Tony Greenstein | 08 February 2018 | Post Views:

Race & Class – Catching History on the Wing

Grunwick – the most important Black working class struggle in Britain – attacked by the courts and Lord Denning and betrayed by the TUC and Labour establishment – was at the heart of Siva’s analysis
Like many people active in the anti-racist
and anti-fascist movement, I was profoundly influenced by Siva. Many were the
discussions we had at Leeke Street. I first saw Siva speak when he appeared at
a Conference organised by Searchlight in the days when the anti-fascist magazine,
under the editorship of Maurice Ludmer, was trusted by the anti-fascist movement,
i.e. the days before Gerry Gable became editor.
Siva built up the Institute of Race Relations
after a coup against its liberal ruling class trustees.  He never tired of telling how Paul Foot, the
public school scion of the oh so revolutionary International Socialists Group
(SWP) had supported the old liberal establishment.
I first came into contact with Siva and the
rest of the Race and Class collective through my involvement with Anti-Fascist
Action in the mid-1980s.  Siva was our
guide and our mentor in his criticisms of the race relations industry and how
they were trying to co-opt anti-racist and Black struggles.  It was a time when identity politics was
starting to rear its head.
Now anyone could claim, by virtue of their
identity, that they too were oppressed.  Zionist
feminism and the belief that all you need to do was celebrate who you thought
you were, even if it was at someone else’s expense, was at the heart of debate that
split Spare Rib, the feminist magazine. 
We took to heart his saying that ‘What
we do is what we are
.” *.
Race and Class provided a welcome commentary
with its incisive analysis of anti-racist and anti-imperialist politics.  Without a class analysis and component
anti-racism inevitably meant a reformist adaption to the system.
It was a welcome counterpoint to the then
fashionable identity politics which were a way of internalising campaigns and
politics and making the focus of change the individual rather than the
structures of society.  People in the
Labour Party were using the Black anti-racist struggle outside the party as a
means of advancing the careers of people like Keith Vaz.  I came across this quite recently when I
found that an old comrade from anti-fascist days, Unmesh Desai, was now a Labour
member for Newham of the Greater London Authority and in that role he had
supported the Zionist IHRA definition of ‘anti-Semitism’ which conflates anti-Zionism
and anti-Semitism.
I remember attending one particular meeting
at the IRR base at Leeke Street where the renowned Israeli anti-Zionist and
civil rights activist, Professor Israel Shahak gave a talk.  Shahak had been a childhoold survivor of the Warsaw
Ghetto and Belsen concentration camps.  The
Institute had always been prominent in supporting the struggle of the
Palestinians for liberation and in its opposition to Zionism, seeing clearly
that as Apartheid in South Africa was on its way out, Apartheid in Israel was
being strengthened and reinforced. 
Many are the happy memories of paying the
Institute a visit when I was in London and breaking bread with them and looking
through their extensive newspaper library.
In the mid 1980’s I did a long interview with
Siva for London Labour Briefing and then had a big battle to get it into the
paper as anti-racism took second place to internal Labour Party and personal
When multi culturalism was in vogue and the
State moved from repression to incorporation of Black struggle Siva was a lone
voice warning against the dangers of co-option of the anti-racist movement and
its leadership.  He was a particularly
strident critic of Racism Awareness Training which was, he argued, a means by
which the Police would get to know their enemy better.  The whole race relations industry was geared
towards diffusing any fight against the capitalist system.
Siva argued that multi-culturalism was a
means of diverting the anti-racist struggle into cultural difference, of
depoliticising it.  However in the 1990’s
under New Labour we saw a political attack on multi-culturalism which continues
to this day as the State , in the wake of the Iraq war, moved to demonise whole
sections of the Black and Asian population.
I will remember Siva with fondness and as
someone with a great sense of humour.
Tony Greenstein
A Sivanandan, Culture and
Liberator, New York, Vol. 10. No. 6 1970
Daniel Renwick calls for the whole movement to
discover and remember the vital work of A. Sivanandan, who died this week
Red Pepper, January 6,
Sivanandan (Siva) was not en vogue during my life. For activists and
anti-racist campaigners of previous generations of the black struggle, though,
Siva was a giant.
His presence
was announced in so many ways: his polemic pamphlets launched
like grenades into key battles like Grunwick
. When you chart the struggles in Britain, and the
writings, debates and interventions around them, Siva’s influence can be felt.
However, with the changes that came with globalism, Thatcherism and
financialisation, the uncompromising position he held meant he was sometimes
seen as somebody who was stuck in the paradigms of yesteryear – a shocking
misconception that needs rectifying now more than ever.
For Siva to
have an influence in modern struggles, people have to know his name and seek
out his work. Only radical veterans, generally outside of the academe, spoke of
his immeasurable influence. The new generations of anti-racists didn’t seem to
know him, even if they used his aphorisms.

Capitalism’s furnace
Siva made penetrating interventions on the issues
that define our political moment. While he never used a computer, writing all
of his works by hand, he understood what the microchip had done to global class
relations more than the writers who embraced the technological revolution,
which Siva recognised had a greater impact on human relations than the
industrial revolution.
What Silicon Valley and the microchip enabled, Siva
noted with great incision, was the shift of capitalism’s furnace, from the
metropole to the periphery. Modern technology freed capital from labour, not
the other way around. Automation and mechanisation put a proverbial gun to the
head of the worker, empowering multinational corporations to eviscerate working
conditions in a race to the bottom. Resistance from states or social movements
seeking to curtail the power of multinational corporations meant they upped
sticks and moved their plants to other, more pliable nation states or
localities, where new populations were grist to the mill.
Globalism, Siva noted
with force
, was a project; globalisation was the process. With the fall of the
Soviet Union, the world and social movements came to know ‘TINA’ (there is no
alternative). This is what Mark Fisher later called ‘capitalist realism’ – the
sense that resistance is futile and the world must learn to accept and embrace
global capitalism.
For many, there was something to celebrate in this.
The planned economies and political centralisation that communism bred into
resistance movements had made it too cumbersome and flat-footed, but to Siva,
conceding the ground of economic alternatives was a crime that could not be
excused. To find
salvation in identity, dress, fashion and plurality, while billions were
impoverished by a global system was ‘hokum’
. Stuart Hall, a friend and interlocutor of Siva
and the Institute of Race Relations, was dealt caustic blow after caustic blow
for his embracing of the ‘new times’, which Siva cut through as ‘Thatcherism in
drag’. If you got on the wrong side of Siva politically, you would know it. He
did not compromise.
It wasn’t just that political visions must be
maintained, but that the mutations of history must be mapped, and systems of
resistance to be re-imagined. Globalism made the distinction between economic
migrant and refugee fatuous. The crises around the world around borders and
migrations illustrate Siva’s point remarkably. Globalism tore the fabric of
nation states to pieces and worsened living conditions, making emigration a
necessity to those seeking betterment of their lives. Immigration to the West
is therefore bound to what the West is doing abroad. The structural violence of
the World Bank and the physical violence of NATO were two sides of the same
coin that pushed millions to traverse borders. His maxim about the presence of
former colonial subjects in the West can be re-read in the conditions of the
present: ‘we are here
because you were there’
. Mass migrations continue on the basis of power
dynamics based on colonial and imperial logics. Another of his great sayings
comes to mind: ‘colonialism is not over, it is all over’.
Siva was a thinker who cut to the bone on the
issues of migration, automation, globalism, identity politics, class and race.
It is a scandal to me that those who claim to be versed in the schools of
anti-racism are not screaming his name from the rooftops and making social
media reverberate with his legacy. But such are the times. Siva did not write
for the social media warrior. He did not concern himself with the race politics
of representation. ‘The people we write for are the people we fight for,’ that
was his school. He did not seek to put a veneer over a violent present – he
sought to rip down the veil and push people to take action that empowered and
amplified those at the coal face of the struggle. He encouraged people to work
on lived theory – where social theory and academia engaged with the material
conditions of those most persecuted and oppressed.

Water in a desert
The writings of Sivanandan are for me like water in
a desert. His words encourage a criticality and fuel an anger to challenge a
violent present, predicated on an even more violent past. While many writers
fall into bad faith, convincing themselves that positive change can emerge
through compromise, Siva encouraged radical and profound resistance to the
world from the bottom up.
Identity, in and of itself, was a cul de sac.
Racism, in his analysis, was a global class system that could only be overcome
through major structural change. Diversity
within the existing system was not progress to Siva.
White navel
gazing was mercilessly mocked with his engagement with racial awareness
training, which he claimed reified race relations and locked whites into a mode
of self-flagellation, when they should be encouraged to challenge the status
quo and stand in solidarity with those on the picket lines, being deported or
being held at detention centres. Switch a few referents and you have a profound
engagement with the culture of allyship that underwrites white engagement with
anti-racism in the modern day. ‘Who you are is what you do,’ he told whites who
wanted to be part of anti-racist struggle, opening up the possibility of
meaningful political engagement for those seeking a better world.
Many of those who loved and admired Siva have
humorous stories of their first encounter with the man, his uncompromising
engagement that was intimidating, to say the least, both intellectually and
physically. He helped to teach so many lessons, and push the struggle forwards.
History, for Siva, was a dialectic. He did not
confine this to the dialectal materialism of the dogmatic Marxists: he brought the Bhagavad
Gita and TS Eliot
to his dialectical analysis. The discursive turn taken in the late 20th
century that made language the site of struggle frustrated him. Language was
not the battleground, the world was. Structures needed to be changed, not
language. Truths needed to be spoken, not narratives. He eschewed the idea that
the personal was a realm for the political, reversing the dictum by saying the
‘the political is always personal’. Siva taught that political struggle is
based on fighting with those who are the victims of the system and saw no merit
in moving the furniture or window-dressing the butcher’s house.
The odds are stacked against liberation, he knew.
Siva witnessed the ethnic violence of Sri Lanka, almost losing his life, before
walking into the racial tensions of post-war Britain. He developed a humane,
nuanced, powerful and deeply philosophical school of resistance, which
continues through the work of the Institute of
Race Relations
, which he ripped from
the clutches of global corporations and the foreign office
The people influenced by him may not be as numerous
as they should be now, but the tools he provided mean that many people are
still trained to take aim at history. History, Siva told Colin Prescod in an
interview a few years ago, is now moving too fast to catch on the wing,
something any casual watcher of the news knows only too well. The task we have
is to find where we can puncture the moment, where struggle worthy of the word
can be forged and the system can be challenged.
For Siva, and those who follow him, this is as
local as it is global. It is fighting to keep a local library, it is fighting
for public space, it is fighting against deportations, it is standing in
solidarity in Calais, it is fighting the struggle in the wake of the Grenfell
fire, it is standing firm against nativism and border politics when the
colonial past casts such a deep shadow over our present.
To end on one of his most powerful aphorisms, ‘If
those who have do not give, those who haven’t must take.’

The Grunwick
strike – A. Sivanandan

An essay written during the middle of the Grunwicks strike in
Willesden, north-west London. A predominatly east African Asian female
workforce went on strike against poor conditions and for union recognition.
There were mass pickets, sometimes
violent, in support of the strikers. They eventually became disillusioned with
the half-hearted and obstructive role of the unions and, towards the end of the
defeated strike, conducted a hunger strike/picket outside the TUC headquarters.
A Sivanandan, Siva to everyone who knew him, is a
huge loss to the British, and indeed the international socialist, anti-racist
and anti-imperialist left, but has left us a tremendous legacy in his great
range of writings, the journal Race and Class, and the Institute of Race Relations. This last
was once a government, and establishment body, but Siva and his allies famously
staged a ‘palace coup’ (as he sometimes referred to it, although it was an
exemplarily democratic process), and revolutionised it into the radical
institution it has been since the early 1970s.
In the mid-eighties, during the demonization of
radicals in general as the ‘Looney Left’, there were enough caricatures of
anti-racism in particular flowing about that, as a teenager, new to London and
the UK, I heard of Siva himself as some sort of self-important and threatening
eminence. Not long afterwards, I was lucky enough to meet the man. The contrast
between the generous, witty, and wise human reality and the slander could not
have been greater. This was, if it were ever needed, a lesson in how figures on
the left, and particularly an unapologetic black voicedenouncing racial
injustice, are routinely denigrated in order to dismiss the importance of the
The summary story Siva himself told of his life
began as a boy in a Tamil village in Sri Lanka, then as a man coming to London
in the midst of the ‘race riots’ of 1958 (racist riots, that is to say). His
concerns were always to link the experiences of Empire and neo-imperialism to
the nature of politics in the first world. The many peoples exploited and
oppressed historically and in the present by imperial nations like Britain
meant that for Siva ‘Black’ was a ‘political colour’ which ought to produce solidarities
against the racist structures of capitalism.
Siva’s legacy is a rich one, which his many
writings will continue to make accessible to a wide audience (see for example
the essay collections, A Different Hunger, 1982, Communities of
, 1990, and Catching History on the Wing, 2008). Siva’s
writing encompassed a huge range of subjects, from economic analysis to the
consideration of cultural figures, but of course the threads of race and
imperialism tie them all together. His was an activist’s perspective, demanding
that, as he said, we should think in order to do, not think in order to think.
Yet his writing was hardly utilitarian in nature. Siva’s poetic inclination was
evident in all his polemical and analytical writing, so it was no surprise when
the novel on which he worked for many years, When Memory Dies, was
published, it proved to be a triumph of sensibility and craft, a deeply
realised historical portrait of racism and violence, but also of solidarities
and hope, in Sri Lanka.
Siva was most widely known for his writings on
racism and black history in Britain, and his and the IRR’s analysis of
‘institutional racism’ reached its widest recognition with the inclusion of a
version, at least, of the concept in the Macpherson Report of 1999. Like so
many examples of left-analysis, it might well be thought that this was more
honoured in the breach than the observance, but it was an important moment in
the recognition of the nature of racism in Britain. The point is not so much
the existence of personal prejudice, but the social and state structures which
create a racially unequal society.
He was thus a critic of ‘racism awareness training’
of the 1980s as it personalised the problem, and reduced a question of
structural inequality requiring real changes to the economic structure of
society, and to the nature of the state in Britain, to a question of individual
psychology. It removed responsibility for racism from the state and society to
the individual level. Thus he once explained that he did notwant white British
people to feel guilt, but rather to experience shame
for the racism of the British state and its history. Guilt, he elaborated, was
something that was internalised and lead to paralysis at best. Shame, in
contrast, was an outward looking emotion that could motivate someone to demand
change and social justice in the outside world, and would not waste energy in
internalised agonies. He explained all this in far more graceful and
captivating terms than I am able to reproduce here, but I hope the wisdom of it
is apparent.
