The following was written in 2001 for Searchlight, an anti-racist, anti-fascist magazine published in London. IREHR is posting it on our website now because of the important nationalist tremors set off by the election of Trump in the USA and the French election in which Marine Le Pen of the Front National is a run-off candidate. Please consider the discussion of baloney as a literary device.
During most of the Cold War, a sausage-like food known as baloney premiered as the American lunch meat. Eaten between two slices of white bread smeared with mayonnaise, some added mustard, horseradish, or onion—or all of the above. It was a sure sign, or so we thought, that American workers lived better than any others in the world—regardless of the non-nutrient value of the white bread and the heart-stopping fat content of the so-called meat. Baloney (sometimes spelled bologna) is actually a nasty confection of animal parts cast-off during slaughter, then ground with spices and reformulated in a four-inch wide tube. After five noontime meals of two baloney sandwiches, a bag of crisps and an apple, the average lunchbucketeer was so hungry for genuine food that he (the bucketeer usually being a “he”) was likely to go off on a semi-mad spree vainly searching for anything resembling authenticity.
Baloney was much like the widely-used term globalism is today:
You weren’t sure what it actually was, but you ate it every day. You thought you liked it. In the end, however, you realized you hated it. And your search for an alternative always seemed to conclude badly. Globaloney.
On 20 April, thousands will converge in Canada’s Quebec City–300 kilometers up the St. Lawrence River from Montreal—to demand an alternative. Patterned after demonstrations in Seattle against the World Trade Organization, an unsteady amalgam of trade unionists, environmentalists, human rights activists and self-identified anarchists will protest ministerial negotiations over a Free Trade in the Americas Agreement. They will (justly) charge that the Free Trade agreement undermines labor rights, despoils the environment and subverts the sovereignty of native peoples. Like the North American Free Trade Agreement, the International Monetary Fund, the World Trade Organization and a host of other transnational agencies and “treaties,” the Free Trade in the Americas Agreement is fundamentally anti-democratic. Simply put: it removes to a globalist elite the possibility of decision making from representative government and local control. Some (on the Right) would add the United Nations, its various agencies, and the European Union to the list of “globalist” offenders.
“Globalism” is now the target of a growing popular movement dominating much of the discourse, particularly in North America and Europe—but also in Africa, Asia, and South America. Among Europeans and North Americans, those who regard themselves as on the “Left” endorse international solidarity, egalitarianism, and (on occasion) explicit anti-racism. At the same time, they often promote policies which can only be regarded as “economic nationalism,” such as restrictive tariffs. Those who regard themselves as on the “Right” also support restrictive tariffs, usually as part of a broader nationalist package which includes anti-immigrant measures and racism. And both the internationalist “Left” and the nationalist “Right” see themselves in a battle with the globalist elite.
Please forgive, for the moment, the turgid lingo, but it is the only language now available. Here it is: The fight against racism, anti-Semitism and fascism now takes place within a context dominated by a three-cornered struggle between “internationalists,” “nationalists” and “globalists.” It is an odd three corners, however. Each camp has a multiplicity of names which they apply to the others. In the USA, internationalists think the nationalist camp barely exists. (Buchanan registered few votes last November, they say.) The nationalists, on the other hand, regard the internationalists as simply an extension of the globalist elite. (Brown-skinned labor from Mexico drives down (white) wages, they say, and drives up profits.) And the globalists view both nationalism and internationalism as a single nuisance—to be squashed like an unwanted bug. (Call out the police in Quebec City, they say. No more Seattles.)
For Searchlight readers, an examination of this complex and largely uncharted context should help illuminate the fight against racism and fascism. It might begin with several questions: What is this thing called globalism? Is it new or just a name change for that old bogeyman, American imperialism? What is this nationalism? Is it new, or just the same old Nazi thing? And why do internationalists on the Left sometimes find themselves in a de-facto bloc with nationalists on the Right? Doesn’t the whole thing make readers want to stand up and scream? Or as Bob Dylan once famously said: “There must be someway out of here, I can’t find no relief.”
Globalism: The End of Nation-States?
