The Logic Of Neo-Liberalism
Same Bottle, But More Bitter
T G Jacob
The political leadership of
the country, with all political parties, ruling or 'opposition' included in one broad denomination, does not seem concerned in any significant fashion about the economic dynamics that is jolting the country since the last many years. The last general election brought out this indifference rather too well. The 'Leftists' did make occasional noises about the "anti-people" nature of the economic policies advocated and promoted by the ruling coalition as well as the then principal opposition coalition, which has since become the ruling coalition, but their performance on the ground level betrays lack ol any real concern because being players of power politics they do not have the will or inclination to question the Indian and global capital interests. Hence their protests against neo- liberal economic policies cannot and do not go beyond tokenism. This is nothing unexpected because all of them—left, right or center—are advocates of imperialist globalization, the differences between them arising only from competitive power politics as manifested through electoral politics.
In fact, the erstwhile main opposition party and its electoral allies called National Democratic Alliance that has since come to power at the center was continuously advertising to imperialist capital and their local base the great advantages if they are in power in Delhi with the 'glory' of Gujarat under their dispensation as the big character poster. To give more substantial content to this assertion the Tatas, the oldest comprador business group in the Indian subcontinent and currently one of the most hyperactive in the grabbing of resources including land questioned the credibility of the Congress political dispensation. It should be noted that Dr Manmohan Singh and his group of macroeconomic executives were all handpicked professionals trained by supranational organs of imperialist globalization like the World Bank and International Monetary Fund and they were and still are the people technically responsible internally for the economic mayhem that is being played out currently. What Mr Ratan Tata implied was that these old guards of imperialist globalization are bit old-fashioned because they are afraid of the people at large while he, his fellow travelers, and their superiors would prefer an all-out plunge for catapulting India into the position of an economic 'super power', whatever the costs be.
That the whole world is beset by a rolling economic crisis is a generally accepted truism now. This crisis is manifested not only in the neocolonial world but also the countries above them. The biggest economic and political/military power of the world itself is internally caught up in chronic economic illnesses. People are hard put to hold on to existing jobs with new job creation an insignificant variable. The internal economics of the biggest economy of the world is leaning more and more towards doing away with capital leakages serving welfare measures not directly catering to corporate interests. The corporate interests would rather see the social welfare activities converted into hard business propositions than 'wasteful' public expenditures. Capitalist imperialism under conditions of recession has learned fast that recession can also be good for accumulation. This internal situation can very well result in further accentuation of the crisis rooted in the production and reproduction of capital. The suspension of the US treasury for a few days in a tussle between the Republicans and Democrats was on the "wasteful" nature of public expenditure on welfare measures like health services in a situation where all efforts should be made to strengthen the financial liquidity of corporate businesses. This shadow boxing was between the Obama brand populism and hardcore corporate apologists who consider such populism dispensable under conditions of permanent economic crisis. The greed for accumulation is such that Obama brand populism, though it is necessary as a shock absorber and hence to the system as a whole as a stabilizer, comes under attack from diehard Chicago school neo-liberals who are busy redefining capitalist crisis as ground for generating super profits. The current presidential campaign in the US is actually a remarkable exposition of how out-rightly fascist belligerency is making every effort to steamroller American and as a result world politics and economics.
Inequity which is always a hallmark of capitalism has increased tremendously over the past more than a decade while the need for wars is becoming ever more pressing. On the one hand the isolation of the dominant class power has attained and is further attaining stronger momentum. In India, the erection of the conspicuously vulgar architectural monstrosity by the Ambanis in Mumbai is symbolic of these trends (it is also interesting that this huge private residential structure with multiple helipads remains unused to date!). It is easy to conceive that such a private residential structure will need a virtual army and elaborate intelligence network for security purposes which is proving a difficult task even for the Ambanis in a colossal city like Mumbai.
The very fact that popular pressure is instrumental in temporarily toning down the nuclear program, the Japan government and nuclear lobby is unambiguously bent upon salvaging the nuclear industry as such through exporting nuclear technology to countries whose capacity and will for disaster management is dismal shows the anti-social nature of global capital for the people of the world at large. It is not only applicable to nuclear industry but also to all economically significant industries. Transferring of the burden of crisis in the capitalist metropolises is no doubt of vital importance in world system management.
Nuclear Industry, GM technology
Energy industry, the key industry and instrument of domination in the world, transfers the burden of the crisis without any lapse of time because the sector as a whole is deeply well integrated into the vortex of imperialist capital. The nuclear industry as a high capital intensive component of this sector involves very heavy investments in research and development and to make this investment pay is an important condition of what is euphemistically called economic recovery. Advocates of imperialist globalization know the implications pretty well and that is why there is the Indo-US nuclear agreement and similar such agreements with other nuclear countries. China is also involved in similar fashion with Pakistan and North Korea and possibly with Iran. Israel is another key player. The nuclear industry in the major centers of global capital are strongly interlinked in both overt and covert fashions, including high cost sophisticated smuggling operations. Global diplomacy is also heavily involved in this big budget economics. India is a significant client of the global nuclear industry involving multibillion dollar extravaganza in the short run itself. The prime minister of ten years is a great facilitator and enthusiast of nuclear energy and he can state without any qualms that the finest moment in his whole career as PM is the signing of the Indo-US nuclear treaty because nuclear energy, according to him and his party, is the future of the globe. The 'Leftists' who withdrew outside support to his government on this treaty issue were only against a treaty with the US. They are supporters and advocates of nuclear energy as is shown by their support to the Koodankulam plant in Tamil Nadu which is Russian sponsored. The long standing popular agitation by the working people of the region means nothing to them. In spite of the disintegration of Soviet Union and its ideological basis built-in psychological dependency/slavery dies hard. Moreover, there is no basic perspective difference between 'leftists' and their ideological opponents as far as the 'development' model is concerned. Both accept nuclear energy as a 'progressive' source of energy.
Of course, as experience shows, these mega energy production units are routinely subject to steep cost escalations too. And the higher the initial cost the greater the cost escalation. All this is being done when alternative technologies are very much available and several rich countries like Germany are promoting these alternative technologies as a policy matter itself. It is the same with the GM technology. It is another sector that involves heavy outlays in R&D and nothing less than global monopoly will do for the GM giants. The civil societies in richer countries are not convinced about the environmental and human health implications of GM technology, hence, many of these countries have banned or put on hold GM seeds. But, like the case of Japan and France and the US in the matter of nuclear technology the GM technology giants are enforcing their market expansion in the neocolonial world with the active aid of respective governments and their official lobbies. They can ban the GM seeds in their agriculture but there is nothing wrong in Monsanto annexing, say, Indian agriculture. In fact, it is very necessary for the health of global capital that such technologies should be expended at a profit. This is what they are doing in China and this is top of their agenda in India. Pandering to domestic compulsions is one thing, but catering to the exigencies of capital is another thing.
In the interests of environmental and human health GM technology can be banned at home but that makes it only more imperative that vast stretches of the Amazon forests are cleared for GM soya plantations to produce bio fuels and cattle feed. The controllable markets are there and corporate capital is what is pulling the levers. If war is needed there will be war, if puppets are needed there will be puppets, if regime changes are needed there are violent and non-violent means to effect them, if the markets are misbehaving there will be drastic correction mechanisms in place, if none of these things ultimately work then there will be implosion. This logic of neocolonialism, as it is based on the logic of accumulation of capital, is certainly bound to create ever increasing chaos. Apologists of capitalism are at home with a situation of permanent crisis of their system, expecting that the subjects will get conditioned to a perpetually fluid crisis which has unfortunately become their lot. Capitalism is trying to create a void in human thinking, create whole generations living virtual life, create psychopaths on mass scale, and die ignominiously.
