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Shaping Europe in a Globalized World?. Protest Movements and the Rise of a Transnational Civil Society? Universität Zürich, June 23-26, 2009. Stephen Gill York University, Toronto, Canada. THE GLOBAL ORGANIC CRISIS & POLITICAL AGENCY IN THE 21ST CENTURY Universität Zürich 23 June 2009

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shaping europe in a globalized world
Shaping Europe in a Globalized World?

Protest Movements and the Rise of a Transnational Civil Society?

Universität Zürich, June 23-26, 2009

stephen gill york university toronto canada
Stephen GillYork University, Toronto, Canada



Universität Zürich 23 June 2009

Lecture will be posted on:


Part 1: Two Concepts: Organic Crisis & The Post-modern Prince

Part 2: Beyond The Crisis of Accumulation – Elements of Global Organic Crisis Today

Part 3: Emerging Forms of Political Agency & the Post-Modern Prince

part 1
Part 1

Organic Crisis & Post-modern Prince

global organic crisis
Global organic crisis
  • A wide-ranging combination of economic, social and ecological crises characterizes the present global conjuncture
  • Present crisis is more deep-seated than an economic depression or a cyclical crisis of capitalist accumulation or economic growth.
  • It involves emerging challenges to the epistemological and political dominance of neo-liberal market civilization & capitalist globalization.
  • One characteristic: “the old is dying and the new is being born, and in the interregnum there are many morbid symptoms” (Gramsci,Prison Notebooks)
the post modern prince
The Post-modern Prince
  • This concept is grounded in a reading of Machiavelli’s & Gramsci’s concepts of political agency.
  • It seeks to conceptualize some of the real and imagined aspects of progressive political agency in the 21st century.
the prince 1513
The Prince (1513)
  • Machiavelli sought to analyze the national & global power relations of his time & place -- weakness of a divided Renaissance Italy vis à vis the geopolitical power of France & Spain
  • Spoke not to those in the palazzo but in the piazza – to those “not in the know”; he demystifies power
  • Sought to develop a new “art of the state” and to foster the political agency that could found a new form of integrated Italian state
the modern prince 1927 36
The Modern Prince (1927-36)
  • The political agency of the workers could found a new hegemony, a democratic form of state & new world order: the revolutionary party as a solution to 1930s organic crisis.
  • “The modern prince, the myth-prince, cannot be a real person, a concrete individual”.
  • “It can only be an organism, a complex element of society in which a collective will, which has already been recognized and has to some extent asserted itself in action, begins to take concrete form” (Gramsci, The Prison Notebooks, my emphasis).
the post modern prince9
The Post-modern Prince
  • Embryonic & still developing, part of longue durée of global progressive movements over centuries + responses to global organic crisis.
  • An emerging “collective political will” of a new type that has “begun to assert itself in action” & “begun to take concrete form”.
  • “Already been recognized” e.g. World Social Forum
  • Multiple in form & processes, not hierarchical.
  • Its political myths: “diversity as a universal project”; “emancipatory cosmopolitanism”. These go beyond traditional left politics & internationalism founded on agency of industrial working classes.
  • Epistemological & political alternative to disciplinary neo-liberalism and capitalist market civilization
part 2
Part 2:

Beyond The Crisis of Accumulation

Elements of Global Organic Crisis Today

crisis of accumulation the orthodox view
Crisis of Accumulation: the orthodox view
  • Source: Barry Eichengreen & Kevin H. O’Rourke 4 June 2009
  • So far the slump of 2008-09 matches the severity of 1930s collapse & in some respects it is worse
  • World industrial production tracks closely the 1930s fall, with no clear signs of “green shoots”.
  • World stock markets and world trade are following paths far below those followed in Great Depression.
macroeconomic intervention swifter far greater than in 1930s e g much lower interest rates
Macroeconomic intervention swifter & far greater than in 1930s – e.g. much lower interest rates
fiscal policy government budget surpluses deficits now vs then
Fiscal policy: government budget surpluses/deficits, now vs. then

Source: Bordo et al. (2001), IMF World Economic Outlook, January 2009.

a broader view of the crisis
A broader view of the crisis

The crisis is much more than a crisis of capitalist accumulation or a necessary self-correction aided by macroeconomic intervention and bailouts.

