There was a time when leftists were progressive. They believed in progress. Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels welcomed the emergence of a world culture as a result of globalization in the “Communist Manifesto”: “And as in material production, so also in intellectual production. The intellectual products of the individual nations become common property. National one-sidedness and narrow-mindedness are becoming more and more impossible, and world literature is emerging from the many national and local cultures.”
If you had told Marx and Engels in 1848 that 175 years later there would be an art show in Kassel that explicitly denied the existence of a world culture and instead postulated a separate culture of the “Global South”, they would have shaken their heads in disbelief.
If they had been told that intellectual representatives of that South had put the art exhibition under the motto of a “Lumbung”, an Indonesian rice barn, where the farmers are said to discuss the distribution of the harvest, they would have asked why not a Germanic Ting convened, and whether Indonesia still lives mainly from rice cultivation in the 21st century.
No it does not. In 2020, agriculture contributed 13.7 percent to GDP, industry 38.26, services 44.4 percent. In agriculture, palm oil and rubber are the most important products.
The farmers don’t sit around in the lumbungs chattering about the distribution of rice, but are producers of cash crops for the world market. They use drones for pest control, sensors to monitor soil acidity, they check their weather apps before harvest.
The “Global South” hallucinated by Western romantics, like the “German or true socialism” criticized by Marx and Engels, is a backward-looking, anti-capitalist and anti-progressive ideology. The real Global South wants nothing to do with it.
Indonesia’s multicultural neighbor Malaysia has a per capita income of US$790 a month – that’s more than Russia, Belarus, pre-war Ukraine or EU candidate countries Georgia, Kosovo or Moldova, none of which belong to the elite global club be allowed in the south.
In South Africa, the monthly per capita income is even 1600 dollars: more than in China, almost as much as in Taiwan and more than in the EU countries Latvia, Hungary, Romania, Poland or Portugal. But no one doubts that South Africa is part of the club, whose ideological bouncers appear to select members based on skin color, a racist criterion. No wonder anti-Semitism is a consensus in the club.
Because that’s a rule that applied in Marx’s day just as it applies today: whoever is on the left welcomes the progress of bourgeois society and builds on it. Anyone who doesn’t know what to do with these advances is reactionary. Documenta fifteen is a reactionary art show. The talk of the “Global South”, which supposedly has a completely different, morally better view of the world that is untainted by capitalism, is reactionary. Lumbung is humbug.