Last night I heard a public conversation between the Marxist Geographer David Harvey and Alexander Cockburn the editor of CounterPunch and columnist with The Nation. The conversation titled, ‘The End or Future of Capitalism’ was hosted by The Center for Place, Culture & Politics. Cockburn opened the conversation by speaking about the lack of vision in the Left. Harvey argued that the capitalist system was facing tremendous stress and that a different path of economic development had to be envisioned. Harvey continued on the end of capitalism as one needing analysis in terms of how this crisis arose with the problem of accumulation and realization of surplus, and poses the question of what is to be done? Central to Harvey’s argument is that the mounting stress seen at the centre of the capitalist system in the last three decades is the culmination of the inability to sustain the two and a half percent compounded accumulation that has been a characteristic of global capital over the last couple hundred years. That the capitalist system is unable to find productive investments for the two and a half percent accumulation rate leading to repetitious and aggravating crises in the unproductive bubbles in financial assets.
I stood in line when the floor was open, but much to my disappointment the moderator had brought the conversation to an end before I could ask my question, and so I am going to ask it here. Both Harvey and Cockburn talked about the urgency of the moment and the need for provocative questions from the Left. But what is the more urgent question to ask at this moment? Is it the end or future of capitalism? Or is it the end or future of the American Empire? The two may well be related and even two sides of the same coin, but the question for me is influenced by the urgency of the situation in our region; the war in Afghanistan and Pakistan. The relatedness of the two questions also leads me to ask what would be the consequence of the tremendous stress at the centre of the capitalist system on the wars fought at the periphery of Empire? And in turn, what is the impact of the tremendous stress of the wars on the periphery for the hegemonic centre of the capitalist system?
Harvey mentioned the lunacy of the financial bailout package of $700 billion that was pushed through with a three page proposal by Treasury Secretary Paulson last year and approved with little questioning by much of Congress and for that matter by Obama. Harvey characterized it as a financial coup by Wall Street, evident of the relationship between class power and state power in the US. And as I thought of my question about the American empire, there is an eerie similarity with the lunacy of the decision on the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, with the massive destruction and massacre of the hundreds of the thousands. The Congressional Research Service puts the financial cost as follows: “Congress has approved a total of about $864 billion for military operations, base security, reconstruction, foreign aid, embassy costs, and veterans’ health care for the three operations initiated since the 9/11 attacks: Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF) Afghanistan and other counter terror operations; Operation Noble Eagle (ONE), providing enhanced security at military bases; and Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF).”
What seems to be the madness of such decisions whether they be in relation to finance capital or the military establishment, ultimately relate to state power in the US. An interesting article in the Nation recently talks about the increasing militarization of US foreign policy and development aid. If Wall Street has set the destructive course for capitalism the Pentagon is competing to chart the corresponding course for Empire.
The urgency of the daily deaths and destruction in the escalation of war in Afghanistan and Pakistan, will see another discussion titled ‘Ending Obama’s War’ initiated by the South Asia Solidarity Initiative (SASI) which I am a member of and co-hosted by The Centre for Place Culture and Politics at the very same auditorium of last night’s public conversation. ‘Ending Obama’s War’ will be held on Oct 7th, the eighth anniversary of the beginning of the war in Afghanistan. Some may question the characterization of ‘Obama’s War’ and for them I would point to Obama’s policy statement on March 27th.
Code Pink has put out a video on Barbara Lee, the only voice to oppose the vote in both chambers of Congress (98-0 and 420-1) on authorization for use of military force in Afghanistan in September 2001. Not only is this symptomatic of the fragility of dissent in the US, it is reflective of the depth of the Bush Regime’s “war on terror” which will outlast the of end Obama’s war, unless there is a rethinking in the United States with perhaps a reversal of the votes in Congress, where only one vote is against ending the use of military force in Afghanistan!
Harvey in his talk dismissed the rhetoric of “re-regulation” and the need to think of abolishing the financial practices and the derivative markets that have aggravated the global financial crisis. There might be a parallel to the war discourse in the US today, which is in the realm of re-calibrating military operations, about increasing or decreasing troops and not about abolishing war. There are increasing calls from the Left in the US for full withdrawal from Afghanistan and to allow regional diplomacy to address the situation, but as to whether the American Leviathan or the Pentagon will allow that as much as Wall Street will accept abolishing finance capital’s ponzi schemes pose a fundamental challenge to the people of the United States. And indeed, the possibilities of regional diplomacy as an alternative to the wars and militarisation in South Asia are also contingent on the problems that emerge out of improving US-India relations.
Code Pink replays Barbara Lee’s intervention in the courageous No vote: “as we act let us not become the evil that we deplore”. And at home in Sri Lanka, where the recent discourse has been about the victory in the local “war on terror”, that has indeed become the case where the “terror” that was deplored, seems to have been taken over from the Tigers to become the motivating theme of the Rajapaksa Regime. And this weekend as Lankan dissenters remember the political activist Rajani Thiranagama slain twenty years ago by the LTTE, Nandita Haksar is to speak on ‘Resistance and the Politics of Fear’. All this to say, that as we oppose Empire, we must also oppose the repressive politics of local states and reactionary non-state forces. That would be a return to the people-centred politics in solidarity with the peoples in Empire’s periphery ravaged by the manoeuvrings of the financial and military establishments at the centre of Empire.