Raúl Zibechi: How the dominant class thinks
Chart depicting how much the dominant class keeps
The crisis continues to reveal everything that would stay hidden during periods of normality. This includes the strategic projects of the dominant class, their way of seeing the world, the principal gamble they take to continue being the dominant class. This is, in broad strokes, their central objective, to which they subordinate all others, including the capitalist modes of reproduction of the economy.
One can think that the crisis is just a parenthesis, after which everything would continue, more or less, to function as before. It’s not like that. The crisis is not only a revealer, but also the way in which those from above are remodelling the world. That is because the crisis is, in large measure, provoked by them in order to move out of the way or make disappear that which limits their powers; basically, the popular, indigenous, black and mestizo sectors on our continent.
On the other hand, a crisis of this breadth (it is about a group of crises that includes climate crisis/chaos, environmental crisis, health crisis and that which crosses through everything, the crisis of Western civilization) means the more or less profound mutations of societies, of the relation of forces and of the poles of power in the world, in each one of the regions and countries. It seems necessary to me to broach three aspects that don’t exhaust all the latest news that contributes to the crisis but are, to my way of thinking, those that can most have influence on the strategies of the anti-systemic movements.
In first place, what we call the economy has suffered fundamental changes. The chart [above] elaborated by the economist Pavlina Tcherneva, based on Thomas Piketty’s studies about inequality, reveals how the system has functioned since the 1970s, aggravated by the 2008 crisis.
The chart encompasses 60 years of the United States economy, from 1949 to present. It describes what part of income growth the richest 10 percent appropriate, and how much corresponds to the remaining 90 percent. In the 1950s, for example, the wealthy 10 percent appropriated between 20 and 25 percent of new annual incomes. A “normal” capitalist economy functions like that, consisting of a major appropriation by the impresarios of the fruits of human labour, which Marx called surplus value. It is the accumulation of capital through expanded reproduction.
Starting in 1970 an important change is produced that is very visible in the 1980s: the rich 10 percent begins to appropriate 80 percent of the wealth and the 90 percent remains with barely 20 percent of what is generated each year. This period corresponds to the hegemony of financial capital, which David Harvey has called “accumulation by dispossession” or (in Spanish) despojo.
But something extraordinary has been produced since 2001. The rich are left with all the new income and, since 2008, also grab a part of what the 90 percent had, as savings or wealth. What do we name this mode of accumulation? It is a system that no longer is capable of reproducing capitalist relations because it consists of robbery. Capitalism extracted surplus and accumulated wealth (even by dispossession), but expanding capitalist relations, so it sits on wage labour and not slave labour (I owe these reflections to Gustavo Esteva, who formulated them in the Zapatista Escuelita days and in the exchanges afterwards).
It is probable that we are entering into a system even worse than capitalism, a sort of robbery economy, more similar to the way the drug trafficking mafias function than to the business modes which we knew in the better part of the 20th Century. It is also probable that this has not been planned by the dominant class, but rather that it is the fruit of the extravagant search for profits in the financial period and the period of accumulation by dispossession, which has engendered a generation of vultures/wolves incapable of producing anything other than destruction and death around them.
In second place, the fact that the system functions this way implies that those above have decided to save themselves at the expense of all humanity. At some time they made an affective rupture with other human beings and are willing to produce a demographic hecatomb [a slaughter of
many], as the chart mentioned above suggests. They want it all.
Similarly, the way in which the system is functioning is more appropriately called the “fourth world war” (as subcomandante insurgente Marcos did) than “accumulation by dispossession,” because the objective is all humanity. It seems that the dominant class decided that with the current degree of technological development it can dispense with the wage labour that generates wealth, and no longer depend upon poor consumers for their products. Aside from the fact that this may be delirium induced by arrogance, it seems evident that those above do not seek to order the world according to their old interests, but rather to generate entire regions (and at times continents) where absolute chaos reigns (as tends to happen in the Middle East) and others of absolute security (like parts of the United States and Europe, and wealthy neighbourhoods of every country).
In sum, they have renounced the idea of “a” society, an idea that is substituted by the image of a concentration camp.
In third place, this has enormous repercussions for the politics of those from below. Democracy is merely a weapon to throw against geopolitical enemies (starting with Russia and China), which does not apply to the regimes of friends (Saudi Arabia). But, it is no longer that system, one to which they sometimes granted some credibility. The same must be said of the nation-State, merely an obstacle to be overcome as is demonstrated by the attacks on Syria, violating their national sovereignty.
No other path is left to us other than to organize our own world, in our own spaces and territories, with our own health, education and food autonomy, With our own powers to make decisions and to accomplish them; in other words, with our own self-defence institutions, without depending on the state institutions.
Originally Published in Spanish by La Jornada
Translation: Chiapas Support Committee
Friday, October 3, 2014