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Re: Race to the Bottom?
by Trichur Ganesh
17 November 2003 22:48 UTC
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This is all a little too easily said.  First I disagree with the 'de-ruralization' of the world thesis, which is attributable to Hobsbawm (1986/1994) and Wallerstein.  It is an exaggeration, which does not take into account the millions of rural livelihoods in different spaces of South Asia, China, and Southeast Asia.  To talk about a trend - which is what Hobsbawm does - is one thing: to arrive at political conclusions out of it - another agrarfrage - is another, though it is difficult to resist the politics once the trend itself is accepted as correct.  So, let me begin by strongly disagreeing with the conclusion that for the first time in its history capitalism has fully commodified the globe.  To agree with that is to discount the numerous movements - all land-based - that are contesting precisely such a trend.  In the process they are also providing the substance for any semblance of a social  movement in the North. Today it is Chiapistas and their model of resistance, of cosmopolitan localism,  that constitutes the rallying cry for Northern left dynamics. And they are contesting the progressive incorporation of "non-capitalist" environments, i.e., they are contesting imperialism (Luxemburg).  And increasingly they are not the only ones.  Tomorrow's decisive class struggles will all take place in the South.  It is from there that the Northern Left needs to get its most useful lessons.    Regarding the  call for 'a more superior strategy' - was this not precisely the call of the International?  And was it not stultified by the parochialisms of the Northern industrial working classes - with all their patriarchialism and sexism, their racism, their incorrigible nativism?  It is these contradictions that lie at the heart of the Northern (and also Southern) worker's movement today as well as yesterday.  And it is only through expressions of solidarity with the remants of the peasantry in the South as well as the industrial workers worldwide that the prospects for a different world labor outcome will be forthcoming.  There should in short be more solidarity with the working classes in China, which is the site today of frenzied industrialization.  There should be solidarity with its peasantry as well.  The whole agrarian question needs to be re-thought, re-conceptualized, instead of assumed that the solutions have already been generated by the trends towards global de-ruralization. Also not to be forgotten is that every bout of depeasantization is accompanied by multifarious forms of re-peasantization.  Ganesh.

Khaldoun Samman wrote:
Steve writes,

<<Free trade pacts pit workers against one another,
but so do protectionist measures of the sort often
advocated by the more powerful American unions or, for

that matter, George Bush, who has not yet negotiated a
free trade pact of any importance, but has signed
bills protecting the American steel industry and
subsidizing US agriculture.>>

I tend to agree here with Steve, but maybe adding one
additional argument.  While many on the American left
are unable to imagine a world-level movement that has
at its core the interest of the world's workers, those
who benefit from protectionist policies are small in
comparison to most American workers who are now
experiencing retrenchment and a repressive American
government.  This has to do with the fact that for the
first time in the history of the Modern World-System,
capital has commodified/ proletarianized/ de-ruralized
the entire globe, incorporating fully all hitherto
other systems, leaving little traces of pre-modern
historical systems.  Hence, as Wallerstein has argued,
capitalists, in their search for externalizing the
costs accrued by the struggles of these prior
incorporated groups, seek out new zones to reduce the
overall cost of production.  But in an age where new
zones are hard to come by, you can expect capitalists
to become extremely aggressive not only on the workers
of the periphery but also in the core.  There is
nowhere to go except towards a more pariah like attack
on all workers world-wide.  

Hence, those workers, like the Steel workers you
mentioned, who are on the privileged side of the world
labor divide, are acting out what they have
traditionally done: pressuring their powerful state to
protect them at the expense of other workers.  But I
predict that this strategy will no longer effectively
work simply because capitalists do not have an open
frontier at their disposal and will probably push Bush
and others to turn on these elite workers as well.  In
such times, these workers will have to rethink this
traditional strategy of theirs and work towards a
world working class movement that has at its
foundations the promotion of the wretched of the
earth.  This is a far more superior strategy.  Rather
than asking less privelege classes to take on the
burden of this transitional age, it joins workers
across the seas, forcing capital to relinquish its
traditional weapons and tools of oppresion. 


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