By: Raúl Zibechi
Oxfam’s recent report Working for the Few shows with authentic data what we have been feeling: that democracy was kidnapped by the one percent to widen and maintain inequality. It confirms that the most important tendency that exists in the world in this period of increasing chaos is toward the concentration of power and, therefore, wealth.
The report points out that almost half of the world’s wealth is in the hands of one percent of the population, which has benefitted from almost the totality of the economic growth after the crisis. Oxfam also succeeds in linking the growth of inequality to “the appropriation of the democratic processes on the part of the economic elites.” It also succeeds in warning that the concentration of wealth erodes governability, destroys social cohesion and “increases the risk of social rupture.”
What Oxfam does not say is that the concentration of wealth goes hand in hand with the militarization of societies. To defend the gigantic concentration of wealth, those above are being protected, militarizing every corner of the planet. One of the recommendations directed at the members of the Davos Economic Forum sounds too ingenuous: “Don’t use your economic wealth to obtain political favors that supposes a diminishing of the spirit of your fellow citizens.”
We live in societies more controlled and militarized all the time, be it in the north or south, under conservative or progressive governments. We are facing a global tendency that cannot be reversed, in the medium term, in local scenarios. Oxfam assures that inequality has diminished in Latin America in the last decade. Certainly! But, we’re talking about the most unequal region in the world and it’s being compared with the 1990s, when inequality reached such a high peak that it provoked social explosions and popular uprisings.
Among the countries where inequality has diminished Brazil, Mexico, Argentina and Colombia stand out. In all those cases the reduction is due to similar reasons (progressive taxation, public services and social policies). I want to emphasize that essential tendencies exist, beyond what political currents occupy the government. Something similar can be said about Europe: the workers pay for the crisis, as much under governments of the right as under governments of the “left.”
It interests me to emphasize the tendency toward militarization: the kidnapping of rights and the criminalization of protest. Those below live in a “state of permanent exception,” following the maxim of Walter Benjamin. Militarization is neither transitory nor accidental. It does not depend on the quality of governments nor on its discourse nor of its ideological character. We’re dealing with something intrinsic to the system, which can no longer function without criminalizing popular resistance.
Brazil’s Defense Ministry just published (partially for sure) the Manual of Guarantied Legal Rights and Order (GLO), in which it defines intervention of the armed forces in internal security matters. The GLO had two versions: the first, of December 2013, was refined in the one published at the end of January and the most shocking aspects were removed (or were sent to blank pages). For example, that the armed forces are going to intervene to restore order against “opposing Forces.”
When the manual defines what those forces are, one can read: “movements or organizations;” “persons, groups of people or organizations acting autonomously or infiltrated into movements.” When it details the “principal threats,” it says: “blocking public roadways;” “urban disturbances;” “invasion of properties and rural or urban installations, public or private;” “paralyzing productive activities;” “sabotage in places for large events;” in sum, a good part of the repertoire of action of social movements.
It is a good example of militarization and of the criminalization of protest. Strictly speaking, the GLO is the updating of a group of norms that figure in the Constitution and have been regulated since the 1990s. What’s symptomatic is that it is updated after the massive June demonstrations when the FIFA Confederations Cup was held, and when a part of the popular movement announces new actions during the coming World Cup of Soccer (Futbol). Therefore, any mobilization during “large events” is considered sabotage. That is the predisposition of a government like that of Dilma Rousseff, which passes for being more democratic that those of Mexico and Colombia, for example.
The problem is not that the government of Brazil might have changed, but rather that the State feels the need to respond to the challenge from the street and it does what any State does that has self-esteem: it guaranties order at the expense of rights. What we’re dealing with in this case is assuring that one of the most corrupt multinationals, the FIFA, can celebrate its most lucrative activity without being disturbed by collective protest actions. I insist: it is just an example; I don’t want to focus in Brazil.
Faced with the escalation of militarization that travels around the world, those below organized into movements are far from having any kind of answer. Moreover: our strategies, born in periods of “normality,” are showing limits in moments of crisis and systemic chaos. In the first place, we need to be conscious of those limits. Secondly, we must learn to defend ourselves.
As the Chilean historian Gabriel Salazar points out: “Popular power is the only way to have a true democracy. People that have rights but have no power are nothing. The law has no value without power.” The community defense systems teach us something about the construction of power among those below. The labor movement had a vast experience, until the rise of Nazism, about forms of self-defense. It may be the time to refresh them.
Originally Published in Spanish by La Jornada
Translation: Chiapas Support Committee
Friday, February 7, 2014