Category Archives: World Bank

India: The State of Independence

India celebrates its independence from Britain on 15 August. However, the system of British colonial dominance has been replaced by a new hegemony based on the systemic rule of transnational capital, enforced by global institutions like the World Bank and WTO. At the same time, global agribusiness corporations are stepping into the boots of the former East India Company.

The long-term goal of US capitalism has been to restructure indigenous agriculture across the world and tie it to an international system of trade underpinned by export-oriented mono-cropping, commodity production for the global market and debtThe result has been food surplus and food deficit areas, of which the latter have become dependent on agricultural imports and strings-attached aid.

Whether through IMF-World Bank structural adjustment programmes, as occurred in Africa, trade agreements like NAFTA and its impact on Mexico or, more generally, deregulated global trade rules, the outcome has been similar: the displacement of traditional, indigenous agriculture by a corporatized model centred on transnational agribusiness and the undermining of both regional and world food security. The global food regime is in effect increasingly beholden to unregulated global markets, financial speculators and global monopolies.

India, of course, has not been immune to this. It is on course to be subjugated by US state-corporate interests  and is heading towards environmental catastrophe much faster than many might think. As I outlined in this previous piece, the IMF and World Bank wants India to shift hundreds of millions out of agriculture and has been directed to dismantle its state-owned seed supply system, reduce subsidies and run down public agriculture institutions.

The plan for India involves the mass displacement of people to restructure agriculture for the benefit of western agricapital. This involves shifting at least 400 million from the countryside into cities. A 2016 UN report said that by 2030, Delhi’s population will be 37 million.

One of the report’s principal authors, Felix Creutzig, says:

The emerging mega-cities will rely increasingly on industrial-scale agricultural and supermarket chains, crowding out local food chains.

The drive is to entrench industrial agriculture, commercialise the countryside and to replace small-scale farming, the backbone of food production in India. It could mean hundreds of millions of former rural dwellers without any work (India is heading for ‘jobless growth’). Given the trajectory the country seems to be on, it does not take much to imagine a countryside with vast swathes of chemically-drenched monocrop fields containing genetically modified plants or soils rapidly degrading to become a mere repository for a chemical cocktail of proprietary biocides.

The plan is to displace the existing system of livelihood-sustaining smallholder agriculture with one dominated from seed to plate by transnational agribusiness and retail concerns. To facilitate this, independent cultivators are being bankrupted, land is to be amalgamated to facilitate large-scale industrial cultivation and those farmers that are left will be absorbed into corporate supply chains and squeezed as they work on contracts, the terms of which will be dictated by large agribusiness and chain retailers.

Some like to call this adopting a market-based approach: a system in the ‘market-driven’ US that receives a taxpayer farm bill subsidy of around $100 million annually.

The WTO and the US-India Knowledge Initiative on Agriculture are facilitating the process. To push the plan along, there is a strategy to make agriculture financially non-viable for India’s small farms. The result is that hundreds of thousands of farmers in India have taken their lives since 1997 and many more are experiencing economic distress or have left farming as a result of debt, a shift to cash crops and economic liberalisation.

The number of cultivators in India declined from 166 million to 146 million between 2004 and 2011. Some 6,700 left farming each day. Between 2015 and 2022 the number of cultivators is likely to decrease to around 127 million.

For all the discussion in India about loan waivers for farmers and raising their income levels, this does not address the core of the problem affecting agriculture: the running down of the sector for decades, spiralling input costs, lack of government assistance and the impacts of cheap, subsidised imports which depress farmers’ incomes.

Take the cultivation of pulses, for instance. According to a report in the Indian Express (September 2017), pulses production increased by 40% during the previous 12 months (a year of record production). At the same time, however, imports also rose resulting in black gram selling at 4,000 rupees per quintal (much less than during the previous 12 months). This has effectively driven down prices thereby reducing farmers’ already meagre incomes. We have already witnessed a running down of the indigenous edible oils sector thanks to Indonesian palm oil imports on the back of World Bank pressure to reduce tariffs (India was virtually self-sufficient in edible oils in the 1990s but now faces increasing import costs).

On the one hand, there is talk of India becoming food secure and self-sufficient; on the other, there is pressure from the richer nations for the Indian government to further reduce support given to farmers and open up to imports and ‘free’ trade. But this is based on hypocrisy.

Writing on the ‘Down to Earth’ website in late 2017, Sachin Kumar Jain states some 3.2 million people were engaged in agriculture in the US in 2015. The US govt provided them each with a subsidy of $7,860 on average. Japan provides a subsidy of $14,136 and New Zealand $2,623 to its farmers. In 2015, a British farmer earned $2,800 and $37,000 was added through subsidies. The Indian government provides on average a subsidy of $873 to farmers. However, between 2012 and 2014, India reduced the subsidy on agriculture by $3 billion.

According to policy analyst Devinder Sharma, subsidies provided to US wheat and rice farmers are more than the market worth of these two crops. He also notes that, per day, each cow in Europe receives subsidy worth more than an Indian farmer’s daily income.

How can the Indian farmer compete with an influx of artificially cheap imports? The simple answer is that s/he cannot and is not meant to.

In the book The Invention of Capitalism, Michael Perelmen lays bare the iron fist which whipped the English peasantry into a workforce willing to accept factory wage labour. A series of laws and measures served to force peasants off the land and deprive them of their productive means. In India, we are currently witnessing a headlong rush to facilitate (foreign) capital and turn farmers into a reserve army of cheap industrial/service sector labour. By moving people into cities, it seems India wants to emulate China: a US colonial outpost for manufacturing that has boosted corporate profits at the expense of US jobs. In India, migrants – stripped of their livelihoods in the countryside – are to become the new ‘serfs’ of the informal services and construction sectors or to be trained for low-level industrial jobs.

Even here, however, India might have missed the boat as it is not creating anything like the number of jobs required and the effects of automation and artificial intelligence are eradicating the need for human labour across many sectors.

India’s high GDP growth has been fuelled on the back of debt, environmental degradation, cheap food and the subsequent impoverishment of farmers. The gap between their income and the rest of the population, including public sector workers, has widened enormously to the point where rural India consumes less calories per head than it did 40 years ago.

Amartya Sen and former World Bank Chief Economist Kaushik Basu have argued that the bulk of India’s aggregate growth occurred through a disproportionate rise in the incomes at the upper end of the income ladder. Furthermore, Global Finance Integrity has shown that the outflow of illicit funds into foreign bank accounts has accelerated since opening up the economy to neoliberalism in the early nineties. ‘High net worth individuals’ (i.e. the very rich) are the biggest culprits here.

While corporations receive massive handouts and interest-free loans, they have failed to spur job creation; yet any proposed financial injections (or loan waivers) for agriculture (which would pale into insignificance compared to corporate subsidies/written off loans) are depicted as a drain on the economy.

Making India ‘business friendly’

PM Modi is on record as saying that India is now one of the most business-friendly countries in the world. The code for being ‘business friendly’ translates into a willingness by the government to facilitate much of the above, while reducing taxes and tariffs and allowing the acquisition of public assets via privatisation as well as instituting policy frameworks that work to the advantage of foreign corporations.

When the World Bank rates countries on their level of ‘ease of doing business’, it means national states facilitating policies that force working people to take part in a race to the bottom based on free market fundamentalism. The more ‘compliant’ national governments make their populations and regulations, the more ‘business friendly’ a country is.

The World Bank’s ‘Enabling the Business of Agriculture’ entails opening up markets to Western agribusiness and their fertilisers, pesticides, weedicides and patented seeds with farmers working to supply transnational corporations’ global supply chains. Rather than working towards food security based on food sovereignty and eradicating corruption, building storage facilities and dealing with inept bureaucracies and deficiencies in food logistics, the mantra is to let ‘the market’ intervene: a euphemism for letting powerful corporations take control; the very transnational corporations that receive massive taxpayer subsidies, manipulate markets, write trade agreements and institute a regime of intellectual property rights thereby indicating that the ‘free’ market only exists in the warped delusions of those who churn out clichés about letting the market decide.

Foreign direct investment is said to be good for jobs and good for business. But just how many get created is another matter – as is the amount of jobs destroyed in the first place to pave the way for the entry of foreign corporations. For example, Cargill sets up a food or seed processing plant that employs a few hundred people; but what about the agricultural jobs that were deliberately eradicated in the first place to import seeds or the village-level processors who were cynically put out of business via bogus health and safety measures so that Cargill could gain a financially lucrative foothold?

The process resembles what Michel Chossudovsky notes in his 1997 book about the ‘structural adjustment’ of African countries. In The Globalization of Poverty, he says that economies are:

opened up through the concurrent displacement of a pre-existing productive system. Small and medium-sized enterprises are pushed into bankruptcy or obliged to produce for a global distributor, state enterprises are privatised or closed down, independent agricultural producers are impoverished. (p.16)

The opening up of India to foreign capital is supported by rhetoric about increasing agricultural productivity, creating jobs and boosting GDP growth. But India is already self-sufficient in key staples and even where productivity is among the best in the world (as in Punjab) farmers still face massive financial distress. Clearly, productivity is not the problem: even with bumper harvests, the agrarian crisis persists.

India is looking to US corporations to ‘develop’ its food, retail and agriculture sectors. What could this mean for India? We only have to look at the business model that keeps these companies in profit in the US: an industrialised system that relies on massive taxpayer subsidies and has destroyed many small-scale farmers’ livelihoods.

The fact that US agriculture now employs a tiny fraction of the population serves as a stark reminder for what is in store for Indian farmers. Agribusiness companies’ taxpayer-subsidised business models are based on overproduction and dumping on the world market to depress prices and rob farmers elsewhere of the ability to cover the costs of production. They rake in huge returns, while depressed farmer incomes and massive profits for food retailers is the norm.

The long-term plan is for an overwhelmingly urbanised India with a fraction of the population left in farming working on contracts for large suppliers and Walmart-type supermarkets that offer a largely monoculture diet of highly processed, denutrified, genetically altered food based on crops soaked with chemicals and grown in increasingly degraded soils according to an unsustainable model of agriculture that is less climate/drought resistant, less diverse and unable to achieve food security.

Various high-level reports have concluded that policies need to support more resilient, diverse, sustainable (smallholder) agroecological methods of farming and develop decentralised, locally-based food economies. There is also a need to protect indigenous agriculture from rigged global trade and trade deals. However, the trend continues to move in the opposite direction towards industrial-scale agriculture and centralised chains for the benefit of Monsanto, Cargill, Bayer and other transnational players.

Devinder Sharma has highlighted where Indian policy makers’ priorities lie when he says that agriculture has been systematically killed over the last few decades. Some 60% of the population live in rural areas and are involved in agriculture but less than 2% of the annual budget goes to agriculture. Sharma says that when you are not investing in agriculture, you are not wanting it to perform.

It is worth considering that the loans provided to just five large corporations in India are equal to the entire farm debt. Where have those loans gone? Have they increased ‘value’ in the economy. No, loans to corporate houses left the banks without liquidity.

‘Demonetisation’ was in part a bail-out for the banks and the corporates, which farmers and other ordinary folk paid the price for. It was a symptom of a country whose GDP growth was based on a debt-inflated economy. While farmers commit suicide and are heavily indebted, a handful of billionaires get access to cheap money with no pressure to pay it back and with little ‘added value’ for society as a whole.

Corporate-industrial India has failed to deliver in terms of boosting exports or creating jobs, despite the hand outs and tax exemptions given to it. The number of jobs created in India between 2005 and 2010 was 2.7 million (the years of high GDP growth). According to International Business Times, 15 million enter the workforce every year. And data released by the Labour Bureau shows that in 2015, jobless ‘growth’ had finally arrived in India.

So where are the jobs going to come from to cater for hundreds of millions of agricultural workers who are to be displaced from the land or those whose livelihoods will be destroyed as transnational corporations move in and seek to capitalise small-scale village-level industries that currently employ tens of millions?

Development used to be about breaking with colonial exploitation and radically redefining power structures. Now we have dogma masquerading as economic theory that compels developing countries to adopt neoliberal policies. The notion of ‘development’ has become hijacked by rich corporations and the concept of poverty depoliticised and separated from structurally embedded power relations, not least US-driven globalisation policies resulting in the deregulation of international capital that ensures giant transnational conglomerates are able to ride roughshod over national sovereignty.

Across the world we are seeing treaties and agreements over breeders’ rights and intellectual property being enacted to prevent peasant farmers from freely improving, sharing or replanting their traditional seeds. Large corporations with their proprietary seeds and synthetic chemical inputs are trying to eradicate traditional systems of seed exchange. They have effectively hijacked seeds, pirated germ plasm that farmers developed over millennia and have ‘rented’ the seeds back to farmers

Corporate-dominated agriculture is not only an attack on the integrity of ‘the commons’ (soil, water, land, food, forests, diets and health) but is also an attack on the integrity of international institutions, governments and officials which have too often been corrupted by powerful transnational entities.

Whereas some want to bring about a fairer, more equitable system of production and distribution to improve people’s quality of lives (particularly pertinent in India with its unimaginable inequalities, which have spiralled since India adopted neoliberal policies), US capitalism regards ‘development’ as a geopolitical tool.

As economics professor Michael Hudson said during a 2014 interview (published on prosper.org under the title ‘Think Tank Times’):

American foreign policy has almost always been based on agricultural exports, not on industrial exports as people might think. It’s by agriculture and control of the food supply that American diplomacy has been able to control most of the Third World. The World Bank’s geopolitical lending strategy has been to turn countries into food deficit areas by convincing them to grow cash crops – plantation export crops – not to feed themselves with their own food crops.

The Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) could further accelerate the corporatisation of Indian agriculture. A trade deal now being negotiated by 16 countries across Asia-Pacific, the RCEP would cover half the world’s population, including 420 million small family farms that produce 80% of the region’s food.

RCEP is expected to create powerful rights and lucrative business opportunities for food and agriculture corporations under the guise of boosting trade and investment. It could allow foreign corporations to buy up land, thereby driving up land prices, fuelling speculation and pushing small farmers out. If RCEP is adopted, it could intensify the great land grab that has been taking place in India. It could also lead to further corporate control over seeds.

Capitalism and environmental catastrophe joined at the hip

In India, an industrialised chemical-intensive model of agriculture is being facilitated. This model brings with it the numerous now well-documented externalised social, environmental and health costs. We need look no further than the current situation in South India and the drying up of the Cauvery river in places to see the impact that this model has contributed to: an ecological crisis fuelled by environmental devastation due to mining, deforestation and unsustainable agriculture based on big dams, water-intensive crops and Green Revolution ideology imported from the West.

But we have known for a long time now that India faces major environmental problems, many of which are rooted in agriculture. For example, in an open letter written to officials in 2006, the late campaigner and farmer Bhaskar Save noted that India, next to South America, receives the highest rainfall in the world. Where thick vegetation covers the ground, and the soil is alive and porous, at least half of this rain is soaked and stored in the soil and sub-soil strata. A good amount then percolates deeper to recharge aquifers, or ‘groundwater tables’. Save argued that the living soil and its underlying aquifers thus serve as gigantic, ready-made reservoirs gifted free by nature.

Half a century ago, most parts of India had enough fresh water all year round, long after the rains had stopped and gone. But clear the forests, and the capacity of the earth to soak the rain, drops drastically. Streams and wells run dry.

Save went on to note that while the recharge of groundwater has greatly reduced, its extraction has been mounting. India is presently mining over 20 times more groundwater each day than it did in 1950. Much of this is mindless wastage by a minority. But most of India’s people – living on hand-drawn or hand-pumped water in villages and practising only rain-fed farming – continue to use the same amount of ground water per person, as they did generations ago.

According to Save, more than 80% of India’s water consumption is for irrigation, with the largest share hogged by chemically cultivated cash crops. Maharashtra, for example, has the maximum number of big and medium dams in the country. But sugarcane alone, grown on barely 3-4% of its cultivable land, guzzles about 70% of its irrigation waters.

One acre of chemically grown sugarcane requires as much water as would suffice 25 acres of jowar, bajra or maize. The sugar factories too consume huge quantities. From cultivation to processing, each kilo of refined sugar needs two to three tonnes of water. This could be used to grow, by the traditional, organic way, about 150 to 200 kg of nutritious jowar or bajra (native millets).

While rice is suitable for rain-fed farming, its extensive multiple cropping with irrigation in winter and summer as well is similarly hogging water resources and depleting aquifers. As with sugarcane, it is also irreversibly ruining the land through salinization.

Save argued that soil salinization is the greatest scourge of irrigation-intensive agriculture, as a progressively thicker crust of salts is formed on the land. Many million hectares of cropland have been ruined by it. The most serious problems are caused where water-guzzling crops like sugarcane or basmati rice are grown round the year, abandoning the traditional mixed-cropping and rotation systems of the past, which required minimal or no watering.

Unfortunately, policy makers continue to look towards the likes of Monsanto-Bayer for ‘solutions’. Such companies merely seek to break farmers’ environmental learning ‘pathways’ based on centuries of indigenous knowledge, learning and practices with the aim of getting farmers hooked on chemical treadmills for corporate profit (see Glenn Stone and Andrew Flach’s paper on path-breaking and technology treadmills in Indian cotton agriculture).

Wrong-headed policies in agriculture have already resulted in drought, expensive dam-building projects, population displacement and degraded soils. The rivers are drying, farmers are dying and the cities are creaking as a result of the unbridled push towards urbanisation.

In terms of maintaining and creating jobs, managing water resources, regenerating soils and cultivating climate resilient crops, agroecology as a solution is there for all to see. Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka are now making a concerted effort to roll out and scale up zero budget agroecological agriculture.

Solutions to India’s agrarian crisis (and indeed the world’s) are available, not least the scaling up of agroecological approaches which could be the lynchpin of rural development. However, successive administrations have bowed to and continue to acquiesce to the grip of global capitalism and have demonstrated their allegiance to corporate power. The danger is that without changing the capitalist relations of production, agroecology would simply be co-opted by corporations and incorporated into their global production and distribution chains.

In the meantime, India faces huge problems in terms of securing access to water. As Bhaskar Save noted, the shift to Green Revolution thinking and practices has placed enormous strain on water resources. From glacial melt in the Himalayas that will contribute to the drying up of important rivers to the effects of temperature rises across the Indo Gangetic plain, which will adversely impact wheat productivity, India has more than its fair share of problems. But despite this, high-level policy makers are pushing for a certain model of ‘development’ that will only exacerbate the problems.

This model is being driven by some of the world’s largest corporate players: a model that by its very nature leads to environment catastrophe:

… our economic system demands ever-increasing levels of extraction, production and consumption. Our politicians tell us that we need to keep the global economy growing at more than 3% each year – the minimum necessary for large firms to make aggregate profits. That means every 20 years we need to double the size of the global economy – double the cars, double the fishing, double the mining, double the McFlurries and double the iPads. And then double them again over the next 20 years from their already doubled state.

— Jason Hickel

While politicians and bureaucrats in Delhi might be facilitating this economic model and all it entails for agriculture, it is ultimately stamped with the logo ‘made in Washington’. Surrendering the nation’s food sovereignty and the incorporation of India into US financial and geopolitical structures is the current state of independence.

Final thoughts

Neoliberalism and the drive for urbanisation in India have been underpinned by unconstitutional land takeovers and the trampling of democratic rights. For supporters of cronyism and manipulated markets, which to all extents and purposes is what economic ‘neoliberalism’ across the world has entailed (see thisthis and this), there have been untold opportunities for well-placed individuals to make an under-the-table fast buck from various infrastructure projects and privatisation sell-offs.

According to the Organisation for Co-operation and Economic Development, the doubling of income inequality has made India one of the worst performers in the category of emerging economies.

Unsurprisingly, therefore, struggles (violent and non-violent) are taking place in India. The Naxalites/Maoists are referred to by the dominant class as left-wing extremists who are exploiting the situation of the poor. But how easy it is to ignore the true nature of the poor’s exploitation and too often lump all protesters together and create an ‘enemy within’. How easy it is to ignore the state-corporate extremism across the world that results in the central state abdicating its redistributive responsibilities by submitting to the tenets of Wall Street-backed ‘structural adjustment’ pro-privatisation policies, free capital flows and largely unaccountable corporations.

Powerful (mining) corporations are shaping the ‘development’ agenda in India and have signed secretive Memorandums of Understanding with the government. The full backing of the state is on hand to forcibly evict peoples from their land in order to hand it over to mineral-hungry industries to fuel a wholly unsustainable model of development. Around the world, this oil-dependent, urban-centric, high-energy model of endless consumption is stripping the environment bare and negatively impacting the climate and ecology.

In addition to displacing people to facilitate the needs of resource extraction industries, unconstitutional land grabs for Special Economic Zones, nuclear plants and other projects have additionally forced many others from the land.

Farmers (and others) represent a ‘problem’: a problem while on the land and a problem to be somehow dealt with once displaced. But food producers, the genuine wealth creators of a nation, only became a problem when western agribusiness was given the green light to take power away from farmers and uproot traditional agriculture in India and recast it in its own corporate-controlled image.

This is a country where the majority sanctifies certain animals, places, rivers and mountains. It’s also a country run by Wall Street sanctioned politicians who convince people to accept or be oblivious to the destruction of the same.

Many are working strenuously to challenge the selling of the heart and soul of India. Yet how easy will it be for them to be swept aside by officialdom which seeks to cast them as ‘subversive’. How easy it will be for the corrosive impacts of a rapacious capitalism to take hold and for hugely powerful corporations to colonise almost every area of social, cultural and economic life and encourage greed, selfishness, apathy, irretrievable materialism and acquisitive individualism.

The corporations behind it all achieve hegemony by altering mindsets via advertising, clever PR or by sponsoring (hijacking) major events, by funding research in public institutes and thus slanting findings and the knowledge paradigm in their favour or by securing key positions in international trade negotiations in an attempt to structurally readjust retail, food production and agriculture. They do it by many methods and means.

Before you realise it, culture, politics and the economy have become colonised by powerful private interests and the world is cast in their image. The prevailing economic system soon becomes cloaked with an aura of matter of factuality, an air of naturalness, which is never to be viewed for the controlling hegemonic culture or power play that it really is.

Seeds, mountains, water, forests and biodiversity are being sold off. The farmers and tribals are being sold out. And the more that gets sold off, the more who get sold out, the greater the amount of cash that changes hands and the easier it is for the misinformed to swallow the lie of Wall Street’s bogus notion of ‘growth’ – GDP.

If anyone perceives the type of ‘development’ being sold to the masses is actually possible in the first instance, they should note that ‘developing’ nations account for more than 80% of world population but consume only about a third of the world’s energy. US citizens constitute 5% of the world’s population but consume 24% of the world’s energy. On average, one American consumes as much energy as two Japanese, six Mexicans, 13 Chinese, 31 Indians, 128 Bangladeshis, 307 Tanzanians and 370 Ethiopians.

Consider that the Earth is 4.6 billion years old and if you scale this to 46 years then humans have been here for just four hours. The Industrial Revolution began just one minute ago, and in that time, 50% of the Earth’s forests have been destroyed.

We are using up oil, water and other resources much faster than they can ever be regenerated. We have also poisoned the rivers, destroyed natural habitats, driven species to extinction and altered the chemical composition of the atmosphere – among many other things.

Levels of consumption were unsustainable long before India and other countries began striving to emulate a bogus notion of ‘development’. The West continues to live way beyond its (environmental) limits.

This wasteful, high-energy model is tied to what ultimately constitutes the plundering of peoples and the planet by powerful transnational corporations. And, as we see all around us, from Libya and Syria to Afghanistan and Iraq, the outcome is endless conflicts over fewer and fewer resources.

The type of ‘progress and development’ and consumerism being sold makes beneficiaries of it blind to the misery and plight of the hundreds of millions who are deprived of their lands and livelihoods. In Congo, rich corporations profit from war and conflict. And in India, tens of thousands of militias (including in 2005, Salwa Judum) were put into tribal areas to forcibly displace 300,000 people and place 50,000 in camps. In the process, rapes and human rights abuses have been common.

If what is set out above tells us anything, it is that India and other regions of the world are suffering from internal haemorrhaging. They are being bled dry from both within and without:

There are sectors of the global population trying to impede the global catastrophe. There are other sectors trying to accelerate it. Take a look at whom they are. Those who are trying to impede it are the ones we call backward, indigenous populations – the First Nations in Canada, the aboriginals in Australia, the tribal people in India. Who is accelerating it? The most privileged, so-called advanced, educated populations of the world.

— Noam Chomsky.

Underpinning the arrogance of such a mindset is what Vandana Shiva calls a view of the world which encourages humans to regard man as conqueror and owner of the Earth. This has led to the technological hubris of geo-engineering, genetic engineering and nuclear energy. Shiva argues that it has led to the ethical outrage of owning life forms through patents, water through privatization, the air through carbon trading. It is leading to appropriation of the biodiversity that serves the poor.

And therein lies the true enemy of genuine development: a system that facilitates such plunder, which is presided over by well-funded and influential foreign foundations and powerful financial-corporate entities and their handmaidens in the IMF, World Bank and WTO.

If we look at the various western powers, to whom many of India’s top politicians look to for inspiration, their paths to economic prosperity occurred on the back of colonialism and imperialist intent. Do India’s politicians think this mindset has disappeared? The same mentality now lurks behind the neoliberal globalisation agenda hidden behind terms and policies like ‘foreign direct investment’, ‘ease of doing business’, making India ‘business friendly’ or ‘enabling the business of agriculture’.

Is India willing to see Monsanto-Bayer, Cargill and other transnational corporations deciding on what is to be eaten and how it is to be produced and processed. A corporate takeover spearheaded by companies whose character is clear for all to see:

The Indo-US Knowledge Initiative in Agriculture with agribusinesses like Monsanto, WalMart, Archer Daniels Midland, Cargill and ITC in its Board made efforts to turn the direction of agricultural research and policy in such a manner as to cater their demands for profit maximisation. Companies like Monsanto during the Vietnam War produced tonnes and tonnes of ‘Agent Orange’ unmindful of its consequences for Vietnamese people as it raked in super profits and that character remains.

