[A sweeping review of theoretical and geopolitical
issues which, whether you agree with him or even understand
all of it, I found immensely stimulating. Thanks to the
Transnational Institute for bringing this to my attention.
The original interview with Bello was done in English and then published in Italian by Bolletino Culturale on January 11, 2020 and found at https://revolucionvoxpopuli.wordpress.com/2020/01/11/intervista-al-professor-walden-bello/
“Democratic socialism will not be a smooth ride. It will be full of problems and contradictions, both foreseen and unforeseen, that emerge and ripen as people grope their way towards more and more democratic socialist forms of governance and accountability. There is no timeless blueprint but a series of contingent plans that are adopted or discarded depending on how they allow us or hinder us from moving towards the values or end-goals of equity, justice, and democracy.”
DEGLOBALIZATION, NOT DELINKING
BC: “Deglobalization” is a term you coined at the beginning of the 21st century at the height of the No Global movement. This is a concept you used to describe the relationships of dependency between the world North and South, in relation to the institutions on which the US tried to build the processes of globalization. Do you conceive this as a process to re-discuss globalization, focusing on the people’s interests and not multinationals’ ones. I would like to know what relationship exists between this concept of yours and that of Samir Amin’s disconnection, which is in some respects very similar.
WB: Deglobalization advocates the subordination of trade to the social good and the re-embedding of the market in society. It is, at its core, an ethical perspective. It prioritizes values over interests, cooperation above competition, and community over self-interest. Translated into economics, the aim of the deglobalization paradigm is to move beyond the economics of narrow efficiency, in which the key criterion in production is the reduction of unit cost, never mind the social and economic destabilization that this brings about. Instead, deglobalization seeks to promote effective economics, which strengthens social solidarity by subordinating the operations of the market to the values if equity, justice, and community and enlarging the ranges of democratic decision-making in the economic sphere. To use the language of the great Hungarian thinker Karl Polanyi in his book The Great Transformation, deglobalization is about “re-embedding” the economy and the market in society instead of having society driven by the economy and the market.
Unlike Samir Amin’s concept of delinking, delgobalization, as proposed by us in Focus on the Global South, never advocated separating the domestic economy from the international economy. What it sought was to make the domestic market again the center of gravity of the economy and to achieve a healthy balance between the domestic economy and the international economy, with the state playing an innovative mediating role through the use of tariffs and other mechanisms.
WHY DID BANDUNG FAIL?
BC: The end of the “Bandung project” did not produce a further attempt to break the peripheral capitalist countries dependency with the center. Taking your country as an example, it produced the rise of a very dangerous character like Duterte. How do you explain this deadlock in peripheral capitalist countries?
WB: The decolonization of the global South was accompanied by the emergence of socialist or developmental capitalist economies, where the state played a central role in mediating the relationship between the global and the local economies. The most successful of these state-led economies were in East Asia, with Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, Malaysia, Thailand, Indonesia, and Singapore leading the way till the 1990’s, followed by China from the 1990’s on. State-led developmental regimes did suffer from many problems in many parts of the global South, but these were to be expected when you were in the early stages of setting up a new economic approach. The dominant countries of the North, however, took advantage of these difficulties and, using the debt they were owed by the countries of the South as a weapon, forced the latter to dismantle the institutions of developmental capitalism and socialism through structural adjustment programs that prioritized market mechanisms and pushed production for export to northern markets as the cutting edge of the economy. Structural adjustment or neoliberal reform did not bring about growth and it increased both poverty and inequality throughout the global South.
Neoliberalism became the economic orientation of countries that embraced liberal democracy following the fall of dictatorships throughout the South since the early 1980’s. Not surprisingly, neoliberal economics subverted and derailed the promises of economic and political empowerment that had been offered by liberal democracy and ended up discrediting the latter. It is this discrediting of democracy by neoliberal economics that has been one of the principal reasons why we have seen the rise of dangerous right-wing counterrevolutionaries like Duterte in the Philippines and Modi in India, who have taken advantage of persistent and gross inequality and poverty to convince people that democracy does not work and push their authoritarian agenda.
