Understanding the history and origins of the current global economic meltdown

Spiralling oil and food prices are global problems. As such we should combine local struggles with international analysis so as to campaign against neo-liberalism says Numsa general secretary, Silumko Nondwangu.

Cosatu, together with a range of forces and progressive movements in our country, has recently embarked on protest action against spiralling food and energy prices, caused in part by the global crude oil prices, and what conservative economists in the US have defined as the imminent ‘global economic meltdown.’

The continued support and expenditure of millions of American dollars to aid and abet dictatorial regimes in Afghanistan, Iraq, Israel, and the ballooning military expenditure in parts of Europe, Asia, Latin America and Africa is contributing to this so-called global meltdown.

The US has military bases on the six continents of the world to preserve and pursue its political and economic interests on the pretext of promoting the goals of peace, security, and the values of liberties and democracy.

And yet contrary to these precepts, millions of people all over the world die daily from curable diseases, malnutrition and poverty.

Wars fought and waged for decades have not been about peace and prosperity for nations, but the continued dominance and imposition of neo-liberalism.

In the Middle East

The US has made decades-long commitments to corrupt despotic regimes in the Middle East. Whatever it takes, their stay in power will be protected to the extent that they become extensions, against the will of their people, to the political and economic interests of the US administration and its cronies in the corporate world.

Multinational corporations do not constitute the billions of the poorest throughout the world, yet their power and influence determines where investments are made, who leads the most influential political parties in parts of the developing world, who ultimately from that party ascends to political office.

In Saudi Arabia, the US has a full military base to protect its interests, and used it in the past to depose the late Saddam Hussein of Iraq.

Saddam is history. Another US imposed administrator has emerged to 'democratise' Iraq and the Middle East.

Now the focus is on Iran. The ‘axis of evil’ as the US once proclaimed, is no longer Iraq nor North Korea, but now the Islamic Republic of Iran.

In Israel, the US administration provides billions of dollars as aid to ensure that the Jewish state becomes a watchdog for US economic and military interests in the Middle East.

Whatever diplomatic language is used of a ‘Road Map’ to resolve the political and military conflict between Israel and Palestine, it favours the continued dominance of the US in this part of the world.

Latin America

In Latin America, the recent election of progressive and left-leaning parties has sent jitters through the corridors of the Bush administration. Chavez in Venezuela has not been polite to the US.

He has publicly presented a strong voice for the rest of Latin America. He has been backed up by Brazil, Chile, Argentina and Bolivia.

We must undertake, as forces of the left, a detailed theoretical analysis of the possibilities that exist in Latin America, and their meaning for the rest of the world. Does Latin America present a threat to the political and economic interests of the US?

If it does, does it provide opportunities for other parts of the world to challenge the political, economic, and military hegemony of this imperialist power?

What lessons can be drawn from the recent upsurges in parts of Latin America and what do they mean for a left-leaning project elsewhere in the world?

In the '60s and '70s, the US, through its surrogates, destabilised many parts of Latin America and displaced many left-leaning governments and political parties.


On our continent, the US in the United Nations has turned a blind eye to the atrocities committed against ordinary people in Sudan and Ethiopia.

It has also ignored the conflict for resources and the distribution of oil revenues in the Niger Delta in Nigeria, Equatorial Guinea, the despotic rule of the monarchy in Swaziland, the levels of poverty and corruption in Angola.

Instead it focuses its attention on a poor country on our border, Zimbabwe, which cannot even afford to print visa and passport applications.

Why is Zimbabwe a focal point for the US administration, Europe, and the United Nations while they ignore other African countries that are enduring decades-old conflicts?

This tiny country, endowed with mineral resources and strategically located within the SADC, has become the centre of international attention and condemnation.

We are expected to uncritically follow the international 'chorus' to condemn the sacrifices of the Zimbabwean people in their quest to liberate themselves from the yoke of colonialism.

To underscore this point, the South African government and the ANC is expected to endorse the opposition as the leading party to form the government of national unity in Zimbabwe.

What has not been said in this discussion, is that the 'shock doctrine' is at play in our domestic and our international perspectives on the global environment. It has largely shaped the dominant analysis of our present political discourse.

Gaddaffi in Libya has all of a sudden become the darling of the US and Europe. Libya possesses massive oil reserves and gigantic construction contracts are being signed by companies linked to US and European investors. Forget about his past and present, what counts is oil and major construction contracts.

A few weeks ago, the Nelson Mandela Foundation hosted the Liberian President as a speaker to celebrate Madiba’s legacy. This should not be viewed as a critique of the Nelson Mandela Foundation, but the person who spoke in that event.

Neither is this directed at women in general, but the role of the US in bringing her to prominence.

Liberia is an outpost in all respects with US values and traditions but on the African continent. This is similar to sections of the suburbs in the Western Cape where the European lifestyle of wealth and conspicuous consumption is glaring.