Siva’s analysis of race was crucially bound up with
class and imperialist structures, and resisted being reduced to the
personalised or individualised. I recall him observing that the phrase of the
1960s, the ‘personal is political’ should be understood in the sense that the
‘political is personal’. When politicians make inflammatory comments about
immigrants or about race, then the political becomes very personal to the
victims of the racist violence which inevitably follows.
In the early 1990s he became an outspoken critic of
the postmodernist turn of radical politics, in a trenchant and brilliant piece
on the so-called ‘New Times’ analysis (‘All that melts into air is solid: the
hokum of New Times’, Race and Class, vol. 31, 1990, pp.1-30). This
tendency that emerged from the decaying Communist Party was a precursor of the
Blairites, and indeed in many real senses prepared the ground for them amongst
part of the left. Siva’s critique was therefore timely and incisive. Siva always
recognised the subjective side of political struggle, once writing that there
‘is no set-back in history except that we make it so’ (A Different Hunger,
p.68). However, here he clarified its limits, and demonstrated the continuing
importance of the key elements of Marxist analysis to an analysis of capitalism
and racism in the so-called new times of the 1990s.
Siva’s argument was clearly borne out as the years
passed. Siva’s vision of solidarity against the structures of racism and
capitalism, both among the masses within the imperial ‘core’ and within all the
countries on the sharp end of imperialist violence and exploitation, has lost
none of its urgency across the years. Siva’s understanding of race, class and
imperialism, and of humanity in general, will continue to inspire resistance to
injustice and hope for socialism.
Two interviews with Siva from November 2013 can be
found at the IRR website:
Dominic Alexander is a member of Counterfire, for which he is the
book review editor. He has been a Stop the War and anti-austerity activist in
north London for some time. He is a published historian whose work includes the
book Saints and Animals in the Middle Ages, a social history
of medieval wonder tales
From ‘A Different Hunger‘,
A. Sivanandan, Pluto Press, 1982.
Sivanandan – Race & Class, Vol. 19, no. 1, summer 1977.)
Two recent events have further elucidated the strategies of the
state vis-a-vis the black community and, more especially, the black section of
the working class, first analysed in ‘Race, class and the state’ over a year
ago. One is the House of Commons Select Committee Report on the West Indian
Community and the other is the 10-month-old strike of Asian workers at the
Grunwick Film Processing plant in Willesden in North London. Of these, the
Grunwick issue is the more complex and confusing and, if only for those
reasons, the more challenging of analysis – however risky the exercise of
writing history even as it is being made.
Grunwick processes photographic films and relies a great deal on the
mail-order business. It is estimated that around 90 per cent of those on the
processing side are Asians, many of them women and most of them from East
Africa. The strikers first walked out when a worker was sacked after being
forced to do a job he could not possibly do in the time alloted for it. This
was typical of the punitive, racist and degrading way in which the management
treated the workforce. The strikers, on the advice of the local trades council,
joined APEX (the Association of Professional Executive Clerical and Computer
Staff). The employers, however, refused to recognise the union and the strike
has now centred on the question of union recognition by management – since
union recognition is a prerequisite to raising the wages from the exceptionally
low figure of £25 for a 35-hour week.
The strike has received widespread union support, which is in
certain respects unique in the history of British trade unionism. Not only has
full strike pay from APEX been forthcoming from the very beginning, but also
other national unions, e.g. Transport and General Workers Union, the Union of
Post Office Workers (UPW), the Trades Union Congress (TUC), and through their
encouragement hundreds of local union branches, shop stewards committees,
trades councils and others, have given financial and other support. Not only
did Len Murray, General Secretary of the TUC, intervene personally in the
dispute, but cabinet ministers have themselves been to the picket lines to give
their support. After a certain amount of pressure, the UPW took the almost
unprecendented step of introducing a postal ban. Although this lasted only four
days in the event, it hit management hard since it relies on the mail-order
side for 60 per cent of its business.
At first it looked as though Grunwick was to be the rallying point
for the labour movement to prove its commitment to black workers. But what is
more apparent now is that the unions have been carefully determining the
direction that the strike should take and the type of actions open to the
strikers. It is worth recalling here the comments of George Bromley, a union
negotiator for 30 years with London Transport, who in 1974, during the Imperial
Typewriters strike of Asian workers, said, ‘The workers have not followed the
proper dispute procedures. They have no legitimate grievances and it’s
difficult to know what they want… Some people must learn how things are
The ‘proper procedures’ have in this case certainly been taught –
and followed to the bureaucratic letter. When the right-wing National Association
For Freedom threatened legal action against the postal boycott[1], the UPW
capitulated, arguing to the strikers that they had persuaded management to go
to arbitration to the Advisory Conciliation and Arbitration Service (ACAS). But
when ACAS called for a ballot of the workforce, management sought to limit it
to those still at work and not the strikers – so discrediting the ACAS
procedure and the Employment Protection Act within which it operates. Similar
bureaucratic procedures, such as appeals to the Industrial Tribunal and
recourse to government investigation, have proved equally futile – and, worse,
delayed the possibility of effective solidarity action. It was six months
before ACAS’s report (in favour of the strikers) finally came out. Nor has the
UPW reintroduced its ban, despite its promise to do so once the report was out.
On the other hand, the unions have induced the strikers to stay out
by almost doubling their strike pay. But while the unions are keen to keep the
strike going at all costs, the strikers themselves have begun to question the
conduct and purpose of’ the unions’ support. According to Mrs Desai, treasurer
of the strike committee, `If the TUC wanted, this strike could be won
tomorrow.’ The workers are belatedly resorting to tactics they urged in the
first place, such as picketing local chemists shops (from which Grunwick’s
trade also comes) and organising 24-hour pickets.
Asian workers have over the last two decades proved to be one of the
most militant sections of the working class. In strike after strike – Woolf’s,
Perivale Gutermann, Mansfield Hosiery, Imperial Typewriters, Harwood Cash and
others – they have not only taken on the employers and sometimes won (limited)
victories, but have also battled against racist trade unions which have either
dragged their feet or quite often denied them the support they would have
afforded white workers. The Imperial Typewriters case was the most blatant. In
May 1974 Asians at Imperial Typewriters (a subsidairy of Litton Industries)
went on strike over differentials between white and Asian workers. The unions
refused their support and the strikers, supported by other black workers, had
to fight both union and management (bolstered by the extreme right-wing party,
the National Front).
Over the Grunwick dispute, however, the unions have been unusually
supportive of the Asian workforce. Some commentators on the left have traced
the union change of direction to a sudden change of heart: it had come upon
them (the unions) that racism was a bad thing and should be outlawed from
within their ranks. But why this ‘change of heart’?
In the first instance, of course, the basis of the Grunwick dispute
is the unionisation of the workforce and it is therefore in the interests of
the unions (and indeed their business) to recruit workers into their
organisations. This is the most obvious reason for union support of the strike.
But the inordinate anxiety to unionise the workers must be seen in the larger
context of government-trade union collaboration in the Social Contract.
In effect what the government says to the workers in the Social
Contract is: ‘we are in a time of great economic crisis, with increasing
inflation and galloping unemployment. The only way we are going to solve the
problem is by keeping wages down. But we can do this only with your agreement
to put up with hardships. So if you agree not to use your power of collective
action (the only power you really have to improve your conditions) we will in
turn see that you are protected from the employers taking advantage of your
restraint. We will, in return for your abandoning the right to collective
bargaining, give you statutory safeguards to keep the employers at bay.’ Hence
the Employment Protection Act 1975, the Trade Union and Labour Relations Acts
of 1974 and 1976, the Sex Discrimination Act 1975, the Health and Safety at
Work Act 1974 and the Equal Pay Act 1970 (enforced in 1975). And, more
recently, Michael Foot, Leader of the House of Commons, has inveighed against
the judiciary for its apparent anti-union bias. ‘If the freedom of the people
of this country – and especially the rights of trade unionists – had been left
to the good sense and fairmindedness of judges, we would have precious few
freedoms in this country.’
