Accumulate This
by Seth Sandronsky
May 2, 2004

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For centuries, military might has paved the way for the theft of people and nature in Africa, Asia and the Americas. A dead German called this process “primitive accumulation.” Later, people are legally looted of the wealth their energy creates when they become wage workers. A current example of primitive accumulation is underway today in Iraq. That Persian Gulf nation has much oil, an essential input for the global system, and desired by elites in rich countries. A fraction of them in the U.S. is leading the charge.

As the Iraqi body count mounts, it is worth noting that perpetual peace and prosperity for humanity was supposed to follow the fall of the former Soviet Union. So ended the Cold War begun with the Russian Revolution. Some said the failure of Soviet-style socialism proved once and for all that there were no alternatives to capitalism, to paraphrase Margaret Thatcher. At last, mankind would be free. Billions of people acting to maximize their choices in the world market would make democracy a planetary reality.

Nothing of the kind has unfolded. Wars of low and high intensity marked the 1990s. The U.S. government was involved in most of them, from Colombia to the Balkans to Haiti. The decade ended with the U.S.-led NATO attack on the former Yugoslavia. Before and during the bombing campaign, the nation was demonized by the Clinton White House. The priesthood of the American media played its propaganda role to a tee. U.S. “humanitarian intervention” in the Balkans set the stage for the preventive war against Iraq.

On a related note since the former Soviet Union ended, the global system has generated increased inequality and poverty. Studies by the United Nations and World Bank document the trend. It is fueled in part by “free” trade.

Consider the case of the NAFTA. The agreement lets U.S. corporations force surplus agriculture down the throats of Mexican peasants. This process has forced many of them out of farming. They migrate to cities and towns to search for paid work. These surplus workers are pushing down wages in Mexico and the U.S.

Meanwhile, the trend of government spending to stimulate national economies whose contractions caused two world wars has been weakened. In this way, elites in the rich nations have gradually been removing a big prop to the buying power of their populations. The result? We see a global surplus of goods and workers. There are too few buyers and too many sellers to absorb the surplus that people have created on the job.

Call it a crisis of capital accumulation when there is a glut of this surplus. It must be sold to create new capital for investment and more production. Corporations must expand and profit or wither and die. The iron law of the market makes no exceptions.

Below the surface of the U.S.-led invasion and occupation of Iraq is the competition between the big capitalist powers to grow. The “testilying” before the 9/11 panel about the invasion and occupation of Iraq is a kind of distraction from the centuries-long conflict between elites in rich countries over thievery from nations on the system’s periphery. Haiti was the scene of the first genocide for primitive accumulation in the Western Hemisphere. Haiti’s extreme poverty today follows from that original rape.

It has been regularly repeated. The U.S. government’s ouster of the democratically elected President Jean-Bertrand Aristide is a recent example.

Opposing capitalism’s drive to steal Iraq’s resources, euphemistically called a crusade of liberation by the (s)elected political leader of the last superpower, is the global anti-war movement. Broadly speaking, this diverse group of regular people says that war must end for humanity to survive. Today’s weaponry casts a lethal shadow over people and the planet. We are all Haitians and Iraqis.

Being anti-war is an anti-capitalist stance, since military might is and has been central to the system’s drive to expand. Folks who are against U.S.-led wars may or may not be aware of this relationship. But this in no way changes their radical rejection of such violence.

Seth Sandronsky is a member of Peace Action and co-editor with Because People Matter, Sacramento’s progressive paper. He can be reached at: ssandron@hotmail.com

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