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CR: The New Centennial Review 3.2 (2003) 23-40

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Reflections on "Globalization Theory" and the Crisis in Argentina

Neil Larsen
University of California, Davis

DURING THE FINAL MONTHS OF 2001, WHEN I FIRST CONCEIVED THE IDEA FOR this essay, Argentina had become the sudden focus of world attention. The International Monetary Fund, in what seemed at the time an unprecedented move, had refused to continue loaning money to the De la Rúa government, and, in the course of the following weeks and the effective economic collapse of the country, a quasi-revolutionary situation appeared to prevail. On 20 December 2001, there occurred the now near-legendary uprising of the people of Buenos Aires that succeeded in forcing the resignation of De la Rúa. Though upwards of 40 people were killed by police in the course of the uprising, the Argentine armed forces refused De la Rúa's plea for intervention, thus marking what seemed a revolutionary new phase in Argentine political and social history.

I am trained as a Latin-Americanist and had, not long before the "revolution" of December 2001, spent some weeks in Buenos Aires; so the events of those days—and developments since—were to leave an especially acute impression on me. The leading institutions of finance capital, under pressure from the United States of course, had effectively decided to jettison entirely [End Page 23] not only a close ally of the G-8, but a national economy that had not long before been the second largest in Latin America—one whose relatively sizeable and affluent middle class, and once well-organized and relatively highly paid industrial working class had for some time given Argentina (or, at any rate, Buenos Aires) a kind of honorary "First-World" status in the eyes of world capitalist elites. In effect, the biggest bankers of the world had made a calculation in keeping with the many other drastic measures introduced by the U.S. hegemon after 9/11 and with their own serious internal financial crisis: Argentina was no longer worth "saving." Its "country-risk"—a rating scale used by the IMF and the World Bank to inform potential investors of the most and the least secure "national" havens for parking their excess capital—was suddenly on a par with that of sub-Saharan African countries. In August 2001 there was already to be heard in Buenos Aires the pun that had it that Argentina's "country-risk" (in Spanish, "riesgo país") had risen so high that the country itself had become a "riesgo país"—a "risk country."

But what struck me with equal force, at the time, was the sense of the gap that separated these clearly world-historical but conjunctural events from what was then, and largely remains, the tenor of "theoretical" discussions of "globalization" in the academy and in radical-intellectual circles in the United States. At the center of these discussions was, of course, the sensation generated by Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri's Empire, a tract celebrated (if also, by then, notorious) for its literally millennial proclamation of a "new world order" that had, so its authors told us, rendered virtually all heretofore existing secular forms of knowledge about the world and its social, economic, and political constitution(s) obsolete. I won't pause to summarize here what must already be familiar arguments to many readers, except to emphasize the ontological and almost religious fervor with which Hardt and Negri and their many avid readers proclaimed a kind of Copernican revolution-in-the revolution: a "new world order" at the same time sinister, ubiquitous, strangely fascinating in its "shimmering planes of immanence," and—sure enough—ripe at any unpredictable moment for the world revolution vouchsafed in the massing at all points of the centerless and rhizomatic network of Empire's own twenty-first-century gravediggers: the "multitude." Old-fashioned Marxist notions such as the law of combined [End Page 24] and uneven development—according to which breaks in the world system would occur, if...