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Socialism or Barbarism?

Imprisoned for her virulent anti-war position, Rosa Luxemburg penned her famous essay, The Junius Pamphlet: The Crisis in German Social Democracy (1916), against the horrors of World War I and the collapse of opposition to the war by leading social democratic parliamentary leaders. Her warning was that the world faced a choice between ‘socialism or barbarism’:

“We stand today ... before the awful proposition: either the triumph of imperialism and the destruction of all culture, and, as in ancient Rome, depopulation, desolation, degeneration, a vast cemetery; or, the victory of socialism.”

With global neoliberalism, an aggressive American imperialism, and new military conflicts, this opposition is again being posed by many. One of these is the Marxist intellectual István Mészáros in his recent book, Socialism or Barbarism (2001), which warns of the structural geopolitical and social conflicts embedded in contemporary capitalism. Mehdi Kouhestaninejad, President of CUPE Local 3261 at the University of Toronto, took the opportunity to interview Mészáros at a recent political gathering in Paris. We print the whole interview here, as well as responses to the wide-ranging analysis Mészáros puts forward for socialist theory and politics by Minqi Li, Sam Gindin and Greg Albo.

Socialist Project and the editors of Relay are grateful for the excellent editorial assistance of Stephan Dobson of CUPE 3907 in the preparation of these articles for publication.

István Mészáros Interview

Mehdi Kouhestaninejad (MK): Can you talk a little about your perspective on the current agenda of the American occupation in Afghanistan and Iraq, and how the Americans have used nations like Saudi Arabia for its purposes? And although everybody has mentioned this issue of the oil, I think more is involved than just that, it is actually an issue of hegemony. What do you think should be today’s perspective on the U.S. around this issue?

István Mészáros (IM): You see, oil is important in the sense not simply as possession of oil, of controlling the sale of it, but controlling access to oil. That is the most important aspect of it. I hinted at this in an article which was published in Iran Bulletin, that this is the real issue. Because when you think about Russia, Russia has plenty of oil, not only for Russia itself, but also for selling to a great variety of countries. But, it has no delivery system. It has no access to delivering oil to the sea. Now through the occupation of Iraq and the Middle East, the United States controls all that. I was so sure of the Americans attacking Iraq years before it happened. I remember we had a meeting of the magazine Critique in January 2003, when one of our Iraqi comrades was saying, even on that occasion, that he was convinced that there would be no attack, that the Americans would not invade Iraq! The Americans are using that area for the purposes of American domination, not only of that area. Because now they have oil for their immediate needs, they can have oil not only from Saudi Arabia, but also from Mexico, Venezuela, Nigeria, and so on. So there are a number of oil resources which the Americans can access. But by far the most important oil resources, in a longer-term perspective, are of course the Middle East.

MK: And what do you think about the resistance right now in Iraq, the resistance of the people in Iraq?

IM: I like quoting a Hungarian adage that says: “I caught a Turk, but he doesn’t let me go.” The meaning is that you think you have grabbed someone and got hold of him, but the situation changes and becomes different; he grabs you. And that’s precisely what happened, and what is happening, in Iraq, that they caught the “Turk” of the adage, but the “Turk” doesn’t let them go. And I think the development of resistance of the Iraqi people is of tremendous significance, because eventually, no matter how often the President [Bush] will continue to repeat that “We are not going to run from anything,” the resistance of the Iraqi people will make them rethink this, because of the body bags which are going back to America. They can lie about it when it happens, they can lie about the casualty figures, I am sure that the casualty figures are much, much greater than what they tell us they are. But they cannot lie about it in terms of the serious injuries. All those, sooner or later, accumulate in the United States, and I think that it is bound to generate the kind of movement which I remember at the time of the Vietnam War. What in the end compelled the United States to get out of Vietnam was the enormous number of injuries and deaths imposed by the resistance of the Vietnamese people to the American occupation. Now I don’t say that it can be as great as that in Iraq; it will take a different form. But it will be a kind of erosion of the American position there, and sooner or later it will have an impact both in America and also among the “allies,” so to speak, of America. You may have noticed that very recently 16 Italians were killed in one event in Iraq. Now, this accumulation at home is going to happen also to those powers, like Berlusconi’s Italy, which hasten to send troops to Iraq, and I am sure there will be protest movements developing in Italy against this kind of thing – what the hell are the Italians doing in Iraq? Why are they there, what for? It’s only because the American interests dictate that they should be there. In Socialism or Barbarism I quoted from an editorial in The Economist to the effect that that the Americans want their “local assistants,” – that was the expression they used! – “local assistants” who are willing to die for them. So Americans dictate; they do the bombing, they dictate the policies, and the “local assistants” do the dirty work, ok? They are willing to die for the cause, but what sort of a cause? For the cause of American global domination. And I think this is bound to fail. I don’t say this now, I wrote that book in 1999.