— Communist Party of India (Marxist)

Behind the World Bank/corporate-inspired rhetoric that is driving the overhaul of Indian agriculture is a brand of corporate imperialism which is turning out to be no less brutal for Indian farmers than early industrial capitalism was in England for its peasantry. The East India company might have gone, but today the bidding of elite interests (private capital) is being carried out by compliant politicians, the World Bank, the WTO and lop-sided, egregious back-room trade deals.

Agrarian Crisis and Climate Catastrophe: Forged in India, Made in Washington

India is under siege from international capital. It is on course not only to be permanently beholden to US state-corporate interests but is heading towards environmental catastrophe much faster than many may think.

According to the World Bank’s lending report, based on data compiled up to 2015, India was easily the largest recipient of its loans in the history of the institution. Unsurprisingly, therefore, the World Bank exerts a certain hold over India. In the 1990s, the IMF and World Bank wanted India to shift hundreds of millions out of agriculture. In return for up to £90 billion in loans, India was directed to dismantle its state-owned seed supply system, reduce subsidies, run down public agriculture institutions and offer incentives for the growing of cash crops to earn foreign exchange.

The plan for India involves the mass displacement of people to restructure agriculture for the benefit of powerful corporations. This involves shifting at least 400 million from the countryside into cities. A 2016 UN report said that by 2030, Delhi’s population will be 37 million.

Quoted in The Guardian, one of the report’s principal authors, Felix Creutzig, says:

The emerging mega-cities will rely increasingly on industrial-scale agricultural and supermarket chains, crowding out local food chains.

The drive is to entrench industrial farming, commercialise the countryside and to replace small-scale farming, the backbone of food production in India. It could mean hundreds of millions of former rural dwellers without any work given that India is heading (or has already reached) ‘jobless growth’. Given the trajectory the country seems to be on, it does not take much to imagine a countryside with vast swathes of chemically-drenched monocrop fields containing genetically modified plants or soils rapidly turning into a chemical cocktail of proprietary biocides, dirt and dust.

The WTO and the US-India Knowledge Initiative on Agriculture are facilitating the process. To push the plan along, there is a deliberate strategy to make agriculture financially non-viable for India’s small farms and to get most farmers out of farming. As Felix Creutig suggests, the aim is to replace current structures with a system of industrial (GM) agriculture suited to the needs of Western agribusiness, food processing and retail concerns.

Hundreds of thousands of farmers in India have taken their lives since 1997 and many more are experiencing economic distress or have left farming as a result of debt, a shift to (GM) cash crops and economic liberalisation. The number of cultivators in India declined from 166 million to 146 million between 2004 and 2011. Some 6,700 left farming each day. Between 2015 and 2022 the number of cultivators is likely to decrease to around 127 million.

For all the discussion in India about loan waivers for farmers and raising income levels, this does not address the core of the problem affecting agriculture: the running down of the sector for decades, spiralling input costs, lack of government assistance and the impacts of cheap, subsidised imports which depress farmers’ incomes.

Take the cultivation of pulses, for instance. According to a report in the Indian Express (September 2017), pulses production increased by 40% during the previous 12 months (a year of record production). At the same time, however, imports also rose resulting in black gram selling at 4,000 rupees per quintal (much less than during the previous 12 months). This has effectively driven down prices thereby reducing farmers already meagre incomes. We have already witnessed a running down of the indigenous edible oils sector thanks to Indonesian palm oil imports on the back of World Bank pressure to reduce tariffs (India was virtually self-sufficient in edible oils in the 1990s but now faces increasing import costs).

On the one hand, there is talk of India becoming food secure and self-sufficient; on the other, there is pressure from the richer nations for the Indian government to further reduce support given to farmers and open up to imports and ‘free’ trade. But this is based on hypocrisy.

Writing on the ‘Down to Earth’ website in late 2017, Sachin Kumar Jain states some 3.2 million people were engaged in agriculture in the US in 2015. The US govt provided them each with a subsidy of $7,860 on average. Japan provides a subsidy of $14,136 and New Zealand $2,623 to its farmers. In 2015, a British farmer earned $2,800 and $37,000 was added through subsidies. The Indian government provides on average a subsidy of $873 to farmers. However, between 2012 and 2014, India reduced the subsidy on agriculture and food security by $3 billion.

According to policy analyst Devinder Sharma subsidies provided to US wheat and rice farmers are more than the market worth of these two crops. He also notes that, per day, each cow in Europe receives subsidy worth more than an Indian farmer’s daily income.

How can the Indian farmer compete with an influx of artificially cheap imports? The simple answer is that s/he cannot and is not meant to.

The opening up of India to foreign capital is supported by rhetoric about increasing agricultural productivity, creating jobs and boosting GDP growth. But India is already self-sufficient in key staples and even where productivity is among the best in the world, farmers still face massive financial distress. Given that jobs are being destroyed, relatively few are being created and that as a measure of development GDP growth is unsustainable and has actually come at the expense of deliberately impoverished farmers in India (low food prices), what we are hearing is mere rhetoric to try to convince the public that an increasing concentration of wealth in the hands of a relative few corporations – via deregulations, privatisations and lower labour and environmental protection standards – constitutes progress.

We can already see the outcome of these policies across the world: the increasing power of unaccountable financial institutions, record profits and massive increases in wealth for elite interests and, for the rest, disempowerment, mass surveillance, austerity, job losses, the erosion of rights, weak unions, cuts to public services, environmental degradation, spiraling national debt and opaque, corrupt trade deals, such as TTIP, CETA, RCEP (affecting India) and TPA.

Making India ‘business friendly’

PM Modi is on record as saying that India is now one of the most business-friendly countries in the world. The code for being ‘business friendly’ translates into a willingness by the government to facilitate much of the above, while reducing taxes and tariffs and allowing the acquisition of public assets via privatisation as well as instituting policy frameworks that work to the advantage of foreign corporations.

When the World Bank rates countries on their level of ‘ease of doing business’, it means national states facilitating policies that force working people to take part in a race to the bottom based on free market fundamentalism. The more ‘compliant’ national governments make their populations and regulations, the more ‘business friendly’ a country is.

In the realm of agriculture, the World Bank’s ‘Enabling the Business of Agriculture’ entails opening up markets to Western agribusiness and their fertilisers, pesticides, weedicides and patented seeds. Rather than work to eradicate corruption, improve poor management, build storage facilities and deal with inept bureaucracies and deficiencies in food logistics, the mantra is to let ‘the market’ intervene: a euphemism for letting powerful corporations take control; the very transnational corporations that receive massive taxpayer subsidies, manipulate markets, write trade agreements and institute a regime of intellectual property rights thereby indicating that the ‘free’ market only exists in the warped delusions of those who churn out clichés about letting the market decide.

According to the neoliberal ideologues, foreign investment is good for jobs and good for business. But just how many actually get created is another matter – as is the amount of jobs destroyed in the first place to pave the way for the entry of foreign corporations. For example, Cargill sets up a food or seed processing plant that employs a few hundred people; but what about the agricultural jobs that were deliberately eradicated in the first place or the village-level processors who were cynically put out of business via bogus health and safety measures so Cargill could gain a financially lucrative foothold?

The process resembles what Michel Chossudovsky notes in his 1997 book about the ‘structural adjustment’ of African countries. In The Globalization of Poverty, he says that economies are:

opened up through the concurrent displacement of a pre-existing productive system. Small and medium-sized enterprises are pushed into bankruptcy or obliged to produce for a global distributor, state enterprises are privatised or closed down, independent agricultural producers are impoverished. (p.16)

If people are inclined to think farmers would be better off as foreign firms enter the supply chain, we need only look at the plight of farmers in India who were tied into contracts with Pepsico. Farmers were pushed into debt, reliance on one company and were paid a pittance

India is looking to US corporations to ‘develop’ its food and agriculture sector. With regard to what this could mean for India, we only have to look at how the industrialised US system of food and agriculture relies on massive taxpayer subsidies and has destroyed farmers’ livelihoods. The fact that US agriculture now employs a tiny fraction of the population serves as a stark reminder for what is in store for Indian farmers. Agribusiness companies (whose business model in the US is based on overproduction and dependent on taxpayer subsidies) rake in huge returns, while depressed farmer incomes and massive profits for food retailers is the norm.

The long-term plan is for an overwhelmingly urbanised India with a fraction of the population left in farming working on contracts for large suppliers and Walmart-type supermarkets that offer a largely monoculture diet of highly processed, denutrified, genetically altered food based on crops soaked with chemicals and grown in increasingly degraded soils according to an unsustainable model of agriculture that is less climate/drought resistant, less diverse and unable to achieve food security.

The alternative would be to protect indigenous agriculture from rigged global trade and trade deals and to implement a shift to sustainable, localised agriculture which grows a diverse range of crops and offers a healthy diet to the public.

Instead, we see the push for bogus ‘solutions’ like GMOs and an adherence to neoliberal ideology that ultimately privileges profit and control of the food supply by powerful private interests, which have no concern whatsoever for the health of the public.

Taxpayer-subsidised agriculture in the US ultimately promotes obesity and disease by supporting the health damaging practices of the food industry. Is this what Indians want to see happen in India to their food and health?

Unfortunately, the process is already well on track as ‘Western diseases’ take hold in the country’s urban centres. For instance, there are massive spikes in the rates of obesity and diabetes. Although around 40 per cent of the nation’s under-5s are underweight, the prevalence of underweight children in India is among the highest in the world; at the same time, the country is fast becoming the diabetes and heart disease capital of the world.

Devinder Sharma has highlighted where Indian policy makers’ priorities lie when he says that agriculture has been systematically killed over the last few decades. He adds that 60% of the population lives in the villages or in the rural areas and is involved in agriculture but less than two percent of the annual budget goes to agriculture: when you are not investing in agriculture, you are not wanting it to perform.

Support given to agriculture is portrayed as a drain on the economy and is reduced and farmers suffer yet it still manages to deliver bumper harvests year after year. On the other hand, corporate-industrial India has failed to deliver in terms of boosting exports or creating jobs, despite the hand outs and tax exemptions given to it.

The number of jobs created in India between 2005 and 2010 was 2.7 million (the years of high GDP growth). According to International Business Times, 15 million enter the workforce every year. And data released by the Labour Bureau shows that in 2015, jobless ‘growth’ had finally arrived in India.

So where are the jobs going to come from to cater for hundreds of millions of agricultural workers who are to be displaced from the land or those whose livelihoods will be destroyed as transnational corporations move in and seek to capitalise small-scale village-level industries that currently employ tens of millions?

Development used to be about breaking with colonial exploitation and radically redefining power structures. Now we have dogma masquerading as economic theory that compels developing countries to adopt neo-liberal policies. The notion of ‘development’ has become hijacked by rich corporations and the concept of poverty depoliticised and separated from structurally embedded power relations, not least US-driven neoliberal globalisation policies resulting in the deregulation of international capital that ensures giant transnational conglomerates have too often been able to ride roughshod over national sovereignty.

Across the world we are seeing treaties and agreements over breeders’ rights and intellectual property have been enacted to prevent peasant farmers from freely improving, sharing or replanting their traditional seeds. Large corporations with their proprietary seeds and synthetic chemical inputs have eradicated traditional systems of seed exchange. They have effectively hijacked seeds, pirated germ plasm that farmers developed over millennia and have ‘rented’ the seeds back to farmers. As a result, genetic diversity among food crops has been drastically reduced, and we have bad food and diets, degraded soils, water pollution and scarcity and spiralling rates of poor health.

Corporate-dominated agriculture is not only an attack on the integrity of ‘the commons’, soil, water, food, diets and health but is also an attack on the integrity of international institutions, governments and officials which have too often been corrupted by powerful transnational entities.

Whereas some want to bring about a fairer, more equitable system of production and distribution to improve people’s quality of lives (particularly pertinent in India with its unimaginable inequalities which have spiraled since India adopted neoliberal policies), Washington regards ‘development’ as a way to further US interests globally.

As economics professor Michael Hudson said during a 2014 interview (published on prosper.org under the title ‘Think Tank Times’):

American foreign policy has almost always been based on agricultural exports, not on industrial exports as people might think. It’s by agriculture and control of the food supply that American diplomacy has been able to control most of the Third World. The World Bank’s geopolitical lending strategy has been to turn countries into food deficit areas by convincing them to grow cash crops – plantation export crops – not to feed themselves with their own food crops.

Of course, many others such as Walden Bello, Raj Patel and Eric Holtz-Gimenez have written on how a geopolitical ‘stuffed and starved’ strategy has fuelled this process over the decades.

Capitalism and environmental catastrophe joined at the hip

In India, an industrialised chemical-intensive model of agriculture is being facilitated that brings with it the numerous now well-documented externalised social, environmental and health costs. We need look no further than the current situation in South India and the drying up of the Cauvery river in places to see the impact that this model has contributed to: an ecological crisis fuelled by environmental devastation due to mining, deforestation and unsustainable agriculture based on big dams, water-intensive crops and Green Revolution ideology imported from the West.

But we have known for a long time now that India faces major environmental problems rooted in agriculture. For example, in an open letter written to officials in 2006, the late campaigner and farmer Bhaskar Save noted that India, next to South America, receives the highest rainfall in the world. Where thick vegetation covers the ground, and the soil is alive and porous, at least half of this rain is soaked and stored in the soil and sub-soil strata. A good amount then percolates deeper to recharge aquifers, or ‘groundwater tables’. Save argued that the living soil and its underlying aquifers thus serve as gigantic, ready-made reservoirs gifted free by nature.

Half a century ago, most parts of India had enough fresh water all year round, long after the rains had stopped and gone. But clear the forests, and the capacity of the earth to soak the rain, drops drastically. Streams and wells run dry.

Save went on to note that while the recharge of groundwater has greatly reduced, its extraction has been mounting. India is presently mining over 20 times more groundwater each day than it did in 1950. Much of this is mindless wastage by a minority. But most of India’s people – living on hand-drawn or hand-pumped water in villages and practising only rain-fed farming – continue to use the same amount of ground water per person, as they did generations ago.

According to Save, more than 80% of India’s water consumption is for irrigation, with the largest share hogged by chemically cultivated cash crops. Maharashtra, for example, has the maximum number of big and medium dams in the country. But sugarcane alone, grown on barely 3-4% of its cultivable land, guzzles about 70% of its irrigation waters.

One acre of chemically grown sugarcane requires as much water as would suffice 25 acres of jowar, bajra or maize. The sugar factories too consume huge quantities. From cultivation to processing, each kilo of refined sugar needs two to three tonnes of water. This could be used to grow, by the traditional, organic way, about 150 to 200 kg of nutritious jowar or bajra (native millets).

While rice is suitable for rain-fed farming, its extensive multiple cropping with irrigation in winter and summer as well is similarly hogging water resources and depleting aquifers. As with sugarcane, it is also irreversibly ruining the land through salinization.

Save argued that soil salinization is the greatest scourge of irrigation-intensive agriculture, as a progressively thicker crust of salts is formed on the land. Many million hectares of cropland have been ruined by it. The most serious problems are caused where water-guzzling crops like sugarcane or basmati rice are grown round the year, abandoning the traditional mixed-cropping and rotation systems of the past, which required minimal or no watering.

Salinization aside, looking at the issue of soil more generally, Stuart Newton, a researcher and botanist living in India, says that India must restore and nurture its depleted, abused soils and not harm them any further with chemical overload. Through his analyses of Indian soils, he has offered detailed insights into their mineral compositions and links their depletion to the Green Revolution. In turn, these depleted soils in the long-term cannot help but lead to mass malnourishment. This is quite revealing given that proponents of the Green Revolution claim it helped reduced malnutrition.

Various high-level official reports, not least the International Assessment of Agricultural Knowledge and Science for Development Report, state that smallholder, traditional farming can deliver food security in low-income countries through sustainable agroecological systems. Moreover, given India’s huge range of biodiversity (India is one of Nikolai Vavilov’s strategically globally important centres of plant diversity) that has been developed over millennia to cope with diverse soil and climate conditions, the country should on its own be more than capable of addressing challenges that lie ahead due to climate change.

Instead, policy makers continue to look towards the likes of Monsanto-Bayer for ‘solutions’. Such companies merely seed to break farmers’ environmental learning ‘pathways’ based on centuries of indigenous knowledge, learning and practices with the aim of getting farmers hooked on chemical treadmills for corporate profit (see Glenn Stone and Andrew Flach’s 2017 paper in the Journal of Peasant Studies, ‘The ox fall down: path-breaking and technology treadmills in Indian cotton agriculture’).

Wrong-headed policies in agriculture have already resulted in drought, expensive dam-building projects, population displacement and degraded soils. The rivers are drying, farmers are dying and the cities are creaking as a result of the unbridled push towards urbanisation.

In terms of managing water resources, regenerating soils, and cultivating climate resilient crops, agroecology as a solution is there for all to see. Andhra Pradesh is now making a concerted effort to roll-out zero budget agroecological agriculture across the state. However, in the absence of this elsewhere across India, agroecological approaches will be marginalised.

India faces huge problems in terms of securing access to water. As Bhaskar Save noted, the shift to Green Revolution thinking and practices (underpinned by geopolitical and commercial interests: World Bank loans; export-oriented monocropping, commodity crop trade and dependency on the US dollar; seed sovereignty issues and costly proprietary inputs, etc) has placed enormous strain on water resources.

From glacial melt in the Himalayas that will contribute to the drying up of important rivers to the effects of temperature rises across the Indo Gangetic plain, which will adversely impact wheat productivity, India has more than its fair share of problems. But despite this, high-level policy makers are pushing for a certain model of ‘development’ that will only exacerbate the problems.

This model is being driven by some of the world’s largest corporate players: a model that by its very nature leads to environment catastrophe:

… our economic system demands ever-increasing levels of extraction, production and consumption. Our politicians tell us that we need to keep the global economy growing at more than 3% each year – the minimum necessary for large firms to make aggregate profits. That means every 20 years we need to double the size of the global economy – double the cars, double the fishing, double the mining, double the McFlurries and double the iPads. And then double them again over the next 20 years from their already doubled state.1

Politicians and bureaucrats in Delhi might be facilitating this model and the system of agriculture it is tied to, but it is ultimately stamped with the logo ‘made in Washington’.

  1. Jason Hickel, writing in The Guardian (July 2016.

The Balkanization of South America and the Role of Fifth Columns Throughout the World

During the recent meeting in Caracas of the Venezuelan Presidential Economic Advisory Commission, in mid-June 2018, President Maduro said something extremely interesting, but also extremely disturbing, nonetheless highly important for the region to be aware of. Mr. Maduro mentioned Yugoslavia, the foreign induced local conflicts, the breakup and dismemberment of Yugoslavia, starting with the “Ten Days War” on Slovenia in 1991, the Croatian War (1991-95); the Bosnia War (1992-95); the Kosovo War (1998-99), culminating with the Clinton induced 69-day NATO bombing of Kosovo, under then European NATO leader Wesley Clark (today the Repentant – in retrospect it’s easy to be sorry), pretending to save the Kosovo Albanians from Serbian Milosevic’s atrocities. How Milosevic served as a patsy for the imperial forces is another story.

All of this would not have been possible without a decade long preparation by several Fifth Columns infiltrated and trained in and outside of Yugoslavia, the only country in Europe that in the 1980s and 90s flourished, with general well being above that of the average Europeans, who were suffering recessions and increasing inequality, the beginning of xenophobia in the age of nascent neoliberalism. There was no extreme poverty in Yugoslavia, but prosperity without excesses for everybody. There was economic growth under a loose Mao-model socialism which could, of course, not be allowed to persist, lest it might serve the world as an example. Besides the breakup of Yugoslavia into chaos was needed to create mini-states that are in conflict with each other, some of them still today, and that could be ‘accommodated’ against a hefty ‘fee’, of course, to accept the installation of NATO bases ever an inch closer to Moscow’s door step.

Well, Mr. Maduro saw and sees it clearly. History repeats itself all too often, especially when it comes in the form of western neoliberal-neofascist atrocities, as people’s memories are dulled with lie-propaganda. In fact, there is hardly any real news, only ‘fake news’ in the western mainstream media. Mr. Maduro envisions that “their” plan for Latin America is similar to what “they” did to Yugoslavia. He is probably right. All signs point into this direction.

A pact between Colombia and NATO, a so-called “Security Cooperation Agreement” was first signed in June 2013 but prepared way before. Records of first communications to this effect, by Juan Manual Santos, then President of Columbia and Peace Laureate in 2016 for his traitorous Peace Agreement between the Colombian Government and FARC (vaya-vaya! Doesn’t this speak volumes by itself?), can be traced back to early 2012.

President Hugo Chavez was the first one to warn his Latin American partners of the imminent clandestine infiltration of NATO into South America. Nobody listened. Today it’s a fact, too late to fight against. NATO troops are occupying gradually all seven American military bases in Colombia. They are just simply converting from US to NATO bases – sounds more palatable than US bases – for sure. In the minds of unfortunately still most uninformed or mal-informed people, NATO stands for security. NATO – the North Atlantic Treaty Organization – in South America. What an oxymoron! Well, it is the same ‘security’ farce as is NATO in Afghanistan and bombing the Middle East.

Venezuela is full with Fifth Columnists. They are the ones that facilitate the highly speculative and inflationary manipulation from Miami of the black-market US dollar rate in the streets of Caracas; they are the ones that emulate the food shortages in Chile 1973, successfully disappearing duly paid-for imported merchandise, mostly food and medical supplies, ending up as smuggle-ware in Colombia, leaving empty supermarket shelves in Venezuela. All meant to instigate people to stand up against their government.

So far, this strategy has failed bitterly. On 20 May 2018, President Maduro has been overwhelmingly re-elected, under the most internationally observed elections the world has ever experienced, and the result was “the cleanest, most democratic elections we have witnessed in our history of worldwide 92 election observations”. So said the US-based Carter Institute.

Yet, the Fifth Columnists are relentless. Worldwide. They are immersed in the government apparatus, institutions, military, police – even Parliament and very important in the financial system, possible in the central bank. They “allow”, or rather promote, the manipulation of the US-dollar black market, causing sky-rocketing inflation and lack of food and medicine on supermarket shelves. They disrupt electricity, internet and water services. The approach is similar in every country that refuses to bend to the empire’s dictate. In Russia, Iran, China, Syria, South Sudan, possibly even in Cuba they are in control of the financial system – that’s also how they are easily being financed, through the dollar-based monetary fraud of the west, to which most countries still have some links – fortunately every day less.

Take Russia, the Central Bank is still largely run by the Fifth Columnists, whose ‘chief’ is Putin’s just recently re-appointed Prime-Minister, Dmitry Medvedev, an arch-Atlantist. The structure of the Russian Central Bank is even today mainly a remnant of the Russian Reserve Bank, designed by the FED after the collapse of the Soviet Union, with the help of the UN-masked Bretton Woods crooks, the IMF, World Bank.

Similarly, part of the masked international promoters of instability, are the Bretton Woods regional associates, the so-called regional development banks, the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB), the Asian Development Bank (ADB), African Development Bank (AfDB) and their sub-regional cohorts. In the nineties, the Gang was joined by WTO (the World Trade Organization). And here they are, the world’s three most hated international UN-backed financial and trade organizations, IMF, World Bank and WTO. All three are promoting fundamentalist “free-marketeering” across the globe, especially throughout the southern hemisphere (though Greece and southern Europe do not escape), indebting and enslaving countries to the western corporate oligarchs. All well-structured to control the world’s financial system – so as to march towards world hegemony of a One World Global Economy. We are almost there, though not quite yet. There is always hope. Man’s last shred to hang on to life is HOPE. And only Man can translate hope into reality. So, as long as we have life, it’s not too late.

Why is it so difficult, say, impossible to get rid of them, the Fifth Columnists, the vermin of any unaligned political system? Why did President Putin re-assign Medvedev as his PM?  Mr. Putin knows that he supports a network of Atlantist oligarchs that seek nothing more than to ‘putsch’ him, Mr. Putin, and ultimately to destroy the rather egalitarian, though capitalist-based, economic system Russia has enjoyed for the last almost 20 years, becoming self-sufficient in agriculture, food, industry, high-tech science, pharmaceuticals. Russia has developed herself into an exemplary “Resistance Economy”, ready to be emulated by any western-named ‘rogue’ state that is sick and tired of the Empires boots and bombs and forced ‘democracies’ through ‘regime change’.

There are many western countries that just wait for a leader, one that moves head-on. Russia, China, Venezuela, Iran, Cuba, are shining examples. They are gradually escaping the yoke of the dollar-dominated western economy.

So, why are countries like Russia, Iran and maybe Venezuela afraid to get rid of their Fifth Columnists? For fear of a civil war, of a blood bath? Yes, we have seen the violent unrest they caused in preparation of the two major democratic elections in Venezuela in the last 12 months, the National Constituent Assembly (30 July 2017) and the Presidential Elections on 20 May 2018, when altogether close to 200 people died. The media immediately blamed the death on police and military oppression and violence but the only armed protesters were those armed and funded by Washington, and responsible for more than 80% of the death. Chavistas cheered for their Government with their bare fists.

The question remains in the room – why does Mr. Putin not get rid of them, the Fifth Columnists?  Would they cause a civil war?   It seems to me they wouldn’t have sufficient supporters in Russia, but they could disrupt the internal economy, as the Russian internal financial systems, especially private banking, is still in the hands of these Atlantists. They are also in China, but it appears that President Xi Jinping has better control of them.

