Some Notes on Globalization and Class Struggle — Latin America, Europe and Asia

By: James Petras, Ph.D

Introduction

The principle axis of the class struggle are found in Latin America, Europe and Asia, each following its own trajectory.

Latin America

  1. Globalization was in large part a product of neo-liberalism harnessing information technology and the ascendancy of financial capital. Neo-liberalism’s two foundations are de-regulation of capital and privatization of public enterprises.
  2. Neo-liberal policies and accompanying institutions are a product of class struggles “from above”. The capitalist class and its state defeat of the working class in a series of class confrontations led to the imposition of policies promoting privatizations, de-regulation and greater power of capital over labor employment.
  3. The ascendancy of neo-liberal globalization has three major consequences: (a) profound prolonged and repeated systemic crises (b) popular rebellions against neo-liberal rulers especially between 2000 – 2005 (c) the rise of center-left “post neo-liberal” regimes.
  4. Neo-liberalism resulted in the (a) intensification of social and class struggle (b) involving new social actors (c) new electoral outcomes favoring social pacts and continuing social conflicts with “marginal social groups”.
  5. The new center-left regimes introduced a new phase of modified social neo-liberalism which are aided and abetted by favorable global market conditions.
  6. The prolonged commodity boom (2003-2012) favored export oriented extractive agro-mineral and energy strategies and policies which generated high rates of return and surplus revenue.
  7. Extractive capital strategies generated contradictory socio-economic impacts on the class and regional economies: raising income and salaries in the metropolitan centers and prejudicing the living and working conditions in and around extractive exploitation. Extractive strategies revolved around a triple alliance of multi-national corporations-state enterprises and private national financial elites against provincial indian communities, peasants, small business and artisan classes.
  8. The combined effects of center-left social pacts and rising income based on high commodity prices, led to a decline of class struggle among traditional working class sectors and intensification of conflicts in the provincial cities and towns.

Europe

Globalization and Class Struggle

Globalization, especially via regionalized European integration (EU), deepened uneven andunequal development between the industrial-financial ‘north’ – Germany – Netherlands – France – and the less developed, debt ridden tourist based ‘south’ (Greece, Spain, Portugal) with Italy divided between ‘north and south’.

Deregulation, Crises and Class Struggle

  1. Debt financing, real estate bubbles, economic recession led to economic-political takeover by the “Troika” (Europe Central Bank, IMF and European Commission) of economic decision-making and demise of social democratic regimes in Greece,Spain and Portugal pursuing “austerity programs”.
  2. Prolonged severe class based austerity leads to depression, 20% plus unemployment, 50% youth unemployment.
  3. Class struggle in the form of repeated general strikes intensified street occupations (Spain) and rise of left party,SYRIZA (Greece).
  4. Class polarization, bank bailouts and unending depression in ‘Southern periphery”.
  5. Recession spreads to the North – France, England and Germany – crises generalized: throughout Europe.

Asia

Globalization, Industrialization; Super-exploitation and the New Working Class

  1. High growth in China, India and Vietnam based on labor intensive exploitation based on super profits for MNC and new Asian plutocratic elite.
  2. China’s industrial working class grows, rural surplus labor shrinks, labor resistance shifts from ‘job turnover’ to strikes winning wage increases of 10% to 20% from 2005 – 2012. Chinese community protests target land speculators,and state dispossession of households.
  3. Indian peasants and farmers protests against capitalist dispossession,and small retailers against MNC retailers.
  4. Class struggle is extensive but lacks national leadership and political direction in both China and India.

Conceptual Framework

There are several important analytical distinctions that need to be specified when discussing class struggle. These include ‘economic’, ‘political’ and ‘social’ struggles.

Economic Class Struggle

Economic class struggles are the most common and refer to struggles between two classes (capital and labor) over narrow wage, salary issues – workplace issues. For example struggles between employers (capitalists) and trade unions (workers) over wages or between landowners and peasants/wage workers over rents or payments.