You know, Socialism or Barbarism was written two years before the September 11th event which is used as a pretext for the aggressive American policies. I was very clearly showing in that book that these American policies were already in the pipeline before that, and well before 1999 even. I just happened to write the book in 1999. And it is in the logic of capital’s development, you see, this is the most serious aspect of it, that capital has reached a stage in its development that it has to dominate economically the rest of the world; the most powerful forces of capital are bent on dominating the rest of the world. And it is through that – how do you find the political forms through which the domination can be achieved? Now this creates enormous complications and contradictions, because the political organization, the political forces of our lives, are national. Everywhere. And that is why during the most aggressive imperialist ways of imposing, of superimposing, the one nation over the rest of them, you can’t listen to any one of President Bush’s speeches without hearing at the end of it, “The best in the world, the greatest in the world, are the United States of America.” All of the time, this is the refrain that comes out of his mouth. Which is completely absurd, because at the same time they are preaching to all of the others that they should not pay attention to their own national interests. The national interests of the other nations count for nothing!

And also on that score, it must fail, all this must fail. But China, China is the power which can put up resistance against this American domination, because the others can be subdued at least temporarily by American firepower, by American aggressiveness. You know, Americans are now working on a system whose elements will be partly operational by next year, and fully operational by 2007. Now this system, this new military system, will operate in such a way that it will not have to occupy military bases – although they also have those, but they can do without military bases – and it will be able to deliver high explosives 9,000 miles away from America, you know, 9,000 miles distant, and the military vehicles which will deliver these payloads are going to fly at 10 times the speed of sound. So, colossal, and practically unstoppable. And the people who are criticizing it are also saying that this infernal system is meant to blast people in other parts of the world, even if they don’t want to have anything to do with the U.S. So again obviously the principal enemy in this respect will also be China. The principal purpose of such military machinery is to have a kind of blackmail, you know. You don’t have to necessarily engage in the delivery of this weaponry, it is enough to have the greatest threat, and the greatest military threat will be nuclear black-mail, and no doubt the countries which have the greatest delivery potential have the greatest advantage in this. And you know the people in Washington, the so-called neo-conservatives, are really the most gruesome kind of people you can imagine. Their arrogance knows no limit. The kind of arguments they put on paper is beyond imagination. The way in which they envisage the world as completely run by the United States is absolutely amazing, you know, how they seriously believe that this is feasible. And the fact that all varieties of imperialism going back to the Romans, all the way up to the more recent British and French and Dutch imperialisms of more recent times – they always failed. This experience gives them no instructions, no food for thought, to say to themselves, “Maybe our imperialist projects are also subject to such constraints.” And these are the people now in control of the White House. At the time when I wrote Socialism or Barbarism they were still the opposition, Clinton was the President, and Clinton’s group of people were in the White House determining policy. Now these new people, these monsters, are working on policy matters. And I think we live in terribly dangerous times. And only a mass movement, an internationally organized mass movement, can put an end to all of this.

MK: So, what do you think about China’s role right now? They have become a major source for cheap products, they have a large source of cheap labour and lack a genuine labour movement, and they are using these things against the other parts of the world. Where is China going right now?

IM: You know what I said about China in our interview – that the idea that China will become a big capitalist country is wrong as this is impossible, and you have even today, five years later, you have only small inroads of capitalism in China, and the overwhelming majority of people in China, which is one billion people, one thousand million people, live in a very different way. So, much the same remains today as five years ago, and I don’t think that we can assume that this is going to change. You know, to give you an example, the balance of trade of China with the United States is one hundred and thirty billion dollars in the red for the United States. And as you can imagine, there is an enormous protest now developing in the States against this, and much controversy on how to alter that situation. So ultimately, when you think of the development of Chinese capitalist interchange with the rest of the world, it is not tenable for the capitalist side, it is not tenable to let this go on indefinitely. So I think it is extremely problematic, not to mention the other aspects of it – you know, if you have a kind of capitalistic China with the kind of developments which we know from our own experience – that could only be a disaster for all of us, including China, the kind of development which is in that way envisaged. And I don’t think there is any evidence of that in China itself.

You know there is already very, very serious labour unrest in China, and very serious oppositions developing there. You know, in China, surplus labour is still politically regulated. In our societies the extraction of surplus labour is largely through economic mechanisms; not in China. In China, the only way you can have this absurdly cheap labour is through a political regulation which is provided by the government. And in no way is it possible to change this without a major change in governmental policy. I don’t know whether there is any indication of this happening, because so far I cannot see anything pointing in that direction. And in various parts of China what you have obviously is grass-roots protest movements developing against cheap labour, but of course when you have the policy of cheap labour at a governmental level, small grass-roots movements are not going to reach to that level. They are unlikely to get to such a position where this is feasible. And without a major change in policy at the governmental level, I don’t think you can envisage anything coming out of that protest. Now what goes against government policies, again with that alteration of strategy of cheap labour, is that China derives great advantage for itself out of cheap labour, because through cheap labour it can penetrate other markets, like the American market or even the European market. You know, I have a copying machine, a Xeroxing machine, and its parts are made in China, even the toner it needs – which is the most important element on it – is made in China. So it penetrates already every type of market you can think of, in Europe and in America.

So you have a very significant trading advantage, and at the same time there is also the problem of the military disadvantage China had in the past vis-ŕ-vis the United States. So you have now a major effort on the part of the Chinese to catch up. Recently we had the manned space flight in China. Now that is an enormous achievement when you think of it; the commentators in this field were saying that it would take China ten years to catch up with America in that respect, and that ten years have become a few months, a month, one year instead of ten. It is an immense achievement, yet we shouldn’t have illusions about it, that this is for the exploration of outer space. The purpose of such ventures, the most important purpose, is military. And China has every reason to be cautious about this, to be concerned about it, because I mentioned in Socialism or Barbarism how certain American circles have been envisaging China as the major enemy. They were describing China in those terms, and undoubtedly, even if for tactical reasons they can be set aside for the moment, especially when you have such events as the war against Iraq and the war against Afghanistan and who knows what is the next, and it could even be your country [i.e., Iran], in such a situation China is tactically pushed aside. But don’t have illusions on that score that the ultimate adversary is not China. China must be the American’s ultimate adversary because China is the only country which can potentially stand up to America; their missile technology, exemplified by the sending up of a manned space flight, indicates an enormously advanced missile technology. And that missile technology is also capable of delivering military warheads anywhere in the world, just as the Americans are capable of doing. So you are thinking when you look further ahead in the future that China remains the principal objective of American world domination; American world domination is the issue of the day, global hegemonic imperialism cannot do without it, and China is the principal obstacle to it. The Chinese, whatever they are doing, are not willing to capitulate to domination by the United States. That is again unthinkable. Just as it is unthinkable to have fully fledged, fully developed capitalism in China. So these are the two unthinkables. And I think the most dramatic developments in this field in the future, not tomorrow or the next two or three years ahead, but when you think in ten, fifteen, twenty years ahead, they are bound to be in those directions, in the relationship between China and the United States.

MK: István, you are one of those Marxists who works with the theory of value. And my question is this: Since the workers in the private sector, in manufacturing, are in numerical decline, at least in Canada and probably in Germany and France, the public sector unions are becoming the leading edge in the labour movement. How does this situation impact the Marxist theory of value?

