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Identities, Hear the Signals!

Globalization threatens identities, declares Frederike Habermann. The rule of the homo economicus or econimism reduces and degrades life. Called to be subjects not objects, we can gain strength from the Zapatista vision where many worlds fit and everyone has a place.
Identities, Hear the Signals!

By Raj Patel and Frederike Habermann

[This article originally published September 26, 2000 on the Global Day of Action against Capitalism is translated from the German on the World Wide Web, www.no-racism.net/s26/gender/identitaeten.htm. (cf. www.jungle-world.com)]

Have all the initiatives for combing capitalism and patriarchy collapsed? Or can the global economy also be seen as a mechanism for reproducing man and women, black and white again and again?

There are many answers to the question "What is the WTO?" Formally the WTO was called into being in 1995 as the result of the agreement of Marrakesch concluding the Uruguay round of Gatt (General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade). Thus it is the newest member in the trinity with the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund. The WTO is a small bureaucratic institution with its seat in Geneva, around 500 employees and a modest budget. The website of the WTO describes its claim. The WTO is "the only international organization occupied with the global rules for trade between the nations. Its main function is in assuring that trade flows as smoothly, predictably and freely as possible".

This is more revealing than the WTO presumes. The term "assure" reveals how and why the WTO represents such an important institution in late capitalism. In contrast to the older institution of the World Bank, the disciplining structures in capitalism have changed in the last 50 years. The World Bank was called into being at the end of the Second World War in Bretton Woods "to rebuild and develop" Europe after the war. The interest of the US was unequivocal; the resistance against communism stood at the top of the national agenda. After enormous infra-structure projects were successfully carried out by the World Bank and the non-socialist European economies were brought to the way (with the generous anti-communist help of the Marshall plan), the World Bank directed its attention away from Europe to newly independent colonial countries.

In western industrial countries, a fordist welfare model prevailed for decades, marked by taylorist mass production and mass consumption and supported by a class compromise between capital and the unions. This class compromise included the underpayment or non-payment of typical women's gainful activities or typical women's activities outside paid labor. At the same time this model was based on economic structures assuring a transfer of wealth from countries of the third world and an increased prosperity within the industrial countries. In the countries of the Trikont, the fordist model was sought but never realized as a social form.

The more this class compromise was fortified in industrial countries, the more it became a barrier of capital exploitation. Increased productivity led to overcoming taylorist conditions of production. Since the seventies, fundamental restructurings of economic policy have occurred, characterized by strategies of deregulation and flexibility - only where the economic hegemony of industrial countries is not endangered as a rule. This economic policy described as neoliberal, not liberal is expressed most strongly in the WTO.

With the new conditions since the seventies, a new institution was necessary which wasn't entirely new. The ending 20th century resembled the late 19th century with the weakening of the unions and the primacy of capital. Comparable to a late-colonial regime, the WTO is the first multilateral neoliberal institution which has sovereignty, issues laws and administers justice in trade disputes between countries of the North and the South. The WTO is the concretization of the myth according to which all countries are on the way of "development". In the last century, this was still called "civilization".

The axiom that open trade leads to growth, development and prosperity is the foundation on which the WTO rests. However this axiom is denied in the last Unctad-report on trade and development since the economic development of a country depends on a great number of other factors. Free trade is actually neither a necessary nor a sufficient condition for economic growth. Something different than concern for the reduction of tariffs is behind the WTO. A comparison with the colonial states of the last century can be very helpful for understanding the multilateral institutions in late capitalism. The British colonial state secured the raw materials and sales markets for its manufacturing industry through its colonies and also control over its own homeland. Through the introduction of special "civilized" forms of controls in the colonies, the legitimation of these forms was possible in Great Britain for the united empire. Thus the empire overseas was used for controlling the class struggle at home. This is what is unacceptably new in the WTO from a European perspective. Although the World Bank gathered experiences for decades with drastic cuts of social systems in the South - more strongly than Reagan or Thatcher -, the WTO brings these post-fordist conditions near to people in the North. The WTO as the first neoliberal institution that sets up rules for the North and the South is the new manifestation of an old trend.

Changes in the economic position of women in industrial countries marked by post-fordism are expressed in an erosion of the family model, a reduction in social security, an increase in precarious working conditions, a re-privatization of reproduction and an increasing polarization between women along lines of class and "ethnic" membership. The life project of a mere housewife becomes a privilege. At the same time new gainful chances for women are opened up in low-wage areas in the form of part-time work, home work etc. - the latest packagings of all the meager wage groups. Typical women's occupations like message, hairdresser or nurses are raised in price relative to activities in the productive sector since they can hardly be rationalized as personal services. Thus areas integrated in the fordist welfare state but regarded traditionally as women's work are settled again in the private reproduction area or in the low-wage sector and mostly taken by (colored) migrant women. In rural areas of the Trikont, women and men are frequently exposed to an aggravation of their living conditions through intensified competition when their countries are opened up to the market (through imports and direct investments of multilateral corporations) and simultaneously also through deteriorating environmental- and production conditions - up to a complete exclusion from their hereditary environment. A survival through a subsistence economy and few market connections is often no longer possible. Women are affected differently than men by the resulting migration movements. Frequently they remain behind with the children, partly with financial support from the emigrating husband. More and more the women themselves emigrate. Jobs as maid-servants or sex workers are often the only possibilities for surviving.

New gainful chances are offered young unmarried women in areas where maquiladora industries locate. Individually this can mean a greater self-determination. However these gainful areas are marked by the traditional features of typical women's jobs like low wages, work monotony, prevention of union organization and uncertain job conditions.

Despite their complexity, these changes occur differently along the dividing lines gender and "ethnic group" as to work- and income distribution. This does not mean that all white men or only white men are winners of globalization. Actually an increasing overlapping occurs of class and gender relations, migration and racist discrimination which neutralizes, rearranges or reproduces existing social fragmentations. Nevertheless the question remains why these actual transformation processes run in structurally differentiated ways for people of different genders and different complexions.

There is no explanation for this within bourgeois economic theory. Economic theory does not simply fade out gender, "ethnic group" etc. but equates the ideal type of the profit-maximizing white man with the economic man, the homo oeconomicus which is made the starting point of all reflection. Adam Smith (1776) already implicitly started from the notion that women are not capable of rational decisions.

In the last years, feminist economists have criticized the male control of basic economic principles. This control happened with their awarding capability for rationality to women and the colored. However the homo oeconomicus as the complete image of humankind negates the identity aspect which coalesced historically since the 17th and 18th centuries as the "instrumental reason" (Horkheimer) of the citizen. This development of political economy in the 18th century as an internal element of moral philosophy and science passed through a comparable process of division like the middle class male subject. A normative expansion of the attributions of homo oeconomicus to divided identities does not lead to different structural transformation phases but fades them out.

The homo oeconomicus as a basis of present economic theory reflects the stereotype of the white man as an economic subject. A connection exists between this design and the construction of the (economic-) subject. The constructions of the "others", women and colored persons, appear as exclusions or lockouts.

For representatives of critical theory, Theodor W. Adorno and Max Horkheimer, the modern subject was the result of a tedious historical process in which humanity did dreadful things until "the self, the identical, goal-directed character of the person" was created. Adorno and Horkheimer speak of the male character of the middle class subject. Max Weber (1904) spoke similarly of the process of the genesis of "merchants hard as steel" with systemic self-control.

According to Weber, the calling as division of labor represents renunciation on the "universality" of the person. The act inevitably implies renunciation. Asceticism began to dominate worldly moral standards and helped build that powerful economic order with its technical and economic presuppositions and mechanical-mechanistic production defining the lifestyle of all individual persons born in this machinery with overwhelming pressure, not only the directly economically employed. No other need satisfaction results besides the irrational fulfillment of the vocation. Correspondingly Weber describes the destruction of the naturalness of the instinctive joy in love, in order in life management and in the character of a business as the most urgent task in fulfilling the calling and constitutive foundation of capitalism.

This corresponds to the process of disciplining described by Marx as a "Herculean project". According to Karl Marx, work is estranged activity in which a particular act becomes a foreign power facing and subjugating instead of being ruled. The estrangement arises through the fetish character of the commodity. Work in the commodity society is the social means of gaining products without inner relation to one's activity. The abstract existence of the person becomes an existence as a mere work person from which he can fall daily out of his fulfilled nothingness into the absolute nothingness, into his social and therefore real non-existence. As workers, according to Marx, human qualities only exist insofar as they are present for foreign capital. People coincide with the what and how of their production. "As individuals alienate their life, so they are."

In her approach to the division theorem, Roswitha Scholz (1992) refers to a connection between the divisions within estranged work in the commodity society and the hierarchies within gender production. In following the central idea of Scholz' division theorem, the woman in this process is a counterpart to the abstract "worker". The commodity form as such has a gender characteristic. Everything that cannot dissolve in the material human world in this form is split off as a feminine life context from the form and processes of abstract economization of the world where the commodity form is masculine...

The paradox is the immanence of the division, Robert Kurz writes. The "feminine non-commodification in the commodity society is hidden by its social formlessness. This can be shown in social relations in their sexual dimension. Since the middle class family or gender relations are non-commodified social spaces existing outside and independent of the commodity society, the assignments to the genders functioned here. Since feminine activities occur in secret and in subordinate positions, the commodity-formed fetish constitution is already gender defined.

The feminine life context in its split-off quality is an estranged moment of the goods-producing history of deformation and destruction. What is split off cannot be mobilized (this is the logic of "difference"). What is split off cannot be dissolved in a masculinization and abstractification of the woman to a commodity (this is the logic of "equality"). Rather the splitting off must be annulled together with the masculine commodity form.

The analysis of Moishe Postone is helpful. In his book "Time, Labor and Social Domination" (1993), Postone describes the estranged work process - and the estranged society as it exists - as a basic contradiction of capitalism and what could be possible as a form of work and society. According to him, the form of rule which characterizes capitalism in the marxist analysis is not dependent on private property, ownership of the means of production and appropriation of surplus value. Rather capitalism is based on the form of wealth, a form of social wealth which opposes living work as a structurally estranged and dominating power.

When this form is abolished and the productive potential which developed under capitalism is now used to liberate people from the curse of estranged work structures, the separation of the restricted and impoverished individual will be annulled. The "social individual" will arise out of the "pure worker".

Accordingly rule in capitalism does not mean rule of people over people but rather domination over people by abstract social structures created by people themselves. This interpretation of Marx also includes a socio-historical theory of subjectivity. On this basis, an approach could be developed to the Weberian problematic of the modern age and rationalization, the complete rationalization of all spheres of social life. Marx' theory of the constitution of social structures and historical dynamic of modern society through historically determined forms of praxis could be read as a theory proposed by Pierre Bourdieu of the mutual constitutive relation between the social structure and everyday forms of acting and thinking. In this version, the analysis of the dynamic character of capitalism is potentially an analysis of the historical transformation of subjectivity.

In the week after Seattle, the Economist titled its issue with a beautiful anonymous young woman from south Asia: "The real losers of Seattle". In the journal was a long passionate article for the advantages of free trade. Trade brings growth, growth brings development and development makes little poor attractive girls happy. Who could say anything against that?...

The resistance in Seattle was mainly a white resistance. On one side, the Clinton administration refused entry to many potential protestors from the South. An international protest caravan from New York to Seattle was only half as large as planned. The inner division of resistance in "ethnic groups" in the US and worldwide was emphasized. However several things happened in international resistance. The feminist substance of the zapatista revolution is probably overrated. However emancipated the guerillas in Chiapas relate to one another, their call has anchored basic anti-patriarchal principles in international discourse. For example, people from the whole world gathered in Chiapas for a seminar under the motto "not, man, not woman but the opposite". Peoples' Global Action, an interweaving of base movements from all continents "against free trade and the WTO" arising from the zapatista idea, expanded its four basic principles at its second conference with a fifth principle in which patriarchy and racism are condemned and people are appreciated and celebrated in their diversity...

Seattle stands for the fact that the NGOs are no longer a democratic fig leaf in the global play of the forces. Lobbying starts from the involved individuals... In contrast, the implicit (power-) relation between you and the others is more open in the resistance. While the lobbyist reproduces this power relation and presupposes both subjects as positioned, this power relation itself is attacked in resistance. However the persons are transformed, not only the relation. Resistance re-positions and rebuilds the subjects... Resistance can begin anytime and anywhere, not only before the roadblocks of the conference buildings.

Obviously there is no escape from the estranged world of capitalism. The bright life in the subsistence oasis also does not exist. What happens when we see our subject positioning as consumers or sellers of labor power as constructed like sex and race? If our interactive construction- and self-construction processes create sex and race, is there a capitalism on the plane of everyday knowledge and everyday conduct?

Construction of reality does not mean that it constantly changes or is changeable but that the reality appearing as stable is not given but actively (re-) produced. Will the capitalism be produced again by us daily?

Just as Foucault showed there is no place outside power, there is also no place outside capitalism, only a critical analysis. Answers to these questions have not yet appeared. However seeking for these answers in interconnections like Peoples' Global Action is most exciting. There are movements from the South including numerous indigeneous and ethnic groups like blacks in Latin America which unite their resistance. With movements from 70 countries and even more cultures, their repertoire as alternatives to the hegemonial social order is great. A way has begun even if the solution is not yet found.

Slavoj Zizek recently asked in a south German newspaper: "Why do we all love to hate Haider?" and warned to stop "We against them" in radical political projects and accept capitalism as a rule of the game. In times of capitalism-resentment, the left has to hold the terrain beyond the alternative Coca Cola or Pepsi. Capitalism must be opposed by more than higher wage demands.

During the beginning of February, the tenth conference of Unctad in Bangkok was accompanied by colorful protest, tear gas and cream pies. Rubens Richpero, General secretary of that organization founded in the seventies to represent developing countries, proclaimed after he referred to the political construction of the economic order: the call to annul the separation between left and right goes along with radical economic spokespersons of all kinds rejecting the policy of the WTO.

The new world economic order in its pure liberal aspects as shown in the draft to the Multilateral Agreement on Investments is also seen skeptically by states in the North. It failed less in itself than where its lobby institutions from the North were appeased. What is central here is defense of interests against international corporations. Beginning with resistance to starvation wages is necessary though leaving resistance with the struggle against starvation wages is hardly sufficient. The third way of a Bill Clinton expressed appreciation of the demonstrators.

Seattle - like Vietnam - was transformed in a moment from a geographical term. Now there is a "post-Seattle". Seattle offered the possibility for encounters of struggles and identities. Even US unions demonstrated their openness to other movements when they allowed Native Americans to lead their protest march. A wide spectrum opens up within the unions. While Jimmy Hoffa, the chairperson of the influential Teamsters' Union, the union of truck drivers, called for protectionism, such a demand stuck in the throats of the locked-out steel workers of the Kaiser corporation after they were visited at their strike posts by people from Pakistan, Panama and Israel.

Tens of thousands marched together joined in a common protest from all parts of the US and the world. In Seattle, they exchanged pamphlets and email addresses and demonstrated that they exist to the world and themselves. Whether this will continue beyond Seattle is not clear. So that this does not end in a "We are one, we are one" cry but in the solidarity of diversity, the deconstructionists of all countries should
Unite instead of sleeping through the global resistance at their writing desks.

Protests will occur in April when the IMF meets in Washington and when Nato gathers in May in Florence. The next Global Action Day falls on May 1, 2000 and will be repeated in Prague in September on the occasion of the annual meeting of the IMF. There will not be a second Seattle, Tony Blair exclaimed at the World Economic Forum at the beginning of this year in Davos and urged a better PR-campaign. Look at who benefits.

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