News articles, commentaries, reviews, translations on subjects of potential interest to progressive minded individuals and organizations, with a special emphasis on the Quebec national question, indigenous peoples, Latin American solidarity, and the socialist movement and its history.
Québec solidaire will make climate change the party’s main political campaign issue in the coming year, both in and outside the National Assembly. The campaign will build on the major proposals in the QS economic transition plan featured in the recent Quebec general election.
Meeting in Montréal December 7-9, the party’s National Council (CN), which comprises delegates from its constituency associations and other membership bodies, debated and adopted a “political balance sheet” of the October 1 election, in which Québec solidaire doubled its share of the popular vote to 16% and elected 10 deputies to the National Assembly.
In addition to adopting a leadership proposal to prioritize the issue of climate crisis and how to fight it, the CN held a preliminary discussion on how to prepare an internal debate on “secularism and religious signs” that is to arm the party to counter Islamophobic legislation threatened by the new CAQ government. An introductory document was introduced setting out the existing program on these questions, adopted in 2009, along with changes proposed by some party leaders in recent years. The plan is to clarify the party’s position at the next National Council meeting, to be held in March 2019.
The election report noted that QS had achieved all of its major objectives in the recent election. It had more than tripled its parliamentary representation, with gender parity and increased diversity among the new MNAs, winning seats outside of Montréal for the first time, and obtaining recognition as an official party in the Assembly.
Although the election was not preceded by any major debate or popular mobilization on fundamental issues affecting Quebec as a national entity in the Canadian state, in recent years there have been important mobilizations around ecology (e.g. stopping the Energy East pipeline), the #MoiAussi (Me too) movement, and agitation to raise the minimum wage. Another concern was the troubling global rise in right-wing populism with its anti-immigration rhetoric and “xenophobic, misogynist and racist ideas.”
“Québec solidaire, by taking clear positions on the issue of climate change, by foregrounding the minimum wage demand, and affirming its feminist, independentist and inclusive project, was able to position itself as a relevant and effective force in this social and ideological context.”
Among younger voters it was the party’s emphasis on climate crisis and its support for universal free tuition that proved most attractive. And its environmental platform benefited from “the fact that we integrate this issue with a more comprehensive projet de société.”
“Linking independence and environment is very important in getting the voters — especially young people, who are less spontaneously in favour of independence — to see the importance of Quebec’s political emancipation.”
It is important, the report emphasized, that the party not just be an effective voice in parliament. “We must do more to get a hearing outside the walls of the National Assembly, alongside our allies in the social movements, to give a voice to the popular opposition to this government.” And this will help the party resist the calls for convergence with the Parti québécois, which will grow in light of the PQ’s precarious situation. Moreover,
“the calls to ‘recentre,’ to ‘put some water in our wine,’ to ‘compromise,’ will become more insistent over the next four years from people who think that power can only be taken through the centre. Québec solidaire will have to find a way to overcome these pressures, and to define itself by its own means.”
Personal commitments prevented me from attending this CN meeting. However, a report and commentary by Pierre Beaudet, who as a QS member was entitled to attend the meeting as an observer, presents an informative and reflective analysis of what it revealed of the progress of Québec solidaire and the challenges facing it. I have translated his article from Presse-toi à gauche, adding my own footnotes. Beaudet edits Nouveaux Cahiers du Socialisme and is currently teaching at the Université du Québec en Outaouais in Gatineau.
– Richard Fidler
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Québec solidaire’s National Council meeting — A comment by a sympathetic observer
By Pierre Beaudet
As the party’s general secretary Gaétan Châteauneuf noted in his opening remarks, the 14th meeting of the National Council (CN) was above all a “moment of celebration.” How could it be otherwise, given the spectacular results of last October 1? The increased vote, the three-fold increase in the number of deputies, the breakthrough outside of Montréal constitute, together, a real quantitative and qualitative leap — as registered in the report presented by the outgoing chair of the National Elections Committee, Ludvic Moquin-Beaudry.
If we add to that the significant number of young people between the ages of 18 and 35 who opted for QS, especially around the central issue of climate emergency, the outlook is promising. The balance-sheet, endorsed by the 200 or so CN participants, justified the reporter’s conclusion that “from now on, QS has the taste of victory.”
Québec solidaire’s progress since its founding in 2006 is impressive. At the time, it was a marriage of convenience between the most perceptive elements of the old left (like my friend François Cyr, unfortunately now deceased) and some personalities from the social movements such as the indefatigable Françoise David and François Saillant. The generation of the Seventies and Eighties was still full of energy, with a long and rich tradition of social struggles, but also aware that it had been unable to build a true political pole on the left.
It was time for a “self-critical” dialogue with the “generation of the 2000s” that had put new life into the movements, as in the World March of Women and the Summit of the Peoples of the Americas. Amir Khadir, and later Manon Massé, were very representative of this new tuned-in group of activists. And then, in 2012, there was a radical shift as tens of thousands of youth felt their time had come. That was when a new generation — including Gabriel Nadeau-Dubois (GND), Ludvic Moquin-Beaudry, Simon Tremblay-Pepin, among so many others — made what Québec solidaire has become today, a grand rallying point.
A change in course
The Quebec of the activists has now taken its place on the political scene. In his opening speech, GND argued that QS had emerged from marginality, was clearly no longer the “party of lost causes,” and had even to a considerable degree won the “battle of ideas.” Subsequently, the 10 deputies, still dazzled by their victory, explained how they were constituting the “real opposition” in the National Assembly. With the Liberals and the Parti québécois still groggy from their severe defeat, and a CAQ government that is incoherent, there is indeed ample space in which to disrupt the distance “between the people and the traditional political castes,” as GND put it, adding that October 1, more than a chance event, was a “displacement of the tectonic plates.”
There’s a story here
Some speakers cautioned the National Council against an exaggerated triumphalist vision, noting in particular the attractiveness of a “new old” party like the CAQ among a great many voters, as well as the high level of abstention. Without minimizing the effort of the central team of QS and the many thousands of members in the 125 ridings, there was an alignment of the stars that resulted from such other factors as the collapse of the once-mighty PQ, now at the door of the palliative care unit.
Others noted that a tempting “alliance” between QS and the PQ, as proposed by some party leaders just last year, would have been a serious mistake.
In reality, QS is in search of an orientation that could be termed “strategic.” The program — the product of ten years of debate — is both an interesting foundation reflecting the convergence between generations and militants but also somewhat of a burden that remains obscure for most members, and even more so the population.
A few months ago, before the election was officially called, the QS leadership had not seen the centrality of the environmental question; it was not included in the four or five major priorities in the campaign planning. Influenced by a report commissioned from the IREQ that remains more or less secret even now, the tendency at the May 2018 NC meeting was to veer toward a “soft” consensus, out of fear of being taken for “radical ecologists.” However, the determined mobilization of an increasingly militant ecology movement tipped the balance. If we are to speak of a displacement of tectonic plates, that is where it happened, especially among the youth. Almost at the last minute, the QS leadership changed course, and this was responsible to a large degree for the appeal of Manon Massé’s remarkable presentations in the debates of the party leaders.
A “real” party, and some headaches
Frankly, QS has been more than admirable in its conduct of democratic debate up to now, with recurring congresses and engaged membership committees. Of course, when the party had only three elected deputies, the “parliamentary wing” did not take up too much space. But now, with the 10 MNAs and a huge supporting staff (QS is allocated a budget of $1.8 million as a recognized party), it is likely that the centre of gravity will move more toward the National Assembly. This will be a real challenge, as it is for all progressive parties that reach a certain threshold. The parliamentary team will now assume great influence.
However, it will have to conform to a politically restricted terrain, the National Assembly and the party system, initially conceived by the British colonial regime and since adopted by all bourgeois parliaments as a means of sidelining the people. Beyond the divisions between the parties, the elected members end up constituting a caste that is surrounded, protected, and to some degree insulated by the “cadres and competents” (assistants of all kinds) whose job it is to serve, even to defend, their bosses, the MNAs, more than QS as a whole.
Ends and means
The dilemma is that this apparatus that QS will soon set up will tend (I don’t say it is inevitable) to function on its own foundations. At worst, it becomes a “party within the party” and then the objective (transformation) is shelved in the interests of winning election, by hook or by crook. But QS was not established in order to “win elections”; that’s a means, not the end. To undertake the great transformation, we also have to think about other means such as mobilization, popular education.
In reality, QS belongs to something that is bigger than itself, and that we can call, in the interests of simplicity, the “popular movement.” Without that movement, we will go nowhere.
Of course, it will be said, rightly, that our party is far, very far from being sclerosed and indifferent to the people’s voice. But hold on, the PQ was not initially the affair of a clique. The NDP, in its good years, was in tune with the popular movement. Elsewhere, the left re-ignited a genuine spirit of emancipation, as did the Workers’ Party (PT) in Brazil.
We will be told it is not like that here, but we should give this some thought. Once Lula was elected in 2002, the mechanisms of internal democracy were shrivelled. They said the PT has to govern, that the elected members were accountable to their voters and not the party members, etc. Parallel to this, some popular movements were decapitated, their members absorbed by the apparatus. One thing led to another, and a great popular movement lost its direction, ending with the recent great defeat.
Act now, in anticipation
Also, let’s be realists. Québec solidaire is still very far from “power.” I put the word “power” in quotation marks because I don’t think a provincial government (the reality for now) holds real “power,” which will remain in the hands of the real (federal) state and which, once again, is limited by the various circuits of the Canadian bourgeoisie and American imperialism.
This is not to denigrate the importance of the struggle that must be conducted to change this Quebec government. But it must be done without illusions. That is what Gramsci taught us: the fight is a “war of position,” slow, strewn with pitfalls, which will not be ended on the day of an election victory. If we bear that in mind, we will avoid major disappointments, without forgetting that the real strength is that of the organized people, for whom the MNAs are the voice in the parliamentary arena.
Meanwhile, QS should invest in extra-parliamentary work that goes beyond statements of principle. During the National Council meeting, Simon Tremblay-Pepin said QS should “cling” to the mobilizations that are under way, as a stakeholder in a great convergence. To do that, we will need some means, some resources, devoted to mobilization and popular education that are distinct, but protected, from those assigned to support the parliamentary wing.
Avoid “true or false” debates
To become a party is to insert oneself on to the political scene as it exists, with its constraints. The system, and the media appendage that goes with it, is made to fool people, arouse unproductive discussions, avoid the essential. And that is where the current debate on immigration and religious signs must be placed. GND repeated this in his opening speech at the CN; this “crisis” has been conjured up. Immigrants are not a threat to our society. There is no sign of “excess” in the practice of Islam any more than there is in other religious practices. Only a small minority wear ostentatious signs of their belief, and this has no impact on the population as a whole. So where is the real problem? There is one. Capitalism in its neoliberal form discriminates, super-exploits and treats some populations as inferior in its logic of accumulation. It needs cheap labour to pick broccoli in St-Hyacinthe. Or domestic workers to take care of our children.
The immigrants are the victims in this: unrecognized skills, “informal” discriminatory practices, restrictive contracts, etc. To do this, the rulers must convince the population that migrants do not “deserve” the same advantages as others. They create a “them” and “us,” constructing a discrimination which we must fight without hesitation or qualification.
A second consideration: globalized capitalism, the United States in the lead, is militarizing. The next world war is already begun, in that arc of crises that traverses a major part of Africa and Asia. To justify it, they have to entrench the idea that it is the populations concerned, mainly Muslim Arabs, who are the threat, and not the imperialist concerns of the great powers. That is the stock of Islamophobia, the new name for racism.
Here too, we must resist, as strongly as our ancestors did against hatred of the Jews, which when all is said and done was hatred of the workers and left parties, fueled by the right and the far-right, quite capable then as now of draping themselves in a nationalist cloak.
When the time comes, this will be one of the trump cards of the CAQ. How to fight? We cannot act if we do not go back to the systemic questions, over and above the “religious signs.” Moreover, this is a vast global combat, we are not alone. Internationalism and altermondialisme (words I did not often hear in the National Council) must be in the forefront, and not a vague point on the agenda (generally at the end).
