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People Aur Politics

A liberation zone for democratic rights, multiculturalism, international brotherhood and peace.

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Archive for November, 2016

Migration as Revolt against Capital-Prabhat Patnaik

Posted by admin On November - 23 - 2016 Comments Off on Migration as Revolt against Capital-Prabhat Patnaik

The fact that a large number of refugees, especially from countries which have been subjected of late to the ravages of imperialist aggression and wars, are desperately trying to enter Europe is seen almost exclusively in humanitarian terms.  While this perception no doubt has validity, there is another aspect of the issue which has escaped attention altogether, namely that it is the first time in modern history that the issue of migration is being sought to be taken out of the exclusive control of metropolitan capital.  Until now migration streams have been dictated entirely by the requirements of metropolitan capital; now, for the first time, people are violating the dictates of metropolitan capital, and attempting to give effect to their own preferences in the matter of where they wish to settle.  Wretched and miserable, and without being conscious of the implications of their own actions, these hapless refugees are in effect voting with their feet against the hegemony of metropolitan capital, which invariably proceeds on the assumption that people would meekly submit to its dictates, including in the matter of where to live.

The idea that metropolitan capital had until now determined who should remain where in the world and under what material conditions of life, may appear far-fetched at first sight.  But it is true.  In modern times one can distinguish three great waves of migration, each dictated by the demands of capital.  The first of these was the transportation of millions of people as slaves from Africa to the Americas, to work in the mines and plantations for producing commodities that were exported to meet the requirements of metropolitan capitalism.  Since the facts about the slave trade are reasonably well-known I shall not discuss this particular wave of migration any further.

Once the heyday of the slave trade was over, there was a new type of migration.  Throughout the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, metropolitan capital had imposed a process of “deindustrialisation” upon the third world, not just on tropical colonies like India but also on semi-colonies and dependencies like China.  At the same time it had “drained” away a part of the economic surplus of these societies through a variety of means, ranging from the sheer appropriation without any quid pro quo of commodities using tax revenues of the directly-administered colonies, to the imposition of unequal exchange in the valuation of third world products, to the extraction of monopoly profits in trade.  The populations of the third world economies which had become impoverished through these mechanisms had been forced however to remain where they were, trapped within their own universes.

But, soon, two streams of migration developed in the nineteenth century at the behest of metropolitan capital.  One was from the tropical regions of the world to the other tropical regions, while the other was from the temperate regions of the world to the other temperate regions, in particular from Europe to the temperate regions of white settlement such as the United States, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand.  The migrants from the tropical regions were not allowed to enter freely into the temperate regions (indeed they still are not).  They were transported as coolies or indentured labourers from their habitats in tropical and sub-tropical countries like India and China to where metropolitan capital wanted them, to work in the mines and plantations in other tropical lands.  Their destinations included the West Indies, Fiji, Ceylon, Latin America and California (where Chinese workers were employed in gold extraction).

The temperate-to-temperate region migration was a part of the process of diffusion of industrial capitalism from the European metropolis to these new lands.  It was a high income migration, in the sense that the migrants came from relatively high income regions and moved also to regions where they enjoyed high incomes.  The tropics-to-tropics migration by contrast had nothing to do with any diffusion of industrial capitalism; and it was a low-income migration.

The reason for this difference, the fact that temperate region migration was a high income one while tropical migration was a low income one, has often been attributed to the higher labour productivity of the European migrants compared to the Indian and Chinese migrants.  But this is erroneous.  The incomes of workers under capitalism are scarcely ever determined by the level of labour productivity per se; on the contrary what matters is the relative size of the reserve army of labour: even with rapid increases in labour productivity, real wages of workers may stagnate at a subsistence level if the reserve army is large enough.  Besides, the relevant labour productivity one has to look at in the context of this argument is not that of the workers employed in capitalist industry but of those outside of it, since they are the ones who are likely to be migrating; and there is no reason to believe that the labour productivity of the latter was any higher than that of their counterparts in the tropics if we ignore the impact of “drain” and “deindustrialisation” inflicted on the tropical lands.

The real reason for the income difference of the two migration streams lay elsewhere, in the fact that in the temperate regions into which they were migrating, the European migrants could simply displace the local inhabitants (like the Amerindians) and take over their land for cultivation.  This not only gave such migrants high incomes, but also kept up the wages in the home countries from which they were moving out, by increasing what economists call the “reservation wage”.  Nobody naturally would work for a pittance in Europe if he or she can migrate to the temperate regions of settlement abroad and earn a much higher income on the land taken over from the Amerindians; it is this prospect which kept up the real wage in Europe as well.

The tropics-to-tropics migration in contrast was low-wage migration since the migrants came from populations which had been impoverished by “drain” and “deindustrialisation” and had no prospects of setting themselves up as farmers on land snatched from the original inhabitants in their new habitats.

W Arthur Lewis, the well-known economist of West Indian origin, estimates that each of these migration streams in the nineteenth century was of the order of 50 million persons; but no matter whether one accepts this particular estimate, the numbers involved were undoubtedly large.  Utsa Patnaik estimates that almost half the number representing the increase in population each year in England between 1815 and 1910 migrated to the “new world” to which industrial capitalism was getting diffused from Europe.

The third big stream of migration was in the post-second world war period.  This period, stretching from the early fifties to the early seventies, has been called by some the “Golden Age of Capitalism”, since it saw high rates of growth of Gross Domestic Product in metropolitan, especially European, economies, on account of the post-war reconstruction boom and the institution of State intervention in “demand management”.  Even though the rates of growth of labour productivity were also high, they were not as high as the rates of GDP growth, which meant an increase in labour demand.  In most European countries however populations were hardly increasing; the increase in labour demand therefore was met by importing workers from the tropical regions.  There was still no free migration of labour from the tropics to the metropolis but migration in specified numbers was allowed to meet the growing labour demand.  The migrants, consisting of Turks in Germany, Algerians and others from former French colonies in France, and South Asians and West Indians in the UK, took over low-paid jobs, releasing the local workers who had been employed in such jobs earlier, and who could now move up the job hierarchy.  Post-war capitalism in short witnessed a large growth of an underclass of migrant workers in the metropolis.

But as the post-war boom, or the so-called “Golden Age”, collapsed, the migrant workers and their descendants found disproportionate representation in the ranks of the unemployed and the underemployed.  With the onset of the capitalist crisis in the current century, their position has become even more precarious.  The social consequences of this phenomenon have been much discussed and we need not dwell upon them here.

The point however is this: quite apart from the wars and aggression that metropolitan capitalism unleashes everywhere, even its “normal” modus operandi entails the dispossession and impoverishment of people in other parts of the world.  Its objective is to keep them trapped within their own universes, as a distantly-located labour reserve, which it can tap from time to time by allowing carefully-controlled migration to regions where it needs labour.  Its assumption is that they can so remain trapped in their own universes without a murmur, no matter what condition they are in.  And of course it is on the basis of this assumption that it unleashes imperialist wars on third world populations.  The modus operandi of metropolitan capitalism requires the fulfillment of this assumption.

What the so-called “refugee crisis” of Europe is demonstrating is that this assumption can no longer be fulfilled.  Even more significantly, metropolitan capitalism does not have any answer to this problem of “refugees at the gate”.  It cannot allow them in; and it cannot find solutions to their problems in their home countries.  Either would be a humane course, but capitalism is not about humaneness.  And this fact is coming to haunt it.

Prabhat Patnaik is a Marxist economist in India.  This article was first published in People’s Democracy 40.42 on 9 October 2016; it is reproduced here for non-profit educational purposes.
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The establishment’s dilemma-PERVEZ HOODBHOY

Posted by admin On November - 12 - 2016 Comments Off on The establishment’s dilemma-PERVEZ HOODBHOY

THE oligarchy which runs Pakistan, often called the establishment, is in a quandary. The problem is that whatever it says through its diplomats abroad — and with however much energy — the world insists on perceiving Pakistan as an ideological state wedded to exporting jihad. This is undesirable, but so also is the idea of changing course.

Writing in this newspaper, Ambassador Munir Akram admits that Pakistan has “few friends and many enemies” in Washington. Indeed, Trump’s victory can only worsen matters. But Europe, Russia, and Japan also see things similarly. Few there would be impressed by Akram’s frank admission that, “Lashkar-e-Taiba and Jaish-e-Mohammed participated in the legitimate post-1989 Kashmiri freedom struggle”, do not attack Pakistan, and “enjoy a degree of popular support” — or with his suggestion that no action be taken against such groups until things improve in Kashmir.

Akram’s views likely reflect the current thinking of a powerful section of the establishment. But what precisely is the establishment? Who can belong to it, and what does it want?

Missing from the establishment’s perception of national interest is a positive vision for Pakistan’s future.
From Pakistan’s birth onwards, the establishment has set Pakistan’s international and domestic postures, policies, and priorities. Today it rules on the extent and means by which India and America are to be confronted, and how China and Saudi Arabia are to be wooed. It sanctions, as well as limits, militant proxy forces for use across borders; closely controls what may or may not be discussed in the public media; and determines whether Balochistan or Sindh is to be handled with a velvet glove or banged with an iron fist.

Establishment members are serving and retired generals, politicians in office and some in the opposition, ex-ambassadors and diplomats, civil servants, and selected businessmen. The boundaries are fluid — as some move in, others move out. In earlier days English was the preferred language of communication but this morphed into Urdu as the elite indigenised, became less cosmopolitan, and developed firmer religious roots.

Arguably, most forms of government anywhere are reducible to the rule of a few. In Pakistan’s case how few is few? In 1996 Mushahid Husain, long an establishment insider and currently a senator, had sized the establishment at around 500 persons plus a list of wannabes many times this number.

