Judith Dellheim: “Peripherisation”?

Rosa Luxemburg clearly demonstrates how political economy can readily be turned into a tool to strengthen people’s struggles for emancipation and how solidarity can reveal opportunities for action. Luxemburg saw herself as a global, socialist citizen in the sense that she expressed solidarity with people who were exploited and oppressed by those in power, regardless of their nationality or citizenship. Her goal was to understand and explain how exploitation takes place, how it is constantly renewed, and the consequences exploitation has at the individual, family and community level. Luxemburg thereby took care to also point at the inherent contradictions within both the groups of those in power and the oppressed. However, her radical critique of the division of labour and the exploitation of people and nature focused on the most powerful representatives of capital. She realised that capital accumulation is organised within clearly defined regions and/or countries, yet has equal but distinguishable effects on the people living in these countries, and in particular on the most marginalised sectors of society. Luxemburg understood that administrative and political borders define the conditions for struggles aimed at establishing solidarity and developing strategies for liberation among (but also with) the most socially marginalised. Despite this, she did not see these borders as defining the limits of her own political approach. Her analysis generally focused on capital accumulation, exploitation and emancipation in specific regions or countries, but she interpreted these countries as belonging to a single shared world.
She would have viewed the current conflict in Ukraine, EU austerity measures, and military operations in Africa as events that have developed out of a particular history, and as much tied to a network of European and global relations as they are singular events. Luxemburg encouraged people to search and discuss just solutions to such struggles and conflicts in a way that enables others to join in and become active.

If we want to speak with Luxemburg about “peripherisation” in the EU and in Europe we first need to express solidarity with people living in regions where their living conditions are made worse and their opportunities for political influence are limited simply because they live where they live. In other words, “peripherisation” is about a political struggle over social conditions, because social inequality and hierarchies are potentiated across territorial and political boundaries. This means we need to focus on the causes and causers of these conditions, but that these will then have to be tackled by the people who call such marginalised territories their home.

In this manner, the abstract rapidly becomes concrete. For example, this would mean expressing solidarity with Syriza, and with other people in Greece whose living conditions and opportunities for political influence have been substantially curtailed but who nonetheless are fighting for a self-determined life in dignity and who want to see everybody else awarded this same right. Strong expressions of solidarity break down social inequality and turn discrimination based on the place where someone was born (or lives) into a starting point for political activism.

The mainstream understands “peripherisation” as leading “regions and/or countries to be left behind”. These areas are viewed as having been excluded from scientific and technological progress, and are no longer involved in the general increase in the wealth of society that is assumed to be attached to the “achievements of globalisation”. This position means people can lament others who have been “left behind” whilst at the same time enjoying the “fruits of globalisation”. In this view, we can try to improve our own position in global competition, but it is impossible to oppose competition as such or struggle for democratic and just solutions to current social, ecological and global problems.

It follows that “peripherisation” is actually the wrong term. It cannot express the challenges we face, neither when dealing politically with social hierarchies, their causes and the causers, nor when protesting against the punishment of people in specific regions and countries who banks, governments, the EU and the Bretton Woods’ institutions have made responsible for the acts of precisely these same institutions. A better term might be “marginalising globalisation”.

When analysing the situation in Greece, there are broad parallels with similar processes that largely destroyed the social and economic fabric in Latin America during the 1980s and the former eastern European “socialist” nations in the 1990s. The similarity between these processes is easy to explain: the West provided these countries with loans to finance the import of technology. These countries were later unable to service their debts and therefore received no new loans. This led to Memoranda to the Bretton Woods institutions and these countries then accepted the conditions set out by the IMF and the World Bank. Fulfilling these conditions led to reduced labour costs, the dismantling and privatisation of public goods, economic liberalisation, and the destruction of conditions for the alternative development of society; as such, it also strengthened the most powerful around the globe and improved the situation for transnational corporations. If we look at the demands made of middle and eastern European nations that want to join the EU and the efforts of the EU to equalise economic and social standards in these countries, it is clear that the conditions for loans and/or EU and IMF “support” to Greece follow the same patterns, principles and goals.

It should therefore be clear that behind the causes for and the causers of specific social hierarchies and continually increasing social inequality are precisely such actors whose actions are guided by their prospects for success in global competition.
This is an important reason to develop a joint analysis, and solidarity-based emancipatory counter strategies.


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