‘Global apartheid’ was the catchphrase that drew attention to a deadlier strain of the virus evident in the brutal and brazen looting of the Third World by the West. If anything the term has increasing currency as corporations tighten their grip on the planet, inequality soars and imperial violence spreads. But does calling capitalism by another name really help stop the cancer?
Here’s the caveat from Anthony C Sutton.
One need only witness, for instance, the plethora of qualifiers on the subject to get a sense of the affliction: ‘corporate capitalism’, ‘disaster capitalism’, ‘predatory capitalism’, ‘financial capitalism’, ‘free market capitalism’, ‘rentier capitalism’, ‘monopoly capitalism’, ‘classical capitalism’ etc… It may be true that some of the authors routinely employing these terms understand that what they are doing is simply bringing into bold relief a particular structural or historical aspect of capitalism. All well and good. But there is evidence to suggest that, much of the time, this is exactly not what is going on; that in fact what is going on is a barely veiled ideological ‘reformism’. The latter term references the notion that capitalism is not in its essence bad, just that some variants of it are. Thus, if only we could, say, get back to ‘classical capitalism’ (a mythical time when capitalists supposedly understood what a ‘free market’ really was) then all would be well. Or perhaps, if we could just rid ourselves of ‘financial capitalism’, then we could all return to a regulated, productive, and equitable capitalism. The Golden Age would then, as capitalist ideologues themselves constantly assure us, be just around the next corner.
Sutton reminds readers that exploitation is embedded in capitalism’s DNA. Theft, driven by the profit motive, is aggravated by inter-capitalist rivalry and the tendency of the rate of profit to fall as a consequence. This leads, inevitably, to class-warfare in the capitalist centres, military imperialism targeting the periphery and the constant resort to plunder. Capitalism is irrational as a means for providing what societies really need. It concentrates and centralises wealth and power perilously. Condemned to expand or die capitalism guarantees global ecocide.
William I Robinson describes how global apartheid has morphed in his essay Global Capitalism: Reflections on a Brave New World .
The Occupy Wall Street movement in the United States called attention to unprecedented global inequality with its cry of the “99% versus the 1%.” The divide is indeed quite stark: in 2015, the top 1 percent of humanity had more wealth than the remaining 99 percent. Moreover, the top 20 percent of humanity controlled some 95 percent of the world’s wealth, while the remaining 80 percent had to make do with just 5 percent. This divide of global society into haves and have-nots has created a new global social apartheid, evident not just between rich and poor countries, but within each country as transnational social and class inequalities grow in importance compared to geographically conceived North-South inequalities.
Robinson uses Baghdad’s Green Zone – established to protect select Iraqi elites after the 2003 invasion -to symbolise a new class configuration.
Global apartheid cushions a tiny percentage of humanity through the creation of “green zones” cordoned off in each locale around the world, in which elites and the better-off are insulated by new systems of spatial reorganization, social control, and policing… Urban areas around the world are now “green-zoned” through gentrification, gated communities, surveillance systems, and state and private violence. Inside the world’s green zones, privileged strata avail themselves of privatized social services, consumption, and entertainment. They can work and communicate through Internet and satellite sealed off under the protection of armies of soldiers, police, and private security forces. Here, racial and ethnic oppression combine with class domination in a crushing embrace.
This resurrects memories of South Africa’s whites-only cities and influx control. But global apartheid in its latest incarnation also reflects a profound qualitative shift in the way capitalism operates following the emergence of a transnational capitalist class (TCC) made up of the owners and managers of colossal and interlinked corporations.
The hallmark of the new epoch has been the rise of truly transnational capital with its integration of every country and much of humanity into a new globalized system of production, finance, and services…The heightened structural power achieved by the TCC through globalization has enabled it to undermine redistributive policies and to impose a new labor regime on the global working class based on flexibilization and precariatization (or proletarianization under conditions of permanent insecurity and precariousness). Globalization has brought a vast new round of global enclosures as hundreds of millions of people have been uprooted from the Third World countryside and turned into internal and transnational migrants. Some of the uprooted millions are super-exploited through incorporation into the global factories, farms, and offices as precarious labor, while others are marginalized and converted into surplus humanity, relegated to a “planet of slums… The polarization of income and the rising tide of surplus labor together aggravate overaccumulation. The global market cannot absorb the ever-rising output of the global economy as the ranks of the surplus population swell and wealth is concentrated among shrinking high-income sectors of global society.
The TCC – despite its liberation from the nation state, control of international institutions and the colonisation of ‘civil society’ by the vast network of NGOs it finances- remains powerless to control the anarchy of the system. Instead it resorts to frenzied financial speculation, the ransacking of the public sector and military spending to maintain accumulation in the face of stagnation.
In Britain this has produced a brash, rapacious and unapologetic culture of extraction, theft and dispossession inviting comparison with the method and mentality of South African apartheid at its apex. The bottom line then was cheap, defenceless and disposable (as necessary) migrant and commuter labour. Capitalism’s democratic credentials were satisfied by declaring all black people to be foreigners. The expanding British precariat is increasingly finding that it is also effectively stateless and variably surplus.
South Africa, under white-rule, claimed to be a bastion of freedom (against communism) and champion of ‘separate but equal’ human rights. Britain is a defender of democracy (unfettered markets) and a patron of the cult of diversity. The monopoly of land and wealth by a minority, segregation and social immobility, racial superiority, class snobbery, state terrorism, elite networks and secret government, the arbitrary exercise of law and the pervasive dissemination of propaganda are other obvious parallels. But, above all else, Britain – like South Africa under apartheid – elevates hypocrisy to etiquette and conflates dissidence with treason.
Robinson believes that capitalism is now a threat to life on the planet.
The spiralling crisis of global capitalism has reached a crossroads. Either there will be a radical reform of the system (if not its overthrow), or there will be a sharp turn toward twenty-first-century fascism, the fusion of reactionary political power with transnational capital.
It will be unsurprising if this is the outcome in both Britain and South Africa.