Wednesday, 22 October 2014 / TRUTH-OUT.ORG

Professor William I. Robinson: Global Capitalism Is in the Midst of Its Most Severe Crisis

Thursday, 24 July 2014 09:41 By Kourosh Ziabari, FARS News | Interview

Tehran - Prominent American sociologist Prof. William I. Robinson believes that the United States government is the biggest perpetrator of terror in the world and its military adventures across the globe have claimed the lives of millions of innocent citizens.

According to Prof. William I. Robinson, “if we define terrorism as the use of violence against civilians for political objectives, then the US state is the world’s leading terrorist.”

“US intervention abroad in the 20th century – the forging of a US empire - claimed tens of millions of victims, inflicted untold suffering, and set back the aspirations of freedom and democracy in dozens of countries,” said Prof. Robinson in an exclusive interview with Fars News Agency.

Prof. Robinson also went on to say that capitalism, which is the predominant economic and political worldview of the United States and other imperial powers is in the midst of its most severe crisis in close to a century, even worse than the crisis in the 1930s, “because we are on the precipice of an ecological holocaust that threatens the very earth system and the ability to sustain life, ours included, because the means of violence and social control have never before been so concentrated within a single powerful state, and because the global means of communication is also extraordinarily concentrated in the hands of transnational capital and a few powerful states.”

William I. Robinson is a professor of sociology, global and international studies, and Latin American studies at the University of California at Santa Barbara. His latest book entitled Global Capitalism and the Crisis of Humanity was just published in 2014. In the early 1980s, he worked as a journalist in the war-torn Nicaragua. From 1984 to 1990 he was a member of the Union of Nicaraguan Journalists. His articles and writings have appeared on such news websites as Al-Jazeera, Huffington Post and Truth Out.

Prof. Robinson took part in an exclusive, comprehensive interview with FNA and responded to our questions about the demise of capitalism, the future of globalization, the setbacks and failures of the US foreign policy and the human consequences of Washington’s military adventures. What follows is the text of the interview.

Q: What’s your viewpoint regarding the consequences of the US military expeditions across the world, including the devastation of the natural resources of the countries that are attacked, the killing of the unarmed civilians, the forced migration and displacement of the war-hit population, the pollution of the air, the infliction of irretrievable damages on the environment and the erosion of democratic institutions in these countries? Who is going to compensate for these losses?

A: The US state is acting as the gendarme for global capitalism at a time when global capitalism is in deep crisis. It is the core institution in what I have referred to as the transnational state, and in my view it represents at this time the interests of transnational capital, of a transnational capitalist class.

The United States has committed successive war crimes and crimes against humanity in recent years. However, let us recall that this is the continuation of a long historical pattern, what we used to call imperialism, and some still do refer to as imperialism. The United States as a country was born on the basis of the slavery of Africans and other peoples and genocide against the native populations of North America.

Expansion from the original East Coast colonies began from the very inception of the Republic. Texas was annexed from Mexico in 1836 by white Southern slavers who were seeking to expand cotton plantation based on the slavery of Africans. This expansion continued in 1848 as the United States annexed one half of Mexican territory in a war of aggression justified by “Manifest Destiny”. US rulers then launched extra-territorial expansion, starting with the invasion, occupation, and colonization of Puerto Rico, the Philippines, and Cuba in 1898, and followed by literally hundreds – perhaps thousands - of interventions in the 20th century, including convert operation, the orchestration of coup d’etats, counter-insurgencies, military invasions, occupations, and so forth – throughout Latin America, Africa, the Middle East, and Asia, but also in Southern and Eastern Europe. US intervention abroad in the 20th century – the forging of a US empire - claimed tens of millions of victims, inflicted untold suffering, and set back the aspirations of freedom and democracy in dozens of countries – yet US rulers had the arrogance and cynicism to claim that its aggression against the world’s people was in the name of freedom and democracy.

Of course the United States does not hold a monopoly on such expansionism and interventionism in the modern era of capitalism. Over the past two centuries, and even earlier, England, France, Spain and other European powers were carving out their own colonial empires, unleashing unfathomable brutality and suffering. The culprit here, beyond a particular nation-state, is an outwardly expanding capitalism involving imperialism and colonialism. The United States stands out because it became the dominant world power in the wake of World War II and set about to construct a truly global empire, the likes of which the world had not previously seen.

However, and this is the key point I wish to highlight here, US intervention around the world clearly entered a qualitatively new period after September 11, 2001. This new period should be seen in the context of emergent 21st century global capitalism. Global capitalism is in the midst of its most severe crisis in close to a century, and in many ways the current crisis is much worse than that of the 1930s because we are on the precipice of an ecological holocaust that threatens the very earth system and the ability to sustain life, ours included, because the means of violence and social control have never before been so concentrated within a single powerful state, and because the global means of communication is also extraordinarily concentrated in the hands of transnational capital and a few powerful states. On the other hand, global inequalities have never been as acute and grotesque as they are today. So, in simplified terms, we need to see the escalation of US interventionism and the untold suffering it brings about, including what you mention – the killing of unarmed civilians, the destruction of the environment, forced migration and displacement, undermining democracy – as a response by the US-led transnational state and the transnational capitalist class to contain the explosive contradictions of a global capitalist system that is out of control and in deep crisis.

You ask me who is going to compensate for these losses. That will depend on how the world’s people respond. There is currently a global revolt from below underway, but it is spread unevenly across countries and has not taken any clear form or direction. Can the popular majority of humanity force the transnational capitalist class and the US/transnational state to be accountable for its crimes? Mao Zedong once said that “power flows through the barrel of a gun.” What he meant by this, in a more abstract than literal way, I believe, is that in the end it is the correlation of real forces that will determine outcomes. Because the United States has overwhelming and “full spectrum” military dominance, it can capture, execute, or bring to trial people anywhere around the world… it has “free license”, so to speak, to act as an international outlaw. We don’t even have to take the more recent examples. In December 1989 the United States undertook an illegal and criminal invasion of Panama, kidnapped Manuel Noriega – whether or not he was a dictator is not the point, as the United States puts in power and defends dictators that defend US and transnational elite interests, and brought him back to US territory for trial. What country in the world now has the naked power “flowing through the barrel of a gun” to invade the United States, capture George Bush, Dick Chaney, Donald Rumsfeld, and other war criminals, and bring them somewhere to stand trial for war crimes and crimes against humanity?

Q: In your writings, you’ve warned against the growing gap between the rich and the poor, the slant accumulation of the global wealth in the hands of an affluent few and the impoverishment of the suppressed majority. What do you think are the reasons for this stark inequality and the disturbing dispossession of millions of people in the capitalist societies? You wrote that the participants of the 2011 World Economic Forum in Davos were worried that the current situation raises the specter of worldwide instability and civil wars. Is it really so?

A: We have never in the history of humanity seen such a sharp social polarization between the haves and the have-nots, such grotesque levels of inequality, within and among countries. There have been countless studies in recent years documenting the escalation of inequalities, among them, the current bestseller by Thomas Piketty, Capital in the Twenty-First Century. The pattern we see is that the notorious “1 percent” monopolizes a huge portion of the wealth that humanity produces and transnational corporations and banks are registering record profits, but as well that some 20 percent of the population in each countries has integrated into the global economy as middle class and affluent consumers while the remaining 80 percent has experienced rising levels of insecurity, impoverishment, and precariousness, increasingly inhabiting what some have called a “planet of slums.”

The apologists of global capitalism point to the rise of a middle class in China to claim that the system is successful. But in China, 300-400 million people have entered the ranks of the global middle and consuming class while the other 800-900 million have faced downward mobility, immiseration, insecurity, unemployment and extreme levels of exploitation. Such is this exploitation that a couple years ago, you may remember, Foxcomm workers preferred to commit suicide by jumping off the roof of their factories than to remain in their labor camps. This is the Foxcomm that makes your iPads and iPhones. The 80 percent is then subject to all sorts of sophisticated systems of social control and repression.

We are headed in this regard towards a global police state, organized by global elites and led by the US state, to contain the real or potential rebellion of a dispossessed majority. Such structures of inequality and exploitation cannot be contained over time without both ideological and coercive apparatuses; conformity to a system of structural violence must be compelled through direct violence, organized by states and private security forces. Edward Snowden revealed the extent to which we are now living in a global social control state, a global panoptical surveillance state. George Orwell wrote about such a state in his famous novel 1984. The Orwellian society has arrived. Yet it is worse than Orwell imagined, because at least the members of Orwell’s society had their basic needs met in return for their obedience and conformity.

How do we explain such stark inequality? Capitalism is a system that by its very internal dynamic generates wealth yet polarizes and concentrates that wealth. Historically a de-concentration of wealth through redistribution has come about by state intervention to offset the natural tendency for capital accumulation to result in such polarization. States have turned to an array of redistributive mechanisms both because they have been pressured from below to do so – whether by trade unions, social movements, socialist struggles, or so on – or because states must do so in order to retain legitimacy and preserve at least enough social peace for the reproduction of the system. A great variety of redistributive models emerged in the 20th century around the world, and went by a great many names – socialism, communism, social democracy, New Deal, welfare states, developmental states, populism, the social wage, and so on. All these models shared two things in common. One was state intervention in the economy to regulate capital accumulation and thus to bring under some control the most anarchic and most destructive elements of unrestrained capitalism. The other was redistribution through numerous policies, ranging from minimum legal wages and unemployment insurance, to public enterprises, the social wages of public health, education, transportation, and housing, welfare programs, land reform in agrarian countries, low cost credit, and so on.

But capital responded to the last major crisis of the system, that of the 1970s, by “going global,” by breaking free of nation-state constraints to accumulation and undermining models of state regulation and redistribution. Neo-liberalism is a set of policies that facilitate the rise of transnational capital. As transnational capital has broken free of the confine of the nation-state, the natural tendency for capitalism to concentrate wealth has been unleashed without any countervailing restraints. The result has been this dizzying escalation of worldwide inequalities as wealth concentrates within the transnational capitalist class and, to a much lesser extent, the better off strata of middle classes and professionals.

There are other related factors that account for the intensification of worldwide inequalities. One is the defeat of the worldwide left in the late 1980s and early 1990s, which led the ruling groups to declare that global neo-liberal capitalism was “The End of History.” A second is the rise of a globally integrated financial system in which capital in its liquid, that is money, form can move frictionless across the planet with no controls whatsoever. Transnational finance capital has become the hegemonic fraction of capital on a global scale, and it engages in unfathomable levels of speculation, turning the global economy into one giant casino.

Transnational finance capital has come to control the levers of the global economy, to get around and to undermine any effort at regulation, and to concentrate wealth in its liquid form in a way that would have been unimaginable just a few years ago. A third factor is the rise of a mass of surplus humanity. Hundreds of millions of people, perhaps billions, have been made “superfluous”, thrown off the land or out of productive employment, replaced by machines and rising productivity, marginalized and relegated to migration and to trying to scratch by an existence in the “planet of slums.” In turn, this mass of humanity places those that are employed in a very vulnerable situation, drives down wage levels everywhere, facilitates the “flexibilization” and precarious nature of wage labor, and thereby further aggravating inequalities.

Q: In one of your articles, you talked of an “ever-expanding military-prison-industrial-security-financial complex” that generates enormous profits through waging wars, selling weapons and then taking part in reconstruction activities in the war-torn countries. How does this complex operate? Is it really reliant on waging wars?

A: We cannot understand intensified militarization and the rise of this complex outside of the crisis of global capitalism. This crisis is structural, in the first instance. It is what we call a crisis of over-accumulation. The rise of the global economy driven by new technologies, especially computer, information, and communications technologies, but also by the revolution in transportation and containerization, by robotics, aerospace, biotechnology, nanotechnology, and more recently, by 3D printing, among other aspects, has allowed the transnational capitalist class to restructure and reorganize the whole world economy, and to bring about a huge increase in productivity worldwide and an enormous expansion of the capacity of the global economy to churn out goods and services. But extreme inequality and social polarization in the global system means that the global market cannot absorb the expanding output of the global economy. The result is a stagnation that is becoming chronic. The gap between what the global economy can produce and what the global market can absorb is growing and this leads to a crisis of overproduction: where and how to unload the surplus? How can transnational capital continue to accumulate and generate profits if this output is not unloaded, that is, profitably marketed? Unloading the surplus through financial speculation, which has skyrocketed in recent years, only aggravates the solution, as we saw with the collapse of 2008.

Now, if only 20 percent of humanity can consume in any significant quantity it is not very profitable to go into the business of mass, inexpensive public transportation, health and education, or the production of practical goods that the world’s population needs because very simply even if people need these things they do not have the income to purchase them. A global civilian economy geared to the basic needs of humanity is simply not profitable for the transnational capitalist class.

Look at it like this: the mass production and distribution of vaccines and other medications for communicable and treatable diseases that affect masses of poor people around the world are simply not profitable and as a result we even have new pandemics of diseases – tuberculosis, measles, etc. - that previously were under control. Yet it is profitable for the global capitalist medical industry, including the giant pharmaceutical, biotechnology and related branches to spend billions on developing plastic surgery and every imaginable treatment for the vanity of a small portion of humanity, or to develop incredibly expensive treatments for diseases that afflict the affluent. The lesson here is that capital will seek to accumulate where it is profitable, according to the structure of the market and of income, which in turn is shaped by the balance of class and social power and what we call the relations of production and irrespective of rational use of resources and irrespective of human need.

It is in this context that it becomes quite profitable to turn to wars, conflicts, systems of repression and social control to generate profit, to produce goods and systems that can repress that 80 percent of humanity that is not your consumer, not your customer so to say, because they do not have the purchasing power to sustain your drive to accumulate by producing goods and services for them that they actually need. Global capitalism is a perverted and irrational system.

