Global capitalism and 21st century fascism

Here’s an excerpt from a thought provoking article in Al Jazeera’s opinion section written by William I. Robinson, professor of sociology and global studies at the University of California, Santa Barbara.

“I want to discuss here the crisis of global capitalism and the notion of distinct political responses to the crisis, with a focus on the far-right response and the danger of what I refer to as 21st century fascism, particularly in the United States.

Facing the crisis calls for an analysis of the capitalist system, which has undergone restructuring and transformation in recent decades. The current moment involves a qualitatively new transnational or global phase of world capitalism that can be traced back to the 1970s, and is characterised by the rise of truly transnational capital and a transnational capitalist class, or TCC. Transnational capital has been able to break free of nation-state constraints to accumulation beyond the previous epoch, and with it, to shift the correlation of class and social forces worldwide sharply in its favour – and to undercut the strength of popular and working class movements around the world, in the wake of the global rebellions of the 1960s and the 1970s.

Emergent transnational capital underwent a major expansion in the 1980s and 1990s, involving hyper-accumulation through new technologies such as computers and informatics, through neo-liberal policies, and through new modalities of mobilising and exploiting the global labour force – including a massive new round of primitive accumulation, uprooting, and displacing hundreds of millions of people – especially in the third world countryside, who have become internal and transnational migrants.

We face a system that is now much more integrated, and dominant groups that have accumulated an extraordinary amount of transnational power and control over global resources and institutions.”

The above excerpt captures a lot of what has been happening in India over the last few decades. During the course of my field work in Kerala where I studied community-based efforts to provide palliative care to chronically ill people, I was acutely aware that the care problem was indeed accentuated by demographic changes such as migration of youth, fragmented families and a breakdown of the social fabric even in the rural areas. Kerala has seen mass migration to the Middle East during the 1970s and 1980’s post discovery of oil in the region. I saw the collective action of the people of Kerala as an effort to rebuild communities.

I particularly enjoyed the critical approach adopted by Professor Robinson in pointing out the hegemony by social groups as well as the notion of “passive revolution” where the oppressed are co-opted. While there is so much applause over the revolutions in Egypt, Libya, and Tunisia, it might be worthwhile to step back and think who wins the real victory. What about the Nandigram and Singur controversies? While power shifts from one dominated group to another, the destitution of the oppressed intensifies.

Although the critical perspective is well taken, I see human history as a perpetual struggle between the dominating and the oppressed (be it classes, castes, fascist groups). Therefore, I do not see the current structural changes as a “crisis of humanity”. Through my perhaps rose-tinted lenses, as long as there is free speech and enough Robinsons in the world, there will be dialogue that preempts situations where “our survival is at risk”.

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