Activists’ Position on New Development Bank, Especially in the Wake of 2nd Annual Meetings Held at New Delhi (31st March – 2nd April). Part 1.

e910a63844df7022c9b194d39b2686bf-brics-launches-100-billion-new-development-bank

This is an uncut version and might differ largely from the Declaration which the Civil society Organizations put up. It is also inspired by inputs from the Goa Declaration. So, here goes:

Peoples’ Forum on BRICS is a forum of peoples’ movements, activists, trade unions, national-level networks and CSOs. We intend to win our demands for social, economic and environmental justice. We heard testimonies confirming that the BRICS countries and corporations are reinforcing the dominant neoliberal, extractivist paradigm. Negative trends in the areas of global and local politics, and on issues of economics, environment, development, peace, conflict and aggressive nationalism, or social prejudice based on gender, race, caste, sexual orientation are not being reversed by the BRICS, but instead are often exacerbated. The BRICS speak of offering strong alternatives to the unfair North-dominated regimes of trade, finance, investment and property rights, climate governance, and other multilateral regimes. But on examination, we find these claims unconvincing.The victories we have won already on multiple fronts – such as halting numerous multinational corporations’ exploitation, gaining access to essential state services, occupying land and creating agricultural cooperatives,  and generating more humane values in our societies – give us momentum and optimism.

Our experience with other Multilateral Development Banks in the past have had bitter experiences with their involvement leaving a trail of destruction and irreparable damage involving devastation of the ecologies, forced eviction and displacement, inadequate policies of rehabilitation and resettlement, catalyzing loss of livelihoods and responsible for gross human rights violations. Despite having redress mechanisms, these MDBs have proven to carry forward their neoliberal agenda with scant respect for environment and human rights. Not only have their involvement resulted in the weakening of public institutions on one hand, their have consciously incorporated sharing the goods with private players and furthering their cause under the name of growth-led development, ending extreme poverty and sharing prosperity on the other. Moreover, with Right to Dissemination of Information forming one of the pillars of these MDBs, concerns of transparency and accountability are exacerbated with a dearth of information shared, inadequate public consultations and an absolute lack of Parliamentary Oversight over their involvement in projects and at policy-levels. There are plenty of examples galore with privatizing basic amenities like drinking water and providing electricity that have backfired, but nevertheless continued with. In other words, MDBs have stripped the people of the resources that commons.

The Forum views the emergence of New Development Bank in the context of:

  1. Threat to Democracy with an upsurge of right-wing nationalism, not only in BRICS, but also beyond on the global scale.
  2. As a result of this threat, state repression is on an upswing and aggravated under different norms, growth-led development being one among them.
  3. Widespread ecological destruction, with catastrophic rates of species loss, pollution of land and air, freshwater and ocean degradation, and public health threats rising, to which no BRICS country is immune.
  4. The precarious health of the economy and continuing financial meltdown, reflected in the chaos that several BRICS’ stock and currency markets have been facing, as well as in our countries’ vulnerability to crisis-contagion if major European banks soon fail in a manner similar to the US-catalyzed meltdown in 2008-09.
  5. The longer-term crisis of capitalism is evident in the marked slowdown in international trade and in declining global profit rates, especially evident in the three BRICS countries (South Africa, Russia and Brazil) which have negative or negligible GDP growth.
  6. Addition to commodity crashes, one cause of the economic crisis is the deregulatory, neoliberal philosophy adopted by BRICS governments, which puts corporate property rights above human and environmental rights; in the guise of development.
  7. The new generation of Bilateral Trade and Investment Treaties will potentially have adverse impacts on lives and livelihoods of people across the BRICS and their hinterlands, and need complete rethinking.
  8. The world’s workers are losing rights, farmers are suffering to the point of suicide, and labour casualisation is rampant in all our countries, with the result that BRICS workers are engaged in regular protest, including the strike by 180 million Indian workers which inspired the world on 2 September 2016.
  9. The social front, the threat to our already-inadequate welfare policies is serious, especially in Brazil’s coup regime but also across the BRICS where inadequate social policies are driving people on the margins to destitution.
  10. 10.Patriarchy and sexual violence, racism, communalism, caste discrimination, xenophobia and homophobia run rampant in all the BRICS, and because these forces serve our leaders’ interests, they are not addressing the structural causes, perpetuating divide-and-rule politics, and failing to dissuade ordinary people from contributing to oppression.

