Monday, June 27, 2005

"Debt Is The New Colonialism".

In November 1999, the colonial power of the global north over the global south was dramatically thrown back onto the table of popular politics in the consciousness of citizens in the metropolises of the north. It's easy to take an ironic pleasure in the fact that the facade of a generation's apathy was shattered by anarchists, NGO's, environmentalists and Trade Unionists in what was ubiquitously termed the 'teamster and turtle' alliance amidst barricades in Seattle during the World Trade Organisation's talks there. Seattle after all is the city that gave us such emblematic brands of the 'new economy' such as Microsoft and Starbucks, and also provided much of the soundtrack to the apathy of Generation X in bands like Nirvana and the rest of the grunge wave. For the first time perhaps since the covert aggression of the United States against the Sandanista regime in Nicaruga a generation was awakened to radicalism through geo-political issues complementing their own frustration with the colonisation of their own lives through brand culture and the identities they were forced to live up to. After Seattle, there was what as termed the "Seattle effect" as protests engulfed major institutional meetings such as the IMF meetings in Prague, the EU Summit in Nice, the IMF again in Washington NAFTA in Quebec and in the most dramatic exposition of the limits of such sieges at the G8 Summit in Genoa. While the western media only came to grips with opposition to globalisation when western kids took it on over barricades in Seattle, there has been three decades of struggle against it in the Global south perhaps best exemplified to this generation by the Chiapas uprising or more recently the popular revolt in Argentina.

The Zapatista’s now virtually exercise a monopoly as the symbolic manifestation of struggles in the global south against globalisation. While academics dispute the terminology of globalisation and what it connotes in terms of social organization, the Zapatista’s are poetically clear: “they talk to us about globalisation and we realize that this is what they call this absurd order, where there is only one country - the country of money. Where the frontiers will disappear, not as a result of brotherhood, but through the hemorrhage that fattens the powerful who have no nation. ” Aside from the literary flourishes, one thing is clear from the globalisation process, as Susan George as pointed out the poor are developing the rich due to a neo-colonial weighting of power in global institutions. The hinge or lever upon which this power exerts itself is in the international management of debt.

Through whatever ideological window theorists look there is a common appreciation of globalisation as a triumphant form of capitalism. One that harks back to the classical liberalism of Adam Smith while at the same time pushing beyond the limits of previous forms of capitalism towards a post-modernisation of the economy through the “informatization of production” as Negri and Hardt claim, leading to the sort of 'compression of time and space" pointed out by Harvey. Alongside this succinct idea of globalisation, there is the common perception that the globalisation process arises as the latest culmination of a development discourse centred on economic growth as the chief measurement of success. The PR departments of neo-liberalism like to use the idea of the creation of ‘global village’ as an alternative to the creation of what could alternatively be termed the manufacturing of new enclosures. Classically Marx described how "the tendancy to create the world market is directly given in the concept itself. Every limit appears as a barrier to be overcome. " The process of globalisation is one of handing over areas of life previously exempt to the market through WTO lead agreements like Trade Related Intellectual Property Rights and the General Agreement On Trade and Services. Entailed in this is the sidelining of the nation state as a dominant force in the management of economies and the increased prominence of bodies transcending national boundaries be they either bodies like the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund, the WTO or indeed trans-national corporations.

Previously, when Lenin described Imperialism as the highest form of capitalism, he was speaking of the subjection of nations by the dominant militaristic states. Historically, the emergence of the Bretton Woods institutions of the IMF and the World Bank occurred in the post World War Two period of decolonisation and the emergence of the Cold War. In this sense the formations of the institutions exemplify how capitalism as a social relationship can respond to struggle against it by altering its form. Instead of direct colonial rule, we now have a rather awkward and hidden rule over the global south whereby colonial power is instituted in a rather indirect post-modern fashion. In an 1980’s Treasury Report an official admitted that the “US was instrumental in shaping the structure and mission of the World Bank along Western Market lines...for the emergence of a corporate entity with weighted voting...as a charter member and major share holder in the World Bank, the US secured the sole right to a permanent seat on the board of directors. ”

