TALKING ABOUT GLOBALIZATION IN NEPAL
WHY DID I SPEAK?
During my years as Director of the Danish Institute for Parties and Democracy 2011-16, I became deeply involved with the major political parties of Nepal, including the Communist Party, the Nepali Congress, the Maoist Party and the Madhesi parties – mentioned here in order of their strength following the 2017 parliamentary elections. This took place thorugh the JOMPOPS platform of the major political parties, set up to strengthen multi-party dialogue and a democratic culture in Nepal.
Since my retirement, I have maintained contact with representatives from all of the parties, and this was the reason for an invitation extended to me to speak at a conference organised by members of the Communist and Maoist parties in Kathmandu around the 5 May celebration of the 200 year anniversary of the birth of Karl Marx. I would be one of four speakers covering different aspects – like changes in the class structure, the challenges of federalism, and the challenges of globalisation and global democracy.
WHY DID THEY WAVE?
When I circulated a photo on Facebook of the more than 1.500 people attending the conference, many came back to me asking why they were waving to me? Well, the explanation is simple. I told the crowd that this was most likely the largest group of people I had ever spoken to [although I later remembered that I did in fact speak to more than 2.000 high school students on an occasion in the US in 1967, when I spent a year there with the American Field Service]. However, this event was definitely rather different, also because the information given to me was that there could be a few hundred attending! I therefore asked them all to wave to me, so I could send my wife a photo documenting the size of the crowd in a special way.
OPENING BY PARTY LEADERS
The conference was opened on 4 May by two former Prime Ministers, Mr. Khanal [standing at the speaker’s podium on the photo above] from the Communist Party and Mr. Prachandra [sitting in the front row as number three from the left] from the Maoist Party. Both of them are of course members of the recently elected Parliament. Both of them spoke about two issues in particular: One was of course to highlight the importance of the thinking of Karl Marx, and how his work continued to be relevant for development in Nepal; the other was the issue of the plans to merge [or to ‘unify’ as some would prefer to see it] the two parties into one.
When that happens, the Unified Communist Party will be the largest party both at the national level as well as at the provincial level. It will be a formidable and dominating force in both national and federal parliaments, and the only other party able to balance and challenge it will be the Nepali Congress Party. Right now, Nepali Congress is the second largest party, not too far befind the Communists. But the party lost the last election, and it is right now still struggling to define how to move forward. One problem is the issue of leadership of the party. Two ‘old’ personalities are competing, and probably it will require a third person to lift the party to a new level. Effectively what we see is the development of Nepal into something that resemples a two-party system. This is indeed an interesting development, considering that at some point there were more than 30 parties represented in parliament.
GLOBALISATION AND DEMOCRACY
Unfortunately there is no written document I can offer as an attachment, only hand written notes in my notebook. However, in my presentation to the gathering in the afternoon of 4 May, I focused on developments following the end of World War II, rather than starting with the period of ‘traditional’ imperialism around 1870 to 1920. The following are some of the key messages:
Development cooperation – both in its multilateral and bilateral forms – unfolded in the 1960s, and it can be seen as a response to the process of decolonization of the 50s and 60s, when states in Africa and Asia became independent. However, while there were many genuine efforts to support the newly established states on their own terms, we should not be blind to the efforts of the West [and the US in particular] to use development cooperation as an instrument in the effort to enlarge the global market for trade and investment that could benefit Western governments and companies.
Many of us were inspired by the theories of dependency and center-periphery, developed by André Gunder Frank and other Latin American economists and sociologists in the 60s. These theories pointed to the uneven and unequal aspects of globalisation, highlighting that the inequalities in distribution of wealth took place both at global, regional, national and local levels. This meant that globalisation would have winners as well as losers, although the traditional thinking and argument from the proponents of globalization was that there was something in it for everybody. Today, we know this has not been the case. Back then there were not many who saw this coming.
For a brief period in the 1970s, there was a glimmer of hope that a different global order could be developed. Spearheaded by the UN organisation for trade, UNCTAD, the idea of a New World Economic Order was conceived. The slogan developed and adopted by many of us was ‘trade – not aid’. The intention was not to eliminate any form of official development cooperation, which we saw as useful, if implemented in a reasonable and genuine manner. But we did believe that a fair trade regime would be even better, because it would allow developing countries to use their own resources as they wished to improve livelihoods. However, Western governments, and the US least of all, did not really see this agenda as useful.
During the 70s and 80s, we witnessed a dramatic restructuring of many parts of global production and trade. The Danish textile industry is such an example. Historically, parts of Denmark had produced clothing in all shapes and forms, originally based on both locally produced wool, later based on imported cotton. This had offered jobs for tens of thousands of people, women in particular. But year by year, production was now being moved to Asian countries like Thailand and Bangladesh. The comparative advantage of these countries was that they could offer competitive [meaning very low] wages. Many in Denmark considered this to be a tragedy, but the truth is that we managed to restructure our economy.
In the 90s, it seemed like a new magic bullet had entered the debate on globalisation. By instituting a rules-based system managed by the World Trade Organisation [WTO], it was argued that even the poorest countries in the global trading system would benefit. Decades later we would know that this was yet another promise that could not be delivered on. Actually many developing nations in this decade had to deal with structural adjustment programmes, which cut public budgets dramatically in order to deal with the debt burden of many countries. Only later did the World Bank admit that this did not do much to help developing countries.
Today, we are into [again again, some would argue] new agendas like the Millennium Development Goals [MDGs] covering the 2000-2015 period, and right now the Sustainable Development Goals [SDGs] covering 2015-2030. With almost all of the 193 members of the UN signing on to the 17 goals, and with the goals being universal in the sense that all countries have to deliver on the targets irrespective of present status, you could argue that this is as close to a global blueprint you can come. If this is the case, you could also argue that we no longer have to be concerned about the type of domination and exploitation we became used to during imperialism as well as colonialism.
Few would argue against the targets and visions of the SDGs. However, this does not change the fact that exploitation in various forms and shapes continue to be widespread and a cornerstone of the global economy. Labour from Nepal travel to other parts of Asia and the Middle East to find jobs that are poorly paid, with uanecceptable working conditions. It is said that one Nepali dies every day in this system! But the system continues, because the individuals see it as the only opportunity, and Nepal as a country benefits from the remittances. Add to this the growing inequality both globally and nationally between rich and poor; traficking in young girls and women; deliberate efforts by global companies to avoid taxation; well, then it becomes clear that while hundreds of millions have been liftet out of poverty [not least in China], crude forms of exploitation continue all around the world.
Political developments over the last decade have also made it clear that globalisation without democracy is a bad solution. On the contrary, precisely because people have not been informed honestly about the implications of globalization, many now feel cheated, and their response has often been to vote for right-wing and/or populist movements and political parties. It has also resulted in many people being angry with global cooperation, seeking simplistic solutions at the national level. But while this may be understandable, it is not a productive approach – especially at a time when the world needs to unite around solutions to climate change.