"For me the only thing green about capitalism is dollar bills"
This is a translated excerpt from an interview with Boaventura de Sousa Santos for Observatorio Sociopolítico Latinoamericano. I may do the rest at some point, time permitting.
If it appears obvious that the capitalist system is in a grave crisis, nonetheless the fact of a return of right-wing governments in European countries and the economic orthodoxy applied in the United States and quite a few countries in Latin America show that there is a strengthening of neoliberalism that still favours finance capital and transnationals. Do you see it this way?
I think the crisis of capitalism is of a different type. Within the short term there is no sign of a crisis, on the contrary, we could say that what is surprising is that the neoliberalism that produced the crisis is trying to ‘resolve’ it. It is the same bankers guilty of causing the economic crisis who are now seeking to resolve it. Look at the case of the Portuguese Antonio Borges, Director of the European Department of the International Monetary Fund and vicepresident of Goldman Sachs, was who organised the trap that this investment bank set for Greece. This same gentleman is dictating the Fund’s prescriptions for Europe (Borges resigned ‘for personal reasons’ in November – R).Imagine the promiscuity between finance capital and European democracy, which in my view is suspended because the Greek Prime Minister Lucas Papademos
;Mario Monti in Italy
;Mario Draghi, president of the European Central Bank
,as well as Borges himself, come from Goldman Sachs. Not only do they represent finance capital but they are also from the same firm, which is rather tragic and I think that social democracy has contributed by its absence to a collapse of the European Union which I see fast approaching unless there is a real act of disobedience which has to be very strong in order to bring about its relaunch.
And this has given way to what you call “democradura” (roughly translated: ‘democraship’ or ‘democratorship’ – a hybrid of democracy and dictatorship – R) in Europe?
Yes, this is what we have. A set of very progressive constitutions but their practices are very reactionary and oligarchic. Constitutions such as the Portuguese or the Spanish ones guarantee all rights but every day these rights are eliminated, suspended, and the Constitutional Court does not intervene, that is, there is a suspension of democracy that we can call “democradura” or “dictablanda” (a hybrid neologism of ‘dictatorship’ and ‘soft’, meaning soft dictatorship). These processes hold no future for European democracy and political parties must watch what is happening very closely so as not to fall prey to the same mistakes.
This crisis of capitalism has given rise to what you referred to in your conference at the University of the Andes in Bogotá as a blurring of the categories of illegality, legality and lawlessness in large part due to the phenomenon of accumulation through dispossession. How does one explain this situation generated by capitalist voracity?
It is something very complex because democracy in the 20th century deceived the popular imagination. In the beginning liberal democracy was not very democratic as we know because at its origin only property owners could vote, and therefore the large majority of the population did not know what democracy was. Democracy gained credibility and captured the popular imagination, as we see now with the indignados who ask for true and real democracy, due in large part to the institutionalisation of social conflicts, it was accepted that there were divergences in society between capital and labour for example, and that these divergences had to be solved in a peaceful manner whose resolution translated into law and hence a legality was created, since prior to this the popular classes only knew repressive legality, they did not know of any right. Thus a facilitating right was created, which protected social and economic rights, aid for unemployment, and they began to see that legality was something broader and more beneficial for the popular classes, this has been the grand deceive of representative and liberal democracy because in the constitutions both of Europe and Latin America a series of social struggles are consecrated as rights, for example the indigenous rights that were previously unknown even by the left itself which considered them invisible, which changed in the last twenty years precisely due to neoliberalism, to the repression of social movements and the criminalisation of protest. What happened is that the transnationals learned the lesson that tells you it is possible to pressure governments, influence legislative assemblies to produce laws in your favour, and hence why they themselves produced legislation that is as legal as the other one, the one that protects the popular classes, but now it is a legality that allows them to do things that they could not do previously. And hence why one can say that they do it legally, but it is not totally legal because if you observe many of those laws that were created for mining and natural resources, and all that relates to extractive activities, they have a series of conditions that are forgotten about afterwards, for example environmental protection or the massive violations of consultations with ILO-convention 169. That is, legality goes hand in hand with illegality, this is a great deception and we will see this soon in Rio+20 in June of 2012 with the whole discussion around green capitalism, the green economy, of sustainable development which is the big concept of the last thirty years. Everything we are going to observe in this summit in Rio is nothing more than the result of the capture of the law by transnationals and that’s why they’re talking about green capitalism. For me the only thing green about capitalism is dollar bills, it is not green in any other sense. In this way, legality is hardly appropriate, but also because social inequality is rising, and threats to social struggle are being invented in which security in terms of military and police security have a force so great that forms of undeclared states of emergency are being created in many countries, it’s not the case in Colombia because this country has had a very marked history of states of siege or states of exception. When I was here carrying out my studies states of exception were normal hence why Colombia did not have dictatorships like other countries in Latin America, we analysed that at the time but now there are forms that go beyond legality, for example when the United States kills two American citizens in Yemen through the use of drones, is this legality, or illegality, this no longer has any norms. Because illegality demands a norm, let’s put it that way, and this is something that is completely new.
Like the case of the concentration camp at Guantánamo?
Guantánamo is the same thing, it is a total absence of criteria of legality, it is more than illegal, it is without law. To understand this one must go back to the 16th and 17th century when on this American continent the extermination of the indigenous people took place which was not illegal in itself, it was without law. Or rather, since the idea existed that the indigenous people were not humen, hence the conquistadors did not apply criteria of legality or illegality, they were things, slaves. Today there are features to the world where we cannot talk about social policy intervention because sometimes these are so cruel and aggressive against certain populations who because they are considered inferior do not have criteria of legality applied to them, and hence arbitrariness presents itself. One can see cases for example in Africa at the moment where there is a very emphatic manifestation of accumulation by dispossession, it also takes place in India and in Latin America with mining and extractive activities. In the African case it is strongly evident through the hoarding and purchase of land by countries like Brazil, China, South Korea that are seeking to hold a reserve of land outside their respective States. This is a new colonialism that we have not theorised. The sell-off is legal but what happens then with the peasants displaced from their land and who from one day to the next become occupiers or invaders. Is this legality? It is a violent primitive accumulation that operates in a way in which there is no form of rescue politically. This is not illegality, it is something more serious, it is lawlessness, which happens within the rule of law and democracies, and this is another great challenge for the lefts, especially those rooted in social democracy, who believe in institutions (institutionalidad).