Stephen Cohen, an astute observer of Pakistani politics over the decades, remarks that establishment membership is not assured even for those occupying the highest posts of office unless they have demonstrated loyalty to a set of “core values”. That India is Pakistan’s archenemy — perhaps in perpetuity — is central. As a corollary, nuclear weapons are to be considered Pakistan’s greatest asset and extra-state actors an important, yet deniable, means of equalising military imbalances. These, and other, assumptions inform Pakistan’s ‘national interest’.

National interest means differently in different countries. For example the post-War American establishment considered the export of American values — particularly free trade — as America’s national interest. Stalin’s Russia and Mao’s China competed to implant their respective brands of communist ideology overseas. On the other hand today’s China is purely pragmatic. So is India. Not being ideological states, they are not mission-driven. They just want to be modern, rich, powerful, and assertive.

Let’s compare Pakistan’s national interest with the above. Just what is it in the eyes of its establishment? In search of an answer, I recently browsed through theses and articles in various departments of universities, including the National Defence University in Islamabad.

What I found was unsurprising. National interest is defined exclusively in relation to India. This means resolving Kashmir on Pakistan’s terms, ensuring strategic depth against India via a Talibanised Afghanistan, nurturing the Pakistan-China relationship to neutralise Indian power, etc. To “borrow” power through military alliances against India is seen as natural. Hence, switching from America’s protection to China’s happened effortlessly.

Missing from the establishment’s perception of national interest is a positive vision for Pakistan’s future. I could not find any enthusiastic call for Pakistan to explore space, become a world leader in science, have excellent universities, develop literature and the arts, deal with critical environmental issues, achieve high standards of justice and financial integrity, and create a poverty-free society embodying equalitarian principles.

This lopsided view has distorted Pakistan’s priorities away from being a normal state to one that lives mentally under perpetual siege. To its credit, Nawaz Sharif’s government attempted — albeit only feebly — to make a break and concentrate on development. It knows that the use of covert jihad as an instrument of state policy has isolated Pakistan from the world community of nations, including its neighbours. Diplomats tasked to improve the national image are rendered powerless by the force of facts.

Keeping things under wraps has become terribly hard these days. For example, Pakistan denies any involvement in the Uri attack. But, to commemorate the dead attackers, Gujranwala city was plastered with Jamaatud Dawa posters inviting the public to funeral prayers, to be led by supremo Hafiz Saeed on Oct 25, for the martyred jihadists who had “killed 177 Hindu soldiers”. I did not see any Pakistani TV channel mention this episode. The posters were somehow quickly removed but not before someone snapped and uploaded them on the internet.

To conclude: while the rise of the hardline anti-Muslim Hindu right and India’s obduracy in Kashmir is deeply deplorable, it must be handled politically. One cannot use it to rationalise the existence of non-state militant groups. Such groups have taken legitimacy away from those fighting Indian rule in Kashmir. They have also turned out to be a menace to Pakistan’s society and armed forces.

Today’s crisis of the establishment can lead to positive change provided gut nationalism is subordinated to introspection and reflection. It is a welcome sign that a significant part of the establishment — the Nawaz Sharif government — is at least aware of the need for Pakistan to reintegrate itself with the world. Concentrating on our actual needs is healthier than worrying about matters across our borders. One can only hope that other parts of the establishment will also see this logic.

The writer teaches physics in Lahore and Islamabad.

Published in Dawn, November 12th, 2016

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Indira Gandhi’s many battles-JAWED NAQVI

Posted by admin On November - 2 - 2016 Comments Off on Indira Gandhi’s many battles-JAWED NAQVI


INDIA’S Congress party has inherited many faults from history, not the least being its old inability to learn from it. We may thus critique Jawaharlal Nehru or Indira Gandhi and so forth, but as historian Irfan Habib says we should not forget the respect these leaders deservedly earned. It was Indira Gandhi’s death anniversary yesterday (Oct 31). There are Pakistanis who may have rejoiced in the 1984 early morning assassination by her bodyguards. Many hold her responsible, incorrectly in my opinion, for splitting their country.

Let’s also acknowledge those Pakistanis who were compelled to think well of Mrs Gandhi for a range of reasons, occasionally despite themselves. Benazir Bhutto, regardless of her own pronounced opinion on Kashmir, could not have forgotten Mrs Gandhi as the one Indian who was outspoken in her petition to Ziaul Haq to spare Z.A. Bhutto’s life. Mrs Gandhi was in regular touch with Benazir’s distraught mother after Bhutto’s execution, lending her shoulder for the healing that never came about.

