“Each individual is always the product of a collective and specific contingent, historical, dependent socialisation, but the innermost core, the absolutely unique eludes classification. Hence one’s own conscience, typically neglected by Marxist theorists, is a mighty historical power.” (p. 59)
The emeritus professor of sociology Jean Ziegler is known for his pronounced speeches. Be it a statement before the UN Human Rights Council in his capacity as Special Rapporteur on the right to food, in which he castigated the crimes of humanity letting people starve alongside profitable fields owned by the international agribusiness, or a statement before the Advisory Board of the UN Human Rights Council, in which he vividly depicts to the audience the devastating effects of unilateral coercive measures on the affected population. This attitude also becomes clear in his latest book “Ändere die Welt – Warum wir die kannibalistische Weltordnung stürzen müssen” (Change the World – Why we have to overthrow the cannibalistic world order).
Ziegler’s latest book addresses so many aspects that a representation of the contents in one article can only be just a small selection. It grants an insight into his thoughts and wealth of experience, which he gathered throughout his travels and international mandates. His experiences and impressions have always contributed and still contribute to the dispute of today’s globalised neo-liberal system; experiences that go under the reader’s skin, for instance when Ziegler describes that in emerging countries such as India and Brazil there exists a poverty of unimaginable proportions alongside an ever increasing wealth. The empty eyes of those half-way starved silently accuse the screaming injustice in a world that lives in such an abundance, that 30 percent of the food is trashed, a world in which the 200 richest people of the planet have more assets than the size of the French GDP. The fact that the opening of the divide between the rich and the poor is not only to be observed in the emerging or developing countries, but also once more in Europe, represents a new dimension of the neo-liberal economic system that claims to produce prosperity for all. “Hunger and poverty are back in Europe. According to UNICEF in 2013, 11 percent of children under 10 years were malnourished in Spain.” (p. 15) Not to mention other countries such as Greece or Portugal, which also have a very high youth unemployment rate with all the social consequences related to that.
For Ziegler it is clear: all this must not be. Today we would have the chance to eradicate poverty and hunger. “The physical suffering that still plagues hundreds of millions of our contemporaries could be eliminated tomorrow.” (p. 20) When reading the book, we begin to understand from what Ziegler draws his optimism. Resulting from the conviction that nothing must remain as it is, and that there are always ways to change the situation (the world), a great creative strength emerges.
An episode at the beginning of the book, which took place in Brazil, guides the reader through his reading: It reflects what we sense in all of Ziegler’s statements together with his combative nature: his human compassion.
“I shall never forget the little boy’s eyes. I rose under a pretext and found him outdoors, sitting on the rocks by the sea. His name was Joaquim. He showed neither anger nor sadness, fear tied up his throat. His story was commonplace: His father, a traveling cane cutter, suffered from tuberculosis and had had no work for two years, his four younger siblings and his sick mother had been waiting for him since the morning in a shanty of the slums on the other side of the lagoon. The money he earned by selling a few nuts in the evening was the family’s entire income.
Joaquim had feverish eyes and was tormented by hunger. The cook stuck his head out of a window of the tavern, and I asked him to serve the boy on the rocks a meal. When the meal arrived, Joaquim spread an old newspaper over the stones. With trembling fingers he poured one plate after another – rice, chicken, fejão, caruru, salad, cake – out on the newspaper, tied up the parcel and disappeared in the darkness. Although he himself was plagued by hunger, he carried the meal to his mother, his father and his brothers and sisters.” (p. 12)
This boy is representative for millions of children, although living in abject poverty, but have still not lost their sense of responsibility for their family.
In this book, the reader gets the impression, that Ziegler is trying to reflect his work for a juster world battling against the man-made social injustice, which today is a bitter reality, more than ever. Undoubtedly embodied by Jean Ziegler, in the chapter “Of what use is an intellectual?” he tries to answer the question about an intellectual’s usefulness. He focuses on various sociologists and explains how their ideas have acted as a model, for example in the struggle against colonialism and in helping to build freedom movements.
The mutual cultural influence forms the context in which the desire of the peoples for freedom and independence and the desire of some individuals to support these developments come together: “In this way the efforts of an intellectual to understand the world, as it is, and to change it, concur necessarily with the desire of the peoples for independence, freedom and happiness.” (p. 41)
Anyone who cares about the situation of the people in our world, is guided by ideas that match his inner convictions. That Jean Ziegler, as he pointed out in the talk with the Radio SRF, understands himself as a Marxist, shows his political background. Due to his frankness, he leaves no doubt where his mental, his philosophical home is. That is more sincere than some others who speak the expansion of the welfare state, in word and deed, however, think about a sellout of the Service Public along with TTIP and TiSA, because they may help shrewd businessmen to pocket a lot of additional money.
Based on Marxist theory, Ziegler starts out from the concept of the class society which develops according to its economic conditions. But he would not be Jean Ziegler if he was not adding his own point of view to Marxism. Despite all the dogmatism inherent to Marxism, Ziegler has gained the following insight: “Each individual is always the product of a collective and specific contingent, historical, dependent socialisation, but the innermost core, the absolutely unique eludes classification. Hence one’s own conscience, typically neglected by Marxist theorists, is a mighty historical power.” (p. 59)
The issue of conscience which Ziegler here places in the centre of human acting and feeling is of central importance. The results of modern anthropology confirm the insights that Jean-Jacques Rousseau and Immanuel Kant gained more than 200 years ago. Man is a social being at core. Counteracting this fact is an economic order which “glorifies merciless competition between people” and pushes aside “millennia of patient efforts and civilisation”. (p. 79)
Where are “social justice, fraternity, freedom and mutual endorsement? The universal tie between human beings, the common good, the freely accepted order, the law which liberates, foul volitions that will be transformed by the general rule (Kant), the social contract (contrat sociale)?” (p. 79)
Ziegler severely criticises the neo-liberal economic theory since it does not serve the common good but spurs on individual enrichment. The fathers of this theory, Adam Smith and David Riccardo, were convinced that unimpeded commerce would generate welfare for all. “According to Smith and Riccardo, there is an upper limit for the accumulation of wealth. This limit is defined by the satisfaction of needs. This theorem is valid both for individuals and for companies.” (p. 81) With respect to individuals, this means: “If a certain amount of bread is available, distribution to the poor will take place almost automatically.” (p. 81) The idea that wealth is spreading top-down may be true in some cases and is well-conceivable, in case there prevails a deeply humane disposition. But in a world which over-emphasises individual freedom, the common good falls by the wayside. “Under these conditions the global war against the poor […] is getting all the worse.” (p. 83)
When Ziegler starts investigating the role of the state, the nation state, he is starting out from the basic concept of Marxist theory which regards the state as the instrument of domination by those in power: “The state apparatus is a weapon in class struggle. The governing class uses it exclusively to advance its class interests.” (p. 135) This statement is of course true for autocratic states and dictatorships. But is it true in general?
In spite of all criticism of the policies of many states and in spite of the Marxist view that the state is an instrument of the rich, Ziegler concedes: “In some limited areas, the state is a force of progress. Without state intervention, old and young people, employees and workers would be at the mercy of the raging capital without any protection. Due to the state all over Europe there are great schools, universities, cultural institutions, hospitals, social security systems, labour courts and manifold efficient institutions protecting employees, pensioners and unemployed persons. The state is using the tax system to create internal transfers of income. It is a warranty for at least some basic justice.” (p. 152). The positive role of the state eventually is a result of the era of enlightenment which has put man into the centre of state activity, thus laying the fundament for the creation of the modern citizen state which has reached a very high level of development in the Swiss direct democracy. Thus the modern democratic state has developed from an institution serving the powerful to an elected representation of its citizens. “Therefore the state is also a stronghold for the weak. But this stronghold is slowly decaying.” (p. 152)
“Privatisation of the state is destroying the freedom of man”
This is the starting point for Ziegler’s marked criticism of present conditions. “The globalised financial capital’s increase of power, the neo-liberal dogma of ‘less state’, the privatisation of the world – meanwhile all this is weakening the states’ capacity of regulation. These developments are overrunning parliaments and governments. They render most elections and nearly all referenda meaningless. They are undermining the ruling capacity of public institutions. They are suffocating law.” (p. 152)
This is exactly what Marc Chesney, professor of economics, bluntly explained in his book “De la Grande Guerre à la crise permanente: La montée en puissance de l’aristocratie financière et l’échec de la démocratie” (From the Great War to the permanent crisis: the rise of financial aristocracy and the failure of democracy). The state is dominated by economy which determines the taxing system, the local conditions, thereby dictating politics the general framework conditions that serve interests. In such a system, it is not the citizens, but the big financial and economic corporations that control politics. If economy is above politics and government activity is seen exclusively from an economic perspective, the democratic political system, in which the people is the sovereign, has come to an end.
