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<nettime> Stiglitz II
Soenke Zehle on Tue, 9 Jul 2002 13:00:50 +0200 (CEST)


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<nettime> Stiglitz II


Oops! Just to make that clear: none of this came/is coming from the
power-to-the-party-poopers department. VENCEREMOS!

The writings/interventions of Stiglitz offer an excellent opportunity to
initiate all sorts of discussions, "within and "beyond" the movement. I'm
not a purist, nor could I offer a coherent blueprint of my own, I'm not even
"dismissing" him. But think there's a difference between a dismissal and the
(more or less, anyway) polemical attempt to get beyond some of the movement
pieties. 

Responses raised the question of anti-neoliberalism as a unifying vision is
one, the question of the color line was another, and then there was the
tribute to Third Worldism.

My problem with what I called "anti-neoliberalism" is not that I don't
support the various critiques of deregulation, the lean/enabling state,
privatization, trade liberalization, new regimes of proprietarization etc.
that have been put forward. I wonder about the economism at the heart of
such critique and how one might get away from that.

For example: in my opinion, neoliberalism is not always taken seriously
enough. It's strength lies not so much in its economic "vision" but in its
ethos of self-actualization, if you can call it that - beyond its
"ideological" function in legitimating state transformation/economic
expansion, it _does_ resonate with (and quite possibly
appropriates/incorporates/transforms) fundamental social desires for
autonomy, self-organization, etc.

If I remember correctly, the US folks who tried to appropriate the work of
Foucault for their own articulation of a neoliberal vision (Colin Gordin et
al, _The Foucault Effect_) emphasized just that: unlike many of his
contemporaries, Foucault seemed to be at least curious about the
possibilities of a "neoliberal" ethos and its profound ambivalence/openness.
So are, truth be told & as far as I can tell, a great deal of the
digerati...

The color line is real. A while ago, George Lipsitz coined the term of a
"possessive investment in whiteness," David Roediger that of the "wages of
whiteness." It still pays to be white in this world, there are multiple
"rewards" built into our social and economic systems, and they are likely to
survive any critique of neoliberal globalization. 'Neoliberalism" has
transformed regimes of (racial/ethnic) identity formation, and an
economistic critique can't address that - unless "whiteness" and the
structures/mechanisms that continue to articulate it (pretty much regardless
of whether we _as individuals_  are committed to anti-racism or not) can
somehow become an issue as well.

Off the top off my head, I can think of too widely-read essays that address
this, maybe that'll do for now since I think it's a - crucial - topic for
discussion of its own.

Martinez, Elizabeth. "Where Was the Color in Seattle? Looking for reasons
why the Great Battle was so white." ColorLines Spring 2000 URL:
http://www.arc.org/C_Lines/CLArchive/story3_1_02.html

Hardt, Michael. "Porto Allegre: Todayıs Bandung?" New Left Review 14
(March-April 2002). URL: http://www.newleftreview.net/NLR24806.shtml

On the question of class: I'm not convinced that working class provenance
is, by itself, a guarantee for political progressivism. Class/union politics
in Europe and the US are just beginning to address what Victor Reuther once
called "trade union colonialism" - unions in the Global North have been more
likely to align themselves with the foreign policy of their respective
states (protectionism, not too long ago: anti-communism) than unions (let
alone workers who organize autonomously) in the Global South.

Who's to say they'll cheer for cheap imports from their comrades in the
Global South rather than import restrictions to protect their subsidized
workplaces when it comes down to their own version of the "critique of
globalization"? It's been hard enough to get them on the fair trade
bandwagon.

Third Worldism. On the issue of new forms of solidarity, Brian Holmes wrote:

"My answer: It's going to mean opposing at once the "ethnocracies" and the
globalizing project that uses them as an excuse to back itself up
with police and armed repression."

This might also be a genealogical task of sorts. Of retrieving movement
histories, for instance, that are often separated in the way we archive our
collective experiences even though they belong together. Prime example:
labor vs environmentalism. In the US, the "environmental justice" paradigm
has successfully challenged this separation.  I also find the work of Guha
and Martinez-Alier, for example, to be very encouraging: as it turns out, a
great deal of "struggles for livelihood" - i.e. actions that are rarely
considered political or activist in the orthodox sense of the term - can
also be read in terms of the struggle for environmental justice. Same with
campaigns for workplace health and safety, etc.

Over the last couple of weeks, I've been reading _The Short Century_, a
catalogue for an exhibit by (documenta curator) Enwezor. It collects major
artwork & other historical documents from the decolonization era; Enwezor
chose 1994, the year of elections in South Africa, as end point of his short
century of decolonization. Powerful, moving, and somehow not quite the same
as reading so-called postcolonial theory. Some of the criticism of an
emergent "third worldism" is already there, esp. in the writings of Fanon.

The term "identity politics" conveys such embarassing banality, it's such a
total zero-concept I'm almost ashamed I couldn't come up with a better one.
And yet, when I read the Final Report of the Durban Conference, that's the
term that came to mind first: it neatly lists indigenous peoples, migrants,
and a host of other groups whose respective agendas are all affirmed but
whose explosive incommensurability is never really addressed. It's a weird
text, but in some sense it maps some of the agony of the world social forum.

What I meant to stress is the curious function of "Third Wordism" in the
arguments/movement imagination of people like myself, white Euro-Americans.
This one I actually got from Stiglitz, who was wondering why protesters said
so little about corruption and the repression of democratic
media/organization in a host of African countries. There is more than a dose
of exoticism and nostalgic projection in _this_ version of the third
worldist vision - probably ok if it's enabling, but deeply problematic if it
maps out movement identities in advance.

Take the case of indigenous peoples, who seem to receive our support as long
as they play "their" role as custodians of eco-spiritual integrity, but
cease to be bearers of an emancipatory vision when they interpret their
right to self-determination as an opportunity to go into the waste disposal
business.

Or take Mugabe, who stole that election, or Mbeki's policy on AIDS that has
been a travesty: I see no reason to pretend otherwise in the same of
tricontinental solidarity.

This is not to deny that all people make their own histories but not,
unfortunately, under conditions of their own choosing. It's just that I've
come to respond with a fair amount of scepticism when all sorts of
questionable projects all-too-quickly receive the
"it's-a-liberation-movement-stupid" stamp of approval. There are other ways
to enter into alliances with local activists, I think. So I guess my
question is: is there really a "we" in this movement, and does there even
have to be one?

Your humble comrade, S.

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