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The Dialectics of Globalization (page 1 of 5)
By Jerry Harris

With the invasion of Iraq there is renewed discussion on the character of US imperialism and the Atlantic relationship. Many see the United States as the dominant world power with hegemony in economic, military and cultural affairs. Others argue that the relative decline of US economic strength and opposition to the occupation of Iraq indicate growing regional competition between Europe and America. But these views of the international system are trapped in a nation-centric analysis that fails to appreciate the integrative character of global capitalism and the technological revolution in the means of production.

The present period is primarily a struggle between the nation/state system and the transnational world order. This dialectic contains the main economic, political and social divisions in today’s world. It has multiple manifestations both inside nations and between nations and encompasses the Atlantic relationship. But the central transformation around which all else revolves is not the power of US imperialism, but the universalization of capitalism to a globalized system of accumulation based on a revolutionary transformation of the means of production.

Most schools of thought, whether Marxists or mainstream, still define the international system as one centered around nation/state competition based on the struggle for supremacy among groupings of nationally identified monopoly capital. The state represents these interests on the international stage and seeks security or hegemony as the ultimate guarantor of a strong nationally based economy. The regional bloc argument still maintains this analysis but simply extends national borders to regional ones with leading dominant powers in each geographic market; the US in the western hemisphere, France and Germany in Europe and Japan and China in Asia.

But this analysis fails to fully recognize two conflicting forms of capitalist accumulation, a historically descending one based primarily upon national markets and an arising form based in the rapidly developing structures of globalization. It is the clash of the old and new forms of accumulation and their subsequent social organization where the heart of the dialectic resides. The transnational system is characterized by the emergence of a transnational capitalist class, cross border mergers and acquisitions, foreign direct investment, cross border flows of capital, global production chains, foreign affiliates, outsourcing labor, world labor stratification, multilateral trade agreements, the creation of a common global regulatory structure for finance, trade and investment, and using the state to rearrange national structures to serve the transnational economy.

The nation centric international system is based on guarding the home market for national capital, competing over world markets through exports, state directed and protected economic development, expanding the national job base while incorporating large sectors of the working class into a social contract, and using the state to advance the position of national monopolies and their access to international resources and markets. The majority of production, employment and sales remained in the country of origin. Competition over exports and foreign resources served national economies by expanding internal markets through higher wages, economic and social stability and stronger national monopolies.

Nation-centric economies based upon industrial era capabilities began to undergo qualitative transformation by the 1980s with the revolution of digital, communication and information technologies. This set the stage for globalization and a structural shift in the forms of accumulation and social organization that undermine the Fordist model and did away with the decisive role played by electro/mechanical technology. While capitalism has always been an expansionary system the digital/information revolution is the current framework through which this logic unfolds. The embedding of microprocessors in the tools of production and communication has allowed capitalism to reorganize itself on a qualitatively more integrated level. The entire global financial network, the world spanning command and control system of production and the communication and delivery of hegemonic cultural values are all accomplished with the digital/informational transformation of technology. The reorganization of space beyond national borders for labor, capital and culture is fundamentally shaped by this revolution in the means of production. These changes naturally affect and redefine the role of the state, how people work, how commodities are produced and the manner in which power can be expressed.

But this new transitional period is far from complete. Both national and transnational forms of accumulation exist in all nations. Although the most powerful corporations are transnationalized, class sectors whose interests are linked to the old state system, its structure of accumulation and its preexisting labor relations still defend their interests and attempt to shape the new world more fully to their own needs. But the material benefits connected to the remnants of the nation centric system are subject to unrelenting attacks from the class forces that are rooted in the new forms of globalized accumulation. This transnationalized structure creates its own alternate relationships, benefits and concepts with its own political agenda. These contradictions appear in a variety of forms and unfold differently depending on the particular histories and set of relations unique to each country.

This has produced a period of global instability and conflict creating contradictions both within nations and between states. Although this can take the appearance of political struggles between states or regions, in fact globalists and the transnational capitalist class are allied across borders and share common interests in defeating nationalist projects. To argue that the US capitalist class shares a common imperialist strategy in opposition to other national bourgeoisies ignores deep internal class divisions within the US ruling class over the strategic direction of the international system. The basic political division in the world today is not between US imperialism and everyone else, but between globalism and nationalism. Competitive conflicts also exist between globalists, but with the rise of a nationalist regime in Washington, these conflicts temporarily tend to be of a secondary nature. More >>


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