In July 2014 a new step was taken towards constructing a multi-polar world, with the meeting in Brazil of the BRICS, the constitution of a new Bank and of a Fund for Development. This was followed by a joint meeting between the BRICS, UNASUR, the Organization of the South American States and CELAC (the Community of Latin America and the Caribbean). All this happened without the participation of the Triad (USA, Europe and Japan).
It is, of course, a very positive advance, already preceded by very important agreements on energy between two members of the BRICS, China and Russia. The aim of the new institutions is to boost growth and to eliminate poverty. They bring ‘emerging countries’ with important financial reserves together with others in a less privileged situation, in a South/South relationship. Latin America has been chosen for the new scenario and both the president of Russia and the prime minister of China, have taken the opportunity to reinforce their links with the progressive countries of the subcontinent.
However, the basic conception of South/South relations is still expressed within the classic framework of development, with the same concepts and the same measures, with no or little consideration for externalities (ecological and social), i.e. a modernization that has been captured by the logic of the market. This is why it has been possible to bring together societies oriented by a capitalist project (India), a socialist country with a regulated market (China) and various forms of social-democratic systems, accepting capitalism as a ‘growth’ instrument, together with policies of income redistribution (Brazil, South Africa).
In this paper, I deliberately develop a provocative style, in order to call attention to the urgent need for a radical (going to the roots) transformation and to initiate transition steps.
A multi-polar world with the same conception of modernity and of development
The main emphasis of the BRICS initiative is to create a new pole against a monopolistic globalization dominated by an imperialistic nation and with international institutions mainly at the service of this unique pole (World Bank, IMF, WTO, etc.). But it is not to create a new model of development after the death of the present one. Of course, there is an awareness of its inner contradictions, hence the adoption of some measures to alleviate the environmental burden and to help people to emerge from poverty, but in various degrees there is continuity in the same vision.
On the whole there is little questioning of the main concept of modernity as a lineal progress on an inexhaustible planet, using a ‘sacrificial’ economy to achieve this goal. It means joining the unsustainable development club, only in a different way. At best, it is presented as a necessary step to prepare another era, or the capitalist North is accused of responsibility for the damages and the ‘underdevelopment of the South’ (not without reason, of course). But this is an easy way to escape one’s own responsibilities.
Many examples can be given. The systematic disequilibrium of metabolism between nature and human beings provoked by the different rhythms of reproduction of capital and nature was denounced by Karl Marx, but it has not been solved by socialism, as Marx anticipated. On the contrary, the development of productive forces has increasingly meant a destruction of eco-systems, more noxious gases and the poisoning of the sources of life (soils, water).
The Global South is today reproducing the same pattern of relations with nature, in three ways: either by transforming nature into commodities according to pure capitalist logic, as in India, or, in a new perspective of extracting natural wealth to provide means for a welfare state like the progressive countries of Latin America, or, as a means of a new State-oriented process of accumulation, as in China. In this way the present philosophy of South/ South relations does not solve the problem. On the contrary, in spite of some strong verbal ecological positions, the same path is followed.
The discourses at the Brazilian meetings in Fortaleza and in Brasilia and the objectives for the new institutions, like the new Bank and the Fund for Development, do not abandon the classic definitions of growth as increasing GNP and of development as the main result of technological progress: all these are intellectual tools created by a modernity that has been hijacked by capitalist logic. Such criticism, as we shall see later, does not mean a romantic return to the past, nor the proposal of a new form of utopian socialism. What it means is the redefinition of the collective life of humankind on the earth, respecting the regenerating capacity of the planet, and refusing a concept of a development that is based on sacrifice.
Relations with nature
Let us first consider the environmental dimension, before tackling the social one. Of course, both the capitalist world and the socialist countries are genuinely concerned about some of the ecological consequences of the present pattern of development. In societies dominated by the ‘law of value’, awareness of the need for change grew when environmental damages began to affect the rates of profit and the accumulation process. This was the origin of the notion of a ‘green economy’. In socialist-oriented countries, concerns are different: [the destruction of] nature is seen as an obstacle to planned development. (??)
In both cases, solutions are put forward. However, most of them are conceived within the same philosophical approach which implies, inter alia, limited actions in a specific field, without a vision of the whole (holistic). Indeed, one effect of modernity that has been affected by the logic of economic progress defined as an accumulation process, has been the loss of such a perspective. Profit boosted by science and technology means progress, which in its turn, is identified with modernity. Externalities are cast aside and their cost is not taken into consideration. The segmentation of reality becomes very functional for a progress exclusively defined in economic terms. Other aspects of collective life, like the symbiosis with nature, knowledge and culture, are not denied, but they are relegated to second place. It is the reign of the ‘homo economicus’.
Strangely enough, the planned socialist economies, which could have adopted another approach, followed a similar pattern, only replacing private profits by collective ones and increasing, to a certain extent, the space of non-material goods. This has probably been caused by the need to develop, in the countries that remained at the margins of economic capitalist development, the productive forces able to catch up with capitalist performances. Also, perhaps, because they were forced to adopt war economies, given the aggressive policies of the Western powers.
The growing neglect of a holistic vision by modernity since the 16th century has gradually led to exclusive perspectives in all fields of human knowledge and of economic development, with little consideration for their repercussions on the whole. This came with the segmentation of reality, considered as a necessary condition for scientific progress and for technological applications. The capitalist market economy, seen as the driving force of modernity, has dominated the process increasingly efficiently from its mercantile epoch, to its industrial phase until today with its monopolistic and financial global dimension.
Let us give some examples of the relations with nature. A first one is in the energy field. Efforts are being made to reduce the emissions of noxious gases by automobile engines, but at the same time the production of automobiles is increasing so rapidly that the general level of emissions continues to grow. ‘Green energy’ is presented as a significant climate-friendly progress, but without taking into its production conditions: agro-fuel is obtained from monocultures that are destroying entire ecosystems and polluting soils and water, provoking deforestation and crushing food sovereignty. Electricity is supposed to be a clean energy, but it is generated by power stations using carbon, which are a major source of CO2 emissions, or by big dams that flood huge regions of woodland and agriculture, expelling local populations (especially indigenous peoples) and upsetting natural equilibria as well as plant and animal diversity. Such situations are found in all countries: capitalist, social-democrat and socialist.
Another example concerns the capitalist monopolies in the field of agro-industry. A small number of multinational enterprises that dominate the market are reducing the number of grains in the world, taking control over seeds, using massively genetic modification and standardizing the type of food for purposes of profit. Among other effects, they are responsible for poor health in rural areas and for harmful diets and obesity in urban milieus. They are actively present both in the productive processes, as well as in consumption (fast food), not only in the centres of the capitalist world, but also in the BRICS countries, including China.
Social consequences are also the price of this type of development. Progress as a unique value, justifies the sacrifice of entire generations. This has been the logic of capitalism from the beginning. Primitive accumulation has been built on dispossession since the ‘enclosures’, resulting in the social and physical destruction of communities. Moreover, its development has been intrinsically associated with wars. The exploitation of human labour has undergone many forms of social relations, from slavery to the dirt-cheap selling of the labour force. All this has resulted in the loss of millions of lives. Today, oil exploitation, mining and monocultures are provoking cancers, skin and lung illnesses, which does not seem to concern the corporations responsible. Even in progressive and socialist countries, the same logic governs the development of the productive forces. Thousands of men are dying each year in the carbon mines of China. Annually, more than one million Chinese are dying from air pollution.
This is what we call a ‘sacrificial’ economy, a modern version of the human sacrifices offered in the ancient Middle East or in the Maya and Toltec societies to the god of fertility, in order to ensure good crops. The cosmovisions are of course different, but the means are similar: human sacrifices for a future goal considered as a superior value. In ancient societies, legitimization was based on the necessity of the group’s survival within the concept of a circular social reproduction according to natural cycles. In modern societies, when a certain domination of nature allows a linear vision of history, progress is the legitimizing element, both in capitalist and in socialist societies, even if the notion of progress is different in each of them (majorities versus minorities).
In the cases of ancient societies and in capitalist ones, the contempt for the sacrificed group, war prisoners in the former, proletarians and poor peasants in the latter, culture (reading reality) contributes to the consolidation of the system. In socialist countries, where workers and peasants are supposedly in power, the ‘sacrificial’ economy is seen as a transition period that is voluntarily accepted to construct the future equal society.
