The World in the 1980s: Notes on the New Political Culture

Article excerpt

Superpower rivalry does not takeplace in a vacuum; rather, it reflects and influences a wider Political culture. From a unique global Perspective Fred Halliday provides a telephoto shot of some of the significant trends in the political weather on planet earth during the past decade.

The 1980s were a period of signal deterioration in international relations, of cold war between the great powers, internationalized unemployment in the developed capitalist world and. immiseration

in the South, as wen as, at a more ideological level, of resur- rected, designer Social Darwinism masquerading as enterprise and freedom. The cultural climate in the developed world has been marked by mass narcissism and historical amnesia. This has nowhere been clearer than in the belief that we are living in a world of one ever-freer modem and universal political culture, with an increasingly and beneficially unified political system. Under the pretext of providing a more realistic and up-to-date culture, this ideology suppresses and rejects alternatives, especially those of a critical or radical nature. If there are reasons for accepting that the world has become more integrated during these years-trends in communications, economics and the management of global problems providing some evidence of this - there are also powerful reasons for recognizing the inequities within this unification, and the contrary, fragmentary processes. During the decade the, gap between the world's richer and poorer countries has widened, a divide that in strictly economic terms has been compounded by the new methods that advanced capitalism has developed to enhance itself, never short of innovation at someone else's expense. These include the internationalization of sex tourism, the dumping of toxic waste in the Third World and the destruction, for Northern use, of vast areas of the South's ecology.

Within the developed capitalist economies themselves, there has been much talk of breaking down economic barriers and of economic integration. The point is not that such a process is an illusion but that it is taking place through a growing concentration of power, an epidemic of monopsony that is focusing power in fewer and fewer hands. Moreover, if this internationalization and mobility is true of some

of the factors of production, mainly capital and technology, it must be starkly contrasted with the increasing immobility of another factor,' namely, labor. The advanced economies, which for centuries and without invitation occupied and plundered the Third World, have in their postimperial rectitude seen fit to make South-North labor flows as difficult as possible: Freedom of movement for some contrasts with constriction for others. The alternative in each case, of planned allocation of resources on the basis of interna- tionally determined needs, is thereby excluded. If this is obvious in Europe, where the introverted metapatriotic market of 1992 is looming, it is equally evident in the abandownent by the United States of the commitment to provide a refuge for the poor of the world, at a time when U.S. financial markets have become more international than ever before: The Statue of Liberty could, with some justice, be moved to the banks of the Rio Grande. As for Japan - a country that has, as much as any other major capitalist power, visited violence and exploitative interference on its neighbors, through the pillage of China and Korea and, more recently, in the brothelization of much of Southeast Asia-it never permitted immigration in the first place, with the exception of the viciously subjugated community from Korea.

At the level of culture, both in its political and more strictly aesthetic dimensions, there has been an efflorescence of particularisms, many of them of the meanest and most historically blinkered kind. In the developed capitalist countries this has involved the inanities of the mass "heritage" industry, often vaunting the quasi-totalitarian concept of it "community'; pervasive racism and chauvinism toward newer immigrant groups; the dypsomaniac excesses and populist thuggery of international sporting occasions; and, in the United States and Japan, religio-nationalist intoxication in various forms (born-again Christianity, Shintoism). …