How about Iran? Why are they still able to hold on to and fight for ‘western deals’; i.e., the upholding of the Nuclear Deal that Trump has stepped out from and now is sanctioning Iran ‘with the most severe sanctions the world has ever seen’, sounding similar to what he said to Mr. Kim Jong-un, the ‘Little Rocket Man’, with whom Trump then made peace a few weeks later?  Or something like it. One never knows with the Donald what the meaning of Trump’s trumpeting is, other than screwing up alliances and creating physical and sociopsychological chaos. He is also threatening European corporations, mostly oil companies, with heavy sanctions if they dare maintain their contracts with Iran.

Many cave in. Among them, the French-UK owned Total, Italy’s Eni and Saras, Spain’s Repsol and Greece’s Hellenic Petroleum. In the case of Total, according to the director of the Venezuelan branch, instead of filling their contracts with US-“fracking” oil, as Trump would expect, they are negotiating with Russia, to fulfill their obligations in Europe and elsewhere. “We cannot trust Brussels to fend for us, therefore we have to fend for ourselves”, the Total representative said.

Iran doesn’t really need the Europeans to buy their oil. Europe constitutes only about 20% of the Iranian hydrocarbon market – an amount easily taken up by China. The same with other European corporations that may choose similar ways of self-protection – cutting ties with Iran – like the Peugeot-Citroen automobile giant. Iran doesn’t need them. That these sanctions and EU corporate reactions to the US sanctions, are causing hardship and unemployment in Iran is just western propaganda, a vast exaggeration, at worst a temporary affair. As Mr. Rouhani said, we might go through a short period of difficulties but will recover rapidly by becoming self-sufficient. And that’s true. Iran is well embarked on their “Economy of Resistance”, aiming at self-sufficiency through import-substitution and orienting themselves towards eastern markets.

In fact, Iran is already part of the Eurasian Economic Community and will soon become a full-fledged member of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO).  So why can Iran not get rid of their Fifth Columnists? This is a question I can only answer with “fear from bloody civil unrest, prompting possibly western military intervention”.

Back to Venezuela, it could be similar fears that prevent the Maduro Government from taking drastic actions, like declaring a temporary state of emergency and drastic measures of de-dollarization to stop inflation and speculation, and strengthen the local currency, the Bolivar, by backing it with their internationally accepted cryptocurrency, the Petro.

On 20 May 2018, six million Venezuelan’s mostly Chavistas, voted overwhelmingly for President Maduro and his Government, a 68% majority, representing a solid block of people supporters. If you have the choice between an artificially made-to-starve population and a crumbling what used to be a solid block of 6 million Chavistas behind you but gradually disappearing because of lacking actions by the government, what do you do? Perhaps the only way is to economically isolate the Fifth Columnists or Atlantists, despite their apparent control of the economic system. What Atlantists are actually controlling is the dollar-based economy. Quitting the dollar-base, they may become rather powerless.

Venezuela faces a dire dilemma: Die or be killed. Venezuela has already started moving out of the dilemma, with the creation of the totally dollar-detached Petro, the government controlled blockchain currency based on hydrocarbons and precious minerals. Today, Venezuela imports about 70% of their food, and guess from where?  You guessed right – from the US of A. Thus, de-dollarization at first sight is a challenge.

Therefore, a massive diversification of imports, and efforts to become food self-sufficient, is in the order. Venezuela has the agricultural potential to become 100% food self-sufficient. In the meantime, Russia, China and other Eurasian countries will substitute. Venezuela may apply for SCO membership. Why not? After all, China has already about 50 billion dollars’ worth of investments in Venezuela, mostly in hydrocarbons, and just declared making another 5-billion-dollar equivalent loan to refurbish the Venezuelan petrol industry. China and Russia have big stakes in Venezuela, an excellent defense strategy. Now, Venezuela’s membership in the SCO would be another big step away from the dollar economy.

The Balkanization of Latin America is already happening. When Mr. Maduro referred to the 7 US bases in neighboring Colombia, aka, now NATO bases, with a porous 1,500 km (out of a total of 2,000 km) uncontrollable jungle border with Venezuela, and even open and welcoming borders with Peru, Ecuador and Brazil, he said it all. It will be easy to suffocate any uprising – NATO will do it, by now the generally accepted world police, as generally accepted as the recently intact, totally unelected and self-appointed world government, the G7. They are now crumbling, thank heaven for Mr. Trump’s egocentric pathology, his “Let’s make America Great Again”; and thanks to Mr. Putin’s non-intervening but strategic sideline observance.

Will Trump continue to provide majority support for NATO? He recently warned the Europeans to contribute their share; i.e., increasing their NATO contribution to 2% of their GDP – or else. Well, what is “else”?  Reducing NATO, an enormous cost to the US?  And counting on the CIA-trained and NED-funded destabilizing insurgents (NED = National Endowment for Democracy, a state department financed “regime change’ and “democratization” NGO) throughout the world? Insurgents in alliance with the local Atlantists? Will this be enough in a rapidly changing international monetary and payment system?

The US scheme for Balkanizing Latin America, and by extension the world, is as porous as the 1,500 km long tropical forest border between Colombia and Venezuela. The hegemony of the dollar-economy hangs in the balance. Only drastic actions by victimized but courageous countries, like Venezuela, Iran and Russia can break the balance and destroy the western monetary hegemony.

GM Crops in India: Approval by Contamination?

The regulatory system for GMOs (genetically modified organisms) in India is in tatters. So said the Coalition for a GMFree India (CGMFI) in 2017 after media reports about the illegal cultivation of GM soybean in the country.

In India, five high-level reports have already advised against the adoption of GM crops:

  1. The ‘Jairam Ramesh Report’, imposing an indefinite moratorium on Bt Brinjal [February 2010];
  2. The ‘Sopory Committee Report’ [August 2012];
  3. The ‘Parliamentary Standing Committee’ [PSC] Report on GM crops [August 2012];
  4. The ‘Technical Expert Committee [TEC] Final Report’ [June-July 2013]; and
  5. The Parliamentary Standing Committee on Science & Technology, Environment and Forests [August 2017].

Given the issues surrounding GM crops (including the now well-documented failure of Bt cotton in the country), little wonder these reports advise against their adoption. Little wonder too given that the story of GM ‘regulation’ in India has been a case of blatant violations of biosafety norms, hasty approvals, a lack of monitoring abilities, general apathy towards the hazards of contamination and a lack of institutional oversight.

Despite these reports, the drive to get GM mustard commercialised (which would be India’s first officially-approved GM food crop) has been relentless. The Genetic Engineering Approval Committee (GEAC) has pushed ahead regardless by giving it the nod. However, the case of GM mustard remains in limbo and stuck in the Supreme Court due to various pleas lodged by environmentalist Aruna Rodrigues.

Rodrigues argues that GM mustard is being undemocratically forced through with flawed tests (or no testing) and a lack of public scrutiny: in other words, unremitting scientific fraud and outright regulatory delinquency.

Moreover, this crop is also herbicide-tolerant (HT), which is wholly inappropriate for a country like India with its small biodiverse farms that could be affected by its application.

GM crops illegally growing

Despite the ban on GM cops, in 2005, biologist Pushpa Bhargava noted that unapproved varieties of several GM crops were being sold to farmers. In 2008, Arun Shrivasatava wrote that illegal GM okra had been planted in India and poor farmers had been offered lucrative deals to plant ‘special seed’ of all sorts of vegetables.

In 2013, a group of scientists and NGOs protested in Kolkata and elsewhere against the introduction of transgenic brinjal in Bangladesh – a centre for origin and diversity of the vegetable – as it would give rise to contamination of the crop in India. As predicted, in 2014, the West Bengal government said it had received information regarding “infiltration” of commercial seeds of GM Bt brinjal from Bangladesh.

In 2017, the illegal cultivation of a GM HT soybean was reported in Gujarat. Bhartiya Kisan Sangh (BKS), a national farmers organisation, claimed that Gujarat farmers had been cultivating HT crop illegally – there is no clearance from the government for any GM food crop.

There are also reports of HT cotton illegally growing in India. In a paper appearing in the Journal of Peasant studies last year, Glenn Stone and Andrew Flachs show how cotton farmers have been encouraged to change their ploughing practices, which has led to more weeds being left in their fields. The authors suggest the outcome in terms of yields (or farmer profit) is arguably no better than before. However, it coincides with the appearance of an increasing supply (and farmer demand) for HT cotton seeds.

It doesn’t take a dyed-in-the-wool cynic to appreciate that the likes of Bayer, which has now incorporated Monsanto, must be salivating at the prospect of India becoming the global leader in the demand for GM.

All of this is prompting calls for probes into the workings of the GEAC and other official bodies who seem to be asleep at the wheel or deliberately looking the other. The latter could be the case given that, as Stone indicates, senior figures in India regard GM seeds (and their associated chemical inputs) as key to modernising Indian agriculture.

CGMFI spokesperson Kavitha Kuruganti says that the regulators have been caught sleeping. It wouldn’t be the first time: India’s first GM crop cultivation – Bt cotton – was discovered in 2001 growing on thousands of hectares in Gujarat, spread surreptitiously and illegally by the biotech industry. Kuruganti said the GEAC was caught off-guard when news about large scale illegal cultivation of Bt cotton emerged, even as field trials that were to decide whether India would opt for this GM crops were still underway.

In March 2002, the GEAC ended up approving Bt cotton for commercial cultivation in India. To this day, no liability was fixed for the illegal spread.

The tactic of contaminate first then legalise has benefited industry players before. In 2006, for instance, the US Department of Agriculture granted marketing approval of GM Liberty Link 601 (Bayer CropScience) rice variety following its illegal contamination of the food supply and rice exports. The USDA effectively sanctioned an ‘approval-by-contamination’ policy.

Illegal GM imports

Despite reasoned argument and debate having thus far prevented the cultivation of GM crops or the consumption of GM food in India, it seems we are to be witnessing GM seeds and crops entering the food system regardless.

Kuruganti says that a complaint lodged with the GEAC and a Right to Information (RTI) application seeking information regarding the illegal GM soybean cultivation in the country has stirred the apex regulatory body to bring the issue to the notice of the Directorate General of Foreign Trade (DGFT), months after the issue became public.

In reply to the RTI application, the GEAC responded by saying it had received no complaint about such illegal  cultivation. Kurauganti says this is a blatant lie: the BKS had collected illegally cultivated soybean samples for lab testing and the report was sent to the GEAC along with a letter of complaint. GM HT soybean has not been granted permission for field trials, let alone large-scale cultivation.

It is also understood that apart from the BKS, the Government of Gujarat also alerted the GEAC to the illegal cultivation.

Kuruganti says:

The fact that the GEAC is writing now to the DGFT to take action (on preventing the illegal GM imports), makes it clear that it lacks any real intent to take serious action about the violations of its own regulations. It also indicates that it is putting up a show of having “done” something, before an upcoming Supreme Court hearing on PILs related to GMOs.

Her assertion is supported by Rohit Parakh of India for Safe Food:

Commerce Ministry’s own data on imports of live seeds clearly indicates that India continues to import genetically modified seeds including GM canola, GM sugar beet, GM papaya, GM squash and GM corn seeds (apart from soybean) from countries such as the USA… with no approval from the GEAC as is the requirement.

Kuruganti concludes that the regulatory system is a shambles and is not preventing GMOs from being illegally imported into the country or planted. Moreover, the ruling BJP has reneged on its election promise not to allow GM without proper protocols.

Offshoring Indian agriculture

It is not a good situation. We have bogus arguments about GM mustard being forwarded by developers at Delhi University and the government. We also have USAID pushing for GM in Punjab and twisting a problematic situation to further Monsanto’s interests by trying to get GM soybean planted in the state. And we have regulators (deliberately) asleep at the wheel.

The fact that India is importing so many agricultural commodities in the first place doesn’t help. Relying on imports and transnational agribusiness with its proprietary (GM) seeds and inputs is not a recipe for food security. In the 1960s, Africa was not just self-sufficient in food but was actually a net food exporter. Today, courtesy of World Bank, IMF and WTO interventions, the continent imports 25% of its food, with almost every country being a net food importer.

Is this what India wants? Based on its rising import bill, self-reliance and food security seems to be an anathema to policy makers. In response to the government’s decision to abolish import duty on wheat in 2017, Ajmer Singh Lakhowala, head of the Punjab unit of Bharatiya Kisan Union, said sarcastically:

The import of cheap wheat will bring the prices down. It appears the government wants the farmers to quit farming.

As previously outlined, at the behest of the World Bank and courtesy of compliant politicians in India, it certainly seems to be the case.

Self-sufficiency is not to the liking of the US and the World Bank. Washington has for many decades regarded its leverage over global agriculture as a tool to secure its geostrategic goals.

Whether it involves the import of subsidised edible oils, wheat, pulses or soybean – alongside the ongoing neglect of indigenous agriculture and farmers by successive administrations – livelihoods are being destroyed, food quality is being undermined and Indian agriculture is slowly being offshored.

Dangerous Liaison: Corporate Agriculture and the Reductionist Mindset

Food and agriculture across the world is in crisis. Food is becoming denutrified and unhealthy and diets less diverse. There is a loss of biodiversity, which threatens food security, soils are being degraded, water sources polluted and depleted and smallholder farmers, so vital to global food production, are being squeezed off their land and out of farming.

A minority of the global population has access to so much food that it can afford to waste much of it, while food insecurity has become a fact of life for hundreds of millions. This crisis stems from food and agriculture being wedded to power structures that serve the interests of the powerful global agribusiness corporations.

Over the last 60 years, agriculture has become increasingly industrialised, globalised and tied to an international system of trade based on export-oriented mono-cropping, commodity production for the international market, indebtedness to international financial institutions (IMF/World Bank).

This has resulted in food surplus and food deficit areas, of which the latter have become dependent on (US) agricultural imports and strings-attached aid. Food deficits in the Global South mirror food surpluses in the North, based on a ‘stuffed and starved’ strategy.

Whether through IMF-World Bank structural adjustment programmes related to debt repayment as occurred in Africa (as a continent Africa has been transformed from a net exporter to a net importer of food), bilateral trade agreements like NAFTA and its impact on Mexico or, more generally, deregulated global trade rules, the outcome has been similar: the devastation of traditional, indigenous agriculture.

Integral to all of this has been the imposition of the ‘Green Revolution’. Farmers were encouraged to purchase hybrid seeds from corporations that were dependent on chemical fertilisers and pesticides to boost yields. They required loans to purchase these corporate inputs and governments borrowed to finance irrigation and dam building projects for what was a water-intensive model.

While the Green Revolution was sold to governments and farmers on the basis it would increase productivity and earnings and would be more efficient, we now have nations and farmers incorporated into a system of international capitalism based on dependency, deregulated and manipulated commodity markets, unfair subsidies and inherent food insecurity.

As part of a wider ‘development’ plan for the Global South, millions of farmers have been forced out of agriculture to become cheap factory labour (for outsourced units from the West) or, as is increasingly the case, unemployed or underemployed slum dwellers.

In India, under the banner of a bogus notion of ‘development’, farmers are being whipped into subservience on behalf of global capital: they find themselves steadily squeezed out of farming due to falling incomes, the impact of cheap imports and policies deliberately designed to run down smallholder agriculture for the benefit of global agribusiness corporations.

Aside from the geopolitical shift in favour of the Western nations resulting from the programmed destruction of traditional agriculture across the world, the Green Revolution has adversely impacted the nature of food, soil, human health and the environment.

Sold on the premise of increased yields, improved food security and better farm incomes, the benefits of the Green Revolution have been overstated. And the often stated ‘humanitarian’ intent and outcome (‘millions of lives saved’) has had more to do with PR and cold commercial interest.

However, even when the Green Revolution did increase yields (or similarly, if claims about GMO agriculture – the second coming of the Green Revolution – improving output is to be accepted at face value), Canadian environmentalist Jodi Koberinski says pertinent questions need to be asked: what has been the cost of any increased yield of commodities in terms of local food security and local caloric production, nutrition per acre, water tables, soil structure and new pests and disease pressures?

We may also ask what the effects on rural communities and economies have been; on birds, insects and biodiversity in general; on the climate as a result of new technologies, inputs or changes to farming practices; and what has been the effects of shifting towards globalised production chains, not least in terms of transportation and fossil fuel consumption.

Moreover, if the Green Revolution found farmers in the Global South increasingly at the mercy of a US-centric system of trade and agriculture, at home they were also having to fit in with development policies that pushed for urbanisation and had to cater to the needs of a distant and expanding urban population whose food requirements were different to local rural-based communities. In addition to a focus on export-oriented farming, crops were also being grown for the urban market, regardless of farmers’ needs or the dietary requirements of local rural markets.

Destroying indigenous systems

In an open letter written in 2006 to policy makers in India, farmer and campaigner Bhaskar Save offered answers to some of these questions. He argued that the actual reason for pushing the Green Revolution was the much narrower goal of increasing marketable surplus of a few relatively less perishable cereals to fuel the urban-industrial expansion favoured by the government and a few industries at the expense of a more diverse and nutrient-sufficient agriculture, which rural folk – who make up the bulk of India’s population – had long benefited from.

Before, Indian farmers had been largely self-sufficient and even produced surpluses, though generally smaller quantities of many more items. These, particularly perishables, were tougher to supply urban markets. And so, the nation’s farmers were steered to grow chemically cultivated monocultures of a few cash-crops like wheat, rice, or sugar, rather than their traditional polycultures that needed no purchased inputs.

Tall, indigenous varieties of grain provided more biomass, shaded the soil from the sun and protected against its erosion under heavy monsoon rains, but these were replaced with dwarf varieties, which led to more vigorous growth of weeds and were able to compete successfully with the new stunted crops for sunlight.

As a result, the farmer had to spend more labour and money in weeding, or spraying herbicides. Furthermore, straw growth with the dwarf grain crops fell and much less organic matter was locally available to recycle the fertility of the soil, leading to an artificial need for externally procured inputs. Inevitably, the farmers resorted to use more chemicals and soil degradation and erosion set in.

The exotic varieties, grown with chemical fertilisers, were more susceptible to ‘pests and diseases’, leading to yet more chemicals being poured. But the attacked insect species developed resistance and reproduced prolifically. Their predators – spiders, frogs, etc. – that fed on these insects and controlled their populations were exterminated. So were many beneficial species like the earthworms and bees.

Save noted that India, next to South America, receives the highest rainfall in the world. Where thick vegetation covers the ground, the soil is alive and porous and at least half of the rain is soaked and stored in the soil and sub-soil strata.

A good amount then percolates deeper to recharge aquifers or groundwater tables. The living soil and its underlying aquifers thus serve as gigantic, ready-made reservoirs. Half a century ago, most parts of India had enough fresh water all year round, long after the rains had stopped and gone. But clear the forests, and the capacity of the earth to soak the rain, drops drastically. Streams and wells run dry.

While the recharge of groundwater has greatly reduced, its extraction has been mounting. India is presently mining over 20 times more groundwater each day than it did in 1950. But most of India’s people – living on hand-drawn or hand-pumped water in villages and practising only rain-fed farming – continue to use the same amount of ground water per person, as they did generations ago.

More than 80% of India’s water consumption is for irrigation, with the largest share hogged by chemically cultivated cash crops. For example, one acre of chemically grown sugarcane requires as much water as would suffice 25 acres of jowar, bajra or maize. The sugar factories too consume huge quantities.

From cultivation to processing, each kilo of refined sugar needs two to three tonnes of water. Save argued this could be used to grow, by the traditional, organic way, about 150 to 200 kg of nutritious jowar or bajra (native millets).

If Bhaskar Save helped open people’s eyes to what has happened on the farm, to farmers and to ecology in India, a 2015 report by GRAIN provides an overview of how US agribusiness has hijacked an entire nation’s food and agriculture under the banner of ‘free trade’ to the detriment of the environment, health and farmers.

In 2012, Mexico’s National Institute for Public Health released the results of a national survey of food security and nutrition. Between 1988 and 2012, the proportion of overweight women between the ages of 20 and 49 increased from 25% to 35% and the number of obese women in this age group increased from 9% to 37%.

Some 29% of Mexican children between the ages of 5 and 11 were found to be overweight, as were 35% of youngsters between 11 and 19, while one in 10 school age children suffered from anemia. The Mexican Diabetes Federation says that more than 7% of the Mexican population has diabetes. Diabetes is now the third most common cause of death in Mexico, directly or indirectly.

The various free trade agreements that Mexico has signed over the past two decades have had a profound impact on the country’s food system and people’s health. After his mission to Mexico in 2012, the then Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food, Olivier De Schutter, concluded that the trade policies in place favour greater reliance on heavily processed and refined foods with a long shelf life rather than on the consumption of fresh and more perishable foods, particularly fruit and vegetables.

He added that the overweight and obesity emergency that Mexico is facing could have been avoided, or largely mitigated, if the health concerns linked to shifting diets had been integrated into the design of those policies.

The North America Free Trade Agreement led to the direct investment in food processing and a change in the retail structure (notably the advent of supermarkets and convenience stores) as well as the emergence of global agribusiness and transnational food companies in Mexico.

The country has witnessed an explosive growth of chain supermarkets, discounters and convenience stores. Local small-scale vendors have been replaced by corporate retailers that offer the processed food companies greater opportunities for sales and profits. Oxxo (owned by Coca-cola subsidiary Femsa) tripled its stores to 3,500 between 1999 and 2004. It was scheduled to open its 14,000th store sometime during 2015.

In Mexico, the loss of food sovereignty has induced catastrophic changes in the nation’s diet and has had dire consequences for agricultural workers who lost their jobs and for the nation in general. Those who have benefited include US food and agribusiness interests, drug cartels and US banks and arms manufacturers.

More of the same: a bogus ‘solution’

Transnational agribusiness has lobbied for, directed and profited from the very policies that have caused much of the above. And what we now see is these corporations (and their supporters) espousing cynical and fake concern for the plight of the poor and hungry.

GMO patented seeds represent the final stranglehold of transnational agribusiness over the control of agriculture and food. The misrepresentation of the plight of the indigenous edible oils sector in India encapsulates the duplicity at work surrounding the GM project.

After trade rules and cheap imports conspired to destroy farmers and the jobs of people involved in local food processing activities for the benefit of global agribusiness, including commodity trading and food processor companies ADM and Cargill, there is now a campaign to force GM into India on the basis that Indian agriculture is unproductive and thus the country has to rely on imports. This conveniently ignores the fact that prior to neoliberal trade rules in the mid-1990s, India was almost self-sufficient in edible oils.

In collusion with the Gates Foundation, corporate interests are also seeking to secure full spectrum dominance throughout much of Africa as well. Western seed, fertiliser and pesticide manufacturers and dealers and food processing companies are in the process of securing changes to legislation and are building up logistics and infrastructure to allow them to recast food and farming in their own images.

Today, governments continue to collude with big agribusiness corporations. These companies are being allowed to shape government policy by being granted a strategic role in trade negotiations and are increasingly framing the policy/knowledge agenda by funding and determining the nature of research carried out in public universities and institutes.

As Bhaskar Save wrote about India:

This country has more than 150 agricultural universities. But every year, each churns out several hundred ‘educated’ unemployables, trained only in misguiding farmers and spreading ecological degradation. In all the six years a student spends for an M.Sc. in agriculture, the only goal is short-term – and narrowly perceived – ‘productivity’. For this, the farmer is urged to do and buy a hundred things. But not a thought is spared to what a farmer must never do so that the land remains unharmed for future generations and other creatures. It is time our people and government wake up to the realisation that this industry-driven way of farming – promoted by our institutions – is inherently criminal and suicidal!

Save is referring to the 300,000-plus farmer suicides that have taken place in India over the past two decades due to economic distress resulting from debt, a shift to (GM)cash crops and economic ‘liberalisation’ (see this report about a peer-reviewed study, which directly links suicides to GM cotton).

The current global system of chemical-industrial agriculture, World Trade Organisation rules and bilateral trade agreements that agritech companies helped draw up are a major cause of food insecurity and environmental destruction. The system is not set up to ‘feed the world’ despite the proclamations of its supporters.

However, this model has become central to the dominant notion of ‘development’ in the Global South: unnecessary urbanisation, the commercialisation and emptying out of the countryside at the behest of the World Bank, the displacement of existing systems of food and agricultural production with one dominated by Monsanto-Bayer, Cargill and the like and a one-dimensional pursuit of GDP growth as a measure of ‘progress’ with little concern for the costs and implications – mirroring the narrow, reductionist ‘output-yield’ paradigm of industrial agriculture itself.

Agroecology offers a genuine solution

Across the world, we are seeing farmers and communities pushing back and resisting the corporate takeover of seeds, soils, land, water and food. And we are also witnessing inspiring stories about the successes of agroecology.

Reflecting what Bhaskar Save achieved on his farm in Gujarat, agroecology combines sound ecological management, including minimising the use of toxic inputs, by using on-farm renewable resources and privileging natural solutions to manage pests and disease, with an approach that upholds and secures farmers’ livelihoods.

Agroecology is based on scientific research grounded in the natural sciences but marries this with farmer-generated knowledge and grassroots participation that challenges top-down approaches to research and policy making. However, it can also involve moving beyond the dynamics of the farm itself to become part of a wider agenda, which addresses the broader political and economic issues that impact farmers and agriculture (see this description of the various modes of thought that underpin agroecolgy).

Jodi Koberisnki’s nod to ‘systems thinking’ lends credence to agroecology, which recognises the potential of agriculture to properly address concerns about local food security and sovereignty as well as social, ecological and health issues. In this respect, agroecology is a refreshing point of departure from the reductionist approach to farming which emphasises securing maximum yield and corporate profit to the detriment of all else.

Wei Zhang – an economist focusing on ecosystem services, agriculture and the environment – says:

that ‘worldview’ is important to how you conceptualise issues and develop or choose tools to address those issues. Using systems thinking requires a shift in fundamental beliefs and assumptions that constitute our worldviews. These are the intellectual and moral foundations for the way we view and interpret reality, as well as our beliefs about the nature of knowledge and the processes of knowing. Systems thinking can help by changing the dominant mindset and by addressing resistance to more integrated approaches.

