Strauss-Kahn: a metaphor for IMF practices

Leonardo Boff
Earthcharter Commission

One might think that it is a tragedy that the head of the IMF, Dominique Strauss-Kahn, succumbed to his vice, the obsessive search for perverse sex. Running naked after a Black maid in suite 2806 of the Sofitel Hotel in New York City, he grabbed and forced her to have sex. The details were thoroughly described by the New York District Attorney. For the sake of decency, I will not repeat them. It was not a tragedy for him: it was just one more person in this world whom he has victimized. Afterwards, he got dressed, and went directly to the airport.

What is funny is that he left his cell phone in the hotel suite, and because of that, the police were able to detain him, after he had already boarded the plane. The tragedy was not what happened to him, but to the victim, which no-one wants to know. Her name is Nifissatou Diallo, an African, Moslem, from Guinea, a widow and mother of a 15 year old daughter. The police found her hiding behind a cupboard, crying and vomiting, traumatized by the violence suffered at the hands of the hotel guest, whose name she did not even know.
Most of the French media, cynically and openly machista, tried to hide the facts, claiming even possible entrapment of the future socialist candidate for President of the French Republic. The former Minister of Culture and Education, Jacques Lang, from whom we could have expected some esprit de finesse, said contemptuously: «in the end, no one died.» It was not important that a woman was psychologically devastated by Mr. Strauss-Kahn’s brutality. For them, she is just a woman, an African woman. Could it be that in their backward mentality, a woman is good only to be a mere «object of bed and table»?

In fairness, we have to see the facts through the eyes of the victim. Only then can we capture the dimensions of her suffering, and the humiliation of so many other women in the world who have been kidnapped, raped, and sold as sex slaves. Only a society that has lost all sense of dignity, that has been brutalized by the prevalence of a materialist conception of life, that turns everything into objects and merchandise, could make such an offense possible.

Everything today has become merchandise, and an opportunity to make money; from privatizing the goods common to humanity, (such as water, earth, seeds), to prostituting children and women. Even human organs are marketed. If Marx saw all this, he would certainly be scandalized, because to him capitalism lived on the exploitation of the work force, but not from selling lives. Nonetheless, already in 1847, in the Misery of Philosophy, he wrote:

«Recently, we have arrived at a point where everything that men had considered inalienable has been turned into objects of exchange, commercialized, and subject to sale. Things have become commercialized that previously were communicated, but never exchanged; given, but never sold; acquired, but never bought, things such as virtue, love, opinion, science and consciousness. A time of general corruption and of universal venality reigns … when everything is taken to the market.»

Strauss-Kahn is a metaphor for the present neoliberal system. It sucks the blood of countries in crisis, such as Iceland, Ireland, Greece, Portugal, and now Spain, as was previously done with Brazil and the countries of Latin America and of Asia. To save the banks and enable repayment of debts, it devastated societies, forced workers out of their jobs, privatized public goods, cut salaries, delayed retirement ages, mandated longer work hours. All because of capital.

The enforcer of these world policies is, among others, the IMF, of which Strauss-Kahn was the central figure.

What he did to Nafissatou Diallo is a metaphor for what he was doing to the countries in financial difficulties. He deserves jail not just for the sexual violence against the hotel maid, but even more, for the economic rape of the people, that he committed from the IMF. We are desolate.

Leonardo Boff

Free translation from the Spanish sent by
Melina Alfaro,,