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Mainstream, VOL LX No 7, New Delhi, February 5, 2022

Capital, governments, multilateral agencies and non-governmental organizations | Pradip Baksi

Friday 4 February 2022

by Pradip Baksi


Contemporary transnational capital aims at full spectrum dominance over the entire political economy of our planet. We learn from the first sentence of the Foreword of Karl Marx (1859), Zur Kritik derPolitischen Ökonomie: Erstes Heft, that he wished to critically investigate the system of bourgeois economy involving the six domains of capital, landed property, wage-labour, state, foreign trade and world market. Critical investigations on the contemporary system of political economy needs to be extended along similar lines. Today the required extensions must include the: cyberspace over and above landed property on geographical space; wageless familial labour surrounding the domains of wage-labor; multilateral agencies and non-governmental organizations working within and surrounding the governments; foreign trade in labour-time of outsourced services together with the same in other commodities; and, real time interpenetration of the local and global markets. The overlap of the indicated domains are coordinated and controlled by: the flow of transnational capital as economic investment; the multilateral agencies mediating global and local governance; and, the investment of charity capital in the contemporary business of social work, executed by the non-governmental organizations.

Keywords: Governments, Multilateral agencies, non-governmental organizations, social work, transnational capital.

Main text

1. Introduction

FAUST: ...Well, — who art thou then?

MEPHISTOPHELES: I am a part of that power, which always wills evil, and always does good.

Mikhail Afanasyevich Bulgakov opened his Faustian novel Master and Margarita [Bulgakov 1984: 9; van der Laan 2007:169] with these lines from the Faust [Goethe 1980; 43]. Johann Wolfgang von Goethe had penned this dialogue from within a relatively weak bourgeois milieu dominated by the aristocrats of Germany, somewhere between 1772 and 1831. Bulgakov had used them as an epitaph of his unfinished novel under a suffocating regime of originary accumulation dominated by the partocrats of erstwhile USSR, sometime between 1928 and 1940. Today, in the second decade of the 21st century we are waiting for our next great works of Faustian art and literature reflecting the current round of ruthlessly smooth originary accumulation dominated by the new patriarchs of the current crop of global digital empires [Little and Winch 2021].

Today nearly all of us reading this text are engaged in seeking some Dharma knowledge and belief in some relatively true and stable first principles of life, Artha wealth and power, Kāma objects/experiences of desire/pleasure, including desire for knowledge, wealth, power and emancipation and, Mokṣa personal and social liberation from suffering. In the course of these searches, we enter into myriads of Faustian deals or bargains, with the power operators of the institutions of our civil and political societies. Today these are the institutions of contemporary transnational capital, their markets, governments, multilateral agencies and non-governmental organizations. They act like numerous Mephistopheles of various orders.

In Western and Central Europe of Goethe’s time, the operators of the markets and some other owners of private property resented the arbitrary control by their kings. They and the intellectuals and professionals allied to them, like the journalists, lawyers and philosophers, clamored for more freedom for themselves. They formulated their aspirations in the language of rights of men as citizens [National Assembly of France1789]. They were not yet ready to concede the same rights to the women of their own social milieu as citizens [Gouges1791]. Their slaves and subjects in the colonies were nowhere near their contemplated horizons of freedom and citizenship. The ideas of modern bourgeois political democracy and representative government floated around that time reflected these limitations among others. The successful march of these limited ideas and needs gave rise to the institutions of modern bourgeois political parties, elections, parliaments and, to a system of bourgeois governance characterized by a certain amount of separation of powers of the legislature, executive and judiciary. Gradually, these institutions started showing their own cracks. Through those cracks came out some of the dissident intellectuals of the time. They espoused many ideologies of protest: many kinds of Socialism, Communism, Anarchism, Syndicalism, Social Democracy, Nihilism, Bolshevism.... These upheavals gave rise to and were assisted first by the print media, and subsequently by the audio-visual, electronic and digital mass-media.

These institutions and ideologies of bourgeois Europe traveled to the colonies of the modern European powers in the rest of the world and produced many hybrid local variants. In South Asia the men of ruling castes that governed the ancient and medieval empires, continue their dominance over all the institutions of their new hybrid civil and political societies, as their social hegemony over the laboring children, women, castes and tribes still remain by and large intact.

