sábado, 15 de marzo de 2008

INTERVIEW WITH WILLIAM ROBINSON Latin America, state power and the challenge to global capital

In this interview Robinson, professor in
the Department of Sociology at the
University of California, Santa Barbara,
traverses a wide terrain, from an
in-depth historical summation of the
sweeping structural changes that have occurred
in Latin America over the past few
decades to a critical assessment of movements
in Bolivia and Mexico. Robinson’s
publications include: Transnational Conflicts:
Central America, Globalization and Social
Change (2003), and A Theory of Global
Capitalism: Production, State and Class in a
Transnational World (2004), and a new
book on Latin America and globalization is
Peter Brogan: Why do you think it’s so critical
at this juncture to write a book on
Latin America and globalisation? Considering
the many resistance movements that
have emerged in the past decade do you
think that Latin America is at a special historical
juncture in its resistance to global

William I. Robinson: Latin America is at a
special historical conjuncture in terms of
resistance to global capitalism. The neoliberal
model became the dominant model. It
achieved hegemony in the Gramscian
sense, when it became a consensus among
global elites. Elites which might have been
opposed to neoliberalism succumbed to
the program, and even among some popular
forces there was a resignation, a sense
that there was no alternative to neoliberalism.

But that hegemony cracked in the
late ’90s and into the early 21st-century.Really
one major symbolic turning point is the
Argentine crisis. From that point on, neoliberalism
is moribund, its hegemony is
cracked, it’s in crisis. It is moribund worldwide
but particularly in Latin America.
Thus, when we look worldwide at resistance
to global capitalism we can see that
Latin America is in the forefront of that resistance
and of the breakdown of neo-liberalism’s
hegemony. It is also in Latin
America that the origins of possible alternatives
are emerging in the struggles
against neoliberalism.
Latin America is in the forefront of the
upsurge of social movements, of revolutionary
movements, and challenges to the
neo-liberal state and to the dominance of
global capitalist groups. This is the structural
background and what’s at stake in
Latin America right now.What will replace
the neoliberal model? Will it be some type
of reformed global capitalism which will
allow global capital to gain a new lease on
life? Or will neoliberalism be replaced by a
more radical alternative, such as what
might be under construction in Venezuela
or in Bolivia? It’s too early to say.
Honor Brabazon: Wherever we look in Latin
America popular movements still seem
to be facing that classic question of how to
engage the state. Given the deep structural
Latin America, state power
and the challenge to global capital
William I. Robinson interviewed by Honor Brabazon and Peter Brogan
in September 2006 (original available at www.leftturn.org)
changes that have occurred in these countries
since the 1970s with the rise of neoliberalism
and a truly global capitalist economy
can you discuss how contemporary
movements have been dealing with these
changing dynamics and how they’re engaging
with the state and international institutions?
Do you see the nation-state as a
viable vehicle for revolutionary change
Robinson: If I jump to the last thing you
said, no, the nation-state does not provide
a viable alternative. It’s not Bill Robinson
saying that, it’s the leadership of the Bolivarian
revolution in Venezuela. What they
have figured out is that their survival, the
survival of the popular project of transformation
in Venezuela, must be a wider
South American and Latin American project.
They might not articulate what I’m
saying in the same theoretical terms, but
the idea that there would be a popular
transformation of global capitalism that
develops in Venezuela without linking that
project to ongoing continental coordinated
transformations throughout South America
is an idea which doesn’t correspond to
reality. I think that Venezuelans, by way of
example,would agree with this.
Brogan: The Venezuelan case is a very interesting
one because in it you see the development
of dual power structures outside
of the nation-state while at the same
time people at the executive level and military
are building connections with Bolivia
and Cuba in an effort to develop a regional
bloc. So in a sense they understand that
you can’t simply use simply your own national
state to create radical change in the
global system, but you can use it to create
a regional resistance block. What do you
think about that?
Robinson: It’s not my position that the nation-
state is irrelevant. The reality is that
we have a global capitalist system which
has entered a new phase in the last couple
decades which has changed the terms in
which we understand the system.Yet, challenges
in this new phase are still organised
along nation-state lines in terms of political
authority and in terms of formal state
power. And that’s the contradiction.
