Capitalism’s Boundless War

The streets of the world’s capital cities are war zones of hopelessness, but as people gather together, this despair transforms into a fierce determination, underlain by great expectations, like in 1848, when the only European-wide collapse of the status quo occurred in the Revolutions of 1848 also popularly known at the time as: The Spring of Nations. Similar to that challenge of authority over 150 years ago, as of today, an epic battle, an undeclared war, rages around the world, erupting every week in another capital city, challenging the legitimacy and credibility of capitalism. For example, July 9th, 2012, Qatif, Saudi Arabia, one of the country’s largest-ever demonstrations, left two dead and 12 injured when security forces confronted street protestors after the shooting of Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr, a prominent anti-government activist and Shia cleric.

The Revolutions of 1848 ultimately involved 50 countries throughout Europe and Latin America. At the time, there was no coordination among dissenters, but widespread dissatisfaction with political leadership was infectious across borders and beyond ethnic differences. Citizens of the world wanted more participation in how their lives were determined; i.e., democracy. Tens of thousands lost their lives in a futile effort, a bloody affair that ended as abruptly as it began, within one year, forever memorialized by the words of Pierre-Joseph Proudhon (French philosopher and economic theorist, 1809-1865), “We have been beaten and humiliated… scattered, imprisoned, disarmed and gagged. The fate of European democracy has slipped from our hands.”

Dissatisfaction with political leadership (and, by inference, the capitalist state) today is more ubiquitous than in 1848 because instantaneous communication knows no barriers. Furthermore, what is known is this: Capitalism has failed as an economic system for society at large. By disproportionately favoring an elite minority who have gamed their own system, thus, sealing their own fate, capitalism has become as pejorative a term today as aristocrat was in 1848. And, because history has demonstrated, time and again, that no socio-economic system is static, this brings to the forefront questions about the likely life cycle for modern-day capitalism. Is it passé, an economic system that has already outlived its usefulness? And, if so, then, where are the various impulses of dissent headed, pointed in what direction, if not capitalism? These are questions that would otherwise be deemed inappropriate, if not for the current state of world affairs, but the answers are yet to be formulated.

This grandiose worldwide dissatisfaction with the status quo is not business as usual like a normal business cycle, which ends with renewal of prosperity. No, by all appearances, this is a deep-seated disintegration of economic relationships, which have existed in a delicate balance of competing interests for 200 years.

Every war has a catalyst, and the capitalists themselves have brought on this one by depriving the bourgeoisie and proletariat a fair share of the bounty on a worldwide basis in places like the United States, Indonesia, South Korea, Chile, and throughout Europe. Now that capitalism is universal, the population of the world sees its effects in unison rather than individually by nation-state, but the problem is not capitalism, per se. The problem is abuse of the capitalist system by capitalists. What is the evidence of this abuse?

The evidence is tens and hundreds of thousands of people in the streets chanting, sloganeering, “End the Oligarchy” in NYC, “Democracy Not Corporatization” in Paris, “Fraude Pobreza” or “Fraud and Poverty” in Madrid, “Hands Off Our Pensions” in Athens, tens of thousands demonstrating in front of Indonesia’s presidential palace in Jakarta demanding a decent living wage, tens of thousands of students in Santiago protesting the profiteering in the state educational system, hundreds of Malaysian lawyers staging street protests opposed to governmental plans to ban street rallies, and uppermost in the consciousness of this worldwide sloganeering is a profound repugnance of corporate greed, or crony capitalism, and a deep-seated hostility towards the chicanery behind Wall Street/banking practices as well as the ‘perceived’ embezzlement of valuable  nation-state resources by the wealthy elite via political influence and subterfuge within taxation policies that favor only the rich. We know this is true because the sloganeering and the placards held up high within the masses of tens of thousands of people tell this story for the whole world to see.

The elites of capitalism have only themselves to blame for igniting the flames of dissent, which have manifest as the result of a combination of events that have accumulated these past years, like the “perfect storm” bringing on protests from Montreal-to-Beijing-to-Mumbai-to-Moscow-to-Paris-to-Santiago-to-NYC. The antecedents to this war are:

Worldwide trade agreements, like NAFTA, favoring corporate profit at the expense of labor and environmental integrity, and this same formula is found within all worldwide trade pacts. The World Trade Organization (”WTO”), the pre-eminent trade organization, is accused of widening the social gap between rich and poor by promoting globalization at the expense of labor’s rights. American workers recognize this as the outsourcing of good paying jobs from America to low wage countries with loose labor codes that embody circa 19th century labor standards whilst operating in the 21st.

According to Russell Mokhiber and Robert Weissman in Top 10 Reasons to Shutter the WTO, Mother Jones, Nov. 1999, “Commercialism trumps human rights, democracy, the environment, and labor, while communities and developing nations get the shaft.” They claim the WTO’s elitists’ promotions facilitate global commerce for multinational wealthy interests at the expense of efforts to promote local economic development and policies that move communities, countries, and regions in the direction of greater self-reliance. Thus, fragmenting and dispersing the framework of communities or countries that otherwise constitute a source of internal development. For example, infant domestic industries in developing countries are crushed by multinationals, causing massive social dislocation of millions of workers who have no safety net.

It is no secret amongst protestors of the WTO that the elites, by undercutting labor and disregarding environmental concerns, as well as cavalierly co-opting the sanctity of local economic development, utilize the WTO as a platform to further ‘globalization’ purely to the benefit of multinational corporate elites. Jack Welch, the former CEO of General Electric, speaks for the multinationals when he says, “Ideally, you’d have every plant you own on a barge.” The barge could be moved to whichever country happens to have the cheapest labor (A Dirty History of Discrimination and Ignorance, Amanda Wilson, ATLIS-Atlantic International Studies Organization.)