With the passage of time, all these institutions of the modern civil and political societies
of the world the corporate houses of the various markets, the political parties of de jure parliamentary democracies, de facto working for layers upon layers of patriarchy, plutocracy, castocracy, clanocracy and partocracy, and the other institutions which manage the elections, rule of law, public probity, public opinion, transparency etc. started behaving like sovereigns within their own domains and, at times even beyond. The political parties were / are run like armies of the ancient and medieval kings and they did not / do not always go even by their own publicly stated rules of inner party norms and democracy. The corporate houses are run like the kingdoms or empires of the days of yore, with barely any room for public-interest-oriented internal dissent that may go against the greater corporate goods of greater profitability. The consequences are disastrous. Many of the vital needs of the people go unaddressed. To address such needs, there arose some voluntary and charitable organizations within many societies: first around the temples, monasteries, churches, and mosques, and next as legal entities such as registered clubs, societies and trusts.

Towards the second half of the 20th century, some of these legally registered charitable societies became very large in size and gradually acquired the new name of Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs). The NGOs that became transnational are called International NGOs (INGOs). The NGOs came forward with the promise of covering that social space, where the government(s) run by the political parties, and / or the existing market(s) have either failed or, have failed to reach or, do not intend to reach out.

Like the shamans, priests and the politicians who came before them the contemporary NGOcrats are unabashed on-behalf-ists, they thrive on acting on behalf of other people. Some of them are registered as Political Action Committees (PACs). They are into the business of managing politicians, political parties, events and processes like elections and political image management on behalf of their clients for a fee.
 Way back in 1791, Marie Jean Antoine Nicolas Caritat, Marquis de Condorcet had written that: “In the dark ages, the tyranny of force was compounded by the tyranny of enlightenment, albeit feeble and faltering, yet concentrated solely in the hands of a few classes. Priests, jurisconsults, men who had the secret of trading transactions, and even doctors, trained in a small number of schools, were no less the masters of the universe than the armed warriors whose hereditary despotism was itself based on their superiority, before gunpowder was invented, as being the only ones to be trained in the art of wielding weapons” [Condorcet 1791/ 1989: 38; quoted in Jolibert 1993: 205]. Hence the modern republican need to educate all the citizens not only in the old trivium of reading, writing and arithmetic, that are currently being absorbed within the new trivium of literacy, matheracy and technoracy [D’Ambrosio 1999], but also and most importantly, everyone without fail must get educated about the functioning of institutions in a given society [Jolibert 1993: 200; my stress].

The harsh ground realities of financial and political control within the charity sector of transnational capital has gradually transformed the NGOs into obedient disciples, if not clones, of the corporate houses, and of the political institutions of governance, like the older political parties. The NGOs of our time are continuously required to negotiate with the priorities of various governments and funding agencies, which are, in their turn, constrained by the ups and downs of global finance and considerations of inter-governmental relations and rivalries — such as those dictated by the politics of protecting and controlling global finance, supply chains of non-renewable energy and of other basic and rare raw materials, and for all that and some more, the maintenance of an optimal balance of terror / power, unrestrained by any commitment to universal basic human rights etc. etc.

Once the NGOs started dovetailing their perspectives and ethos, with the priorities of high finance and high politics that control the channels and levers of the burgeoning charity sector of the global economy, they entered willy nilly into the league of the hangers on of the chief executives of very large corporations and heads of governments. The lords of power and finance did not or do not have any confusion as to what they were or are up to. The upwardly mobile and successful NGOcrats also do not have any role confusion as managers of the various levels of the charity sector of the global economy. They are profitably employed in the only job they can do: the reproduction of the NGOcracy.

What is the outcome? A very small portion of the global population is getting some alms, losing their self-respect and reality orientation. A very great majority of the people of our planet remain stuck up with their old and new needs of food, shelter, health care, education, livelihood, security, equity, fraternity, liberty, justice, democracy and transparency. That is why for everyone concerned about the future of human civilization, the task ahead is to help evolve ways and means for overcoming the cumulative illusions and lies, failures and crimes, of all our previous and current institutions of governance and markets, by ensuring ever-greater active participation of all people, in everything that goes on in our variously evolving civil and political societies. To address those tasks with the required conceptual clarity we shall have to go for further renewal of the critique of political economy left unfinished by Marx.

