Get Red Pepper's email newsletter. Enter your email address to receive our latest articles, updates and news.


International development and the potential for change beyond capitalism

Finn Smith speaks to Lucia Pradella and Thomas Marois, editors of Polarising Development, a collection of essays exploring the antagonistic structure of capitalist development

August 17, 2015
7 min read

polarizing-developmentCould you introduce Polarising Development?

Polarising Development is the result of a project started in 2011 with a debate on the theoretical premises of development studies. We realised that 10 years had gone from the height of the alter-globalisation movement and some years from the eruption of the global economic crisis, and yet very little Marxist work had been produced on international alternatives to neoliberalism and the crisis. This has been the main goal of this book, which collects the contributions of more than twenty Marxist scholars from Europe, America, Asia and Africa.

The title of your collection reminded me of Red Pepper’s recent issue, The End of Poverty and Other Development Myths. In this issue Global Justice Now explained that they had changed their name from World Development Movement, in part because ‘development has been co-opted’. Do you think ‘development’ is an adequate term, or is it so synonymous with capitalist growth that it is impossible to deploy for progressive aims?

This is very much where the book sits – that is, in a space of contesting the meaning of development vis-à-vis understandings that seek to preserve and/or re-craft capitalism. To equate development simply with capitalism is too simplistic. That said, we all exist within contemporary forms of capitalist development and so must directly engage this reality. But capitalist development is a contradictory process, which sows the seeds of increasing global interdependence and class power.

Labour and social movements point to the possibility of a different form of social organisation. And yes, we do believe that a different society could lay the premises for a free human development.

You describe the contributors to Polarising Development as ‘Marxian-inspired’ but explain that they do not ascribe to a single, shared vision. What are the unifying characteristics of this inspiration?

The main unifying characteristics are three, closely interrelated. First, we adopt a labour-centred approach, grounding our analysis in an examination of relations of social production and reproduction (these relations govern the lives of the whole working class, including those who are excluded from production, underemployed or in precarious employment).

This approach is an essential premise for questioning the naturalisation of capitalist society, and reflecting about alternatives to it. In our view, actually, one cannot do critical theory any longer without in fact engaging in critical problem solving.

The third thrust is the attempt at developing a global analysis of neoliberalism and its crisis. We are today in a globalised capitalist system, and our alternative ambitions must also be of global scope.

You explain that problems such as poverty and social inequality are exacerbated by neoliberal policies and the economic crisis. However, if we hang on long enough, could there eventually be a positive convergence of living standards?

As you point out, the gist of many of the chapters is exactly that – holding on to neoliberal policies exacerbate poverty, social and international inequality, as well as unequal and exploitative relationships of class, race, and gender. There is little evidence of economic (let alone social) convergence occurring under neoliberalism. Saad-Filho’s chapter shows that predictions of global convergence are exaggerated, while real processes of convergence always derive from heterodox policies and social mobilisations.

Other contributions, including my own (Lucia Pradella), show how the crisis is extending to the Global North conditions of poverty and social exclusion traditionally associated with the South. All contributors agree that improvements in workers’ living and labour conditions always result from their struggle; they are never ‘spontaneous’ outcomes of development.

You detail how a ‘new developmentalism’ has emerged which criticises neoliberal approaches and advocates attempts to stabilise growth and alleviate poverty using, for example, an increased role for the state. However, you explain that this new developmental alternative is also inadequate. Given the current situation, what are the other options?

All advocates of capitalism – Keynesian, new developmentalist and neoliberal – would like us to believe that the solutions to the problems of capitalism rest in different modified and improved forms of capitalism.

In our collection, each of us recognise the potential for change beyond capitalism existing in history and in contemporary struggles. For example, McDonald presents how struggles for public services redefine the meaning itself of publicness, Sarah Miraglia and Susan Spronk investigate the gendered dimension of the Bolivarian movement in Latin America, I (Thomas Marois) point to the past and present potential of public banks.

