Academic journal article Capital & Class

The 'Return' of the National State in the Current Crisis of the World Market

Academic journal article Capital & Class

The 'Return' of the National State in the Current Crisis of the World Market

Article excerpt

Writing in the mid-1840s, Marx and Engels argued that the expansion of the world market was inhibited by the frictions entailed in a plurality of states and local markets, the 'clumsiness of production', and the underdevelopment of finance (1976: 56). In this context, the world-historical 'achievement' of neoliberalism has been to reduce (without ever eliminating) the frictions and constraints on capital accumulation deriving from states as 'national power containers', as well as from 'inefficient' financial markets; to increase the emphasis on speed, acceleration and turnover time along with capital's short-term 'indifference' to its environment; to reinforce the dominance of exchange-value over use-value in the global economy; and to secure changes in extra-economic relations that facilitate the global expansion of capitalism and weaken resistance to these effects. Overall, this reinforces tendencies to uneven development, as zones of instability and crisis are created as a condition and effect of relatively crisis-free expansion elsewhere. However, as Marx later noted, the world market is a place 'in which production is posited as a totality together with all its moments, but within which, at the same time, all contradictions come into play' (1973: 227, my emphasis). Since the ultimate limit to capital is capital itself, the expansion and integration of a relatively unfettered (or disembedded) world market enhances the scope for its contradictions to be realized, and for resistance to become global.

Globalization or world market?

The interaction of world market dynamics and state capacities is shaped by the continued separation of the profit-oriented, market-mediated dimension of accumulation from its crucial extra-economic supports in the legal and political system (among other institutional orders) and, notwithstanding this variable institutional separation, the continued reciprocal interdependence of 'market' and 'state' as complementary moments of the capital relation. The nature of this relationship has prompted some of the most vigorous debates in Capital & Class on the capitalist type of state and/or states in capitalist societies, because it raises many crucial questions. These concern the fetishized separation of the economic and the political moments of the capital relation; the primacy of class struggle over any and all institutions; and the appropriate bases for any periodization of capitalist development. Two poles of such debates are (a) the priority of a generalized class struggle to overthrow all forms and moments of the capital relation; and (b) the impact of historically specific forms of the capital relation and their distinctive institutional supports on economic and political struggles in specific periods, especially when the bourgeoisie enjoys a greater or lesser degree of hegemony. Each pole has its strengths and weaknesses. Insistence on the primacy of class struggle highlights the interconnectedness of the capital relation and the reformist consequences of channelling struggles into separate, fetishized economic and political institutional forms with distinctive logics; but it achieves this result at the risk of essentialist forms of argumentation. Conversely, historical institutionalism is more sensitive to issues of institutional integration and social cohesion in distinct periods, but risks ignoring how the antagonistic nature of the capital relation constrains all institutional fixes. This is also found in mainstream debates on globalization and the national state, with some focusing on the overall logic of the world market and/or imperialism, and others starting out from 'varieties of capitalism' and their respective strengths and weaknesses in a global economy.

The notion of globalization highlights qualitative changes associated with the growing capacity of some fractions of capital to operate on a global scale in real time, but also disguises basic continuities with earlier waves of world market integration. …

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