by Dr. Francisco “Ka Dodong” Nemenzo
Globalization is not the enemy. The enemy is neo-liberalism. But so overwhelming is the grip of bourgeois ideology on media that the generic term globalization has come to mean only one type of globalization, the neo-liberal variety.
I don’t want to belabor this semantic issue. We can use the term loosely as the bourgeois press want it used, provided we recognize the difference between globalization as a neo-liberal project and globalization as an emerging reality brought into being by recent technological advances. The former is an economic framework that capitalism is trying to impose upon the world. To oppose it should not mislead us to oppose technological progress as well, like the Luddites in the early years of the Industrial Revolution.
Globalization in the neo-liberal sense is a new label for an old phenomenon. As early as the mid-19th century the most perceptive political analysts already noted the compulsive tendency of the capitalist system to go beyond national boundaries. Let me quote a pamphlet written 159 years ago:
The need of a constantly expanding market for its products chases the bourgeoisie over the whole surface of the globe. It must nestle everywhere, settle everywhere, establish connections everywhere.
The bourgeoisie has through the exploitation of the world market given a cosmopolitan character to production and consumption in every country. To the chagrin of reactionaries, it has drawn from under the feet of industry the national ground on which it stood. All old-established national industries have been destroyed or are daily being destroyed. They are dislodged by new industries, whose introduction becomes a life and death question for all [civilized] nations, by industries that no longer work up indigenous raw materials, but raw materials drawn from the remotest zones: industries whose products are consumed, not only at home, but in every quarter of the globe. In place of the old wants, satisfied by the production of the country, we find new wants, requiring for their satisfaction the products of distant lands and climes. In place of the old local and national seclusion and self-sufficiency, we have intercourse in every direction, universal inter-dependence of nations. And as in material, so also in intellectual production. The intellectual creations of individual nations become common property. National one-sidedness and narrow-mindedness become more and more impossible, and from the numerous national and local literatures, there emerges a world literature.
This passage must be familiar to some of you because it comes from The Communist Manifesto by Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels published in 1848. Isn’t this a near accurate description of the dominant pattern in the global economy today?
By the end of the 19th century this compulsive tendency of capitalism to transcend the boarders of nation states reached a higher and dangerous stage that Lenin called “imperialism”. But it slowed down during the Cold War, when the capitalist system faced a strong challenge from the Soviet Union. Fearful that the devastating consequences of the free market economy would drive their own workers to the communist side, the rulers of the major capitalist countries grudgingly adopted structural adjustments. Keynesian economic policies restrained the free market and taxes were imposed to finance the so-called “welfare state”. Enjoying a share of imperialist plunder, the workers in the advanced capitalist countries came to believe that they, too, have a vested interest in the survival of capitalism. The trade unions then became a pillar of the Right in the Labor and Social Democratic Parties in Europe.
However, the collapse of the Soviet Union and the disintegration of the international communist movement emboldened the leading capitalist powers to resume with greater vigor the project of imposing free trade on a global scale. The Keynesian regulatory mechanisms were decommissioned and the “welfare state” was dismantled piece by piece. With renewed aggressiveness, the capitalist powers – through the multilateral bodies they control like the IMF, World Bank and the WTO – then inveigled and coerced the all other countries to bring down their protectionist barriers and allow the free flow of trade and investments across nations.
Let me emphasize three points: First, the phenomenal advances of computer, communication and transport technologies facilitated the neo-liberal project. These technologies have indeed brought the peoples in all nations together in what Marshall Mcluhan called a “global village”.
Second: the “global village” is not necessarily bad. Why should we oppose satellite broadcasting, for example? While it promotes consumerism, it also keeps us informed of the struggle of the Nepali people, of American atrocities in Iraq, of the triumphs of the left in Latin America. Should we also shun the ATMs, the cellular phones and the Internet? Should we deplore the convenience of booking flight and choosing airline seats from our personal computers? All these form part of the infrastructure of globalization. While they rake in enormous profit for the transitional companies, they also enable the progressive groups in different countries to organize networks against them.
My third point is this: Instead of resisting new technologies as the Luddites did, the labor movement should restructure itself, should globalize itself as well. We should think of how to utilize for the purpose of struggle the same technologies that made possible the establishment of a global capitalist market. It is futile to bewail to slow death of the traditional trade unions. If our strategic goal is to preserve the traditional trade union, I am afraid we are waging a hopeless war. Scientific and technological advances cannot be undone. The sensible response is to develop new forms of working class organizations that are appropriate to the emerging mode of production. This will enable the workers to fight back effectively and create their own version of a new world order where machines serve humankind rather than spread misery. Contemporary capitalism can no longer be fought within a factory or within one country. We have to fight capitalism globally with organizations that likewise cut across national boundaries.
The workers in the Third World are no longer the only victims of capitalist globalization. Those I the industrially advanced countries are now learning the hard way. Their job markets are shrinking as the tasks they used to perform are increasingly relegated to automatons or exported to where the cost of production is lowest. Never before has exploitation been so universal. In this day and age all of us suffer from neo-liberal globalizations. Let us therefore once again raise the clarion call:
“Workers of the world, unite. You have nothing to lose but your oppressors. You have a new world to build”.
* Keynote address delivered at the Asian Conference on Labor Restructuring under Globalization sponsored by the International South Group Network, Astoria Plaza, Ortigas Business District, 9 January 2007.