What this means is that social forces
and political forces still need to challenge
state power at the national level, to make a
bid for state power at that level, and then
from there to continue to challenge the
global capitalist system. One of the things
that’s changed fundamentally in Latin
America is that the earlier revolutionary
strategy took the organisational form of
the vanguard party and was aimed at
bringing together politically various classes,
particularly workers and peasants. It
would then use that mobilisation to overthrow
the state and then implement a revolutionary
transformation of society. We
know that this model failed.Yet, in its place
grew a similarly failed understanding of
what’s required to transform society: that
there would be no need any more to talk
about state power, to talk any longer about
political organisations that could operate
not just in civil society but also in political
society. The height of this kind of thinking
is expressed theoretically in John Holloway’s
book Changing the World Without
Taking Power, the idea that we can transform
fundamentally capitalist social relations
and overcome relations of domination
and subordination without honing in
on the state, just changing things at the
level of civil society. Of course I’m caricaturing
Holloway a bit, but the thing is that
that’s the essential argument, and that argument
has been bought by some leaders
of social and political movements around
the world.
So, we have two extremes. The first is
the old model of social and political forces
mobilising through political organisations
– through a vanguard – in order to overthrow
the existing state, take power, and
transform society. The other is that you
don’t need to think about state power at
all. But, as Venezuela and Bolivia demonstrate,
the key question remains how can
popular forces and classes utilise state
power to transform social relations, production
relations, and so forth. And once
you raise that question, you have to talk
about what type of political vehicle, what
type of political expression, will interface
between the popular forces on the one
hand and state structures on the other.
That’s the big question raised by the current
round of social and political struggle
in Latin America: what’s the relation between
social movements of the left, the
state, and political organisation?
Previously there was a vertical model,
but the emphasis for the last 15 or 20 years
has been on horizontal relations among
different social groups. The indigenous organisations
in Latin America have spearheaded
the new model of networking and
horizontal relations, building much more
democratic relations from the ground up.
That’s great, and I support that politically,
and we can analyse its importance, but at
some point you need to talk about how
vertical and horizontal intersect. This is
precisely one of the problems, for example,
with the autonomous movements in Argentina,
among others. In attempting to
overcome the old vertical model of vanguardism
and bureaucratism, it’s gone to
the other extreme. Without any political
hammer or political vehicle you can’t actually
bid for state power, synchronise the
forces necessary for radical transformation.
I want to find a balance between these
two positions. Take the models of Brazil
and Venezuela: in Brazil you have a situation
where popular forces, revolutionary
forces, represented in the workers’ party
take state power.But there is no mass autonomous
organisation from below. With
this lack of autonomous organisation from
below the popular classes could not exert
the mass pressure, exercise the necessary
control, over the Workers Party government
so that it would confront global capital
and implement a popular program. The
Brazilian model shows that, even when
revolutionary groups take state power –
absent the countervailing force from popular
classes below to oblige those groups to
respond to their interests from the heights
of the state – the structural power of global
capital can impose itself on direct state
power and impose its project of global capitalism.
In other words, global class struggle
“passes through” the national state in
this way. And the experience of Brazil
shows us what happens unless there’s a
mass mobilisation from below that places
permanent pressure on the state even
when it’s taken over by revolutionary
Now, counterpose Brazil to Venezuela.
In Venezuela, you have a situation where
similarly radical forces have come to state
power and there are tremendous pressures
from the global system to moderate and
undermine any fundamental structural
change. Yet in Venezuela, unlike Brazil,
there’s mass mobilisation from below and
that mass mobilisation pressures the revolutionaries
in the state not to succumb to
the structural pressures of global capital
but rather to carry out a process of social
transformation. Of course this is on ongoing
process, and both the forces of global
capital and those of popular majorities are
constantly in struggle around the direction
in which these states will move. You have
to have permanent independent pressure
of mass social movements from below
against the state but at the same time you
can’t talk about any project of transformation
without also taking state power.
Brogan: More than being an incredible inspiration
to movements across the world,
the popular uprisings in Latin America are
serving as an experimental ground where
you have Bolivia on the one hand and
Venezuela on the other, two very different
models of dealing with state power and
mass mobilisation from below. Then you
have what’s happening with the Zapatistas
in Mexico right now with the “other
campaign,” which reflects a quite different
way of trying to deal with this national
issue in the midst of the election scandal
and the mass mobilizations advocating a
recount of the presidential election backed
by the PRD. What do you think of these
three examples, especially considering the
social forms resistance takes in each case
and how power and agency are being conceptualised
and transformed in these three
Robinson: I, along with hundreds of millions
of people around the world, am a
great admirer of the Zapatistas and have
taken tremendous inspiration from the Zapatista
struggle. But we need to be realistic
about something. The Zapatista project
has taken the Holloway argument to the
actual real-life, political-historical arena.
