The Myth of Globalization

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For two days in late September, leaders of the G-20 gathered at their traveling semi-annual summit, this time in Pittsburgh and yet again demonstrators flocked to the scene. It was a rather surrealistic event, with leaders of 19 countries and the European Union engaging in an orgy of self-congratulation for supposedly saving the world economy with their decisions six months ago. President Obama, himself joined the meeting and praised the assembled leaders for quickly setting in place new policies to further stabilize the world economy, strengthen world financial markets, and lay the basis for a return to economic growth. Meanwhile, everyone else who lives in the real world seemed confused because they haven't seen hide nor hair of the highly touted economic recovery. At the same time demonstrators traveled, as they usually do at these events, from far and wide and protested against nearly everything under the sun - from the ecological crisis, to the lack of a single-payer medical insurance program, to exploitation of labor in underdeveloped countries, to financial crisis, and all the attendant evils of globalization. Of course, it wouldn't be a G-20 Summit without rioting in the streets by masked marauders and self-proclaimed anarchists,  smashing  windows and clashing with the cops. It was  more subdued than at past G-20 summits, but nevertheless nearly 100 demonstrators managed to get arrested for causing $50,000 in property damage and overzealous police managed to go overboard, unnecessarily shooting tear gas and rubber bullets at innocent bystanders. 

Under the circumstances, it seems like an appropriate moment to take a serious, analytical look at the question of "globalization," what it is and what it isn't.

The Material Reality behind "Globalism"

From the very beginning, Marxists contended that capitalism must by nature build a global system.  In 1848 Marx wrote that the "rounding of the Cape... The East-Indian and Chinese markets, and the colonization of America", in other words the creation in embryo of a world market, was the precondition of the development of industrial capitalism. Marx also noted that the endpoint of capitalist development was the creation of "one nation" where "capitalist production is everywhere established and has possessed itself of every branch of industry".  For Marx, the creation of the world market and the resultant crowding out of all non-capitalist economy is capitalism's great historical act, which makes possible the working class' worldwide revolution.  This point was further elaborated by Rosa Luxemburg who contended that the fight for "colonies and spheres of interest, opportunities for investment", and the resultant "international loan system, militarism, tariff barriers, the dominant role of finance capital and trusts in world politics" were symptoms of this crowding out and signals that capitalism had reached the endpoint of its development as a progressive system.  For the revolutionary elements that would later form the Communist International, "capitalism was entering its period of decline precisely because it had become a global system, a veritable world economy" (IR 111).

What, then, is the justification given by people who claim that globalism represents something essentially new?  Globalism as such (distinguished from its ancestor, neoliberalism, which grew up in the late seventies and early eighties) began to confront the working class with the collapse of the Eastern Bloc.  With the "fall of communism", according to the prophets of globalization, capitalism could become a global system, a system which would bring prosperity due to the vastly increased amounts of raw material and capital at its disposal.  This contained two important mystifications for the working class.  In predicting a new period of prosperity, it represented an attack on the traditional analysis of capitalism as declining, as well as confronting the ICC's analysis that the collapse of the Eastern Bloc heralded the decomposition of capitalism as a whole (IR 111).  It also represented an attack on the hard-won acquisition of the interwar and postwar left communists that the USSR and the bloc that it constructed around itself was not separated from the world capitalist system at all.  Not only did capitalist relations (albeit of a caricatured state capitalist variety) exist in the Eastern bloc, but it and the Western bloc carried on international trade in capitalist forms even at the height of the Cold War.  Soviet-style state capitalism had never represented a barrier to the world market.  Globalization dogma thus first confronted the workers' movement not merely as a mystification, but as an outright lie.

It came to mean the destruction of tariff and other barriers to capitalism's penetration of the developing countries, in other words a more thorough than ever ferreting-out of pre-capitalist economic relations where they had been ignored in the past.  In the capitalist metropoles in North America and Europe, it came to mean the ever more comprehensive creation of a "ghost economy" of financial speculation and debt taken on by the state, by consumers, and by enterprises who could not profit any other way, all facilitated by deregulation, the latter, as well as the progressive destruction of expensive state welfare services.  This resulted in a massive transfer of fixed capital and industry from the metropoles to the developing world, allowing more capital to be freed up for financial games in the metropoles, and allowing for capital to more effectively establish itself areas it had exploited only marginally hitherto. Globalism evolved to mean something more complex than the supposed reintegration of the Eastern bloc into the capitalist system.   From a lie concocted in the brains of Fukuyama and Friedman, globalism had grown into something that seemed real.