IM: You know, the private companies are not in decline, they are simply becoming bigger and bigger; monopolistic tendencies are what are very much on the increase. Now the monopolistic tendencies dominate all economic activity; at the same time, the private corporations, including the biggest monopolistic private corporations, need money, need the funds and resources, and the only place from which such funds can be provided are from public funds, from public finances. And that is actually the great weakness of the capitalist system today. That is part of the structural crisis of the system, that it is unable to generate the funds for the healthy running of the system. So I don’t think that this represents any problem for a Marxist way of approaching things. On the contrary, when you think of what is happening in the world today, there is no way in which capital accumulation could work the way it did even thirty years ago. The structural crisis of the system manifests itself primarily in the inability to proceed with healthy capital accumulation. And you find this in two principal ways, it is manifested in two ways: first, much of capital is channelled into parasitic speculative funds instead of productive accumulation, which is not available. It is present everywhere in parasitic, speculative ventures; you name it and it is there. At the same time, the corollary of this failure to accumulate is the aggressiveness, the increasing aggressiveness, of the United States and at the same time the submission of several of the capitalist countries which in the past would have had their own designs, such as the British and the French, and now also the Russians are aligned with the Americans that way. The American aggressiveness doesn’t encounter resistance because powers such as the British, the French, and the Russians are also hoping that through this new design, this new aggressive design of the world, that they also are going to reap the benefits. The British are the most slavish supporters of the Americans in this respect. But they are also hoping to gain out of it, so it all comes together under the common denominator of the structural crisis of the system.

This crisis means that capital accumulation has become difficult, and therefore the system is also unable to deliver the goods to labour. And I think we should not forget this dimension of it because in the past, when you go back thirty years, labour could get benefits out of the expansion of capital. Now this expansion of capital is not proceeding the way it did in the past, and therefore instead of a gradual increase as we witnessed in the post-war decades – that labour could gain quite a lot in the capitalistically advanced countries, out of this capital expansion – now it has to be clawed back. So, much of what has been gained by labour in this post-war period has to be clawed back by capital, and in Britain certainly, attacks on the social services continue. The result is more and more privatization and casualization, under-employment and contracting out.

MK: What do you think about casualization, 10 years after your previous book, when you discussed this issue? In those days, that term was very new for the people. Right now that term is a very touchy one for the people.

IM: I think casualization is unavoidable, because it is also one of the ways in which brutal unemployment can be hidden. And because in this way, you can even pretend that it is for the benefit of the workers, especially female workers, that they should be able to work only four hours or two hours a day. You know that in England, if you have 16 hours a week, that counts as full employment.

MK: One of the questions that we have concerns the victims of casualization – the victims of casualization are women, because the majority of them have to have two or three jobs to bring the butter to the table.

IM: Yes, but you know from the point of view of labour statistics, if you have 16 hours employment it is considered full employment. So, much of what we have by way of unemployment statistics are falsified systematically, because you can have all kinds of categories to which you can swindle people out of the labour force.

MK: What do you think of this – in the time of Marx, we did not have a public sector, and manufacturing was the main focus of the labour movement, so manufacturing workers were on the front line in the fight against capitalism. And right now we see that they have become a huge bureaucratic organization too. The public sector, for which all of the funds come from the government, includes the health sector, education, childcare, social services, municipal employees, all of them are coming from what we call the “public sector.” When we look at the public sector workers, they are very conservative in one way, but in another they are very progressive, they are very militant. But the union density in the manufacturing sector has been declining over the years, and now these unions are starting to organize in the public sector.

IM: In England there was a time when the traditional left in unions had been taken over by the right wing. And a very prominent example of this was the engineering and electricians union. Electricians and engineering – the engineering union was a very radical left-leaning union, the electricians were once upon a time left, and then it turned right. And then they merged, and they have become a very right-wing union. Now, recently what happened was that this union has gone back to a left-wing position, and I must say that I am not really very optimistic about that either, because this change took place at the top level of union.

MK: That’s what I meant when I said that public sector unions are both progressive and conservative – in the high level of the union, the leadership has to be accountable to the members. The leaders are very radical, but below them you do not see that much activism. But the other side of the coin, those private manufacturing sector unions are not working their sector anymore. They have become broader in scope, because for them it is necessary to maintain their organization, since they keep losing their members through job losses. That is why I said the density is coming down and you were right, you said that it is happening because this has become a monopoly. This is not only happening in one country, they are everywhere right now. We are losing the workforce base compared to earlier periods. You are right on that part. But when we look at each country, especially in the West, we see that the ratio of manufacturing sector to other sectors such as the public and service sectors is coming down. And the number of workers needed, say, to produce a ton of steel, that number has come down because of technology and work reorganization.

IM: Yes, and that is part of the story. But another part of the story is that many of these jobs are exported to the so-called “third world.” So when you think of the manufacturing part becoming less important, that is perhaps an optical illusion, because when you add to this the work force, the labour force, in India, in China, and elsewhere in the so-called “third world,” so-called, because I hate that expression, you see that the older work organization has been exported, ok? The “third world” is in the same world, but it is a structurally subordinate part of the world. So what happened was that capital rearranged its production sectors in such a way that the dirty and dangerous part of it was shoved off to the so-called “third world.” And if you look there, there is no such diminution in the manufacturing sector, on the contrary, even an increase in the last decades. We have to be always very careful, this is where our global view has to prevail, because globalization, all the talk about globalization, wants to forget these dimensions of globalization, these dimensions of how the global economy is under the rule of capital, rearranged and redefined in such a way. It has also the benefit of the ideology of the capitalist system in that it creates the illusion that labour doesn’t matter anymore.

So, this has to be resisted and fought against, because in reality, that brings in again the importance of an international dimension, the international way of thinking and organizing, because if you think of labour as a global entity, it is evidently the case that labour remains as important as ever, and in fact more important than in the past. And what is painfully missing from the equation is precisely the organizational equivalent, and also consciousness, because you don’t get organization without consciousness. And the consciousness of these matters is missing. The ruling ideology is what filters down from the regents of capital, precisely through labour organizations like the New Labour Party, like the new Italian Democratic Party of the Left, and in France and so on. It is pathetic how they are dominating. Now, through their way of thinking, capital dominates. Capital interests are asserted, and we can’t get out of this vicious circle without regaining the ground at the level of consciousness from which, of course, a proper way of organizing the international labour force becomes possible.

MK: Given what you have just said about organizing the international labour force, and about the current situation of labour, what do you think are the challenges for the communist movement right now, and how does it move forward? And what about NGOs? What is your perspective on NGOs and what should their role be, given what you have just said?

IM: We socialists have to start organizing from the base and make it international. You know, at the present time there is no way we can compete with our adversaries who are well organized internationally, and on our side, we are not! We are fragmented, we are in a way at their mercy. And I think that the time has come when something must be done about this everywhere. The socialist movement is so fragmented, unfortunately it even fights among itself. In England, there are 45 different groups, and much of their time is wasted on fighting each other, and denouncing each other; I mean, I despair sometimes when I read their papers and see what they are doing, instead of concentrating on their adversary. It is very, very disheartening for the time being, so I think that the kind of work that you are doing with the Iranian–Canadian community is very important, that you should also reach out to other communities.

Now, I find NGOs very problematic; they do a lot of good work, but at the same time they do it on behalf of the system. They are very much a part of the system, unfortunately. But the problem is how do you change it. Non-governmental organizations are non-governmental only in name. When you look into it, their funds are channelled from governmental sources. They don’t have their own funds and because of the lack of funds, they have to rely on what the government agencies can channel to them. And of course that very much constrains their activities. So I think that when we are thinking about organization for a new society, we have to remember this fact concerning NGOs, because when you think of governments, you must remember how the parties of the left have disintegrated. You know what happened to the Labour Party – New Labour is a defender of Big Capital, that is what it has transformed itself into. There are maybe two-dozen genuine, committed, members of parliament belonging to the Labour Party right now, but they are completely marginalized. When you think of these two dozen, they are absolutely minimal compared to the rest of them, and the rest of them are – well, to use Tony Blair’s expression, “friends of business”. They have absolutely no desire to reform the system. Once upon a time you had big mass-movements, like the Labour Party, the Labour Party of one kind or another.