The crisis also reflects contradictions of what I call market civilization – a consumerist, privatized, energy-intensive & ecologically myopic pattern of social development.

Today the crisis involves a de facto state of global economic emergency which presents dangers and opportunities for a variety of states and social forces – and not all are progressive – many are reactionary.

In this situation of global organic crisis old forces are dying (but not yet dead) & the new are being born. They have yet to fully emerge as transformative political agency.

global priorities capital comes first
Global priorities: capital comes first
  • EU + US + UK bailouts & macroeconomic stimulus = US$17 trillion (figures drawn variously from The Economist, IMF & other sources).
  • This is over 22 times the total planned funds for UN’s Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).
  • MDGs seek to provide minimum & basic health & education for billions of the world’s poorest between now and 2020.
  • “Billions for the banks, pennies for the people” (Juan Somavia ILO Director in Financial Times April 2009).
example world capitalist markets increasingly determine food prices level of starvation
Example: world capitalist markets increasingly determine food prices & level of starvation

Increased corporate control of global agriculture

Decline of local self- sufficiency & energy & fertilizer intensive export-orientation of agriculture

Crop monocultures & damage to the biosphere

Global futures trading e.g. in Chicago & New York linked to speculation & rapid turnover time of capital & high food prices

capitalism human progress
Capitalism & human progress?

Lower growth, rising unemployment, falling remittances; high food prices, reverses decline of past 25 years in % people who are “chronically hungry” to a record 1 billion.

World population estimated by the US Census Bureau at 6.784 billion in 2009. Thus 1 in 7 people in the world is starving.

Numbers rose by 100 million in 2008-09, due to global financial crisis (UN Food & Agriculture Organization, 2009).

UN World Food Program needs $6bn (€4.5bn) in 2009 to feed the poorest, up 20 per cent from last year’s record of $5bn.

$17 trillion = 2833.33 times the sums needed by World Food Program in 2009.

rethinking the concept of organic crisis today
Rethinking the concept of organic crisis today

What are some differences between 1930s & today?

  • Crisis of accumulation is truly global – a second Great Depression on a wider scale – USSR was outside world capitalism in 1930s.
  • G8 responses reveal that macroeconomic interventions are one-sidedly favourable to big capital and the plutocracy, especially to Wall Street.
  • There are no obvious communist alternatives to the dominance of global capitalism by neo-liberal forces since the fall of the USSR in 1989.
  • However some new forms of left-wing political agency are emerging in the longer context of national & global struggles, e.g. the Post-Modern Prince
global organic crisis today some further elements 1 5
Global organic crisis today – some further elements: 1-5
  • Turnover time of capital accelerates, profits boom & rates of exploitation of people & nature increase.
  • Subordination of states to capital (following some socialization and nationalization of the means of production 1917-1989).
  • Governments as market agents: promote market + privatization + workfare + cut provisions for families, education, health, leading to privatisation of risk for a majority; state guarantees (socializes) risks for big capital, e.g. huge bail-outs, subsidies in 2008-09.
  • Political power of free enterprise & the propertied fully restored, unprecedented growth of a global plutocracy.
  • Acceleration of extreme inequality of income, wealth & life chances.
global organic crisis elements 6 10
Global organic crisis: elements 6-10
  • Expropriation or dispossession of producers of means to subsistence – parallels early capitalist enclosures and colonization (ongoing primitive accumulation).
  • Capitalist markets increasingly govern food supplies, water and other necessities: global hunger and starvation mediated by the capitalist market in ways that resemble 19th century capitalism.
  • This is occurring as threats to the biosphere & the ecology of livelihoods are increasing
  • The coercive, arbitrary use of coercion & military force (& torture) – and its use with impunity – becomes a regulative principle in world affairs, especially during Bush II administration.
  • Growing contradictions between legality and legitimacy provoke challenges to global governance & international organizations & the search for new and more democratic political and social forums
part 3
Part 3:

Emerging Forms of Political Agency & the Post-Modern Prince

global alternatives polanyi s double movement takes new form in 21 st century
Global Alternatives: Polanyi’s ‘double movement’ takes new form in 21st Century
  • Dominant forces that advance disciplinary neo-liberalism and market civilization.
  • Reactionary forces, e.g. far right including neo-Fascists already in government; pan-European Identity, Tradition, Sovereignty; religious fundamentalism in North and South; latter reject liberal, modernist projects.
  • Counter-hegemonic forces. Some seek regional autonomy under state-driven, left-wing models based on social needs, e.g. Bolivarian Alternative for Latin America.Others seek greater power & representation in global governance (e.g. India and China).
  • Alternative forces, progressive, grass roots and citizens organizations & movements, e.g. parts of the World Social Forum, Via Campesina and ATTAC. Linked to Post-Modern Prince.
after the emergency return to a reformulated orthodoxy
After the emergency: return to a reformulated orthodoxy?

Some progressive initiatives incorporated, e.g. by Obama: appease anger over bailouts; expand healthcare insurance + “green investment.” Yet his program one-sidedly favours Wall Street.

More pressures to privatize to pay for bail outs & pressure to reduce welfare and public service provision as a consequence of increasing deficits.

After the bail-outs: reintroduction of mechanisms to justify & lock in a return of fiscal discipline & austerity.

Reinforcement of market discipline on individuals, workers and families e.g. through growing debts (personal loss of wealth, lower incomes, reduced pensions).

IMF grows & resumes debt imperialism via donor country conditionality and stabilization programs.

authoritarian tendencies in the emergency the global north
Authoritarian tendencies in the emergency? The Global North
  • Bailouts & stimulus may not work, e.g. in Japan US & UK interest rates now effectively zero; huge deficits and even more government debt on the way -- who will pay the costs?
  • Efforts to manage the crisis – particularly if they fail – may reinforce tendencies towards a more reactionary & authoritarian capitalism as in the 1930s.
  • Note the effects on state apparatuses associated with the “war on terror” (the option to suspend civil liberties, impose martial law etc.) might be used against “revolts” from below & crush protests.
authoritarian tendencies in the emergency the global south
Authoritarian tendencies in the emergency? The Global South
  • The organic crisis in the South is a continuing crisis, mediated by external (imperialist) institutions and political forces e.g. continues 1980s debt crises.
  • This has produced innumerable Third World riots, protests and mobilizations over past 30 years, e.g. against IMF/Washington Consensus/G8 imposed policies throughout much of the Third World.
  • Broader protests not simply over free elections but also fiscal austerity, trade & investment, privatization, export dominated agricultural policies & end of food sovereignty; repression of free trade unions & of democratic rights.
  • Western media seems to give these little coverage.
  • Countries driven to IMF & EBRD may be subjected to a new round of externally imposed conditionality & austerity, further undermining their sovereignty
state capitalist responses to the organic crisis in the global south
State capitalist responses to the organic crisis in the Global South
  • Rising Third World powers such as China, Brazil & India seek to create alternative geopolitical and economic links & more multi-polar world order, e.g. use aid & economic leverage to challenge dominance of the US dollar & the G8 consensus.
  • Yet much of this is aimed at reforms within global governance & within the dominant frameworks of action configured by global capitalism.
  • Nevertheless some new state actors in Third World, e.g. Venezuela & Bolivia, are seeking to produce socially progressive systems & livelihoods, so far on a regional basis.
post modern prince as emerging collective will
Post-Modern Prince as emerging collective will
  • The new progressive forces – the “global lefts” (in the plural) are combining and could combine further.
  • Its organic intellectuals – numbering in the millions – are engaged on the terrain of hegemony in national and global civil society, including rethinking the broad conditions of what feminists call social reproduction and the ecological integrity and sustainability of the planet
  • Their strategy is one of war of position – both addressing immediate needs and longer term issues, both locally and globally
  • It involves a new language of politics to address key issues – in ways that go beyond orthodox left-wing politics & policy agendas.
critical theory method in the world social forum
Critical Theory & Method in the World Social Forum
  • Negation:
  • A shared rejection of disciplinary neo-liberalism of the World Economic Forum, G8, IFIs.
  • “Davos Man” is patriarchal, self-selecting & for the wealthy; private power fosters unequal and myopic globalization whilst seeking to to incorporate progressives of global civil society
  • Affirmation:
  • Discourses & practices are forged democratically in the “open space” in a “world process”, events, forums, networks, organizations, protests, struggles
  • Production of new knowledge & epistemological alternatives to disciplinary neo-liberalism
lineages of world social forum
Lineages of World Social Forum
  • Part of the longue durée of progressive movements over centuries – e.g. E P Thompson & contradictory “making” of the English Working Class.
  • Draws on progressive traditions, networks, forums, organizations that overlapped over recent decades:
  • 3rd World anti-colonial & independence movements; movements against dictatorships
  • Indigenous, labour, environmental, women’s and anti-racist movements, some reflected NGO counter-summits to the UN conferences of the 1990s.
  • Movements & global protests & demonstrations against neo-liberalism & its key organizations, e.g. against MAI 1997 & WTO in Seattle 1999 & subsequently World Bank, IMF, Davos, EU, G8.
world social forum forging a new common sense
World Social Forum: forging a new “common sense”
  • The WSF has been characterized as “a critical utopia, an epistemology of the South and an emergent cosmopolitan politics” (de Sousa Santos 2005:13).
  • It proposes to foster a profound change in how the world and humanity are conceived – a new “common sense” that can form the basis for a new world order.
  • WSF negates imperialist assumptions on which “neo-liberal totalitarian epistemology” is built as involving monocultures of the mind, of culture and of nature.
  • The opposite of such epistemological imperialism is the concept of “ecology of knowledge” where diverse forms of knowledge are seen to interact and interrelate like beings in an ecosystem.
boaventura de sousa santos on the epistemology of the south
Boaventura de Sousa Santos on “the epistemology of the South”