Globalism in continuity with state capitalism

To what extent does the fact that globalism has become a recognizable tendency in the real world imply that it is a "rupture" with previous capitalist development?  For the portion of the bourgeoisie that supports it, globalism is a sign of capitalism's entry into a new period of ascendance, that is, real historical progress.  They justify this position by inventing a society based on microchips and information-sharing over the Internet that has fundamentally different laws of motion than industrial capitalism.  This new society works in essentially the same way as industrial capitalism, in terms of the wage labor relation and the accumulation of capital, but "information technology" has managed to exorcise the crisis, in the historical and immediate sense, from the system.  There is nothing essentially new in attempts to deny the existence of capitalism's crises: they can be found in classical political economy, in revisionist Social Democratic texts, and in Keynesian manifestoes.  Nor is there anything substantially new in "information technology", except that it represents technical innovation.  The computer is not the savior of capitalism: attempts to make it appear so are given the lie by the most recent manifestation of the open economic crisis.

However, the bourgeoisie, especially in the epoch of decomposition, is not homogeneous, and another part of the bourgeoisie opposes globalization.  To do so, they also claim that globalization represents a "rupture" with the past.  In the golden Keynesian, Fordist age, they claim, capitalism was successfully managed, its destructive tendencies contained, by the power of democratic national states.  The policies of these states not only deferred the crisis, but ensured a more "just" distribution of wealth.  Neo-liberalism and its globalist progeny destroyed this arrangement by handing power to multinational enterprises and undemocratic "international" institutions controlled by those enterprises.  What is necessary, according to this faction, is a return to the most just past.  Nearly all of this position is built on lies.  The World Bank, the International Monetary Fund, and the World Trade Organization were never international institutions.  The first two were set up by American imperialism and have operated in its interest ever since.  The WTO has a broader base but is still the tool of a small number of capitalist countries.  Similarly, "multinational" enterprises function not as independent actors, but as tools for the imperialism of the state whence come the majority of their shareholders.  Capitalism cannot transcend nationality.  The Fordist era was not a lost golden age of just social relations, but in fact the deepest depths of the counter-revolution, in which nowhere were capitalist social relations challenged by the bourgeois "democratic" states. 

Last but not least, Keynseianism did not successfully manage the crisis: it returned in full force in the late sixties and blossomed in the seventies.  The return of the crisis was what made the shift away from Keynesianism to neo-liberalism and globalism necessary for the bourgeoisie.  Doing so was the only way in which the bourgeoisie could continue to profit in decomposing capitalism.  This fact lays bare the real nature of globalization.  It is not some sort of "rupture" with the past, but in fact a deliberate a considered revision of state capitalist policy.

An internationalist perspective

Clearly, globalist policies represent an attack on the working class.  In the metropolis, globalism means plant closures, layoffs, wage reductions, and other attacks on living conditions meant to reduce the portion of revenue that goes toward wages and thus maintain profitability.  In the developing countries, globalism means vicious exploitation, the workers in these countries lacking the safety nets that the workers in the metropoles won for themselves during capitalism's ascendance, and which capitalism is trying to destroy.  Thus, even though globalism does not represent anything fundamentally new, in the sense that it is merely another in a long line of state capitalist strategies for managing the economic crisis, it is necessary for revolutionary minorities to formulate a theoretical response, just as the working class finds it necessary to mobilize in defense of its living conditions.  In doing so it is important to guard jealously the traditional internationalist principles of the Communist Left: no compromise with participators in bourgeois government or cheerleaders for imperialist war.  It is on this basis that the ICC denounces as bourgeois mystifications the World Social Forum and its offspring, the major "anti-globalist" forces in existence today, even as it intervenes in order to rescue some of the individuals who are there searching for a revolutionary perspective against capitalism.

It is also on this basis that revolutionaries must intervene in the open class struggle, in order to combat the nationalist, anti-immigrant, and racist attitudes with which capital tries to derail workers' struggles.  However, it is important to recognize that just as globalism represents a material attack on workers' living conditions and just as its fraternal twin, anti-globalism attempts to derail their response onto nationalist grounds, the open identification of capital as an international relation represents an opportunity for the working class.  Just as capital is international, so is the working class, and the open identification of one leads to the realization of the other.  The proletariat's response to globalization must be and can only be the defense of its living conditions, the linking up with other workers, that is, the international class struggle.

R. White 9/28/09