An important challenge
I am proud to see Québec solidaire taken in hand by the new generations. The left, in the past and even now, has not always recognized this necessary change. Of course, the “young at heart” (including the author of these lines) still have many things to say and do (there were still many white heads at the National Council meeting). Some comrades of the previous generations continue to play an essential role in moving projects forward. I am thinking in particular of André Frappier, whose mandate as the head of communications was not renewed; he has still more to share of the lessons learned from countless battles conducted by the people, the advances and also the retreats, the beautiful transformations and the “blind spots.”
At the time when we were in the forefront there was a lot of arrogance, of know-it-all-ism, even a feeling that we were literally writing on a blank page. With this insane dream of “imminent victory,” we broke the momentum. With greater modesty, greater capacity to listen, greater understanding of the complex processes that confront us, we could have done better. Today, it is reassuring to find that the QS members of this world are trying to go further.
 Nadeau-Dubois was chief organizer of the QS election campaign. He is a co-spokesperson of the party along with Manon Massé, who represented QS in the party leaders’ televised debates.
 Institut de recherche d’Hydro-Québec, a research institute established in 1967 by Quebec’s state-owned power utility.
 Roch Carrier, La guerre, yes sir! investigates French-English relations during the conscription crisis in Quebec. Translated by Sheila Fischman (Toronto: Anansi, 1970), 113 pp. Adapted as a stage play in French in 1970 and in English in 1972. “Perhaps the most important work of literature in French relating to the [Second World] war and was equally well-received in English translation.” http://www.collectionscanada.gc.ca/military/025002-7082-e.html.
Students in São Paulo debating resistance to Bolsonaro after the election.(Pic: Margarida Salomão on Twitter)
Pierre Beaudet, an editor of Nouveaux Cahiers du Socialisme, is a long-standing member of the International Council of the World Social Forum, which first met in 2001 in Porto Alegre, just a year before the Workers’ Party (PT) was elected to the presidency of Brazil. The WSF has met almost annually since then in Brazil and occasionally in other countries. Prof. Beaudet wrote this article the day after the October 28 election of the far-right candidate Jair Bolsonaro as president of Brazil, winning 55% over the PT’s 45%. It was first published in Presse-toi à gauche. A shorter version was published in Le Devoir. My translation. – Richard Fidler
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The Lesson of Brazil
By Pierre Beaudet
The catastrophe — expected and foreseeable — has happened. This immense country, with its 200 million inhabitants, is now in darkness. At best, it will take a decade or two to emerge.
The ‘Colombian model’
It is of course very early to predict what will happen, but the election of the fascist Bolsonaro raises two possibilities. The “optimists,” if one can put it that way, think that a kind of Colombian-style regime will emerge: authoritarian, militarized, using targeted repression against certain sectors of the popular movement with the consent if not support of a vast sector of the middle and popular classes. In Colombia, under Álvaro Uribe’s rule, the state was reinforced and restabilized, benefiting from the militarist excesses of the FARC. Today, Colombia emerges as a small regional power with a façade of democracy, a fragmented opposition, and a solid alliance between the various reactionary factions, not to mention the unfailing support of the United States. In that country they assassinate, kidnap, destroy the opposition, but they leave it a small place in a well-organized system that rules out any change. Has history come to an end in Colombia? Of course not, it never does. Also, Brazil is not Colombia. The popular movement did not become militarized. It still enjoys broad electoral support (45% of the votes), foundations in the institutions, states (provinces) and municipalities. All that cannot be destroyed overnight. However…
The pessimistic scenario
Bolsonaro expresses the hope of sectors that are truly fascist, not only authoritarian. The president-elect said it himself, he wants to “exterminate” the left. Which could mean several things, such as a “purge” of the public service, education and the cultural milieu, as the Turkish dictator has done in his own way. But there is worse yet. In the Brazilian case it will be necessary to break vast popular movements, including in the first place the powerful landless peasants movement, the MST. For three decades this movement has sunk roots in various rural sectors, with an organized network of establishments, cooperatives and institutions. Although not obtaining the agrarian reform it sought from its allies in the Workers’ Party (PT), the MST has established itself in some regions as a mini “state within the state,” with hundreds of thousands of members. Bolsonaro has said he will “clean them up” with the support of the powerful agrobusiness sector, local notables and popular sectors fueled by junk media and the evangelical churches. The MST, which fortunately has never toyed with the militarist option, will have a hard time withstanding the shock, unless other popular sectors join with it to build a sort of anti-fascist front. For the moment, that’s unlikely. The trade-union movement, including the CUT, which gave birth to the PT, is virtually paralyzed, in large part by the frontal assault on the workers in recent years and the impact of “globalization.” Reorienting toward primary resource extraction and agrobusiness, Brazilian capitalism concluded that a working class organized in industry and public services was due for slaughter.
The next challenges of the fascist project
There are still many unknowns in the equation. Urban popular sectors are not, at least in the short term, in a position to mobilize, partly because of the dense network of evangelicals. The PT has for several years lost ground in the favelas. The “middle” layers, including a large petty-bourgeoisie that is relatively comfortable in the state apparatus, education and the media, are neutralized. The big bourgeoisie, initially rather hostile to Bolsonaro, is ready to “play the game,” especially if the new president will undertake the dismantling of the social sector of the state, which will mean lower taxes (which are already very low). In Europe, at the turn of the 1930s, the dominant sectors in Germany and elsewhere lined up behind the fascists, albeit with some reluctance. The popular movements and unions, well organized and implanted, were not in a position to resist. Admittedly, Brazil and today’s world are not Germany and the traumatized Europe of the 1930s. One of Bolsonaro’s challenges will be to prove to the ruling classes that he actually can govern, which means consolidating and worsening neoliberal policies in line with the interests of the big bourgeoisie and imperialism. On the other hand, managing his repressive policy by avoiding “excesses” (too many massacres, too much racism and homophobia), while putting in place a very repressive system. It is easier said than done.
At this point, everyone is in shock. The natural reflex is to point to the dreadful manipulation of the right, through the use of the media, elite corruption and repression. That’s completely true. The election campaign that just ended illustrates the tremendous slippage of the current liberal democracies, and not only in Brazil (think of the United States). There is a strong tendency to turn politics into a huge show where anything can be said. One might have thought, however, that the left, the PT and the popular movements should have seen it coming. The victory of a fascist comes two years after President Dilma Roussef was overthrown in a “constitutional” coup, the logical and natural consequence of which was Lula’s imprisonment. Even before that, in 2013, the right had taken the initiative by organizing real mass movements in the street to confront the inanities of the PT government, unable to tame the repression and reorient the country to the needs of the people instead of mounting megalomaniac projects (the Olympics, among others). With various media, police and judicial operations, the PT apparatus found itself in hot water. These episodes, events, scandals and other phenomena have of course been reflected in and mobilized by a highly-organized Right in Brazil, deeply embedded in the state apparatus, “armed” by a vast coterie of “service” intellectuals and firmly seated in a racist and reactionary culture that is the legacy of 500 years of social apartheid and slavery.
Dark spots of the left
That being said, it is necessary to look elsewhere. A product of the great workers and democratic struggles of the 1980s, the PT emerged from oblivion with a project of emancipation that boasted some new features. The need to “democratize the democracy” and redistribute wealth to the popular sectors resulted in a broadly attractive and arguably hegemonic project. This kind of “not so quiet revolution” seemed an ideal way to change this country without too many clashes and grinding of teeth. Once elected in 2002 after a decade of slow and partial victories, the PT enjoyed a state of grace, spurred by an economic boom propelled by rising resource prices. This giant country of agrobusiness and mining and petroleum industries amassed a lot of money, and this allowed Lula and his government to redistribute part of the wealth without harming the interests of the better-off sectors. They were never supporters of the PT but they could tolerate it with the thought that the new governance had the effect of pacifying popular demands and moderating more radical sectors. For example, PT governments continued to refuse the major demand of the MST to implement an extensive agrarian reform, thereby reinforcing the power of agrobusiness, the most dynamic sector of Brazilian capitalism. The same thing can be said for the political system.
Shortly after Lula’s election, some dissident sectors had dared to take their distance by insisting that no real change could occur in Brazil without a ruthless fight against a thoroughly rotten political system. Elected officials at all levels, civil servants, members of the judiciary and the repressive apparatus were gangrened by perverted manipulative practices and a corresponding ideology in which the supreme principle is personal profit, anchored in a deep hatred of the people. Lula and the PT leadership simply chose to live with this system.
It is sometimes said that it is systems that make the people and not the people who make the systems. That’s a bit generalizing, but it’s still true. Around the small nucleus that had piloted the PT to the top of the state there was a small army of “cadres and competents,” mostly militants who had spent years fighting in the unions, the municipalities, in education and the media. These cadres and skilled elements had some means, a little education, some capacities and naturally they became the backbone of the new power. For many, they did so with honesty, even selflessness, in conditions that were often difficult. For others, this transformation represented a real ascension in the social order. A trade unionist suddenly promoted to chief of staff or director of a parapublic company doubled or even tripled his income. This did not mean that he became “rotten” overnight, but it was not inconsequential either.
Apart from the MST, which remained a special case, the popular movements were largely “decapitated” by the exodus of these “cadres and competents” who were the guiding spirits in the unions and many other movements. Once ensconced in the state apparatus, they found themselves de facto in a new situation in which there was still some complicity with the popular movements but also, gradually and increasingly, some distance. Inevitably, the new managers were contaminated by the culture of opacity, manipulation, and even disdain that has built this country for 500 years. They found many more arguments to do nothing than to the contrary. They did not listen to the dissident voices who said the PT was sitting on a sand castle, without reconstructing an economy that is totally unequal and dependent, without confronting the 1% and the 10% who continued to grow rich, without waging a resolute battle against the huge reactionary media empire and the perverse influence of the evangelicals. The gap between the PT and the popular layers became apparent in 2013 when the people took to the streets to denounce the increases in transit fares and megalomaniac projects. But the left plugged its ears. A decisive moment, this convinced a multi-hued Right to go into action.
Brazil will experience some very dark days and we will have to support our comrades to the best of our ability — for example, by keeping a close watch on the actions of the Canadian state and Canadian businesses that will choose to collaborate with the fascists. In the short term, the Brazilian movements will try to do two things at the same time. They will resist, they have no choice. They will also debate, to try to understand, to unravel their contradictions. It is likely that the leaders of the PT, Lula in the lead, will choose the path of least resistance, of retreat, waiting for the return of things without shaking the cage too much. They will say, with some reason, that this is the only possible choice, that the relationship of forces is too unfavourable. They will blame the people and the popular movements instead of accepting their responsibilities in the debacle. But there will be others who will try, in conditions of great adversity, to hold out as the MST will likely do. We have to stand by them.
Like many countries of the “pink wave” in Latin America, Brazil was an important laboratory of left renewal. The importance this has meant in getting the left out of its vanguardist ruts, the misplaced legacy of a petrified and harmful “Marxism-Leninism,” cannot be under-stated. But the present defeats also weigh heavily. What should we make of them? The rise of an electoral left is not the goal, it is not how we will change society. It is a means, and again a means that involves many risks. Many indeed. There is the problem mentioned above of the “cadres and competents” who ensconce themselves in relative comfort, abandoning the popular movements from which they came. There are the pitfalls of a “political game” where you pretend to make decisions while the real levers of power are well hidden in the interstices of the banks and large corporations. There are the enormous risks of actually confronting the systems of power knowing very well their capacity to destroy, manipulate, annihilate.
Faced with all this, it is necessary to resist the pseudo-projects of “fleeing from politics,” taking refuge in comfort zones where one can dream of experiencing society on a very small scale. Anticipatory projects such as cooperatives, mini-communes or whatever are important. But it is not that, in itself, that will break the power. So we have no choice but to go into the swamp, knowing what to expect. At a time when Québec solidaire hopes to change the state of affairs, we can be both happy and cautious. It will be interesting to see whether the innovations that served QS so well are furthered, so that we can avoid potential slippages. For example,
The party must remain a place of active and lively debate, and not be content to sink into facile formulas that may be electorally advantageous but may eventually create the illusion that we can change things without making changes. At QS we are not at that point but there is a small risk that the appetite for an electoral breakthrough will bring us down.