Leftist poet Fahmida Riaz and well-regarded journalist Salamat Ali among others would remember her for the warm stay she accorded them in India, when they headed out in exile from Zia’s tyranny. Mrs Gandhi was loath to extracting political mileage from her spontaneous hospitality, a different league from the embarrassing megaphone used churlishly to woo Baloch dissidents from Pakistan these days. She was a class act difficult to emulate. She would keep a wily Henry Kissinger sulking in the antechamber of her South Block office and not lunge at a visitor for a meaningless photo opportunity. There is that lovely pictorial memory of her, in fact, where Fidel Castro reaches for an embrace at the Delhi NAM summit and she dodges him with a dignified smile.

Those who thought ill of Indira Gandhi’s leadership cannot be blamed for missing her given the dangerous tactics India flaunts today.
And why do Pakistanis forget that Bangladeshis who made a career out of respecting Mrs Gandhi were themselves Pakistanis before they were forced by bad political judgement from Islamabad to seek a separate destiny? Had Mujib’s election not been subverted by the powers that be in Pakistan he would be a Pakistani leader, wouldn’t he? They can ignore my counterfactual fulminations, but Pakistanis missing the eastern flank of their country shouldn’t blame the boots for the faults of their feet. Indira Gandhi didn’t steal Bangabandhu’s election.

She tiptoed around the Cold War alignments of which she became a hesitant part. Remember that she was not instinctively pleased by the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan though she didn’t openly slam it either. To send Indian troops into the erstwhile East Pakistan was a Cold War exigency as much as it was, in her own words, a neighbourly responsibility to end the bloody nightmare Dhaka had become for its own citizens.

There has been a lot of propaganda about Mrs Gandhi deriving domestic political mileage from her Bangladesh outing. That’s a canard, for she had won the 1971 parliamentary election handsomely way before any war drums began to loom on the horizon. She won the election for the promise of removing poverty not for an imminent war with Pakistan, which she was to win. In Uttar Pradesh alone she improved from 47 seats in 1967 to 73 in 1971, not by instigating a holocaust in Muzaffarnagar, but by calling for the removal of poverty.

In any case, those who thought ill of Indira Gandhi’s leadership be they in Pakistan or in India or China cannot be blamed for missing her today given the self-absorbed leadership they have to deal with and the dangerous and divisive tactics India flaunts. They will remember there was nothing gross about Mrs Gandhi’s diplomacy. She was courteous even with Zia when he visited Delhi for the non-aligned summit in 1983. (It is another matter she reportedly ticked off key diplomatic aide Natwar Singh for apparently breaching protocol to be extra nice to the Pakistani military dictator.)

As a student at Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) those days, I was naturally critical of Mrs Gandhi’s emergency rule. Our communist-led students union ran a secret cyclostyling machine to issue periodic pamphlets against her misdemeanours. The machine was safely hidden in a rival communist student’s room whose party supported the emergency. There was no fear of a raid on his room. Several students were sent to jail for long and short stints. One communist student leader she jailed later became an advisor to Rajiv Gandhi. Two JNU student leaders she did not jail became chiefs of the Communist Party of India (Marxist), which was critical of Mrs Gandhi, but who soon befriended her daughter-in-law as an ally.

Hindutva didn’t or couldn’t rear its head in any significant way while she was around. It had to merge its identity in a wider peoples’ movement to stay relevant. Hinduism flourished under Mrs Gandhi as a liberal adjunct of secular and socialist Indian democracy, the two phrases she presciently wove into the preamble of the constitution. She pointedly made Hindutva look like an irritating cousin of liberal Hinduism. Hindutva was to her Hinduism with an inferiority complex.

In Mrs Gandhi’s arithmetic, Muslims and Dalits formed a bulwark of the pyramid called the Congress with the Brahmins and Rajputs bringing up the apex. The boot is on the other foot now, which the Congress needs to grasp. Under former Uttar Pradesh chief minister Mayawati, the equation has been rejigged, with the Dalits on top, as they should be, and Muslims with smaller groups of Brahmins and very few other upper castes shoring up the Dalit party.

This is where Mrs Gandhi’s heirs should remember history. They seem to be ignorant that only by supporting Mayawati could they win back the respect of the Dalits and Muslims. That is essential to defeat Hindutva in Uttar Pradesh next year or in India in 2019 just as Indira Gandhi did with ease.

The writer is Dawn’s correspondent in Delhi.


Published in Dawn November 1st, 2016


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How the Chinese Democratic Model Works-MATTHEW JAMISON

Posted by admin On November - 1 - 2016 Comments Off on How the Chinese Democratic Model Works-MATTHEW JAMISON


Having travelled through the United States recently, primarily based in Los Angeles/California, I have been interviewing various Americans regarding their thoughts and opinions of the upcoming Presidential election and more generally the political system in America and the state of American electoral democracy. I have spoken with Americans of many different ethnic, geographical, political and religious/secular backgrounds in one of the most globally diverse melting pots in the country – LA – and there seems to be a deep disillusionment with the democratic process, particularly at the Congressional and Presidential level, and the multi billion dollar elections «industry» made up of various pollsters, media consultants, «strategists» et al.

