The neofascist movements currently rising around the globe differ from the fascist movements of the 20th century. Fascism in the last century arose to break radical workers’ movements, many organized by the Communist Party. But the current neofascists, figures such as Jair Bolsonaro in Brazil and Narendra Modi in India, do not need to focus on destroying unions, which have already been decimated by globalization. Instead, they can directly channel the anger of the unemployed and underemployed towards minorities and the vulnerable. Vijay Prashad addresses these deformations—and explains how we can fight back—in conversation with Frank Barat in his new book Struggle Makes Us Human: Learning from Movements for Socialism.
The First World War signaled the end to a mercantilist order that had evolved under the aegis of European powers. One hundred years later, a very different economic order was in place (neoliberal cosmopolitanism). Believed by its architects to be universal and everlasting, globalization transfixed the world for an extended moment, but then started the subsidence from its zenith – precisely at the moment the West was giving vent to its triumphalism at the fall of the Berlin Wall. NATO – as the order’s regulatory system – addressed its attendant ‘identity crisis’ by pushing for eastward expansion toward Russia’s western borders, disregarding the guarantees it had given, and Moscow’s virulent objections. This radical alienation of Russia triggered its pivot to China.
Larry Fink, the CEO of the world’s largest asset manager, recently wrote in his letter to shareholders that globalization as we know it is over. The war in Ukraine, he argues, marks a turning point in the world economy—though the momentum of globalization had been slowing for many years. Fink’s pronouncement caused a stir among the international capitalist class. The Financial Times featured an editorial opining that ‘global capital has, for the past 40 years or so, flown too far ahead of national economies, creating stresses and inequalities within many nations.’ FT journalists, of course, have been some of the greatest cheerleaders of this process, which made the conclusion all the more striking. But before we decide whether globalization is over, it’s worth considering what it actually amounts to. I
An article written by authors John Micklethwait and Adrian Wooldridge for Bloomberg on March 24 sounded the alarm to announce the end of “the second great age of globalization.” The Western trade war and sanctions against China that predated the pandemic have now been joined by the stiff Western sanctions imposed against Russia after it invaded Ukraine. These sanctions are like an iron curtain being built by the United States and its allies around Eurasia. But according to Micklethwait and Wooldridge, this iron curtain will not only descend around China and Russia but will also have far-reaching consequences across the world. Australia and many countries in Asia, including India and Japan—which are otherwise reliable allies of the United States—are unwilling to break their economic and political ties with China and Russia.
The idea of paying reparations for slavery and other forms of racial injustice remains deeply controversial. Yet it has gained renewed support in liberal publications, city councils and state legislatures, and even the House of Representatives, which recently held hearings on legislation to create a commission to study and develop proposals for reparations. These developments present both a challenge and an opportunity for the left, which has been divided between recognizing the clear case for compensating victims of centuries of exploitation and abuse and concern that reparations are politically untenable and potentially detrimental to building a broad-based movement for social and economic justice.
The most recent topic explored by the thinkers and activists who make up the Great Transition Network was “Technology and the Future”. As writer after writer posted their thoughts, it was heartening to see that almost all recognize that technology cannot provide real solutions to the many crises we face. I was also happy that Professor William Robinson, author of a number of books on the global economy, highlighted the clear connection between computer technologies and the further entrenchment of globalization today. As anyone who has followed my work will know, globalization is of particular interest to me: for more than 40 years I’ve been studying its impacts on different cultures and societies around the world.
Anyone old enough to remember the Cold War is familiar with a scene routinely depicted on U.S. television at the time: the Soviet breadline. Warning Americans about life under communism, these clips showed Russian citizens lingering forlornly outside businesses for hours to obtain basic goods—indelible proof of the inferiority of central planning, and an advertisement for capitalism’s abundance. Breadlines, the Big Book of Capitalism assured us, could not happen in a market economy. Supply would always rise to meet demand, as long as there’s money to be made. Only deviating from free-market fundamentalism—giving everyone health care, for example—could lead to shortages. Otherwise, capitalism has your every desire covered.