Our MNAs and “cadres and competents,” which will increase tenfold in the next period, must accept — as Manon [Massé], Gabriel [Nadeau-Dubois], Amir [Khadir] and others have done — that they are not the “owners” of QS. Nor should they create a situation in which their material situation departs too much from that of their electorate. Here’s an idea: why not establish a rule that elected members put 10% of their income at the disposal of the social movements, and thus outside of their control? 10% of their income? A kind of “popular tax” for the movements that are the backbone of the transformation.
The party’s resources should be decentralized, not “captured” at the top by “advisors,” whether experts or not, whose role is to support the elected members. Yes, the MNAs need some in order to perform their parliamentary work, but QS is not just that. Advisors should not be “gate-keepers” preventing the membership from participating effectively in the debate. The big difference for QS, and not only for the next election, is dynamic associations that can build convergence with the mass movements. Theme-based commissions and committees will produce popular education tools and analyses on the burning issues of the day, and not just answers for this or that parliamentary committee.
Changing society entails a relentless, determined, struggle against an implacable adversary that must be neutralized if it is not to neutralize us.
October 29, 2018
CBC News was quick off the mark: “For Canadian business, a Bolsonaro presidency could open new investment opportunities, especially in the resource sector, finance and infrastructure, as he has pledged to slash environmental regulations in the Amazon rainforest and privatize some government-owned companies.” Later, in response to mass protests, the public broadcaster retreated, while insisting that “it is a well researched and sourced analysis piece about one aspect of that election.” – RF.
 Such a “tax” could easily produce $100,000 per year, or close to a half million by the end of a mandate. It could be used to establish a foundation, independent of QS, that could manage these funds while ensuring their permanence.
Québec solidaire’s 10 members of the National Assembly, elected October 1, took their oath of office on October 17 in two parts.
The oath of allegiance to the Queen, required by the British North America Act (now the Constitution Act) in order to take their seats in the Assembly, was conducted behind closed doors, presided over by the secretary of the Assembly.
In a public ceremony held in the former chamber of the Legislative Council (the appointed upper house abolished in the 1960s) the 10 MNAs pledged their “real” loyalty “to the people of Quebec.” Then, to the acclaim of many supporters of Quebec sovereignty, both QS and non-QS, they promised to introduce a bill to abolish the oath to the Queen, described by the party’s co-leader Manon Massé as “anti-democratic” and “archaic.”
Although symbolic, it was an auspicious gesture reflecting Québec solidaire’s determination to present a real progressive alternative to the new government of the Coalition Avenir Québec, sworn into office the following day.
A repositioning of Quebec’s economic elite
Winning 37.4% of the popular vote — 25.8% of the eligible electorate, given the high abstention rate — the Coalition Avenir Québec holds 74 seats, a comfortable majority of more than 60% of the 125 in the National Assembly. Once again, the undemocratic first-past-the-post electoral system produces a result quite unrepresentative of the voters’ choices. Doubts are widespread, therefore, that the CAQ will adhere to its pre-election pledge to institute some form of proportional representation which, had it applied to the October 1 results, would have held it to minority government status. There is less doubt, however, about how the CAQ will use its parliamentary majority to implement its unabashedly pro-business and ethnically divisive program.
Founded seven years ago, the party is an amalgam of former Liberal and PQ supporters assembled around a core element, the former right-wing Action démocratique du Québec (ADQ), which split from the Quebec Liberal party in the early 1990s in the wake of the demise of the Meech Lake attempt at constitutional reform. It supports some vaguely articulated form of Quebec autonomy but not independence. The CAQ is very much the instrument of François Legault, a former Parti québécois minister and before that a prominent businessman, founder and CEO of Air Transat. He personally selected the party’s candidates. At least 32 of the party’s deputies — 43% of its caucus — are from the business and managerial milieu. And well over half of Legault’s cabinet, announced October 18, are business people or journalists in mainstream or business media.
The party is the product of a repositioning of the nationalist sector of Quebec’s economic elite after the narrow defeat of the 1995 referendum on sovereignty, writes Bernard Rioux, an editor of the left-wing on-line journal Presse-toi à gauche. Successive PQ leaderships led the way, postponing their hopes for a sovereign Quebec to an indefinite future while aligning their party increasingly with neoliberal globalization, support of free trade and privatization of public enterprises, establishment of fee-based public services, reduced taxation of the wealthy, continued exploitation of fossil fuels and concentration of media ownership. Legault, having abandoned the PQ, simply aligned his new party with the federalism of the vast majority of the Québécois bourgeoisie, which sees the Quebec government as its prime instrument for gaining a strengthened role within the Canadian ruling class and through it with global capitalism.
Rioux summarizes the CAQ’s agenda for its four-year mandate. Among promised measures:
Privatization of public services, especially in education and health care, for example by continuing the expansion of private clinics allowed by both PQ and Liberal governments.
Greater inequality in the distribution of wealth through tax reductions for business.
Support for gas and oil exploration and exploitation, and rejection of any plan for environmental transition to renewable energy sources. Legault supported the Energy East pipeline project, cancelled for now following mass protests.
Regressive nationalism that caters to white male identity. During the election campaign Legault promised a 20% reduction in immigration quotas and threatened to expel applicants for citizenship who failed to pass tests on language skills and Quebec “values” within three years. Since the election he has promised to prevent state employees in “positions of authority,” including teachers and not just cops, prison guards and judges, from wearing signs denoting religious belief. In this he expands the scope of the Liberal government’s Bill 62, which prohibited citizens from wearing face coverings when receiving or dispensing public services — a measure clearly aimed at Muslim women in particular. (Now law, it has yet to take effect pending a constitutional challenge.)
‘Good riddance… After three years, they have not learned our language and they have not adopted our values!’ (André-Philippe Côté, Le Soleil).
The CAQ promises a pro-business orientation that will wean Quebec off federal “equalization” payments that offset relatively low government revenues with income derived from higher-income provinces such as the petro-province Alberta. At present Quebec gets the lion’s share of such payments, almost $12 billion or about 62% of the total Ottawa gives the six have-not provinces. Overall federal transfer payments, including cash for health care and social programs, total $24.3 billion, or 22% of Quebec government revenues in the current fiscal year. However, the CAQ’s fiscal framework, tabled during the election campaign, projected federal transfers of $25.6 billion in 2022-23, the final year of the CAQ’s mandate. Indeed, it is hard to see how significant progress in reducing this dependency on federal transfers can be achieved without huge cutbacks in government expenditures. The CAQ promises to cut at least 5,000 employees from the public payroll, but that might be only a beginning.
The CAQ’s right-wing anti-immigrant populism has some parallels with the new parties that have emerged in Europe in recent years, as well as with the Trump conquest of the Republican party. These formations are most successful in channeling working-class voters’ discontent over their declining economic status toward a scapegoating of immigrants and other vulnerable populations that distracts from the deepening capitalist austerity they implement. Their electoral success reflects the failure of the old reformist and social-democratic left to present a credible alternative to the rightward drift of capitalist politics.
However, the CAQ does differ somewhat from other right-wing populist formations in Canada such as Doug Ford’s “Progressive Conservatives” in Ontario or Jason Kenney’s merging of Wild Rose with his Conservatives in Alberta. These parties are known more for their virulent rejection of environmental regulation, verging on climate change denialism, than for attacks on immigrants and ethnic minorities. Canadian capitalists generally encourage limited immigration in order to compensate for the shortages in skilled and low-wage labour they face. The CAQ’s seeming indifference to climate change resonates with its Ontario and Alberta counterparts, while its focus on ethnic identity and immigration issues is its main difference with the Quebec Liberals. The Canadian ruling class as a whole can congratulate itself in any case on the emergence for the first time since the Parti québécois was founded 50 years ago of a new party of governmental alternance that is not “separatist.”
As for the Quebec Liberal party (PLQ), the other party of alternance, it suffered the worst election defeat in its 151 year history. Although the party won 25% of the popular vote, it won only 12% of the vote among the Francophone electorate. It finished fourth in 33 of the 125 ridings and behind Québec solidaire in more than 40. Almost all of its 29 MNAs represent predominantly Anglophone and Allophone (immigrant) ridings on the island of Montréal. Ironically, the main cause of voter hostility to the party related to the harsh austerity program it applied, particularly in the first three years of its mandate. Since Legault’s CAQ promises much the same, popular discontent may rise before long.
Shift to the left within the pro-sovereignty spectrum
The combined PQ-QS share of the popular vote (respectively 17% and 16%) was roughly equivalent to the percentage of Québécois supporting independence in recent years, and about the same as in the previous election, in 2014. But it represented a sea change within the movement.
For the PQ it was the worst result since the party was founded 50 years ago; for QS, it was a major breakthrough. QS gained 7 seats, 4 at the expense of the PQ and the other 3 from the PLQ. The PQ was wiped off the map in Montréal, while QS is not only the second party there but won four seats outside the metropolis: two in Quebec City, one each in Sherbrooke and Abitibi. Although the two parties each have ten seats (the PQ picked up one on a recount, and will rank third in the National Assembly ahead of QS because its popular vote is larger) the PQ is still a major force within the pro-sovereignty movement. It boasts 80,000 members compared with QS’s 20,000. The PQ ranked second in the popular vote in 34 ridings, QS was second in 14.
However, QS was stronger among voters under the age of 35, according to exit polls. And when the Quebec Electoral Officer sponsored a mock vote during the campaign in more than a thousand high schools and youth organizations, QS won the most support among the 81,375 young people who voted: 26.15%, followed by the PLQ and CAQ (just over 22% each) and the PQ (15.37%).
Some PQ leaders, realizing the party’s error in its venomous attacks on QS during the election campaign, are now openly suggesting their party should seek “convergence” with QS. And they are not alone.
Claudette Carbonneau, a former president of the CSN union central and now chair of OUI Québec, a united front of sovereigntist parties and trade unions, said an exploration of prospects for convergence should be high on the agenda of the Assises nationales de concertation (national joint-action conference) the coalition plans to hold soon on the future of the independence project:
“If QS and the PQ don’t find an original way to combine their efforts around some essential issues, they will condemn themselves to a certain marginality with respect to climate change, the urgency of a massive reinvestment in our public services, without overlooking their responsibility to bring about independence, indissociable from these objectives.”
Pierre Dubuc, editor of the left publication L’aut’journal, goes further. Acknowledging “the strategic adroitness of QS” in bringing independence to the fore and giving it substance through the fusion with Option nationale last year,Dubuc deplores the fact that once again the division of the independentist and progressive vote paved the way to putting the Right in power. Failing the advent of proportional representation, he says, “it is overridingly important that independentists and progressives unite within a single party,” albeit one that “allows the expression of different tendencies.” Dubuc thinks the PQ decline began when Pauline Marois in 2010 banned the presence of a left-wing “political club” within the PQ, the SPQ Libre, which he founded and led as its Secretary. Dubuc has operated politically for almost two decades as a harsh critic of Québec solidaire and its predecessors for “splitting the independence vote.” He still cannot bring himself to acknowledge the futility of his own attempts to reform the Parti québécois.
The election results reopened a deep division within the Bloc Québécois, the pro-sovereignty party in the federal Parliament. The call by the party’s MPs to support the PQ candidates, and not QS, led one member of the BQ national bureau to resign. Jocelyn Beaudoin, the membership representative on the bureau, charged in a letter to the party’s executive that the Bloc had decided not to choose between the parties in the election “knowing that if it did it would divide the members.” It was a major lack of political judgment, he said. “At the first opportunity we might have had… to adopt a constructive approach, the party shoots itself in its foot.”