New Development Bank calls itself Green. However, the Bank is shrouded under a veil of secrecy. The website of the Bank lacks information about its activities to the extent that more than official records, one has to rely on secondary and tertiary sources of information. Not that such information isn’t forthcoming officially, it is the nature of unproven, untested environmental and social safeguards that is the point of contentious concerns for the communities who might adversely impacted by the projects financed by the Bank in their backyards. Unlike the World Bank and the Asian Development Bank, which somewhat robust safeguards to be followed and grievance redress mechanisms (not discounting sometimes questionable efficacies though), the NDB is yet to draft any such operational guidelines and redressal. Although speculative at large, such an absence could be well off the mark in meeting established benchmarks. Due to the lack of such mechanisms, communities may face threats of displacement, evictions, ecological destruction, loss of livelihoods, and severe curtailment of basic rights to life. These issues have recurred for decades due to projects funded by other multilateral development banks. Moreover, as a co-financier with other development institutions, the intensity of NDB’s seriousness on the objectives of promoting transparency, accountability and probity stands questioned. Furthermore, the NDB intends to be “fast, flexible and efficient”, without sacrificing quality. The Bank will use various financial instruments to ‘efficiently’ meet the demands of member states and clients. This is where things could get a little murkier, as NDB too has agendas of economic development dominating social and political developments, and the possibilities of statistical number jugglery to establish the supremacy of the ‘gross economic development’ sometimes trampling on human rights and environmental concerns. Consequently, the economic measures taken on many occasions forgo the human capital in a relentless pursuit of development agenda.

NDB could likely put issues concerning the marginalized on the back-burner in its accelerated economic means without justifying the ends. Whatever be the underlying philosophy of development finance, questions of sustainability from both social and ecological perspective should always be decided along with genuinely informed peoples’ participation. This is possible only when the information is transparently disseminated and there are measures for qualifying accountability rather than quantifying it. Furthermore, the NDB seems to have learnt no lessons from other MDBs with not only an absence of safeguards and dependency on country systems, but with all the more reliance on national development financial institutions which are liable to be relaxed in specific cases. The NDB has not engaged with the people directly and its engagement with the CSOs is a farce considering that there is massive absence of communities, marginalized groups, indigenous peoples who are likely to face the brunt of its investments. Free Prior and Informed Consent (FPIC) does not even exist in its dictionary. Adding to the woes is the accelerated pace of investing in projects without the policies being in place.

Everywhere that people’s movements have made alternative demands – such as democracy, peace, poverty eradication, sustainable development, equality, fair trade, climate justice – the elites have co-opted our language and distorted our visions beyond recognition. While we criticize the way world power is created and exercised, the BRICS leaders appear to simply want power sharing and a seat at the high table. For example, the BRICS New Development Bank is working hand-in-glove with the World Bank; the Contingent Reserve Arrangement empowers the International Monetary Fund; and the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank serves mainly corporate interests – and all these financial institutions, despite their rhetoric of transformation, are opaque and non-transparent to people in BRICS countries, with no accountability mechanisms or space for meaningful participation by our movements. We have raised constructive critiques of BRICS in our plenaries and workshops. But beyond the analysis, we understand that only people’s power and activism, across borders, can make change. This Forum has found many routes forward for cross-cutting BRICS internationalism on various issues. We intend to win our demands for social, economic and environmental justice. The victories we have won already on multiple fronts – such as halting numerous multinational corporations’ exploitation, gaining access to essential state services, occupying land and creating agricultural cooperatives,  and generating more humane values in our societies – give us momentum and optimism.

Ideology

screen-shot-2014-10-21-at-2-00-09-pm

For Žižek, we are not so much living in a post-ideological era as in an era dominated by the ideology of cynicism. Adapting from Marx and Sloterdijk, he sums up the cynical attitude as “they know that, in their activity, they are following an illusion, but still, they are doing it”. Ideology in this sense, is located in what we do and not in what we know. Our belief in an ideology is thus staged in advance of our acknowledging that belief in “belief machines”, such as Althusser’s Ideological State Apparatuses. It is “belief before belief.”

One of the questions Žižek asks about ideology is: what keeps an ideological field of meaning consistent? Given that signifiers are unstable and liable to slippages of meaning, how does an ideology maintain its consistency? The answer to this problem is that any given ideological field is “quilted” by what, following lacan, he terms a point de capiton (literally an “upholstery button” though it has also been translated as “anchoring point”). In the same way that an upholstery button pins down stuffing inside a quilt and stops it from moving about, Žižek argues that a point de capiton is a signifier which stops meaning from sliding about inside the ideological quilt. A point de capiton unifies an ideological field and provides it with an identity. Freedom, i.e, is in itself an open-ended word, the meaning of which can slide about depending on the context of its use. A right-wing interpretation of the word might use it to designate the freedom to speculate on the market, whereas a left-wing interpretation of it might use it designate freedom from the inequalities of the market. The word “freedom” therefore does not mean the same thing in all possible worlds: what pins its meaning down is the point de capiton of “right-wing” or “left-wing”. What is at issue in a conflict of ideologies is precisely the point de capiton – which signifier (“communism”, “fascism”, “capitalism”, “market economy” and so on) will be entitled to quilt the ideological field (“freedom”, “democracy”, Human rights” and so on).

Žižek distinguishes three moments in the narrative of an ideology.

1. Doctrine – ideological doctrine concerns the ideas and theories of an ideology, i.e. liberalism partly developed from the ideas of John Locke.

2. Belief – ideological belief designates the material or external manifestations and apparatuses of its doctrine, i.e. liberalism is materialized in an independent press, democratic elections and the free market.

3. Ritual – ideological ritual refers to the internalization of a doctrine, the way it is experienced as spontaneous, i.e in liberalism subjects naturally think of themselves as free individuals.

These three aspects of ideology form a kind of narrative. In the first stage of ideological doctrine we find ideology in its “pure” state. Here ideology takes the form of a supposedly truthful proposition or set of arguments which, in reality, conceal a vested interest. Locke’s arguments about government served the interest of the revolutionary Americans rather than the colonizing British. In a second step, a successful ideology takes on the material form which generates belief in that ideology, most potently in the guise of Althusser’s State Apparatuses. Third, ideology assumes an almost spontaneous existence, becoming instinctive rather than realized either as an explicit set of arguments or as an institution. the supreme example of such spontaneity is, for Žižek, the notion of commodity fetishism.

