Brooke V. Heagerty, Ph.D.


Brooke Heagerty


 Presented at
"Globalization, Technology and the Asia Meltdown"

May 9, 1998, Roosevelt University.

"Perils and Possibilities: Class Responses to Globalization"

 

Introduction:

In my remarks, I would like to rest on our earlier discussion of electronics as a qualitatively new technology. This is setting the parameters of change - not in a deterministic way - the outcome of the process of society is in the realm of human action, human consciousness. I will be casting my remarks in broad strokes - we are all grappling with big processes, big forces. Remember that these process are in motion, are extremely fluid, even though I would argue, they are moving in particular and identifiable direction. To get us started I would like to read the following quote by E.P. Thompson from his seminal work, "The Making of the English Working Class:"

"Sociologists who have stopped the time machine and, with a good deal of conceptual huffing and puffing, have gone down to the engine room to look, tell us that nowhere at all have they been able to locate and classify a class. They can only find a multitude of people with different occupations, incomes, status-hierarchies, and the rest. Of course, they are right, since class is not this or that part of the machine, but the way the machine works once it is set in motion - not this or that interest, but the friction of interests - the movement itself, the heat, the thundering noise..."

I will be looking at the social and political impact of this qualitatively new means of production and will address my topic, Perils and Possibilities: Class responses to Globalization in that context.

I will be utilizing the following model: qualitative change in the economy brings about a revolution in society. An aspect of this social revolution is the formation of new classes that disrupt and disorganize the existing society. Class relations are expressions of social relations, that is, the way that people relate to one another in the production of their lives and their means of life. They do not relate to one another on just any basis. They relate to one another through their mutual relation to property. The new classes don't fit and can't exist in the old relationship. They have to have and fight for a new productive relationship. Society cannot change without changing all class relations and a change in class relations means ending the privileges that one class has over others. The new class (or classes) finally overthrows the ruling class and creates a society in its own image.This is the process we see unfolding today.

To help us see this, we can look at the process of change in the period from agriculture to industry.

In the transition from agriculture to industry new groups came on the scene who represented the new industrial system. In most countries this took the form of the capitalist class and the industrial working class. These classes had to fight to create a new society that they could exist within. This had not only its economic expression, but its political and cultural expressions in literature, art, philosophy, in short, revolutionary new ideas and ideologies. At the heart of this new society was industrial production in most areas based on the buying and selling of labor power.

How is the process playing out today?

As electronics infiltrates new areas of production increasing output and replacing the need for living labor, the intricate interconnected system of buying and selling that is essential to the operation of capitalism is increasingly undermined.

As the rapid and easy flow of capital across national border draws workers of all countries into the same shrinking market for labor power, it also puts all workers into competition with their electronic counterparts - robots and automated machinery of diverse types - driving wages down toward the lowest level available. The capitalist does not care if production is done by the free labor of machines or by the free labor of slaves. The critical indicator of the impact of electronics on production is not employment statistics, but the polarization of wealth and poverty.

A new class is being formed from this process. Its precarious existence expresses the incompatibility of today's productive forces with the old production relations. The new methods of production are increasingly separating this class from wages, meanwhile private property rules that those without money do not eat.

This process, is of course, uneven. But overall the pattern is becoming clearer.

* U.N Development Report in 1996: world's economy surged during the past three decades, but 1. 6 billion people (1/4 of the world's population) are worse off than they were 15 years ago.

* Richard Barnett, Global Dreams, estimates that 2/3 of the worlds population has neither the cash nor the credit to buy anything of note in the global marketplace.

* A U.N. report published last year confirms this: 80% of the world's population lives in poverty, 20% on less a dollar a day. Of the North-South global divide, the impoverished people of Latin America, Asia and Africa are increasingly being joined by a growing number of poor and excluded within the rich countries. US: greatest income inequality gap of all the industrialized nations

* at it core, the structurally unemployed: never worked, never will work again. * also those living on edge of survival: the temporary workers and workers working full-time with no benefits, those working three jobs, the part-time workers, the newly unemployed.

* white collar workers: those making $50 thousand or more have lost jobs at twice the rate as in the 1980s.

* According to the US Department of Labor, 1 out of 4 US workers are either unemployed, underemployed, involuntarily working part-time or working full-time at poverty wages.

The interests of this new class is not to reform the old system. If consumers can't work and earn money then the necessaries of life must be distributed without money. The actual need of this class - and for all humanity - is for the wealth produced by society to be distributed according to need. This objective economic demand cannot help but come up against, challenge and ultimately sweep aside any political system that cannot conform to it.

So here we see, two forces, two sides taking shape: at one end, a small group of extremely wealth people who have their hands on the levers of power and on the other, a growing new class of impoverished not just in Asia, Africa and Latin America but also within the old imperial center.

What is the resolution for each side of this struggle?

The deepening economic and social polarization reduces the capitalists maneuvering room. The attacks on the once well-paid and privileged workers of the imperialist center have cost them a crucial base of support. Destitution and impoverishment in the rest of the world is leading to increasing social unrest. How does a ruling class maintain its position and power under these circumstances?

