CyberRadicalism: A New Left for a Global Age
By Carl Davidson and Jerry Harris
ChangeMaker Press, Chicago

Reviewed by Carl Bloice.
Reposted from

The man who founded FedEx recently wrote a letter to the Financial Times asking, 'why can't politicians who espouse fee markets and free and fair trade really mean it?' Frederick Smith, a decorated Vietnam War veteran and a personal friend of both George W. Bush and John Kerry, wrote to express his frustration at the thus far futile effort to come up with a 'liberalized' aviation pact between the United States and the European Union.

What he wants is an agreement that will allow 'greater foreign participation in U.S. carriers' and the chance for U.S. carriers 'To work out mutually beneficial arrangements with international carriers operating in Europe.' 'Businesses today transcend national borders and, in fact, stretch across hemispheres,' said Smith. 'The restrictive trade barriers erected decades ago to protect national interests do not apply any more.'

Smith is a director of the Business Roundtable, CATO Institute, Library of Congress James Madison Council and the Mayo Foundation, and he serves as Vice Chairman of the U.S.-China Business Council. On November 9, at a Four Seasons gala in Manhattan, the French-American Foundation presented him with the distinguished Benjamin Franklin Award recognizing his 'notable contribution to French-American understanding.' FedEx, at number 82 on the Fortune 500 list of largest businesses, is one of the world's largest transnational corporations.

Smith proudly takes credit for the company's decisive role in pushing the 1980s deregulation of the airline industry and cites its contribution to 'just in time' production and distribution and credits it with the success of such entities as Microsoft and Wal-Mart.

Smith notes that while air cargo represents only 2 percent of the weight of goods moved around the world today, it accounts for 40 percent of the dollar value of all goods moved. Furthermore, by 2020 something like of 80 percent of all manufactured goods will be crossing national borders.

'As part of this,' Smith last year told an interviewer from the American Enterprise Institute, 'jobs are going to migrate to new places. There's not much difference in today's phenomenon than there was when textiles moved from Worcester, Massachusetts, down to South Carolina, and then to the Caribbean, and then to the Orient.'

'Of course it's not easy if you're one of the people whose job is subject to competition elsewhere,' said Smith. 'But that's always been the case.' Of course, it's easy to say that blithely when it's not your means of earning a living that is threatened. But that's the point. Smith's job has already been moved: from somewhere on the map of the United States to anywhere on the planet he happens to be. Globalization has different consequences for different people.

Former Socialist Prime Minister of France Lionel Jospin has written of 'a new dominant caste' that 'emerges from an implicit alliance between the heads of large companies, financiers, senior industrial and service sector executives, certain senior bureaucrats and privileged media personalities.' This 'aristocracy,' he observes, 'enjoins other social categories to make sacrifices in the name of global competition or of economic equilibrium, but does not itself consent to any effort or renunciation and doesn't even conceive that such a thing could be possible.' This new capitalist genre considers itself international, even transnational, says Jospin. 'The national economic space is not its natural reference.

On the contrary, it marries the universe and ideology of capitalist globalization since that is what provides the justification for its existence and its demands.' All this serves to underscore the tremendous qualitative changes that have been underway for some time in the structure of international capitalism.

While all this has unfolded a striking, simultaneous change has been underway in the structure of labor. Manufacturing as a share of employment in the U.S. has declined from 40 percent in the 1950s to 27 percent in 1981 to something less than 12 percent today. Much of this loss can be traced to outsourcing to cheaper labor markets and much to job crunching technological change - or automation.

All of this has been apparent to some extent or another for at least three decades. How to respond to it is problem has bedeviled Marxists and non-Marxists alike.

For the still declining labor movement, of course, it has been critical. Yet, for all the talk of the need for a national 'industrial policy,' most of the political responses have been in direction of economic nationalism and old fashioned protectionism. The idea is still stubbornly spread that putting the squeeze on China will somehow overcome the negative trends for workers engendered by neo-liberal globalization.

The problem is, most of the policy solutions being advanced don't flow from much in the way of theory.

Much of the left has been, and remains, in denial, as if the changes underway are mere increments and the analysis of contemporary capitalism remains what it was shortly after the beginning of the last century.

'CyberRadicalism: A New Left for a Global Age' is an effort to break new ground - a good one. Despite some disagreements and reservations, I strongly recommend the book. In fact, it's Christmas time and I knew a couple of people who will find it interesting, informative and provocative. (It's available from Amazon.)

The central theses of CyberRadicalism are contained in the first two chapters of what is a compilation of articles that have appeared elsewhere over the past 12 years. The earliest essay dates to 1993, amid the crumbling of the Soviet Union and the socialist economies of Eastern Europe - 'The Promise and Peril of the Third Wave: Socialism and Democracy for the 21st Century,' originally published as a manifesto by the Chicago Third Wave Study Group. The authors begin:

'As for the collapse or stagnation of existing varieties of socialism that held state power, the left generally tries to explain these failures as stemming from an internal lack of democracy or a surplus of bureaucracy, or as a byproduct of external imperialist aggression or military competition, or some combination of these factors.

