Fight cultural hegemony!

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Recently I read a column by one of our journalists, who got himself worked up over some musician expressing himself in a foreign style of “urban”. He even accused the musician of “cultural hegemony”. While this is technically correct, I feel that we have much bigger fish to fry in the field of cultural hegemony, than hearing some songs in English language and American style on the radio. I am referring to the phenomenon of capitalistic advertising. This is a much wider spread example of cultural hegemony.

Anywhere you look, as soon as you enter a trading centre, you see billboards. You see buildings painted up in capitalistic logo’s. You see vehicles with advertising. You turn on the radio, you hear advertising. You open your phone, you get advertising. If you open a newspaper, or magazine, it is advertising left right and centre, top and bottom.

All these capitalistic advertisements are simple, one dimensional, and carry the same message: BUY THE PROUCT! BUY THE PRODUCT!! BUY THE PRODUCT!!!

Our children grow up in an environment of advertising that tells them every challenge can be reduced to the issue of buying a product. This promotes consumerism.

All this in contrast to our own cultural values, of respect, of many layered stories, of consultation and discussion. The issues in our life are not as simple as the advertising message: BUY THE PRODUCT!.

Buying a product does never solve the challenge, so we remain unfulfilled and are vulnerable to the message in the next advertisement: BUY MORE PRODUCT!

Is it any wonder that the children growing up in such a capitalistic environment become more and more materialistic? If one gets one such a message, there is no great harm. But if every place you look carries an advertisement, any radio show carries advertising, every TV show carries advertising, every newspaper is filled with advertising, a cumulative effect appears: we start to think according to the foreign capitalistc lines of BUYING PRODUCT to solve our issues, instead of using our own cultural values of talking, discussion, village meetings, and valuing people over product.

Even our leaders have fallen for this foreign capitalistic cultural hegemony: they are practicing primitive capitalistic accumulation at the cost of our national kitty and our development, to satisfy an unsatisfiable urge of consumerism, that has been caused by this foreign cultural hegemony of capitalistic greed as expressed in this all present advertising.

I say, we must win our public space back from the capitalistic cultural hegemony of commercial billboards. We must win our air waves back from the capitalistic cultural hegemony of advertising. We must win our TV stations back from this cultural hegemony that goes against our cultural values. We as Africans value discussions, we value reaching consensus, we value sharing our food and homes, of being open and hospitable. But the cultural hegemony of advertising overpowers our children’s natural African feelings of friendship and tolerance and reduces them and us to consumers instead of people, of Africans, of respectful and respected citizens.

 

 

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The challenge of our democracy

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The governance system in Malawi is dysfunctional. We all know that, but we seem to be unable to devise a way of creating improvement. My opinion is that we need to look deeper than just the level of governance implemented by the people who are ruling now. Since all politicians we have behave in the same dysfunctional way, there is a systemic problem. We need a different look at politics in general, to create improvement.

Politics, as it is practiced now, is presented as a technical question of creating development, and politicians are fighting each other over the competence of doing this. This means that if we differ in opinion with a politician we are accusing him (or in rare cases her) of incompetence. The politicians in power interpret this as obstruction of their “development agenda”. I think this concept of politics is wrong and deeply anti democratic.

Democratic politics is a dialectic process: there are different groups in society (for instance the ruling class, the working class, the smallholder class, the lumpen proletariat etc). All these groups have different interests, which can all be legitimate. And these different interests translate in different ideas of how an ideal Malawi is constructed, which translates into different policies. All these policies and the ideologies that they flow from can be legitimate. You see this in developed democracies, where fi labour, conservatives and liberals represent different sections of society and try to implement policies that create an ideal country according to the people they represent in parliament and executive.

In Malawi politics is mostly defined on lines of creating development, without defining what exactly the politician (or journalist, or talker in the bottle store) means by development (growing GDP? Infrastructure improvement? Food security? National honour? Etc) This irons over the different classes in our economy with their respective interests and the ideals that come with these interests.

