(OPE-L) Alberto Bonnet on the Command of Money-Capital and Latin American Crises (Part 2)

From: gerald_a_levy (gerald_a_levy@MSN.COM)
Date: Thu May 01 2003 - 09:15:21 EDT

We have associated this process of expansion and socialization of debt
described in the previous section with a command-in-crisis of
money-capital. The latter is the primary modality through which the
antagonism between capital and labour expresses itself in contemporary
capitalism. Now it is necessary to give a fuller analysis of the
operation of this domination.
The starting point that many diverse analyses assume when explaining
this process of expansion and socialization of debt, whether coming
a Marxist, Keynesian or monetarist theoretical framework, is the
relation between the sphere of finance capital and the sphere of
productive capital.  In the most apologetic versions, the free
establishment of prices for diverse activities in conveniently
deregulated and liberalised financial markets assures the optimal
assignment of savings to investment.  In this way, the expansion and
socialization of debt would be the result of the beneficial
of the repressive financial policies of post-war capitalism.
Furthermore, the plethora of financial crises are seen as unfortunate
events originating from exogenous causes, whether economic in nature
(‚?~sun spots‚?T) or political (‚?~normative surprises‚?T). It is not
to conduct here a detailed critique of this platonic sky of Walrasian
mainstream theorizing, especially given that its own advocates have
chosen to exile themselves from their own clouds in the wake of
financial crises in the second half of the 1990s (refer to the
discussions around the ‚?~Post-Washington Consensus‚?T in Stiglitz
and elsewhere).
In the more critical versions, moreover, the very functionality of
expansion and socialization process is questioned. The rise in
profitability, understood as a result of neo-conservative policies, is
seen to brake productive investment and employment. Contemporary
capitalism is thereby converted into a financially dominated global
regime of accumulation (Chesnais, 1997) and, concurrently, into a
casino marked by the rent-seeking and parasitic nature of financial
capital (Sweezy, 1994). Owing to this speculative dynamic, the
establishment of equity prices in financial markets cannot be
characterized as a form of optimising rationality (Kregel, 1999) and,
moreover, finance converts itself into the source of ‚?~systemic
that threaten capitalism in its contemporary conjuncture (Aglietta,
Once again, it is not possible to provide here a detailed critique of
these accounts (see Bonnet, 2001).  It is enough to remember that the
idea of a purely rent-seeking and parasitic functioning of capitalism
the medium-term is unsustainable because finance can only absorb and
redistribute the mass of surplus value generated in production (see
Husson, 1999 and Chesnais, 1999). Moreover, as highlighted in the
introduction of this paper, the period of capitalist development under
consideration has already extended for a period equal to that of
post-war capitalism. As such, we are faced with the reappearance ‚?"
shrouded in the esoteric mists of finance ‚?" of the constitutive
dependence of capital upon labour.
It is, however, extremely important to indicate the political
implications of this idea of the ‚?~financialization‚?T of
capitalism. In
the capitalist centre this idea runs through a system of binary
oppositions between a ‚?~good‚?T productive capitalism and a ‚?~bad‚?T
speculative capitalism, each one respectively associated with its
particular fraction of the bourgeoisie; between a ‚?~good‚?T
Rhineland model
and a ‚?~bad‚?T Anglo-Saxon model despite the imposition of the
latter on a
global scale thanks to complicit European politicians; between
European capital and ‚?~bad‚?T US capital, and so on.1 In many cases
is barely an inch between the formulation of these oppositions and the
derivation of political implications whose reactionary profile is
reminiscent of the old discourse of social-imperialism.
Nonetheless, this warning is particularly important in the case of
America. In effect, the idea of a financialization of global
politically imposed by the rent-seeking and parasitic dominant
of the US is assimilated and remoulded in Latin America. In this
‚?" with half a century‚?Ts experience of nationalist and populist
development and continually marked by its precarious manner of
into the world market ‚?" such discourses assume ostensibly
contents. However, behind this idea of the financialization of
capitalism there often hides a resurrection of the old ideologies of
dependency-in-crisis and, in this manner, it is imbued with a tendency
to recycle nationalist-populist development programmes headed by the
presuppositions of a productive national bourgeoisie threatened by
global financial capitalism.2
The point of departure for a critical analysis of the operation of the
command-in-crisis of money-capital does not arise from the relations
between the sphere of financial capital and the sphere of productive
capital.  Much less still does it arise from the relations between
financial and productive capitalism, fractions of the bourgeoisie,
models of capitalism or national capitalisms. The point of departure
the unique process of global social capital accumulation, which
encompasses the moments of production and circulation and which must
analysed starting from the antagonism between capital and labour:

The movement of capital is the dialectic unity of the flight from
insubordination and of insubordination and the imposition of
subordination. It is more common to express this as the dialectic
of circulation and production but these terms do not emphasise that
circulation and production are class struggle, differentiated in time
and in space (Holloway, 1995, p.26).