'We want to argue for a different approach. In our view, the crisis is deeper than a fundamental flaw in the theory and practice of socialism. We believe the causes of the failure of socialism lay in its historical roots in an industrial society which is itself in crisis. We see the current chaotic situation around the world as the advent of an all-sided and deep structural crisis that is sweeping not only through the socialist countries, but the capitalist countries as well. Rather than witnessing simply the end of socialism, we believe we are witnessing the start of a radical upheaval in industrial society generally, both in the capitalist West and the socialist West.'

That's an audacious statement and one that I think contains a contradiction or two. Being one of the 'combination of these factors' people, I would argue that it was precisely the 'lack of democracy' and 'surplus of bureaucracy' in the USSR and its political elite that precluded making any kind of course correction when it became obvious things were going in the wrong direction. Davidson and Harris say as much a few pages later but they stick to the notion that socialism contained something like a poison pill from the beginning because it was born amid 'the global and historical context of the industrial era.' They write that the errors of the Soviet Communist Party leadership were 'the product of industrial society, and forms a fresh basis of criticism for the lack of socialist democracy' however '[s]ocialism, understandably, could only function within the world to which it was born.'

Davidson and Harris proceed on the basis of what they have termed 'a third wave of change' - as opposed to the previous two: the development of agriculture and the industrial revolution. This third wave is 'rooted in the impact of the microchip' that 'is changing everything about our world and the way we live.' I'm convinced, but still wonder how that squares with their view of socialist history. Neither, Marx, Engels, Lenin, Stalin or Bukharin lived long enough to see Intel Pentium Processors. Most of us living socialists may have been looking in the wrong direction when the third wave came crashing down; the early Marxists didn't have a clue it was coming.

Acknowledging that there is 'not an orthodox statement, Davidson and Harris spell out their view that, 'A sustainable and dynamic socialist economy will depend on two key features: first, the separation of ownership of capital from the control of capital and second, the guided use of markets for the distribution of capital, goods and services.'

One of the most interesting topics taken up in CyberRadicalism, one quite relevant to where we are today in the world's political economy, is the question of transnational capital and the role of the state in the context of globalization. The debate continues as to whether individual governments continue to play the traditional role of instruments of the capitalists of their particular countries, or are world economic and political policies really determined by transnational corporations in their own globalized interests?

Harris lays out a persuasive case for viewing the present moment as one of transition, of conflict between the two tendencies. In Chapter Nine, 'The Military-Industrial Complex in the Conflict for Power,' Harris writes, 'This conflict for power between the globalists and hegemonist wings of U.S. capitalism is key to understanding the current world and stems from the undermining of the old nation/state by globalization.' He posits the existence of a new 'transnational capitalist class' (TCC) and describes how 'The struggle between descendent national factions of dominant groups and ascendant transnational factions has often been the backdrop to surface political dynamics and ideological processes in the late 20th Century.' Harris updates and fleshes out this analysis effectively in the July 2005 edition of the magazine Science & Society.

It can also be read at:

This brings us back to Frederick Smith. To listen to him on the one hand and the pro-capitalist opponents of globalization on the other brings the dialectic here into sharp focus. One of my favorites amongst the anti-globalists is newsperson/anchor Lou Dobbs (CNN Moneyline). Dobbs makes it clear that on issues of trade policy, outsourcing and immigration 'transnational corporations' are the target of his ire.

Day in and day out, he and his guests (including a labor leader or two) rail against what the defenders of neo-liberal globalization call 'free trade' and the movement of both capital and labor across national borders - jobs and money going out of the country and workers (particularly colored ones) fleeing poverty coming into the country. The transitory moment Harris describes is clearly underway and the economic nationalists are clearly those who are going out of existence. How fast is a subject for conjecture.

And the role of government in the globalists' minds?

Smith told an interviewer last year that he reads 'an awful lot off the Internet' and tries to read a book or two every week. He recommended 20:21 Vision: Twentieth-
Century Lessons for the Twenty-first Century by Bill Emmott, the editor in chief of The Economist - probably the best popular organ of the globalist community.

'Basically, he talks about the two fundamental questions: Will America continue to maintain stability in the world through its military prowess?' said Mr. FedEx. 'And will the capitalist system survive all of the assaults that are continuously made on it?

A word of caution. Not all of CyberRadicalism is an easy read. If you're like me your eyes glaze over when you come to pages with mathematical equations spread across them. One wishes they had taken the three or four key chapters and expanded upon them, leaving out the somewhat extraneous matter, such as one section laying out a strange utopian vision. Nothing wrong with utopianism, but here it is presented without any reference to the question of the power to bring it about. Also, most of the book is written with academic terminology of socialist theory and information technology. A good gift for those amongst us who like curling up with a good Critique of the Gotha Programme.

But it's a sharp, informative and provocative work, well worth the effort.

[Carl Bloice is a freelance journalist in San Francisco, California.]

See also: