Seize and Resist

Thea Riofrancos in The Baffler:

GLOBALIZATION IS UNDER ATTACK from all quarters. It’s hard to pinpoint when the discord began: the concept, and the process it grasps, is nearly coterminous with the contention swirling around it. January 1, 1994, the day the North American Free Trade Agreement went into effect, was also the day the Zapatista Army declared war on the Mexican government. In the United States, the alter-globalization movement erupted in the 1999 Battle of Seattle; in the hemisphere, it peaked with the 2005 World Social Forum in Porto Alegre, Brazil, which registered over 150,000 participants. A few years later came the “movements of the squares” as protesters occupied public spaces from Athens to New York to Cairo. These events coincided with an entire era of resistance to free trade and U.S. hegemony in Latin America, culminating in the Pink Tide, which in turn foreshadowed the global spread of populisms left and right that, though diametrically opposed in their diagnoses, targeted the insipid managerialism of market democracies.

And that was just the beginning. Having survived the turbulence of social movements and financial crises, the fate of the flat earth utopia—the dream of a global humanity linked by the sinews of peaceful trade, digital communication, and international institutions, all protected by benevolent American imperialism—entered into yet another phase of uncertainty. Across multiple continents, right-wing nationalism, itself nurtured by neoliberalism, captured state power. Trade wars, withdrawals from multilateralism, and reconfigurations of historic alliances ensued. Global integration already appeared at a nadir when the novel coronavirus emerged in China before spreading everywhere through the pathways of transnational interconnectedness. Supply chains premised on frictionless circulation and just-in-time production ground to a halt; meanwhile, political leaders of all ideological stripes bemoaned “dependency” not just on China, but on globally dispersed production itself, which manufactures everything from the superficial (fast fashion) to the essential (personal protective equipment). In their place, they called for “re-shoring” supply chains, scaling down production to domestic and regional levels, and balancing economic efficiency with newly salient exigencies of public health. Are we witnessing the twilight of globalization?

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