Cancerous Capital

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by John McMurtry
Professor of philosophy
University of Guelph

Susan George correctly emphasises in her review of my book, The Cancer Stage of Capitalism (Pluto Press, 1999), "The cancer stage of capitalism is not a metaphor. It is a rigorous description of where we are." The current financial stripping of economies and environments across the world exhibits, in fact, all the hallmark characteristics of a carcinogenic invasion. As on the cellular level, an uncontrolled rogue sequence of reproduction invades and self-multiplies across social borders with no committed function to life-hosts. As on the cellular level, the cancer advances by not being recognised by surrounding life communities.

The depredatory effects of mutant money sequences proliferating their demand on life systems without inhibition or control are now systemically evident across the world. Societies and environments in Latin America, Africa, Russia and the former "miracle economies" of Asia have already been hollowed out. The cancer has metastasised and is advancing. But the IMF responds to it as a nodal system that has itself been occupied. Everywhere it compounds the rogue sequences of

hot money by stripping barriers to their unregulated movement even further, as we have seen in earlier issues of ER.

Meanwhile governments across the planet allow their powers of money creation, interest-rate control and public investment to be controlled by private bankers and financial institutions. The decoupling of the money economy from the life economy has accordingly pursued mutant sequences never before seen. Sequences such as continuous tidal currency speculations, derivative leveraging, disemploying mergers, usurious bleedings of entire countries and continents, military spending with no relationship to defence, and conversion of the natural world into waste sinks and looted resources. Even in Europe, the public finances of the world's most developed nations have passed into the control of a EU Central Bank whose master principle is to serve borderless stockholders propelled by the single goal of multiplying their monetised demand in ever greater volumes and velocities.

As with a cellular cancer, the problem comes back to the failure of host social bodies to recognise the uncontrolled growth of what feeds on them. The carcinogenic sequences are masked as "necessary sacrifices" and "free capital flows" and so the surrounding life community does not recognise them. The result is that mutated metabolisms with no committed function to any life organisation consume human and environmental resources with no limit to their deregulations, privatisations and restructurings.

Many people are now awakening to the systemic invasion. Even the currency speculator, George Soros, calls for international regulation of money markets. Soros is divided between the destructive program he carries as a life-decoupled speculator and his place as a conscious member of the larger life community. This schizoid split is occurring within individuals and societies across the planet.

The good news is that this is a sign that the wider social immune system is beginning to identify the disease pattern. On the other hand, there are so many levels of invasion and consequence of the predatory money circuits that one can get lost in a daze at their overwhelming assault. They are hitting everywhere—at ecological carrying capacities, at the real economy, at social infrastructures, at productive workers and younger generations, at public regulatory agencies, at electoral processes and at public health and education foundations. The effects are consuming and despoiling the very conditions of life itself—the atmosphere, the oceans and aquifers, the soil covers and the forest lungs of the world. Everywhere behind the degradations and breakdowns of the biosphere uncontrolled money sequences are at work.

Soros thinks, "the change must come from above." But political and business leaderships only begin to talk reform in general when the range of political possibility is opened up by a fightback from below. Despite all the social meltdowns and ecological catastrophes, the CEO's of transnational corporations and their government and academic minions even now continue the carnie-barking slogans of "globalisation" and "free markets," quite ridiculous terms for the secretive corporate privatisation and oligopolisation that is in fact going on. As on the cellular level, the proliferation of the cancer circuits is masked so that the surrounding life community does not recognise them.

What is very striking about Soros is that he has recognised the disorder from within the very front end of the carcinogenic advance—the financial syndicates of currency attackers who now strip the transactive metabolism of entire societies for their private money sequence multiplications. Soros is like a voice from within the tumour formations calling stop. This is the human possibility of cancer at the social level of life-organisation, and it is what makes it curable.

The ground of such recognition and response is what I call "the civil commons." The civil commons is what societies construct and individuals internalise to ensure their members access to vital life goods and to defend them against collective threats and dangers. The civil commons is what private financial circuits have confiscated and consumed in Russia, Mexico and Indonesia. And the civil commons is what is now fought for in any society that hopes to survive—France and Norway, for example, and other countries that are awaking to the rogue money-sequence occupation.

The collapse of the civil commons begins when people believe that the monetised market is society, and that the public interest is one with the market's latest demands. This conceptual meltdown precedes the economic meltdowns that follow. The problem is ultimately one of a kind of mental collapse, which is promulgated by transnational corporations and their mass media vehicles.

Most of the required levers of public monetary authority are already available to achieve effective intervention in the carcinogenic money-sequences. Reclamation of established sovereign rights of money creation and the application of already formed frameworks of international law are in place to ground defence against the decoupled financial system now predating social environmental life-hosts. The immune resources need to be triggered into response, however, before they can function.

Anyone in business who is not programmed by the rogue money code can agree. But how does one tell here who is in fact a disease agent and who is not? One can tell whether one is part of the problem or part of the solution by a simple test. Does your economic activity have or not have a committed function to the social or environmental life-host? If it does not, it passes the first diagnostic test of the carcinogenic agent. If it has a function of enabling the reproduction and growth of life, then it is ruled out as a disease agent. If it is propelled to maximise money-demand as an end in itself, then it is a disease agent. But whether a person or an organisation is or is not a bearer of the pathogenic code is a pattern of behaviour that admits of choice. That is what being human means.

The solution begins with recognition of the disease pattern. It becomes evident once the masking slogans of "free capital movement," "painful market restructurings" and so on are seen through. We must follow them to the life-depredating consequences their prescriptions effect. The disorder keeps expanding because the corporate market system has disconnected consequences from cause. This is possible because there are no co-ordinates in the market paradigm to recognise life-destructive effects.

In social life systems as well as cellular ones, cancers only advance by not being marked. Once their markers are displayed, the surrounding cell community goes to work in complex and time-tested ways—clearly marking, exposing and perforating the predatory sequences of multiplication.

The violent side of the advancing cancer is most evident in former colonies. Across Africa, Latin America and now Asia, entire nations have been reduced to debt-slave societies by compounding interest charges, corporate looting of natural resources, and concentration-camp conditions of pervasive armed force, lifeless surroundings and starvation wages. But the civil commons in even the most dispossessed societies fights against the occupation. At the most courageous, it forms into the Zapatista uprising of Mexico's southern state of Chiapas since 1995. Or in this New Year, it forms into the Kaiama Declaration of All Ijaw Youths of the Niger delta next to the Ogoni. These are uprisings for the defence of the shared lifeground of peoples. You can tell they are the social immune systems of the civil commons because they join across tribal and cultural divisions to defend the lifeground seized from them.

Pressure is mounting in the civil commons across the first world as well. In Europe, for example, it is people fighting for their social infrastructures—from income and employment security to ecological protections. The battle for life is now planetary and at many levels. It is not a question of having an optimistic or a pessimistic view. The question in the end is whether societies that host the invasion remain in a state of denial, or respond.