The previously noted interpretations, thereby, lose sight of this
central antagonism between capital and labour, and fall into a
fetishization of finance. The question that orientates a critical
analysis of the operations of the command-in-crisis of money-capital
must emphasize, therefore, the relation between this new configuration
of global social capital ‚?" productive and financial ‚?" marked by
expansion and socialization of debt and the antagonism between capital
and labour inherent to capitalism. Some of the most pertinent aspects
this are expanded below.
The key to this command-in-crisis of money-capital resides in the
mobility of global capital and, above all, in the privileged mobility
capital in its money-capital form. Its spearhead is precisely the
massive moment of money-capital on a global scale. To understand its
mode of being presupposes an understanding of these movements of
money-capital as the result of the antagonism between capital and
and, thereby, as the response of capital to this antagonism. In other
words, it is a case of understanding the movements of money-capital as
determined by ‚?" and in turn determining ‚?" the balance of class
In effect, the so-called ‚?~fundamentals‚?T that determine the
movements of
capital on a global scale relate to the conditions of exploitation and
domination of labour present in distinct spaces of accumulation and
nothing less than synthetic expressions of these class relations. Any
variable or set of variables that refers to the levels of labour
exploitation ‚?" some combination of productivity, salary and exchange
rate, for example, that can indicate the rate of surplus value
extraction ‚?" can be adopted as an ‚?~economic‚?T determinant of
capital flows.3 The dynamic of integration of Mexico in NAFTA helps to
illustrate this point. Valle Baeza (1998) argues that, leaving aside
exchange rate effects, the difference in wages between Mexico and the
United States are of a magnitude similar to the productivity
differential between the two. Foreign investment flows are therefore
orientated towards the maquila Mexican export industry which
concentrates the segments of the production process that require the
employment of a large workforce with low productivity and low wages.4
The variables that refer to the capacity of debtors to pay ‚?" i.e.
ratios between debt/product, debt/exports, public expenditure/income,
etc. ‚?" and that are often considered as fundamentals in the
movement of
money-capital themselves also relate, although more indirectly, to
levels of labour exploitation.
However, it is also necessary to include in these fundamentals certain
variables of a political nature ‚?" such as the indicators of
‚?~governability‚?T, a euphemism invented by international
organisations to
refer to the internal conditions of the domination of labour ‚?" given
that the political domination of workers remains a necessary condition
for their economic exploitation.5  The devaluation of the real in
at the start of 1999 is a case in point.  From the middle of 1998 the
foreign reserves of the central bank were strongly depleted by the
operations of futures and options that provided capital flows into the
Brazilian stock exchange. These foreign reserves fell from USD 75,000
27,000 million between July of 1998 and January of 1999, a sum that
equates to 6 percent of Brazilian GDP. Consequently, the recently
re-elected Cardoso administration devalued the currency and left it at
the mercy of the foreign exchange markets, thereby ending the fixed
plan for the real. Up to that time, the devaluation of the real had
deferred owing to the credit package negotiated with the IMF in
October/November 1998. The IMF, at the head of a series of states and
international financial institutions, has put together a rescue
of USD 41,500 million to be disbursed over three years with 37,000
disbursed during the first year.6 In terms of its size, the package is
comparable only to the bailouts of Mexico in 1995 and of Korea in
However, its nature is not comparable to the latter two as it
revolved around ‚?~preventive programmes‚?T agreed a year previously
by the
IMF and G7 during the fallout from the Southeast Asian crisis. As
it was the first rescue undertaken before the fact, that is, before
capital flight devastated the financial markets in question. Hence, on
closer inspection, it can be seen that the IMF, as on previous
occasions, guaranteed the gains of the speculators who had been
in the capital flight, and who it represents. More importantly still,
both the flight of capital and the IMF intervention responded to the
specific internal political conjuncture. The possibility of a PT
(Brazilian Worker‚?Ts Party) triumph in the elections, understood by
speculators and the functionaries of the international financial
institutions as a threat to their interests, determined the behaviour
both. The IMF, therefore, came out to guarantee the internal
governability of Brazil through, in the short-term, assuring the
re-election of Cardoso and, in the medium term, disciplining the
of the PT left that demanded a change in the direction of economic
policy. This story is repeating itself today with a new line of
credit in the face of fresh Brazilian elections, with the PT ever more
It is important to note, however, that this is not a ‚?~politicist‚?T
interpretation of the operation of the command of money-capital.7 The
‚?~political‚?T and ‚?~economic‚?T variables that govern the
movements of
money-capital are both determined by the same antagonism between
and labour, just as the political and the economic as a
unity-in-separation, are only the forms assumed by the very same
antagonistic social relations of capitalism (see Holloway, 1994).
