Quick notes on Xu Changfu’s Monday Talk

Above: Xu Chungfu (Sun Yat-sen University, Guangzhou, China)

For the benefit of my students who attended, I wanted to make a couple of notes: Changu’s main argument was that working out of Marxist framework, we must work to recognize a right to cross borders for the sake of work whenever and wherever neoliberal policies assert such a right for the movement of capital. His points were premised on two claims:

(1) The first is normative: the place of one’s birth should no longer mark the material benefits one can assume during a lifetime. (Hence his discussion of Rawls and Kant).

(2) The second is historical (in the Marxian sense): in a rather literal reading of Marx, he argues that if one charts the move from industrial capitalism to communism in Marx’s work, one should insert an intermediary stage in which not just capital (as Marx argued would lead to the contradictions resulting in the collapse of capitalism) but also labor must be globalized.

Changfu ended by noted resources within traditional Chinese philosophy for this approach. This talk is in line with a move within Chinese Marxism to turn from Mao to Confucianism as a source for political claims. But, to cut to the discussion afterwards, Rodney Peffer’s and my concern was that the globalization of labor mirrors neoliberal moves also taking place inside (and beyond) China. Peffer’s comments were, I think, clear, and I pointed to studies done in the European Union as a place to look for what happens when borders for labor are lowered. These studies, I think, would suggest, contra Changfu, that labor mobility does not do the work he thinks it would accomplish in terms of ameliorating poverty.

More broadly, I then discussed how this does mirror one aspect of Marxist legacy, which looks to the local (cultures, traditions, etc.) as something to be overcome. In other words, in a world in which labor is globalized (as it is for the wealthier classes) may do many things, but one has to ask why people value these local conditions to such an extent the economic migration takes place only under the most onerous conditions. He was kind enough to take on all of these questions and more from us, and we’ll talk much more about many of the points he raised when we study Marx later this semester.