Objectively, the result is the same: the regenerating capacities of the earth are deeply affected. The victims, in both cases, are not aware for which progress they are dying or jeopardizing their physical and psychological integrity. Translated into terms of present day South/South relationships, it means extractivism and land grabbing by the most rapidly ‘emerging’ countries, in the territories of those less powerful. This is not so different as the North/South relations, except in the political field.
In socialist countries, when the logic of the market is reintroduced to boost the economic growth and the development of productive forces, new bourgeoisies are emerging who are trying to influence the political system in order to assert their social and economic power. The theory is that the State is strongly regulating the market, but in fact the State may even become regulated by the new social groups, through legal or illegal means. At that point the ‘sacrificial economy’ of the socialist countries is transformed into a means for private accumulation. We cannot ignore that the market is a social relation and not only an economic mechanism. This also affects South/South relations.
Present South/South relations and the reproduction of capitalist modernity
During the last BRICS meeting in Brazil, South/South relations between nations certainly introduced a new dynamic, with projects of infrastructures, credit facilities and exchanges of knowledge. However, there has been little or no transformation of the philosophy of development. Growth, commercial exchanges, prosperity are advocated, with little concern for their ecological and social costs.
Let us describe the issue in concrete terms. More international commerce means more transportation, more use of energy and of natural resources, more emissions of noxious gases, increasing pollution of the seas. The export of raw materials to the BRICS countries or between them means, for Latin America for example, the expansion of extractive activities, with new methods that are not particularly nature-friendly and highly damaging for local populations (like opencast mining, for example). It also results in a ‘re-primarizing’ of the economies and increasing international dependence. Land grabbing in Africa is developed on a large scale not only by multinational corporations, but also by BRICS countries, such as India in Ethiopia, China in the Philippines and Brazil in Mozambique. Thousands of acres are transformed into monocultures and local populations are expelled from their land. Indigenous peoples in Latin America do not care who is damaging their territories or polluting their waters: the US or local consortia, or enterprises from BRICS countries.
Credit facilities are offered for economic projects but in some cases with interest rates sometimes higher than those of the capitalist market. Indian and Brazilian multinationals are no better than the European or the American ones when it comes to respect for nature and labour exploitation. Chinese enterprises, private or public, soon adopt behaviour similar to those of the West. In this case, the main difference is to be found in the political field, where Western powers are influenced by traditional neocolonial purposes, while China, except perhaps in its immediate sphere of influence, does not try to intervene in internal political issues.
Such considerations may appear quite strong and pessimistic, precisely at a moment of interesting transformations in the field of South/South relations. I think that they are necessary, not to promote an apocalyptic vision of the future, or to discourage the efforts being made to create a multi-polar world, but to call attention to the fundamental crisis of the existing model of development. We need clear indications for new ways of action, initiated from the South, and applied within the framework of South/South relationships.
This is not ecological fundamentalism nor is it utopian socialism. Any relation with nature, it is true, will leave an ecological imprint. The problem is to re-establish the metabolic equilibrium (exchange of material). Any new collective initiative also means taking risks, which have to be democratically defined. Human responsibility in both fields is the centre of the new ethics. Another Bandung would be meaningless without a common search for a new paradigm of collective life on the planet and without the formulation of transition policies. This requires a criticism of the historical construction of the concept of modernity, in order to understand how such contradictions have been made possible and how they should be overcome.
How modernity has been absorbed by the logic of the market
In a short essay it is possible only to propose hypotheses based on the many writers who have reflected on the history of capitalism and of modernity from different angles, like Max Weber, Fernand Braudel, Walter Benjamin, Michel Baud, Maurice Godelier, Eric Hobsbawn, Immanuel Wallerstein, Jorge Beinstein, Samir Amin and others. In Europe, the development of modernity followed the long passage from a medieval society to the birth of mercantile capitalism, between the 12th and the 16th centuries. Forms of proto-capitalism developed in the 12th and the 13th centuries, especially in the cities of Northern Italy, thanks to increasing commercial activities with Eastern Europe (the Bogomils). In societies dominated by religious cultures, it is not strange that religious institutions and actors played a central role in this evolution.