Agroecology requires that shift in fundamental beliefs.

A few years ago, the Oakland Institute released a report on 33 case studies which highlighted the success of agroecological agriculture across Africa in the face of climate change, hunger and poverty. The studies provide facts and figures on how agricultural transformation can yield immense economic, social, and food security benefits while ensuring climate justice and restoring soils and the environment.

The research highlights the multiple benefits of agroecology, including affordable and sustainable ways to boost agricultural yields while increasing farmers’ incomes, food security and crop resilience.

The report described how agroecology uses a wide variety of techniques and practices, including plant diversification, intercropping, the application of mulch, manure or compost for soil fertility, the natural management of pests and diseases, agroforestry and the construction of water management structures.

There are many other examples of successful agroecology and of farmers abandoning Green Revolution thought and practices to embrace it (see this report about El Salvador and this interview from South India).

In a recent interview appearing on the Farming Matters website, Million Belay sheds light on how agroecological agriculture is the best model of agriculture for Africa. Belay explains that one of the greatest agroecological initiatives started in 1995 in Tigray, Northern Ethiopia, and continues today. It began with four villages and after good results, it was scaled up to 83 villages and finally to the whole Tigray Region. It was recommended to the Ministry of Agriculture to be scaled up at the national level. The project has now expanded to six regions of Ethiopia.

The fact that it was supported with research by the Ethiopian University at Mekele has proved to be critical in convincing decision makers that these practices work and are better for both the farmers and the land.

Bellay describes another agroecological practice that spread widely across East Africa – ‘push-pull’. This method manages pests through selective intercropping with important fodder species and wild grass relatives, in which pests are simultaneously repelled – or pushed – from the system by one or more plants and are attracted to – or pulled – toward ‘decoy’ plants, thereby protecting the crop from infestation. Push-pull has proved to be very effective at biologically controlling pest populations in fields, reducing significantly the need for pesticides, increasing production, especially for maize, increasing income to farmers, increasing fodder for animals and, due to that, increasing milk production, and improving soil fertility.

By 2015, the number of farmers using this practice increased to 95,000. One of the bedrocks of success is the incorporation of cutting edge science through the collaboration of the International Center of Insect Physiology and Ecology (ICIPE) and the Rothamsted Research Station (UK) who have worked in East Africa for the last 15 years on an effective ecologically-based pest management solution for stem borers and striga.

But agroecology should not just be regarded as something for the Global South. Food First Executive Director Eric Holtz-Gimenez argues that it offers concrete, practical solutions to many of the world’s problems that move beyond (but which are linked to) agriculture. In doing so, it challenges – and offers alternatives to – prevailing moribund doctrinaire economics and the outright plunder of neoliberalism.

The scaling up of agroecology can tackle hunger, malnutrition, environmental degradation and climate change. By creating securely paid labour-intensive agricultural work, it can also address the interrelated links between labour offshoring by rich countries and the removal of rural populations elsewhere who end up in sweat shops to carry out the outsourced jobs.

Thick legitimacy

Various official reports have argued that to feed the hungry and secure food security in low income regions we need to support small farms and diverse, sustainable agroecological methods of farming and strengthen local food economies (see this report on the right to food and this (IAASTD) peer-reviewed report).

Olivier De Schutter says:

To feed 9 billion people in 2050, we urgently need to adopt the most efficient farming techniques available. Today’s scientific evidence demonstrates that agroecological methods outperform the use of chemical fertilizers in boosting food production where the hungry live, especially in unfavorable environments.

De Schutter indicates that small-scale farmers can double food production within 10 years in critical regions by using ecological methods. Based on an extensive review of scientific literature, the study he was involved in calls for a fundamental shift towards agroecology as a way to boost food production and improve the situation of the poorest. The report calls on states to implement a fundamental shift towards agroecology.

The success stories of agroecology indicate what can be achieved when development is placed firmly in the hands of farmers themselves. The expansion of agroecological practices can generate a rapid, fair and inclusive development that can be sustained for future generations. This model entails policies and activities that come from the bottom-up and which the state can then invest in and facilitate.

A decentralised system of food production with access to local markets supported by proper roads, storage and other infrastructure must take priority ahead of exploitative international markets dominated and designed to serve the needs of global capital.

It has long been established that small farms are per area more productive than large-scale industrial farms and create a more resilient, diverse food system. If policy makers were to prioritise this sector and promote agroecology to the extent Green Revolution practices and technology have been pushed, many of the problems surrounding poverty, unemployment and urban migration could be solved.

However, the biggest challenge for upscaling agroecology lies in the push by big business for commercial agriculture and attempts to marginalise agroecology. Unfortunately, global agribusiness concerns have secured the status of ‘thick legitimacy’ based on an intricate web of processes successfully spun in the scientific, policy and political arenas. This allows its model to persist and appear normal and necessary. This perceived legitimacy derives from the lobbying, financial clout and political power of agribusiness conglomerates which set out to capture or shape government departments, public institutions, the agricultural research paradigm, international trade and the cultural narrative concerning food and agriculture.

Critics of this system are immediately attacked for being anti-science, for forwarding unrealistic alternatives, for endangering the lives of billions who would starve to death and for being driven by ideology and emotion. Strategically placed industry mouthpieces like Jon Entine, Owen Paterson and Henry Miller perpetuate such messages in the media and influential industry-backed bodies like the Science Media Centre feed journalists with agribusiness spin.

When some people hurl such accusations, it might not just simply be spin: it may be the case that some actually believe critics are guilty of such things. If that is so, it is a result of their failure to think along the lines Zhang outlines: they are limited by their own reductionist logic and worldview.

The worrying thing is that too many policy makers may also be blinded by such a view because so many governments are working hand-in-glove with the industry to promote its technology over the heads of the public. A network of scientific bodies and regulatory agencies that supposedly serve the public interest have been subverted by the presence of key figures with industry links, while the powerful industry lobby hold sway over bureaucrats and politicians.

The World Bank is pushing a corporate-led industrial model of agriculture via its ‘enabling the business of agriculture’ strategy and corporations are given free rein to write policies. Monsanto played a key part in drafting the WTO Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights to create seed monopolies and the global food processing industry had a leading role in shaping the WTO Agreement on the Application of Sanitary and Phytosanitary Measures (see this). From Codex, the Knowledge Initiative on Agriculture aimed at restructuring Indian agriculture to the currently on-hold US-EU trade deal (TTIP), the powerful agribusiness lobby has secured privileged access to policy makers to ensure its model of agriculture prevails.

The ultimate coup d’etat by the transnational agribusiness conglomerates is that government officials, scientists and journalists take as given that profit-driven Fortune 500 corporations have a legitimate claim to be custodians of natural assets. These corporations have convinced so many that they have the ultimate legitimacy to own and control what is essentially humanity’s common wealth. There is the premise that water, food, soil, land and agriculture should be handed over to powerful transnational corporations to milk for profit, under the pretence these entities are somehow serving the needs of humanity.

Corporations which promote industrial agriculture have embedded themselves deeply within the policy-making machinery on both national and international levels. From the overall narrative that industrial agriculture is necessary to feed the world to providing lavish research grants and the capture of important policy-making institutions, global agribusiness has secured a perceived thick legitimacy within policymakers’ mindsets and mainstream discourse.

It gets to the point whereby if you – as a key figure in a public body – believe that your institution and society’s main institutions and the influence of corporations on them are basically sound, then you are probably not going to challenge or question the overall status quo. Once you have indicated an allegiance to these institutions and corporate power, it is ‘irrational’ to oppose their policies, the very ones you are there to promote. And it becomes quite ‘natural’ to oppose any research findings, analyses or questions which question the system and by implication your role in it.

But how long can the ‘legitimacy’ of a system persist given that it merely produces bad food, creates food deficit regions globally,  destroys health, impoverishes small farms, leads to less diverse diets and less nutritious food, is less productive than small farms, creates water scarcity, destroys soil and fuels/benefits from World Bank/WTO policies that create dependency and debt.

The more that agroecology is seen to work, the more policy makers see the failings of the current system and the more they become open to holistic approaches to agriculture – as practitioners and supporters of agroecology create their own thick legitimacy –  the more willing officials might be to give space to a model that has great potential to help deal with some of the world’s most pressing problems. It has happened to a certain extent in Ethiopia, for example. That is hopeful.

Of course, global agribusiness nor the system of capitalism it helps to uphold and benefits from are not going to disappear overnight and politicians (even governments) who oppose or challenge private capital tend to be replaced or subverted.

Powerful agribusiness corporations can only operate as they do because of a framework designed to allow them to capture governments and regulatory bodies, to use the WTO and bilateral trade deals to lever global influence, to profit on the back of US militarism (Iraq) and destabilisations (Ukraine), to exert undue influence over science and politics and to rake in enormous profits.

The World Bank’s ongoing commitment to global agribusiness and a wholly corrupt and rigged model of globalisation is a further recipe for plunder. Whether it involves Monsanto, Cargill or the type of corporate power grab of African agriculture that Bill Gates is helping to spearhead, private capital will continue to ensure this happens while hiding behind platitudes about ‘free trade’ and ‘development’.

Brazil and Indonesia are subsidising private corporations to effectively destroy the environment through their practices.  Canada and the UK are working with the GMO biotech sector to facilitate its needs. And India is facilitating the destruction of its agrarian base according to World Bank directives for the benefit of the likes of Monsanto, Bayer and Cargill.

If myths about the necessity for perpetuating the stranglehold of capitalism go unchallenged and real alternatives are not supported by mass movements across continents, agroecology will remain on the periphery.

The Economist on Marx’s 200 years

The 200th anniversary of the birth of Marx has prompted The Economist to devote an article on Marx in its issue of May 5, 2018. Characteristically titled, “Reconsidering Marx. Second time farce. Two hundred years after his birth, Marx remains surprisingly relevant”!1 The article combines recognition that Marx was a genius with reactionary slandering that he was, after all, an evil genius and without him the world would certainly had been much better.

Naturally, one could not expect something different. Since the time Marx’s ideas gained recognition in the labor movement, the main concern of the apologists of capital has been to “refute” them as false, dogmatic and dangerous. Nor do, of course, The Economist’s journalists offer something new; they simply repeat the usual simplistic distortions and misunderstandings their predecessors have offered innumerable times in the past. However, their argument is nevertheless of a certain interest. On the one hand, the part of it in which they vilify Marx displays the rancor and hatred of the apologists of the ruling classes, who being unable to counter the great thinker, embrace all kinds of nonsense they come across to slander and debase him. On the other hand, when discussing Marx’s predictions, they openly confess their reactionary bourgeois fears regarding capitalism’s present deadlock and his vindication, at least in some important points. It is worthwhile, therefore, to take a look at both aspects; all the more because The Economist is not a minor journal but the semi-official voice of the markets and of the views of the liberal (and in our times neo-liberal) wing of the bourgeoisie.

Marx’s “failures”

“A good subtitle for a biography of Karl Marx”, The Economist’s gentlemen begin, “would be ‘a study in failure’… His ideas”, they continue, “were as much religious as scientific – you might even call them religion repackaged for a secular age. He was a late date prophet describing the march of God on Earth. The fall from grace is embodied in capitalism; man is redeemed as the proletariat rises up against its exploiters and creates a communist utopia” (p. 71, same in the following quotations).

The proofs are all very weighty:

Marx claimed that the point of philosophy was not to understand the world but to improve it. Yet his philosophy changed it largely for the worst: the 40% of humanity who lived under Marxist regimes for much of the 20th century endured famines, gulags and party dictatorships. Marx thought his new dialectical science would allow him to predict the future as well as understand the present. Yet he failed to anticipate two of the biggest developments of the 20th century –the rise of fascism and the welfare state– and wrongly believed communism would take root in the most advanced economies.

Whence, then, Marx’s influence, that makes even The Economist’s gentlemen confess that “for all his oversights, Marx remains a monumental figure” and that “interest in him is as lively as ever”? How do they explain the steadily increasing mass of publications, discussions and events about his work? How is it that in his 200 years even Jean-Claude Juncker, the in no way Marxist president of the EU, finds it necessary to visit Marx’s birthplace, Trier, and make a speech about the importance of his work? “Why”, as they themselves snobbishly ask, “does the world remain fixated on the ideas of a man who helped produce so much suffering?”

The answer, according to The Economist’s luminaries, will be found in the combination of genius with malice, which were Marx’s chief traits. His influence is due to the “sheer power of these ideas” and “the power of his personality”.

Marx was in many ways an awful human being. He spent his life sponging off Friedrich Engels. He was such an inveterate racist, including about his own group, the Jews, that even in the 1910s, when tolerance for such prejudices was higher, the editors of his letters felt obligated to censor them… Michael Bakunin described him as ‘ambitious and vain, quarrelsome, intolerant and absolute… vengeful at the point of madness’… But combine egomania with genius and you have a formidable power. He believed absolutely he was right; that he had discovered a key in history that had eluded earlier philosophers. He insisted on promoting his beliefs whatever obstacles fate (or the authorities) put in his way. His notion of happiness was ‘to fight.

The only conclusion to be drawn from all that is that if The Economist’s columnists lag far behind Marx with regard to genius, they certainly outweigh him vastly in egomania. In their attempt to prove their superiority –and the superiority of their beloved capitalism– to Marx’s predictions, they inevitably prove their inferiority, their inability to understand even Marx’s most basic positions, necessarily ending up to combine traces of truth with tons of falsehood and lies. Let us briefly bring out some points for their benefit.

First of all, there is nothing new in portraying Marx as a “religious” thinker and a “metaphysician”. This, in fact, was a beloved theme of all reactionaries of his time, who being unable to counter his theories and discoveries, resorted to such abuse and slander. For these of priests of capital and the “free markets”, of course, the “natural” was identical with capitalism, while everything going beyond it was anathematized as “religious” etc.

To limit ourselves to just one example, immediately after Marx’s death, Paul Boiteau, an official French economist, wrote in the conservative Journal des débats:

Karl Marx, who has just died, was in his lifetime one of the most listened prophets and theologians of the religion of social wrongs. He has had no difficulty in passing to the rank of its gods, and he will no doubt share in their fate, which is to disappear rather quickly into the void where socialism successively buried its divinities. But, for the moment, his memory receives the censers to which he was entitled, and, in both worlds, the meetings of the initiates declare that the Gospel of Marx must henceforth be the text par excellence of the preachings of international socialism.2

It would seem that The Economist’s folks have not advanced very far from Boiteau’s views. And, judging from the fact that everyone still knows Karl Marx while almost no one remembers Boiteau, it seems unlikely that they will get a better place in the hall of fame than he did.

Secondly, Marx never portrayed capitalism as a “fall from grace”, a hell that took the place of a previous earthly paradise, and the proletariat as the Messiah of our time. This was, in fact, the position of some Utopian communists of his time, whose primitivism he criticized. On the contrary, Marx acknowledged and stressed, at least after having laid the foundations of his theory, that capitalism represents a great advance in relation to feudalism, and that it substantially expanded the technological basis and horizons of human society. At the same time, however, he argued that by rapidly developing productive forces and socializing production, capitalism undermines its very foundation, makes unnecessary and anachronistic the exploitative relations on which it rests, and creates for the first time the possibility of a non-exploitative organization of the economy, based on the common ownership the means of production. The Economist’s journalists, lacking the courage to address the second point, blur and obscure the first, attributing to Marx things that are not part of his theory.

Thirdly, there is nothing in Marx’s works that contains even a trace of anti-Semitism or racism. Anti-Semites included, among others, Bakunin, whose slanderous criticism of Marx The Economist approvingly quotes, and Bruno Bauer, both of them Marx’s opponents. Bauer argued in particular that Jews would be unable to free themselves as long as they did not discard their religion and that until then they should be deprived of their political rights. Marx, answering him in his brochure on the Jewish question, which is frequently falsely presented by reactionaries as “anti-Semitic”, had rejected any idea of political, religious or other discrimination against the Jews. He countered that the partial liberation of the Jews was possible through their participation in the political struggles of the time, without presupposing any renunciation of their religion, and that their total liberation would take place when society was liberated from all kinds of slavery.

Marx’s perhaps only “anti-Jewish” comment appears in a letter he wrote to Engels, to which The Economist’s folks apparently allude, where he contemptuously labeled Lassalle a “Jewish nigger”.3 However, this letter was written under very special circumstances when Lassalle had stayed for some days at Marx’s home in London during 1862. Lassalle, as Marx mentions, besides his refusal to lend him an amount of money, had proposed him, as a means of getting rid of his financial problems, to hand over one of his daughters as a companion to a bourgeois family, and had unsettled his calmness and work. These things had enraged Marx and he wrote an aggressive letter to Engels, with all sorts of strong comments, which cannot be seen as an expression of his positions on racism or on any other matter. In order to seriously criticize Marx as a “racist”, one would have to point out some explicit or indirect support for racism in his works, which is impossible to do for him or any other serious Marxist.

Let us note by the way, as an example of how strongly prejudiced The Economist’s journalists, who imagine themselves “enlightened”, are, that even some neo-Nazis quote and comment more honestly Marx’s views on the Jews. In an article about Bruno Bauer posted on the National Vanguard, one of the key neo-Nazi websites in the United States, after speaking of Bauer as one of the forerunners of anti-Semitism, R. Pennington refers to Marx’s criticism of his views as a rejection of anti-Semitism: “Bauer’s anti-Semitism”, she writes, caused Marx a great deal of intellectual grief”; Marx’s critique was intended to “releasing the Jews from any intimidation by society or the state”.4 As an orthodox ultra-right, Pennington prefers, of course, to Bauer, honoring his anti-Semitism and condemning “Marxist obscurantism”, but at least she presents somewhat accurately Marx’s position.

Marx, they tell us further, failed to predict fascism and the welfare state. In the same way, one could say Darwin failed to predict (in 1871!) the discovery of DNA or that The Economist failed to predict, not 50 years, but not even 50 days beforehand, the outbreak of the global economic crisis in 2007. To blame Marx for things it was clearly impossible for him to predict, and for the analogue of which they would never blame, let us say, Darwin or themselves, isn’t that a manifestation of egomania and rancor?

Of course, Marx did not explicitly predict the above developments, but he identified the trends that made them possible. In many of his writings on the revolutions of 1848, in his criticisms of vulgar bourgeois political economy and in his analyses of the Commune, he showed and documented the bourgeoisie’s turn towards reaction, one of the ultimate consequences of which was fascism. In his The 18th Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte, he also referred to the development of reactionary petty bourgeois movements; i.e., peasants’ movements “who, in stupefied seclusion… want to see themselves and their small holdings saved”,5 thereby turning against the proletariat; a trend whose exacerbation in the imperialist era contributed decisively in the development of fascism. On the other hand, in his analysis of Malthus’s views in Theories of Surplus Value, Marx extensively referred to the bourgeoisie’s attempts to increase the intermediate strata between itself and the proletariat as a safety valve for its regime, considering that “this is the course taken by bourgeois society”.6 So here, too, he revealed the socio-economic basis of the developments that led to the so-called “welfare state”; i.e., the strengthening of the intermediate strata, which is possible within capitalism, as long as it does not radically contradict the falling tendency of the rate of profit.

Let’s turn now to The Economist’s main claim that Marx’s bad influence helped produce most of the 20th century’s misery, which could otherwise have been avoided. Putting the issue in this way is, of course, foolish; the true question to be asked and answered is: which tendencies in the 20th century have had positive results, those emerging from capitalism and contributing to its perpetuation, or the revolutionary tendencies that, finding their foundation in Marx, were promoting the overthrow of the capitalist system?

Capitalism was exclusively responsible for the first great war of the 20th century, the world imperialist war of 1914-18, with its more than ten million victims. Imperialist intervention was largely responsible for millions of victims in the initially almost bloodless Russian Revolution of 1917. The great crisis of 1929 and fascism were both children of capitalism, as was the case with World War II, an effort of the most reactionary wing of capital to eliminate the achievements of the Russian Revolution. It is true that the course of the USSR was marked, especially in Stalin’s years, by the negative phenomena The Economist points out; i.e., the 1932-33 famine, gulags, massive cleansing, terror and oppression, as was also the case in China during the Great Leap Forward. However, these phenomena have been explained by Marxists as a degeneration process, the result of the backwardness of the countries where the revolution first took place and of the rise of Stalinist bureaucracy, which did not promote but betrayed world revolution both in the USSR –its first victims there being the leaders of October– and abroad. In addition, they were not the only ones and did not characterize the whole experience of the USSR. During the 1920s and early ’30s there took place in the USSR a vast cultural revolution, whose achievements were undermined by Stalinism but nevertheless partly survived and developed in the later phases of the regime. The Soviet people took up the main burden of the anti-fascist struggle, which objectively was a continuation of October’s progressive legacy, while after 1956 the most odious aspects of Stalinist oppression were put aside.

The imperialist plunder of the Third World, interventions, establishment of dictatorships and the condemnation of entire peoples in starvation, continued on the contrary throughout the 20th century, before and after World War II. The concessions of the ruling classes in the capitalist centers after 1945 were prompted chiefly by their fear of the post-war ascend of communism and anti-fascist movements. Where it not for the USSR, who would have stopped Nazism and force these concessions to the ruling classes? Moreover, while the existence of the USSR checked the aggression of imperialism, after its dissolution its real tendencies have again been manifested openly and unimpeded, producing their true devastating effects. It took just 15 years to take world-wide inequality to unprecedented heights, start many local wars, exacerbate the great powers’ competition to a point threatening a hot conflict, trigger the global economic crisis of 2007, and revive fascism and far-right nationalism worldwide. Even the few positive elements of the latest period, such as the great capitalist development of China, are closely linked to the positive heritage of the 20th century’s revolutions. In China, the fact that a great popular revolution lasting two decades eroded feudalism and imperialist dependence, allowed capitalism to develop without internal and external obstacles and benefit a comparatively significant part of the population; in India, on the contrary, where there was no revolution, but only a bourgeois renovation from above, the growth of the last decades was much weaker and a much larger part of the population is stuck in extreme poverty. Capitalism prevailed in its competition with the USSR due to its higher level of development of the productive forces and the devastating effects of Stalinism, but experience shows that this did not allow capitalism to overcome its contradictions.

The Economist’s journalists make every effort to reject not only Marx himself, but the whole Communist movement and its eminent theorists after his death:

After Marx’s death in 1883 his followers –particularly Engels– worked hard to turn his theories into a closed system. The pursuit of purity involved vicious factional fights as the ‘real’ Marxists drove out renegades, revisionists and heretics. It eventually led to the monstrosity of Marxism-Leninism with its pretentions of infallibility (‘scientific socialism’), its delight in obfuscation (‘dialectical materialism’) and its cult of personality (those giant statues of Marx and Lenin).

Here again, the negative experiences of Stalinism, dogmatism and the necrosis of Marxism, are exploited to discard as nonsense the whole development of Marxism after Marx. However, Marxism in that period had important representatives such as Engels, Plekhanov, Lenin, Luxemburg, Kautsky, Mehring and, after Lenin’s death, Trotsky, Bukharin, Gramsci and Lukacs, who cannot be put aside so easily. These Marxists analyzed developments after Marx’s death, guided the October Revolution and developed Marxism further. That this development involved a clearing of Marxism from alien influences was not something special to Engels or Lenin: Marx had also fought fiercely against the pseudo-socialists of his time, such as Proudhon and the “true socialists”, and Marxists after Lenin, especially Trotsky and Lukacs, explained Stalinist dogmatism as an alien influence and distortion of Marxism.

Paradoxically, and while one would expect that after all these tirades, everything about Marx has been dismissed, The Economist’s gentlemen conclude their reference to his “failures” with a reservation that would seem to distinguish something fertile in his thought. But as it immediately becomes clear, they consider “fertile” only what they themselves want to read or think they can find in Marx.

The collapse of this petrified orthodoxy has revealed that Marx was a much more interesting man than his interpreters have implied. His grand certainties were a response to grand doubts. His sweeping theories were the results of endless reversals. Toward the end of his life he questioned many of his central convictions. He worried that he might have been wrong about the tendency of the rate of profit to fall. He puzzled over the fact that, far from immiserating the poor, Victorian England was providing them with growing prosperity. (ibid, p. 71-72).

Here The Economist’s gentlemen remarkably agree with the representatives of the so-called “New reading of Marx”, that is, representatives of professorial academic wisdom who falsify Marx, such as Michael Heinrich. Marx, of course, rethought and improved his assumptions constantly, but contrary to the claims of these scholars, there is no evidence that he had revised his analysis of the falling tendency of the rate of profit, or that Engels distorted his positions. Moreover, the entire evolution of capitalism in the 20th century has confirmed this fundamental to its historical fortunes law discovered by Marx. The main transformations and models of capitalism, Fordism, Keynesianism, neoliberalism, were, in fact, just ways of reacting to the downward rate of profit, and the fact that the bourgeoisie is forced to replace them after profitability crises proves that they can counteract it only temporarily and that their potential is always exhausted.

Engels was perhaps not as deep as Marx, and he occasionally made some mistakes. But to dismiss Engels for Heinrich’s sake means to read Marx in a systemic way, to make Engels’s mistakes an alibi in order to accept a total mistake. Marx’s concerns at the end of his life had to do with a better conceptualization of the complexity of capitalism’s tendencies, and hence of the revolutionary process, not with their general direction.

Marx’s successes and further “failures”

This brings us to Marx’s successes, some of which are so obvious, that even The Economist’s columnists cannot but recognize them, although still charging him with some other failures.

