Emancipatory transformation and alternative development paths within and from regions of the South

03 November 2010

Alternative ‘regional’ South-South alliances and strategies hold out the most promising possibilities for shifting the global balance of power and creating living non-capitalist alternatives

Alternatives to crisis-prone capitalism can be conceived and implemented at the local, national, regional and/or global levels. This present analysis deliberately chooses to highlight processes at the regional level and within actual and potential regional initiatives. This concept is used to denote politico-economic groupings of contiguous countries in what are sometimes referred to as ‘sub-regions’ (such as the Southern African Development Community, or MERCOSUR – the Common Market of South America); as well as being used to refer to much larger more fully inclusive continental ‘regions’ [such as the putative African Union, or UNASUR – the Union of the Nations of South America].

The term regional is also used to describe alliances of countries that are physically dispersed but inter/linked through politico-economic and other agreements (such as ALBA – the ‘Bolivarian’ alliance of nations in South America and the Caribbean). In the broadest sense, the terms ‘regional’ and ‘inter-regional’ are used to denote the countries of ‘the South’ in general, within the global system and in relation to ‘the North’; which is thus also conceived as a global ‘region’ in geo-economic and geo-political terms.

The more narrowly defined regional groupings of countries in the South, and their regional strategies are, on the one hand, conceived primarily to deal with direct cross-border relations between neighbouring and intricately inter-linked countries. For example, cooperation and coordination is essential for existing/future cross-border (land, river and air) transport and communications systems, and many other technical and social services (especially regarding public health and safety). These direct and dense cross-border interactions also include intra-regional, formal and ‘informal’, trade flows and other cross-border human migrations and familial relations.

In the context of the global food crisis there are urgent needs for more self-sufficient and self-sustaining food production, and thus for mutually supportive regional agro-industrial development. Furthermore, under conditions of global economic crisis and emerging climate change crises, equally vital importance attaches to direct regional cooperation over shared water resources (rivers, lakes and underground aquifers), forests and biodiversities, fisheries and wild-life and other natural resources. These are, by their very nature, not confined within political borders and cannot be effectively managed, protected and developed within essentially artificial (and often arbitrarily created) political boundaries. Such cooperation is also essential on shared but unevenly distributed renewable energy sources and for the innovation of appropriate energy generation systems and technologies.

Thus, the long-standing rationale for all these crucial regional arrangements for more effective cooperation/coordination between neighbouring countries is made even stronger and more pressing within the context of the imperatives imposed by looming climate change instabilities and insecurities and in view of the creative initiatives and transformative counter-measures so essential for peoples’ security, and human survival.

However, the challenges of such essential measures are rendered even more complex in view of the different levels of development and resource endowments of such interlinked countries, their differing sizes and economic/financial and technological capacities; and thus the potentially uneven inputs into and benefits from their joint programs. It is in the light of such asymmetries that the programs to emerge from such practical - and often pragmatic - cooperation and coordination will have to be collectively and democratically negotiated and based on principles of mutual support and solidarity, but with differentiated responsibilities and roles according to resources and capacities. Within such ‘give-and-take’ and ‘mutual benefit’ modalities, such regional cooperation programs – motivated by the recognition of directly shared immediate problems and longer-term threats - would presage entirely different systems and relations to those that drive competitive, mercantilist and exploitative globalised capitalism.

At the same time - in addition to quintessentially intra-regional issues and the socio-economic and environmental/ecological concerns within specific groupings of countries - the creation of regional alliances are also perceived to serve political purposes and in relation to external forces and international relations. These extra-regional dynamics have long posed the necessity for the creation of coherent political frameworks for closely interdependent countries as political bases from which to engage more strongly and effectively in an extremely difficult political and economic global environment. Such political alliances are premised on the adage that ‘unity is strength’ and that the ‘united whole is greater than the sum of its parts’.

However, such joint socio-economic and concerted political strategies by groupings of otherwise weaker, lesser ‘developed’ and/or smaller countries - but even including some that are large(r) and/or ‘emerging’ - are not straightforward to devise/negotiate. Such strategic alliances require a level of political far-sightedness that focuses on identifying - and consciously prioritising – the interests they hold in common and in relation to hostile/negative outside forces. Even if not entirely motivated by ‘higher principles’, such closely interdependent neighbouring countries have immediate and powerful pragmatic incentives to work together. Hard experience shows that if one country descends into crisis all the immediate neighbouring countries and peoples will suffer inescapable negative consequences as well. The same, of course, applies globally … but at that level the dangerous illusion is easier to cling onto that distance provides some buffer and protection against crises ‘elsewhere’.

Most broadly and strategically, regional alliances - whether at the ‘sub-regional’, continental or inter-regional (south-south) levels – can be conceived and aimed at ensuring more effective engagements by such united groupings within the global economy and political system … or at enabling a more self-determined re/positioning in relation to the global economy and system …. or against the system …. or even, partially or totally, outside of the system.

It is in the light of these possibilities that such regional strategies carry broader global significance and hold out possibilities for alternatives to globalised capitalism, through (what Walden Belo calls) de-globalisation. If such regional groupings of countries are able to negotiate and implement amongst themselves alternative socio-economic strategies, they could not only be advancing alternatives within and for the countries and peoples within their own regional groupings, but also from their putative regional economic and political power bases for and towards alternatives to globalised capitalism, and for the whole of humanity.

Through their own negotiation/creation of appropriate, more self-sustaining models, and more diverse modes and modalities, such regional entities can – by design and through deliberate intent, or as a de facto outcome of their autonomous decisions – effect an incremental erosion of the ‘single integrated/liberalised global economy’ that has been created by and in the interests of global/transnational corporations and international capital.

Regional terrains for distinctive and diverse socio-economic-environmental programs, within the geo-political ‘spaces’ for innovative experimentations will not be easy to secure. They could however, on the one hand, constitute a gradual narrowing of the literal physical and economic scope for the operation of capitalism and capitalists; and, at the same time, provide demonstrations of real workable alternatives that are feasible within sizeable, viable and effective regional blocks. ‘Living alternatives’ at community/local levels are also useful for their demonstration effect, but are probably too ‘small’ and ‘slow’. In the face of increasingly threatening global crises, such localised (or even independent ‘national’) solutions could be too piecemeal and gradual, too scattered and – compared to regional(ised) strategies – too lacking in strategic concertation, and simply insufficiently powerful politically and economically to change the international balance of economic and political power.

However, even as such alternative ‘regional’ South-South alliances and strategies hold out the most promising possibilities for shifting the global balance of power and creating living anti-globalist and anti-capitalist - or non-capitalist - alternatives, there remain vitally important spheres and levels of common concern for the whole of humanity and for the very survival of the entire planet, and these have to be negotiated/agreed globally, implemented universally and monitored internationally. In sum, what is therefore needed at both the conceptual and practical levels are

  • simultaneous ‘bottom-up’ (local, national and regional) and ‘top-down’ (global) approaches towards countering the processes and forces of globalised capitalism;
  • specific diverse and viable regional alternatives… as well as convergent and common global alternatives to the current globalised capitalist system;
  • and both political ‘south’ and ‘south-south’ alliances against northern-dominated global capitalism, as well as ‘north-south’ alliances of the international left.