In the 13th century, Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274) introduced Aristotelian rationality, not only within the field of theology, but also in socio-economic thinking about the political organization of societies, creating a link between the Middle Ages and a modernity that was rapidly absorbed by the logic of the market. The role of the great Arab thinkers was determinant at this time, as they constituted cultural bridges between the Greek philosophical traditions and medieval Europe. In centres of the economic and social transformation (Bologna and Paris), Thomas Aquinas was particularly sensitive to the need for a new intellectual approach and for an adaptation of Christian thinking.
Francis of Assisi (1181-1226) and his followers had reacted against the social relations that arose from the consolidation of the urban bourgeoisie. At the same time, religious legitimization of the Western conquests, from the Crusades to the later ‘discovery’ of the New World and even the justification of African slavery (not to mention the role of arbiter played by the popes in defining the limits of the imperial territories), added to the identification between modernity, called civilization, and economic expansion. International law came into existence as the right of international commerce, justified by the divine precept of developing the earth. Similar arguments were used later on by the settlers of North America to exterminate indigenous populations.
The Calvinist reformation of the 16th century was the result of the necessary adaptation of religious ethics to the needs of the new dominant group, the urban bourgeoisie. Max Weber has ably shown the affinity between Protestant ethics and the spirit of capitalism. But he failed to explain the social origin of the phenomenon. The later secularization of the concept of economic progress as the expression of modernity did not change its fundamental philosophy. On the contrary, it added to its power, abandoning a religious reference considered as pre-modern and obliged to find a new ideological legitimization. Modernity was then defined as human progress, linear in its orientation, driven by capitalist accumulation, the fruit of hard labour, and the source of permanent advancement. From the political point of view, the real break was achieved with the French Revolution.
In this process, the role of science and technology became central. Knowledge, freed from the holistic approach of former societies, by its gradual emancipation from natural cycles, was able to proceed autonomously in many different fields. It was the beginning of a tremendous scientific expansion, rapidly absorbed by the law of value and, like most human activities, instrumentalized by capitalist interests. Submitted to exchange value, science and technology helped in the unbridled expansion of capitalism that is identified with modernity and that contributed in their turn to the ignoring of externalities (particularly ecological and social damages), typical of the capitalist logic and the result of the loss of a holistic approach to reality. This contributed to make of science “the paradigm of all knowledge” and to extinguish an “authentic humanism that wanted to save life”, as expressed by Bolivar Echeverría.
Reactions against a modernity absorbed by the logic of capitalism
Identification between modernity and capitalist development has of course provoked many reactions, especially since the 19th century. In the West, utopian socialism has been one of them, but many other forms also appeared, not only in philosophical thinking, but also in the arts, architecture, urban planning and even in social movements (feminists). Karl Marx himself contributed to a critical approach, without using the notion of modernity as a central axis of his reflection. He dismantled the mechanisms of capitalist accumulation based on the law of value and showed the contradictions caused by the rupture of the metabolism between nature and human beings, as well as by the social relations of production, the concrete manifestations of capitalist modernity. However, in socialist countries, the concept was still conceived as linear progress on an inexhaustible planet. The reasons for this should therefore be explained because they have consequences even on contemporary South/South relations.
Continuing this rapid investigation into the sphere of social and philosophical thinking, we can quote the contribution of Antonio Gramsci (1891-1927) who stressed culture as a central part of the social construction and transformation of societies. According to him, the hegemony of capitalist logic cannot only be explained by its material power: it needs to colonize peoples’ minds. Therefore, its identification with progress and modernity is central. The main critical approach to modernity as embedded in the capitalist system has been the Frankfurt School and in particular that of Walter Benjamin (1892-1940).
For this author, modernity is the march of humanity towards a progress that is external to itself, what he calls ‘capitalist modernity’. Characterized by the centrality of exchange value, the recovery of modernity means reintroducing use value. The challenge is to build a non-capitalist modernity “restoring the real advances that humanity has realized during the last five centuries, but which were at the same time submitted to capitalist deformation, each day more invasive”. The psychological dimension of modernity was later studied by Michel Foucault in France and Eric Fromm, the Marxist psychiatrist, in the United States of America.
