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Peter Waterman © 2003


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This is Part Two of this article; click here to return to Part One

C. Method

Here I am thinking of the fixation on institutions in international labour studies, a fixation I have contributed to for the last 30 years. Or, rather, I am thinking of the necessity for cross-disciplinarity, multi-disciplinarity, extra-disciplinarity - for ‘indiscipline’ (see again here Castree, Ward and Coe 2003).

I have been confronted, on a number of occasions, even around the new movement, with remarks to the effect that Naomi Klein (2001), and her many admirable ilk, who tend to talk about and to people, are ‘just journalists’ Let us disregard the hypothetical motive here of envy. Let us impute to such opinions nothing graver than bourgeois, elitist, academic arrogance.

I think that any work concerning labour internationalism, including testimonies, novels, videos, banners, auto/biographies, grafiti and music (and PowerPoint productions!), should be evaluated according to,

·      critical technical or artistic criteria relevant to the mode, and

·      argued contribution to human emancipation.

Stating this is not a vulgar anti-academic populism. Because I have equal interest in emancipatory academic work around globalisation with which I have to struggle.

Bringing this wandering chicken home to roost, I want to refer to anthropology, ethnology, ethnography. This is because, with very rare exceptions, we do not really know how workers understand ‘international solidarity’, nor how they experience it. These inter-related disciplines have their own problems in dealing with international solidarity (Edelman 2002). But I have been, in my reviews of the literature, much concerned with the absence of people (in Spanish, more evocatively, lo popular) here. And, in so far as ethnography is supposed to concern itself with these, I am particularly sympathetic to such work, at least when put together in a cocktail with globalisation. And then stirred rather than shaken.

Here I would draw attention to the work of Michael Burawoy and his students (Burawoy et. al. 2000, cf Lee 1998, Edelman 2002). Reflecting on a common Ph.D. research project he himself co-ordinated, Burawoy calls for ‘grounding globalisation’ (337-50). This is not a work that even touches on international unionism or labour internationalism. What it nonetheless reveals is the way in which working people, some of them waged or formerly so, today experience globalisation, survive it and sometimes challenge it. And how, in one case, isolated rural women, in the Brazil North-East, were able to locally re-cycle, for their own ends, the work of North American academic feminists and regional or national NGOs.

We really do have to say adieu to Marx’s 19th century proletariat. Those requiring Marxist licence for so doing may take recourse to another passage from him. This is where he says that Communism (a 19th century word for emancipation) is neither a theory in the minds of intellectuals, nor a present or future state of affairs, but ‘the real movement which abolishes the present state of things’ (cited Waterman 2001:31). Take a look around, check out the press or TV, and you will get at least an impression of which are the real movements.

Burawoy is evidently aware of labouring people, but he does not hint at union internationalism or even labour struggles, except in so far as he mentions ‘appropriating the market’ and ‘professional associations’. This is an area in which a new labour internationalism, like the classical one, could and should be pro-active. An emancipatory labour internationalism, in other words, must today be constructed on a terrain which may privilege labour as activity, but does not prioritise it as identity or movement. It is this broader terrain that simultaneously provides labour internationalism with an opportunity for re-commencing its forward march. Toward the end of his book, Burawoy says the following:

Global Imperialism called forth wars of movement, violent anticolonial struggles, inter-national wars, but in the Global Postmodern wars of movement are doomed to defeat. Just as national hegemony cannot be overthrown by revolution, so Western global hegemonies cannot be overthrown through violence. Instead we turn to wars of position in which different groups with multiple identities have to be woven together around universalistic principles such as human rights or environmental justice. It is a war of position because it builds up a mosaic from multiple locations. Its trenches lie in the burgeoning transnational society of ethnic diasporas, deterritorialised nations, nongovernment organisations, professional associations, the global civil society that becomes denser by the day. It is not so much a matter of creating movements outside the hegemonic order but rather on its terrain, radicalising the meaning of democracy, appropriating the market, democratising sovereignty and expanding human rights. (349)

This was written before ‘nine-eleven’, and the return to Rudyard Kipling’s ‘savage wars of peace’ by the oiliest part of the US elite (and its foreign pro-consuls). But it is an important reminder to the international left that this neo-imperialist policy operates within an epoch of globalisation. And that, therefore, other such hegemonic policies – a global neo-Keynesianism for example – cannot be discounted (Griffin Forthcoming, Monbiot 2003, Munck 2003). A left that reverts to the rhetoric and strategies of traditional socialisms will fail to effectively recognise and surpass the appeal of such a neo-Keynesianism - just as it did the first time round.

