The New Historical Simultaneity

The end of the modernization and the beginning of another world history

By Robert Kurz:

The debate about the globalisation seems to have arrived currently to a exhaustion state. This is not due to a weakening of the underlying process, but to the lack of air for new interpretive ideas. Almost nobody dares to speak of the end of the history of the modernization. It is certain that meanwhile whole libraries were already written on the fact of the globalisation of the capital (the transnational dispersion of the economic functions) and the separation between the national economy and the world market and the whole previous referential framework remains diluted. But the consequences to take out of that recognition were delayed most of the times up to now. The old concepts still go to tow, although they no longer correspond to the new reality.

For years the maximum of the critical reflection was considered to defend the national particularity in front of the abstract universality in the modern way of capitalist production. In the 70s, the so-called euro communism affirmed that the Marxist theory had been frequently too universal and, consequently, should be finally «summarized”in national terms, in order to create a popular socialism with the “colours” of France, Germany, Italy etc. But that announcement was already reactionary in the same moment of its formulation. In the process of the globalisation, the relationship finally was reversed. The own national particularity became empty abstraction, though present it is true, but only as silt of a time already past. The history is national only as history of the past, but not of the future. From now on there will no longer be more French, German, Brazilian, Chinese history… The historical concretion in the immediate referential space of the world society will no longer refer in the future to the particularities and the national contexts, but to the transnational ones. That is also applied (and directly) to cultural identities, social movements and “post-political” conflicts.

The forced national community is not, however, the only essential characteristic of the past that becomes obsolete. The spatial structure of the national particularities reciprocally defined was also chained to a temporary structure of stages of capitalist development reciprocally defined. The universe of the nations was an universe of historical no-simultaneity. Considering that the modern system producer of goods had only extended gradually from Europe in the XIX and XX centuries, the diverse ages of the capitalism were followed immediately one after another. What was still the future for some, was for others the present or the immediate past. That unevenness of the historical time caused by itself the paradigm of the “development “that was presented in the capitalist categories like a recovery race of the historical retarded ones. Great Britain, Germany and other continental European countries during the XIX century went through a similar “recuperating modernization”; in the XX century, in front of the West, Russia, China and the ex-colonial countries of the global south confined their selves to repeat the same thing. The nation became the specific space of the historical no-simultaneity.

The classic western labour movement was also determined by a similar paradigm; in this case the “recuperating modernization” did not refer, or at least not in first line, to the position of the own nation in front of the most advanced nations, but above all the judicial and political of the salaried worker in front of other social classes, inside the same nation. It was at stake the “recognition” of the wage earners as juridical subjects of their work force and as full citizens. The right of universal and equal vote, women’s juridical equality, strike right, association freedom, meeting freedom and the autonomy in the wage negotiation were important contents of that “recuperating modernization” bound to the internal social relationships; was only reached, even in the most advanced western countries, during the XX century. The external recognition of the historical retarded ones in the east and the south, as nations in the world market, corresponded to the political and juridical internal recognition of the wage-earners as citizens and right subject.

But that recognition was, in some respects, a historical trap. Then, as the societies of the diverse world regions were confirmed and established as formal subjects of the capitalism in the same way that the individual wage-earners, they were also this way condemned inevitably to the national and social forms of the modern system producer of goods. Both the States of the “regenerating modernization” and the labour parties and the national unions suffered a mutation, becoming executioners of the false “natural laws”of the system. Under the globalisation conditions, all of them have nothing else to do but to administer in a more or less repressive way the capitalist crisis. What the social democracy had already practiced previously from the First World War is now repeated to global scale.

Perhaps it is thought that this negative development paled the glory of the “national liberation” and of the national labour parties. In certain way it is also just like that. All over the world a strong dissatisfaction burns facing to the political instances of the traditional left that lost completely its opposition quality, exactly in the moment of the new world crisis, since they remained linked to the paradigms of the «regenerating modernization”, already emptied of matter. But those paradigms are so deeply ingrained that they continue being effective even among the dissatisfied ones. There is something phantasmagoric in the manner of the new opposition, facing the former-opposition now entered in the representation of the dominant system, abides blindly to the obsolete patterns of the submerged universe of the no-simultaneity. The criticism to the crisis’ co-administration in which the old national liberation movements and the traditional labour parties that arrived to the power participate, is revealed this way weak and not very trustworthy, since it wants to repeat in the content, once again, what objectively failed a long time ago.

This is gaudier in the world movement against the globalisation, with their protests, social forums and conferences in Porto Alegre, Paris, Berlin etc. That movement is on one hand organized in a transnational way, but, on the other hand, paradoxically, it counts apart from its members, with national partisan articulations next to the groups operating in the transnational ambit; among them there are even those whose mother organizations are in the government and they execute exactly the “economic laws” against its effects the global social movement fights.

