DEMOCRACY & NATURE: The International Journal of INCLUSIVE DEMOCRACY
vol.7, no.2, (July 2001)
The issue of globalisation is at the centre of discussions today, and rightly so, since it raises a whole series of crucial questions relating to the future of society and nature in the new century. Democracy & Nature, in an attempt to encourage a serious discussion on the matter, which is particularly needed by the Left that usually offers outdated or confused and contradictory interpretations to this phenomenon, initiates with this issue a comprehensive discussion on globalisation and the movement against it which, hopefully, will be continued in forthcoming issues.
In my contribution (Takis Fotopoulos) the meaning and significance of globalisation is discussed in relation to the main theoretical trends on the matter (which are compared and contrasted to the Inclusive Democracy approach), as well as with reference to the nature and potential of the present anti-globalisation movement. It is shown that the main division in the theoretical analysis of the Left on the matter, and also within the anti-globalisation movement, centres around the crucial issue whether the present globalisation (which is considered to lead to a growing concentration of economic and political power and to an eco-catastrophic development) is reversible within the market economy system, as theorised by the reformist Left, or whether instead it can only be eliminated within the process of developing a new mass anti-systemic movement, which starts building ‘from below’ a new form of democratic globalisation. It is argued that such an alternative globalisation should be based on a New Democratic World Order that is founded on the equal distribution of political and economic power between nations and their citizens, irrespective of gender, race, ethnicity or culture.
Jasmin Sydee and Sharon Beder offer an excellent critical assessment of ecofeminism as an epistemology to interpret the present society in general and globalisation in particular. They rightly conclude that ecofeminism should not be seen as ‘the’ truth or the ‘right’ epistemology to see modern society, as some ecofeminists insist, but, instead, as a contribution to understanding, which, in relation to globalisation in particular, offers ‘a useful yet limited framework through which to critique it’. This is because, as they put it, ‘ecofeminism insists on the primacy of gender as the determinant of social organisation, attempts to separate women from ‘culture’, and identifies patriarchy as the defining characteristic of capitalism’. No wonder, one may add, that for some ecofeminists the deepest contradiction in present society and the root of all domination is not the unequal distribution of political, economic and social power in general-- which also leads to the domination of nature - but the psychosexual domination of men over women and therefore over nature! Furthermore, it is not surprising either that ecofeminists end up with a utopian kind of reformism which in no way challenges the fundamental institutions of present society (market economy and statist ‘democracy’).
Carl Boggs offers a brilliant discussion of the fact that economic globalisation is not accompanied by a parallel formal political globalisation. As he points out, in contrast to the acceleration of economic globalisation over the past few decades, in the realm of politics, there is a diminution of national and local governing structures, a depoliticization of social movements and NGOs and a failure of any international system of governance to take hold. It is of course true that no formal arrangements have yet been set in place to institutionalise political globalisation, although it could be argued that an informal form of political globalisation is being initiated lately by a ‘transnational elite’, which seems that, for a variety of reasons, prefers to work through the present international economic and political/military institutions (WTO, NATO etc) rather than through a new system of political governance. However, if this transnational elite is being systematically --though informally-- organised at the political level, the same cannot be said about the anti-globalisation movement. As Boggs stresses, the overwhelming emphasis in this movement is on protest as such and on negating the destructive policies of world bodies –a trend which undercuts a politics of vision needed to frame long-term alternatives to economic globalisation in its present catastrophic form. It is for these reasons that the author aptly concludes that ‘If democratisation constitutes the main underlying thrust behind anti-corporate movements, then we will need a more inclusive view of politics, a deeper understanding of democracy, extending the conventional public realm to include the economy, social life, and ecosystem as well as politics as integral to a more radical anti-globalisation insurgency.’
Timothy W. Luke’ s paper offers an insightful analysis of the new political zones created by globalisation, at some points even reminding one of a similar prophetic description of bureaucratic capitalism by Castoriadis, almost thirty years ago—as, for instance, when Luke points out that ‘the main political conflict zones today are no longer necessarily those between labour and capital, left and right, persons of colour and WASPs, or women and men, but rather they are cut along new contours of control between those who know and those who do not, those who can and do participate in elitist managerial decision-taking and those who cannot’. His conclusion that ‘societies of bureaucratically‑controlled consumption, as a whole, can be undone’ is of course correct. The crucial issue is how this could be achieved and Luke’s suggested strategy (‘their revolutionary "undoing" will be attained only by destructively reconstituting pieces and parts of existing institutions, technologies and values’) seems problematic. This is because this strategy is not conceived as part of a mass anti-systemic (not merely ‘anti-corporate’) political movement, with clear long-term goals about a future society, a well-designed strategy and a short-term program to achieve it. Instead, Luke adopting the usual postmodern problematique, seems to be dismissing such a movement (‘Populism does not provide a failsafe recipe for the future or a surefire method for realizing successful commonwealths; rather this new populism only starts to outline tactics for the present by elaborating clearly what to undo in the subpolitical systems of expert decision-making’). However, it is exactly this lack of any positive vision that, for many, constitutes the main weakness of the present anti-globalisation ‘movement’, which may already be leading it to a cul-de-sac.