Currently, the ruling class defines their personal or class interests as the national interest. This is what the Italian philosopher Gramsci called “cultural hegemony”. The ruling class imposes its own interests as common sense, development, national interests etc. If we do not question these underlying ideas, then they manage to reduce the dialectics out of politics. All that is left is a fight amongst the ruling elites for the position who can take the biggest cut out of the national cake. The only alternative that opposition politicians offer us is a less corrupt version of the same. They conveniently brush over the fact that the corruption is created by the system that they themselves constitute and profit from. So this less corrupt version of the same is not possible, because this same existing system is exactly the cause of the corruption.

In developed countries there are clear issues with democracy. Since around 1980 the dialectic process I described has disappeared and there was a hegemonic idea of politics called neo-liberalism (I have written other blog posts on this). The population has had enough of this hegemony and votes for alternatives, both on the right (Trump, Le Pen, Brexit) and on the left (Bernie Sanders, Jeremy Corbine, Jean-Luc Melanchon). This creates new challenges, but it does solve the issue of neo-liberal hegemony, and in that it improves the democratic process. In developed countries the electorate has a choice between different policies from different parties. We do not have that, we have parties that all promise the same impossible policy: a less corrupt version of the same. And this same is an extreme right wing neo patrimonialism.

International powers are not pleased with this model, they want to impose their neo-liberal interests on us, and call this democracy promotion, good governance etc. They do this through international organizations like the WTO, IMF, World Bank, USAID etc. These are not neutral organizations helping “development”. They implicitly define development as their neo-liberal agenda. This is an agenda that helps big companies extract surplus value out of us: the population.

So nationally we have a fight amongst the ruling class who takes the most money out of us. International forces want to take more out of us by means of their neo liberal agenda, and the population has the short straw in both cases: we get exploited. If the international development agenda is being implemented, this means the power moves from the local ruling class over to international and transnational corporations.

In my view it does not matter whether we are exploited by the local ruling class in a neo patrimonial way, or by the international ruling class in a neo liberal way. We do not want to be exploited in any way, we want the fruits of our labour ourselves.

We need to look to political systems that do take our interests into account, and that is not the case in either of the choices we have at the moment. So what we need to do is look into political philosophy that is good for us. My recommendations here are Antonio Gramsci, William I Robinson, Frantz Fanon, Karl Marx, Chantal Mouffe. But there are many more if you keep looking.

The spectacle 2

The spectacle:

The diffuse spectacle is the capitalist variety

The concentrated spectacle is the autocratic variety.

The diffuse spectacle is, logically, represented in the commercial world: private media with their advertising, the internet where “free” services are being paid for with the user’s information, as well as the user’s creativity: all content on Facebook and such is created without payment by the users, who also leave their information for Facebook to use (recently it was used not only for commercial purposes such as advertising, but also to falsify the US elections).

In advertising, the only message is to buy. Buy goods, buy services, buy our product. Every challenge posted is solved with the solution of buying. Pseudo problems, with pseudo solutions that push people to search for solutions to all their problems by means of spending money. This converts every problem in the world to a problem of spending power. Society becomes more and more materialistic, because the population is consistently pushed to search for solutions to every problem by consuming one product (or service) or another. Because the products and services rendered do not address real human problems, the solution of consuming does not satisfy, and the consumer needs to consume more to address the continuous issue of longing for a solution that is never provided. More and more materialism is the result.

On the other hand we are confronted with the concentrated spectacle. This is the autocratic variety, which is a holdover from the autocratic Dr Banda era. We see our politicians providing us with a spectacle of continuous attention that serves nothing other than a stimulation of the vanity of the politician, and to confuse the viewer (voter, consumer). Continuous lies are stacked on top of continuous lies. Answers are impossible because no reasoning is provided, only claim after claim upon claim. No information is transferred, no conversation is possible. We are bombarded with trivialities of the worst kind (comparable to the advertising of the diffuse spectacle) and thinking is discouraged: who will think about empty claims, useless bickering and lack of reasoning?

The end result of the two types of spectacle is similar. No thinking, just numb minds.