In one sense what one can see here is illumination of myth of development, it is perhaps safer to speak of old colonial masters seeking new reigns of control in the wake of independence struggles. In a similar fashion, given that voting is weighted according to the size of economies the G7 countries control 47% of the votes in the International Monetary Fund. While theoretically the WTO can claim to operate on the basis of one country one vote, decisions are contingent on the consensus of one of the dominant quads, while the notorious Green Room negotiations exclude developing countries. On the Washington connection to fascism in the global south Chomsky has described how “whatever the attitudes of the US Leadership towards freedom at home...systematic polices to the third world countries make it evident that the alleged commitment to democracy and human rights is mere rhetoric, directly contrary to actual policy. The operative principle has been and remains economic freedom, meaning freedom for US business to invest, sell and repatriate profits. ” Much as Trumann viewed the Marshall Plan in Europe as means of averting the consolidation of communism, development ideology was used to consolidate US influence in the Global South.

It is now necessary to reflect on how the debt crisis hanging over from the development era acts as the pivotal point of this new form of colonial dominance. An OECD report describes how between 1982 and 1990 flows of capital going to developing countries amounted to $927 billion, yet in the same period of time $1,345 billion flowed from the south to the north, what Susan George points out to be the astonishing equivalent of six Marshall plans . Such extraordinary figures of debt facilitate the exercise of mechanism’s of control and discipline over populations in the global south in the interests of corporations repatriating profits to the north through several methods. In the first place, much of this debt has been taken on by elites in the south which have encountered huge resistance within their own territories. Even before the colonial break ups, one of the first major debt packages from the World Bank was to the Netherlands in 1947 as they were putting down an independence rising in Indonesia with 100,000 troops, this pattern of indirectly funding the policing of the south through corrupt and murderous regimes carries past the decolonizing high point of 1960 to the organisation today. It is clear that such levels of debt then incurred by such regimes facilitate the imposition of Structural Adjustment Packages by the IMF when they reach crisis point. In the rest of this essay I will look at the use of debt as a mechanism of control in facilitating the policing of the global south in the interests of the neo-colonial ambitions of western economic interests, how debt is used as an excuse to create new enclosures and force populations to abandon traditional subsistence based economics and finally to impose neo-liberal austerity on populations of subjected countries.

The history of the World Bank is peppered with the financing of regimes which suppress brutally the populations subject to them in the interests of western economic interests. From a chronology provided by Eric Touissant, it is quite telling just how selectively the Bank has made political judgements in the extension of loans. Through out the 1960’s the Bank financed the apartheid regime in South Africa despite various rulings from the United Nations, and despite killing 500,000 people it also extended loans to the Suharto regime in Indonesia. Most telling in this litany is the Bank’s 1964 refusal to provide loans to the democratic Goulart government of Brazil and then the manner it rushed in to give loans to a military coup. There was a similar experience in Chile, where money was extended to the Pinochet regime after the murderous coup against the progressive Allendian regime’s “Chilean road to socialism” which was refused aid. As part of the climate of the Cold War the extension of finance as a means of determining what regimes are acceptable to western colonial economic interest becomes obvious from the Chilean example.

For the establishment at the time the possibility of a social democratic route to socialism was a nerve wracking thought, one which could spread to other areas of interest in the hemisphere. The moves to nationalise the American Anaconda Copper company which controlled the Chilean mine industry, caused obvious discomfort to American elites, who through the CIA engaged in political subversion on the ground and through financial institutions vied to “make the economy scream. ” The Pinochet regime emerged, with its programme of neo-liberal shock therapy courtesy of the Chicago Boy. Which opened up and made the economy safe for American economic elites through wide scale privatisation and a state downgraded to its brute repressive form - World Bank financing of the regime renewed. When the phantasm of the ’economic miracle’ collapsed amidst a global depression in 1982, the IMF stepped in to further impose austerity, ironically despite Freidmann influenced policies, when major financial institutions were at risk their debts were socialised in a bizarre newspeak socialism for the rich. In the overall context of things it is worth noting that a United Nations Development Programme describes how high arms spenders receive two and a half times more aid per capita than those who spent less on weaponry to police their subject populations on behalf of global economic elites.

