This article tackles the issue of the rejection of capitalism according to the rise of new cosmopolitan oligarchies. In Brazil particularly, there’s been a real desire to open up domestic markets, which was the reason why the population voted for Lula in the first place. But corporatist and oligarchic power and financial struggles transformed into the current “corruption crisis” have undermined faith in capitalism, and perhaps in democracy. In the meantime, the events in France point to a more general pattern. The desire for ethnic “integration” is also akin to a will to market(s). The events there prove how foolish theory has been to accept an emptying out of the “working class” in favor of an “immigrant” category mutated into an unreachable class of “cultural otherness”, based primarily on religious difference and the quickly forgotten history of slavery, colonial exploitation and the traumas of decolonization. Employment is not the only demand from populations. The ability to innovate and, by extension, consume are also part of being full citizens and consumers. In painting a trans-Atlantic fresco, as it were, between France and Brazil (perhaps the country most influenced by France in the world), I take on the question of the feasibility of thinking in optimistic terms regarding capitalism, especially if we emphasize a structural split between markets and finance (anti-markets). On the other hand, there can be little to rejoice about when seeing apologists of capitalism turn to the belief of its ideal possibilities, if only the empirical situation were able to adapt.
The term “oligarch” has most recently shown an exclusive association with the twists and turns of Russia’s post-91 bout with democracy. In the past, other such conceptual items were imported from the Red empire. Propaganda, for instance, was something North Americans customarily identified with Soviet production: as the first inception of the CIA attests, the US took care of “information”. As if to underscore the unbridgeable gap between their two worlds, American pragmatist culture, unlike Russia’s despotism, could never name a major daily “Pravda”, i.e. Truth. Multiple and pluralistic, our truths are purportedly judged on their effects, not through appeal to authority.
In a pleasant play on history’s roundabouts, several past North American projections on Soviet/Russian “totalitarianism” are now turning into familiar facts at home. The need to project outwards to achieve a fuller grasp on micro-societies built along American lines, like Brazil’s new post-authoritarian oligarchic structure, underscores how the world ought to be perceived as the feeding ground of knowledge. When we do resist stamping onto others the concepts of our fears and ills, we may then come to realize that they most often speak about ourselves. In this article, the term “oligarch” should be understood to refer unequivocally to those who control North America’s economy through the “military industrial complex”, or to put it more descriptively, the oil/intelligence/armament sector. That is the basis from which a general trend in oligarchic expansion can be spotted.
The aim of this study is to focus on those who reject capitalism in even more extreme fashion, more fanatically, to the activists and militants openly avowing their opposition to its economic principles. These oligarchies, and there are a handful of them, scour in the cosmopolitan space opened up by the “freedom” of global capital markets to undermine the state of law and regulation. The latter had once given bright hopes to liberal capitalism to cater to the populations under its dictates. Given the plunder of various emerging and developing nations, cosmopolitan oligarchies can thus be seen to embody a rejection of capitalism.
In that regard, neither of the terms tied to the oil/intelligence/armament sector are tautly woven to their referential domain. Oil includes power generation as a whole. Intelligence gathers software anti-virus firms, as well as their ad-ware counterparts, to say nothing of the spying agencies formerly built upon the task of defending the nation-state. As armament, even the SUV is transformable into an armed forces vehicle in times of civil unrest, much to the glee of its proud, arrogant owners – or renters. But that’s just a likelihood: the SUV as an active war machine is precisely a factor of its excessive gas consumption and polluting agency.
By contrast to the multiple variations on these categorical themes, the cosmopolitan oligarchic networks prove to be relatively homogenous. Despite the regulation of capital markets, the full arm of democratic justice falls short of reaching all but the most auspicious of oligarchic groups. Publicly in favor of consumption tax, their profits are off bounds to income and capital gain tax. So much so that most oligarchs, or high net-worth individuals (HNWIs, or hen-wees), will file their production centers offshore in a bid to defend their “liberty” and “rights” to defraud the common weal. Their scope inflates the legal loopholes that Michel Foucault once referred to as the “illegalities” structuring the rule of law.
As market fundamentalists and defenders of representative democracy to the core, their ideal of wealth is inherently pegged to unequal distribution when it is not predicated upon use of the specialized services of lawyers, accountants and their silent partners, auditors, to steal outright from public coffers (here applied to the double American corporate sense of “public” companies). After the last few years of major corruption scales exposing the international cosmopolitan oligarchies, the term “criminal” should no longer be spared in reference to most, if not all, of those using the secrecy and opacity of the offshore tax haven money laundering network.
More than ever bellowing the refrain in necessarily separating democracy as the “best” form of government from capitalism as the most “natural” economy, modern-day global oligarchs reject production-core capitalism in ways that make the very meaning of the word “rejection” a problem for sound logic. Our times, castigated for daring philosophically to utter the non-existence of definitive truth, are steeped in the powers of the false. Nowhere is the dominant thesis that language predates and organizes the free will of individuals as stark as in the repeated defense of a market system that is a fiction at best, when it is not substantiated with the proprieties of a proper name, those of a prime mover.
It is true that capitalism exists somewhere in the G7 and G7-dominated economies. Its contingencies and risk apply especially to the middle classes and everything below. At the top, a collectivized economy rules the day, hyenas hunting hyenas even as they herd together for another kill. If seemingly invisible to media exposure or reports, the men and women at the top know how to choose their potential enemies. The Pravdas of North American media go by the modern individual names of Murdoch, and once upon a time in Canada, Conrad Black. At least that was until the contemporary battle of titans pitting executives against board of directors caught up with the latter Hollinger CEO, and editor and publisher of Canada’s The National Post. Once spokesman for the stripped down state, Black more recently has been indicted for defrauding shareholders, though not before ditching his Canadian citizenship to become a British lord.
