Thursday, October 27, 2016

Ethiopia: Another Capitalist miracle on the Edge of the Abyss

By Richard Mellor
Afscme Local 444, retired

I recall that after the Great Recession 8 years ago, Gillian Tett and other economic writers were re-assuring the new young breed of millionaires and billionaires that capitalism had experienced this before and survived. She quoted a Lehman Brothers report about the 60 or so crashes since the Tulip Crisis in the 16th century.  The new rich, the traders and other wasters that had accumulated much cash in the upswing, had never seen anything like it and severe depression set in. Marx’s Das Capital was flying off the shelves as explanations for the horror were searched for. Capitalism was on the edge of the abyss, saved from itself through public assistance and socialistic measures. Tett, as one of the main theoreticians of capitalism did her job well.

Age has its benefits. I have lived through who knows how many “miracles” of capitalism. From the great Argentine economy when it was once the 6th largest in the world I believe to Ireland, the Celtic Tiger that lost its teeth pretty quick. But this is the norm for the capitalist mode of production. It is a system of instability, insecurity, violence, poverty and war.

Marx described it so eloquently 150 years ago:

Constant revolutionising of production, uninterrupted disturbance of all social conditions, everlasting uncertainty and agitation distinguish the bourgeois epoch from all earlier ones. All fixed, fast-frozen relations, with their train of ancient and venerable prejudices and opinions, are swept away, all new-formed ones become antiquated before they can ossify. All that is solid melts into air, all that is holy is profaned, and man is at last compelled to face with sober senses his real conditions of life, and his relations with his kind. The Communist Manifesto.

As Marx explains, these crises are not the product of individual character flaws, or greed in the abstract. They are not a product of “crony capitalism” as we are led to believe leading us to the false conclusion that regular capitalism is OK. They are an integral part of the capitalist mode of production. They are rooted in the way society is structured and production organized. And as Charles O Prince, the CEO of Citigroup said on the eve of the Great Recession, “As long as the music is playing, you’ve got to get up and dance,” They are compelled by the laws of the system to do what they do.

As we are engulfed by Trump frenzy here in the US, protests and struggles are erupting everywhere. But with the US mass media, being as controlled as it is, we don’t hear much about it. Ethiopia is in East Africa and is flirting with civil war, yet until recently it was the sparkle in the global investors eyes. Its economy has been growing about 10% a year for a decade, and growth is progress for capitalism no matter how socially or environmentally destructive.

The Chinese have built a new $3.5 billion railway line from Ethiopia’s capital, Addis Ababa to Djibouti on the Red Sea, but three days before the government officially opened the line on October 5th, what has been described as a “stampede” at a religious festival led to 52 deaths. The festival was accompanied by anti-government protests and the state has been blamed for the deaths in its efforts to suppress political dissent.

Since then there have been as many as 500 killed and thousands detained. In response, the Ethiopian government has instituted a 6-month state of emergency. The law introduces increased powers of arrest and a ban on free assembly and expression including social media. How quickly things change.

The uprisings have been centered in two regions, Oromia and Amhara, the traditional homes of the Oromos and the Amharian people. But this is not a religious war any more than the Catholic-Protestant troubles in Ireland are. At the root of the problem is economics and politics.  As is always the case, the growth has not benefited everyone but everyone can feel its consequences in one way or another.  One of the main issues is the land. Ethiopia is still predominantly an agrarian country and as foreign investment comes in and with it the building of textile and other factories, farmers are being driven off their land to make way for the progress.  Like the British peasantry 400 years before them, or the Mexican subsistence farmer in the wake of NAFTA, they have to be liberated from their means of subsistence. The young people are frustrated as well as they excluded from the prosperity the growth brings in the main.

There is also resentment toward the government, which is dominated by the Tigrayan people who are only 6% of the population as well as those in the country’s capital Addis Ababa who have benefitted most as the capital has been developing at “breakneck” speed says the Economist  Capitalist society is urban and production industrialized

So the fear now is capital flight as investors shift cash to safer havens. Textile factories have been attacked as have other industries, and one US owned flower farm has pulled out according to reports. An American woman was killed early on which has caused concern as the US is the country of origin for most of Ethiopia’s tourists.

Ethiopia is primarily a Christian country rich in ancient Christian tradition and Tourism has also played a significant role in the recent growth. More than 750,000 visited the country in 2015 and tourism contributed about 4.5% of GDP ($2.9 billion) according to the Financial Times.  But tourism is in danger of screeching to a halt which will only exacerbate the economic and political crisis as some 1.5 million people earn their living in this sector.

