(Corporate) Transnationalism and Red Internationalism: Globality and Class Struggle Today  

Amrohini Sahay

Orthodox Marxism and the Contemporary

What is Orthodox Marxism?
Stephen Tumino

(D)evolutionary Socialism
Deborah Kelsh

Class, Labor and the "Cyber": A Red Critique of the "Post-Work" Ideologies
Rob Wilkie

Eclipsing Exploitation: 
Transnational Feminism, Sex Work and the State
Jennifer Cotter

Haven't you realized that workers have it pretty good today
Brian Ganter

Revolution as Seduction, Pedagogy as Therapy and The Subject is Always Me
The Red Collective

Marxist Interventions



Theories of globalization are also theories of capitalism today, and therefore also of how to transform it (which is the objective of the struggle for socialist revolution), or how to preserve it. The question of globalization is thus of particular urgency for the left—if the left is to be a force for social transformation of capitalism. Yet the dominant "left" theories of globalization are articulations of what Teresa Ebert calls "transnationalism," a corporate theory "whose purpose is to legitimate monopoly capital" (2) by focusing on cultural and political issues and thus blocking any systematic knowledge of the labor relations—that is, the relations of production—constituting "globalization."

At the core of the ruling class transnationalist theory of globalization is the thesis of "postcapitalism"—the idea that we are now in what Peter Drucker calls a new, "post" age in which "post" is above all a marker that capitalism has superceded its basic contradictions—"basic" in the sense explained by orthodox Marxism of stemming from the exploitation of wage-labor. The markers of this supposedly "post" moment of globality which are repetitively rehearsed at all levels of the knowledge and culture industry is the view that we now live in an information and services society where knowledge has displaced labor as the main source of social wealth, where "consumption" has displaced "production" as the primary axis of social life and identity, and that therefore class is also displaced and class struggle is no longer the main dynamics of social change. Left transnationalist theories—using the diverse languages of the left and via deployment of its various idioms—are the (re)circulation of these corporate views—especially on class and class struggle—to block any transformative understanding of globality: they are thus—in effect, if not in intention—an annex of capital. Opposed to corporate transnationalism (in all its forms) is red internationalism: the historical materialist theory of capitalist globality which shows how what is called "globalization" is nothing other than an intensification of the contradictions of wage-labor as explained by orthodox Marxism, and which provides the basis for class struggle praxis on an international level to end capitalism.

To frame what follows, it is necessary to reiterate what I have already mentioned: left-transnationalism—like transnationalist theory in general—is articulated in many voices and rhetorics, in cross-disciplinary languages and at multiple sites, a fact which is central to its ideological effectivity. The aim of my discussion here is thus not to "summarize" or provide a comprehensive overview of it but to broadly capture what is at stake in the singular logic behind its diverse discursive mediations and put it into contestation with the Marxist theory of globality.

In its "culturalist" form, left-transnationalism is advanced by writers such as Stuart Hall in his work on "identity." Elaborating on the logic of what Anthony McGrew calls "the [recent] intensification of global interconnectedness" (467) as a force of transnational integration, Hall writes: "though powered in many ways by the West, globalization may turn out to be part of that slow and uneven but continuing story of the decentering of the West" (632). Hall's argument is of course put forward both to depoliticize the concept of globalization by placing it on the continuum of an "evolutionary" modernity as well as to counter the view of globalization as "cultural homogenization." It is the claim for the "progressiveness" of globality as the harbinger of new transnational cultures and postnational identities and thus an end to the "hegemony" of the "national" which is then posited as the basis of transition to a new "cross-border civilization" and an "enlightened" world-community of consumers.

