Wackernagel and Rees put forward a new concept, that of the ecological footprint; they also elaborated a system for measuring it, which was defined in terms of "global hectares," comparing the bio-capacity of societies/countries (their capacity to produce and reproduce the conditions of life on the planet) with the consumption by those societies/countries of the resources at their disposal through this bio-capacity.

The authors arrived at very disturbing conclusions. The bio-capacity of our planet, in human terms, is 2.1 global hectares (gha) per capita — in other words, 13.2 billion gha for a population of 6.3 billion people. However, the average world consumption of its resources was already — in the mid-nineties — 2.7 gha. This "average" hides an enormous disparity: the average for the countries of the Triad had already reached around four times the world average. A large part of the bio-capacity of societies in the South had been taken by the center for its own profit. In other words, the expansion of actually existing capitalism is destroying the planet and humankind while the continuation of the logic of this expansion requires either a veritable genocide of the peoples of the South who are in the way or at least keeping them under ever growing poverty. An eco-fascist current that legitimizes this kind of solution of the problem is developing.

The interest of this work goes beyond its conclusions. For it is a matter of calculation (and I stress calculation, not discourse) of the use value of the planet's resources, measured in global hectares (gha), not in dollars.

Thus it has been proved possible that the social use value can be calculated absolutely rationally. This proof is decisive in its impact because socialism is defined in terms of a society based on use value, not on exchange value. And the defenders of end-of-history capitalism have always argued that socialism is an unrealistic utopia because — according to them — use value cannot be measured without being mixed with exchange value (based on "utility" of vulgar economics).

Taking into account use value (of which the ecological footprint constitutes the first good example) implies that socialism must be "ecological," cannot be anything but ecological. As Altvater has observed, "Solar Socialism" or "No Socialism."3 However, it also implies that it is impossible for any capitalist system whatsoever, even a "reformed" one, to take it into account, as we shall see later.

Marx, in his time, not only suspected the existence of this problem. He already formulated a rigorous distinction between value and wealth, which were confused by vulgar economics. He said explicitly that capitalist accumulation destroyed the natural bases on which it was founded: human beings (alienated, exploited, dominated, and oppressed workers) and the land (symbol of the natural wealth given to humanity). And whatever the limits of this expression, as always a prisoner of its epoch, it is nonetheless true that it shows a lucid awareness of the problem (beyond that of intuition), which should be recognized.

It is therefore regrettable that the ecologists of our era, Wackernagel and Rees included, have not read Marx. It would have enabled them to carry their propositions further, to understand their revolutionary impact better, and even, obviously, to go beyond Marx himself on the subject.

This deficiency of modern ecology makes it easier for it to be taken over by the vulgar economics that is in a dominant position in the contemporary world. This takeover is already under way — even well advanced.

Political ecology, like that proposed by Alain Lipietz, was first found in the ranks of the "pro-socialist" political left. Then the "green" movements (and, after that, the "green" parties) were classed as center-left, because of their expressed sympathies for social and international justice, their criticism of "waste," and their empathy with workers and "poor" peoples. But, apart from the diversity of these movements, none of them had established a rigorous relationship between the authentic socialist dimension necessary to respond to the challenge and the no less necessary ecological dimension. To be able to do so, the distinction between value and wealth, as originated by Marx, cannot be ignored.

The takeover of ecology by vulgar ideology operates on two levels: reducing the calculation in use value to an "improved" calculation of exchange value; and integrating the ecological challenge into a "consensus" ideology. Both of these operations prevent a lucid awareness of the fact that ecology and capitalism are antagonistic in their very essence.

Vulgar economics has been capturing ecological calculation by leaps and bounds. Thousands of younger researchers, in the United States and by imitation in Europe, have been mobilized for that purpose.

The "ecological costs" are thus assimilated to the externalities. The common method of cost-benefit analysis for measuring the exchange value (which itself is confused with the market price) is thus used to arrive at a "fair price," integrating external economies and "diseconomies." And the trick is done!

Of course the work, which is highly mathematical when carried out according to this traditional method of vulgar economics, does not say how the calculated "fair price" can become that of the actually existing market. One is thus led to imagine fiscal and other "incentives" sufficiently effective in producing this convergence. The proof that it could be so is however lacking.

In fact, as we can already see, the oligopolies have taken over environmentalism to justify opening up new fields for their destructive expansion. François Houtart has given an excellent example in his book on agrofuels.4 "Green" capitalism is now the order of the day for those in power in the Triad (right and left) and the directors of oligopolies. The environmentalism in question of course conforms to so-called "weak sustainability" — to use the current jargon — that is, the marketing of "rights of access to the planet's resources."5 All the conventional economists have openly rallied to this position, proposing "the auctioning of world resources (fisheries, pollution permits, etc.)." This is a proposition which simply supports the oligopolies in their ambition to mortgage the future of the peoples of the South still further.

This capture of ecologist discourse is providing a very useful service to imperialism. It makes it possible to marginalize, if not eliminate, the development issue. As we know, the question of development was not on the international agenda until the countries of the South were able to impose it by their own initiatives, forcing the powers of the Triad to negotiate and make concessions. But, once the Bandung era was over, it was no longer a question of development but only of opening up the markets. And ecology, as it is interpreted by the dominant powers, is just prolonging this state of affairs.

The capture of ecologist discourse through consensus politics (the necessary expression of the concept of end-of-history capitalism) is no less advanced. This capture has been easy, for it responds to the alienations and illusions on which the dominant culture feeds, which is that of capitalism. It has been easy because this culture really does exist, in place and dominant in the minds of most human beings, in the South as well as in the North.

In contrast, it is difficult to express the needs of counter culture of socialism. A socialist culture is not there, i

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