The Plague of “Political Will”

BBC News reports that negotiations between Sudan and South Sudan, which broke away as a separate state earlier this year, have reached an impasse.

Disputes over oil are nothing new in the region, and the border of the countries is also in question as tensions increase, rousing concerns that the bloody civil war between the countries, fresh in memory, could reignite.

According to South Sudan, Sudan has stolen oil worth at least $815 million. UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, responding to the crisis, has fingered a “lack of political will” on both sides, imploring full cooperation with the UN. But why should we believe that “political will” is the answer?

The political distribution of wealth, founded on coercive grants of privilege, is and always has been the result of ruling class caprice, detached from basic, equitable principles of justice. In a genuinely libertarian society, one without the state’s partiality in favor of connected interests, ownership rights attached to land, movables and all other natural resources would be grounded firmly in productive activity — i.e., labor — and in mutual exchange.

Compare that to the “rights” recognized and enforced by the state, enacted to convert barefaced violent annexation of wealth into a morally unblemished droit. In negotiations between Sudan and the now independent South Sudan, the 99% in either nation can’t win. As has always been the case with political domination over economic relationships, established “stakeholders” will be the only people with seats at the table and a voice in the process.

Sudan has the infrastructure and South Sudan has the oil, but the countries’ people, those who drive the production process forward, have nothing. It thus matters little which of the two presides over the oil; either way, it is — in the words of South Sudanese oil minister Stephen Dhieu Dau — “stolen crude.”

In his essay On the Monopoly Mechanism, sociologist Norbert Elias, who dedicated his life to the study of power relations in society, wrote incisively on the natural tendencies of “[t]he human web as a whole.” He argued that the trend within naturally occurring networks inherently “opposes increasingly strongly every private monopolization of resources.”

He applied his argument also to “‘public’ or ‘state’ monopolies,” remarking that, without “obstructions,” society is “impelled by its own collective weight towards a state of equilibrium where the distribution of the advantages and revenues from monopolized opportunities in favour of a few becomes impossible.”

Market anarchists advocate for such a state of equilibrium and regard competition, true and free in all areas of economic life, as the means to achieving it. In times past, before the language of competition and economic freedom had been so completely defaced by advocates of plutocratic capitalism, bona fide populists considered freed markets the way to grant “power to the people.”

Very recent history shows Sudan’s oil revenues not as the provenance of a sweeping improvement in the lives of the many, but as the financial engine of rife human rights abuses. We have little reason to believe that the creation of South Sudan will bring an end to the rent-seeking and injustice that have defined oil production in the region.

A true “Comprehensive Peace Agreement” must entail the dissolution of the ruling class’s agency of aggression, the state. The production chain must be turned over to the free play of genuine market forces, that is, to the great majority of the population that has been engaged with. Political negotiations and their “proper channels” are the problem, not the solution.

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