As Nietzsche was keen to observe, truth and the power to name are beheld mainly by persons endowed with the power to impose. Instead of a tie to some transcendent force, naming is at the bestowal of the richest among the interlocutors prevailing over the jurisdiction of truth – much to the dismay of scientists who strive for an objective semantics. In the eyes of the oligarchs, capitalism means free markets only as a secondary recourse. Tax exemption leads in the rank of government favors allotted to these market dropouts.
For them, “liberty” means free flow of capital. By “democracy”, they understand stripping away regulation on trade and investment. While the “free press” stutters through asymmetrical information into insignificance, the “elites” codify. In an economic jargon delivered to the few endowed with decoding possibilities, their language is aimed to get the public’s assent by driving it into boredom. Neither the Financial Times‘ Martin Wolf nor the Economist‘s anonymous editorial collective speak an everyday English “for the people by the people”.
As for the public – or, putting in more contemporary words, the “population” – following years of stripping solid culture out of public education to the benefit of “technological needs”, “administrative training” and “workplace core courses”, all requisites to cutting into the pie chart, it fails more in math than literacy. For a minute fraction of what is earned by the top 5 percent of America’s upper crust, i.e. the oil/intelligence/armament oligarchs, for example, the next 30 of the tier will hum their words and lip-sync their sounds about capitalist democracies being the fairest of systems, and how America’s is the best among them. Public satisfaction with a little plot of earth and country club membership is testimony to their failed computational skills. The media-fed hypocrisy as to how competition is a “natural drive” to human beings, whereas “equality” is not, completes the shrinking of the North American mind.
These are fluid times. Capital flow draws the currents and streams of the cyberscape. A tax rebate, stripped off the back of social services, is celebrated in corporate-controlled media as a victory for freedom. The rights revolution stretches to pollution and inflated oil prices just to have the privilege of inserting your pumped up body into an SUV. Likewise, meanings and semantics shift with the turn of a management guru’s tastes. Capitalism? Who’s not rejecting it?
PROGRESSIVE DECEIT IN LULA DA SILVA’S BRAZIL
There is a strong point to be made today about how oligarchic groups within Brazilian and American societies alike increasingly reject capitalism. For the time being, they accept the appearance of a deep bond between capitalism, markets and democracy, though each of these categories are kept strictly separated in terms of their referential content.
This tolerance should by no means be taken for granted, nor should the double talk that usually bolsters it. After all, the US upholds the defense of human rights while its security forces wantonly torture Iraqi resistance and Muslim fighters in secret concentration compounds, in which prisoners are stripped even of their detainees’ rights. As recently revealed, the ignominy of torture still finds a home in Polish Europe these days.
While it stands for peace and hopes for a permanent seat on the UN Security Council, Brazil has shown a tendency toward aggression in its peace mission in Haiti that harkens to its military police’s shoot-first tactics in quelling drug-and poverty-related violence in its cities’ favelas. Following two decades of military dictatorship, Brazil has emerged as the US of the southern cone. As Lula da Silva’s gleaming handshake with George W. Bush in November 2005 attests, the country has also only grown more akin to the US under the presidency of the governing PT (Workers’ Party). The GOP Reps are no longer just seeing red.
Hardest to accept is that a trade union movement emerging out of the struggle for democracy under dictatorial Brazil posts the same aims as an empire-thirsting clique bent on world domination. In the 2002 election campaign, both supporters and antagonists flirted with the past history of the Workers’ Party. Back then, its leaders would threaten defaulting on the IMF foreign public debt as a means of reorganizing the country’s political economy, with a heavy emphasis on education, health and job market creation.
The intricate web of financial constraints woven by the cosmopolitan oligarchy, however, has compelled all political parties vying for power through democratic means in Brazil into abdicating their reformist platforms. Perhaps no party has partaken as much in the powers of the false than the PT in making believe they could change anything without conflict. As sociologist Wanderley Guilherme dos Santos recalls, “Imagining that the objective [of converting the São Paulo area industrial working class to revolutionary aims] could have been forged by taking power through electoral means was the utmost in ambivalence, in a subversion of the Bandeirante moto, proclaiming: non duco, ducor (I’m not leading, but being led). Inadvertently, a schism [within Brazil's left] went hand-in-hand with Lula da Silva. In spite of the all noise, the schism is still discredited and has yielded to a battle between brands that no longer reveal their promised product.” 
Beyond the historical flirtations, when Lula da Silva was elected to the presidency in 2002, he symbolized hope for the country’s legions of disenfranchised. For those who were listening carefully to his 2002 campaign speeches, this was no longer the Lula of the eighties. Here was a politician transformed into a palatable product for the pro-American Brazilian middle classes to digest. For here is a man who truly knows how to speak to the poor. This skill, notwithstanding its honesty, may very well turn out to have been a most diabolical makeover. Lula’s spin doctor, Duda Mendonça, now under the weight of tax evasion and money laundering allegations, patched together South America’s new left-leaning political leader. A man from the workplace for the marketplace existing only in the mediaspace.
Behind the hope, as it were, Lula’s most recent economic vision was never so much trickle down as flow upstream. Markets are key to boosting the living standards of Brazil’s impoverished millions. His predecessor, Fernando Henrique Cardoso, had hedged his bets on developing these markets from his own predecessor’s pet Washington Consensus project of pegging the country’s currency to the green back. With the debacle of the devaluation of the Real initiating Cardoso’s second term in 1998, what the country got was the strengthening of the new oligarchic rule of the Sao Paulo banking sector. Rarely has the IMF’s army of economists been responsible for such an economic collapse due to an off-shoot of the infamous “structural adjustment programs.” The peg to the dollar, while allowing locals to buy foreign imports, flung the local export industry into head on competition with the big weights in the G7 North.
