Happy new year! I share with you a new review of Drug War Capitalism, published on Counterpunch. I also just updated the site with some information on upcoming speaking events in Sacramento, McAllen, Texas, and Puerto Rico.
Hope to see you around!
A War Against the “Last” by ANDREW SMOLSKI, January 30, 2015
The false narrative read regularly by a “reporter” follows a popularized representation; the poor, typically minorities, are users and dealers who create the necessity for government intervention in their lives. It is a narrative well within the boundaries of the dominant ideology, which upholds capitalists as representatives par excellence of morality, therefor negating police presence in their neighborhoods, except as property’s protectors. The pernicious false narrative is international, as is the drug war it cruelly justifies.
In Drug War Capitalism, Dawn Paley does not subscribe to such ideological fodder. Instead, she creates “a more useful framework through which we can make sense of the drug war south of the US-Mexico border”. She begins with the jugular, spilling reality all over us and tarnishing the capitalists’ white linens with the blood of every innocent brutally murdered for profit. Paley demonstrates that whether in Mexico, Colombia, Guatemala, Honduras or the United States this drug war ideology and its real effects are only meant to instill fear in the naïve middle class and militarize life for neoliberal capital and extractivism. That is all it does. That is all it has ever done.
It is an assemblage for war against the oppressed in service to transnational capitalism and United States imperialism, and continue the accumulation through dispossession. It is then, as put succinctly by Dawn Paley, “a long-term fix to capitalism’s woes, combining terror with policymaking in a seasoned neoliberal mix, cracking open social worlds and territories once unavailable to globalized capitalism.” It is a premise already well understood by the “last” themselves.
For instance, the first chapter opens with a story about a small town in Colombia, Santa Domingo, where the Colombian military has been bombing “cartel members”. The “cartel members” are really the indigenous campesinos who live around Santa Domingo. The residents of Santa Domingo perceive the bombings as part of a plot to get them off their land and let the oil companies come in. They know drilling is going on around them and that their land is valuable. Of course, the campesinos are right and the government nothing more than a puppet, or as Marx said, “nothing more than the form of organization which the bourgeois necessarily adopt…for the mutual guarantee of their property and interests.”
What Paley gives the reader then is something beyond the “objectivity” of the New York Times; she presents an analysis of interests, of what people will do when they follow the maxim “forget all but self” and have the institutional backing to do so. By understanding such a cruel, egotistical maxim as present within liberal capitalist institutions, no longer must we play the morality game capitalists would want us to play. For Paley the game is how capitalism overcomes its crisis by being brutal, by taking, by negating the very freedom it ideologically claims.
Current events represent this “necessary” violence for capitalist expansion in Mexico; Ayotzinapa (the book is dedicated to the 43 students) and Tlatlaya. These events only prove Human Rights Watch’s point (quoted in Paley’s book) that the drug war “had led to a dramatic increase in grave human rights violations committed by the security forces sent to confront them”. The human rights violations are part and parcel of a war against the “last” for the benefit of those who already possess too much.
Under Plan Merida, security forces are further militarized with weapons bought by the US. These weapons are purchased to support the US military-industrial complex and then given to the Mexican military. Paley points out that a counterpart to the increased militarization of the conflict is that the narcos become paramilitary organizations. Ayotzinapa demonstrates quite readily how the narcos are put at the service of government, sicarios paid to kill whomever is deemed a “threat” by those who have formal institutional power.
Echoing Paley, Proceso and La Jornada have long put forward the hypothesis that the government picks cartels to support, and even further utilizes them to their advantage. For example, Los Zetas were stopped because they were too savage and unwilling to be act in service to the real centers of power. All the while, the Sinaloa Cartel was consolidating territory further, even if there was the spectacle of El Chapo’s arrest. Furthermore, Anabel Hernandez, author of Los Señores del Narco and referenced in Paley’s book, points out that high level government officials participated actively in the drug trade. Of course, they are not prosecuted for such connections. The law, as Marx wrote long ago, is there to allow the “ruling class assert their common interest”, and thus protects even the most vicious of them.
Going beyond those protections for the ruling class, Paley shows how alterations to legal frameworks in Central and South America have further enabled both the drug war and capital’s expansion. These frameworks have been altered following trade agreements, such as NAFTA, which destroyed traditional economic activity, thus making drug cultivation a viable activity and creating a necessary labor pool for drug traffickers. Marx’s reserve army is thus diverted to illegal economic activity, which doesn’t affect wages in the social whole, and therefor acts as a self-flagellating release valve for worker anomie.
The only thing unaccounted for by Paley is something recognized in The House of the Spirits by Isabel Allende. For Paley the elites, and all the players, they seem all too perfect and too able to control the situation. Rather, many of them are like Esteban Trueba, a conservative who unleashes fascism and then loses his power as well. Many Mexican politicians are of this sort, unleashing black magic they can’t control and eventually consumes them. Paco Ignacio Taibo II said it best (paraphrasing) that Calderon was a special kind of dumbass for taking corrupt police to a corrupt fight for a corrupt system.
Even accounting for that, what Paley gives us, without ideological fantasy, are the mechanisms by which “the drug war advances the interests of neoliberal capitalism: through the imposition of rule of law and policy changes, through formal militarization, and through the paramilitarization that results.” Thus, the brilliance of Dawn Paley’s book is in revealing the concoction, the poisonous potion said to make us safe, but always instead increasing our insecurity. By doing so, she disabuses us of the narratives meant to justify the unjustifiable. The drug war can’t bring safety, because the drug war is not a war against narcos, cartels or drug dealers. The drug war unleashes violence as a way to crush dissent and increase economic opportunity for certain powerful actors.
Simply put, we all die, so that capital can survive.
Andrew Smolski is a writer.