WHAT HAPPENED TO THE PINK TIDE?
BC: These years were also when socialism of the 21st century developed in Latin America, and you supported it. This is a very important experience for peripheral capitalist nations, but these governments have not been able to question an extractive and dependent economic model, without starting a disconnection process to industrialize their nations. Venezuela is emblematic and its dependency on oil. What judgment do you feel to give and which chance of advancement towards socialism do you see in these nations?
WB: The rise of pro-socialist, left-wing populist, or moderate leftist governments in Latin America in the early 2000’s was a promising development. However, some of these governments, like Venezuela, Bolivia, ad Ecuador, chose to focus on extractive industries to produce revenues that could be redistributed to the population at large and used for social programs. This was a case of having good intentions but the wrong methods.
The problem was that the extractive industries were very destabilizing ecologically and pursuing some of them meant violating the rights of indigenous communities that owned the resources being extracted. This brought governments into conflict with some of these communities, with tragic consequences for both the communities and the government, as we have seen in the case of Bolivia.
An extractivist approach also led to complacency on the part of some governments, such as that in Venezuela, which decided to just depend on oil and not diversify its economy. The collapse in the price of oil led to a catastrophic collapse of revenues and economic chaos and hardship.
In the case of the moderate left governments, the problems were different. The Workers’ Party government in Brazil did not enact even the slightest reform of the structures of oligarchic capitalism for fear of provoking ruling class resistance, choosing instead to focus on disbursing some government revenue via anti-poverty programs, which was a limited success. Unfortunately, it also tried to push through its social agenda by bribing members of other parties, and it ended up being ensnared by the culture of corruption for which Brazilian politics is notorious. In Chile, the Concertacion governments built on an alliance between the Socialist Party and the Christian Democratic Party did not change the basic neoliberal orientation of the state they inherited from Pinochet but they did try to “soften” it with compensatory programs for the poor. That balancing act ultimately collapsed, with the recent massive protests in Chile being a repudiation of over 40 years of essentially neoliberal governance. But these experiences are not in vain. They are valuable in that they provide both positive and negative lessons for future progressive movements of what to do and what not to do when the left becomes the government again.
CHINA: DANGER OR OPPORTUNITY?
BC: Also in Africa matters does not appear exceptional. China has been investing in this continent for many years. Do you consider the ever-growing Chinese presence a danger or an opportunity for Africans?
WB: When it comes to development finance, China has also been overwhelmingly a plus for developing countries. In the much needed area of infrastructure building, where there is said to be an grossly unmet need of some $3 trillion, China offers practically the sole source of financing for many countries since Western-led financing for development has been stagnant for years now and Western agencies such as the World Bank and the IMF attach neoliberal conditionalities that impede development.
But the overall positive role of China’s expansion in the global South has, however, been clouded by criticisms of Investment by Chinese state enterprises, which is often linked to Chinese financing for development. Chinese development loans are said to carry higher rates of interest than loans from Japan or the Western-dominated multilateral development banks. Many projects are faulted for aiding dictatorial regimes, yielding benefits only for local elites, disregarding labor rights, and promoting damage to the environment.
There is no doubt that many of these criticisms are valid.
These criticisms must, however, be placed within a broader picture.
First of all, on the question of the interest burden of Chinese loans, while it is true that Chinese loans carry an interest rate above those that accompany loans from the World Bank, regional development banks, and bilateral donors like Japan, China has also engaged in many acts of debt forgiveness or debt cancellation. This year, 2019, it has written off $78 million debt owed by Cameroon; in 2018, it wrote off $72 million owed by Botswana and $10.6 million owed by Lesotho; and in 2017, $160 million worth of debt owed by Sudan.
The Rhodium research group found 40 instances of renegotiations of debts to China amounting to $50 billion across 24 countries since 2000.
