everything's really ok (region)

Patrick Bond pbond at wn.apc.org
Sat Oct 14 03:55:01 PDT 2000

> From: Sam Pawlett <rsp at uniserve.com>
> But how far are you willing to take this reasoning...into complete
> auturky?

No, no one's arguing for a 1960s-80s Albanian/Burmese type of strategy; delinking isn't full autarchy, but instead implies management of int'l economic relations with anti-capitalist objectives--i.e., getting what's necessary through trade (financed not by BWIs but by export promotion agencies, whose debt is cheaper anyhow) while imposing as many controls as is feasible, especially on int'l financial transactions.

> In the absense of a revolution, the only way I can see it
> happening is for the smaller (economically smaller,that is)
> nonimperialist countries to band into a bloc to pursue their mutually
> agreed upon national/popular interests.

That would be ideal, were it not for the fact that the leading middle-income country now attempting to construct a "G5" so as to restart the WTO process is in fact South Africa, which is presently best described as subimperialist. If you can't trust Mbeki to run with this (as he regularly requests), who can you trust? Hindu nationalists? The corporate liberals running Brazil? Rampant capitalist-roaders in China? Korean neolibs? The vision of a set of Good Nationalists from the Third World doing countertrade and fighting the North has been circulating for a long time, and nothing comes of it, ever, really. The New Int'l Economic Order rhetoric is just exhausted and in any case merely raises expectations (my main base, Zimbabwe, has been full of it, and it's now just more grist for the "talk-left, act-right" mill). The reality is that Bad Nationalism prevails, which really means compradorism plus local repression, maybe with a very few exceptions like Cuba and Venezuela.

> It has been along time since I've studied Samir Amin
> but I think he does advocate a division of labor based on horizontal,
> fair and non-coercive relations between the technologically rich
> countries and the others.

Amin argues that a coherent *geographic region* has to be the core site of 21st century struggle... but aside from Walden Bello writing a bit about East Asia, and a UNU WIDER project last year, we haven't seen much along these lines get into lefty debates. Here's the main cite I have on Amin and his colleagues: `Regionalization in Response to Polarizing Globalization,' in Bjorn Hettne, Andras Inotai and Osvaldo Sunkel (Eds), Globalism and the New Regionalism, London, Macmillan, 1999.

To get a bit more concrete, some of us in South Africa have been terribly concerned about intensifying subimperialism from Jo'burg (commercial/financial/extractive) and Pretoria (diplo-military). The Socialist Register 2001 (which I think has just reached Northern bookshops -- check it out at http://www.yorku.ca/socreg) carries an attempt to articulate a regionalism from below. Here's a taste:

The Southern African Working Class: Production, Reproduction and Politics

by Patrick Bond, Darlene Miller and Greg Ruiters

in Socialist Register 2001: The Global Working Class at the Millennium

London, Merlin Press and New York, Monthly Review Press

Southern Africa is probably the world's most extreme site of uneven capitalist development. Inequality within and between the region's countries is severe, with race and gender domination largely undisturbed by the post-colonial experience, with the environment taking enormous strain, and with South Africa--and its 40 million of the region's 102 million citizens-- responsible for $130 billion of Southern Africa's $160 billion in 1998 output. Yet, while it is logical to anticipate an uneven, fragmented evolution of working- class power and political strategy, given the area's different modes of class struggle, levels of consciousness, organisational capacity, militancy, and relations with political parties and other social forces, developments in one country act as major reference points for others. Southern Africa's rich radical traditions--including once-avowed `Marxist- Leninist' governments in Mozambique, Zimbabwe and Angola, and mass-movements and powerful unions--owe much to revolutionary socialism and nationalism, yet this never gave rise to an explicit regional class project.

Drawing upon a legacy of regional class formation that goes back to the 19th century, can a coherent, cross-border vision emerge to counteract the unevenness? Will `globalisation' provide this opportunity, given the 1999 upsurge in international working-class consciousness in reaction to the multinational corporate agenda, and a new round of parasitic South African corporate investment in the region? Or will fragmentation prevail, as already reflected in a late 1990s outbreak of South African working-class xenophobia?

