[fwd] the icy ideological grip, by thabo mbeki

Steve L Sharra sharrast at msu.edu
Thu Jul 24 18:43:40 MDT 2003

The way ahead

The icy ideological grip

If progressive politics is to have any meaning, it must start from the
reality that you can't overcome global poverty through reliance on the

Thabo Mbeki
Wednesday July 9, 2003
The Guardian

The recognition that global poverty constitutes the deepest and most
dangerous structural fault in the world economy is not the preserve of
progressive politics. All thinking people agree that the elimination of this
structural fault requires sustained economic growth and development in the
poorest areas of the world.

Thinking people also agree that various macro-conditions - democracy, rule
of law, property rights - have to be met to create the possibility for such
growth and development to take place, and they agree that the first driver
of growth and development is capital investment. Further, all these thinking
people would agree that in contemporary society, the capital needed is
privately owned, and that publicly owned capital is but a tiny proportion of
the stupendous volume of capital in the global economy.

The consensus about these necessary macro-conditions relates to the agreed
requirement that the right climate should be created to encourage the
private owners of capital to put it into the areas where such
macro-conditions exist, especially the poor countries.

Implicit within this is the recognition that capital, as distinct from
capitalists, has no sense of social responsibility. It has no soul. Money
and its multiplication constitute its motive power. No thinking person would
therefore contest the view - advanced by political economy - that without
profit maximisation, capital dies. "Market economics" has acquired the
character of a universal and self-evident truth.

The objective reason for this is the recognition that capital, the
generation of the means to ensure human survival, is privately owned. In
this condition, capital, "the market", has its own innate logic, which is
independent of human consciousness. In this sense, capital dictates the
rules that human society sets itself.

This neoliberal-conservative economic paradigm represents the political
expression of the rules of "the market". Consistent with the logic of the
market, it emphasises the "private", as opposed to the "public", the
individual, as opposed to the collective, the individual versus the state.
Thus society becomes an agglomeration of atomised individuals, connected to
one another only by the reality that to achieve their competing objectives,
they have to interact with one another as competing individuals. Necessarily
and understandably, it accepts the reality of private ownership of capital
and the private acquisition of profit by its owners.

It then transposes this into a proposition about the imperative for society
as a whole to organise itself in such a way that each individual lives only
for personal gain. Thus "the market" becomes the great leveller, the cold,
dispassionate instrument for the achievement of the goal of human equality,
giving an equal possibility to all to succeed or fail.

The neoliberal political ideology therefore proposes, logically, that "the
market" must be given free rein. This endows capital with the capacity to
produce the greatest good, both in politics and in the economy, creating the
best humanly possible result, with regard both to the political rights and
the economic welfare of the individual.

To be itself, and have any real meaning, progressive politics has to
disagree with these propositions.

[cut. . .]

What Africa says to its development partners is: do with and for us what you
do with and for yourselves. If poor regions within the EU need "structural
funds", how shall the far greater need of Africa be met?

The progressive politicians must demonstrate whether they have the courage
to define themselves as progressive, recovering their historic character as
champions of the poor, and break the icy ideological grip of rightwing
politics. The African masses are watching and waiting.

Thabo Mbeki is President of South Africa. A longer version of this article
appears in Progressive Politics Vol 2.2, which is published to coincide with
this weekend's progressive governance conference.


full article at

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