The Grunwick dispute, if the other Asians strikes are anything to go
by, threatens to blow a hole, however small, in the Social Contract, and in the
circumstances (of the rank and file of’ the working class clearly jibbing at a
further extension of the Social Contract), one swallow could easily make a
summer! To bring the dispute within the Social Contract framework it is
necessary to unionise the Asian strikers. But to unionise a black workforce, it
is first necessary to take a stand against racial discrimination. It is
necessary to speak to the workers’ first and overwhelming ‘disability’. ‘The
strike,’ said Mrs Desai, ‘is not so much about pay, it is a strike about human
dignity.’ Hence, if the unions are to win the confidence of the strikers, and
of black workers in general, they have to take an unequivocal stand against the
employer’s racist practices. Besides, it is the very fact of colour that has,
as so many times before, lent a political dimension to the struggle of the
Grunwick strikers – and the unions, as so many times before, are anxious to
keep that dimension out, particularly in view of the Social Contract.
Additionally, in the overall strategy of the state, the management of racism in
employment has, since the strikes of 1972-74, been handed over to the trades
unions (and not to the Community Relations Commission).
Now that the state has decided that the social and political cost of
racism has begun – in the objective circumstances – to outweigh its economic
profitability (see ‘Race, Class and the State’), the unions are equally anxious
to contribute to that effort.
In fact as far back as the TUC Conference in September 1976, APEX
General Secretary, Roy Grantham, spoke about the Grunwick dispute in the
context of the Government White Paper on Racial Discrimination, which heralded
the Race Relations Act. The Act itself, passed in November 1976, is very
concerned with employment and in fact extends the application of the new
employment laws’ complaints procedures to the area of racial discrimination.
This Act, unlike previous race relations acts, has full union backing.
This support for the new legislation has been accompanied by
increased interest and concern about race relations within the trade union
bureaucracies since the 1972-4 period of disputes. After the Mansfield Hosiery
strike there followed a whole spate of strikes throughout the East Midlands
involving Asian workers in dispute not only with management, but usually with
the union and fellow white workers too. Strike committees of different
factories supported each other, workers were learning from the examples set in
neighbouring cities, local black communities supported the strikers, there was
serious debate about the need to set up black trades unions. It is since then
that we find proposals for special training on shop steward courses, the
establishment of race relations departments in national unions and the TUC and
the production of a TUC model equal opportunity clause for contracts. And, more
recently, a government race relations employment advisory group has been set up
on which the TUC and ACAS, as well as the Confederation of British Industry and
the Commission for Racial Equality, will be represented.
But the management of racism in employment is not the only thing
that has been left to the unions’ care. They have also been entrusted with the
task of selling the Employment Protection Act to the workforce as a whole. The
Grunwick dispute encompasses both these functions.
What we have, therefore, is not a`change of heart’ but a change of
tactics – to ordain, legitimise and continue the joint strategies of the state
and union leaders against the working class – through the Social Contract.
[1.] Under the 1953 Post Office Act, which prohibits ‘interference
with the mail’.

Globalism and the

Written by A. Sivanandan

If imperialism is the latest stage of capitalism, globalism is the
latest stage of imperialism – and, yet, nowhere in the whole literature of the
Left[1] is there any evidence of a systematic attempt to understand, let alone
combat, the havoc being wreaked on Third World countries by capital in its
latest avatar.
Instead, the Left has either
sought refuge from the storms of change in the Orthodox Marxist Church,
intoning capitalism is capitalism is capitalism and rubbishing the
disbelievers, or, while accepting the epochal shift in capitalism, continued to
resort to the particular (Marxist) analysis of a particular (industrial) period
to envisage capitalism’s early demise, hopefully at its own hands.
The first lot and the more important[2] maintain that the
universalisation of capitalism is no new thing – that it was always global (in
intent, presumably, if not in deed), only now it is more so. And the opposition
to capitalism is still in place. The nation state has not been overrun by
global capital, there’s still room for manoeuvre there; the polity still allows
of enough democracy for us to take advantage of it in our fight against capital;
the working class (in the developed capitalist countries) is still the agent of
change and working-class organisation the vehicle of change. To depart from any
of these eternal verities and assert that there is an epochal change in
capitalism – at least as significant as the transition from mercantile
capitalism to industrial capitalism – which requires us to rethink our
strategies and realign our forces, is to succumb to the disease of ‘the
post-modern Left’ and all those others who declare, with Thatcher, that there
is no alternative (TINA) to capitalism. Merely to utter the word globalisation,
which, according to this ‘school’, is a right-wing shibboleth deriving from
neo-liberal ideology, is to sing hosannas to capitalism while laying premature
wreaths on a living, breathing socialism.
Hence, its followers reject the term globalisation and those of us
who use it to describe the unprecedented universalisation of capitalism –
except that universalisation does not quite describe it, being more of a
thinking word, abstract, conceptual, whereas globalisation is a doing word, a
happening word, concrete. Globalisation is a process, not a concept, globalism
is the project. And the project is imperialism. To dismiss globalisation as a
right-wing thesis, to traduce it as ‘globaloney’ and saddle it with
post-modernism and/or identity politics is not to dismiss capitalist
triumphalism, but to evade it – to retreat, in fact, to the safety of the old
barricades and throw stones at capitalism like some intellectual intifada.
Worse, it is to imply that there is no alternative (TINA) to ‘metropolitan’
working-class struggle and ‘metropolitan’ working-class organisation – and that
the exploited and immiserated workers and peasants of the Third World are no
match for a marauding, globalising capitalism.
How did this lot get into this predicament? Mostly, because of a
top-down analysis, from capitalism and its inherent weaknesses to renewed
opportunities and possibilities for working-class struggle, not from observing
the lack of struggle, movement, organisation all around us and asking why. Why
is capital so strong? Why is the working class so weak? What has brought about
the not inconsiderable changes in their relationship? What are their
consequences? Whom does this resurgent capitalism hit hardest? Where are
exploitation and ecological devastation at their most unbearable? Are the new
forces of resistance, if not of revolution, to be found here? Whom has capital
got on its side, and what are the sites of struggle? These are random
questions, but the point of them is to find out where we are at in relation to
capital, not where capital is at in relation to itself, and to take us away
  • maintaining that the industrial working class is
    still the chief agent of resistance to capitalism – without examining its
    present weaknesses and strengths;
  • raising every little strike in Europe and the US to
    the level of insurrection and thereby transferring the burden of protest
    to the working class alone;
  • ignoring the plight and fight of Third World
    workers who, under globalisation, bear the brunt of exploitation;
  • ignoring the ‘new’ imperialism of globalism;
  • ignoring the erosion of civil society and local
    democracy by nation states in cahoots with transnational corporations
  • overlooking the possibility of new political and
    cultural forces opening out to an understanding of capital and a
    consciousness of class.
