Not in our nature: the male deal and corporate solutions to the debt-nature crisis

Terisa E. Turner and Craig S. Benjamin 

Departments of Sociology & Anthropology 
and Political Studies 

University of Guelph 


July 1993 


Published in REVIEW, Volume XVII, 1994. 
Journal of the Fernand Braudel Center 
for the Study of Economies, Historical Systems, and Civilizations 
State University of New York, Binghamton, New York 


This paper draws on research and text in Terisa E. Turner with Mark 
Weston, "Debt for nature swaps: corporate solutions and gendered 
resistance," a paper presented at the March 24-26, 1993 Conference 
on the Latin American and Caribbean Debt Crisis and its Aftermath, 
"Is there life after debt?" organized by the Cooperative Program 
for Latin American and Caribbean Studies and the Inter-American 
Organization for Higher Education, University of Western Ontario, 
London, Ontario, Canada. The authors are also indebted to Harry 
Cleaver, the members of the Midnight Notes Collective and to the 
cited works of the Instituto Brasileiro de Analises Socials e 
Economicas (IBASE). 
Not in our nature: the male deal and corporate solutions to the 
debt-nature crisis 

Abstract 

In this article we delineate three dynamics of class composition, 
economic restructuring and gendered-class struggle which we argue 
are reflected in the promotion of debt for nature swaps as a 
component of the corporate solution to the debt-nature crisis. 

The first of these dynamics is the recomposition of capital itself. 
We argue that the promotion of debt for nature swaps reflects the 
convergence of three groups of gendered-class actors within or 
aligned to international capital: owners of the largest, most 
globalized transnational corporations; secondly, those members of 
the third world capitalist class who became major investors in 
transnational capital during the period of high oil prices and 
loose lending in the 1970s; and thirdly, the expanding, 
predominantly male managerial class which both runs the 
transnationals and dominates the largest international 
environmental organizations. 

On the one hand, the owners, investors and managers of global 
capital have the potential to form a strategic alliance or power 
bloc within capital on the basis of their mutual interests in 
restoring the rate of profit and the hegemony of a global system of 
capitalist accumulation badly battered by the popular uprisings of 
the 1960s. On the other hand, the third world investors and the 
managerial class find themselves increasingly on the front line of 
social struggle as this economic restructuring threatens to exhaust 
the ecological and social basis of capitalist production and human 
life. Corporate environmentalism, we argue, is part of the 'new 
male deal' holding this strategic alliance together. 

The second dynamic which we trace is capital's efforts to 
restructure the relations and conditions in which work is 
performed. We demonstrate that through a sequence of economic 
restructuring measures initiated with the oil crisis of the early 
1970s capital has reduced workers' access to relatively high paying 
and secure waged work as a means of increasing the exploitation of 
various forms of low-paid or unwaged, casual or invisible labour 
typically performed by women in general, as well as by women and 
men in the urban informal sector and among peasant and indigenous 
societies. 

The third dynamic is the growth in popular insurgency led by 
precisely those workers whom capital has targeted to pay the price 
of economic restructuring. We argue that these subject groups not 
only have the power to resist capitalist restructuring, but more 
significantly the power to transform the social relations of 
capitalist production through their struggles. This potential has 
repeatedly forced capital to redouble its efforts to carry out the 
restructuring of labour relations and to do so by directly 
attacking the very basis of insurgent social power, namely access 
to arable land, non-commodified social environments, and public 
services. 

Thus on the one hand capitalist restructuring of labour relations, 
the enclosure of natural resources and the debt-imposed assault on 
state spending, have brought on a 'reproduction crisis' for the 
urban and rural poor. On the other hand, it is in the face of such 
enclosures, that broad based movements of women and men are 
struggling to retain or reappropriate popular control over the 
means of subsistence, and to exert locally defined values, meanings 
and forms of social relations in defense of the commons. To accept 
debt for nature swaps and other new enclosures as any sort of 
solution to the debt-nature crisis is to accept defeat for the 
popular struggle to restore the commons even as this struggle is 
finding its strength. 

Not in our nature: the male deal and corporate solutions to the 
debt-nature crisis 

Introduction 

In 1984, Paul Lovejoy of the World Wildlife Fund proposed a new 
approach to third world debt management called debt for nature 
swaps (DFNs). Such swaps involve government agencies and 
non-governmental organizations (NGOs) purchasing part of a 
country's foreign debt. Because debt is sold on a secondary market 
at a discount based on the debtor nation's ability to make 
payments, this debt can be purchased at discounts typically ranging 
from 30 to 85 percent of the face value (Mahoney 1992: 98). The 
debt purchased by NGOs and government agencies is then converted 
through a deal with the debtor government by which the 
debt-purchasing agency or NGO receives in local currency, bonds, or 
equity the equivalent of the full dollar value of the debt 
purchased. DFNs are distinguished from other forms of debt equity 
swaps only because the NGO or agency uses the cash, credit or 
equity for conservation related projects. 

DFNs have been endorsed by the participation of southern 
governments and prominent northern agencies, NGOs and environmental 
organizations, including USAID, the Smithsonian Institute, the 
World Wildlife Fund, the Nature Conservancy and the Rainforest 
Alliance. Grassroots organizations and activists, however, have 
criticized DFNs as contributing to the alienation of natural 
resources from local communities, infringing on indigenous 
territorial rights, and undermining calls to repudiate the debt 
(COICA 1989; Tokar 1990: 26; IBASE 1992: 15, 19, 27-8). 

In 1989, Santos Adam Afsua, of the Inter Ethnic Association for the 
Development of the Peruvian Jungle (AIDESEP), expressed this 
indigenous peopless view of debt for nature swaps: 
the debt 
crisis and the ecological crisis the technical and political 
character of production and reproduction, e.g., division of labor, 
hierarchy of skills and wages, division between the employed and 
the reserve army of the unemployed, between the legal and the 
criminal (Midnight Notes 1992: xiii-xiv)." To reflect this 
theoretical standpoint that class formation under capitalism is 
inextricably linked with gender constructions, we use the terms 
gendered-class struggle and gendered-class throughout the text. The 
more common phrase "gender and class interests" is rejected as 
implying that class is in some way distinct from gender. 

