Academic journal article Social Justice

Globalization, States, and Left Strategies

Academic journal article Social Justice

Globalization, States, and Left Strategies

Article excerpt

This article attempts to address the challenge posed to the Left by what has come to be known as "globalization." The apparent subjection of even advanced capitalist social formations in recent decades to the competitive logics and exigencies of production, trade, and finance undertaken on a world scale is treated in most accounts of globalization as an irreversible process. In this perspective, the predominant strategic response becomes one that invariably tends to see the strategies, practices, and institutions of the Left as perhaps having been appropriate to an earlier "national" stage of capitalism, but as having now been rendered outmoded and outdated by globalization. For David Held (1992: 32-34), for instance, globalization implies a distinctively new "international order involving the emergence of a global economic system which stretches beyond the control of a single state (even of dominant states)...." Since this new global order has apparently escaped the control of democratic institutions located at the national level, Held concludes that this means that "democracy has to become a transnational affair." Strategic priority must be given to "the key groups, agencies, associations, and organizations of international civil society...," extending their capacity as agencies for democratic control through an appropriate recasting of the territorial boundaries of systems of accountability, representation, and regulation and fortified by entrenched transnational bills of social, economic, and civil rights. In this perspective, the prime cause of the weakness of the Left today is that internationalism has "changed sides." As Perry Anderson (1992: 366-367) recently put it:

The new reality is a massive asymmetry between the international mobility and organization of capital, and the dispersal and segmentation of labour that has no historical precedent. The globalization of capitalism has not drawn the resistances to it together, but scattered and outflanked them.... The age continues to see nationalisms exploding like firecrackers across much of the world, not least where communism once stood. But the future belongs to the set of forces that are overtaking the nation-state. So far, they have been captured or driven by capital - as in the past fifty years, internationalism has changed sides. So long as the Left fails to win back the initiative here, the current system will be secure.

Several problems make this way of approaching the Left's strategic dilemmas vis-a-vis globalization questionable. The premise that globalization is a process whereby capital limits, escapes, or overtakes the nation-state may be misleading in two senses. First, there is often an overestimation of the extent to which nation-states were capable of controlling capital in an earlier era; it is as if the Left's mode of practice was adequate in relation to the nation-state and thus encourages adoption of a similar mode at the global level: the problem is just one of running faster on the new terrain. Yet even for those not given to such illusions, there is a tendency to ignore the extent to which today's globalization is authored by states and primarily concerns reorganizing states rather than by-passing them. It promotes in this sense a false dichotomy between national and international struggles and diverts attention from the Left's need to develop its own strategies for transforming the state, even as a means of developing an appropriate international strategy.

Internationalization of the State: The Case of NAFTA

Any attempt to reassess left strategies in the context of globalization must begin with the understanding that although the nature of state intervention has changed considerably, the role of the state has not necessarily been diminished. Far from witnessing a by-passing of the state by a global capitalism, what we see are very active states and highly politicized sets of capitalist classes hard at work to secure what Stephen Gill (1992) aptly termed a "new constitutionalism for disciplinary neoliberalism. …

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