Fw: Reply for Jurriaan

Macdonald Stainsby mstainsby at tao.ca
Tue Jun 5 16:50:08 MDT 2001

Dear Macdonald,

I can agree with you about the need for an "internal compass" but on some
other matters I take a different view.

Personally I hate people slagging off at "trade union bureaucrats" without
rhyme or reason. I have a great deal more respect for trade unionists who
try to do deals that improve the lives of workingclass people here and now,
under given circumstances, than for some marginalised leftist who yells
about bureaucrats without making any tangible organisational contribution
himself. There are such things as real "trade union bureaucrats", but them
you have to get specific and explain why they are bureaucrats and what is
wrong with their policies. In the whole of Marx's writings you will not
find a single example of Marx lambasting "trade union bureaucrats" in
general. This was completely against his ideas.

I am not against people protesting aginst the world bank, the IMF, or the
WTO, these institutions ought jolly well to be criticised for wrecking good
public services and the infrastructures of countries that cannot properly
defend themselves against these crazy policies.

I am not hung up on particular words or phrases being used in the process
either, it is the actions that count, and through the actions ideas are
clarified. Nevertheless a "movement against globalisation" seems to me to
be radically confused, simply because what "globalisation" refers to is a
bunch of objective social, cultural and economic trends on a world scale,
some of which are progressive and some of which are not, and which are not
consensually defined either. To oppose yourself to that, is a bit like
opposing yourself to the river of world history (or like I said previously,
gravity), it doesn't make sense to me. Hence, in my view,
"anti-globalisation" politics is a quixotic politics. The aim of a
socialist acting in the spirit of Marx is not to adapt himself as quickly
as possible to all the popular buzzwords, but to unpack them, and show what
is really behind them. In so doing, we have our own concepts, our own way
of thinking and I am not prepared to let go of that for the sake of being
"modern" or "unsectarian". Furthermore we don't just simply take on board a
concept, we ask ourselves "who is actually using that concept, and what are
the interests of those people ?". And who is using the term "globalisation"
? Well just about anybody, businesspeople, all sorts of politicians,
academics, anybody. There is nothing particularly "left" about it, and that
is the point.

My intention as socialist is not to add to the confusion, but to clear up
the confusion. Socialists criticise the bad features of capitalism and
question the existence of capitalism, they don't oppose themselves to
"globalisation" as such. I have furthermore no personal interest in being
assimilated into a discourse from which no clear political perspectives
result, or perspectives which cannot be reconciled with what socialists
stand for.  At least the concept of imperialism directs you to the specific
way in which one country dominates another, from which you can draw some
political conclusions in regard to state policy, economic development and
so forth.

One version of globalisation theory (of the Giddens variety) leads to the
idea that it is a good thing if all sorts of international bodies and
foreign countries intervene in the politics of East Timor or Yugoslavia,
for ostensibly "humanitarian purposes" and guided by the God-given right to
fight alleged "crimes against humanity" anywhere on the globe, this being
part of our "global responsibility". The theory of imperialism by contrast
shows this to be an ideology. It leads you to predict that those
interventions will create a mess that no one there really wants, and
therefore to oppose those interventions. It leads you to unmask the
ideology of global humanitarianism that covers imperialist operations.

Vulgar minds fogged up by globalisation rhetoric will say that it was
"inevitable and necessary" that NATO intervened militarily in Yugoslavia.
What they forget is that institutions such as the World Bank and the IMF
are in good part responsible for wrecking the Yugoslavian economy in the
first place, and that the US government deliberately steered towards a
showdown with Milosovic, acting on geopolitical considerations, by putting
him in a position from which he could not negotiate anything else anymore.
There were plenty of other options before that time, other ways in which
the disputes could be solved, but they were not taken up. For globalisation
theory this is all a big mystery, and too complex to understand. After all,
we are dealing here with diplomacy, with government politics, with class
interests which have supposedly become irrelevant and superseded by the
global happening. The theory of imperialism on the other hand makes clear
that there are material interests at stake here for the elites of this
world, and that actions were taken to safeguard those interests.

So anyway globalisation trends are certainly worth knowing about,  but they
don't give you any particular political prescription. You can draw all
sorts of conclusions from it, including conclusions which go against
anything socialists stand for. Whereas the concept of "globalisation" may
perhaps be pedagogically useful to introduce people to the big picture
about the wild world out there, politically it doesn't lead anywhere in
particular, precisely because it abstracts conveniently from what
governments and real politicians actually do, and the material interests
that motivate them.

You write, "perhaps you might consider why it was that you were brought
into revolutionary politics in the first place'". But I have never been
"brought into revolutionary politics". I have been involved in the past in
grassroots socialist politics and in trade unions, but while sometimes I
thought that was "revolutionary", I never believed myself to be genuinely
engaged in "revolutionary politics". For me, revolutionary politics has
something to do with the existence of a genuine mass revolutionary movement
or a genuine revolutionary crisis. Both were lacking in the countries that
I lived in.

I use the term "revolutionary" with a great deal of caution, because I
think most of what goes by the name of "revolutionary" is simply rhetoric.
The word is often just used by people who want to sound radical and
different. I don't regard myself as a "revolutionary", I am interested in
revolutionary thought, which is a different story. I don't even call myself
"Marxist" because I consider Marxism is just one of the important
contributions to socialist thought. I am a socialist interested in Marxist
contributions to the socialist movement, that is all.

I am in no way criticising "gross inconsistencies, bad anarchist planning,
stupid Marxist platforms etc." as you assert. I am in no position to do so,
because these days I am not even involved in these things, so why criticise
them for the sidelines ? What I was saying is that in my view the protests
against conferences of the WTO and suchlike aren't very effective. They may
have other merits, such as raising the awareness of participants, but they
don't stop the crucial processes being targeted at all. That is my point,
simple as that.  And ask anybody in your own town what exactly these
protests against the WTO were about, and I bet you will not get a very
clear answer at all, except perhaps if they went to see the movie.

Karl Marx believed one should never underestimate human gullibility. Well I
think a lot of the "anti-globalisation" lobby are gullible people, who
confuse progressive and reactionary social trends. And as Oscar Wilde
wrote, "it is often the ones that try to do the most good that do the most
harm", because they operate with a false consciousness, they don't
understand their own motives properly and they don't understand the
political consequences of what they are doing. Our job is not to pander to
that, but clear it up !



Macdonald Stainsby
Rad-Green List: Radical anti-capitalist environmental discussion.
Leninist-International: Building bridges in the tradition of V.I. Lenin.
In the contradiction lies the hope.
                                     --Bertholt Brecht

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