In each of these three moments – a doctrine, its materialization in the form of belief and its manifestation as spontaneous ritual – as soon as we think we have assumed a position of truth from which to denounce the lie of an ideology, we find ourselves back in ideology again. This is so because our understanding of ideology is based on a binary structure, which contrasts reality with ideology. To solve this problem, Žižek suggests that we analyze ideology using a ternary structure. So, how can we distinguish reality from ideology? From what position, for example, is Žižek able to denounce the New Age reading of the universe as ideological mystification? It is not from the position in reality because reality is constituted by the Symbolic and the Symbolic is where fiction assumes the guise of truth. The only non-ideological position available is in the Real – the Real of the antagonism. Now, that is not a position we can actually occupy; it is rather “the extraideological point of reference that authorizes us to denounce the content of our immediate experience as ‘ideological.'” (Mapping Ideology) The antagonism of the Real is a constant that has to be assumed given the existence of social reality (the Symbolic Order). As this antagonism is part of the Real, it is not subject to ideological mystification; rather its effect is visible in ideological mystification. Here, ideology takes the form of the spectral supplement to reality, concealing the gap opened up by the failure of reality (the Symbolic) to account fully for the Real. While this model of the structure of reality does not allow us a position from which to assume an objective viewpoint, it does presuppose the existence of ideology and thus authorizes the validity of its critique. The distinction between reality and ideology exists as a theoretical given. Žižek does not claim that he can offer any access to the “objective truth of things” but that ideology must be assumed to exist if we grant that reality is structured upon a constitutive antagonism. And if ideology exists we must be able to subject it to critique. This is the aim of Žižek’s theory of ideology, namely an attempt to keep the project of ideological critique alive at all in an era in which we are said to have left ideology behind.

Human Rights, (Badiou + Rancière)

“Human Rights are axioms. They can co-exist on the market with many other axioms, notably those concerning security or property, which are unaware of or suspend them even more than they contradict them: “the impure mixture or the impure side by side,” said Nietzsche. Who but the police and armed forces that co-exist with democracies can control and manage poverty and the deterritorialization-reterritorialization of shanty towns? What social democracy has not given the order to fire when the poor come out of their territory or ghetto? Rights save neither men nor a philosophy that is reterritorialized on the democratic State. Human rights will not make us bless capitalism. A great deal of innocence or cunning is needed by a philosophy of communication that claims to restore the society of “consensus” to moralize nations, States, and the market. Humans rights say nothing about the immanent modes of existence of people provided with rights.” 

— Deleuze and Guattari (1996, 107)

The quote from Deleuze and Guattari’s ‘What is Philosophy?’ nicely sums up the abstraction, pure, empty abstraction that Deleuze calls the party line for odious intellectuals. Deleuze does not pay much heed to the notion of human rights, but, instead broods over life rights.

My intention is not to delve into the Deleuzean version of Human/Life Rights, but to look at the conception of human rights from the point of view of two French philosophers who have made an impact in the English speaking world. The thinkers in question here are  Badiou and Rancière who with their delivery of political agencies are not only complexly similar on many grounds, but provide many insights into the differences between one another. Their writings  delve into human rights as a base for their versions of political agencies.

The time was February, 2008, when a group of the so called new philosophers signed a petition in Le Monde calling the practices of the United Nations as diametrically opposed to the ideals of human rights. It was further commented that there was a cause of concern with the institution becoming a caricature. Although we are ensconced in a multicultural world, the level of tolerance could be said to be reaching a nadir of sorts as was substantially proved in the petition detailing religious criticism as a form of racism, thus highlighting the tide against the basic ideas of Human Rights. The petition then called for the return to the Universal Ideals on Human Rights.

It would be far fetched, but still appropriate to call the new philosophers as sandwiched between viewing the ideals of 1948 as problematic with their emphasis on a return to ideals. That the new philosophers are sandwiched between the two poles is attributable to one pole being that of Arendt and Agamben with their insistence on Human Rights as infringing of the political into the private sphere and the other of Badiou and Rancière calling for a political agency critiquing both the view points. Arendt dismisses the idea of Human rights by calling it necessity based as action by the nation state to impose its control over the huge mass of refugees created in the aftermath of the second world war, when the refugees that had been rendered stateless had nothing left but their humanity. This way, for Arendt, the nation state gets to determining who gets the rights and who doesn’t or who is part of humanity and who is not, thus quashing the ideals meant to protecting rights. Despite the good intentions behind the formulation of the Universal Ideals, it is nothing but an apparatus through which, the state exercises its total power over the stateless by making the latter submissive to it and other allied organs of power. This indeed proves the thesis that an interventionist approach is taken up by the nation state into the private sphere.