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The true meaning of democracy in a Malawian context

senegal-protests-jan-27-2012-photo-credit-ndimby-andriantsoavina-300x198Since the end of the cold war, neo-liberal economic globalization has caused core countries’ (“western”) foreign policy to shift  from supporting authoritarian regimes (like Dr. Banda’s or the Apartheid regime) in the periphery (like Malawi) and the semi-periphery (like South Africa) to supporting limited democratization based on engineered consensus through formally free and fair elections. This ties in with the Gramscian concept of “cultural hegemony” as an instrument to get the oppressed population to cooperate to its own oppression and exploitation.

The idea of democracy is always contested: there is no one correct definition of the theory and practice of democracy. There are always different factions, competing for power, and forming coalitions (Gramsci calls these historic blocs). In Malawi we have formal democracy as promoted by western countries, but as a population we have very little if any influence on the actual policies by which we are being ruled.

The real purpose and effective outcome of the policy of “democracy promotion” by core (“developed”) countries has been to create stable and legitimate governments that can facilitate the free mobility of capital on a global scale.  In many countries in Asia and South America they have succeeded. But in most sub-Saharan countries, the democratic outcome has been less successful for the transnational capitalists as represented by core country governments.

The hegemonic specification of the idea of democracy as polyarchy (William Robinson defines this as:” a system in which a small group actually rules and mass participation in decision-making is confined to leadership choice in elections carefully managed by competing elites”) is intended to prevent the emergence of more egalitarian popular democracy that would threaten the rule of the ruling class: those who hold power and property.  The notion of popular democracy stresses human equality, participatory forms of decision-making, and a holistic integration of political, social and economic realms that are artificially kept separate in the US polyarchic definition of democracy.

The US government, as an agent of the transnational capitalist class (“TCC”), engineers consent by penetrating the civil societies of peripheral and semi-peripheral countries. Covert operations by the CIA have been largely replaced by ostensibly “non-governmental” flows of money and consultation from private and non-profit organizations in the U.S. to political parties, business groups, labour federations, youth organizations and women’s movements in peripheral countries. NED (“National Endowment for Democracy”) coordinates these actions with U.S. diplomatic and CIA operations in order to undercut popular threats to the stability of polyarchic democracies and transnational capital. The amounts of money to be expropriated from the populations in Asian and South American countries have been much bigger than in sub-Saharan Africa. So these other continents have gotten preference in the rule by US and other western capitalist countries. But now obstructions to capitalist extortion in these areas have been largely overcome (Iran is an exception), the US and other capitalist countries are turning their attention to Africa, including Malawi.

There is a fundamental contradiction between the moral basis of capitalism – liberty, equality and human solidarity – and the actual practice of global capitalism – increasing inequalities within and between countries. Welfare capitalism and Keynesianism within the core states was a temporary phase that has been finished by neo-liberal globalization. Rising inequality within the United States is the extension of “low-intensity democracy” from the periphery to the core: the poor in the US are being exploited just like we are.

In opposition to “low-intensity democracy”, we should find the alternative vision of popular democracy, stressing human equality, participatory decision-making, and a holistic integration of the political, social and economic realms. Even though some critics may advocate renewed economic nationalism or a retreat to “cultural identity”, this offers no solution for inequality and the associated suffering. We would do better to create “globalism from below” as the solution to the problems created by transnational capitalism. But since local victories by popular democratic movements have little chance to prevail against global capital, we as popular forces should embrace a new vision of a humane world society and construct global democratic institutions, thus building a counter-hegemony that can contend with the universalist claims of neo-liberalism. We need a popular globalization, as a counterforce against the neo liberal exploitation by western countries and our own neo patrimonial elite.

The international unionism of the past (in which leaders attended occasional  international conferences)  must be replaced by a transnational unionism in which rank and file workers and smallholders coordinate ideas and actions across national, racial, religious and cultural borders.  Global feminism and the other “new social movements” are contributors to a transnational popular formation with the potential to transform neo-liberal hegemony into a democratic and collectively rational global commonwealth. New communications technologies could help overcome the barriers that have long pitted popular movements against one another.

Interesting writing about Malawi

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I came across a very interesting article about Malawi. Interesting, not so much because it is such a strong article, but interesting because it illustrates a common lack in the awareness of some intellectuals. The article describes very positively the transition from the Dr Banda dictatorship to the current situation, which resembles democracy without allowing any influence of the population on the government policies.

https://cric.ku.dk/documents/nemmanuel_-_publication_-_2013_-_AAS.pdf

The author, Nikolas G. Emmanuel describes how donor pressure can move a country from dictatorship to democracy on the condition that there is a strong internal opposition.

