Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Lenin and Globalization ; as Capitalism Grows, Does the Political Order That Nurtures It Crumble?

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Lenin and Globalization ; as Capitalism Grows, Does the Political Order That Nurtures It Crumble?

Article excerpt

As delegates to the World Trade Organization celebrated, and protesters vilified the global economy, both groups could have used a history lesson. For better or worse, today's international market didn't simply emerge. It was deliberately constructed. Understanding this illuminates both the challenges posed by the world economy and the threats to it.

Too many economists and business leaders neglect historian E.H. Carr's maxim: "The science of economics presupposes a given political order and cannot be properly studied in isolation from politics." Though they correctly emphasize the unprecedented economic growth the global economy has engendered, they fail to emphasize America's equally unprecedented power, which made growth possible.

Several years ago a Pentagon planning document asserted that America's greatest post- World War II achievement is the creation of a "market-oriented zone of peace and prosperity encompassing two- thirds of the globe." To appreciate this achievement, it's helpful to recall the once-famous debate between V.I. Lenin and Karl Kautsky. Lenin held that any international capitalist order was inherently temporary because the political order among competing states on which he believed it would be based would shift over time.

Whereas Lenin argued that international capitalism could not transcend the Hobbesian reality of international politics, Kautsky maintained that capitalists were much too rational to destroy themselves in internecine conflicts. An international class of enlightened capitalists, recognizing that international political and military competition would upset the orderly processes of world finance and trade, would instead seek peace and free trade.

But Lenin and Kautsky were talking past each other. Kautsky believed the common interest of an international capitalist class determined international relations, whereas in Lenin's analysis international relations were driven by competition among states. Lenin argued that there was an irreconcilable contradiction between capitalism and the anarchic international system; Kautsky didn't recognize the division in the first place.

US foreign policy has been based in essence on a hybrid of Lenin's and Kautsky's analyses. It has aimed at the unified international capitalist community Kautsky envisioned. But the US effort to build and sustain that community is determined by a worldview not far from Lenin's.

To Washington, today's global economy hasn't been maintained by the common interests of an international economic elite, but by US preponderance. So, the Pentagon asserts that the global market requires the "stability" that only American "leadership" can provide. Ultimately, of course, Lenin and US policymakers diverge. While Lenin recognized that any given international order was inherently impermanent, America's foreign policy strategists have hoped to keep that reality of international relations permanently at bay. …

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