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 from 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 abandonment 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 necessary 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 emerging financial crises in the second half of the 1990s (refer to the discussions around the ‚?~Post-Washington Consensus‚?T in Stiglitz (1998) and elsewhere). In the more critical versions, moreover, the very functionality of this expansion and socialization process is questioned. The rise in financial 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 large 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 crises‚?T that threaten capitalism in its contemporary conjuncture (Aglietta, 1995). 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 in 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 ‚?~good‚?T European capital and ‚?~bad‚?T US capital, and so on.1 In many cases there 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 Latin America. In effect, the idea of a financialization of global capitalism politically imposed by the rent-seeking and parasitic dominant interests of the US is assimilated and remoulded in Latin America. In this region ‚?" with half a century‚?Ts experience of nationalist and populist development and continually marked by its precarious manner of insertion into the world market ‚?" such discourses assume ostensibly progressive 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 is the unique process of global social capital accumulation, which encompasses the moments of production and circulation and which must be 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 unity of circulation and production but these terms do not emphasise that both 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 the expansion and socialization of debt and the antagonism between capital and labour inherent to capitalism. Some of the most pertinent aspects of 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 of 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 labour 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 power. 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 are 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 productive 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. the 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 these 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 Brazil 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 to 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 rate plan for the real. Up to that time, the devaluation of the real had been 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 package of USD 41,500 million to be disbursed over three years with 37,000 being 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 1997. However, its nature is not comparable to the latter two as it primarily revolved around ‚?~preventive programmes‚?T agreed a year previously by the IMF and G7 during the fallout from the Southeast Asian crisis. As such, 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 involved 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 the speculators and the functionaries of the international financial institutions as a threat to their interests, determined the behaviour of 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 sectors 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 external credit in the face of fresh Brazilian elections, with the PT ever more disciplined. 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 capital 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 the conditions for exploitation and domination of labour in distinct accumulation spaces in the world market. They are, in other words, the 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 risks‚?T.8 Naturally, this does not mean that such credit-rating agencies govern by 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 in 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 in 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 conversations dominated by the mysterious notion of ‚?~country risk‚?T. The latter was itself associated with the equally cryptic numbers of spreads that often surpassed 1700 base points. A wave of speculation around public debt titles conducted in international financial markets seemed to lie at the heart of these mysteries. However, what really transpired was that this spread was rising and falling on a daily basis in line with the changing balance of class relations. It went down when the government advanced its policy of fiscal equilibrium based on the reduction of the wages of public workers, unemployment benefits and pensions; and it went up when the resistance of employed and unemployed workers threatened to overturn that policy and send the debt spinning into default. This is a decisive point for understanding the command of money- capital ‚?" namely, that it is in essence a blind domination. Neither private institutions such as credit risk agencies, nor public institutions such 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 any 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 conditions underpinning this valorization ‚?" i.e. the conditions arising from the 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 its 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 antagonism 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 the 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 existence of class struggle.10 This uncertainty is decisive, in effect, because it entails that financial markets can only effectively sanction post hoc (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 domination 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 flows 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 this post hoc sanctioning operates upon prior expectations of continued political domination that were consequently shattered by class struggle (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 with 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 compensated 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 trade balance.12 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 1994), whilst the overvaluation of the Argentine peso was more than double that of the Mexican peso (estimated to be 77.7 percent between 1988 and 1993). However, it is necessary to note that these Mexican deficits went 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 GDP as compared to 18.8 percent for Argentina. Moving to the effect these variables would have in the respective capacity to pay external debt it 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 made the Mexican situation particularly explosive? Why did devaluation and subsequent financial crisis explode in Mexico and not in Argentina? And 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 different from its Argentine counterpart. The Bank of Mexico reserves, that supported the bands within which the peso fluctuated, started to dwindle 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 official PRI candidate, Colosio, was assassinated in March of that year and some 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 Ernesto 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 50 percent of its value. Massive flows of money-capital constituted the post hoc reaction to the negation through class struggle of the expected 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 rates 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 to 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 differently in distinct accumulation spaces within the world market. In this sense, the movements of money-capital are determined by, and at the same time determine, differences in expectations concerning the future conditions 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 fleeing. 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. Nevertheless, the debt crisis at the start of the 1980s revealed that these Latin American countries, far from being safe-havens, were actually dangerous 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 a stage in the game of global capital flows whilst each and every point of 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 capitalism as the command of money-capital that, through its movement, sanctions the conditions of exploitation and domination of labour. However, it is 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 development of class struggle. Firstly, the insubordination of labour tends to adopt 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 exercised 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 unemployed piqueteros in Argentina, the land-seizures of the sem terra in Brazil, to the huge cocalera demonstrations in Bolivia, become expressed without mediation as a crisis of the global command of money capital. However, the insubordination of labour is expressed as the crisis of the 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. 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(1976), ‚?~La crisis del franco franc√©s‚?T and ‚?~La devaluaci√≥n del franco franc√©s‚?T, in El d√≥lar y la crisis del imperialismo, Era, M√©xico. Marazzi, C. (1995), ‚?~Money in the world crisis: the new basis of capitalist power‚?T, in Bonefeld, W. and J. Holloway (eds) 1995. McDonough, T. (1995), ‚?~Lenin, el imperialismo y las etapas del capitalismo‚?T, Cuadernos del Sur, no. 24, pp.44‚?"72. McDonough, T. (1998), ‚?~Waves, structures and regimes: the economics of marxian stage theory‚?T, en Actes du Congr√®s Marx International II, Par√≠s, mimeo. Negri, A. (1992): ‚?~Interpretation of the class situation today: methodological aspects‚?T, in Bonefeld, W., Gunn, R. and K. Psychopedis (eds), Open Marxism, vol. II, Pluto Press, London. Negri, A. (1996), ‚?~Keynes and the capitalist theory of the state‚?T, in Negri, A and M. Hardt: Labor of Dyonisus. A critique of the state- form, University of Minnesota Press, Minneapolis. Ominami, C. (1987), El tercer mundo en la crisis, GEL, Buenos Aires. Palazuelos, E. (1998), La globalizaci√≥n financiera. La internacionalizaci√≥n del capital financiero a finales del siglo XX, S√≠ntesis, Madrid. Stiglitz, J. E. (1998), ‚?~M√°s instrumentos y metas m√°s amplias para el desarrollo. Hacia el consenso post-Washington‚?T, Desarrollo Econ√≥mico, vol. 38, no. 151, pp.691‚?"722. Sweezy, P. M. (1994), ‚?~The triumph of financial capital‚?T, Monthly Review, vol. 46, no. 2, pp.1‚?"19. Valle Baeza, A. (1998), ‚?~La productividad del trabajo al encuentro de la teorema marxista‚?T, Revista da Sociedade Brasileria de Economia Politica, no. 2, pp.25‚?"45. Note Translated from Spanish by Marcus Taylor.
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