This representation of globalization as a "progressive" decentering of the national is also put forward by Bruce Robbins in his argument for the new "cosmopolitanism" as a form of "cultural internationalism" (17) which forms the only "realistic"—what he calls "worldly"— alternative to the dead "utopian ideals" of socialist internationalism (7-8). Cosmopolitanism for Robbins, is the new "humanitarian" "style of solidarity" (21), a form of "global feeling" (6)—as a "natural" evolution beyond the "national." As he thus says: "National print capitalism having given way to global electronic and digital capitalism, the same forces that stretched culture to the scale of the nation are stretching it beyond the scale of the nation" (21). Robbins here of course is simply repeating the conservative "new economy" theories of globalization as the effect of "new information technologies," the aim of which is to posit social change as an effect of the "agency" not of what Marx calls the "collective worker," but of what bourgeois managers call the "technologist," which is a relay of the bourgeois view that it is the "inventiveness" of the entrepreneur and not the labor of the proletariat which makes history. Yet perhaps what is at stake in Robbins' new "global feeling" is made most clear in what he takes as the exemplary test case of the cosmopolitan "style of solidarity": the US-led NATO imperialist intervention in Bosnia and Kosovo aimed at ensuring that Eastern Europe is "liberated" as a market and source of cheap labor for transnational capital. Displacing any analysis of the class interests shaping the political—that is, the core of socialist internationalism—Robbins' "humanitarian" cosmopolitanism of "feeling" is a thin device to manufacture consent for the policies of international imperialism. Thus as he says: "transnationally shaped and educated sentiment is a necessary means of winning democratic consent for a particular set of policies" (16). If this is internationalism, it—like Derrida's spectral "New International"—should more properly be seen as an "internationalism" of the bourgeois.

As I have already suggested, Hall's "decentering" and Robbins' cosmopolitanism, are themselves not "originary" but instances of the corporate theory which Malcolm Waters calls "cultural globalization." On the terms of this theory, it is culture which is the "driving force for global integration" (10) and the arrival of "an economy of signs and symbols" (124) marks the triumph of "symbolic exchanges" over the material relations of class exploitation. The logic of the argument is made more clear by Waters when he suggests that in the "culturalized global economy" (95)—a version of McLuhan's "global village" of face-to-face electronic exchanges—"world class is displaced by a world status system based on consumption, lifestyle, and value commitment" (95). "Politics" in the "global village" is then, following Robbins, reduced to "the pursuit of lifestyle" (156), to "style" and "feeling," which is to say it becomes an extension of consumption.

Of course not all articulations of left-transnationalism accept this version of corporate globalism. Gayatri Spivak's essay "Cultural Talks in the Hot Peace," for example, is aimed precisely as a critique of this representation. The globality of the McLuhanesque/Lyotardian "global village" for her is transparently "invoked in the interests of the financialization of the globe" (320); it is part of what she terms the "cultural politics" of transnational capital's expansion into the periphery. Yet for all her astute critique of the cultural politics of imperialism, Spivak ultimately reproduces its class politics. By focusing almost exclusively on "Development" practices instituted by transnational policy institutions such as the World Bank and WTO, Spivak displaces the focus away from the global systematicity of capitalist relations of production to its locally enacted "policies"; she thus reproduces the ideology of what Akash Kapur terms, in his discussion of Amartya Sen's neo-developmentalism, "A Third Way for the Third World." On the terms of this "third way" approach, Spivak—like Sen—arrives at the post-class solution of a more "ethical" capitalism. What is needed in order to address the system of exploitation, is thus, as she says, not "grabbing state power" (339) but participatory support of "alternative development" as part of the strategy of the "globe girdling" grassroots new social movements—a strategy which is at best a buffer zone to minimize class contradictions within the existing system. Moreover, the very language of what Spivak represents as "committed" politics marks it as simply the other side of the new upper-middle class cosmopolitanism: this time in the form of a thickly mediated spiritualism which substitutes the sentimental pleasures of an "ethics" advanced in the name of "contact" with the subaltern for revolutionary struggle. In fact, the material interests behind Spivak's representation of the "subaltern" have as much to do with her desire for a "mind-changing one-on-one responsible contact" (340) with the "other" as with the new metropolitan discourses of ("affective") legitimation of imperialism: the identity of the two is an articulation of the connective logic of exploitation.