Recognising potential alternative practices, institutions, and relationships that exist today is not to pretend these exist outside the powerful structural context of neoliberal or new developmental capitalism. We point to these examples because they hold some elements or seeds of a substantive societal alternative, of a possible really existing utopia, as Radice sees it. Various contributors point to the limits of new developmentalism itself, and reflect on how to develop an anti-capitalist agenda.

You stress that ‘the struggle to break with neoliberal capitalism necessarily begins within the historical confines of neoliberalism’. What does this mean for those concerned with improving living standards whilst negotiating daily life under neoliberal conditions?

As you see in the collection the issues tackled and cases explored are heterogeneous. We did not try and graft a single notion on to these. But we did agree that we had to begin with the here and now, and that labour and social struggles will take many different forms therein.

For example, while Leandro Vergara Camus explores the MST and Zapatista movements, Andreas Malm discusses alternatives to climate change, and Angela Wigger and Laura Horn the prospects of anti-austerity struggles in the EU, other contributors investigate the challenges facing labour movements in China, India and Bangladesh, the new phase opened up by the Arab uprisings and the post-Marikana conjuncture in Africa.

By analysing these and other existing struggles, we have tried to provide an analytical framework within which a strategy of change can be shaped. The main points emerging are: that workers have a leading role in building local, national and international movements oriented toward structural transformation; that women’s agency is central in challenging the gendered inequalities of social production and reproduction; the centrality of the struggle to renew and democratise the public sector; and the intimate tie between environmental, workers’ and women’s struggles and aspirations.

Given uneven development, there are a wide range of different struggles being fought globally in response to varying circumstances and material conditions. In light of this apparent fragmentation, is there any hope for global solidarity?

The problem isn’t that there are diverse struggles. The issue is to find unity in struggle, power in collaboration, and concrete solutions that address immediate and long-term threats to the social reproduction of the vast majority of people in this world in ways that overcome structural barriers like class, race, and gender oppression.

Global solidarity is not something that is ‘imported’ into the movements from the outside, it emerges as a necessity in everyday struggles – and since processes of international production restructuring and migration are making workers’ labour and living conditions more and more interconnected, this is even more the case. Capitalist restructuring is increasing the potential power of increasingly ‘multinational’ working classes, as the examples of immigrant workers’ struggles in the US and Europe discussed by David MacNally and Pietro Basso show.

Opposing imperialism, racism, sexism, and other forms of oppression thus becomes central for this potential power to realise itself. We know this is not easy, but, among all setbacks and retreats, we do see some signs of a confluence of social upheaval internationally. Our message is to get prepared. Much more work needs to be done to excavate and build existing and possible alternatives.

Red Pepper is an independent, non-profit magazine that puts left politics and culture at the heart of its stories. We think publications should embrace the values of a movement that is unafraid to take a stand, radical yet not dogmatic, and focus on amplifying the voices of the people and activists that make up our movement. If you think so too, please support Red Pepper in continuing our work by becoming a subscriber today.
Why not try our new pay as you feel subscription? You decide how much to pay.
Share this article  
  share on facebook     share on twitter  

#MeToo is necessary – but I’m sick of having to prove my humanity
Women are expected to reveal personal trauma to be taken seriously, writes Eleanor Penny

Universal credit isn’t about saving money – it’s about disciplining unemployed people
The scheme has cost a fortune and done nothing but cause suffering. So why does it exist at all? Tom Walker digs into universal credit’s origins in Tory ideology

Meet the digital feminists
We're building new online tools to create a new feminist community and tackle sexism wherever we find it, writes Franziska Grobke

The Marikana women’s fight for justice, five years on
Marienna Pope-Weidemann meets Sikhala Sonke, a grassroots social justice group led by the women of Marikana

Forget ‘Columbus Day’ – this is the Day of Indigenous Resistance
By Leyli Horna, Marcela Terán and Sebastián Ordonez for Wretched of the Earth

Uber and the corporate capture of e-petitions
Steve Andrews looks at a profit-making petition platform's questionable relationship with the cab company

You might be a centrist if…
What does 'centrist' mean? Tom Walker identifies the key markers to help you spot centrism in the wild

