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Publication Details

Reference
Robinson, William I. (2005) Social activism and democracy in South Africa: A globalization perspective. Idasa Conference:Social Activism And Socio-Economic Rights: Deepening Democracy In South Africa : -.

Summary
I would like to thank the Institute for Democracy in South Africa for inviting me to this very important meeting. It is indeed a tremendous honor to be here in the homeland of the struggle against apartheid, to address these proceedings, and to participate in discussion on such an urgent topic as democracy and social activism in 21st century global society.

We must situate our social activism and our struggle for democracy in any country or region within the global political and economic context. In this brief talk I want to discuss some key elements of globalization in historic perspective, and look at the current global conjuncture, with particular attention to the expanding global crisis we are facing.

If we are to understand the burning political issues and social struggles of our day, the matters of war and peace, social justice, democracy, cultural pluralism, and sustainable development, if we are to play a meaningful part in the resolution of the grave problems that humanity faces, it is incumbent upon us to gain an analytical understanding of globalization, as the underlying structural dynamic that drives social, political, economic and cultural processes around the world.

Globalization is a qualitatively new stage in the history of world capitalism. If earlier stages brought us colonial conquest, the creation of an international division of labor, the partition of the world into North and South, and apartheid in South Africa, this new era is bringing us into a singular global civilization, in which humanity is bound together as never before, yet divided into the haves and the have-nots across national and regional borders in a way unprecedented in human history.

This new transnational order dates back to the world economic crisis of the 1970s and took shape in the 1980s and 1990s. It is marked by a number of fundamental shifts in the capitalist system. These shifts include:

First, the rise of truly transnational capital and the integration of every country into a new global production and financial system. The era of the primitive accumulation of capital is coming to an end. a process in which millions have been wrenched from the means of production, proletarianized, and thrown into a global labor market that transnational capital has been able to shape.

Second, the appearance of a new transnational capitalist class (TCC), a class group grounded in new global markets and circuits of accumulation, rather than national markets and circuits. In every country of the world, a portion of the national elite has become integrated into this new transnationally-oriented elite; Global class formation has also involved the rise of a new global working class a labor force for the new global production system yet stratified less along national than along social lines in a transnational environment.

Third, the rise of a transnational state (TNS), a loose but increasingly coherent network comprised of supranational political and economic institutions, and of national state apparatuses that have been penetrated and transformed by transnational forces. Once captured by such forces, national states tend to become components of a larger TNS that serves the interests of global over national accumulation processes. National states become wracked by internal conflicts that reflect the contradictions of the larger global system. The TNS has played a key role in imposing the neo-liberal model on the global South. It has advanced the interests of transnational capitalists and their allies over nationally-oriented groups among the elite, not to mention over workers and the poor;

Fourth, the appearance of novel relations of inequality in global society. As capitalism globalizes, the 21st century is witness to new forms of poverty and wealth, and new configurations of power and domination. Global capitalism has generated new social dependencies around the world. Billions of people have been brought squarely into the system, whereas before they may have been at the margins or entirely outside of it. The system is very much a life and death matter for billions of people who, willing or otherwise, have developed a stake in its maintenance. Indeed, global capitalism is hegemonic not just because its ideology has become dominant but also, and perhaps primarily, because it has the ability to provide material rewards and to impose sanctions. Globalization is anything but a neutral process. It has produced winners and losers, and therefore has its defenders and opponents. There is a new configuration of global power that becomes manifest in each nation and whose tentacles reach all the way down to the community level.

Each individual, each nation and each region, is being drawn into transnational processes that have undermined the earlier autonomies and provincialisms, and made it entirely impossible to address local issues removed from global context. It is crystal clear that social activism in any one corner of the world, whether Cape Town or Santa Barbara, can only have meaning and relevance in this day and age, when it is linked to such activism in other corners of the world, and in turn, to global activism. If it is true that global struggles can only have meaning in local contexts, it is just as true that local struggles can only have meaning when framed within the global context.

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