A glance at the variables considered in the evaluation of country-risk
by credit rating agencies can provide a more or less complete panorama
governing the determinations of the movements of money-capital on a
global scale. In effect, these credit-risk evaluations by the main
protagonists such as Moody‚?Ts or Standard and Poors, are the most
synthetic and disturbing expression of capitalist forecasting about
conditions for exploitation and domination of labour in distinct
accumulation spaces in the world market.  They are, in other words,
authoritative directives of the command of money-capital.  They can be
appreciated in this way as the variables tied to the ‚?~economic
risks‚?T of
payment cessation, ranging from the past records of successful payment
to indicators such as the weight of debt service on GDP and
exportations, and the status of the commercial balance alongside the
immediate conditions of the debtors‚?T access to bond markets. All the
former are put alongside variables linked to perceived ‚?~political
Naturally, this does not mean that such credit-rating agencies govern
themselves the international movement of money-capital.  Their ratings
are simply an institutionalized reflection of the variables that
concretely determine these money-capital movements. The only respect
which they are a determining influence by themselves is for those
institutional investors whose portfolios are legally restricted
(investment grade is normally demanded of pension funds). The spreads
themselves, submitted to the volatile daily arbitrage of speculators
international financial markets, operate as the true yet anonymous
directives of the command of money-capital. The recent financial
turbulence in Argentina is a dramatic illustration of this arbitrage.
Over the course of several weeks headlines were filled and
dominated by the mysterious notion of ‚?~country risk‚?T. The latter
itself associated with the equally cryptic numbers of spreads that
surpassed 1700 base points. A wave of speculation around public debt
titles conducted in international financial markets seemed to lie at
heart of these mysteries.  However, what really transpired was that
spread was rising and falling on a daily basis in line with the
balance of class relations. It went down when the government advanced
its policy of fiscal equilibrium based on the reduction of the wages
public workers, unemployment benefits and pensions; and it went up
the resistance of employed and unemployed workers threatened to
that policy and send the debt spinning into default.
This is a decisive point for understanding the command of money-
‚?" namely, that it is in essence a blind domination. Neither private
institutions such as credit risk agencies, nor public institutions
as the US Federal Reserve, nor international institutions such as the
IMF, World Bank, Bank for International Settlements, the Basil
Committee, govern the movement of money-capital. In other words, the
command-in-crisis of money-capital does not concisely correspond to
particular political form.9
The decisive role played by money-capital movements in contemporary
capitalism should not be interpreted in terms of the relative autonomy
of its dynamics within a supposedly financialized accumulation regime.
The valorization of global social capital remains dependent on the
effective exploitation of labour and it is in respect to the
underpinning this valorization ‚?" i.e. the conditions arising from
antagonism between capital and labour ‚?" that the movement of
money-capital must be understood. The specificity of this role of
money-capital, however, must be situated within the specific
contemporary configuration of global social capital: it is rooted in
special part in imposing the conditions of exploitation and domination
of labour on behalf of a globalized productive capital. It is in this
precise sense that we speak here of the command of money-capital.