You have also the same problem in Canada, and in America, you have nothing. You don’t have a mass party for which people could even vote. Now the situation is very sad when you look to Europe; the Labour Party which was once upon a time a radical party has become worse than the Liberals. In England now, the Labour Party is to the right of the Liberal Party, and when you look to France and Italy, the situation is not better. In France there used to be a Socialist Party and the Communist Party. Both of them have completely disintegrated, they are no longer representing any serious demand for a radical transformation of society. And when you look at what happened in Italy, which had a major Communist Party, a very, very strong Communist Party, that party also has completely disintegrated. So now the great majority of that former Communist Party calls itself “Democrats of the Left” or some similar fancy name, and there is nothing Left about it. It is in no way better than its alternatives; there is only one party that could be said to have a radical programme, the Rifondazione Comunista whose General Secretary is Fausto Bertinotti. But in electoral terms it is a tiny group. So the situation is similar all over the world, when you look at it, except in Latin America. You see, in Latin America the situation is very much better. In Latin America there are very strong movements, including labour movements. But in Europe and in North America, it is quite devastating, and I think that when you look at it in this way, the parties which once claimed to reform, claimed to be reformist parties, are no longer even reformist. They don’t want to reform the system; for them the system is ok.

As the Labour Party leaders here put it, “We modernize. We have to be the modernizers,” and about those who are pushing for traditional Labour programmes, the “modernizers” say: “They are conservatives.” “New Labour” is as pro-business as the Conservatives Party. So the situation is quite serious and it can’t continue like this, because when you think even of minor changes, minor programmes, even those cannot be delivered, cannot be obtained any longer. When you think of the way in England, for instance, there was the dispute of the firemen with their management, and they were offered 16% instead of the 30% to which they would have been entitled. And then they want to steal away half of even the 16%. So even wage negotiations don’t succeed; there are minimal successes in wage negotiations and no changes at all in the capitalist system which remains as firm as before. The capitalist system is experiencing a very grave crisis, and the only reason why it has survived this crisis is because the other side, the labour side, is unable to assert itself and its demands.

So I think this is what has to be changed in the future and it can only be changed through a major international effort of organization. Not occasional ones, as in the past when we could mobilize millions of people for a particular occasion, like the anti-war movement. That is not enough – our adversaries are organizing all the time, are doing everything in their interest on a permanent basis. We are not doing anything of that kind. There is no international equivalent of what we all would like to do, the Labour International doesn’t exist. The Internationals ceased to exist. There have been four Internationals in history. The first turned sour already in Marx’s lifetime, so Marx wanted to put an end to it and therefore transferred it to America because of the way in which it was disintegrating in Europe. And it faded away. Then we had the Second International. Now you know what happened to the Second International. The Second International turned itself into a defender of the capitalist system. Then we had the Third International. The Third International was turned into an instrument of Stalin’s policies, and through that condemned itself to failure. And then you have the Fourth International which never even got off the ground. It never had a general following in the labour movement. So it was not really an International in the sense in which we could call a mass movement an “International movement.” And I think probably the time has come when we have to think about starting a Fifth International and organizing under this umbrella – the demands for changing society, a radical change in society, a different order of society. I think that is very much on the order of the day.

MK: Do you think, when you are talking about a Fifth International, that the annual World Social Forums are something similar? What do you think about the working of the Social Forum?

IM: Well, I think the Social Forum is very important. But it is a social forum which wants to stay away from politics, ok? It wants to stay away from the parties. It has as one of its principles that particular parties cannot affiliate to it, and that is not really manageable, because in Brazil, the PT is very important. You see, the PT was in fact very closely co-operating with the World Social Forum; without the PT’s support, the World Social Forum would not have been possible at all. The PT provided the funds for it in Porto Allegre, and things have become difficult precisely because Porto Allegre was lost to the adversaries because again we see that inside the PT some groups were fighting each other.

