In Korea, there was an obscenely long working week enforced under military rule up until 1987. I’m not sure what Imran Khan would say about this but workers shouldn’t be enthusiastic. I imagine Imran Khan would be even less comfortable with the fact that the success of Taiwan and Korea was crucially also based on their position on the front line of the Cold War. They were obedient US allies receiving massive handouts and privileged access to American markets
‘I would say if we understand socialism as Marx saw it as the self emancipation of the working class it has to be about mass popular democracy. If it hangs on a few good - or bad - practitioners it is already not socialism,’ says Bill Dunn.
A left activist in Britain from the early 1980s, Bill Dun was a hospital worker for many years before studying social science. He did a PhD at the University of the West of England and had some temporary teaching jobs in Britain before coming to Australia and Sydney University in 2005.
He mainly researches issues around labour but from various angles; value theory, work and employment and labour as a social movement. He has also written a book on ‘Global Restructuring and the Power of Labour’ (2004) and co-edited one on ‘100 Years of Permanent Revolution’ (2006).
In an interview with the Viewpoint, he discusses global politics, economy and Marxism. Read on:
In your book Global Political Economy, you don’t seem to agree with the ‘liberal agenda which blames local rulers for persistent poverty’ (P294). In Pakistan, Imran Khan on an anti-corruption agenda has become a challenge to mainstream parties even if he himself is a neo-liberal, conservative politician. In India, Anna Hazaray poses the government a serious challenge on the question of corruption. It seems, corruption is not merely a liberal fib. Your comments!
I think Noam Chomsky somewhere said something to the effect that ‘crony capitalism’ is a tautology. We don’t live in a nice liberal world imagined by Adam Smith of butchers, brewers and bakers trading on their own account. Such people exist but it is giant corporations, powerful governments and institutions like the IMF that call the shots.
As long as everybody abides by the rules and wealth continues to flood upwards we can all get along fine. In the West this is all institutionalised in efficient, pro-capitalist tax systems, corporate and labour law and so on. If things break down as they have in the last few years corporations can go into administration, governments discover they have debts and so steal their workers’ pensions. This, of course, is not corruption.
I suppose what I’m saying is that there is an appalling hypocrisy for the likes of the World Bank to pose corruption as a particular problem in poorer countries and as an explanation for their poverty. But it is probably true that the less there is to go around the less smooth the processes of sucking the wealth away from the poor are likely to be and the harder it is to institutionalise this as the norm. Perhaps therefore the greater resort to unlicensed methods. People are still right to outraged by this and right to fight it. It’s a tactical question for Pakistani socialists how best to simultaneously criticize both the local rulers and the global system. But the idea of a nice clean capitalism is an illusion.
On globalisation, Marxist scholars have divergent opinions as you point out in Global Political Economy. What is your opinion? Do you see it as a new form of imperialism? As something distinct from imperialism?
We should understand the world economy as a whole. It is the sum of, and more than the sum of, its integrated parts. But I don’t like the term ‘globalization’ because it suggests this is something new. It isn’t. As your reference to imperialism highlights.
It also exaggerates the power and mobility of capital and is used to discipline workers. ‘You make trouble, you demand decent pay and your jobs will go off-shore’. ‘Resistance is futile’. It’s true that people, firms, countries can’t just go their own sweet way, choosing policy like you might choose biscuits. But there are spaces for resistance. There is much that can and should be fought for, globally but also at national and local levels. Getting the balance right between recognising the need for a global transformation and fighting locally can be hard but my worry is that invoking globalization - sometimes with good internationalist intentions of fighting globally - can disarm the more immediate struggles.
According to some economists, world is facing biggest economic crisis since the 1930s. But we haven’t seen, except the Occupy Movement in the USA, or mass strikes in Greece, emergence of any global trend posing any serious challenge to world capitalism. Don’t you think capitalism will most likely overcome this crisis as mainstream economists keep teaching at universities and it would again be a business as usual?
I don’t know. Capitalism has always found ways out of its crises in the past and may do so again. But there are certainly major obstacles and the austerity isn’t helping. Nothing has happened to reverse the basic structural faults and imbalances in the global economy that caused the crisis in the first place.
