26 December 2022

Primitive accumulation

Humiliation and enthusiasm in Georgia

© Mariam Nikuradze / OC Media

In this article, Giorgi Khasaia, an anthropologist and a member of Khma (“The Voice”) socialist movement, describes the post-socialist economic model in Georgia, a specific form of capitalism – oligarchic capitalism. Giorgi Khasaia argues that although this form of social relations emerged in Russia in the wake of Yegor Gaidar’s reforms, it is Georgia where it was fully realised. Under the conditions of post-Soviet oligarchic capitalism the country transforms into a “low intensity democracy”, the citizens lose influence on the country’s policy making, and their fate is decided not in the parliament but in the market, which brings about humiliation, hopelessness and despair. In Georgia, this model of social relations is opposed by the “resistance enthusiasm”, a form of protest which arose in Georgian villages and subsequently spread to Georgian cities.

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On January 16, 2022, a 52-years-old forced migrant from Abkhazia who lived in a former sanatorium Kartli, jumped off the roof of the 7-storey sanatorium building. The forced migrants living in that building had long been asking the authorities for apartments. The sound of the body falling to the ground, the sound of the body pressed into the ground was the only thing to elicit social response – after a protest of the forced migrants, the government made a public pledge to provide the apartments promptly. This is a tragedy of the voiceless – their voice is heard only as a proof of their physical absence, of their total vulnerability, of the horror that befell them. A young man living in the same sanatorium building says they are using a former toilet as a kitchen. This is how humiliation is introduced into everyday life, and even when we don’t remember the very fact of humiliation, it continues to exist like a virus, it undergoes mutations, and can overcome weak antibodies thus causing hopelessness and despair.

On December 17, 2019, a 15-years-old schoolboy Luka Siradze after coming home from a police station where he was interrogated and threatened for six and a half hours, jumped off the ninth floor. The 15-years-old Luka was accused of breaking into a private school and leaving an inscription on the wall. The school administration reported damaged property to the police. The inscription on the wall read, “… this life.” The order we live in has its logic of development, and by this logic Luka Siradze is someone who caused damage to private property. For this kind of order, any infringement on private property is a mortal sin. Because in our country everything is done in order to create and defend the private owner – education reforms, tax reforms, political battles, protest masquerades. And the police treat us in accordance with our class origin. This is what our police was created and reformed for – they are supposed to protect the haves from dangerous desires of the have-nots.

In 2019, some of the striking miners of Chiatura, who approached the Georgian Manganese Holding about a 30% salary increase, sewed their mouths. In the course of extracting manganese in the village of Shukruti in the Chiatura region the Georgian Manganese Holding was destroying houses, taking away the land, and damaging the roads. In 2021, Shukruti residents sewed their mouths in protest.

Sewing one’s mouth shut is a form of silence or speechlessness, of refusal of verbal communication as a futile individual practice which is substituted by showing the painful body to the public. According to German trade union publicist Slave Cubela, violent protest fuelled by rage should be understood as “the language of the unheard.” However, in the case of the miners and the Shukruti residents as in the case of Luka Siradze and the forced migrant, what we are dealing with is not violence to the perceived oppressor, but violence to oneself as a result of which one silences oneself once and for all. Expression of class discontent, struggle for class interests requires an appropriate infrastructure. And as we don’t have such an infrastructure (strong trade unions, social organisations, etc), these practices of self-silencing are but the last hopeless gestures of the inability to express discontent.

In September 2021, the investor company ENKA Renewables terminated a contract with the Georgian government and refused to build an $800 million hydro power plant in the village of Namakhvani. The company claims that the termination of the contract was due to violations of its terms and force majeure. In fact, this was made possible owing to the resistance of the people who for over 500 days and nights physically blocked predatory investment for the Rioni valley and Georgia’s economy.

The muddy water of big money that, supposedly, flows in the direction of Georgia’s national interest (energy independence), meets resistance in the country’s regions and villages. This resistance counters not just a single investment project but the whole logic by which we have been governed for 30 years. This predatory and shameless model for the first time faltered in Namakhvani, for the first time doubted its potency, for the first time faced with the live and active will of the people.

After the collapse of the Soviet Union in Georgia the villages helped feed the cities. We ate not only humanitarian aid rations, stealing of which immediately created a new prosperous class, but also the food from our villages. That was a gift from the hungry countryside to the hungry city that had gone through civil wars – defeated, confused, shivering with cold and fear.

The protest in Namakhvani was another gift from the Georgian village to the Georgian city, a gift that can be called resistance enthusiasm.

Enthusiasm does not equal hope or optimism. Hope and optimism believe in a desired result, but they believe despite everything and always have doubts. Resistance enthusiasm is social and political energy borrowed from the future for a better future. This is the kind of confidence that already gives us joy right here, in the present. Enthusiasm per se cannot be the cause of our shared progress but points at it as a historic sign. The fighting enthusiasm of this kind is best expressed in the words of Maka Suladze, one of the leaders of the Namakhvani protest: “We never thought we wouldn’t be able to win.”

