The Ideology of "Globalisation"

A contribution to the "Reflections on J18" collection.

In order to be able to resist more effectively it would be useful to have as clear a picture as possible of the lines of advance taken by capitalism and conversely its weakpoints. A number of the terms most often used to describe the present situation don’t meet this need and possibly even go so far as to actively obscure the most essential aspects of capitalist society, thereby only making it harder to understand how it lives and dies. 'Globalisation' and the perceived dual need to oppose it and provide alternatives is rapidly becoming one of the most dominant themes across a wide range of oppositional groupings and milieus (as well as within other mainstream political groups and parties). Virtually every group involved in left/green or direct-action politics has at the very least stated their opposition to 'globalisation' or gone a step further and declared it to be the most serious problem facing us today - "The final act of enclosure" (RTS ‘global street party’ agitprop). Yet despite this wave of 'enthusiasm' any analysis of the content of this supposed devastating change seems to have been largely confined to the repetition of a limited range of ideological positions which are at best superficial and at worst reactionary. The mere fact that the terms like 'Globalisation' and ‘Neo-Liberalism’ are applied uncritically to describe any and every change taking place within the global economy suggests a lack of thought and analysis.

Over the past twenty years globalisation has moved from being a term utilised by academia1 into everyday usage - it has become common currency amongst politicians, commentators and theorists across the political spectrum. Words are not neutral abstractions, they signify real material content or potentiality. The most fundamentally antagonistic and corrosive concepts (such as ‘freedom’ or ‘community’) are twisted and turned upside down, emptied of their content and put into hard labour by the ruling order to maintain our present misery. Globalisation, on the other hand is universally accepted on the same basis by virtually the whole of the political spectrum. The point in the instance is not whether it is considered to be a positive or negative phenomenon but the acceptance of the world view upon which it is based. Both its advocates and the majority of its critics utilise the dominant ideological categories and assumptions within capitalist society; meaning that they are limited to repeating the banalities of conventional wisdom as propagated in a variety of forms by academics, leaders and self-proclaimed 'experts'. Amongst western activists at least, works by left/liberal authors such as David Korten (When Corporations rule the World) and Gerry Mander (The Case Against the Global Economy) provide the (mostly unacknowledged) theoretical basis for much of their propaganda and in a less direct way for the forms and focuses of activity and direct -action campaigns. Theoretical understanding and criticism is not 'just a matter of words' or in this case producing ideas which aren’t connected to a particular situation or movement; discussion and attempts to mutually understand new lines of attack taken by capitalism are important and useful because global resistance and perhaps solidarity is growing after years of relative stagnation and retreat. Every form of activity has to find its theory and vice versa, theory and practice have to be interdependent; inadequacies in either area lead to weaknesses in the whole project - the gaps through which ideology and recuperation are able to immediately penetrate. Globalisation and Neo-Liberalism are not simply descriptive terms which have objective meanings. Like all ideologies on one level they do refer to actual processes of change, but obscure far more about both the form and content of the capitalist system than they actually reveal. They don’t exist as things in themselves but rather as theories, strategies and tendencies within the overall context of capitalism. To situate both your activities and theories in opposition to them implies that we should be attempting to force those in positions of power to simply adopt different and hopefully nicer ways of exploiting us - for example a global ‘neo-Keynesianism’ or perhaps an end to ‘corporate rule’ and a return to some grossly idealised pre-globalisation democratic nation state. This is unlikely to happen, although even it did ‘victory’ would hardly be the word that would immediately spring to mind. Focusing on opposing the most recent manifestations of capitalism (e.g. restructuring, the global market, free trade organisations, the power wielded by multinational corporations) means that an attack on the real heart of the capitalist system has been either forgotten or ignored. Capitalism is not a place (‘financial centres’) or a thing (‘multinational corporations’), it is a social relationship dependent upon wage-labour and commodity exchange where profit is derived from capital’s theft of unpaid labour. Being "against Globalisation" suggests that we would be better off under some form of national capitalism. Such an outlook is an open invitation to local activists in each country to join ranks with nationalistic and protectionist elements among the middle and (in some cases) ruling classes who are also opposed to ‘free trade’ and the penetration of ‘international capital’. This is evidenced in this country by repeated references in activist publications which by their lack of critical qualification appear to bemoan ‘loss of national sovereignty’ or ‘democracy’ and governments’ inability to restrict foreign investment under the terms of the MAI.

In other countries the process appears to have gone much further; two of the most vigorous opponents of globalisation in France and the US are respectively Le Pen and Pat Buchanan. Le Pen is the leader of the National Front in France and Pat Buchanan is on the right of the Republican Party. It can only be a matter of time before globalisation arouses ‘little Englander’ sentiments amongst right wingers in Britain. This is not to say that all of those who oppose globalisation are right-wing or ultra-nationalists or even in danger of becoming so, the point is that defending the nation state and national or local capital even in terms of the loss of ‘democratic accountability’ or ‘local culture’ is possibly more insidious than outright nationalism, it also allows for points of commonality with those who would normally be beyond the political pale, e.g. the late and mostly unlamented James Goldsmith erstwhile financier, founder of the Referendum Party and "mad, fascist crook" has a piece in the book The Case Against The Global Economy.

By limiting ourselves to being "against Globalisation/Neo-Liberalism" local exploiters be they land owners, factory owners managers of state enterprises or for that matter any ‘local business’ may be considered to be on our side! It can only be a mark of capitalism’s present strength that even to talk about it is seen as outmoded and passé. Globalisation/Neo-Liberalism are no less problematic than capitalism is perceived to be by some. The Zapatistas for example seem to studiously avoid using the word capitalism, preferring ‘Neo-Liberalism’. Whilst some have interpreted this as a tactically astute refusal to be burdened by the past; the end result is merely confusion as to whether the struggle or in Marcos’ words the "Fourth World War" is between the rich and the poor or between globalising Neo-Liberalism and ‘national sovereignty’.

S

  • 1. Since the beginning of 'the capitalist crisis of accumulation' in the late 1960s, a range of terms such as post-modernism, post-industrialism, risk society, post-Fordism and of course globalisation have been introduced ostensibly in an attempt to provide an adequate understanding of contemporary changes in the global economy. (Bonefeld 1997) Whilst some of these have remained largely confined to academia, others such as Globalisation and post-modernism have entered into common usage.