The problem over the last couple years is
that the Zapatistas’ principle strategy of
mobilising from below and not wanting to
get corrupted with the matter of state
power—which might have been a correct
thing to do in the early ’90s, or even up
until a couple years ago — is not the correct
thing over the last six months. In the
current historical moment, the politically
necessary thing to do—the only thing to
do — was to participate in the struggle
that the PRD and Manuel López Obrador
were waging around the presidency—especially
once we moved into the period
when the fraud became clear and of an upsurge
of mass struggle against that fraud
— despite all his limitations of the PRD
and Lopez Obrador, despite everything we
could say critically about them.
The only thing a revolutionary could do
at that time was to join in and talk about
having state power and those elections.
And so the Zapatistas, not doing this, stagnated.
They have had less and less influence
on Mexican society. First of all, the social
base of the Zapatistas outside of the
indigenous communities in Mexico is increasingly
young people, those that may
adhere to theWorld Social Forum process;
this is a radical oppositional base but
you’re not talking about a mass workingclass
base. The supporters of the Zapatistas
outside of the indigenous communities,
such as in Mexico City, have stagnated, and
inside Chiapas, Zapatismo may still be a
force of counter-hegemony or even of
hegemony in some communities, but the
fact is that global capitalism has made
major headway inside Chiapas itself between
1994 and 2006. They don’t even have
the leverage in Chiapas that they had a few
years ago.
So that’s the pitfall of following the Holloway
model, of everything from below
without looking above: it forgets about the
state at a particular historic juncture when
state power is on the agenda. That’s the
pitfall and a lesson to take from Mexico.
What is the lesson for elsewhere? For
Venezuela, Bolivia? The mass organisations,
the indigenous organizations and
other popular movements should continue
their mobilisation, not pull back and not
rest for one moment, continue to pressure
the Morales [Bolivian] government, or the
Chavez government, inside and outside the
Brogan: Just to backup for one second, in
talking about the Zapatistas in Mexico in
comparison to say the movements in
Ecuador or Bolivia what do you think it is
about the Zapatistas that explains why
they’ve drawn so much attention from
movements around the world? Can you
elaborate on their embodiment of this Holloway
line on power? What is the real difference
between the movements in
Ecuador, which is arguably the strongest
indigenous movement on the continent,
and the Zapatistas and other indigenous
groups in Mexico or the groups in Bolivia?
Robinson: While there is are tremendous
differences we should first point out
that all these organisations are obviously
united around a project of ending 500 years
of oppression and discrimination, and
racism and colonialism. But putting that
aside for a minute, what happened in
Ecuador is that CONAIE and other indigenous
organisations are constantly challenging
state power. They overthrew five
governments in a row. The Zapatistas on
the other hand weren’t interested in Mexico
City or who was in the presidential
palace. In Ecuador, however, where the
movements overthrew five governments,
things reached a point a few years ago
where they realised that they had the capacity
to overthrow the government but
they didn’t have an alternative. They didn’t
have the capacity, once the government
was overthrown, to place in power political
forces and state representatives that would
defend their interests and implement their
program. And so what happened as a result
is that CONAIE had to depend on an
alliance with Lucio Gutierrez, an army
colonel.When Gutierrez betrayed the popular
movement, when he turned to neoliberalism
and delivered the country to
global capitalism, CONAIE got very burnt
for having backed him and having brought
him into the presidency. That did a lot of
damage to CONAIE’s credibility with their
base, to the strategy of putting somebody
in the state who would represent their interests.
So here we can see the complexities of
popular and mass struggles at this historic
juncture. In the October 2006 elections the
indigenous faced again this major dilemma
– should they support another candidate
and risk getting burned? Should they put
forward an indigenous candidate along the
Bolivian model? They debated all of this
and as you interview me [September 2006]
we don’t know the outcome. But the point
is they never took the Zapatistas’ route of
saying,we’ll stay here in the highlands and
the Amazonian region and forget about the
government, about state power. The same
is true in Bolivia. The organisations there
never did that, but rather put Morales in
There are a number of reasons why the
Zapatista model looks so attractive around
the world. I think that one can be traced to
a historic moment in the early 1990s, at the
height of neoliberalism as a monolithic
project where no one could question it.