Arendt’s thesis is pressed upon by Agamben, when he calls the peril of our present time as lying alongside an intercourse of the political power into the bare public life as omnipresent. Agamben links the notional intercourse as no different from what the refugees had to face in concentration camps. For him, the human rights act in a totalizing manner as now the most basic human existence is intricately surrendered to power structures thus making existence politicized. To quote Agamben,

“…until a completely new politics – that is, a politics no longer founded on the exception of bare life – is at hand, every theory and every praxis will remain imprisoned and immobile, and the “beautiful day” of life will be given citizenship only either through blood and death or in the perfect senselessness to which the society of the spectacle condemns it.”

Ernst Hemel reads the following quote in a dual way, viz. the seizure of private bare life by the structures of power and the deprivations of the individual in engaging with true emancipatory politics. The institutionalization of human rights is therefore seen as a part of the imprisoned and immobile life that somehow fails in its approach to reach the blunt political situation we are all faced up with. This reaches its aporetic limit in a way to invent a new political situation after criticizing the entire idea underlining human rights. So for both Arendt and Agamben, the codification of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights is fraught with a critique that runs counter to new philosopher’s insistence on attaining the ideal.

Badiou and Rancière both show their aversion to these readings and in their own ways of constructing the political agency exhibit displeasure in treating human rights as an ideal on the one hand and refusing to believe in the all encompassing political dominion on the other. Rancière brilliantly unearths the tautology in Arendt’s version of human rights by noting that the rights of man are the rights of the unpoliticized person, or they are the rights of those who have no rights, thus amounting to nothing and rights of man are the rights of the citizen, that is, they are being attached to the fact of being a citizen, thus connoting rights of man as rights of citizens. This in conflation amounts to a tautology. In effect, there is abandonment of human rights in Arendt according to Rancière since it is based on state power who has the discretion of providing rights to those who are excluded. This argument is taken forward to deal with Agamben, wherein it is noted that any kind of emancipatory political action is in retreat. Rancière quotes from his ‘The Politics of Aesthetics’,

“There was at least one point where ‘bare life’ proved to be ‘political’: there were women sentenced to death as enemies of the revolution. If they could lose their ‘bare life’ out of the public judgment based on political reasons, this meant that even their bare life – their life doomed to death – was political. If, under the guillotine, they were as equal, so to speak, as men, they had the right to the whole of equality, including equal participation to political life.”

It is only in these situations that the totality is fissured in that there is a sense of inclusion but not belonging that is governed by exclusion that is only brought to light through acts of dissensions. This Rancièrean point is closely linked up with what Badiou has been maintaining with his ‘Event’. ‘Event’ is the coming into being of what was never thought of (accidental) in the conceptual structuring of the present scenario. To explicate on the coming into existence of the ‘Event’, one needs to change the conceptuality and his idea behind this is borrowed from Cantorian set theory of placing the element inside the set, but at the same time not belonging to the set. This is philosophically pertinent to the distinction between the political inclusion but non-belonging, in that, inclusion shares the possibilities in the world, whereas belonging-ness presents a systemic snapshot congruent with the given world view. In the moment of the ‘Event’, a person is faced with an ethical choice, by either denying what happened as new and trying to fit it in the existing template or by accepting it and building upon new consequences. To draw on these consequences is brought about by the act of naming. For Badiou, the notion of human rights is incapable of accommodating truth and is an attempt on the part of the dominant structure to be be able to account for all elements of the set. As he writes,

“The refrain of “human rights” is nothing other than the ideology of modern liberal capitalism: We won’t massacre you, we won’t torture you in caves, so keep quiet and worship the golden calf. As for those, who don’t want to worship it, or who don’t believe in our superiority, there’s always the American army and its European minions to make them be quiet.”