Nowhere in the article is the key concept of “democracy” being problematized: the question what entails democracy is not asked, and only in the last paragraph, the conclusion, is there any relativity of the quality of democracy in Malawi. We all know that a writer, and especially an academic writer, should not introduce a new subject in the last paragraph, especially when this paragraph is the conclusion. This means that the author does not see the problems with democracy in Malawi as a new subject, more as a little afterthought that is placed in the context of a “successful” transition.

The abyss in the thinking of the author is all the more pressing in the light of the findings of American professor William I. Robinson, who has written extensively about the US policy of promoting “democracy” while in reality they are promoting capitalism. Read this for an explanation: http://journals.sagepub.com/doi/10.1177/0047117813489655a#

Author Emmanuel also forgets the interaction between domestic protests from CSOs and the influence of external organizations. William Robinson describes extensive interference of US organizations in the democratic processes in many countries, including South Africa, Philippines, Nicaragua and others. Here internal CSOs are supported or even created by American government organizations with the explicit goal of creating a polyarchy that will open up the country to US commercial interests. In practice this means neo-liberal capitalism under the name of democracy.

The role of the World Bank in this process is explained by Mr Emmanuel: ”The most successful efforts to unify donors have been the World Bank’s ad hoc ‘Consultative Groups’, as was the case with Malawi in the early 1990s.” This shows how the World Bank, far from being a neutral economic support for poor countries, is in fact an instrument of the US foreign policy of spreading capitalism, with or without the consent of the population.

The article of Mr Emmanuel supports the neo colonial attitude of donor countries, in support of a capitalist economy, which does not need the support of the population. In fact, after the cold war ended, dictatorships became more of a burden for developed countries, and their economic interests were better served with polyarchic quasi democracy like we have in Malawi, than with the Dr. Banda dictatorship. This explains why western countries stopped supporting Banda’s rule, and promoted the type of democracy that opens up the country for the interests of western (and transnational) companies quest for profit.

The society of the spectacle

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Our society is modernizing. This is good, this is natural, and we have an opportunity to improve if we embrace change. The question is not: Do we change? It is inevitable we develop, and that means change. But the question is: In what direction do we change? This means we need to consider what type of society we want. Resisting all change is futile, we should decide what our ideal society of Malawi in the 21st century is like. And we should consider everything we do, whether old and traditional, or newly invented, or even imported from our neighbours or other continents: does this take us in the direction we want to go, or does it not? If it does not (whether it is harmful traditional practices or western materialism or something else) we should reject it and toss it by the way side. But if it does develop us in the direction we want to go, we should embrace it, and make it our own. Notice that I do not advocate for the rejection of foreign influences as such: we have embraced cell phones and mini busses because they improve our quality of life. By the same token we have rejected harmful traditional practices because they are harmful.

Here I want to draw attention specifically to one harmful influence that comes with advanced capitalism: the society of the spectacle.

The spectacle was defined by the great philosopher Guy Debord as an alienating influence, an influence that alienates us from real life. The spectacle replaces real life with commodified sensations that cannot give true satisfaction of our desires, so they always leave us wanting for more.

Let me elaborate:

Our real contacts in life, with our family, with our friends, with our activities are authentic, and do satisfy our deeply rooted needs. But increasingly, these are replaced with commodities that lack authenticity because they have been mediated by capitalist companies. This way the signified (the true meaning) has been removed, and only the sign was left. Let me clarify with a few examples: many of us enjoy sports. We like to play football, or netball, or any other sport. This is authentic experience. But it is not very profitable for the capitalist. So the capitalist replaces the authentic action with a televised match between two foreign teams that have lost their real meaning. They are only global “brands”. These brands are purely artificial creations of the capitalist, to sell us their “brand” in the form of televisions, dstv subscriptions, memorabilia etc. These same brands are used to sell us vacation trips (think of the “brand” Rwanda, sponsoring the “brand” Arsenal) or insurance or cars or sports gear (the ‘brand” Aon, Adidas or Chevrolet sponsoring the “brand” Manchester United). We have lost the authentic experience of sports, and have been impregnated with the need to buy, buy, buy “branded” products that are mediated by capitalists.