2. Theoretical background/ Literature review 

Political economy is always about some economy within some polity. It is about the control and management of surplus extracted by the rulers from the ruled. Currently it has three modes of existence as: (1) a social fact; (2) some texts written under the influence of various ruling ideologies; and, (3) a science emerging through an ongoing critique of those texts driven by various ruling ideologies. The first steps towards developing a critique of political economy in the interests of developing it as a science were taken by Condorcet, Saint-Simon, Simonde de Sismondi, Eugène Buret, James Stewart, Richard Jones and Friedrich Engels among others [Engels 1844; Grossmann 1943a, 1943b; Marx/Engels 1981; Marx 1998]. Karl Marx developed it further from around 1844 to around 1883. Marx had planned to critically investigate the system of bourgeois economy of his time involving its six domains of capital, landed property, wage-labour, state, foreign trade and world market [MEGA2 II/2 (1980): 99]. Out of these 6 domains he could only partly investigate the domain of capital before his death. For the remaining 5 domains he left numerous plans, excerpts, notes and drafts within his papers; see the links to those papers in the references. Critical investigations on the contemporary systems of political economy may build upon what he had already done.

2.1 On capital: the state of the corresponding work left unfinished by Marx are available for inspection in MEGA2 I/2 (1982): 189-438 and MEGA2 II/1-15 (1976-2013). These texts also contain indications on the evolution of his plans and work on the other 5 domains; in this context also see: van der Linden and Hubmann 2018.

Capital at first grew within the boundaries of some specific nation-states of Europe, and then gradually it became transnational. It aims at total dominance over the entire political economy of our planet. It has been trying hard to arrive at this goal for the last five hundred-odd years through commerce, politics and numerous wars. However, it still remains a gigantic failure. It has a tough call. The system of bourgeois economy is but a toddler of just about five hundred years; and it is trying to reorganize the political economies that have grown over the last eight to ten thousand years on our planet. The defining features of its failures are not to be found in the small arena of confrontation between capital and wage labour. They are entrenched in the very large domain of stubborn continuation of familial and other forms of unpaid labour. Since the emergence of the internet, it has become even larger, thanks to the stealth mining of the fruits of the virtual labour of billions of users of the World Wide Web through various softwares, bots and tools. Till date capital has singularly failed to come out of the era of status and to establish an era of contracts everywhere in and through the labour markets. On this more on sub-section 2.3 below. Further, the work related to the domain capital may find better bearings after we register some progress in the other 5 domains.

2.2 On landed property: over and above what has been indicated in 2.1 above, there are Marx’s notes and excerpts on ethnology [Krader 1974], and on land relations in some parts of precolonial and colonial South Asia, North Africa and the Americas [Harstick 1977].

Today a very large amount of political and economic activity is being conducted on rented cloud platforms held by the technology companies as their private property. Hence the need to extend the studies on rent on landed property over geographical space on earth, to the study of renton cloud platforms [Sadowski 2020; Yan, Cai and Li 2020].

2.3. On wage-labour: MEGA2 II/1-5 contains 6 different editions of the Capital, Volume I, published during the years 1867-90. Four of these editions are in German, 1 in French and 1 in English. In the English edition of 1887, MECW 35 (1996; reprint 2010), Part VI, Chapters XIX-XXII: 535-64 are titled: Wages. At the very beginning of Chapter XX subtitled TimeWages, Marx wrote that an exposition of all the forms of wages “...belongs to the special study of wage-labour, not therefore to this work” [ibid.: 542]. That special study remains to be undertaken. Further wage-labour is everywhere dependent upon and surrounded by wageless-labour, and that needs to be taken care of; in this context see: Baksi 2013, 2019.

