Globalisation: Combined and Uneven Capitalist Development

Elif Çağlı

2 June 2005

Globalisation: Combined and Uneven Capitalist Development /1

Certainly, some real and qualitative alterations caused by the development tendency of the capitalist system beyond national boundaries in its operation and organization have become, especially after 1980, quite apparent. However, it is completely wrong to treat and interpret the facts expressed with the concept of globalisation as if they were brand-new events which would alter the basic laws of capitalism. Let us state an important point from the outset, in order to avoid a mental confusion. Had not the bourgeoisie used the term globalisation to name the international expansion of capitalism during the stormy period that followed the fall of the Berlin Wall and transformed the world balance of forces, it would be unnecessary to put such a term into circulation. For the concept of imperialism already covers the facts and tendencies in question.

Nevertheless the concept of globalisation permeated into our daily life, whether we like it or not. As a matter of fact, insofar as it points to the basic tendencies of development already formulated by the term imperialism, it is nonsense to protest against the concept of globalisation. The question is not the concept in and of itself. Whatever we call the universalising tendency of the capitalist mode of production, imperialism or globalisation, the real point is to wage a revolutionary struggle against the capitalist system. We should bear in mind that those who lack a consistent revolutionary attitude against this system, and confine their opposition with proving that there is no such thing as globalisation are standing on a completely fragile surface.

Some arguments put forward by the economists within the context of globalisation debates do reflect current tendencies of the capitalist development. For instance, the interdependence of national economies has increased and the integration of various countries into the capitalist system has deepened. However, inequality between countries still exists in all these respects. It would be incorrect to perceive globalisation as a consummated integration, since there are still many countries and regions exceedingly backward in capitalist development and not yet integrated into the capitalist system. But after all, it is crystal clear that globalisation has gone a long way in the sense that the capitalist economy has become more universalised in comparison with the past.

After 1980 the process of removing the legal obstacles to the circulation of goods, services and capital has gained momentum. For instance transnational investments have grown more than twenty times from 1980’s to 2000’s. Likewise, the globalisation of financial markets during the same process has developed by leaps and bounds, and hot money flows in the world stock markets accelerated and grew in an incredible manner. The sum total of international exchange of foreign currencies increased from approximately 500 billion USD per day in 1990 to well above 1.5 trillion USD in a span of not more than ten years.

The comparison method of certain left circles which, for the sake of opposing the ideology of globalisation, ignore the actual economic developments is not a sound approach. For instance, it is argued that the analysis of globalisation is a fabrication since world trade was much brighter before the First World War. However, looking back to the past we observe that in the course of time items of trade have changed in nature and, more importantly, commodity export has partially been replaced by direct investments. It is a striking example that by 1990’s multinational Japan companies was selling 95% of their outputs produced in the US and EU countries in these same markets. Thus, world trade volume has not contracted, but grown.

The qualitative and quantitative significance of multinational companies which are composed of monopolies from different nations –and thereof also called transnational companies by some– in world economy has greatly increased. To such an extent that the world economy is now dominated by a few hundred multinational companies. It is reported that the biggest 200 multinational companies control half of the global goods trade. The companies of this scale are increasingly attaining huge proportions; the annual revenues of some surpass even the GDP of many countries.

Objective conditions makes necessary that globalising big monopolies handle their plans of investment, production and distribution in a global scale. Thus the nation-state, loses its weight in the direction of the process of capitalist production compared to the past, paving the way for multinational supreme institutions and regional economic unions. The macro economic and social policies required and carried out by capitalist governments have become global, losing their national character. And most importantly, markets are becoming global in terms of capital flows, production and commercial activities.

If it is a correct approach to try to comprehend economical, social and political facts in their concrete developments, we should also be aware of the falsifications and memory cleansing carried out by the bourgeoisie. Today the bourgeois ideology endeavours to make forgotten the essential realities long-known in almost every crucial problem of concern to broad toiling masses. The most striking example within our context is the irony that Marxism which sheds light on the very issue of globalisation has been proclaimed outdated!