“The chief reason for the continuing interest in Marx, however”, we read further, “is that his ideas are more relevant than they have been for decades. The post-war consensus that shifted power from capital to labour and produced a ‘great compression’ in living standards is fading. Globalisation and the rise of a virtual economy are producing a version of capitalism that once more seems to be out of control. The backwards flow of power from labour to capital is finally beginning to produce a popular –and often populist– reaction. No wonder the most successful economics book of recent years, Thomas Piketty’s ‘Capital in the Twenty-First Century’, echoes the title of Marx’s most important work and his preoccupation with inequality” (p. 72, same in the following).

So, if inequality has once again become a central issue, to the extent that 1% of the world’s population owns over 50% of the world’s wealth, and 3.7 billion of the poorest account for just 2.7%7, how can “dogmatic” and “fanatical” Marx be confirmed after so many “reforms” and “advances” made by the ruling classes? Let’s see what The Economist’s gentlemen have to say about this as things become more interesting now.

Marx argued that capitalism is in essence a system of rent-seeking: rather than creating wealth from nothing, as they like to imagine, capitalists are in the business of expropriating the wealth of others. Marx was wrong about capitalism in the raw: great entrepreneurs do amass fortunes by dreaming up new products or new ways of organising production. But he had a point about capitalism in its bureaucratic form. A depressing number of today’s bosses are corporate bureaucrats rather than wealth-creators, who use convenient formulae to make sure their salaries go ever upwards. They work hand in glove with a growing crowd of other rent-seekers, such as management consultants… professional board members… and retired politicians…

By reading such passages, one gets convinced that The Economist’s “liberals” will never understand even Marx’s simplest positions, not due to lack of knowledge, but because they do not want to understand them, since this goes contrary to their class interests. Marx never defined capitalism as a rent-seeking system. This was also a feature of feudalism which knew various kinds of rent. The distinctive feature of capitalism, according to Marx, is expansion, the development of production for production’s sake, the accumulation of capital. And what capitalists accumulate is surplus value, the unpaid labor of the workers, which they usurp. Ideas could never create stocks and capitals; and it is absurd to base economic analysis on the difference between the good ideas of capitalists and the bad ideas of managers, etc. Moreover, if it was just a matter of good or bad ideas, one could perhaps solve many problems and save capitalism by imposing a negative rent for some obviously bad ideas of the capitalists and their ilk, such as weapons of mass destruction. The Economist’s gentlemen, distorting Marx in that way, shift the problem from the structure of capitalism to the behavior of the one or other of its agents, bureaucrats, managers, and so on. Yet, while rent is, of course, important –and Lenin, Hobson and others showed how rentiers multiply in the imperialist era with capitalism’s increasing parasitism– according to Marx, it is production and not distribution that defines the essence of capitalism, as of every other economic system.

However, just after that we find two better passages. One is about globalization, which, it is acknowledged, Marx had already foreseen:

Capitalism, Marx maintained, is by its nature a global system: ‘It must nestle everywhere, settle everywhere, establish connections everywhere’. That is as true today as it was in the Victorian era. The two most striking developments of the past 30 years are the progressive dismantling of barriers to the free movement of the factors of production—goods, capital and to some extent people—and the rise of the emerging world. Global firms plant their flags wherever it is most convenient… The World Economic Forum’s annual jamboree in Davos, Switzerland, might well be retitled ‘Marx was right’.

So Marx did predict something correctly after all. And it seems that he did not only predict this, but also something else too, the tendency of capitalism to create monopolies and, along with the accumulation of wealth on the one side, to produce an army of unemployed and occasionally employed in the other:

“He thought”, we read further, “capitalism had a tendency towards monopoly, as successful capitalists drive their weaker rivals out of business in a prelude to extracting monopoly rents. Again this seems to be a reasonable description of the commercial world that is being shaped by globalisation and the internet. The world’s biggest companies are not only getting bigger in absolute terms but are also turning huge numbers of smaller companies into mere appendages. New-economy behemoths are exercising a market dominance not seen since America’s robber barons. Facebook and Google suck up two-thirds of America’s online ad revenues. Amazon controls more than 40% of the country’s booming online-shopping market. In some countries Google processes over 90% of web searches. Not only is the medium the message but the platform is also the market.

In Marx’s view capitalism yielded an army of casual labourers who existed from one job to the other. During the long post-war boom this seemed like a nonsense. Far from having nothing to lose but their chains, the workers of the world—at least the rich world—had secure jobs, houses in the suburbs and a cornucopia of possessions… Yet once again Marx’s argument is gaining urgency. The gig economy is assembling a reserve force of atomised labourers who wait to be summoned, via electronic foremen, to deliver people’s food, clean their houses or act as their chauffeurs. In Britain house prices are so high that people under 45 have little hope of buying them. Most American workers say they have just a few hundred dollars in the bank. Marx’s proletariat is being reborn as the precariat.

The analysis perhaps is not flawless, but we may assume without much danger of error that had Marx read it, he would have rated The Economist’s analysts at least with a 5 (full marks being 10). Unfortunately, is not so with the immediately following argument, for which he would definitely make them repeat the same class:

Still, the rehabilitation ought not to go too far. Marx’s errors far outnumbered his insights. His insistence that capitalism drives workers’ living standards to subsistence level is absurd. The genius of capitalism is that it relentlessly reduces the price of regular consumer items: today’s workers have easy access to goods once considered the luxuries of monarchs… Marx’s vision of a post-capitalist future is both banal and dangerous: banal because it presents a picture of people essentially loafing about (hunting in the morning, fishing in the afternoon, raising cattle in the evening and criticising after dinner); dangerous because it provides a licence for the self-anointed vanguard to impose its vision on the masses.

It is tragic indeed to encounter such expositions of Marx’s views.

First of all, Marx never claimed that “capitalism drives workers’ living standards to subsistence level”. This was, in fact, Lassalle’s position, expressed in his famous “Iron Law of Wages”, which states precisely this thing. Marx criticized Lassalle’s law, showing that the workers, with their organization and struggles, could improve their position, and that there is a difference, historically defined in each country, between the wage corresponding to subsistence level and the real average wage.8

Secondly, it is funny to imply that a thinker of Marx’s level had not noticed and pointed out the ability of capitalism to limit the prices of consumer goods through technological progress, productivity gains, etc. In fact, Marx was the first economist to recognize and explain this possibility, as well as the historical movement of wages at the various stages of capitalism, with his distinction between absolute and relative surplus value. Let us explain this distinction, for the benefit of The Economist’s columnists.

Absolute surplus value, according to Marx, is the type of capitalist accumulation that dominated the early stages of capitalism, in the so-called period of primitive accumulation of capital. During that period, accumulation was promoted by increasing the working day – for example, the worker was forced to work 12 instead of 10 hours daily, his salary remaining the same. This means an increase in exploitation: if, for example, in the initial 10 hours, 6 hours correspond to the reproduction of the labor force and 4 hours to unpaid labor (i.e., production of surplus value), the final 12 will include 6 unpaid hours. Absolute surplus value goes hand in hand with absolute impoverishment, as pay per hour of work decreases. The brutal expropriation of the rural population and its relocation to the cities under wretched conditions, the deadly work of children and women, etc., were some of the misfortunes of this phase, described in novels by Dickens, Gorky and others.

However, when the development of capitalism, and hence its technological base, reaches a relatively high point –what Marx calls “the real subordination of labor to capital”– absolute surplus value is replaced by relative surplus value. The distinctive feature of the latter is that accumulation is now promoted not by the increase of the working day but by the limitation of the part of the working day devoted to the replacement of the worker’s labor power. In the previous example, if the time for the reproduction of labor power (the necessary labor) is reduced to 2 hours from 6, then even with a reduction of the working day from 10 to 8 hours, the worker will produce more surplus value than before, offering 6 hours of surplus labor instead of 4. Relative surplus value corresponds to relative impoverishment because the salary per hour of work increases. In addition, it is a constituent part of Marx’s analysis that the price of labor power in the latter case will correspond to a larger number of goods, since by the development of specialization, etc., the needs of the worker also grow. Of course, the great limitation of necessary labor is made possible because, due to technological progress, an hour of work in developed capitalism produces a much larger mass of commodities than what it produced in its earlier stages. The total value of these goods remains roughly the same, but the value per unit is drastically reduced.

In Marx’s time relative surplus value had progressed only in Britain, yet this did not prevent him from recognizing it as the main form for developed capitalism and assess its impact on the workers’ living standard. In an excerpt in Capital he sums it up quite clearly:

Under the conditions of accumulation… which conditions are those most favorable to the laborers, their relation of dependence upon capital takes on a form endurable or, as Eden says: ‘easy and liberal’. Instead of becoming more intensive with the growth of capital, this relation of dependence only becomes more extensive, i.e., the sphere of capital’s exploitation and rule merely extends with its own dimensions and the number of its subjects. A larger part of their own surplus-product, always increasing and continually transformed into additional capital, comes back to them in the shape of means of payment, so that they can extend the circle of their enjoyments; can make some additions to their consumption-fund of clothes, furniture, etc., and can lay by small reserve-funds of money.9

Of course, as Marx explains at various points, this improvement has certain limits defined by the needs of capitalist accumulation, and tends to take place in periods of economic growth, while in recessions wages are being pressed. But this is a far cry from presenting him as an advocate of the view that no improvement in the lot of the workers is possible under capitalism.

Marx’s position that in the post-capitalist society people will be able to hunt in the morning and go fishing in the evening was a poetic image of the many sided, cultivated man who will replace the disintegrated, individualistic human existence to which capitalism gives rise. Marx insisted that labor itself will always be “the realm of necessity”, but shorter working hours when everyone will work will give all members of society enough free time for a variety of other activities. It was Marx’s deep conviction that in the future society even The Economist’s journalists will find some better things to do than to exhort capitalism and abuse Marx.

For the time being, of course, no such thing is in sight, so they continue listing some more of Marx’s “failures”. “The World Bank”, we are told, “calculates that the number of people in ‘extreme poverty’ has declined from 1.85bn in 1970 to 767m in 2013, a figure that puts the regrettable stagnation of living standards for Western workers in perspective”. Marx, evidently, failed to anticipate that momentous progress too…

Here again it is a case of progresses existing in the apologists’ heads rather than in reality. Extreme poverty is defined at making less than 1.90$ per day, so that it would hardly look like a great advance to half the number of those caught in it. Moreover, the very definition of extreme poverty by the World Bank is under severe criticism, while if one puts aside China, the picture in the rest of the world is hardly encouraging.

In fact The Economist’s gentlemen are very close to repeating arguments regarding general welfare, which their predecessors advanced in Marx’s time. “Delightful is it thus to see”, one of them went, “under Free Trade, all classes flourishing; their energies are called forth by hope of reward; all improve their productions, and all and each are benefited” (The Economist, 2/1/1853). To which Marx replied by pointing to the numerous cases of starvation in this “generally beneficial” social order10. One has just to look at the thousands of peasants in India who commit suicide due to starvation –according to official estimates, more than 12,000 yearly after 201311 – to see that The Economist’s present attempt to paint a similar worldwide tranquility is not a bit better.

There follows Marx’s worst “mistake”:

Marx’s greatest failure, however, was that he underestimated the power of reform—the ability of people to solve the evident problems of capitalism through rational discussion and compromise. He believed history was a chariot thundering to a predetermined end and that the best that the charioteers can do is hang on. Liberal reformers, including his near contemporary William Gladstone, have repeatedly proved him wrong. They have not only saved capitalism from itself by introducing far-reaching reforms but have done so through the power of persuasion. The ‘superstructure’ has triumphed over the ‘base’, ‘parliamentary cretinism’ over the ‘dictatorship of the proletariat’.

So, what do The Economist’s geniuses tell us? To what does their wisdom end up?

They tell us that Marx was right in verifying those laws and trends of capitalism that bring them and their ilk to the foreground –globalization, monopolization, etc.– but that they, the “superstructure”, the various “think tanks” of capital, with their special astuteness and wisdom, succeeded in changing the action of these laws, making them produce different results than those predicted by Marx. Isn’t that a form of egomania?

We have already seen that Marx recognized the possibilities of reforming capitalism, ultimately based on relative surplus value. He himself refers to them in the Preface to the 1st edition of Capital, pointing out that “present society is not a solid crystal, but an organism capable of change, and is constantly changing”.12 Marx, however, showed at the same time the limits of these possibilities. To clarify this last, vital point, let us listen first to The Economist’s gentlemen final confessions:

The great theme of history in the advanced world since Marx’s death has been reform rather than revolution. Enlightened politicians extended the franchise so working-class people had a stake in the political system. They renewed the regulatory system so that great economic concentrations were broken up or regulated. They reformed economic management so economic cycles could be smoothed and panics contained… Today’s great question is whether those achievements can be repeated. The backlash against capitalism is mounting – if more often in the form of populist anger than of proletarian solidarity. So far liberal reformers are proving sadly inferior to their predecessors in terms of both their grasp of the crisis and their ability to generate solutions. They should use the 200th anniversary of Marx’s birth to reacquaint themselves with the great man – not only to understand the serious faults that he brilliantly identified in the system, but to remind themselves of the disaster that awaits if they fail to confront them.

Well, well, truth must be admitted after all! What we see during the last two decades is the decline of the liberal elites, their constant shift to intensified reaction, their failure to find any viable way out of the crisis and the deadlocks of capitalism, their –as The Economist itself aptly puts it– sad inferiority to the circumstances. However, their failure inexorably raises a relentless question that The Economist’s gentlemen fail to raise: Is this a chance, subjective failure or error of the leading circles of capital? Or does its cause lie in something more profound; i.e., that there exists no longer such a reformist way?

Can capitalism reform itself anew?

So, can capitalism reform itself anew, as it has done in the past, or is its present, self-destructive course definitive?

This question emerges from all modern developments and we can give at least some credit to The Economist’s journalists for posing it openly and sharply as a “life and death” question for capitalism. Yet it cannot be posed in a Shakespearean, “to be or not to be” philosophical way, as they pose it. It must be examined in relation to the whole of social experience, the directions of bourgeois governments and organizations, etc. And any such discussion will inexorably force answering it in the negative. A few concrete questions will clarify that.

If there is a real possibility of a new New Deal today, why do we nowhere see a significant portion of the ruling classes expressing and supporting it? In the 1930s there was a Roosevelt, after World War II there were representatives of the liberal bourgeoisie such as De Gaulle and the Kennedy brothers. Where is their current analogue? Why does the “liberal” wing, whose voice The Economist is, can only oppose Trump with a Hillary Clinton; i.e., something just a trifle better? Why do the few progressive representatives of the bourgeoisie like Sanders prove completely incapable of proposing any positive reform program and are forced, confusing others and themselves, to talk about “socialism”?

All these are sure indications that an internal reform of capitalism which would provide a real economic revival is no longer possible. We will understand why it is so by returning to Marx’s analysis of relative surplus value. The development of mature capitalism, as Marx has shown particularly in his Results of the Direct Production Process, consists essentially in generalizing relative surplus value, through its successive expansion to the various branches of economy. This was done in previous stages with the technological intensification of industry, agriculture and the state sector, services, etc. And the reason capitalism could at those stages have some able representatives was that there were still non-intensified sectors of the economy, whose reshaping, as well as the overall reshaping of the system based on this process, required certain abilities.

The distinctive feature of globalization, on the contrary, is that, at least in the developed countries, there is no longer a non-intensified economic sector. The service and public sectors, the last remaining ones, were intensified in the neoliberal era, this being its essential content. Things like “green economy” are aspirins, while the generalized automation futurists like Mason are dreaming of is inconceivable under capitalism as it would decisively hit the rate of profit. The very fact that capital is now forced to resort to absolute surplus value, increasing again the length of the working day in order to support the rate of profit (and thereby reviving again absolute impoverishment!), is a further proof of the exhaustion of its reformist margins. So at capitalist metropolises at least, there remains nothing else, nothing new to be done; there is no new model of accumulation and consequently no possibility of a new cycle. This makes globalization the last phase, the last moment of the imperialist era and capitalism in general, during which the capitalist system will necessarily leave the historical scene.

All this does not imply, of course, a complete impossibility of reforms, but any such possibilities refer to measures, changes, etc., which fulfill possibilities of the current stage, not of a hypothetical, non-existent future stage. Or to put it otherwise: there is no chance of capitalism presenting something radically new, a modern “New Deal”, but only –and this at a theoretical level– of normalizing and prolonging a bit globalization, by softening for some time its worst conflicts.

Two such possibilities are basically at hand. Relative surplus value has already exhausted its potential in the capitalist centers and is now fulfilling it in Asia and Latin America. But there is a continent where it has not yet been expanded; i.e., Africa. Africa’s participation in globalization could provide a growth momentum when China recedes, opening a further round. Of course, in order to bring this about, that participation should be on comparatively equal terms, not like that of Yemen, which picks up globalization’s bombs, but roughly that of China. Secondly, the North-South gap in the European Union suggests a similar, albeit proportionally smaller, possibility of capitalist progress for the European South, but this also presupposes a change in the EU structure towards true convergence.

Historical experience so far proves that the weakened liberal leaders of capitalism cannot implement these changes or even aid them. Obstacles on their way are more than obvious. Africa is already the field of competition between China and the West, and the great powers are not interested in its development, but in enhancing each one’s sphere of influence and plundering at the expense of the rest. In addition, American imperialism’s policies of past decades, interventions around the world, etc., have strengthened the worst, most adventurous forces in its protectorates, the consequence being that change stumbles not only on the directions of imperialism itself, but also on local cliques, “compradorial” segments, etc. Africa’s current growth rate of about 4% reflects these barriers, being extremely low for a continent with a population of 1.3 billion and less than one-third of US GDP.

It would be erroneous to imagine that when China’s momentum fades, capital will flow in Africa and start a new swift rise there. Firstly, China’s potential as capitalism’s steam engine has already been half-halted. Yet Africa’s development has not gained momentum, but has receded during the last years, from 5.5% in 2012 to 2.7 in 2016, and an anemic recovery in 201713 In the second place, China’s huge capitalist progress was made possible by the fact that the revolution had created a viable social order, a skillful and educated working class, etc. Only traces of these will be found in Africa, which is moreover divided in a multitude of small, unsustainable states, with extreme poverty increasing strongly during the last decades. In practice, moving these barriers aside will require at least some Chavez type revolutions in Africa, like those of Latin America during the last two decades. A key condition for a steady development in that continent will be that the leading circles of imperialism support these processes, yet wherever they have happened so far, either in Africa itself in the 1950s, ’60s and ’70s, or in Latin America recently, imperialism has constantly tried to stifle them.

On the other hand, the European Union, the only intensive global integration process, remains, as Mr. Juncker acknowledged in his recent Marx speech, extremely fragile. “The European Union”, he said, “is not a flawed, but an unstable construction. Unstable also because Europe’s social dimension until today remains the poor relation of the European integration. We have to change this”14 But of what change can one speak of, when, in a construct that its own leaders confess its instability, all the pressures of the crisis are directed to its weakest joints? It is not clear that the next crisis, which even according to them, is probably a short time away, will break it into pieces? And what will the consequences be then? Under the present circumstances, these can only be chaos, a fascist takeover of power in at least some European countries and war conflicts.

Of course, Trump’s election in the United States, the developing commercial wars and the existence of anachronistic regimes, such as Syria, Iran, and so on, belonging to Russian sphere of influence, obstruct economic progress even more at a world level. Add to this the whole parasitic raff of globalization, which in not limited to bureaucrats and politicians as The Economist would have it, but also includes all kinds of market speculators, lobbyists, mafias, etc, who loot world economy –movies like Gavras’s “Le Capital” and Hickenlooper’s “Casino Jack” depict their range– and you will see why it is utopian to expect something different from the ruling elites.

One last point that deserves some comment in The Economist’s arguments is their hints that Marx’s revolutionary forecast has been refuted in the capitalist centers. While Marx “believed communism would take hold in the most advanced economies… The only countries where Marx’s ideas took hold were backward autocracies such as Russia and China”. And even today, in period of severe crisis, opposition to capitalism appears “more often in the form of populist anger than of proletarian solidarity” (p. 71, 72).

These arguments are not new, yet there is a grain of truth in them, which has also been adequately dealt by Marxists. After Marx’s death, Engels, Lenin and Trotsky recognized the bourgeoisie’s ability to create a “working class aristocracy”, by sharing a small part of the booty of colonial exploitation, a fact allowing it to stabilize its hold in the capitalist centers. On the other hand, the obvious reason recent opposition to capitalism has so far been manifested chiefly by the rise of (often far-right) populism is that the crisis hit first the petty bourgeoisie, who tend to seek to restore their previous position at the expense of the working class15 All that, however, belongs to the kind of complications and difficulties with which Marx struggled in the last phase of his life, when he clearly envisaged some of them (e.g., the possibility of a revolution in Russia) and in no way counters his central claims. Doesn’t the fact of “the regrettable stagnation of living standards for Western workers” (p. 72), to which The Economist reluctantly refers, prove indeed that the main stabilizing factor in the capitalist centers belongs to the past?

Let us sum up in a graphic way. Capitalism is a Titanic that, due to the very materials and contradictions ingrained in its frame, is doomed to break up and sink. It is composed, of course, of several levels, each one of them having its own watertight parts which delay for a while flooding from incoming water. In the previous stages or levels, there was a difficult way out of Titanic to the new ship of socialism, but there were also higher levels to which one could move when the previous ones were flooded. The peculiarity of the current level is that there no more exists a level above. There is only a possibility of delaying the flooding of the current level either by increasing its space (a relatively equal participation of Africa in globalization) or by absorbing some of the pressures on the walls by channeling them to their strongest points (allocating part of the burdens of the EU crisis to Germany, France, etc.). We do not see any of these possibilities being realized today; on the contrary, the policies pursued are in the exactly opposite direction.

We have already explained why this is so and why a realization of the progressive possibilities of the current stage by the ruling classes is extremely unlikely, if not impossible. Moreover, if they were to be implemented, this should have been prepared during the past decades; e.g., by instituting a United Nations program to combat poverty in Africa and elsewhere, such as that proposed in the 1960s by the Kennedy brothers (who were murdered incidentally by their own class), rather than conducting military interventions in Iraq and Afghanistan. If, however, The Economist’s gentlemen are of another opinion and consider such a program possible, nothing prevents them from becoming its preachers, even if a little late.

In conclusion

Marx in his time never held The Economist in any high esteem. He called it, the “optimist conjurer of all things menacing the tranquil minds of the mercantile community”.16

The Economist’s article on Marx’s 200 years confirms his judgment. It is a mirror of the illusions of the condemned classes concerning their “eternity” and of their gaudy front, from which “superstitions and prejudices emerge like frogs”.17 How could Marx be a great thinker and a racist egomaniac at the same time? If he was a racist, why has he been an anathema for all reactionaries? Questions like these The Economist’s gentlemen are unable even to pose; prejudice blocks them from surfacing in their minds. And in this way, they unwittingly offer the best proof that Marx was right both in his opinion about The Economist, which has not advanced far since then, and in his overall predictions about capitalism’s fate.

However, The Economist’s journalists are wrong when they say that the practical implication of these predictions is to “hang on the chariot of history”. Such passivity was alien to Marx; on the contrary, he stressed that history presents active possibilities, the content of which, according to his famous statement, lies in “shortening the birth pangs”. It is on the contrary the “free market” apologists who hang on it and never prepare anything.

From this point of view; e.g., a capitalist development in Africa similar to that of China cannot be indifferent to Marxists as it would limit the sufferings of the next capitalist crisis and help realize the transition to socialism under better conditions. But herein lies the problem, that all such possibilities are hampered by the bourgeoisie itself, by the oligarchies of the developed countries. As Trotsky points out:

In the conditions of capitalist decline, backward countries are unable to attain that level which the old centers of capitalism have attained. Having themselves arrived in a blind alley, the more civilized nations block the road to those finding themselves in a process of civilizing themselves.18

Despite The Economist’s reformist optimism, all realities of our time cry in chorus that the necessary progressive reforms, even those in principle theoretically possible within capitalism, can only be fulfilled in a revolutionary way. And their fulfillment is only conceivable as a step, a starting point in the process of transition to socialism.

  1. See Readers of the World Read Karl Marx, The Economist, May 3, 2018. In the electronic edition the title is different, “Rulers of the world: read Karl Marx!” Roughly one year ago The Economist had published a similar item on Marx, expressing its “scorn” regarding John McDonnell’s praise of him but also admitting that Marx “becomes more relevant by the day”. The Economist, 11/5/2017.
  2. P. Boiteau, “Mort le Karl Marx”, Journal des débats, 25/3/1883.
  3. See K. Marx – F. Engels. Collected Works, Progress Publishers, vol. 41, p. 388-391.
  4. R. Pennington, “Bruno Bauer: Young Hegelian”. That article had appeared first at Instauration, an ultra-right periodical, in 1976. Of course, Pennington goes on to invent an antithesis between Marx and Engels, by presenting the latter as an anti-Semite. This is a lie, Engels had written an article against anti-Semitism, exposing it as an ultra-reactionary current: “anti-Semitism”, he said, “serves… reactionary ends under a purportedly socialist cloak; it is a degenerate form of feudal socialism and we can have nothing to do with that” (F. Engels, “On anti-Semitism”.

    The myth of Marx’s “anti-Semitism” is ably refuted by R. Fine in “Karl Marx and the Radical Critique of Anti-Semitism”.  Unfortunately Fine, in his otherwise excellent article, attributes wrongly the above quoted phrase of Engels to Marx.

