Contesting the Rhetoric and Reality of Resubordination

Contesting the Rhetoric and Reality of Resubordination

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John Ahni Schertow
March 8, 2007

Contesting the Rhetoric and Reality of Resubordination in Southern Africa and Beyond – by John S. Saul
November 17, 2006

Discussion of the last chapter: Regrounding Resistance to the Empire of Capital

Introduction – The premise of this book is straightforward. As noted in an earlier book for Three Essays Collective, the world is a horribly unequal and exploitative place.(1) Capitalism, serving as the chief engine of empire, has been, in its global expansion outward from the North Atlantic, a – even the – key force in making it so. At the turn of the twentieth century, driving home the apparent logic of its overweening power, capitalism?s principal beneficiaries sought to transfigure this system, under the title of globalization, into a commonsensical fact of life and, in its name, to reinforce an unassailable form of quasi-colonialism upon a global South much of which had only just, within the preceding forty years, cast off the shackles of the most overt and direct kind of colonialism.

Even when driving towards more general prognoses and conclusions it seems best to begin most directly with what one knows best. In my case, this is southern Africa and the struggle against white colonial overlordship and authoritarian capitalist imposition that I had accompanied, as witness and marginal participant, ever since the 1960s. Here one saw people standing up, as elsewhere in the world, against the criminal fact of dispossession and colonial tyranny in the name of national liberation and even social revolution, only to have the latter goal snatched from them and ?national liberation? translated into an ever deeper subordination to global capital. Thus, the first two chapters of the present book evoke both the decolonization of southern Africa and its then grim recolonization, a theme I have also elaborated upon, in more detail, in another recent volume entitled The Next Liberation Struggle: Capitalism, Socialism and Democracy to which the interested reader may be referred.(2)

The present book then moves on to more general themes linked to the practice of recolonization. For the newest empire of capital needs its ideologues. Chapter 3 examines two of them principally, Niall Ferguson and Michael Ignatieff who are chief amongst those who refuse to allow the aggression, economic and otherwise, of the First World against the global South to appear for what it is. Indeed, Ferguson comes close to saying it never was, that is, the West never really was imperialist in any negative way, tending to be (or at least quickly to become) a positive force for good in the world it was acting to make. And so it remains, benignly aggressive in the war against terror and against any irrational resistance to the humanizing work of the global market place.

Indeed, as I shall suggest, the workings of the global market-place are taken for granted as an unquestioned ?good thing? and the symptoms of the inequalities and injustices that such a system helps to emerge – morbid symptoms such as assertive religiosity and ethnic messianism, – are interpreted merely as excuses for renewed imperial intervention.

But if Ferguson and Ignatieff would argue on behalf of an ?end of history? arriving, out of the barrel of a gun as well bearing a corporate logo, in the form of a hegemonic global capitalism, the world is, fortunately, not quite so simple a place. True, much of that world has ceded ground to the ?common-sense? of capitalist globalization that the exercise of global power by capital and attendant imperial states (notably the United States) has brought to the fore ever more forcefully in the wake of the Cold War. But there is a catch.

Beyond rhetoric, the global system does not actually work ? work for the vast majority of the world?s population, that is. Of course, given the failure of secular alternatives to capitalist-logic there are alternative rhetorics that have their appeal ? fundamentalist Islam as a rival to that fundamentalist Christianity which helps its perpetrators to rationalize capitalist aggression, for example ? but, as chapter 4 (the paper, below) suggests, this is not all. Slowly but surely a new secular practice, cast in class terms and groping towards anti-capitalist assertion along anti-capitalist, even socialist lines, begins to be heard, perhaps most articulately, so far, in parts Latin America and, however haltingly and intermittently, elsewhere as well.

Nor is global capitalism without its own internal contradictions too. We will have to survey such realities in chapter 4/the following paper.

Clearly, there is a danger here of mere predictability ? the same old, same old, from the same old people (the present author included). Yes, the fact is the logic of capital doesn?t ?work? in human terms, there MUST be something better. True enough, we say, but the responsible, not romantic, critic knows he/she must reach for something real to hang on to, to begin to exemplify their own hopes in the ?real? world. I myself briefly found this ?something real to hang on to? in the practice of the southern African liberation movements and in solidarity with them. Others now find?in the Bolivarian assertions similar signs of promising practice. We shall discuss what is left of such hopes, such projections of continuing struggle, such possibilities, in the paper that follows.

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