Political Class Struggles

  1. Usually involve a bloc of classes (workers, self-employed, unemployed, public and private employees) making political demands confronting or supporting political positions of the state and the capitalist class.
  2. Political class struggle has become increasingly international involving a national bloc of exploited classes against an international configuration of imperialist states acting through international institutions. For example the so-called “Troika” composed of the IMF; the European Commission, European Central Bank acting on behalf of the big banks of Western Europe impose “austerity” policies on the workers, pensioners, employees and unemployed in Southern Europe (Greece, Portugal, Spain and Italy). The exploited classes engage in massive class struggles against the Troika and its local political representatives or ‘client regimes’ to change macro-economic policy and regain political sovereignty.
  3. Class struggle “from above” and “below”: The ruling class engages in class struggle every time they seek to reduce wages,erode labor legislation and eliminate social transfers and impose favorable fiscal and budgetary allocations.

Class Struggle From Below

  1. Supporting positive state policies against the capitalist class and imperialist state as in the case of Venezuela or Argentina.
  2. Opposing neo-liberal state terror and engaging in struggles for social reforms, as in Colombia.

Class and Social Struggles

  1. The class struggle increasingly takes the form of a generalized social struggle in which a broad array of exploited and dispossessed classes unite forces against the state, rentier capitalists, urban land speculators, real estate interests, foreign and domestic industrialists and especially mining and other extractive capitalists.
  2. Community based class-social struggles are in the ascendancy in China – over dispossession of farmers, and urban inhabitants by local officials in collaboration with real estate developers

India: over-dispossession of peasants to build economic free trade zones

Colombia: dispossession of peasants land to promote agro-business and mining

Brazil: dispossession of Indians to exploit timber and expand agro-exports

Peru: dispossession to expand mining by MNC

Social Struggles and Issues

While classes engage in conflicts with the state and extractive MNC, in many cases there is amixture of propertied and non-propertied classes engaged in social struggles that are not ‘strictly speaking’ class issues. In these social struggles there are at least 3 essential issues.

  1. Dispossession of farm land, water, forests, way of life and culture via the forceful intervention and violent repression by the state on behalf of the MNC
  2. Pollution of air, water, land, crops leading to chronic illnesses and increases in mortality rates and diminution of livelihoods and resources.
  3. Governance by local authorities and elected representatives are overruled, and local assemblies and leaders are purged by the central authoritarian rulers. Centralized power confronts democratic local assemblies.

Class Struggle and Extractive Capital

Specific class based struggles parallel and occasionally convergence with social struggles. These class based struggles include:

  1. Local market forces and revenue seekers versus export market agro-mining interests and the central government.
  2. Miners versus extractive capital over wages, safety, social benefits and,occasionally,the nationalization of natural resources under workers’ control over public enterprises. Rarely do mine workers resist extractive activity, even as they may have relatives,and neighbors who are in opposition, because the pay scale far surpasses local rates.
  3. Farm workers, local small scale food producers,and indian communities usually spearhead the conflict with extractive agro-business exporters who dispossess them and specialize in export commodities.
  4. Class allies of extractive capital include the state, local business suppliers, local stock holders, rent seekers, lumpen (pimps, bar owners, thugs, strike breakers) who congregate at extractive sites.
  5. Class allies of opponents of extractive capital include sectors of the Catholic Church (Pastoral Rural) ecologists, leftwing urban trade unions, guerillas (Colombia).
  6. Is it possible for extractive workers class struggle to join with community based social struggles?It is a possibility but not probable because each is embedded in different ‘modes of production’: one is large scale wage based capitalist the other petty commodity production.

An agreement on public ownership of natural resources is possible where local community and workers share decision making on revenues, regulation, and the environment and where mine workers are ‘local’ with family ties to local commodity producers.

Intensity of Class Struggle

Intensity class struggle refers to its breadth, depth, and strategic location in the economy and state.