But the content of most of the assertions is the one that mainly remains completely strange to the globalisation process. Partially transnational at least according to its form, the movement would like to reach a “political regulation” of the financial markets and the general conditions of the goods production and distribution, although the logic of such regulation was bound to the frame of the national State. Therefore they want to revive, from that moment even in the global ambit, exactly the procedure that already failed historically in the ambit of the national State, the only one appropriate for it. It is a hopelessly anachronic and unreal option.

That reducing criticism implicitly starts with the statement that the societies could still “grow” in the frame of the bourgeois modernity, although the globalisation and the third industrial revolution have already bust (exploded) that frame. That is also applied to the economic and philosophical fundamental suppositions that are revealed equally anachronic.

In the economic side the expectation is that the gigantic mass of global and cheap work force would still represent a reserve for the capital appraisement, now no longer under the form of a national development but under the form of transnational globalized capital. Some wait and other fear that it could arise, once more, an era of traditional exploitation. Partly that alternative leans on the concept of “average social productivity”. That average degree of production scientification is relatively high in the developed capitalist countries and relatively low in the countries of the periphery. It is expected that a new average of productivity in the mondial ambit takes place with the growing globalisation that would be lower in comparison with the current western average and higher in comparison with the current one of the east and south. Basing on the new standard, it is believed that it will be possible to absorb a considerable part of the reservation momentarily with no practical use of the global work force in the process of capital appraisement.

But that calculation does not work. How is the average of the productivity measured? It is measured in agreement with the average degree of the technological scientification of the production. However the frame to which really refers that average is decisive. It is unequivocally the economic-national frame of the social production. Only in the inner space of a national economy are applied the common conditions-limit that can produce in a general way something like a “social average”. A common level of development of the infrastructure, of the education system etc. is part of it. In the environment of the world market, however, common conditions-limit like that do not exist. For that reason, neither a global average level of productivity can be settled. The relationship of the nations or the world regions in the world market does not present any analogy with the companies inside a national economy. Then, in the global frame it is imposed unavoidably the level of productivity of the oldest industrial countries in West, more developed in capitalist terms. In the same measure that the national space becomes objectively obsolete by means of the globalisation, that level forms the immediate global and filterless approach for all the market participants. It is illusory the hope that, in the new transnational system of references, the average of the social average productivity ends up diminishing and let the work force without practical use be articulated again, more easily in the production.

In the philosophical aspect, a similarly anachronic expectation determines the thought of the unsatisfied ones. Because the philosophy of the so called Illuminism which foundations were settle in the XVIII century, it is still considered the impassable horizon of the ideas. They pretend that the world, also in that sense, would continue its development within the frame of the bourgeois modernity. As for this, the new opposition does not take any step beyond the old one. But the paradigm of the Illuminism is equally used up by the economy of the modern system producer of goods, of which it was simply the philosophical expression. The main ideas of Illuminism, “freedom “, “equality “and “self-responsibility” of the “autonomous individual” are, according to their concept, carved for the capitalist form of the subject of the “abstract work” (Marx), of the owners´ economy, of the totalitarian market and of the universal rivalry. Freedom and equality in the sense of the Illuminism were always identical to the self-submission of the people to the social forms of the capitalist system.

The fight of the classic labour movement and the national liberation movements for juridical and political “recognition”could appeal to the Illuminism philosophy because its single objective was to enter and grow in those forms whose social condition-limit was formed by the nation exactly like in the economic aspect. There are only national systems of bourgeois right. Bursting the national frame, the globalisation makes obsolete not alone the economic form, but also the juridical and political form of the bourgeois subject. The Illuminism philosophy is historically completed with that. It does not make any sense to invoke again the idealism of the bourgeois freedom, because for that kind of freedom there is not further space for emancipation. This is also applied to the world regions that were never beyond the dictatorial beginnings of a universalization in the subject’s modern way. As the economic productivity, the bourgeois subjectivity is also measured by the homogeneous global standard, where the most of the human beings do not fit.

Evidently the new social movement all over the world did not still take conscience of those conditions. The constitution of the capital’s transnational structures is identical to a time of historical simultaneity. Although the situations were different, from the starting point, inherited from the past, the problems of the future only can be formulated as common problems to an immediate world society. According as much with the form as with the content to the old paradigms of the left is obsolete: nation, political regulation, bourgeois recognition, Illuminism. The critic should be deeper and understand the repressive presuppositions of those concepts instead of claiming its ideals. Otherwise it falls in the vacuum without any effect.

Original post at EXIT

German original Die neue historische Gleichzeitigkeit. Das Ende der Modernisierung und der Beginn einer anderen Weltgeschichte. Published in the newspaper “Folha de São Paulo”, Sunday January 25, 2004, with the headline of A nova simultaneidade histórica. A crítica precisa apreender os pressupostos repressivos dos obsoletos paradigmas da esquerda. Translation into portuguese by Luiz Repa.

November 2004

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