The May 68 movement that developed in Europe, particularly among students, took place towards the end of the economic boom of the post-war period. It revealed the contradictions between a prosperous capitalist system and the cultural values of liberty, aesthetics and spirituality. It extended to similar social groups all over the world, but failed to get to the roots of what was indeed a “wounded modernity”. The way had been traced in the West for the development of postmodernism in all its forms, radical and moderate. The former rejected all structural aspects of reality and became the best ideological companion for neoliberalism. The latter contributed in different ways to a critical approach of Western modernity associated with global capitalist hegemony.
In the periphery of central capitalism
All over the periphery of world capitalism similar critical processes were at work, according to different conditions. At first, there was a real fascination for an economy able to produce goods and services as never before, creating new opportunities for ruling local elites to reproduce their social hegemony, including some intelligent and dynamic individuals from the lower strata of society. This was modernity (in India, the brown sahib), also accompanied, among intellectuals, by a good knowledge of Western cultural elements of philosophy, arts and literature. It was called by the Ecuadorian philosopher Bolivar Echeverria (1941-2010), ‘the modernity of the baroque’.It also had repercussions in the political field, with the adoption of new political forms, such as that of Sun Yat-sen (1866-1925) at the beginning of the 20th Century in China and who is considered as the father of modern China. Similar modernization political and social initiatives took place in almost all Asian countries, like the Indian National Congress, founded as far back as 1885; the Awami League (1949) in Bangladesh; the UNP (1946) and SLFP (1951) in Sri Lanka; the Soka Gakkai (1930) in Japan and, after independence, in many African countries.
But at the same time, the destruction of former social and cultural structures also provoked reactions. In many societies, intellectual efforts were achieved to reconcile Western modernity with traditional values. This was, for example, the case in India, of Vivekananda (1863-1902) and of Sri Aurobindo (1872-1950). However, there was an implicit acceptance of a certain superiority of the West. Similar orientations can be found in the great oriental cultures and religions; in the Buddhism of Mahayana tradition as in Sri Lanka, or in the diverse forms of Hanayana Buddhism in China and Vietnam and even in the Tantric Buddhism of Tibet. Confucianism has known many forms of subtle adaptation to Western modernity, even to the point of challenging the uniqueness of the role of Protestant ethics as promoter of the spirit of capitalism. In the Islamic world of the Arab countries and of Iran, Pakistan and Indonesia, we find similar trends.
In other cases, the accent has been on the resistance capacity of non-Western cultures against the penetration of the mental colonization that accompanied economic and political domination. Tolstoy (1828-1910) in Russia and many other Russian intellectuals, together with countless religious and peasant movements are examples of such reaction. In India, Gandhi (1869-1948) promoted a return to traditional forms of living and, at the same time, a revival of ahimsa (respect for life) as a tool of political action (non-violence). In Africa, the concept of négritude proposed by Leopold Senghor (1906-2001) to rebuild African identity, was a manifestation of the same trend. Franz Fanon (1925-1961) went still further with his denunciation of the cultural devastation of colonialism, as a result of the logic of capitalism.
In Iran, the work of Ali Shariati (1933-1977), sociologist and philosopher, advocated a new reading of Islam, associated with a criticism of capitalism. He had been a friend of Franz Fanon and influenced by the Egyptian Jodat al-Shahhar. He died very young, probably assassinated by the secret police of the Shah. Mahmoud Mohamed Taha (1909-1985), in Sudan, engineer and founder of a socialist-oriented party, proposed a new interpretation of the Koran. He was subjected to a public hanging in Khartoum for his non-conventional social and religious ideas. In India, Ashis Nandy (b.1937), philosopher and sociologist, who was inspired by Rabindranath Tagore, proposes building a new social project based on India’s own historical and cultural background, in order to promote a collective liberation from neoliberalism and in opposition to hindutva (Indian nationalism). In the same country, Marxist scholars from Kerala (Namboodiripad) and West Bengal (Bagshi) developed more radical positions, but sometimes less related to historical cultural roots.