The mismanaged integration of the United States into the global economy has devastated U.S. manufacturing workers and their communities. Globalization of our economy, driven by unfair trade, failed trade and investment deals, and, most importantly, currency manipulation and systematic overvaluation of the U.S. dollar over the past two decades has resulted in growing trade deficits—the U.S. importing more than we export—that have eliminated more than five million U.S. manufacturing jobs and nearly 70,000 factories. These losses were accompanied by a shift toward lower-wage service-sector jobs with fewer benefits and lower rates of unionization than manufacturing jobs.
The current political era is best understood as a “great recoil” of economic globalization. It is a moment when the coordinates of historical development seem to be inverting, upsetting many of the assumptions that dominated politics and economics over the last decades. This moment corresponds to the “second movement” socialist economic historian Karl Polanyi described in his book The Great Transformation, when phases of capitalist expansion recede and are met by “societal responses.” According to Polanyi, in phases of profound crisis like that opened by the 1929 Wall Street Crash, society tends to act defensively, erecting forms of social protection against a capitalist logic that has manifestly failed to deliver prosperity, yet becomes even more aggressive in its attempts to extract profit.
At the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic in 2020, panic buying seemed to create a shortage of different necessities, including toilet paper. Midway through the COVID-19 pandemic, housing prices started rising drastically, as demand surpassed supply due to shortages of construction materials. As students returned to in-person learning, schools found nutritious food for school lunches more difficult to get, and the U.S. relaxed requirements that schools must comply with federal nutrition standards. Visit any grocery store recently and you are likely to find shelves bare of any number of items. A global shortage of computer chips has created a drastic reduction in the production of cars, computers and appliances.
On the show, the second of a two-part interview, Chris Hedges discusses with Professor David Harvey the social, political, and economic consequences of neoliberalism and globalization, exploring alienation, the rise of authoritarianism, the significance of China in the world economy, the geopolitics of capitalism, carbon dioxide emissions and climate change, and our collective response. In our previous show, we discussed central themes raised in ‘The Anti-Capitalist Chronicles’ by Professor David Harvey, who is distinguished professor of anthropology at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York. Library Journal calls Professor Harvey “one of the most influential geographers of the later 20th century.”
The voiceless and marginalized have found their collective strength and successfully resisted an assault by a corporate giant. The union dusts itself off and goes back to organizing. It’s just another day on the front line of the global struggle between capital and labour.
The union drive at Amazon’s 885,000-square-foot warehouse in Bessemer, Alabama, failed. But the historic campaign nabbed global headlines and added fuel to ongoing workers’ revolts across the world. Strikes by Amazon workers in Italy, Germany and India are coalescing into an international struggle against the world’s fourth-most valuable company and its grueling working conditions and intensive surveillance. Since the dawn of capitalism, bosses have found innovations to oversee and extract more work from the overstressed bodies of their labor force. But Amazon’s minute surveillance of workers — who, at the Bessemer facility, are mostly Black and women — would make the Stasi blush. At the company’s warehouses, workers use hand-held devices that track their every move and assess their speed and accuracy.
When I was in high school, my economics class read The End of Poverty by Jeffrey Sachs. The book is a passionate appeal to help those living in the worst poverty in the world. Sachs writes that we should not worry too much about the people in second-to-last place, such as the poorly paid workers in labor-intensive industries who were then the focus of considerable debate and activism on U.S. college campuses. Sweatshop workers, Sachs conceded, were on the bottom rung of the ladder. But subsistence farmers were not on the ladder at all. Once we helped them get a foothold, they could begin ascending from textiles all the way up to high tech. I internalized Sachs’s argument, sensing it would help me feel better about the world we live in.
Everyone we know is “for” trade. We can’t remember ever meeting anyone who is “against” trade. This simplistic view of globalization — that everyone is either for or against trade — brought grief to millions of workers and families in America. Thomas Friedman wrote several popular books on globalization. He once said that he didn’t need to read CAFTA — the free trade agreement for Central American countries. The title of the document said “Free Trade.” That was all he needed to know. Nobel Prize economist Joseph Stiglitz puts the question more productively, “How should we manage globalization?”