Friday, November 24, 2006
On the matter of the creaming off of billions of Iraqi cash, there is an uncharacteristically interesting post at Crooked Timber courtesy of it's gnarled Australian branch. The Australian Wheat Board, which is a privatised monopoly - that is, it is legally guaranteed by the state, but floated on the stock market, rather like the arms industry - took about $100 million from the Iraqi people through the oil-for-food programme. Iraq is a big wheat importer, and US and Australian agribusiness have competed for its markets for years. Earlier this year, AWB Ltd once again beat the Americans for the contracts. Well, the latest revelations suggest that AWB Ltd had an inside track on the plans for war, this as a result of it being still effectively a state enterprise (but one in which the costs are covered by taxpayers and profits accrue to the private capitalist class), and of its chief Trevor Flugge being told by the Australian ambassador to the UN in February 2002 that the war was on. I'm less interested in the Downing Street Memo aspect of this - we already knew that the war was on for months if not years before it began - than what it tells us about the imbrication of the state and 'private' enterprise, particularly when it comes to imperial adventures.
It's an old Leninist insight that when it comes to imperialism, the largest sectors of capital meld with the state to procure investment opportunities (ie to mop up surplus capital), which becomes especially aggressive when domestic growth opportunities are limited. The neoliberal model involves simply a global system of tutelage and bribery in which well behaved statesmen accept 'loans' for themselves, their governments and their families provided they open up the economy to Western capital. Meanwhile, domestically the US capitalist class seeks to neoliberalise all the remaining welfare institutions (what are usually called 'middle class entitlements' for some stupid reason), and have so far failed to do so, even during a state of permanent declared war. At the same time, there remain states that are either sufficiently secure and economically strong as to have a measure of independence or that embody some kind of democratisation and popular will (respectively, you might say, Iran and Venezuela). And so, they are ideal targets of war and blockade, both of which are excellent business opportunities, but also are forms of class war, the attempt to reduce the risk of democracy to the health of capitalism.
Imperial states involve often very precarious coalitions between narrow but powerful interests, which operate precisely through the leverage of political and not purely economic power, and which are always massively corruptible and therefore susceptible to the liberal critique that they're not properly capitalist (as per the Crooked claim that AWB Ltd isn't really privatised). Perhaps also, because they have need of a great deal of evangelising zeal to mobilise populations, they are susceptible to the kind of apparently immanent critique in which they don't appear to live up to their 'usual' best (ie, Bush is becoming as bad as Them).