[OPE-L:2449] The transnational working class?

From: H.K. Radice (ipihkr@lucs-02.novell.leeds.ac.uk)
Date: Tue Feb 29 2000 - 07:46:58 EST

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A belated response to Gerry Levy's [OPE-L 2351] of Feb.11th: he
suggested a number of questions for discussion, namely:


* Is the working class, and are working class struggles, becoming more
  transnational or international? Relatedly: how do we interpret the
  difference (if any) between transnationalization and

* How has the globalization process changed the nature of the working
  class and working-class struggles? Relatedly: what is a definition of
  "the working class" appropriate for the current period? Relatedly: how
  can struggles themselves change the identity of the working class?

* What are some of the most important contemporary struggles by the
  "transnational" working class? Are these struggles only defensive in
  origin? I.e. are they only responses to Neo-Liberal policies (btw,
  perhaps we should have a discussion re the meaning of "Neo-
Liberalism") or have they other aims?

* How are the struggles by other non-capitalist social groups and
  movements related to (or even a component part of) global working-
class struggles? Relatedly: what are the obstacles to building working-
class unity and solidarity? Relatedly: how can these obstacles be

Gerry's questions seem to me to be very pertinent. I have pinned them to
the wall over my desk to encourage some thoughts about them. Let's
just try the first question for now.

Taking the second issue first, some writers, notably Hirst & Thompson
in their book "Globalization in Question" (GiQ), distinguish between an
'international' and a 'transnational' (their term is actually 'globalized')
economy as ideal-types. The first is the classic billiard-ball model of
orthodox trade theory and realist international relations theory alike, "in
which processes that are determined at the level of national economies
still dominate and international phenomena are outcomes that emerge
from the distinct and differential performance of the national economies"
(GiQ 1st ed p.10). In the second, "the international economic system
becomes autonomized and socially disembedded, as markets and
production become truly global.....the national level is permeated by and
transformed by the international" (ibid). This counterposition of "inter-
national" and "global" economies seems to me to be fundamentally
misleading. My disagreement with them and similar writers is not with
their choice of terms, but with the absence of any class analysis in their
work. Their understanding of the state is especially retrograde, not only
being clearly anti-Marxist, but also anti-pluralist. In terms of political
economy, they only offer two overall conceptions of the contemporary
world economy, the 'global neoliberal' and the national-Keynesian. At
root, their approach rests on a profoundly uncritical acceptance of the
separation of economics and politics that is so central to bourgeois
ideology. Capitalism has always been global, and the so-called nation-
state has always played a mediating role between nationally-rooted
processes of production, reproduction and accumulation, and
overarching world markets. For most of the history of most parts of
world capitalism, trade and cross-border investments have played a
crucial role in shaping, and being shaped by, the patterns of
accumulation and the politics of class struggle necessarily played out in
the national arena. Personally, I can find no meaningful analytical
distinction between 'international', 'multinational' and 'transnational',
except in the operational strategies and structures of capitalist

In the sort of 'left-globalist' (or equally, socialist internationalist)
perspective that I have tried to put forward, the extent to which workers'
struggles are inter- or transnational will depend on (a) the extent to which
the circuit of capital within which their exploitation takes place extends
across national borders; and (b) the extent to which their own
organizational structures and actions involve or take note of workers in
other countries. It seems plain to me that, unless we assume a peculiarly
restricted vision on the part of workers in struggle, that if production and
markets are becoming more transnational (as the evidence seems to
show), then workers' struggles and the wider processes of class
formation and politics are also likely to become more transnational.
Which brings us then to the central questions of.. how, and to what

Enough for now. I will send my recent paper given in Moscow, to which
I referred in OPE-L 2348, to Gerry, who can presumably find ways of
making it available to the list (sorry, but I remain pretty much an amateur
in the e-world).


Hugo Radice
Senior Lecturer in International Political Economy,
Institute for Politics and International Studies,
University of Leeds,
Leeds LS2 9JT, UK.
tel: 44-113-233-4507
fax: 44-113-233-4400

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