Second, on the issue of Chinese loans and investments helping to prop up dictatorial regimes, while there are instances where this is true, the claim does not seem to hold as a general rule. Investigation by Julia Bader, has, in fact, come out with the counterintuitive finding that “China’s economic cooperation appears to have unexpected positive effects for democratization,” that is, the level of Chinese aid is positively correlated with transitions to democracy. This is obviously an issue that must be probed further.
Third, while in certain cases, Chinese-funded projects do exacerbate inequality, global macroeconomic data indicate that Chinese lending offers not only alternative finance but alternative finance that tends to reduce inequality. Research by a transnational consortium of analysts from leading US and German universities found that “Chinese development projects — in particular, ‘connective infrastructure’ projects like roads and bridges — are found to create a more equal distribution of economic activity within the provinces and districts where they were located.”
Fourth, while China’s state enterprises are often assumed to pollute the environment more intensively than western corporations, there is, in fact, conflicting evidence on whether this is true. Certainly, western companies engaged in extractive and related activities, such as the Australian-Canadian mining giant Oceana Gold in El Salvador and the Philippines, have records that would compare with, if not surpass in notoriety, those of Chinese firms.
Moreover, western transnational firms have increasingly taken to subcontracting their cheap-labor and polluting operations to enterprises in developing countries, so that the comprehensive global impact of their value-chains, in terms of labor exploitation and environmental pollution in the Africa, Latin America, and Asia outside China is probably much greater than those of a limited number of Chinese state enterprises…
Indeed, for all their complaints about the behavior of Chinese state enterprises in their countries, many people in developing countries do not place China in the same category as western corporations.
These perceptions may, however, change if China does not make moves to correct its mistakes and allows questionable practices its corporations and agencies made in its first 25 years of the country’s opening up to the world to persist.
Countries that previously were willing to give China space to make mistakes owing to the fact that it was on a steep learning curve, may no longer be as tolerant in the next few years. Changing questionable or bad behavior will not be easy, but unless China acts soon, these behaviors can congeal into structural patterns similar to those displayed by western corporations.
These structures can then become the mechanisms and avenues of domination should a leadership seeking global hegemony emerge in China.
BC: Speaking of China, you recently wrote a book that foreshadows an upcoming economic crisis in the Asian giant. In connection with this, how do you assess Chinese economic policy and what meaning does the BRI, the Chinese way to globalization, assume?
WB: China is entering a period that we might call, borrowing from Toynbee, a “time of troubles.” Its growth rate is down from 11 per cent 15 years ago to about five per cent at present. It is engaged in a trade war with the US, which means its profits from trade will be significantly reduced. Its industries are suffering from overcapacity, so that it is no longer profitable for many of them to produce in China. It is plagued by a real estate bubble, an overheating stock market, and the rise of a large shadow banking sector, which make it a candidate to be a trigger of the next global financial crisis.
It is in this wider context that we must evaluate the matter of the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). Many have written about the BRI as a grand plan for global domination by Beijing. The reality is that it is really a desperate effort to create external market to solve the Chinese economy’s extremely serious problem of excess capacity, which has made production in China less and less profitable.
Some analysts say that it is a well thought out strategy executed from above. The truth is that it is an ill-coordinated, incoherent mess that is driven from below by competing provincial governments and authorities jockeying for resources, prestige, and the attention of Beijing. When it was first announced in 2013, it was just one belt, one road, or OBOR. By 2015, it had become three belts, two maritime routes, and six corridors. It has been opened to all countries on earth, so that one influential Chinese scholar Xi Lue has complained that “If you put it everywhere, [BRI} becomes nothing.”
Some think that China is an inexhaustible piggy bank that can fund the BRI’s ill assortment of projects. The reality is that China’s growth has plunged from 11 per cent a decade ago to at most five per cent at present, it is engaged in a trade war with the US that will severely cut down its profits from exports, its state enterprises are indebted to the state banks to the tune of $12 trillion dollars, according to some estimates, making BRI a reality will mean making loans to more governments that will not be able to pay them back, squeezing Chinese depositors of their savings, which has been the main method of raising resources, is provoking resistance at a time of economic stagnation at home, and the combination of a dangerous property bubble, a runaway stock market, and the rise of shadow banking is making China a candidate to serve as a trigger of the next global financial crisis.
