Leo Pantich explains himself - comment

Jurriaan Bendien bendien at tomaatnet.nl
Tue Aug 26 06:32:41 MDT 2003

What Leo is talking about here seems to be essentially the defence,
assertion and advancement of a way of life, regardless of what business
ideology might suggest as the correct way to be, behave, or achieve, i.e. a
counterculture of sorts with its own values and logic of operation, its own
view of the good society and human nature. Panitch writes:

"The point simply is that, since even in the Canadian case, national
identity will not simply disappear by virtue of empire and capitalist
globalization, our task as socialists is to ensure that such identity will
become associated with the struggle against capitalism and imperialism and
for a socialism that allows for democracy and self-determination."

Of course, this is basically correct, but it only poses the task to be
performed, rather than solving it, namely how can socialism appeal to the
progressive characteristics of Canadian national identity, without being
transformed into national socialism ? I assume that Marx would advise, that
we need to look more closely into the specific contradictions within
Canadian national identity.

One of the most powerful arguments of the "anti-globalisers" (leaving aside
theoretical weaknesses) is, that business may have no commitment at all to
improving local communities; if they cannot make profits here, they go
elsewhere, never mind about what they leave behind. Business does recognise
the great power of this argument, it is aware of "externalities", and starts
talking about "social responsibility" and "corporate governance". But
business does have to make profits somewhere, and that somewhere is not in
outer space, but in a real geographic area where they have to "touch base".
The strength of business is the mobility of capital. The strength of the
labouring classes is that they are everywhere already, and with the aid of
modern technology, the message can be passed on real quick.

If you think this interpretation is a bit shallow, just have a look at what
has been happening in the Niger Delta (Warri, Forcados and Escravos). Shell,
Chevron-Texaco and Total were in fact forced to evacuate the area earlier
this year, because they couldn't even guarantee their own installations
anymore, leading to the loss of  30-40 percent of Nigeria's daily oil
production at some stage. Of course, you might say, this is not a very
constructive solution of the conflict, but it does show that Nigerians know
to find the weak spots in the corporations: namely that the corporations
have to operate in a physical territory which they no longer really control,
and which the local population who has grown up there, knows like the back
of their hand. The same applies, incidentally, to Iraq, where the invader is
defeated by his own ignorance.

Karl Marx once humorously referred to Edward Gibbon Wakefield's description
of Mr Peel, who "took with him from England to Swan River, Australia, means
of subsistence and of production to the amount of 50,000 pounds. Mr Peel had
the foresight to bring with him, besides, 3000 persons of the workingclass,
men, women and children. Once arrived at his destination, "Mr Peel was left
without a servant to make his bed or fetch him water from the river". Marx
comments, "Unhappy Mr Peel, who provided for everything,  except the export
of English modes of production to Swan river."

Suppose the whole matter is turned around, and the "modes of production"
exist already. In that case, "Mr Peel" would seek to establish a new mode of
production as against the existing one, on the ground that it is allegedly
more progressive and, to him, more profitable. The "3000 persons" already
exist locally, or most of them anyway. Well, then, that is something that
you can argue about politically ! What point is there, in developing a
resource, if the locals do not benefit very much at all ?

Yesterday I was doing some statistical research into investment patterns,
and you know what, it is actually easier to obtain specific statistical
information about asset values held by country A in country B, than asset
values held by country A in country A, which is an interesting sort of
imperialist bias in the world of statistical research: "we want to know what
we own in other countries, but we don't want to shed much light on what we
own at home, in our own societies."

The counterargument to the preceding line of thinking is usually, how do we
prevent ourselves from sinking into particularism, provincialism etc. and a
Luddite prevention of progressive economic development and international
cooperation ? Well, it is always possible that particularism or Ludditism
may occur, but it is always also possible to share information world-wide
about what such-and-such a business is up to. We are merely utilising the
strength of the working population in a given area, which flows from the
fact that they actually live there, and know their own territory, as against
the greater mobility of capital, which moves according to private profit
considerations. Territorial defence need not have anything to do
specifically with nationalism, the state, or the local bourgeoisie. If this
principle is true for some Maori groups in New Zealand, it is true
everywhere else as well.

To a large extent, "the nation" is an "imagined community" anyway (I think
Benedict Anderson invented this term; in the Netherlands where I live,
research suggests that the majority of people who live here, do not actually
have a strong "national" or "nationalist" identification anyway
specifically, their patriotic preference concerns a lifestyle and local
culture), but even so, there are REAL communities which are not imagined,
and the strength of the relationships which exist in those communities, are
a resource which can be utilised to prevent the outsider from plundering and
robbing. Here, we must distinguish between ideological presentations and
real social relations.

If I recall correctly, the very word "socialism" derives from the Latin
"socius" meaning comrade or associate, and was first used by Robert Owen in
his experiments with resolving the "social question" that had arisen in the
wake of the French Revolution, which had promised "liberty, equality and
fraternity" but did not provide it in practice, at least not for all, only
for some (think for example of the Loi de Chapelier passed in the wake of
the French Revolution to block trade unions). The strength of that point of
view, is founded upon the insight, that capitalist class society, while
increasing material wealth, ultimately does not provide the "human wealth",
which consists in "richly developed individualities within a totality of
richly developed relations with others" - it can do so ultimately only for a
minority, and in an uneven way, on the basis of some form of one-sided or
unequal exchange - but a strong local community among the labouring classes
can, by virtue of its internal solidarity and semiotic superiority, dictate
different terms of exchange.

>From this is follows that the advancement of socialism would involve the
forging of new cultures, which have common values that have nothing to do
with private enrichment at the expense of others, and nothing to do with
"imagined" nationalism or "imagined" internationalism,  ut with real nations
and real international contacts and solidarity - values which are
practically rooted in the actual circumstances of life of the dominated
social classes and tribes (tribalism is not necessarily a bad thing in all
respects, and Marx never said so; indeed he even suggested that Russia might
transit to socialism on the basis of the ancient peasant communities (mir),
a view completely obliterated and discounted by the Westernised elite of
Marxist modernisers, who cast the debate in terms of the ""struggle against
peasant economy" as if peasant economy had no merits at all, and as if the
industrialisation of agriculture was automatically progressive (we can see
just what result that had, in Russian agriculture), . This would be a living
socialism, rather than a socialism perpetually caught within an imagined
contradiction between "the movement" and "the goal"


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