No 375 Posted by fw, December 21, 2011
“It’s easy enough to explain why the global South hasn’t joined Occupy. But why should we care? First, because the extractive processes that underpin Euro-American affluence cannot be fully understood from within the “core.” Our goals need to be informed by conversations and alliances with activists in the global South. Second, because challenging these powerful and deeply entrenched interests will require serious pressure from all corners of the world-system. If we want to bring about “World Revolution,” we have to be able to mobilize the world.” –-Dr Jason Hickel
In the following abridged version of a much longer piece that appeared in Common Dreams and elsewhere, the first half of Dr Hickel’s original article has been omitted. My abridged version focuses more narrowly on the reasons why the Occupy movement has not caught on in the global South; why, if Occupy wants to evolve into a genuine “World Revolution”, mobilization of the global South is essential; and how South-Africa’s anti-apartheid movement may provide an exemplary approach to a true Occupy World movement. Subheadings in the abridged version are mine.
To read Hickel’s original full version, click on the title below.
Western affluence and the consumer lifestyles of the “99 percent” in the United States and Europe depend on the plunder of other places and other peoples. This is one of the reasons that people in the global South tend to feel alienated by Occupy. First of all, they don’t see why they should support a movement of Westerners who want to regain levels of affluence that depend at least in part on the extraction of their countries’ labor and resources. What’s more, the locus of the economic decisions that affect them is not ultimately their national governments, but the institutions in Washington, DC and Geneva that determine economic policy from afar; it doesn’t make much sense to occupy locally when the power lies elsewhere.
Occupy’s vision for world revolution will only catch on in the global South once the movement extends its purview to encompass these concerns and begins to challenge inequality between nations as much as within them.
We cannot rely on “development” to accomplish this. Not only does development serve as a façade for the global extension of neoliberalism, it also rests on a purely absurd premise. The notion that everyone in the world should enjoy the equivalent of Western middle-class living standards ignores the fact that the planet simply does not contain enough resources for each person to consume as much as, say, the average American. Instead of “developing” the global South, we need to un-develop the West; we need to subvert and dismantle the flows of tribute that underpin Western affluence.
Occupy must realize that even huge wins at home will not necessarily translate into changes in the world-system or even changes in the U.S. role in it. Given that neoliberal capitalism is organized on a global scale, any real change will require a movement that is global in scope. Never has there been a better time to challenge the WTO, the World Bank, and the IMF’s policies on trade, debt, austerity, structural adjustment, resource extraction, and sweatshops.
Targeting these institutions is crucial because they determine Western access to labor and resources in the global South. The United States controls the levers of this system, since voting power in the World Bank and the IMF is apportioned according to each nation’s level of financial ownership. With about 17 percent of the shares, the United States has enough to singlehandedly block major decisions, which require 85 percent of the vote.
At the WTO, market size determines bargaining power – so rich countries almost always get their way. On top of this, rich countries control key decisions by using exclusive “green room” meetings to circumvent the consensus process. If poor countries choose to disobey trade rules that hurt them, rich countries can retaliate by using the WTO’s courts to impose crushing sanctions.
Change in the world-system can only happen once these institutions are democratized and de-corporatized. This will require building alliances with the global justice movement and anti-globalization campaigns in postcolonial countries that have been working on these issues for decades (such as La Via Campesina, an organization of 200 million peasants worldwide). Neoliberalism was crushing people there long before it hit white, Euro-American youth.
Another reason that Occupy has not caught on outside the West is that the leaderless, consensus-based horizontalism that has made the movement so popular in North America and Europe doesn’t work as well where most people can’t network through the Internet. Instead of fetishizing this tactic for its own sake, we need to be pragmatic about reaching out to established parties, unions, and other institutions – even if hierarchical – that actually have the ability to organize the rallies that an international movement needs. We reject traditional tactics at our own peril.
It’s easy enough to explain why the global South hasn’t joined Occupy. But why should we care? First, because the extractive processes that underpin Euro-American affluence cannot be fully understood from within the “core.” Our goals need to be informed by conversations and alliances with activists in the global South. Second, because challenging these powerful and deeply entrenched interests will require serious pressure from all corners of the world-system. If we want to bring about “World Revolution,” we have to be able to mobilize the world.
Occupy might do well to glean a few lessons from the struggle against apartheid in South Africa. Like the world-system in microcosm, apartheid capitalism allowed a white minority to accumulate massive wealth by extracting cheap labor and resources from a non-white majority. A number of white people rejected this system and became key activists in the anti-apartheid movement. But their efforts would have come to naught without their African counterparts, who mobilized mass resistance by going door-to-door in the townships, building the capacity for the strikes and boycotts that brought the apartheid state to its knees.
A truly global movement is not out of reach. Indeed, it has never been more possible than it is today. This is our opportunity to occupy the world. We dare not miss it.
Dr. Jason Hickel teaches at the London School of Economics‘ Department of Anthropology. He received his MA and PhD in Anthropology from the University of Virginia in 2011. As an Africanist specializing in the anthropology of democracy, violence, and political conflict, Jason has been engaged in ethnographic and archival research in South Africa since 2007.