The New World Order (They Mean It) | The Nation


The New World Order (They Mean It)

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Having increased its power at the old industrial workplace, by the sixties labor was engaged in what Negri has previously termed "the refusal to work." Even as mass consumption was rising, productivity eroded, and profits in some instances actually declined. The nation-state--which since the great eighteenth- and nineteenth-century revolutions had, through education, citizenship for the lower social classes and imperial ideologies such as racism and patriotism, been effective in enforcing internalized mass discipline--was increasingly unable to command popular allegiance as, one after another, efforts to thwart Third World national liberation movements ran aground. Things came to a head in 1968 and 1969 when mass strikes, notably in France and Italy, almost toppled sitting governments; disruptions and mass demonstrations also threatened the stability of regimes in Mexico and the United States. The authors argue that the conjunction of economic crisis and the crisis of rule was an occasion for renewal, not breakdown.

About the Author

Stanley Aronowitz
Stanley Aronowitz is Distinguished Professor of Sociology at CUNY Graduate Center and the author of The Knowledge...

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The renewal was signaled by President Nixon's early-seventies abrogation of the Bretton Woods agreement; the dollar rather than gold became the universal money standard. Weakened by international competition and rising costs of production and governance, it was no longer possible to contain world prices by monetary means and preserve the system of internal trade regulation. Now the dollar "floated" along with other currencies. In quick succession, the United States removed most major regulatory controls: on banks, trucking and other transportation, and most antitrust restraints. Fuel prices and many others now floated in the market. While Nixon started the process of ending the stubborn legacy of the New Deal, the so-called Reagan revolution, of which the Clinton Administration has seemed a loyal follower, greatly accelerated the changes. The doctrine of Keynesianism, which proclaimed that since capitalism tended toward equilibrium below the level of full employment, governments must intervene directly to stimulate economic growth and employment, was declared dead. The free market, and with it the idea that government should as much as possible stay out of the economy, except to regulate the supply of money and credit in order to stem inflationary tendencies, became the new religion.

A key element in the new corporate strategy was to reduce wages by curbing the power of organized labor. Battered by the "deterritorialization" of industrial production as corporations moved plants offshore and by relentless antilabor policies, by the eighties organized labor in all major industrial countries was in full retreat. In the United States and Britain, unions proved unable to protect many features of the social wage (welfare-state benefits) won during the thirties and early postwar years. While the power of labor in other countries took a longer time to diminish, the nineties were years of agony for most European workers. Even when labor-backed socialist governments took power in France, Germany and Italy, welfare-state erosion, heavy losses in the old material-goods industries and the rise of largely nonunion information and communications sectors reduced the power of organized labor and, with few exceptions, its will to resist governments' neoliberal economic policies.

For Hardt and Negri, globalization was the major mechanism to solve the crisis. Three key transformations have occurred since the sixties: the shift in the economy from the dominance of industrial production to information; the integration of the world market so that, with global communications, industrial deterritorialization, accelerated world investment and trade, the lines are now blurred between "inside and outside"; and the decline of the nation-state as the core of political sovereignty and as a mediator of economic and political protest. The introduction of new technologies led to the creation of entirely new communications and information industries, which have largely replaced the old regime of Fordist production. Fordism, which subjected the worker to rationalized tasks by transferring knowledge to machines--assembly lines and other methods--has largely been replaced with what has been termed "Toyotaism," or post-Fordism. One of the characteristic features of the new production method is "just in time" production. Through computerized information technologies, management is able to compress the time between the provision of raw materials to the shop floor and the actual production process.

But the technological revolution has had another effect. Information technology signifies the advent of "immaterial" production, and with it the emergence of the worker who integrates knowledge, skill and labor--what Robert Reich has designated "symbolic-analytic services," activities that entail "problem-solving" and "brokering," once performed chiefly by managers. The central actor in this new immaterial production no longer stands as a cog in the labor process but is at the center of it. Since these workers are, contrary to popular belief, not immune to the vagaries of exploitation (many of them work on a part-time, contingent and temporary basis, even in software heartlands), they are among the potential actors in a potentially revived labor movement. Globalism is not primarily a regime of goods production but, with the aid of science, leads to a new paradigm of the relations of humans to the physical universe. Nature, too, has been integrated into the new system--witness the emergence of industries based on biotechnology that treat life itself as a new field for investment and production.

Nation-states, which emerged from the decline of the feudal monarchies and aristocracies and their replacement by liberal democratic systems, still perform important tasks for Empire. Without them the control of whole populations would be impossible. Yet imperialism has died precisely because nations are no longer the key mediators of international economics and politics. The nation may still ignite fierce loyalties among subordinate peoples, but for Hardt and Negri, it is no longer independent from the new world order.

Having destroyed the old colonial system by revolution and civil war, the legacy of newly decolonized states has been nothing short of tragic. Although the revolutionaries of Asia and Africa achieved national independence, they were never able to establish economic autonomy. During the cold war some, like India, maintained a degree of independence by playing on the division between the two great powers; others allied themselves firmly on either side. China, under an often brutal revolutionary dictatorship, broke with both sides and tried to modernize by subjecting its own population to development by means of force. In almost none of these nations were the majority of their populations afforded decent living standards. In the year 2000 a third of the world's labor force remains unemployed or underemployed, and millions have migrated in order to make a living. The term "Third World" describes the past. Having been subordinated to Empire, these nations no longer offer an alternative. Acknowledging the hardships suffered by victims of war, famine and unemployment, Hardt and Negri see a new proletariat emerging on a world scale out of the enormous exodus of peasants, a proletariat that may become one of the constituents of resistance against Empire. The old distinction between industrial production and agriculture has been sundered, as hundreds of millions of people are herded into cities. Those who remain on the land are increasingly subject to capitalist industrial methods, literally factories in the field.

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