La Nuit debout against le Panama partout
David Graeber, Le Monde, April 12, 2016
What we have been seeing in the news, this week, with the juxtaposition of the Panama paper revelations, and the emergence of Nuit Debout in the streets of Paris and other French cities, is the struggle between two different forms of solidarity, two global cultures—the first, all too developed, the second, still in the process of being born.
The first is the solidarity of the wealthy and powerful, or, more precisely, those whose wealth is founded on their power; the other, is the emergence of new forms of revolutionary democracy that are taking, increasingly, planetary form. Each relies on creating spaces outside the formal structure of the state. What we are beginning to see, with the police show of force last night, was just how differently the “forces of law” react to each.
What the Panama papers reveal above all is a global political class whose ultimate loyalty is to each other. Nawaz Sharif, Robert Mugabe, Vladimir Putin, or David Cameron…. however much such men might glower at each other across the world stage, when it comes to what’s really important to them as human beings (the financial security of their children, for example) they show a remarkable degree of solidarity. This is, of course, in dramatic contrast to how they feel about the safety and security of the children of pretty much everybody else—other, of course, than members of their only real constituency: the other members of the global 1%.
Still, for anyone familiar with how wealth is really accumulated in today’s world, there is still something genuinely puzzling in these revelations: why is it so important to these people not to pay taxes to begin with? This is less obvious than it seems. As the wealth of the ruling classes comes to be based increasingly on financial speculation, we are no longer talking about protecting the profits of commerce and industry from the grasping hands of the state; almost all these fortunes are based on collusion with state power to begin with. If your income is based on control of the levers of power, why squirrel it away in Panama? Would it not be just as easy to extract twice as much, and then ostentatiously hand half the proceeds back again as gesture of loyalty?
It’s hard to escape the conclusion that greed is not the primary motivation, but sheer power. The creation of these tax shelters is the creation, not precisely of a state of sovereign exception. It is rather one of financial exception, within an emerging global legal-bureaucratic order of which the beneficiaries, themselves, the architects.