By: William I. Robinson*
The transnational political and corporate elite was back in Davos from January 16 to 20 for its annual conclave amid the most severe crisis of global capitalism since the founding of the World Economic Forum (WEF) half a century ago. In previous years, participants in the exclusive meeting descended on the ski resort in their private jets brimming with confidence in the hegemony of capitalism. But this time, uncertainty about their ability to manage the crisis, maintain control, re-stabilize the system and rebuild the fractured consensus in their ranks was in plain sight.
The WEF served as a clearing house and planning body for the transnational capitalist class (TCC) and its political allies at the height of globalization, but now the dominant groups seem to be in permanent crisis management. The Forum’s 2023 report, Global Risks, called the global crisis a “poly-crisis,” with economic, political, military and ecological dimensions.
The WEF brings together the inner circle of the TCC and its political representatives in States and international organizations. Every year the cream of the corporate and political elite gathers in Davos to gauge the state of global capitalism, debate the problems and challenges they face as a ruling class, and consider programs and policies to address these challenges to their class domination. In short, Davos is where the lords of capital elaborate their strategy on how they will govern the world.
The core of the WEF’s membership is made up of the CEOs of the world’s one thousand largest transnational corporations, along with representatives of the most powerful media groups, key policymakers from governments around the world and international bodies, and a selection of experts from the scientific, social and technological fields. Among the 2,700 participants in the 2023 meeting were CEOs of more than 600 corporations, 51 heads of state, 56 finance ministers, 19 central bank governors, 30 trade ministers, 35 foreign ministers and the heads of major international organizations, such as the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank, The Central Bank of the European Union, the United Nations and the Secretary General of NATO.
The globalization driven by the WEF has resulted in an unprecedented concentration and centralization of capital on a global scale in the hands of the TCC. This globalization has unleashed unprecedented inequalities and triggered social and political conflicts around the world. The Carnegie Endowment for International Peace reported just days before the start of the Davos meeting that more than 400 large-scale anti-government protests have erupted around the world since 2017, a quarter of them held for three months or more, many involving hundreds of thousands and even millions of demonstrators, and no fewer than 32 were ongoing as the conclave got underway.
In addition to the structural crisis of over-accumulation, dominant groups face a political crisis of state legitimacy, capitalist hegemony, and widespread social disintegration; an international crisis of geopolitical confrontation, and another ecological crisis of historic proportions. As background context, a 2021 U.S. government intelligence report warned that the world “will face more intense global challenges” in the coming years, which “will produce widespread tensions in states and societies, as well as shocks that could be catastrophic. “
Davos attendees this year discussed the varied dimensions of the “poly-crisis,” but seemed to be adrift on how to re-stabilize global capitalism and reject the threat of mass revolt from below, such as that of the populist right, nationalism, and neo-fascism to capitalist globalization. The IMF managing director was forced to admit that the world economy faces “perhaps its biggest test since World War II.” Meanwhile, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in 2022 and the West’s radical political, military and economic response, along with the new “cold war” between Washington and Beijing, are accelerating a violent post-war collapse of the international system.
Each year, the Oxfam development agency schedules the release of its report on global inequalities to coincide with Davos; According to this year’s report Survival of the Richest, billionaires’ fortunes are rising by $2.7 billion a day, even as at least 1.7 billion workers now live in countries where inflation exceeds wages. Amid the global energy and food crisis, the top 95 food and energy corporations more than doubled their profits in 2022, made $306 billion in windfall profits and paid $257 billion to wealthy shareholders, at the same time that nearly a billion people went hungry around the world. The report warned that three-quarters of the world’s governments are planning cuts to public spending over the next five years, including education and health care, by a whopping $7.8 trillion.
Fragmentation and geopolitical confrontation are reaching a breaking point. The crisis of hegemony in the international system takes place within this unique and integrated global economy. The end of Western domination of world capitalism is upon us as the center of gravity of the global economy shifts toward China. But it will not become the new hegemonic power; Rather, the world turns to political multipolarity at a time of acute crisis in global capitalism – prolonged economic turbulence and political decay.
We are facing the breakdown of capitalist civilization. The WEF’s commitment to defend and expand at all costs the endless accumulation of capital on a global scale makes it impossible for the global ruling class to offer viable solutions to the epochal crisis. Addressing this involves far-reaching redistribution of wealth and power downwards, regulation of global markets, control of transnational capital, global demilitarization, and radical environmental measures. Such solutions will only come from the mass struggle from below against the Davos ruling class.
* Professor of sociology at the University of California, in Santa Bárbara
Originally Published in Spanish by La Jornada, Sunday, February 5, 2023, https://www.jornada.com.mx/2023/02/05/opinion/011a2pol and Re-Published with English interpretation by the Chiapas Support Committee