For the past 15-20 years, there has been a move to restructure the forms of political and social control in order to contain this inevitable response and the challenge to effects of globalization.

William Robinson in his excellent study 'Promoting Polyarchy' has shown how US so-called 'democracy promotion' has been extended throughout the world, in part, to achieve such aims. Its other aim, while seeking to control and channel popular discontent in civil society through the medium of highly controlled elections managed by competing elites, is to use that process to build a broad support for and the legitimacy of the changes required to facilitate the global agenda.

I would like to focus on how this process of restructuring of control is playing out here in the US.

Under both Republican and Democratic administrations, the legal infrastructure of this country has been steadily changing.What we might call the first stage of this process reflected the introduction of electronics into the unskilled sectors of the economy where, for historical reasons, minorities were primarily concentrated.

Powered by the so-called war on drugs and the outright attack on minority working class communities this stage was characterized:

* the undermining constitutional protections gutting of the 4th amendment, the chipping away of basic rights of privacy, and the serious inroads made into a variety of constitutional protections including the freedom of speech, assembly and due process)

* both the rewriting of the legal power of the police and its increased militarization. 1 in 3 small towns now have swat teams, 'militarizing mayberry'; police brutality suits

* dramatic expansion of the infrastructure of incarceration and extermination. Over 5 million Americans are either in prison or under some form of legal sanction. Rise in death penalty. The effects of the economic revolution are now broadening out from the unskilled and semi-skilled to the formerly well-paid and privileged skilled and white collar workers and who have been, for the most part, the bulwark of social support for US policies. As this has happened, political rights and the concept of democracy itself is coming under attack.

A variety of writers and commentators are dutifully providing a theoretical and philosophical justification for this new American order.

* Murray and Herrnstein, The Bell Curve: concentration camps for the so-called genetically unintelligent poor.

* Alvin and Heidi Toffler in their Creating a New Civilization claim that majority rule is an outdated concept and should be replace by minority rule of those who have access to society's resources, regardless of color.

* Deepak Lal, a UCLA economist argued in a paper presented before the World Bank assured his listeners that 'an efficient market economy does not require a democratic form of government for its maintenance."

* A number of individuals such as Strobe Talbott, Foreign Policy editor Fareed Zhakaria, Council on Foreign Relations Jessica Mathews, and of course Samuel Huntington have recently written in foreign policy and academic journals on the subject, but

* In December this discussion hit the mainstream with Robert Kaplan's Atlantic Monthly article "Was Democracy just a moment?' which, among other things, praises what he calls 'hybrid regimes' - a mixture of enough rights and repression for capitalism to function in the face of changing conditions

* For those squeamish at the thought of this future, foreign policy specialist Thomas Carrothers advises in Foreign Affairs : 'The shedding of illusions is painful, but beneficial.'

Presumably, this pain will be as unevenly distributed as the wealth of the world.

Possibilities:

Sometimes it seems impossible that we will be able to get ourselves out of this mess, that we will be overwhelmed by these forces and all the obstacles in front of us. But the history making forces underway show us that this is not, ultimately, the case.

Globalization and everything it brings with it is laying the foundation for a new kind of international proletarian movement, based on a new kind of unity. Increasingly, the people of the world have common interests which grow out of not morality alone, but objective economic interests.

The recognition by this developing class of those common interests is being and will be formed in the battle for its survival.This is also a crucial aspect of its development.

This new class is already beginning to make itself heard.

* In India this month,a massive mobilization launched by the Joint Action Forum of Indian People against the WTO and Anti-People Policies" (JAFIP) composed of 50 peoples' movements representing a wide range of regions and social groups has issued a statement that "WTO kills us or we kill it."

* US, various organizations are linking the 50th anniversary of the UN Declaration to the issue of economic human rights; National Welfare Rights Union march on the UN and a bus tour of the US in the month of June collecting human rights abuses. They are exposing the real nature of poverty in this country and its commonality with the peoples of the world.

* People are, in fact, entering into political activity, and, in the Labor Party, they are forming and building their own political party of the employed and unemployed for the purpose of fighting their rulers not just economically but also politically.

These steps, however embryonic, represent impulses toward political independence, class identity and unity of action of people in the same conditions.

Revolutionary ideology or worldview is as critical to the ability of this class to complete its tasks as is the practical unity forced by globalization.

And what is this ideology, this worldview? Simply, the plain reflection of the world as it already exists and what it makes possible. It is a vision of a world without want, a world without child labor or homelessness anywhere, a world where everyone has nourishment for the spirit as well as the body. This ideology is based on the understanding that the solution to the problem of today lies in reorganizing society without private property relations. That is, the program of the new class. It is the recognition, therefore, that the aim of the struggle is to gain the political power to do that.

I believe we can say, that given its moment in history, that once this growing class of dispossessed unite around this program, this understanding, no force on earth can stop us from transforming the world into the paradise of which humanity has so long dreamed.

For more information, contact Speakers for a NewAmerica, 800-691-6888, or email info@speakersforanewamerica.com



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