In terms of opposition I think we should also stress the Arab uprisings. Of course, the slogans weren’t ‘Down with global capitalism’ but the movement represents the most important and inspiring part of the overall process. But your point is valid. The opposition is inadequate and the left still has a lot of recovering to do after years of defeats. But let’s also remember that after the crash of 1929, the US didn’t really see the rising of the unions until the mid-1930s. Things can change quickly.
In Global Political Economy you write about Asian Tigers. Of late, Singapore has been flaunted by Imran Khan as the model for Pakistan. Can you explain us the Singapore success story and can Pakistan emulate this example? In the past, Nawaz Sharif promised to make Pakistan an Asian Tiger. Can Pakistan emulate Tigers?
The first thing to say is that Pakistan has a population of 160 million, Singapore 5 million. A small city state can find a niche in the global economy simply not available to a huge country. The comparison doesn’t work.
More generally, people are right to point out that the Tigers - South Korea and Taiwan even more than Singapore - were not triumphs of free market liberalism. The state led development. An important part of this was that they were thoroughly repressive. So in Korea, for example, there was an obscenely long working week enforced under military rule up until 1987. I’m not sure what Imran Khan would say about this but workers shouldn’t be enthusiastic. I imagine Imran Khan would be even less comfortable with the fact that the success of Taiwan and Korea was crucially also based on their position on the front line of the Cold War. They were obedient US allies receiving massive handouts and privileged access to American markets.
Global Political Economy it seems is more about politics and not economy. On reading it one gets the sense that economics is not that incomprehensible a subject as is often considered by many working- even middle-class people. How come your economic narrative is easy to understand for even somebody not well aware of economic complexities but budget speeches made by Finance Ministers, talk shows on economic questions, Financial or Economy sections of newspapers hardly invoke general interest?
Thanks. I wouldn’t say more politics than economics but that they cannot be separated. Economics is always about power, politics is always about who gets what.
Mainstream economics is more or less deliberate mystification. It purports to take the power relations out and to be an ‘objective’ science. It wraps itself in elaborate mathematics, completely incomprehensible to all but a few trained specialists. So economics becomes a technical thing to be handed over to technocrats. Common folk aren’t meant to understand and shouldn’t comment. It just so happens that the technical fix involves austerity, cuts in public services and handing over sack loads of cash to the bankers. But that isn’t politics, it’s just sound economics where you have to trust the specialists because they know what they are talking about and you don’t.
Do you agree that Marxists economists are good critics but bad practitioners? How else would you explain the economic performance of former Soviet block or Cuba and Vietnam?
No. the failures of attempts to establish socialism (like so much else) should primarily be attributed to social and economic conditions not individual failings.
So firstly, this comes back to the question about globalization. The Russian Revolution is the best example. It was an incredible achievement we should still celebrate. But because it only happened in Russia the pressures of the outside world - political and military as well as economic - undermined that achievement. Not immediately but over the next decade or so the revolution degenerated. The imperative within Russia became to compete with the West and therefore to accept the capitalist logic to accumulate, accumulate, whatever the cost. Stalin’s brutal rule was more the result of this imperative than the cause. Secondly, of course people use words in different ways but I would say if we understand socialism as Marx saw it as the self emancipation of the working class it has to be about mass popular democracy. If it hangs on a few good - or bad - practitioners it is already not socialism.
The other thing about self-emancipation for Marx was that it involved not just overthrowing capitalism but also a transformation of those doing the overthrowing. When and if we do see real revolutionary processes they will throw up plenty of adequate practitioners. But these are more likely to be drawn from the millions of farmers and factory workers, builders and school teachers than from the rather limited existing supply of Marxist intellectuals.
Farooq Sulehria is working with Stockholm-based Weekly Internationalen (www.internationalen.se). Before joining Internationalen, he worked for one year,2006-07 at daily The News, Rawalpindi. Also, in Pakistan, he has worked with Lahore-based dailies, The Nation, The Frontier Post and Pakistan. He has MA in Mass Communication from Punjab University, Lahore. He also contributes for Znet and various left publications in Europe and Australia.