The New Great Transformation

The colours of Zapatismo

The colours of Zapatismo

By: Raúl Zibechi

One of the few advantages of big crises is that they help us to pull back the curtain behind which the system conceals and dissimulates its modes of oppressing. In this sense the crisis that Greece is experiencing can be a source of learning. For this I propose that we draw inspiration from the long path Karl Polanyi travelled when writing La gran transformación. To comprehend the rise of Nazism and Fascism he went back to the origins of economic liberalism, situated in the England of David Ricardo.

Free market capitalism, unregulated markets, disarticulated social relations and destroyed communities subjecting individuals, torn from their peoples, to hunger and humiliation. The enclosure of the countryside –the start of this process– was a revolution of the rich against the poor, Polanyi says. After the Hundred Years Peace the disintegration of the global economy was produced and “totalitarian dictatorships replaced the liberal State in numerous countries” (La Piqueta, 1997, p. 62).

The transformation that we are experiencing in recent decades has been analysed as the hegemony of accumulation by dispossession, as David Harvey points out in The New Imperialism (Oxford University Press, 2003). One must look for the roots of this process, following the steps of Immanuel Wallerstein and Giovanni Arrighi, in the workers’ struggles of the 1960s (and 1970s in Latin America), which disarticulated manufacturing discipline, thereby neutralizing Fordism-Taylorism, one of the bases of the welfare states. The dominant class decided to pass from the hegemony of accumulation by expanded reproduction to domination by means of accumulation by plunder.

Nevertheless, the concept of accumulation by dispossession doesn’t stop at the type of State suited for this stage. The political regimen for imposing the theft/plunder cannot be the same as in the period in which it bet on the integration of workers as citizens. This is, to my way of seeing, the nucleus of the lessons of the Greek crisis (and of the crisis in various Latin American processes).

We are facing the end of a period. A new great systemic transformation includes at least three transcendent changes, which must have their correlation in the adjustment of tactics and strategies of the anti-systemic movements.

The first one has already been mentioned: the end of the welfare state. Even in Latin America Latin in the second post-war period we experienced a relative industrial development, the awarding of rights to the working class and their progressive and incomplete insertion as citizens. The de-industrialization and financing of economies, on the back of the Washington Consensus, buried that development.

The second transformation is the end of national sovereignty. Important decisions, economic as well as political, are now being made in areas outside the control of the nation states. The recent “negotiation” between the Greek government and the Euro-group clearly shows the end of sovereignty. It is true that many rulers, of both the right and the left, are shipwrecked between the lack of scruples and the lack of a project. But it is no less true that the scope of action for the Nation-State is minimal, if it exists at all.

The third is the end of the democracies, tightly linked to the end of national sovereignty. They don’t want to talk about this. Maybe because so many live from the crumbs of public ofice. But it is one nucleus of our problems. When the one percent has kidnapped popular will and the 62 percent is subjected to the 1 percent; when this happens time and again in different countries, it’s because something doesn’t work. And, that something that doesn’t work is called democracy.

Believing in democracy, which is not synonymous with going to elections, is a grave strategic error. Believing in democracy is disarming our class powers (read as workers, poor women, Indians, blacks and mestizos, popular sectors and landless campesinos, residents of the peripheries, in the end, all those of below). Without those powers, the so-called “democratic rights” are worthless.

Democracy functions by disarming our powers, and at this point it is necessary to raise several considerations.

One. Democracy is not the opposite of dictatorship. We’re living in the dictatorship of financial capital, of small groups that no one elected (like the troika) which impose economic policies against the majorities, among other things because those who reach government are bought off or threatened with death, as Paul Craig Roberts reminds us: “It’s very possible that the Greeks know that they cannot declare a suspension of payments and leave, because they will be murdered if they do so. That has surely been made very clear to them” ( He knows what he says, because he comes from above.

Two. Ever since the bourgeoisie learned to manage the desire and will of the population by means of marketing, imposing the consumption of absurd and unnecessary merchandise, democracy has been subject to the techniques of the market. Popular will never manages to be expressed in state institutions, in the terms and codes used by the popular classes in their space-times, but rather is measured and sifted until it is neutralized.

Three. Class powers have been codified into laws. It is not the same to meet, publish pamphlets or create mutual societies based on their own strengths and avoiding repression, as it is to let the states regulate and discipline those ways of doing things by means of subsidies. Repression is often the first step to obtaining “legalization.”

Now the problem is ours. We can continue, as we have up to now, putting everything into elections, into marches and actions, into regulated strikes, and things like that. None of this is ruled out as a matter of principle. The problem is in constructing a strategy centred on those tools, regulated by those from above. “The master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house,” wrote the black feminist Audre Lorde.


Originally Published in Spanish by La Jornada

Translation: Chiapas Support Committee

Edited for English audience: Dorset Chiapas Solidarity

Friday, July 24, 2015

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