Thirdly, we recognize that the NGOs which have acted as brokers of 
institutional solutions to the debt-nature crisis are not an 
undifferentiated category of disinterested problem solvers (IBASE 
1992: 16-7; Rahnema 1985:68). Instead, we attempt to analyze the 
ways in which the actions of NGOs and popular movements are rooted 
in the technical and political divisions of the working class and 
capital. Proceeding from this basis, and from an analysis of the 
articulation of the debt and ecological crises to global capitalist 
restructuring and gendered resistance, we move beyond Mahoneys organizing in Ecuador. 

In the fifth and sixth sections, we examine the rise of corporate 
environmentalism as a key element in global capital's strategies to 
resolve the present cycle of crisis and struggle in its favour. 
Drawing on case histories of debt for nature swaps enacted in 
Ecuador, we argue that DFNs, like other corporate solutions to the 
debt crisis, support the recomposition of global capital, open new 
opportunities for commodification and exploitation, and undermine 
working class struggles to organize alternatives to the destructive 
model of capitalist accumulation. On this basis, we advocate a firm 
stand against DFNs as part of the project of building a popular 
movement of reappropriating popular control over the means of 
subsistence, and of exerting locally defined values, meanings and 
forms of social relations, in opposition to the "new enclosures" 
organized by global capital and its allies (Midnight Notes 1992: 
318.) 

II. Theorizing crisis and struggle 

In this paper we seek to understand debt for nature swaps in the 
context of a global struggle in which women in general, as well as 
women and men among groups of peasants, indigenous peoples, 
squatters, migrant labourers and other diverse subject groups have 
emerged as the central protagonists. To date, scholarly analysis of 
this contemporary cycle of working class struggles has been 
dominated by a sterile debate between mainstream marxists and 
various post-structuralist and 'post-marxist' social movement 
theorists (e.g., Laclau and Mouffe 1987; Wood 1986). As with most 
elite debates, the vigour with which the social movement debate has 
been waged only serves to reinforce "the tacit unspoken 
assumptions" shared by the contending intellectuals (Chomsky 1978: 
31). In this case, we would argue, the tacit assumption is that 
capitalist relations of production are confined to the waged 
workplace. Within the parameters of debate set by this assumption, 
popular struggles over access to social services, the preservation 
of natural environments, or how power is shared in the household, 
in Laclau and Mouffe's words, "necessarily depend, therefore, to a 
large extent on the way in which the social agent is constituted 
outside the relations of production (Laclau and Mouffe 1987: 103, 
emphasis in original)." 

Having started with an assumption that capitalist relations of 
production begin and end at the factory gates, the social movement 
debate precludes from consideration the possibility that unwaged 
labour performed in the home and in the community, for example, is 
organized by a gendered division of labour that is part of 
capitalist relations of production. Writing on recent struggles by 
Mexican women "to procure land for housing, demand social services, 
and protect and gain access to natural resources," Lynn Stephen 
notes that the failure of social movement theorists and mainstream 
marxists to consider the link between popular struggles and the 
gendered division of labour under capital "certainly renders rather 
invisible the participation of hundreds of thousands of (Mexican) 
women motivated by class- and gender-specific social roles (Stephen 
1992:82)." 

Developing a systematic analysis of the articulation between, on 
the on hand, contemporary social struggles and the formation of 
gendered-class interests and, on the other hand, social power 
within the capitalist division of labour requires a 
reconceptualization of labour exploitation and relations of 
production. In this section we trace three points of an alternative 
theoretical framework which argues that popular struggles are 
constituted in and against the hierarchical exploitation of labour, 
land and society. The three points of this framework pertain to: 1) 
the importance of those forms of labour sometimes called 
"reproductive labour" to capitalist relations of production; 2) the 
construction of "reproductive labour" and related social struggles 
within the technical and political division of labour under 
capital; and 3) the articulation between these struggles and 
capitalist restructuring. 

Shadow work 

Claudia von Werlhof has observed that "[e]ighty to ninety percent 
of the world population consists essentially of women, peasants, 
craftsmen, petty traders and such wage labourers whom one can call 
neither 'free' nor proletarian (von Werlhof 1988c: 171)." Unless 
the capitalist organization of production is confined to a very 
small "internal moment (Laclau and Mouffe 1987)" in the life of 
society, any reconceptualization of the operation of the capitalist 
model of accumulation and struggles against it must begin with the 
labour of this eighty to ninety percent of the world population. 

Despite the evident differences among these subject groups, tribal 
peoples and small peasants, migrant labourers, petty traders, and 
"housewives" share the general characteristic that, in addition to 
any waged labour they might perform, they also perform without 
compensation a substantial part of the labour necessary to sustain 
their own life and the lives of others (von Werlhof 1988a: 16). The 
labour involved in sustaining human life takes many forms, 
including cultivating and preparing food, providing for the 
physical needs of children and the aged, teaching skills, attitudes 
and forms of behaviour to young people and providing psychological 
and sexual services to adults. Depending on the worker's location 
within the world system and the gendered, ethnicized divisions of 
labour within the working class, this work involves to a greater or 
less degree cultivation of non-commodified natural environments, 
building networks of cooperation and social support among family 
and community members, negotiating the use of public services and 
public space, and transforming capitalist commodities into sources 
of physical and psychological nourishment. 