Putting aside geo-political considerations, the surplus that the global economy has been and is producing but that cannot be absorbed by the world market, has been channeled into wars and conflicts that involve endless rounds of destruction and reconstruction, and new systems of social control and repression, independent of geo-political considerations, that is, simply as a way of sustaining capital accumulation and profit making in the face of stagnation tendencies. The US invasions and occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan – although legitimated in the name of fighting “terrorism” - have generated hundreds of billions of dollars in contracts and profits for transnational capital. The prison-industrial and immigrant-detention complexes in the United States – and let us recall that the United States holds some 25-30 percent of the world’s prisoners – is enormously profitable for private corporations that run almost all of the immigrant detention centers, some of the general prisons, supply everything from guards to food, build the installations, erect border walls, and so on. Let us recall that the US National Security Agency – and we now know from Edward Snowden just how vast are its operations – subcontracts out its activities to private corporations, as do the CIA, the Pentagon, and so on. Global security corporations are one of the fastest growing sectors of the global economy and there are now more private security guards in the world than police officers.

All of this is to say that we are now living in a global war economy, in which the threat of stagnation is offset in part by the militarization of global economy and society and the introduction and spread of systems of mass social control. Of course this involves all kinds of cultural, ideological, and political dimensions as well. A global war economy based on a multitude of endless conflicts and the spread of social control systems, from full-scale wars to the repression of racial minorities and immigrants in the United States and Europe, must be ideologically legitimated. This is where bogus and farcical “wars on drugs and terrorism” come in, where enemies must be conjured up, in which populations must be led to believe they are threatened, and so on. So the US public must believe that Iran is a threat, that Putin is now the devil, and so on. One “threat” replaces another but the system needs to keep a population in permanent compliance through the manipulation of emotion and the senses.

This transition into a permanent global war economy has involved some shifts in the gravitational centers of capital accumulation, towards those global corporate conglomerates involved in the production of war materials, of security, of engineering (for example, Bechtel and Halliburton), and other activities that involve making profit out of conflict and control. Remember by way of example that each drone that flies, each missile fired, each round of ammunition, each tank deployed, each soldier equipped and fed, each prison that is constructed, each surveillance system put into place, each border wall installed, and so on and so forth, is produced in factories and through production chains by global corporations whose supply, in turn, of raw materials, machinery and service inputs in turn come from other global corporations or local firms. So the whole global economy is kept running through violence and conflict. But the global war economy also involves the global financial institutions that are at the very heart of the global economy, together with the petroleum complex that is coming under much pressure from the environmental movement yet is showing all-time record profits in the past few years.

This is a new transnational power bloc – this complex of corporate interests brought around a global war economy and global systems of repression and social control, together with elites and state managers brought into or representing the power bloc. Remember also that the polarization of the world population into 20 percent affluent and 80 percent immiserated generates new spatial social relations, so that the privileged occupy gated communities and those displaced by gentrification must be violently suppressed and carefully controlled, while surveillance systems and security guards must patrol and protect that 20 percent. All this and much more are part of the militarization and “securitization” of global society by the powers that be.

We face new doctrines, ideologies and political discourse that legitimize the construction of a global police state – “fourth generation warfare,” “humanitarian intervention,” the “war on drugs,” among others, and above all, the so-called “war on terror.” I say so-called because, the US state is the biggest perpetrator of terror in the world. It is not that Al-Qaida and other groups do not carry out condemnable violence against innocent civilians. They indeed do. But if we define terrorism as the use of violence against civilians for political objectives, then the US state is the world’s leading terrorist.  The powers that be in global society and that control the global political discourse attach the label “terrorist” to violence that they do not approve of, and they attach the label of “freedom and democracy and security” to violence that they do approve of, or that they commit themselves. Moreover, increasingly “terrorism” is used to simply describe political dissent, so that legitimate social movements and political struggles against global capitalism become labeled as “terrorism” in order to justify their suppression.

Q: Do you think that the military-industrial complex, as described by President Dwight Eisenhower in his farewell address in January 1961, is controlling and manipulating the mass media in the United States and dictating to them what to publish and broadcast and what to withhold from the public? Do you think that the military-industrial complex has a sway on what the media should reveal to people and what to keep concealed from them?

A: No, not at all, at least not in the way that you are framing the matter of what some might call “thought control.” You have entirely the wrong focus. The mass media to which you refer is itself big business with an interest in framing how the public perceives the world and the events that occur, and with an interest in legitimizing the system overall, even when it is critical of particular policies or situations. Never before in history has the flow of information, the production and the distribution of cultural production, of the means of communication and of symbolic production, been so concentrated in such few hands.

The mass media in the United States – and worldwide - is big business; it is transnational capital. The media is owned and control by a handful of global corporations and the concentration of the media among an oligopoly of corporate conglomerates is at this very time intensifying. In turn, the global media conglomerates are tied into the global banks and financial institutions. In light of what we have discussed so far in this interview, we could say that the media moguls are the mandarins of global capitalism. Very simply, the mass media plays the role of stenographer for the ruling elites. The capitalist mass media plays a key ideological and cultural role in the reproduction of the system. Edward Herman and Noam Chomsky’s famous study “Manufacturing Consent: The Political Economy of the Mass Media” is even more relevant today than when it was first written in 1982. The mass media shapes mass political perceptions and social agendas; it acts to frame how we even think about the world, and it increasingly depoliticizes the population, generates a dull, trivial conformity, and undermines the ability of people to think critically and independently of the power structure.

There certainly are systemic links between the military-industrial complex that Eisenhower warned of and the mass media. But the mass media is a willing accomplice. On the one hand, information is concealed from the public and we do live in a “national security state” in which much of the exercise of power is concealed from the public. And the mass media is complicit, by refusing to report on this exercise of power or simply, by not investigating it, by providing a sound box for the powers that be, and so on. Let us recall how the US mass media for the most part simply accepted the Bush-Cheney regime’s claim that there were weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. But there are deeper ideological functions that the mass media play, such as a more subtle framing of how we understand events on which it reports, how it selects certain facts and not others, selects certain stories to report and not others, and so on. What is uttered by those in power becomes “news” so that those in power through the mass media can often frame the public debate. Your question is an enormous topic that I don’t think we can go into fully here, beyond what I have already commented on.

Q: The special relationship and “passionate attachment” between the United States and Israel is something which usually surprises so many people across the world. The question that why the United States unconditionally supports Israel even when it’s subjugating the Palestinian people, pounding the Gaza Strip with rockets and denying the children of Gaza access to food, medicine and even toys has never been addressed adequately. What’s your take on that? Are there things behind the scenes which we are unaware of?