The second lot believe that, given that capital needs less and
less (living) labour and, without such labour, there is no surplus value,
capitalism will die of its own contradictions. According to Ramtin, for
instance, ‘the heightening of the inherent contradictions’ between a ‘social
system of productive relations based on value and accumulation (that is, based
on the exploitation of wage labour)’ and an ‘automation/information technology’
which spells ‘the displacement of living labour’ drives the system towards ‘its
own negation – that is, the breakdown of capitalism’.[3] More succinctly: ‘at a
certain stage the quantitative displacement of living labour generates a
qualitative break in the organisation and structure of capital production’.[4]
What both these ‘schools’ have in common, though, is an unthinking
adherence to theories and concepts that belonged principally to the industrial
period of capitalism that Marx was writing in and about. And, although some of
those findings still hold good today, Marx himself would require us to
re-examine them in the light of the massive changes that have taken place at
the level of the productive forces since his time, and throw away what is not
applicable – creating in the process a Marxism relevant to our times. In the
final analysis, the Marxist method of analysis always remains.
Marxism is a way of understanding, of interpreting the world, in
order to change it. It is the only mode of (social) investigation in which the
solution is immanent in the analysis. No other mode holds out that possibility.
That is what is unique about Marxism. But, for such analysis to be current and
up-to-date and yielding of solutions to contemporary problems, it must be
prepared to abandon comforting orthodoxies and time-bound dogma. It must dare
to catch history on the wing, as Marx did. For Marxism, as Braverman points
out, ‘is not merely an exercise in satisfying intellectual curiosity, nor an
academic pursuit, but a theory of revolution and thus a tool of combat’.[5] It
is to that task that we have to address ourselves afresh, under changed circumstances,
testing Marx himself on the touchstone of his method, based as it is on an
examination of the forces of production at any given time, the social relations
of production emanating from them and the dialectical relationship between the
Quite clearly, the technological revolution of the past three
decades has resulted in a qualitative leap in the productive forces to the
point where capital is no longer dependent on labour in the same way as before,
to the same extent as before, in the same quantities as before and in the same
place as before. Its assembly lines are global, its plant is movable, its
workforce is flexible. It can produce ad hoc, just-in-time, and custom-build
mass production, without stockpiling or wastage, laying off labour as and when
it pleases. And, instead of importing cheap labour, it can move to the labour
pools of the Third World, where labour is captive and plentiful – and move from
one labour pool to another, extracting maximum surplus value from each,
abandoning each when done.
All of which means, if it still bears repeating,[7] that the
relations of production between capital and labour have changed so
fundamentally that labour (in the developed capitalist world) has lost a great
deal of its economic clout and, with it, its political clout. And that, in
turn, gives a further fillip to technological innovation, and imbues capital
with an arrogance of power that it has seldom enjoyed since the era of
primitive accumulation. Which is more the reason why it is necessary to at least
entertain the notion, anathema to western-centric Marxists, that as ‘the centre
of gravity of exploitation of labour by capital…has been displaced from the
centre of the system to its periphery’,[8] so too the class struggle might have
moved from the developed capitalist countries to the underdeveloped Third World
– and there, where capital is at its rawest and most extravagant, the struggle
may not be just class but mass.
It is immaterial in such a context whether ‘foreign direct
investment is overwhelmingly concentrated in advanced capitalist countries,
with capital moving from one such country to another’.[9] (Why shouldn’t it be
– since the return is greater in the skilled, high-technology end of
production, and surplus value is greater at the unskilled labour intensive end
of production.) The point is that, irrespective of the size of investment, the
surplus value that capital makes on the backs of Third World workers (women and
children and all) is well-nigh absolute,[10] and casts them into the lower
depths of drug-pushing, prostitution and child slavery.
Besides, the ‘conditionalities’ attached to such investment – the
abrogation of trade union rights, strong (meaning authoritarian) government,
tax concessions, profit repatriation and other financial inducements – spell
the further weakening of working-class organisation, the erosion of civil
rights and the spread of privatisation.[11] Not satisfied, however, with the
existing return on its investment, multinational capital, under the aegis of the
Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD),[12] is now
rail-roading Third World governments into a Multilateral Agreement on
Investment (MAI), which takes away their right to put any sort of restrictions
on foreign investment, however damaging to the national interest.
It is immaterial, too, that, as at the early 1990s, ‘over 80 per
cent of world trade was conducted between the “western” members of the
OECD’.[13] The point is that such trade ‘continues the pattern of unequal
exchange as a mechanism for the reproduction of global inequalities’.[14] Nor
does it matter whether these corporations are called multinational or
transnational, another ‘Left’ quibble. The point is that businesses are in the
business of government and governments are in the business of businesses and,
together, they are killing off whole populations. And, in any case,
multinational corporations mutate into transnational corporations as the cancer
of globalism spreads.[15] What we should be doing is not arguing the toss, but
setting our minds and bending our will to combating them.
To do that, however, we should not be afraid to acknowledge (despite
accusations of economic determinism and threats of excommunication) that the
technological revolution has given virtual primacy to information as the chief
economic resource, freeing capital from the exigencies of labour and allowing
it to roam all over the globe (in terms of production, trade, investment,
currency speculation) on the back of free-market economics and neo-liberal
ideology, with the state as its instrument and democracy its price. Nor should
we underestimate the forces arrayed on the side of corporate capital – the
state, the market, the polity, neo-liberal ideology – and the degree to which
they act in concert. Which is not to say that the whole edifice is not fraught
with contradictions, but to say that they have to be discovered anew in their
current loci and strengths and fought accordingly, with different tactics and
strategies and forces.
The state (in the developed countries) is still the seat of national
capital but it is now the agent of international capital as well. Both capitals
need the intervention of the state to avail themselves of unfettered
markets.[16] Within its own national boundaries, the state provides for such an
outcome chiefly through the removal of rules and regulations that in any way
hinder the free play of market forces, and the privatisation not only of public
utilities but of a large part of the infrastructure as well. And this, irrespective
of which party is in power – for only the style changes with the government. In
Britain, the Tories do it the confrontational, up-front, openly
anti-working-class way, as behoves the natural party of capital. Whereas Labour
or, rather, New Labour does it through the politics of consensus, persuading a
weakened working class that it is in its own best interests to put whatever
power it has left into the safe-keeping of the natural party of labour. For
such a politics to be viable, however, it must not only appear to occupy the
middle ground between capital and labour, but also win over an aspiring middle
Britain to its policies and programmes. The point is to look liberal, while
calling yourself labour and working for capital – and that way you belong to
all of them, to all the people, to Britannia. That’s the New Labour way, the
Clinton way, the Third Way.[17]
What the Tories called privatisation, New Labour calls partnership.
Where the Tories had a whole lexicon of market-speak to enumerate their project:
purchasers and providers, consumers and customers, New Labour has one:
partners. Thus, bringing in Shell, Tate and Lyle, McDonalds to co-fund
education; PFIs (private finance initiatives) to build roads, hospitals and
schools; Railtrack, Virgin and Stagecoach to run public transport; Securicor,
Group 4 and American-UK consortiums to run prisons, and a host of other such
New Labour schemes involving the public sector, no longer comes under the
rubric of privatisation but partnership.
And it is that sense of partnership, presumably, that elsewhere gets
translated into the appointment of uncritical New Labour supporters to critical
government positions. So that where the Tories had set up quangos to put their
stooges in, New Labour simply has place-men and women, in a more direct sort of
privatisation of government.
The politics of consensus also calls for presentation, imaging – of
policies, programmes, personnel. It requires that the government sells itself
to the people. That, in turn, needs the support of the mass media and an
ability to manipulate news so as to present the government in an unfailingly
favourable light. Hence New Labour’s cultivation of image-makers like media
baron Rupert Murdoch, and the nurturing of myth-makers, spin-doctors, in an
aptly named Strategic Communications Unit. Murdoch, in return, makes certain
that the government remains friendly to capital and true to its neo-liberal
It is all of a piece – deregulation, privatisation, the move from
social welfare to social control, the erosion of civil society and the
propagation of neo-liberal ideology, not least through the relations of the
market itself – and they all require the intervention of the state to one
degree or another. (The result is the polarisation of society into the haves
and the have-nots, with the poorest third replicating the Third World in the
It is that same pattern that is being reproduced throughout the
world by the imperatives of global capitalism, mostly with the help of western
nation states, but gradually transcending them. But where such capitalist
penetration is at its crudest and most devastating is in those countries of the
Third World which are still trying to get out of the morass of debt and
dependency inflicted on them by neo-colonialism. There, not even the
governments are their own any more, nor the national bourgeoisies which, in the
era of import substitution and nationalisation, were still warding off the
intrusion of foreign capital. Now, under the impact of globalisation, the national
bourgeoisie has become an organic part of the international bourgeoisie and the
government is either ordained and/or kept in situ by western powers to further
the interests of transnational capital. And to make those interests concrete,
they have set up a whole host of supranational and transnational institutions,
organisations and programmes.
Some of these like the World Bank (WB) and the International
Monetary Fund (IMF) and the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT) were
already there, ostensibly to help developing countries with aid and trade and
balance of payments problems, but have since shaped themselves to follow the
dictates of capitalist expansion and become the purveyors of globalism. Thus
the WB and IMF changed tack in the 1980s, in the middle of a Third World debt
crisis, to insist that debtor countries institute Structural Adjustment
Programmes (SAPs) which would redirect government finances from public spending
to debt-servicing – thereby dismantling the public sector and bringing in
deregulation, liberalisation and privatisation. ‘State industries were sold
off; public services were “contracted out”; development projects “franchised”
to private companies; social spending slashed; user charges for basic services
introduced or increased; markets “deregulated”‘,[18] so paving the way for
transnational capital while structuring poverty into the very fabric of Third
World societies.
Nor is there an out through trade. For, although GATT was supposed
to liberalise trade through the removal of quotas and tariffs among its
hundred-odd members, in the event the ‘liberalisation’ was all in one
direction: South to North. A number of ‘side agreements’, for instance, ensured
that the richer countries retained the right to exclude textiles and agricultural
products from the GATT remit, the two areas that affected Third World countries
most. Thus a series of Multi-Fibre Agreements allowed the developed countries
to impose quotas on the Third World for hundreds of categories of textiles and
clothing, extending the range of countries and categories with each such
agreement – so removing what ‘for many Third World countries is the first step
in the ladder to industrial development, just as it was for Britain’.[19] And
in the matter of agricultural products, prohibitive tariffs imposed on
processed goods made sure that (Third World) produce such as oil, fruit,
coffee, tea, cotton, etc. went out in its raw state, to be processed by the
food corporations in the North and sold back to the South!
These trends in liberalisation, which privileged the North at the
expense of the South, were enshrined and carried further in the Uruguay Round
of GATT in 1994. Thus, all Third World countries except ‘the least developed’
(or the most hungry? and therefore ‘unworkable’) were forbidden to impose
import duties on foodstuffs, thereby opening up lucrative new markets for
subsidised US and European wheat and killing off locally produced food such as
rice, grain, cassava, etc. (along with the local farmer).
Similarly, northern agribusiness and pharmaceutical companies were
allowed to patent products and processes based on genetic material derived from
Third World crops and wild plants and sell them back to the Third World, while
Third World countries were forbidden to develop their own local equivalent of
western products on the grounds of technological ‘piracy’. For instance, drugs
like Zantac, widely used in India for the treatment of ulcers, and produced
locally for local use, are now subject to royalties imposed by the corporations
holding the patent. It was no accident, then, that the ‘agreement’ on
Trade-related Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPs) should have been instigated
by the US-based Intellectual Property Coalition (IBM, DuPont, General Motors et
al) and European agro-chemical giants (such as Unilever, Hoechst and
Ciba-Geigy) – and should include in its remit trademark goods (designer and
brand products), copyright goods (artistic material including software) and
patent goods (industrial processes and their products).
To make sure that member nations played by GATT Rules 1994 on pain
of punitive trade sanctions, a supranational enforcement agency, the World
Trade Organisation (WTO), was created. But specific exemptions from the
measures imposed by the WTO on all other members were afforded the free trade
areas around the dominant capitalist countries: the European Union (EU), the
North America Free Trade Area (NAFTA) and the Asia-Pacific Economic
Co-operation forum (APEC). GATT, in effect, had, in Alan Freeman’s words, ‘been
transformed from an ineffectual chamber of commerce into a powerful device for
restructuring the world market and the commercial and financial interests of
the leading powers'[20] and, one might add, their principals, the transnational
corporations. Continues Freeman, ‘the control of trade [the WTO] has emerged
from the entrails of the world market to claim its place, alongside financial
blackmail [the IMF] and debt-slavery [the WB] as a primary instrument of
advanced country domination’.[21]
Soon there is to be an OECD-inspired Multilateral Agreement on
Investment (MAI), ostensibly to level the playing field between domestic and
foreign investors by preventing national governments from discriminating
against foreign companies. But since it is the poorer countries of the South
that need foreign investment most – and they are being told that they will not
get investment if they do not sign the MAI – it is they who will be the most
vulnerable to the demands of transnational capital. And these would include the
waiving of rules that restrict investment in, for example, land, agriculture,
natural resources, cultural industries, highly polluting industries and toxic
waste dumps. Governments and local authorities would not even be allowed to
screen the investment to see whether it would be damaging to the country’s
environment or its people.[22] If, on the other hand, a government or local
authority breaks its agreement, it can be sued in an international tribunal of
trade experts, working behind closed doors, beyond public scrutiny.[23] In
effect, TNCs will have new and astonishing powers over elected authorities.
Talks on the MAI, which have been going on in secret for over three
years, have stalled for the moment,[24] but, with aid from the richer countries
dropping off and the ‘conditionalities’ imposed by the IMF and WB becoming more
burdensome, the poorer nations have little choice but to give in to the MAI and
governance by TNCs.
But, then, Third World nation states, born of disorganic colonial
capitalism,[25] have never been able to call their nations their own, except
for brief periods following independence and/or bouts of revolutionary
activity.[26] For a time, though, they had a choice between state capitalism
and market capitalism. Strangely, it was those countries which chose a
combination of the two (to add to their own ‘family capitalism’), that
succeeded in becoming prosperous ‘tiger economies’, though that prosperity
never ‘trickled down’ to the masses. But even the ‘tigers’, while standing up
to the old style neo-colonialism of the western powers, are unable to withstand
the encroachments of transnational capital. If they are to continue with a
capitalist system, they, like the rest of the Third World, have no option but
to become active collaborators in globalism and the undisguised enemies of
their people.
Now the nation cannot call the state its own. Whatever the form of
government in the Third World – dictatorship, electoral democracy or some sort
of parliamentary authoritarianism – the state is in hock to TNCs and their
agencies. There is not one area of a country’s state or civic structure that
has not been altered to provide for the free play of global capital. The
western powers had already paved the way by setting up and/or maintaining Third
World regimes which would open up land and labour to foreign capital in
deregulated Free Trade Zones (FTZs), the colony within the neo-colony. The IMF
and WB followed suit with development programmes that extended deregulation
beyond the FTZs to the whole of the labour market and carried privatisation
into the very heart of the public sector, so that TNCs or their local satraps
not only came to control the public utilities but to determine the social and
welfare infrastructure as well. GATT, NAFTA, CARICOM, APEC and a whole array of
unequal treaties, ending up in the writing in of that inequality into the rules
of the WTO, put the final touches by handing over what was left of a country’s
natural resources, markets and trade to the TNCs.
Today, there is not even the seedling vestige of an independent
economic life. Agriculture has ceded to agribusiness, food production to the
production of cash crops, staple foods like rice to cheap foreign imports like
wheat (with biotech firms like Rice Tec Inc. threatening to replace even that
with their brand of genetically engineered Basmati rice: Texmati). Education,
the staple diet of Third World countries’ economic and social mobility, has
been priced out of the reach of the poor to produce an elite which owes allegiance
not to its own people but to ‘opportunities in the West’. The farmers have no
land, the workers have no work, the young have no future, the people have no
food. The state belongs to the rich, the rich belong to international capital,
the intelligentsia aspire to both. Only religion offers hope; only rebellion,
release. Hence the insurrection when it comes is not class but mass, sometimes
religious, sometimes secular, often both, but always against the state and its
imperial masters.
But there is no socialist ideology to give it direction, no organic
intellectuals to plan its strategies. Hence the rebellions in Zaire, Indonesia,
Nigeria end up by bringing back another version of the same old regimes – the
second time as farce. And religion, which began as ‘the sigh of the oppressed’,
now takes on the force of fundamentalist ideology.
Globalisation, in sum, throws up its own contradictions or, rather,
it arranges old contradictions differently,[27] and moves the site of struggle
against capital from the economic to the political – from the fight against
capital and, therefore, the state, to the fight against the state and,
therefore, capital, or, rather, the state-in-capital. So that even the economic
struggles of the working class have now to be fought on the political terrain:
the fight for the right to fight for wages antedates the fight for wages. For
the free market destroys workers’ rights, suppresses civil liberties and
neuters democracy till all that is left is the vote. It dismantles the public sector,
privatises the infrastructure and determines social need. It free-floats the
currency and turns money itself into a commodity subject to speculation, so
influencing fiscal policy. It controls inflation at the cost of employment. It
creates immense prosperity at the cost of untold poverty. It violates the
earth, contaminates the air and turns even water to profit. And it throws up a
political culture based on greed and self-aggrandisement and sycophancy,
reducing personal relationships to a cash nexus (conducted in the language of
the bazaar) even as it elevates consumerism to the height of Cartesian
philosophy: ‘I shop, therefore I am’. A free market presages an unfree people.
For its part, the state, by refusing to interfere with market forces
(as in the developed countries) or being unable to do so (as in the developing
countries) gives up all pretence of ameliorating the excesses of capital and
becomes its accomplice instead. The state now represents capital and nothing
else. But as capital goes transnational and the market global, the relationship
of the state to capital becomes more varied: sometimes partner (of national
capital) sometimes agent (of multinational corporations), but increasingly a
tool (of transnational corporations) – not transparently so, but through the
international agencies such as the EU, APEC, G7, NAFTA, CARICOM, GATT, WTO,
etc. which it helps to set up, in some small surrender of sovereignty, to set
capital free.
All of which requires governments that do not change basic free
market policy, whatever their hue. And government not so much by consent[28] as
by consensus (if not coercion). Consent is given, consensus manufactured.
Consent engages the whole electorate, consensus involves only a majority.
Consent politicises, consensus dumbs-down. And coercion is reserved for that
third of society that Information Capitalism and the market have consigned to
the underclass as surplus to needs.[29] Governments owe their position and
their power not to the voters but to media moguls, business conglomerates,
owners of the means of communication who massage the votes and manipulate the
voters.[30] Those who own the media own the votes that ‘own’ the government.
The polity is a reflection of the market.
Hence, there is a whole plethora of struggles going on both in the
North and the South which are not necessarily working-class struggles against
capital as such, but resistances to the political project of the global market
– call it neo-liberalism if you like – as it impacts on people’s lives and
livelihoods. In the developed countries, political power is diffused and
mediated, and dissidence centres around specific issues. Resistance, therefore,
takes on the form of protests and demonstrations and direct action politics –
over the opening of a motorway through the green belt, say, or the closing of a
local hospital or the destruction of civic amenities by property speculators or
the growing of genetically-modified crops by food speculators. Although, at the
outset, such resistances tend to be ad hoc, sporadic and disconnected, they
form the basis of the alliances and larger resistances that follow – as, for
instance, over the poll tax when thousands of people from diverse campaigns
found common cause against an unjust tax and marched through London – and had
the tax rescinded, thereby removing a central plank of the Thatcherite project.
And as transnational corporations continue under New Labour, too, to integrate
vertically and horizontally and every which way into a privatised network of power,
direct action campaigns are themselves integrating issues and becoming
international – as, for instance, in the battle against Shell by ecological
groups over the North Sea and the (anti-colonial) Ogoni people in Nigeria.
In the Third World, political power is concentrated in the hands of
a few and is naked, and dissidence solidifies around basic needs. Hence,
resistances in the periphery take the form of spontaneous uprisings and/or mass
rebellions spurred on by indigenous movements sometimes, and sometimes by
peasant and worker struggles.[31] But, as in the North, these struggles too
tend to develop an international dimension, if still only at the level of
pressure groups and conferences and the occasional demonstration – as when at
the 1998 Ministerial Conference of GATT/WTO in Geneva, attended by Clinton,
Blair and Castro among others, an estimated 10000 demonstrators from various
parts of the world took to the streets under the banner of People’s Global
Action to denounce free trade and liberalisation.[32] At the same time,
elsewhere in Geneva, an alternative conference of NGOs from Asia, Africa and
Latin America (but not the North) – entitled People’s Global Action Against
Free Trade and the World Trade Organisation, and convened by such groups as
Movimento Sem Terra in Brazil, the Karnataka State Farmers’ Association of
India, the Movement for the Survival of Ogoni People, Nigeria, the Peasant
Movement of the Philippines, the Central Sandinista de Trabajadores, Nicaragua
and the Indigenous Women’s Network based in North America and the Pacific – put
out a manifesto calling for direct confrontation with TNCs and an end to
As yet, though, these struggles, whether in the First World or the
Third, do not, like those of the industrial working class, take on capitalism
head-on. But then, the working class has direct, first-hand experience of
capital in the workplace, and sees it naked and unadorned. Increasingly,
though, capital comes mediated through the market, and what people react to is
the experience of the market as it impacts, differentially, on their lives. But
because a pervasive market pervades all aspects of life – economic, political,
social, cultural, ecological – it also tends to bring together the issues
thrown up by them. People do not compartmentalise themselves into economic,
social, ecological, etc. beings. And the market, by reducing all human activity
to the binary of buying and selling, writes in, and at once, economic
exploitation, cultural hegemony and political consensus – and throws up a value
system which further enhances it. Everything and everyone has a price, the
individual is more important than society (indeed, ‘there is no such thing as
society’), businessmen know what people really need and are better fitted to
run things like public utilities, schools, housing, etc. (that is why they are
paid more), unemployment is the waste product of an efficient economy, lucre is
no longer even marginally filth but the soul of ‘man’ under capitalism.
