Casino capitalism's last roll of the dice?

Globalization and its Discontents

March 20, 1998

Roger Burbach (director of the Center for the Study of the Americas), Orlando Nunez (a leading strategist of the Sandinista government in the 1980s) and Boris Kagarlitsky (a former member of the Moscow Soviet) provide, in Globalization and its Discontents, an interesting, if contradictory analysis of global political and economic systems.

"Capitalism", they say, "is in its final epoch because of inherent crises and contradictions within the system itself'' (for example, overproduction, volatile and unstable finance or "casino capitalism'' and "the exclusion of ever more people) and, according to Burbach and NNo$ez but not Kagarlitsky, "has already begun harbouring in its bowels its antithesis - the postmodern societies and economies." The usual postmodernist indicators are here - "no overarching ideologies'', "new social movements'' (the "discontents'' of the title), "local struggles'', "polycentric values'', "new individualism'' and "the quest for pleasure''.

Nothing particularly unusual so far, one might think: globalisation theorists heralding a postmodern era. The authors, however, are not straightforward postmodernists. Drawing on a long line of interdisciplinary writers claiming a progressive direction for postmodernism, Burbach et al claim to be "postmodern Marxists''. Many, of course, including this reviewer, would see such a formulation as a contradiction in terms.

In typical postmodernist style, it appears that there are fundamental differences in ideology between Burbach and NNo$ez, on the one hand, and Kagarlitsky, the Marxist, on the other - hence the contradictory nature of the analysis. For the former, the future is to consist of "postmodern economies'': primarily the informal sector - street vendors, flea markets, small family businesses and garbage scavengers, as well as weak enterprises sold off to workers (the township enterprises of China are cited as "the largest postmodern economy in the world"). These are gradually to replace capitalism, "hopefully (via) peaceful, democratic, electoral paths''.

For Kagarlitsky, however, these economic activities accompany the development of the capitalist economy, rather than oppose it. He places little hope in the social movements. Given the catastrophic situation, following the application of anarchic neo-liberal economics, in the former communist countries, Kagarlitsky favours renationalisation but - cognisant of the mistakes of the authoritarian era - in the context of democratic workers' control. He believes the present crisis, at least in the former Soviet Union, is preparing the way for society to return to "collectivist and openly socialist ideas''. If Kagarlitsky is right, and if the authors are collectively right that capitalism is in its final epoch, and that (presumably in the words of Kagarlitsky again) "in the United States, the struggle is (more than ever) a class one'', might such ideas eventually also take hold in the West and in the rest of the world?

Mike Cole is senior lecturer in education, University of Brighton.

Globalization and its Discontents: The Rise of Postmodern Socialisms

Author - Roger Burbach, Orlando Nunez and Boris Kagarlitsky
ISBN - 0 7453 1171 7 and 1170 9
Publisher - Pluto Press
Price - £40.00 and £12.99
Pages - 196

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