Organised crime and extractivism

Raúl Zibechi
Photo: Organised crime and extractivism confront the population that resists and seeks the protection of weapons. Photo: Cuartoscuro / Archive/ La Jornada

Organised crime, para-state crime or drug trafficking are the forms taken by accumulation through dispossession/extractivism in the zone of non-being, that is, in the territories of indigenous, black and peasant peoples in Latin America. Although they are often presented separately, as if they were unrelated, criminal violence, nation-states and the economic model form a single framework for the dispossession of peoples.

This conclusion is indebted to the work of researcher Emiliano Teran Mantovani in a recent essay linking the three modalities mentioned above*. We know that organised crime dispossesses peoples’ common goods, breaks the fabric of communities, exploits and murders people, as well as degrading the environment with its «economic» initiatives, with the support of both private companies and states.

What interests me most in Teran’s work is his analysis of organised crime as extractivism, from the displacement and intimidation of populations to the control of mines and productive territories, ending with the management of «processes and routes for the commercialisation of commodities».

In his opinion, we should think of organised crime as «a clear expression of the politics of extractivism in the 21st century», and therefore much more than the economic dynamics it represents. On this point, I see a close relationship with the thinking of Abdullah Öcalan, when he argues that «capitalism is power, not economics». In its decadent phase, capitalism is armed violence and genocide, however hard it may be to accept.

In one of his most brilliant pages, Teran establishes a gradation of the way crime acts, which takes us back to the dawn of capitalism as described by Karl Polanyi: subduing the local population through terror; control of economic forms in search of monopoly; incorporating part of the population into the «criminal» economy, protecting this sector with its own services, naturalising violence and, finally, turning «part of the population into war machines» by integrating them «subjectively, culturally, territorially, economically and politically into its logic of organised violence».

The points of confluence between organised crime and extractivism are obvious: they confront the population that resists or does not give in, they are based on the same economy of dispossession and seek the protection of weapons, those of the state and their own.

There is something else, something very disturbing: organised crime «has increasingly managed to become a factor in channelling popular discontent and unrest, and can also capture a part of the counter-hegemonic impulses, of revolt, of antagonism towards power, and potentially give shape to these possible insurgencies», says Teran.

Terrible, but real. This should lead those of us who still want fundamental, anti-capitalist changes to reflect on our share of responsibility in the decision of so many young people to join criminal violence.

The first is to break with the desire to mask reality, of not wanting to see that the really existing capitalism is a war of dispossession or the fourth world war, as the Zapatistas call it. Crime and violence, in order to become the main mode of accumulation of capital, must have the support and complicity of the states, which are being reconverted into states for dispossession.

That is why the problem is not the absence of the state, as progressivism claims. There is nothing to be gained by expanding its sphere, as it is primarily responsible for violence against peoples.

A second issue is to understand that «social fabrics are themselves a battlefield, a field in dispute», as Teran points out. Crime and narco-paramilitarism (inseparable from the armed apparatus of the state) are determined to break up social relations in order to recompose them according to their interests, hence racist violence and feminicides.

This is why self-defence groups anchored in the communities that resist have become indispensable. They must not only defend and protect life and nature, but also human relations.

Finally, not a few intellectuals speak of «alternatives to extractivism», always thinking in technocratic terms and which will be implemented from above. Impossible.

Today, the real alternatives are the Indigenous, Maroon and Peasant Guards of the Colombian Cauca, the autonomous governments and autonomous demarcations of the Amazon, the Mapuche land recuperations, the Zapatista Army of National Liberation, the CNI, the bonfires of Cherá, the indigenous peoples’ movement, the indigenous peoples’ movement, and the indigenous peoples’ movement.

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