In Latin America, the revival of the indigenous peoples at the end of the 20th century created a strong challenge to Western modernity. For them, it had meant 500 years of oppression and cultural destruction. Notions such as Sumak Kawzai (Quechua) and Suma Qamaña (Aymara), meaning buen vivir (the good life), were rehabilitated to express the necessity to create harmony between ‘mother earth’ and human beings, between communities and personal well-being. The fundamental basis of this world vision is a holistic approach to reality, confronted with the dramatic consequences of capitalist modernity.
Also in Latin America, liberation philosophy and liberation theology developed critical positions on the capitalist system, as being ‘peripheral’ and dependent in the subcontinent. More recently this has led to a greater awareness of the ecological dimensions of modernity and its destruction of ecosystems and the natural environment.
One of the best Marxist philosophers on this subject was Bolivar Echeverria (1941-2010), an Ecuadorian who studied in Germany and worked at the National University of Mexico. He was profoundly inspired by Walter Benjamin and he speaks about the ‘illusions of modernity’, because of its absorption by capitalism. The result is that the crisis of capitalism leads to the crisis of modernity. It is a global reality, because recent history has been the “capitalist and ‘Europeanizing’ modernization of the planet“.  It globalized “the experience of the market as the privileged locus of socialization”.This is explained by the fact that use value, or the “real presence of things in the world… depends on its existence as an economic value” . For him, the system of satisfaction of necessities, built by capitalism, can only be maintained by a system of productive capacities that harms society as a whole and by exhausting its natural basis. Such a cynical social system, oriented by the infinite increase of the benefits of capital, is not only the result of a mode of production, but also of a whole civilization. Therefore capitalist modernity has to be challenged, both intellectually and in practice, and the South is a strategic place for such a struggle.
All those experiences of the South – and many others could be added – witness to the necessity of a new paradigm, to be expressed in diverse ways. Socialist revolutions, in the periphery of the central capitalist system, have challenged colonial imperialism and the specific organization of the social relations of production of this economic system. They have introduced a more universal answer to social and individual necessities. But they did not change the concept of modernity as a linear progress on an inexhaustible planet. They did not emancipate themselves from a vision that was historically introduced by the logic of capitalism. Now that this is conducting us to a fundamental and irreversible crisis, the main concern should be to conceive the development of productive forces in another way: not based on sacrifice and the supremacy of exchange value, but responding to social necessities.
The time has come to reverse the perspectives. Karl Polanyi in The Great Transformation, demonstrated very well that capitalism disembedded the economy from society as a whole and then imposed its own law (the law of value) as the basic form of the organization and functioning of society. We have to re-insert the economy into society as a whole, including its relations with nature. If this is socialism, it means more than a change of the social relations of production. It requires a change in world vision. This is much more than a regulation of the capitalist system or an adaptation of the logic of the market to respond to new ecological and social demands. We need a change of paradigm, a new holistic approach to reality.
This is why neo-Keynesianism, or the proposals of the Stiglitz Commission on the World Financial and Monetary Crisis (2009), or the very partial solutions proposed by Thomas Piketty to reduce social distances without class struggle, as well as the so-called ‘social market economy’, are unsatisfactory answers. They may inspire some measures of transition, but only on the condition that they are guided by another conception of humankind’s collective life on the planet, and this means a reconstruction of modernity.
Toward a post-capitalist modernity
If capitalism is a parenthesis in the history of mankind and already at the end of its cycle, it is because it has become more destructive than constructive, to use the categories of Schumpeter. If it is really ‘senile’, in the words of Samir Amin, or if it has already died, as suggested by Immanuel Wallerstein, we must envisage an alternative and build the instruments for a transition. This is not only the task of intellectuals, even ‘organic’ ones, but also of social and political movements and of all the social experiments going on all over the world to promote peasant and organic agriculture, the social economy, participatory democracy, interculturalism.
This does not mean a simple return to the past, to the world that preceded the opening of the capitalist parenthesis. Even if holistic in their world visions, pre-capitalist societies were historically situated, with weak development of their productive forces, a symbolic way of thinking that identified reality and symbols, and with some forms of class structures in the more materially advanced ones, and communitarian social organization in others. To revisit their cultural heritage does not mean to adopt their cosmovision. Neither can we accept attempts to reconstruct an illusionary past as a basis of identity, as with the fundamentalist politico-religious movements, in particular political Islam.