A State of Emergency is an interesting term. As used by the mouthpieces of capitalism, their media, theoreticians, political pundits etc., it sounds like it is introduced to protect human beings, the inhabitants of society as a whole  from an "emergency" of sorts. It does protect a minority of human beings, it is introduced to protect the owners of capital, the capitalist class both domestically and more importantly the imperialists who own the mass of capital necessary to set production in motion.

The railway was not built with the idea of raising the living standards of 100 million Ethiopians. It was built in order to placate investors, to ensure that their investments bring a decent return.  The railroad can transport commodities and textiles made by cheap and non-union labor in a country run by an increasingly oppressive regime. It can also carry tourists. 

I remember reading in a major capitalist journal about a modern factory in one African country as an example of the road to modernity. It might have been a Coca Cola plant, I can’t remember. The factory was all modern and the road leading up to it like a new highway. It was so obvious; the function of the road was to facilitate profits and investment taking workers and the necessary material to the factory and the finished product out. The rest of the population can starve.

In the former colonial world, the capitalist class is too weak and dominated by the
WalMart Mexico: Capitalist development is for profit not human habitation
economic and military might of the imperialist countries to develop the economy as a whole. We call results of this, combined and uneven development. Capitalism cannot provide a modern sewage or water system for an entire nation and it is the lack of public health and infrastructure that is the cause of so many deaths by disease, and the constant social upheavals that plague these nations. The crisis facing the underdeveloped world, and all of use, is a crisis of capitalism.

The IMF, that rotten institution of global capitalism, made this clear, warning the Ethiopian government before it instituted a State of Emergency that “..attracting foreign investment will be crucial to sustaining the high growth rates.” FT 10-26-16.  The Economist also explained it: “After almost a week of silence, the state-of-emergency law was a belated attempt to reassure foreign investors.” The serious journals of capitalism are so important for activist workers and socialists to read.

The capitalist media and its experts in its universities will argue and do, that only capitalism can lift all boats; that the underdeveloped world can only be developed, be brought in to the modern era as they see it, through a capitalist economy and political system.

This never happens of course, the “underdeveloped” world never develops. Sure, pockets of it do, but capitalism cannot develop a continent like Africa, it can’t even develop Detroit or LA.

Western capitalism plundered Africa, robbed it of its raw materials and natural wealth and for a period its people. That’s what this system does. It is why there are almost no major forests left in Britain. As the global crisis of capitalism intensifies we will see the continued break up of nation states, regional wars, the rise of maniacal formations like ISIS, people driven mad by decades of war and destruction and mass migrations as refugees of imperialism flee their bombed out cities and homes.

It’s a sort of self fulfilling prophecy, capitalism leads to rapid growth for a few over a period and then as the general population demands its fair share, capital is withdrawn and further chaos ensues. So within a period of less than six months Ethiopia is no longer all the rage at the gatherings of the global capitalist elite.  The jewel of Africa is fading.

Through their control of the mass media, the capitalist class, those who own the means by which we produce the necessities of human life and more importantly the capital that is one crucial element of the production process, confuse us with all sorts of reasons for a country like Ethiopia’s failure. Its leaders are corrupt (and ours aren’t?).  They are uneducated, they are black, they are not the right religion and more.

The crisis in the Middle East is explained away as a mix of corruption and religious sectarianism and this absurd idea that terrorism is some sort of philosophy as opposed to a tactic.  But ask most Arabs from this region, Shia and Sunni have never descended to such brutality that we see now. I went all through Iraq in 1971 and they were kind to me; I was safe. They were Muslims then and they’re Muslims now so something else happened and that was concocted here in the USA.

The same with Israel. An American mentioned to me that Muslims and Jews have been slaughtering each other for centuries. No they haven’t! They lived in relative harmony for thousands of years until the European colonial settler state of Israel was created by western imperialism after the collapse of the Ottoman Empire after WW1. It was Christian Europe that waged a genocidal campaign against the Jews, not Arabs or Muslims.

Human history and how and why society changes can only be understood with a scientific approach. There are real causes of things. What caused world wars, why the revolution in Spain failed and led to Fascism. Why the Russian Revolution degenerated and the workers lost political power. What is China politically? Why are millions starving when we have the ability and means to feed them?  These are political questions and we can’t arrive at the answers through religious mythology and the so-called war between the spirits of good and evil or if our eyes are stuck to the TV screen obsessed with sports and mundane shows that they produce to divert our attention from the real world. This doesn’t mean we can’t have fun folks.

By the way, the Saudi’s are not winning despite bombing the hell out of Yemen with US supplied WMD’s so the good ‘ole USA is bombing them directly now creating more dreaded terrorists for us to fear and rally around the flag for.

No comments: