Atelier N°.11, Article 10

©Monthly Review
(July-Augustl 2000)

                                                Toward a New Internationalism

                                History, as if to warn us continuously against any tendency toward
                                complacency, is full of ironies. As recently as a few months ago, the
                                close of the twentieth century had come to be associated, in the
                                prevailing view of the vested interests, with "endism": the end of
                                class struggle, the end of revolution, the end of imperialism, the end
                                of dissent—even the end of history. The new century and new
                                millennium were supposed to symbolize that all of this had been left
                                behind and that we could look forward to a new era of infinite
                                progress based on the New Economy of the information age, which
                                would usher in a gentler, kinder, virtual capitalism. The main worry
                                was a technical glitch known as Y2K. Would computers across the
                                world malfunction on January 1, 2000?

                                Hence, the powers that be could not have been more surprised
                                when, at the end of November 1999, massive protests involving
                                seven hundred organizations and upwards of forty thousand
                                people—workers, environmentalists, students, religious groups,
                                etc.—suddenly brought the World Trade Organization (WTO)
                                meetings in Seattle to a halt, grabbing not only the nation’s but the
                                entire world’s spotlight. There had been large militant protests
                                against globalization before—against the WTO and its sister
                                institutions, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World
                                Bank. What was startling this time around, though, was that such
                                massive, militant protests took place in the United States, the
                                stronghold of global capitalism. For most people in the world, the
                                Seattle protests—and, even more, the unleashing of forces of
                                repression which broadcasted an image of "fortress
                                America"—demonstrated what had perhaps been long-forgotten:
                                that there are forces of resistance and international solidarity in the
                                United States. The protests exposed as a lie the carefully cultivated,
                                widely projected image of the United States as a hegemonic power
                                lacking internal social contradictions. Hope suddenly dawned of a
                                new internationalism—the struggle for an alternative
                                future—emerging along with the new millennium. Suddenly, the
                                question heroically raised only a year ago by Daniel Singer’s book,
                                Whose Millennium?: Theirs or Ours?, seemed to have leaped
                                from his book to the pages of history itself.

                                Seattle itself is now old news. But in subsequent months, the rays of
                                hope that it helped to bring into being have not died away; they have
                                only increased, along with what appears to be a rapidly growing
                                movement. The first months of 2000 have seen impressive
                                demonstrations on university and college campuses across the
                                country, as students have protested against university licensing
                                agreements with corporations such as Nike, Reebok, the Gap, and
                                Disney that rely on sweatshop labor located in the third world to
                                produce their products. In Washington, DC, in April, mass protests
                                against the IMF and the World Bank required extraordinary
                                procedures to keep these global institutions of capital working.

                                One of the most important developments in this period of growing
                                rebellion has been the partial revival of the labor movement that is
                                finally showing signs of attempting to chart a new course. The fact
                                that the AFL-CIO took a central role in the anti-WTO protests in
                                Seattle is a concrete indication of this. The focus on organizing
                                initiated by the New Voices leadership has renewed hope that
                                organized labor is at last rising phoenix-like from its ashes and that
                                the long decline in membership will be reversed. The AFL-CIO has
                                also backed away from continuing a history of Cold-War labor
                                alliances, opening the way to a broader labor internationalism—a
                                shift that first appeared as a result of the anti-NAFTA struggle. The
                                emergence of a labor-popular movement alliance, of a kind and a
                                scale not seen since the 1930s, now seems possible.

                                What makes this new era of protest so distinctive is that it is aimed
                                not so much at the state (as in the sixties) but at global corporations
                                and international economic institutions, and thus raises fundamental
                                issues about class power and international solidarity with third-world
                                workers. It also demonstrates the capacity of labor,
                                environmentalist, and other left forces to act in tandem when
                                confronted by the commonly perceived threat of a globalizing
                                economy. Many—if still far from a majority—of those engaged in
                                the struggle in the United States have extended their criticisms of
                                corporate globalization to a critique of global capitalism in general.

                                But the obstacles to a successful challenge to neoliberal globalization
                                are enormous. Perhaps the biggest such obstacle is the ideological
                                hegemony exerted by the capitalist order, which attempts to channel
                                such mass revolts into largely meaningless efforts to reform
                                particular institutional arrangements while the underlying structure of
                                power remains unquestioned. Here we are immediately faced by the
                                reality that much—in the United States, most—of this new wave of
                                protest, insofar as it takes an articulated form, is directed at
                                corporate globalization rather than global capitalism. A great deal of
                                the confusion surrounding the concept of "globalization"—especially
                                when regarded as the key concept for understanding contemporary
                                trends—stems from the fact that it is often seen as a reality that has
                                displaced capitalism, the nation-state, imperialism, and class
                                struggle. In this sense, it becomes a grand, all-encompassing,
                                culturally defined ideal-type. For establishment pundits like New
                                York Times foreign affairs columnist Thomas Friedman, author of
                                The Lexus and the Olive Tree (1999), globalization is a new
                                technological-economic system based in the microchip and ruled by
                                an "electronic herd" of financial investors and multinational
                                corporations, sweeping away everything that came before.

                                Naturally, critics of globalization reject this narrow, technologically
                                determined view that declares all resistance futile. Nevertheless,
                                uncritical acceptance of the notion that globalization as an entity in
                                itself is somehow the underlying force now transforming the world is
                                appearing everywhere, even on the left. This idea carries with it
                                certain built-in assumptions: (1) there is no alternative to the present
                                world economic order—or, in other words, capitalism itself (as
                                distinguished from globalization) is no longer in question, and
                                socialism no longer a possibility; (2) the global economic landscape
                                is a constellation formed primarily by multinational corporations,
                                international finance, and a few international economic institutions
                                such as the WTO, the IMF, and the World Bank; (3) the only real
                                oppositional force is a collection of nongovernmental organizations
                                that represent "global civil society;" and (4) the goal is to reverse
                                neoliberal policy and make corporations and the key international
                                economic institutions more democratic and responsive to human
                                rights. Sometimes we also hear, in a radical mirror-image of the
                                Thomas Friedman argument, that the change that has occurred with
                                the rise of the microchip and the consequent globalization is the
                                creation of a new international of capital. In this view, not only is the
                                nation-state thought to have been displaced economically, but
                                national struggle is considered largely ineffective.

                                Confusion about the basic workings of imperialism is a crucial
                                ideological obstacle to internationalism today. The period of
                                neoliberal economic restructuring in response to decades of
                                stagnation has undermined the living conditions of workers
                                everywhere and has provided the objective basis for a renewal of
                                internationalism. Workers are faced with a greater necessity and, at
                                the same time, a greater possibility of building international solidarity
                                than at any time since the Second World War. Yet the idea of
                                globalization has often been promoted in such a way that the
                                suggestion is that what has changed is the fact that third-world
                                economies and populations are gaining at the expense of workers in
                                the United States and other rich countries, as U.S. plants are shifted
                                to the third world. Rather than promoting genuine international
                                solidarity, this frequently leads to debilitating forms of economic
                                nationalism. If around half of the U.S. population, as a series of
                                recent polls have revealed, are currently critical of globalization and
                                the WTO (suggesting that an antiglobalization politics has a vast
                                constituency to draw upon), there are reasons to be cautious about
                                what this means. Many of those who have adopted this position
                                have done so on the basis of a strong nationalist viewpoint, which
                                obscures the realities of imperialism—even more so in fact now that
                                globalization (not capitalism) has become the main area of concern.

                                Viewed in this context, the AFL-CIO’s decision to hold a rally in
                                Washington, DC, against most-favored-nation status for China, and
                                to demand that China not be admitted to the WTO—only a few
                                days before the April 16th and 17th protests in Washington against
                                the IMF and the World Bank—symbolized a tendency to exploit
                                sentiments of economic nationalism, fear of imperialism in reverse,
                                and even the xenophobia of many workers. To be sure, this stance
                                is being taken in the name of workers’ rights and human rights
                                (although outside of any strong alliance with Chinese workers). But
                                it has also served as a powerful diversion—since labor chose to put
                                its weight on the side of the anti-China lobby, joining with the
                                Republican Right in denying most-favored-nation and WTO status
                                to China, rather than getting solidly behind the anti-IMF and
                                anti-World Bank protests.

                                Organized labor in the United States today remains wedded to the
                                Democratic Party, and hence to one wing of the business party, as
                                the AFL-CIO’s early support of Gore indicates. Its overall structure
                                and emphasis is still one of business unionism. It has not yet
                                attempted to transform itself into a political or social movement.
                                Nevertheless, objective forces seem to be pushing labor toward a
                                new radicalism, and radical, rank-and-file labor activists are clearly
                                in motion. More than any time in the post-Second World War
                                period, a genuine internationalism is rapidly making gains within
                                labor’s ranks. It is these internal battles within labor—between
                                business unionism and democratic unionism, between economic
                                nationalism and internationalism—that will largely determine the
                                future of U.S. labor: both the effectiveness of the U.S. workers in
                                the class struggle nationally and in the larger internationalist struggle
                                of workers against global capital.

                                Globalization and Crisis

                                The prospects for the reemergence of radical struggle depend
                                ultimately on the larger evolution of the world capitalist economy.
                                We therefore need to analyze the laws of motion of capitalism in our
                                time—in ways that neither succumb to the dominant view that
                                changes in the scale and workings of the system have eliminated the
                                possibility of fundamental change, nor deny the existence of new
                                constraints on our action. Above all two issues have to be
                                addressed: globalization and the prospects for a new

                                Capitalism has always been a globalizing system. As Marx and
                                Engels pointed out in The Communist Manifesto, it has a tendency
                                to penetrate every nook and cranny of the globe. In the opening
                                decades of the twentieth century, world trade and capital flows as a
                                proportion of world production and savings, respectively, were on a
                                scale comparable to today. What intervened to break those
                                international economic linkages was the Age of Crisis, represented
                                by the First World War, the Great Depression, and the Second
                                World War. It is only in the last few decades that global trade and
                                capital flows—as a share of world production and savings,
                                respectively—have again risen to the scale preceding the First
                                World War. One thing that this ought to tell us is that there is a
                                relation of globalization of economic activity to the globalization of
                                crisis. Increased transnational economic activity does not mean that
                                the laws of motion of the system have been dispensed with and that
                                capitalism has transcended its contradictions. Rather, it reveals that
                                the more globalized the system, the greater the danger of global
                                waves of crisis.

                                This was illustrated quite dramatically as recently as July 1997. In
                                that month, two influential periodicals in the United States raised the
                                question of the end of the business cycle and the unleashing of a
                                process of almost infinite economic expansion rooted in the
                                information technology revolution. One of these periodicals was
                                Foreign Affairs, the leading journal of the U.S. foreign policy
                                establishment, which published an article entitled "The End of the
                                Business Cycle?" The answer given in the article was that the
                                question mark needed to be dropped—"globalization of production
                                and consumption have reduced the volatility of economic activity in
                                the industrialized world." The other journal was Wired, a periodical
                                which has come to symbolize the heady optimism of the information
                                revolution and the so-called "New Economy." Here, in an article
                                that read like advertising copy, readers were exposed to a wildly
                                enthusiastic discussion of "The Long Boom: A History of the
                                Future" that gloried in the "transition to a networked economy and a
                                global society"—one which would produce steadily rising world
                                economic growth rates.

                                Yet, one of history’s numerous ironies intervened at this point. On
                                July 2, 1997, only two days into the very month in which these
                                articles declaring the business cycle to be over were published,
                                Thailand devalued the baht, commencing what came to be known
                                as the "hot phase" of the Asian economic crisis, which spread
                                rapidly from country to country and shook the entire capitalist world
                                economy. Suddenly, globalization seemed to stand not so much for
                                a new stable world order but for the globalization of capitalist crises
                                on a world scale not seen since the Great Depression.

                                Each of the major assumptions of globalization as a process of
                                rationalization of world capitalism were immediately called into
                                question—as if a veil had suddenly been stripped away from the
                                system. The idea that all countries were essentially in the same boat
                                and that imperialism no longer existed was contradicted by the
                                speed with which capital based in the core countries proceeded to
                                take advantage of the "fire sale" in Southeast Asia to grab assets.
                                The inability of nations to intervene in a globalizing world economy
                                was called into question by Malaysia’s decision to impose capital
                                controls—without the predicted disaster following. The end of class
                                struggle and the weakness of labor in the face of globalization
                                pressures was refuted by the mass uprising of Korean workers in
                                defiance of the IMF. The image of a smooth globalizing process that
                                would end in a rational treatment of global environmental problems
                                was symbolically undermined as Indonesia’s forests burst into
                                flames at a speed that matched its economic crisis. The fantasy that
                                globalization is a process controlled by a handful of corporations,
                                international institutions and Friedman’s "electronic herd" was
                                dispelled by the systematic nature of crisis of accumulation and the
                                vast range of financial speculation, revealed as economic distress
                                spread around the world—from Southeast Asia to Japan, Russia,
                                and Brazil. Above all, neoliberalism—the idea that everything should
                                be left to the self-regulating market—was shown to be not simply a
                                form of instrumental rationality directed at shared goals, but an
                                ideology of those in power.