The last great intervention to devise effective means to resolve or ameliorate the structural crisis of capitalist accumulation was the Keynesian one, intellectually stimulated by the Great Depression of the early 1930s, which basically rested on creating effective demand and employment to sustain capitalist accumulation through forces outside the intrinsic systemic laws of capitalism. But the neoliberal agenda of the Chicago school not only effectively overturned this sort of interventions but also devised means to utilize recessionary conditions to further accumulation through enormously increasing inequity. The post-WW-2 process of decolonization marked a qualitative change due to the emergence and consolidation of the forces of finance capital-superior technology combine as the magic weapon to dominate the globe in terms of creation and extraction of surplus on which the systemic stability of capitalism as a world system is crucially dependent. In other words, imperialist globalization, distinct from the earlier crude and cumbersome colonialism, became the means of survival for the advanced capitalist/imperialist system. But this qualitative change is basically in the arena of political and economic relations between the component parts of the world system without changing the most basic logic of accumulation. In this sense there is both discontinuity and continuity in the whole process. The logic of accumulation in the capitalist system does not allow for any rest periods. It has to keep on going with increasing momentum or perish to give way to a new system. It is in this demented race that anything and everything becomes a business proposition with promises of super profits. Wars, internal security machineries, disasters, jails and concentration centers, life-saving medicines, manufacture of repressive machineries to keep oligarchies in power, manufacture of lies- you name it, it is a long and ever renewing list.
The US, being the progenitor and epicenter of imperialist globalization, is itself the role model of this multifaceted cruelty of the capitalist system. A tsunami or cyclone is welcome; a nuclear disaster is also welcome because all these mega tragedies offer enormous scope for accumulation through so-called reconstruction. The very same economic interests that created large scale starvation and starvation deaths in Sub Saharan Africa can merrily generate super profits through disaster management measures in the same region among the same peoples. In Indonesia and Sri Lanka the tsunami was utilized by the global tourism businesses to privatize large beach stretches for high-end international tourism at the cost of millions of fisher folk who were resisting encroachment of their habitats during the pre-tsunami period. Laws were created and imposed in the name of out-rightly sham environmentalism to forcibly prevent the original settlers to restettle after the tsunami. They were shunted into shanty towns/slums to hand over beaches to the big tourism bourgeoisie who built up and enclosed massive areas as mega tourism projects. This is the openly inhuman face of disaster management promoted by international capital.
The management of wars also involves large scale detentions and tortures. The revelations that have come out concerning the torture centers operated by the US in the wake of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq in different parts of the world shows the heavy involvement of private corporate agencies investing heavily in their functioning. To fulfill the requirements of capacity utilization/maximum profits, they even offer fairly large amounts of dollars (5000 upwards) as agent's commission to touts who to maximize their income often points at people who are not at all involved in any sort of resistance activities. One can imagine the havoc such arbitrariness can create in a poor, interior Afghan area. Medical experts, psychologists, hunting dogs are all involved in the torture centers and these services are more often outsourced due to less accountability, less visibility and incapacity of the Pentagon. The trend is clearly visible; it is one of psychopaths and criminals increasingly becoming an integral part of so-called security mechanisms. A highly lucrative service industry which uses transnational criminal labor power at the cost of the taxpayers' money is being put in place.
Neo-liberalism has ushered in corruption on hitherto unknown levels and institutionalized it as an important part of management. India and China being huge markets of every kind are eminent illustrations. That is why the political class in India, China and neocolonial world in general are in the bracket of multi-millionaires and billionaires. Corruption is not simply greed but more importantly it has become an inalienable part of economic system management. It has also become a strong mass psychological character. That is why when a Union minister in Delhi belonging to a regional outfit was put in jail for corruption involving the phenomenal amount of more than Rs 1 lakh crores there was not only shock but also admiration. "He is not a small guy, he will not stoop down for hundreds of crores but only for lakhs of crores" was not an infrequent reaction of the amazed multitudes. The social psyche is being changed under systemic compulsions. A typical example at the lower level may be interesting. This writer recently saw how a very small property transaction at the village level in Kerala was concluded. A tout who was looking after the official business at the village office (six staff including a peon) honored all of them by going to every table and putting an envelope on each table containing money according to their respective grades. It was open, normal and well ordered. At the lower levels, corruption has become "democratic" and highly decentralized. This is not a sudden disease; it has grown over a period of time.