Commodity prices were immediately exponentiated. As quality and reputation did not have years to improve, northern products stole the show. The import market and foreign travel exploded until the outflow of dollars had federal reserves reach vulnerable lows. A run on the currency, the Real, turned into an eventuality. Soon, neither Brazil nor its neighbor Argentina’s pegs could withstand the anti-market weight. Brazil’s quick devaluation, as opposed to Argentina’s stubbornness, may have saved its banks from collapse. But with some of the world’s highest interest rates ushered in to offset inflation from the collapse of the domestic marketplace, Brazil faced a production vacuum at home. This is where Lula da Silva should have entered. Yet he chose another path, the same path as his predecessor.
The government’s first major social confrontation came with the reform of social security in 2002. Brazil can sometimes be a perverted country. Its warmth and beauty often elide egotistical terror. The nation’s public service, while built in effigy to the French system, never had “égalité” as its principle. Instead of hitting swiftly at the great privilege offered to Brazil’s traditional elite, from the judiciary, legislature and the military with a political reform, Lula chose to go the path of World Bank advice on attracting hot money investment. This act of faith in foreign investors at the expense of drastic cuts to elite public service privileges pleased none other than the most recent oligarchs, the “progressive” bankers.
When one witnesses Lula’s reaction to the deep-layered corruption crisis that has gnawed at his government since June, one senses a man not quite in control of the truth. The corruption crisis need not have exploded to convince the population of this man’s delusion. For the economic policies he espouses, as recently described by Getulio Vargas Foundation economist, Fernando Cardim, amounts to the “government [following] the same practices of Fernando Henrique Cardoso’s second term: collect tax generated by a regressive system and use it to transfer riches to the upper-middle and upper classes, in a perverse inversion of redistribution strategies.” 
Lula’s own ministers seem confused in a desire to please all sectors of society. They do not seem to want to govern. Some might perceive this as mere incompetence. Just recently, persistent attempts at slashing the prime interest rate, – one of world’s highest but still not bringing in enough investors for the country’s tastes – have come up blank, despite current Chief of Staff Dilma Rousseff’s position. She is reported to have “[asserted] that the monetary policy of high interest rates minimizes the effect of the fiscal policy (i.e. budget cuts). It is useless because it doesn’t reduce the public debt significantly.” 
The trying events of the 1998 devaluation and 2002 economic crisis have proven the IMF’s vision wrong. In the meantime, the World Bank keeps pumping advice to the Finance Ministry, underscoring how the public only sees the facts and influence that the multilaterals want us to. Production and consumption are indeed inextricably linked, whereas hot money speculation affects only the financial and banking sectors positively. In other words, broader consumption, or “purchasing power parity” in economic parlance, is not a factor of foreign investment nor of dollarization – not unless the production of dollars is allowed in the very countries that implement it as their currency.
That’s why Lula da Silva took on the Third Way doctrine, pushing over his partner in the powers of the false, Tony Blair. Lula broke with the history of economic policy reforms that have left indelible marks on nation-states the world over. Again, that’s provided we work with the publicly available documents. After all, Lula worked hard to shed ties to Leftist policies, even if he proudly, if not at times nostalgically, recalled his background in poverty, deep in the state of Pernambuco in Brazil’s sun dried northeast. In the World Bank doctrine, loosely inspired by its former chief economist Joe Stiglitz’s attack on the IMF, the main enemy to economic growth is inflation. Its recipe for success is exporting local goods. Within a week of taking power, Lula’s finance minister, Antonio Palocci, hiked interest rates to heights even former President Cardoso feared to tread.
Having seen himself during the pre-election period as the first president-elect plausibly forced to announce a default on IMF loan servicing, favorite Lula da Silva signed an emergency bailout after US treasury secretary, Paul O’Neill, had prompted a run on the Real. The once head of a former robber-baron industry, who contended high-level corruption in the form of capital outflows, was undermining the country’s fiscal policy. Never one to shed more than three tears, Lula strove to convince foreign investors of Brazil’s risk bonanza, despite his inability and unwillingness to stress the treasure leaving the country regularly and sitting in the most pernicious of tax havens, like Jersey and the Caiman islands. As João Pedro Stedile, economist and the leader of Brazil’s Landless Peasants Movement (MST) says, “controlling financial capital: perhaps that is the expression [for what we have to achieve]. Indeed, the nation must become aware that Brazil is an exporter of capital. Newspapers say that foreign capital enters to develop the country. This is a lie. Brazil has become financial capital’s procreated kid. Come on over, put your eggs down, and leave with the chicks we raised.”  In his venture from Porto Alegre to Davos on a line of economic optimism, Lula uttered the same idea, without Stedile’s irony: Help us build our markets, and you shall become even richer.
Credit lines may have been freed up for small local businesses, despite the banking sector’s reticence to offer loans supposedly due to bad debtors choking the funding chain. But it is the exporters who are given top priority by the central bank as it fidgets with the exchange rate. Even though conglomerates control the mining, citrus, and beef industries, the prime export industry is still capital. Tax breaks and incentives were held out as promising future assistance to job creation as soon as the tax collection sector had been rationalized. In the meantime hot money has kept entering the country. It is desperately needed to help appreciate a Real that had proved weaker than Argentina’s Peso even at the height of the Buenos Aires revolt against bank shutdowns.
Brazil and Argentina did not undergo two decades of military dictatorship due to a mere lust for military honor and social order. While the state and church propaganda in both countries shrilled at a red menace, the institutional resistance to progressive political developments was bolstered behind the scenes by the reigning land-based oligarchs. It may have taken two decades to realize it, but just like in the US, oligarchs are not so much afraid of communist overthrows than they are of a form of capitalism providing equal opportunity to all that seek to participate and produce in markets.