Hence, as the struggles against the market in its various guises
grow and come together and fall apart and rise again in different
configurations, the consciousness also grows that capitalism is the moving
force behind it all, and the market only the expression of capital in its
globalist epoch. But to make that consciousness material and direct it against
capital, we need a socialism that speaks to it in terms of globalisation and
the free market experience and not just in terms of the factory and working-class
struggle. We need a socialism that, in proclaiming ‘the subordination of the
economy to society’ (as opposed to the market philosophy which subordinates
society to the economy), throws up a political culture that reverses the values
of the market and establishes instead the worth and dignity of human life. We
need a socialism that puts politics in command.
And we need organic intellectuals who will ‘forge the links between
“theory” and “ideology”, creating a two-way passage between political analysis
and popular experience’.[34] We need an insurgent intelligentsia in the engine
rooms of Information Capitalism. We need to ‘wrest a utopia from

Related links

This article is extracted from the collection ‘The
threat of globalism’, a special edition of Race & Class, October
1998-March 1999.
I owe not a little to my discussions with Neil Lazarus.
[1] I refer, of course, to what remains of the Marxist
Left. There is no other Left worth speaking of.
[2] See Ellen Meiksins Wood, William Tabb et al. in
Monthly Review (Vol. 48, no. 3, 1996; Vol. 48, no. 91997; Vol. 49, no. 21997;
Vol. 49, no. 3, 1997; Vol. 49, no. 8, 1998).
[3] Ramin Ramtin, ‘A Note on Automation and Alienation’
in Cutting Edge: Technology, Information, Capitalism and Social Revolution,
edited by Jim Davis et al. (London, Verso, 1997).
[4] Ramin Ramtin, Capitalism and Automation (London,
Pluto, 1991).
[5] Harry Braverman, ‘Two Comments’, in Technology, the
Labor Process and the Working Class (Monthly Review Special, Vol. 28, no. 3,
[6] I have been accused of technological determinism by
Ellen Meiksins Wood (Monthly Review, Vol. 48, no. 9, 1997) for saying that if
‘the handmill gives you society with the feudal lord and the steam-mill gives
you society with the industrial capitalist’, the microchip gives you society
with the global capitalist. But I was no more technologically determinist than
Marx and, if his was an aphorism, as Braverman says, I was only bringing it up
to date – and aphorisms boast no determinacy.
[7] See A. Sivanandan, ‘Imperialism in the Silicon Age’
in Monthly Review (Vol. 32, no. 3, 1980); ‘New Circuits of Imperialism’ in
Communities of Resistance (London, Verso, 1990) and ‘Heresies and Prophecies:
the social and political fallout of the technological revolution’ in Cutting
Edge, op. cit.
[8] Samir Amin, Imperialism and Unequal Development (New
York, Monthly Review, 1977). Note that this point was made by Amin, myself and
other Third World analysts over twenty years ago.
[9] Ellen Meiksins Wood, ‘Labour, the state and class
struggle’ in Monthly Review (Vol. 49, no. 3, 1997).
[10] According to Ernst and Young, workers in Vietnam
making shoes for Nike are paid an average US$45 for working 267 hours, which is
around 17c. an hour. (Ernst and Young, report for Nike, 1997, According to Martin and Schumann, Siemens in
Malaysia keeps its imported Indonesian women workers locked up at night in the
factory’s own hostel. In Indonesia, two women trade-unionists were killed and
their mutilated bodies dumped on the rubbish tip of the factories where they
had tried to organise a strike. (See Hans-Peter Martin and Harald Schumann, The
Global Trap (London, Zed, 1997)).
[11] ‘Something like 20 to 30 per cent of foreign
investment in the third world in recent years’, observes Magdoff, ‘has been
used to buy up private infrastructures.’ (See Monthly Review, Vol. 49, no. 8,
[12] The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and
Development is made up of twenty-nine of the world’s richest countries in which
477 of the world’s largest corporations are based.
[13] Barrie Axford, The Global System: economics,
politics and culture (Oxford, Polity, 1995).
[14] Also Barrie Axford – in the same paragraph!
[15] UNCTAD reports that in 1995 there were some 40000
companies with headquarters in more than three countries and that two-thirds of
world trade was carried out by transnational corporations. (UNCTAD, World
Investment Report 1995 (New York, 1995)).
  ‘The share of world GDP controlled by TNCs
has grown from 17 per cent in the mid-’60s to 24 per cent in 1984 and almost 33
per cent in 1995…Continuous mergers and take-overs have created a situation
in which almost every sector of the global economy is controlled by a handful
of TNCs, the most recent being the services and pharmaceuticals sectors.’
(Olivier Hoedeman et al, ‘MAIgalomania: the new corporate agenda’, The
Ecologist (Vol. 28, no. 3, May/June 1998)).
[16] There are, in fact, four inter-related markets – in
goods, capital, labour and currency. See Bertell Ollman, ‘Market mystification
in capitalist and market socialist societies’ in Bertell Ollman, ed., Market
Socialism (London, Routledge, 1998).
[17] ‘This dynamic idea-based global economy offers the
possibility of lifting billions of people into a world-wide middle class.’ Bill
Clinton. Speech to the World Trade Organisation, 18 May 1998, Guardian (20 May
1998). A Third Way ideology conference is to be launched by Blair and Clinton
in New York on 21 September 1998, Guardian (14 August 1998).
[18] The CornerHouse, The Myth of the Minimalist State
(Briefing 5, March 1998).
[19] Kevin Watkins, ‘GATT and the Third World: fixing
the rules’ in The New Conquistadors (Race & Class, Vol. 34, no. 1, 1992).
[20] Alan Freeman ‘GATT and the World Trade
Organisation’, Labour Focus on Eastern Europe (No. 59, Spring 1998).
[21] Ibid.
[22] See World Development Movement, A Dangerous Leap in
the Dark: implications of the Multilateral Agreement on Investment (Briefing
Paper, November 1997).
[23] Olivier Hoedeman, op. cit.
[24] Stalled not only because of the fight being put up
by the NGOs, but also because the rich countries may not get the exemptions
they want if they too are not to be overrun by transnational corporations.
Hence the proposal to move MAI negotiations to the more established venue of
the WTO.
[25] See A. Sivanandan, Imperialism in the Silicon Age,
op. cit.
[26] ‘We’ve become a state without a country’, was how a
Mozambican radical put it. Quoted in Victoria Brittain, ‘Africa: a political audit’
in The New Conquistadors, op. cit.
[27] For the market, as Bertell Ollman shows, overlays
the relations of production with the relations of consumption. (Ollman, op.
[28] Consent is here used in its dictionary definition
and not in its Gramscian sense – since the market is today the prime site of
cultural hegemony.
[29] Will Hutton calls it ‘the thirty, thirty, forty
society’ where thirty per cent are ‘the absolutely disadvantaged’. Will Hutton,
The State We’re In (London, Cape, 1995).
[30] Proportional representation is being held out as a
countervailing force. But although PR does give minority parties a voice, it
does not in the outcome produce radical policies, only compromises, thereby
writing consensus into the ‘constitution’.
[31] In India recently, farmers burnt imported
foodstuffs in protest against an increase in food imports. John Madeley,
Globalisation under attack…or not (London, Panos, 30 April 1998).
[32] Martin Khor, WTO party marred by anti-globalisation
protests (Malaysia, Third World Network Features, 1998).
[33] John Madeley, op. cit.
[34] Terry Eagleton, Ideology (London, Verso, 1991). See
also A.Sivanandan, ‘La trahison des clercs’, New Statesman (14 July 1995).
[35] Peter Glotz quoted in André Gorz, Critique of
Economic Reason (London, Verso, 1989).
The Institute of Race Relations is precluded from
expressing a corporate view: any opinions expressed are therefore those of the

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