Aditya Nigam on Thu, 30 Mar 2000 18:20:40 +0200 (CEST)

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<nettime> Paper on globalization [1/2]

Dear friend/s,
I am sending this article which Ravi Sundaram may have spoken to you
about. Hope it is relevant to the discussion there.
Aditya Nigam

Notes on Recent Indian Experience

Aditya Nigam
CSDS, Delhi

Once upon a time, radicalism meant the politics of transformation, the
desire to change the present in what could be broadly called a
'pro-people' direction. Whatever its political shade, radicalism was
profoundly anti-systemic and anti-status quo. Things have changed beyond
recognition now. One look at the major movements that can be considered
radical in some way, will reveal that they are now primarily concerned
with saving what exists, rather than changing.  So we have a range of
movements which describe themselves as the Save Narmada Movement (NBA),
Save Independence Movement (Azadi Bachao Andolan), Save Childhood
Movement (Bachpan Bachao Andolan) and so on. Those that have not
self-consciously described themselves as such too, are really involved
in nothing more than saving jobs, saving the public sector, saving
industry, saving the ecology, saving traditional livelihoods, even
saving 'Indian culture' from pollution...the list is endless.
Radicalism, in other words, has been reduced to the fight for status
quo. It is suddenly as if all the gain of past struggles spanning
decades, even centuries, stands the threat of being lost. Some are seen
as threatened directly by the globalization process, while others like
ecology and traditional livelihoods, more generally by the development

If globalization is seen as the acceleration of the general logic of
capital accumulation and the development paradigm that goes with it,
then it can be argued that both the categories of movements really
address two sides of the same process of disempowerment and
dispossession of large sectors of the population. The problem however,
is that this is not so. Those fighting to save the public sector and job
security in the labour market and those resisting displacement to save
their traditional livelihoods, occupy two different terrains. In the
past, the sharp divergences between the trade unions and the Narmada
Bachao Andolan have come out in the open in Gujarat and Maharashtra
occasionally, with the former arguing that the NBA is resisting the
creation of more jobs. There has been considerable hostility in the past
>from the Left parties who have accused the NBA of stalling Indiaís
development and thus playing into the hands of Western powers who want
to keep India backward. In their self-perception the Left parties stood
for the Indiaís progress and development and movements epitomized by the
NBA represented the ëbackward lookingí forces opposed to modern

By introducing an entirely new regime of time, accelerated to
breathtaking dimensions, what globalization has done is to reduce the
left-wing proponents of development and progress to a kind of
obsolescence - to defensive battles much of the type that many
ecological movements like the NBA have been fighting. What was progress
and development even ten years ago is irretrievably the past now; the
present of course, is not that yet exists but one that is to be - it
exists 'elsewhere', in the West. There is therefore, a sense in which
progress and development have overtaken the Left  which continues to be
temporally located in that past. In relation to the new situation then,
there has also arisen a basis for the thawing of relations between such
diverse and often mutually antagonistic movements as the ones mentioned
above. The re-appearance of imperialism as the ëmain enemyí on the scene
has provided the possibility of united resistance of all ënationalist
and patriotic forcesí. The theory of the 'lesser evil' also comes in
handy in this new demonology. There has to be a hierarchy of evils and,
so goes common wisdom, you often have to make common cause with the less
dangerous one in order to defeat the bigger threat. The far-off, unknown
imperialist, who always evokes the memory of colonial rule, is easily
seen as the greater threat in comparison to the more familiar domestic
enemies - khadi-clad politician or industrialist. This could be one
simple explanation of this change in the meaning of radical politics in
contemporary India. But is that really all there is to it? Why despite
such favourable situation, despite the consequent thawing of relations
among these diverse movements, do all these forces find it difficult to
offer such a united resistance? Why, on the contrary, does such a
possibility seem more remote with each passing day?

This paper will tentatively explore the shifts in meaning(s) of radical
politics and the need for radical political theory to grasp their
significance if it is to effectively challenge onslaughts on peoples'
livelihoods and rights. Clearly this paper cannot even pretend be a
complete catalogue of the changes, let alone provide an exhaustive
analysis. In a sense, the notes here represent a preliminary attempt at
raising some of the pressing issues with all its attendant risks. Do the
twin processes of globalization and of the 'increased political
assertions of identity' advance or undermine the cause of Indian
democracy? This paper argues that neither process is actually univocal
and is therefore, full of contradictory potentialities for the future -
both, of Indian democracy and of radical politics. Today, even the most
hidebound position will find it expedient to assert that
socio-historical processes are neither univocal nor unilinear. And yet,
what does it mean beyond that express level of banality? What do I mean,
for instance, when I say that the process of globalization speaks with
more than one voice? I think there are at least two things implied in
the assertion. First, that the processes referred to as globalization
are many and despite the existence of a unipolar world, they present
anything but a monolith. The question really, is of the vantage point
>from where we choose to look at them and here, I will argue, the vantage
point of the nation-state cannot be the ground for erecting any radical
politics and that the greatest defeats of recent times can be at least
partly (I would say, largely) attributed to this circumstance. Second,
that the perceptions of and responses to these processes are likely to
be just as diverse, depending once again on the social location of the
agents.  Just as early colonial capitalism did not begin writing its
script on a fresh and clean slate, so the present round of
'globalization' will have to negotiate its advance in each region
separately. Therefore, whether or not globalization has a single author,
there is really no point debating that authorial intention which is
without doubt imperialist. If ours is the epoch of the death of the
Author-Subject, it is also the epoch of the emergence of a new type of
subject - the reader-subject. This is a crucial shift even in cognitive
terms, if history is not to be seen merely as the outcome of the grand
conspiracies of imperialism. What is crucial in this instance, is the
way the readers - the new players - understand globalization, twist its
meaning, play it around for their own purposes. Which potentialities
fructify will therefore, eventually depend critically upon the strategic
options adopted by the politics that identifies itself as radical. And
the efficacy of these choices will depend upon a thorough rethinking of
the entire hierarchy of evils that permanently fixes enemies and friends
and allies in such a way that constrains rather than enables. Needless
to say, this hierarchy of evils can only be thought afresh, if we
undertake the stupendous task of rethinking our entire conceptual
paraphernalia on which it is based.