The Bloc’s vice-president Gilbert Paquette, for his part, charged that the MPs had committed a “strategic error” in not first consulting the party’s leadership bodies before issuing their statement. That statement, and Gilles Duceppe’s attack on Manon Massé, had “reinforced the impression that the Bloc sees itself as a kind of appendix of the Parti québécois,” Paquette charged in a letter to the BQ executive and MPs. Both Paquette and Beaudoin, the latter a former president of Option nationale, were strong supporters of Martine Ouellet, the BQ leader forced out by the party’s MPs earlier this year because of her insistence that the MPs fight for Quebec independence and not be content with defending “the interests of Quebec” in the federal Parliament.
The Bloc is currently trying to refound itself in a process due to conclude in January that was seen as a first stage toward a reunification of sovereigntist forces both federally and provincially.
No doubt pressure will continue to build on QS to coalesce with the PQ. But for now QS is focused on constituting itself as “the real official opposition” to the CAQ government. “We are a new political movement… and that can’t be reduced to inter-relations with the PQ,” said QS spokesman Gabriel Nadeau-Dubois. “QS is not a sub-category of the PQ,” he told a press conference. “So all the mathematical calculations where you try to add the votes are without foundation.”
“In 2017 we decided as we had done two times previously to run candidates in all the ridings because what we defend is based on the peoples’ struggles for social justice and control of their destiny, and for a Quebec that belongs to those who inhabit it.
“The PQ abandoned this terrain a long time ago, and has proved this a hundred times. Its anti-union laws in the 1980s, the neoliberal austerity of [PQ premier Lucien] Bouchard in 1999, the secret contracts [PQ premier Pauline] Marois’ government signed with [the oil company] Petrolia on Anticosti Island and the return to zero deficit of [PQ finance minister] Marceau, the cuts in social assistance by [PQ minister] Agnès Maltais, the total abdication of that government when dealing with the mining companies, and its continuation of [Liberal premier Jean] Charest’s Plan Nord. And to complete things, the charter of Quebec values that divided Quebec in order to win votes, and stigmatized an entire part of the population and Muslim community in particular.”
Talk about a convergence between the PQ and QS is essentially a false debate, Frappier argues.
“The change in alternance of the neoliberal parties with the election of the CAQ and the failure of the PQ in relation to the project of Quebec sovereignty presents us with an inescapable observation. The future of Quebec society can only proceed through a political party that is linked to social mobilization for control of its fate and in opposition to right-wing policies. The only party in the running is now Québec solidaire.
“The social change needed to fight against control by the oil companies, multinationals, financial institutions, against corruption and tax evasion, can only be realized by a left party like Québec solidaire. It requires as well the mobilization of the population conscious of the role it must play, of the trade unions, of the women’s movements, the ethnocultural communities, environmental groups and other social movements….
“We must emerge from the cycle of defensive struggles and defeats that have characterized politics for decades.”
And ‘a party of the streets’?
With its ten MNAs, Québec solidaire will be focused very much in coming months on shaping its parliamentary intervention, developing expertise in various policy fields, and learning how to make its principles and program relevant and understandable to a much wider audience. However, as Frappier argues, the party also faces a huge challenge in developing the other component of “a party of the ballot box and the streets.” Much can be said about this, but here I will simply draw attention to three texts, available on line, that can help to orient this needed debate in QS.
By electing MPs, Louçã writes, “the Bloc has taken a leap forward, becoming a reference party for the popular struggle.” Institutional representation requires close attention to developing technical skills and professional teams to support the party’s parliamentary work, which now includes municipal action. But “this has a significant cost: a significant part of our most experienced activists are taken up in institutional involvement.”
“These institutional machines therefore absorb much of our activist capacity. It is never clear in advance whether or not this will lead to adaptation to the system, but this institutional standardization generates pressure in this direction. These possible forms of adaptation may be varied: resignation to very limited measures in the name of maintaining the positions acquired; refusal to criticise the institutions or their management in the name of possible future agreements; the idea that politics advances in small steps; fear of public opinion which leads to not presenting a socialist alternative which leads to other institutional forms; desire to avoid the risk of conflict for fear of losing. All these forms of adaptation distort a left-wing policy based on popular representation.”
The Bloc has made little progress on representation within the social movements, he adds. It needs to build organized forces in the unions and workplaces, and figure out how to get young people to “join us and find ways of training and political action.” And Louçã explains the relation between this question and the struggle for socialism, which the Bloc sets as its goal.
“Capitalism is a mode of production, of reproduction of the conditions of production and of representation of the conditions of production and reproduction. This definition underlines the essential point: there is no capitalist production without the system reproducing itself and for this reason it mobilizes its representation, which is based on the alienation of work, social relations, life, relations with nature, but also in the alienation of electoral representation and voting. The separation of the worker from the product of their work, from the control of their life, from their social and even electoral power is the foundation of the conformism on which bourgeois hegemony is based. That is why left-wing politics is a social movement and aims to strengthen itself in the perspective that its ideas and proposals also have an impact on elections; that is why it does not give any ground in the dispute over hegemony; that is precisely why the socialist strategy can only triumph in the social struggle….
“[T]he success of this electoral option does not demonstrate that representation is a sufficient condition for socialist politics. Designed as an instrument to accumulate forces, it is useful. Conceived as a form of conditioning and loss of critical sense and social alternative, it fails. The left only exists through social protagonism, through conflict or strategic intervention in class struggle. In other words, it needs to be part of the class movement. This is how it always measures its strengths.”
What this can mean in terms of Québec solidaire is discussed in a recent article by Alexandre Leduc, a staff advisor to the Quebec Federation of Labour and a leader of QS in the Montréal riding of Hochelaga-Maisonneuve who was elected to the National Assembly on October 1. Leduc identifies two major aspects to the work of a QS riding association: support and animation [which can be translated as initiation].
“The role of support,” he writes, “is aimed essentially at publicizing and participating in actions already organized by groups or citizens’ coalitions. This requires little organizational effort but it does not help to put the party up front.” However, the examples of support he presents later in his piece include such activities as preparing briefs on local issues; calling on party members to support artists fighting eviction from their loft studio; joining in the massive protests of parents who formed human chains around public schools to defend their facilities against government cutbacks and urging these citizens to continue the fight in other areas such as health care and culture; and joining with workers facing factory closures in a fight to reopen them as worker cooperatives. It is unclear why Leduc thinks the party as such gains little credibility or support from such efforts.
“The role of animation,” he writes, “allows an association to organize political action on its own basis and subsequently reap the benefits. In this way, the association builds its credibility among the groups and citizens in its neighborhood or region.” As an example, he cites the association’s circulation during the 2012 provincial election campaign of a petition to get the public transit agency to improve service on two bus routes, an action undertaken in the absence of any mobilization on this issue by others. The petition was successful, and the service was improved.
The distinction between support and animation seems a bit formal to me. The common ingredient in both is the party’s identification of a goal that advances or defends social policy or a public service, a willingness to work towards that goal, and wherever possible to work with others in fighting for it. Where other forces are involved, the party can also link the immediate goal with its broader program of fundamental social change.
Finally, I think QS would benefit greatly by reviving and debating a draft proposal on “Québec Solidaire and the social movements” that was submitted by the QS Policy Commission for discussion at a party convention a few years ago; it was then withdrawn from the convention agenda ostensibly for later debate but since then shelved indefinitely. I think it presents some valuable ideas on how the party might structure its intervention in the social movements, including the trade unions. It is appended to the following article: “Quebec election: A seismic shift within the independence movement?”
On two key programmatic issues, in my view, Québec solidaire needs to give further thought. One is its strategy for Quebec independence. While progress has been made on the linkage between the party’s program —its projet de société — and Quebec sovereignty, and with it the mandate of its proposed Constituent Assembly, there is still no thinking about the strategic issues facing the movement during the Assembly’s proceedings and following a successful referendum ratifying the draft constitution elaborated by the Assembly. QS needs to confront the reality of a federal state determined to thwart any moves that challenge its integrity. This is a complex issue and I will address it in a subsequent article. It should be on the agenda in the general review and updating of the QS program that the party plans to carry out in 2019.
An immediate issue however is the need to correct the party position on secularism.
Quebec’s new premier, François Legault, threatens to implement as a priority the CAQ’s plans to prohibit the wearing of “religious signs” among state-employed persons in positions of “coercion” (cops, prosecutors, judges and jail guards) or “authority” (including elementary and secondary school teachers, and perhaps others).
Québec solidaire has waffled on this issue for many years. The party claims to adhere to the principle of separation of church and state. In 2009, the resolution adopted at the party’s first convention on program stated that the party distinguishes between the need for state neutrality toward religious belief or lack of belief, and the freedom of individuals “to express their own convictions in a context that favours exchange and dialogue.” As I reported at the time:
“Delegates voted in favour of allowing ‘state agents’ (employees and officials) to wear religious insignia (a crucifix, hijab, whatever), but added some caveats that leave much to subjective interpretation and enforcement by employers: ‘provided they are not used as instruments of proselytism’ and do not interfere with their droit de réserve (duty of discretion), or ‘impede the performance of the duties or contravene safety standards.’ Delegates rejected other resolutions that would impose no such restrictions or, alternatively, would impose secular dress codes on civil servants, and they rejected as well a proposal to refer the whole issue for further decision at a later convention.”
While these caveats were problematic, QS leaders in subsequent years went further and began adapting to other parties’ attempts to impose dress codes not only on state employees but on citizens from minority ethnic communities.
In 2011, the sole QS member of the National Assembly, Amir Khadir, voted with the other parties for a PQ motion to ban Sikhs from entering the legislature because their ceremonial kirpans were to be deemed “weapons.” Ironically, the motion was prompted by an incident a month earlier when four members of the World Sikh Organization were turned back by security guards when they came to testify to a parliamentary committee in favour of the right of Muslim women to wear face coverings when receiving government services — which a Liberal government bill then under debate would have denied.
In 2013, when the National Assembly was again debating the PQ government’s now-infamous Charter of Values, QS leader Françoise David tabled a bill that if adopted would have enacted a “charter of secularism” that banned “state agents” from wearing signs indicative of personal religious belief. David described this as an “historic compromise.”
Although in 2017 the three QS MNAs voted against the Liberal government’s bill 62 prohibiting citizens from wearing face coverings when receiving or dispensing public services, they called instead for adoption of a “genuine” charter of secularism. QS leader Gabriel Nadeau-Dubois said their position was a “compromise” that takes a harder line than the Liberals in that it would bar people who wear overt religious symbols such as turbans and hijabs from working as judges, jail guards and cops.
These positions, which clearly violate the QS program adopted by the membership, have prompted a number of protests from defenders of civil liberties, including a very strong “Open Letter” addressed to the party by a number of QS members including prominent human rights lawyers.
Unfortunately, during their swearing-in on October 17, the new QS MNAs told reporters that they intend to support the “compromise” that would ban religious signs for persons in authority. But at least one — Catherine Dorion, representing Québec-Taschereau — said later she was not really sure what her position would be.
These issues should be on the agenda of the QS National Committee meeting, now scheduled to take place December 7-9. The party’s reaction to Legault’s forthcoming legislation will be an early test of the adherence to basic democratic principles of its new parliamentary deputation.
 See Richard Fidler, “Solidaires Score Important Breakthrough in Quebec Election,” The Bullet, October 2, 2018. When former BQ leader Gilles Duceppe attacked QS leader Manon Massé, the Quebec City BQ endorsed two QS candidates who were former leaders of Option nationale, now a part of Québec solidaire. The Bloc’s MPs then issued an endorsement of the PQ candidates.
 Marie Vastel, “La bisbille au Bloc continue,” Le Devoir, October 5, 2018: “The Quebec election revealed that the cleavage between the two camps that opposed the BQ old guard to Martine Ouellet and her allies — closer to the ON legacy with their desire to do more in promoting sovereignty — had not completely disappeared.”
 See “Québec solidaire: No to an electoral pact with the PQ, Yes to a united front against austerity, for energy transition and for independence,” Life on the Left, May 28, 2017.
