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CR: The New Centennial Review 3.2 (2003) 241-270

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Globalization and National Development
The Perspective of the Chinese Revolution

Arif Dirlik
University of Oregon

I WILL TAKE UP A PROBLEM HERE THAT IS ELIDED IN MOST DISCUSSIONS OF globalization: the problem of national development under the regime of globalization. The juxtaposition of the terms globalization and national development points to a deep contradiction in contemporary thinking, or a nostalgic longing for an aspiration that may no longer be relevant, but is powerful enough still to disturb the very forces at work in relegating it to the past.

There is a suggestion in arguments for globalization that national development may be achieved through globalization, which in turn would be expected to contribute to further globalization, and so on and so forth into the future, which goes against the tendency of these same arguments to set the global against the national as a negation of the latter. While it may not be a zero-sum relationship, the relationship between globalization and national development is nevertheless a highly disturbed one. Understood as the persistence of commitments to autonomy and sovereignty, most importantly in the realm of the economy, the national obstructs globalization just as globalization erodes the national, at the same time rendering irrelevant [End Page 241] any idea of development that takes such autonomy and sovereignty as its premise. If we are to take globalization seriously, in other words, the very idea of national development becomes meaningless. On the other hand, if national development as an idea is to be taken seriously, as it was for most of the past century, then globalization appears as little more than an ideological assault on the national, to rid the present of the legacies of that past. I suggest below that we take this contradiction seriously, inquire into some of its implications, and consider resolutions that avoid entrapment between the past and the present, or an ideological erasure of the past by the present, and instead seek out ways to direct the forces of globalization in directions that do not erase but rather presume the central importance of the local in globalization.

I am concerned here most importantly with Third-World circumstances in globalization. That term itself is a reminder of the distance between the present and the past, but it still enables a convenient way of mapping shifts in global power and inequality. The Third World itself may not point to any entity identifiable on a geographical or a cultural map, but it is arguable that there was, only about three or four decades ago, a shared Third-World response to questions of national development, identifiable with some kind of national liberation socialism.

I will sketch out below the outlines of these strategies of national development. I will proceed from that to outline what some influential analysts see as the defining characteristics of a mapping of the global political economy under the regime of globalization. I draw extensively on the Chinese experience, which offers a paradigmatic case on both counts: first, as a foremost example of a revolutionary agrarian society challenging the globalizing forces of capital, and subsequently, as a successful case—at least so far—of post-socialist development through incorporation in global capitalism.

The differences between the two mappings of political economy and economic development, I suggest by way of conclusion, should be the point of departure for any consideration of a political economy that aims to get past political slogans to address concrete economic, social, and political problems. This requires close attention not just to technical questions of the economy, but to questions of class interest and power in the organization of [End Page 242] the global economy.

National Development and Social Revolution in Early Chinese Marxist Thought

I use as the title for this section the title of the first article I ever published, nearly three decades ago. 1 I do so because it expresses cogently an ideal of national development that was expressed by Chinese Marxists of various stripes in the 1920s. Similar ideas would...