Nonetheless, these conditions are constantly traversed by the
between capital and labour inherent in exploitation. The antagonism
between capital and labour, more precisely, undermines through
uncertainty the nexus between present and future conditions of
exploitation and domination, the precise nexus on which money-capital
operates. The movements of money-capital are in this sense gambles,
perpetually vulnerable, on the future exploitation of labour. The
insubordination of labour can negate the expectations of capital for
future conditions of exploitation and domination and result in massive
outflows of money-capital. In turn, the disciplinary character of
capital-flows is a decisive reply on the part of capital in order to
re-subordinate labour to its expectations for future exploitation. In
either case, to assimilate analytically the future conditions for the
exploitation and domination of labour to the present is equivalent to
papering-over the uncertainty that the antagonism between capital and
labour bestows on both. In other words it is to deny the very
of class struggle.10  This uncertainty is decisive, in effect, because
it entails that financial markets can only effectively sanction post
(instead of ex ante) the conditions for the exploitation of labour. It
is for this reason that it is not adequate to talk simply of
but rather always of the command-in-crisis of money-capital.
Here another decisive aspect of this command is realised. Namely, its
post hoc sanctions develop directly within the context of massive
of money-capital, resulting in huge financial crises that threaten the
system as a whole. Class struggle, in other words, expresses itself
directly in financial crisis. The case of the Mexican financial crisis
of 1994-95 is illustrative in this respect. It made it apparent how
post hoc sanctioning operates upon prior expectations of continued
political domination that were consequently shattered by class
(see Holloway, 1997).
The manner of Mexican integration into the world market, initiated in
the middle of the 1980s, generated considerable macroeconomic
disequilibria. Commercial imbalances, derived from its integration
the US economy (USD 30,149 million, equivalent to 8.3 percent of 1994
GDP), caused growing current account deficits (USD 28,785 million, 7.9
percent of GDP).11 These commercial deficits were meanwhile
for by capital inflows: net private capital flows reached USD 21,900
million by 1993, although they already began to decline in 1994 to
17,400 million. Exchange rate overvaluation (which, starting in 1988,
reached 30 percent in 1993) had reduced inflation and the weight of
external debt repayments but also had created new pressures in the
All these macroeconomic disequilibria clearly undermined the Mexican
economy before the 1994-95 crisis. Nonetheless, it is also clear that
the crisis cannot simply be understood as a traditional balance of
payments crisis. A comparison between the Mexican and Argentinean
situations can clarify this point. The commercial and current Mexican
deficits were more than double the Argentinean ones (the latter
represented 3.7 and 3.6 percent of Argentine GDP respectively in
whilst the overvaluation of the Argentine peso was more than double
of the Mexican peso (estimated to be 77.7 percent between 1988 and
1993). However, it is necessary to note that these Mexican deficits
together with a greater insertion into the world market. In 1994 the
Mexican sum of exports and imports accounted for 39.1 percent of its
as compared to 18.8 percent for Argentina. Moving to the effect these
variables would have in the respective capacity to pay external debt
is notable that the total stock of Mexican debt was equivalent to 228
percent of exports whereas in the Argentine case it amounted to 368
percent,13 while the service payments on the debt were equivalent to a
similar portion in both cases (34 percent and 32 percent
respectively).14  All this raises certain critical questions: What
the Mexican situation particularly explosive? Why did devaluation and
subsequent financial crisis explode in Mexico and not in Argentina?
why, even more surprisingly, did peso convertibility and the Argentine
financial system in general resist devaluation and crisis at that
particular historical juncture when the shock-waves from the Mexican
crisis were buffeting the region?15
The answer is simple. The Mexican political situation was very
from its Argentine counterpart. The Bank of Mexico reserves, that
supported the bands within which the peso fluctuated, started to
after the beginning of 1994, i.e. after the start of the Zapatista
insurrection. The PRI state-party regime, for its part, suffered a
political crisis that became terminal several years later. The
PRI candidate, Colosio, was assassinated in March of that year and
USD 10,000 million evaporated from the national reserves in an attempt
to save the peso. The general secretary of the PRI, Massieu, was
assassinated in September and the bleeding of reserves continued. In
December the Zapatistas broke the military cordon that encircled them
and spread from the Lacandon jungle. The following day President
Zedillo was obliged to devalue the peso by 15.3 percent whilst another
USD 10 to 12,000 continued to bleed from the reserves. Zedillo was
confronted with the spectre of a peso in freefall that depreciated by
percent of its value. Massive flows of money-capital constituted the
post hoc reaction to the negation through class struggle of the
conditions of political domination.