Eduardo Galeano, a 1980’s version of Marcos tore away at the “model of life in the consumer society which these days is imposed as a model at the universal level. ” If the logic of the consumer society is the commodification of elements of society that could previously be considered public goods, then it is once again obvious from a chronology of World Bank activity that it favours those projects which run against the prior economics values of populations in the global south, in short it supports a western model of development along industrial capitalist lines. The 1964 Green Revolution launched on the back of a request from India for food aid is the obvious pointer for this discussion in a historical perspective, a move which led to the industrialisation of agriculture and the ridiculous shift to cash crops. As Shiva has described “export oriented agriculture has reduced food security by encouraging a shift from small scale, sustainable production to large scale, non-sustainable industrial production. It also brings changes in ownership over natural resources and means of production, from small autonomous producers/owners to large corporate and commercial interests. ” Elsewhere Cleaver has described how the project of the Green revolution was to destroy peasant society and undercut dissent towards neo-colonial domination . The displacement of 220,000 people after the Upper Krishna dam led to a drop in their incomes of 50% as they were forced into urbanised patterns of work in accordance with a capitalist mode of development. More recently the Trade Related Intellectual Property Rights overseen by the WTO encapsulate the neo-colonial creation of new enclosures. Shiva once again describes the dangers of the application of market logic to agriculture in the form of bio-piracy: “two thirds of people in the south depend on free access to biodiversity for their livelihoods and needs. Seventy percent of seed in India is saved or shared farmers seed; seventy percent of healing is based on indigenous medicine using local plants. ”

It may sound flippant, but it is usually quite easy spot countries where the IMF’s Structural Adjustment Packages are at work: they are the ones where populations are most visibly mobilised in street combat with the repressive arms of their respective states. From the past few years the examples are obvious, from the popular uprising against austerity of the IMF in Argentina in December, 2001 and the battle against water privatisation in Bolivia in Cochabamba in the same year. There is quite an obvious reason for these popular revolts, the SAP’s imposed by the IMF wreck havoc on the lives of the populations subjected to them in order to pay back World Bank loans. In Argentina the ‘Washington Consensus’ benefited few apart from the country’s economic elites, unemployment had soared to over 30% in 2000 and the overnight devaluation of the Peso virtually wiped out an entire social class. The sly privatisation of water delivery mechenisms in Cochabamba only benefited the US Bechtal corporation, but has for many symbolised the slash and burn policies of the IMF which tear away at safeguards states may provide their citizens such as public welfare systems in order to open their service provision up to the market. During the Korean Crisis one US Trade Representative could confirm that “the Korea stabilisation package negotiated with the IMF..should help open and expand competition in Korea by creating a more market driven economy...if it continues on the path of reform there will be important benefits not only for Korea but also for the United States. ”

It is quite clear that debt has been used by capital as a method of discipline and control over populations of the global south: facilitating the policing of political options open to populations and ensuring the political loyalty of regimes during the Cold War. That this can be understood in an imperialist framework is easy, if one is given to an analysis of the Bretton Woods institutions as emerging in the period of decolonization in order to facilitate the continued colonial ambitions of economic elites in the west.

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Comments:
Hey James,

Watskerbeurt!? It's good to see some posts up in the blog. Good articles, nice and "ultra-economistic" 9i wouldn't expect you to understand, its a millie thing). When I finish my college experience in Amsterdam for good tommorrow, I'll start penning a retrospective article about the frugal Dutch and the absurdities of every day life over here.

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