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n the heyday of neoliberal globalization, Thomas Friedman’s (2005) exclaimed that “the world is flat,” insisting that the unevenness of the global economy was being levelled out. From a liberal standpoint, Friedman argued that technology and markets were making the world progressively more equal, erasing differences based on distance or uneven integration into global markets. Friedman thus provided a geographical metaphor resonant with Fukuyama’s (1992) claim that history had ended, leaving liberal politics and economy the only possible global future. However, Friedman’s assertion betrayed not only an unfounded optimism about the future of capitalism, but a failure to theorize how space affects our analysis of globalization. Critics of this liberal utopianism looked to the global periphery for evidence that difference does indeed persist under globalization, and that there really was an alternative to neoliberalism. Chris Hesketh’s book, Spaces of Capitalism / Spaces of Resistance: Mexico and the Global Political Economy, takes up this line of analysis. This book is a powerful reminder that capitalism is typified by uneven geographical development, and that its survival or cessation will have to be explained by analysing the production of space (Hesketh, 2017: 8).
Spaces of Capital /Spaces of Resistance re-examines the political economy of resistance to neoliberalism in Mexico, with particular reference to the Ejército Zapatista de Liberación Nacional (Zapatista National Liberation Army, EZLN) in Chiapas, and the Asamblea Popular de los Pueblos de Oaxaca (Popular Assembly of the Peoples of Oaxaca, APPO). The EZLN are a well-known reference point in theorizing effective struggles against neoliberalism, particularly their guerrilla campaign in the context of Mexico’s entry into NAFTA in 1994 (see, inter alia, Harvey, 1998; Holloway, 2002). APPO formed more recently, in 2006, as a reaction to government repression of a teachers’ strike. It connected several hundred civil society movements in a wave of protest which took control of Oaxaca’s streets, establishing democratic assemblies which aimed to develop a new constitution and more inclusive governance. Hesketh’s book is not an introduction to these struggles, but rather brings their complex dynamics into conversation.
The titular pairing “Spaces of Capital / Spaces of Resistance” neatly captures the structure of the book. The earlier chapters focus more on capitalist development, and the latter center on the resistance struggles of the APPO and EZLN. Chapters One and Two theorize the geographical processes at the heart of capitalist development, and analyse Latin America as the site of specific ‘spatial fixes’ for the resolution of crisis tendencies. Chapter Three, in the middle of the book, examines processes of state formation in Mexico.
At this midpoint, Hesketh questions how regional dynamics of global capitalist development were processed on the national level. The theoretical framework is anchored on Antonio Gramsci’s (1971) most famous concepts, “hegemony” and “passive revolution.” For Gramsci, the (trans)formation of modern states under capitalism incorporated two different logics. The French Revolution typified the logic of hegemony – a popular struggle that abolished the previously existing order, bringing together different social classes under the leadership of a single class. This leadership is best understood in ideological terms, where the particular interests of the dominant class were articulated as the general interest of the nation.
Passive revolution, typified by the formation of modern Italy, described cases where a national-popular project of class leadership could not be institutionalized. Instead, transformation followed a logic of “dominance without hegemony” (Guha, 1997) and the power of the state was used to discipline the subaltern classes into obedience. The social revolution that might have transformed society was thus pacified, and elements of the old order were maintained into the modern capitalist state.
Hesketh makes a major theoretical contribution by expanding these concepts drawn from Gramsci, combining them with insights from Henri Lefebvre (1991). As the author observes, “While Gramsci draws our attention to geographically-based forms of state-civil society complexes, Lefebvre drew our attention to contradictions in everyday life resulting from uneven development.” (Hesketh, 2017: 23). At a deeper level, the book connects with touchstones within critical anthropology. Eric R. Wolf’s classic critique of Eurocentrism, Europe and the People Without History, is a clear influence. This innovation enables the author to examine the mutually constitutive relationship between different scales of analysis It also offers a powerful counter position to Marxian theories that focus on the agency of capital in shaping global order, and omit how resistance struggles set the conditions of capitalist development. Hesketh makes clear that if we are to account for the emergence of neoliberalism in Mexico, we must examine the production of sub-national spaces, and the attendant possibilities for resistance and for building non-capitalist futures.
