Centre for Research on Globalisation
Centre de recherche sur la mondialisation


The Bandung Conference

Reforming the UN: 

"Global Governance" and the New Colonialism

by James Goodman

www.globalresearch.ca 19 April 2005

The URL of this article is: http://globalresearch.ca/articles/GOO504A.html


This paper was presented at the Asia-Pacific Research Network: Conference on the Golden Jubilee of the1955 Bandung Conference, in Bandung, Indonesia 14-16 April 2005. This event  preceded the "official"  Bandung commemoration scheduled for 22-23 April 2005. 

Global Research will be providing background articles on the Bandung process and its implications with regard to the current situation. 

The nonaligned movement is dead. The Asian and African leaders have embraced the tenets of neoliberalism and global capitalism. 

Michel Chossudovsky, Global Research Editor, Bandung, Indonesia, 16 April 2005

In April 1955 the 29 Asian and African governments meeting in Bandung launched a reform agenda for the international system. These emergent post-colonial elites met on the cusp of what looked like a post-imperial era, in the aftermath of one of history’s most dramatic transformations. A world freed from imperial rule – in the form of the colonial state – was dramatically coming into being. For many, though, the task was half-finished - there was still a world to win. Just as the structures of direct rule had been swept away in the wave of anti-colonial nationalism, so the structures of indirect rule, of imperialism-at-a-distance, via various modes of neo-colonial domination, could also be overcome. The approach charted at Bandung was to shape agenda of post-colonial elites for much of the remainder of the Twentieth Century (Weiss 1986). The conference began a process of building consensus across post-colonial states towards a ‘New International Economic Order’: the fate of that program demonstrated the limits of reform. The process, though, remains a powerful symbol. The fact that consensus was possible, expressing a collective aspiration of the majority of the world’s states, is remarkable (see Biel, 2000: 122).

Today, 50 years after Bandung, we have an opportunity to draw out what is specific about the current period, and think through the current prospects for reform. A key question is how to characterize contemporary modes of domination and resistance. Imperialism has made a revival with much official rhetoric about the responsibilities of the American Empire. But is this simply more of the same – the rehabilitation of colonization as a civilizing impulse? Likewise, to what extent are the foundations and mechanisms of today’s anti-imperialism any different from the situation in the 1950’s? Is it, again, more of the same, namely nationalist anti-imperialism, its future tied to post-colonial elites, and their national development projects? Or are we in a new context, with new anti-imperialist social forces at play?

A key issue in this debate is the emergence of ‘global governance’, as against national government. Governance may be simply defined as a framework of rule that draws on governing authority, but does not rely on it. There have always been multiple sources of power in international politics, interacting to produce the prevailing framework of governance. In the current period though, governance has very effectively displaced government, both domestically and internationally, to shape and constrain the model of development worldwide. The global ascendancy of neo-liberalism and rhetoric of market ‘freedom’ has dramatically re-geared government power so that it now primarily serves market players rather than national publics. In contemporary global governance the ‘freedoms' of capital are institutionalised within inter-state agreements, disciplining states to facilitate accumulation. Here, sovereignty is exercised to promote the rights of ‘corporate citizens’, rather than national citizens. The resulting ‘new constitutionalism’ is both structural and institutional, vested with its own system of sanctions in the form of potential or threatened capital flight (Gill 2003). The market governance agenda is felt most keenly as an imperialist drive for market freedoms: today the primary mission of the United States is to extend market forces, and thereby the remit of (US) market access. The opening paragraph of the 2002 US National Security Strategy makes the position clear: there is, quite simply, one ‘single sustainable model for national success: freedom, democracy, and free enterprise’, a model that is ‘right and true for every person, in every society’ (White House 2002). Expressing the universal ‘obligation to produce exchange-value’, the market must everywhere be defended, with force if necessary (Wood, 2003, p. 153). Under US command the market has become not just the spirit of capitalism, but the spirit of civilization.

