Book Review from the January 2001 issue of the Socialist Standard
Globalization: Neoliberal Challenge, Radical Responses. By Robert Went, London/Sterling VA: Pluto Press, 2000.
Robert Went argues that though the world economy is nothing like as "globalised", nor corporations as "footloose" as many believe, there are far-reaching changes going on in the functioning of capitalism. It could be argued that while none of the factors which are seen to make up "globalisation" is new in itself the scale and ferocity of current economic restructuring and attacks on wages and conditions do make for a distinct epoch in the capitalist system. The effects, with which we are all too familiar, are spelled out by Went. These trends lead to:
"greater social inequality as the result of a dual polarisation process, both within countries and on a world scale among different countries; to progressive levelling down of wages, working conditions and social security; to extensive migratory flows; to life-threatening ecological deterioration and destruction; to a greater role for unaccountable international institutions and regional entities; and to further whittling-away of democracy."
This is all part and parcel of the profit system of course, but Went points to the relative world-wide intensification of these processes and the economic reasons for them.
"In the mid-1970s," he points out, "an end came to the expansive period throughout the capitalist world." Basically, around this time growth expressed as a percentage increase in Gross National Product slowed up and with this process the rate of profit also began to drop. The priority for the capitalist class was to salvage the rate of profit. First and foremost this meant attacking the working class and increasing exploitation—pushing down wages and curtailing working-class organisation. Accommodating our aspirations to a half-decent life was no longer a price they could pay. Went claims that since around the mid-1980s the rate of profit has been steadily rising so "perhaps for the first time in history, increasing profit rates do not lead to more economic growth". While growth falls, profits rise and this has only been possible through upping the tempo of class robbery—getting "leaner and meaner". In short then, "globalisation" has been a symptom of, and a response to, a period of crisis in the capitalist system. The boom in currency speculation and weird financial wheeler-dealing is another symptom of this depressive period.
It is probably too obvious to comment that capitalism has always been a globalising system, seeking out possibilities for profit in every nook and cranny on the planet. But it is this period of crisis that has compelled the system to attempt to fully extend its laws and relations into every aspect of human life and experience. As Went states:
"money can be made by turning more and more things into commodities; patents on animals, plants and human genes; leisure time (television, shopping expeditions, amusement parks for day trippers, casinos); culture (media commercialisation, corporate sponsorship of museums, exhibits and cultural events); sex (sex tourism, pornography, sex lines) and human organs".
Once again, none of this is entirely new, but the scope and ferocity of the never-ending pursuit of profit by the capitalist class grows by the day. Above all, this surely points to a system which is decadent, destructive and poisonous to humanity. That it continues in a world in which we have long been able to produce an abundance for all points to the only solution there can possibly be to the situation described and analysed in this book—capitalism as a world system must be ended by working-class socialist revolution.
Though it sort of hints at it, nowhere in this book is it stated explicitly that the root cause of poverty and exploitation is the minority class ownership and control of the means of production and distribution and production for the market. This is what we've got to sort out and it is therefore disappointing that the author issues a rallying call for the creation of a movement to achieve things such as "reregulation of the financial sector", "control over the labour process" and "redistribution of income", especially when elsewhere he accepts that such things will never again be possible. This is basically a call for renegotiating our conditions of exploitation under capitalism when the book itself is stuffed full of evidence of the need for the long overdue abolition of the system and its whole stinking edifice.