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Struggles Against Wal-Martization and Neo-liberal Competitiveness in (southern) China: Is Post-Neoliberalism an Alternative?

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal article

Published

Journal publication date2008
JournalDevelopment Dialogue
Journal numbern/a
Volume51
Number of pages13
Pages156-168
Original languageEnglish

Abstract

The rise of neoliberalism has prompted adaptations, resistance and a search for alternatives. This paper concentrates on the case of (southern) China, especially the close relation between state and capital relation and its implications for a post-neoliberal future. It has four parts. First, it briefly sketches the rise of glocal (global-local) ‘competitiveness’ discourses and practices related to neoliberalism (e.g., the metaphor of ‘clusters’). This body of knowledge and practices has been (and continues to be) recontextualized in diverse scales and sites. Part 2 focuses on Hong Kong/Pearl River Delta. It illustrates how this body of competitiveness knowledge is being recontextualized in terms of the discourses and practices of ‘cluster-building’, ‘foreign direct investment’, and ‘global sourcing’ from ‘China as a global factory’. Together these discourses and practices contribute towards the disciplining of time and space of the region as an ‘economic powerhouse’. Global giant supply/retail chains such as Wal-Mart source from the region, thereby assisting their practice of selling at ‘Always Low Prices’ around the world. Part 3 explores how this ‘Wal-Martization’ trend has prompted diverse anti-neoliberal challenges from transnational and trans-local anti-globalization groups. They criticize this kind of price-value competitiveness especially in terms of their impact upon land use, labour problems, gender inequalities and local communities. This paper discusses the case of a Hong Kong-based NGO called Students and Academics Against Corporate Misbehaviour (SACOM) and its efforts to challenge labour issues in the region. Activities of local and transnational groups of this kind have had some impact, especially regarding Wal-Mart’s promotion of the discourse, if not the practice, of ‘corporate social responsibility’, as well as unionization, which remains modest. However, the growth of ‘Wal-Martization’ in China also indicates the close relationship among local states, state-owned capital and global multinationals. This way of privatizing China has reinforced uneven development and this, in turn, has led to the recent adoption of a social agenda in China. But does the latter act as no more than a flanking mechanism to allow for further privatization or will it establish the sovereign place of the people under ‘socialism with a Chinese characteristics’? More generally, does socialism have a future despite the neo-liberal onslaught? In certain quarters of the left, Chavez’s project in Latin America is narrated as ‘21st century socialism’ (or post-neoliberalism), involving grassroots/popular forces and classes gaining a foothold in the state and utilizing it to transform policies, especially at local levels. Do the development of Chavez’s project in Venezuela and of similar ones in Bolivia and Ecuador shed light on the search for a counter-hegemonic alternative to neoliberalism? Part 4 offers two cautionary notes on this issue.