Political and academic opinion is quite clearly divided into a
pro-globalization and an anti-globalization camp. And Indian radicalism
is largely identified with the latter. The more strident one's
opposition to globalization, the greater one's claim to radicalism. The
pitfalls of this position, I will suggest, are such that they are bound
to lead to a defense of the status quo, and eventually even of the
nation-state.  Radicalism appears here to be talking a language similar
to that of many other defenders of the status quo, or worse, of
right-wing parties - however much it may feel uncomfortable about the
fact. That the anti-globalization/anti-imperialist banner is being
claimed equally by the Hindu Right is demonstrated time and again. This
was the case with the Swadeshi platform of the RSS 'family'; it is so
now after the nuclear explosions when an 'anti-imperialist' sentiment
seems to have burst forth.  Left and radical parties still have to
repeatedly tell themselves that theirs is the genuinely anti-imperialist
position; that the Hindu Right is not sincere about its position and
will eventually compromise with imperialism or that it is already
preparing to 'surrender'.  There is a certain discomfort in pushing the
anti-nuclear argument, itself arrived at after considerable
prevarication, because of this apparent fear of imperialism.  Surely,
there must be something more to differentiate a radical from a
right-wing position: they cannot possibly be identical in every other
respect except for the ësincerityí of one and the ëinsincerityí of the
other. One may argue in times of an ascendant tide of radicalism that
its opponents find it difficult to formally rebut their position and
therefore disguise theirs in radical verbiage, but this is not an
argument that can be sustained in the present conjuncture of worldwide

Undoubtedly, there is a core of injustice to globalization as it
involves a restructuring of global power relations to the benefit of
metropolitan capital to the disadvantage of all others. And yet, there
are possibilities that present themselves to third world radicalism and
the labour movement, precisely because it lacks a single voice. For
instance, the whole debate on labour rights could be brought back on the
agenda of a government that was steamrolling the structural adjustment
programme, post-Marrakesh (i.e. after the signing of the GATT
agreement), almost entirely due to the fact that the spectre of the
'social clause' was raised by representatives of the metropolitan
powers. It was they, and surely not out of altruism, who raised the
question of universal labour standards and in so doing, forced the issue
on the agenda of the trade unions too. Until then, it was just there as
a routine question in resolutions criticising the labour policy of the
government. The urgency with which the question of the defense of the
public sector was taken up was hardly visible on questions of child
labour or unorganized labour, for instance. How the fact of the
metropolitan powers raising these issues is viewed depends upon the
vantage point one adopts and from the vantage point of the nation-state
it is bound to become an inevitable constraint. The radical project, I
will argue, can only be revived if and when it can delink its fate from
that of the nation-state. This can be accomplished only through a
thorough going critique of the nationalist project in India, as such and
by rethinking the generally posited easy and necessary relationship
between nationalism and anti-imperialism.

In this context, the renewed political assertions of identity themselves
need to be seen as interrogations of the dominant project of Indian
nationalism embodied in the post-independence state. This nationalism
actually continued to preserve an upper-caste Hindu hegemony in an
abstract universalist constitutional language. Once that project is
problematized, questions are likely to emerge in very different light
with very different priorities, as they indeed are. It can then throw
into question the very hierarchy of evils defined by radical, left-wing
common sense and lead to the emergence of a very different agenda. These
interrogations then, already occupy a postnationalist terrain in that
sense, even though they are not yet theoretically articulated as such.

Labour, Social Clause and Nationalism
One of the most classic instances of the 'aporias' of radical politics
at the present moment - thanks to its implication in the politics of the
nation-state - is the Indian debate on the social clause. The most
interesting aspect of this debate is the amnesia that frames
radical/left-wing responses. There seems to be no recollection of the
fact that the first faltering steps towards introducing factory and
labour legislations in this country were the product of a 'trade war' in
the penultimate decade of the nineteenth century. Those were the days
when the textile barons of Manchester and Lancashire were pushing for
factory reforms within India, faced as they were with competition from
India's nascent textile industry.  This amnesia is itself a feature that
needs to be theorized. However, let us leave that for now and return to
our narrative.

