Attention: Global Moles at Work

Tom Nairn
11 September 2009


In an article entitled 'Feminism Co-opted' Nancy Fraser has recently suggested that among the deeper effects of Neo-Liberal hegemony may be counted a tacit alliance between marketolatry and the women's movement (New Left Review, March-April 2009). The former could not help undermining inherited customary attitudes many of which bore a strongly patriarchal component. Such instinctive assumptions tend to stick together and support one another. This is a lot of what a 'culture' means. But may not what sticks together, perish together as well?

What the ensuing General Financial Crisis has accomplished may be partly the ruin of custom, in just that sense. An unquestioned 'macho' strain in global finance capital piled one risk upon another: for Lords of that age, failure was unthinkable. The 'cash-nexus' took over, and increasingly escaped control until it did fail. And in the wake of collapse, we find the Washington Post's Foreign Policy taking up Fraser's refrain. Its 2009 July-August edition declares 'The Era of Male Dominance is Coming to an End. Seriously' (Reihan Salam of the New America Foundation, p.66). Valerie Hudson of Brigham Young University backs him up with 'Good Riddance' (p.71): 'It used to be said that behind every great man is a great woman. Maybe the scoundrels, hooligans, Genghis Khans, derivatives traders and debt-securitizers could use a few great women too, for the sake of the rest of us, if nothing else'.

No such intention crossed the minds of the cash-nexus prophets. 'Moles' must have been at work: the famous unobserved tunnellers of Shakespeare's Hamlet (I, iv, 24). Karl Marx returned to the point in the 19th century: people consciously make history, but not in conditions of their own choosing. In early-modern folklore moles were sometimes identified with the Devil. And from 1848 to the present, the furry creatures have consistently grown in scale. To bring about the major landscape shifts evoked by Salam and Hudson, globalization's equivalents must be more like small bulldozers. Normally credited with the lowering of nation-state borders, they are now reported at work on the gender frontier.

When an earth-movement gets registered both in New Left Review's atelier and on the Foreign Policy front lawn, something must be up. For all the indignation her article aroused among left-wing feminists, Nancy Fraser may have been even righter than she knew. The 'cunning of history' is another conventional way of imagining mole-workers. Cultures are rarely smart enough to perceive a process that has to be 'made' collaterally, as well as through policies and will-power. There were few women among the derivatives traders and columnar foghorns. That didn't mean they had abandoned the economy. On the contrary, within Marx's 'relations of production' they have become more important then ever.

However, as Hudson puts it, they have remained 'less confident than men because they usually live with men who are over-confident'. but as macho vanity collapses realism should come into its own, with the recognition that 'better decisions might be made if men and women were making them together'. 'And wouldn't you know it' she ironizes in conclusion, '...research has shown that mixed decision-making groups are less risk-acceptant than all-male groups, and that non-zero-sum outcomes are more likely'.

For social-democrats, surely, here is one real advance on head-counting. It's true that evolution is involved. And so it should be. As Salam writes: 'As women start to gain more of the social, economic and political power they have long been denied, it will be nothing less than a full-scale revolution the likes of which human civilization has never experienced'. The Neo-liberal cock may have crowed far too loudly and too long on the other hand, as Perry Anderson has pointed out, at least nobody could ignore him, and the whole new globalising farmyard has been awakened for good from the torpor of tradition and 'I told you so!' Yet no culture of collective Socialism waits to take over: the even bigger earth-shifts in the East made that clear as well. So new management looks like the only alternative.

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