A post-capitalist modernity cannot mean either taking refuge in utopian projects for an economy without a market, for a society without institutions, for a human history limited to individual initiatives, for education without schools. These do not lead to real transformations. At most, they may recall the necessity for permanent critical thinking. The contribution of science and technology cannot be ignored, but their development should be submitted to use value as defined by the common good of humanity and nature, and not to exchange value. Cultural production in all societies of the world has been relatively autonomous, even in the most abject and oppressive social and political regimes, and it has been able to contribute to the collective patrimony of humankind. It may also contribute to the construction of a post-capitalist paradigm.
This, of course, is not just a dream. It has to be applied in very concrete steps in all aspects of the collective life of humanity on earth. Every society has to respond to four main questions to promote and maintain its existence: how to relate with nature? how to produce the material basis of its existence? how to organize collectively? how to read reality and elaborate ethical norms of conduct? It is with these four central pillars that a new paradigm can be constructed as a utopia in the positive sense of the term, i.e. an aim to be achieved in a permanent practical effort.
The first consists of re-establishing the equilibrium of the metabolism between nature and human beings (who of course are themselves the conscious part of nature). This means abandoning a concept of nature as a provider of natural resources to be exploited as commodities (the capitalist vision), and adopting instead an attitude of respect, because nature is the source of all life – physical, cultural, spiritual. The concrete applications of such a principle are numerous, from the public character of natural wealth to the non-commodification of the natural elements essential for life, like water and seed. This would impede the irrational trade in goods only for comparative advantages, creating heavy dependency on raw materials and energy and polluting the seas and the atmosphere.
The second one is the way of producing the material basis of life and responding to the system of necessities. Restoring the priority of use value would be the main instrument of change, with all its consequences on the property of the means of production, the end of the predominance of financial capital, the abolishment of fiscal paradises, etc.
The third pillar is the generalization of democratic processes in all sectors of collective life. A first step is to promote a participatory and decentralized State, instead of the Jacobin central conception needed to serve capitalist concentration or promote de facto the monopoly of decision by a bureaucratic elite, leaving little space for popular intervention and initiative. However, such a generalization has also to be applied also in many other sectors, like the economic one and in the fields of culture, sport, social communication and religion.
Finally interculturalism, as the possibility for all cultures, philosophies and spiritualities to contribute to the change of paradigm, is the way of promoting the interchange of knowledge, multiplicity of expressions of values and better communications. Modernity cannot be equated with Western culture, especially in its capitalist version. The practical applications of pluri- and inter-culturalism are multiple, in the domain of patterns for example, but also of education and the means of social communication. The common elaboration of a collective ethics that corresponds to the new aims is also an essential part of the cultural dimension.
Those four pillars constitute the practical content of a post-capitalist paradigm that we could call The Common Good of Humanity, because it assumes a holistic approach to reality, a sense of solidarity between all human beings, responsible behaviour toward nature: in a word, a world of harmony where the reproduction and the betterment of life is the main purpose, as opposed to a system of death, built on the destruction of nature and a sacrificial conception of human development. However such a paradigm may have many names, according to the various cultural references of peoples in the universe.
The proof that this is not an illusion is the thousands of initiatives that are being taken in the four different pillars for the construction of a post-capitalist paradigm. They are still dispersed, limited in dimension and often strongly repressed by the system, but they do exist and indicate the way forward to solutions. However, there is limited time to achieve several of these goals. We also know that the capitalist system is not yet dead, even if the signs of its weakness are ever more numerous and apparent. The dominant classes will fiercely resist and, in their cynicism, they will be prepared to sacrifice half of humanity to prolong their own existence. This is why the passage to a new post-capitalist paradigm will not take place without social struggles. The role of social movements and of political organizations remains central.
