Decomposing Capitalism Fuels Drug Violence

Printer-friendly version

Most people in the U.S. are at least tangentially aware of the so called "drug-wars" that are being waged within the borders of their southern neighbor.  Some months ago, in March, New York Times journalists wrote about violence "spilling" over the border. They cited some vague facts about homicide figures rising in certain American cities and then proceeded to hook the reader with some detective-like stories about a kidnapping and a pistol-whipping incident - incidents implied to be connected to the drug-violence in Mexico. While the New York Times and all the whole lot of the corporate media might be very competent at making sensationalist narratives  out of these disjointed tragedies that imply that the crimes are related to a few trouble makers, the situation is different and worse. The escalation of drug violence in the US, as in everywhere else, is symptomatic of a rot that lies in the heart of the current economic world order.  In order to understand this gangsterization of the economy as a convulsion of a decomposing capitalism, one must analyze it through its historical origins, its effect on class dynamics, and the obstacles it places against communist political clarification.

The history of narco-violence seems like a surreal circus of the macabre. The stories of corpses dissolved in hydrochloric acid and decapitated heads catching flies do signal something terribly wrong in the order of things. However as every massive social malaise, there is a material foundation deep within the heart of the economic order. In order to understand this material foundation it is necessary to start with the story itself. The rise of  drug syndicates is certainly an international phenomenon - the appearance of the capitalist phase of decomposition around the late 70s, escalating in the 80s and  90s with the dissolution of the Soviet imperialist bloc, came with the rise of a decomposing bourgeoisie increasingly irrational in its lack of ideological direction and in the extent of its barbarity. One of these "manifestations" was the rise of international crime syndicates. These new "illegalist" capitalists came from all corners of the world - from the opium of Afghani "freedom fighter" Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, to the new gangster-capitalism of the Russian mobs. However, the most interesting of these stories lies in the heart of the Americas. The story of the narco starts in Colombia. Although Colombia already had a history of international drug-trafficking that goes all the way to 1914, it makes no sense to talk about the narco as an almost omnipotent entity until the rise of the Medellin and Cali cartels in the 80s, when the profitability of cocaine transformed these gangsters into truly international paramilitaries. Increasingly, but assuredly, these new "gangster-capitalists" became integrated into the economy and the social fiber. They invested their gains in land, respectable businesses, and some like Escobar even participated in parliamentary politics. The current violent situation in Mexico (and its extension in the US) is more or less a continuation: the Mexican cartels' power does not reside in their productive capabilities, but in their monopoly over the routes through which Colombian cocaine flows and connects to the U.S.  The same phenomena that happened in Colombia- namely the integration of these new mob-capitalists into the world economic order, happened more or less in the Mexican context. They lie everywhere in the decomposing layers of bourgeois society: within the state, and both in the realm of respectability and illegality.

The integration of the cartels into the world economy means that their differentiation from more "respectable" factions of the bourgeoisie is far from an easy task. After all, one of the aspects of decomposing capitalism is the rot of the ruling class itself, throwing into constant flux the demacrations between different bourgeois factions. The shadow of the narco, being essentially almost one with the ruling class of Mexico and Colombia, slides through the legal space of the transnational tentacles of world capitalism, making its presence known in respectable institutions in both Latin America and the United States. This hybridization of the ruling class makes more sense if we analyze it in the context of the current escalation of violence in Mexico. Most security analysts opine that one of the main causes of escalation of violence is the loss of political power of the PRI (Partido Revolutionario Institucional), when its power started to increasingly wane in the late 80s. The PRI has been traditionally a vessel of narco-politicians: from full blown narcos like Gomez Palacio's ex-mayor Carlos Herrera, to Carlos Salinas de Gortari, ex-president of Mexico, the latter whose brother went to prison for links with the Cartel del Golfo. The rise of the right wing PAN (Partido de Accion Nacional) came with the rise of a new faction of the boss-class, willing to challenge violently the strong grip of the drug lords over the Mexican economic and political apparatuses. The declaration of war against the cartels by this new faction of the state created an all-total war. Cartels fight each other for new territory as some of their political links to the state wane. Shots are heard routinely in the barrios: hitmen from different cartels get into fast paced car gunfights, shooting each other, the cops, and the military alike. Calderon, president of Mexico, himself admitted that just in 2008, 6500 people have died in this civil war. Yet, this context of total war might be deceiving, for many bosses high up in the state and behind many respectable businesses have links with drug trafficking.

As stated before, the legal space of these gangster-capitalists extends all the way to the U.S. Money laundering occurs not just in small businesses, but in the heart of American finance capital itself - the big banks. On April 26, 2008, the Wall Street Journal reported that more than $11 million were laundered in the Wachiovia bank within the accounts of known drug traffickers. The U.S. Justice Department also reported numerous banks, including American Express International, which allegedly laundered more than $55 million, have been involved in money laundering operations. Further south, we see the US funding the Colombian government with "Plan Colombia" money to counter the drug-traffickers while it was this same Colombian government that protected and encouraged the narco-founded right-wing paramilitaries. Similar, the U.S. government claims that 90 percent of the guns seized from the Mexican drug-traffickers can be traced back to the U.S. These weapons, the use of which sometimes makes for spectacular headlines in the press, can be as sophisticated as rocket launchers and hand grenades. On the opposite side of "legality", the spilling of violence into the borders of the US just confirms the international aspect of decomposition, and thus this tendency to gangsterization.

And yet, as always in the times of social chaos, the media and the other mouthpieces of the dominant class try to diminish the importance of class. In their discourse of legalist doublespeak, the media tries to convey this as a war between the legalist "good" and the criminal "bad." To us communists, this type of discourse is meaningless. It has no meaning even in the myopic limits of the dominant's class discourse, for in some parts of Mexico the narco and the state are one. While in this period of decomposition, the bourgeoisie seems to lose the ideological clarity it once had, in the structural level it is still the bourgeoisie who causes these wars and it is still the working class who suffers and becomes the foot-soldiers. Whether the bosses are "soviets", democrats, or criminal gangs, there are still these capitalist wars - product of the tendency of decadent capitalism to descend into savagery. In the end, it is the workers that pay when the gunshots ring in their neighborhoods, and when they are sent to pull each others' intestines out in the name of either legality or gangster morality. The descent of decadent capitalism into decomposition reaffirms even more urgently that old slogan of "socialism or barbarism".

Ricardo Santiago 7-02-2009


Recent and ongoing: