Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Dignity and Social Justice: SIDELINED

While we are still fighting in the trenches of revolution, starting with the referendum the parties and candidates have slowly been placing the building blocks of our future political sphere. Those players are currently determining the position of dignity and social justice in Egypt’s future political sphere. Dreaming of social justice and human dignity is not idealistic, but is the very premise of what #Jan25 stands for, we cannot allow it to become side-lined or remain as words we chant in our protests. While the bourgeoisie will never understand how the absence of dignity and social justice affect people who are constantly undergoing daily social and economic humiliation, the reality is that there are many people that cannot live another day under these conditions. These values must materialize in every action of building and instead of allowing these values to be limited to reverberations in the squares, we must limit the actions and policies of these political players that will only exacerbate humiliation and social injustice.

A list of the economic policies of some of the main parties was compiled by @hussein_allam. The parties included in the list are: The Free Egyptians Party Al Masriyeen El Ahrar (المصريين الأحرار), The Egyptian Democratic and Social Party Al Masry Al Democrati Al Igtmaay (المصرى الديمقراطى الإجتماعى), The Justice Party Hizb El Adl (حزب العدل) , The Egypt Freedom Party Masr El Hurreya (مصر الحرية), The Light Party Hizb El Nour (حزب النور) , The Middle Party Hizb El Wast (حزب الوسط), Freedom and Justice Party El Hurreya wa El Aadala (الحرية و العدالة) . I will be outlining how these economic policies will further increase disproportionate wealth accumulation and will inevitably fail at achieving social justice. I would definitely encourage a close reading of the afore-mentioned list of economic policies prior to reading this post. While I would have liked to include tourism and large mega-projects in this critique of the parties' economic policies I will leave these as subjects for other posts, since the three main points that I will raise in this post suffice to show how these economic policies are destined to fail in creating the foundations of social justice.

First of all, I would like to briefly speak about human dignity, I've written a previous post about human dignity and what the parliamentary elections mean in terms of human dignity. Prior to the November uprising in #Tahrir I could consider the parliamentary elections and candidates at the very best naive and optimistic to have accepted participation in these elections while we are still under #SCAF's dictatorship, but following November uprising I consider their participation a betrayal and complete disregard to the basic human right to dignity. I will not blame voters for their participation in these farcical elections, but I blame the parties and the candidates for granting legitimacy to an authority that was shooting to kill and eradicate dissidents. The short-sightedness and blatant weakness of these parties in their ability to organize as a political front and reject #SCAF's legitimacy and violence leaves me frustrated that the political arena is occupied by self-interested individuals and parties that lack any true vision that will allow Egyptians to finally break free from the throes of oppression and humiliation. Many parties and candidates continued to run for elections despite the atrocities that were being committed by #SCAF and the #CSF out of fear of losing power and ground in the elections to the Islamist parties instead of organizing and boycotting these elections. The parties and candidates were either too stupid or too self-serving and having them in any sort of power will hold a bleak future for the revolution.

What is social justice? Its a term that has been used since #Jan25, chanted, hung on banners and included in every dialogue on revolutionary reform. Part of why it’s so easy to forget about it is because it is not defined. It can be easily appropriated by anyone to mean a range of things including creating a larger vocational labor force who will ultimately be working in factories to make others richer. But for the purpose of this post I will define it as equal access to the means of production and the ability of people to subsist without having their labor exploited by someone. In other words, it means that no individual is able to monopolize say for instance a factory, and then through the labor of others derive a profit that is significantly larger than what the labor is acquiring through this exploitative relationship. In the current scheme of things, what we've seen is that those who own the means of production are able to generate immense wealth that allows them to further monopolize more means of production. That way this ruling class of owners is constantly becoming richer while those whose labor is the very essence of their wealth become more and more impoverished. There is a finite amount of wealth circulating in human societies when someone owns the means of production what ends up happening is that this wealth and resources become more concentrated around those epicenters of production leaving less available to be circulated among those who do not own these means of production. A capitalist economic system is constantly creating and replicating this relationship between capital and labor and social justice cannot be ever achieved under these conditions, even if it may seem so temporarily. Even if we intervene, mitigate and use taxation systems and protectionist economic models to prevent this, ultimately this is a system that is self-destructive and the only way for it to survive is through a process of constant expansion. Eventually this system will run out of more resources to utilize and spaces (both physical and conceptual) to expand into and will collapse. The question here is will we wait for a system that is devastating both the planet and its people to self-implode making it extremely hard for people to recover from its devastating effects or will we work to bring this system down before more losses are incurred?