We see that more and more products are used as signs, rather than as useful gadgets. A telephone used to be a means of communication, but now many of them are used for “status”. The more expensive the more status. To the point where we have spent a fortune on an iPhone or Galaxy, and lack the funds to buy air time. No communication, only branding.

It is bad enough that this eats up our money, that we need so dearly to support our families. But it eats up more than that: it removes us from our authentic experiences into a realm of mediated pseudo-experiences. These are fake and cannot satisfy our needs. But we are being misled by advertising, promotion, branding, spectacle, into buying the products anyway. And because we never get the satisfaction we crave, we need to keep buying more and more and more. This plays into the hand of the capitalist, and empties our pockets leaving our families without their real needs satisfied, us perpetually searching for an authentic experience we cannot get from the spectacle. Our society is taken over by capitalists, and we are left with nothing but unsatisfied desires.

 

 

Capitalism and Africa

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In the current world, capitalism reigns supreme. Since the Soviet Union folded and China turned semi-capitalist, the centre of power is capitalist. The biggest economy and best financed military are those of the USA, which is a very capitalist country. On top of that, the capitalist companies have grown more and more trans-national, overpowering many states. Trans national companies like General Electric, Toyota and Royal Dutch Shell are bigger than many countries, and have much less liabilities. So their world wide power supersedes many governments, and certainly the government of many African States, which tend to have small economies, and less functional government structures than many western and Asian countries.

Capitalism can never be static, it needs to grow. (readers: if you need an explanation of this, I can give it, so give me feedback and I can write a blog entry on it). If capitalism does not grow, it quickly goes into crisis. We saw this in 1929 with the Great Depression. The crisis of 2008 was limited thanks to the Obama interventions in the economy.

If we look at the time period from the Great Depression, we see a steady overall growth of the capitalist world economy, save for some dips. This has gone through a number of stages. First in the 1930s President Roosevelt created growth with his “New Deal” policy, and other countries followed the example. Then the Second World War created growth. After that came the “economic miracle” of Germany, Japan and Italy. The losers of the war became the winners of peace. Other capitalist countries in western Europe benefited from the US Marshall plan, and grew their economies. During this time of steady growth, it was possible to improve the incomes of both the proletarian class and the capitalist class: the total amount of money grew, and each could get their share. Even African countries after independence did get some share of this wealth, think of the Kamuzu Banda years.

But around 1975 this stalled: the capitalist world economy of that time did not offer enough opportunities for the capitalist class to profitably invest their money. The proletarian class used their trade union power to prevent the capitalist class from pushing the cost of the crisis on the proletarians. The economy stalled.

The union power was broken in the 1980s by the likes of Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan. They pushed many proletarians back into poverty. They created mass unemployment and worsened working conditions for the lower paid. For the capitalist class they created investment opportunities by selling off the government companies (“privatization”). In the UK the mines were closed causing mass unemployment, the railways and other State companies were sold off. In the US a start was made with the privatization of the army (“private military contractors”) and prisons (prison industrial complex). African countries were subjected to “Structural Adjustment Programs”, which meant selling off State wealth to capitalists. This lowered the quality of services the government offered the population (like jobs,  health care, education, policing). The poor were pushed into ever worse poverty, while the capitalist class amassed more and more wealth. Income inequality over the whole globe soared.

After most public wealth in developed countries as well as developing countries was sold off, capitalists were still looking for more investment opportunities, to reinvest the wealth they had extracted from the public (and public companies). Then the Soviet Union folded, and many investment opportunities came up in former communist countries. A bonanza of selling off government companies created a lot of wealth for the few rich, and a lot of poverty for the population.

When this bonanza was finished, the capitalist class had more wealth then ever to invest, and they kept looking for opportunities. These were created by the then GW Bush government in the US in the form of the “Global War On Terror” (GWOT). Iraq was a very wealthy country because of their large oil reserves, but the Saddam Hussein government did not allow western companies to tap off its wealth. The Bush government decided to invade Iraq to open up its economy for western companies, oil and otherwise. (Their pretext of “Weapons of Mass Destruction” has been proven to be a lie). Companies like (then Vice President) Cheney’s Halliburton received fabulously profitable government contracts to wage war in Iraq.

Now that the gust has gone out of the Iraq war, the capitalists are looking for more investment opportunities. There are few places in the world that have not been subjected to their greed. Iran is a candidate, and predictably President Trump is starting a quarrel with them. Otherwise, North Korea is not very attractive: heavily defended and a very small economy. So that leaves one continent: Africa.

The US are increasing their involvement with Africa by means of Africom, the US army’s presence in our continent. Is this a precursor of invasions like the one in Iraq? We may hope not…

The Trans National State

We are at a new situation in the history of humanity. Never before has the world economy (and ecology) been as integrated as it is today. There is a trend that started many centuries ago, and that Malawi got involved in, in the 19th century, that the world is getting more and more integrated.

We have reached a new stage in this development, in that the nation state is less powerful than the international forces working on it. There have been international, and multi-national, companies for centuries. But never before have there been trans-national companies, that span the earth, and are no longer bound to any physical territory. There used to be Japanese Toyota, and American Levi’s. But these days, these companies span the earth. They may be registered in a specific country, usually they are registered in many countries with many subsidiaries in other countries. Profits are virtually moved from one jurisdiction to another to avoid taxes and other laws. The main office may not be I the country where the most important decisions are taken. A product no longer is fabricated in a country: the product development may be in several different countries, parts of the product are made in many different countries and assembled in different places on earth, none of which may have anything to do with the country of registration of the brand.

This has important implications for us as world citizens. A country’s government has very little say over the economy any longer. Transnational companies move over the earth with the ease of a number of digits on internet. Register here, register there, create a network of subsidiaries, dependent companies, outsource this and that, and in the end are little more than a virtual “brand” that is attached to a product manufactured by a myriad of subcontractors.

This network of transnational companies is ruled by a class of super rich: the Transnational Capitalist Class. (TCC). They have their informal networks, of which the World Economic Forum is probably the most widely known. They have their Trans National State (TNS) with its institutions like the World Bank, International Monetary Fund, World Trade Organisation and such. These organisations police the world, and impose their will on states. This undercuts democracy: the democratically elected officials of Nation States are subordinated to the whims of the Trans National State. This is not only happening in developing countries like Malawi. Also in Europe those states who do not conform to the wishes of the Transnational Capitalist Class are subordinated to disciplining by the Trans National State apparatus. Think of the sanctions the IMF imposed on Greece, Portugal, Spain and others.

Interestingly, the Transnational Capitalist Class has gotten only limited hold on Africa. The local ruling class of African nations have resisted the TNS to the point of collapsing their economies. Agreements with IMF, WTO and World Bank as well as transnational companies are broken and betrayed like nobody’s business. Think of the U$ 350,000,000 Escom deal. The deal is signed, the first trench of development money is transferred from Washington to Malawi. The money disappears in a web of non-administration. The next trench is never transferred, and Malawi goes back to business as usual.

The Trans National State leaves limited room to manoeuvre for national (democratically elected) state apparatuses. The choice seems to be limited to playing along and having economic development for the Trans National Capitalist Class and their local puppets, or to obstruct any level of development.

The alternative, popular democracy, with the population free to decide on their own interests, has been tried in several countries, but has always been obstructed by the Trans National State, and their state puppets, often the USA. Look at Nicaragua, Venezuela, Haiti, Chile: the USA has acted economically and militarily as puppets of the Trans National Capitalist Class, and overthrown popular democratic governments to the profit of the Transnational Capitalist Class. (see: WI Robinson, promoting polyarchy)

The enigma is: where do we want Malawi to go? Do we want to keep a neo-patrimonial corrupt type of government that systematically obstructs every type of development? Do we want the Transnational Capitalist Class to take over and suck our country dry of surplus value leaving us as proletarians, save for a small elite of TCC puppets? Or do we want to chance creating a popular democracy, and risk a TNS intervention?