Within the Marxist literature, the concepts of “hegemony” and “passive revolution” are often conceived as macro-historical structures or conditions. Most commonly they are deployed at the level of the nation state. This generally consists of typifying some states as formed through ‘hegemonic projects’ which manufacture consent across the whole society, or else by “passive revolution” as popular demands for change are repressed but partially fulfilled via political and economic restructuring. Further,authors such as William I. Robinson described “hegemony” at the global level, positing the formation of a transnational state (Robinson, 2001), and pitching strategies for anti-capitalist struggle at a global level. In this sense, the critical literature has at times restated the “flatness” described by Friedman and others in the mainstream – the global is, allegedly, all that matters now. Hesketh effectively cuts an analysis in the opposite direction, focusing on the regional, sub-national and local levels. Using the above framework, Hesketh analyses what he terms “spatial strategies”, aimed at incorporating the diverse class fractions within Mexico into a hegemonic project for social transformation. Comparing two key transformations in Mexican history – the formation of the Mexican via the Mexican Revolution and the development project of Import Substitution Industrialization (ISI), and the neoliberal turn of the 1990s. The author suggests that where the strategy of the former period incorporated the whole of the Mexican people, the neoliberal turn was highly selective and uneven. It is through this analysis of unevenness that much of the original contribution of the book derives. By looking at the political economy of Mexico “from below”, he suggests that hegemony should be understood not as a monolithic national or global structure, but always “uneven and combined” (Hesketh, 2017: 112 & 175). Concomitantly, the process of repression and incorporation central to passive revolution plays out very differently in different spaces.
By modifying Marxist concepts to include geographical heterogeneity, Hesketh exposes the problems of articulating a “national” or “global” struggle against capitalist hegemony or passive revolution. These projects may be experienced very differently, depending upon the place (Hesketh, 2017: 104). Illustrating the complexity of counter-hegemonic or contra-passive revolutionary struggles, the final two chapters focus on spaces of resistance. Building upon several periods of fieldwork in Mexico, and a comprehensive collection of semi-structured interviews, Hesketh provides detailed accounts of struggles anti-neoliberal struggles in Chiapas and Oaxaca. These chapters highlight the differences between the struggles of the Popular Assembly of the Peoples of Oaxaca (Chapter 4), and the Zapatista movement in Chiapas (Chapter 5). The crux of the analysis is that the space of each state was shaped distinctively through preceding processes of colonialism and state formation, as outlined in the earlier chapters. By grounding contemporary and local struggles within historical and extra-local processes, Hesketh shows how different movements challenge oppression by constructing ‘counter-spaces’ which contest the geographical logic of neoliberal capitalism. The work concludes with a discussion of how these counter-spaces, though local, may prefigure a non-capitalist order.
Hesketh’s work ends spatially at the concrete level of local struggles, and temporally during the era of the Enrique Peña Nieto presidency. But it is worth considering what might emerge if he applied his analysis to the ‘meso’ level of Latin America once more, in light of the collapse of the Pink Tide. The leftward shift of Latin American governments has often been accompanied by highly active social movements – the foremost of which was the Movimento dos Trabalhadores Sem Terra do Brasil (Landless Workers Movement of Brazil, MST). In many ways, the MST presented a different path towards resistance than that offered by either APPO or the EZLN. Where the latter were mostly restricted to their home states, the MST formed a truly national movement. Conversely, the MST engaged with public policy and state support in exactly the way the EZLN avoided. Given the rise of a left-wing government in Mexico coinciding with the fall of left-wing Workers Party in Brazil, this reviewer was left wondering how these varied movements could combine their strategies in a common project.
Friedman, TL (2005). The world is flat: A brief history of the twenty-first century. London: Penguin Books.
Fukuyama, F (1992). The end of history and the last man. London: Penguin Books.
Guha, R (1997). Dominance without hegemony: History and power in colonial India. London: Harvard University Press.
Harvey, N (1998). The Chiapas rebellion: The struggle for land and democracy. London: Duke University Press.
Holloway, J (2002). Change the World Without Taking Power: The Meaning of Revolution Today. London: Pluto Press.
Lefebvre, H, (1991). The production of space. Oxford: Blackwell.
Robinson, WI (2001). Social theory and globalization: The rise of a transnational state. Theory and society, 30 (2), pp. 157-200.
Wolf, ER (1982). Europe and the People Without History. London: University of California Press.
Phil Roberts is an Associate Lecturer in the Department of Politics at the University of York, UK. He is also a member of the Interdisciplinary Global Development Centre (IGDC). His work centers on the political economy of development in Brazil, and particularly on social movements and agrarian change.