The public shares a general sense of the harm done by the old oligarchy to Brazilian society. It is neutralized by a lack of political will to combat the rise of the new groups. A new-style cosmopolitan oligarchy is the political party. What has provoked an implosion of Lula’s government is the violence with which oligarchs fight amongst themselves. For Lula’s directorate of the PT, like the country’s other main political organizations, was to establish itself as a new oligarchic group – notwithstanding the ethical farce it had masqueraded for a decade. It nearly succeeded.
Now that the North faces increased threats to its security from the former third world, it eyes with unease a potential explosion in Latin America. Some of its leading political economic thinkers have begun publishing coercive books on fighting against oligarchies (or the plutocratic “robber barons”), and the international off shore tax haven system they feed. I shall not repeat figures that are available for anyone to read in the serious pages of Susan George’s brilliant pastiche, The Lugano Report, Kevin Phillips’ Wealth and Democracy: A Political History of the American Rich, or Raymond Baker’s Capitalism’s Achilles’ Heel: Dirty Money and How to Renew the Free-Market System.  Nor will I speculate on why this turnabout occurred through the persuasive calls of neoliberal capitalists for political economic change, in the midst of the mid-seventies global recessions provoked by the formation of OPEC.
Yet I should like to stress that what has enabled this new found power given to cosmopolitan oligarchs, and the various cliques vying for power within the state-sector realm, is the formation of the world’s international trading system, its accounting principles, the legal founding of shell companies through the auspices of the banking sector, and the mere human fact of insatiable greed. Their consequences have converged to deplete the wealth of innumerable smaller countries, thereby smashing the leverage of larger “emerging” nations (submerging would be a more appropriate term), while lying to the middle class populations of the G7 nations about how their economies are most at risk from outsiders. The risk facing economies in the Western style “globalized” system arises from their own cosmopolitan elites as they vow to debunk traditional wealth from power.
The long line of corruption allegations that has proven the lie of Lula’s government and PT party is merely a case of the latter. Self-appointed venturers, several with 1960s revolutionary pedigree no less, have demonstrated a striking sense of cynicism in illegal political funding, which includes skimming profits from state-owned companies or public service providers. In a bid to get into power, everything is manifestly justified, even if that means breaking the law.
China might be a reason for the rearguard trend of economic consolidation in the US. Still, it would be erroneous, to say nothing of historically shortsighted, to attribute this home grown oligarchic consolidation to China’s stupendous rise to contention for world economic dominance. There is a way to reread the Cold War and the reaction of Western democracies to progressive movements for social reform, as an increasingly asserted oligarchic program to stifle the spread of greater democratic rights to markets. The groundwork set by economic deciders in the late seventies for what was to become “globalization” jumped the gun on movements to internationalize markets. The Free Trade agreement between Canada and the US, and then Mexico, as well as the Mercosul South American free trade zone, both reacted to what Salvador Allende did not have the time or means to open, namely, a working-class based international economic zone in which nationalism would be dried up in a trade-off for greater harmony in the living standards among South America’s peasant classes.
Few left-leaning South American militants have any illusions over democracy being the form of government most likely to bring prosperity. On the other hand, large numbers of the populations show less faith in the actual practices of democratic governments. In 2005, the Latinobarómetro poll (www.latinobarometro.org) showed especially that democracy was not thought to be the answer to economic ills.
This background sets the scene of Brazil’s emergence into the false. Former Brazilian President Cardoso, one of the country’s leading sociologists and a radical in his earlier days, strove to smash the dominance of Brazil’s oligarch from the northeast region. He did this by fully allowing the Sao Paulistan banking and telecommunications sector to establish themselves as the new oligarchies. This development could be seen as deeply as in the takeover of the recently privatized mining giant, Companhia Vale do Rio Doce, by a financial hit squad from the Bradesco group, Latin America’s largest bank.
Known for its high quality iron ore and manganese, the new CVRD board went on to sterilize the company of slush funds and kickbacks. With China’s growing need for iron ore to manufacture the steel behind its infrastructural expansion, CVRD set record after record of year-end profits, with its CEO and CFO being showered with awards and acclaim. Far from mere concentration on first-sector core activities, CVRD was in fact transformed into a banker’s mining corporation. Consolidation of the banking oligarchy on the first-sector industries is nowhere as explicit as here. While the company substantially fills government coffers with export tax revenues, its environmental record is disastrous—despite the pretty picture painted in its annual reports under the fancy terms of “corporate social responsibility”.
In the view of Canadian economist Reuven Brenner, the success of a company such as CVRD should be cause for celebration. Brenner has argued that one of the key factors impeding economic growth in South America is the continued power of land-based oligarchs. His remedy makes his case plainly: “the more often capital markets are open, the easier it is for people to find financial backing and succeed in their entrepreneurial ventures. As new people obtain financial leverage, they form new alliances, force debates, and reshape political coalitions, preventing anyone who reaches the top of the wealth pyramids from sitting on his laurels for too long. Opening new capital markets disperses power, and thus brings about de facto (but not necessarily de jure) democracy.”  As we have witnessed in Brazil, when corruption and international shifting of capital are part of the equation, one oligarchy, modified by changes in political party rule, comes in to concentrate new powers in finance.
What a “long time” is in that regard becomes irrelevant. All it takes are a number of capital transfers, a job learnt swiftly during political campaigning. Opening new capital markets without a vastly restructured financial system based on the state’s commitment to global equality in society merely leads to the voraciousness also known as “wild capitalism”. There is no form of economic policy more akin to produce poverty as this type of capitalism. Restructuring the financial system can only be successful through a debunking of Brazil’s perverted state structure. Some might call these hopes communistic in content (“de jure” in addition to “de facto”), and espousing revolution. We should not have to waste time in a struggle over words.