On the other side, poverty and destitution is the order of the day in Atlantis, Mitchell's Plain, Gugulethu and other townships in the same Province.

Liberia continues to be an outpost of pre-colonial US slavery in Africa, and recently, a post-colonial example of the so-called US values of civil liberties in Africa.

The dethroning of Charles Taylor, who murdered his own people, and his trial underway in the Hague presented an opportunity for the current administration in the US to say that 'we care for the African continent'.

Instead Liberia is likely to emerge as another repository of US interests on the continent.

The reconstruction programme in Liberia after years of civil war is funded mainly by the Bush administration, mainly to justify the moral and economic obligation of the US administration in this part of the continent, without acknowledging the brutalities carried out against the slaves of Liberia and to couch it in diplomatic terms, that the US administration cares for Africa and that it is promoting women's leadership and empowerment. Who is being fooled here?

Disasters put us in a state of collective shock

I return back to the origins of my article.
Naomi Klein in her book, The Shock Doctrine – Rise of Disaster Capitalism says: “That is how the shock doctrine works; the original disaster – the coup, the terrorist attack, the market meltdown, the war, the tsunami, the hurricane – puts the entire population into a state of collective shock.

The falling bombs, the bursts of terror, the pounding winds serve to soften up whole societies much as the blaring music and blows in the torture cells soften up prisoners.

Like the terrorized prisoner who gives up the names of comrades and renounces his faith, shocked societies often give up things they otherwise fiercely protect…….”

To anyone familiar with the testimonies of torture survivors, this detail is a harrowing one. When prisoners are asked how they survived months or years of isolation and brutality, they often speak about hearing the ring of distant church bells, or the Muslim call to prayer, or children playing in a park nearby.

When life is shrunk to the four walls of the prison cell, the rhythm of these outside sounds becomes a kind of lifeline, proof that the prisoner is still human, that there is a world beyond torture.

‘Four times I heard the birds outside chirping with the rising sun – that’s how I know it was four days,’ said one survivor of Uruguay’s last dictatorship, recalling a particularly brutal stretch of torture.”

We are all witnessing the effects of the ‘shock doctrine.’ Opportunities exist today to do an analysis of this current phenomenon on a global scale.

I find it very strange that this angle in this debate has not been pursued, let alone the fact that thus far, the rallying point has been to domesticate a global phenomenon.

I have had a discussion with myself first, and with other comrades in the democratic movement on these issues. None of them have suggested any immediate and concrete answers to these complex and difficult questions.

None of them dismiss the need to protest against our government to act immediately on the spiralling food and energy crises.

In the context of our immediate challenges, should our democratic state on its own deal with these challenges of spiralling food and energy prices?

Are there no limitations to a position that seeks national solutions, correct as these maybe, and yet this challenge has a global dimension expressing itself in national states?

I think that the debate that we should pursue more broadly in our organisations is;

* In broad analytical and theoretical terms from the Alliance Summit held recently, we agreed that the present conjuncture of the National Democratic Revolution has possibilities to effect fundamental change in the lives of ordinary people.

* We are on a sound footing politically to enhance fundamental change and transformation in the lives of our people and make a contribution in the continent and the world.

* On a global scale, we should co-ordinate our programmes with like-minded political parties and governments such that we represent the collective voice of the ‘Marginalized South.’

In this debate, the connection has to be made with the local actions against the ravages of neo-liberalism, the rule and influence of multinational corporations, the role of finance capital, and to a larger extent, the diminishing role of the concept of the ‘Nation State.’

Our organisations collectively given their history and democratic traditions, are capable of dealing with these matters. The question though is the timing and sequencing of priority issues.

This is a global issue that requires on one hand, local action and politicisation, and on the other, a co-ordinated global campaign against neo-liberalism.

There is a saying, when the US catches a cold, the whole world sneezes. This is a liberal terminology that hides behind Adam Smith and those who followed after him, to instil in human kind the idea that capitalism and its neo-liberal prescripts were best for humankind.

That is what we should be tackling – the negative effects of neo-liberalism globally, and particularly, in the developing world. At the very least, those in the revolutionary camp should master the art of combining revolutionary practice with theory.

This is becoming an everyday challenge for revolutionaries. I am challenging socialists here and formations of the left in our country to theorise on these issues.

We as thinkers and revolutionaries of the world are on trial to think hard, be sound with our theoretical analysis, but combine our acts on the basis of both immediate and long-term issues.

There are no short-cuts to attain real and true freedoms, to think differently, and to contribute to the real cause of our people.

Neither can we, in the camp of the revolutionaries, avoid a frank debate of the real world in which we live, the consequences of the decisions and actions we undertake today, and what effect they will have tomorrow, and for generations to come. This is the real revolution that is on trial!

Aluta Continua!


Numsa News No 20 2008