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live and let die Arrow vol 5 no 1 contents
About borderlands volume 5 number 1, 2006


Live and Let Die: Colonial Sovereignties
and the Death Worlds of Necrocapitalism

Subhabrata Bobby Banerjee
University of South Australia


In this paper I develop the concept of necrocapitalism by discussing contemporary forms of organizational accumulation that involve dispossession and the subjugation of life to the power of death. Drawing on the works of Agamben (1998, 2005) and Mbembe (2003) I discuss how some contemporary capitalist practices contribute to this subjugation of life. I discuss some ideological formations of necrocapitalist practices and examine what kind of social relations are disrupted and destroyed as a result of these practices. I discuss the organization and management of global violence and explore the rise of the privatized military and its use in the so-called war on terror.


Trade must be driven and maintained under the protection and favor of your own weapon.
Trade cannot be maintained without war, nor war without trade. The times now require
you to manage your general commerce with your sword in your hands.

—Jan Coen, Governor General, Dutch East Indies Company, 1775.

1. The above quote is from a memo Jan Coen wrote to his staff after being appointed as Governor General for the Dutch East Indies Company. Coen offers a prescription on how to manage trade during the glory days of what was probably the world's first multinational corporation - I refer of course to the infamous East India Company. In an era of European colonial expansion, the company was engaged in conquering markets, eliminating competition, securing cheap sources of raw material supply, building strategic alliances: in short everything management textbooks tell us to do 200 years later. Colonial expansionist practices of the British empire in the 1800s involved both capital appropriation and permanent destruction of manufacturing capacities in the colonies - the 'technological superiority' of the British textile industry for example, was established as much by invention as by a systematic destruction of India's indigenous industry including some innovative competitive strategies that involved cutting off the thumbs of master weavers in Bengal, the forced cultivation of indigo by Bihar's peasants as well as the slave trade from Africa that supplied cotton plantations in the US with free labor (Dutt, 1970; Shiva, 2001: 34).

2. In this paper I explore the implications of 'managing general commerce with a sword' in today's global economy. In attempting to understand the management of general commerce I refer to specific capitalist practices in what is commonly referred to as the doctrine of neoliberalism. In describing the sword of commerce I examine how different forms of power - institutional, material, and discursive - operate in the political economy and the violence and dispossession that results. Drawing on the works of Agamben (1998; 2005) and Mbembe (2003) I develop the notion of necrocapitalism based on Achille Mbembe's concept of necropolitics which he defined as 'contemporary forms of subjugation of life to the power of death' (Mbembe, 2003: 39). I argue that some contemporary capitalist practices contribute to 'the subjugation of life to the power of death' in a variety of contexts, for example in the management of global violence and the increasing use of privatized military forces in the so-called war on terror. If the symbol of past sovereignty was the sword, I want to examine the effects of the sword of commerce and its power to create life worlds and death worlds in the contemporary political economy. What practices in contemporary capitalism result in the subjugation of life? What roles do necrocapitalist practices play in the organization and management of global violence? What are the ideological formations of necrocapitalist practices? These are some questions that I will explore in developing the notion of necrocapitalism.

The Sword of Commerce and the Practice of Necrocapitalism

            Do you even remember the tales of your unparalleled cruelty?
            Of the Company's criminal days in power?

            When you went about looting every caravan

            While the wealth of India wandered bare headed

            You, who used to cut off the thumbs of weavers,

            And fill holes in the earth with cold corpses?
            The industry of India was under the shadow of death

            And what a wretched death! At your hands!

            —Josh Malihabadi 'To the Sons of the East India Company'.

3. Malihabadi, a member of the collective of progressive writers during India's independence struggle wrote this poem as a sarcastic response to the British government's call for Indians to join the war against Germany at the onset of World War II (Mir & Mir, 2006). The British promptly responded by banning the poem and shutting down Malihabadi's newspaper. The 'shadow of death' refers to the East India Company's systematic destruction of India's indigenous textile industry in order to provide captive markets for the mills of Manchester. Violence, mutilation, slavery and death were the conditions of wealth creation for Company and Empire. The depreciation of human life was a condition of capital appreciation during the days of mercantile capitalism. For instance, in 1757 when news of the defeat of the French and the capture of the fort of Chandannagore in the province of Bengal by the English East India reached London, the company's stock price rose 12% in the London stock exchange (Singer, 2004). One could argue little has changed in nearly 250 years: in December 2004, the share price of Armor Holdings, a U.S.-based multinational corporation and one of many private military subcontractors in Iraq reached an all time high in Wall Street after the U.S. government announced reconstruction contracts in Iraq. Both cases involve military power, violence and the taking of life. Both cases also involve specific capitalist relations in terms of accumulation for profit to what was a chartered corporation of the 1700s and its evolution to the multinational corporation of the 1900s.

4. A clarification about some of the terminology used in the paper: at different places I have used the terms colonialism and imperialism, sometimes interchangeably at other times differentially. I understand imperialism as theories and practices developed by a dominant metropolitan center to rule distant territories, either by force, political means or by economic, social and cultural dependence. Doyle (1986: 45) defines empire as 'a relationship, formal or informal, in which one state controls the effective political sovereignty of another political society. It can be achieved by force, by political collaboration, by economic, social or cultural dependence'. Colonialism, which is almost always a consequence of imperialism, involves the establishment of settlements on outlying territories. In the postcolonial era I use the term colonialism (or neocolonialism) to describe continuities of European colonialism without the traditional mechanism of expanding frontiers and territorial control but with elements of political, economic and cultural control. For instance, I use the term colonialism to acknowledge the complicity of colonial relations in contemporary power relations between First and Third World regions. The end of empires and direct colonial rule did not mean the end of imperialism and its traces can be observed in 'the general cultural sphere... in specific political, ideological, economic and social practice' (Said, 1993: 8). The traditional politics of power, i.e., military strength, diplomacy and weapons development have evolved into an age of 'geo-economics' where winners and losers in the global economy are created by state-assisted private entities (Luttwak, 1999). However, as Said (1993) argues, accumulation and acquisition are not the only actions of imperialism or colonialism. Their ideological formations assume that certain territories and people actually 'require and beseech domination, as well as forms of knowledge affiliated with domination'.

5. The nexus between capitalism and death is not new: In Volume I of Capital, Marx (1867: 926) wrote: 'If money comes into the world with a congenital blood stain on one cheek, then capital comes dripping from head to toe, from every pore, with blood and dirt'. Early capitalist practices of recruiting labor involved violence, often sanctioned by law. The legislation against 'vagabondage' for example transformed peasants who were driven off the land into vagabonds to be 'whipped, branded, tortured by laws grotesquely terrible, into the discipline necessary for the wage system (Marx, 1867: 899). The brutal horrors of colonialism added a racial dimension to the exploitation of labor - for example Marx describes the colonial capitalist practices in Africa as 'extirpation, enslavement and entombment in mines of the aboriginal population... and the turning of African into a warren for the commercial hunting of black skins' (Marx, 1867: 915). In his analysis of death, blood and vampire metaphors in Marx's work, Neocleous (2003) draws parallels between capital and death arguing that Marx's critique of political economy is ultimately a 'political economy of the dead'. At various points in Capital Marx refers to capital as 'dead labor' in opposition to 'living labor' where capitalist rule is the 'independent conditions of labor over the worker... the rule of things over man, of dead labor over living' (Marx, 1867: 989).

6. However, rather than reduce death to distinctions between labor whether in a colonial or a metropolitan context, it is necessary to understand necrocapitalism as a practice that operates through the establishment of colonial sovereignty, and the manner in which this sovereignty is established in the current political economy where the business of death can take place through states of exception. In this sense, it is necessary to read the manner in which colonial sovereignty operates to create states of exception conducive to the operation of necrocapitalist practices.

7. Drawing on Carl Schmitt's definition of sovereignty as one 'who decides on the state of exception', Agamben (1998: 17) argues that through the state of exception, the sovereign 'creates and guarantees the situation that the law needs for its own validity'. The exception to a rule, or what is outside a normal case is actually 'included in the normal case precisely because it does not belong to it'. Therefore non-belonging to a class of things really means belonging to it by exception. Thus, 'an exception is what cannot be included in the whole of which it is a member and cannot be a member of the whole in which it is always already excluded' (Agamben, 1998: 25). To quote Agamben (2005: 51),

In every case the state of exception marks a threshold at which logic and praxis blur with each other and a pure violence without logos claims to realize an enunciation without any real reference. The essential task of a theory of the state of exception is not simply to clarify whether it has a juridical nature or not, but to define the meaning, place, and modes of its relation to the law.

8. The state of exception allows for the enactment of violence in this irreducible space where law is in a state of suspended animation. Violence in this sovereign space is different from State violence which is exercised in maintaining the law: violence in the state of exception preserves the law by suspending it. Sovereign power and its ability to declare a state of exception is the link between violence and law that both establishes and suspends the rule of law in constituting the living, what Benjamin (1978) calls 'bare life'. The concept of bare life is ultimately a decision as to what constitutes life which, as Agamben argues, is a sovereign decision - a state of exception. Bare life is distinguished from politically or culturally constituted life. Sovereign power in determining the state of exception thus excludes bare life from political life while making the production of bare life an imperative of politics. It is this state of exception, a sovereign power that defines what Agamben calls 'the relation of ban or abandonment', that produces bare life which can only be included in the political by virtue of its exclusion through a sovereign abandonment or ban.

9. Drawing on concepts from ancient Roman law, Agamben (1998: 27) develops the notion of homo sacer or sacred man - 'one who may be killed but not sacrificed'. In ancient Roman law, homo sacer referred to people whose deaths were of no value to the gods and thus could not be sacrificed but could be killed with impunity because their lives were deemed be of no value to society. Homo sacer occupied a space both outside (and hence inside) divine law and juridical law; they were objects of sovereign power but excluded from being its subjects; 'mute bearers of bare life deprived of language and the political life that language makes possible' (Gregory, 2004: 63).

10. Agamben shows how sovereign power operates in the production of bare life in a variety of contexts: concentration camps, 'human guinea pigs' used by Nazi doctors, current debates on euthanasia, debates on human rights and refugee rights. A sovereign decision to apply a state of exception invokes a power to decide the value of life, which would allow a life to be killed without the charge of homicide. The killings of mentally and physically handicapped people during the Nazi regime was justified as ending a 'life devoid of value', a life 'unworthy to be lived'. Sovereignty thus becomes a decision on the value of life, 'a power to decide the point at which life ceases to be politically relevant' (Agamben, 1998: 142). Life is no more sovereign as enshrined in the declaration of 'human' rights but becomes instead a political decision, an exercise of biopower (Foucault, 1980). In the context of the 'war on terror' operating in a neoliberal economy, the exercise of biopower results in the creation of a type of sovereignty that has profound implications for those whose livelihoods depend on the war on terror as well as those whose lives become constituted as 'bare life' in the economy of the war on terror.

11. However, it is not enough to situate sovereignty and biopower in the context of a neoliberal economy especially in the case of the war on terror. In a neoliberal economy, the colony represents a greater potential for profit especially as it is this space that, as Mbembe (2003: 14) suggests, represents a permanent state of exception where sovereignty is the exercise of power outside the law, where 'peace was more likely to take on the face of a war without end' and where violence could operate in the name of civilization. But these forms of necropolitical power, as Mbembe reads it in the context of the occupation of Palestine, literally create 'death worlds, new and unique forms of social existence in which vast populations are subjected to conditions of life conferring upon them the status of the living dead ' (Mbembe, 2003: 40). The state of endless war is precisely the space where profits accrue whether it is through the extraction of resources or the use of privatized militias or through contracts for reconstruction.   Sovereignty over death worlds results in the application of necropower either literally as the right to kill or the right to 'civilize', a supposedly 'benevolent' form of power that requires the destruction of a culture in order to 'save the people from themselves' (Mbembe, 2003:22). This attempt to save the people from themselves has, of course, been the rhetoric used by the U.S. government in the war on terror and the war in Iraq.

12. Situating necropolitics in the context of economy, Montag (2005: 11) argues that if necropolitics is interested in the production of death or subjugating life to the power of death then it is possible to speak of a necroeconomics - a space of 'letting die or exposing to death'. Montag explores the relation of the market to life and death in his reading of Adam Smith's Wealth of Nations and Theory of Moral Sentiments. In Montag's reading of Smith, it is 'the dread of death, the great poison to the happiness...which while it afflicts and mortifies the individual, guards and protects the society' (cited in Montag, 2005: 12). If social life was driven solely by unrestrained self-interest then the fear of punishment or death through juridical systems kept the pursuit of excessive self-interest in check, otherwise people would simply rob, injure and kill for material wealth. Thus, for Smith the universality of life is contingent on the particularity of death, the production of life on the production of death where the intersection of the political and the economic makes it necessary to exercise the right to kill. The market then, as a 'concrete form of the universal' becomes the 'very form of universality as life' and requires at certain moments to 'let die'. Or as Montag theorizes it,

Death establishes the conditions of life; death as by an invisible hand restores the market to what it must be to support life. The allowing of death of the particular is necessary to the production of life of the universal. The market reduces and rations life; it not only allows death, it demands death be allowed by the sovereign power, as well as by those who suffer it. In other words, it demands and required the latter allow themselves to die. Thus alongside the figure of homo sacer, the one who may be killed with impunity, is another figure, one whose death is no doubt less spectacular than the first and is the object of no memorial or commemoration: he who with impunity may be allowed to die, slowly or quickly, in the name of the rationality and equilibrium of the market (Montag, 2005: 15).

Montag, therefore, theorizes a necroeconomics where the state becomes the legitimate purveyor of violence: in this scenario, the state can compel by force by 'those who refuse to allow themselves to die' (Montag, 2005: 15). However, Montag's concept of necroeconomics appears to universalize conditions of poverty through the logic of the market. My concern however, is the creation of death worlds in colonial contexts through the collusion between states and corporations.

13. If states and corporations work in tandem with each other in colonial contexts, creating states of exception and exercising necropower to profit from the death worlds that they establish, then necroeconomics fails to consider the specificities of colonial capitalist practices. In this sense, I would argue that necrocapitalism emerges from the intersection of necropolitics and necroeconomics, as practices of accumulation in colonial contexts by specific economic actors - multinational corporations for example - that involve dispossession, death, torture, suicide, slavery, destruction of livelihoods and the general management of violence. It is a new form of imperialism, an imperialism that has learned to 'manage things better'. Colonial sovereignty can be established even in metropolitan sites where necrocapitalism may operate in states of exception: refugee detention centres in Australia are examples of these states of exception (Perera, 2002). However, in the colonies (either 'post' or 'neo'), entire regions in the Middle East or Africa may be designated as states of exception.

Colonial Necrocapitalism

14. The fundamental feature of necrocapitalism is accumulation by dispossession and the creation of death worlds in colonial contexts . The historical context of contemporary practices of accumulation by dispossession, violence and death is situated in the early years of European colonialism. The ideology of the new empire reflected the needs of colonial modernities where older justifications of empire through civilization were reconfigured by economic conceptions of progress and development resulting in a form of capitalist imperialism. Military power, traditionally deployed for territorial expansion and commercial rivalry now assumed a more ambiguous purpose often requiring no specific aim (Wood, 2003). Colonial expansion, especially by the British, was justified using capitalist notions of private property, for example when comparing the 'value' of agricultural production with the 'waste' of  hunting and gathering. The dominance of private property over political sovereignty was a hallmark of capitalist imperialism in universalizing notions of value - John Locke for example argued an 'unimproved' America was open to colonization because an acre of land in America, while being as fertile as an acre of land in England and with the same 'intrinsic value' was 'not worth 1/1000 of the English acre, if we calculate all the Profit an Indian received from it were it valued and sold here' (cited in Wood, 2003: 143, original emphasis).

15. Empire thus became more than military conquest in its evolution to a form of purely economic hegemony. Imperialism became an 'economic system of external investment and the penetration and control of markets and sources of raw materials' (Williams, 1976: 159). The transformation of European colonialism to a new 'imperialism without colonies' also required coercive power and brute force often with the collusion of post-colonial political elites in the former colonies where local states emerged as sites of power for capitalist accumulation. Thus, rather than marking the 'death of the nation state', globalization as capitalist imperialism is dependent on a system of multiple states which required a new doctrine of 'extra-economic, and especially military, coercion' (Wood, 2003: 151). The ability to deploy extra-economic coercive power is analogous to 'Operation Infinite War', a Hobbesian 'state of war' which to quote Hobbes 'consisteth not in actual fighting, but in the known disposition thereto during all the time there is no assurance to the contrary'. Thus, 'an endless empire which has no boundaries, even no territory, requires war without end. An invisible empire requires infinite war, and a new doctrine of war to justify it' (cited in Wood, 2003: 161).

16. The creation of new spaces of exceptions is a weapon for the ideological arsenal of empire where the imposition of an economic relationship becomes paramount, using brute force if required. Thus, the right to rule is justified 'by the right, indeed the obligation, to produce exchange value' (Wood, 2003: 157). Economic domination where markets manage much of the imperial work extends the powers and reach of colonial states. Thus, if imperialism is to be viewed as a fundamental set of economic relations, then examining the range of relations (such as the relationship between nation states, international institutions and corporations) becomes an important task in order to uncover the presence of imperialism in current institutional structures and processes. Placed in the context of imperialism, the operation of international finance capital becomes significant in its hegemonic institutionalization through the IMF, World Bank and WTO. Therefore, conflicts between North-South countries in various international trade forums as well as protests by peasants and workers in the poorer countries of the world over property and resource rights are often aptly framed as anti-imperialist struggles.

17. The necrocapitalistic capture of the social implies new modes of governmentality that are informed by the norms of corporate rationality and deployed in managing violence, social conflict and the multitudes. No conflict is tolerable that challenges the supreme requirements of capitalist rationalization - economic growth, profit maximization, productivity, efficiency and the like. Inevitably, corporate rationality overrules, co-opts or marginalizes interests that could threaten corporate advantage. The same rationality enables the polity-economy nexus to penetrate civil society and the public sphere in more comprehensive ways resulting in technocratic imperatives dictating not only the functioning of the workplace but also 'education, housing, health care, cultural consumption, food production, and even neighborhood life' (Boggs, 1986: 28). Through the dynamics of discursive and institutional power, this market-state system positions itself 'above' society and its competing social forces while obscuring its key role in the accumulation process. More than seventy years ago Berle and Means (1932: 357) prophesied: 'The future may see the economic organization now typified by the corporation, not only on an equal plane with the state, but possible even superseding it as the dominant form of social organization'. This prophecy has come to haunt us in the current neoliberal era where the colonization of the social by the economic has become hegemonic. Also, as Harvey (2005) points out attempts to reorganize the social in first world contexts depend on increasing militarisms at home and abroad. Such militarisms have often depended on older racialized forms of power.

18. New economic doctrines require new military doctrines as well. 'Spreading democracy and capitalism' the cornerstone of U.S. foreign policy also involves Operation Infinite War, a 'new imperial hegemony, commanding a global economy administered by multiple states, requiring war without end' (Wood, 2003: 71). War without end does not necessarily mean endless fighting: the coercive mechanisms of capital require an endless possibility of war. Leaving aside the problem of conflating democracy with capitalism for the moment, one could argue that U.S. foreign policy of 'spreading democracy and capitalism' is a new form of imperialism. While the rhetoric behind U.S. foreign policy over the last 70 years is to 'spread democratic values', the reality is that foreign policy decisions promote a brand of American liberal democracy that seeks to create a global system 'based on the needs of private capital including the protection of private property and open access to markets' (Hertz, 2001: 78). 'War without end' has an impressive genealogy in the west. Woodrow Wilson wrote in 1907:

Since trade ignores national boundaries and the manufacturer insists on having the world as a market, the flag of his nation must follow him, and the doors of the nations which are closed against him must be battered down. Concessions obtained by financiers must be safeguarded by ministers of state, even if the sovereignty of unwilling nations be outraged in the process. Colonies must be obtained or planted, in order that no useful corner of the world may be overlooked...The seed of war in the modern world is industrial and commercial rivalry (cited in Katz, 2006).

Thus, Woodrow Wilson's declaration that the 'world must be made safe for democracy'      must therefore be seen in light of the kind of market fundamentalism and violence that        defines the parameters of democracy. American style liberal democracy where multinational corporations become the carriers of democratic values to Third World regions is perfectly capable of functioning in authoritarian regimes—in fact these regimes are preferred, as long as a market economy is allowed. Democratic notions of private property rights and the rule of law are sacrosanct but other aspects of democracy such as 'mass participation, an active civil society, regular free and fair elections are optional and in fact expendable' (Hertz, 2001: 80).

19. And when inconvenient democracies threaten American style capitalism as was the case with the democratically elected President of Venezuela Hugo Chavez, a state of exception can always be created to justify a military backed coup (the extent of U.S. political and military involvement in the military coup to oust Chavez is still not clear as documents remain classified by the State department because of reasons of 'national security') or political assassination as advocated by 'religious broadcaster' Pat Robertson. Appearing on national television, Robertson called for the assassination of Chavez to stop his country from becoming 'a launching pad for communist infiltration and Muslim extremism' (the charge of 'Muslim extremism' in Venezuela is bizarre to say the least given that less than 0.5% of the country's population is Muslim). In his broadcast Robertson said:

We have the ability to take him out, and I think the time has come that we exercise that ability. We don't need another $200 billion war to get rid of one strong-arm dictator. It's a whole lot easier to have some of the covert operatives do the job and then get it over with. It's a whole lot cheaper than starting a war ... and I don't think any oil shipments will stop (USA Today, 2005).

20. While the U.S. government distanced itself from Robertson's remark (U.S. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld told newsmedia with a straight face 'We don't do that sort of thing'), Robertson's statement underscores the relationship between oil (Venezuela is the fifth largest exporter of oil in the world and the U.S. buys nearly 60% of its production), and capitalist accumulation by dispossession and death through political assassination and war. And to further clarify the relationship between markets and war, President Bush, in an attempt to address concerns about the dramatic decline in tourism and air travel in the aftermath of the September 11 attacks, told airline employees that 'one of the great goals of this war is to tell the traveling public: Get on board' (cited in Gregory, 2004). Thus, for the American tourist to 'get on board' to enjoy a holiday, stimulate the tourism market and save airline jobs it becomes necessary for some people to die, as homo sacer , in a state of exception outside national and international law.

21. If the sword of commerce was most visibly active in the days of empire its activity in the postcolonial era continued the violence in a more covert manner, often with the complicity of the political elites of the former colonies. Ong (2005) develops the notion of 'graduated sovereignty' to describe how some countries in South East Asia, notably the so-called 'Asian tigers' embraced the global market with a combination of governmental political strategies and military repression. Her research on globalization in Indonesia and Malaysia showed that the interaction between states and transnational capital resulted in a differential state treatment of the population already fragmented by race, ethnicity, gender, class and region as well as a reconfiguration of power and authority in the hands of transnational corporations operating in special export processing zones. The neoliberal turn in these regions follows a different trajectory where the interplay of market versus state results in differing levels of sovereignty: some areas of the economy have a very strong state presence and in other areas, markets and foreign capital rule. State sovereignty is dispersed because global markets and capital with the collusion of governments create states of exception where coercion, violence and killings occur. State repression against rebel populations and separatist movements is often influenced by market forces: as Ong (2005) argues territories are cleared of rebels ('outlawed citizens') to make way for logging concessions, petroleum pipelines, mines and dams. Thus, necrocapitalism creates states of exceptions where 'democratic rights are confined to a political sphere' while continuing forms of domination, exploitation and violence in other domains (Wood, 2003: 80).

Outsourcing the 'War on Terror': Corporate Warriors and the Privatized Military Industry

22. I would now like to examine how the outsourcing of the war on terror can be read as a necrocapitalist practice. Perhaps no other commodity has such a long and bloody history involving dispossession, colonial conquest, military coups, wars, corruption, global politics and power as oil. Starting from the end of the 19 th century oil has consistently been one of the biggest businesses in the world. In 2006, six of the 15 largest corporations in the Fortune 500 Global list were oil companies. One of the first truly multinational corporations of the modern era, corporate strategies of oil companies are inextricably linked with national strategies of governments as well as global politics and power. Oil has played a key role in the tragedy unfolding in the Middle East today, beginning from the carving up of the region into nation states to satisfy the needs of colonial and imperial powers in the 1930s to the so called 'war on terror' in Iraq and elsewhere that is increasingly resembling a permanent state of exception.

23. Imperial power, military might, economic interests and capital all converge in the so-called war on terror: while it may be true that the oil may not have been the sole reason for the invasion of Iraq, it is no accident that in the mayhem and looting in Baghdad that followed the first few days of the invasion, the only two buildings guarded by American troops were the Ministry of the Interior and the Ministry of Oil. Flows of capital in and out of Iraq leave a trail of death and destruction followed by reconstruction: one of several key decisions in the innumerable meetings in post war Iraq between American and British officials and the shaky interim 'government' of Iraq had to do with the establishment of 'Iraq Inc.' involving the privatization of Iraq's state industries and the allocation of reconstruction contracts to mainly American and British corporations. (Gregory, 2004). While the entire country is declared a state of exception colonial cartographies have redrawn Baghdad into zones. The 'Green Zone' where the Coalition Provisional Authority is based is a state of exception within a state of exception - 'America's Baghdad' as an interpreter worker in the Green Zone described it an interview with the Washington Post : 'Its like I never left America. They serve peanut butter, lobster and ice cream. The cell phones have a 914 area code (White Plains, New York). The television sets show Monday Night Football. The people speak English' (cited in Gregory, 2004: 247).

24. Life and death for people unfortunate enough to live outside the Green Zone yet governed by its operations is very different. Colonial cartographies in rezoning Baghdad based on levels of security have differential effects on human bodies that occupy these zones. As both the number of dead and the living dead grow in Iraq the macabre game of body counts continues: at the time of writing 2742 coalition soldiers have been killed in Iraq - of these 2526 are U.S. soldiers. Numbers of Iraqi civilians killed as a result of the conflict are not as precise: various agencies put the total number of civilian dead between a minimum of 38475 and a maximum of 42889 (Iraqi Body Count, 2006). When General Tommy Franks famously said 'We don't do body counts' he of course meant that they only do the bodies that count. Frank's statement is indicative of what Pugliese (2006) describes as the 'violent asymmetries that operate in the differential valuation of human lives'. Referring to the website that documents the number of Iraqi dead, Pugliese (2006) argues powerfully:

Where the 9/11 New York dead will be individuated at Ground Zero through the inscription of all their names on a memorial wall, the Iraqi civilian dead are dispatched to this electronic morgue as so many anonymous numerals.....What occurs in that spectral cyberspace marked by the bar between the Minimum and Maximum? What flickers and wavers between this discrepancy of numbers? Who inhabits this macabre space marked by the suspensive hiatus of the dead and the undead? In this indeterminate space are to be found the Iraqi dead who are also undead, lost souls denied even the most minimal conditions of signification.

25. Apart from Iraqi civilians there is yet another category of people that falls outside what Pugliese (2006) describes as the 'necrological tabulating machine' - the number of private contractors killed. Outsourcing is a key strategy used in the so-called war on terror. There are currently over 140,000 American troops in Iraq. The next highest group of soldiers are hired by privatized military firms (PMFs) and number 21,250 compared to 8500 British troops which is the second largest national contingent (singer, 2004). Private contractors operate prisons in Guantanamo Bay and Iraq. Haliburton, Bechtel and other major U.S. hired contractors have received million dollar contracts to provide security services and work on reconstruction projects. These contractors in turn bring in thousands of workers (often illegally) from the Philippines, Nepal, Pakistan, India and Sri Lanka to do what one American supervisor calls 'grunt jobs', meaning dirty and dangerous work that American employees are not willing to do (Phinney, 2005). Hundreds of these 'Third Country Nationals' (TCNs) have been killed and while the Pentagon keeps an exact body count of American soldiers killed, they do not keep records of TCN deaths or civilian deaths. Working conditions are also described as being abusive with contractors doing their best to minimized costs by providing minimal service: TCNs do not get overtime or other benefits like American employees, they eat their very basic meals outdoors in 140 degree temperatures while their American counterparts enjoy culinary delights in air conditioned mess halls along with U.S. soldiers. A racialized international division of labor is a profitable strategy for corporations involved in outsourcing the war on terror and reconstruction efforts in Iraq. The practice of necrocapitalism is embodied in these bodies of the living and dead Third Country Nationals by their invisibility in statistics of body counts or media coverage of soldiers in Iraq. Their labor profits imperial sovereignties yet their deaths are as disposable as the deaths of Iraqi civilians who are also evidence of the costs of necrocapitalism (or 'collateral damage' in Pentagonspeak).

26. Recent years have seen an increasing trend in the outsourcing of war and the global rise of the privatized military industry (Singer, 2004). Privatized military firms (PMFs) are business corporations that offer a variety of military related services including combat operations, strategic planning, asset protection, support and training. It is a global industry operating in every continent except Antarctica. Countries in which PMFs have operated in the recent past include Angola, Democratic Republic of Congo, Ethiopia, Sudan, Algeria, Ivory Coast, Kenya, Uganda, Liberia, Cameroon, Nigeria, Equatorial Guinea, Congo-Brazzaville, Senegal, Somalia, Namibia, Sierra Leone, Zambia, Croatia, Bosnia, Albania, Macedonia, Kosova, Russia, Azerbaijan, Armenia, Kazakhstan, Chechnia, Georgia, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, several other Gulf states, Papua New Guinea, the Philippines, Indonesia, Haiti, Colombia, and several Latin American countries (Singer, 2004). While these regions mark the theatre of operations for PMFs, their corporate head offices are, not surprisingly, based in metropolitan centers of London, Paris, Berlin and New York.