In both India and China, the two most populous countries of the world, corruption is rampant and clearly systemic. But it remains a highly sensitive issue too. In China such gross distributive inequities have made localized riots/protests endemic which is forcing the state to resort occasionally to drastic actions like executions and long term imprisonments of those in positions of power proved to be corrupt as a means to contain protests by projecting a false image of the ruling system. Also, very often such corrections serve the interests of the ruling coteries to ward off actual or potential challenges. But this sort of correctional step does not certainly resolve the issue because it is systemic in nature which means that the dynamics of imperialist globalization demands this lubricating of the machine as a necessary condition. That is why kick backs and sleaze funds are accounted as "costs" in the books of the corporate capitalists. In India omnipresent corruption has periodically resulted in massive agitations which resulted even in change of regimes. The "total revolution" led by Jayaprakash Narain and the much later agitation led by Anna Hazare created powerful ripples in the body politic. The former catalyzed the declaration of internal emergency and subsequent dethroning of Indira Gandhi's autocratic regime. The latter has thrown up new political groupings and trends professing the goal of eradicating corruption enjoying support of sections of urban middle classes and youth. This process aimed at regime change which may ensure a corruption free governing system is on in India. The vocal sections of the non- governmental organizations promoted by global funding agencies representing the 'human face' of imperialist capitalism are very much on the struggle arena for this perceived regime change. At the same time, their comprehension of the phenomenon of corruption sadly does not sync with the structural reality and complexity. The newly emerged AAP is an illustration.
The manifested ground level situation is that the common man is fed up of the state of affairs, large areas in the country are already in the grip of structurally rooted violence, federalism is being increasingly exposed as fraud, economic inequity and mass deprivation is attaining demonic proportions, and the reserve resources of the country are being sold wholesale at a fast pace. A regime change is the minimum that is mandatory for avoiding total collapse and it is this process that is unfolding in India. Corruption is a highly attractive catchword for facilitating this process. Interestingly, even those who are ardent votaries and beneficiaries of corruption have started howling against it. But nobody is talking about the basic nature of corruption which is clearly systemic with its dimensions linked in a multi-linear fashion to imperialist globalization, At the same time the issue is by no means static, it can develop into struggle against the system that engenders corruption. But this is something only the future can tell, but the possibility is very much there because that is also structurally rooted.
The system that engenders corruption of massive proportions is a product of aggressive imperialist globalization which in turn is a crisis ridden process of playing out structural contradictions. The material possibilities for political executives transforming into facilitators for global capital becomes enormous and irresistible. It is wholesale trading with the riches of Mother Earth that is creating deep pits of corruption. This, in effect, makes corruption the tip of the iceberg, the fight against it ingrained with a lot of potentialities, and a live volcano underneath. It is interesting that with all the years' long public glare on corruption the last general election, which succeeded in effecting a regime change within the parameters set by the same dominant class, did not at all go into any serious debate or discussion on the systemic nature of corruption, though it is undeniable that the issue as such played the major role in changing the regime. It can be due to the backwardness of the parliamentary process in the country, which often succeeds in hiding the real issues even while playing upon the emotive aspects of the very same issues with an eye on catching votes. The real issue is imperialist globalization of which corruption is a manifestation which is actually the holy cow for all the power aspiring political parties. That is why the dimensions of corruption are consciously limited to the greed of the political class in power, which offers scope for rival contenders to use it for coming to power. This has happened more than once and it has happened in the last election too. Of course this is not the full story, much depends on the class backing and resources expended on the highly expensive process of elections.