Globalism might more accurately be known as transnationalism. It is a world economic system in which individual nation-states are increasingly economically intertwined and slowly growing more political dependent. The process is most sharply manifested in the European Union, where individual currencies—once the marker of national economic sovereignty—are being voluntarily phased out. As the recent total collapse of the Indonesian currency demonstrates, however, individual countries in Africa, Asia and South America long ago lost control over their nation’s economies. Now metropolitan nation-states no longer define internal markets or regulate the flow of capital and labor at their borders. In places such as the former Yugoslavia, the state apparatus no longer has total control over the policing of their own citizenry.
Although local merchants and artisans have been tied together in a world economy since before Marco Polo first ventured from Venice to Cathay, globalism is more than just a system of integrated national economies. The process of vertical combination which once tied colonial subjects to colonial masters has been transformed into a matrix of horizontal links. (For instance, Daimler-Benz doesn’t have to fight Chrysler Corporation for control of the car market in Namibia. Daimler in Germany can simply buy control of Chrysler in the United States. And the resultant combination will have little national identity.) Further, this increasingly horizontal economic matrix was supercharged by the collapse of the Soviet Bloc in 1990. Nationalist fragmentation and realignment have followed. And a global legal and political superstructure is arching its way across national frontiers, complementing a new generation of economic transfers moving at cyberspace speeds. The process is obviously not complete, or even fully-formed; but a paradigm shift has already occurred. Categories associated with the old order changed.
If globalism (or transnationalism) undermines the market-controlling aspects of the nation-state, then nationalism arises as an ideological weapon with which to oppose these changes. LePen in France, Haider in Austria and Buchanan in the United States—each represents a nationalist moment in the long dreadful hours of historical time. These nationalists believe the state’s power to erect tariff barriers can thwart globalist control of native industry and agriculture. And that other laws can protect national capital from globalist free marketeers. And that so-called “national cultures” can presumably be protected from “cosmopolitan homogenization” by stemming the influx of immigrants; and reinforcing an organic family-like kinship (volkishness) among those considered to be part of the ethnic national clan.
Is it possible to understand the three-way conflict between globalism, nationalism, and internationalism without resorting to complex assertions about capital flows and paradigm shifts? In part, yes. It could be argued that capital-controlling elites have not lost their allegiances to specific nation-states. Or that American capital still controls world markets, and does so while flying the Stars and Stripes. By similar reasoning, German capital is regarded as intent on dominating Europe, even if it does so under the banner of the European Union. And the state has lost little of its coercive powers; just ask immigrants and refugees on the deportation lists. The collapse of the Soviet Bloc, it is argued, did not change political alignments within the West.
By this pre-globalist account then, from where do nationalist movements spring? Without understanding the globalist backdrop, can anti-fascists counter the growing incursion of right-wing nationalists into the ranks of causes such as the environment and labor rights which are now considered progressive? Without an understanding of the changing role of the nation-state, can anti-fascists counter racist secession movements such as the neo-Confederates in the southern USA or in Western Canada? It is not simply clever organizing, or even naturally occurring bigotry, which has moved white nationalism from the margins to the mainstream.
The notion that paranoid-style conspiracy theories are driving ultra-nationalist movements is far too narrow an answer. It is not paranoia that is tearing up the Balkans and the Caucasus region. It is ethnic nationalism, unloosed in the post-Cold War era and unrestrained by any state. It is not conspiracy theories that drive the Northern League to seek political separation from Southern Italy and economic integration with its Austrian and Swiss neighbors. It is, however, the possibility of political independence for mini-regions which can substitute allegiance to a strong free trade framework for loyalty to a weakened nation-state. In the United States, a mass-base for white nationalism is developing, precisely by eschewing conspiracy theories. And in Canada, right-wing nationalists of various stripes will march on the same Quebec City streets as self-described anarchists. Both groups will oppose the Free Trade in Americas Agreement and the globaloney from which it is sliced. Can a wholesome and nutritious anti-fascism be rendered from this nasty confection? Forget the white bread and mayonnaise.