Clarifying the maquila question

Louis Proyect lnp3 at
Mon Dec 11 16:15:09 MST 2000

[Part of the problem is that when I said I objected to the views of Doug
Henwood, a Nation Magazine contributing editor, and Debbie Nathan, editor
of the NACLA Report, Yoshie posted a flurry of messages that dealt with
just about everything except what I was objecting to. Just to make sure
that there is no confusion, I tracked down some of what Doug has written on
these questions that rankle me so. Of course, I realize that I am easily
rankled but with the aid of vintage wine and the company of a good friend
over the holidays, I might mellow out. Ah, probably not.]

1. Doug Henwood believes that NAFTA, as an expression of free trade,
"intensifies the conflict between bourgies and proles" [sic]. This was when
he found such distinctions meaningful, as opposed to new affinities such as
psychoanalysis and the postmodernly constructed "subject":

> There are, of course, serious problems with NAFTA: reactionary agrarian
> reform, increasing dislocations without compensation, environmental
> destruction, etc.  Let's stick to these and not slip back into the "Buy
> American" logic.

Though I realize this revisits old PEN-L territory, this is still a very
important point. On trade, as with few other issues, the reformist and
radical/Marxist approaches are profoundly opposed; so too the green and red
ones. The reformist and green approaches are nationalist and/or localist,
emphasizing local production for both employment and ecological reasons.
The radical/Marxist approach, however, is internationalist, for  several
reasons - one, following Marx's speech on free trade, because  trade
intensifies the conflict between the bourgies and proles; two,  because of
a Ricardian belief in efficiency and increasing productive  power; and
three, out of a faith in internationalism. So: do we want to  build on the
productive powers of capitalism, and increase scale and  centralization, or
do we want to encourage inefficiencies like labor  intensity and smaller
scale? Does globalization prefigure a heaven of  stateless communism or is
it too hellish to tolerate?



2.  Doug invokes Karl Marx as a premature defender of NAFTA, in much the
same way there used to be premature anti-fascists in the 1930s:

>I have a student who is working on a "pro and con" paper on NAFTA and GATT.
>She wants to find Web sites for both sides of the issue.  Does anyone know
>of any?

For a perversely pro argument, try Marx's 1848 speech on free trade.



3. In a reply to me, Doug explains that capitalism is not 100 percent bad.
It "liberates" peasant women from their oppressive villages where idiocy
prevails. So what do we make of Rigoberta Menchu's memoir that expressed
the desire of Mayan women to remain in such villages? Her rightwing critics
accused her of making things up or exaggerating. Perhaps she suppressed a
true desire to run off to Juarez where she could assemble circuit boards
for fifty cents and hour and go watch male strippers after work:

>You believe that capitalism has some
>progressive aspects, while I believe that it has none. That is what the
>debate is about.

Ok, so let's for now assume that's what The Debate is about. On your list,
Mark Jones quoted me saying that women who go to work in Mexican
maquiladoras find some degree of liberation from rural patriarchy in their
new lives, along with the exploitation and toxic waste that goes with the
job. I based that on an article by the excellent journalist Debbie Nathan
in The Nation and on research by the sociologist Leslie Salzinger.
Salzinger spent a year working in factories and talking to her fellow
workers. Mark, knowing better from his London perch what young Mexican
women workers think than Nathan and Salzinger do from their on-site
research, thought this an outrageous apology for imperialism. Me, I think
this is an example of just how contradictory capitalism is, even in Mexico
in the late 1990s. Another vignette from Mexico: our mutual cyberfriend
Zeynep spent a lot of time in Chiapas - visiting actual villages where
people live, and not just talking to the Zapatistas - in 1997. She told me
that women are expected not to speak when in the presence of men. Something
like that might make factory work look a bit more appealing, and village
life a little less so, than they would to, say, a computer programmer
sitting in a cubicle on a university campus in the United States.


Louis Proyect
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