The PT is a very mixed, an enormously mixed, organization. It has a very radical branch, and more than one grouping that is all for the proper radical transformation of society. In conjunction also with some of the most radical movements, like the Sem Terra movement, the Landless Movement, they are not only thinking about changes, but also doing the changes; they are involved in occupying land, organizing themselves, setting up co-operatives, et cetera. So that is also associated with the PT. Even if it is not called the PT, the Landless Movement is nevertheless associated with the PT. And then the PT also has traditional, liberal and right-liberal forces and, in the leadership of the PT, it is very dominant. Last year at the World Social Forum, Lula was there only for a few hours because he had to fly to Davos. And people were very resentful that he hurried away from Porto Allegre to Davos. In Davos the big capitalists were meeting, and they had a meeting with the World Bank and IMF that day.

MK: What do you think right now, today, about the kind of situation that we have, and what kind of alternative we can have to the World Bank and IMF, because everybody, when we are talking about this situation, feels that we must have some alternative; these are the organizations that run this globe right now. I’m not talking about reforming the IMF, but the challenge facing us is taking on the IMF and the World Bank and the WTO. The capitalists have become more globalized than the people of the resistance.

IM: All of these organizations are dominated by American capital. The IMF, in theory, is an international organization of all of its members, but who dictates the rules? It is always U.S. capital which dictates the rules in the IMF and the World Bank – and of course this includes the WTO. The principal rules in the WTO reveal an American bias. You remember the business of the steel tariffs which the Americans arbitrarily and one-sidedly imposed on Europe – it took 18 months for the WTO to come up with a resolution condemning this American move. Now it may take another 18 months before it can be implemented, and by that time of course it means nothing. And at the same time I imagine, concerning genetically modified food, the WTO is going to pass a resolution condemning Europe, which doesn’t want genetically modified foods. Now that will be much more quickly implemented than 18 months or twice 18 months. Since all of these organizations are dominated by the Americans, alternative organizations need to be devised. Is it possible to have something equivalent to the IMF or the World Bank? That is a big question, because we don’t have the state organizations at our disposal to provide the funds for us. This is the same story as with the NGOs. The NGOs are independent in name, but in reality they are very closely attached to various governments as in England where it is the Ministry of Overseas Development (tellingly once called the Colonial Office) which provides the funds or doesn’t provide the funds, depending on what it feels like. And I don’t know if we can think of something equivalent to the IMF or the World Bank as an alternative for the future. The World Bank is going to be dominated by the capitalist enterprises, just like the International Monetary Fund. What we can do is to organize actions against their dictates – that we can do. Social movements, and in this respect the World Social Forum itself, can be activated for this, because although they are against parties entering and perhaps also dominating this organization, they are not against working in conjunction with a great number of social movements who are working against policies such as those of the IMF or the World Bank and the policies of those organizations which they want to impose on various countries. When you think of the dam-building project in India, there has been an enormous movement against that, and I think that the World Social movement would be willing to intervene and do something about it.

And I notice that there is a new initiative in Porto Allegre – the World Social Forum has its sister organization in the World Education Forum which had two bi-annual international meetings in the past, and in July 2004 in Porto Allegre they will have their third meeting. Interestingly enough, the topic of the World Education Forum will be “Education Beyond Capital.” The committee that organizes the convention have asked me to give the opening lecture. They wrote to me that the only subject on which they could reach unanimous agreement in the preparation of the Forum is the general topic, “Education Beyond Capital.” So that is thinking in the long-term – what are our objectives, what must our objectives be, and how do we reach those objectives. And these are the initiatives that move on the lines which we want them to move along. The World Social Forum can engage in many, many different types of activities. Now in Europe they are organizing a kind of regional equivalent of the World Social Forum, the European Social Forum. And there will be one meeting now in November 2004, and I think that the desire is to make it permanent – like the World Social Forum is a permanent organization, they want to do the same in Europe, they want to create a permanent European Social Forum.