All this development eventually leads to the state’s privatisation and thus to the end of democracy. “The privatisation of the state is destroying the freedom of man. It annihilates its citizenship.” (p. 157)
That the captains of industry invent new strategies all the time and that they use every possible and impossible means to strengthen and expand their influcence internationally can be seen from various agreements by which the powerful seek to secure and if possible to increase their own privileges and profits. Indeed, Jean Ziegler has not spared with criticism of the new free trade agreement, mainly between the EU and the USA, called Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP). This agreement involves the creation of the largest free trade zone in human history. Negotiations are being carried out behind closed doors, but now and then some small pieces of information are leaking out. According to Ziegler much more is at stake, however, than simply free trade: “If the TTIP enters into force, the states’ economic and financial policy will be definitively at the mercy of those cold monsters, the multinational private corporations. The key clause of the agreement deals with the creation of arbitration courts. Should the agreement be signed, should the European Parliament give its consent, should the 28 Parliaments of the member states ratify it and should it enter into force every private multinational corporation could take legal action against any government that would take a decision that is contrary to the corporation’s interests and wishes.” (p. 161) The consequences would be devastating. “If TTIP is sucessfully negotiated and ratified, the all-pervading global power of corporations will definitively become a reality.” (p. 162)
But we are not that far yet. Resistance is mounting. In our neighbouring Germany the people have taken to the streets and are demonstrating against these monster-treaties which serve only the multinationals and no-one else. While the Swiss Federal Council leaves it open (does not provide a clear answer) whether and in what manner it wants “to dock on” to TTIP, signatures are already being collected in many European countries for an EU initiative to resist the conclusion of the agreements. Nearly two million signatures have been collected so far. If resistance is growing the EU member states will hardly be able to disregard their own populations.
Since the economic developments just outlined above would lead to the total destruction of democratic nation states in case they will be enforced, Ziegler concludes: “A nation at the mercy of neoliberal ideology and the privatisation of the world is on the verge of dieing.” (p. 176)
Taking the case of the African continent, Ziegler shows what the destruction of nations and of social cohesion looks like. Here, Ziegler is in his element (at his best). Anyone interested in colonial history will learn many interesting things. Using different countries as an example he depicts the sorrowful history of African nations which – considering the tragedies that have occurred in the Mediterranean before the eyes of the public over the last few weeks and months – is a shattering reality even today. The time of colonialisation which had led to the destruction of African culture is responsible for today’s fragmentation of the African continent and thus for a large number of present-day conflicts. Borders were drawn in accordance with the interests of the colonial powers, they were not based on the tribal areas of the African inhabitants at all.
“The major and medium colonial powers disposed of Africa at their own discretion. They fragmented the continent, carved out their possessions, dispersed the populations, destroyed cultures and traditional collective identities; they pillaged, plundered, raped and looted the wealth of the soil, of the forests and of the people just as they pleased, according to their own self-centred interests.” (p. 196)
When after the end of World War II, the colonial powers France and Great Britain gradually had to set the conquered territories free because of their own weakness, but also as a result of the wave of sovereignty which swept through the countries of the oppressed states, they were officially granted their independence, but they were and are not truly sovereign, even today. “Africa with its 54 states is the most fragmented continent on the planet today. The projects of Bamako and Manchester, the dream of the liberation of the African continent, and the Pan-African upheaval ended in failure. Three quarters of the African nations are not sovereign, even today.” (p. 180)
As part of their policy the European colonial powers cultivated local elites in the conquered and occupied territories who were lifted into government positions thereby helping them to continue exerting an influence on the policies of the countries which they had “released into independence”: “State terror was relentless. The true nationalist leaders had to be eliminated at any cost in order to transfer the power to prepared local elites who were helped to power and controlled by their colonial masters.” (p. 191)
Although in the chapter about the formation and development of societies Ziegler’s analysis repeatedly quotes the Marxist theory of class struggle and he defines it as the dominant constituent, he ultimately refers back to the anthropological basic elements of human existence. “Everyone wants to be happy, wants to eat, to be protected from fear and loneliness. Everyone – on which continent he may live, whatever nation, class, culture, ethnicity and age group he belongs to – fears death and hates illness. A reflecting consciousness is inherent in every human being …. Among all living beings, man alone has an awareness of his identity. Any malnourished child is something people cannot bear to have to look at … The suffering of the other makes me suffer, it hurts my own consciousness, it breaks my heart, it makes me unhappy, it destroys, what I perceive as an indispensable ‘value’: the desire not to suffer, to eat, to be happy. It destroys the most precious thing in me: my ‘human nature’ …”. (p. 258) These values don’t need further definition, they are inherent in man. “These values are potentially universal because they are constitutive of mankind.” (p. 258)
Although Ziegler is again and again drawing a picture of our current world situation that is by no means a cheerful one – towards the end of the book the reader is rewarded for his patience, which he had to keep up when going through the chapters the sociological models. Everywhere, Ziegler sees small spots of resistance developing against a world which moved away from genuine humaneness and humanity.
