Sunday, February 5, 2012

Workers, Unions and the Left: Responding to the Global Crisis

- Rohini Hensman

Text of a talk by Rohini Hensman introducing her recent Book Workers, Unions, and Global Capitalism: Lessons from India (Columbia University Press, New York, and Tulika Books, New Delhi) at the Nehru Memorial Museum and Library, New Delhi, on 23 January 2012

I started working on what became this book more than ten years ago, because I felt there was so much confusion in the way that large sections of the trade union movement and the Left responded to globalisation. They took a straightforward anti-globalisation position which, by default, reinforced a nationalist reaction against globalisation. This went against all my Marxist internationalist instincts. Also, having been involved in trade union research for decades, it was obvious to me that many of the evils attributed to globalisation, such as subcontracting and the shifting of production, had been rampant for years or decades prior to it. Most disturbing of all, much of the anti-globalisation rhetoric was indistinguishable from the rhetoric of the extreme Right. (I have given examples of this in my book.) 

Therefore one of the first tasks I set myself was to come up with a working definition of globalisation that sorted out some of these confusions.

Defining globalisation

1. Anti-globalisation activists often called themselves anti-capitalist, and used the terms interchangeably. But if globalisation is capitalism by another name, why not simply call it capitalism? Substituting ‘globalisation’ for ‘capitalism’ implies that the real enemy is international capital: and that is dangerous. Opposition to global capital has been a defining feature of fascism since Hitler wrote, in Mein Kampf, ‘that the hardest battle would have to be fought not against hostile nations but against international capital’. At best, selective opposition to international capital propagates the illusion that capitalism can solve problems of poverty and unemployment so long as it remains national. At worst, it condones barbaric oppression and exploitation by indigenous capitalists, and encourages racism and xenophobia. Globalisation may be a phase of capitalism, but anti-globalisation can never be anti-capitalist, because genuine opposition to capitalism doesn’t distinguish between ‘national’ and ‘international’ capital, or support the former against the latter. 

2. A large section of the Left identifies globalisation with imperialism, and opposes it from this point of view. I won’t go into all the debates around imperialism that I have covered in my book, but just refer to one aspect: the relationship between imperialism, especially from the mid-19th century onwards, and the nation-state. Colonialism required the imperialist power to set up an administrative apparatus in the colony and to maintain a substantial military presence to deal with uprisings, but less traditional forms of imperialism have also relied heavily on extensions of state power outside the imperialist country: for example, the ubiquitous CIA, and US military bases around the world. Moreover, imperialist bourgeoisies demanded protectionism from the state, which benefited the working class in those countries too. As a result of nationalist ideology in the imperialist countries, ‘there arose a sudden community of interest between capital and the proletariat, which finds expression in an identical inclination of both classes to imperialism,’ as Max Adler put it. Lenin was even harsher, denouncing sections of the labour movement that supported their own bourgeoisie in World War I (which he saw an as inter-imperialist war) as a ‘labour aristocracy’ who had betrayed their own class. 

Thus nationalism and the dependence of capitalists on the military power of their own nation-state are central to imperialism. What is called globalisation, on the contrary, is marked by the emergence of advanced sectors of capital that rely on porous rather than protected national borders, and do not need military backing from a nation-state. It is very different from imperialism. 

3. Equally common on the Left is the use of the terms ‘globalisation’ and ‘neoliberalism’ as being more or less synonymous. Neoliberalism is identified as what came to be known as the Washington Consensus: the policies enforced by the IMF and World Bank. The short-term stabilisation measures include cut-backs in government expenditure, high interest rates and currency devaluation, while the longer-term adjustment measures include deregulating the economy, liberalising trade and investment, and privatising state enterprises. The primacy given to ‘free markets’ results in an implicit hostility to trade unions, which are seen as interfering with the freedom of the labour market.

Three Formidable Barriers to the Advance of Democracy

- Ravi Sinha

The key note address to the Pakistan-India People’s Forum for Peace and Democracy held in Allahabad, December 29-31,  2011

I must begin by expressing my gratitude to the organizers of this Convention and to this Forum for the opportunity and the honor you have given me by letting me address this impressive assembly. Also, I must congratulate you for choosing a theme that articulates, perhaps, the central challenge confronting all peoples and all nations of the world and more so for the peoples and the nations on the subcontinent. We are all witness to and victims of the times characterized by monstrous brutalities of war and deep scars of deprivations, inequities and oppressions. We live under a world order wherein those who brought, for example, untold tragedy and destruction to Iraq will never be brought to justice because they are the global hegemons. They will not be questioned about the hundreds of thousands of dead and maimed Iraqi men, women and children; they will not be questioned about the thousands of dead and decapitated American soldiers; they will not be questioned about the trillions of dollars spent on the war and further trillions destroyed by the war; and they will not be questioned about the kind of Iraq they are leaving behind. 

We on the subcontinent, too, have suffered grievously and felt the heat from far too close. Afghanistan is a continuing saga of tragedy; Pakistan has been made to pay too heavy a price; and India too has not managed to steer clear of the catastrophe. And we know very well that when we count the countries that have suffered, the loss is borne invariably by the people and not by their rulers. But can we – the witness, the victims, the people – escape all responsibility? 

It is true that we have not elected the hegemons and it is not by choice that we live under the present world order. It is also true that the systems under which we live in our respective countries are not designed by us, nor is it the case that we can overthrow them the moment we realize that they are not in our favor. The world order and the economic and political systems through which it operates have all had a long history and the people, even though they do make history in the long run, cannot remake it according to their wishes and desires and at every moment of their choice. The blame, therefore, lies principally with the systems and with the history. But can we claim that there is no element of willingness and complicity on our part when it comes to the functioning and the survival of this order? Can we claim that we are free from all traits that may be deployed in the service of the systems we live under? If by magic the hegemon is made to disappear and the systems it presides over are made to crumble, do we have all that it takes to realize the revolutionary and the democratic potential?