A pervasive sense of malaise and dysfunction within the electoral, democratic and media system of «free elections», a «free press» and multiple political parties seems to have taken root, not so much within the elite governing body politic, but rather (and hence even more crucially) the voting public. Cynicism, bewilderment and despair are ingrained in the American voter at how their democracy has nose dived to the level of the 2016 Trump v Clinton contest and how polarised the two-party political system has become. As with the shock Brexit vote in the UK, the emergence of Trump and the debasing of the American Presidential campaign has led some Americans (and indeed Britons) to raise fundamental questions about the efficacy, efficiency and wisdom of their electoral political systems.

Not so much democracy in of itself as a concept and foundation for government, but how that democracy is realised, channelled and organised and what precisely is required among the organs and infrastructure of complex multi-dimensional societies and states to achieve a greater harmony, balance and inner coherence. Publics more and more loath political discord and rancour due to the need for multi-party electoral competition. Publics understand the need for an elite class of governing officials who are interested and proficient in politics and public policy and they also understand as with themselves and all human beings just how imperfect and flawed people are. What they cannot tolerate is systemic corruption and extreme pathological political partisanship which creates government gridlock and generates economic/social/cultural grievances.

Thus, in many ways the 2016 American Presidential election and the British EU Referendum campaign have been a major bonus to the Chinese Communist Party and the People’s Republic’s 21st century model of «consultative democracy» as opposed to the West’s «electoral democracy». Some in the West have become so consumed within their own political systems that they cannot understand or recognise that there are many different forms and variations that democracy can take. Democracy is not a monolith just as China is not a monolith. Different democratic models are in practise today besides the election driven democratic process of the West.

China for example is not some monolithic communist totalitarian dictatorship as some misguided and prejudiced individuals in the West have attempted to caricature it. It’s Parliament, the National People’s Congress, is not dominated by a single party – the Chinese Communist Party – there are indeed other political parties beside the CPC allowed in the National People’s Congress and they have a consultative and amending role within the legislative process. The Communist Government regularly accepts amendments made to it’s legislative programme of government from other parties. There is also the fact that there are multiple and competing factions and differing wings within the ruling Communist Party itself, ergo even the Chinese Communist Party is not a monolithic entity.

The Chinese political system prizes above all social and economic stability which is the foundation for building the good society and is based on the Confucian principles of striving for ever greater harmony rather than competition which inevitably leads to conflict. There is a massive amount of public consultation undertaken in China with various mechanisms available for the public to give input into the policy making, legislative and political system. There are even elections in China at the local level which shapes the composition of the National People’s Congress. Chinese citizens have what are known as Local People’s Congresses, akin to American State legislatures or local councils in Britain. The Local People’s Congresses are subject to elections with a choice of different candidates vying for election. Those candidates which are elected to the Local People’s Congress will then go on to have a role in the selection procedure for candidates for the National People’s Congress.

So, even within what some ignorant and hostile Western critics call a «totalitarian dictatorship» there are democratic elections. And for a supposed dictatorship there are strict term limits placed on how long the President and the standing committee of the Politburo can hold power, for only ten years, and then an orderly leadership transfer occurs, unlike in Britain which has no term limits on how long a Head of Government can serve (in theory a Prime Minister could carry on for as long as they liked conditional on the support of their party members and the voters).

The Chinese people are fascinated by the West and Western culture. They want to learn as much as possible from the West and work with the West. However they are rightly (just as many Westerners have become) wary of the money laden, media manipulated, conflict driven model of modern 21st century Western electoral democracy. They look on at the circus of Brexit; the 2006 election of Hamas in Gaza; the sham sectarian democracy of anarchic Iraq or the emergence of a politician like Donald Trump and the billions of dollars poured into American elections and rightly worry what kind of politicians elections would produce in China. The priorities of the Chinese people are how to keep the economy growing at a rate of 7 % or more to feed, cloth, educate, house and provide employment and healthcare to almost 1.4 billion people and maintain social cohesion, peace and achieve ever greater harmony, knowledge and prosperity for all their people. It is not placing a piece of paper in a ballot box for some here today, gone tomorrow politician from some political party. Perhaps the West could learn from the Chinese «consultative democracy» especially after the year of Brexit and Trump.
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Workers of the World Unite Evolution of capitalism, escalation of imperialism-Ismael Hossein-Zadeh

Posted by admin On November - 1 - 2016 Comments Off on Workers of the World Unite Evolution of capitalism, escalation of imperialism-Ismael Hossein-Zadeh


The purpose of this essay is to show that as capitalism has evolved from the early stages of small-scale manufacturing to the current stage of the dominance of finance capital, its arena of expropriation has, accordingly, expanded from the early colonial/imperial conquests abroad to today’s universal dispossession worldwide, both at home and abroad. Specifically, it aims to expose the class nature of imperialism independent of nationality and/or geography, and to indicate how this profit-driven characteristic of capitalism is at the root of today’s global austerity economics; an ominous development that dispossesses not only defenseless peoples abroad, but also the overwhelming majority of the people at home—a socio-economic plague that can be called the “new imperialism,” or “imperialism by dispossession.”1

The new imperialism differs from the old, classical imperialism in at least four major ways.

