Dominique Strauss-Kahn: The Colonial Predator Legacy

The attempted rape and sexual abuse of an African cleaning woman by the managing director of the International Monetary Fund, Dominique Strauss-Kahn (DSK), embodies, in microcosm, the historical and contemporary legacy of colonial/neo-colonial relations. Efforts to portray this criminal act as an individual obsession or a personal failing or a “Latin idiosyncrasy” fail to take account of the “deep history” in which these psychological pathologies are embedded.


The first clue is evident. On the one-hand, a powerful white European politician representing the collective will of the global capitalist class, with the financial resources to severely punish poor and indebted countries that disobey its prejudicial economic fiat. On the other, a single mother, a black working woman from a former French colony in West Africa (Guinea), which was “stripped clean” by the departing French colonial officials for daring to assert its independence and subsequently forced to submit to “neo-colonial” economic impositions ensuring its stagnation and subordination.


Was it “lunacy,” as Martin Wolf of the Financial Times claimed, that DSK would throw over a powerful, prestigious post and likely the presidency of France for a moment of violent sex? Or was it the playing out and living through the historical roles embedded in the cultural mores of a descendant and practitioner of colonial realities imposing his sexual demands on a black servant? No doubt it is common for top officials from international financial institutions visiting Africa to pad their expense accounts by hiring hookers to “service them,” while they impose austerity policies impoverishing countries and forcing millions to flee overseas in search of menial labor as cleaning workers in luxury hotels. “Colonial familiarity,” the shared language of oppressor and victim, perhaps excited a perverse sexual obsession.


The history of the European, and later U.S., colonial conquests, imperial wars, and military occupations is a story of plunder, enslavement, exploitation, and, above all, assertion of supremacy and power. Profits and pleasure accrue to the big mining and banking executives, as well as colonial officials, especially among those in the upwardly mobile middle class who see in their newfound power a chance to satisfy the whims and fancies denied them in their home cities and among their domestic families and friends.


The absolute power of the colonial administrators allows them to secure total submission from those who are powerless—the single African women isolated from family and friends. The latter is subject to firing, blacklisting, unemployment, intimidation, humiliation, and insults for daring to denounce their colonial superiors. These circumstances and relations are reproduced today in all the countries subject to the dictate of the IMF, the Central Bank of Europe, and the U.S. Treasury.


They Come, They Plunder, They Rape


The IMF and their imperial financial accomplices take advantage of the debts and crises of corrupt and complicit rulers to dictate terms for loans. The top officials seize sovereignty and impose economic policies, which privatize and de-nationalize the entire economy, reduce wages and pensions, worsen working conditions, and retain a veto on all local economic appointees. The IMF and Central Banks re-colonize the debtor country: all earnings from trade and investment are primarily directed outward and upward. The neo-colonial division of labor involves imperial capital and black labor.


Embedded in this world-historic system of power, the powerful officials of international organizations have the financial and military backing of the U.S. and the EU: the directors are appointed by Euro-Americans and they enforce the rules of the game by which they prosper. As close collaborators and past and future partners of the private corporate wealthy, and likely political leaders in imperial regimes, the international officials live and share the power, wealth, luxury, and perks of the very wealthy. They fly first class and they stay at the most luxurious suites in five-star hotels. They are treated by their debtor hosts as royalty. Above all, they are used to being obeyed. They expect submission. They believe their whims and perversions are natural outgrowths of their healthy appetites stimulated by their high-energy travels, frequent meetings, and forcible dictates. If the top local officials of a debtor nation submit, who are the women to object? They should be honored to be chosen to serve the makers and breakers of entire economies and the livelihoods of millions.


DSK did not expect his sexual advances to be resisted by an immigrant, a former French colonial subject. Initially denied submission, DSK relied on force and violence. The black cleaning worker did not struggle and then submit, as too often is the case with workers’ movements. She made her outrage a public issue and un-masked the violent criminal behavior that lay behind the respectable, affluent facade. She confronted the ruler before a larger democratic public. 


How many millions of Indo-Chinese and Algerian working-class and peasant women and their descendants, who suffered similar indignities during the French colonial administrations, must now feel vindicated by the simple act of denunciation by the Guinean cleaning woman, so far from Africa, but so close to the hearts of rebellion against the universal injustices inflicted daily by the IMF and its local accomplices.


The Reactions of the Left: the French Socialists


Not surprisingly, the majority of French Socialist opinion has defended DSK and accused his victim of being part of a sinister capitalist conspiracy against the principle chosen mouthpiece and enforcer of international capital. The French Socialist Party has a long and sordid history of supporting bloody colonial wars: Indo-China, Algeria, and dozens of military interventions in Africa. Today they support the wars against Libya, Iraq, and Afghanistan. As always, there are “dissidents,” left-wingers, “critical” intellectuals, and “Trotskyist” factions who speak for the “rights” of the accused, as well the victim, but who looked to DSK, the head of the IMF and his millionaire backers, as their ticket back to the Palace Elysee, the presidency, and the spoils of office.


Colonial socialism in Europe, like imperial liberalism in the U.S., has a long and ignoble history. Both trust the innocence of an indicted financier over the accusations of an immigrant black cleaning woman, which is not too surprising. They have a history of converting criminals into victims and the victims into criminal conspirators. One has only to look at the French Socialists’ and U.S. Liberals’ support for Israeli colonialist over the Palestinians “terrorists”; or NATO occupiers against the Afghan resistance; or Tunisian autocrats over pro-democracy protestors.


The fact that sectors of the left in France and America can claim DSK as a victim of some elite conspiracy is a clear sign of their total and complete degeneracy and the perversion of any semblance of progressive sentiment. Under Strauss-Kahn’s dictates the IMF has imposed the most reactionary social cuts in recent history on Spain, Greece, and Portugal. Unemployment is 45 percent for under 30-year-olds in Spain and overall 22 percent; in Greece 16 percent and Portugal 13 percent. Pensions have been reduced by 15 percent and wages by a similar or greater amount. Vast sectors of the Greek economy, valued at 50 billion Euros, are to be privatized, as DSK plays to the private multi-nationals. Under IMF austerity policies Southern European economies are regressing—as public investments and private consumption shrink and negative growth rates accelerate with no end in sight.


If there is any conspiracy to frame DSK, it certainly does not come from any elite or banking cartel. What is much more likely is that after the initial jailing and indictment, the financial powers backing DSK will move into action: they have secured his conditional release under bail; the victim and accuser has been subject to intense police interrogation, and more media and legal pressure can be expected to force her to retract charges.



James Petras is a Bartle Professor (Emeritus) of sociology at SUNY Binghamton and author of more than 62 books in 29 languages and over 600 journal articles. He writes a column for the Mexican newspaper, La Jornada.