Raj Patel – The Value of Nothing / Jeremy Rifkin – The Empathetic Civilization

Raj Patel – The Value of Nothing / Jeremy Rifkin – The Empathetic Civilization

RAIM-Seattle reportback from Town Hall in Seattle [part 1 of 2]


Raj Patel spoke at Town Hall in late January, to promote his latest book The Value of Nothing. He begins by highlighting a quote in the book from Oscar Wilde, stating that “people today know the price of everything and the value of nothing.”   He uses the quote to pinpoint the pro-capitalist consumer mentality towards the concept of value.  This is precisely the mentality among First World populations today with their “mall economy.”

Within this introduction, Patel states that “I’m not a communist, but I am open-minded.”  He manages to throw some positive words thrown in for socialism that drew applause from the nominally “left” groupings in the auditorium.  Also thrown into the intro is Patel’s mentioning of his new status as an Amerikkkan citizen.  Interestingly enough, applause came from the very same corners of the hall for both Patel’s new Amerikkkan citizenship and for “socialism.”  This is so very typical of the “we love Amerikkka” politics of the fake “left” in Seattle, whether of the demokkkratic or “revolutionary” flavor.   Following the applause, Patel stated that his decision to become an Amerikkkan citizen was not patriotic, but tactical, so that he would simply not be deported for protesting against u$ imperialism!   RAIM loudly applauded to this rhetorical curveball response by Patel, to this visible discomfort of the Amerikkka loving “socialists” in the crowd.

As in the opening chapter of The Value of Nothing, Patel gives a concrete example of the real cost of a typical $4.00 Amerikkkan fast-food McShitburger.  (1)  He cites a report from the Centre for Science and the Environment stating that the actual cost of that $4 shitburger is more like $200.  Patel points out the $200 tag might actually be on the low end, given the added hidden costs of Amerikkkan corn subsidies and of the junk-food related health care costs (heart disease, diabetes, obesity, etc.)  RAIM will one-up Patel on the cost of the shitburger even further:  The hidden cost of this so-called “cheap food” is concealed within the superexploitation of Third World labor by the First World as a whole.   This can be seen with the median global wage standing around $2.50 an hour, while 90% of Amerikkkans are among the world’s richest 15%. *(2,3)  We would remind Patel that it’s not just exploited tomato pickers in Immokalee, Florida who are absorbing the cost of that $4 sodium/cholesterol krapwich.  All this waste and exploitation, so Amerikkkan soccer moms/dads can take their brood through the drive-thru after soccer practice, thus neutralizing any benefit for the kids gained from physical exercise.  The insustainability and utter parasitism of the way Amerikkkans eat is sickening enough.  Contrast it to the overall suffering in the Third World from malnutrition related diseases, and it becomes just downright infuriating.

Patel uses the burger example to point to the overall failure of the current economic paradigm of “free markets.”  He conjures up the exchange between u$ Congressman Henry Waxman and former Fed chairman Alan Greenspan, in the Amerikkkan congressional hearings following the 2008 economic meltdown. (4)  In Greenspan’s testimony, he states that he found a “… flaw in the model that I perceived as the critical functioning structure that defines how the world works… I was shocked, because I’ve been going for forty years or more [In particular, the post-Bretton Woods form of imperialism] with very considerable evidence that it had been working exceptionally well.”  Raj Patel plays up this admission by Ayn Rand devotee Green$pan to be significant admission for an imperialist in our era.  In reality, there have been several such significant admissions like this from the imperialist class.  One of the most significant of these admissions was made by u$ Gen. Smedley Butler nearly a century ago:  “In short, I was a racketeer, a gangster for capitalism.”  The exploited in the Global South, of course, don’t need any of these imperialists to admit the various flaws and evils of their system to know this fact.  The Third World masses have known what the full price of imperialism has been the whole time.  It is they, who are paying that price in the death and suffering from war, repression, malnutrition, preventable disease, illiteracy, and underdevelopment.