Reality and ideology

Marxism has been constantly explaining that capitalism cannot but expand all over the globe and universalise. Clearly capitalism’s desire for global expansion is not a new one. However, the level of globalisation did not remain the same, but progressed in the course of time. This activity has brought about new dimensions and new problems of capitalist reality. Thus in 1980’s the bourgeois ideology launched attacks this time under the name of globalisation.

The concept of globalization is derived from the word “glob” meaning round. Thus it is desired to define a tendency that embraces the globe. Using it as a pretext, the bourgeoisie retouches its old ideological materials and presents them as brand new under the label of globalism. Yet there is in a sense nothing new under the sun. Our world has always been a global planet. The rising of a global economic system, however, has been put on the agenda of humanity with the introduction of capitalism. The ruling ideology of the ruling class survives throughout metamorphoses to be able to express the colonial, imperial and today the global interests of capitalism.

Long before the bourgeois ideology presented it as a new trend of development through modifications according to its own class interests, Marxism strikingly pointed out to the reality of globalisation in its many aspects: “In place of the old local and national seclusion and self-sufficiency, we have intercourse in every direction, universal inter-dependence of nations. And as in material, so also in intellectual production. The intellectual creations of individual nations become common property. National one-sidedness and narrow-mindedness become more and more impossible, and from the numerous national and local literatures, there arises a world literature.”[1]

The ideology of globalism is nothing but the expression of the adapted form of the reality of globalisation to the current interests of the imperialist powers. It is crucial to make a distinction between the reality and the bourgeois ideology derived from this reality. Capital on its own account, viciously knows what is real and what is “ideological.” For instance, the imperialists are well aware of the fact that the regional wars they launch one after another are far from being the “clash of civilizations” etc., but evidently new quests for profit over human blood, wars of re-division of power and money. Their aim on the ideological plane is to prevent the masses from grasping these realities.

The bourgeois ideologues are trying to foist their conception of history –distorted in line with the interests of the ruling powers– and the ideological expression of the dirty desires of the latter to the masses. The reason behind the often-resorted lie campaigns of the imperialist oligarchy in mass pacification is self-evident. The oligarchs of today want to wither the hope, conviction and determination of the masses, particularly the young generations, for a future other than capitalism. In fact the imperialist powers who drive criers into the market shouting “the end of history has come”, “ideologies are dead” etc., has never so ideological.

This position of the bourgeoisie is ideological in the negative sense of the word as once Marx stated, that is distorting the truth according to their own interest. The projections of the bourgeois ideology in various sides mirror a degeneration and decay which runs parallel to the historical corruption of the capitalist order. The enlightenment age of thought reason and knowledge which once accompanied the revolutionary bourgeois dynamism that transformed the economic, social and political life from top to bottom has long been over. It has been quite a long time since the bourgeois ideology passed from the realm of expectations and truths to the world of spurious imaginations, slyly constructed virtual reality and various “post-”s. The capitalist globalisation, which is presented as the information age, space age or age of technological miracles, is on the contrary accompanied by an ideological atmosphere wherein the people are stupefied and dragged to the abyss of ignorance and indifference en masse.

Desperately trying to hinder the working and toiling masses and the youth from defending the ideology that will guide them to emancipation, Marxism, the bourgeois world confuses minds about what is real and what is ideology using the latest technology. Opposing the ideology of globalism is depicted as the idiocy of those failing to grasp the reality of globalisation in our time. In all capitalist countries the entire bourgeois army of writers, institutions producing “ideas”, the most refined and top level ideologues of capitalism have long been playing the game of inverting reality. The aim is to impose the ideological expression of hegemony and despotism upon the masses as reality. One of the tasks of Marxists is, thus, to adopt a clear class attitude against this kind of bourgeois manipulations and tear the bourgeois curtain of lies that makes the comprehension of reality difficult into pieces.

It is quite evident that disregarding the actual details of reality would be a mistake as it is absolutely necessary to oppose the ideological expressions of the developments distorted towards the bourgeoisie. Right, globalisation is a fact of today’s world in the sense of further universalisation of capitalism. And it would be a vain attempt to base the struggle against the ideology of globalisation on the refutation of the reality of globalisation. But on the other hand, those who analyse globalisation not as a tendency that would unfold in time but as an absolute situation are also quite mistaken.

