Monday, February 27, 2017

Global Tyranny (2000)

Book Review from the May 2000 issue of the Socialist Standard

Your Money or Your Life! the Tyranny of Global Finance by Eric Toussaint, translated by Raghu Krishnan, Pluto Press, 1999.

This is a potentially useful resource for socialists' campaign of educating the working class about how they are being exploited. It provides an analysis of the "globalisation of capital", and how this has enabled the largest industrial groups and financial investors to operate "with the least possible number of restrictions as far as labour laws and social conventions were concerned". Toussaint provides a useful introduction in which he outlines his 45 "theses" which are enlarged upon in the body of the text. These cover the workings and the consequences of the process from "1: massive impoverishment on a global scale" through to 42: "globalisation hastening environmental decline", and conclude with the need for alternatives, in particular 44: "satisfying human needs" and 45: "rethinking a project for emancipation".

Of course, much has already been written on such matters as Third World Debt, the role of financial institutions including the World Bank and the IMF, and the human suffering resulting from unfair trade and Structural Adjustment Programmes. But this book is a less irritating read for socialists because it uses the language of the class struggle, for example, in thesis 43 referring to "the global offensive of capital against labour", and in 26 stating that the repayment of foreign and domestic debt "has been a tremendous mechanism for transferring the [surplus] wealth created by the workers to capitalists". Toussaint evidently considers himself to be a socialist, dedicating the book to Ernest Mandel and sharing Marx's belief that "the emancipation of the oppressed can only be achieved by the oppressed themselves".

However, there are errors in the book in terms of the socialist analysis of capitalism. For example, Toussaint refers to debt repayments coming out of tax revenues, "which largely come from working people". This is odd given that in the Glossary he defines surplus value as "what remains of the social product once the reproduction of the workforce is assured and its maintenance costs covered". Logically these subsistence costs must be the money actually received by the workers, hence net of tax, and so tax revenues must, in effect, come from the capitalists' share of the spoils. A much more serious error lies in the kind of solution Toussaint proposes. He lists alternatives to the current situation headed by reforms to the handling of Third World Debt. He asserts that the "tyranny" of financial markets can be "disciplined", "if governments decide to do so". He puts his faith in "the wealth of social movements" succeeding in resisting globalisation. How can Toussaint reconcile this trust in reformist measures which only capitalists or their state servants can bring about with his recognition of the unavoidable responsibility of the oppressed for their own emancipation?

One welcome theme of the book is Toussaint's account of the effects of globalisation on the environment. In particular, he recognises that the so-called "Green Revolution" was "carried out to the detriment of communal lands, has led to severe impoverishment of biodiversity, an increase in plant diseases and soil exhaustion". He cites the well-known environmental and social activist Vandana Shiva as seeing that, far from saving India from famine, as is claimed by the World Bank, the Green Revolution was "part of the plunder and exploitation of the peasantry for the benefit of trade and industry". In a socialist society the traditional knowledge and expertise held by small communities will be respected, especially where this relates to local ecology and sustainable systems of land use, and hence priority given to local decision-making over whatever has to be delegated to wider regional or global democratic control.

How much more interesting it is looking forward to the future socialist society than indulging in wishful thinking about how the current economy might be reformed to mitigate its worst effects. However, to be fair to Toussaint, he devotes only ten per cent of the pages of his book to these alternatives, and damns capitalism so powerfully in the rest, that it may be that he intends the reader to draw their own conclusion: that the only solution is to scrap it altogether.
Chris Marsh

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