In June 2005, Brazil’s Globo TV showed hidden camera footage of a state company executive accepting a bribe. In response, the head of the political party to which he belonged spilt the secret beans to his unusual alliance with the government majority in the legislature: the Government had paid representatives from other parties huge sums to vote in line with its bills. The picture of political corruption in Brazil began to change. It was no longer an exception. No longer were crooked politicians linked solely to the land-based oligarchies filling their pockets with public funds. That was the case with former President Collar de Melo, driven from power by congressional impeachment in 1992. New groups, formed around political parties, were now the ones skimming the cream of state companies to build their campaign slush funds. A group of militants and economists with hands-on experience in municipal governments, both the Workers’s Party and the opposition, the Social Democratic Party (PSDB), had been fast at work for over a decade at masterminding a campaign funding scheme whose desire to skirt the law was matched only with their thirst for power at the municipal, state and national levels.
Faced with the sums circulating from corruption, and the greater advantages allowed to corporations and certain sectors of Brazil’s public service elite, such as military officers and federal judges, the paperwork to abide by IMF dictates is a low level accountant’s arithmetic exercise. The results in three years of President Lula’s superb PR campaign for social reform has been stagnation on the home economic front, with the bankers in delight at how low inflation has been kept to the tee. In a country like Brazil stagnation merely fans the flames. Lula’s team never threatened Brazil’s “elites”, as Lula liked to claim at the beginning of the crisis, not at any rate due to their social program.
Some intellectuals and philosophers have dared to explain the corruption crisis as a war between oligarchies, which has converged in a soft coup against the government. They do so with the risk of legitimizing the PT’s deceit. Were this indeed the case, it could only be since the PT began to take shape as a new oligarchy on the back of banks intent on diverting financial power to their own political purpose. Had this been a means to an end to achieve a revolutionary transformation of Brazilian society, this author would perhaps have considered the means as moot.
Yet it has been anything but the case. The gulf between state and civil society, based on the inability of the latter to be effectively represented by the former, has indeed born out the powers of the false. So much so that the pattern of wanton violence is part of a social model with exportation as its aim, like France had proudly sought of late. Like in Brazil, the French oligarchy has used financial delinquency to achieve these ends by gnawing at the beneficial aspects of the welfare state. And like in Brazil, the moral corruption created by the image of decrepit elites fighting amongst themselves has seeped deep into the public sphere. When French Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy called the suburban rioters in France “scum” and “pushers”, claiming African polygamy was the cause of it all, he could perhaps also have been speaking of the youth in Brazil’s favela slums. What is sure, though, is that he was able to speak so clearly to them for the imitation they embody is a mirror of the spheres Sarkozy himself represents – and bolsters.
A DRIVE THROUGH FRANCE’S BURBS
The rejection of neoliberal pressures on France’s public sector economy is neither recent nor limited to the far-left that led to Lionel Jospin’s demise in 2002. The “égalité” factor in France’s political history has been persistent. It has brought down governments and created social confusion. Due to excessive repression by the bourgeoisie thousands of deaths have occurred over two centuries, when counting only those related to revolutionary moments. While the power of industry came to sit in bourgeois hands, the mercantile push of recent decades is tantamount to a return to another form of oligarchic rule.
The tie of aristocratic fringe groups to the use of financial delinquency is an avatar of political development best described by a former leading criminal judge, Eva Joly, in her memoirs, Notre Affair à tous (It’s everybody’s business). Joly recounts her experience in the high profile ELF scandal, which involved high-society senior Socialist civil servants in kickback allegations. The deeper the links uncovered, the more Joly found herself the subject of intimidation, smear tactics (as she is Norwegian born) and threats.
Her findings uncovered the workings of a post-colonial oligarchy. Housed “off shore”, it had depleted France’s public coffers through over-billing resulting from their own commission costs. Judge Joly had her path blocked – a typical occurrence for investigators of alleged corruption, as in Canada with the Airbus scandal. Her conclusion points to an oligarchic activity in the highest reaches of corporate and government power in France, a term that former Prime Minister Lionel Jospin has not without suspicion shifted from the O-word to “aristocracy” in his most recent publication. 
The forming of oligarchs under the veneer of progressive politics, needless to say, has instilled an edge and taste to notions of social reform that render pessimism replete with glee. How is this kind of pessimism expressed in the terms of social and political research? It is of the kind surmising that the truths of society are found at some deeper level than either the class structure or colonial projects outside of the metropolis, and within. The pessimist is the one who feels that determinism modified by statistical probability at the imperceptible level (genes or quanta) is most apt to capture social and economic history. By that very fact, his method is able to predict the failure of decisionist and prescriptive policies for social change since the logic of the big picture is contradicted by the type of activity occurring below the surface. It is occult fatalism.
The problem is that social conflict, for all its predictability, is something whose long term consequences can hardly be foretold, were it not in a truism so basic as to render observations stemming from it trivial. It is indeed a truism that when social groups are deprived of the wherewithal to live according to the norms projected to them daily by the media, they tend to explode in revolt. Harder, and so much rarer, is when the recklessness of such revolts is transformed into substantial change, or revolutionary turnovers. The pessimist is the one who identifies disaster with any such eventuality. He silently, and at times secretly, prefers the anarchic exploding kettle-pot revolts to the effort, indeed the major moral, intellectual, political, economic and artistic work required to counter the forces of globalization. The ends of that work are to lead a group of popular governments to implement the changes to education, wealth redistribution and the banking sector, which can bring about a more harmonious society.
Whether the political economy accompanying such a society is capitalist, or social-democratic or communist, is, to some extent, beside the point. Capital is a substance that even communist societies were unable to dissolve; certainly they were not endowed with alchemist powers to change it into gold. This is not to say that a full-fledged system erected upon its adulation is the destiny of all human societies. Capital itself might have created cities, but the shaping of governments has taken place as a consequence of decisionist events in all of its varied forms. This is why it is not mere blind optimism to emphasize that governments of G7 nation-states, now bolstered by free trade zone groupings, can definitely step in and organize capital according to its vision of social harmony and progress. As Canadian philosopher J. R. Saul has emphasized the public owns the government. In France, where even Jospin’s government, throughout its confrontations with the powerful corporate syndicate of the MEDEF to pass a 35-hour workweek legislation without proportional salary cuts, still failed to impose the proper regulations to bind French corporations to working for the public good. Voters sanctioned Jospin, and three years down the line a complex revolt has made the French nation into the first G7 country to be hit with widespread revolt against neoliberalism. It is fitting to the country’s history as a cutting edge political terrain for revolution.
There are two dominant reasons for the autumn 2005 revolts in France. One has obviously to do with racial profiling. The other clearly and simply involves an economic revolt of the unnamed working class. What it bears out is that, despite its republican state structure and public service meritocracy, France has remained a deeply class-structured society.
By this, the claim is not that classes are the determining factor within society. It is difficult to argue in favor of the model of “single determinant factor” anymore. This analysis is not an attempt at trying to reactivate false pretenses. However, by ridding the class structure of Western societies of its referential basis, to the benefit of a theory of multiplicity which is doubled by a network-inspired model of microscopic dynamic systems stretching the big picture ever wider into the longue durée, purportedly to better explain the specific nature and consistency of capitalism, the experiential aspect of being bound to class is neglected and ignored, if not completely erased.
Such a perspective is the case of Mexican-American commentator of French thought, Manuel De Landa. In his A Thousand Years of Nonlinear History, De Landa sets out to produce an original application of the French thought of Deleuze, Guattari and historian Fernand Braudel, to draft a new history of economics, genetics and linguistics. Indeed, he seeks to transform the progress of the main objects of these respective fields into processes, such that neither is the effect of a top-down decisionist impulse, but rather the temporary formation, i.e. “phase state”, of a systemic activity occurring below the surface of conscious human activity. Each of these states, according to Delanda, maintain specific properties of individuation, no matter how temporary the state.
Behind this language of complexity theories lies a construct of political determinism rid of ideology only in appearance. As Delanda writes, “human culture and society (considered as dynamic systems) are no different from the self-organized processes that inhabit the atmosphere and hydrosphere (wind circuits, hurricanes), or, for that matter, no different from lavas and magmas which, as self-assembled conveyor belts, drive plate tectonics and over millennia have created all the geological features that have influenced human history.”  There is nothing more disorienting than to spot a model of multiplicity being touted as a single overarching model of analytical perfection. Moreover, the notion of “magma” should immediately recall the thought of Cornelius Castoriadis, the late Greek-born French thinker who was one of the country’s diehard radicals.
Castoriadis attempted to formulate a theory of magmas, i.e. formless entities as self-emergent properties. Magma could explain in the language of mathematical logic the inevitable rise of revolutionary forces in nature, and how they break into society’s pre-established logic by prompting the formation of new institutions. The identity and elemental language of set-theory mathematics, Castoriadis held, is insufficient to understate the emergence of form, as is any analytical thought steeped in a Platonic-inspired realist metaphysics. Required instead is the radical imagination, whose spheres of devotion embody the emergence of form from magma.
Until his death in 1997, Castoriadis maintained that French democracy was rotten to the core. In an interview published by Le Débat in 1989, he firmly asserts that “no serious analysis can contest that the regimes self-proclaiming themselves as democratic are anything but what political philosophy in its entirety has called ‘oligarchic regimes’. A minute layer of society dominates and governs. It co-opts its followers. Sure, it’s liberal: it’s open (more or less…) and is ratified every five or seven years by a popular vote. If the governing fraction of this oligarchy exaggerates too much, it is replaced – by another fraction of the oligarchy, which is more akin to it. The disappearance of all real content in the opposition between ‘left’ and ‘right’ follows from it. The terrifying void of contemporary political discourses reflects this situation, not genetic mutations.” 
Faced with Castoriadis’s perception, De Landa risks betraying his own political shortcomings. First, he questions Deleuze and Guattari’s persistent Marxism as based on an all too brief reading of Fernand Braudel’s masterpiece, Civilization and Capitalism. Steeped in his system-dynamic theory of cultural history, De Landa argues that “there is a misconception, widely shared by economists and philosophers on either side of the political spectrum, that capitalism developed in several stages, being at first competitive and subservient to market forces and only later, in the twentieth century, becoming monopolistic. However, starting in the thirteenth century, capitalists engaged in various noncompetitive practices, in order to create the large accumulations of money that have always characterized the upper levels of the trade pyramid.”  Coining the term “anti-markets” to designate the corporate noncompetitive take over of markets as a whole, Delanda emphasizes the need “to understand the role of decision making in the creation of social order, we need to concentrate not so much on the more or less rational character of individual decisions, but on the dynamics (centralized or decentralized) among many interacting decision makers.” 
Sure enough, Delanda, following Castoriadis, offers the specific need to offer system dynamic models to offer a more complete understanding of decision making. On the other hand, unlike Castoriadis, Delanda offers no theory of decisionist and prescriptive models for social change, which need not be reduced to an individualist moment, but which are fundamental to cultural progression in so far as they embody moments of breaking with orthodox institutions. It is precisely through interactive models that the collective vanguards for social and economic equality draw their learnings, if anything to avoid the temptations of power if and when they do assume the high ranks of government at society’s behest.