Accepting the alterations taking place under capitalism does not necessarily mean attributing positive senses to it. This mode of production has never in its history created a possibility of supra-class welfare. Nevertheless, the globalisation of capitalism is presented as a course that will eradicate the differences between countries on different levels of development and in turn make possible a more egalitarian distribution. However globalisation on the basis of capitalism, in contradistinction to the assertions, means a further growing and sharpening of the problems suffered by millions of people in the world.

In today’s global capitalist system where the world population has reached 6 billion, the number of people trying to survive on less than $1 per day is about 1.3 billion. 3 billion are compelled to live on less than $2. The global capitalism means a world wherein the imperialist wars have become widespread and the gap between the rich and the poor has widened to the utmost.

As long as capitalism exists, globalisation will remain a reality tormenting and ruining the lives of millions. Globalism is nothing but defending this reality. In this context, we can enumerate several definitions of globalism. Globalism is the redivision of the world by the imperialist powers on the basis of bloodthirsty wars. Globalism is the name of turning the lives of the oppressed peoples into a disaster by bombs which are the products of the latest technological innovations. Globalism is the name of the aggressive bourgeois ideology that aims to invalidate all the acquired rights of the world proletariat. We can extend the list indefinitely. Under capitalism globalism, i.e., combined and uneven capitalist development does not promise a more prosperous life to our earth and the millions of people on it, but on the contrary drives us to barbarism and to a total destruction.

Against such a system it is hardly a solution to try to seize the day; far from it, we must do away with capitalism. In a historical period that the idea of social revolution has to the highest degree fallen into disfavour and been trampled underfoot, the realities that the capitalist system dragged humanity and the world into in effect necessitates this revolution more than ever. The so-called oppositionists that fail to or don’t want to grasp this striking necessity are in essence out and out reformists though they seem to be radical in action.

The fundamental weakness of the current broad network of opposition ranging from environmentalists to the women’s movement and from anti-war demonstrations to seemingly radical youth movements is the lack of revolutionary consciousness and organisation. Right, there needs to be a global resistance against global capitalism. However, in order for that resistance to have a truly striking force, to become widespread preserving its content and finally to gain victory, we need, more than any other time, the organized power of the proletariat and the organized revolutionary thought that will lead this power.

All political tendencies that don’t direct their opposition towards the very capitalism, but rather defend “national”, that is, bourgeois interests or a “reformed” capitalism against imperialism or globalisation are after all beating the air. Our world has seen too many “revolutionaries” who stood for equality, liberty and even socialism in words, but couldn’t go one step further than supporting their own bourgeoisies in deeds. The working class has suffered a lot from these “revolutionaries”. As a matter of fact one important reason of the fact that the working class could not score a leap for long years is the existence of the short-sighted left political understandings that hinder it from comprehending the world that it lives within and thus basing the struggle on solid grounds.

However the bare truth is this: by creating an enormous world market and by universalising the social division of labour and the productive forces breaking the old local and national ground that it stood on, capitalism has in fact prepared the world as a whole for socialist transformation. The only possibility that will be able to lead humanity, repressed under global capitalism, to a world without national narrow-mindedness, conflict of interests, bloody wars of division, poverty and unemployment is no other than the global revolutionary struggle of the proletariat in the light of Marxism.

Those who argue that the objective basis of revolutionary feelings has long disappeared since the toiling masses are no longer living in old rags or running after a slice of bread are quite mistaken. The reason is that transition from the struggle for satisfying the most basic and compulsory needs - which unites the beings on a common basis - to the struggle of higher moral requirements is a sign of the progress achieved in human evolution. Those who are searching the elements that can satisfy human beings at the primitive levels are malevolent, if not ignorant.

