Toward a Very Political Economy of Capitalism

In case anyone is curious about my take on the possibilities of democratization of capitalism, this is a preview of  some things I will be talking about here in Brighton. In academic jargon, it is an abstract, starting with a couple of conceptual clarifications.

A full paper will be available later. I post these short lines here with the hope that someone might care to give me constructive criticism (or any other comments).

Right now a wonderful conference on What’s The Point of International Relations is going on at the University of Sussex. Various key people of our academic discipline (or however one wants to call IR) are speaking here. It was a real honor to be included in that list, also because I have wanted to come to Sussex University (and the cool town of Brighton) since a long time.

Some of the words I might be playing with today are:

Very political economy explores the inherently political nature of things that are commonly defined as economic. It is opposed to the kind of political economy that merely analyzes the interaction between the political and the economic. It does sound better in Romance languages and I first came up with the term when I was teaching economía política at the economics department of the Catholic University of Perú. I informally renamed my course economía muy política.

Economism is a term I find better than, say, neoliberalism to describe the key ideology of capitalism. It is sometimes used in wildly different meanings, which helps obscure debates about it. For me it refers to the idea that the economic is a non-political sphere in which democratic claims have no validity.

Democratizability says something about the legitimacy of democratic claims upon an entity. I am fascinated by the extent of  democratizability of non-state entities, including social movement organizations and capitalist corporations. On the former see e.g. my article on Global Democratization without Hierarchy or Leadership.

Politicization can increase the legitimacy of making democratic claims about something. The politicization of the economic may open new possibilities for democratic transformations of capitalism. Politicization is by no means a sufficient condition for democratization, but it can be considered its necessary condition.

Learning from feminist struggles includes various kinds of political inspiration. Attention to gender-related issues is one of them, but there are also other lessons for strategies of democratizing the world.  When talking about anti-capitalist movements I sometimes make an analogy with how feminist movements were able to politicize patriarchal family by insisting that the personal is political. Without such politicization, subsequent democratic reforms concerning intra-family violence or childcare would have been difficult, if not impossible, to achieve. Even if the impact may not have been particularly revolutionary, it was an example of politicization practiced by theorists and activists that contributed to social change.


In my talk today I will argue that within the academic discipline of International Relations, including the field of International Political Economy, the capitalist corporation has often been approached through excessively depoliticized theoretical lenses. Even if political aspects of corporate power are recognized, the political tends to be derived from the state. 

Despite repeated declarations to transgress the boundary between the political and the economic, much of the research in International Political Economy rests on a separation between the two categories.

The corporations tend to be considered political either because the state intervenes in their actions or because they influence the state. Thus, the inherently political nature of the corporation itself is left without sufficient attention.

This limits the usefulness of state-centric IR in both explaining and transforming global capitalism. When something is politicized, the legitimacy of making democratic claims about it increases.

In the paper I will explore the possibilities for a global politicization of non-state actors in general and capitalist corporations in particular. Examples of the global political will be located in intra-firm trade and other instances of corporate planning and command. The role of anti-corporate social movements and corporate social responsibility claims will also be analyzed.

In the paper I will suggest an analogy with earlier feminist strategies of claiming that the personal is political. What kinds of implications will there be for IR theory and for democratic strategies if we take seriously the claim the corporation is political?


First Response to Elections in Venezuela: Past Confidence in Vote Counting Confirmed

The opposition has won the parliamentary election in Venezuela. President Maduro recognized the defeat immediately and called for calm. In this sense, at least for now, he seems to follow the immediate response of his predecessor Hugo Chávez when the latter lost the referendum in 2007.
Over many years opinions inside and outside Venezuela have been widely divided on many aspects of the Chavista regime. One thing that has been less controversial is that the vote counting in the electoral process can be considered relatively reliable.
Other aspects of several elections have been questioned, and the lack of international observers casts some doubts on the transparency of the overall process. Nevertheless, the core parts of the vote counting system seem to have functioned well.
After the presidential election of 2013, an article published by Forbes, a paper not generally known for leftist sympathies, stated:
“Venezuela employs one of the most technologically advanced verifiable voting systems in the world, designed to protect voters from fraud and tampering and ensure the accuracy of the vote count. Accuracy and integrity are guaranteed from the minute voters walk into the polls to the point where a final tally is revealed.”
The first responses to the current election results seem to confirm the overall confidence in the vote counting system. It remains to be seen, though, what the final judgement will be on the reasons and relevance of some of the polling stations’ voting machines breaking down.
When accepting defeat, president Maduro said that constitution and democracy have triumphed. We are likely to see heated moments, as the government and the parliament will be controlled by opposed groups, but the first responses seem calmer than many had expected.

Finns Party Member of Parliament Ignorant of the Constitutional Right to Demonstrate

There was an energetic antiracist demonstration yesterday in Helsinki. It was triggered by comments that Member of Parliament Olli Immonen had made in Facebook a few days earlier. Many people, including myself, considered these comments by a high-profile Finns Party member disgustingly racist.

Especially for the standards of the Finnish protest culture, the demonstration was mostly deemed a great success. Sure, there were some minor contradictions.

Today another Finns Party Member of Parliament, Jani Mäkelä, decided to question yesterday’s demonstration. So he asked in Twitter how the demonstration was able to get permits from the authorities so fast. Smart. Except that the Finnish constitution happens to be quite clear: no permit is needed for demonstrations. Continue reading

The Campaign Against G4S at University of Helsinki Was Successful

The University of Helsinki changes its provider of security services. The previous provider was G4S, widely criticized for its alleged human rights violations in Palestine/Israel and elsewhere. This can be considered a victory for the campaign that had demanded that G4S be kicked out of the University of Helsinki. I feel happy.

I am not in the position to make any official statements about the reasons behind my university’s decision to discontinue relying on the services of the G4S. The previous contract was over, G4S was bidding for a new one and lost the bid. Nevertheless, I believe it is clear that our campaign had an impact on the process. Let me briefly remind you of some of the moments of the campaign. Continue reading

Should the CIA have a Recruitment Booth at International Studies Association Conventions?

“Imagine this is your first high school reunion and nonchalantly you say ‘I work for the CIA’ and all eyes turn toward you”.

This was written on a CIA promotional leaflet distributed at an International Studies Association (ISA) convention a few years ago. Hilarious, for sure, but also disturbing.

How come an agency that systematically tortures people has been able to have a recruitment booth at the world’s largest academic gathering of international studies? I started wondering about this when packing to cross the ocean for yet another ISA annual meeting. Continue reading

Professorikokous ilmaisi selkeän vastalauseen yliopiston johdon esitykselle

Kun Helsingin yliopiston suuressa konsistorissa ilmaistiin kannatusta yliopiston johdon esitykselle dekaanien valintatavasta, yksikään professori ei ilmoittanut kannattavansa sitä.  

Helsingin yliopiston suuri konsistori piti juuri kokouksensa. Kyse on yliopiston kaikkien professorien muodostamasta elimestä, jolla ei ole varsinaista päätösvaltaa. Kokouksessa keskusteltiin yliopiston johdon tekemästä esityksestä uudeksi johtosäännöksi. Continue reading

Marina Silva’s Unclear Endorsement Capacity: Reflections on Brazilian Election Results

Is Marina Silva able and willing to endorse? Who will win the battle for signification of change? After the main text, some wild speculation on countering the right-wing momentum of São Paulo with Lula the governor and more serious speculation on the second round of the presidential election.

Continue reading