The Argentine political situation was quite different. The banking
system suffered a currency run that depleted nearly 20 percent of
deposits, especially in pesos, and internal and external interest
doubled between November 1994 and April 1995.16 Central Bank reserves
that supported peso convertibility dropped 20 percent.  Nevertheless,
the government of Carlos Menem enjoyed a wide political consensus,
sustained through the blackmail of a prospective return to
hyperinflation, which was expressed in his re-election in May, in the
middle of the crisis (see Bonnet, 1995). Hence, he was in a position
unleash the brutal mechanisms of adjustment inherent in the
convertibility regime: deflation, decrease in nominal wages, and
increased unemployment, in order to save the peso.17
Clearly, the antagonism between capital and labour develops
in distinct accumulation spaces within the world market. In this
the movements of money-capital are determined by, and at the same time
determine, differences in expectations concerning the future
of exploitation and domination associated with these distinct
accumulation spaces. As a consequence, in order to explain the precise
movements of money-capital it is necessary to consider simultaneously
the expectations associated with the prospective accumulation space
alongside those of the accumulation space from which capital is
Hence the analysis must immediately assume a global perspective. In
concrete terms, money-capital fled the crisis and lack of profitable
investment in the advanced capitalist centres in the mid-1970s towards
the backward and dictatorial capitalism of Latin America.
the debt crisis at the start of the 1980s revealed that these Latin
American countries, far from being safe-havens, were actually
refuges and, once again, money-capital fled, this time towards the
expansion associated with Reaganomics. Thus, the massive flows of
money-capital that unleashed the financial crises of the mid-1990s are
inexplicable without taking into account the previous flows of
money-capital towards the ‚?~emerging markets‚?T following the
recession of
the early 1990s in the advanced capitalist centres. Once again, this
highlights a decisive aspect of the dominance of money-capital: it is
precisely a mode of capitalist command that operates immediately at a
global level. In this way each and every corner of the planet becomes
stage in the game of global capital flows whilst each and every point
class struggle ‚?" including that of the Lacandon jungle ‚?" are at
the same
time barriers against global money-capital.

By Way of Conclusion and Hope

To recap, capitalist domination is exercised in contemporary
as the command of money-capital that, through its movement, sanctions
the conditions of exploitation and domination of labour. However, it
command-in-crisis because, at root, it expresses through crisis the
insubordination of labour that negates these expectations of
exploitation and domination. This specific form of expression of the
insubordination of labour has important implications for the
of class struggle. Firstly, the insubordination of labour tends to
an immediately anti-capitalist character because the command of
money-capital is essentially the anonymous and immediate domination of
capital. Secondly, this insubordination becomes expressed directly in
the form of financial crisis because capitalist domination is
directly as the command of capital in the form of money-capital.
Thirdly, the insubordination of labour is immediately directed against
capital on a global scale, precisely because the command of
money-capital is immediately global in scope. In other words, every
social struggle ‚?" from the indigenous Zapatista uprising, the
piqueteros in Argentina, the land-seizures of the sem terra in Brazil,
to the huge cocalera demonstrations in Bolivia, become expressed
mediation as a crisis of the global command of money capital.
However, the insubordination of labour is expressed as the crisis of
command of money-capital, that is to say, in the form of its own
negation. That is, it expresses itself in a fetishized form through
speculative flight in the international financial markets. More
importantly still, it expresses itself in a perverse manner ‚?"
in financial crises that impose dramatic social consequences on
This is not a new phenomenon: under capitalism the creativity of
labour ‚?" be it productive or political ‚?" is normally expressed
its very self-negation.
Nonetheless, there is no reason to believe that we are trapped in this
situation. The new global anti-capitalist movement, which we see
spreading like wildfire from Seattle to Geneva via Porto Alegre, is
inaugurating a novel perspective in this respect. Global labour,
the dynamic of insubordination, is starting to recognise itself as the
antagonist of global capital. The old question What is to be Done? is
beginning to find new answers.


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Translated from Spanish by Marcus Taylor.

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