First, contrary to the old pattern of colonial/imperial conquests and plunders, which often proved quite lucrative to the imperium, war and military operations under the new imperialism are not even cost efficient on purely economic grounds, that is, on grounds of national interests. While immoral, external military operations of past empires often proved profitable and, therefore, justifiable on national economic grounds. Military actions abroad usually brought economic benefits not only to the imperial ruling classes and war profiteers, but also (through “trickle-down” effects) to their citizens. Thus, for example, imperialism paid significant dividends to Britain, France, the Dutch, and other European powers of the seventeenth, eighteenth, nineteenth, and early twentieth centuries. As the imperial economic gains helped develop their economies, they also helped improve the living conditions of their working people and elevate the standards of living of their citizens.

This pattern of economic gains flowing from imperial military operations, however, seems to have somewhat changed in the context of the recent U.S. imperial wars of choice. Moralities aside, U.S. military expeditions and operations of late are not justifiable even on economic grounds. Indeed, escalating U.S. military adventures and aggressions have become ever more wasteful, cost-inefficient, and burdensome to the overwhelming majority of its citizens.

This should not come as a surprise in light of the fact that imperialist wars and military adventures are often prompted, not so much by national interests, as they are by special interests.

Generalized expropriation
Recent U.S. policies of military aggression are increasingly driven not as much by a desire to expand the empire’s wealth beyond the existing levels, as did the imperial/colonial powers of the past, but by a desire to appropriate the lion’s share of the existing resources (or tax dollars) for the military-industrial-security-intelligence establishment. This pattern of universal or generalized expropriation can safely be called dual imperialism because not only does it exploit the conquered and the occupied abroad but also the overwhelming majority of U.S. citizens and their resources at home.

Second, beneficiaries of war and military aggressions under the new imperialism tend to systematically invent (or manufacture, if necessary) external “threats to national security” in order to justify continued expansion of military spending. Enlargement of military spending during the Cold War era was not a difficult act to perform as the explanation—the “communist threat”—seemed to conveniently lie at hand. Justification of increased military spending in the post-Cold War period, however, has required the military-industrial-security-intelligence interests to be more creative in concocting “new sources of danger to U.S. interests.” This perennial need for international conflicts and/or external enemies is what makes the new, post-Cold War imperialism more dangerous than the imperialist powers of the past ages.

War profiteering is, of course, not new. Nor are bureaucratic tendencies in the ranks of military hierarchies to build parasitic, ceremonial military empires. By themselves, such characteristics are not what make the U.S. military-industrial-security-intelligence complex more dangerous than the military powers of the past. What makes it more dangerous is the “industrial” part of the complex: the extent to which war has become big business. In contrast to the United States’ arms industry, arms industries of the past empires were often owned and operated by imperial governments, not by profit-driven private corporations. Consequently, as a rule, arms production was dictated by war requirements, not by market or profit imperatives of arms manufacturers. As far as arms industry is concerned, instigation of international conflicts, or invention of external “threats to national security,” is a lucrative proposition that would increase both its profits by expanding its sales markets abroad and its share of national budget at home.

Consequences for peace and stability
This has had dire consequences for world peace and stability. Under the rule of past military empires, the subjugated peoples or nations could live in peace—imposed peace, of course—if they respected the nefarious geopolitical interests and economic needs of those imperial powers and simply resigned to their political and economic ambitions. Not so with the U.S. military-industrial-security-intelligence empire: the interests of this empire are nurtured through “war dividends.” Peace, imposed or otherwise, would mean that the powerful beneficiaries of war dividends would find it difficult to either expand the sale of their armaments abroad or justify their inordinately large share of national tax dollars at home.

This means that, contrary to the model of past empires, mere perception of external threats is not sufficient for the accumulation of the fortunes of the U.S. military-industrial-security-intelligence empire. Actual, shooting wars—preferably manageable or controllable at the local or regional levels—are needed not only for the expansion but, indeed, for the survival of this empire. Arms industries need occasional wars not only to draw down their stockpiles of armaments, and make room for more production, but also to display the “wonders” of what they produce: the “shock and awe”-inducing properties of their products, or the “laser-guided, surgical operations” of their smart weapons. In the era of tight and contested budget allocations, arms producers need such “displays of efficiency” to prove that they do not waste tax-payers’ money. Such maneuvers are certain to strengthen the arguments of militarist politicians against those (few) who resist huge military appropriations. Sadly, however, the incentive for the military industry to prove its efficiency is often measured, though not acknowledged, in terms of actual or potential death and destruction.2

Instruments of expropriation
Third, as pointed out earlier, imperial dispossession has become increasingly more dispersed, generalized or universal: it deprives not only the peoples of distant lands, as did the old imperial/colonial powers, but also the overwhelming majority of citizens at home.

