WE MAY BE MOVING TOWARDS A POST-NEOLIBERAL ERA, BUT MOVING AWAY FROM CAPITALISM WITH ITS MYRIAD HUMAN RIGHTS VIOLATIONS IS MUCH ANOTHER THING.

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Food for an exhausted thought

 

Human Rights Reader 355

 

  1. An era can be said to end when its basic aspirations and illusions are exhausted. (Arthur Miller) Take neoliberalism: Disenchantment with neoliberalism as an ideal has grown to a dangerous (or hopeful?) point.*  (J.C. Juncker)

*: I read somewhere that for people these days it is easier to imagine the end of the world than the end of Capitalism. (Albino Gomez)

 

  1. Neoliberalism has not just been a set of bad attitudes. It has been the unrestrained exercise of corporate power with its human rights (HR) violations, taking advantage of the working class’s lethargy.**

(W. Podmore)

**: Capitalism does not only generate capital; it also creates a working class kept content with an unjust system they are made to believe to be natural. (N. Shepper)

 

  1. You see? In our world, transnational corporations (TNCs) have rights backed by hard laws (treaties, free trade agreements, bilateral investment treaties…)*** and strong enforcement mechanisms; they can sue states even beyond national jurisdiction. But TNCs obligations are backed only by soft laws, codes of conduct and voluntary guidelines, deprived of any enforcement mechanism; the HR situation is no exception. Above all, it is weak and poor states that suffer most from this situation. Only powerful states are able to regulate and control the activities of TNCs and hold them responsible for the damage they do and the HR violations they perpetrate; but most other states are not able to do so. (M. Khor)

***: For instance, the latest WTO Bali deal is ultimately ‘a battle between food for the poor and trade for the rich’. (R. Sengupta)

 

  1. So, perhaps more than rhetorically, are we rushing forward to the past, to the times of Queen Victoria, when an obscure German philosopher and economist by the name of Karl Marx was working in the British Library in London on his denunciation of exploitation, and preparing his Communist Manifesto? (R. Savio)

 

Neoliberalism is but a moment in the history of capitalism

 

  1. Neoliberalism has done away with many State functions; it has not destroyed the State, but has put it at the service of the neoliberal project, the capitalist project. Capitalism has existed and exists as an economic, political, cultural and military hegemonic power.

 

  1. How we relate to the essence of capitalism actually also leads to quite serious consequences for our environment. From a theoretical point of view, the reason is that the rate of reproduction of capital is very different from the rate of reproduction of nature and, as the injection of capital imposes its own rhythm, not surprisingly, it is destroying nature.****

****: Who will forgive us if we let the planet die while we just bare witness? (J. Koenig)

 

  1. For capitalism, nature is a source of ‘natural resources’, i.e., capitalism commoditizes the planet because, if natural resources are not dealt as commodities, they cannot contribute to making a profit and to the accumulation of capital.

 

  1. This fact calls for a thorough revision of the capitalist model so as to serve particularly urgent ecological and social demands. Instead, the tinkering we have seen is short term, i.e., applying social policies largely of the welfare type, such as subsidies and other. This may (have) allow(ed) poor people to escape from misery, but not become the active social subjects they need to become –perhaps, at best, just the system’s customers. (F. Houtart)

 

  1. In this, believing in a utopia is very necessary to aim at our human rights (HR) goal –not in the sense of an unreachable illusion, but in the sense of something that we do not have today, but that we could have tomorrow. It is thus worth fighting for this utopia, at the same time being specific and concrete.

 

  1. The principle is that we should leave a system that concentrates real power in a few hands –a system where it is the individual that prevails over the common good and over the rights of others. There is nothing less democratic than the monopoly capitalism that characterizes the current economy, with its domination over the political organization of nations and of international agencies.

 

  1. As a matter of principle, also sport, culture, religion and other areas of the human endeavor will have to introduce democratic processes in its respective structures. Developing these democratic processes everywhere is a very important immediate step (for example fostering participatory, direct democracy) and also a longer-term step (e.g., reforming the United Nations). Just be reminded that the Security Council, the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund are very undemocratic with the right to pass resolutions or to veto vested in only a handful of world powers.

 

As the Mayan Indians in southern Chiapas say: “Human beings are the consciousness bearers of nature”.

 

  1. Capitalism tends to impose a single culture, a single lingua franca, a way of consuming, of eating, of dressing …all as a function of submission to the law of value. It is all about imposing a dominant culture that has undoubtedly contributed much to mankind, but that was ultimately absorbed by the very logic of capitalism, i.e., as an instrument for its global dissemination leading to its hegemony.

 

  1. There already exist in the world thousands of initiatives, both advocating for the respect for nature, as well as for a social/non-individualistic and more solidary economy and for the defense of HR and of fairer democratic mechanisms. These initiatives do indeed exists, but are still very scattered. The problem is how to bring all these forces together to a joint political project aimed at arriving at a stronger correlation of forces in the struggle to transform ingrained practices and economic and political structures.

 

  1. From the end of the 1970s, capitalism regained momentum launching the era of neoliberalism that further imposed its values and gradually chipped away at the achievements of past social struggles thus resulting also in the weakening of social organizations (trade unions in particular).

 

  1. History teaches us that capitalism is fierce and vicious when it can, and ‘civilized’ when it must. The economic logic of the system requires it to adapt whenever the accumulation process is affected. This is why, in the second decade of the 2000s, global capitalism is trying to go ‘green’. Before that, ecological aspects were simply considered externalities, i.e., they did not enter in the calculations the market made. Consequently, damage to nature was not paid by capital, but by the people and nations. The same applies to the severe social damage that has been done.

 

  1. It is not enough to only regulate capitalism; we must impose a new paradigm of collective organization of humanity on this planet. This is neither an easy process, nor is it short term.

 

  1. HR ethics and politics, in the sense of being social constructs, do not fall from the sky, but must be built from the bottom. It is about establishing rules that allow the construction, production, reproduction and the improvement of life on the planet with dignity, justice and social responsibility.

 

  1. Introducing the ethical and political dimensions in the organization of the economy is also a requirement of the processes of change needed, starting as early as during the period of transition towards the new paradigm.

 

  1. Social structures do not change by themselves. It is social actors who build permanent social structures clearly influencing what existed before. It is us humans who build our societies, and this is why we speak of a ‘new wo/man’, of the need to transform human consciousness to be able to build new social relationships firmly anchored in HR.

 

  1. What is today called ‘the decolonization of our values’ pertains not only to our economic or political, but our mental decolonization. Capitalism has had a huge role in the colonization of our minds, influencing the type of consumption and the desire of large majorities of the population of the world to have a type of consumption as the one the United States has.

 

  1. Bottom line: There are no road problems to get to Rome; there is a need of a different Rome. (All the above quoting the late Andres Carrasco)

 

Claudio Schuftan, Ho ChiMinh City

cschuftan@phmovement.org

 

Postscript/Marginalia

-Capitalism is not a dirty word. It is a dirty system. (A. Katz)

-Capitalism systematically brings about violence which it then must combat through repression. Since violence is a constant feature of capitalism, the need for a police apparatus arises to control it. As a result, we end up adding State violence to social violence. (A. Badiou)

 

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