Before we consider more closely why most of this labour is unwaged, 
and why certain subject groups perform such a disproportionately 
large share of this unwaged labour, we should first be clear that 
the fact that this labour is unwaged does not mean that it is 
'unproductive' for capital. On the contrary, it is critically 
important to capital that the work of producing and sustaining life 
gets done because, in fact, capital cannot function without workers 
available to sell the central commodity of capitalist production, 
disciplined labour power (Cox and Federici 1975; Federici 1975; S. 
James 1976). The fact that the world's labour force is organized in 
such a way that this labour-power is available to capital, while 
capital pays little of the cost of its production is central to the 
profitability of the capitalist system of production. segments concentrated 
in, but not exclusive to the industrialized north s work, 
third world fightback against colonial and neo-colonial 
exploitation, and indigenous people's resistance to the alienation 
of territory and territorial rights by the capitalist state, as 
well as struggles for the recognition of civil rights for people of 
colour and gay men and lesbians. Significantly, many of these 
struggles succeeded in bridging the gap between shadow and waged 
labour, despite the efforts of the state, the comprador unions, 
household patriarchs and other male dealers to maintain this 
separation (Cleaver 1989: 21, Linebaugh and Ramirez 1975; W. 
Cleaver 1975). 

In this section, we briefly examine the cycle of global crises and 
popular struggles that proceeded from the shattering of the 
wage-productivity deal. Beginning with the imposition of the energy 
crisis in 1973, we trace key elements of capital's efforts to 
restructure production relations through crisis and of popular 
resistance to this restructuring. We delineate capital's general 
strategies of attacking workers' real wages, globalizing circuits 
of production and consumption and expanding the range of human 
activities, natural resources, and social infrastructure circulated 
through market exchange. We also show how the failure to contain 
working class insurgency through energy crisis-induced 
restructuring has led to the deepening spiral of economic 
restructuring and popular uprisings characteristic of the debt 
crisis. 

The energy shock and the recomposition of global capital 

In August 1973, the Organization of Arab Petroleum Exporting 
Countries (OAPEC) imposed an embargo on oil shipments to the West. 
The oil embargo had two general consequences for the world economy: 
first, in the short term, it led to a massive hike in the price of 
oil, which along with labour is a centrally strategic commodity in 
capitalist production (Nore and Turner 1980); second, in the long 
term, the higher price of this strategic commodity contributed to 
rising interest rates and inflation, a consequence made possible by 
the US government's decision in 1972 to abrogate the Bretton Woods 
currency agreement. OAPEC's imposition of the oil embargo was 
intended to achieve a new consensus between the Middle Eastern and 
North African oil exporting states and their national working 
classes, firstly through a display of defiance intended to appeal 
to pan Arab nationalism, and secondly through the creation of new 
possibilities for public spending (Cleaver 1989:24; Turner 1993b). 
Western capitalists and capitalist states may have been 
inconvenienced by the embargo, but on the issue of higher oil 
prices there was a significant convergence of interests between 
international capital and the supposedly renegade Arab heads of 
state. 

The primary importance of the energy shock is that it provided 
advanced segments of international capital an opportunity to forge 
new circuits of accumulation and to restructure relations of 
production. Immediately following the embargo, the governments of 
the Arab as well as non-Arab states in the Organization of 
Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) took control of oil 
production, sales and pricing by nationalizing the majority of 
concessions up to then held by transnationals. This move allowed 
the OPEC states to command a significant share of the profits 
generated by the rise in oil prices. This sudden sharp rise in 
petrodollars flowing to OPEC countries was multiplied by a period 
of easy credit as northern banks moved to take advantage of an 
increase in demand for loans created by interest rates which, prior 
to 1982, were lower than the rate of inflation. Together this flood 
of oil wealth and bank loans into the oil producing countries and, 
indeed, to much of the oil importing third world led to a boom in 
public and elite spending. This wealth, we should note, came from 
those private and public corporations not yet integrated with 
energy or banking capital, as well as from the international 
working class which was suddenly faced with rising oil prices and 
an inflated cost of living. We should also note that by and large, 
petrodollars and third world loans were recycled to US and European 
transnationals by way of trade, construction contracts, interest 
payments and direct investment. As an immediate consequence of oil 
crisis financed industrialization, the US government and 
transnationals alone were able to increase transactions with OPEC 
countries five-fold, generating a $38 billion capital account 
surplus over the period 1974 to 1977 (Sassen-Koob 1987: 65). In 
short, the oil crisis-induced internationalization of the circuits 
of production and finance channelled money from pockets of workers 
and small capital, through the hands of a new third world 
transnational class and back to US and European capital. We 
consider the implications of these developments for the changing 
composition of the working class and of capital in turn. 

Restructuring the working class 

The extended circuits of finance and production forged in response 
to the oil crisis strengthened capital's capacity to take advantage 
of low-cost labour wherever it could be found or developed. 
Combined with innovations in technology and the recomposition of 
global capital described below, these changes have enabled capital 
to drive down the wages paid to the full-time waged proletariat 
while at the same time transferring a greater portion of production 
to non-proletarian workers employed on a part-time or casual basis 
(Broad 1991; Sassen-Koob 1984; Midnight Notes 1992). 

In the first stage of restructuring, capital took advantage of the 
large, low wage labour pools of the global periphery by exporting 
parts of the manufacturing and assembly process to overseas export 
processing zones. This, in turn, had an impact on production 
relations in the core cities, in part because the ability of 
capital to pursue low wages abroad reduced the bargaining power of 
organized labour in the industrialized north. Labour in established 
industries was reorganized through increased automation, a shift to 
batch as opposed to mass production, and the introduction of 
Japanese-style team management (Sassen-Koob 1983; Hall and Jacques 
1989; Harvey and Scott 1989). As a consequence, between 1973 and 
1988, average weekly wages for full-time workers in the US dropped 
by 20 percent, while in the same period the ratio of capital 
investment to workers tripled. Also beginning in 1973 work 
stoppages in the US began falling. By 1981 work stoppages were 35 
percent of their 1974 level. Between 1982 and 1992, work stoppages 
fell by more than half. In other words, "workers virtually ceased 
striking altogether (Midnight Notes 1992: 60)." 