Claudio Katz, Argentine author, activist and member of the Economists of the Left collective, assesses the crisis in Nicaragua, where a pro-democracy movement has faced unrelenting repression by the Ortega government. The article, first published on Katz’s web site, was translated from the Spanish by Fred Murphy and published in New Politics.
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Nicaragua in Pain
by Claudio Katz
Writing about Nicaragua is as painful and sad as it is indispensable. Memories of the Sandinista Revolution are still alive for the generation that lived through it. To remain silent would be an affront to those who took part in that memorable insurrection against Somoza.
Events of recent months leave little room for doubt. A series of social protests has been brutally repressed. Some 350 from only one side have died at the hands of police or paramilitary forces. In all cases there was gunfire against unarmed demonstrators, who responded to or escaped from the onslaught as best they could.
Information from numerous sources concur in describing an escalating barrage of gunshots at point-blank range, producing at first a handful of deaths and then nearly 60 by the end of April. This tragedy was not interrupted when negotiations began. To the contrary, the dialogue was marked by a further 225 such crimes.
There is no justifying such savagery. Official statements (and the voices raised in their support) provide no proof of the “terrorist actions” that they impute to the victims. Nor have there been any significant losses on the government side, and no evidence of the use of firearms on the part of the opposition.
These events have not only been denounced by supporters of the fallen. A vast range of witnesses and a broad gamut of journalists have corroborated the accounts. But most important are the authorized voices of former Sandinista commanders and leaders, who have verified what has happened with on-the-scene reports. Their denunciations have great credibility and coincide with the outlook of foreign participants in the revolution. Their judgments have added importance in light of their deep knowledge of the actors in conflict.
The bloodshed unleashed by Ortega’s government parallels the reaction of any right-wing president. It has been the typical state violence against the discontented. In face of such atrocious behavior, a movement that had begun with some basic demands was quickly transformed into democratic resistance to repression. The original demands about social-security reforms were sidetracked in face of the Dantesque spectacle of hundreds gunned down by the regime’s gendarmes.
To raise one’s voice against this crime and demand an immediate end to the repression and the prosecution of those responsible is the first duty in face of these events.
The initial protests against a social-security tax increase found great support among the population. This reaction pointed up the discontent brewing in diverse sectors. People were becoming annoyed at how official policies were diverging from the government’s revolutionary past.
Orteguismo (“Ortega-ism”) bears not the least affinity with its origins in the Sandinista movement. Ortega has made strategic alliances with the business class, adopted economic measures demanded by the IMF, and strengthened ties with the Church after imposing an outright ban on abortion. He has consolidated his bureaucratic hold over business enterprises that originated in the appropriation of public goods.
Under Ortega’s direction a clientelist electoral system has been put in place. Continued use of old Sandinista emblems and discourse obscures this qualitative change, which reproduces the involution that other such progressive processes have undergone.
Long before its evolution into a simple network of gangsters, the Mexican PRI had already buried its legacy of agrarian transformation and nationalist traditions. The same occurred with the MNR in Bolivia, which for many years behaved as a reactionary party despite its origins. Such examples of political regression – now reprised by Ortega – extend to other Latin American parties that have completely discarded their original socialist or anti-imperialist aspirations.
But repression consummates a still more irreversible turn. It transforms a bourgeoisified formation into an outright enemy of the left. Cold-blooded killings by its police apparatus mark the final break with any progressive outlook. Such a regression has occurred in Nicaragua in the last few months.
There are significant differences with the Venezuelan case, which is rooted in the persistence of a Bolivarian process that confronts the right wing and defends sovereignty in a context of unheard-of adversity. Facing an interminable succession of guarimbas, Chavismo has done battle against coup attempts, paramilitary incursions, and provocations by groups trained by the CIA. It has committed many injustices and harassed certain popular fighters, but its principal problem has been the destabilization promoted and financed by imperialism.
What is happening in Nicaragua is quite different. The protests were not stage-managed from Washington but arose from below against reforms demanded by the IMF and took shape thereafter in a spontaneous way to defend rights that were under attack. Nor did the principal conservative figures – who have forged any number of pacts with the regime – provoke the rebellion. The demonstrations have gathered up a wide gamut of the discontented, under the guidance of students and the Church. The various currents among the latter are not following a uniform playbook, and the students are grouped in a number of different factions, some led by the left and others by the right.
This movement originated with a low level of politicization but began to adopt clearer positions in face of the repressive attacks. Its positions were solidified upon the collapse of the dialog that the government first accepted verbally and then boycotted in practice.
Seeing the Whole Picture
Among all the statements distributed in recent weeks, the approach adopted by Manuel Cabieses Donoso, a well-known Chilean revolutionary leader, has some unique merits.
Cabieses Donoso upholds the legitimacy of the protests, denounces Ortega’s betrayal, and challenges the complicit silence on the part of many progressive currents in face of the repression. But he calls attention as well to the way right-wing forces are trying to utilize the protests and points out that the United States will take advantage of the conflict to undermine the Ortega regime. He affirms as well that a section of the population continues to support the government, and therefore calls for a peaceful solution in order that the local bourgeoisie and its imperialist master not be the beneficiaries of Ortega’s eventual downfall.
This approach synthesizes quite well moral outrage at the massacres with recognition of the complex situation that has arisen in the country. While Ortega has not hesitated to make pacts with all the reactionary forces, the United States still seeks his ouster. It cannot tolerate the autonomy Nicaragua has maintained in its foreign policy. The country not only belongs to ALBA and has close ties to the Venezuela government. It has also sought to build an inter-oceanic canal with Chinese financing – right in the “backyard” of the region’s principal imperialist power.
As shown during the coup against Zelaya in Honduras, and more recently in Guatemala, the United States treats the small Central American countries as second-class colonies. It won’t accept the slightest indiscipline from these nations. For that reason it has already begun reaching out to coopt the leaders of the protests and line them up behind a future imperialist puppet that would replace Ortega. The meetings that several student leaders had in Washington with ultra-right anti-Castro legislators (along with similar meetings in El Salvador) mark the most visible episodes of Trump’s latest operation.
Failure to recognize the preparations for aggression would amount to inadmissible naivete. The same Ortega who is brutally attacking the people is viewed by the State Department as an adversary to be buried. Such contradictions have been frequent in history and need to be taken seriously by the left when it comes to taking a position. It is vital to avoid joining the campaigns of the OAS or Vargas Llosa’s calls to involve the US Southern Command.
Dangers and Definitions
That Ortega’s FSLN still enjoys the support of a section of the population is evident from the results of the last election. But Cabieses Donoso does not base his argument for a peaceful solution on that fact alone. Negotiations would make it possible to avoid transforming the current revot into a wider confrontation, with terrible consequences in the number of victims as well as on the national and geopolitical level.
Events in two Middle Eastern countries provide grounds to fear such an outcome. In both Libya and Syria governments were in power that had progressive origins but had degenerated to the point of unleashing repression against militants and their populations. Qaddafi jailed Palestinians and Assad fired on his people indiscriminately. In each case the prospects for extending the Arab Spring ended in major tragedies. The Libyan state practically disintegrated amid greedy disputes between rival clans. Syria had a still more dramatic outcome in that first the protests were co-opted by Jihadists and then the country suffered the worst humanitarian disaster in recent decades.
The historical realities and the political situation in the Middle East and Central America are quite different. But imperialism acts with the same objectives of domination in both regions. It destroys societies and dismantles countries without a second thought. Had it won the contest in Venezuela, the country would be a cemetery comparable to Iraq, and the oil wealth would be in the hands of the big US energy companies.
For these reasons it is crucial to not forget at any moment who is the principal enemy. A peaceful solution in Nicaragua is the best way to avert the danger that the imperialists will make use of the conflict. The mechanism for such an outcome is quite available in the calls for dialog and negotiation of early elections. This approach avoids equating the government with a dictatorship and demanding its fall.
In recent weeks tensions seem to have diminished, not because of steps forward in the negotiations but rather due to deepening repression. Ortega has managed to achieve a respite by means of the whip. But his conduct has created an unbridgeable gulf with the rebellious youth. His divorce from the left is definitive. The revolutionary traditions of Sandinismo will rise again, but on the side opposite from Orteguismo.
The October 1 general election campaign in Quebec unfolded as two distinct contests. One was the competition between the Liberals and Coalition Avenir Québec for control of the government. The other was a battle between the Parti québécois and Québec solidaire for hegemony within the pro-sovereignty movement.
In the end, the CAQ replaced the Liberals in government on a platform that claimed to offer “change” but in substance promises even more of the same capitalist austerity inflicted on the Québécois under successive governments since the mid-1990s. PLQ support is now heavily concentrated in its minority Anglophone enclaves of western Quebec.
The real change, however, was registered in the surge of support for Québec solidaire, which more than doubled its share of the popular vote and elected 10 members to the National Assembly, one more than the PQ’s total under the vagaries of the first-past-the-post electoral system. Although the PQ received slightly more votes, it was a crushing defeat for the party founded 50 years ago by René Lévesque that as recently as 2014 had governed the province. Jean-François Lisée, defeated in his own riding by the QS candidate, immediately announced his resignation as PQ leader.
In part, this split in popular support reflected a generational shift; pre-election polling showed QS in advance of the PQ among voters under the age of 35. But it also reflected to some degree a class divide, a rejection among younger voters of the PQ’s record as itself a party of capitalist austerity and its regressive catering to white settler prejudice in sharp contrast with Quebec’s increasingly pluricultural composition, as well as a growing determination among many that Quebec sovereignty, to be meaningful, must be integrally connected with the quest for fundamental social change.
QS: A Political Force in Contention
Throughout the campaign, the mainstream media featured the argument that this was the first election in which Quebec sovereignty was not at issue. But they largely missed the significance of these shifts within the pro-sovereignty movement as it continues to radicalize.
As part of his critical assessment and updating of the Latin American dependency theory pioneered by Brazilian Ruy Mauro Marini, Argentine economist Claudio Katz analyzes a major component of that theory, the concept that waged workers in the peripheral nations of global capitalism are “super-exploited.” He suggests some necessary modifications of the theory in light of developments since Marini’s day.
Marini’s thesis has been given new currency by some recent analyses of imperialism in the twenty-first century such as John Smith’s book of the same title. Smith holds that Marini’s theory of super-exploitation is of continuing relevance, and embraces the view that waged workers in the global South are systematically paid below the value of their labour power, owing to their greater oppression and exploitation. He argues that this constitutes a third mechanism by which capital increases its surplus value, in addition to the absolute and relative forms of surplus value analyzed by Marx.
Claudio Katz does not address John Smith’s recent book, although he cites in places a 2010 work by Smith, listed among the references below.
Katz argues that the lower wages paid to workers in the periphery, like those of workers everywhere, reflect the labour time that is socially necessary for the reproduction of the labour force, but he emphasizes that this in turn is a product of both material and subjective factors that differ depending on the basket of goods required for workers’ subsistence in each nation (food, clothing, housing, etc.) as well as their socially determined needs, including rights won by the workers along with advances in productivity.
“Which goods are prioritized and which are discarded? Do these requirements include the car, vacations and health services?” At the opposite pole, in Bangladesh “the elementary reproduction of labour power reflects a basket of ultra-basic consumption.” These things are not easy to quantify.
What is decisive is each country’s internal level of development and the position it occupies in the stratifications of the global value chain, as determined by the transfers of surplus value from backward to advanced economies. But it remains true that although the rate of profit is higher in the periphery, the rate of exploitation, as it is defined in Marx’s theory, remains higher in the advanced countries at the center of global imperialism. The “greater productivity in the metropolitan economies” co-exists with the “higher profits derived from the prevailing brutality of labour in the periphery.” Contrary to Smith’s thesis, there is no new mechanism for the production of surplus value.
Katz, like Smith, notes that the shift in manufacturing toward the global East works to increase global disparities. But he suggests that the contrast in the value of labour power between center and periphery is mediated by the development of what he terms “intermediate economies” like South Korea and Brazil, their relative location in the global value chain being consistent with the international transfers of surplus value as the main determinant of underdevelopment. He develops this analysis in articles he has written on another component of Marini’s thinking, the theory of sub-imperialism. More on that later.
