By Aaron Kelly
In her excellent contribution to events organised by Venezuela’s National Electoral Council (CNE) in the run up to the mass municipal and regional elections on Sunday 21 November 2021, the renowned, anti-imperialist economist Pasqualina Curcio Curcio lucidly and meticulously dissected the full range of measures by which the United States, and the global financial system coordinated by the empire, have sought to destroy her country’s economy and society. Incisive and passionate in equal measure, Professor Curcio’s sharp analysis forensically examines each deadly detail and murderous measure of the economic warfare inflicted upon the Venezuelan people, in complete contravention of international law and of the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court prohibiting the deliberate targeting of civilian populations.
Professor Curcio’s lecture drew upon her brilliant book on economic warfare and the global financial system: Teoría general de los precios, el salario, la producción y el dinero en guerra económica [General Theory of Prices, Wages, Production and Money in Economic Warfare] (Caracas: Editorial Trinchera, 2021). This work is a must read, including, and perhaps especially, for those in the imperial core, as it dismantles the orthodox economic analyses of capitalism that feign interpretative rigour but which are, in truth, closer to rigor mortis. Focusing upon her homeland but also of necessity interrogating the world system, precisely because it is the latter which has so devastated Venezuela’s economy and the lives of its poorest people, Professor Curcio demonstrates with fluent verve and an illustrative command of evidential detail how there is a vital missing component in standard monetarist models: namely, imperialism.
To the classical and neoclassical models of economic thought and the conceptualisation of the value of money – relying upon the triumvirate of demand, supply and the state as actors in the market and its dynamics – Professor Curcio adds the crucial fourth agency of imperialism, whose participation in the markets is the ultimately determining, political factor that must be understood fully in order that we might evaluate and indeed then overturn the global capitalist system as a whole. Professor Curcio establishes her key insights through Marx’s theory of the value of labour and the value of money, in particular, through her subtle understanding of the difference between the function of money as a measure of value and as a standard of prices. For Professor Curcio, it is precisely by the recognising this difference that we can enhance our understanding of how the fourth agency of imperialism affects all commodity prices and is able to unleash economic and therefore political destabilizations and distortions.
Professor Curcio’s book is dedicated to the Venezuelan working class and, as with all her work, it reveals what Adam Smith mystified as the “invisible hand” of the market, by empirically locating its bloodied fingerprints at the crime scene that is global capitalism. As ever, it is the working class who have disproportionately suffered the pulverising effects of the 99% plummet in real wages since the unrelenting US assault began in 2013. The scale of the attack on the Venezuelan economy is obscene in its scale: while real wages have been hammered in this period there has been a 60 billion% increase in prices, the manipulated “depreciation” of the currency, the bolivar, by 3.1 trillion% and a 74% fall in national production.
Part of the book’s rigorous, analytical demystification of accounts of these economic realities as somehow “natural” effects and relations is to insist upon the structural and systemic inequalities inbuilt in capitalism and upon which its accumulation of capital is founded. In an ironical yet sincere retort to monetarist accounts of market freedoms and liberalisation, Professor Curcio’s book ponders why salaries are never subject to hyperinflation or to wild liberalisation, to uncontrolled rises that soar and accrue value while the cost of living is reduced, why is it that wages are held in check and then decimated while prices and the costs of services soar? Of course the answer, as Professor Curcio already knows, is that capitalism requires of the worker that the product of their labour is appropriated by the bourgeoisie and that the accumulation of capital is constituted by the capitalist ruling class not fully repaying the value of our labour and efforts. But part of her point is to call out reformism – the supposed progressive or liberal version of capitalism – by stressing that its best-case scenario is that capitalism will deliver what is minimally necessary for the working class to survive and to reproduce itself as a class. The ethical, inhuman aporia in capitalism’s core mechanisms is that the work which produces everything is remunerated with nothing, while the inflationary speculation that produces nothing is rewarded with everything. That glaring disparity is especially laid bare in this era of financial capitalism, of a globalised imperialist system.
Professor Curcio’s work is a brilliant demystification of imperialist, financial capitalism, which can appear as an impenetrable wall of abstraction for both its proponents or those reified into passive resignation, and she insists that in Venezuela and across the planet, the means by which to defeat capitalism and imperialism begins with labour reclaiming the value that it has in the productive process as part of a reactivation of the organised forces of the workers.
Professor Curcio’s book is a highly instructive guide for understanding the mechanisms and effects of imperialism and a battleplan for defeating them. Her book avowedly dismantles, theoretically and empirically, the rationale of monetarist economists, turning their own quantitative theory of money against itself, by highlighting the contradictions that fracture the circular reasoning of monetarism: 1) to increase wages we must first increase production; 2) the amount of “inorganic” money cannot be increased to raise wages because it would generate hyperinflation; 3) the depreciation of the bolivar is a consequence of the increase in the amount of “inorganic money”; 4) the fall in national production is a consequence of the decrease in worker productivity, you have to work harder; 5) the financing of the “fiscal deficit” with the “inorganic” money machine is the cause of inflation; 6) it is necessary to encourage and give concessions to private capital, all the better if it is foreign private capital, in order to increase production.