In a first assessment of postmodern epistemology (the second one is provided in Steve Best’s contribution) Gökhan Bacik’s article offers a perceptive interpretation of the apparently contradictory trends of globalisation and the parallel re-emergence of ethnic identities. For the author, this contradiction may be explained in terms of a ‘language crisis’ which has decisively helped ethnic problems to become increasingly intertwined with world politics. In this sense, the article does provide a useful theorisation of a view (that seems to be flourishing not only in the North but also in the South) which has to be critically assessed. To my mind, such a critical assessment would raise serious reservations against the use of a postmodern epistemology to explain this phenomenon—an epistemology which seems to focus on the symptoms rather than the causes of it. Thus, one may argue that the change of language in world politics is the symptom of this apparent contradiction whereas the causes have to be traced to such factors as the declining role of the nation-state within an internationalised market economy, the end of the Cold War that allowed nation-states much less freedom in suppressing ethnic tensions and, last but not least, the collapse of the socialist project, which decisively contributed to the emergence of new (or the re-emergence of old) identity ideologies.
Brian Morris’ contribution consists of an insightful assessment, from an anarchist perspective, of Maria Mies & V. Bennholdt-Thomsen ecofeminist view of globalisation. He aptly identifies the similarities between the classical anarchist perspective and the subsistence perspective suggested by the authors, and he rightly praises their opposition to neo-Marxism (Gorz), capitalist ideology (Hardin) and postmodern feminism (Butler). However, the very fact that his perspective is the classical anarchist one may also be seen as the main problem in his assessment of the subsistence perspective. Thus, not only does he agree with the authors’ defective analysis of the integration of all national economies into one global market as an ‘exogenous’ event, but he also does not see the authors’ fundamental confusion between local markets and the system of the market economy. However, it is this confusion which could explain what Morris sees as a paradox (‘even more curious is the fact that after offering a sustained defence of the subsistence economy and decentralized politics, Mies should end up envisioning the continuing relevance and importance of not only the nation-state but of wage-labour!’). In other words, this paradox may adequately be explained by the fact that the fundamental institutions of today’s’ society which secure the unequal distribution of economic and political power (the system of market economy and statist ‘democracy’) --and the corresponding ideologies-- are not seen by ecofeminists like M. Mies & V. Bennholdt-Thomsen as the main causes of the present multi-dimensional crisis and, consequently, are not challenged by them. Instead, they suppose that these fundamental institutions of modern society could somehow be by-passed in a system of subsistence economics and politics which is assumed - in a highly utopian way (in the negative sense of the word) - to be able to perfectly co-exist with these institutions!
Steve Best offers, from a reconstructive postmodernism perspective, a very interesting analysis of Harding’s attempt to develop a multiperspectival, multicultural, feminist, postmodern critique of scientific theory and practice, and society as a whole while advancing an alternative scientific epistemology that rejects both realism and relativism. Best, though sympathetic to Harding’s endeavour to develop such a postmodern epistemology, rightly criticises the author’s failure to provide any criteria of adjudicating competing interpretations and perspectives on society and nature. In fact, one may take the next step and criticise not only this particular attempt but the entire idea of a multiperspectival approach which does not seem feasible unless two conditions are met, which however are rejected almost by definition by most postmodernists. These conditions are, first, that both the science and its critique should be based on reason alone and not also on religious and other intuitions and, second, that a universal criterion should be used to assess competing interpretations (and such a criterion, in my view, can be none other than that of individual and social autonomy)—a condition which is incompatible with the postmodern hostility to any ‘universalism’. In this problematique, the assertion of feminists like Harding that the issue is not whether or not objectivity is possible, but rather what kind of objectivity we can and should have, to which the answer she gives is what she calls the ‘strong objectivity’ of multiperspectivism, seems faulty since the outcome of such an epistemological process could at most be some kind of inter-subjectivity, not objectivity (which is any way impossible). Equally flawed seems Harding’s assertion that the very distinctions Western/non-Western and modern/premodern are invalid, because "Western" culture, since its inception, has borrowed heavily from China, India, Egypt, East-Asian and Islamic societies, as well as Africa and pre-Columbian Americas. It is clear however that the criterion one should use in assessing and comparing cultures could not be their geographical or historical origin but their main characteristics. The main characteristic of that part of Western culture which is rational-- since the time reason and direct democracy originated in ancient Greece-- was the rational processing of information which distinguished it from irrational cultures, either in pre-modern West, or in the East. The implication is that what could constitute the foundation of a democratic culture should be determined by whether its ‘truths’, including values and ethical codes conditioning individual behaviour, are derived rationally, (i.e. through reason and open discussion) rather than through Revelation, intuition, myth, or a closed system of ideas or ‘scientific’ truths-- the latter clearly not constituting legitimate perspectives.
Finally, this issue ends with a brief exchange on ecofeminism with Ariel Salleh, which was induced by the editorial comment on her article on the ‘meta-industrial class’ that was published in vol 6 no 1.
Takis Fotopoulos, Editor