The moral dimension of the necessity of a revolutionary organization has gained more importance today in terms of triumphing in the struggle for a humanely life than the past. A working class unable to oppose the capitalist system which reduces everything to tradable commodities in the jungle of market and supplants humane solidarity with the atrocity of market is in a dangerous sleep. Today’s worker or toiler failing to grasp the necessity of a revolutionary organisation is in fact in a much poorer position than the beggar of old times who took it as his or her “destiny” to beg in rags.

Capitalism is a global economic system

In the long historical period preceding the capitalist mode of production human communities survived in various geographies and on the basis of various relations of production. The world witnessed in the old ages expansionist adventures of the Asiatic oriental despotism or the Roman slave society with the purpose of expanding their spheres of hegemony. Our planet had been again and again stained in blood with the wars which were waged by the ruling classes of the past for the sake of conquering new territories and building great empires. However, none of the modes of production prior to capitalism had been able to break locality and establish a worldwide economic system. It was only after the introduction of capitalism which destroyed the old relations of production and developed along this line that our world has taken a road to become an integral globe, not only in geographic but also in economic sense of the word.

Until the twentieth century, the tendency of capitalism to expand across the world manifested itself in the encroachment of virgin lands by economically and militarily powerful nations and division of those lands that had not been divided on the basis of colonial wars. Advancing on this basis, several countries created huge colonial empires on the territories that they held under sway. Thus, the colonialist period of capitalist expansionism was accompanied by military conquests and land acquisitions. But still capitalism hardly resembled the empires of old times, for it was not a mode of production based on conquering relations of production.

The essential prerequisite of capitalist development is to provoke a process of turmoil and transformation that would eventually integrate the territories under dominance into the capitalist system. Hence capitalist expansionism did not come to a halt in the colonialist phase and passed into the imperialism phase with the twentieth century. The countries able to fit in the inner dynamics of capitalist development have set out to reproduce their strong positions on the basis of imperialist relations, as seen in the example of Britain. Or they experienced an economic leap during the very imperialist phase of capitalism like the United States.

Thanks to capitalism the traditional methods of production has been surpassed and scientific discoveries has found application in the process of production. Hence the developments in the productive forces by leaps and bounds. As modern industrial production diversified and became widespread and thanks to the colossal progress in mass communication and transportation, the commercial relations across the world reached levels incomparable to the past. The capitalist development which made possible the constitution of a single world market and an integrated world economy also laid the basis for the growth of the circulation of labour-power, commodities, services and capital onto a world scale.

The cumulative development in the emergence and spread of new technologies reduced the costs of communication and transformed the commodity and service production into a worldly process by making it possible to transfer production to various countries. While it was possible to make only up to ninety phone calls concurrently in the midst of the 1950’s thanks to the telephone cables connecting Europe to North America, millions of people can communicate by means of satellite systems of communication today. Capitalist globalisation also universalized the capitalist division of labour which was formerly characterized by national features. Today various commodities from cigarettes to computers and automobiles are produced on the basis of a global production system or assembly line comprising of numerous countries.

The history of various levels of development reached throughout the human history is in a sense the history of the evolution of the division of labour. The division of labour which constitutes the basis for different modes of production has changed in time and this reality continues to exist in the progress of capitalism. Marx pointed out the change in the division of labour under capitalism, and its repercussions in the sphere of international relations. Thus he criticizes the mentality that disregards the changing nature of the division of labour and the connection of this change to the development of the world market.

Marx raises this question: “Good. Yet must not the division of labour in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, when there were as yet no colonies, when America was still non-existent for Europe, and when Eastern Asia existed only through the mediation of Constantinople, have been fundamentally different from what it was in the seventeenth century when colonies were already developed?”[2] He goes on to state that the whole internal organisations of nations and international relations are anything but the expression of a given division of labour, and thus they would necessarily change as the division of labour changes.

The imperialist phase of capitalism means the extension and deepening of the global movement of capital despite the organisation of capitalism in the form of nation-states. Increasing integration of various national economies into the world capitalist system, facilitates the circulation of capital on the one hand while the crises of capitalism effects much wider areas compared to the past. The history of twentieth-century capitalism openly reveals that capitalist crises can be overcome only at the expense of creating greater and more destructive crises. Globalizing day by day, capitalism increasingly affirms the analyses of Marxism concerning the mechanism and destiny of this system. The condition of the world capitalist system, which entered the twenty first century with a deepening crisis and widening imperialist wars, is quite self-evident.

