In 1995 after Chad, a country in West Africa, had been destroyed by war, an IMF official commented that at last there was an environment that they could work with. Structural adjustment and neoliberalism could proceed unhindered, as the country was now ‘ripe for the development of a free market economy’.
Patrick Bond, the leading anti-capitalist writer in South Africa, has written a systematic indictment of the devastating effects of neoliberalism in South Africa and the Third World. He shows that the effects of IMF and World Bank reforms have been catastrophic. Following the advice of these institutions, country after country has suffered massive de-industrialisation, privatisation and price hikes on basic commodities. ‘Cost recovery’ is one of the many euphemisms for structural adjustment and means forcing the poor to pay exorbitant prices for everyday commodities.
The author argues that South Africa was meant to launch what Nelson Mandela termed the ‘African renaissance’, and deliver the reforms promised in the liberation struggle. For years the ANC and the South African Communist Party argued that socialist transformation would follow the end of apartheid. But today the government has grown rich pursuing policies it used to decry. For example Trevor Manual–South Africa’s minister of finance–was once a fearsome anti-apartheid activist and critic of the IMF and World Bank, but he has now become fanatical about pushing neoliberalism. Socialism, typical of every nationalist movement, was forgotten after ‘independence’.
The great strength of the book is that it does not simply list the devastation caused by IMF and World Bank policies but also documents the struggles that have arisen alongside these policies. The book is infused with the spirit of the anti-capitalist movement, a movement that, as he writes, has helped ‘break the grip of the greatest tool of repression, the belief that nothing can be done’.
The problem arises when he proposes alternatives. Bond argues rightly that there is no alternative but to ‘smash’ the neoliberal world, and that the chains of global apartheid must be broken. He also dismisses with derision the futility of reforming the IMF and World Bank. But in their place he proposes a series of ‘measures’ or ‘reforms’ that amount to what he terms an ‘internationalist nationalism’, which will ‘fight for national concerns that fit best into a framework of international solidarity’. The ‘state’ must be allowed to use capital controls in order to enable countries to ‘adopt pro-poor policies’. The last chapter is devoted to these measures and what he calls ‘locking capital down’. There is the need to explore, he argues, the ‘enormous unexplored opportunities for nation-states, working with progressive activists’.
In identifying the state he correctly highlights the central question for the anti-capitalist movement. However, the idea that ‘progressive radicals’ can use the state is an illusion that leads him to identify Cuba and Hugo Chavez’s Venezuela (which is facing a wave of working class militancy) as examples of progressive nationalism. This was the question that confronted the national liberation movement across the Third World 40 years ago. Movements that seemed radical while struggling for ‘nationhood’ proceeded to transform themselves into the exploiting class that they had overthrown once national liberation was achieved. Isn’t this the experience of South Africa since 1994? The nation-state does not have progressive ‘potential’ but is a violent tool of capitalist exploitation.
Bond argues that the groups which may be able to push for his ‘internationalist-nationalism’ are ‘radical people’s movement NGOs’, which he distinguishes from earlier co-opted ones. Yet there is one group that he fails to consider–the ‘Southern’ working class, who have led political struggle across the Third World. This class and their potential to break the nation-state are never seriously analysed in the book. He does, however, express some ambiguity and doubt about whether his NGO strategy ‘will ever substitute for traditional revolutionary class-orientated approaches to socialism from below’. Exactly. It is only this tradition that offers us hope of real transformation. The book is still an excellent examination of the global south and the struggles to change our world.
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