This is necrocapitalism!
I want to ask a simple question: if some contemporary capitalist practices lead to dispossession, marginalization and death of certain populations, then what venues of resistance are available to communities engaged in livelihood struggles? The answers (if indeed there are any), as tend to be the case for most simple questions, are complex, challenging, sometimes paradoxical, at other times troublingly violent, perhaps even impossible. But not attempting to imagine other worlds is a greater failure of the imagination than accepting the fact that while the current system is not perfect, it “works” and can be “fixed.” I want to show for whom the system works, who and what is being fixed, who does the fixing and the consequences of this fixing.
The concept of necrocapitalism
I developed the concept of necrocapitalism drawing on the works of Giorgio Agamben, Achille Mbembe and Michel Foucault’s notions of sovereignty and biopower. While acknowledging the existence of difference types of capitalisms in today’s political economy, I define necrocapitalism as specific capitalist practices of modes of organizational accumulation that involve dispossession, death, torture, suicide, slavery, destruction of livelihoods and the general organization and management of violence. Accumulation by dispossession has been described by David Harvey as the “New Imperialism” that characterizes the contemporary neoliberal political economy, which bears a striking resemblance to Marx’s description of primitive accumulation that preceded industrial capitalism.
The state played a crucial role both in the development of primitive accumulation and its transformation to industrial capitalism. From the days of the British Empire, where the East India Company conquered territories, pillaged lands, enslaved populations and set up colonial outposts to serve king and country, to the emergence of the modern sovereign nation-state and its organizational accumulator, the transnational corporation, military strength was always an enabling factor of the accumulation process. In the postcolonial era, the nation-state as the only legitimate purveyor of violence continues to play a key role in the accumulation process. However, the lines between state authority and market authority are not clearly defined: powerful market actors like transnational corporations often have their own “police” or use private militias to “protect” their assets in the Third World. Private military forces were used by the United States government during both invasions of Iraq, and in the current occupation of Iraq private military contractors outnumber military forces of all allied forces with the exception of the United States.
Old patterns of imperialism can be seen in the dominance of neoliberal policies in today’s global political economy. Transnational corporations often wield power over Third World countries through their enticements of foreign investment and their threats to withhold or relocate their investments. In return for foreign investments and jobs, corporations are able to extract from impoverished and often corrupt Third World governments tax concessions, energy and water subsidies, minimal environmental legislation, minerals and natural resources, a compliant labor force and the creation of Special Economic Zones (SEZ) which are essentially states of exception where the law is suspended in order for the business of economic extraction to continue. Thus, rather than marking the death of the nation-state as some theorists of globalization like to argue, the global economy is premised precisely on a system of nation-states. Neoliberal globalization can be seen as a marker for the final hegemonic triumph of the state mode of production. The nation-state then is a fundamental building block of globalization, in the working of transnational corporations, in the setting-up of a global financial system, in the institution of policies that determine the mobility of labor, and in the creation of the multi-state institutions such as the UN, IMF, World Bank, NAFTA and WTO. The unprecedented scale of government intervention in response to the global financial crisis in Europe, North America, Asia and Australia has been such that neoconservative circles have invoked the specter of socialism and the fears of the emergence of a state-run economy. Whether the financial crisis is indeed a reflection of the crisis in capitalism that could result in long-term re-engagement of the state in economic production or whether it will be business as usual remains to be seen, especially now that Germany, France and the United States appear to be coming out of recession.
Imperial formations in the contemporary political economy are more “efficient” in the sense that formal colonies no longer need to be governed. Imperialism has learned to manage things better by using the elites of the former colonies to do the governing, and the structural power of supranational institutions like the World Trade Organization, World Bank and International Monetary Fund and markets to do much of the imperial work. I will describe three modes of management that enable accumulation by dispossession: management by extraction, management by exclusion and management by expulsion.
Management by extraction
Management by extraction arises from the endowment curse and is an all too familiar discourse for millions of people in the Third World living under the oil curse and the minerals curse. Extraction of oil and minerals in many parts of the world is almost always accompanied by violence, environmental destruction, dispossession and death. Transnational oil companies, governments, private security forces are all key actors in these zones of violence and the communities most affected by this violence are forced to give up their sovereignty, autonomy and tradition in exchange for modernity and economic development which continues to elude them. Shell in Nigeria, Chevron in Ecuador, Rio Tinto in Papua, Barrick in Peru and Argentina, Newmont Mining in Peru, Vedanta Resources in India and the Zapatista uprising in Chiapas, Mexico are but a few of the more well-publicized cases of the “endowment curse.” Zapatista leaders responded to the Mexican government’s offer of conditional pardon with the following letter, entitled “Who must ask for pardon and who can grant it?”
Why do we have to be pardoned? What are we going to be pardoned for? Of not dying of hunger? Of not being silent in our misery? Of not humbly accepting our historic role of being the despised and the outcast? Of having demonstrated to the rest of the country and to the entire world that human dignity still lives, even among some of the world’s poorest peoples? Thus, international finance and infrastructure is a key requirement for “development” to occur in “underdeveloped” areas, of which governments must demonstrate “effective control and security,” which means certain communities need to be “eliminated.” This is necrocapitalism.
Management by exclusion
Management by exclusion arises from the democracy curse and is another practice that is commonly used to govern the political economy. During the negotiations leading up to the Kyoto protocol, one of the tasks allocated to a policy group was to develop a global forest policy that would develop forestry management and reforestation policies to offset greenhouse gas emissions. Conscious of the fall out from the riots that accompanied the 1999 World Trade Organization meetings in Seattle and similar riots at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Genoa and Melbourne, the organizers were careful to be seen to be inclusive and invited green groups, unions, community organizations, apart from corporations, policy makers and scientists. For Indigenous people who inhabit the region, forests are not just carbon sinks – forests are their food, livelihood, source of medicine, housing, culture, society, polity and economy. Global trade and environmental policies are often made without taking into account the violence and dispossession of Indigenous communities that result from these policies. It becomes meaningless to debate issues of forest rights when there are no forests left. Dispossession of local communities also highlights the failure of both the market and the state where “citizens” of democratic states do not have the right to determine their future. This is necrocapitalism.
Management by expulsion
Management by expulsion arises from the development curse involving forceful expulsion of Indigenous populations to make way for infrastructure and energy projects. Economic “reforms” and structural adjustment policies dictated by supranational institutions like the World Trade Organization, World Bank and International Monetary Fund often result in dispossession of local communities through expulsion. For instance, agricultural “reforms” and trade liberalization (agriculture is “liberalized” in the Third World and protected in the First World) have been directly linked to a 260% increase in the suicide rates of farmers in India. One young farmer whose father committed suicide after facing mounting debts had this to say to the visiting psychiatrists: “You came here and asked us many questions and gave us many answers. Don’t drink you said. Don’t beat your wife. Do yoga to handle stress. You never asked this one question: Why are farmers of this country who place food on the nation’s table starving?”
Joseph Stiglitz, former Vice President of the World Bank, once the blue-eyed boy of the neoliberal establishment and now a traitor to their cause, commented that the bank’s economic development policies “did manage to tighten the belts of the poor as we loosened those on the rich.” This is necrocapitalism.
Subhabrata Bobby Banerjee
is Professor of Management and Associate Dean of Research at the College of Business, University of Western Sydney, Australia.
Dieser Text erschien zuerst in Reartikulacija no 9. 2009 und ist Teil 3 einer Kulturrisse-Kooperation mit der Zeitschrift Reartikulacija.