  5. K. Marx, “The 18th Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte”, in K. Marx – F. Engels, Selected Works, Progress Publishers, Moscow 1977, vol. 1, p. 479-480.
  6. K. Marx, Theories of Surplus value, Progress Publishers, Moscow 1975, vol. 3, p. 63.
  7. See “World wealth increases, inequality rises“, Kathimerini, 15/11/2017.
  8. In a well-known passage in Capital, in the part on labor power, Marx emphasizes this point; see K. Marx, Capital, Progress Publishers, Moscow 1977, vol. 1, p. 168.
  9. K. Marx, ibid, p. 579.
  10. K. Marx, Dispatches for the New York Tribune. Selected Journalism of Karl Marx, Penguin Books, London 2007, p. 111-113.
  11. Dhananjay Mahapatra, “Over 12,000 farmer suicides per year, Centre tells Supreme Court”.
  12. K. Marx, ibid, p. 21.
  13. See “Economy of Africa”.
  14. See “EU president Juncker defends Karl Marx’s legacy”. Regarding predictions of a new crisis by EU and IMF officials see  “Juncker’s article on Europe in ‘Ta Nea”, C. Lagarde. “A new crisis is possible”,  and Lagarde. “The Eurozone must be ready for the next crisis”, .
  15. This, let us remark by the way, means that it will be necessary to overcome great difficulties in turning social protest to the left, which implies, among other things, a confrontation with neo-Stalinist, nationalist and other pseudo-socialist currents and the unification of the nowadays scattered revolutionary and oppositionist groups that do not share the above errors. But this requires time so that the ruling classes’ tendency to avoid any progressive reform, partly explained by their usual fear of opening up the appetite of the movement and triggering revolutionary developments, is not right presently.
  16. Κarl Marx. “Revolution in China and in Europe”, New York Daily Tribune, June 14th, 1853.
  17. Α. Arnellos, A Game of Chess, Tipothito Editions, Athens 2002, p. 77.
  18. L. Trotsky, Revolution Betrayed, Allagi Editions, Athens 1988, p. 15.

The Economist on Marx’s 200 years

The 200th anniversary of the birth of Marx has prompted The Economist to devote an article on Marx in its issue of May 5, 2018. Characteristically titled, “Reconsidering Marx. Second time farce. Two hundred years after his birth, Marx remains surprisingly relevant”!1 The article combines recognition that Marx was a genius with reactionary slandering that he was, after all, an evil genius and without him the world would certainly had been much better.

Naturally, one could not expect something different. Since the time Marx’s ideas gained recognition in the labor movement, the main concern of the apologists of capital has been to “refute” them as false, dogmatic and dangerous. Nor do, of course, The Economist’s journalists offer something new; they simply repeat the usual simplistic distortions and misunderstandings their predecessors have offered innumerable times in the past. However, their argument is nevertheless of a certain interest. On the one hand, the part of it in which they vilify Marx displays the rancor and hatred of the apologists of the ruling classes, who being unable to counter the great thinker, embrace all kinds of nonsense they come across to slander and debase him. On the other hand, when discussing Marx’s predictions, they openly confess their reactionary bourgeois fears regarding capitalism’s present deadlock and his vindication, at least in some important points. It is worthwhile, therefore, to take a look at both aspects; all the more because The Economist is not a minor journal but the semi-official voice of the markets and of the views of the liberal (and in our times neo-liberal) wing of the bourgeoisie.

Marx’s “failures”

“A good subtitle for a biography of Karl Marx”, The Economist’s gentlemen begin, “would be ‘a study in failure’… His ideas”, they continue, “were as much religious as scientific – you might even call them religion repackaged for a secular age. He was a late date prophet describing the march of God on Earth. The fall from grace is embodied in capitalism; man is redeemed as the proletariat rises up against its exploiters and creates a communist utopia” (p. 71, same in the following quotations).

The proofs are all very weighty:

Marx claimed that the point of philosophy was not to understand the world but to improve it. Yet his philosophy changed it largely for the worst: the 40% of humanity who lived under Marxist regimes for much of the 20th century endured famines, gulags and party dictatorships. Marx thought his new dialectical science would allow him to predict the future as well as understand the present. Yet he failed to anticipate two of the biggest developments of the 20th century –the rise of fascism and the welfare state– and wrongly believed communism would take root in the most advanced economies.

Whence, then, Marx’s influence, that makes even The Economist’s gentlemen confess that “for all his oversights, Marx remains a monumental figure” and that “interest in him is as lively as ever”? How do they explain the steadily increasing mass of publications, discussions and events about his work? How is it that in his 200 years even Jean-Claude Juncker, the in no way Marxist president of the EU, finds it necessary to visit Marx’s birthplace, Trier, and make a speech about the importance of his work? “Why”, as they themselves snobbishly ask, “does the world remain fixated on the ideas of a man who helped produce so much suffering?”

The answer, according to The Economist’s luminaries, will be found in the combination of genius with malice, which were Marx’s chief traits. His influence is due to the “sheer power of these ideas” and “the power of his personality”.

Marx was in many ways an awful human being. He spent his life sponging off Friedrich Engels. He was such an inveterate racist, including about his own group, the Jews, that even in the 1910s, when tolerance for such prejudices was higher, the editors of his letters felt obligated to censor them… Michael Bakunin described him as ‘ambitious and vain, quarrelsome, intolerant and absolute… vengeful at the point of madness’… But combine egomania with genius and you have a formidable power. He believed absolutely he was right; that he had discovered a key in history that had eluded earlier philosophers. He insisted on promoting his beliefs whatever obstacles fate (or the authorities) put in his way. His notion of happiness was ‘to fight.

The only conclusion to be drawn from all that is that if The Economist’s columnists lag far behind Marx with regard to genius, they certainly outweigh him vastly in egomania. In their attempt to prove their superiority –and the superiority of their beloved capitalism– to Marx’s predictions, they inevitably prove their inferiority, their inability to understand even Marx’s most basic positions, necessarily ending up to combine traces of truth with tons of falsehood and lies. Let us briefly bring out some points for their benefit.

First of all, there is nothing new in portraying Marx as a “religious” thinker and a “metaphysician”. This, in fact, was a beloved theme of all reactionaries of his time, who being unable to counter his theories and discoveries, resorted to such abuse and slander. For these of priests of capital and the “free markets”, of course, the “natural” was identical with capitalism, while everything going beyond it was anathematized as “religious” etc.

To limit ourselves to just one example, immediately after Marx’s death, Paul Boiteau, an official French economist, wrote in the conservative Journal des débats:

Karl Marx, who has just died, was in his lifetime one of the most listened prophets and theologians of the religion of social wrongs. He has had no difficulty in passing to the rank of its gods, and he will no doubt share in their fate, which is to disappear rather quickly into the void where socialism successively buried its divinities. But, for the moment, his memory receives the censers to which he was entitled, and, in both worlds, the meetings of the initiates declare that the Gospel of Marx must henceforth be the text par excellence of the preachings of international socialism.2

It would seem that The Economist’s folks have not advanced very far from Boiteau’s views. And, judging from the fact that everyone still knows Karl Marx while almost no one remembers Boiteau, it seems unlikely that they will get a better place in the hall of fame than he did.

Secondly, Marx never portrayed capitalism as a “fall from grace”, a hell that took the place of a previous earthly paradise, and the proletariat as the Messiah of our time. This was, in fact, the position of some Utopian communists of his time, whose primitivism he criticized. On the contrary, Marx acknowledged and stressed, at least after having laid the foundations of his theory, that capitalism represents a great advance in relation to feudalism, and that it substantially expanded the technological basis and horizons of human society. At the same time, however, he argued that by rapidly developing productive forces and socializing production, capitalism undermines its very foundation, makes unnecessary and anachronistic the exploitative relations on which it rests, and creates for the first time the possibility of a non-exploitative organization of the economy, based on the common ownership the means of production. The Economist’s journalists, lacking the courage to address the second point, blur and obscure the first, attributing to Marx things that are not part of his theory.

Thirdly, there is nothing in Marx’s works that contains even a trace of anti-Semitism or racism. Anti-Semites included, among others, Bakunin, whose slanderous criticism of Marx The Economist approvingly quotes, and Bruno Bauer, both of them Marx’s opponents. Bauer argued in particular that Jews would be unable to free themselves as long as they did not discard their religion and that until then they should be deprived of their political rights. Marx, answering him in his brochure on the Jewish question, which is frequently falsely presented by reactionaries as “anti-Semitic”, had rejected any idea of political, religious or other discrimination against the Jews. He countered that the partial liberation of the Jews was possible through their participation in the political struggles of the time, without presupposing any renunciation of their religion, and that their total liberation would take place when society was liberated from all kinds of slavery.

Marx’s perhaps only “anti-Jewish” comment appears in a letter he wrote to Engels, to which The Economist’s folks apparently allude, where he contemptuously labeled Lassalle a “Jewish nigger”.3 However, this letter was written under very special circumstances when Lassalle had stayed for some days at Marx’s home in London during 1862. Lassalle, as Marx mentions, besides his refusal to lend him an amount of money, had proposed him, as a means of getting rid of his financial problems, to hand over one of his daughters as a companion to a bourgeois family, and had unsettled his calmness and work. These things had enraged Marx and he wrote an aggressive letter to Engels, with all sorts of strong comments, which cannot be seen as an expression of his positions on racism or on any other matter. In order to seriously criticize Marx as a “racist”, one would have to point out some explicit or indirect support for racism in his works, which is impossible to do for him or any other serious Marxist.

Let us note by the way, as an example of how strongly prejudiced The Economist’s journalists, who imagine themselves “enlightened”, are, that even some neo-Nazis quote and comment more honestly Marx’s views on the Jews. In an article about Bruno Bauer posted on the National Vanguard, one of the key neo-Nazi websites in the United States, after speaking of Bauer as one of the forerunners of anti-Semitism, R. Pennington refers to Marx’s criticism of his views as a rejection of anti-Semitism: “Bauer’s anti-Semitism”, she writes, caused Marx a great deal of intellectual grief”; Marx’s critique was intended to “releasing the Jews from any intimidation by society or the state”.4 As an orthodox ultra-right, Pennington prefers, of course, to Bauer, honoring his anti-Semitism and condemning “Marxist obscurantism”, but at least she presents somewhat accurately Marx’s position.

Marx, they tell us further, failed to predict fascism and the welfare state. In the same way, one could say Darwin failed to predict (in 1871!) the discovery of DNA or that The Economist failed to predict, not 50 years, but not even 50 days beforehand, the outbreak of the global economic crisis in 2007. To blame Marx for things it was clearly impossible for him to predict, and for the analogue of which they would never blame, let us say, Darwin or themselves, isn’t that a manifestation of egomania and rancor?

Of course, Marx did not explicitly predict the above developments, but he identified the trends that made them possible. In many of his writings on the revolutions of 1848, in his criticisms of vulgar bourgeois political economy and in his analyses of the Commune, he showed and documented the bourgeoisie’s turn towards reaction, one of the ultimate consequences of which was fascism. In his The 18th Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte, he also referred to the development of reactionary petty bourgeois movements; i.e., peasants’ movements “who, in stupefied seclusion… want to see themselves and their small holdings saved”,5 thereby turning against the proletariat; a trend whose exacerbation in the imperialist era contributed decisively in the development of fascism. On the other hand, in his analysis of Malthus’s views in Theories of Surplus Value, Marx extensively referred to the bourgeoisie’s attempts to increase the intermediate strata between itself and the proletariat as a safety valve for its regime, considering that “this is the course taken by bourgeois society”.6 So here, too, he revealed the socio-economic basis of the developments that led to the so-called “welfare state”; i.e., the strengthening of the intermediate strata, which is possible within capitalism, as long as it does not radically contradict the falling tendency of the rate of profit.

Let’s turn now to The Economist’s main claim that Marx’s bad influence helped produce most of the 20th century’s misery, which could otherwise have been avoided. Putting the issue in this way is, of course, foolish; the true question to be asked and answered is: which tendencies in the 20th century have had positive results, those emerging from capitalism and contributing to its perpetuation, or the revolutionary tendencies that, finding their foundation in Marx, were promoting the overthrow of the capitalist system?

Capitalism was exclusively responsible for the first great war of the 20th century, the world imperialist war of 1914-18, with its more than ten million victims. Imperialist intervention was largely responsible for millions of victims in the initially almost bloodless Russian Revolution of 1917. The great crisis of 1929 and fascism were both children of capitalism, as was the case with World War II, an effort of the most reactionary wing of capital to eliminate the achievements of the Russian Revolution. It is true that the course of the USSR was marked, especially in Stalin’s years, by the negative phenomena The Economist points out; i.e., the 1932-33 famine, gulags, massive cleansing, terror and oppression, as was also the case in China during the Great Leap Forward. However, these phenomena have been explained by Marxists as a degeneration process, the result of the backwardness of the countries where the revolution first took place and of the rise of Stalinist bureaucracy, which did not promote but betrayed world revolution both in the USSR –its first victims there being the leaders of October– and abroad. In addition, they were not the only ones and did not characterize the whole experience of the USSR. During the 1920s and early ’30s there took place in the USSR a vast cultural revolution, whose achievements were undermined by Stalinism but nevertheless partly survived and developed in the later phases of the regime. The Soviet people took up the main burden of the anti-fascist struggle, which objectively was a continuation of October’s progressive legacy, while after 1956 the most odious aspects of Stalinist oppression were put aside.

The imperialist plunder of the Third World, interventions, establishment of dictatorships and the condemnation of entire peoples in starvation, continued on the contrary throughout the 20th century, before and after World War II. The concessions of the ruling classes in the capitalist centers after 1945 were prompted chiefly by their fear of the post-war ascend of communism and anti-fascist movements. Where it not for the USSR, who would have stopped Nazism and force these concessions to the ruling classes? Moreover, while the existence of the USSR checked the aggression of imperialism, after its dissolution its real tendencies have again been manifested openly and unimpeded, producing their true devastating effects. It took just 15 years to take world-wide inequality to unprecedented heights, start many local wars, exacerbate the great powers’ competition to a point threatening a hot conflict, trigger the global economic crisis of 2007, and revive fascism and far-right nationalism worldwide. Even the few positive elements of the latest period, such as the great capitalist development of China, are closely linked to the positive heritage of the 20th century’s revolutions. In China, the fact that a great popular revolution lasting two decades eroded feudalism and imperialist dependence, allowed capitalism to develop without internal and external obstacles and benefit a comparatively significant part of the population; in India, on the contrary, where there was no revolution, but only a bourgeois renovation from above, the growth of the last decades was much weaker and a much larger part of the population is stuck in extreme poverty. Capitalism prevailed in its competition with the USSR due to its higher level of development of the productive forces and the devastating effects of Stalinism, but experience shows that this did not allow capitalism to overcome its contradictions.

The Economist’s journalists make every effort to reject not only Marx himself, but the whole Communist movement and its eminent theorists after his death:

After Marx’s death in 1883 his followers –particularly Engels– worked hard to turn his theories into a closed system. The pursuit of purity involved vicious factional fights as the ‘real’ Marxists drove out renegades, revisionists and heretics. It eventually led to the monstrosity of Marxism-Leninism with its pretentions of infallibility (‘scientific socialism’), its delight in obfuscation (‘dialectical materialism’) and its cult of personality (those giant statues of Marx and Lenin).

Here again, the negative experiences of Stalinism, dogmatism and the necrosis of Marxism, are exploited to discard as nonsense the whole development of Marxism after Marx. However, Marxism in that period had important representatives such as Engels, Plekhanov, Lenin, Luxemburg, Kautsky, Mehring and, after Lenin’s death, Trotsky, Bukharin, Gramsci and Lukacs, who cannot be put aside so easily. These Marxists analyzed developments after Marx’s death, guided the October Revolution and developed Marxism further. That this development involved a clearing of Marxism from alien influences was not something special to Engels or Lenin: Marx had also fought fiercely against the pseudo-socialists of his time, such as Proudhon and the “true socialists”, and Marxists after Lenin, especially Trotsky and Lukacs, explained Stalinist dogmatism as an alien influence and distortion of Marxism.

Paradoxically, and while one would expect that after all these tirades, everything about Marx has been dismissed, The Economist’s gentlemen conclude their reference to his “failures” with a reservation that would seem to distinguish something fertile in his thought. But as it immediately becomes clear, they consider “fertile” only what they themselves want to read or think they can find in Marx.

The collapse of this petrified orthodoxy has revealed that Marx was a much more interesting man than his interpreters have implied. His grand certainties were a response to grand doubts. His sweeping theories were the results of endless reversals. Toward the end of his life he questioned many of his central convictions. He worried that he might have been wrong about the tendency of the rate of profit to fall. He puzzled over the fact that, far from immiserating the poor, Victorian England was providing them with growing prosperity. (ibid, p. 71-72).

Here The Economist’s gentlemen remarkably agree with the representatives of the so-called “New reading of Marx”, that is, representatives of professorial academic wisdom who falsify Marx, such as Michael Heinrich. Marx, of course, rethought and improved his assumptions constantly, but contrary to the claims of these scholars, there is no evidence that he had revised his analysis of the falling tendency of the rate of profit, or that Engels distorted his positions. Moreover, the entire evolution of capitalism in the 20th century has confirmed this fundamental to its historical fortunes law discovered by Marx. The main transformations and models of capitalism, Fordism, Keynesianism, neoliberalism, were, in fact, just ways of reacting to the downward rate of profit, and the fact that the bourgeoisie is forced to replace them after profitability crises proves that they can counteract it only temporarily and that their potential is always exhausted.

Engels was perhaps not as deep as Marx, and he occasionally made some mistakes. But to dismiss Engels for Heinrich’s sake means to read Marx in a systemic way, to make Engels’s mistakes an alibi in order to accept a total mistake. Marx’s concerns at the end of his life had to do with a better conceptualization of the complexity of capitalism’s tendencies, and hence of the revolutionary process, not with their general direction.

Marx’s successes and further “failures”

This brings us to Marx’s successes, some of which are so obvious, that even The Economist’s columnists cannot but recognize them, although still charging him with some other failures.

“The chief reason for the continuing interest in Marx, however”, we read further, “is that his ideas are more relevant than they have been for decades. The post-war consensus that shifted power from capital to labour and produced a ‘great compression’ in living standards is fading. Globalisation and the rise of a virtual economy are producing a version of capitalism that once more seems to be out of control. The backwards flow of power from labour to capital is finally beginning to produce a popular –and often populist– reaction. No wonder the most successful economics book of recent years, Thomas Piketty’s ‘Capital in the Twenty-First Century’, echoes the title of Marx’s most important work and his preoccupation with inequality” (p. 72, same in the following).

So, if inequality has once again become a central issue, to the extent that 1% of the world’s population owns over 50% of the world’s wealth, and 3.7 billion of the poorest account for just 2.7%7, how can “dogmatic” and “fanatical” Marx be confirmed after so many “reforms” and “advances” made by the ruling classes? Let’s see what The Economist’s gentlemen have to say about this as things become more interesting now.

Marx argued that capitalism is in essence a system of rent-seeking: rather than creating wealth from nothing, as they like to imagine, capitalists are in the business of expropriating the wealth of others. Marx was wrong about capitalism in the raw: great entrepreneurs do amass fortunes by dreaming up new products or new ways of organising production. But he had a point about capitalism in its bureaucratic form. A depressing number of today’s bosses are corporate bureaucrats rather than wealth-creators, who use convenient formulae to make sure their salaries go ever upwards. They work hand in glove with a growing crowd of other rent-seekers, such as management consultants… professional board members… and retired politicians…

By reading such passages, one gets convinced that The Economist’s “liberals” will never understand even Marx’s simplest positions, not due to lack of knowledge, but because they do not want to understand them, since this goes contrary to their class interests. Marx never defined capitalism as a rent-seeking system. This was also a feature of feudalism which knew various kinds of rent. The distinctive feature of capitalism, according to Marx, is expansion, the development of production for production’s sake, the accumulation of capital. And what capitalists accumulate is surplus value, the unpaid labor of the workers, which they usurp. Ideas could never create stocks and capitals; and it is absurd to base economic analysis on the difference between the good ideas of capitalists and the bad ideas of managers, etc. Moreover, if it was just a matter of good or bad ideas, one could perhaps solve many problems and save capitalism by imposing a negative rent for some obviously bad ideas of the capitalists and their ilk, such as weapons of mass destruction. The Economist’s gentlemen, distorting Marx in that way, shift the problem from the structure of capitalism to the behavior of the one or other of its agents, bureaucrats, managers, and so on. Yet, while rent is, of course, important –and Lenin, Hobson and others showed how rentiers multiply in the imperialist era with capitalism’s increasing parasitism– according to Marx, it is production and not distribution that defines the essence of capitalism, as of every other economic system.

However, just after that we find two better passages. One is about globalization, which, it is acknowledged, Marx had already foreseen:

Capitalism, Marx maintained, is by its nature a global system: ‘It must nestle everywhere, settle everywhere, establish connections everywhere’. That is as true today as it was in the Victorian era. The two most striking developments of the past 30 years are the progressive dismantling of barriers to the free movement of the factors of production—goods, capital and to some extent people—and the rise of the emerging world. Global firms plant their flags wherever it is most convenient… The World Economic Forum’s annual jamboree in Davos, Switzerland, might well be retitled ‘Marx was right’.

So Marx did predict something correctly after all. And it seems that he did not only predict this, but also something else too, the tendency of capitalism to create monopolies and, along with the accumulation of wealth on the one side, to produce an army of unemployed and occasionally employed in the other:

“He thought”, we read further, “capitalism had a tendency towards monopoly, as successful capitalists drive their weaker rivals out of business in a prelude to extracting monopoly rents. Again this seems to be a reasonable description of the commercial world that is being shaped by globalisation and the internet. The world’s biggest companies are not only getting bigger in absolute terms but are also turning huge numbers of smaller companies into mere appendages. New-economy behemoths are exercising a market dominance not seen since America’s robber barons. Facebook and Google suck up two-thirds of America’s online ad revenues. Amazon controls more than 40% of the country’s booming online-shopping market. In some countries Google processes over 90% of web searches. Not only is the medium the message but the platform is also the market.

In Marx’s view capitalism yielded an army of casual labourers who existed from one job to the other. During the long post-war boom this seemed like a nonsense. Far from having nothing to lose but their chains, the workers of the world—at least the rich world—had secure jobs, houses in the suburbs and a cornucopia of possessions… Yet once again Marx’s argument is gaining urgency. The gig economy is assembling a reserve force of atomised labourers who wait to be summoned, via electronic foremen, to deliver people’s food, clean their houses or act as their chauffeurs. In Britain house prices are so high that people under 45 have little hope of buying them. Most American workers say they have just a few hundred dollars in the bank. Marx’s proletariat is being reborn as the precariat.

The analysis perhaps is not flawless, but we may assume without much danger of error that had Marx read it, he would have rated The Economist’s analysts at least with a 5 (full marks being 10). Unfortunately, is not so with the immediately following argument, for which he would definitely make them repeat the same class:

Still, the rehabilitation ought not to go too far. Marx’s errors far outnumbered his insights. His insistence that capitalism drives workers’ living standards to subsistence level is absurd. The genius of capitalism is that it relentlessly reduces the price of regular consumer items: today’s workers have easy access to goods once considered the luxuries of monarchs… Marx’s vision of a post-capitalist future is both banal and dangerous: banal because it presents a picture of people essentially loafing about (hunting in the morning, fishing in the afternoon, raising cattle in the evening and criticising after dinner); dangerous because it provides a licence for the self-anointed vanguard to impose its vision on the masses.

It is tragic indeed to encounter such expositions of Marx’s views.

First of all, Marx never claimed that “capitalism drives workers’ living standards to subsistence level”. This was, in fact, Lassalle’s position, expressed in his famous “Iron Law of Wages”, which states precisely this thing. Marx criticized Lassalle’s law, showing that the workers, with their organization and struggles, could improve their position, and that there is a difference, historically defined in each country, between the wage corresponding to subsistence level and the real average wage.8

Secondly, it is funny to imply that a thinker of Marx’s level had not noticed and pointed out the ability of capitalism to limit the prices of consumer goods through technological progress, productivity gains, etc. In fact, Marx was the first economist to recognize and explain this possibility, as well as the historical movement of wages at the various stages of capitalism, with his distinction between absolute and relative surplus value. Let us explain this distinction, for the benefit of The Economist’s columnists.

Absolute surplus value, according to Marx, is the type of capitalist accumulation that dominated the early stages of capitalism, in the so-called period of primitive accumulation of capital. During that period, accumulation was promoted by increasing the working day – for example, the worker was forced to work 12 instead of 10 hours daily, his salary remaining the same. This means an increase in exploitation: if, for example, in the initial 10 hours, 6 hours correspond to the reproduction of the labor force and 4 hours to unpaid labor (i.e., production of surplus value), the final 12 will include 6 unpaid hours. Absolute surplus value goes hand in hand with absolute impoverishment, as pay per hour of work decreases. The brutal expropriation of the rural population and its relocation to the cities under wretched conditions, the deadly work of children and women, etc., were some of the misfortunes of this phase, described in novels by Dickens, Gorky and others.

However, when the development of capitalism, and hence its technological base, reaches a relatively high point –what Marx calls “the real subordination of labor to capital”– absolute surplus value is replaced by relative surplus value. The distinctive feature of the latter is that accumulation is now promoted not by the increase of the working day but by the limitation of the part of the working day devoted to the replacement of the worker’s labor power. In the previous example, if the time for the reproduction of labor power (the necessary labor) is reduced to 2 hours from 6, then even with a reduction of the working day from 10 to 8 hours, the worker will produce more surplus value than before, offering 6 hours of surplus labor instead of 4. Relative surplus value corresponds to relative impoverishment because the salary per hour of work increases. In addition, it is a constituent part of Marx’s analysis that the price of labor power in the latter case will correspond to a larger number of goods, since by the development of specialization, etc., the needs of the worker also grow. Of course, the great limitation of necessary labor is made possible because, due to technological progress, an hour of work in developed capitalism produces a much larger mass of commodities than what it produced in its earlier stages. The total value of these goods remains roughly the same, but the value per unit is drastically reduced.