Claudio Katz’s article was first published on his web site as “Aciertos y problemas de la superexplotación.” My translation from the Spanish.
– Richard Fidler
* * *
What is valid and what is problematic in the theory of super-exploitation
By Claudio Katz
Marini postulated that the Latin American bourgeoisie recreates underdevelopment by compensating for its unfavourable position internationally through super-exploitation. He did not identify the payment of labour power below its value with absolute surplus value or with increasing poverty.
But this sub-remuneration contradicts the logic of the labour market, which determines the low wages of the industrialized periphery. Companies profit from the existence of disparities in wages that are greater than differences in productivity. The unevenness of development is highly conditioned by transfers of surplus value to the advanced economies.
Dependency theory does not require a concept of super-exploitation that was omitted by Marx. There are higher rates of surplus value in the center, but greater restriction of consumption and labour stress in the periphery.
In a portrayal of generalized job insecurity, national differences in salaries between the formal, informal and impoverished exploited are reordered. The extension of the concept of super-exploitation to the metropolis and the disregard of neoliberal globalization both stand in the way of updating the theory of dependency.
Super-exploitation was a central thesis in the theory of dependency postulated by Ruy Mauro Marini. He emphasized that the dominant classes of the periphery compensate for their subordinate place in the world market by paying less than its value for labour power.
By siphoning off that additional surplus value, the capitalists maintain their profits and impose lower wages for longer and more intense working days. With these mechanisms, they counteract the deterioration in the terms of trade generated by the provision of raw materials and the purchase of manufactured goods.
Since the dominant groups prioritize the export business, they ignore the low level of popular income and the consequent contraction of the domestic market.
Marini attributed the consolidation of this model to the historical overpopulation of Latin America. He pointed out that the large volume of indigenous labour — reinforced by immigration flows — provided the demographic surpluses required to underpin super-exploitation (Marini, 1973; 38-49).
The Brazilian theorist posited this interpretation of underdevelopment in opposition to the liberals who explained regional backwardness as a result of the squandering of comparative advantages and the discouragement of foreign investment. He also contrasted his approach to the Keynesians, who highlighted the reduced state promotion of industrialization (Marini, 2005: 139-150). Super-exploitation was conceived, therefore, as a determining feature of the socio-economic configuration of the region.
LOGIC AND INTERPRETATIONS
The main opponents of Marini at the time objected to the notion, stating that it was an accidental feature and lacking theoretical significance. In their view, it expressed primitive forms of absolute surplus value, which contradicted the decisive investments of the Brazilian industrialization of the 1960s (Cardoso, Serra, 1978).
Marini responded by clarifying that super-exploitation included increases in productivity and was not limited to making the labour force work harder (Marini, 1973: 91-101, 1978: 57-106). He stressed that in intermediate economies it constituted a mode of relative surplus value. He added that factory modernization was being carried out in those regions, but with less investment in leading edge technology and greater physical impact on the workers.
Marini highlighted the pre-eminence of this amalgam during industrialization via import substitution. He investigated the specific characteristics of wage labour without extending his novel concept to the 19th century. Accordingly, the application of this notion to semi-capitalist structures such as apartheid, which violated the principles of free movement of workers, is debatable.
The Brazilian thinker also stressed that his theory did not imply stagnation. Like Marx, he limited the impact of absolute pauperization to specific sectors (Marini, 1973: 81-101). Marx for the most part located this misfortune in the unemployed of the 19th century English industrialization, and Marini in the most destitute sectors of the contemporary periphery.
Marini’s main interpreter of those years explained that super-exploitation did not refer to a general deterioration of the living conditions of workers. It only sought to clarify the peculiarities of labour power in the industrialized periphery (Bambirra, 1978: 70-73).
Marini distinguished his thesis from distinct headings of aggravated labour oppression. He did not characterize super-exploitation as an additional abuse. He shared the moral indignation against such treatment, but his aim was to clarify a feature of the dependent economies.
For that reason, he did not associate his notion with the Taylorist degradation denounced by investigators of employer control methods, an approach that focuses on how management separates out the way in which tasks are accomplished with a view to reducing the domination that workers may maintain over their own activity.
Marini pointed in another direction. He sought to explain the miseries of wage-earners in the periphery in close connection with the logic of underdevelopment prevailing in those regions.
Some thinkers shared his theory of dependency without accepting the concept of super-exploitation. They pointed out the incompatibility of capitalism with a generalized payment for labour power below its value (Cueva, 2012: 200).
They recalled that Marx demonstrated how the objective logic of this system ensures the normal reproduction of wage-earners, through remuneration fixed by the labour market. With these wages, the extraction of surplus labour that produces surplus value is perpetuated.
The Ecuadorian sociologist Agustín Cueva stressed that capitalism does not need further mechanisms for its development, and stated that under-payment of wage-earners violated principles of accumulation. These norms imply the reproduction of the work force by means of prices gauged to the value of commodities.
A violation of these criteria would threaten the very survival of workers. If they do not receive the goods required for their subsistence they would tend to suffer a decline that would undermine the necessary human input in the system. Cueva studied an antecedent of this type in his investigation of the demographic massacre suffered by Latin America during the accumulation by dispossession of the indigenous in the 16th century (Cueva, 1973; 65-78).
It might be argued that super-exploitation governs by other means, through the capitalist appropriation of future years of a worker’s life through the premature exhaustion of the wage-earning capacities of the employee (Bueno, 2016: 91-95).
But pressure of this type coexists in fact with an increase in the average life of the workers. The system impedes a substantial reduction of the working day in accordance with increases in productivity, but does not obstruct the normal reproduction of the workers. Capitalism recreates itself in brutal forms but without destroying its main foundation.
It is true that a large reserve army of labour is useful in counteracting the wear and tear of wage earners. But that substitution does not operate by simply replacing contingents of labour, as it did with the Mita or slavery in the colonial era.
Super-exploitation is also defined by a deterioration of the social-historical component of labour power, which does not necessarily affect the biological pillar of this resource (Bueno, 2016: 102). But if the first application of socio-cultural improvements confronted a permanent and systematic degradation, the workers could not act as the driving force of a process of emancipation. They would form a helpless crowd far removed from the transformative potential of the oppressed that Marini envisioned.
Cueva criticized Marini’s concept while sharing his diagnoses of the tragic situation faced by Latin American wage earners. He noted as well that some term in reference to these nightmares should be used. That is why he said the theoretical errors of super-exploitation did not negate the practical presence of some comparison with that phenomenon (Cueva, 2012: 200). His divergence with the concept and his coincidence with the Marxist theory of dependency opened the way for some important thinking.
LOW VALUE OF LABOUR POWER
How could one reformulate Marini’s intuition without the conceptual problems of super-exploitation? Is there a principle that makes Cueva’s objections compatible with the characteristics of labour power in the dependent economies?
The simplest solution is to postulate that in these regions a low value of labour power predominates. This thesis is consistent with Marx’s view of the wage as a remuneration commensurate with the cost of reproduction of employees. In addition, it recognizes the size of the reserve army and the existence of substantially lower wages in the industrialized periphery.
Several authors have pointed out that this divergence of remuneration has a historical foundation in productivity disparities (Figueroa, 1986: 113-122). The class struggle modifies the national averages of wages within that conditioning, which structurally separates an underdeveloped region from an advanced one. That is why the values of labour power (and the corresponding consumption baskets) are substantially different.
These wage divergences are stabilized in accordance with two processes: the place each country occupies in the global stratification (center, semi-periphery and periphery) and its internal level of development (advanced, middle or backward economies). Both dimensions are closely related but maintain some autonomy from each other.
National wages do not constitute fixed and immutable magnitudes. They rise or fall together with the mutations registered in the international division of labour. The low values of labour power in the periphery are reflected in the magnitude of poverty, which affects both the precarious and formal sectors of employees.
In developed economies, the high value of this resource confines the drama of impoverishment to the excluded (Portes, 2004, chapter 1, 4). In both cases, the prices of the labour commodity are established by the capitalist norms of exploitation.
In both cases as well, the wage pattern is determined in the long term by objective tendencies (productivities and demographic base) and in the conjuncture by the nature of the cycle (prosperity or recession). The action of the workers (intensity of the class struggle) defines the final result.
This register of changing and stratified values of labour power (high in the center, low in the periphery and middle in the semi-periphery) requires the use of classical Marxist concepts, quite unlike the principle of super-exploitation.
The conceptual controversies about the value of labour power are not resolved with calculations of the different national magnitudes. The same goes for the super-exploitation theory. It is not a fact that can be corroborated with examples of greater suffering of the waged workers in the periphery.
Some authors present the shortening of working life or the scale of the reserve army as indications of the payment of labour power below its value (Ruiz Acosta, 2013: 35-89). But the same data can be displayed as evidence of a low value of that resource. These parameters illustrate living standards and not types of remuneration.
Marx never equated wages with the maintenance of workers at levels of pure subsistence. He differed substantially with the classical economists in that respect. He identified the amount of income of waged workers with the time socially necessary for their reproduction.
That magnitude includes both physiological and social components. The first could be measured with food, clothing or housing records. But the second encompasses rights won along with the advance of productivity, the quantification of which is more complex. What is required to cover both components will vary.
Everything depends on the way in which the needs that shape the value of labour power are evaluated. Which goods are prioritized and which are discarded? Do these requirements include the car, vacations and health services?
With a very demanding criterion — including, for example, free education at all levels — it could be said that super-exploitation applies in the United States. The same would apply to Japan, if Western welfare standards are taken as reference.
Using a laxer criterion instead, it could be said that the burden of super-exploitation does not afflict Bangladesh. There, the elementary reproduction of labour power reflects a basket of ultra-basic consumption.
The great diversity of national parameters that currently exist to define poverty levels illustrates this statistical complexity. Estimates in Argentina (32.2% of the population) place the percentage of the population living in poverty on the same plane as in Bolivia (32.7%) and above the Latin American average (28.2%). The inconsistency of these comparisons demonstrates the extent to which simple measurement does not solve the problem.
The same limitation is expressed in the recent debate over whether super-exploitation was continued, eliminated or aggravated under Lula’s governance (Bueno, 2016: 133-136, 205-209). During his administration unemployment and poverty declined, and the minimum wage was increased. But precariousness and job rotation also expanded. Depending on the weighting assigned to each of these factors, we arrive at opposite conclusions.
Super-exploitation lacks, therefore, direct mathematical expressions. Physiological and social needs are not defined with reference models or figures.
Comparative parameters, on the other hand, can be used to evaluate high, low or average values of labour power. This contrast of national magnitudes indicates relative positioning, in a ranking of payments equivalent to what is required for reproduction of the workers.
CENTRALITY OF TRANSFERS
The register of changing values of labour power is consistent with interpretations of underdevelopment centered on transfers of surplus-value from the periphery to the center. This approach does not situate the cause of the economic and social backwardness of certain countries in super-exploitation.
Dussel set out this view in disagreement with Marini. He invoked the position of the Marxist economists (Bauer, Grossman, Rosdolsky, Mandel) who explained how the passage of surplus value from the backward to the advanced economies operates.
That transfer is carried out through the prices prevailing in the world market. The concentration of activities that require complex work, developed technologies and significant investments in the most advanced economies determines that the prices of their products are higher than their values. They exchange, for example, one day of work for three in their foreign underdeveloped counterparts, and vice versa.
These international transfers are qualitatively different from the appropriation of value within each nation. In the latter, the more concentrated capitals increase their profits at the expense of the more rudimentary, under the regime of national standards of prices, currencies and exchange rates. On a world scale, however, rules that stabilize dependency relations prevail.
The transfers of surplus value between the bourgeoisies of different countries do not imply any type of exploitation. They confirm modalities of domination regulated by the compulsion to compete in conditions that are unfavourable for the periphery.
The dynamics of the law of value on an international scale produce that redistribution of surplus value in favor of the most advanced economies. The capitalists of the major powers trade their commodities for more labour than that incorporated in the products that are sold.