Black Journalism Fund Open Editorial Meeting in Leeds
Friday 13th October, 5pm to 7pm, meeting inside the Laidlaw Library, Leeds University

This leadership contest can transform Scottish Labour
Martyn Cook argues that with a new left-wing leader the Scottish Labour Party can make a comeback

Review: No Is Not Enough
Samir Dathi reviews No Is Not Enough: Defeating the New Shock Politics, by Naomi Klein

Building Corbyn’s Labour from the ground up: How ‘the left’ won in Hackney South
Heather Mendick has gone from phone-banker at Corbyn for Leader to Hackney Momentum organiser to secretary of her local party. Here, she shares her top tips on transforming Labour from the bottom up

Five things to know about the independence movement in Catalonia
James O'Nions looks at the underlying dynamics of the Catalan independence movement

‘This building will be a library!’ From referendum to general strike in Catalonia
Ignasi Bernat and David Whyte report from the Catalan general strike, as the movements prepare to build a new republic

Chlorine chickens are just the start: Liam Fox’s Brexit trade free-for-all
A hard-right free marketer is now in charge of our trade policy. We urgently need to develop an alternative vision, writes Nick Dearden

There is no ‘cult of Corbyn’ – this is a movement preparing for power
The pundits still don’t understand that Labour’s new energy is about ‘we’ not ‘me’, writes Hilary Wainwright

Debt relief for the hurricane-hit islands is the least we should do
As the devastation from recent hurricanes in the Caribbean becomes clearer, the calls for debt relief for affected countries grow stronger, writes Tim Jones

‘Your credit score is not sufficient to enter this location’: the risks of the ‘smart city’
Jathan Sadowski explains techno-political trends of exclusion and enforcement in our cities, and how to overcome this new type of digital oppression

Why I’m standing with pregnant women and resisting NHS passport checks
Dr Joanna Dobbin says the government is making migrant women afraid to seek healthcare, increasing their chances of complications or even death

‘Committees in Defence of the Referendum’: update from Catalonia
Ignasi Bernat and David Whyte on developments as the Catalan people resist the Spanish state's crackdown on their independence referendum

The rights and safety of LGBTQ+ people are not guaranteed – we must continue to fight for them
Kennedy Walker looks at the growth in hate attacks at a time when the Tory government is being propped up by homophobes

Naomi Klein: the Corbyn movement is part of a global phenomenon
What radical writer Naomi Klein said in her guest speech to Labour Party conference

Waiting for the future to begin: refugees’ everyday lives in Greece
Solidarity volunteer Karolina Partyga on what she has learned from refugees in Thessaloniki

Don’t let Uber take you for a ride
Uber is no friend of passengers or workers, writes Lewis Norton – the firm has put riders at risk and exploited its drivers

Acid Corbynism’s next steps: building a socialist dance culture
Matt Phull and Will Stronge share more thoughts about the postcapitalist potential of the Acid Corbynist project

Flooding the cradle of civilisation: A 12,000 year old town in Kurdistan battles for survival
It’s one of the oldest continually inhabited places on earth, but a new dam has put Hasankeyf under threat, write Eliza Egret and Tom Anderson

New model activism: Putting Labour in office and the people in power
Hilary Wainwright examines how the ‘new politics’ needs to be about both winning electoral power and building transformative power

What is ‘free movement plus’?
A new report proposes an approach that can push back against the tide of anti-immigrant sentiment. Luke Cooper explains

The World Transformed: Red Pepper’s pick of the festival
Red Pepper is proud to be part of organising The World Transformed, in Brighton from 23-26 September. Here are our highlights from the programme

Working class theatre: Save Our Steel takes the stage
A new play inspired by Port Talbot’s ‘Save Our Steel’ campaign asks questions about the working class leaders of today. Adam Johannes talks to co-director Rhiannon White about the project, the people and the politics behind it

The dawn of commons politics
As supporters of the new 'commons politics' win office in a variety of European cities, Stacco Troncoso and Ann Marie Utratel chart where this movement came from – and where it may be going