A variety of relatively newer instruments are now utilized to bring about the expropriation of the masses in favor of the plutocratic elites. These include privatization and commodification of public domain, public infrastructures and public services (such as healthcare and education); neoliberal fiscal policies that tend to lower tax obligations of the oligarchic interests by cutting social spending; continued escalation of military spending, which tends to disproportionately benefit the stock and/or stake holders of the military-industrial-security-intelligence spending; manipulation or utilization of financial crises to rescue, or bail out, the so-called too-big-to-fail financial players; and (perhaps most importantly) asset price inflation by means of central banks’ polices of cheap or easy money, which benefits, first and foremost, the big banks and other major financial players that can outbid small borrowers who must borrow at much higher rates than the near-zero rates guaranteed to the big borrowers.

Instead of regulating or containing the disruptive speculative activities of the financial sector, monetary policy makers, spearheaded by central banks, have in recent years been actively promoting asset-price bubbles—in effect, further exacerbating inequality. This shows how the proxies of the financial oligarchy, ensconced at the helm of central banks and their shareholders (commercial banks), serve as agents of subtlety funneling economic resources from the public to the financial oligarchy—just as the rent or tax collectors and bailiffs of feudal lords collected and transferred economic surplus from the peasants/serfs to the landed aristocracy.

Four, in the same fashion as the imperialist expropriation has over time expanded from the early pillage of resources abroad to include the currently generalized dispossession at home, so have imperialistic means of expropriation been diversified or expanded from the sheer military force of earlier times to today’s multitudes of relatively newer means of regime change and dispossession. These newer means of worldwide dispossession include “soft-power” instruments such as color-coded revolutions, “democratic” coup d’états, manufactured civil wars, orchestrated and/or money-driven elections (peddled as manifestations of democracy), economic sanctions, and the like. Perhaps more importantly, they also include powerful financial institutions and think tanks such as the World Trade Organization (WTO), the International Monetary Fund (IMF), central banks, and credit rating agencies like Moody’s, Standard and Poor’s and Fitch Group.

Regime change
These guardian-angels of global plutocracy can (and do) change “unaccommodating,” or “unfriendly,” regimes not only in the less developed countries but also in the core capitalist countries. This is how during the ongoing financial turbulence of recent years a number of governments have been changed in Europe. These have included the ousting of the Greek government of Prime Minister George Papandreou in 2011 and that of the Italian government of Prime Minister Mario Monti in 2013. This also explains the failure or defeat of socialist and/or social-democratic experiments in countries such as the Soviet Union, China, Vietnam, Chile, Nicaragua, Brazil, Cuba, and many countries in Europe. Threatened by the fear of sanctions, capital flight, economic isolation, or regime change, most of these countries have been forced to abandon their humane economic models of the immediate post-WW II period and adopt the cruel austerity economics of neoliberalism.

How are these historical transitions and transformations to be explained? What precipitated imperialism’s transition from the earlier pattern of core-periphery plunder to the currently borderless or dispersed dispossession worldwide, at home and abroad? Are these changes the products of purely political/ideological calculations, or are they the results of some more fundamental changes in the structure of capitalist production?

While no single factor can be pinpointed as accounting for these historical developments, long-term systematic changes in the structure of capitalist production (from the early stages of manufacturing at home to the current stage of the dominance of finance capital worldwide) seem to be most explanatory. In the early stages of capitalism, raw materials were imported from the periphery of the core capitalist world, used for the production of manufactures at home, which were then sold abroad. In other words, the dominant mode of capitalist production was manufacturing, the main location was the home country, and the dominant form of exports was commodity capital, or finished products.

This mode of production and international trade worked like a virtuous circle for the core capitalist countries: abundant and cheap imports of raw materials from abroad meant more production and higher employment at home, more production at home meant more exports abroad, more export of finished products meant more import of raw materials from abroad, and so on. This pattern of capitalist production, in turn, shaped the pattern of the colonial/imperialist means of safeguarding the interests of the imperium: military expeditions, colonial conquests and transfer of economic resources from the periphery to the core of the capitalist world—hence, the old, classical pattern of colonialism/imperialism.

Domination of Finance Capital
Today, as the core capitalist economies are dominated by finance capital, the virtuous circle of trade, production and prosperity just mentioned has turned into a vicious circle: export of finance capital, or outsourcing, means less investment, less employment, less production and less income at home. This means, in turn, more imports from abroad, more borrowing to pay for those imports (more national debt), less tax revenue for the government, higher budget deficits, less social spending, more austerity, and so on.