A: I think there is a two-way street here. On the one hand, the Zionist lobby in the United States is very powerful and controls key levels of financial and political influence. A candidate for public office that comes out against Israeli policy or in favor of Palestinian rights faces the full wrath of this lobby and is unlikely to win office. The book “The Israel Lobby and US Foreign Policy,” written by two prominent US political scientists, John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt, documents just how far the tentacles of this lobby reach within the US political system. This lobby is no longer “behind the scenes.” Typically, the Israel lobby will charge anyone who speaks out for Palestinian rights with anti-Semitism. Yet we know that this has nothing to do with anti-Semitism and everything to do with defending a colonial project. The Palestinians are a colonized people and Palestine remains a holdover, yet a very particular one, due to the circumstances in which the Israeli state came into existence, of the great or notorious colonial and imperial projects of the late 19th and early 20th century heyday of European and US colonialism.

On the other hand, the “special relationship” has as much to do with US and transnational capitalist control over the peoples and resources of the Middle East, and over the process of capitalist accumulation and profiteering in that region of the world, as it has to do with the efforts of the Israeli elites to reproduce this relationship. Israel is the frontline of global capitalism in the Middle East and North Africa; it is the entry point and the first and last line of defense, at least in the eyes of many in the US foreign policy establishment. In order for the United States to justify its policy of allying with a state that is openly racist and colonial and that denies the fundamental rights of a people, the Palestinians must be dehumanized and turned into “Others.” The image of Palestinians as non-human, as suicide bombers, as crazed terrorists, as “dirty Arabs,” as incomprehensible, and so on, has been cultivated by Hollywood, by the popular culture in the United States, and by policymakers and the mass media for decades.

But then why would you be surprised that the United States sustains this “special relationship” with a state that is committing what I have termed “slow motion genocide” against the Palestinians? This is not a departure from US practices around the world. Historically the US has propped up repressive regimes and colonial powers in pursuit of US and transnational elite interests. Let us recall that the US state backed the racist apartheid regime in South Africa almost until the very end, until a mass anti-apartheid movement in the United States in the late 1980s, together with the rising struggle of South Africans themselves, forced a change in policy. And this is not to mention that US foreign policy operations are no less criminal than Israeli suppression of the Palestinians. The US war against Iraq has killed up to a million Iraqis, the vast majority of them civilian.

Q: The US support for the brutal regimes in Bahrain, Saudi Arabia and Egypt while the White House leaders regularly boast of their commitment to democratic values sounds a little bit hypocritical. Why should the US government support regimes which treat women like the second-hand goods, never hold a free and democratic election and suppress any peaceful protest in the most brutal manner? Isn’t this support contrary to the values which the US Constitution is said to be championing?

A: We must start by understanding that US foreign policy is not, and has never been, about promoting and supporting democracy and human rights. It is about defending an unjust and fundamentally undemocratic international order; concretely, at this time, about advancing the agenda of the transnational elite and defending global capitalism. A fundamental insight of sociology is that every social action, whether individual or collective, must be ideologically legitimated. Human beings explain – that is, rationalize - their actions through prevailing ideological structures, including values, worldviews, common-sense and emotive processes. The Israeli regime legitimates its colonial project on the basis of the genocide committed against Jews by the Nazis – as if this somehow justifies genocide committed by them against the Palestinians. But the Nazi holocaust is the axis of legitimation of the Israeli state. The South African apartheid regime legitimated its system by notions of racial or civilizational superiority. The British legitimated their international colonial crimes by a doctrine of “The White Man’s Burden.” In turn, the United States legitimates its foreign policies through a discourse of “freedom and democracy.” But we must distinguish between the fundamental interests that social actors pursue and how they legitimate – through what discourse – they pursue these interests.

Q: Globalization has many advocates and proponents, but it can be clearly seen that it’s leaving harmful impacts on the national unity and cultural diversity of the world nations. Perhaps the Occupy Wall Street movement was a response to the damaging impacts of globalization, and later turned out to be a protest at the US economic and foreign policy approaches. Do you believe this movement has delivered on its promises and realized its goals, given the fact that it was brutally suppressed?

A: The problem is not globalization per se, if by globalization we understand that the world becomes a smaller place, that countries and peoples come into contact with one another and experience deepening levels of exchange and interdependency. Moreover, globalization offers the possibility for humanity to overcome age-old provincialisms, to truly realize our being as a single humanity, with all its multitudinous diversity and richness of cultures. The problem is that this particular capitalist globalization that we have been experiencing is organized from above, by the transnational capitalist class and global elites, and not for the purpose of advancing humanity but for the purpose of opening up the whole planet to plunder and subordinating the global working class to exploitation in the mines, factories, farms, and offices of the global capitalist economy. We need to redirect globalization towards meeting the needs of humanity, towards organizing the resources of the planet towards social need rather than private profit. This requires a massive redistribution downwards on a planetary scale of wealth and power, and such redistribution can only come about through mass, organized struggle from below.

The Occupy Wall Street movement was indeed brutally suppressed but it was, or is, just one of countless forms of resistance and counter-hegemony than continues to bubble to the surface in global society. As long as we live in this fundamentally unjust and oppressive global order we will have mass counter-hegemonic movements. But at the same time we, who are struggling from below to change the world in favor of the poor and working majority have our own problems to face. For one, in my view the Occupy movement and those like it do not see the need for a clear program, forms of political organization that can sustain a struggle, and for socialism, because if you are anti-capitalist you must be for something that will replace it. As well, how do we overcome the terrible vices and anti-human values that global capitalism inculcates in all of us: individualism, opportunism, selfishness, egos, envy, and so on. How do we create a humane and loving collective culture of the 99 percent?

Q: You’ve extensively studied the Latin America and its politics. I was reading one of your interviews in which you had talked about the legacy of the late Hugo Chavez and his contributions to the progress of Venezuela. Why do you think he was an important and indispensable leader, and as you term, “the most important revolutionary leader” that has emerged in Latin America?

A: In that interview to which you were referring, I stated my belief that a leader such as Hugo Chavez comes about once in a generation, perhaps once in a century. Chavez was one with the Venezuelan people – the poor and dark-skinned majority, that is. He had a political and strategic brilliance that is near impossible to describe if one did not observed him in action. He was an intellectual, but an intellectual that could communicate with the masses and do so with both enormous charisma and with political clarity. He could bring philosophy and theory to his leadership; he displayed an amazing capacity to learn. He was never – never – afraid to speak truth to power. He placed socialism back on the global agenda at a time when the worldwide left was claiming that there is no alternative to global neo-liberal capitalism. But he also criticized 20th century socialist for its top-down and anti-democratic tendencies. He called for a 21st century socialism from the bottom up. He led a progressive bloc of Latin American social and political forces out of the devastating era of neo-liberal hegemony in Latin America. He recovered Venezuelan oil wealth for the poor majority of Venezuelans, even has before his death he was exploring how the country could break free of oil dependency, with all the negative economic and ecological consequences of such dependency. He was far from perfect but he displayed a great love for humanity. Like Che Guevara before him, he was not corruptible. In fact, my major criticism of him was that he did take a strong enough position against the corruption and opportunism that existed and still does exist in the Venezuelan state.

This piece was reprinted by Truthout with permission or license. It may not be reproduced in any form without permission or license from the source.