As an alternative to the bankrupt capitalist paradigm, Patel presents “the commons” as studied by u$ economist Elinor Ostrom.  He states within The Value of Nothing:

“There were organizations before what we call the modern state, and they’ll be organizations after it.  Some of them were, and will be, more democratic than those we have right now.  Those that thrive will have figured out how to make governments manage ‘free’ goods in ways that are both sustainable and equitable.  Insofar as tomorrow’s governments succeed, they will owe a debt to yesterday’s politics of the public domain, to older ways of viewing and sharing the world, which were once more thoughtfully called ‘the commons’.”  (5)

Whether or not “the commons”, as Patel defines it, is the best system to replace imperialism is a better question for our Maoist-Third Worldist friends of the Internationalist Jacobin Club (IJC).  RAIM-S is passing its notes on the event and Patel’s book to IJC, to assist in their research project on a post-imperialist society.  However, RAIM does share Raj Patel’s view of how the commons was historically undermined the world over by the advance of colonialism, capitalism, and modern imperialism.   This is shown from stealing the land of and wiping out the First Nations in the “New World”, through the eviction of peasants from what was once considered “common land” in 19th century England, to the ongoing imperialist machinations in Africa.  Patel demonstrates how it was necessary for the ruling classes (then and now) to uproot any “common” approach to running society, in order to make way for the functioning of private property, land rents, and wage labor instead.

Patel also makes the connection with this “commodification” process in society to the historical disenfranchisement of women, economically and politically.  He shows how historically women were in many cases the administrators of common property and the defenders of the environment.  Thus, the agents of modern capitalism employed the patriarchal “witch hunt” to slander, silence, enslave and/or eliminate these influential women of the commons.  Similarly, RAIM sees the “intersectionality” of three strands of oppression (class, nation, and gender) as both the root, and ultimately the fatal weakness of, imperialism itself.

It is with this that Raj Patel mentions La Via Campesina (International Peasants Movement), to which RAIM is one of the few heard giving applause in the vast hall full of “lefty” Seattleites.  Via Campesina, as a movement of exploited food producers, is a key player in the “anti-globalization” struggles.  The organization advances the concept of “food sovereignty” in its resistance against imperialist institutions and corporations.  “Food sovereignty,” according to the peasant movement, “is the peoples’, Countries’ or State Unions’ RIGHT to define their agricultural and food policy.” (6)  The demand for food sovereignty is a revolutionary, Third Worldist demand that RAIM can have unity with.

La Via Campesina was originally founded in the First World, and is active in organizing anti-capitalist resistance among the marginally exploited (as in Immokalee, Florida).  Given its internationalism on the food question, they have understandably found most of its focus on the struggles of Third World.  Speaking to the intersection of strands of oppression, Patel recites the slogan of Via Campesina:  “Food sovereignty is about an end to all forms of violence against women.” (7)  We totally agree with this slogan as a righteous expression of genuine, internationalist feminism.  The point is that the violence that Third World women face daily has the effect of ensuring their exploitation by patriarchy with “domestic” labor.  Phony “revolutionaries” talk about women’s rights in Iran,  while they barely peep about the violence of Saudi Arabia’s patriarchy.  The monarchist regime of Saudi Arabia, a staunch u$ lackey, makes Iran look like a Western pro-sex liberal feminist haven – in any honest scholarly comparison of Islamic societies.  Notice how the u$ State Department spews the same unaccountable shit totally in tandem with these fake “leftists”  through the imperialist media!  Coincidence?

From this account, Patel claims that Via Campesina is one successful model (with the Zapatistas being another) of a new “commons” with a sustainable perspective on value.  We agree with this only in part.  RAIM has nothing but praise for most of their “Declaration of the Rights of Peasants,” especially the following radical prescription:  (8)

“[From Article XI] … 5.  Peasants (women and men) have the right to reparation for ecological debt and the historical and current dispossession of their territories.”

RAIM and its allies have always called for radical reparations on a global scale from the First World to Third World.  We have unity with La Via Campesina on this and other key points in their declaration.  On the subject of reparations:  Within The Value of Nothing, Patel uses an estimate from Joseph Stiglitz and Linda Bilmes on the “value” of an Amerikkkan life (approx. $7.2 million) lost in the Iraq occupation.  Applying this very $7.2 million figure to Iraqi civilians yields a total price tag of $8.6 TRILLION, according to Patel. (9)  Amerikkkans will have to pay at least that amount, and many times over for every other imperialist crime of plunder and genocide; from Afghanistan, Vietnam, and all the way back to KKKolumbus.  Only then can they avoid being deported and their leaders guillotined.  We’re not holding our breath for Amerikkka to ever pay up willingly though.  The Third World will eventually have to defeat the First World, and decisively, in order to extract the reparations due to them.  It’s with this perspective that we ask of Raj Patel and Via Campesina, “What’s up with this?”  Observe from the following from La Via Campesina’s declaration:

“[From Article XII] … 5.  Peasants (women and men) have the right to resist oppression and to resort to peaceful direct action in order to protect their rights”

What?  How the hell can the international rural proletariat and peasantry really “have the right to resist oppression” when the only have the right to do so “using peaceful direct action”?  Via Campesina shouldn’t tie their hands from utilizing armed resistance.  The Monsanto Corporation has direct access to the war apparatus of u$ imperialism and its lackeys in the Third World.