                                At present, the world economic crisis, centered in Asia, has abated,
                                "but not before," as Fortune magazine (May 15, 2000) put it,
                                "millions were reduced to the poverty many of them had so recently
                                escaped." The world power-structure, so visibly shaken by the
                                Asian crisis as recently as two years ago, has now by all
                                appearances largely forgotten it. Yet, even a mainstream
                                commentator like economist Paul Krugman reminds us in his The
                                Return of Depression Economics that the underlying problems
                                generating instability have not gone away, and that we may be
                                simply waiting for the third act of a three-act play: the first in Mexico
                                in 1995, the second in Asia in 1997 and 1998, and the third yet to

                                Perhaps this third act has already begun. For the real third act in
                                these events may not be an economic one (which is surely to come)
                                but a resurgence of social revolt. The tarnished image of
                                globalization arising from these world outbreaks of crisis and the
                                militant responses that this has engendered among populations
                                throughout the globe—from Korean workers to Mexican students
                                to anti-WTO protesters in the United States—demonstrate that
                                neither are forces of production all-powerful nor social relations in
                                complete abeyance. This can be contrasted to the view of Perry
                                Anderson, writing in the January–February 2000 issue of New Left
                                Review, who states that "the only revolutionary force at present
                                capable of disturbing its [capital’s] equilibrium appears to be
                                scientific progress itself—the forces of production, so unpopular
                                with Marxists convinced of the primacy of relations of production
                                when the socialist movement was still alive." For Anderson,
                                revolutionary social relations are no more. The productive forces of
                                capital reign supreme. But this is too defeatist. We do not know
                                what may result from this new, increasingly internationalist phase of
                                struggle but the fact that such struggles are occurring, and are
                                increasingly directed at the system itself, tells us that millions of
                                people worldwide are stirring.

                                Those on the left who have abandoned all hope in social relations or
                                who, in desperation, have turned to the idea that only global (no
                                longer national) struggle is now possible and that we have to think
                                and act in cosmopolitan terms—as a "global civil society"—are
                                simply the dialectical twins of those who preach that globalization
                                has ended all possibility of change. What has really disappeared is
                                the kind of middle-ground, mixed economy often lauded in the
                                Cold-War years. Social democratic and Keynesian strategies,
                                supposedly the result of a class accord, are no longer viable under
                                today’s global neoliberalism. But all of this merely points to the need
                                for a much more radical, universal, internationalist strategy, rooted in
                                national realities and struggles as the only way forward for the

                                If this is the case, then a host of organizational and strategic issues
                                have to be engaged directly—which is the purpose of this special
                                issue, where we address some of the following topics: Peter
                                Marcuse questions the term "globalization" itself, pointing to the
                                ideological baggage associated with the most common conceptions
                                of the word. Bill Tabb asks, "What is the nature of the present
                                movement against globalization?" Martin Hart-Landsberg and
                                Patrick Bond explore what new strategies this movement might
                                adopt. David Bacon, Khalil Hassan, and Michael Yates pose the
                                question, "How is the labor movement to break out of its old
                                Cold-War stagnation and generate a more radical and
                                internationalist phase of struggle appropriate to the neoliberal era?"
                                Elizabeth Martinez and Fidel Castro discuss the ways in which we
                                can cross divides formed by the color line and imperialism, and John
                                Foster wonders, "What is the historical legacy of internationalism
                                that we can turn to?"

                                The greatest danger under these circumstances is to believe that
                                these organizational and strategic issues are beyond reach, that
                                nothing will or can happen, that there is no alternative. Here we
                                encounter another of history’s ironic wake-up calls. In the aftermath
                                of the anti-WTO protests, and even more so following the protests
                                against the IMF and the World Bank in April, the mainstream press
                                sought to mock the efforts of the growing grassroots movement,
                                which was caricatured as consisting mainly of untutored youth and
                                "flat-earth advocates" of no particular significance. Such views
                                could be seen in the New York Times, the Washington Post,
                                Newsweek, and Time, together with the various network
                                broadcasting outlets. The antiglobalization movement is portrayed as
                                a movement without a history or a future, irrelevant to the future
                                course of events—merely an irritant, or a temporary roadblock at

                                Yet, the more astute Fortune (May 15, 2000) recognized that
                                support for these protests is very broad—so broad that even
                                elements of the establishment are echoing some of the sentiments
                                expressed, in an attempt to get ahead of the parade and redirect it.
                                "The movement appears to have legs. The world’s financial and
                                corporate elites would do well to listen up," the magazine opined.
                                For Fortune, it is clear that the direction of globalization, if not
                                capitalist globalization itself, is at stake: "New technologies will
                                continue to make the world a smaller place no matter what, but
                                economic integration is still very much driven by discrete political
                                decisions. ‘The rules are not predetermined,’ says Harvard
                                economist Dani Rodrik. ‘Globalization is not something that’s just
                                falling into our laps from another planet.’"

                                If Fortune has thus articulated the fears of capital when faced with
                                this growing movement, our role is to articulate the hopes of the
                                larger population—of all those who seek a more humane,
                                democratic, and egalitarian future. But more than mere hope is
                                called for. On the left, much will depend on our analysis and
                                organization. It is to these ends that this special issue of MR is