Professor Curcio’s coruscating critique eviscerates all these self-perpetuating monetarist myths and, at the same time, places imperialism’s destructive impact upon Venezuela’s economy and society centre stage. Despite the readymade “fake news” precisely and strategically coordinated by the US to coincide with their attempt to overthrow Venezuela’s sovereignty – that socialism doesn’t work, that Maduro is corrupt or incompetent, that the economy has been mismanaged – there is no means of explaining the catastrophic damage done to Venezuela without the analysis of imperialism and its destructive agency. The attack on Venezuela’s sovereign currency, the attenuation of production due to the political manipulation of the exchange rate, with hyperinflation at a rate in the billions, the blockade of the economy and the expropriation of Venezuela’s sovereign wealth by the US, Canada, Britain and the EU (including the seizure of gold reserves of $1.2 billion by the Bank of England, the expropriation of Citgo, PDVSA’s US subsidiary, resulting in annual loses of $11 billion in trade and $7 billion in assets): all these measures have resulted in 100s of billions of politically and financially engineered losses and they are criminal in their targeting of the civilian population according to the Rome Statue and the International Criminal Court, which of course imperialist powers do not recognise when it comes to their own actions.
One of the main strategic thrusts of Professor Curcio’s book is to indict dollarisation and to envision ways in which dollarisation can be overturned. If war is the most directly murderous expression of imperialism, then dollars are the sign system of that violence, the financial language in which it is written, rationalised and made representable across the globe and, via SWIFT, the dominant semiotics into which all others must submit and translate themselves. Various strands of leftism in north America or Europe often seem resignedly bewildered by financial capitalism and its drive to mythologise itself into reified abstraction, but Professor Curcio’s work is a searing analysis of the real socio-economic effects and consequences of capitalism in its imperialist phase, the daily, grinding violence of its injustices and manipulations.
Professor Curcio’s assessment addresses ways in which Venezuela can and does find ways to resist the imperialist assault and she calls for increasing alliances across the world as a means of dethroning the dollar. One of the most bizarrely self-defeating facets of the current actions taken against Russia by the US and its servants in NATO and the EU is that pushes Russia out of SWIFT and dollarisation along a path to a more multipolar world, a path that others are eager to pursue, including major players like China but also smaller countries like Cuba who have been on the receiving end of the violence of financial capitalism for a long time under the duplicitous rubric of “sanctions”, a term that misleadingly suggests some legal sanction in international law when in fact the coercive measures exacted upon populations across this planet and made possible by the violent, unipolar language of the dollar should, in a just world, result in those responsible for such measures – in the US and across the countries of empire – finding themselves on trial at the International Criminal Court.
The economic war against Venezuela is one of the front lines in the USA’s assault upon the whole planet and the “fake news” and misinformation that has accompanied the Yankee terror as a means of seeking to legitimise it, all intend to suppress the reality of the murderous consequences of that financial warfare and to mystify its underlying premise: it is a collective punishment enacted against the Venezuelan people, its working class in particular, because they have chosen to defend their own sovereignty and create their own future, because they have rejected US hegemony and vote in ways that displease Washington, because they are an alternative to the unipolarity of US imperialism and its financial model. Comandante Hugo Chávez once famously said: “¡Yanquis de mierda, váyanse al carajo cien veces!”. In his honour and in tribute to Professor Curcio’s fine work on the financial destruction brought to Venezuela by the empire, I would add this: not only one hundred times; not only one thousand times; not only one million times; not only one billion times; no, a hyperinflationary amount of times and counting, fuck off to hell you Yankee shits!
It was an honour to meet Professor Curcio in Caracas in November 2021 and to receive a copy of her brilliant book, as well as to offer her, as a gift from the Irish Chapter of the Network in Defence of Humanity, a Spanish-language edition of the selected writings of James Connolly. As with Professor Curcio’s insistence on the necessity of analysing and defeating imperialism, Connolly of course also knew that the creation of a better world in Ireland and beyond necessities a full-on confrontation with imperialism. Too often in the imperial core – ironically but also tellingly – imperialism is a missing element in the analysis of leftists and their “hot takes” on where people have gone wrong elsewhere in the world, an aporia which also allows them to forget their own failure to do anything worthwhile to challenge that imperialism, or indeed their active complicity in that imperialism. The kinds of rigorous and attuned political consciousness found in Connolly’s work and in Professor Curcio’s Teoría general de los precios, el salario, la producción y el dinero en guerra económica are indispensable tools for dissecting and for defeating imperialism and its causes, consequences and effects.
Given that Ireland is currently having a conversation about reunification and what a new Ireland might look like, anyone genuinely committed to building a socialist republic should read Professor Curcio’s work and examine Venezuela’s example – or that of Cuba or Nicaragua – to recognise the mass mobilization and organisation, the political consciousness and resources of resistance necessary to undertake and defend such a project, and to recognise the vast imperialist forces that will be deployed to destroy that republic; in short, to better recognise friends and foes.