Even some – indeed, many – former revolutionaries
adhered to the idea that “there
is no alternative,” that you just have to get
the best deal for your country possible
within global capitalism. It’s in that environment
that the Zapatista uprising of January
1, 1994 took place. It was a wake-up
call that said, NO!, the lowest of the low,
the indigenous in Chiapas and by extension
the downtrodden everywhere, are
going to fight back. There is an alternative
future and we’re going to try to reach out
for it. And that’s why the Zapatistas are so
inspirational. They represented the beginning
of the end of neoliberalism’s hegemony.
Another reason why the Zapatistas
have had such a following worldwide is because
anarchism has made a big comeback,
and the Zapatistas’ feelings on engagement
with the state have been attractive to the
anarchist current worldwide.
Brogan: The turn the Zapatistas have
made with the “Sixth Declaration” and the
“other campaign” seems to be putting into
question these ideas of not seizing state
power and that you can build an alternative
outside the state, autonomous enclaves
of revolution if you will. It in fact
seems to be a recognition of the failure of
that kind of approach in that it is trying to
build some kind of national project that
doesn’t say we have the exact blueprint for
revolution but are continuing the approach
of leading by following, leading by listening.
Do you see any kind of hope in these
new projects, especially how they are interacting
with large mobilisations happening
at the time of this interview in support
of Obrador and the PRD?
Robinson: I want to reiterate that we are
all students and supporters of the Zapatista
struggle. I am not dismissing out of
hand the Zapatistas political point on the
state and social power, but here’s the thing:
the Zapatistas launched the Sixth Declaration
and the Other Campaign at the exact
moment at which the political lightning
rod in Mexico was shifting to the electoral
process. As revolutionaries, you need to be
able to shift strategy and tactics as you
move along, as history actually unfolds. So
that’s my criticism: that there is a position
of not getting involved with the state, not
getting involved with the elections, not
going for state power. When you elevate
that position to a rigid principle it is a mistake,
and that’s what’s may have happened
with the Zapatistas in Mexico.
Brabazon: Can you talk a little bit about
these indigenous movements as a whole
and what the significance of the rise of
them has been and how they are changing
the way that we in the North are thinking
about power, politics and social change?
Robinson: That’s a good question with no
short answer. Some argue that revolutionary
forces for much of the 20th century and
with few exceptions emphasised building
as broad a base among popular classes as
possible, and in doing so ignored particular
ethnic and racial oppression and dismissed
the indigenous reality. While the reality of
20th century revolutionary struggles cannot
be reduced to this observation, this
was indeed quite true regarding the Left,
for instance in Guatemala, in Peru, in
Colombia, and elsewhere.
But this situation changes with the collapse
of the traditional Left project in Latin
America after the 1980s. Indigenous communities
have organised on a new basis
and have been at the forefront of the upsurge
in social movements and in devising
new ways of organising from below to
challenge the oppressions embedded in social
and cultural relations and the capitalist-
colonial state. Indigenous movements
have been at the forefront of popular
movements in Latin America over the last
10 or 15 years. Indeed, just look at Colombia
right now, where the indigenous have
spearheaded the whole national resistance
to a Free Trade Agreement with the United
States. Of course many problems have yet
to be resolved, including the puzzle of how
to move forward, of how you preserve autonomy
at the base and make sure that the
distinct interests of different communities
and different groups can advance. Particularly
important is how to address this
while at the same time linking together diverse
social forces and diverse communities
and political forces around a collective
project of change.
Brogan: Can you discuss the connections
between the rise of indigenous movements
to the structural transformations that have
taken place in Latin America with the deep
penetration of global capital, especially as it
relates to the indigenous relationship with
Robinson: Firstly we need to understand
the difference between the last round of
structural changes in the ’60s and ’70s to
those in the 21st century. Latin America has
gone through successive waves of everdeeper
integration into world capitalism.
Each time there’s a new integration or reintegration
to world capitalism there has
been a corresponding fundamental change
in the social and class structures of Latin
America, and the leading economic activities
around which social classes and groups
have organised and mobilised. So the
model that we had in the 20th century was
based on industrialisation through import
substitution, on traditional agro-exports,
on development programs based on a national
economy with protective barriers
and so forth. This model involved an active
role for the state in accumulation and an
oligarchical political corporatist coalition.
Corporatist populism and import substitution
industrialisation was the 20th century
model in Latin America. But that model
corresponded to the pre-globalisation
phase of world capitalism – national corporate
capitalism rooted in a Keynesian
state that regulated accumulation. All of
this was at the nation-state level, as was
the social democratic models in advanced
capitalist countries.
But the new globalization model of accumulation
becomes consolidated in Latin
America from the 1980s into the 21st century.
In this new model, the commanding
heights of accumulation in Latin America
are no longer the old traditional agro-exports
or national industry.
First, with regard to industry, accumulation
is now based on integrated national
industrial activity into global production
chains as component phases. So we have
the maquiladoras, which may have started
along the US-Mexico border but have now
spread throughout Latin America, especially
in the Greater Caribbean Basin. And
secondly, small and medium industrial enterprises
all over Latin America—known
by their Spanish acrynom PYMES—have
reoriented from the national to the global
market by becoming local subcontractors
and outsourcers for transnational corporations
and for global production chains.
Secondly, you have the explosive
growth of the global tourist industry in
Latin America. I have been researching this,
and the data shows that this industry is
sweeping across Latin America and the
world. In fact, tourism was the largest single
economic sector worldwide until it was
replaced in first place by the energy sector
with the rise in oil prices. Every single Latin
American country has been swept up into
the global tourist industry, which now employs
millions of people, accounts for a
growing portion of national revenue and
gross national product, and penetrates numerous
“traditional” communities and
brings them into global capitalism. For
many countries – including Mexico, Costa
Rica,Guatemala, Ecuador, and most of the
Caribbean nations, among others – it is the
first or second most important source of
foreign exchange.
Third, there’s a new type of transnational
agribusiness that has replaced the
old agro-export and domestic agricultural
models. Every country – every Latin American
national agricultural system – is being
swept up in it the new global agribusiness
complex. If you go in Brazil or Argentina or
Bolivia or Paraguay, in those four countries
the biggest export crop now is soy. It’s no
longer beef coming out of Argentina. It’s no
longer coffee and sugar coming out of
Brazil. It’s King Soy. Soy is firstly an industrial
product. Secondly it’s used as feed for
animals all around the world.And third it’s
increasingly a basic input for the global
food industry, for the full range of
processed and packaged food going to the
global supermarket. And soy plantations
set up by transnational agribusiness and
run as capitalist “factories in the field” are
displacing millions of small holders, eating
up the rainforests, and so on. In Mexico,
the biggest agricultural activity right now
is no longer corn and beans but winter
fruits and vegetables for the global supermarket.
The fourth commanding height of accumulation
in Latin America now is the export
of labor to the global economy. Immigrant
labor is exported across Latin America
to intensive zones of accumulation and
to the global economy, to the United
States, Europe, and beyond. In turn, that
immigrant Latin American labor sends
back remittances. The amount of those remittances
is vast, and they can’t be underestimated.
So you have $40 to $50 billion
being sent by immigrants all over the
world, particularly from the US and Europe,
back to Latin America. What do
those remittances do? Those remittances
mean that Latin Americans can buy things
from the global economy and that their social
reproduction is dependent on these
global financial flows. In many countries
remittances are the number one source of
foreign exchange, which means that these
countries are inserted ever-deeper into
global capitalism. This export of labor and
import of remittances inextricably inserts
hundreds of millions of Latin Americans
into global financial circuits.
To summarise all of this, you have this
total changeover in the Latin American political
economy. Now the new dominant
sectors of accumulation in Latin America
are intimately integrated into global accumulation
circuits. In comparison to today,
in the 1960s there were still massive pockets
of society that were pre-capitalist or
that at least enjoyed some local autonomy
vis-à-vis national and world capitalism.
The indigenous, for instance, still had a certain
autonomy from world capitalism – not
independence, but an autonomy. But 21stcentury
global capitalism has penetrated
just about every nook and cranny of Latin
America. In fact, there’s almost no autonomous
peasantry anywhere in Latin
America. Capitalist relations are practically
universal now in the region.
Indigenous communities have never
stopped resisting in 514 years. But now,
they have intensified that resistance in a
direct confrontation with transnational
capital over the natural resources that are
in their communities. For example, the
transnational oil companies have invaded
even the most remote outposts in Ecuador
in the past few decades. So you have the
indigenous spearheading resistance to the
plunder of Ecuador by the oil transnationals.
We could point to the struggles around
energy resources in Colombia, national gas
in Bolivia, the contradictory relationship of
indigenous and local communities to oil in
Venezuela, the confrontation of the indigenous
in Guatemala with the transnational
mining companies that in the past decade
have invaded vast new stretches of that
country. All this represents an intensified
penetration of global capital around major
resources. This is a major structural backdrop
to the new round of indigenous struggle,
and that struggle is so important because
it is a – perhaps the – leading edge of
the challenged to transnational capital.
Brogan: To keep on this line of argument,
with the integration and penetration of
transnational capital with more domestically
oriented factions of capital in Latin
America I’m reminded of a story the Financial
Times ran recently on transnational
banks in Venezuela which are making
record-level profits. This in conjunction
with Venezuelan oil dependency on US
markets raises some serious questions
around resistance to global capital and a
radical project of transformation. Can you
speak to these questions, especially in the
context of Chavez’s declaration that they’re
creating 21st-century socialism in
Venezuela? If this commitment to building
socialism is believed to be genuine what
does that mean given the kind of integration
of the oil sector and transnational
banks within Venezuela?
Robinson: You’re getting again to the heart
of what’s at stake here. Earlier you asked
me to talk about the nation-state and how
it relates to my theory of global capitalism.
If all national economies have been reorganised
and functionally integrated as
component elements of a new global capitalist
economy and all peoples experienced
heightened dependencies for their very social
reproduction on the larger global system,
I do not believe it is all that viable to
propose individual de-linking, that you can
simply break off from global capitalism and
create a post-capitalist alternative.China is
now integrated into global capitalism, as
are the former Soviet Union, the former
Third World revolutionary states, and so
on. In the case of Venezuela, the oil and financial
system is totally integrated into
global capitalism. Venezuelan oil goes to
the global capitalist market and the country’s
reproduction passes through the
global financial system – inextricably. And
so an alternative needs to be transnational;
it needs to be something which begins to
transform global capitalism. And that’s exactly
what’s at stake here.
But at the same time what this integration
points to is the structural power that
global capital can exercise and the possibility
that this structural power will translate
into local political influence. Global
capital has local representation everywhere
and it translates into local pressure within
each state in favor of global capital. This is
exactly what you have in Venezuela. There
are all sorts of dangers in the sense that
those groups most closely tied to global
capital, transnationally-oriented business
groups, will gain increasing influence and
squash a more radical transformative project.
Indeed, the real threat to the revolution
in Venezuela is not from the rightwing
political opposition but that chunks
of the revolutionary bloc will develop a
deeper stake in defending global capitalism
in Venezuela over socialist transformation.
You also have the problem that state managers
will become bureaucratised as their
own reproduction will depend on deepening
relations with global capital. To reiterate,
that’s why a permanent mobilisation
from below that forces the state to deepen
its transformative project “at home” and its
counter-hegemonic transnational project
“abroad” is so crucial. This is our agenda is
this new stage of global capitalism. The
matter of what can be done in each country,
and how the state fits into the picture,
is being fleshed out in Latin America and
in Venezuela in particular. So I don’t have
definitive answers for you because this is
history unfolding as we speak: That history
is not predetermined, and our understanding
does not precede but procedes this history.
But let’s go back again to Venezuela and
the fact that it is selling increasing quantities
of oil to China. Here we can see where
my analysis of global capitalism differs
from those of my critics. These critics see
China’s increased relations with Latin
America and interpret things from the old
nation-state/inter-state centric framework.
They say that China is competing with the
US, emerging as a major rival to the US,
which wants to defend its declining hegemony.
That’s a classic framework; that’s the
“New Imperialism” school.
But what’s going on in China? And how
is this linked to Latin America? An increasing
portion of world industrial production
has shifted into China. China is the industrial
workhouse of the world. But this is the
workhouse of transnational capital. When
I say transnational capital that doesn’t
mean capital from outside of China against
capital inside of China. Transnational capital
is just that – it’s transnational,meaning
that the capitalist investment class operating
in China are of Chinese, US, German,
Japanese, Brazilian, South Africa, Thai, Indian,
and Kuwaiti nationality,among many
others. There are investors from all over the
world. There are capitalist groups spread
all over the world who are concentrating or
globalising capitalist accumulation inside
China and for the obvious reasons that we
already know – massive abundant cheap
labor that is also educated, the largest agglomeration
economy in the world, a state
responsive to the conditions necessary for
globalised accumulation, and so forth.