Yet the bourgeois ideologues insisted on asserting that Marxists were scaremongers who talked nonsense about the capitalist crises, relying upon the period of economic revival after 1940’s. One of the factors that played to the hands of the bourgeois thinkers in a certain period of time was the protracted upswing in the capitalist economy. However, the wrong ideas put forward in the name of Marxism also served the bourgeois ideology. Today it is vital to settle accounts with the wrong ideas that have been spread and distinguish between true and false in order to have a clear comprehension of the course of events all over the world.

It was inevitable that capitalism would leave behind its youth and period of rapid growth, and historically start moving downwards. Marx touched upon this point. The historical mission of capitalism is to develop the productivity of human labour geometrically without any limitations. But when capital - in pursuit of maximum profit - fails to increase the productivity of labour to the extent it should, it will have betrayed this mission. “It thereby …”, says Marx, “simply shows once more that it is becoming senile and has further and further outlived its epoch”.[3]

In this context the imperialist phase is truly the age of capitalism’s decadence and fall. Lenin and Trotsky emphasised this aspect of the age of imperialism in many instances. However, this correct statement can be meaningful only within the general course of capitalism. It would be utterly false to perceive the economic tendencies which would realise only in the historical process as if they would come into force in an instant. This kind of approach would unavoidably distort the Marxist comprehension as well. Unfortunately, it is far from being uncommon in the so-called Marxist figures or circles.

A most original example of this distortion was that capitalism after the First World War entered a general depression which it could never come out of. This thesis was based on the interpretation of a certain period of capitalist system characterized by huge depressions and shocks as the real collapse of the system. This distorted interpretation of reality was not only prevalent in the Stalinist ranks but also contaminated to the Trotskyist circles.

It was true that the stormy period that capitalism was dragged into in the wake of twentieth century was a reflection of an enormous crisis, and this situation led to a frenzied war of redivision. Likewise, the Great October Revolution evinced the doomed-to-collapse nature of capitalism, and snatched a certain part of the world from its hands. Nevertheless the capitalist system had not lost its potential of development and extension onto a world scale despite this heavy blow. In order that the influence of this blow to become lasting and capitalism be dragged into a genuine insurmountable crisis there was another necessary condition besides economic factors. It was necessary that the workers’ power established by the October Revolution survive and the proletarian revolution attain a worldwide permanency.

The liquidation of the historical achievements of the October Revolution, and resurgence of the capitalist system in the wake of the Second World War refuted the exaggerated generalizations about the collapse or general crisis of capitalism. But unfortunately proper conclusions weren’t derived from these experiences. The limitation posed on the sphere of movement of capitalism by the so-called socialist countries for a temporary historical period was identified with the genuine acquisitions of a proletarian revolution which would progress under a real workers’ power. It was actually quite obvious that this was a serious mistake. But for many years these wrong ideas were not questioned. Though the workers’ power established by the October Revolution was liquidated by the Stalinist counter-revolution, the idea that geographical boundaries of the capitalist mode of production were irreversibly narrowed survived many years. So many writers, recognised as Marxist, wrote this sort of wrong ideas.

These writers, not conceding the fact that the Soviet Union transformed into a modern despotic-bureaucratic dictatorship under the rule of Stalinism, harmed the superior position of Marxism with their analyses of the capitalist system which increasingly contradicted with the world realities. It was even argued that the national liberation movements which adopted the nationalist–statist way of development (publicised as the “non-capitalist way”) were each a historical blow that would undermine the progress of world capitalism in an absolute way. Thus, Marxists who are supposed to analyse the developments most truly and comprehensively were reduced to petit-bourgeois content with decrying capitalism on the basis of factitious criticisms.