Let’s briefly forget about extracting reparations from Monsanto for the devastation done to the planet and food producers worldwide:  How the hell is Via Campesina supposed to merely defend itself from a full on state military assault, sponsored by the Monsanto mafia?  Does Raj Patel really think scumbag imperialists like Monsanto are just going to give up on forcing their genetically modified crops on the international peasantry, and voluntarily respect their food sovereignty rights?  Is Boeing going to stop building weapons of mass destruction just because someone in the lame First Worldist “anti-war” movement shouted loud enough for them to hear?

The Iraqi armed resistance to Amerikkkan imperialism, and not exclusively is what got the Blackkkwater “rent-a-pig” pigpen (now called “Xe”) into its current business troubles.  RAIM’s critique of Via Campesina’s is not radical:  The UN Charter itself, not exactly a revolutionary manifesto, upholds the right to use armed force in self-defense and in resistance to oppression.  Other Third World resistance movements have studied Via Campesina’s vision of food sovereignty.  La Via Campesina should, in turn, study Ward Churchill’s Pacifism as Pathology and Lin Biao’s pamphlet “Long Live the Victory of People’s War!” **in the hope that their resistance to imperialism is strengthened.  While is definitely true that “It’s right to rebel,” but it is also just as true that “In order to get rid of the gun, it is necessary to take up the gun.”

During the Q&A, Patel addressed the looming “What about Haiti?” question.  Patel correctly characterizes the Bu$h/KKKlinton joint-mission to Haiti as akin to sending “two of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse to save Haiti.  He also exposes the criminal role of colonialist France and imperialist Amerikkka exploiting and oppressing Haiti, historically and currently.

Another inevitable question to Patel was “So, what can we [First Worlders] do?”  To this, Patel gave recognition to the Community Alliance for Global Justice (CAGJ) in Seattle as the most effective local organization upholding food sovereignty.  While educating First Worlders about food sovereignty issues ”at home” (local/organic produce, lifestyle sustainability, edible landscaping, etc.) might have some minor benefit,  it is still putting the cart before the horse.  The better part of CAGJ’s work highlights Third World food sovereignty efforts.

RAIM cuts to the chase with its approach to global change.  We don’t waste our time trying to persuade Amerikkkans, one “progressive” white community at a time, to stop being global parasites and start living sustainably.  Raj Patel is incorrect to characterize the perspective of the Amerikkkan mASSes as being a case of false consciousness, or “Anton’s Blindness.” (10)  The reactionary consumerist perspective of First Worlders is their true class consciousness as a global parasite class.  We openly state that the will of the world’s exploited majority must set the terms for a truly just global economy, with a perspective on value that serves the people and preserves the planet.

Let the Third World recoup the real costs of that shitburger from these overfed gringos!


  1. Raj Patel, The Value of Nothing, pg. 43-44
  2. “Program of the Revolutionary Anti-Imperialist Movement,” RAIM Global Digest, Volume 2 / Issue 2
  3. “RAIM-Seattle on the Recent WTO 10 year anniversary,” RAIM Global Digest, Volume 2 / Issue 2
  4. Raj Patel, The Value of Nothing, pg. 6
  5. Ibid., pg. 90
  6. Ibid., pg. 122
  7. Ibid., pg. 124
  8. Declaration of the Rights of Peasants – Women and Men,” http://viacampesina.net/downloads/PDF/EN-3.pdf
  9. Raj Patel, The Value of Nothing, pg. 17
  10. Ibid., pg.20-24

*  Also check out “Net Exploitation by the Numbers” at http://raimd.wordpress.com/2010/01/11/net-exploitation-by-the-

**  Available at http://raimd.wordpress.com/our-program-faq-contact-more-info