So when China tries to expand its world
markets for those goods pouring out of its
global workhouse, it is not that the Chinese
– people with Chinese passports and
speaking Chinese – are competing against
people from the US speaking English or
people from France speaking French or
from Japan speaking Japanese, all competing
with one another trying to get new
markets in Latin America. That is the classical
framework of world capitalism in an
earlier stage and it is not what is going on
now. Rather, it is global capital trying to
open up markets globally, to sustain an accumulation
process in which the class contradictions
are not national but transnational
and in which the fiercest capitalist
competition is not among national capitalist
groups but among transnational conglomerates.
This new global capitalism has
a territorial expression particular to it because
global capitalism “lands,” so to
speak, or “zones in on” particular transnationalised
territories, such as China’s coast,
in order to accumulate so for a phase of
global accumulation. So again there’s no
way you’re going to understand US-Chinese
-Latin American relations from the
old nation -state-centered framework. The
argument that the US is trying to dominate
Latin America and to ward off growing
Chinese influence—that these two countries
are competing for hegemony in Latin
America – totally misses the point.
Latin America is increasingly supplying
raw materials to the workplace of the
world in China, exporting to the Chinese
coastal zones vast quantities of soy, copper,
oil and so on. The old-style thinking con-
cludes, “Latin America is breaking away
from the US and it’s integrating into China
and it’s the end of US hegemony.” But
that’s not what’s going on. When the copper
goes from Chile to China or when the
oil from Venezuela to China it’s going there
to feed not “Chinese” but global capitalism
in China, to fuel transnational accumulation
taking place in Chinese territory. These
are not nation-state relations; they are
global capitalist relations. If you want to
understand Latin America’s transnational
relations, its relationship to political
processes and power structures worldwide,
we need to develop a global capitalist and
not a nation-state centric framework of
So to put two and two together, when
the indigenous challenge oil extraction
from the Amazon by transnational capital
they are on the frontline of challenging
global capitalism, whether it’s in China or
the US, no matter where that oil is going
Brabazon: I’m wondering if you can talk
about how the structural changes should
be shaping our resistance here in Canada
and the US, both politically and theoretically?
What can we learn from movements
in Latin America and globally and how our
movements can and should respond in
terms of the form and content of what
they’re doing?
Robinson: Increasingly North-South relations,
centre-periphery relations are not
nation-state or regional relations in the
global system, but social relations that are
internal to global capitalism. So, for instance,
the immigrant rights movement in
the US is, at least momentarily, the lightning
rod and spearhead for resistance to
global capitalism inside the United States
in the same way that the July 2006 Mexican
elections and their aftermath for a fewmonth
period was the lightning rod and
spearhead for resistance to global capitalism
in Mexico. And that immigrant rights
movement is no different from the indigenous
movement in Bolivia or the popular
neighborhood movement in Mexico City or
the landless workers’ movement in Brazil.
We need to see popular struggles unfolding
in the US and in Canada as part of this
same wave.
1968 was a key turning point in that it
signaled the rise of a world counter-hegemony,
the ideological and political turning
point which led capital to conclude that it
had to restructure the system. The crisis of
capitalism that ensued in the early 1970s
gave capital the impetus and the means to
initiate that restructuring. Capital went
global and unleashed neoliberalism. Now,
in the late 20th century and the early 21st
century, we are at another crossroad, like
1968, in which the ideological hegemony of
global capitalism is cracked.We are in the
battle over how the crisis will unravel and
what will take the place of neoliberalism.
In terms of strategy and tactics, of lessons
from Latin America, we should focus
on the fact that the working class worldwide
is increasingly informalised, flexiblised.
There used to be a working class concentrated
at the point of production and in
a situation of formality, of regulated labor
where trade unions organised at the point
of production. Increasingly, capitalist production,
the nature of accumulation, is
such that the production process is fragmented
into thousands of different phases
and those different phases draw in some
formal workers, some point-ofproduction
centers, along with endless
armies of informalised workers who are
not even in the formal sense workers. So,
increasingly, organising the working class
means organising informal sector workers,
it means shifting from the point of production
to the point of production and reproduction.
That’s what the piqueteros do.
