Globalization: A Socialist Perspective

By Petras, James | Canadian Dimension, January-February 1999 | Go to article overview

Globalization: A Socialist Perspective


Petras, James, Canadian Dimension


Globalization at a minimum involves the creation of a world economy that is not merely the sum of its national economies, but rather a powerful independent reality, created by the international division of labor and the world market which, in the present epoch, predominates over national markets. Large scale, long-term flows of capital, commodities, technology and labor across national boundaries define the process of globalization.

Globalization in Historical Perspective

Contemporary globalization retains many of the key features of the earlier phases of globalization: the driving forces are centred in the imperial state and the multi-national corporation and banks, backed by the international financial institutions. What is significantly different are the scale, scope and speed of the circulation of capital and commodities, particularly financial flows between deregulated economies. The technological changes, especially in communications (computers, fax, etc.), have been a prime factor in shaping the high velocity of movements of capital.

The scope and scale of movement of capital and commodities however, are due less to technological than to political changes. The demise of socialism in the former Communist countries of Europe and Asia, the conversion of nationalist-populist third-world regimes to unregulated capital and the demise of the welfare state in the West have opened vast areas for accumulation of profits (and surplus capital) and new markets for sales and investment. These political victories are central to the advance of the contemporary process of globalization in relation to the historical period immediately following World War II, and certainly in relation to the inter-war period.

The conflict between globalizing imperialist forces and the third world - what was erroneously referred to as the Cold War - was evident in the 23 million people who died in 143 wars, overwhelmingly in the third world, between 1945 and 1992. The contemporary phase of globalization was a consequence of what sub-commander Marcos refers to as the Third World War, which continues to this day.

A historical analysis of the phases of globalization allows one to refute some of the ideological claims of its proponents. A retrospective analysis reveals that globalization has been cyclical in world historical development. There were periods of high globalization, moments of crises and periods in which economic flows turned inward. There is no universal inevitable tendency toward globalization. Inter-imperial wars resulting from global competition, internal crises of overproduction and more important social and political revolutions have all affected the trajectory of globalist nations and classes. The cyclical nature of globalization allows analysts to identify the internal/external weaknesses of the globalist project and identify the alternative strategies that emerged from the crises of global projects in earlier times.

The very idea of globalization as a historical necessity is questioned by its cyclical history. The notion that we enter a new period is also dubious: foreign trade and overseas income were a greater percentage of GNP in Europe during the late 19th century that at the end of the 20th century. The idea that technology drives globalization omits the point that most of the new technologies emerged before the current globalist phase and are compatible with expanding domestic production and popular consumption.

The globalization idea is itself suspect. In its most widely expressed usage, it argues for a universal incorporation to the world marketplace and the spread of benefits throughout the world. The empirical reality is neither universal incorporation nor the spread of benefits: there are wealthy creditors and bankrupt debtors, super-rich speculators and impoverished unemployed workers, imperial states that direct international financial institutions and subordinate states that submit to their dictates.

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