The biggest problem with the BRI is that is exporting not just China’s excess capacity problem but its ecological crisis as well. A great number of its projects are focused on dam building and creating coal-fired power plants, whose negative environmental consequences are already widely known. The BRI is a grandiose anachronistic transference to the 21st century of the 20th century technocratic capitalist, state socialist, and developmentalist mindset that produced the Hoover Dam in the US, the massive construction projects in Stalin’s Soviet Union during the 1930’s, the Three Gorges Dam in China, the Narmada Dam in India, and the Nam Theun 2 Dam in Laos. These are all testaments to what Arundhati Roy has called modernity’s “disease of gigantism” or gigantomania. It is obsolete.
Rather than being a route out of crisis, BRI may actually push China over the edge, taking a lot of the world along with it.
WORKERS’ SELF MANAGEMENT AND SOCIALISM
BC: Among the alternatives to globalization you proposed, cooperative enterprises role hold an important position. This is a subject very dear to the Marxist economic debate. In Italy the theme of cooperatives and workers’ self-management has long been dealt with by the Marxist economist Bruno Jossa, but in the past it was discussed at length by the tradition of libertarian Marxism and by defenders of market socialism such as Oskar Lange. How do you confront with these theorists and also with the critics of the self-management model, such as Charles Bettelheim, according to whom self-management allows a group of workers to take legal ownership of the means of production of their own factory, but furthermore self-management divides the working class into many units as much as self-managed factories, connected through the market. The use of the means of production is therefore still dominated by market relations which necessarily influence the functioning of the self-managed factory in terms of work and goals. For example, by reproducing the social and technical division of labour through the election of managers, who automatically become the directors of the factory. Is there a danger of locking up the worker’s horizon to his individual company instead of extending the struggle for a radical overcoming of market relations?
WB: I have not really followed the debate in this area. Let me just say that workers’ self- management would be a real step forward in terms of economic democracy. Of course, there are dangers, like elected managers that have expertise constituting themselves into a self-conscious elite that forms across factories and enterprises, or that market relations among enterprises may end up subverting the collective interest of society. These are dangers, however, that must be met through the creation of institutional mechanisms that check them, like limits on the terms of managers and weekly collective assessment of their non-technical performance, of their performance in terms of achieving democratic goals.
Democratic socialism will not be a smooth ride. It will be full of problems and contradictions, both foreseen and unforeseen, that emerge and ripen as people grope their way towards more and more democratic socialist forms of governance and accountability. There is no timeless blueprint but a series of contingent plans that are adopted or discarded depending on how they allow us or hinder us from moving towards the values or end-goals of equity, justice, and democracy. The market is not to be jettisoned. It is a very important mechanism for the allocation of resources and for exchange that cannot be replaced by central planning. What is important is that market relations are subordinated to values and the social good, the achievement of which may necessitate control mechanisms that may result in “inefficiency” from the point of view of narrow efficiency criteria but actually promote what I call “effective economics” in terms of promoting social solidarity.
THE DUTERTE COUNTERREVOLUTION AND THE LEFT
BC: You are part of the Akbayan party since 2007. How does this political formation lead opposition to Duterte and what is the social basis of this government, of which class it defends interests?
WB: I resigned as the representative of Akbayan in the House of Representatives (Parliament) in 2015 owing to differences with the leadership of the party over the party’s continued support for the administration of then President Benigno Aquino III. I am told that my resignation was the only case of a resignation on a matter of principle in the history of the Congress of the Philippines. I am now National Chairperson of Laban ng Masa, a progressive democratic coalition that opposes the Duterte administration owing to its widespread violations of human rights and its neoliberal economic policies.