They say that if you’re unemployed you
can’t organise into trade unions and withhold
your labor. If you’re structurally unemployed
you have to disrupt the daily
functioning of the system. Similarly, if
you’re an informal sector worker you can’t
make demands on capital in the same way
as a formal sector worker. So increasingly,
the type of working-class organisation that
we need is both production and reproduction
– social movement unionism, for instance,
linking neighborhood struggles to
formal worker centers and so forth. That’s
the type of struggle that is unfolding in
Latin America and the type of struggle that
is increasingly unfolding in the US, Canada,
and elsewhere. But I think we need to theorise,
analyse and strategise on how you
organise working classes that are more informal
than formal, that participate directly
in production at certain times of the
year or in certain instances and at other
times and instances participate in local
community reproduction, or maybe migratory,
and so forth.
Brabazon: I’ll just ask you to make one final
comment that’s a little more specific. The
AFL-CIO recently launched an initiative to
help build workers centers all over the US.
I think this is one of the most positive
things that the AFL-CIO has done in a long
time – moving in the direction of organising
immigrant workers who are in the informal
sector, casualised workers. What
you think about that as a possible model
or does it have any potential.What do you
Robinson: More than just potential – that’s
the only way forward. The only demand
that would be truly the right demand, the
revolutionary demand, the just demand is
to end all distinctions between immigrant
and national labor. The only ones those
distinctions serve is global capital. Global
capital accumulation is now dependent on
immigrant labor pools whereby the state is
the vehicle that reproduces the condition
of immigrant labor, and national borders
(which are barriers to labor and not to capital)
become functional to transnational
capital. In this sense, Latino immigrant
labor in the US and Chinese immigrant
labor on the Chinese coast are no different,
which the clarification that in China the
immigrants come from the interior of the
country – they are Chinese but they are
displaced peasants moving on to the coast
of China and they face a similar structural
situation of distinction and discrimination
that Latino immigrants face in the United
In Costa Rica there are one million
Nicaraguan workers who are second-class
citizens, they are immigrant workers and
labor under distinct conditions. In Costa
Rica there is an intense zone of accumulation
linked to globalised circuits. Costa Rica
is one of the key centers of global accumulation
in that particular area, and that’s
based on Nicaraguan immigrant labor.You
have Bolivians and Peruvians and Ecuadorians
migrating to Argentina and Chile and
it’s not, again, nation-state centric but it’s
transnational because it’s the global working
class which is divided into national and
immigrant labor and this is the face of
global capitalism. So to the extent that the
AFL-CIO organises informal sector workers,
it is moving forward.Our banner must
be an end to all distinctions between national
and immigrant (or foreign) labor
Brogan: maybe since we all met in Caracas
in Venezuela during the World Social
Forum it might be appropriate to conclude
on a note about the role of the World Social
Forum in different projects and initiatives
that have been coming out of Latin
America that can help build global movements
and global networks. You have the
social forum movement and you have the
Zapatistas’ new intergalactic initiative
coming out of the Sixth Declaration to really
build some social relations between
groups around the world.Maybe you could
talk about some of these projects to build
a really transnational movement against
global capitalism, the effectiveness and so
on of some of these projects and any final
comments that you want to make?
Robinson: We obviously need to move beyond
the old internationalism, to disregard
borders in the sense that organic communities
are now transnational and are selforganising
transnationallly. For example,
my grounding is in southern California
where the cutting edge of popular struggle
right now is the immigrant rights movement.
The immigrant rights movement is a
working-class movement. The vast majority
of immigrants here are linked to families
who themselves migrate back and forth
between Mexico and the US or between
Central America and the US, or whose
families are split transnationally. They send
remittances back. So by definition a lot of
these struggles we’re talking about are increasingly
transnational.To give you a concrete
example, here in Southern California
the “March 25 Coalition” organised and
spearheaded the May 1 national strike in
the United States and Immigrant Rights
Day. When electoral fraud took place in
Mexico in July 2006 those same leaders of
March 25 Coalition organised a delegation
of immigrant rights organisers and representatives
of the Latino community to
travel to Mexico City and to participate in
the protests against that fraud. By definition
when people develop their struggles in
these transnational circumstances their
struggle is transnational. We need to
strategise and push forward these modalities
of transitional struggle.
To conclude, the novel forms of struggle,
of engagement with the state, and so
on, that we’ve been talking about for Latin
America are relevant lessons for global society
including Canada and the US. But it’s
not as if these things are happening in
Latin America and we should bring them
back and try to implement them here.
Rather, they are happening here.How can
we deepen the transnational character of
these worldwide struggles? ★
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