  1. Breadth refers to the proportion of a class or classes engaged, frequency of class action, the duration of a struggle, the geographic and economic sectors affected.
  2. Depth refers to the type of action: shallow class struggles include token protests, symbolic actions and rhetorical threats by trade union officials; deep actions include general strikes, road blockages, workplace occupations, seizure of public buildings; the deepest actions involve indefinite strikes, popular rebellions leading to uprisings, and the emergence of centers of “dual power”,and to revolutions aimed at taking state power.

Examples:

  1. The class struggle in Greece and Spain is broad in scope involving multi-sectors, frequent occurrences, constant protests, moderate intensity – general strikes, are of short duration , street blockage are rare, as are occupations of work sites.
  2. The class struggle in Peru is regional in scope, high intensity involving takeover of regional government, blockage of transport, sharp confrontations, violent conflicts with the state-leading to deaths, injuries and jailings.

Regional Settings and Intensity of Class Struggle in Latin America

High Intensity Class Struggle by Region

  • Central America: Honduras –mass anti-coup democratic movements led by workers, employees and peasants;peasant land occupations against agro-business., and general protests against US military bases and Special Forces’intervention .The fusion of class, political and national struggles.
  • Caribbean: Haiti: 1) anti-occupation movement 2) movements for the restoration of the populist regime (Aristide) 3) movements opposed to thedispossession of homes and land. – Fusion of national, social and political struggles.
  • Latin America: 1) Venezuela – National-class struggle over state power between government backed by the mass urban –rural poor versus local bourgeoisie backed by US imperialism 2) Peru – Extractive capital and State against provincial classes.

Moderate Level of Class Struggle

  • Colombia: guerrillas, peasants, trade unions, Indians versus State, extractive capital, bourgeoisie, narco-death squads.
  • Ecuador: triangular struggle Correa and extractive capital versus CONAIE– indian organizations vs. Guayaquil oligarchs.
  • Chile: Students, educators, Mapuches lower middle class versus State,local and foreign extractive capital.
  • Bolivia: (triangular struggles) regime and extractive capital and Indians, trade unions versus Indian communities, sectors of miners and public employees versus Santa Cruz agro-business elite.
  • Paraguay: Agro-business and coup makers versus or peasants and landless rural landless workers.

Low Intensity Class Struggles

(Basically institutionalized collective bargaining and tripartite social pacts)

  • Brazil: trade union and capitalist class and regime embedded in collective bargaining; MST and rural workers in opposition
  • Argentina: triangular struggle; regime plus middle class, sectors of trade unions and agro-mining vs. agro exporters, Buenos Aires middle class, vs. left trade unions.
  • Uruguay: regime plus trade unions plus agro-business . banking, urban business opposed by affluent middle class. And minority of left trade unions.

Conclusion

Intense class struggle exists where:

  1. Nationalist and class issues coincide as in Haiti, Honduras, and Venezuela.
  2. Intense regional class struggles coincide with large concentrations of extractive capital – especially foreign owned mining and energy companies as in Peru, Ecuador, and Bolivia which undermine locally based economies.
  3. Intense industrial urban class struggles found in countries experiencing a combination of prolonged depression, harsh regressive austerity policies and massification of poverty (as in Greece, Spain and Portugal).

Extensive, moderate class struggle is found in rapidly industrializing and highly polarized societies like China where labor shortages, rising salaries and low social expenditures are the rule.

Intense class struggle from above, which reverses social welfare, reduces public services and concentrates income, is found in the US and England, where trade unions are weak, bureaucratized and tied to capitalist parties.

Agro-capitalism and real-estate capital which engage in intense class warfare aimed at dispossession of peasants and farmers have provoked intense regional opposition in Honduras, Brazil, Paraguay, Colombia and China. This is a conflict between imperial centered capital accumulation and local scale small scale capital accumulation linked to local markets.

About the author: Dr. James Petras, a former Professor of Sociology at Binghamton University, New York, owns a 50-year membership in the class struggle, is an adviser to the landless and jobless in Brazil and Argentina, and has authored over 60 books in 29 languages, including ‘Globalization Unmasked’ and ‘The Arab Revolt and the Imperialist Counterattack’. Petras has also published over 600 articles on varied topics. Click here to visit his website.