Posted 10 months ago on June 17, 2013, 3:39 a.m. EST by MikhailBakunin
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By Javier Sethness, Truthout | Book Review
Garry Leech, an author who had previously penned a book on the FARC insurgency in Colombia (2011), has assembled a forceful denunciation of the status quo with Capitalism: A Structural Genocide. In essence, he argues cogently in this work that the devastating structural violence experienced by societies subjected to the rule of capital since its historical emergence - and that particularly felt by the world's presently impoverished social majorities - is, instead of being an aberration or distortion of market imperatives, central and inherent to the division of society along class lines and the enthronement of private property. Even a cursory examination of the depth of human suffering perpetuated historically and contemporarily by the hegemony of capital should lead disinterested observers to agree with Leech that the catastrophic scale of violence for which this system is responsible can be considered nothing less than genocidal, however shocking such a conclusion might prove to be.
In this book, Leech guides his readers through theoretical examinations of the concept of genocide, showing why the term should in fact be applied to the capitalist mode of production. He then illustrates capitalism's genocidal proclivities by exploring four case studies: the ongoing legacy of the 1994 North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) in Mexico; the relationship between trade liberalization and genetically-modified seeds on the one hand and mass-suicide on the part of Indian agriculturalists on the other; material deprivation and generalized premature death throughout much of the African continent and the global South, as results from hunger, starvation, and preventable disease; and the ever-worsening climatic and environmental crises. Leech then closes by considering the relevance of Antonio Gramsci's conceptions of cultural hegemony in attempting to explain the puzzling consent granted to this system by large swathes of the world's relatively privileged people - specifically, those residing in the imperial core of Europe and the United States - and then recommending the socialist alternative as a concrete means of abolishing genocide, while looking to the Cuban and Venezuelan regimes as imperfect, but inspirational experiments in these terms. In sum, while I take issue with some of his analysis and aspects of his conceptualization of anticapitalist alternatives, his work should certainly be well-received, read and discussed by large multitudes.
Leech begins his text by referencing the original formulator of the concept of structural violence, Johan Galtung. In 1969, Galtung famously expanded prevailing notions of societal violence to include consideration of "the avoidable impairment of fundamental human needs or . . . of human life." Key to Galtung's formulation of structural violence in this sense is the gap between "the potential and the actual," or "what could have been and what is." Thus, avoidable death resulting from preventable or treatable diseases today constitutes violence, given the technological progression of modern medicine, whereas centuries ago this would not have been the case, according to Galtung. For Leech, then, capitalist society is indelibly marked by structural violence, as the vast inequalities in wealth and access to which it gives rise lead small minorities to be overwhelmingly privileged, while large groups of others are prevented from meeting their basic needs.
Transitioning then to consideration of the question of whether the large number of avoidable deaths observed under conditions of capitalism should in fact be considered genocidal, Leech concedes that the UN's 1948 Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide excludes mass death resulting from one's pertaining to a given social class as constituting genocide. However, he notes that an initial draft of the Convention from 1947 did include death or injury resulting from "lack of proper housing, clothing, food, hygiene and medical care, or excessive work or physical exertion" within the definition of genocide. Hence, while such a formulation did not appear in the final version with which we are all familiar, Leech does not accept legal positivism in this case as final; in this vein, he could have done well to have also mentioned that Raphael Lemkin, inventor of the concept of genocide, himself believed the charge should include mass murder of persons following from their belonging to particular classes. Leech nonetheless does mention that the 1998 Rome Statute defines the crime of extermination in part as "the intentional infliction of . . . deprivation of access to food and medicine calculated to bring about the destruction of part of a population," so in this sense has the weight of international law behind him. Leech's only remaining theoretical difficulty, then, is to argue that intentionality exists within the context of the perpetuation of capital-induced genocide: This proves an easy task, for the question of intent in judging capitalism is not one of examining the actions of particular persons or states (as in most traditional cases of the charge of genocide) but rather of judging the "logic" of the system as a whole. Hence, structural genocide - defined by Leech as "structural violence that intentionally inflicts on any group or collectivity conditions of life that bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part" - can be said to be an intentional outcome of adherence to norms which govern a social system that by nature "inevitably results in . . . death on a mass scale," as does capital. For Leech, the proffered defense of willful blindness - "such was not our intention," the system's managers might exclaim - is no defense at all. Or, in Jean-Paul Sartre's words: "The genocidal intent is implicit in the facts. It is not necessarily premeditated."
Following this opening discussion of the theoretical case for considering capitalism to be genocidal, Leech takes a few particularly devastating examples from the contemporary world to illuminate his argument. In Mexico, the passing of NAFTA in 1994 has led to the dispossession of campesinos (peasants) on a grand scale, as the country's stipulated importation of heavily subsidized maize and other crops from the United States effectively led millions to abandon agriculture and migrate to Mexican and US cities in search of employment in the manufacturing sector, in accordance with neoclassical theories of "comparative advantage" - and very much mirroring the means by which capitalism emerged historically through the destruction of the commons in England. For Leech, this forcible displacement has resulted in the explosion of precarity within the informal sector of the economy in Mexico, as many ex-campesinos fail to find traditional proletarian jobs, and it has also driven the horrifying feminicides of maquiladora workers in the Mexican border regions, migration en masse to the United States (and attendant mass death in the Sonoran desert), as well as the horrid drug war launched in 2006 by then-president Felipe Calderón. Leech sees similar processes in Colombia, which hosts the second-largest number of internally displaced persons in the world (4 million), with many of these people having been removed from their lands due to military and paramilitary operations undertaken to make way for megaprojects directed by foreign corporations.
Alarmingly, in India, Leech reports that more than 216,000 farmers committed suicide between 1997 and 2009, largely out of desperation over crushing debts they accumulated following the introduction of genetically-modified seed crops, as demanded by the transnational Agreement on Trade-Related Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS, 1994) and the general shift from subsistence to export-oriented agriculture. In many cases, the genetically engineered seed varieties failed to expand yields to the levels promised by Monsanto, Cargill, and co., leading farmers then to take on further debt merely to cover the shortfalls as well as to pay for the next iteration of crops - which by conscious design were modified at the molecular level so as not to be able to reproduce naturally, thus ensuring biotech firms sustained profitability (a "captured market," as it were). That such a dynamic should end in a downward spiral of death and destruction should be unsurprising, for all its horror.
Leech further illustrates his case regarding capitalism's structurally genocidal nature in a chapter examining Africa south of the Sahel. It is this world region that has been "most severely impacted" by capital's genocidal imperatives, claims Leech, and it is difficult to argue with this claim: Merely consider the millions who succumb to AIDS on the continent each year or the other millions who perish in the region annually due to lack of medical treatment for complications within pregnancy or conditions such as diarrhea and malaria, themselves catalyzed by pre-existing background malnutrition. All this deprivation is exacerbated, argues Leech, by food-aid regimes overseen by wealthier societies - which in the US case demands that food be purchased from and shipped by US companies, thus effectively removing a full half of the total resources intended for the hungry - and the infamous land-grabs being perpetrated on the continent in recent years by investors from such countries as Saudi Arabia and South Korea. Fundamentally, though, the conflict is one based on the guiding principles of capital: Because Africans in general do not possess the requisite income to "demand" food commodities within international capitalism, they themselves do not constitute a "viable market" and so are rendered invisible - nonpersons, or "unpeople."