Marini accepted the relative impact of this mechanism but did not study its operation. In his classic text, he highlighted the centrality of unequal exchange as determinative of super-exploitation. But in developing his thesis he ended up assigning greater impact to this second process than to the first (Marini, 1973: 24-37).
Dussel questions this analytical shift that turns super-exploitation into the main cause of international imbalances. He says the existing working conditions in the periphery are an effect and not the root of underdevelopment. In his view, Marini confused the causes with the consequences (Dussel, 1988: 355-357).
This argument is compatible with the Marxist theory of dependency. As with Cueva previously, the correction of mistakes allows us to perfect that conception.
By highlighting the role of surplus value transfers, the logic of dependency is placed within the global dynamics of accumulation. In this scenario, central and peripheral insertions and dissimilar degrees of development are defined. The different values of labour power are consistent with the place occupied by each competitor in the global scenario.
Marini stressed the weight of global stratification and deduced from that pyramid the behaviour of the Latin American bourgeoisies, which compensated for unfavourable locations through super-exploitation. He did not perceive that this counter-balancing would be at most a secondary effect and not the epicenter of dependency.
The correction introduced by Dussel allows us to overcome the over-emphasis on super-exploitation. And it helps to introduce replacements for pay below the value of labour power by compensation commensurate with the low value of that resource. With this rethinking we can advance in the updating of dependency theory.
DEPENDENCY WITHOUT SUPER-EXPLOITATION
The convenience of formulating a dependency approach without resorting to the concept of super-exploitation is corroborated by Amin’s position. He highlights the intrinsic nature of global polarization and the mechanisms of appropriation of surplus value used by metropolitan capitalists.
He attributes this capture to the convergence of different socio-economic formations in the same global market. He points out that dominant and subordinate structures operate in this area, reproducing global inequality. This gap promotes the self-centered models existing in the advanced countries and the disarticulated processes predominant in the periphery (Amin, 2008: 237-242, 2003: chap 4).
This characterization emphasizes that dependency relations are determined by the polarized structures of the world market, which reinforce the particularities of the work force in the underdeveloped countries.
Amin explains the extraordinary profits generated by the exploitation of wage-earners in the periphery as a result of the relative immobility of labour, in comparison with the dizzying displacement of capital and commodities.
Unlike Marini, the Egyptian economist studies these singularities of the labour force in the underdeveloped economies without using the concept of super-exploitation. With the exception of some passages referring to unequal exchange, he does not mention that term.
Nor does he inquire about the remuneration of labour power below its value. He simply evaluates situations generated by differences in wages superior to the differences in productivity resulting from the greater immobility of the workforce in the periphery. In his view, the migratory flows have no comparison with the more intense movements of money and goods (Amin, 1973: 67-68).
In explaining the extraordinary benefits derived from this disproportion between wages and productivities, Amin establishes a comparative relationship between the two poles of the global economy. He finds variable parameters of dependency that are not unique to Latin America or to any other region. He clarifies that status without considering the remuneration of labour power below its value.
VARIETY OF USES
Thinkers very close to Marini also developed detailed expositions of the theory of dependency without taking into account the concept of super-exploitation. They alluded only tangentially to that category, to illustrate how the local ruling classes divide the surplus with their external partners (Dos Santos, 1978: 320).
The dispensable nature of this category is corroborated as well by the existence of authors who question or accept the term from strongly anti-dependentist positions.
In the first case, the notion is challenged on the grounds that it claims to define the value of labour power in an ahistorical manner, without considering the course of the class struggle (Castañeda, Hett, 1991: 51-66).
This objection overlooks that Marini’s entire career was marked by his commitment to the revolutionary struggle. It presupposes an unimaginable divorce between his reasoning and social battles. It forgets that Marini elaborated his concept of super-exploitation in close contact with the workers’ resistance in his country.
The theoretical problems of super-exploitation did not affect socialist strategy, which the dependency theorist promoted in explicit harmony with the Cuban revolution. Paradoxically Castañeda — who questioned his omission of the class struggle — ended up openly confronting that principle. As the foreign minister of a right-wing government, the Mexican critic regressed from Marxist orthodoxy to a fanatical defense of neoliberalism.
But the reception of super-exploitation was in fact quite varied in theories contrary to dependency theory. Some views not only approved but extended that idea. In an analysis of the Argentine case, the concept is applied, for example, to explain how the heightened confiscation of workers benefits the local capitalists exclusively.
It is postulated that this sector absorbs the bulk of the surplus through captures opposed to the outward flow that Marini describes. Instead of drainages there are inflows of surplus value from the center to the periphery (Iñigo Carrera, 2008: 20).
The disadvantages of this view were addressed by the Brazilian thinker in his research on the dependent cycle. What is corroborated here is how a version of super-exploitation can be incorporated into approaches located at the antipodes of Marini. This concept is not the master key of the Marxist theory of dependency.
SUPER-EXPLOITATION WITH AND WITHOUT MARX
In some interpretations the payment of labour power below its value is attributed to Marx himself. This approach is applied in analyses of the exploitation suffered by coolies and slaves in the colonies (Higginbottom, 2012: 253-267).
But these references allude to modes of non-salaried labour and are therefore unrelated to the principles of capitalism. Marx investigated the role of these variants in primitive accumulation and in the constitution of the world market. But he concentrated his studies on the English case, to reveal the laws of labour exploitation prevailing in the contemporary era. In that inquiry he left no doubt about the remuneration of labour power at its value.
Instead of exploring the peculiarities of additional surplus value, the German thinker sought to solve the mystery of a commodity that generates more value than what is required for its reproduction.
It is wrong to suppose that super-exploitation is present in Marx as an immanent law of capitalism (Nascimento, 2013: 115-127). That reading not only dilutes the logic of surplus value. It also contradicts Marini’s own approach, which observed remuneration below value as a specificity of the periphery. In the reinterpretation of the phenomenon it is presented as an indistinct feature of capitalism.
These visions tend to identify super-exploitation with the squandering of labour power. They suggest that capitalism depredates the worker’s capacity for labour to the point of exhausting it, forgetting that the employee is not a slave divorced from the market. In fact, these views go back to the Proudhonist interpretation of exploitation as a theft disconnected from the objective logic of accumulation.
Other theses trace super-exploitation to Marx with more moderate interpretations. They describe his approach to it only in studies of the forces counteracting the tendency of the rate of profit to decline (Smith, 2010: 31-32). But in this case the allusion is to a very specific problem that is not comparable with the general logic of surplus value.
Authors who highlight the total absence of super-exploitation criteria in Capital offer more accurate evaluations (Carcanholo, 2013: 101-104). The reasons for that omission are obvious. Marx sought to clarify the nature of the contemporary economic system, contrasting the profit produced through surplus value with previous forms of profit.
These pre-capitalist profits often derived from the prevention of trade between equivalents through commercial swindling. In the current system, these types of inequities are secondary.
Some thinkers accept the primacy of this approach in Marx. They emphasize that the central thing is not what was said or omitted by the author of Capital, but the coherence of these modalities with the functioning of capitalism. But they also remember that the German thinker suggested the existence of forms of “redoubled exploitation” (Osorio, 2013: 10-20).
They recognize that super-exploitation violates the principles on which the system is founded (law of value), but understand that this negation does not contradict the logic of capitalist development. In their view, the dialectic of development includes this type of transgressions.
They recall as well that the abstract reasoning of volume I of Capital adopts other modes in the concrete forms of volume III. The payment of labour power at its value in the initial proposition, they say, leads to remuneration below that floor in the verifiable reality of wages in the periphery (Osorio, 2013: 10-20).
But if that violation is viewed as a norm then what is the meaning of the theory of value as the foundation of the logic of capitalism? A transgression should be observed at most as an exception. It makes no sense to suppose that the theoretical edifice of Capital operates in fact in reverse.
Dependency is based not on violation but on compliance with the law of value. This criterion is decisive in the characterization of labour power and also provides a guide to resolving old enigmas of Marxist theory, such as the transformation of values into prices.
ABSENCE OF FORDISM
Super-exploitation is sometimes explained by the narrowness of markets in the periphery. Its impact on the fragility of consumption — compared to the center — is emphasized for two reasons: workers count more as producers than as purchasers of products and the bourgeoisies exporting primary products make their profits abroad. That is why the formation of the mass consumption circuit, which some heterodox theorists call Fordism, is sidestepped.
Some authors believe that the main characteristic of super-exploitation is precisely the use of the consumption fund as the foundation of accumulation (Osorio, 2013: 10-34). The insignificance of the salary in the realization of surplus value recycles the lack of relevant acquisitions. The worker buys a television, but spends less on health or food and therefore increases his relative poverty. Insufficient salary obstructs the normal reproduction of labour power (Osorio, 2017: 8-10, 2009: 107-115).
This characterization is based on an accurate diagnosis of severe limitation of purchasing power in underdeveloped economies. A real abyss separates the United States from Brazil in the current volume of purchases of the population.
Marini noted this difference and described how capitalism encourages consumption without allowing its enjoyment. The system itself expands sales and obstructs its realization by reducing wage costs.
These tensions between production and consumption — which ultimately derive from the class stratification of society — result in periodic crises. These convulsions — which prevent the sale of goods at prices compatible with the expected profit — are more acute in the periphery due to the narrowness of the markets.
Critics of dependency theory object to this view. They point out that the low incomes of the masses do not hinder accumulation, if the capitalists continue to invest. In contrast to Marini, they affirm that this expansion of business transforms luxury products into usual purchases and necessary goods of workers (Astarita, 2010: 55-58).
With other reasoning — clearly opposed to any sub-consumer theory — it is considered that the problems of realization are equivalent in advanced and underdeveloped countries (Valenzuela Feijoo, 1997).
But in reality Marini never identified the limitations of purchasing power with under-consumption, nor with the stagnation of the economy. He postulated a multi-causal approach to the crisis, which combined the imbalances of realization with the tendency of the rate of profit to decline.
In our reading of that same thesis we have highlighted how the first aspect operates with greater force in the underdeveloped economies and the second in the advanced ones (Katz, 2009: 117-119).
Recognition of the obstruction to Fordism in the periphery is indispensable in explaining the greater intensity of the crisis in the underdeveloped countries. In these regions, what happens is precisely what anti-dependency theory dismisses: the narrowness of the market leads the capitalists to invest less in consumer products.
Marini rightly recorded this enduring contradiction of the peripheral economies. But he overstated his analysis by not noticing that this imbalance is not based on super-exploitation. The retraction of consumption is responsive to the simple existence of reduced wages. It does not imply payment below the value of labour power. If the remunerations were so insignificant the fragile circuits of purchases could still emerge.
What predominates in these regions is the perpetuation of low incomes that contract the market, periodically suffocating self-sustained development.
WHERE IS EXPLOITATION GREATER?
The super-exploitation thesis also provokes debates about the differentiated subordination suffered by employees in the center and the periphery. Some authors argue that dependency theory overlooks that labour is more productive in the first and loses relevance in the second (Callinicos, 2001).
Other thinkers argue that this approach ignores the existence of higher rates of surplus value in the developed economies (Valenzuela Feijoo, 1997). With the same reasoning they say the growth of the United States, Japan or Germany is due to the higher productivity of these economies and not to the appropriation of surplus value generated in the backward countries (Astarita, 2010: 109-110).
But Marini always recognized that the rate of surplus value is higher in the center. The most significant investments are concentrated there, generating the largest volume of surplus labour. This diagnosis is also accepted by the contemporary proponents of the concept of super-exploitation (Osorio, 2009: 167-186).
The problem to be clarified is more complex for another reason. The higher rate of surplus value in the center does not mean a higher rate of profit. On the contrary, in the industrialized periphery the rate of profit is higher since the organic composition of capital is lower (intensive work techniques) and more significant returns are achieved from the same investment. Amin complements this fact by emphasizing the existence of wage differences greater than the disparities in productivity.
