Crisis and Contradiction in Globalization Discourse


E. San Juan, Jr.


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Julie Torrant

Putting Materialism Back into Race Theory: Towards a Transformative Theory of Race
Robert Young

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Rob Wilkie

(Un)critical Reading and the Discourse of Anti-Communism
Grover Furr

Reading is the Other Name of Class
Kimberly DeFazio




In capitalism, everything seems and in fact is contradictory.

--Karl Marx, Theories of Surplus Value

Whether academic buzzword or essentially contested concept, "globalization" has become a pretext to revive "end-of-ideology"/"end-of-history" programs to legitimate coercive measures sanctioned by the USA Patriot Act. After 9/11, one should already have been disabused that there is anything more to globalization than a more unrelenting "transnationalization" (a problematic word open to abuse) of the whole planet through the expansion of finance capital/TNCs (transnational corporations), particularly their control of the economies of poor countries in the so-called "South". Given the endless "war on terrorism" and stigmatized "extremists" by the Bush administration, one would think that the globalizing instrumentalities of the World Trade Organization (WTO), International Monetary Fund (IMF), and World Bank (WB) would now appear as more lawful and trustworthy than "smart bombs", US Special Forces, renditions, and torture in Abu Ghraibs spread around the world. 

It would be superfluous to rehearse here the well-known historical developments behind this complex phenomenon. I would note, among others, the collapse of the Soviet Union; the erosion of Keynesian welfare state policies; the emergence of a new unequal international division of labor; liberalization of capital, telecommunication, and trade (including Trade-related Intellectual Property Rights [TRIPS]) flows; normative privatization; deregulation—in short, the accelerated spread of capitalism in pursuit of profit maximization and capital accumulation through new and old modalities. I agree with the view of Sylvia Ostrey, former chief economist of the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), "that the primary agent of globalization is the transnational enterprise. The primary driving force is the revolution in information and communications technology" aiding the expansion of TNCs to developing countries (Instituto del Tercer Mundo 64). With enforced "free trade" in a global "free market", the US corporate elite would not be challenged anymore by new Koreas or Taiwans—the Washington Consensus would prevail as the new Pax Americana, the goal of the Project for a New American Century. 

What I would like to comment on is the way in which certain radical, even left-wing, theories have utilized the "field" of globalization to advance, either ironically or straightforwardly, defeatist wish-fulfilling agendas. One of the more influential is Fredric Jameson. In an essay following The Cultures of Globalization (co-edited with Masao Miyoshi) entitled "Globalization and Political Strategy", Jameson deploys a modified Althusserian optic to disperse the totality of globalization into five autonomous levels: the technological, the political, the cultural, the economic, and the social. With his usual erudition, Jameson seeks to demonstrate the ultimate cohesion of the extant descriptions of globalization in order to articulate a politics of resistance. On what axis of political efficacy will Jameson articulate these manifold levels? 

Although Jameson claims to be a Marxist, his is a singularly revisionist one, to say the least. Clearly he does not believe that capital accumulation nor the competition to extract maximum surplus value, is the key motive in explaining the process of globalization—in general, globalization denotes the deepened and extensive linkages, interconnections or interdependencies between states and societies, the beginning of a cosmopolitan world society (McGrew). Wasn't this already foreseen by Marx and Engels in 1848, when they forecast "intercourse in every direction, universal interdependence of nations" as a result of the ceaseless development of the productive forces in capitalism (The Communist Manifesto 8)? In any case, Jameson considers the US "propagation of the free market" only as one policy among others (such as the propagation of human rights and American-style electoral democracy, etc., which he borrows from Samuel Huntington's notion of a three-pronged US strategy). Jameson does not discuss such matters as global labor arbitrage (in which high-wage jobs in the developed world are eliminated in favor of low-wage jobs in the South), nor the "dark" side of globalization which includes, for mainstream thought, "terrorism, nuclear proliferation, infectious disease, protectionism, and global climate change" (Haas). Jameson then reduces the political question—what he calls the anxiety over imperialism—to "nationalism", which for him is not political nor economic, but really cultural. 

Jameson then resorts to a psychological analysis of anxieties over globalization construed as a process of homogenization and centralization. The ethnic or nationalist response to the standardization of world culture, in fact the Americanization of every culture, is a symptom which masks an underlying fear: "that specifically ethno-national ways of life will themselves be destroyed" (51). But even before you have registered your caveat, Jameson confronts us with ambiguities hobbling the resistance to U.S. cultural imperialism, what he calls "antinomy of political correctness" comprised of incommensurable "strategies of representation" meant to paralyze the grumbling Mexican or Chinese workers exploited by Nike, Wal-Mart, etc. 