Hide Comments

blog comments powered by Disqus
GET DAILY TRUTHOUT UPDATES

FOLLOW togtorsstottofb


Professor William I. Robinson: Global Capitalism Is in the Midst of Its Most Severe Crisis

Thursday, 24 July 2014 09:41 By Kourosh Ziabari, FARS News | Interview

Tehran - Prominent American sociologist Prof. William I. Robinson believes that the United States government is the biggest perpetrator of terror in the world and its military adventures across the globe have claimed the lives of millions of innocent citizens.

According to Prof. William I. Robinson, “if we define terrorism as the use of violence against civilians for political objectives, then the US state is the world’s leading terrorist.”

“US intervention abroad in the 20th century – the forging of a US empire - claimed tens of millions of victims, inflicted untold suffering, and set back the aspirations of freedom and democracy in dozens of countries,” said Prof. Robinson in an exclusive interview with Fars News Agency.

Prof. Robinson also went on to say that capitalism, which is the predominant economic and political worldview of the United States and other imperial powers is in the midst of its most severe crisis in close to a century, even worse than the crisis in the 1930s, “because we are on the precipice of an ecological holocaust that threatens the very earth system and the ability to sustain life, ours included, because the means of violence and social control have never before been so concentrated within a single powerful state, and because the global means of communication is also extraordinarily concentrated in the hands of transnational capital and a few powerful states.”

William I. Robinson is a professor of sociology, global and international studies, and Latin American studies at the University of California at Santa Barbara. His latest book entitled Global Capitalism and the Crisis of Humanity was just published in 2014. In the early 1980s, he worked as a journalist in the war-torn Nicaragua. From 1984 to 1990 he was a member of the Union of Nicaraguan Journalists. His articles and writings have appeared on such news websites as Al-Jazeera, Huffington Post and Truth Out.

Prof. Robinson took part in an exclusive, comprehensive interview with FNA and responded to our questions about the demise of capitalism, the future of globalization, the setbacks and failures of the US foreign policy and the human consequences of Washington’s military adventures. What follows is the text of the interview.

Q: What’s your viewpoint regarding the consequences of the US military expeditions across the world, including the devastation of the natural resources of the countries that are attacked, the killing of the unarmed civilians, the forced migration and displacement of the war-hit population, the pollution of the air, the infliction of irretrievable damages on the environment and the erosion of democratic institutions in these countries? Who is going to compensate for these losses?

A: The US state is acting as the gendarme for global capitalism at a time when global capitalism is in deep crisis. It is the core institution in what I have referred to as the transnational state, and in my view it represents at this time the interests of transnational capital, of a transnational capitalist class.

The United States has committed successive war crimes and crimes against humanity in recent years. However, let us recall that this is the continuation of a long historical pattern, what we used to call imperialism, and some still do refer to as imperialism. The United States as a country was born on the basis of the slavery of Africans and other peoples and genocide against the native populations of North America.

Expansion from the original East Coast colonies began from the very inception of the Republic. Texas was annexed from Mexico in 1836 by white Southern slavers who were seeking to expand cotton plantation based on the slavery of Africans. This expansion continued in 1848 as the United States annexed one half of Mexican territory in a war of aggression justified by “Manifest Destiny”. US rulers then launched extra-territorial expansion, starting with the invasion, occupation, and colonization of Puerto Rico, the Philippines, and Cuba in 1898, and followed by literally hundreds – perhaps thousands - of interventions in the 20th century, including convert operation, the orchestration of coup d’etats, counter-insurgencies, military invasions, occupations, and so forth – throughout Latin America, Africa, the Middle East, and Asia, but also in Southern and Eastern Europe. US intervention abroad in the 20th century – the forging of a US empire - claimed tens of millions of victims, inflicted untold suffering, and set back the aspirations of freedom and democracy in dozens of countries – yet US rulers had the arrogance and cynicism to claim that its aggression against the world’s people was in the name of freedom and democracy.

Of course the United States does not hold a monopoly on such expansionism and interventionism in the modern era of capitalism. Over the past two centuries, and even earlier, England, France, Spain and other European powers were carving out their own colonial empires, unleashing unfathomable brutality and suffering. The culprit here, beyond a particular nation-state, is an outwardly expanding capitalism involving imperialism and colonialism. The United States stands out because it became the dominant world power in the wake of World War II and set about to construct a truly global empire, the likes of which the world had not previously seen.

However, and this is the key point I wish to highlight here, US intervention around the world clearly entered a qualitatively new period after September 11, 2001. This new period should be seen in the context of emergent 21st century global capitalism. Global capitalism is in the midst of its most severe crisis in close to a century, and in many ways the current crisis is much worse than that of the 1930s because we are on the precipice of an ecological holocaust that threatens the very earth system and the ability to sustain life, ours included, because the means of violence and social control have never before been so concentrated within a single powerful state, and because the global means of communication is also extraordinarily concentrated in the hands of transnational capital and a few powerful states. On the other hand, global inequalities have never been as acute and grotesque as they are today. So, in simplified terms, we need to see the escalation of US interventionism and the untold suffering it brings about, including what you mention – the killing of unarmed civilians, the destruction of the environment, forced migration and displacement, undermining democracy – as a response by the US-led transnational state and the transnational capitalist class to contain the explosive contradictions of a global capitalist system that is out of control and in deep crisis.

You ask me who is going to compensate for these losses. That will depend on how the world’s people respond. There is currently a global revolt from below underway, but it is spread unevenly across countries and has not taken any clear form or direction. Can the popular majority of humanity force the transnational capitalist class and the US/transnational state to be accountable for its crimes? Mao Zedong once said that “power flows through the barrel of a gun.” What he meant by this, in a more abstract than literal way, I believe, is that in the end it is the correlation of real forces that will determine outcomes. Because the United States has overwhelming and “full spectrum” military dominance, it can capture, execute, or bring to trial people anywhere around the world… it has “free license”, so to speak, to act as an international outlaw. We don’t even have to take the more recent examples. In December 1989 the United States undertook an illegal and criminal invasion of Panama, kidnapped Manuel Noriega – whether or not he was a dictator is not the point, as the United States puts in power and defends dictators that defend US and transnational elite interests, and brought him back to US territory for trial. What country in the world now has the naked power “flowing through the barrel of a gun” to invade the United States, capture George Bush, Dick Chaney, Donald Rumsfeld, and other war criminals, and bring them somewhere to stand trial for war crimes and crimes against humanity?

Q: In your writings, you’ve warned against the growing gap between the rich and the poor, the slant accumulation of the global wealth in the hands of an affluent few and the impoverishment of the suppressed majority. What do you think are the reasons for this stark inequality and the disturbing dispossession of millions of people in the capitalist societies? You wrote that the participants of the 2011 World Economic Forum in Davos were worried that the current situation raises the specter of worldwide instability and civil wars. Is it really so?

A: We have never in the history of humanity seen such a sharp social polarization between the haves and the have-nots, such grotesque levels of inequality, within and among countries. There have been countless studies in recent years documenting the escalation of inequalities, among them, the current bestseller by Thomas Piketty, Capital in the Twenty-First Century. The pattern we see is that the notorious “1 percent” monopolizes a huge portion of the wealth that humanity produces and transnational corporations and banks are registering record profits, but as well that some 20 percent of the population in each countries has integrated into the global economy as middle class and affluent consumers while the remaining 80 percent has experienced rising levels of insecurity, impoverishment, and precariousness, increasingly inhabiting what some have called a “planet of slums.”

The apologists of global capitalism point to the rise of a middle class in China to claim that the system is successful. But in China, 300-400 million people have entered the ranks of the global middle and consuming class while the other 800-900 million have faced downward mobility, immiseration, insecurity, unemployment and extreme levels of exploitation. Such is this exploitation that a couple years ago, you may remember, Foxcomm workers preferred to commit suicide by jumping off the roof of their factories than to remain in their labor camps. This is the Foxcomm that makes your iPads and iPhones. The 80 percent is then subject to all sorts of sophisticated systems of social control and repression.

We are headed in this regard towards a global police state, organized by global elites and led by the US state, to contain the real or potential rebellion of a dispossessed majority. Such structures of inequality and exploitation cannot be contained over time without both ideological and coercive apparatuses; conformity to a system of structural violence must be compelled through direct violence, organized by states and private security forces. Edward Snowden revealed the extent to which we are now living in a global social control state, a global panoptical surveillance state. George Orwell wrote about such a state in his famous novel 1984. The Orwellian society has arrived. Yet it is worse than Orwell imagined, because at least the members of Orwell’s society had their basic needs met in return for their obedience and conformity.

How do we explain such stark inequality? Capitalism is a system that by its very internal dynamic generates wealth yet polarizes and concentrates that wealth. Historically a de-concentration of wealth through redistribution has come about by state intervention to offset the natural tendency for capital accumulation to result in such polarization. States have turned to an array of redistributive mechanisms both because they have been pressured from below to do so – whether by trade unions, social movements, socialist struggles, or so on – or because states must do so in order to retain legitimacy and preserve at least enough social peace for the reproduction of the system. A great variety of redistributive models emerged in the 20th century around the world, and went by a great many names – socialism, communism, social democracy, New Deal, welfare states, developmental states, populism, the social wage, and so on. All these models shared two things in common. One was state intervention in the economy to regulate capital accumulation and thus to bring under some control the most anarchic and most destructive elements of unrestrained capitalism. The other was redistribution through numerous policies, ranging from minimum legal wages and unemployment insurance, to public enterprises, the social wages of public health, education, transportation, and housing, welfare programs, land reform in agrarian countries, low cost credit, and so on.

But capital responded to the last major crisis of the system, that of the 1970s, by “going global,” by breaking free of nation-state constraints to accumulation and undermining models of state regulation and redistribution. Neo-liberalism is a set of policies that facilitate the rise of transnational capital. As transnational capital has broken free of the confine of the nation-state, the natural tendency for capitalism to concentrate wealth has been unleashed without any countervailing restraints. The result has been this dizzying escalation of worldwide inequalities as wealth concentrates within the transnational capitalist class and, to a much lesser extent, the better off strata of middle classes and professionals.

There are other related factors that account for the intensification of worldwide inequalities. One is the defeat of the worldwide left in the late 1980s and early 1990s, which led the ruling groups to declare that global neo-liberal capitalism was “The End of History.” A second is the rise of a globally integrated financial system in which capital in its liquid, that is money, form can move frictionless across the planet with no controls whatsoever. Transnational finance capital has become the hegemonic fraction of capital on a global scale, and it engages in unfathomable levels of speculation, turning the global economy into one giant casino.

Transnational finance capital has come to control the levers of the global economy, to get around and to undermine any effort at regulation, and to concentrate wealth in its liquid form in a way that would have been unimaginable just a few years ago. A third factor is the rise of a mass of surplus humanity. Hundreds of millions of people, perhaps billions, have been made “superfluous”, thrown off the land or out of productive employment, replaced by machines and rising productivity, marginalized and relegated to migration and to trying to scratch by an existence in the “planet of slums.” In turn, this mass of humanity places those that are employed in a very vulnerable situation, drives down wage levels everywhere, facilitates the “flexibilization” and precarious nature of wage labor, and thereby further aggravating inequalities.

Q: In one of your articles, you talked of an “ever-expanding military-prison-industrial-security-financial complex” that generates enormous profits through waging wars, selling weapons and then taking part in reconstruction activities in the war-torn countries. How does this complex operate? Is it really reliant on waging wars?

A: We cannot understand intensified militarization and the rise of this complex outside of the crisis of global capitalism. This crisis is structural, in the first instance. It is what we call a crisis of over-accumulation. The rise of the global economy driven by new technologies, especially computer, information, and communications technologies, but also by the revolution in transportation and containerization, by robotics, aerospace, biotechnology, nanotechnology, and more recently, by 3D printing, among other aspects, has allowed the transnational capitalist class to restructure and reorganize the whole world economy, and to bring about a huge increase in productivity worldwide and an enormous expansion of the capacity of the global economy to churn out goods and services. But extreme inequality and social polarization in the global system means that the global market cannot absorb the expanding output of the global economy. The result is a stagnation that is becoming chronic. The gap between what the global economy can produce and what the global market can absorb is growing and this leads to a crisis of overproduction: where and how to unload the surplus? How can transnational capital continue to accumulate and generate profits if this output is not unloaded, that is, profitably marketed? Unloading the surplus through financial speculation, which has skyrocketed in recent years, only aggravates the solution, as we saw with the collapse of 2008.

Now, if only 20 percent of humanity can consume in any significant quantity it is not very profitable to go into the business of mass, inexpensive public transportation, health and education, or the production of practical goods that the world’s population needs because very simply even if people need these things they do not have the income to purchase them. A global civilian economy geared to the basic needs of humanity is simply not profitable for the transnational capitalist class.

Look at it like this: the mass production and distribution of vaccines and other medications for communicable and treatable diseases that affect masses of poor people around the world are simply not profitable and as a result we even have new pandemics of diseases – tuberculosis, measles, etc. - that previously were under control. Yet it is profitable for the global capitalist medical industry, including the giant pharmaceutical, biotechnology and related branches to spend billions on developing plastic surgery and every imaginable treatment for the vanity of a small portion of humanity, or to develop incredibly expensive treatments for diseases that afflict the affluent. The lesson here is that capital will seek to accumulate where it is profitable, according to the structure of the market and of income, which in turn is shaped by the balance of class and social power and what we call the relations of production and irrespective of rational use of resources and irrespective of human need.

It is in this context that it becomes quite profitable to turn to wars, conflicts, systems of repression and social control to generate profit, to produce goods and systems that can repress that 80 percent of humanity that is not your consumer, not your customer so to say, because they do not have the purchasing power to sustain your drive to accumulate by producing goods and services for them that they actually need. Global capitalism is a perverted and irrational system.

Putting aside geo-political considerations, the surplus that the global economy has been and is producing but that cannot be absorbed by the world market, has been channeled into wars and conflicts that involve endless rounds of destruction and reconstruction, and new systems of social control and repression, independent of geo-political considerations, that is, simply as a way of sustaining capital accumulation and profit making in the face of stagnation tendencies. The US invasions and occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan – although legitimated in the name of fighting “terrorism” - have generated hundreds of billions of dollars in contracts and profits for transnational capital. The prison-industrial and immigrant-detention complexes in the United States – and let us recall that the United States holds some 25-30 percent of the world’s prisoners – is enormously profitable for private corporations that run almost all of the immigrant detention centers, some of the general prisons, supply everything from guards to food, build the installations, erect border walls, and so on. Let us recall that the US National Security Agency – and we now know from Edward Snowden just how vast are its operations – subcontracts out its activities to private corporations, as do the CIA, the Pentagon, and so on. Global security corporations are one of the fastest growing sectors of the global economy and there are now more private security guards in the world than police officers.

All of this is to say that we are now living in a global war economy, in which the threat of stagnation is offset in part by the militarization of global economy and society and the introduction and spread of systems of mass social control. Of course this involves all kinds of cultural, ideological, and political dimensions as well. A global war economy based on a multitude of endless conflicts and the spread of social control systems, from full-scale wars to the repression of racial minorities and immigrants in the United States and Europe, must be ideologically legitimated. This is where bogus and farcical “wars on drugs and terrorism” come in, where enemies must be conjured up, in which populations must be led to believe they are threatened, and so on. So the US public must believe that Iran is a threat, that Putin is now the devil, and so on. One “threat” replaces another but the system needs to keep a population in permanent compliance through the manipulation of emotion and the senses.

This transition into a permanent global war economy has involved some shifts in the gravitational centers of capital accumulation, towards those global corporate conglomerates involved in the production of war materials, of security, of engineering (for example, Bechtel and Halliburton), and other activities that involve making profit out of conflict and control. Remember by way of example that each drone that flies, each missile fired, each round of ammunition, each tank deployed, each soldier equipped and fed, each prison that is constructed, each surveillance system put into place, each border wall installed, and so on and so forth, is produced in factories and through production chains by global corporations whose supply, in turn, of raw materials, machinery and service inputs in turn come from other global corporations or local firms. So the whole global economy is kept running through violence and conflict. But the global war economy also involves the global financial institutions that are at the very heart of the global economy, together with the petroleum complex that is coming under much pressure from the environmental movement yet is showing all-time record profits in the past few years.

This is a new transnational power bloc – this complex of corporate interests brought around a global war economy and global systems of repression and social control, together with elites and state managers brought into or representing the power bloc. Remember also that the polarization of the world population into 20 percent affluent and 80 percent immiserated generates new spatial social relations, so that the privileged occupy gated communities and those displaced by gentrification must be violently suppressed and carefully controlled, while surveillance systems and security guards must patrol and protect that 20 percent. All this and much more are part of the militarization and “securitization” of global society by the powers that be.

We face new doctrines, ideologies and political discourse that legitimize the construction of a global police state – “fourth generation warfare,” “humanitarian intervention,” the “war on drugs,” among others, and above all, the so-called “war on terror.” I say so-called because, the US state is the biggest perpetrator of terror in the world. It is not that Al-Qaida and other groups do not carry out condemnable violence against innocent civilians. They indeed do. But if we define terrorism as the use of violence against civilians for political objectives, then the US state is the world’s leading terrorist.  The powers that be in global society and that control the global political discourse attach the label “terrorist” to violence that they do not approve of, and they attach the label of “freedom and democracy and security” to violence that they do approve of, or that they commit themselves. Moreover, increasingly “terrorism” is used to simply describe political dissent, so that legitimate social movements and political struggles against global capitalism become labeled as “terrorism” in order to justify their suppression.

Q: Do you think that the military-industrial complex, as described by President Dwight Eisenhower in his farewell address in January 1961, is controlling and manipulating the mass media in the United States and dictating to them what to publish and broadcast and what to withhold from the public? Do you think that the military-industrial complex has a sway on what the media should reveal to people and what to keep concealed from them?

A: No, not at all, at least not in the way that you are framing the matter of what some might call “thought control.” You have entirely the wrong focus. The mass media to which you refer is itself big business with an interest in framing how the public perceives the world and the events that occur, and with an interest in legitimizing the system overall, even when it is critical of particular policies or situations. Never before in history has the flow of information, the production and the distribution of cultural production, of the means of communication and of symbolic production, been so concentrated in such few hands.

The mass media in the United States – and worldwide - is big business; it is transnational capital. The media is owned and control by a handful of global corporations and the concentration of the media among an oligopoly of corporate conglomerates is at this very time intensifying. In turn, the global media conglomerates are tied into the global banks and financial institutions. In light of what we have discussed so far in this interview, we could say that the media moguls are the mandarins of global capitalism. Very simply, the mass media plays the role of stenographer for the ruling elites. The capitalist mass media plays a key ideological and cultural role in the reproduction of the system. Edward Herman and Noam Chomsky’s famous study “Manufacturing Consent: The Political Economy of the Mass Media” is even more relevant today than when it was first written in 1982. The mass media shapes mass political perceptions and social agendas; it acts to frame how we even think about the world, and it increasingly depoliticizes the population, generates a dull, trivial conformity, and undermines the ability of people to think critically and independently of the power structure.

There certainly are systemic links between the military-industrial complex that Eisenhower warned of and the mass media. But the mass media is a willing accomplice. On the one hand, information is concealed from the public and we do live in a “national security state” in which much of the exercise of power is concealed from the public. And the mass media is complicit, by refusing to report on this exercise of power or simply, by not investigating it, by providing a sound box for the powers that be, and so on. Let us recall how the US mass media for the most part simply accepted the Bush-Cheney regime’s claim that there were weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. But there are deeper ideological functions that the mass media play, such as a more subtle framing of how we understand events on which it reports, how it selects certain facts and not others, selects certain stories to report and not others, and so on. What is uttered by those in power becomes “news” so that those in power through the mass media can often frame the public debate. Your question is an enormous topic that I don’t think we can go into fully here, beyond what I have already commented on.

Q: The special relationship and “passionate attachment” between the United States and Israel is something which usually surprises so many people across the world. The question that why the United States unconditionally supports Israel even when it’s subjugating the Palestinian people, pounding the Gaza Strip with rockets and denying the children of Gaza access to food, medicine and even toys has never been addressed adequately. What’s your take on that? Are there things behind the scenes which we are unaware of?