At the same time, an increasing number of women and men were 
entering the waged workforce in the industrialized north. From 1980 
to 1990, the work force increased by 20 percent, and the percentage 
of people over 16 in the waged work force reached an historic high 
of 66 percent (Midnight Notes 1992: 60). Much of this expansion can 
be accounted for by the growth in part-time and casual jobs. 
Between 1973 and 1983 growth in part-time employment generally far 
exceeded the growth of full-time employment in most Western 
countries. In the US, part-time employment grew by 19.7 percent 
while full-time employment grew by 14.8 percent. In Canada, 
part-time employment grew by 52.3 percent while full-time 
employment grew by 18.4 percent. In West Germany and the United 
Kingdom, full-time employment actually declined by 4 percent and 
6.7 percent respectively, while part-time employment increased by 
65.4 percent and 19.7 percent (de Neubourg 1985: 561). In addition 
to the growth of casual wage labour, the first phase of economic 
restructuring also led to a substantial increase in the number of 
women and men working in sweatshops, engaged in homeworking or 
otherwise participating in the informal economy in both core cities 
and in the periphery (Sassen-Koob 1983; Sen and Grown 1987: 62, 
66). 

There are three points to be noted about capitals wages 
were consistently restructured downward toward the lowest income 
classes (Sassen-Koob 1987: 72). The likelihood of being employed in 
low-wage, casualized labour in the US also varied considerably by 
ethnicity and country of birth. According to the 1980 census data 
for the five US states with the highest rate of immigration, almost 
half of immigrant women in these states held low-paying service 
sector and manual labour jobs compared to 25 percent of 
non-immigrant women (Bach and Tienda 1984: 18). 

Finally, women and men worldwide engaged in low-waged, casual 
labour as a survival strategy necessitated by the circumstances of 
economic restructuring. In addition to the losses in household 
incomes resulting from the restructuring of industrial labour, debt 
and oil financed development projects uprooted millions from a 
basis of subsistence predicated on access to natural resources. 
(Sassen-Koob 1987). The reconstruction of waged labour as waged 
shadow work helped channel women's survival initiatives to the 
maximal benefit of capital (Safa and Antrobus 1992: 54). 

In summary, we can see how in the aftermath of the 1973 energy , 
capital tried to restore its rate of accumulation and break 
the social power of working class movements by reconstructing the 
majority of waged work as low-paying, insecure and closely 
supervised shadow work. To achieve this reconstruction, capital had 
to undermine the established industrial trade unions by dismantling 
and relocating much of the industrial base of the core countries. 
In addition, capital had to drive an increasing number of first and 
third world women, as well as third world men, into low-paying 
waged jobs by cutting off their access to income previous obtained 
through the wages of proletarian spouses and kin. 

Despite the extent of restructuring catalyzed by the energy crisis, 
the austerity measures were largely unsuccessful. Working class 
uprisings persisted in securing a greater share of the flow of 
petrodollars and unconditional loans characteristic of the 1973 to 
1982 period. Growing unemployment in North American and Europe and 
increasingly diffused circuits of production alone were not enough 
to prevent workers pressing for and sometimes winning wage 
concessions (Cleaver 1989). In the oil producing countries and in 
the neighbouring societies which supplied them with migrant labour, 
the bourgeoisies also failed in their efforts to contain working 
class initiatives. 

Initially, capital hoped that new wealth flowing into OPEC and the 
associated states would help keep a lid on working class insurgency 
(Turner 1990: 8). The vulnerability of the state to popular 
uprisings, however, was demonstrated in Egypt in 1976 and 1977. 
When President Anwar Sadat asked the World Bank for new loans, the 
bank attempted to impose conditions typical of what are now known 
as structural adjustment programs, including reduced government 
subsidies for basic foods. 

"When his creditors insisted on these changes despite Sadat's 
warnings of possible consequences, the subsidies were cut. The 
result was a dramatic, overnight explosion of popular anger... 
Within 24 hours Sadat was forced to rescind the cuts and the 
creditors supplied the loans without the previous conditions being 
met (Cleaver 1989: 33)." 

This message was reinforced in 1979 when 80,000 Iranian oil workers 
went on strike. With the active involvement of some two million 
women and children living in Iranian oil towns they succeeded in 
closing down the world's second largest oil exporting operation, 
cutting off all oil to the Shah's military; as well as to Israel, 
Portugal, Britain and South Africa; and taking approximately five 
million barrels of oil out of the world market for each day of the 
strike. In this uprising against the Shah, the Iranian regime was 
explicitly identified and repudiated as a broker for US and 
European oil corporations (Turner 1991). 



Restructured capital and the new male deal 

We have argued that by the late 1960s international capital faced 
a crisis of profits and power. Because of this crisis, sectors of 
international capital responded to the sparked by 
the OAPEC oil embargo by deepening the global circuits of 
production and finance and then used these circuits to attempt to 
restructure relations of both waged and unwaged labour. As we can 
see from the Egyptian and Iranian examples of popular insurgency, 
however, the initial phase of economic restructuring led not to a 
resolution of capital's crisis, but a deepening of gendered-class 
struggle. 

Before considering how global capital has tried to manage this 
deepening cycle of crisis and struggle through the mechanism of the 
debt crisis, we first briefly outline three key changes in the 
composition of global capital organized through the oil 
crisis-induced internationalization of the circuits of production 
and finance. These three changes correspond to the increased 
competition and concentration among the largest, most globalized 
sectors of international capital, the rise of a significant class 
of third world investors, and the expansion of the managerial class 
of international capital. 

Firstly, the energy crisis, like any sudden change in pricing, 
accelerated inter-capitalist competition. Naturally, those 
corporations with large investment resources at hand and experience 
in operating at the transnational level were in an advantageous 
position to take command of these new opportunities. The response 
of the major oil transnationals to the energy crisis is a good 
illustration. In 1970, the transnational oil corporations 
controlled 94 percent of world crude oil production. As a result of 
post-embargo nationalizations, their total share had declined to 41 
percent by 1981, with the share of the seven largest oil 
transnationals falling from 64 to 22 percent (Tanzer and Zorn 1985: 
32). This declining share in production was only partially offset 
by the fact that the largest transnationals were able to maintain 
rights to buy and sell crude oil supplied by the newly nationalized 
production operations. The energy transnationals also responded to 
the crisis by intensifying a process of new exploration and 
diversification begun in the early 1960s partly in response to the 
struggles of US energy workers (Cleaver 1975). But most 
significantly, by the late 1970s the failure of the transnational 
oil corporations to restore their rate of profit through other 
means led to an intensive round of buyouts and mergers within the 
industry. In the early 1980s oil companies found that it cost as 
much as $15-$20 per barrel to discover new reserves, while buying 
up other oil companies could effectively provide proven reserves at 
$5-$6 per barrel (Tanzer and Zorn 1985: 38). These struggles among 
the transnational corporations created new opportunities for 
speculator capital and concentrated the wealth and power of the 
industry into fewer hands, but ultimately failed to pull the 
industry out of stagnation and crisis (Tanzer and Zorn 1985: 39). 

Secondly, the increase in wealth flowing to the south by way of 
crude oil sales and bank loans provided an opportunity for a 
segment of the third world capitalist class to divert a substantial 
part of this wealth for the purpose of foreign investment. Not 
surprisingly, the OPEC states made the most spectacular entry into 
transnational investment: the OPEC statesConnor 
(O'Connor 1990: 4). As we will see, however, the power of 
international capital and the debtor state to impose debt-related 
austerity measures has been jeopardized by deepening popular 
insurgency. 

Anti-austerity struggles and the delegitimization of the state 

Popular rejection of austerity measures and the intensified 
exploitation and commodification of labour has been expressed 
through food riots, strikes, demonstrations and other uprisings; 
through actions to block foreign or local investment; and through 
resistance to the privatization which such investment entails. 
Between 1976 and 1986, John Walton notes, "more than half the major 
countries of Latin America and the Caribbean experienced social 
upheavals in direct response to austerity measures. Thirteen of 
twenty-four nations in the region (excluding the mini-states) 
produced fifty separate protest events (Walton 1989: 309)." The 
specific austerity measures that precipitated these uprisings 

"are relatively uniform. Typically, they come in a set that cuts 
deeply into the subsistence capacity of low-income groups: 
rescinded government subsidies of food, basic necessities, and 
gasoline, meaning price rises; cuts in subsidized services, leading 
to fare increases in public transportation, for example; public 
spending reductions that eliminate jobs in government and 
government contract work (e.g., construction). In short, rapid 
reductions in the standard of living by visible government action 
is the most common precipitant of protest. Other circumstances that 
mobilize collective actions are devaluations that soon show up in 
domestic price increases, inflation, unemployment, and wage freezes 
(Walton 1989: 316)." 

In the paragraphs below, we briefly examine two indices of the 
challenge to capitalist hegemony presented by popular resistance to 
structural adjustment and related policies: first, the difficulty 
faced by governments trying to impose SAPs; and second, the 
fluctuations in price of debt sold on the secondary market in 
response to these failures. Following this summary, we present a 
brief case history of Ecuadorian women organizing against economic 
restructuring. This case history is intended to delineate some of 
the key dynamics of popular struggles, including the importance of 
womens own interest in restructuring, 
in the face of these popular mobilizations, "opposition to the IMF 
in some form is often a political necessity (Walton 1989: 325)." 

Second, the price of debt on the secondary market is itself a 
measure of the effectiveness with which popular movements have 
engaged in various forms of resistance to debt repayment and to the 
terms of structural adjustment. Anti-austerity struggles coincide 
with a devaluation of the subject countries' debt on the 
international market. Over the 1980s the price of most country's 
debt on the secondary market plunged from around 80 cents on the 
dollar to from between 5 and 60 cents. However between 1990 and 
1991 there appeared to be a slight increase in the discounted value 
of the debt of states which have imposed IMF terms through violent 
repression of popular movements, or which met IMF directives to 
sell off large public utilities (Culpepper 1993). For instance, the 
price of Chile's debt went up from 61 to 89 cents on the dollar 
between 1987 and 1991. The recovery in secondary market values for 
Chilean, Costa Rican and Jamaican debt between 1990 and June 1991 
suggests "that markets may regain confidence in those countries 
where the IMF really plays the tough cop (George 1992:68)." 

We have argued that the imposition of austerity measures is 
designed precisely to intensify and control womens organizing 
through one case history. In this summary we 
draw on the writing of Rocio Rosero (Rosero 1991:59-78) of 
Development Alternatives for Women in a New Era (DAWN) and 
coordinator of the Women's Network of the Consejo de Educacion de 
Adultos de America Latina (CEAAL). Roseros work and the 
transformation of the power relations between 
women and men. Because they are capable of mobilizing a broad-base 
of popular support, anti-austerity struggles limit the ability of 
transnational capital and its allied regimes to impose economic 
restructuring through the mechanism of debt repayment. The fact 
that the debt crisis has organized a massive transfer of wealth 
from the debtor states to transnational capital has been frequently 
noted. Less frequently noted is the fact that in organizing this 
exploitation capital has laid bare the fundamental antagonism 
between worker survival and capitalist accumulation. The 
recomposition of the working class in opposition to SAPs has the 
capacity to profoundly weaken capital's hegemony. As a consequence, 
global capital has been propelled into a dangerous balancing act of 
trying not only to profit from, but also to manage the debt crisis. 


Managing the debt crisis 

As we have noted, global capitals 
action would expose the inability of other US and UK banks to 
follow suit, by the end of the summer of 1987, twenty-two of the 
thirty US banks with assets of more than $20 billion, together with 
all the UK clearing banks, had made special provision against their 
largest Third World debts. The total losses resulting from these 
actions amounted to $10.7 billion (Hall 1988: 10)." 

What the major creditor banks had done, in effect, was to absorb in 
advance and under their own terms losses equivalent to those that 
might occur should any single creditor state default. These actions 
provided the banks, and the international financial system as a 
whole, protection against the eventuality of just such a default 
taking place. Even with these provisions, however, the banks 
remained vulnerable to a moratorium declared by a debtor's cartel, 
or to the avalanche effects of a single country repudiating its 
debts. "Thus for example, in Britain, Lloyds' and Midlands' special 
provisions cover only 50 percent and 42 percent respectively of 
their aggregate lending to Brazil, Mexico and Argentina (Hall 1988: 
10)." 

The banks' actions reduced the leverage that any debtor state might 
exert against its creditors through the threat of default. As a 
consequence, capital was able to strengthen its hand against the 
popular forces organizing to block restructuring and repudiate the 
debt. This measure, however, did little to defend capital against 
the threat of debtor cartels forming on a regional or global basis. 
Nor did these measures protect the overextended loans of the 
multilateral banks which were increasing the direct target of 
popular insurgency. 

In August 1990, the US administration under President George Bush 
took another step toward consolidating the various sectors of 
capital behind continued restructuring. This new initiative, called 
the Enterprise for the Americas Initiative (EAI), linked a broad 
range of economic restructuring programs, including SAPs and the 
pursuit of a hemispheric free trade zone, to a set of incentives 
and consensus building measures such as limited debt forgiveness 
and special aid programs. The initiative also included the 
provision that for the first time public funds could be used to 
convert Latin American debts held by the US government and the 
multilateral banks. In effect, the EAI proposed another level of 
transfers from the public sector to the US and Latin American 
transnational capitalists who would be the primary beneficiaries of 
debt conversion. The EAI was intended not only to consolidate the 
allied powers of international capital, the third world speculator 
class and the third world state. The EAI also include specific 
provisions pertaining to debt for nature swaps that appealed to the 
crucially important managerial class. 

Having successfully lobbied Congress to include DFNs in this debt 
conversion package, a US environmental NGO, the Natural Resources 
Defense Council (NRDC), took the lead in promoting the EAI to its 
Latin American counterparts. After a meeting in Argentina on April 
19, 1991, 51 Latin American NGOs issued a denunciation of the EAI 
as the latest round of US recolonization of the south. On June 28, 
1991 NRDC issued a response and an appeal to the southern NGOs 
which said, in part, "We realize that problems have arisen with the 
debt-for-nature swaps that have been carried out in several Latin 
American countries. Our intent in this case was to avoid similar 
problems with the EAI by urging that a broad range of NGOs in your 
country determine environmental priorities which would be 
incorporated into the environmental framework agreements. We 
realize the EAI contains serious flaws and that many countries and 
NGOs may reject this initiative outright. The concept of trying to 
bring governments and NGOs from the North and South together to 
address environmental and debt issues poses enormous challenges. 
Nevertheless, we hope to maintain channels of communication and 
work together (NRDC 1991)." 

In promoting Bush's Enterprise for the Americas Initiative, NRDC 
and its allies presented to the US taxpayer the debt for nature 
swap mechanism as a practical measure for rectifying ecological 
destruction. What went unsaid was the swaps' reliance on taxpayers 
to pay for bad debts incurred by banks and the state. This vital 
dimension was erased as part of the process of manufacturing 
consent around continued economic restructuring. The double edged 
mediation of consensus building frameworks such as DFNs, targets 
citizens north and south, in an effort to arrange public acceptance 
of corporate actions that are clearly at odds with the 
gendered-class interests expressed through popular resistance to 
austerity measures. 

In the final section of this paper, we return to the subject of 
DFNs as a tool in the reconstruction of corporate hegemony, as a 
source of new accumulation, and as a mechanism of capitalist attack 
on the working classes. As background, we examine the rise of the 
corporate-environment alliance utilized in the EAI and necessary to 
the promotion of DFNs as a capitalist solution to the debt-nature 
crisis. 

V. Incorporating nature 

Debt for nature swaps are part of a broad range of new 
environmental initiatives that emerged out of a corporate backlash 
against environmental regulation in the US in the early 1980s (Di 
Chiro 1992). These initiatives are characterized by 1) their claim 
to resolve the contradiction between capitalist accumulation, on 
the one hand, and the health of ecosystems and the people dependent 
on them, on the other hand; and 2) the redefinition of conservation 
objectives within the larger project of economic restructuring. 
Thus we argue that corporate environmentalism is part of an effort 
to construct a new consensus, inclusive of global capitals corporate-environmental 
alliance is the work of Gilford Pichot who founded the US Forest 
Service in 1905. Closely tied to the Progressive movement fostered 
by President Theodore Roosevelt, Pichot and other conservationists 
"argued for a professional, efficient, and technocratic approach" 
that would reconcile industrial and leisure demands on forests, 
rivers and other natural resources. When faced with a conflict 
between leisure and industrial use, however, "Pichot and his allies 
usually supported the developers (Darnovsky 1992: 17)." 

Within the contemporary environmental movement, the 
industry-dominated conservationist school is often contrasted to 
the ostensibly more radical school of environmental preservation 
associated particularly with the movement to establish national 
parks. Preservationist John Muir made the struggle against 
corporate development of 'wilderness' areas a "national cause 
celebre" with his campaign to prevent the damming of the Hetch 
Hetchy Valley in Yosemite National Park (Darnovsky 1992: 17). US 
environmentalists, generally claim Muir, not Pichot as their 
forefather. 

Despite the distinctions usually made between the conservationist 
and preservationist movements, however, we would suggest that both 
of these early forms of elite environmentalism express 
relationships of male dealing. In section II, we argued that the 
secure wages paid to a narrow portion of the working class place 
members of this proletarian elite in a position to command and 
benefit from the labour of others. This male deal, we have argued, 
has three important characteristics. Firstly, this relationship is 
a central element of capitalist relations of production because it 
organizes the greatest part of the labour necessary for capitalist 
production at minimal or no cost to capital. Secondly, this 
relationship implies a conflict between male dealers and the shadow 
workers whose labour they command. Thirdly, the male dealers' 
access to a secure wage and associated command over the labour of 
others greatly narrows the scope of male dealers' relationship with 
the natural world and other non-commodified sources of subsistence. 
In the following paragraphs, we trace three aspects of male dealing 
in the early environmental movement. 

First of all, both the preservationists and the conservationists 
assumed the existence of areas of 'wilderness' remote from human 
habitation and human labour, but available to serve the needs of a 
growing urban population. The ability of these early 
environmentalists to treat areas of the continent as wilderness 
areas to be preserved for corporate-dominated 'multiple, wise use' 
or as examples of 'pristine nature' are predicted on the recent 
forcible removals of indigenous peoples from that very land 
(Darnovsky 1992: 18; Wilson 1991: 25-7). Both the removals 
themselves, and the ability of the preservationists and 
conservationists to later benefit from these removals, are 
indicative of the hierarchical organization of power and privilege 
under capital. 

Secondly, the conservationist and preservationist construction of 
wilderness is constituted within a particular historic conjuncture 
of capitalism marked by the transfer of industrial production from 
the countryside to the city that began in the US in the 1830s, and 
the attendant expansion of the urban working and petty capitalist 
classes, including clerks, book keepers and merchants, as well as 
urban factory workers. In opposing large-scale industrial 
extraction, the preservations sought natural areas for their 
personal use, primarily for recreation and aesthetic enjoyment. 
Leisure uses of nature, no less than resource extraction, express 
the specific gendered-class interests of the male dealers who 1) 
depended on nature only for those few needs, primarily 
psychological or spiritual, which they could not buy as commodities 
or command through the labour of shadow workers and 2) had the 
means to travel to remote areas to fulfil these needs. Critically, 
both aspects of this relationship are dependent on capitalist 
exploitation of nature and shadow workers. "The same middle-class 
couples who benefited from the capitalist use of nature as resource 
also needed the antidote of weekend excursions to New England's 
lakes and mountains. The same men who were subjected to the 
stresses of competition needed the balance of nature's psychic 
comfort (Merchant 1989: 251)." 

Thirdly, this argument that the preservationist and conservationist 
movements expressed a form of male deal specific to the rise of 
industrial capitalism is supported by parallel developments in the 
urban centers. The wilderness preservation and conservation 
movements were a small part of a wide range of movements around 
health and leisure issues related to the production of labour power 
under industrial capitalism. These movements included diverse urban 
working class struggles to reduce industrial pollution in the waged 
workplace and the community, to improve sewage and garbage 
services, to gain access to clean water, and to build neighbourhood 
social life (Darnovsky 1992: 26). In the 1980s, for example, in 
many North American cities citizen groups organized to block 
development of vacant lots so that the land could be used as play 
areas for children. With the rise of the welfare state in this 
century, provision and maintenance of play grounds would be 
provided on a more formal and more rigorously supervised basis by 
municipal governments. Initially, however, the playground movement 
was a popular initiative organized by women and enacted through 
womens organizations and the collective bargaining units men 
were forming in the factories at the same time (Wilson 1991: 24). 
As waged factory work reduced the hours men spent in the work of 
raising their children, women the 
old-boys networks and clubs typified by the military-industrial 
complex, the World Bank's web of clients, consultants and 
contractors, the Trilateral Commission, and so on. The answer is 
non-governmental organizations (Lohmann 1990: 83-4)." 

There are numerous reasons why sectors of the US environmental 
movement would pursue such an alliance with capital. To begin with, 
the mainstream environmental movement has a long history of 
implicit as well as explicit corporate alliances. The 19th century 
conservationist and preservationist movements helped define the 
terms of much of the contemporary wilderness protection discourse 
in the US. We have seen how the objectives of the conservationist 
and preservationist movements were predicated on the specific 
gendered-class interests of US industrial capital and its managers 
and intellectual workers. A new revisionist historical interest in 
this period (Darnovsky 1992), reflects a perception that the 
contemporary mainstream environmental movement continues to be 
rooted in similar gendered-class interests. During the post-WWII 
productivity deal, public involvement in environmental organizing 
expanded rapidly. The growth in membership, however, did not 
reflect a fundamental transformation of the gendered-class 
character of the mainstream movement. Firstly, the expansion was 
rooted in the temporary extension of the male deal to a larger 
segment of the working class population. As a consequence of this 
expanded deal, more workers gained access to sufficiently high 
levels of wage income and days off such that 1) experiencing nature 
for leisure or aesthetic enjoyment became a high priority need in 
the production of their labour power; and 2) they could afford to 
travel outside their day to day work environment to find this 
nature (Hays 1982; Wilson 1991). Secondly, the mainstream movement 
for the most part failed to build links with non-elite interest 
such as communities of colour. Partly as a consequence, the 
mainstream movement continued to exclude from the environmental 
agenda non-wilderness issues such as the urban environment and 
subsistence land use rights (Bullard 1993; COICA 1989; Di Chiro 
1992). Thirdly, despite the expanded membership base, in most 
environmental organizations these members have very little decision 
making power within the organization. As a consequence, much of the 
real organizational power within the mainstream environmental 
movement has remained in the hands of professional managers, most 
of whom continue to be university educated, Euro-American men 
(Darnovsky 1992; Sale 1986). 

For all the reasons outline above, many environmental organizations 
entered the 1980s pursuing gendered-class politics little different 
from their predecessors a century earlier. At the same time, the 
outward circumstances of environmental organizing had changed in a 
number of important ways, many of them directly linked to the 
contemporary cycle of crisis and struggle. Firstly, a range of 
investigations carried out at the grassroots level had exposed the 
extent of capitalist destruction of the environment and human 
health. The pressure for action exerted within and by all sectors 
of the environmental movement had led to the creation of numerous 
governmental regulations intended mostly to screen the quantity and 
toxicity of industrial emissions being released into the 
environment. As such regulations were poorly defined and did not 
address the actual toxicity of the production process itself, they 
largely failed to meet public demands for substantial reductions in 
industrial contamination of the environment (Commoner 1987). 
Secondly, in response to the widely perceived failure of the 
mainstream movements to reduce industrial pollution, a more 
insurgent mode of environmental activism was coming to the fore, as 
typified by the US organization Earth First! At the same time, the 
US government under Ronald Reagan was carrying out a corporate 
agenda of repealing or diluting any environmental regulation that 
was seen to be hindering corporate profit-making (Darnovsky 1992: 
42). 

In 1981, at the request of a private donor who supported 
environmental conservation, the chief executive officers of the 
National Resources Defense Council, the National Wildlife 
Federation, the Wilderness Society, the Environmental Policy 
Institute, and four other large, US environmental organizations, 

"many of them with a wilderness orientation, sat down for a power 
lunch in Washington. The donor who had convened the meeting 
recommended that they form a loose environmental coalition, one 
which would include only organizations that were "active," which he 
defined as "regularly going to members of Congress and 
corporations." Groups such as Greenpeace and Environmental Action, 
which had large memberships and were national in scope but which 
defined "active" as "conducting, supporting or advocating direct 
action against the offending industries," were to be excluded. The 
coalition of environmentalists' chief executive officers, which 
named itself the Group of Ten [with the later addition of two more 
"active" corporatist organizations], polished its professionalism, 
redoubled its lobbying efforts, and refined the art of compromise 
and dealmaking (Darnovsky 1992: 42)." 

The result of the Group of Ten's renewed dedication to working 
within the framework of economic restructuring can be seen in a 
broad range of new environmental initiatives, including debt for 
nature swaps, which attempt to reconstruct environmental 
conservation not as a limit to growth, but as a basis for new 
strategies of accumulation. Such initiatives include the 
commodification of endangered eco-systems as sites organized for 
"eco-tourism" or the extraction of plant genetic material for 
pharmaceutical and agro-chemical industries, and the endorsement of 
so-called "green" or "environmentally-friendly" consumer goods 
(Diamond 1991; Nelson 1993; Tokar 1991). This is environmentalism 
as a modern enclosure movement: an intensification of capitalist 
commodification and exploitation, "a regular return on the path of 
accumulation and a structural component of class struggle (Midnight 
Notes 1992: 318.)" 

VI. Debt for nature swaps: hegemony, accumulation and 
counter-insurgency 

Between 1987 and mid-1991, NGOs and government agencies purchased 
debt valued at more than US$61 million in 19 DFNs. Although ten 
countries took part in these swaps, four were responsible for 95 percent of 
the environmental funds generated (Mahoney 1992: 98). These funds 
were used for a variety of purposes including environmental 
training, research and education. But the primary use was to manage 
or expand natural parks and conservation areas (Mahoney 1992: 97). 

In this paper we have set debt for nature swaps in the context of 
a struggle taking place between capitalist and popular forces, as 
well as among capitalists and capitalist states, over the ways and 
conditions in which work is performed. Capital's failure to resolve 
its crisis of falling profits and declining hegemony through the 
mechanisms of the energy and debt crises has, we have argued, led 
to a deepening struggle between capital and popular forces for 
control over natural, social, and built environments. The rise of 
corporate environmentalism reconstructs nature conservation 1) as 
a key element in the process of building and maintaining consensus 
within the strategic power bloc composed of the owners of the 
largest, most globalized transnationals, the managers who run these 
corporations, and the third world capitalists who have invested in 
them; 2) as an opportunity to employ the interlocking crises of 
debt and nature to organize and build support for new strategies of 
accumulation in the interest of these specific gendered-class 
actors; and 3) as a strategy of counter-insurgency aimed directly 
at those popular organizations most effective in opposing 
capitalist restructuring. 

In this section, we examine debt for nature swaps in the context of 
the specific gendered-class interests of restructured global 
capital. After summarizing some of the key criticisms of DFNs as 
articulated by grassroots organizations and activists, we turn to 
a detailed examination of the consensual environmental discourse 
which links the owners, managers and investors in global capital to 
programs such as DFNs. We conclude this section by tracing the 
articulation of these interests to two DFNs carried out in Ecuador 
in 1987 and 1989. 

Debt for Nature Swaps: critical issues 

In an article written before the first DFN was completed in 1987, 
Barbara Bramble, then director of international programs for the 
resources conservation department of the US National Wildlife 
Federation, stated that financial and political questions aside, 
all parties involved in DFNs could be assumed to gain from the 

efforts to restructure the relations and conditions in which work 
is performed. We demonstrated that through a sequence of economic 
restructuring measures initiated with the oil crisis of the early 
1970s capital has reduced workers' access to relatively high paying 
and secure waged work as a means of increasing the exploitation of 
various forms of low-paid or unwaged, casual or invisible labour 
typically performed by women in general, as well as by women and 
men in the urban informal sector and among peasant and indigenous 
societies. 

The third dynamic examined in this paper is the growth in popular 
insurgency led by precisely those workers whom capital has targeted 
to pay the price of economic restructuring. We argued that these 
subject groups not only have the power to resist capitalist 
restructuring, but more significantly the power to transform the 
social relations of capitalist production through their struggles. 
This potential has repeatedly forced capital to redouble its 
efforts to carry out the restructuring of labour relations and to 
do so by directly attacking the very basis of insurgent social 
power, namely access to arable land, non-commodified social 
environments, and public services. 

Thus on the one hand capitalist restructuring of labour relations, 
the enclosure of natural resources and the debt-imposed assault on 
state spending, have brought on what Gita Sen and Caren Grown have 
termed a "reproduction crisis (Sen and Grown 1987: 51)" for the 
urban and rural poor. On the other hand, it is precisely in the 
face of such enclosures, that broad based movements of women and 
men are struggling to retain or reappropriate popular control over 
the means of subsistence, and to exert locally defined values, 
meanings and forms of social relations in defense of the commons. 
(Midnight Notes 1992: 317-33; Rao 1989; Varese 1991). 

Of popular organization against debt repayments and capitalist 
restructuring, Harry Cleaver has said, "Either we believe in our 
ability to craft a new world, or we do not. Those of use who are 
convinced that we, collectively, have this ability cannot accept 
being limited to some variation of accumulation (Cleaver 1989: 
41)." To accept debt for nature swaps and other new enclosures as 
any sort of solution to the debt-nature crisis is to accept defeat 
for the popular struggle to restore the commons even as this 
struggle is finding its strength. 
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