We may, then, want to speak of a profound crisis of national government in post-colonial contexts, where public power is overwhelmed by marketising pressures, enforced by structures of global governance. In the North, wealth rises hand-in-hand with deindustrialization; in some favoured Southern societies industrialization proceeds, but with failing income generation (Arrighi, 2003, note 38). The rest are sucked dry by resource extraction and insolvency and then by-passed in their entirety as ‘surplus to requirements’ (Munck, 2000, p. 142). A ‘globalisation of poverty’ holds the system in place, imposing peripheralisation on whole swathes of the globe, including post-communist ‘transition’ societies and newly industrialising ‘emerging markets’ (Chossudovsky 1997). Instabilities are forced to the periphery, expressed in the ‘structural adjustment programs’ imposed by the ‘Wall Street-Treasury-IMF complex’ in concert with the European Union and Japan (Harvey 2003, p. 185).

The national development project – the elite post-colonial project at the heart of the Bandung reform program – has significantly unraveled: may such states are forced into permanent crisis-management (Amin 1997: 97). Where the post-colonial state offered a means of containing the effects of capitalist accumulation, it is now progressively re-geared to globalising interests. Post-colonial states are hollowed-out as vehicles for popular aspiration and in many contexts, ‘deeply conservative forces have stepped into [the] vacuum’ (Gill 2003, p. 210). With a failing development project there is radical displacement and fragmentation, forcing a shift into informal sectors and from national to communal forms of identification. Here, anti-imperialism is replaced by various forms of reactionary insurgency – as Ahmad puts it, ‘terrorism is now where national liberation used to be’ (Ahmad 2003, p.43).

Less pessimistically, the growing development crisis has also led to the emergence of new anti-imperialist and related political forces, grounded in a revolt of social movements, North and South, against the new-liberal project. In 2002 Michael Hardt drew a parallel between the Bandung of 1955 and the World Social Forum, both as ‘attempts to counter the dominant world order’ (Hardt 2002). Bandung laid the foundations for a challenge to global order by Southern governments, heralding an era where national movements linked to national states offered the basis for challenging capitalist hierarchy. For Hardt the WSF also heralded a new era, the era of a global ‘alternative’ and the entry of ‘the multitude’ as a historical player, a ‘non-national alternative to the present form of globalisation that is equally global’ (Hardt 2002: 3).

Such an agenda needs careful analysis. Clearly a key aspect of any counter-strategy is to reclaim public power - but in what form? Politicising private power, with the goal of de-commodification, or even of simply regulation, begs the question of institutional power. Peoples movements may challenge private power, asserting new public ‘commons’ through new autonomous institutions. But how are these structures to be brought together, to present a meaningful challenge to global ‘market forces’? Is the national state a vehicle for such mobilisation, or is it fatally compromised by neo-liberal global governance? By the same token, what are the consequences of vacating national-level institutions, leaving them uncontested? Likewise, what is the scope for a global reform agenda – to what extent must today’s ‘new emerging forces’ establish alternative structures?

In many countries the alternative forces are influencing national politics, forcing significant challenges to the fore. Perhaps, in this nexus, then, the Bandung reform project can be revived as a meeting point of movements and disaffected elites. With strengthening movements against corporate recolonisation there may be scope for a retrieval of state capacity, arm-in-arm with a reformed and revived UN. With regrounded national capacity, embedded in frameworks of counter-globalist solidarity, perhaps there is scope to envisage a reformed global governance, a ‘peoples global governance’. Centrally important is the ideological and structural context, and the role of intervention in shaping the strategic options that may be emerging. To explore these, the focus here is on comparing Bandung 1955 with Bandung 2005, focusing on the question of colonialism.

Bandung 1955: global decolonisation

The Bandung ‘third-worldist’ project was a project of emergent Asian-African post-colonial elites. It was built on the success of anti-colonial movements, and was always a relatively compromised reform agenda, founded on South-South solidarity. The conference itself was primarily concerned with political issues of sovereign autonomy and neutrality vis-a-vis the Soviet-US conflict. The priority was to construct a new political centre, and assert the political legitimacy of post-colonial leadership, grounded in national sovereignty. In his opening speech to the conference, Sukarno called for unity between the ‘new Asia’ and the ‘new Africa’, a solidarity to ‘safeguard’ the world. The premise was that Southern autonomy relied upon Southern mobilisation. The communiqué thus begins with South-South cooperation issues, calling for a new UN development fund, for joint action to stabilize commodity trade, for measures to encourage processing of commodities in the South, for Southern financial institutions to encourage joint ventures, and for measures to promote the peaceful use of nuclear energy and development of shipping lanes (in Abdulgani, 1980).

There was disagreement about how to pursue the program, with Sukarno for instance favoring new institutions to express the priorities of the world’s ‘new emerging forces’. The majority position was, though, to use existing governance structures, rather than create separate arrangements. The communiqué thus specifically ruled out the creation of a ‘regional bloc’, although participating countries did commit to ‘prior consultation’, effectively to caucus, at international forums. The position reflected a prevailing confidence that post-colonial peoples – soon to constitute the majority of the world’s national governments – could work together to re-balance world order. If post-colonial states were the source of leverage, then the UN was the primary site of leverage. Despite being an artefact of the imperial system the UN was committed to defending the trappings of national sovereignty. Further, the UN’s foundational purpose of defending peace and security could be redefined to make peace to inseparable from justice, and security inseparable from development. The UN thus could promote rights to self-determination and related development rights as the necessary foundation for collective security.

South-South mobilisation was geared in the first instance to halting Northern interventionism. An important objective for delegates at Bandung was to prevent further intervention in Asia, especially in China, and a key outcome was the PRC’s endorsement of the ‘five principles of peaceful coexistence’ expressed in the communiqué. These principles enshrine sovereign independence and non-interference, and were as much a signal to the North as to other Southern states. The principles later found their way into the UN system via the General Assembly’s ‘Declaration on granting independence to colonized countries and peoples’, asserting the right of peoples to ‘freely determine their political status and freely pursue their economic, social and cultural development’ (United Nations 1960). While the norm of non-intervention was immediately breached, not least by Southern countries (Appadorai 1971), it became a key guiding principle of the post-colonial order, delegitimising interventionist pressure from the North.

The Bandung program spawned the Non-Alignment Movement and the Group of 77, and the demand for the reform of global governance, later embodied in the ‘New International Economic Order’ (NIEO). The NAM developed a shared analysis of the world’s development crisis, identifying the source of the development problem in global structures of neo-colonialism, and in institutions of global governance overwhelmingly geared to the interests of the allies. As the Bretton Woods system faltered in the early 1970s, the reform agenda gained ground, with the NAM solidifying Southern positions and the G77 pursuing these through the UN (Weiss 1986: 28). The immediate effect was a limited re-balancing the United Nations system to meet the priorities of the majority world, now represented through the newly legitimized elites of post-colonial states.

The NIEO agenda generated proposals for reform, including for market access; it also produced more challenging elements, such as the right to nationalize assets, and for the South to build its own collective self-reliance (Biel 2000). The program faltered as the North, by the 1970s a minority in the UN, refused to cooperate. The formation of the G7 in 1975 symbolised the North’s resulting shift away from UN-centred multilateralism. Yet limited leverage was gained, and equally important, an alternative model of Southern solidarity was put into practice. That model rested on national autonomy, exploiting inter-state politics to force the moral authority of the global majority onto the world stage. It has remained in place: most recently deployed through the ‘G21’ at the Cancun Ministerial of the World Trade Organisation, suggesting a continuing agenda of South-South solidarity (Morphet 2004). Such solidarity has, though, been primarily defensive, in being used to block Northern initiatives rather than to promote a positive Southern agenda. The reform agenda has been forced onto the defensive by an imperialism born anew, that has drastically weakened state capacity in the South, and is now in the process of developing new rationales for recolonisation.

Bandung 2005: global recolonisation?

In 2005 the elite post-colonial project is on a knife-edge. Either a revived and reframed reform agenda will emerge to reground Southern autonomy, or the slide into de facto recolonisation will accelerate. Today, the contradiction between the sovereignty of post-colonial states and the deepening structures of global inequality is pressed to breaking point. With marketisation ‘all of the contradictions germane to the capitalist system are rising to the surface in the new epoch of globalisation, in particular, over-accumulation and worldwide social polarisation’ (Robinson 2002, p. 226). From the outset the postcolonial project was articulated in relation to local and cross-national contexts, and in this respect, the existence of sub-state fragmentation is nothing new, neither is the existence of transnational imperialism. Where Bandung 2005 most clearly differs from Bandung 1955 is that in the current context the weakness of post-colonial states is presented not as an imperative for a national development agenda or an agenda of global structural change – but as an imperative for recolonisation. Direct intervention is back on the political agenda: as the US Council on Foreign Relations put it in 2003, in the report ‘Iraq the day after’, ‘the partisan debate over nation-building is over’ (quoted in Foster, 2003). For the dominant powers the question has become not why intervene, but how, and under what conditions.

In the first instance, intervention is framed as a responsibility. In 2001 the Canadian Government’s ‘International Commission on Intervention and State Sovereignty’ asserted a ‘responsibility to protect’, as against a ‘right to intervene’ (ICISS 2001; Fast 2003). When a state fails to exercise its responsibilities, these fall on the ‘community of states’. The report suggested that such a responsibility redefined sovereignty as conditional upon respect for on human security and human rights. It spoke of a ‘guiding principle in favour of military intervention for human protection purposes’ (ICISS 2001:16). Here the issue is not so much one of humanitarian intervention, as intervention to restore state capacity to exercise responsibility. The ICISS report argued that the ‘just cause’ for military intervention was ‘large-scale loss of life’ or ‘large-scale "ethnic cleansing"’, both ‘either actual or apprehended’. Intervention would also have to be a last resort, and proceed with the right authority, right intention, be proportionate, and have reasonable prospects of success. While the ICISS Report cites ‘situations of state collapse’ as the type of ‘conscience-shocking situation’ that would merit intervention, it did not discuss the possible causes of such situations (ICISS 2001: 33).

Other reports favouring intervention have been more willing to discuss the developmental context for societal breakdown. In late 2003 a report on ‘Failed and collapsed states in the international system’ was co-authored by four Northern-based NGOs – The African Studies Centre, the Transnational Institute, the Centre of Social Studies and the Peace Research Institute (based, respectively, in Leiden, Amsterdam, Ciombra and Madrid). Three causes are cited: the weak legitimacy of post-colonial regimes, the end of Cold War ideological stassis, and the imposition of neo-liberal policies. The direct consequence is intra-state armed conflict, with more than half of the fifty less-developed states experiencing war in since1983.

Southern state elites, the Report argues, have struggled to ‘sell their sovereignty on the most favorable terms to private agents’ (African Studies Centre et al 2003: 10). Power has been dramatically shifted from the public sphere into the shadowy world of private power, disappearing into free trade zones, public-private ‘joint ventures’ and other private concessions, and into tax havens, home to over half of the world’s finance flows. In many contexts, state military and private militias have become inter-penetrated, protecting the corporate license to operate, offering access and guarantees for illicit as well as licit commodity flows, captured by corrupted Northern and Southern elites. The flows are also of labour, from South to North, tacitly encouraged by Northern states to create an internal pool of vulnerable reserve labour. Entire sectors of the economy – in the United States for instance – become dependent on such labour, draining Southern countries, fueling their vulnerability. Peoples are simply left to ‘find ways of apprehending the massive historical forces they feel bearing down on their lives’ (African Studies Centre et al 2003: 17): in place of state capacity and post-colonial sovereignty, societies fragment into enclaves of rich, gated communities, and ghettos of the poor, maquiladoras, favelas and urban poor communities.

The NGO Report concludes with three scenarios: first a ‘malign scenario’ where Northern security is further destabilized by the implosion of Southern societies, with unilateral interventions generating new world wars; second, a ‘benign scenario’ of strengthened multilateral cooperation to address the causes of the development crisis; third, a ‘recolonisation scenario’, where Northern states introduce not ‘nineteenth century colonialism’ but new modern versions of ‘shared sovereignty… in negotiation with local populations’ perhaps in the form of mandate or trust territories. Although there is no attempt weigh up the three scenarios, the report points to the third ‘recolonisation’ option as a means of preventing the ‘malign’ scenario from making headway. That a group of relatively progressive, if mainstream’ development NGOs should produce such a report is very revealing of the new context in which the recolonisation debate is being played out. The Report effectively suggested that intervention is necessary but be brought under the wing of multilateral institutions, perhaps with particular Northern states given special responsibilies, thus institutionalising recolonisation as preventative action to assist failing states.

In many respects, an explicit shift to recolonisation would complement the extensive interventionism that is already in place. For much of the post-colonial world, norms of neo-liberal ‘good governance’ now apply as a precondition for participation in international affairs. Prevailing orthodoxies of rational and efficient administration, of a state that facilitates markets, that in World Bank parlance is ‘steering not rowing’, are broadly disseminated (World Bank 1997). As noted, such governance hollows-out Southern states, fragmenting political authority, and produce intra-state conflict and militarisation. Crucially, such conflict can no longer be contained in the South, and insistently spills over into the North. In response the North, led by the US, behaves like a minority enclave, constructing security borders against the encroaching threat to their international security. The ‘containment’ impulse – as played out in the rhetoric of Northern ‘border protection’ – is increasingly matched with strategies of ‘early diagnosis and prevention’, entailing active intervention to forestall or preempt ‘state failure’ (Bilgin and Morton 2004). This is borne out in the logic of Northern-led military intervention – whether unilateral or multilateral – which is most intensely targeted against the presumed threats to Northern security. But the North’s interventionist impulse, played out most dramatically in the so-called ‘War on Terror’, addresses symptoms of Northern insecurity, not its systemic causes. Such intervention exacerbates the divides between a Northern bloc of security states, acting as an integrated conglomerate, and Southern states, that are increasingly peripheralised, under-legitimised and destabilized (Shaw 2002: 89).

Northern unilateralism is directly linked with efforts to reform the UN system to offer a genuinely multilateral alternative to great power intervention. Since the failure of the NIEO the reform agenda has been channeled into institutional proposals. Proposals to strengthen the UN’s commitment to development, for instance, reemerged in 1985 with the suggestion of a ‘council for economic security’(Ewing, 1986). The debate intensified again in the immediate post-Cold War era, and the fiftieth anniversary of the UN, with the Commission on Global Governance report (1995), and proposals from the Secretary-General for more coordinated, multi-sectoral responses to the development crisis (Secretary-General 1997). Proposals centred on drawing the UN development agencies closer to the IMF-WB and the WTO, with an economic security council created to coordinate policy across the fields of action (Carlsson 1995). The proposals remained in large part on the table, as UN development institutions fell into the role of monitoring the impacts of neoliberalism (through the HDI for instance), and articulating alternative norms for policy-making, for instance on women, on the environment and on human rights.

In terms of intervention, post-Cold War the UN became directly involved in new modes of ‘humanitarian intervention’, dubbed ‘second generation’ of peacekeeping (Pichat 2001). Broadly these were aimed at intra-state conflict and either took the form of assistance to states unable to maintain order (Mozambique, Cambodia), or action against authorities deemed to be abusing power (Somalia, Bosnia, East Timor, Afghanistan). UN practice pointed to the need for a new UN-centred multilateral intervention regime, a regime that ‘can help us avoid the dangerous and often counterproductive effects of unilateral armed imposition and the equally dangerous effects of untrammeled national autonomy in the midst of gross abuses of human rights (Doyle 2001: 233). In recent years this agenda has gathered pace, and is now most clearly embodied in the UN Secretary General’s report to the General Assembly of March 2005, ‘In larger freedom: towards development, security and human rights for all’. The Report was prompted by the breakdown of consensus in the UN Security Council in late 2003 over the question of intervention in Iraq, and can be seen as a direct response to the unilateralist agenda for market ‘freedoms’, that President Bush spelt out in the US National Security Strategy of 2002.

‘In larger freedom’ is a proposal for comprehensive reform of the UN so as to address the developmental causes of insecurity. It asserts a program to promote ‘freedom from want’ and ‘freedom to live in dignity’, as well as ‘freedom from fear’. In its preamble the position is put simply: ‘we will not enjoy development without security, we will not enjoy security without development’ (Secretary General 2005: 6). The developmental crisis is cited as a key source of international instability, addressed through enhanced ‘Millennium’ commitments, and the rhetoric of a reciprocal North-South ‘partnership for development’. Revealing the ideological bias, Southern states are to take ‘primary responsibility’ for development, ‘putting in place the policies and investments to drive private-led growth’; Northern responsibilities are limited to implementing their existing Monterrey, Doha and Millennium commitments, providing for market access and development assistance (2005: 5). The message, then, is for more of the same – for market integration guided by good governance – reproducing the developmental orthodoxy. On the other side of the development-security equation, the report moves to a ‘more comprehensive concept of collective security’, to include developmental insecurity (poverty, deadly diseases, environmental crises), and civil as well as military insecurity (civil violence, organised crime, terrorism) (2005: 25).

To promote these ‘larger freedoms’ the Report marks out a new more interventionist profile for the UN, ‘a new security consensus based on the recognition that threats are interlinked’ (2005: 57). Importantly, the Report states that only the UN may authorize military action to address anything other than an immediate threat. The Charter is interpreted as enabling the Security Council to endorse preventative military action, against any ‘threats to international peace and security’, including ‘genocide, ethnic cleansing and other such crimes against humanity’ (2005: 33). The key principle for such intervention is the ‘responsibility to protect’ – the approach favoured by the 2001 ICISS group – along with the same series of caveats on proportionality, purpose, of military action and likelihood of success. Action against ‘terrorism’ is couched in terms of the need for a broader definition of terrorism, as any act that involves: ‘intent to cause death or serious bodily harm to civilians or non-combatants’ in order to intimidate a population, government or international organisation (2005: 58). While stating ‘it is time to set aside debates on so-called "state terrorism"’, claiming that state power is already ‘thoroughly regulated’, the Report argues the right to resist the state cannot ‘include the right to deliberately kill or main civilians’(2005: 26).

‘In larger freedom’ is, then, an attempt to satisfy the North’s thirst for security, while at the same time address development crises. The contradictions in the balancing act reflect the inherent limitations of a UN reform program in the context of a deeply divided global polity. How, one may ask, can the UN reconcile the need to address an intensifying development crisis with the agenda of dominant players, that is already creating new categories of limited sovereignty, as protectorates and permanently occupied territories proliferate across the globe. The Washington Post, for instance, described the Report as an attempt to ‘reconcile the gap between poor nations, who want the UN to devote more attention to fighting poverty and disease, and the US and many of its allies, who are pressing for more UN action on terrorism’. The centre of gravity for the Report was in Europe, where it attracted ‘100%’ approval from the European Council. Meanwhile, it drew fire from US spokespersons keen to legitimize unilateral US action, and from Southern leaders concerned at the impact of a ‘responsibility to protect’ on Southern sovereignty, and of a definition of terrorism that rules out the notion ‘state terrorism’.

The UN’s current reform proposals thus directly reflect the emergence of a new interventionism, grounded in twin developmental and security crises. The most remarkable feature of the new ‘progressive’ colonialism is that it is Northern states that are seen as somehow capable of acting in the interests if the soon-to-be recolonized peoples. This is all the more remarkable if it is accepted that a key cause of state failure has been Northern policy. Northern corporate classes and state elites are culpable, if not responsible, and themselves have been corrupted by the marketisation process. This systemic crisis of public power extends deep into the heartland, to major Northern corporations and even to the presidency of the US. We may want to ask how can such Northern elites be trusted by the peoples of the South, and indeed the peoples of the North, to selflessly exercise ‘shared sovereignty’ over these ‘failing’ societies? After fifty years of state-formation, begun in the hope that post-colonial entities could not only withstand neo-colonial structures but overcome them, there is certainly a profound crisis in state capacity. The question this raises is how may such capacity be reclaimed by local peoples – not how it can be reconstructed by the North.

Anti-imperialism: a ‘new Bandung’?

A key difference between 1955 and 2005 is the global widening and deepening of capitalist relations, binding societies together under a prevailing neo-liberal dispensation, and allied consumerist ideology. Since 1955 nationally-based anti-imperialist challenges from the South, whether through a bloc of Southern states demanding reform of the world economic order, or through revolutionary states (USSR, China, Cuba, Vietnam, Iran), have melted away (Halliday 2004). But the struggle for a post-imperialist order remains as urgent as ever, and the question remains, who is taking up this challenge, and how may it be progressed?

As capitalist relations have deepened, the social forces for anti-imperialism have shifted. Clearly, many Southern elites are bound more closely into capitalist hierarchies: the networking of power through transnational linkages has in many respects hollowed–out national bourgeoisies, and radically reorientated the national development project to serve transnational capitalist interests. Reclaiming the legacy of anti-imperialism, subordinated peoples in Southern contexts have defined alternative national agendas against neo-liberalism. These are increasingly articulated in conjunction with subordinated social forces in Northern contexts, which face similar structures, under very different conditions. The Northern-centred counter-globalist movement that emerged from the mid 1990s, reflected the imposition of neo-liberal ‘adjustment’ in the North, a process meted out on the South, and resisted in the South, over the previous decades.

Anti-imperialist social forces, then, may today be located in both ‘Norths’ and ‘Souths’. For some, this enables the emergence of a relatively unified historical force of subordinated peoples worldwide: Hardt insists that we must choose this ‘global’ alternative, and reject the ‘national’ defensiveness (Hardt 2002). Clearly the new imperialism is not simply a national phenomenon – it has a transnational aspect, vested in the institutions of global governance, what some have characterized as a transnational quasi-state (Robinson 2002). But is this the dominant aspect, and is it in any meaningful sense ‘transnational’? The institutions of global governance are centred on capitalist heartlands: in the crucial sphere of finance, for instance, the WB-IMF complex and the various mechanisms of managing private finance flows are based in the triad. Equally, imperialism is also vested in state institutions, and their influence over world events: here the centrality of the United States military is unassailable. The logic of imperialism is thus borne out in deepening spatial as well as social divides across the globe. It is also borne out in the logic of resistance, where the claim to sovereignty, and to the limited autonomy it offers, is especially pursued in Southern contexts: this should come as no surprise as the structures of domination are invariably Northern-based, and the logic of ‘systemic chaos’ as Arrighi puts it, is primarily visited on the South, not the North (Arrighi 2003).

In terms of state capacity, the world is caught in an increasingly ‘asymmetrical pattern of change in the field of state sovereignty: a marked tendency towards its erosion in the bulk of states in the international system, accompanied by an accumulation of exceptional prerogatives on the part of one state’ (Gowan, 2003, p. 53, 57). The asymmetry cannot be wished away: it has material effects. In the South especially the state becomes the fulcrum. As Bagchi argues, ‘There is an illusion among some activists that the disempowering of the national state is always a good thing. However, in poorer countries, it is ultimately the state which can provide universal primary education, primary health care, basic sanitation, and food security for the poor, and protect common property resources. Getting the state to make these provisions is part of the democratic struggle throughout the world’ (Bagchi 2003:117). Resistance to imperialism thus is both national and transnational: as Saul argues, ‘the fact is that "Empire"(the world of capitalist globalisation) and "empire" (the world of western imperialism) coexist’ (Saul 2003: 227).

Nonetheless, the era of neo-liberal globalism has reconfigured class forces and thus the foundations for anti-imperialist action. In the first instance, neo-liberalism was a consciously pursued strategy of a transnational capitalist class, and as such both crystalised and strengthened that social force (Sklair 2000). The strategy, and the ‘market’ model it pursued, reconstituted class relations by hollowing-out corporations and flexibilising work, shifting risks onto various de-formalised piece-workers, out-workers, consultants, sub-contractors, franchisees, and licencees. In Southern contexts especially the model saw a dramatic shift away from the formal economy, along with a commodification of the ‘commons’, as the discipline of capital colonized reproductive existence. In the process, peoples have become exposed directly to ravages of the market, shorn of any protective or stabilizing context. The failure of the ‘official’ realm has forced a retreat into rural subsistence, and modes or urban survival; as Biel notes, the marginal economy has, in effect become the real economy (Biel 2000). This up-turns social relations, especially gender relations, and drives the emergence of grass roots movements, defined against capitalist incursions, to appropriate sources of survival. These are struggles for the defense of reproductive – not productive – capacity, against large-scale infrastructure projects or commercial farming projects, against slum clearance and the privatization of utilities, for instance. They directly confront the neo-liberal national development project, claiming popular ‘expert’ knowledges and social technologies, posing a new agenda for autonomy and sustainability.

The revolt is significantly different, North and South. Differences are perhaps most clearly borne out in the politics of the genetically-modified foods, where Southern campaigns the primary concern is with the loss of autonomy, with bio-piracy and with corporate neo-colonialism, rather than, for instance, with consumer rights. Other examples include the rural movements for subsistence, expressed in Via Campesina, or urban poor movements for instance as expressed in Slum/Shack-dwellers International, both of which have links to Northern movements, but are based in the South. The divide is symptomatic of a much broader dynamic of opposition, where resistance is geared to autonomy, to self-determination and to sovereignty, as well as to global anti-capitalism and to associated cosmopolitan norms of ecological survival.

What are the prospects for this grass-roots challenge? For Biel, writing in 2000, there were real opportunities: as the neo-liberal project unraveled, grassroots organisations could occupy the ideological vacuum (Biel 2000: 303). Something of this tendency is revealed in the burgeoning social movements centred on fields of reproduction, and their increased transnational articulation, for instance through the social forum process. Such forces find new allies amongst the disaffected in the ‘official’ sectors, including within departments of state, and have made some headway in influencing, if not capturing state power. One example at the national level is the MST, and its relationship with the governing Workers party in Brazil; at the international level, the defeat of the WTO’s ‘Millennium Round’ in 1999, and then the ‘Development Round’ four years later demonstrates the potential of this political conjunction. Such alliances are crucial in translating aspirations into programs, especially in Southern contexts (Saul 2004).

Grass roots movements, Biel argues, now have the potential to ‘take up the question where the old NIEO left off, regenerating it from the grass roots in a radically new form’ (2000: 313). Third-worldism championed by post-colonial elites is thus replaced with solidarity championed by a plethora of autonomous movements, loosely related and loosely associating, sometimes linked into structures of state power. The normative power of this configuration has played out again and again in the UN system, where it has been the primary driver for reform. The agenda at UN conferences on women, on environment and development, on human rights conferences, on indigenous peoples, has for instance been defined, if not with, then certainly in tandem with movements in these sectors.

The powerhouse of reform may, then, be located in the so-called ‘second superpower’ – peoples organisations the world over, forcing a reform agenda away from a discredited neoliberal model. In an echo of the early-1970s inter-regnum between welfare Fordism, and neo-liberalism, there is currently a failure to generate a new mode of regulatory stability. The contradictions inherent in neoliberalism continue to destabilize social relations, imploding societies, threatening even the capitalist heartlands with ‘contagion’. This socio-cultural backwash from three decades of neo-liberalism is only intensifying. The response from the heartlands has not been to re-think the model, but to impose it more coercively. Cognitive dissonance is the order of the day, with an iron will replacing the gloved fist: militarism has returned to the centre of the imperialist project, with the direct imposition of power by command. The US and its allies have taken on ‘the impossible task of suppressing the expressions of the fundamental problems of the world’ (Ichiyo 2002).

As we enter a new era of recolonisation, though, perhaps we also enter a new Bandung. The key political forces in the 1955 Bandung were anti-imperialist movements seeking not simply a reordering of the global hierarchy but a more radical step beyond capitalist social relations, and many had allies within the mid-century social democratic left of Western Europe. For them there was a powerful link between anti-colonial nationalism and anti-imperialism. Perhaps now there is a similar convergence between the national and global agendas. What might this new reform agenda look like? An initial step, perhaps, is to appreciate the dynamic of resistance. In the backwash of neo-liberalism, the responses of Northern elites have become increasingly inadequate: their failure has forced the creativity of social movements to the fore. The more that dominant states insist on market freedoms the more that alternative agendas proliferate and grow. Examples of the process are proliferating, offering new ground for a radically realigned ‘reform’ program (see the survey in McMichael 2000). One example is the contestation around GM foods, that have validated popular knowledges and sustainable practices, against the process of corporate commodification. Another good example is the World Trade Organisation’s recent ‘development round’: here, the more that Northern countries and some Southern elites have insisted on the virtues of ‘market access’, the more that peoples of the South have mobilised around demands for self-reliance in terms of ‘food security’ or ‘food sovereignty’ (Dunkley 2004).

These ideological agendas, coming into view within grassroots movements North and South, are inspired by a radical rejection or ‘refusal’ of neo-liberal orthodoxy. They involve the assertion of both autonomy and solidarity, geared to deep democratization, and to agendas for decommodification, including the assertion of the commons. Such agendas can gain leverage over state policy, framed for instance as the defense of peoples needs against corporate power in the battle over intellectual property rights. The creative power of movements can thereby find traction, in a productive contradiction with state authority. Such creativity rests on the capacity to mark out fields of autonomy – an anathema in a world of intervention and marketisation – that can up-turn existing hierarchies of wealth and power. In this sense, any global reform agenda must address the structures of global inequality, fostering the autonomy and diversity of Southern societies, enabling peoples to determine their own future, what may be understood as a ‘multipolar strategy of delinking’ (Amin 1997: 150). Central, also, is the process of subordinating markets into society, enabling a collective delinking from market dependence, embedding markets in societies, rather than the reverse (McMichael 2000). At the international level such an agenda may expand the concept of the right to development into a ‘right to wealth’ (Inayatullah 1996), an agenda of repaying the North’s ecological debt for instance, that could pose real challenges to the current model of distribution. As in 1955, we are perhaps on the cusp of a new era, where such utopias resonate and can gain ground.


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