The system of social relations which we now live in is a specific, post-socialist type of capitalism. Once the USSR collapsed a new oligarchic class emerged – the post-socialist oligarchic class. How did it come about? It emerged through primitive accumulation.

According to Karl Marx, primitive accumulation is not a result of capitalist production but its starting point.

Money and goods per se are not capital, they have yet to become capital. This transformation is possible when the owner of money, means of production and subsistence meets the worker, the seller of his labour-power.

For Marx, capitalist relations in themselves imply separation between the worker and the means of production which makes the worker entirely dependent on the market.

We must know that primitive accumulation is not only a historically determined process but also has a continuous nature.

Another modern version of primitive accumulation is considered to be the process that started with the collapse of the Soviet Union and lasts until our days. At the beginning, that process was termed “market reform”. Those catastrophic changes had their own messiah by the name of Yegor Gaidar – Russia’s main economic ideologist of the early 90s. The post-socialist oligarchic chaos was brought about by the reforms of Gaidar and Chubais inspired and supported by the Harvard Professor Jeffrey Sachs and his like-minded contemporaries. Chubais, Berezovsky, Deripaska, Alisher Usmanov, Kakha Bendukidze, and Bidzina Ivanishvili are all children of this class, its integral part. The formation and rise of this class, on the one hand, caused millions to lose jobs and starve, and on the other hand, created an unprecedented gap between rich and poor, death, depression, and helplessness.

After the Rose Revolution in Georgia in November 2003, all that Gaidar didn’t manage to attain in Russia was carried out in Georgia by Bendukidze with the support from Ivanoshvili in a most radical way: an almost complete privatisation of the healthcare and industrial sectors as well as a majority of the education system and energy sector, reducing the role of the state, arranging tax cuts for domestic and foreign business, excluding political authorities from controlling the labour market, and legislative recognition of these economic policies. Massive debts should also be mentioned in this connection.

But we don’t live only an economic life, we live our everyday life that grows out of it and influences it. The new economic situation needed and needs a new type of subject, a new man who would not have the knowledge and skills indispensable in the old Soviet industrial society but would have the skills necessary for trade, office, service, and management work. The new order’s best hope remains the new type of Georgian – a born entrepreneur, an entrepreneur who created himself, who should lead the way for the rest of society. It should also be noted that prisons, the patrol and criminal police, other law enforcement agencies are clearing the way for this new, not yet existing subject. While the system tortures and kills people in a dark room or in a cellar, upstairs, in well-lit streets it thereby guards the sleep of the not yet existing Georgian who is already taking shape.

Let’s explain once more: as a result of Gaidar’s reforms emerges the new oligarchic class. Representatives of this class in Georgia are Bendukidze and Ivanishvili. This class had and has its own beliefs and ideas of economic and cultural development, society, man, and nature. These ideas in their purest form have been implemented here in Georgia and not in Russia. It is no wonder then that this new class desired to acquire a purely political face, that is, to take over political control of the country (or countries). It failed in Russia but it did not fail in Georgia. It can be said that in Georgia Bendukidze and Ivanishvili embody the economic dreams of the Russian liberal oligarchy, and Ivanishvili embodies the political dreams of that same class.

What happens to democracy under these conditions?

Democracy loses all the elements that could restrict the market or create a potential threat to it. Accordingly, as world-system analyst Samir Amin put it, such a democracy becomes a “low intensity democracy”. A low intensity democracy is a false democracy that furthers the division of political life from economic life. What is the purpose of this division? The purpose is to arrange things in such a way that political life can be focused exclusively on election campaigning and the electoral process whereas economic life between elections can be controlled the way capital wants.

In a low intensity democracy, the popular classes are excluded from the decision-making process and democratic institutions do not function. People’s fate is decided not in the parliament but in the market.

On the one hand, our everyday life is influenced by great forces such as the system of capitalist relations. But this influence is fragmented in everyday life and its episodes, in the current news reels – through body dramas and tragedies.

According to American cultural anthropologist Kathleen Stewart, everyday affects have more direct persuasive power than ideology. Therefore, everyday life is lived on the level of intense affects, of impacts we experience and/or handle.

The everyday life that is produced in Georgia is full of humiliation. The real reasons of bad quality of life are in most cases anonymous, and they ensure their own anonymity through the social infrastructure built by them. Thus, class oppression may not be experienced immediately as oppression – depending on weakness or absence of class consciousness. Class oppression can manifest itself in concrete feelings or affects. A social and cultural milieu fraught with consequences of negative affects can be explosive if it is not impeded by ritual (understood, according to American anthropologist William Mazzarella, as a form of social meditation). Explosive means that this milieu has, in equal proportions, both socially progressive and socially regressive potential. Ritual is a language of power, it is through ritual that the two factors slowing down social progress are established and strengthened – the low intensity democracy and the inequality. Under these conditions, popular classes are atomised, which in practical social life means that the people cannot rally around class issues and only play a passive, decorative role in the political spectacle.

However, at the same time it has a potential for progress – for the people are becoming a subject which by force of collective affects and happiness turns away from self-destruction и fills up with the enthusiasm of the struggle for the Universal.

Translated from Russian by Alexander Stoliarchuk