Mobility between classes in France has never been easy, which does not discount exceptions. No model, no reality ever does. But the old and more recent aristocracy, the grande bourgeoisie, circulates with relative ease in the upper reaches of power. The country’s recent economic upturn has favored them. On the other hand, the mid-middle, lower middle and working classes have taken the brunt of the privatization plan that has aimed at stripping down France’s welfare state. The pretext, as is often the case with such measures, is that the public service managerial hierarchy slows technological innovation down and is swayed by corruption due to the comforts of being sheltered by continual government bail outs. The markets, it is claimed, would dismiss executives of such ilk, though not without the de rigueur golden handshake.
The reasoning may at times sound legitimate. Yet once it steps into gear, privatization begins to show another pattern. It is a common one to most G7 countries. After the former administration is fired, a layer of middle management is swiftly terminated. Skilled professionals, including engineers, are laid off only to be hired again in periods of economic growth as contractual workers. No health insurance plan or benefits are offered. By contrast, bonuses are if only to trigger the incentive for workaholic “embeddness” and allay the stress arising from physical immobility at the workstation. As for the bottom rungs, automation is introduced to a level accepted by the national government. In charge of fudging unemployment figures, most governments just hope for the best from street reaction.
Within the interactive models applied by various social scientists, the element of class structure and class struggle are left on the wayside. The Suburban Revolts in France are nothing but working class, unemployment related conflict. If the violence exerted against their own neighborhood facilities, the burning of cars and factories has appeared self-destructive and senseless, it is due not only to misperception and media ignorance. Several demonstrators pointed out to reporters that such and such businesses refused to hire locals, and indeed perceived local kids as virtual shoplifters. Rioters penalized some of these businesses. Others were burned due to no sensible reason. That’s because the very core of their conflict has been eviscerated, ditched of its substance. What it once used to unite, at the very least in the imperfection of unity in “chains”, was expressed in the international working class.
This is not to say that philosopher Tariq Ramadan’s analysis of the racist dimensions to the ignition of the riots is off the mark. “France needs determined and brave politicians who can look the fears and racism spreading across the country in the face. Energetic politicians who refuse to continue perverting and falsifying debates by “Islamizing” social questions. Politicians who respect the equal dignity of all citizens and refuse to speak of ‘French people of immigrant origin’ four generations after their ancestors arrived here. Politicians who know that if France is to restore social peace in the suburbs, it must do something about the injustices that undermine that peace.”  Racism marks the difference in this working class revolt precisely by binding it to the perceived economic needs that once marshaled France’s colonial expansion.
Ramadan even goes as far as calling for a “revolution in thinking” for the nation to come to terms with the economic needs of the excluded populations of the country. Yet he does not use the term “working class”. In his call for objectivity and respectful understanding of history, he misses an important factor. In the past, the working class was no less treated as “miserable”, “scum”, or the “wretched of the earth”. Racism was no less an exclusionary plight to match economic disenfranchisement. The working class, even when they were no not of Italian or Polish origin as they were in France at the beginning of the 20th century, earlier were the “sans-culottes”, the “paupers”, or the rural serfs. Another breed of men, another race.
The truth is that, prior to transnational immigration, racism was used in the rise of the modern nation-state to distinguish the working class from the “nobility”. The working class has always been treated as other. What changes with the current configuration, as Alain Badiou insightfully notes, is that the term “immigrant” has replaced the expression “working class”.
This has not worked in all countries. France’s upper crust is certainly no less cosmopolitan than other oligarchies. The undeniable trigger, though, like Ramadan has underscored, is the idealizing of the “unity of the Republic”, which converged recently in the ill-conceived legislation banning the Muslim hijab from public schools.  Then and there, France refused to “finally realize that Islam is a French religion.”
As for the revolt of France’s suburban youth, they destroyed property – not human lives. Isn’t that the cleanest, most dignified form of revolt? Where were the “suicide bombers”, where were the “Islamists Hashishim”? Those on the street may well have been delinquents, high school drop-outs, semi-literate, and maybe even losers; but the 3000 plus arrested are especially French citizens. Beyond their ancestors of the Algerian conflict, they have also joined those of 1789, 1791, 1830, 1848 and 1871, indeed of 1968. Peace be among the humble and innocent who suffered property damage or loss. It is the State that holds responsibility for the degree of violence waged.
OLIGARCHY’S SHIFT TO THE BUSINESS OF IDEAL SOCIETIES
If ever there were a point in favor of liberal thought in capitalist societies during the Cold War, it was the profound skepticism it fostered regarding the chances of success of utopian social visions. That this skepticism was accurate and distinct from the cynicism of money-first launderers was reinforced by its extension to the domain of religion. The turn to a social-democratic set of demands spreading throughout Western and Western-based societies in the wake of the world depression, then in the 1960s, was both realist in a pragmatic sense and anti-realist as responding to anything but the needs of capital. But this mixture between the pro and the anti is most likely the way skepticism can survive positively without provoking the kind of panic we experience today. Collective panic is merely the feeding ground of religious fundamentalism.
There is responsiveness in religious groups to social ills that politicians are unwilling to assume. Both church and state are clearly institutions bent on capturing and concentrating power. What continues to disappoint and is felt increasingly is the vanishing of a left progressive social movement from the spheres of representative democracy. Several countries in Latin America experienced endemic religious reform movements with liberation theology. But through the inquisitorial intervention of Cardinal Ratzinger, Pope John Paul 2′s ultra-orthodoxy dashed its hopes. Liberation theology was forced to reorganize in another incarnation of the church-state relationship on the outer edges of the Roman Church, for instance with Frei Betto becoming one of President Lula da Silva’s special advisers. In the case of France, but through a model that easily migrates to other Western societies, Marcel Gauchet has observed a deep split, perhaps an irreducible one, between the State and civil society specifically mirroring the loss of the central determination over politics that religion once had. Autonomy may have been achieved on the level of individual rights in G7 countries, yet the concomitant demand of greater representativity is immobilized in the collapse of collective demands for reform. Religious pluralism now contributes to different heavenly kingdoms being socially, socially instead of politically achievable, though only through a future perfect utopia. So the question turns to whether democracy as a form of government can achieve the group demands that refuse to be appeased by utopian hopes.