In Marx’s time relative surplus value had progressed only in Britain, yet this did not prevent him from recognizing it as the main form for developed capitalism and assess its impact on the workers’ living standard. In an excerpt in Capital he sums it up quite clearly:

Under the conditions of accumulation… which conditions are those most favorable to the laborers, their relation of dependence upon capital takes on a form endurable or, as Eden says: ‘easy and liberal’. Instead of becoming more intensive with the growth of capital, this relation of dependence only becomes more extensive, i.e., the sphere of capital’s exploitation and rule merely extends with its own dimensions and the number of its subjects. A larger part of their own surplus-product, always increasing and continually transformed into additional capital, comes back to them in the shape of means of payment, so that they can extend the circle of their enjoyments; can make some additions to their consumption-fund of clothes, furniture, etc., and can lay by small reserve-funds of money.9

Of course, as Marx explains at various points, this improvement has certain limits defined by the needs of capitalist accumulation, and tends to take place in periods of economic growth, while in recessions wages are being pressed. But this is a far cry from presenting him as an advocate of the view that no improvement in the lot of the workers is possible under capitalism.

Marx’s position that in the post-capitalist society people will be able to hunt in the morning and go fishing in the evening was a poetic image of the many sided, cultivated man who will replace the disintegrated, individualistic human existence to which capitalism gives rise. Marx insisted that labor itself will always be “the realm of necessity”, but shorter working hours when everyone will work will give all members of society enough free time for a variety of other activities. It was Marx’s deep conviction that in the future society even The Economist’s journalists will find some better things to do than to exhort capitalism and abuse Marx.

For the time being, of course, no such thing is in sight, so they continue listing some more of Marx’s “failures”. “The World Bank”, we are told, “calculates that the number of people in ‘extreme poverty’ has declined from 1.85bn in 1970 to 767m in 2013, a figure that puts the regrettable stagnation of living standards for Western workers in perspective”. Marx, evidently, failed to anticipate that momentous progress too…

Here again it is a case of progresses existing in the apologists’ heads rather than in reality. Extreme poverty is defined at making less than 1.90$ per day, so that it would hardly look like a great advance to half the number of those caught in it. Moreover, the very definition of extreme poverty by the World Bank is under severe criticism, while if one puts aside China, the picture in the rest of the world is hardly encouraging.

In fact The Economist’s gentlemen are very close to repeating arguments regarding general welfare, which their predecessors advanced in Marx’s time. “Delightful is it thus to see”, one of them went, “under Free Trade, all classes flourishing; their energies are called forth by hope of reward; all improve their productions, and all and each are benefited” (The Economist, 2/1/1853). To which Marx replied by pointing to the numerous cases of starvation in this “generally beneficial” social order10. One has just to look at the thousands of peasants in India who commit suicide due to starvation –according to official estimates, more than 12,000 yearly after 201311 – to see that The Economist’s present attempt to paint a similar worldwide tranquility is not a bit better.

There follows Marx’s worst “mistake”:

Marx’s greatest failure, however, was that he underestimated the power of reform—the ability of people to solve the evident problems of capitalism through rational discussion and compromise. He believed history was a chariot thundering to a predetermined end and that the best that the charioteers can do is hang on. Liberal reformers, including his near contemporary William Gladstone, have repeatedly proved him wrong. They have not only saved capitalism from itself by introducing far-reaching reforms but have done so through the power of persuasion. The ‘superstructure’ has triumphed over the ‘base’, ‘parliamentary cretinism’ over the ‘dictatorship of the proletariat’.

So, what do The Economist’s geniuses tell us? To what does their wisdom end up?

They tell us that Marx was right in verifying those laws and trends of capitalism that bring them and their ilk to the foreground –globalization, monopolization, etc.– but that they, the “superstructure”, the various “think tanks” of capital, with their special astuteness and wisdom, succeeded in changing the action of these laws, making them produce different results than those predicted by Marx. Isn’t that a form of egomania?

We have already seen that Marx recognized the possibilities of reforming capitalism, ultimately based on relative surplus value. He himself refers to them in the Preface to the 1st edition of Capital, pointing out that “present society is not a solid crystal, but an organism capable of change, and is constantly changing”.12 Marx, however, showed at the same time the limits of these possibilities. To clarify this last, vital point, let us listen first to The Economist’s gentlemen final confessions:

The great theme of history in the advanced world since Marx’s death has been reform rather than revolution. Enlightened politicians extended the franchise so working-class people had a stake in the political system. They renewed the regulatory system so that great economic concentrations were broken up or regulated. They reformed economic management so economic cycles could be smoothed and panics contained… Today’s great question is whether those achievements can be repeated. The backlash against capitalism is mounting – if more often in the form of populist anger than of proletarian solidarity. So far liberal reformers are proving sadly inferior to their predecessors in terms of both their grasp of the crisis and their ability to generate solutions. They should use the 200th anniversary of Marx’s birth to reacquaint themselves with the great man – not only to understand the serious faults that he brilliantly identified in the system, but to remind themselves of the disaster that awaits if they fail to confront them.

Well, well, truth must be admitted after all! What we see during the last two decades is the decline of the liberal elites, their constant shift to intensified reaction, their failure to find any viable way out of the crisis and the deadlocks of capitalism, their –as The Economist itself aptly puts it– sad inferiority to the circumstances. However, their failure inexorably raises a relentless question that The Economist’s gentlemen fail to raise: Is this a chance, subjective failure or error of the leading circles of capital? Or does its cause lie in something more profound; i.e., that there exists no longer such a reformist way?

Can capitalism reform itself anew?

So, can capitalism reform itself anew, as it has done in the past, or is its present, self-destructive course definitive?

This question emerges from all modern developments and we can give at least some credit to The Economist’s journalists for posing it openly and sharply as a “life and death” question for capitalism. Yet it cannot be posed in a Shakespearean, “to be or not to be” philosophical way, as they pose it. It must be examined in relation to the whole of social experience, the directions of bourgeois governments and organizations, etc. And any such discussion will inexorably force answering it in the negative. A few concrete questions will clarify that.

If there is a real possibility of a new New Deal today, why do we nowhere see a significant portion of the ruling classes expressing and supporting it? In the 1930s there was a Roosevelt, after World War II there were representatives of the liberal bourgeoisie such as De Gaulle and the Kennedy brothers. Where is their current analogue? Why does the “liberal” wing, whose voice The Economist is, can only oppose Trump with a Hillary Clinton; i.e., something just a trifle better? Why do the few progressive representatives of the bourgeoisie like Sanders prove completely incapable of proposing any positive reform program and are forced, confusing others and themselves, to talk about “socialism”?

All these are sure indications that an internal reform of capitalism which would provide a real economic revival is no longer possible. We will understand why it is so by returning to Marx’s analysis of relative surplus value. The development of mature capitalism, as Marx has shown particularly in his Results of the Direct Production Process, consists essentially in generalizing relative surplus value, through its successive expansion to the various branches of economy. This was done in previous stages with the technological intensification of industry, agriculture and the state sector, services, etc. And the reason capitalism could at those stages have some able representatives was that there were still non-intensified sectors of the economy, whose reshaping, as well as the overall reshaping of the system based on this process, required certain abilities.

The distinctive feature of globalization, on the contrary, is that, at least in the developed countries, there is no longer a non-intensified economic sector. The service and public sectors, the last remaining ones, were intensified in the neoliberal era, this being its essential content. Things like “green economy” are aspirins, while the generalized automation futurists like Mason are dreaming of is inconceivable under capitalism as it would decisively hit the rate of profit. The very fact that capital is now forced to resort to absolute surplus value, increasing again the length of the working day in order to support the rate of profit (and thereby reviving again absolute impoverishment!), is a further proof of the exhaustion of its reformist margins. So at capitalist metropolises at least, there remains nothing else, nothing new to be done; there is no new model of accumulation and consequently no possibility of a new cycle. This makes globalization the last phase, the last moment of the imperialist era and capitalism in general, during which the capitalist system will necessarily leave the historical scene.

All this does not imply, of course, a complete impossibility of reforms, but any such possibilities refer to measures, changes, etc., which fulfill possibilities of the current stage, not of a hypothetical, non-existent future stage. Or to put it otherwise: there is no chance of capitalism presenting something radically new, a modern “New Deal”, but only –and this at a theoretical level– of normalizing and prolonging a bit globalization, by softening for some time its worst conflicts.

Two such possibilities are basically at hand. Relative surplus value has already exhausted its potential in the capitalist centers and is now fulfilling it in Asia and Latin America. But there is a continent where it has not yet been expanded; i.e., Africa. Africa’s participation in globalization could provide a growth momentum when China recedes, opening a further round. Of course, in order to bring this about, that participation should be on comparatively equal terms, not like that of Yemen, which picks up globalization’s bombs, but roughly that of China. Secondly, the North-South gap in the European Union suggests a similar, albeit proportionally smaller, possibility of capitalist progress for the European South, but this also presupposes a change in the EU structure towards true convergence.

Historical experience so far proves that the weakened liberal leaders of capitalism cannot implement these changes or even aid them. Obstacles on their way are more than obvious. Africa is already the field of competition between China and the West, and the great powers are not interested in its development, but in enhancing each one’s sphere of influence and plundering at the expense of the rest. In addition, American imperialism’s policies of past decades, interventions around the world, etc., have strengthened the worst, most adventurous forces in its protectorates, the consequence being that change stumbles not only on the directions of imperialism itself, but also on local cliques, “compradorial” segments, etc. Africa’s current growth rate of about 4% reflects these barriers, being extremely low for a continent with a population of 1.3 billion and less than one-third of US GDP.

It would be erroneous to imagine that when China’s momentum fades, capital will flow in Africa and start a new swift rise there. Firstly, China’s potential as capitalism’s steam engine has already been half-halted. Yet Africa’s development has not gained momentum, but has receded during the last years, from 5.5% in 2012 to 2.7 in 2016, and an anemic recovery in 201713 In the second place, China’s huge capitalist progress was made possible by the fact that the revolution had created a viable social order, a skillful and educated working class, etc. Only traces of these will be found in Africa, which is moreover divided in a multitude of small, unsustainable states, with extreme poverty increasing strongly during the last decades. In practice, moving these barriers aside will require at least some Chavez type revolutions in Africa, like those of Latin America during the last two decades. A key condition for a steady development in that continent will be that the leading circles of imperialism support these processes, yet wherever they have happened so far, either in Africa itself in the 1950s, ’60s and ’70s, or in Latin America recently, imperialism has constantly tried to stifle them.

On the other hand, the European Union, the only intensive global integration process, remains, as Mr. Juncker acknowledged in his recent Marx speech, extremely fragile. “The European Union”, he said, “is not a flawed, but an unstable construction. Unstable also because Europe’s social dimension until today remains the poor relation of the European integration. We have to change this”14 But of what change can one speak of, when, in a construct that its own leaders confess its instability, all the pressures of the crisis are directed to its weakest joints? It is not clear that the next crisis, which even according to them, is probably a short time away, will break it into pieces? And what will the consequences be then? Under the present circumstances, these can only be chaos, a fascist takeover of power in at least some European countries and war conflicts.

Of course, Trump’s election in the United States, the developing commercial wars and the existence of anachronistic regimes, such as Syria, Iran, and so on, belonging to Russian sphere of influence, obstruct economic progress even more at a world level. Add to this the whole parasitic raff of globalization, which in not limited to bureaucrats and politicians as The Economist would have it, but also includes all kinds of market speculators, lobbyists, mafias, etc, who loot world economy –movies like Gavras’s “Le Capital” and Hickenlooper’s “Casino Jack” depict their range– and you will see why it is utopian to expect something different from the ruling elites.

One last point that deserves some comment in The Economist’s arguments is their hints that Marx’s revolutionary forecast has been refuted in the capitalist centers. While Marx “believed communism would take hold in the most advanced economies… The only countries where Marx’s ideas took hold were backward autocracies such as Russia and China”. And even today, in period of severe crisis, opposition to capitalism appears “more often in the form of populist anger than of proletarian solidarity” (p. 71, 72).

These arguments are not new, yet there is a grain of truth in them, which has also been adequately dealt by Marxists. After Marx’s death, Engels, Lenin and Trotsky recognized the bourgeoisie’s ability to create a “working class aristocracy”, by sharing a small part of the booty of colonial exploitation, a fact allowing it to stabilize its hold in the capitalist centers. On the other hand, the obvious reason recent opposition to capitalism has so far been manifested chiefly by the rise of (often far-right) populism is that the crisis hit first the petty bourgeoisie, who tend to seek to restore their previous position at the expense of the working class15 All that, however, belongs to the kind of complications and difficulties with which Marx struggled in the last phase of his life, when he clearly envisaged some of them (e.g., the possibility of a revolution in Russia) and in no way counters his central claims. Doesn’t the fact of “the regrettable stagnation of living standards for Western workers” (p. 72), to which The Economist reluctantly refers, prove indeed that the main stabilizing factor in the capitalist centers belongs to the past?

Let us sum up in a graphic way. Capitalism is a Titanic that, due to the very materials and contradictions ingrained in its frame, is doomed to break up and sink. It is composed, of course, of several levels, each one of them having its own watertight parts which delay for a while flooding from incoming water. In the previous stages or levels, there was a difficult way out of Titanic to the new ship of socialism, but there were also higher levels to which one could move when the previous ones were flooded. The peculiarity of the current level is that there no more exists a level above. There is only a possibility of delaying the flooding of the current level either by increasing its space (a relatively equal participation of Africa in globalization) or by absorbing some of the pressures on the walls by channeling them to their strongest points (allocating part of the burdens of the EU crisis to Germany, France, etc.). We do not see any of these possibilities being realized today; on the contrary, the policies pursued are in the exactly opposite direction.

We have already explained why this is so and why a realization of the progressive possibilities of the current stage by the ruling classes is extremely unlikely, if not impossible. Moreover, if they were to be implemented, this should have been prepared during the past decades; e.g., by instituting a United Nations program to combat poverty in Africa and elsewhere, such as that proposed in the 1960s by the Kennedy brothers (who were murdered incidentally by their own class), rather than conducting military interventions in Iraq and Afghanistan. If, however, The Economist’s gentlemen are of another opinion and consider such a program possible, nothing prevents them from becoming its preachers, even if a little late.

In conclusion

Marx in his time never held The Economist in any high esteem. He called it, the “optimist conjurer of all things menacing the tranquil minds of the mercantile community”.16

The Economist’s article on Marx’s 200 years confirms his judgment. It is a mirror of the illusions of the condemned classes concerning their “eternity” and of their gaudy front, from which “superstitions and prejudices emerge like frogs”.17 How could Marx be a great thinker and a racist egomaniac at the same time? If he was a racist, why has he been an anathema for all reactionaries? Questions like these The Economist’s gentlemen are unable even to pose; prejudice blocks them from surfacing in their minds. And in this way, they unwittingly offer the best proof that Marx was right both in his opinion about The Economist, which has not advanced far since then, and in his overall predictions about capitalism’s fate.

However, The Economist’s journalists are wrong when they say that the practical implication of these predictions is to “hang on the chariot of history”. Such passivity was alien to Marx; on the contrary, he stressed that history presents active possibilities, the content of which, according to his famous statement, lies in “shortening the birth pangs”. It is on the contrary the “free market” apologists who hang on it and never prepare anything.

From this point of view; e.g., a capitalist development in Africa similar to that of China cannot be indifferent to Marxists as it would limit the sufferings of the next capitalist crisis and help realize the transition to socialism under better conditions. But herein lies the problem, that all such possibilities are hampered by the bourgeoisie itself, by the oligarchies of the developed countries. As Trotsky points out:

In the conditions of capitalist decline, backward countries are unable to attain that level which the old centers of capitalism have attained. Having themselves arrived in a blind alley, the more civilized nations block the road to those finding themselves in a process of civilizing themselves.18

Despite The Economist’s reformist optimism, all realities of our time cry in chorus that the necessary progressive reforms, even those in principle theoretically possible within capitalism, can only be fulfilled in a revolutionary way. And their fulfillment is only conceivable as a step, a starting point in the process of transition to socialism.

  1. See Readers of the World Read Karl Marx, The Economist, May 3, 2018. In the electronic edition the title is different, “Rulers of the world: read Karl Marx!” Roughly one year ago The Economist had published a similar item on Marx, expressing its “scorn” regarding John McDonnell’s praise of him but also admitting that Marx “becomes more relevant by the day”. The Economist, 11/5/2017.
  2. P. Boiteau, “Mort le Karl Marx”, Journal des débats, 25/3/1883.
  3. See K. Marx – F. Engels. Collected Works, Progress Publishers, vol. 41, p. 388-391.
  4. R. Pennington, “Bruno Bauer: Young Hegelian”. That article had appeared first at Instauration, an ultra-right periodical, in 1976. Of course, Pennington goes on to invent an antithesis between Marx and Engels, by presenting the latter as an anti-Semite. This is a lie, Engels had written an article against anti-Semitism, exposing it as an ultra-reactionary current: “anti-Semitism”, he said, “serves… reactionary ends under a purportedly socialist cloak; it is a degenerate form of feudal socialism and we can have nothing to do with that” (F. Engels, “On anti-Semitism”.

    The myth of Marx’s “anti-Semitism” is ably refuted by R. Fine in “Karl Marx and the Radical Critique of Anti-Semitism”.  Unfortunately Fine, in his otherwise excellent article, attributes wrongly the above quoted phrase of Engels to Marx.

  5. K. Marx, “The 18th Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte”, in K. Marx – F. Engels, Selected Works, Progress Publishers, Moscow 1977, vol. 1, p. 479-480.
  6. K. Marx, Theories of Surplus value, Progress Publishers, Moscow 1975, vol. 3, p. 63.
  7. See “World wealth increases, inequality rises“, Kathimerini, 15/11/2017.
  8. In a well-known passage in Capital, in the part on labor power, Marx emphasizes this point; see K. Marx, Capital, Progress Publishers, Moscow 1977, vol. 1, p. 168.
  9. K. Marx, ibid, p. 579.
  10. K. Marx, Dispatches for the New York Tribune. Selected Journalism of Karl Marx, Penguin Books, London 2007, p. 111-113.
  11. Dhananjay Mahapatra, “Over 12,000 farmer suicides per year, Centre tells Supreme Court”.
  12. K. Marx, ibid, p. 21.
  13. See “Economy of Africa”.
  14. See “EU president Juncker defends Karl Marx’s legacy”. Regarding predictions of a new crisis by EU and IMF officials see  “Juncker’s article on Europe in ‘Ta Nea”, C. Lagarde. “A new crisis is possible”,  and Lagarde. “The Eurozone must be ready for the next crisis”, .
  15. This, let us remark by the way, means that it will be necessary to overcome great difficulties in turning social protest to the left, which implies, among other things, a confrontation with neo-Stalinist, nationalist and other pseudo-socialist currents and the unification of the nowadays scattered revolutionary and oppositionist groups that do not share the above errors. But this requires time so that the ruling classes’ tendency to avoid any progressive reform, partly explained by their usual fear of opening up the appetite of the movement and triggering revolutionary developments, is not right presently.
  16. Κarl Marx. “Revolution in China and in Europe”, New York Daily Tribune, June 14th, 1853.
  17. Α. Arnellos, A Game of Chess, Tipothito Editions, Athens 2002, p. 77.
  18. L. Trotsky, Revolution Betrayed, Allagi Editions, Athens 1988, p. 15.

Inequality Social Dysfunction and Misery

Year on year the economic divisions and sub-divisions in the world deepen, and the associated social ills increase: The rich, comfortable, and the very extremely rich keep getting richer, and the rest, well, whilst some may be raised up out of crippling poverty into relative poverty, the majority of people continue to live under a blanket of economic insecurity and largely remain where they are.

Straddling the global ladder of economic and social division sit the Multi-Billionaires (there are now 2,208 billionaires), 42 of whom (down from 61 in 2016), according to a recent report by Oxfam, own the same amount of wealth as the poorest half of humanity combined. Together with their lesser cohorts this coterie of Trillionaires sucked up “eighty-two percent of the wealth generated [in the world] last year…while the 3.7 billion people who make up the poorest half of the world saw no increase in their wealth.”

The defining challenge of our time

Income and wealth inequality is not simply a monetary issue, it is a complex social crisis that supports and strengthens notions of superiority and inferiority, and was described by President Barak Obama in 2013 as “the defining challenge of our time.”

Today’s obscene levels of inequality are the result of the Neo-Liberal economic system. This extreme form of capitalism took hold first in America and Britain in the early 1980s when Reagan and Thatcher ruled, workers’ rights were trampled on, ‘society’ was a dirty word and community responsibility was abandoned to selfishness and greed. With the aid of the World Bank and the IMF, Neoliberalism swiftly spread throughout the world, polluting life in every city, town and village with its divisive, cruel ideology. Commercialization and competition are key principles and have infiltrated every area of contemporary life; everything and everyone is seen as a commodity, and the size of ones bank account determines the level of health care, education and housing available, as well as one’s access to culture and freedom to travel.

Social injustice is inherent in the system, as is inequality, which is itself a major form of injustice. Inequality strengthens deep-seated social imbalances based on class and social standing, and in a world where everything is classified, commercialized and priced; i.e., attributed value, external wealth and position have become the common criteria for determining the internal worth of a human being. Comparison and imitation follow, individuality is perverted and fear fostered; fear of inadequacy, fear of failure, fear of not being loved, because not ‘deserving’ love, not being able to ‘afford’ love. Resentment, anger and self-loathing are fed, leading to a range of mental health issues, including anxiety, depression and drug and alcohol addiction.

Happiness and inequality

The impact of financial inequality on the health and well being of society has been extensively studied by Richard Wilkinson; British co-author of Spirit Level, Professor Emeritus of Social Epidemiology at the University of Nottingham. In order to establish national levels of inequality Wilkinson and his team used a benchmark based on how much richer the top 20% is to the bottom 20%: Japan and Scandinavia (Finland, Norway, Sweden, Denmark) came out most equal, and now, Slovenia and the Czech Republic have moved towards this group. Israel, New Zealand, Australia, Britain, Portugal and USA were found to have the greatest levels of inequality, and by some margin. Recent data suggests that Russia, South Africa and Turkey should now be added to the most unequal pile. Germany, Spain and Switzerland sit somewhere in the middle.

Data relating to a range of social issues was examined: The most unequal countries were found to have lower life expectancy than more equal societies, higher infant mortality, many more homicides, larger prison populations (by 10-15 times), applied longer sentences; had higher teenage pregnancies, lower mathematic/literacy levels, more obesity, less social mobility, and, according to The World Value Survey, a great deal less trust. In more equal countries, like Sweden and Norway, around 65% of people trust others, whereas in unequal societies like America a mere 15% admitted to trusting their fellow citizens.

In all areas, countries with high levels of inequality did worse, in many cases much worse, than more equal nations. Mental health, for example, (figures from the World Health Organization): In Japan around 8% of the population suffers from some form of mental health issue, compared to 30% in America. Children are considerably healthier in more equal countries – based on UNICEF’s Index of Child Well-Being – and feel a good deal happier. Wilkinson concludes, “What we’re looking at is general social dysfunction related to inequality. It’s not just one or two things that go wrong, it’s most things.”

Look to Scandinavia

If one of the primary purposes of any socio-economic system is to create environments in which human beings can grow and live happily together, then the nations suffering under the shadow of inequality need to learn from Sweden, Norway, Denmark and Finland, which are not just the least unequal, they are also the happiest countries in the world. Throughout Scandinavia public services – education (which is probably the best in the world), health care and housing, are valued, and taxes levied in order to fund them properly; there are greater levels of social justice, this allows for trust to develop, and where there is trust relationships flower. The extremes of staggering wealth and stifling poverty don’t exist as they do in the more unequal parts of the world; social mobility is greater and the dream of betterment more realistic, as Richard Wilkinson says, “if Americans want to live the ‘American dream’ they should go and live in Denmark.”

The first duty of government is to protect the people; this involves not only dealing with terrorism and the like, but requires the development of socio-economic policies that contribute to the creation of a healthy harmonious environment. By supporting extreme inequality (which has been shown to fuel a range of social issues) governments in the more unequal countries are totally failing in this fundamental duty. Politicians, who in many cases rely on big business and wealthy benefactors for their funding, are either blind to, or negligent of, the inherent faults of the current system, and the unhealthy, negative way of life it supports.

The case for fundamental change in the economic order, and a shift away from the destructive values it promotes is becoming irrefutable; however, change occurs only gradually and resistance is great. In the meantime, governments (particularly in the most unequal states) need to acknowledge the connection between the dysfunction and disease within society and their socio-economic methodology, which is literally making people ill, as well and poisoning the natural world. They need to invest properly in public services, address wage differences, ban bonuses, introduce progressive tax reform, and, unlike America and France which are taking retrograde steps by designing tax codes which will fuel inequality, look to the Scandinavian countries and learn from their example.

For too long socio-economic systems have been designed and maintained to cater to the desires and interests of a privileged few, while the majority live inhibited lives under the shadow of financial uncertainty. For harmonious societies to evolve this long-standing injustice needs to be addressed and a degree of balance found. This requires that those whose table is full to overflowing share some of their bounty, so that all may have enough, not excess, enough.

As a wise man has said, “The rich must give up what they want, so that the poor can have what they need.” What the rich and comfortable must give up is greed (another car, another house, more designer clothes, etc.), what the rest need is freedom from economic insecurity and the fear of destitution, freedom from exploitation and dependency; secure, comfortable, and well-designed accommodation, and access to good education, health care and culture. Such essential needs are the rights of all; when made manifest they go a long way towards establishing social justice, and where there is social justice, functional, compassionate communities do evolve, conflict is reduced and collective harmony is cultivated.

The Underworld of Banksters

The financial industry is but one of many industries in the modern world. Besides whatever their stated purposes may be, every one of their modus operandi can be “unmasked” to reveal some degree and form of wrongdoing and harm done, as I did once in a very cursory way.1

One of those industries, the financial industry, is comprised of numerous sectors such as the insurance industry, for instance. I have written about how it along with its government ally are financially soaking the public.2 This present article burrows into another sector, what I call the industry’s “underworld of banksters.” A bankster is a bank or banker that relies on illegal or unethical wrongdoing in their financial dealings. The wrongdoing to be found in their underworld is monumental and incalculable in size and harm done.

