June 2, 2014.
Around the world, calls for national autonomy have grown. Minorities are blamed but the real culprit is neoliberalism
The night in 2002 when Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva won his landslide victory in Brazil's presidential elections, he warned supporters: "So far, it has been easy. The hard part begins now." He wasn't wrong. As head of the leftwing Workers' party he was elected on a platform of fighting poverty and redistributing wealth. A year earlier, the party had produced a document, Another Brazil is Possible, laying out its electoral programme. In a section entitled "The Necessary Rupture", it argued: "Regarding the foreign debt, now predominantly private, it will be necessary to denounce the agreement with the IMF, in order to free the economic policy from the restrictions imposed on growth and on the defence of Brazilian commercial interests."Read the rest here.
But on the way to Lula's inauguration the invisible hand of the market tore up his electoral promises and boxed the country around the ears for its reckless democratic choice. In the three months between his winning and being sworn in, the currency plummeted by 30%, $6bn in hot money left the country, and some agencies gave Brazil the highest debt-risk ratings in the world. "We are in government but not in power," said Lula's close aide, Dominican friar Frei Betto. "Power today is global power, the power of the big companies, the power of financial capital."
The limited ability of national governments to pursue any agenda that has not first been endorsed by international capital and its proxies is no longer simply the cross they have to bear; it is the cross to which we have all been nailed. The nation state is the primary democratic entity that remains. But given the scale of neoliberal globalisation it is clearly no longer up to that task.
"By many measures, corporations are more central players in global affairs than nations," writes Benjamin Barber in Jihad vs McWorld. "We call them multinational but they are more accurately understood as postnational, transnational or even anti-national. For they abjure the very idea of nations or any other parochialism that limits them in time or space."
This contradiction is not new. Indeed, it is precisely because it has continued, challenged but virtually unchecked, for more than a generation, that political cynicism has intensified.
"The crisis consists precisely in the fact that the old is dying and the new cannot be born," argued the Italian Marxist Antonio Gramsci. "In this interregnum a great variety of morbid symptoms appear."
*****Comment: One of the "morbid symptoms" is the growing anti-immigrant sentiments in the West which essentially is a function of a long-standing system of race, class and gender privilege(s).
The loss of jobs and the crumbling economies in many of these countries are often seen as an encroachment of privileges instead of an exacting neo-liberal global marketplace where jobs and capital flow in the direction of profitability.
And so as Younge points out there is the accompanying nationalist anxiety to retrieve and protect the heritage of days past - read this as nationalist action towards kicking out undesirables and tightening border influx controls.
But like Younge says all of this is not new. And, to take the argument further we should not expect that what is happening is because the system of nation-states and the concept of sovereignty has deteriorated unexpectedly.
Rather, what is happening now is a logical contraction. The same was true when the West 'explored' the world and used slavery and genocide toward capitalization.
Now the need is to move money where it can be safe and to do so while placing production in locales where people work on the edge of starvation.
And so middle life in the old colonies will need to contract - even disappear where needed.
For these reasons it seems as if the concept of the nation-state is under attack.
The truth is closer to the reality that as a container the nation-state is an artificial construction. There is no such organic thing as a nation and therefore its contents is a matter of speculation and manipulation.
The state on the other hand is nothing more than the culmination and ordering of elite interests. These interests are fixed on profit, taxation, regulation, cycles, etc.
In these terms the nation-state can me made to be nothing more than the interests of capital and the form of capital may be corporations or even state entities.
The emphasis is on elite control and expansion ... and where necessary contraction.
It is all about domination.
The matters of justice and democracy are negotiated in the interests of elite control and played out for comparative advantage through constructed crises as Marx argued.