27. Modern nation states have drawn from the 'private violence market' to build their public power (Singer, 2004: 20). The intimate relationship between colonial powers and their chartered private corporations is not qualitatively different from modern privatized military corporations and imperial powers of today. For instance, the East India Company was described in the Universal Dictionary in 1751 in this manner:

One of the reasons why the Dutch East India Company flourishes, and is become the richest and most powerful of all others we know of, is its being absolute, and invested with a kind of sovereignty and domination. It makes peace and war at pleasure, and by its own authority, administers justice to all, settles colonies, builds fortification, levies troops, maintains numerous armies and garrisons, fits our fleets, and coins money (cited in Singer, 2004: 34).

The sovereignty that colonial charters bestowed on corporations has shifted to the private realm, resulting in a privatization of sovereignty in territories where PMFs operate today. Their right to take life or let live, 'protect' assets and claim mineral rights (as is the case in several African states) is today enshrined in the form of the modern business corporation. Given the nature of their business, there is a lack of transparency about the actual operations of PMFs. Singer (2004) estimates that the industry has an annual revenue of $100 billion, which is expected to double by 2010. PMFs sell their services to the highest bidder: nation states, other multinational corporations, international organizations and non-governmental organizations. This can have some ironic consequences: a PMF can be hired for military combat operations in a particular region that involved killing the 'enemy' and can subsequently be hired by another bidder at another time in the same region to 'protect' the people they were engaged in killing earlier. This has happened in Angola (Singer, 2004). Some industry lobbyists are even attempting to privatize UN peacekeeping systems invoking the same neoliberal mantra of delivering services, faster, cheaper and more efficiently than the public sector. The privatization of war and the privatization of peace are now business decisions: corporations will choose either strategy based on its profitability. Joseph Heller must have been prescient when he wrote Catch 22 , where Major Milo Minderbinder remarked: 'Frankly, I'd like to see the government get out of war altogether and leave the whole feud to private industry'.

28. Private contractors have also been implicated in the torture of prisoners that took place at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq. Employees of contractors have been accused of participating in torture along with U.S. soldiers and there are numerous civil suits on detainee abuse filed in the U.S. against private contractors as well as the government (McKelvey, 2005). If the state can torture and kill because of its sovereign ability to create a state of exception status, what implications arise from the sanctioned violence used by private corporations? I argue that a state of exception created by the war on terror results in a privatization of sovereignty, which is an enabling condition of necrocapitalism.

29. The global organization and management of violence blurs the distinction between public and private providers of security. The state of course is a key funder of and protector of necrocapitalist practices. But the war on terror has been used strategically by several U.S. multinational corporations to obtain generous tax breaks from their government as part of a 'stimulus package' which in turn is attempting to restrict the legal avenues for foreign citizens to sue multinational corporations for human rights abuses in U.S. courts. The 'integration' of public forces such as the police by private security firms for the protection of foreign capital results in the creation of new states of exception where violence can be used with impunity.


30. To return to the questions I posed at the beginning of the paper: a theory of necrocapitalism requires us to pay attention to the specific colonial capitalist practices that result in the subjugation of life to the power of death. These are the practices that manage and organize global violence by privatizing sovereignty and creating states of exception that enable accumulation by dispossession and death. Debord (1995) described capitalism as an accumulation of spectacles, not just an accumulation of images, but a 'social relation among people, mediated by images'. The society of the spectacle represents an image of the world in which the forms of the state and the economy are interwoven and 'where the economy achieves the status of absolute and irresponsible sovereignty over all social life..... where everything can be called into question except the spectacle itself which as such says nothing but "what appears is good, what is good appears"' (Agamben, 1993: 79). A critical theoretical approach must necessarily create a space for challenging necrocapitalist practices. The ideology of neoliberal market fundamentalism is so prevalent that it has almost become immune to empirical disconfirmation where the nexus of governments and corporations leave no room for a no-war zone. New theoretical perspectives are required to rethink the relationship between the economy, the polity and society as alternatives to necrocapitalist practices. Perhaps the questions asked by the African novelist Ayi Kwei Armah provide us with a fitting beginning to these challenges:

How have we come to be mere mirrors to annihilation? For whom do we aspire to reflect our people's death? For whose entertainment shall we sing our agony? In what hopes? That the destroyers aspiring to extinguish us, will suffer conciliatory remorse at the sight of their own fantastic success? (Ayi Kwei Armah, Two Thousand Seasons, p. xiii).


Bobby Banerjee is Professor of Strategic Management and Director of Research at the International Graduate School of Business, University of South Australia. He is attempting to create states of exception that enable critical reflection in business schools.


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