An often overlooked element to why capitalism has not caused the devastation that those who oppose it have prophesied is that not everyone is completely integrated within the market economy, in fact there are many places within Egypt that people are still able to subsist through what economists have termed informal economies. Informal economies are ways that different groups of people are able survive external to these market economies through both monetized and non-monetized exchanges usually extremely location specific and heavily reliant on social and kinship ties. A close look at the parties' economic policies shows that The Free Egyptians Party, The Egyptian Democratic Social Party, The Justice Party, The Free Egypt Party and The Light Party all in one form or the other encourage the start-up and maintenance of small to medium enterprises (SMEs). While this may initially appear as a step in the right direction, I urge you take a minute to reflect about what that really means in context of what I explained earlier. By encouraging the creation of SMEs, on the one hand new epicenters of requiring smaller capital are being created that for them to function require even smaller wages and naturally more exploitation of the labor force. On the other hand, an increase of SMEs will only further integrate many informal economies into the market economy. While theoretically this may at first appear as increased distribution of wealth, but reality is that access to markets and market information can be very limited. Many of these informal economies once integrated into a market economy will lose the very non-measurable methods for subsistence that allowed people to subsist and will most likely lead to a disruption to these economies that rely on social and kinship ties leaving many people impoverished.

The Freedom and Justice Party, The Middle Party, The Light Party, The Free Egypt Party, The Justice Party, The Egyptian Democratic and Social Party and the Free Egyptians Party all employ different schemes and policies to mitigate the destructive effects of what is thought of as a free market, ranging from tax subsidies and minimum wages to anti-inflation policies. What these policies are doing in essence is working in the complete opposite direction of a free market economy, yet while these policies work in opposition to the free market economy, all they are doing is allowing this market economy to further flourish. Without these policies what would eventually happen is that people would no longer be able to subsist and inevitably lead to a complete collapse of the market economy. So by employing these different protectionist schemes these parties are creating conditions in which a collapse of the market economy is slowed down, keeping people’s heads barely over the water and supporting their continued exploitation. Economic justice can never be achieved through protectionist economic policies only the continued exploitation of people is achieved.

By encouraging expansion and development (whether agriculture or tourism) into what are considered “marginalized” or “empty” landscapes a two-fold process is occurring here. The first, it is implicit within this process that a very state and legislatively recognized form of private property will be taking place. Private property at its very essence is the right of certain individuals or institutions to exclude others from access to the decision-making process of how this property will be utilized. In the context of capital accumulation this means that individuals and institutions with capital and power are able to deny access of others to this property. Capital generates more capital and private property especially that integrated into a market economy will only lead to more capital and further alienate a vast majority of people from their ability access this property whether it is land or resource, transforming the majority of people’s relationship to land and resource to those of tenants and not owners. The second process that is occurring is what I consider an inherently conceptually violent process of erasure of people and their livelihood practices. These targeted lands, whether the North Coast, “deserts” or Sinai as outlined by The Freedom and Justice Party, The Middle Party, The Light Party, The Egyptian Democratic and Social Party and The Free Egyptians Party, are imagined empty and devoid of people. I will leave my readers to draw their own conclusions about this process, but I urge you to ask yourself what does it mean to the people living in these locations to become erased and considered non-existent in how our economic policies are developed? What does it mean impose projects on people while we sit in our offices developing these policies with little or no regard to how others wish to live their lives? What does it mean to not recognize thousand-year old processes of ownership unless they conform to our current state definition of private property? How can social justice be achieved when over 500,000 individuals’ existence is being erased as we choose to consider these locations “marginal”, “uninhabited” and “unused”?

For many of us integrated into the market economy, it is very difficult to imagine a world outside of capitalism. But this is a revolution and we must challenge our imaginations. Capitalism derives its power largely in how we think of it as a natural, inevitable and unchangeable system. But capitalism is hardly natural, it is not governed by the laws of nature and has come into existence through violent and coercive forms of rule and governance, it emergence is not separate from colonial and neo-colonial projects and this is something we must not overlook. Additionally, capitalism was not inevitable, it has resulted through the choices, decisions and theories of a ruling class that have had the physical means to super-impose this system, again often violently on different groups of people. Finally, capitalism is not unchangeable, it is hard to imagine alternatives while it is dominating our every interaction and interpretation of the world around us. If capitalism collapses it doesn’t mean our means of production will also collapse, it doesn’t mean that agricultural lands and factories will cease to exist, it will only mean that they will no longer belong to a small ruling elite class and their benefits will be distributed more equitably. If we allow ourselves to dare and dream of a different world; one where our economic policies are not alienating or excluding, where social justice and human dignity are at its forefront, maybe then we will not rush to ballots supporting parties based on fears of islamists or liberals and finally address the core essence of a socio-economic system that not just within Egypt, but has globally enslaved to different degrees an extremely large majority of people who inhabit this planet.

This post is inspired by conversations with @bassemk, @atlemk, @sumayaholdijk,@yasminb and @fazerofzanight. This post is theoretically influenced by Karl Marx's Das Capital, Karl Polyani's Great Transformation, Nancy Peluso’s interpretation Bundles of Power, David Harvey’s Spaces of Hope, Timothy Mitchell on the Performativity of Markets and James Scott's Seeing Like a State.

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