Certain aspects of working-class experience are, of course, regionally universal or at least comparable, in part reflecting the importance and homogenising effect of migrant labour. The counterpart of the current regeneration of urban-rural linkages caused by the desperation of many unemployed workers--including more than a million laid off during the 1990s--is the rural-urban drift to the region's rapidly-growing urban slums. Also common to all these countries are issues of perpetual concern to workers: the HIV/AIDS pandemic; the prevalence of child labour; ongoing farm labour-tenant exploitation; low skills levels and inadequate training; rising privatisation pressures and controversies over other public sector restructuring measures; periodic refugee inflows and debates over immigration policy; the emerging Export-Processing Zone threat (based on prototypes in Botswana; Lesotho and Swaziland) to occupational safety/health and wages; and mass poverty. These broader social concerns, and other reflections of daily struggle, benefit little from the traditional corporatist (big government + big business + big labour) relationships still favoured by some of the region's union leaders.

Yet the concentration and centralisation of Southern African capital--from a geographical anchorage in Johannesburg--is providing the whole region's workers with opportunities to challenge the same employers through cross-border solidarity. If a free trade agreement aiming to reduce interregional barriers is brought to fruition, a gradual homogenisation of regional economic conditions has been predicted. But it could just as easily intensify the region's polarising tendencies, given the parallel process of South African capital's expansion and the linkage of the region to Europe and North America through unfavourable free-trade deals. A variety of other compelling reasons have also emerged, since the end of apartheid, for action on a regional scale to be taken up more enthusiastically by workers and their allies. Cross-border social and cultural connections have intensified; long-term migration patterns have begun to solidify (since permanent residence was granted to long-term guestworkers by the South African government in 1995); controlling arms, drugs and other illicit traffic needs regional cooperation, as does the management of regional resources (such as water); the artificiality of nation-states sired at Berlin's colonial Africa carve-up conference in 1885 is more readily questioned as post-colonial nationalism fades; and there is wider recognition of the worsening unevenness of development (and related ethnic tensions) between the rich and poor areas of the region.

Our scan of regional prospects driven not by Washington and its proxies, but by popular forces in the region, necessarily begins in the core industrial sites (mainly South Africa's and Zimbabwe's large cities, as well as their now-declining mining regions) where black workers established the first organisational roots of class power already in the 1920s, often in the face of opposition from higher- skilled white workers and artisans. The ebb and flow of black working-class power was heightened by impressive industrial unrest during the 1940s, followed by a downturn associated with intensified state repression, the formal establishment of apartheid in 1948, and the banning of trade unions or their leaders in many of the colonial regimes. Later, from the 1950s, working-class power was overlaid by the rise of national political movements. As these movements gained progressively greater access to state power across Southern Africa--and yet soon proved themselves hostile to working-class interests and ambitions--workers had to decide whether and how to strive for a post-colonial, post-nationalist and post- neoliberal future.

In the immediate future, as Southern Africa remains mired in sustained economic crisis, the logic of neoliberalism will have to be contested not only through defensive protest but through a new regionalism and by forging more effective international solidarity, to serve working-class and poor people's interests. There exists a broad and not necessarily socialist framework for this line of argument, namely a United Nations World Institute for Development Economics Research project whose leading African proponent, Samir Amin, advocates `regionalisation aiming at the building of a polycentric world,' in part grounded in `grassroots labour-popular social hegemonies.' It is with this potential project in mind that we attempt to document lines of cleavage between and within the region's working classes and state/capital alliances.

Hence the five main sections of this essay interrelate: 1) the historical colonial-capitalist origins of the region and its working classes; 2) the contemporary economic crisis; 3) the strength and organisational state of the Southern African working class today; 4) the potential contestation of regionalism, between workers and the region's states/capitals (dominated as they tend to be by South African bureaucrats and corporations); and 5) divergent perspectives on major international economic issues. With this information, existing regional and even global strategies and tactics can be assessed and new ones proposed.

(Full text available offline at pbond at wn.apc.org, but do buy the book, comrades!) Patrick Bond (pbond at wn.apc.org) home: 51 Somerset Road, Kensington 2094 South Africa phone: (2711) 614-8088 work: University of the Witwatersrand Graduate School of Public and Development Management PO Box 601, Wits 2050, South Africa work email: bond.p at pdm.wits.ac.za work phone: (2711) 717-3917 work fax: (2711) 484-2729 cellphone: (27) 83-633-5548

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