The underlying logic of the (not-so) "new social movements"—that is, to clarify, the cross-class alliances of "transnational civil society" which are supposed to have displaced the proletariat as the agents of change—is further surfaced in the writings of Roger Burbach, Orlando Núñez and Boris Kagarlitsky. In their book, Globalization and Its Discontents they demonstrate with stunning clarity that the role of the new social movements is not what they call "revitalizing the left" (48) so much as it is a revitalizing and updating of classical bourgeois liberalism for transnationalism. As Burbach, Núñez and Kagarlitsky thus clarify, basic to the new social movements is their rootedness in "'the new individuality' that is questioning the culture of domination and Western civilization itself" (50). I leave aside here the bankrupt idealism of the position that it "is the values of domination and exploitation" (38) that are at issue in the constitution of the social. I also leave aside here that what they think is "new" about the "new individuality"—the fact that it now goes "far beyond the economic sphere [to] the effort to define one's very being in relation to one's sexuality, to a particular social or ethnic group, or even in relation to other species and the environment" (51)—is in fact nothing but a relay of global commodification and extension of the logic of the economic to all areas of social existence. Rather, what is fundamentally at stake in the "new individuality" underpinning the "new social movements" is precisely what it shares with the "old" individualism: like all "individual" rights under capitalism it is an articulation of the right to private property, the right to exploitation of the labor of the other, the non-property holder. It is, in short, nothing other than the preservation of this class right to property holding that is legitimated by Burbach, Núñez's and Kagarlitsky's advocation of the "new postmodern actors in the social movements who fight against the excesses of globalized capitalism" (61) and thus undertake the program of what they term "[r]adical reformism" (166). In doing so they of course forget the lesson of history that there is no such thing as "radical" reformism—since as Marx writes, "to be radical is to grasp things by the root" ("Contribution" 251)—in this case the root of private property—which is exactly what reformism rejects.

And yet, what is also clear is that if there is no such thing as "radical reformism," reformism is precisely what is at issue in left-transnationalist theories of globalization, from the cultural to the political theories. And what is fundamentally at stake in this reformism is the future of capitalism.

That this is the case is perhaps shown with the greater clarity the closer the discourses of the writers approach globalization on the terrain of political economy. Exemplary, for instance, is William Robinson's recent essay "Towards a Global Ruling Class" co-authored with Jerry Harris. Here Robinson and Harris advance their claim that orthodox Marxism is "outdated" as an effective analysis of contemporary capitalism on the basis of the demise of the sovereignty of the nation-state. For them, in other words, the end of national sovereignty is not a further articulation of what Lenin theorized as "imperialism" and domination of monopoly capital (Imperialism: The Highest Stage of Capitalism) but the beginning of a "new epoch" marked by the emergence of a "transnational capitalist class" in the process of instituting its worldwide hegemony.1 What differentiates Robinson and Harris' essay from other texts dealing with the issues is the fact that unlike the standard literature with its focus on the phenomenon of circulation and exchange—in particular, on financial speculation, currency movements, trade, and other market phenomenon—they focus their attention on an analysis of "production"—which thus places class in the foreground. And yet, their understanding of production is a formal one, and therefore their notion of class is also idealist. Thus, ultimately, Robinson and Harris's claim of globalization as a "new epoch" marks it as a "break" in history so that now it is the "power" of the transnational capitalist class and its "capture of the 'commanding heights' of state policymaking" (23)—and not the historical continuity of the objective dialectics of labor—that is determining of the economic: which is to say that they displace economics with politics, and thus end up privileging not production but such idealist views (following E.P. Thompson and other New Leftists) as that "the existence of a class [is] conditional upon its capacity to forge a collective political and/or cultural. . . 'self-representation'" (21). The end result is yet another left-accented version of what amounts to the reformist argument for "compassionate markets"—since if the "problem" is not capitalism and its objective laws of motion, but the hegemonic "policies" of the transnational class fraction of the bourgeoisie—then there is still a long-term possibility for what Ulrich Beck calls "responsible globalization" (128). "Responsible globalization" is of course what is most recently instituted as the Blair/Clinton/Schroeder "Third Way" under the guidance of Anthony Giddens, Beck himself, David Held and Danielle Archibugi2 along with other policy gurus and intellectual crisis managers for capital as a strategy for sustaining capitalism in the face of the daily manifestations of its systemic crisis, above all the mounting tensions of worldwide class polarization which are symptomatized in the growing anti-globalization backlash. The historical stake in such reformist crisis management is also effectively clarified by Beck when he sounds the warning bell to the bourgeois: Thus as he says in his What Is Globalization?, "What is at issue today. . . is not 'only' the millions of unemployed, nor only the future of the welfare state, the struggle against poverty or the possibility of greater social justice. Everything we have is at stake. Political freedom and democracy in Europe are at stake" (62).