Hijacking a Public Domain

Permit me to issue and control a nation’s money and I care not who makes the laws.

— Mayer Amschel Rothschild3

Mayer Amschel Rothschild was a German banker and the “founding father of international finance” that grew into the Rothschild banking dynasty that still exists today in full force, with ownership or control of banks in over 150 countries.4 In 2005 he was ranked seventh on the Forbes’ magazine list of “The Twenty Most Influential Businessmen of All Time.”5

Forbes, naturally, did not characterize him as a bankster of the financial underworld, but we can judge whether that is so just from the above quote. In its first clause he says he would like to privatize what should be in the public domain, namely, the exchange of money for goods and services, an exchange essential to any society’s existence. In its second clause he is saying exactly what would be expected of a bankster.

Bankrolling Wars

All wars are banksters’ wars!

The Rothschild banking dynasty has bankrolled “war operations for the past several centuries.”6  And they bankrolled both sides!7  And why not? Why would they care so long as they profited from the bloodshed? Mayer Rothschild’s wife reportedly quipped on her deathbed “If my sons did not want wars, there would be none.”8 Such was the power of her five sons sent by their father to establish banks in five countries. I don’t think there is any evidence to show that they did not want wars.

The banksters do not wait for wars to just happen, they help get them started and then bankroll them for munificent profits. For instance, President Woodrow Wilson promised to keep the U.S. out of WWI, but the Morgan Bank, then the most powerful bank, nudged him into declaring war and then promptly bankrolled over 75 percent of the financing for the allied forces.9  Behind US involvement in more recent wars was the banksters’ intention of enfolding all countries into a Western, private central banking powerhouse.10

Woodrow Wilson was hardly the only captive U.S. president. A knowledgeable insider once examined archives of U.S. presidents for over a century and discovered that banksters were “in constant communication with the White House — not just about financial and economic policy, and by extension trade policy, but also about aspects of World War I, or World War II, or the Cold War.”10 U.S. presidents obviously listen when the banksters come calling!

Besides its full war operations, declared or undeclared, the U.S. government officially approves millions of dollars to fund terrorist groups.11 It should come as no surprise, therefore, that the banksters unofficially milk the fund. Successfully suing them on behalf of families of U.S. military members slain by the funded terrorists seems to be an insurmountable hurdle, especially when the banksters being sued were a conduit to other banks that did the funding. But indirect funding should be irrelevant, as one of the lawyers who filed the lawsuit observed; “Does it matter whether a particular bank was the physical conduit of the transfers to the terror apparatus, or is it enough that they were in a conspiracy which made that possible, and that they were, as a legal matter, deliberately indifferent to that result?”12  Well, Mr. Lawyer, you are dealing with the banksters, whether first hand or second hand.

Banksters are also profiting from and preparing for the ultimate war, a nuclear blowout. PAX recently issued a report on its findings from January 2014 through October 2017 that showed “329 banks, insurance companies, pension funds and asset managers from 24 countries that invest significantly in the top 20 nuclear weapon producers.”13  If blowback gets the banksters nuked that would be poetic justice, but it is not something to wish for since the fallout would engulf everyone else as well.

Arranging Assassinations

Befitting Mafia hit men, banksters have been suspected of arranging the assassinations of several U.S. presidents, a member of Congress and a Justice, all of whom dared defy the banksters: Andrew Jackson (attempt failed), Zaccary Taylor, James Buchannan (survived arsenic poisoning), Abraham Lincoln, James Garfield, William McKinley, Louis T. McFadden (a member of the House of Representatives in the twenties and thirties), Justice Martin V. Mahoney, and John F. Kennedy.14

Banksters are cunning enough to arrange for perfect murders, ones that will never be solved in a court of law. Each of the assassinated had with their policy decisions angered the banksters, a strong enough reason to suspect their complicity in the murders. In each case the banksters undoubtedly had foils with their own grievances against their targets do the assassinating. This account obviously amounts to conspiracy theorizing, yet there may be some truth to it. For instance, one author claims in his book that “persuasive evidence suggested that Lincoln’s assassin, John Wilkes Booth, had been hired for the job by Judah Benjamin, Treasurer of the Confederacy. Judah Benjamin was a close associate of Benjamin Disraeli (1804-1881), British Prime Minister and an intimate of the London Rothschilds.15  As time rolls on and with more digging the theory may start looking more like reality.

Bankrupting America

When America Suffers, the Banksters Thrive

There have been three major economic calamities in America’s history. The first and third were geographically widespread in scope. The first is known as the Great Depression that occurred from 1929 to 1939. The third that started around 2008 and has never ended is generally referred to as The Second Great Depression, although I named it Economic Katrina after the second, a localized calamity, Hurricane Katrina, that devastated the New Orleans area in 2005.16 The banksters, of course, were behind all three of these calamities.

The Great Depression

Poor Americans were devastated by this economic meltdown. Unemployment soared. Home foreclosures soared. Homelessness soared. The suicide rate soared. Repossessions soared. I was a little boy in the second half of this meltdown and recall how my parents struggled to make ends meet. Since my father held onto his job, my mother’s job was given to someone without a job. Yet, as a lower middle-class family, we fared much better than did millions of Americans.

So too, needless to say, did the wealthy, and that included, of course, the banksters, not to be confused with the thousands of small bankers whose banks folded. The mysteriously poisoned Congressman Louis McFadden had contended shortly before his death that the Great Depression “was no accident. It was a carefully contrived occurrence. The international bankers sought to bring about a condition of despair, so they might emerge as rulers of us all.”17

Hurricane Katrina

Hurricane Katrina was reportedly the costliest natural disaster to hit America. To Naomi Klein, author of The Shock Doctrine, hurricane Katrina was an example of how commercial interests such as the banksters swoop down in an “orchestrated raid” to capitalize on new market opportunities.18 The banksters themselves obviously window dress their role in the disaster, as exemplified in this remark by a spokesperson for one of the bank members of the Federal Reserve Board, which is a citadel for the really big banksters; “resourceful banks have designed creative ways to resume business, incorporating “flexibility” and “customization” into their vocabulary, engaging in recovery area investment projects and forming alliances with community partners.”19  That quote is sheer PR. No bankster, of course, other than anyone like a Mayer Rothschild, would boast about turning any disasters to others into bonanzas for themselves.

The Second Great Depression

America has never recovered from this third calamity that in 2008 started sweeping away main street and keeping the banksters and Wall Street high and dry, for the most part through unconscionable and astronomical government bailouts. After doing extensive research on the matter, I have concluded that there is one single, pivotal event that triggered this economic calamity, and I see that at least one Wall Street insider agrees with me.20 That event was the repeal of the Glass-Steagall Act that had prevented banks from operating both regular commercial loans and investments. The banksters gradually were able through lobbying and arm twisting to puncture some loopholes into the law, and then in 1994 the Act was replaced by one that allowed a bank to do both forms of business. The new law led to the creation of megabanks, but because they got greedy and careless with their selling of securities they suffered a financial setback of their own making but still had enough influence to get bailed out by government. It was simply a quid pro deal. One dirty hand washes the other. Or Napoleon Bonaparte would have put it differently; “When a government is dependent upon bankers for money, they and not the leaders of the government control the situation, since the hand that gives is above the hand that takes.”21

A Line Up of the Banksters

(a) Bank for International Settlement

Before doing the research for this article I had never heard of BIS. Now I know it is the most powerful private central bank in the world with the avowed aim of coordinating and controlling all monetary activities in the industrialized world and indebting it to the International Monetary Fund (a member of the Unholy Trinity to be discussed shortly). It was established in 1930 by bankers and diplomats of Europe and the United States to collect and disburse Germany’s World War I reparation payments. In WWII the BIS was used to launder money for the Nazis.22  As you can see, the BIS is not a wholesome bank to say the least.

(b) The Unholy Trinity

This well-deserved nickname refers to the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the World Bank (WB), and the World Trade Organization (WTO).23  They became the primary enabler of the globalization of the world’s money.

The trios’ purpose ostensibly from the beginning has been to reduce poverty and to develop the economies of Third World countries. In reality the aim of its work has been totally different, very “unholy.” Huge amounts of money masquerading as developmental loans and contingent on the currency devaluation and paring of the borrowing country’s social programs are siphoned off to huge, transnational corporations, many of which are U.S. firms, and the pockets of the governing and power elite of the country. The country goes further into debt and becomes even more vulnerable to being further exploited, including being subjected to sham debt relief programs.

No matter where on the globe the exploitation takes place there is a similar pattern of corporate/bankster behavior involved that includes such despicable, inhumane practices as relying on militaries and militias to purchase commodities made by forced labor; using armed groups to protect corporate assets; supplying arms to rebel and government forces; actually participating in military actions; engaging in smuggling, money laundering, and illegal currency transactions; and sweat-shop production of goods.24

(c) The Federal Reserve Board

The Fed is America’s banksters’ subordinate counterpart to the BIS and the Unholy Trinity.

A cabal of banksters got together in 1913 at the idyllic Jekyll Island resort off the coast of Georgia (where my family has stayed several times, not knowing we may have slept in banksters’ bedrooms). They coyly added the adjective “Federal” to disguise the intent, since twice before efforts to establish similar controlling banks had failed.17

As you may know, the Fed is made up of 12 branches around the country. All 12 and the headquarters are owned by 10 mega banks, four of which are headquartered in the U.S. As you might suspect, two of the owners are Rothschild banks, one in London and one in Berlin. About 100 very powerful individuals own those banks and thus also own the Fed. It is, therefore, no more a “Federal” agency of the government than is “Federal” Express. Being a private entity, one would expect the government would tax it. Not so, the Fed only pays property tax.17

Remember my including U. S. Congress Representative Louis T. McFadden as one of the likely victims of an arranged assassination? At the time he was Chairman of the Committee on Banking and Currency. Here is what he said that angered the banksters; “The Federal Reserve Board has cheated the Government of the United States and the people of the United States out of enough money to pay the national debt. Our people’s money, to the tune of $1,200,000,000, has within the last few months been shipped abroad to redeem Federal Reserve Notes and to pay other gambling debts of the traitorous Federal Reserve Board and the Federal Reserve Banks.”17  Today’s Fed is no less of an abominable bankster.

(d) Mega Banksters at Home

These mega banksters in the U.S. have assets totaling trillions of dollars. They didn’t get these assets through socially responsible investments to help the common good. They got them through bankrolling wars, through bankrupting the U.S. economy with fraudulent subprime securities that plummeted the U.S. into its Second Great Depression, and through all sorts of other ways to fleece the public out of its money. Put simply, these mega banksters are criminals on the loose throughout the country.

The Medium

Bad Capitalism

People, banksters included, do not depend only on themselves to go from birth to death. They must also depend on the circumstances and situations they encounter and sometimes help create. These circumstances and situations are the medium of life.  Bad capitalism is the banksters’ medium. Without it there would be no underworld of banksters.

Adam Smith, the putative “father of capitalism,” was a moral philosopher. He understood the importance of morality and the difference between good and bad capitalism and thought the emerging corporations of his time posed threats emanating from their unlimited life span; unlimited size; unlimited power; and unlimited license.25  How prescient he was!

I have written copiously about good and bad capitalism and have presented a plethora of my own as well as others’ proposals to turn bad capitalism into good capitalism.26 They have all come to naught. The banksters would guffaw if they read my work.

Public Banking to the Rescue?

Since the banksters made America’s public money private it stands to reason that a straightforward solution to ridding America of the banksters or at least curtailing them would be to establish a network of public banks throughout America. That is precisely what Ellen Brown, President and Chair of the Public Banking Institute is trying to accomplish. Through her stature and persuasive skills, she managed to get published in the OpEd section of the establishment paper, New York Times, no less, a piece promoting public banking.27 Her efforts are quite commendable and worth following.

Two additional strategies I should think would be to abolish the Fed and replace it with a truly Federal Reserve of Public Banks, and to prosecute and jail banksters instead of looking the other way or giving them token fines. Doing all this would take a herculean political effort, and I don’t expect it will ever happen.

Conclusion

A two-sentence conclusion ought to be enough. One, the banksters control most of the world’s money and will stop nothing short of fueling wars and creating economic havoc to keep growing their money and control. Two, commercializing peace or commercializing war — never the first, daily routine the second.

Acknowledgments

Wrongdoing is like mushrooms, thriving in the dark. The Fed shrouds itself in secrecy. In 2012, the Fed attempted to rebuff a Freedom of Information Lawsuit by Bloomberg News claiming that as a private banking corporation and not actually a part of the government, the Freedom of Information Act did not apply to the “trade secret” operations of the Fed.17

It is basically through the alternative media that we learn about the Fed’s secret dealings and its adverse impact on society at large. It was an article from the alternative media, for example, that told us the Fed is ruining our economic future because it caters to itself and the rest of the banksters.28  People drawn to the alternative media should rightly be fed up with the Fed.

As the author of this article who relied so heavily on one individual’s trailblazing efforts to dig up the facts that the government withholds, I must acknowledge Michael Rivero, who dominates my list of footnotes. He is my Internet friend of yesteryear. Without his efforts I could not have written this article. It was his quote, “Behind all wars are bankers” that I cited in one of my books. It was only after rereading one of my book reviews about corporate gangs, which ironically had little to say about banking, that I conceived the opprobrious “banksters.”29

  1. Brumback, GB. “Corporate America Unmasked“, The Greanville Post, January 3; OpEdNews, January 4; Dissident Voice, January 4; Uncommon Thought Journal, January 7, 2018
  2. Brumback, GB. Soaking the Public: The Insurance Industry and Captive Government, OpEdNews, July 11; Dissident Voice, July 12; 2016.
  3. Lendman, S. Banker Occupation: Waging Financial War on Humanity, Clarity Press, Inc., 2012.
  4. See: Complete List of BANKS Owned or Controlled by the Rothschild Family.
  5. Noer, M. “The Twenty Most Influential Businessmen of All Time”, Forbes, July 29, 2005.
  6. Dmitry, B. “Rothschild Wealth Is Now Greater Than 75% Of World Population Combined,” January 21, 2017.
  7. USWGO. The Rothschild Dynasty Funded Both Sides of Every War, USWGO, March 14, 2011.
  8. Collier, A. “Perspective on the World”, March 7, 2014.
  9. Washington Blog. “Bankers are Behind the Wars“, April 18, 2014.
  10. Ibid.
  11. Khabieh, B. “Obama Approves $800m Funding for Terrorist Groups in Syria and Ukraine”, Reuters, November 28, 2015.
  12. Profess, B. & Clifford, S. “Suit Accuses Banks of Role in Financing Terror Attacks”, The New York Times, November 10, 2014.
  13. Beenes, M. & Snyder, S. “Don’t Bank on the Bomb, A Global Report on the Financing of Nuclear Weapons Producers”, PAX, March, 2018.
  14. Rivero, M. “All Wars are Bankers’ Wars“.  See also, pik_artist, “Judge Poisoned After Ruling Bank Forclosure Is Illegal and All Mortgages Are Null and Void, Hub Pages, January 17, 2018.
  15. Engdahl, WF. Gods of Money: Wall Street and the Death of the American Century, 2009.
  16. Brumback, GB. The Devil’s Marriage: Break Up the Corpocracy or Leave Democracy in the Lurch, 2011, pp. 151-152.
  17. Rivero, Op. Cit.
  18. Klein, N. The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism. 2007.
  19. Owens, D. “After the Storm: Banks Respond to Katrina’s Punch”, Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis, Spring, 2006.
  20. Rickards, J. “Repeal of Glass-Steagall Caused the Financial Crisis”, U.S. News and World Report, August. 27, 2012.
  21. Rivero, OpCit.
  22. Epstein, E.J. “Ruling the World of Money”, Harper’s Magazine, 1983.
  23. Peet, R. Unholy Trinity: The IMF, World Bank and WTO, 2009 (Second Edition).
  24. For more on the Unholy Trinity and the globalization of the world’s economy see John Perkins’ riveting book, Confessions of an Economic Hit Man, 2004, and my review of it in Personnel Psychology, Vol. 59, No. 2-Summer, 2006, Book Review Section, pp. 489-493.
  25. Smith, A. The Wealth of Nations, 1776.
  26. See Brumback, Op. Cit. 2011; and also, Brumback, GB. Corporate Reckoning Ahead, 2015.
  27. Brown, E. “Public Banks Are Essential to Capitalism”, NYTimes Op Ed, October 2, 2013.
  28. Parramore. LS. “How the Federal Reserve is Destroying Your Economic Future”, Alternet, April 16, 2015.
  29. Nace, T. Gangs of America: The Rise of Corporate Power and the Disabling of Democracy, 2003. I reviewed this book in the 2004 Fall Issue of the Book Review Section of Personnel Psychology, pp. 780-783.

Ecuador Endangered

The tropical Andes of Ecuador are at the top of the world list of biodiversity hotspots in terms of vertebrate species, endemic vertebrates, and endemic plants. Ecuador has more orchid and hummingbird species than Brazil, which is 32 times larger, and more diversity than the entire USA.

In the last year, the Ecuadorean government has quietly granted mining concessions to over 1.7 million hectares (4.25 million acres) of forest reserves and indigenous territories. These were awarded to transnational corporations in closed-door deals without public knowledge or consent.

This is in direct violation of Ecuadorean law and international treaties, and will decimate headwater ecosystems and biodiversity hotspots of global significance. However, Ecuadorean groups think there is little chance of stopping the concessions using the law unless there is a groundswell of opposition from Ecuadorean society and strong expressions of international concern.

The Vice President of Ecuador, who acted as Coordinating Director for the office of ‘Strategic Sectors’, which promoted and negotiated these concessions, was jailed for 6 years for corruption. However, this has not stopped the huge giveaway of pristine land to mining companies.

From the cloud forests in the Andes to the indigenous territories in the headwaters of the Amazon, the Ecuadorean government has covertly granted these mining concessions to multinational mining companies from China, Australia, Canada, and Chile, amongst others.

Ecuador Cloud Forest

The first country in the world to get the rights of Nature or Pachamama written into its constitution is now ignoring that commitment.

They’ve been here before. In the 80’s and 90’s Chevron-Texaco dumped 18 billion gallons of crude oil there in the biggest rainforest petroleum spill in history. This poisoned the water of tens of thousands of people and has done irreparable damage to ecosystems.

Now 14% of the country has been concessioned to mining interests. This includes a million hectares of indigenous land, half of all the territories of the Shuar in the Amazon and three-quarters of the territory of the Awa in the Andes.

Please sign the petition and contribute to the crowdfund which will help Ecuadorean civil society’s campaign to have these concessions rescinded.

As founder and director of the Rainforest Information Centre (RIC), I’ve had a long history of involvement with Ecuador’s rainforests.

Back in the late ‘80’s our volunteers initiated numerous projects in the country and one of these, the creation of the Los Cedros Biological Reserve was helped with a substantial grant from the Australian Government aid agency, AusAID. Los Cedros lies within the Tropical Andes Hotspot, in the country’s northwest. Los Cedros consists of nearly 7000 hectares of premontane and lower montane wet tropical and cloud forest teeming with rare, endangered and endemic species and is a crucial southern buffer zone for the quarter-million hectare Cotocachi-Cayapas Ecological Reserve. Little wonder that scientists from around the world rallied to the defense of Los Cedros.

In 2016 a press release from a Canadian mining company alerted us to the fact that they had somehow acquired a mining concession over Los Cedros! We hired a couple of Ecuadorean researchers and it slowly dawned on us that Los Cedros was only one of 41 “Bosques Protectores” (protected forests) which had been secretly concessioned. For example, nearly all of the 311,500 hectare Bosque Protector “Kutuku-Shaimi”, where 5000 Shuar families live, has been concessioned. In November 2017, RIC published a report by Bitty Roy, Professor of Ecology from Oregon State University and her co-workers,  mapping the full extent of the horror that is being planned.

Although many of these concessions are for exploration, the mining industry anticipates an eightfold growth in investment to $8 billion by 2021 due to a “revised regulatory framework” much to the jubilation of the mining companies. Granting mineral concessions in reserves means that these reserves aren’t actually protected any longer as, if profitable deposits are found, the reserves will be mined and destroyed.

Ecuador Rainforest

Long-tailed Slyph

In Ecuador, civil society is mobilising and has asked their recently elected government to prohibit industrial mining “in water sources and water recharge areas, in the national system of protected areas, in special areas for conservation, in protected forests and fragile ecosystems”.

The indigenous peoples have been fighting against mining inside Ecuador for over a decade.  Governments have persecuted more than 200 indigenous activists using the countries anti-terrorism laws to hand out stiff prison sentences to indigenous people who openly speak out against the destruction of their territories.

Fortunately, the new government has signalled an openness to hear indigenous and civil society’s concerns, not expressed by the previous administration.

In December 2017, a large delegation of indigenous people marched on Quito and President Moreno promised no NEW oil and mining concessions, and on 31 January 2018, Ecuador’s Mining Minister resigned a few days after Indigenous and environmental groups demanded he step down during a demonstration. On 31 January, The Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities of Ecuador, CONAIE, announced their support for the platform shared by the rest of civil society involved in the anti-mining work. Then on 15 February CONAIE called on the government to “declare Ecuador free of industrial metal-mining”, a somewhat more radical demand than that of the rest of civil society.

Ecuador Rainforest Stream

But we will need a huge international outcry to rescind the existing concessions: many billions of dollars of mining company profits versus some of the most biologically diverse ecosystems on Earth and the hundreds of local communities and indigenous peoples who depend on them.

PLEASE SIGN THE PETITION TO SUPPORT THEIR DEMANDS.

From 2006, under the Correa-Glas administration, Ecuador contracted record levels of external debt for highway and hydroelectric dam infrastructure to subsidize mining. Foreign investments were guaranteed by a corporate friendly international arbitration system, facilitated by the World Bank which had earlier set the stage for the current calamity by funding mineralogical surveys of national parks and other protected areas and advising the administration on dismantling of laws and regulations protecting the environment.

After 2008, when Ecuador defaulted on $3.2 billion worth of its national debt, it borrowed $15 billion from China, to be paid back in the form of oil and mineral exports. These deals have been fraught with corruption. Underselling, bribery and the laundering of money via offshore accounts are routine practice in the Ecuadorean business class, and the Chinese companies who now hold concessions over vast tracts of Ecuadorean land are no cleaner. Before leaving office Correa-Glas removed much of the regulation that had been holding the mining industry in check. And the corruption goes much deeper than mere bribes.

The lure of mining is a deadly mirage. The impacts of large-scale open pit mining within rainforest watersheds include mass deforestation, erosion, the contamination of water sources by toxins such as lead and arsenic, and desertification. A lush rainforest transforms into an arid wasteland incapable of sustaining either ecosystems or human beings.

Without a huge outcry both within Ecuador and around the world, the biological gems and pristine rivers and streams will be destroyed.

But it doesn’t have to be this way. Civil society needs an open conversation with the state. Ecuador has enormous potential to develop its economy based on renewable energy and its rich biodiversity can support a large ecotourism industry. In 2010 Costa Rica banned open-pit mining, and today has socioeconomic indicators better than Ecuador’s. Costa Rica also provides a ‘Payment for Ecosystem Services’ to landholders, and through this scheme has actually increased its rainforest area (from 20% to just over 50%).

Ecuador’s society and government must explore how an economy based on the sustainable use of pristine water sources, the country’s incomparable forests, and other natural resources is superior to an economy based on short term extraction leaving behind a despoiled and impoverished landscape. For example, studies by Earth Economics in the Intag region of Ecuador (where some of the new mining concessions are located) show that ecosystem services and sustainable development would offer a better economic solution let alone ecological and social.

The Rainforest Information Centre is launching a CROWDFUND to support Ecuadorean NGO’s to mobilise and to mount a publicity and education campaign and to help advance a dialogue throughout Ecuador and beyond: ‘Extractivism, economic diversification and prospects for sustainable development in Ecuador.’

We have set the crowdfund target at A$15,000 and Paul Gilding, ex-CEO of Greenpeace International is getting the ball rolling with an offer to match all donations $ for $ so that every $ that you donate will be matched by Paul. Donations are tax-deductible in Australia and the US.

When you sign the PETITION you will reach not just to the President of Ecuador and his cabinet. The petition is also addressed to the other actors who have set the stage for this calamity, being:

  • The World Bank who funded a project which collected geochemical data from 3.6 million hectares of Western Ecuador including seven national protected areas and dozens of forest reserves thus doing the groundwork for the mining industry.
  • The international governments and NGO’s who funded the creation and upkeep of these Bosques Protectores and indigenous reserves and other protected sites and who now need to persuade Ecuador to prevent their good work from being undone.
  • The governments of the countries whose mining companies are preparing this devastation.

Australian senator Lee Rhiannon (who was part of helping us create Los Cedros 30 years ago) wrote to the Canadian Environment Minister on our behalf and the Canadian Embassy has expressed concern about the bad name Cornerstone is giving the other Canadian mining projects. They have asked us for a meeting to discuss the reports of bad business practices by the company. Likewise, the Chinese government is beginning to develop some guidance which will come into effect in March 2018. We are lobbying the Australian government to put pressure on BHP, Solgold and other Australian companies preparing to mine protected forests and indigenous reserves in Ecuador.

Visit Ecuador Endangered for more links to the history and causes of Ecuador’s mining crisis. There you will find research, detailed reports and news updates. Contact information can be found for those wanting to be involved in the campaign, which is being run entirely by volunteers. To let the Ecuadorean Government, World Bank and mining companies know you want them to invest in a sustainable future for all, a petition can be found here.

• Photos by Murray Cooper

• See maps here and here