The nature of the state

The state is an abstraction. It is not something you can touch or see, you can only see the effect of the state. All this makes the state difficult to define. Here I would like to follow the following definition: the state is a bundle of social relations used by the ruling class to rule over the population.

When we talk of the state often we are referring to the national state, in our case Malawi. But we can also define a transnational state: there are social relations used by the ruling class to rule over us transnationally. There is international law, there is military intervention, there are economic sanctions, there are transnational companies influencing our lives. All these are social relations used by the ruling class to rule over us.

This means that by definition the state (national or transnational) is controlled by the ruling class. A ruling class is never a homogenous group of people, it is always necessarily a coalition of different groups, that together exercise power. Such a coalition is called a historic bloc.

We should not overestimate the influence of the Malawian state. Malawi is a small country with a minuscule economy and ineffective governance. The ruling class in Malawi do not seem to be looking for the best ways to improve the state, the economy or the governance. It seems they are more busying themselves bickering amongst each other over the contents of the national kitty. How much can I extract in allowances, lucrative contracts or straight ahead cashgating?

This ineffective governance leaves a lot of space for the transnational state to influence our lives. A good example is the Malawi Seed Policy, which was co-authored by an employee of transnational seed company Monsanto, and formulated in such a way that it gives great advantage to transnational seed companies like Monsanto over local seed producers. The exploitation of Kayelekera Uranium Mine is another example.

We live in interesting times: at the moment in Malawi there is a power struggle happening between the political class, who control the repressive state apparatus (police, army, judiciary, jails etc) and the capitalist class, who control the private sector (as far as it is not controlled by politicians). These private sector capitalists have partly different interests than the political class. They have an interest in a neoliberal democracy, with rule of law, and especially strong property rights of both people and corporations. The political class has an interest in keeping the neopatrimonial power relations in place. Notice how the large majority of the population is disempowered.

The local capitalist class is trying to form a historic bloc, not with the local political class, but with the transnational capitalist class, which has a parallel interest in a neoliberal state. International donors for the large majority are funded by capitalist countries that will prosper with a transnational capitalist (neoliberal) order. So international donors are promoting this neoliberal order in Malawi as they do elsewhere. They fund projects like “rule of law” and privatization projects (like ESCOM). At the same time they need to deal with the national political class, which has an interest in collecting the funds from these projects, but not in the neoliberal content of the projects. We see, time after time, that project funds are taken and disappearing, which enriches the local corrupt people, and at the same time the content of the projects is being subverted. With ESCOM privatization this is clearly the case, and the second trench of the funds has never been transferred, because the first trench was disappeared with murky administration.

This creates huge chagrin in both the donors and the capitalist class (both national and transnational). These are the classes owning companies, like the newspapers. Consequently we see the newspapers fulminating against all this corruption. This to the chagrin of the political class, who lambast the media at every opportunity.

In all this the population is not represented, and our interests are overruled by the two classes making up the ruling class in Malawi.

Practically, what can we do to improve the situation, and get a real democracy, meaning rule of the people, rather than rule of the ruling class?

This is not an easy question to answer.

I propose that we start by the realization that the type of governance of a country is created by the type of economic relations in the country. (this follows the base-superstructure analysis of Karl Marx). That means we need to change the society in order to improve governance. We cannot expect improvement by simply replacing one ruler with the other: they are all from the same ruling class, and represent the same interest groups. We should disrupt the society, to make change at the level of the state possible. We cannot hope for improvement from either the local political class, or the transnational and national capitalist classes: they represent only the interests of small groups. We need to organize ourselves and disrupt the business-as-usual situation in the country.

Unfortunately the local political class has shown it is prepared to use deadly violence against any serious contender to its arbitrary power: the last time we contested the power was on 20 July 2011, and the result was a twenty fold murder of demonstrators by the repressive state apparatus, which was mobilized on behalf of the political class. We can be sure that, if we find a way of overpowering the police, the military will be called in with even more deadly violence.

A direct confrontation with the state is dangerous and can only be successful if we decide from our side that we are prepared to pay a heavy price in human lives as well as capital destruction. At the moment it seems action preparedness of the population is even lower than in 2011, when follow up demonstrations were cancelled in the light of the heavy death toll the political class inflicted upon us.