As I have been arguing, left-transnationalist theories deploy the cultural and the political to claim that globality inaugurates a new "epochal" moment which no longer needs international class struggle in order to change it. I leave aside here that what is posited as an emerging postnational and cosmopolitan "global culture" and inclusive world-community are such practices as the fact that, as a recent review in Time Magazine's "Asia Buzz" section marks, "marketing types" in Singapore can now eat "smallish portions" of little known Umbrian cuisine made with ingredients imported from Italy and France, the reified commodity-logic of which is symptomatically captured in the title of the article, "Culture on Demand." "Culture on demand" is the allegory of freedom of consumption for a few which is then naturalized as "global culture" in order to mystify the un-freedom of class inequality for the many.

The emergence of "culture on demand" cosmopolitanism is the result not of an epochal shift, nor of a new transformative moment in which lifestyle, feeling, and symbolic exchanges displace relations of exploitation as the basis of "identity." It is a secondary mediation of the internationalization of the productive forces which is itself produced in the relations of exploitation. In the Manifesto of the Communist Party, which remains not only the first but also the most historically dynamic account of globalization, Marx and Engels of course already foreground this relationship between the productive forces and the cultural and political changes involved in the expansion of capitalism. As they write:

The bourgeoisie cannot exist without constantly revolutionizing the instruments of production, and thereby the relations of production, and with them the whole relations of society. . . Constant revolutionising of production, uninterrupted disturbance of all social conditions, everlasting uncertainty and agitation distinguish the bourgeois epoch from all earlier ones. . . .The need of a constantly expanding market for its products chases the bourgeoisie over the whole surface of the globe. It must nestle everywhere, settle everywhere, establish connexions everywhere.

The bourgeoisie has through its exploitation of the world-market given a cosmopolitan character to production and consumption in every country. To the great chagrin of the Reactionists, it has drawn from under the feet of industry the national ground on which it stood. All old-established national industries have been destroyed or are daily being destroyed. They are dislodged by new industries, whose introduction becomes a life and death question for all civilized nations, by industries that no longer work up indigenous raw material, but raw material drawn from the remotest zones; industries whose products are consumed, not only at home, but in every quarter of the globe. In place of the old wants, satisfied by the productions of the country, we find new wants, requiring for their satisfaction the products of distant lands and climes. In place of the old local and national seclusion and self-sufficiency, we have intercourse in every direction, universal inter-dependence of nations. (38-39)

Far from being "undone" by new relays of mediations of the market, the Marxist theory of globalization has always provided the most effective materialist explanation for them. And yet, while acknowledging them it has never lost sight of what these mediations are mediations of: the relations of production at the basis of capitalism, relations which produce, as Marx and Engels write, on the one side the bourgeoisie, i.e. capital, and, "in the same proportion. . . the proletariat, the modern working class…—a class of laborers who live only so long as they find work, and who find work only so long as their labour increases capital. . . These labourers who must sell themselves piecemeal, are [like every other article of commerce] a commodity. . . " (41).

At their basis then, transnationalist theories of globalization are a denial of the following: that at the foundation of the system of capitalist production is the commodification of labor power—the fact that the laborer cannot live without ("freely") exchanging her labor power for wages which is the historically determined ground for her exploitation by the capitalist—and that this historical relationship is not "arbitrary," it is not the result of "policy" or political "power" which can then be "reformed" but is a systemic one governed by determinate laws which requires transformation. The historico-economic elaboration and theorization of these determinate laws is at the core of the Marxist theory.

As Marx explains in Capital v.1 in his discussion of the prerequisites of capitalist production: "The capitalist system presupposes the complete separation of the laborers from all property in the means by which they can realize their labor." And moreover, "As soon as capitalist production is once on its own legs it not only maintains this separation but reproduces it on a continually extending scale" (874).

Here Marx is pointing to the fact that, not only is the productive exchange of wages for labor power at the basis of capitalist production—a situation which in turn presupposes that a property-less worker confronts an owner of property, but, as he also indicates, capitalism entails its own globalization, which is nothing other than the extension of the capital-wage labor relation on an international scale. Globalization in short, begins not with the onset of "modernity" and time-space compression, the ending of fixed exchange-rates, the emergence of multinational corporations, the collapse of the Eastern bloc, or the demise of national sovereignty and rise of the "hegemony" of the "transnational class fraction"—which are all explainable as secondary phenomena of capitalist development; Globalization begins, rather, with the separation of the producers from the means of production, the separation which prevents them from realizing the product of their own labor and thus makes them subject to exploitation by the capitalist, the owner of the means of production.