Immediately, Jameson follows this with the expected shift to the economics of globalization only to realize that that dimension 

in fact, constantly seems to be dissolving into all the rest: controlling the new technologies, reinforcing geopolitical interests and, with postmodernity, finally collapsing the cultural into the economic—and the economic into the cultural. Commodity production is now a cultural phenomenon, in which you buy the product fully as much for its image as for its immediate use (53). 

Use-value and exchange-value are dissolved into a somatic-psychic mass phenomenon divorced from determinate sociohistorical contexts. This is a questionable maneuver that Jameson universalizes across varied locations and situations, a feature of epochal postmodernism that Jameson fully elaborates in his now canonical Postmodernism, or the Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism. Jameson's privileging of exchange/reception/consumption occludes relations of class power sustaining capitalist production relations, imprisoning us in what Marx called the "pre-established harmony of things […] under the auspices of an omniscient providence": "The sphere of circulation or commodity exchange, within whose boundaries the sale and purchase of labor-power goes on, is in fact a very Eden of the innate rights of man. It is the exclusive realm of Freedom, Equality, Property and Bentham" (Capital, Vol. 1 280). 

Of course Jameson takes into account the economics of the culture industry, the marketing of U.S. films, etc. But again, he reveals himself averse to applying a historical materialist framework, for he claims that "the more distinctively postmodern forms of imperialism" operating through WTO, NAFTA, etc. are the ones that show "that confluence between the various and distinct levels of the economic, the cultural and the political, that characterizes postmodernity and lends a fundamental structure to globalization" (54-55). In this heady mix of categories, we cannot talk about exploitation or social justice. Analogous to what Negri and Hardt tried to prove in their much-touted Empire, Jameson casts doubt whether the global financial market is really working in the interest of the United States; that is, finance capital "will mutate into autonomous mechanisms which produce disasters no one wants, and spin beyond the control of even the most powerful government", a prospect already anticipated in the scenario of systemic crisis drawn in The Communist Manifesto, or in Lenin's Imperialism, the Highest Stage of Capitalism. Consequently Jameson claims that we cannot stop globalization's destruction of local cultures, nor can we conceive of any feasible alternative to the doom awaiting all of us. 

After a short interlude reviewing the conservative John Gray's diagnosis of globalization, Jameson offers an anticlimactic proposal for resisting globalization. His vision is even bleaker: national liberation struggles all fail because of the inescapable "force-field of capitalist globalization, subject to the dominion of the money markets and overseas investment". No one can resist US imperialism (the only one able to, Japan and the European Union, are deeply implicated in it). Despite all these warnings and jeremiads, Jameson states that "the nation-state today remains the only concrete terrain and framework for political struggle" (65). All nation-states, or some, Jameson does not say. Again, the nationalist struggle is caught in an aporia: that of attempting to universalize a particularity. And so the struggle of "anti-imperialist nationalism" (such as Iran) against globalization founders because of the lack of "a genuinely universalistic opposition"—though Jameson is quick to say that he does not endorse "universalism" as such because the contradiction between the universal and particular is embedded "within the existing historical situation of nation-states inside a global system" (66). 

A potentially catalyzing insight, but Jameson does not elaborate, though at the end he gestures toward the need for belief-systems, for social cohesion or solidarity (contraposed to the atomized individualism of consumerized polities). We reach finally those apocalyptic moments (he invokes the demonstrations against the WTO) which "designate whatever programmes and representations express, in however distorted or unconscious a fashion, the demands of a collective life to come, and identify social collectivity as the crucial centre of any truly progressive and innovative political response to globalization" (68). This celebration of the utopian mode of transcending capitalist crisis (the recovery of some archaic Gemeinschaft) recalls the famous diatribe of Marx and Engels against petty-bourgeois utopian socialism, whose chief trademark was that of fantasizing the thorough radical transformation of predatory capitalism, private property, and alienated labor, can be achieved without the necessity of class struggle and the revolutionary role of the working class united with all oppressed sectors in accomplishing this systemic transition. 

And so, in spite of Jameson's sophisticated articulation of intersecting levels of globalization, we are offered a metaphysical dualism between the collective and the individual, one of those bourgeois antinomies that George Lukács sharply delineated in his 1923 book History and Class Consciousness. Were it not for his credentials as (to Perry Anderson) the practitioner of "a sober materialist analysis of the historical ground of major cultural transformations" (xii), one could lump Jameson with either "localist" or autonomist" anti-capitalist blocs described by Alex Callinicos in An Anti-Capitalist Manifesto. Jameson's understanding of globalization shares the eclecticism of Anthony Giddens and Roland Robertson, with their invocation of multiple logics of causation, departing from the approaches of Immanuel Wallerstein and David Harvey in their singular focus on the logic of the capitalist world-economy and its uneven development. One thing is certain: the working class as a social agency or political formation scarcely figures in Jameson's vision of resistance to corporate globalization. 

A clue to the stark limitation of Jameson's analysis of globalization—his is not idiosyncratic but typical of well-intentioned liberal academics in societies where popular working class mobilization is absent or rightist reaction (as in the U.S. today) is ascendant—may be found in his obsessive concern with the "immense enlargement of world communication". Deviating from purely technological determinism, Jameson criticizes the transnationalizing market which swallows up national cinemas and vernacular musics in the culture-ideology of consumerism (Cultures of Globalization xv). This is the well-known problematic of subsumption of the referent in the simulacra, in the interminable chain of sliding signifiers and vertiginous tropes. Prioritizing consumption, the psychic, agency, the body, performance, aesthetics, etc., supposedly marks the "subjective turn" from the doctrinaire Marxist economism of the Cold War era to a new protean, flexible, eclectic, neopragmatic radicalism espoused by Jacques Derrida, Michel Foucault, Francois Lyotard, Gilles Deleuze, Richard Rorty, and their numerous disciples. By absolutizing the categories of thought in its immediate relation with experience, intuitions, etc., this post-structuralist trend has forsaken or forfeited their relative truths in the inner contradictory movement of the "concept", that is, capitalism as a historical system (Lefebvre). 

Postcolonial theory of the Establishment kind—aside from Bhabha, Arjun Appadurai's theory of flows and multiple-scapes may be cited here—has succumbed to nominalist metaphysics in its various manifestations as textualism, deconstructive nihilism, Foucauldean genealogy, diasporic citizenship, and so on. Australian postcolonialist scholars such as Bill Ashcroft, Gareth Griffiths and Helen Tiffin describe globalization as "a process of the world becoming a single place" (110). This occurs through time-space distanciation, disembedding, the conflation of local and global (Giddens), or through time-space compression (Harvey). Individual lives and local communities, territorial nations, are affected by the impact of colonialism, imperialism, and globally disseminated knowledge and culture, so that the nation-state system (and corollary concepts of internationalism, etc.) are dissolved by the global economy, its invasive communication system, and the world military order. They discriminate between the affirmers and rejectionists, and seem to favor what they call "critical globalism", which ironically takes a neutral view by not blocking out globalizing processes nor supporting them. How it is critical, we don't know. They argue that globalization "demonstrates the transmutation of imperialism into the supra-national operations of economics, communications and culture". However, globalization is not just the domination of finance capital at the center (via IMF/WTO/WB) on the periphery, but is essentially "transcultural", with the prefix "trans" somehow producing an equalizing or reciprocalizing effect (see San Juan, Working Through the Contradictions).

Like orthodox postcolonialism, our Australian experts view globalization as a reciprocal process of exchange between colonizer and colonized. Although they acknowledge the destructive effects of imperialism, they insist that "globalism is not simply a result of top-down dominance but a transcultural process, a dialectic of dominant cultural forms and their appropriation" (113). And even though they believe that the agency of nation-states have been practically eroded or nullified, they contend that local communities and marginal interest groups can appropriate "strategies of representation, organization and social change through access to global systems" to empower themselves and influence those systems (114). Like the TNCs, the nation-state seems anathema to them. Ashcroft et al have already ruled out social class or class agency beforehand, so where will the subaltern turn to? Their belief in creative adaptation, abrogation plus assimilation, summons back the nostrums of the localists and anarchists we have met before. Are we going back to archaic forms of groupings prior to the nation-state as safe havens from neocolonialism? Ashcroft and colleagues cite Stuart Hall's view of homogenization by global mass culture operating through the values, tastes and decisions of local, nationality-defined elites (for the opposite thesis on the polarization of temporal/spatial distances, see Bauman). Overall, they point to the paramount issue underlying globalization studies and current debates in postcolonial discourse: the nature and survival of cultural identity.

This identity of the subaltern, however, is a question-begging evasion of the crisis of the system manifest in symptomatic breakdowns, collective protests, individual criminal acts, etc. For one thing, it accepts as fait accompli the corporate control and marketized management of identity/subject formation. The subaltern can speak, but only using the fluctuating currency of the shopping malls and ideological media apparatuses. Leaping beyond the contradictory movement of capital, postcolonialists follow Bhabha's reified notions of ambivalence and interstitial compromises to reduce the dialectic of use-value and exchange value at the heart of alienated labor (embodied in commodities, money, symbolic capital in the circuit of exchange) to the question of individual identity. This only reproduces the contradictions of liberal ideals and brutalizing reality. Beginning with multiple levels of categorizing global society, Jameson ended up also with this problem of identity. This is but a logical result of the "incredulity toward meta-narratives"—except toward their own version, a hypostatized methodology of doubt and nihilistic cynicism. This may be viewed as a mode of pre-emptive reconciliation of opposites (not the transitional unity of opposites that functions as a moment of the dialectic), resolving the conflict between, say, dependent countries in Latin America and the U.S., or between "vulture capital" and exploited workers in the global export-processing zones in favor of the status quo. It seems that dialectical inquiry as "the search for internal relations" and its movement (Ollman) has given way to opportunist pragmatism. So much for postnational "sly civility", diasporic hybridity, and cosmopolitanesque negotiations. 

Pursuing a dialectical perspective on globalization, I would like to connect this problematic of identity theorized by Jameson, Ashcroft and others, to the specific plight of the Moros (Muslims) in the Philippines and their struggle against the neocolonial Philippine state and U.S. hegemony. After all, the mass media since 9/11 has used the terrorist "Abu Sayyaf" as a bogeyman to rally Americans to unite in this "civilizing mission" of sharing the benefits of the Washington Consensus with the benighted inhabitants of Mindanao and Sulu (Broad and Cavanagh). But that would be to move to an exemplifying mode, which, though appropriate for investigating the ambiguities of "identity politics", would require a space reserved for another occasion (see San Juan, After Postcolonialism). Suffice it to make these provisional concluding observations. 

In order to probe and analyze the multilayered contradictions of any phenomenon, we need to apply the principle of historical totalizing: connecting spheres of culture, ideology, and politics to the overarching structure of production and reproduction. This is axiomatic for any historical-materialist critique. Consequently, the question of cultural identity cannot be mechanically divorced from the historically determinate mode of production and attendant social relations of any given socioeconomic formation. What is the point of eulogizing hybrid, cyborg-esque, nomadic global citizens—even fluid, ambivalent "subject positions" if you like—when the majority of these postmodernized creatures are dying of hunger, curable epidemics, diseases and psychosomatic illnesses brought about precisely by the predatory encroachment of globalizing transnational corporations, mostly based in the U.S. and Western Europe? But it is not just academic postmodernists suffering from the virus of pragmatist metaphysics who apologize for profit-making globalization. Even a latterly repentant World Bank expert, Joseph Stiglitz, could submit in his well-known Globalization and Its Discontents, the following ideological plea: "Foreign aid, another aspect of the globalized world, for all its faults still has brought benefits to millions, often in ways that have almost gone unnoticed: guerillas in the Philippines were provided jobs by a World Bank financed-project as they laid down their arms" (Stiglitz 420). Any one slightly familiar with the Cold War policies of Washington vis-à-vis a neocolony like the Philippines knows that World Bank funds were then used by the U.S. Pentagon to suppress the Communist Party-led peasant rebellion in the 1950s against the iniquitous semi-feudal system and corrupt comprador regime (Doty; Constantino). It is globalization utilized to maintain direct coercive U.S. domination of the Philippines at a crucial conjuncture when the Korean War was mutating into the Vietnam War, all designed to contain "World Communism" (China, Soviet Union). Up to now, despite nationalist gains in the last decade, the Philippine government plays host every year to thousands of U.S. "Special Forces" purportedly training Filipino troops in the war against "terrorism"—that is, against anti-imperialist forces like the Communist Party-led New People's Army and progressive elements of the Moro Islamic National Liberation Front and the Moro National Liberation Front (International Peace Mission). 

One needs to repeat again that the present world system, as Hugo Radice argues, remains "both global and national", a contingent and contradictory process (4). Globalization dialectically negates and affirms national entities—pseudo-nations as well as those peoples struggling for various forms of national sovereignty. While a universal "free market" promoted by TNC triumphalism is deemed to be homogenizing and centralizing in effect, abolishing independent states/nationalities, and creating a global public sphere through juxtaposition, syncretic amalgamation, and so on, one perceives a counter-current of fragmentation, increasing asymmetry, unbridgeable inequalities, and particularistic challenges to neoliberal integration—including fundamentalist political Islam, eco-terrorism, drugs, migration, and other movements of "barbarians at the gates" (Schaeffer). Is it a question of mere human rights in representation and life-style, or actual dignity and justice in the everyday lives of whole populations with singular life-forms? Articulating these historical contradictions without theorizing the concept of crisis in capital accumulation will only lead to the short-circuiting transculturalism of Ashcroft and other ideologies waging battle for supremacy/hegemony over "popular common sense" imposing meaning/order/significance on the whole globalization process (Rupert). 

Indeed, academic inquirers of globalization are protagonists in this unfolding drama of universalization under duress. One may pose the following questions as a heuristic pedagogical maneuver: Can globalized capital truly universalize the world and bring freedom and prosperity to everyone, as its celebrants claim? Globalization as the transnationalized domination of capital exposes its historical limit in the deepening class inequality in a polarized, segregated and policed world. While surplus-value extraction in the international labor market remains basic to the logic of accumulation, the ideology of neoliberal transnationalism has evolved into the discourse of war on terrorism ("extremism") rationalized as "the clash of civilizations". Contradictions and its temporary resolutions constitute the imperialist project of eliding the crisis of unilateral globalism.

A historical-materialist critique should seek to highlight the political economy of this recolonizing strategy operating in the fierce competition of the ruling classes of the U.S., Japan, and Europe to impose hegemonic control in an increasingly boundary-destroying space and continue the neocolonial oppression of the rest of the world. What is needed is a radical critique of the ideology of technological determinism and its associated apologetics of the "civilizing mission", the evangelism of "pre-emptive" intervention in the name of Realpolitik "democracy" against resistance by workers, peasants, women, indigenous communities (in Latin America, Africa, the Philippines and elsewhere [see Houghton and Bell; San Juan, "U.S. Imperial Terror"]), and all the excluded and marginalized peoples of the planet. 

Beyond descriptions and articulations, the controversy culminates on how change is to be carried out. Reacting to Eric Hobsbawm's historical account of globalization which ignores social movements, Michael Denning calls for a transnational cultural studies that will "narrate an account of globalization that speaks not just of an abstract market with buyers and sellers, or even of an abstract commodification with producers and consumers, but of actors" (28). On the other hand, Teresa Ebert asserts that globalization deals with production and labor, with the "struggle over the structured inequality in the world economy" (6); thus, the vehicles of change are the producers, creators of value. Where do we situate, for example, the BangsaMoro (in the Philippines) struggle for dignity and justice in these conceptualizations? (Or the struggles of the Nepalis led by the Communist Party of Nepal, the Bolivarian revolutionary communities in Venezuela, the guerillas in Colombia, not to mention the Zapatistas in Mexico and the New People's Army in the Philippines?) I agree with Denning that actors should be discovered and recognized, but are these actors the prefigurative communities that Jameson had in mind, abstract forms without content or relational substance? I agree with Ebert on the overarching narrative of globalization as the struggle over structured inequality manifest in the unequal division of international labor, registering acutely the movement of contradictions in our historical period. 

In my view, this narrative of socialist internationalism represents a "critical universality" of liberation of humans from all forms of oppression, a universality that unfolds in various specific theaters and stages around the world, with their concrete historical specificities (Lowy). One such theater is the Moro revolutionary struggle in the Philippines, a predicament embodying global/local antagonisms in which (to modify Jameson) "the truth of experience no longer coincides with the place in which it takes place" but implicates everyone from the center to the periphery, in various gradations of responsibility ("Cognitive Mapping" 349). The official representation of the Abu Sayyaf as a terrorist phenomenon that tarnishes the legitimate struggle of Muslims in the Philippines for self-determination, for example, functions as a symptom of the crisis of corporate globalization evidenced in the current U.S. wars against people of color, a crisis of the capitalist process of accumulation (exploitation of laboring masses), revealing its irreversible contradictions and, in the process, intimating where and how the possibility of its overcoming can be realized. As Arundhati Roy eloquently voiced it early in this new millennium: what we need to sharpen is a new politics, "not the politics of governance [as "third way" liberals and reformist NGOs call for], but the politics of resistance, […] of opposition. The politics of forcing accountability […] In the present circumstances, I'd say that the only thing worth globalizing is dissent […] joining hands across the world and preventing certain destruction" (467). 

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