So these are some important initiatives which are now taking place. When you think of the Internationals of the past, they have failed because they dictated from the beginning the kind of organization which it had to be; doctrinal unanimity was assumed. And it was thought that all the members that were going to join in would be in conformity with this doctrinal unity. Now that could not work. On that basis, the Internationals could not work in the past and could not work in the future. What will be necessary is to take the existing activities of the various groups, political and trade unionist and so on, and try to bring them together towards some fundamental objectives which we all share. We want a different kind of society; all of these groups which you can think of would like to have a different system. How do we reach this system – well, that’s a big question. And if we assume a doctrinal unity, that also already assumes that we know for every one of those members how to move forward. I don’t think that can be the future. They have to contribute, all of them, working in their own sphere of activity, providing the scope for their own kind of action, and through that also to influencing the others, because at some point, at some stage in the future, it will be also necessary to have a coherent international way of acting, an active form of organization against our adversaries.

MK: What do you think of the last 100 years, since 1905, in terms of where we are at, because beginning in 1905 we had all that movement that was going forward to 1917?

IM: You see, in 1905 the world was not yet a truly global world, since capital was not organized the way it is today. See, there is a huge, huge difference from those times in terms of the global integration of capital, and in 1905, and then towards the First World War, and then later on the Second World War. One of the ways for capital to solve its problems was, “Let’s have another war!” Ok? It was always possible to get out of the grave difficulties by starting another war. It was always, ultimately, if other ways of imposing the dictates of capital failed, we had another war. This is finished. This is finished in the sense that the little wars, the relatively small wars, like even the war in Iraq – how many days was it? That is not comparable to the wars of the past. Both in terms of the resources employed in wars and the duration of the wars and the rearrangement after the wars, what had to be done was reconstruction on a vast scale, in order to eliminate the consequences of the past global wars. These are not comparable to those of the current wars. In this important sense capital has been decapitated. The former drastic way of reordering the system, redefining the overall power relations, et cetera, has not been feasible in recent years. And only the most gruesome lunatics can envisage a global war for that purpose – I am sure in Washington there are some of those too, people who are considering waging a global war of some kind. And if it comes to China, it has to be that, ok? China cannot be subdued by the kind of skirmishes as you had in Iraq.

Now capital reorganized itself following immediately out of the Second World War. The agreements made were vitally important for a number of decades. And in fact until relatively recently this was the period when Keynesian thought dominated. Keynes himself played an important part in the deliberations of the Bretton Woods Agreements. But it has, of course, lost its function, because in Bretton Woods, other countries, other forces could still play some important role, including England. And this is what has changed drastically, because there’s no room for anybody else except the Americans. I remember when we had a major run on the stock exchanges, I think it was in 1987, it was a major crisis of the stock exchanges. And there were a number of bankers discussing this on television – merchant bankers, you know, the kind of banking which is directly involved in industrial ventures. One of the English merchant bankers said on that occasion that the principal reason for this great instability of the stock exchanges was the American debt, the catastrophic American debt. An American merchant banker who was participating in the same discussion who said in reply: “When we put down our foot, then you will see what crisis you end up with.” That is to say, when you start questioning the American debt, then you will have real trouble. Now since that time, the American debt has multiplied, the American debt is now counted in many trillions of dollars. And it is escalating all the time, at that level. Can you imagine that anything can change that? You can’t imagine a new Bretton Woods Agreement to bring that back into line because it is so totally one-sided, and what is happening is that from every country, funds are sucked into the U.S. economy, and now the only concern is not how to pay back the debt, how to get out of it, but rather how to be able to pay for the interest on that astronomical debt. And even that is becoming problematical, it is becoming difficult to maintain. And to imagine that you can go on adding to this debt ad infinitum, and to be able to pay the interest on this, is to live in cloud cuckoo land. It is quite impossible. There can be no such agreement. Decisions taken at those Davos gatherings, where the finance ministers are also gathered (that is why Lula had to run to Davos, to address that meeting, immediately after Porto Allegre), make no difference in this respect. What actually happens in Davos, in those annual meetings, is that some guidelines are laid down. But those guidelines are not followed by anybody. Again, you have a big problem, misrepresented as fully successful globalization. For in reality various constituents of global capital are still pulling apart. The various national entities have enormous interests of their own which they try to assert. This is why not much happens as a result of the decisions taken at Davos or at other big international financial jamborees. The structural crisis of the capital system continues to assert itself also in this way. •


István Mészáros’s book Socialism or Barbarism is available from the publisher Monthly Review Press: www.monthlyreview.org/orderfnl.htm

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