By the same token as these developments tend to deprive the outsourcing countries of production and employment at home, they also bring the economic structure of host countries under the rules and regulations of neoliberal economics. Entrenchment of neoliberal economics on a global scale, however, requires more than the traditional armies or military forces of imperialism. Perhaps more importantly, it also requires new, metaphorical soldiers or armies such as WTO, the IMF, central banks, credit rating agencies, and the like—hence, the new imperialism: imperialism based on universal or generalized dispossession.

Globalization of capitalism and (along with it) universalization of economic austerity, has led to an indisputable cross-border class alliance between global plutocracies. Representatives of transnational capital and their proxies in capitalist governments routinely meet to synchronize their cross-border business and financial policies—a major focus of which in recent years has been to implement global austerity measures and entrench neoliberal policies worldwide. These meetings include the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, the World Bank and the IMF annual meetings, the Periodic G20 meetings, the Aspen Institutes Ideas Festival, The Bilderberg Group annual geopolitics forum, and the Herb Allen’s Sun Valley gathering of media moguls—to name only a handful of the many such international policy gatherings.

Today’s elites of global capitalism “are becoming a trans-global community of peers who have more in common with one another than with their countrymen back home,” writes Chrystia Freeland, Global Editor of Reuters, who travels with the elites to many parts of the world. “Whether they maintain primary residences in New York or Hong Kong, Moscow or Mumbai, today’s super-rich are increasingly a nation unto themselves,” she adds.3

What is to be done?
What is to be done? What are the political implications of this analysis for the working class and other grassroots? What can they do to protect their jobs, their communities and their environment?

Popular responses to these questions tend to focus heavily on protectionist policies of trade restriction, as often reflected in slogans such as “buy American.” Such populist sentiments are advocated by both the rightwing politicians such as Donald Trump and the so-called leftwing politicians such as Bernie Sanders. While nationalist and/or protectionist policies such as “buy American” may be pleasing to populist sentiments, long-term benefits of such policies to global labor and other grassroots are dubious. For one thing, such policies are bound to heighten international labor rivalry, thereby making labor more vulnerable to the accumulation imperatives of capital. For another, protectionist policies can easily become contagious with dire consequences in terms of trade wars, likely followed by actual/shooting wars.

Therefore, in challenging the unbridled corporate free trade agenda and, more generally, the global austerity of neoliberalism, the working people must put forth their own agenda, an agenda that would go beyond populist type of “buy domestic/national” slogans. A positive left-labor agenda must focus on, among other things, the importance of a long-term international labor strategy based on worker-to-worker or union-to-union links. Specifically, Such a strategy would aim at (a) eliminating or reducing international labor rivalry by taking the necessary steps toward the establishment of labor-cost parity within the same company and the same trade, subject to the cost of living and productivity in each country; and (b) establishing independent labor, community, and environmental organizations that would monitor, influence, shape and, ultimately, lead the world economy.

A strategy of this sort would replace the current downward competition between workers in various countries with coordinated bargaining and joint policies for mutual interests and problem-solving worldwide—just as the World Trade Organization (WTO), the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the World Bank, central banks, and other multilateral organizations are constantly seeking solutions to the problems facing global markets/capital. While this may sound radical, it is not any more radical than what the transnational plutocracy is doing: coordinating their cold-hearted neoliberal austerity strategies on a global scale.

If at an earlier stage of capitalist development “workers of the world unite” seemed an outlandish dream of the leading labor champion Karl Marx, globalization of capitalism, fantastic increases in labor productivity, the abundance of material resources, and enormous developments in technology, which have greatly facilitated cross-border organizing and coordination of actions by the worldwide labor and other grassroots, have now made that dream an urgent necessity.4

Ismael Hossein-Zadeh is Professor Emeritus of Economics (Drake University). He is the author of Beyond Mainstream Explanations of the Financial Crisis (Routledge 2014), The Political Economy of U.S. Militarism (Palgrave–Macmillan 2007), and the Soviet Non-capitalist Development: The Case of Nasser’s Egypt (Praeger Publishers 1989). He is also a contributor to Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion.

—Counter Punch, July 29, 2016


1 See, for example, David Harvey, The New Imperialism, Oxford University Press, 2005.

2 The preceding four paragraphs are based largely on excerpts from Chapter One of my book, The Political Economy of U.S. Imperialism (Palgrave-Macmillan 2007)].

3 “The Rise of the New Global Elite,” The Atlantic, January–February 2011, available at: http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2011/01/the-rise-of-the-new-global-elite/308343/&gt ].

4 For a longer discussion of these issues see Chapter 8 of my book, Beyond Mainstream Explanations of the Financial Crisis: Parasitic Finance Capital (Routledge 2015)].

Note: This article is for educational purposes. Its reproduction, in any form, can be had with the permission of the author/publisher whose original link ,from where it is reprodced, is given above.

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