Corporate Capital and Electoral Process
Take the case of the last election. The most public face of corporate capital, Ratan Tata, made sufficiently clear before the actual elections on whose side he and his class are. So did his global seniors represented by the US ambassador when that lady specially visited the candidate of the Sangh Parivar in his State capital. Moreover, the big media owned by the corporate capital systematically and continuously projected the same candidate as the future power center. Knowing that the electoral process is such that even a political grouping garnering a minority of votes can very well win the game the results were predetermined and prejudged. And the results did not surprise this charted course. The power of corporate capital on an all-India level in deciding the political executive certainly became more transparent, something that is actually warranted by the actual state of affairs. The regime change suits their purposes and their purposes are geared to the single point agenda of maximizing their growth. The political executive is expected to serve this agenda with all the power at hand. The Maoists, secessionists, advocates of human rights, minorities and assertive neighbours be on the watch out. If Bangladeshis migrate to Assam (a process that started with the blessings of the colonialists) their original land also can be impounded! Likewise, the right of the Indian traders in Nepal is not something that is negotiable! Coming days promise a heightened pace of internal and external mayhem. Corporate capital is fast learning how to convert any crisis to profit as their big brothers in the US are doing. Recessionary conditions, high growth of unemployment and sky-rocketing inequity can all be convenient for super accumulation. This is exactly what the free market driven imperialist globalization is doing all over the globe. There is no logic in expecting anything else in India too.
There is no doubt at all that India is crucial to the exigencies of global capital. The market is enormous and capable of great expansion for capital, technology, raw materials and goods. Though political challenges do emerge time and again the Indian ruling class has evolved its own methods of crisis management which are often out-rightly fascist in nature but also containable in the constitutional framework. Any number of laws nullifying basic human rights including the right to life can be imposed selectively or even universally. These possibilities have been explored and adopted by the ruling dispensations in the past and are by no means original to any one government or other. From the days of Nehru onwards such possibilities have been regularly put to use. Now, when the forces of imperialist globalization are digging in their talons ever more viciously the space for democratic dissent is bound to shrink further and further leading to compounding of basic issues. Forces of imperialist globalization don't care a damn as long as the cat catches mice. Whether there is minority bashing or not, need not be their concern. The principal religious minority, Muslims, are in a permanent state of intimidation over most of India since quite some time. This intimidation was harshly brought home in the run up to the last elections through Muzafarpur in Uttar Pradesh and Assam which effectively broke the vote bank politics in these areas while acting as a warning in other areas.
When one talks about the political economy of ongoing political trends what is not of least importance is the complexity of demography. For the principal minority religious community there is no place to go when sustained efforts of the majority ideology pushes it to the wall. In fact, what is happening is that Muslims from the enclosed country of Bangladesh are trickling into Indian territory, which already has numerous Ethnic tensions and conflicts of its own without this addition. The division of Bengal which created Bangladesh is a colonial legacy and the boundaries are yet to settle down. It is also important that two other peoples—the Tibetans and Sri Lankan Tamils—are in India in good numbers as political refugees. The former has passed two generations in the refugee status. About the latter, the Lankan Tamil question is also quite old and ever volatile with immense variations in the last half century. Also, there are very large numbers of Nepali people who supply cheap labor all over the country for whom India is a second homeland. They also have ancient brothers and sisters whose homelands are within the present boundaries of India and whose language is a constitutionally recognized one. These sorts of in-migration are different from the out-migration, say, to the Gulf countries, which is pure and simple export of labor power as a commodity. The presence of a significant number and variety of political and economic refugees is an actual variable helping to define the political entanglements of India in the greater region.
Many large and small religious minorities, a multitude of caste and ethnic groups with their own conflicts often turning violent, small and big linguistic identities, political refugees tending to become permanent fixtures are the socio-political mosaic on which aggressive imperialist globalization is playing its super profits game. And it is definitely not an innocent game. When the political class is so readily purchasable the whole thing becomes even more sinister. While not a pleasant possibility to visualize, it is equally a great challenge to grapple with.
Vol. 49, No.3, Jul 24 - 30, 2016