This was one of the main reasons why the bourgeoisie could convert the developments in the new period after the collapse of the so-called socialist bloc into such a tremendous ideological achievement. With the collapse of the despotic-bureaucratic regimes that restricted its global area of expansion for a certain period of time, capitalism launched an ideological leap forward as if ridiculing the pseudo-Marxism which underestimated this system.

This reminds us an important reality: Capitalism cannot spontaneously and easily succeed in the economic front before it wins a victory in the political and ideological front and overcomes the organized forces of the working class. The world bourgeoisie in this respect attached too much importance to ideological propaganda, far beyond the real degree of the new prospect of expansion that loomed in the horizon. The aim is to paralyse the world front of workers and toilers by achieving the superiority against them in the ideological and psychological level and thus, turning this opportunity of progress into reality.

The reader would remember that the hegemonic power of the capitalist system, the US, launched its attacks along with the propaganda of the new world order way before the new ideological attack called globalism. The debates on the “new world order” were put on the agenda within the framework of the strategic plan made by the US in consequence of the important economic and political developments during and after the 1970’s. The wave of growing nationalism in its sphere of influence, spread of the moral effect of its defeat in Vietnam and the inability to control the raising of the oil prices by the OPEC countries were harrowing developments for the United States. Furthermore, the progresses made by the rival powers like Japan and the EEC increased the uneasiness of the hegemonic power of the system under the conditions that profit margins have fallen, that is, the cake being shared out became small. The risk of losing its superior position in the near future incited the US imperialism to develop and implement new strategic plans.

Though the expansion of capitalism into the world, that is its globalisation, was hardly a new phenomenon, the subject matter of globalism was introduced by the US as an offshoot of these strategic moves. The purpose of the bourgeoisie was to impose the ideology of globalism onto the masses and introduce several new measures rather than discussing the reality of globalisation. The new period, thus, manifested itself in the lives of the working and toiling masses as the global assault of capital. This assault the world bourgeoisie globally tried to enforce after the 1980’s meant the rise of a right-wing wave called neo-liberalism. Henceforth, what marked imprint upon the following years was reaction in the political area, the stirring up egotism in the social area, and a fall in the living standards of the working and toiling masses in the economic area.

The new period the capitalist system found itself in indicates that new plans of the bourgeoisie can be accomplished not on the basis of positive but negative developments regarding the interests of broad masses. Like every social formation which historically exhausted its progressive potential, capitalism lost to a greater extent its power to keep the masses under control on the basis of positive expectations. What it needs now is to turn the environment of poor people into “modern” arenas of bloody gladiator wars, to blunt the expectations of working and toiling masses for changing the social order, and to foster new generations that do not know how to organise and fight against the tyrants of the age. In all capitalist countries the bourgeois media, under forms unprecedented in the former periods, is in quest for new inventions to paralyse the minds of masses in every second of their lives. The world of bourgeois ideology has been mobilised for the establishment of the hegemony of this “new culture” which accompanies the propaganda of globalism.

Before it paints the world with blood through its “latest fashion” wars, capitalism embarks on creating masses that have become accustomed to the images of massacre through the television serials or have been stupefied and paralysed by the “modern” nonsense and confusing the real with the virtual. In the case of the USA, the hegemonic power of the capitalist system, the great dimension of the mass pacification conducted for years is self-evident. Is not it evident that global expansion of a social order that tries to deprive the masses of positive human traits, to transform them into obedient slaves by blunting their senses of fraternity and solidarity will certainly trouble future generations?

It is not hard to conjecture where a global system whose hegemonic power gives fascist signals is heading towards. As a matter of fact, the brutal and devastating character of capitalist development in the lands of the former bureaucratic regimes, and the intensification of the conflicts and tension between the imperialist powers in redivision have almost dragged our world into a global war. Capitalism, having by its very nature an insatiable hunger for profit, has set its eyes on new foreign markets and new areas of influence in an unprecedented frenzied ambition.

To be continued...


[1] The Communist Manifesto (SW, Progress, v.1, p.112)

[2] Letter from Marx to Pavel Vasilyevich Annenkov in Paris, December 28, 1846

[3] Marx, Capital, v.3 Penguin Books, 1991, p.371