When it is stated that the rate of exploitation is higher in the center, the latter concept is identified with the extraction of surplus value. But if the confiscation of surplus labour is associated with the level of effort required of the employee, that obligation is more burdensome in the periphery.
Exploitation presents, therefore, two meanings that are used to validate one or the other characterization. If it is identified with the magnitude of the confiscated labour, it is clearly greater in the most productive economies of the center. If, on the contrary, it is associated with the miseries of the waged workers, the scale of this burden is greater in the underdeveloped countries.
The opponents of dependency theory use the first parameter and some defenders of super-exploitation the second. In the latter case, it is suggested that the bulk of surplus value circulating on the planet is generated in the periphery (Smith, 2010: 50).
But the mistaken nature of that thesis was demonstrated early on in the debates of the 1960s (Bettelheim, 1971: 169-174). This same error is rightly questioned at present (Mercatante, 2016). In fact the two phenomena co-exist. There is greater productivity in the metropolitan economies as well as higher profits derived from the prevailing brutality of labour in the periphery. Both processes confirm the postulates of the Marxist theory of dependency.
Debates over super-exploitation are very useful for evaluating the disparity in wages in the current stage of neoliberal globalization. This analysis requires introducing the two corrections we have proposed. On the one hand, replacing the concept of payment of labour power below its value by the low remuneration of that resource. On the other hand, prioritizing international transfers of surplus value in the explanation of dependency.
These two statements facilitate the interpretation of what has happened in the last three decades of capital’s offensive against workers. The Keynesian post-war scenario that Marini studied has been totally modified by that international barrage of job insecurity.
The forms of employment have been diversified, with greater dispersion of remunerations and elimination of defined salary rules. The individualization of income is strengthened, with demands for permanent validation of qualifications and a premeditated dislocation of workers’ solidarity.
This aggression segments work in formal and informal sectors. In the first, the levels of stability required for the continuity of accumulation are maintained and in the second, unlimited job insecurity prevails.
The old characterizations focused on the contrast of stable working universes (of the center and the periphery) must be revised. The new framework is marked by the deterioration and fracture of labour at both poles. What implications do these changes have for the value of labour power?
The question can not be settled by observing only what has happened with the waged workers. Another mutation of the same magnitude has been consummated in the international division of labour. In this field, the transnational companies, which act in the global value chain through the movement of industry towards the East, are assuming greater weight. These changes have radically altered manufacturing and the location of production based on the cheapness of the labour.
To maximize this advantage, transnational corporations disperse manufacturing processes geographically. The goods produced in a certain area are purchased at some other location on the planet. This process includes the outsourcing of labour to companies that assume part of the risk (and cost) of productive globalization.
The main effect of these transformations is the increase in global disparities. Inequality among nations has grown faster than the differences within countries. Labour power in the underdeveloped economies assumes greater importance as a reserve for exploitation.
In this context, several of Marini’s explanations concerning foreign investment in the periphery gain new currency. The use of cheap labour power becomes more attractive now as a source of profit. A plant in Bangladesh promises more profit than its equivalent in Brazil did forty years ago.
The new international segmentation of production generates the same transfers of surplus value studied by dependency theorists. Some researchers argue that the magnitude of these turns is not accounted for by the current statistical systems, elaborated using criteria of national data collection (Smith, 2010: 34-40).
The new global value chain also introduces more complex stratifications. The center-periphery polarization is complemented by the introduction of new intermediate categories. How could this scenario be conceptualized in the tradition of the Marxist theory of dependency?
A TENTATIVE OUTLINE
The contrast between countries with high values of labour power (United States, Germany) and low (Philippines, Bangladesh) is currently mediated by intermediate economies (South Korea, Brazil). This differentiation — which was emerging in the Marini era — has become more visible.
The simple contrast between economies using parameters of exploitation and super-exploitation does not register this diversity. Nor does it allow us to note the passage from one status to another.
The segmentation between the formal and informal sectors of employees is a feature shared by all economies. A strong income gap separates two likewise exploited sectors within each country. These groups maintain in turn structural differences with their equivalents in other places. In the center, the semi-periphery and the periphery different modes of extraction of surplus value are the rule.
In all three types of countries there is also an impoverished or semi-unemployed sector of workers. The concept of super-exploitation could be applied to this segment, considering that to a certain extent it is remunerated below its value. This situation is observed among the immigrants in the center, the newcomers from the countryside in the semi-periphery and the urban margins of the periphery.
The high, medium or low value of labour power is determined by the degree of internal development and the mode of insertion in the world market of the three types of countries. But what tends to stabilize this location in the current stage of neoliberal globalization is the function of each economy in the global value chain. That role depends on the weight of transnational corporations and the impact of the new Asian industrialization.
Since surplus value transfers are determined by the final place of each economy, if the country receives these flows, it will maintain or reach a central location. If, on the contrary, it is the source of these resources, it will support or consolidate a peripheral status. In the middle are the economies with limited emission or reception of these movements.
These transfers consolidate or modify the pre-eminence of high, low or medium values of labour power, depending on the magnitude and type of investment predominant in each country. What defines one national situation in contrast to another is the comparative relationship between wages and productivity.
The following table presents, using imaginary figures, different locations of that variation in status. The value of labour power of the exploited in the formal (E1), informal (E2) and super-exploited (S) sectors of the representative countries of each group is ordered according to the place it occupies in the global value chain (GVC).
Place in GVC
Value of labour power
The advanced central economies (such as the United States, Germany or Japan) maintain this condition because of their primacy in the internationalization of production. They concentrate the most complex tasks of conception of the different activities. For example, located here are large firms of the new information technology, which require highly qualified labour. The values of labour power are higher in all three segments considered.
New centers, such as China, have risen to great power status due to their growing prominence in the global production process. Although the value of its labour power is below that of the lowest countries in the global pyramid, the Asian giant has climbed its way up by absorbing more surplus value than is transferred beyond its borders.
In the semi-peripheries, average values of labour power predominate. But rising economies of this type (such as South Korea) have jumped from basic locations to more significant specializations. In that trajectory they have raised the value of their labour power.
In contrast, the declining economies of the same type (such as Brazil) have suffered an industrial regression and a return to the agro-export profile. That is why they have declined in the ranking of productive globalization and the consequent comparative value of their labour power.
This contrast between two semi-peripheries is in tune with the replacement of the import substitution model by export-oriented industrialization schemes. The first favoured — in the Keynesian era — intermediate economies with a certain weight of domestic markets (Brazil). The second promoted — in the neoliberal globalization — nations left with more numerous or disciplined reserves of labour (Korea).
Finally, countries of the lower periphery (such as Bangladesh or the Philippines) with very low values of labour power have been incorporated into the floor of the global value chain. This insertion has been possible due to a degree of internationalization of transport, communications and trade that was unimaginable in the Marini era.
Unlike the model presented by the Brazilian theorist, this outline conceives of super-exploitation as a very limited category, but present in all economies. International disparities persist and expand in all segments. The abyss that separates a homeless American from his or her counterpart in Bangladesh is as significant as the fracture between the exploited in both countries. This same divergence occurs in the other situations in the table.
IS SUPER-EXPLOITATION EXPANDING?
An interpretation that combines the different values of labour power with the dynamics of international transfers of surplus value is enlightening as to the current determinants of underdevelopment. It provides more clues than the different generic theses on globalization or neoliberalism.
The more radical versions of these latter approaches correctly tend to emphasize the capitalist objectives at the current stage. They underscore the intention to raise the rate of exploitation through labour market dualization and mass unemployment. But these observations do not clarify how the current model reconfigures dependency relations and the disparities between advanced and backward economies.
The concept of super-exploitation is used by other analysts to clarify this issue. But the principle of remunerating labour power below its value creates irresolvable problems. This approach does not register the existence of internally segmented labour markets, internationally differentiated and equally marked by the presence of the destitute.
These difficulties are confirmed in the debate on the global extension of super-exploitation. This extension was suggested by Marini himself in his last writings.
Several authors return to that suggestion to argue that super-exploitation has been generalized in the countries of the centre since the 1990s. In their view, the development of global corporations has forged common spaces of accumulation, which allow the use of this sub-remuneration of wages as a new instrument of competition. The universalization of poverty, labour informality and the stagnation of salaries would corroborate this change (Martins, 2011a: 293-294, 302-303, 2011b).
This view understands that super-exploitation has expanded to the developed countries through firms that increase job insecurity and through the diversification of their investments (Sader, 2009: 27-36, 2012).
But if super-exploitation has spread on a universal scale, it no longer constitutes a mechanism peculiar to dependent capitalism. It has lost the specificity that Marini assigned to it.
This contradiction becomes very visible when it is asserted that the same mechanisms of compensation for losses used by the Latin American bourgeoisie are now implemented by their peers in the center.
It is assumed that at both poles employees are squeezed equally in order to counteract technological delays or productivity setbacks (Bueno, 2016: 49-56, 66-68). In this version or in similar statements (Santana, 2012: 135- 137) the divorce with Marini’s thesis is greater. Dependency theory is being analogized with the new forms of exploitation of the 21st century.
Some followers of the Brazilian thinker perceive this problem, but also think that super-exploitation has spread, after losing its exclusive location in the dependent economies (Sotelo, 2013; 78-81).
They state that this constituent feature of Latin American societies has become an operational datum for the international economy (Sotelo, 2012: 161-167). They emphasize that this process is only a tendency, without noticing that the attenuation of the diagnosis does not reduce the contradiction with Marini’s thesis.
To preserve this approach, it is also said that the extension of super-exploitation coexists with the disparities in purchasing power between the center and the periphery (Sotelo, 2013: 92-93).
But what is the basis for this fracture if the salaried workers of both regions suffer the same underpayment in wages? The initial basis of this dissociation is diluted, assuming that the income of the employees in both cases does not cover the normal reproduction of labour power.
The extension of super-exploitation affects all critiques of dependency theory from the transnationalist standpoint, which postulates the total disappearance of the fractures between the center and the periphery.
This view carries the thesis of “third-worldization” of the planet to an extreme. It equates a Mexican maquila with an informal labour workshop in Los Angeles, overlooking that wages in both countries continue to revolve around differing national baskets of goods. It does not recognize the persistence of the income gap between the United States and Mexico, which is reflected in different scales of distress among the impoverished of both nations.
Critics of the extension of the concept of super-exploitation highlight these contradictions. They recall that super-exploitation is a category of the dependent economies and affirm that the extension of its incidence undermines the Marxist theory of dependency (Carcanholo, 2013: 108-124), undermining the pillars of this conception (Massa, 2013: 83-85).
But is it enough to underline that contradiction? Hasn’t neoliberal globalization changed the international structure of the labour market? How is growing instability of employment and labour segmentation in the entire planet to be interpreted?
These questions — that the extension thesis fails to answer — are ignored by those of the opposite view, which emphasizes the inconsistency of its counterpart without offering alternatives. It assumes that Marini’s initial thesis fully applies, and avoids recognizing to what extent it has been put in question by neoliberal globalization.
A PROMISING LINE OF INVESTIGATION
The Marxist theory of dependency provided the main analytical outline for unveiling the peculiarities of Latin American capitalism. But it entailed certain conceptual errors, which tended to be amended by the observations of thinkers convergent with that conception.
Super-exploitation is one of the notions that was corrected with that maturation of dependency theory. The modification replaces the idea of payment below the value of labour power with low remuneration of that resource.
This revision allows us not only to solve old questions in Latin America. It also introduces a criterion to interpret the contemporary diversity of wages. This variety is a product of the place occupied by each economy in the global value chain, in the new scenario of transnational corporations and Asian industrialization. This analysis offers answers to the enigmas of the development of Korea and China.
The revision of the concept of super-exploitation is consistent with the primacy assigned to international transfers of surplus value as the main determinant of underdevelopment.
The study of these flows under neoliberal globalization requires returning to some of the issues addressed, omitted or little investigated by Marini. The dependent cycle is an example of the first type, rent is an example of the second, and the political logic of dependency is an example of the third. These issues will have to be addressed in other articles, yet to come.
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