Jasmin Hristov’s startling examination of the role of paramilitaries in expanding neoliberalism in Colombia.

For Jasmin Hristov, the paramilitarism and violent dispossession that persists in Colombia long after paramilitaries were claimed to have been demobilised back in 2006 presents ‘no better opportunity to demonstrate the relevance of Marx’s description of capital as “dripping from head to toe, from every pore, with blood and dirt”‘. ‘[H]ow can we desist from the struggle for social justice’, asks Hristov, ‘when the faces of poverty and the forces that sustain it are horrifying?’

In this important and informative study, Hristov utilises Marx’s theory of ‘primitive accumulation’ to dissect the relationship between neoliberalism and paramilitarism, exploring the dynamics in depth and using Colombia as her backdrop. Such a framework of analysis is critical, she explains, because ‘with its attention to the material foundations of social relations, [it] can help us in understanding the causes of human rights violations in a more comprehensive way’.

In Colombia, we read, ‘The growth in paramilitary activities and the territorial expansion of such organisations between 1990 and 2005 was in parallel to the onset of neoliberalism.’ Indeed Hristov quotes the observation of one paramilitary: ‘Business needs security’.

Though the book is short, its content is comprehensive and Hristov is convincing in her explanation of the serviceability of paramilitarism in the interests of neoliberal capital accumulation. She furthermore emphasises the importance of the Colombian example – beyond its own borders – by pointing to the activity of Colombian paramilitaries in other Latin American countries. Hristov’s theorisation is also complemented by helpful differentiations between paramilitaries, death squads, vigilante groups and warlords, as well as the activities of paramilitaries in multiple states across Latin America.

In short, Hristov’s Paramilitarism & Neoliberalism: Violent Systems of Capital Accumulation in Colombia and Beyond not only offers a lucid account of the relationship between neoliberalism and paramilitarism, but places it within the context of Colombia’s ‘history of dispossession’ with passion and precision. Her book is an essential text in understanding the violence that continues to ravage Colombia to this day.

Paramilitarism & Neoliberalism: Violent Systems of Capital Accumulation in Colombia and Beyond

Jasmin Hristov (Pluto, 2014)

This article was originally published in Alborada magazine issue one (Spring/Summer 2015)