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  For Flacks' essay, "Reflections on Strategy in a Dark Time," click here.

Internationalism

Jeremy Brecher All over the world, people are being pitted against each other to see who will offer global corporations the lowest labor, social, and environmental costs. Their jobs are being moved to places with inferior wages, lower business taxes, and more freedom to pollute. Their employers are using the threat of "foreign competition" to hold down wages, salaries, taxes, and environmental protections and to replace high-quality jobs with temporary, part-time, insecure, and low-quality jobs. Their government officials are justifying cuts in education, health, and other services as necessary to reduce business taxes in order to keep or attract jobs. The result is "downward leveling" -- a disastrous "race to the bottom" in which conditions for all tend to fall toward those of the poorest and most desperate. Some on the left respond to this dynamic with despair: because the left's long-standing strategies no longer work, they conclude that the entire historical project of radical democratization must be either faulty or obsolete. Others respond with denial: they maintain that the reports of economic globalization are greatly exaggerated, and that -- notwithstanding the retreat of reformers, from Mitterand
to Clinton, before the onslaught of world
capital markets -- traditional progressive programs of national reform are still
viable.

But there is another way to respond to globalization. The brave new world economy is demonstrating the validity of the
left's longstanding critique of unrestrained
competitive capitalism. It is giving the
great majority of people in all parts of the world a common interest in acting on that critique. And it is offering an opportunity to transcend the nationalism and statism that have been crucial weaknesses of both communist and social democratic strands of the left tradition.

Resistance to downward leveling is now worldwide. You can see it in the general strikes and demonstrations in France and Italy which blocked government plans for huge cuts in living standards. You can see it in the rejection of economic "shock therapy" in elections throughout Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union. You can see it in the resistance by the Zapatistas and a wide swath of Mexican society to the Zedillo government's efforts to make Mexico safe for foreign capital. You can see it in the United States in the mass opposition to NAFTA and -- from the streets of Decatur to the offices of the AFL-CIO -- in the development of a new labor militance. And some of that resistance is beginning to link up across borders -- witness the worldwide campaign against GATT and the mutual aid now developing between unions in Mexico and the United States.

Richard Flacks' essay provides an
alternative to despair and denial: combine grassroots democratization with a new transnational solidarity. It demonstrates that these core themes of the left tradition have an essential role to play in addressing the problems of the 21st century. Indeed, as Flacks himself has written elsewhere, "We could do worse than to create the new politics on the premises embodied in three slogans that, however hackneyed, seem now to have renewed relevance: Workers of the world, unite. Think globally, act
locally. Let the people decide."

Originally published in the February/ March 1996 issue of Boston Review

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