Leftwing groups have found themselves partaking in this general turn of civil society away from the State. They have been deeply marked by the revolution of individualism that has characterized Western societies since the 1960s. For NGO activists working to revert the damage shareholder capitalism has wrought in their communities, this individualist push, with its related drive for consumption, faces barriers to political union which may at times seem insurmountable. The collective forms of thought most favored by the neoliberal model are, symptomatically, those belonging to civil society, that is, well at a distance from the gulf over which we must all cross to reach the State’s perimeter, eluding the booby-traps of power obsession.
Detrimentally, group thought’s biggest success lies in the managerial sector. The latter has produced its how-to guidebooks, and predicted the need for a pop psychology fix with self-help manuals to alleviate the disappointment. To some extent, group dynamic theories have done most in the North American mainstream to rationalize the natural human drive to act toward and within group-affiliation. They have also preserved this knowledge, notwithstanding its reduction to the corporate “environment”. With the trade union sector all but rendered ineffective in North America, group dynamics, further rationalized in the sports team, still remain a way to keep hopes of direct democracy alive.
North America’s traditional political left has done little thinking on either individualism, which it accepts despite itself, and the vacuum of collective thought, beyond management and religions. In the case regarding Brazil, dos Santos underscores how “the current schism [within the Left], which is still taking shape, is an outcome of the breakdown of the primitive conception of socialism as capitalism’s metaphysical negation. But it has not produced an alternate and more sophisticated version to Leninist socialism, neither from a theoretical perspective nor from that of institutional engineering.” 
The traditional Anglo-American left has perhaps been most interrupted in their attempt to integrate these new circumstances in the struggle for equality, direct democracy and wealth redistribution. On the other hand, Anglo-America’s capitalist advocates, Reuven Brenner and his Friedmanian University of Chicago colleagues have no lack of faith in the good world and good life available to all, if only real capitalism, complete capitalism, full capitalism were to win the day.
From Anatol Lieven to Jeffrey Sachs and the UN’s Millennium project, there is no dearth of programs to try to remedy the damage caused by oligarchic reign over the capitalist markets. For all their “do-goodness”, these “enlightened” liberals have all had their fingers get dirty in the rampage of the neoliberal vision of “globalization” across the planet’s richest natural resource zones, when the stain on the fingers is not merely that of a green bill’s stamp. Today, these spokespersons are playing the card of courage, by speaking out as they counter Bush’s neo-conservative doctrine at a time when the American President’s ratings have dipped into the abyss. Reducing their reform programs to a cynical formula can be done with no distortion: soften the poor with hope, instead of skepticism, so that when the industrialized countries fail in their trickle down promises, it will not seem fated, nor incompetent, but just in the nature of things.
The solutions are surely not easy to implement. But transferring wealth while keeping the off shore tax haven business in tact; feeding health care when allowing polluter nations to sit on the UN Security Council, pharmaceutical firms to monopolize cures, and insurance firms to destroy public health care programs through the campaign funding of their political crony henchmen; calling for respect of freedom and human rights while jailing and torturing some 84,000 at the last count in the “war on terror”: all of these instances amount to both a moral rejection of Adam Smith’s economic vision and pragmatic incompetence. Given that Smith considered his moral treatise, Theory of Moral Sentiment, to be his masterpiece, the Market has left us but with a stunted icon.
What makes up the cosmopolitan rejection of capitalism? Dissymmetry as the market fundamentalist’s game with information; disparity as fostering the strategy toward class struggle; and disenfranchisement as spelling out the move against individualist rights of political autonomy and self-determination. All hail the collapse of the new cosmopolitan oligarchies.
1. Wanderley Guilherme dos Santos, ‘A Direita doméstica. O PT ignora o futuro e ilude-se com o apelo reacionário de volta às Origens’, Carta Capital, 10 September 2005 (on-line version).
2. Carta Capital, Nov 10 2005, 21.
3. ‘Escândalo do ‘Mensalão’/ Palocci na Mira’, Folha de S. Paulo, 10 Nov 2005 (on-line version).
4. ‘Sociedade em Crise. Entrevista com J. P. Stedile’, Carta Capital, 21 September 2005, 32-33.
5. For some recent figures, please see, Abid Aslam, ‘Report Scores Runaway CEO Pay, Alleges War Profiteering’, Common Dreams, August 31, 2005 (http://www.commondreams.org/headlines05/0831-02.htm).
6. Reuven Brenner, The Financial Century: From Turmoils to Triumph (New York: Stoddart), 38.
7. Lionel Jospin, Le Monde comme je le vois (Paris : Gallimard/Le Débat, 2005).
8. Manuel De Landa, A Thousand Years of Non Linear History (New York: Zone books, 1997), 55.
9. C. Castoriadis, ‘L’Idée de révolution a-t-elle toujours encore un sens? Entretien avec Cornelius Castoriadis’, Le Débat No. 57, Nov-Dec 1989, 221.
10. Manuel De Landa, A Thousand Years of Non Linear History, 43.
11. Manuel De Landa, A Thousand Years of Non Linear History, 43.
12. Tariq Ramadan, ‘The Entire French Political Class has got it Wrong’, The Globe and Mail, November 16, 2005.
13. Norman Madarasz, ‘French Press Review: France’s “Loi sur la laïcité” (Law on Secularism)’, IslamOnLine, January 28, 2004.
14. Wanderley Guilherme dos Santos, ‘A Direita doméstica’.
A Canadian, Norman Madarasz is associate professor of philosophy at Universidade Gama Filho. He welcomes comments at email@example.com.