We should find other ways of disrupting the neopatrimonial order, to improve society. The Political philosopher Antonio Gramsci called this a “war of position”. This prepares for the final push in taking over the state, which he called the “war of maneuver”. This is done by cultural means: we need to educate our children, our fellow citizens (both Malawian and transnational) in the ways the ruling class are ruling over us, and engender a conscientization of the population to their plight, the real construction of the state and to devise ways of improving society and our lot. This article is one little step, I request support from all of you. Teach, talk in the bottle store, write articles and FB posts. Each in our personal situation should contribute to the improvement of our society.

 

Neo liberal Chilima

Neo liberalism is a worldwide ideology of social engineering. This means it is used by the rich in western countries to reshape our societies to their advantage: their profit motives.

The idea is that society does not exist, only individuals, who strive to enrich themselves. Neoliberals hold that the way to shape society is to make rules that will enable people to enrich themselves through the logic of the market: everything is for sale, and everything is worth only what is being paid for it. This means government should engage itself less and less in the public good as in health care and education, and limit itself to protecting private property and enforcing contracts. So less attention for education and health care as well as the environment, and more attention for the judicial system and patents, copyrights and financial instruments (the stock market, banking facilitation etc)

It holds that people will react to incentives, and that the trick is to create incentives that will make people act according to the logic of the “market” which means everything is seen only in terms of the money it generates.

Education should be paid for by private people (basically parents) and businesses who need certain skills. Health care should be financed privately basically the patient should pay the full price, if desired people can take insurance.

Neo liberals hold that this will create a society in which everyone can make enough money to pay for their needs including education and health care, and those who cannot are probably lazy and should not be facilitated at the cost of the tax payer.

In our current situation no one proposes to go this far immediately, but donors are pushing for a stepwise path in that direction. Public education is hollowed out, quality decreasing, while users fees are introduced, often disguised as a “school fund”. Private schools are growing and becoming more expensive. This means that children of rich parents will have a good life and children of poor parents are punished. According to neo liberal logic this is not the concern of the state, much less of the tax payer.

The same goes for health care: if you cannot afford an emergency you should buy private insurance. If you didn’t you deserve what comes to you.

Supposedly this organization of society creates the best, most efficient organization with the most wealth. That it creates inequality is only good: that will make people work harder to achieve wealth, and their hard work will create more wealth for everybody.

Neo liberals do not care that their story does not work out in reality, they keep pursuing the same agenda, with the consequence that the rich in the world are getting richer, and the poor are getting poorer. Inequality keeps rising, and the rich are doing well.

Here in Malawi there are signs of neo liberal logic taking hold. The consistent talk about the poor needing “entrepreneurship” as a solution to poverty is one example. Micro credit schemes keep being imposed, and nobody cares that they are not working. “Unbundling” and privatization of ESCoM is another example. It clearly has not improved the performace, but the US keep financing projects like these. The BWB got a lot of neo liberal input from the Dutch company VITIS or something, a few years ago. And the water situation has never been worse. The only thing that has become more effective is the speed of cutting us off when the BWB feels we have not paid enough. Otherwise prices have been going up and service has been deteriorating.

In the birth country of neo liberalism, the UK, Margareth Thatcher had privatized the railways, and the service has never been worse or more expensive. This shows that even there it does not work for the public good, only for the rich.

International agencies, especially the World Bank, IMF and WTO are implementing neo liberal reforms, backed by western (mostly US) money. They impose “development” programs on us, that push us in the direction where they want us to go. So far elites in African countries have been reluctant to go along, and a lot of this program has been disrupted. Here the IFMIS has never functioned, the privatization of ESCoM has been done in name, but not in practice and so on. Elites here in Africa have been using the neo liberal funds for their own purposes: allowance hunting at conferences and trips, and hiring their own companies to supply goods and services with a fat profit. But the state has not been reformed.

The Public Service Reform Program is also clearly a neo liberal approach: performance contracts with incentives have been the method. And it has been championed by vice president Chilima. This shows us that he is complicit in the agenda of international neo liberals in remaking our society into a “market’ place rather than a society for people. And we can expect him to keep going in that direction if we allow him.

Do we want to vote for this program?