“A new historical subject, the global civil society, is standing up today against the worldwide dictatorship of globalised financial capital, its satraps and mercenaries.” (p. 259)
Whether it is the Via Campesina, an international movement of peasants, founded in Jarkarta in 1993, or the movement of the landless in Brazil or the Confédération Paysanne by the French farmers, founded by José Bové, who holds a seat in the European Parliament as a representative for the farmers today; “Via Campesina”, explains Jean Ziegler, “has mobilised all peasant movements against the neo-liberal concepts of trade in agricultural products.” It is a paradox that in Africa the peasants in particular are most threatened by starvation. With the financial crisis of 2007/2008 the situation “of farm workers and their families has greatly deteriorated. After the banditry of the international banks had ruined the financial markets, the large predators – the hedge funds, the multinational banks and so on … turned to the world’s natural resources.” (p. 265) By speculation in agricultural products they drove up the prices of basic foodstuffs, so that they were no longer affordable by the population, especially in the developing countries and allowed the international speculators to pocket whopping profits at the same time. Resistance comes up and even “the Swiss Government” supports “the rights of farmers and their battle against transgenic seeds and their right to a Court of Jurisdiction abroad.” (p. 271) Ziegler spreads confidence despite all inconvenience, not least nourished by his conviction that man as a basically compassionate being is able to act in solidarity. “‘Inhumanity that is done to somebody else, destroys humanity in me’ I repeat the insight of Kant and take it as my own.” Everybody carries the categorical imperative in himself. He is the motor of the global civil society. Awareness of identity – I’m the other one and the other one is me – is essential for man.” (p. 274)
His plea, “Change the world” has something encouraging. People are not object, but subject in a (democratic) society. “There is no impotence in democracy, there is no helplessness. Most oligarchs come from North America and Europe. Endorsed by their constitution, citizens of these countries have all democratic rights, freedoms, and tools that are necessary in order to overthrow the dictatorship of companies” (p. 278) Ziegler encourages people to reclaim their democratic rights, to overcome the injustices of this world. “... and the cannibalistic world order will collapse – as early as tomorrow morning.” (p. 278) •
(Quotations translated by Current Concerns)
[Translate to en:] Ob das die Via Campesina, eine internationale Bewegung der Kleinbauern, gegründet 1993 in Jakarta, die Bewegung der Landlosen in Brasilien oder die französischen Bauern wie Confédération paysanne, gegründet von José Bové, der heute als Bauernvertreter im EU-Parlament sitzt, sind, «Via Campesina», so Jean Ziegler, «hat alle Bauernbewegungen gegen diese neoliberale Konzeption des Handels mit Agrarprodukten mobilisiert.» Es ist paradox, dass in Afrika gerade die Kleinbauern am stärksten vom Hungertod bedroht sind. Mit der Finanzkrise 2007/2008 hat sich die Situation «der Landarbeiter und ihrer Familien erheblich verschlechtert. Nachdem das Banditentum der internationalen Banken die Finanzmärkte ruiniert hatte, wandten sich die grossen Räuber – die Hedgefonds, die multinationalen Banken und so weiter … den Rohstoffen zu.» (S. 265) Durch Spekulation mit Agrarprodukten hat man die Preise für Grundnahrungsmittel in die Höhe getrieben, so dass sie für die Bevölkerung vor allem in den Entwicklungsländern nicht mehr erschwinglich waren und gleichzeitig internationalen Spekulanten satte Gewinne ermöglichten. Widerstand regt sich, selbst «die schweizerische Regierung» setzt sich «für die Rechte der Bauern ein, unterstützt ihren Kampf gegen transgenes Saatgut und ihr Recht auf einen Gerichtsstand im Ausland.» (S. 271) Ziegler versprüht trotz allem Unbill Zuversicht, die wohl nicht zuletzt aus der Überzeugung genährt wird, dass der Mensch als ein grundsätzlich mitfühlendes Wesen zu solidarischem Handeln fähig ist. «‹Die Unmenschlichkeit, die einem anderen angetan wird, zerstört die Menschlichkeit in mir.› Ich wiederhole die Erkenntnis von Kant und mache sie mir zu eigen. Jeder trägt den kategorischen Imperativ in sich. Er ist der Motor der weltweiten Zivilgesellschaft. Das Bewusstsein der Identität – ich bin der andere, der andere ist ich – gehört wesensmässig zum Menschen.» (S. 274)
Sein Appell «Ändere die Welt» hat etwas Ermutigendes. Menschen sind nicht Objekt, sie sind in einer (demokratischen) Gesellschaft Subjekt. «Es gibt keine Ohnmacht in der Demokratie. Die allermeisten Oligarchen stammen aus Nordamerika und Europa. Bürger und Bürgerinnen dieser Staaten besitzen laut Verfassung alle demokratischen Rechte, Freiheiten und Werkzeuge, die notwendig sind, um die Diktatur der Konzerne zu stürzen.» (S.278) Ziegler ermutigt die Menschen, ihre demokratischen Rechte einzufordern, um die Ungerechtigkeiten dieser Welt zu überwinden. « … und schon morgen früh bricht die kannibalische Weltordnung zusammen.» (S.278) •
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