The Clash of Globalisations

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Review of 'Power and Resistance in the New World Order', Stephen Gill, Palgrave £17.99

This is a collection of articles by an academic based in Canada who has written about both neoliberalism and the anti-capitalist movement's response. Rewriting Samuel Huntingdon, Gill refers to this battle as the 'clash of globalisations', and it is this clash which will shape the future of the 21st century.

For Gill, neoliberalism is about the class power of capital. What he calls 'disciplinary neoliberalism'--with its emphasis on privatisation, deregulation and competitiveness--is about extending the market and commodification into wider areas of social life. This is producing a global 'market civilisation' through a combination of market discipline and direct state power.

One consequence of the spread of the market is that, 'despite enormous increases in global output and population since World War Two, a significant polarisation of income and of life chances has been central to the restructuring process of the last 20 years'. Gill has used this framework to explain the explosion of resistance.

In an article following the anti-globalisation protests at Seattle Gill argued that the new movement was underpinned by four contradictions. Firstly, there is a contradiction between big capital and democracy which can be seen in the extension of binding trade and investment agreements like Gatt, Nafta-FTAA and the power of organisations like the WTO to institutionalise rights for big corporations and strengthen particular class interests.

Secondly, there is the increasing rate of exploitation, intensification of discipline on labour and falling real incomes which disciplinary neoliberalism produces, and which in part explain the involvement of organised labour, peasants and small producers in a number of protests.

Thirdly, there is the increasing burden placed on women by structural adjustment as health, welfare and educational provision has been reduced and the impact has disproportionately fallen on women. And fourthly, there is the contradiction between diversity and monoculture: sociocultural and biological diversity is being replaced by corporate social and biological monoculture which is linked to a loss of food security and increased health risks from genetically modified crops, privatised water supplies and patented seeds.

The global justice movement is emerging because of these contradictions, and the new protests 'contain innovative conceptions of social justice and solidarity, of social possibility, of knowledge, emancipation, and freedom'. So here is a serious attempt to engage with the world from a class perspective and on the side of those who are resisting.

Gill is one of a number of 'neo-Gramscians' who are inspired by the writing of Robert Cox, who has applied the concept of hegemony to try to understand world order. This use of Gramsci is much more productive and true to Gramsci than the Marxism Today-inspired Gramsci of the 1980s. In Cox and his followers the basic unit of analysis is class, and world hegemony is 'an outward expansion of the internal (national) hegemony established by a dominant social class'. But it shares with its 1980s forerunners the view that Gramsci is the key reference point within the Marxist tradition because he is regarded as less economistic than his predecessors.

To avoid such economism, Cox distinguishes between three different levels--the organisation of production and the social forces it generates, the state-forms and the specific relationships to civil society that they embody, and world orders, 'the particular configurations of forces which successively define the problematic of war or peace for the ensemble of states'. The problem with this approach is that these three levels interact without any one having priority, and Marx's emphasis on the structural constraints imposed by the global process of capital accumulation is sidelined.

But despite this general weakness, and specific arguments that one can take issue with, the main drawback with this book is that it is a collection of articles written over quite a long time span, which doesn't allow for a sustained picture or a coherent view of the new world order to emerge. This is a shame because, despite a fair amount of theoretical fog, Gill has some really interesting things to say.