A: I think there is a two-way street here. On the one hand, the Zionist lobby in the United States is very powerful and controls key levels of financial and political influence. A candidate for public office that comes out against Israeli policy or in favor of Palestinian rights faces the full wrath of this lobby and is unlikely to win office. The book “The Israel Lobby and US Foreign Policy,” written by two prominent US political scientists, John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt, documents just how far the tentacles of this lobby reach within the US political system. This lobby is no longer “behind the scenes.” Typically, the Israel lobby will charge anyone who speaks out for Palestinian rights with anti-Semitism. Yet we know that this has nothing to do with anti-Semitism and everything to do with defending a colonial project. The Palestinians are a colonized people and Palestine remains a holdover, yet a very particular one, due to the circumstances in which the Israeli state came into existence, of the great or notorious colonial and imperial projects of the late 19th and early 20th century heyday of European and US colonialism.

On the other hand, the “special relationship” has as much to do with US and transnational capitalist control over the peoples and resources of the Middle East, and over the process of capitalist accumulation and profiteering in that region of the world, as it has to do with the efforts of the Israeli elites to reproduce this relationship. Israel is the frontline of global capitalism in the Middle East and North Africa; it is the entry point and the first and last line of defense, at least in the eyes of many in the US foreign policy establishment. In order for the United States to justify its policy of allying with a state that is openly racist and colonial and that denies the fundamental rights of a people, the Palestinians must be dehumanized and turned into “Others.” The image of Palestinians as non-human, as suicide bombers, as crazed terrorists, as “dirty Arabs,” as incomprehensible, and so on, has been cultivated by Hollywood, by the popular culture in the United States, and by policymakers and the mass media for decades.

But then why would you be surprised that the United States sustains this “special relationship” with a state that is committing what I have termed “slow motion genocide” against the Palestinians? This is not a departure from US practices around the world. Historically the US has propped up repressive regimes and colonial powers in pursuit of US and transnational elite interests. Let us recall that the US state backed the racist apartheid regime in South Africa almost until the very end, until a mass anti-apartheid movement in the United States in the late 1980s, together with the rising struggle of South Africans themselves, forced a change in policy. And this is not to mention that US foreign policy operations are no less criminal than Israeli suppression of the Palestinians. The US war against Iraq has killed up to a million Iraqis, the vast majority of them civilian.

Q: The US support for the brutal regimes in Bahrain, Saudi Arabia and Egypt while the White House leaders regularly boast of their commitment to democratic values sounds a little bit hypocritical. Why should the US government support regimes which treat women like the second-hand goods, never hold a free and democratic election and suppress any peaceful protest in the most brutal manner? Isn’t this support contrary to the values which the US Constitution is said to be championing?

A: We must start by understanding that US foreign policy is not, and has never been, about promoting and supporting democracy and human rights. It is about defending an unjust and fundamentally undemocratic international order; concretely, at this time, about advancing the agenda of the transnational elite and defending global capitalism. A fundamental insight of sociology is that every social action, whether individual or collective, must be ideologically legitimated. Human beings explain – that is, rationalize - their actions through prevailing ideological structures, including values, worldviews, common-sense and emotive processes. The Israeli regime legitimates its colonial project on the basis of the genocide committed against Jews by the Nazis – as if this somehow justifies genocide committed by them against the Palestinians. But the Nazi holocaust is the axis of legitimation of the Israeli state. The South African apartheid regime legitimated its system by notions of racial or civilizational superiority. The British legitimated their international colonial crimes by a doctrine of “The White Man’s Burden.” In turn, the United States legitimates its foreign policies through a discourse of “freedom and democracy.” But we must distinguish between the fundamental interests that social actors pursue and how they legitimate – through what discourse – they pursue these interests.

Q: Globalization has many advocates and proponents, but it can be clearly seen that it’s leaving harmful impacts on the national unity and cultural diversity of the world nations. Perhaps the Occupy Wall Street movement was a response to the damaging impacts of globalization, and later turned out to be a protest at the US economic and foreign policy approaches. Do you believe this movement has delivered on its promises and realized its goals, given the fact that it was brutally suppressed?

A: The problem is not globalization per se, if by globalization we understand that the world becomes a smaller place, that countries and peoples come into contact with one another and experience deepening levels of exchange and interdependency. Moreover, globalization offers the possibility for humanity to overcome age-old provincialisms, to truly realize our being as a single humanity, with all its multitudinous diversity and richness of cultures. The problem is that this particular capitalist globalization that we have been experiencing is organized from above, by the transnational capitalist class and global elites, and not for the purpose of advancing humanity but for the purpose of opening up the whole planet to plunder and subordinating the global working class to exploitation in the mines, factories, farms, and offices of the global capitalist economy. We need to redirect globalization towards meeting the needs of humanity, towards organizing the resources of the planet towards social need rather than private profit. This requires a massive redistribution downwards on a planetary scale of wealth and power, and such redistribution can only come about through mass, organized struggle from below.

The Occupy Wall Street movement was indeed brutally suppressed but it was, or is, just one of countless forms of resistance and counter-hegemony than continues to bubble to the surface in global society. As long as we live in this fundamentally unjust and oppressive global order we will have mass counter-hegemonic movements. But at the same time we, who are struggling from below to change the world in favor of the poor and working majority have our own problems to face. For one, in my view the Occupy movement and those like it do not see the need for a clear program, forms of political organization that can sustain a struggle, and for socialism, because if you are anti-capitalist you must be for something that will replace it. As well, how do we overcome the terrible vices and anti-human values that global capitalism inculcates in all of us: individualism, opportunism, selfishness, egos, envy, and so on. How do we create a humane and loving collective culture of the 99 percent?

Q: You’ve extensively studied the Latin America and its politics. I was reading one of your interviews in which you had talked about the legacy of the late Hugo Chavez and his contributions to the progress of Venezuela. Why do you think he was an important and indispensable leader, and as you term, “the most important revolutionary leader” that has emerged in Latin America?

A: In that interview to which you were referring, I stated my belief that a leader such as Hugo Chavez comes about once in a generation, perhaps once in a century. Chavez was one with the Venezuelan people – the poor and dark-skinned majority, that is. He had a political and strategic brilliance that is near impossible to describe if one did not observed him in action. He was an intellectual, but an intellectual that could communicate with the masses and do so with both enormous charisma and with political clarity. He could bring philosophy and theory to his leadership; he displayed an amazing capacity to learn. He was never – never – afraid to speak truth to power. He placed socialism back on the global agenda at a time when the worldwide left was claiming that there is no alternative to global neo-liberal capitalism. But he also criticized 20th century socialist for its top-down and anti-democratic tendencies. He called for a 21st century socialism from the bottom up. He led a progressive bloc of Latin American social and political forces out of the devastating era of neo-liberal hegemony in Latin America. He recovered Venezuelan oil wealth for the poor majority of Venezuelans, even has before his death he was exploring how the country could break free of oil dependency, with all the negative economic and ecological consequences of such dependency. He was far from perfect but he displayed a great love for humanity. Like Che Guevara before him, he was not corruptible. In fact, my major criticism of him was that he did take a strong enough position against the corruption and opportunism that existed and still does exist in the Venezuelan state.

This piece was reprinted by Truthout with permission or license. It may not be reproduced in any form without permission or license from the source.

Hide Comments

blog comments powered by Disqus