Like all class societies, capitalism is based on the exploitative extraction of surplus labor by a ruling class from the producing class. As Marx shows in great detail in Capital v.1 in his discussion of the structure of the Working Day, under capitalism this takes the form of "surplus value," the difference between the paid and unpaid labor of the worker, which forms the sole basis of capitalist profits. As capitalism is an inherently self-expanding system, however, it must accumulate profits (i.e. the surplus value produced by exploiting workers) at an ever higher rate. That is, in order simply to maintain itself, it must continually increase the rate of exploitation of the working class. And yet, far from this process of accumulation being a "smooth" process, as Marx demonstrates in his extensive discussion of the rate of profit in Capital v. 3, the pursuit of the globally competitive rates of profit without which capital cannot survive is marked by a profound and unsupercedable contradiction.

As Marx shows, in the long term, the very processes through which capital assures its competitive self-expansion and achieves an ever higher rate of accumulation of profits—that is, by raising the rate of exploitation primarily by investing in machinery rather than labor and thus raising productivity and lowering its costs of production—leads to its increasing self-negation. Broadly, as the ratio of machines to living labor, or of fixed to variable capital grows, and since living labor is the sole source of profit, as it is excluded from the production process, a progressive tendency of the rate of profit to fall manifests itself. The attempt of capital to counter this fall in the rate of profit is then undertaken by expanding the rate of appropriation of surplus value from the working class, firstly by introducing cost-cutting technologies which further raises the productivity of labor (a move which however, merely compounds the initial problem of substitution of machines for living labor), and secondly, by organizing production—first at the national and then at the international scale—so as to take advantage of the cheapest sources of labor available. The integrative logic of capitalist globalization—or, to put it another way, the internationalization of the capitalist relations of production—is shaped by this process of access to cheap labor. The intensification of the current phase of globalization, far from signaling the end of capital's reliance on productive wage labor, is in fact an effect of its complete dependence on it. As the inherent limits of the process of expanding surplus value by simultaneously excluding living labor from production surface, the force of integration behind globalization, both historically and more than ever today, is a manifestation of capital's need for "preserv[ing] and multiply[ing] itself by exchange with direct, living labour-power" (Wage-Labour 30). More specifically, today it is the contradictions of this double process—on the one hand the substitution of living labor by machines, leading to ineradicable poverty, unemployment, and falling rates of profit wherever the ratio of machines to living labor is high; and, on the other hand, the extension of capitalist relations of exploitation to every corner of the globe in search of competitive rates of profit through access to cheap labor, it is these contradictions that are at stake in the debate over globalization. And these contradictions—which sharpen and extend the fundamental class antagonism of wage labor-capital on a global scale—are insoluble, they are simply non-reformable under the capitalist system of production for profit.

Transnationalist theories of globalization are apologies for global capitalism which, as a result of its inherent economic laws of motion, is deepening class inequality all over the world even as the social productivity of labor—and with it the ability to meet the historic needs of all people—grows. At best in their call for "reforms" and the institution of a responsible "redistributionist" globalization the transnational left acts to delay the full development of these inherent contradictions—the logic of which, above all, progressively produces not a "complexification of social differentiation" as the reformists all claim, but, on the contrary, as Marx and Engels write, a "simplification of the class antagonisms."