As the final negotiations to the Uruguay Round on the General Agreement
of Tariffs and Trade (GATT) came to an end and the accord was to be
signed, the representatives of the metropolitan countries produced their
trump card: Trade could genuinely be free, they argued, only when all
conditions were equal.  Third world exporters have the 'unfair
advantage' of cheap labour whom they endlessly exploit through the
existence of practices like bonded and child labour, through non-payment
of minimum wages and the denial of trade union rights. They can
therefore outprice their competitors from the first world, they averred.
Hesitatingly and falteringly, the third world elites and government
representatives registered their mildest protest. On April 13, on the
eve of signing the GATT accord, the Economic and Social Commission for
Asia and Pacific (ESCAP) did unanimously adopt a declaration. Cautiously
worded, the document "emphasized the need to combat protectionism and to
avoid its assuming new forms in the future", while taking into account
"the fact that many opportunities and challenges were arising from
positive developments in the global economic situation particularly with
the successful conclusion of the Uruguay Round."  Official statements
>from the Indian government were few and far between. It was only in
August, almost four months after the signing of the accord that the
government set up a commission headed by Subramaniam Swamy, a former
Commerce Minister, to deal with the issues arising out of the social
clause and recommend what position to take. Soon after taking up the
responsibility, Swamy argued for taking the middle path. He argued that
"the shrill denunciation of what is now known as the social clause does
not benefit India since even if such a clause does not become part of
the to-be-formed WTO, de facto, US and European companies have started
to sign export contracts with Indian companies after ascertaining if
they meet acceptable labour standards...In my view, rather than flatly
rejecting or completely surrendering on the issue of social clause, we
must pursue a middle path of seeking to modify the US and European
countries' rigid stand..."  Only very gradually did the third
world/developing countries governments manage to come out with a
collective position in the form of the Delhi Declaration. In the Fifth
Conference of the Labour Ministers of Non-Aligned and Other Developing
Countries, held in New Delhi in January 1995, the declaration was
adopted that expressed "deep concern about the serious post-Marrakesh
efforts at seeking to establish linkage between international trade and
enforcement of labour standards through the imposition of the social
clause."  Ironically, the most "forthright position" in defense of the
national capitalists was taken by the trade unions who claimed to
steadfastly stand for workers' interests and rights. All the major trade
unions attending the 32nd Session of the Standing Labour Committee,
namely the Centre of Indian Trade Unions (CITU), the All India Trade
Union Congress (AITUC), Indian National Trade Union Congress (INTUC),
Hind Mazdoor Sabha (HMS), the Bhartiya Mazdoor Sangh (BMS), United Trade
Union Congress (UTUC), Trade Union Coordination Committee (TUCC) and the
UTUC (Lenin Sarani) gave their unstinted support to the government in
the name of anti-imperialism. "Though normally on all other policy
matters, given the direction of overall government policy, the unions
and the government are at opposite poles," said the CPI-M organ,  "the
social clause is a singular issue on which there is unanimity not only
among the trade unions and employers, but also on support to the
government for wanting to reject the US move."   The central trade
unions even went to the extent of appealing to the Fifth Conference of
Labour Ministers of Non-aligned and Other Developing Countries,
expressing their resolute "opposition to the linking of  'labour
standards' to trade as a non-tariff protectionist measure."  The
position of the trade unions was therefore, not simply a tactical one
taken among themselves but amounted to an unconditional declaration of
support to the government, leaving no bargaining possibility whatsoever.
It did not matter at all that precious little had been done by the
government on this front for close to five decades. It did not matter
that for almost five decades the Indian nation-state had no time or
inclination to think either about its toilers or its children. What
mattered was the 'fact' that imperialism was blackmailing the 'nation'
and the 'working class' was historically destined to play its
'anti-imperialist' role. Never mind of course, the fact that no one ever
asked this mythical  'working class' what it wanted. Parenthetically, we
may note that while there has been a lot of talk by the advocates of
globalization about the 'immense possibility' contained within it for
third world industrialists/exporters, it was the left-wing economists
and theorists who argued practically from the standpoint of the national
bourgeoisie that such was not the case. They claimed that it would mean
unmitigated disaster for the nation as a whole. And if it is disastrous
for 'the nation' it must also be so for all those who comprise it. All
this of course, even as the ënationalí bourgeoisie continued to
negotiate its alliances and collaboration with transnational companies.
One relevant case here is that of the owner of the Ranbaxy
pharmaceutical group Mohan Singh, who provided the financial back-up and
the office space for the National Working Group on Patent Laws (and
intellectual property rights) peopled mostly by CPI-M
activist-intellectuals. At least for a section of the Ranbaxy group,
however, this was the way to increase bargaining pressures for
international collaborations which they finally pulled through and then
subsequently lost interest in the issue.  It is interesting therefore,
that neither the government nor the industrialists, against whom the
social clause was aimed, ever attacked the social clause in a forthright
manner. Their strategy was more of finding and utilizing the spaces
within. It was left to the trade unions then to do the same.

----- end of part 1/2 -------

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