However, the major significance of Burawoy’s conclusion lies for me not so much in what it says as where it comes from and what it implies for labour internationalism. It comes out of studies of working people, of many kinds, in radically different locales, all profoundly re-shaped by neo-liberal globalisation. Its implication for labour internationalism is: this is the new terrain, discourse and orientation.

                                    Hic Rhodus, hic salta!

Conclusion: science, critique, vision and recipe for revolution

            ‘Marxism’, says my old friend Bertell Ollman (2003:82), ‘is an unusual, perhaps unique, combination, critique, vision and recipe for revolution...with each of these qualities contributing to and feeding off the others. 

            This is a statement of such gargantuan appetite as to swallow all time, space, critique, vision, every strategy and aspiration for human emancipation. This is a Marxism returning to the Jewish messianic tradition from which it – but only, thank Goddess, in part - descends. As a Liberation Marxist (one who tries to liberate Marxism from the Marxists, from Marxism and from Marx) let me confine myself to The Revolution. This was, of course, part of the secular trilogy of 19th century socialism, which I above disguise/generalise as ‘emanicipation’.

            Marxist-inspired revolutions have had miserable results, particularly for the proletariat, particularly in overcoming proletarianisation, particularly for internationalism. The remaining ‘revolutionary regimes’ are shackled by a paralysing fear of external invasion, of internal counter-revolution, of the revolution being ‘betrayed’ by its own leaders. (Such betrayals appear as intrinsic to the notion of revolution: there’s always one just shaping up somewhere but also about to be betrayed by someone).

            I have elsewhere suggested that the contemporary task of revolutionaries is to make the revolution unnecessary and, by this same token, the counter-revolution impossible. I prefer the spirit of the radical-democratic British social workers of the 1970s or 80s, who declared themselves to be ‘in and against the state’ (compare Foran 2003).

            Surpassal of The Revolution appears to be no bad thing. Particularly if this abandonment is extended also to The Evolution – currently represented in the UK by the Twin Tonys. The Evolution has suffered less from explosion or implosion, more from erosion. But, like its own evil twin, The Revolution, it has clearly failed to de-proletarianise, to emancipate or empower those whose desires and hopes it so long ‘represented’. It has continued to reduce international solidarity to international substitutionism. It has dramatically increased commodification and alienation. Citizenship, privatised and restricted, continues to be traded in for Consumerism. The Evolution has failed, signally, to warn or prepare workers for, a GNC. It is failing to defend workers and other citizens from neoliberal globalisation, except by pointing backwards in the direction of Welfare Capitalism Past – or at least the Tale of such.

            Locked in a dance of death that gripped the international labour movement for 100 years or more, we can leave Insurrectionism and Reformism to bury each other.

            We don’t have to celebrate or embrace globalisation. But we can recognise the potential of its profound contradictions. So, those of us today involved with ELI and EILSs may be finally ready to say, like the therapist to whom Philip Roth’s (1970) Portnoy has been revealing his sorely-divided soul and sexuality for several hundred pages,

‘Now ve may perhaps to begin?’.

Bibliography: General

Burawoy, Michael et. al. 2000. Global Ethnography: Forces, Connections, and Imaginations in a Postmodern World. Berkeley: University of California Press. 392pp.

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Castree, Noel, Kevin Ward and Neil Coe. 2003. ‘Labour Geography: Problems of Analysis and Critique’, University of Manchester. Paper presented to Workshop on ‘Globalisation’s Challenge to Labour’, The Royal Geographical Society (with the Institute of British Geographers),  International Annual Conference, London 3rd – 5th September 2003.

Clawson, Dan. 2003. The Next Upsurge: Labour and the New Social Movements. Ithaca: Cornell University Press.

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Monbiot, George. 2003. The Age of Consent: A Manifesto for a New World Order. London: Flamingo. 274 pp.

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Waterman, Peter. 2003b. ‘Adventures of Emancipatory Labour Strategy as the New Global Movement Challenges International Unionism’

Reviewed in Waterman 2003a

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