The Duterte government is a counterrevolutionary regime that enjoys widespread popular support owing to disillusionment over the failure of the 30 year old post-Marcos liberal democracy to deliver genuine empowerment and equality as well as provide physical security. Duterte has convinced the people that strongman rule and the killing of drug users are the answer to the Philippines’ problems. That someone who has been responsible for the extra-judicial execution of over 20,000 people over three years enjoys an 87 per cent popularity rating is astounding.
Duterte’s main base is the middle class but he also enjoys support from the lower classes. To borrow from Gramsci, the middle class provides “active consensus” while that of the lower classes is one of “passive consensus.” The elites have, except for a few, swung behind Duterte, not only because they know he will not dismantle the dependent of peripheral capitalist system from which they draw their riches but also because each of these rich groups is afraid that Duterte can dispossess them if they offend him. The relationship of Duterte to economic elites is like that of Hitler with the German capitalist elite and Mussolini with Italian monopoly capital. It is an uneasy partnership wherein each is trying to use the other to achieve its interests within a peripheral capitalist economic system and class structure. Duterte has a large degree of relative autonomy from the economic elite.
BC: Two major movements of opposition to neoliberalism in Asia are the Maoist guerrillas in India and in the Philippines. For a long time you were a member of the Communist Party of the Philippines. Nowadays, what is your relationship with Jose Maria Sison and which judgement can you give us about these guerrilla movements?
WB: The National Democratic Front, which includes the Communist Party of the Philippines, initially supported Duterte during his first months in power. However, they are now in the opposition owing to the Philippine military’s intransigent opposition to a genuine peace agreement between them and Duterte. To please the military, which is the only institutional force capable of overthrowing him, Duterte is now repressing the NDF and the CPP. All forces, including the NDF-CPP, Akbayan, Laban ng Masa, and the anti-Duterte elite are now parts of a broad opposition front. However, that broad front still has to become a cohesive force.
WHY THE CHURCH LOST CREDIBILITY
BC: Your country has a Catholic majority. Which role could the Theology of Liberation – developed in Latin America – play in conducting social struggles in favor of the masses?
WB: The problem in the Philippines for the Catholic Church hierarchy and clergy is that it has lost much credibility and political capital owing to its intransigent opposition to family planning, which is favored by the population. Also, as in other countries, the hierarchy and clergy are burdened with many cases of unethical and immoral behavior, including clerical abuse of women and children, and this has made them vulnerable to blackmail by Duterte, who has promised to expose clerical misconduct if the Church opposes him. Apparently Duterte’s anger at the Church stems partly from the fact that he was sexually abused by a Jesuit priest when he was a student. Anyway, except for a few bishops and priests, the Church is, for the most part, silent when it comes to Duterte’s crimes.
Is the Theology of Liberation still relevant? Maybe.
IS MARXISM STILL RELEVANT?
BC: Do you think the work of Karl Marx and other Marxist thinkers, i.e. Mao and Lenin, still a valid tool for analyzing capitalism and in particular a peripheral form of capitalism like the Filipino one?
WB: Of course, all progressive thinkers, like Marx, Mao, Lenin, Rosa Luxemburg, Polanyi, Gramsci, Nicos Poulantzas, Ho Chi Minh, remain relevant. What the Philippine left, like the left in other countries, must learn is how to be discriminating, that is, how to differentiate what is relevant and useful from what is wrong or irrelevant among the writings of these thinkers, and appropriate the former while throwing the latter overboard. And we need to be open not just to Marxists but also non-Marxists like Keynes, ecological economists ike Herman Daly, critical thinkers like Susan George and James C Scott, the feminists Vandana Shiva, Bina Agarwal, and Sergy Floro, agrarian theorists like Jun Borras, and to alternative paradigms like feminist economics, food sovereignty, degrowth, and Buen Vivir. The cross-fertilization of these different approaches, I am confident, will lead us to breakthroughs in theory and practice that will rejuvenate the global left.
Walden Bello, nato a Manila l’11 novembre del 1945, consegue nel 1966…