Book Review: Resisting the Global State: A perfectly timed perspective

“Here I sit painfully far from Greece, struggling to keep abreast of my compatriots’ tumultuous mobilization against the euro-zone’s neoliberal onslaught—and what lands on my desk? An inspiringly readable volume (215 pp) edited by Cliff DuRand and Steve Martinot: Recreating Democracy in A Globalized State (Clarity Press, 2012). Authored by the two American editors and four Cuban scholars (José Bell Lara, Armando Cristóbal Pérez, Orlando Cruz Capote, and Olga Fernandez Ríos).”

Resisting the Global State: A perfectly timed perspective

Book review by Kostis Papadantonakis

Here I sit painfully far from Greece, struggling to keep abreast of my compatriots’ tumultuous mobilization against the euro-zone’s neoliberal onslaught—and what lands on my desk? An inspiringly readable volume (215 pp) edited by Cliff DuRand and Steve Martinot: Recreating Democracy in A Globalized State (Clarity Press, 2012). Authored by the two American editors and four Cuban scholars (José Bell Lara, Armando Cristóbal Pérez, Orlando Cruz Capote, and Olga Fernandez Ríos), it is an uncannily timely book that can well serve as manual for political education and guide to action, not just in Greece but anywhere where popular masses are rising against the deprivations of austerity, the brutality of domestic repression, or the bullets of outright imperialist aggression. And, in various degrees, that is just about everywhere: inside imperial power hubs, such as the United States and Germany; in the most impoverished, war-torn lands of that power hub’s global reach; and all the nations in-between, in the continuum of core-periphery structures that make up today’s global world-system.

In point of fact, the central message of this well-argued and well-documented volume is the very pervasiveness of the struggle: that the enemy is one and the same for the 99% in every part of the globe. Taking one step further the old Marxist adage that the capitalist state is “the executive committee of the bourgeoisie” the authors identify globalized capitalist corporate governance as the “executive committee” that sits above the state. Spawned by the relentless merger of transnational corporate empires, this supranational structure imposes its own policy dictates upon the entire pyramid of the global interstate system. It contaminates each national state with its own agenda, converting it into its own “globalized” agent. In each nation-state thus encroached-upon, the people are subjected to rule by a “globalized” state that commits treason against their national sovereignty.

And this is one good reason for the folks who have been galvanized by Occupy Wall Street (and perhaps the Tea Party rank-and-file, too) to read this book. Exposing transnational capitalism as our own globalized state’s overlord may at last put an end to the disorienting dichotomy between “American” (pro-imperialist) nationalism and “un-American” (pro-grass-roots democracy) class struggle in this country. This is certainly a concern that permeates especially the three chapters contributed by DuRand (two in the first half and one at the very end of the book). The main theme, however, that all six authors are focused on is the assault on popular sovereignty through the intensified degradation of the national state in the global system’s periphery (Third World).

Imperialist encroachment of the periphery is of course not a new development; it dates back to the passage from colonial empires to neo-colonialism. Twentieth-century radical thought (from Lenin’s “imperialism as the highest stage of capitalism” to Samir Amin’s “accumulation on the world-scale” and Ibero-American analyses of “la dependencia”) saw imperialism as an integral phase of capitalism. Viewed from the capitalist core, the crucial polarity here is between exploiting and exploited classes, rather than strong and weak nations. For, within the dominant nations, the working class and especially the marginalized, super-exploited racially-constructed “minority” populations share the same fate as the victims of imperialist exploitation. Conversely, within dependent nations, indigenous ruling classes (André Gunder Frank’s “lumpen-bourgeoisie”) serving the interests of the dominant nations also share in some of the loot from imperialist exploitation.

The above is not by any means contested by the authors here. At the same time, it is evident that their viewpoint clearly emanates from the periphery rather than the core. “[The] relation of exploitation between unequal classes within a capitalist society is replicated in the relations between rich and poor countries,” state DuRand and Martinot. Far more forcefully, the four Cuban contributors focus on the predicament of peripheral nations in defending their sovereignty and resisting globalization of their national states. This focus necessitates a crucial distinction between national states (a nation’s governance structures, including social services and the military) and nation-states (a nation’s territory and people, including their historic cultures and institutions). The two concepts are sloppily (and, as it turns out, deliberately) used interchangeably in the mainstream discourse of globalized ‘experts’ but all six authors here are careful in observing the distinction.