The “epistemology of the South” -- the perspective of the progressive forces in the South transcending the WSF has two main components:

  • The “sociology of absences”
  • The “sociology of presences.”
the sociology of absences
The “sociology of absences”
  • Imperialist “totalitarian” epistemology asserts that “there is no alternative” to disciplinary neo-liberalism.
  • This is a strategy that renders much of what is real “absent”. It therefore denies the validity of authentic social experiences which are removed from the politically possible and held to be “anachronistic”, “irrational”, or “unthinkable”.
the sociology of presences
The “sociology of presences.”
  • Seeks to identify and value differences between peoples & cultures, key social trends and advance their social and political potentialities – especially those marginalized, denied or ignored from the hegemonic rationality & culture.
  • Involves a continuous learning process & synthesis based on the creation of shared language via debate & recursive translations of knowledge systems and actions.
  • Creates a transnational literacy on which a critical cosmopolitan world could be built, a “progressive utopia” (Caruso 2007 128ff; 138-40).
towards a post modern prince
Towards a Post-modern Prince?
  • Gramsci’s proposition concerning one of the basic purposes of politics:
  • “In the formation of leaders, one premise is fundamental: is it the intention that there should always be rulers and ruled, or is the objective to create the conditions in which this division … of the human race … is no longer necessary?
  • A new post-modern “myth-prince” may be a multiple and diverse, ethical & political means to that end.
  • It involves a cosmopolitan combination of pre-modern, modern and post-modern epistemologies & social forces in movement.
conclusion six propositions concerning the future of the progressive movements
Conclusion: six propositions concerning the future of the progressive movements
  • They go well beyond earlier forms of progressivism.
  • To understand their potentialities we need to take a long term view, linking past, present and future.
  • Avoid fallacy of assuming that all forces of opposition are or should be unified in a specific response to all problems or in a traditional political party.
  • Re-imagine political agency as process & movement.
  • Difficult if not impossible for established power to fully contain or decapitate these movements or to constrain their knowledge, capability and actions.
  • The new progressive movements are forging credible policy frameworks and feasible utopias or myths; that is their alternatives are both real and imagined.
further sources
Further Sources
  • Reference to my work, e.g. Power & Resistance in the New World Order (Palgrave 2nd ed 2008) & recent lectures & presentations can be found on:
  • Caruso, Giuseppe 2007. Organizing Global Civil Society: The World Social Forum 2004. Ph D Thesis, University of London.
  • Santos, B. d.-S. 2005. O Forum Social Mundial. Manual de Uso. Sao Paulo, Cortez.
  • Santos, B. d.-S. 2005b. ‘The Future of the World Social Forum. The work of Translation’. In Development, 48-2, pp. 15-22.