2.4. On state: Marx had scribbled a brief untitled note starting with the sentence: Die Entstehungsgeschichte des modernen Staats oder die französische Revolution [The history of the origin of modern state or the French Revolution] in his notebook from the years 1844-1847 [MEGA2 IV/3: 11]. An English translation of it has been published under the editorially provided title: “Draft plan for a work on modern state” [MECW 4 (1975): 666.]. It may serve as a starting point for future work. Interested workers from different societies of the world may like to chip in. One such initial effort is: Baksi 2017.

The contemporary studies on the states/governments have to take into consideration the fact that in the wake of, and inspired by the emergence and development of transnational corporations, some very large unrepresentative and self-appointed multilateral agencies and non-governmental organizations are working within and around all the existing states and their governments. These include the World Bank, International Monetary Fund, and World Trade organization among others. They are incarnations of Mephistopheles and the target governments are their Fausts. Governments are being unmade and made by the ebb and tide of transnational capital as investment; by their multilateral agencies mediating global and local governance through the imposition of policy discourses favorable for that investment; and, by charity capital controlling the contemporary business of social work, executed by the non-governmental organizations selected by the managers of that capital. They masquerade as liberal paragons of probity, fighting corruption, defending human rights and democracy and finally as builders of a global civil society. These claims need to be meticulously checked out by conducting forensic auditing of their books of accounts and embedded anthropological investigations on and around their organizational structures and of their practices on ground.

2.5 On foreign trade: the trade on labour-time of outsourced services together with the growing use of digital currencies are among some of the contemporary developments that have to be factored in.

2.6 On world market: thanks to the ever-growing reach of the internet in many urban areas of the world, now we have real-time interpenetration of many local and global financial and commodity markets. This development awaits attention. The issues related to the more or less isolated rural markets in areas without electricity and internet connectivity require separate handling.

3. Methodology

Political economy is unfolding within human social history as a fact, as an ideologically charged discipline, and as a nascent science emerging through critique of its various ideological baggage. Everything that happens within social history needs to be mapped onto the emerging science of political economy, and every other science within that history requires to be investigated in light of it. For a glimpse of the encyclopedic range of Marx’s investigations encompassing many issues, societies, disciplines, their nature and their history, see: Baksi 2021a.

Marx’s approach in these areas may be summarized in two sentences. One of these was his favorite maxim: Nihil humani a me alienum puto. It was inspired by a famous statement taken from the play Heauton Timorumenos [The Self-Tormentor] by Publius Terentius Afer [195/185-159 BCE]: “Homo sum, humani Nihil a me alienum puto” [“I am a human being, Iconsider nothing that is human to be alien to me”]. The other was his favorite motto: Deomnibus dubitandum! [Doubt everything!]. It is attributed to Rene Descartes [1596-1650], who in his turn may have been inspired by the critical thinking of Socrates [470/469-399 BCE]. In this context also see: Baksi 2011 and 2015.

4. Data description

The data has to be collected by all interested workers. An initial attempt in that direction is available on the link to the draft: Baksi 2022.

5. Conclusion

In viewof the continuing influence of the patriarchal family as an institution even on the structure and functioning of the transnational corporations handling cutting edge technologies [Little and Winch 2021], the next round of our investigations may start by unpacking the following observation of Marx: “D. moderne Familie enthält im Keim nicht nur servitus (Sklaverei) sondern auch Leibeigenscft, da sie von vorn herein Beziehg auf Dienste für Ackerbau. Sie enthält in Miniatur alle d. Antagonism en in sich, die sich später breit entwickeln in d. Gesellschaft u. ihrem Staat” [“The modern Family contains as a germ not only servitus (Slavery) but also Serfdom, since it relates from the outset to services for agriculture. It contains in Miniature all those antagonisms in themselves, which later develop broadly in the Society and its State”] (inserted within his excerpts from Morgan 1877, Part II, Chapter V, The Monogamian Family) [ Krader 1974: 120]. This is the range of the task at hand.


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(Author: Pradip Baksi is an independent translator and editor)

This is a slightly revised version of the paper presented at the 2nd International Conference on Innovations in the Social Sciences and Humanities, 17-18 December 2021[ISSH 2021], Ton Duc Thang University, Ho Chi Minh City, published in the Conference Proceedings of ISSH2021:12-19.

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