WTO demonstrations have become such a regular feature at WTO meetings that they should be listed on the official WTO program of events, and combined with today’s elitist’s greed, corruption, and chicanery amongst Wall Street, politicians, and commercial bankers, the long-standing issues surrounding the WTO add fuel to the raging fires… connecting the dots of ‘informed’ dissent.

Connecting the dots became much easier with the Granddaddy of All Financial Ineptitude and Corruption, the biggest-ever corporate heist, resulting in the 2007-08 worldwide financial meltdown, connecting huge dots for all to see, glaringly exposing the whole enchilada, other than the mystery of why nobody has gone to jail (see: “Coup of the Elites”, CounterPunch, June 26, 2012.) Arguably, this monumental debacle has served as the catalyst for capitalism’s boundless war. At the end of the day, this brutal take down of the entire world economy may be the demise of capitalism because it is breaking down the financial/economic system like never before. Otherwise, the final arbiters of financial order and stability, the world’s Central Bankers, would not be scrambling month-after-month, injecting trillions into banking liquidity, buying sovereign debt, propping up this monstrous on-going disaster, like the Lernaean Hydra of Greek mythology, as soon as one head is lopped off, another two appears, as one country is poisoned by insolvency followed by another. And, it is the average taxpayer who supports, and pays for, the errors and malfeasance of the elite who profited so handsomely on the backs of innocent citizenry from Sydney westward to Fairbanks.

The Great Heist of 2007-08 is the culmination of corporate hubris, previewed a decade earlier, when Enron, which company was a major part of George Bush’s political career, and a company with few tangible assets, learned how to ‘cook the books’ because of political liberalization, via contacts in the right places, allowing companies to operate in countries previously forbidden, thus, adding to the complexity of their operations, and they used financial derivatives to manage risk but actually as an effective tool to obscure their corrupted financial results. This is a continuing problem to this day; for example, JP Morgan Chase recently reported losses of $2 billion, but oops… no wait a minute, maybe it’s $30 billion. Even the bankers are not sure of their true gains or losses with the complexity of modern-day financial instruments. Isn’t it obvious that incalculable financial manias should not be part of commercial banking, the reservoirs of public savings, but this is only a portion of the games elites play with the public’s money. What is the hapless public to think when a former governor and a former U.S. Senator, a figure of pubic trust, like Jon Corzine of MF Global testifies before Congress, Dec. 2011, he does not know where the hundreds of millions of customer’s money in MF Global disappeared to… huh… he was CEO?

One after another, whenever or wherever an opening occurs to ‘game the system’ the elite have jumped at the opportunity, including paid-for political influence to skew tax laws in favor of the rich at the expense of average taxpayers who shoulder the burden of a national debt that is overly inflated because of fancy tax laws the allow leading figureheads in society, like Mitt Romney, to pay a tax of only 15%, a lower rate than paid by his garbage collector.

It is always the average person, the average taxpayer, who shoulders the burden whenever corporate malfeasance surfaces to trash national economies, as in Europe today where public employee and general worker benefits have been crucified by austerity measures (dictated by the IMF, World Bank, and EU) to heal battered national treasuries as if an epidemic of old, like the Black Death, swept across the countryside, ravaging lives. It is no wonder people of all stripes, like doctors, lawyers, truck drivers, and teachers take to the streets. They are being sacrificed on an altar of corporate malfeasance and corruption whilst accumulation of wealth is seen as an exclusive club reserved for only those who are already rich, similar to Louis XVI’s reign in 18th century France.

The world is getting a taste of history, of what it was like in the late 18thcentury, a few years before the French Revolution burst lose on the scene, beheading one aristocrat after another, as quickly as they could gather them up, simply because they were rich, but there were obviously deeper meanings behind this slaughter. For example, France’s national treasury was empty as a result of empire building and foreign wars, and this was aggravated by nasty disagreement over reform of the taxation system, which was grossly inequitable, leading to paralysis, and an agrarian crisis with food shortages, an ambitious bourgeoisie allied with aggrieved peasants and wage-earners influenced by enlightenment ideals, and years of pent-up resentment of a dying seigniorial system.

In the end, it was the people in the streets of Paris that served as the spark that led to outright rebellion and death at the hand of dreadful black-hooded executioners in the public square, the Place de la Révolution. The guillotine was most active during the “Reign of Terror“, in the summer of 1794, when, in a single month, more than 1,300 people (over 40 daily) were executed.

The lesson of history, which bewilderingly continues to repeat itself, is: The people in the streets ultimately determine the fate of incorrigible governments that are embedded with unscrupulous sources of financial power. These scenarios never end on a sanguine note but often times end in a sanguinary manner.

Robert Hunziker (MA, economic history, DePaul University) is a freelance writer and environmental journalist whose articles have been translated into foreign languages and appeared in over 50 journals, magazines, and sites worldwide, like Z magazine, European Project on Ocean Acidification, Ecosocialism Canada, Climate Himalaya, Counterpunch, Dissident Voice, Comite Valmy, and UK Progressive. He has been interviewed about climate change on Pacifica Radio, KPFK, FM90.7, Indymedia On Air and World View Show/UK. He can be contacted at: rlhunziker@gmail.com. Read other articles by Robert.