However, even if the transformation cannot be called anything other than a revolutionary step, we have to be conscious of the necessity of transitions. The old debate between revolution and reforms is often revived on this point but Rosa Luxemburg was right in seeing this dichotomy as a false problem. The whole question is the axiology of transitions. They can mean an adaptation of the capitalist system to new pressures or they can be steps to build the new paradigm. Sometimes the same concrete measures can serve the two purposes. In the former case they will simply be regulations of the economic system in order to avoid natural or social catastrophes which would affect the process of accumulation. In the latter, they would be provisional decisions, in anticipation of other steps, because of the physical or the political impossibility of acting otherwise in the present circumstances.
In Latin America, the progressive governments are post-neoliberal but not post-capitalist ones, with only a few more radical initiatives, like ALBA (the Bolivarian Integration of America) or the communal organizations in Venezuela. In general they can hardly be considered as real transitions. In socialist countries like China and Vietnam, the reintroduction of mechanisms of the market to boost the development of productive forces, is also reintroducing social relations of production quite contrary to the construction of socialism, even if the State is supposed to control them and if they are considered as provisional. Furthermore, the continuity of the concept of modernity as a linear progress on an inexhaustible planet does not help to change practice. Fortunately critical thinking is also developing and the official discourse begins to adopt new perspectives for the long term, although this has little effect on the short term.
South/South relations as a way to construct a post-capitalist paradigm
To come back to South/South relations, it should be clear that they will be only completely genuine if they become a mechanism to cooperate in building the post-capitalist paradigm and in creating practical forms of transition. This is an urgent matter that cannot wait any longer. An enormous field is open for this and it should be investigated systematically. It can include common transitional measures against the domination of monopolistic capitalism, such as imposing collective protective rules against the practices of multinational enterprises in mining, agro-business and the financial sector. But it can also take positive forms like the exchange of knowledge, the financing of family peasant agriculture, the protection of indigenous minorities, new ways of developing productive forces without destroying the regeneration capacity of the earth, the democratization of international organizations, the valorization of traditional holistic visions of society that are able to develop a post-capitalist culture – just to quote some examples.
Southern societies may play an important role in the change of paradigm for two main reasons. First they have been, because of their dependent situation, the main victims of the world system and therefore they may be more sensitive to the need for a fundamental change. Second, they are still relatively close to a holistic vision of reality and to the importance of traditional knowledge, even if the passage of generations tends to erase it. Seeds of transformation do exist and they should be cultivated. This is a primary task for South/South relations.
The creation of a multi-polar world may become a transitional measure toward a new post-capitalist modernity only if it does not simply reproduce the same internal and inter-relational conception of the past capitalist modernity. The real challenge is to propose a paradigm free of contamination by the law of value. In this way, South/South relations may mean a common effort to close the parenthesis of capitalism in human history. This is essential for the survival of the planet and of humanity.
- François Houtart is a professor at the National Institute of Higher Studies, Quito (Ecuador).
 See, François Houtart, Agrofuels, big profits, ruined lines and ecological destruction, Pluto, London, 2010
Every day, 22,000 large tonnage ships cross the oceans in international trade
 In Ecuador the Chinese rates are between 7 and 8 %, while the IMF fixes its own rates at between 3 and 4 %
 In the Congo, the mining contracts between the local government and Chinese enterprises stipulate the prohibition of strikes by the workers
 Carlos Antonio Aguirre Rojas, in his introduction to the book of Bolivar Echeverria, Siete Approximaciones a Walter Benjamin, Desde Abajo, Bogotá, 2010
 Bolivar Echverría, La Modernidad de lo Barroco, Era, Mexico, 1999
 Mahmoud Mohamed Taha, Un Islam a vocation libératrice, L’Harmattan, Paris, 2002, with a preface by Samir Amin and an introduction by François Houtart
 Enrique Dussel, Philosophie de la Libération, L’Harmattan, Paris, 1999
 In particular, the works of the Brazilian theologian Leonardo Boff
 Bolivar Echeverría, Las Ilusione de la Modernidad, UNAM, Mexico, 1994
 Bolivar Echeverría, Siete Aproximaciones a Walter Benjamin, Desde Abajo, Bogotá, 2010, p.21
 Thomas Piketty, Capital in the XXIth Century, Belknap Press of Harvard University, Cambridge, Mass./London, 2014
 Birgit Daiber and François Houtart, A postcapitalist paradigm, The Common Good of Humanity, Rosa Luxemburg Foundation, Brussels, 2012