For Badiou, the only universality is that which resists structuring and becomes tangible in the notion of an ‘Event’. If Universality be equated with Truth, then according to his thesis in Manifesto of Philosophy, ‘Truth makes a hole in knowledge‘ and therefore it could now be inferred why for Badiou human rights as a kind of universality in equality, in freedom is anything but a form of dominant western ideology. To quote him again,

“The latest violence, the presumptuous arrogance inherent in the currently prevalent conception of human rights derives from the fact that these are actually the rights of the finitude […]. By way of contrast, the eventual conception of universal singularities requires that human rights be thought of as the rights of the infinite.”

So for Badiou, codification of the situations along the prefixed lines of universality results in redundancy alone and little wonder why he admonishes the case for human rights to be thought of as that which is included but not belonging. He takes a similar viewpoint towards justice by claiming the irrelevance of justice in the creation of anything new and thereby is more concerned with the conditions of possibilities of new politics rather than improving the sphere of juridicalness. In a way, what Badiou is looking for is very similar to what Rancière aims at and that being looking at human rights as an affirmative action. For both the thinkers, it is the exclusive situation where the insight into the human rights is to be taken up, to be formulated in a reconstructive manner. The exclusive situation is normed as disruption by the thinkers and this disruption is then the affirmation for the coming into being of affirmative changes in the socio-political aspect. Since, this aspect of coming into existence is missing in the universal declaration, it becomes non-political in its conception as far as gauging the totality of the situation is concerned. Rancière sees this as the inability of the logic that dictates who is part of the situation, who has the right to voice claims and who forms the basis of political agency. For Badiou, it is the false totality altogether as it is impossible to envisage anything new or radical getting to the surface concretely. Since, there is absence of anything radically new, it is doomed to repeat the dominant power based ideology.

Although there are similarities in the ways the thinkers look at human rights, there are some differences that are stark in nature. For Rancière, it is the un-belongingness that counts cardinally despite the fact of the subject being inclusive in the system under consideration, whereas for Badiou, it is the subject getting called onto witnessing the ‘Event’ and thereby faced up with the radical choice that is ethical in nature. Badiou’s invoking of mathematics to first name the ‘Event’ and thereafter follow it up to rewrite the radicality of the situation differs from reinterpreting human rights as suggested by Rancière. Most importantly, Rancière uses disruption as a singular revelation in that he is constrained in the expansionary vision/force of the dissensus. Badiou on the other hand emphasizes on the extensibility of the ‘Event’. Rancière works within the existing system and is not concerned much with restructuring and vacillates between dissensus and consensus thereby giving it a more democratic feel of basing itself on negotiation, where Badiou aims at a revolutionary agency that he calls militant in nature.

The only universal human right that Badiou and Rancière envision is the right to intervene in the name of infinite universality, and they remain far from any institutionalization of universal human rights. Instead their theories  are geared towards a critical evaluation of the underlying presuppositions  of doing politics, and providing rights. This critical evaluation is done in  preparation of ‘truthful’ politics,   which entails for both Rancière and  Badiou a radical break with notions of politics that are defined in terms  such as citizenship, freedom of speech or a return to ideal enlightenment values. Politics aim at a constant possibility.

Agamben, G. (1998) Homo Sacer: Sovereign Power and Bare Life. Stanford: Stanford University Press.

Arendt, H. (1973) The Origins of Totalitarianism. New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich Inc.

Badiou, A. (2004) ‘Huit Thèses sur l’Universel’. http://www.lacan.com/baduniversel.htm

    – (2001/2002) ‘On Evil : An Interview with Alain Badiou’. Cabinet Magizine Online, 5, http://www.egs.edu/faculty/badiou/badiou-on-evil.html

Deleuze, G and Guattari, F (1996) ‘What is Philosophy?’. New York: Columbia University Press.

Hemel, Ernst van den. (2008) Krisis:  Journal for Contemporary Philosophy.

Rancière, J. (2004) The Politics of Aesthetics. New York: Continuum.