National states, in the words of Fernandez Ríos, “…continue to have a cardinal importance which, in many instances, is reinforced by the fact that they are territorial and cultural places where important searches for alternatives to capitalism and struggles for a more just and equitable world are taking place.” Within each nation, such “searches for alternatives” bring about a confrontation between the popular forces and the state. Absent vigilant mobilization in defense of the national sovereignty, the “national” state is bound to end up as a “globalized” state. As such, the state becomes the enemy of its citizenry, acting as agent of imperialism and endangering the very survival of the nation. What especially imperils national survival is the deliberate fragmentation of national identities (polyarchy) due to globalization’s divide-and-conquer strategies in the interest of securing the globalized “national” state and, through it, imperialist governance. These matters are at the heart of the book, taken up by each of the authors in turn: “Global Imperialism and Nation-States” (Ríos), “State Against Nation” (DuRand), “The Sustainability of the Nation-State Model in A Globalizing World” (Pérez), “On the Autonomy, Sovereignty and Integration of Peoples and Nations” (Capote), “Sovereignty and the Failure of Corporate Governance” (Martinot), “National Self-Determination in An Age of Globalization” (Lara).

Each essay fruitfully builds on the others, documenting perils and explaining what needs to be done in order to construct alternatives to the world of misery and degradation that is reserved for the citizens of the periphery, first and foremost—but is not far behind for those in the core, either. The goal posited is to overcome underdevelopment, which, ironically, is the empty promise of globalization, a promise that is deliberately violated and turned on its head, as Martinot painstakingly demonstrates in a long central chapter. Defeating underdevelopment, we are reminded again and again, necessitates the wholesale repudiation of the drive toward relentless privatization and ever deepening inequality. It requires “the redistribution of income to the benefit of the people” and “profound revolutionary changes” that can “bring about a social accumulation, a concept that combines economic accumulation and processes directed toward the transformation of human beings: education, health, social security, the creation of positive social values and different forms of participation in daily political tasks” (Lara). Those familiar at all with Cuban society will no doubt recognize in these goals the aims that have driven that heroic island’s revolutionary resistance to the encroachment from its northern neighbor, as a second essay by Martinot clearly spells out (“The Nation-State and Cuba’s Alternative State”).

To me, Lara’s listing of goals, quoted above, reads like the hit list of what the Greeks are called upon to give up as the price of remaining (perhaps) in the euro zone: The utter collapse of the nation’s already miserable shambles of education, health, social services, and environmental protection; the replacement of any semblance of “positive social values” by racist bigotry toward “illegal” foreigners and the war of all against all among natives; and the bashing of heads and spraying of tear gas as the price of “participation in daily political tasks.” Not all that different, you might say, than the hit lists targeted by neoliberal policy makers, supranational institutions such as the European Bank and the IMF, and the academic “authorities” and technocrats who serve globalized capital.

The final chapter (DuRand) counter-poses “democratic politics” (with a lower-case “d”) to the globalized state. Building on the rich contributions in the earlier chapters, DuRand manages an insightful translation of the largely Third-World perspective of this volume to the challenges of resisting globalization at the heart of the core, the U.S.A. itself. He notes the historic achievements of the U.S. popular forces whenever they succeeded in mobilizing in order to exercise true “national sovereignty”—and the perils “due to the absence of the countervailing power of social movements.” After reading this book, one should feel energized to rejoin the ranks of Occupy Wall Street and of all solidarity mobilizations against continued repression in the periphery of the pyramid at whose top our own globalized state now totters.

The last line in the book quotes Frederick Douglass: “Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never has and it never will.” There is plenty in these pages to point us the way to wrestling the state away from the claws of globalized corporate power.

Baltimore, June 2012