In the contemporary moment of hybrid and hybridizing social and cultural theory, it is necessary to repeat this point: globalization is the other name of "the simplification the of class antagonisms" and thus the only effective politics capable of dealing with its contradictions is one which places this antagonism at the forefront. Yet here I need to re-state what I mean since at the current moment even the concepts of "class struggle" and "class antagonism" have been appropriated by left-transnationalism as a ruse of political reformism. It is after all in the name of an effective politics of "class struggle" that paramarxist "leftists" like Frederic Jameson and Slavoj Zizek, have dematerialized "class antagonism" in order to turn the struggle for a socialist society into a dematerialized "utopian" negativity: that is, into a neoHegelian fictive universality without any positive basis in labor relations. It is thus that Zizek for example, following Jameson's theorization of it as a "utopian moment," rewrites "socialism" as a mode of "an ethico-political enthusiasm for which there is no place in 'normal' capitalism" (35). That is, from a materialist and revolutionary praxis to end economic equality Zizek transmutes socialism into an ethical norm and an excess-ive desire: an "Ideal. . . which remains an unconditional excess, setting in motion permanent insurrection against the existing order" and which can never "be included" within it (40). Yet—while it certainly sounds "radical," even "revolutionary"—to make the struggle for economic equality into an unrealizable Ideal is in fact not only to romanticize it (and thus, by way of an epistemological detour, to provide an aesthetic legitimation of exploitation) but to justify the existing inequality as a permanent state of things. It is—in the name of class struggle—a left alibi for establishing the permanence of global (anti)capitalism and blocking determinate transformation. On the contrary, the Orthodox Marxist understanding of politics not only bases class struggle on class antagonism, but, as I have argued, understands class antagonism as itself having a positive basis in the objective dialectics of wage labor-capital. It is not simply the politically "outlawed" but a material opposition founded in the economics of private property: that is, the congealed, appropriated surplus labor of the world-proletariat. As such a material opposition, it is open to material (economic) transformation. 

Globalization is the logic of the simplification of the class antagonisms: the splitting of the whole world into "two great hostile camps, into two great classes directly facing each other: Bourgeoisie and Proletariat" (Manifesto 36). Part of this logic and one of its dialectical effects is that, as the Manifesto also states, as globalization advances, producing a "uniformity in the mode of production and in the conditions of life corresponding thereto" (51) in the same degree are "national differences and antagonisms between peoples daily more and more vanishing" (48). Thus, along with the globalization of capitalism and the phenomenon which accompany it, there arises also the basis of its supercession in an internationally class conscious proletariat. The emergence of class consciousness, however, has never been the result of a "mechanical" or a "spontaneous" process—it has always been a question of struggle. Red internationalism is the struggle for this revolutionary class consciousness as the basis of united, class struggle praxis for socialism by the "workers who have no country."

Works Cited

Beck, Ulrich. What is Globalization? Massachusetts: Polity Press, 2000.

Burbach, Roger, Orlando Núñez and Boris Kagarlitsky. Globalization and Its Discontents: The Rise of Postmodern Socialisms. London: Pluto Press, 1997.

Drucker, Peter. Post-Capitalist Society. New York: Harper Business, 1993.

Ebert, Teresa L. Globalization, Class and Cynical Reason: A Forum on Contemporary Theory and Transcultural Critique. Working Papers Series in Cultural Studies, Ethnicity, and Race Relations. Pullman: Washington State University, 2000.

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Kapur, Akash. "A Third Way for the Third World" in The Atlantic Monthly. v. 284, n. 6. (Dec.1999). 124-129.

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Marx, Karl. Capital v. 1. intro. Ernest Mandel. trans. Ben Fowkes. New York: Vintage, 1977.

_____. Capital v. 3. intro. Ernest Mandel. trans. David Fernbach. London: Penguin, 1981.

_____. Wage-Labour and Capital and Value, Price, and Profit. New York: International Publishers, 1976.

_____. "Contribution to the Critique of Hegel's Philosophy of Right: Introduction" in Karl Marx: Early Writings. New York: Vintage Books, 1975.

_____. and Frederick Engels. Manifesto of the Communist Party in Selected Works. New York: International Publishers, 1986.

McGrew, Anthony. "A Global Society?" in Modernity: An Introduction to Modern Societies. 1996.

Robbins, Bruce. Feeling Global: Internationalism in Distress. New York and London: NYU Press, 1999.

Robinson, W.I. and Jerry Harris. "Towards a Global Ruling Class: Globalization and the Transnational Capitalist Class" in Science and Society, vol. 64, n.1 (Spring, 2000).

Spivak, Gayatri. "Cultural Talks in the Hot Peace: Revisiting the 'Global Village'" in Cosmopolitics. Minneapolis and London: U of Minnesota Press, 1998.

Stalwalker, Stan. "Culture on Demand: Benissimo!" in Time Asia. (Sept. 16, 2000). Online:

Waters, Malcolm. Globalization. London and New York: Routledge, 1995.

Zizek, Slavoj. "Multiculturalism, Or, the Cultural Logic of Multinational Capitalism" in New Left Review 225, Sept./Oct. 1997. 28-51.

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