Demagoguery and Realism

The Crisis of Capitalism

Demagoguery and Realism

Santiago Alba Rico – Rebelión

Translation: Machetera

The same day that the U.N.’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) reported that almost a billion human beings are affected by hunger and that the aid necessary to save their lives would cost $30 billion dollars, six central banks (United States, Japan, Canada, England and Switzerland) injected $180 billion dollars in the financial markets in a concerted action to save the private banks.

In the face of data such as this, there are only two possible alternatives: that we be demogogues or that we be realists.  If I invoke the natural law of supply and demand and say that there is much more worldwide demand for bread than for cosmetic surgery and much more for remedies against malaria than for haute couture clothing (and still more for housing than for mortgage loans); if I call for a Kantian referendum that would ask European citizens whether they would prefer that the monetary reserves of their country go to saving lives or to saving banks, without a doubt, I’m being a demagogue.  If, against reason and ethics, I accept that it is more urgent, more necessary, more convenient, more effective, more beneficial to mankind, to stop the ruin of an insurer and the bankruptcy of a banking institution than to feed thousands of children, provide relief to hurricane victims or cure dengue fever, then I am being realistic. There’s not a sliver of irony in my words.  That’s how things are: a true circle that is not allowed to be tested is demagoguery; a sharply pointed monstrosity that has no allowable alternative is realistic.  To have a lot or to have a little – or even to have only the desire of having something – one must put aside all the true circles and accept all the sharp points.  The organized minority that runs capitalism – the ministers, bankers, multinational executives, brokers and financial journalists – can invoke Hayek with arrogance during boom times and demand the state’s intervention with aplomb when a crash is imminent, because it knows that its impunity is proportional to our dependency.  For this reason – we must admit it – European citizens called to a hypothetical Kantian referendum (the bank, or life) would doubtless respond realistically, in favor of the banks, conscious of everything they mean to us – from our lovers’ embraces, to the smiles of our children – the concession is theirs.  The organized minority that governs us has taken humanity hostage and, if we do not come to the aid of the kidnappers, they may now kill us all.

For a captive humanity, it’s realistic to cede to blackmail and put truth, compassion, sensibility and solidarity aside.  A system that, when things are going well, kills a billion people by hunger, and when it’s going badly may do away with the rest, is not only an immoral system, but an economic failure.  In this sense, the journalist Iñaki Gabilondo is right, and it’s good, practically revolutionary, that many people listen to him.*  But it’s wrong to evoke the fall of the Berlin Wall, however rhetorically effective it might be, because if capitalism had anything to do with the defeat of the Soviet Union, it cannot also be said that the (already vanished) Soviet Union has anything to do with the capitalist agony.  Capitalism simply doesn’t work.

There’s something beautiful, moving and pioneering in the fact that six powerful states should have come together in a concerted action to intervene massively in the economy: that’s what you call “a plan.”  In Marx’s time, capitalism was only “an exception in certain parts of the planet” and if it has come to cover the earth’s surface, it’s been thanks to a permanent state intervention, an uninterrupted “plan” that has combined and recombined evictions from the land, armed actions, protectionist measures, coup d’etats and international agreements.  Never before throughout history has an economic experiment had such powerful means or favorable conditions at its disposal to demonstrate its superiority.  In the last sixty years, the organized minority that runs global capitalism has been seen to be supported, on an unprecedented scale, by an entire series of international institutions (the IMF, the World Bank, the WTO, the G-8, etc.) which have freely interpreted, and against all obstacles, applied the policies of liberalization and privatization to the worldwide economy.  After 200 years of free existence, supported, defended, sustained by all the earth’s powers and institutions, this is where this homicidal piece of junk has led us: a billion people dying of hunger and, if we don’t run and help those responsible, the rest of us may end up being buried with the poorest, after we’ve killed each other.

It seems then, that planning to save banks and insurers doesn’t work.  And planning to save lives?  This we still haven’t tested.  Capitalism and socialism do not challenge one another in parallel worlds or under equal conditions, each in a pure, disinfected laboratory.  Rather, socialism was born against historic capitalism, as a defense against it, and it has never failed because it has never had the means nor the support to prove itself as a model.  The little that we can intuit at present is more hopeful: following a similar history of colonialism and underdevelopment, socialism has done much more for Cuba than capitalism has done for Haiti or the Congo.  When one speaks of “socialism in only one country” this is to forget that “capitalism in only one country” is equally impossible and therefore a muscular international organization capable of penetrating all corners and all relationships has been created.  What would happen if the United Nations should decide to apply its charter for human and social rights?  If the FAO were run by a socialist Cuban?  If the model for international trade were ALBA and not the WTO?  If the Banco del Sur were as powerful as the IMF?  If all international institutions were to impose structural adjustment programs on unruly capitalists, aimed at increasing public spending, nationalizing public resources and protecting social and labor rights?  If six central banks for powerful states were to massively intervene to guarantee the advantages of socialism, threatened by a hurricane?  We might say that the organized minority that runs capitalism would not allow it, but we can’t say that it wouldn’t work.

Cuba is the only country in the world where, even after a hurricane destroyed 15% of its housing, realism continues to mean the saving of lives and demagoguery means stealing food from a brother.  In the United States when the same hurricane passed through, realism meant the Texas Attorney General mounting an operation to protect victims of the catastrophe from exposure to sex offenders, while asking the government for economic aid was demagoguery.  Now Iñaki Gabilondo has said it to millions of Spaniards who believed it to be eternal and natural: planning to save banks doesn’t work.  And planning to save lives?  It’s the only way for realism to cease to be criminal, and for truth, compassion and solidarity to cease to be demagoguery.

* On September 18, 2008, Spain’s El Plural, which bills itself as a “progressive digital periodical” quoted Iñaki Gabilondo, a star television anchorman in Spain with an affinity for the ruling Socialist Worker’s Party (PSOE) and capitalism as saying: “The current economic model has failed.”

“The financial jitters will not stop.  Public actions to rescue the market are taking place, but the markets are a madhouse, mistrust has taken root in the system.  In these circumstances, it’s ridiculous to continue believing that we’re facing a rough patch, that it will end and that we’ll return – somewhat bruised – to the prior situation.  Such a thing is impossible, to start with, because when one comes out of the tunnel one is never in the place where one entered, but rather in a different place, and for another, because the current economic model has failed,” said Iñaki Gabilondo yesterday, in a report presented on Channel Four.

The prestigious journalist also wondered “if there could be any greater failure of liberalism than the nationalizations of these financial giants, in the United States itself.”  The answer could not be more blunt: “It’s collapsing just as communism collapsed in 1989.  Bear Stearns, Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, AIG, are like chunks out of the Berlin Wall of liberalism.”

“Here in Spain, the President of the CEOE [Confederation of Employers and Industries of Spain] has said – tenaciously – that “a bracket should be inserted in the free market economy.”  Yes, you heard right.  At the end of the day, we’re at the end of a trajectory, we don’t give the proper importance to the symptoms that herald the madness, the bursting of the tech bubble in 2000, the Enron case.  Speculation, smoke, greed…the dominant thinking, infinite growth, is not within the laws of reality, nor those of physics, but it is the primary dogma of our economy.  Well, it’s finished, so now it doesn’t matter so much when we get out of the tunnel, but where we’ll be and where we’ll have to go.  This crisis is much more than economics and it can’t be enclosed in brackets in order to go backwards,” concluded Gabilondo.

Machetera is a member of Tlaxcala, the network of translators for linguistic diversity. This translation may be reprinted as long as the content remains unaltered, and the source, author, and translator are cited.

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