“Chasing over the surface of the globe”

January 13, 2012

Karl Marx and Fredrick Engels were writing about the phenomenon of "globalization" in The Communist Manifesto, in the middle of the 19th century.

GLOBALIZATION--THE term used to describe the spreading power of multinational corporations across the globe--is often seen as something new. But if by globalization we mean the spread of capitalism and the creation of a world market, this has existed for more than a century.

If we mean the growth of enormous and powerful transnational corporations that dominate world trade, then we are talking about a phenomenon that may be new in its scale but has been part of a trend in world capitalism since before the turn of the 20th century.

In fact, Karl Marx and Fredrick Engels wrote about "globalization" in The Communist Manifesto as far back as 1848. They wrote:

Modern industry has established the world market, for which the discovery of America paved the way...[The bourgeoisie] has resolved personal worth into exchange value, and in place of the numberless indefeasible chartered freedoms, has set up that single, unconscionable freedom--Free Trade.

In one word, for exploitation, veiled by religious and political illusions, it has substituted naked, shameless, direct, brutal exploitation...

The need of a constantly expanding market for its products chases the bourgeoisie over the entire surface of the globe. It must nestle everywhere, settle everywhere, establish connections everywhere...

In place of the old local and national seclusion and self-sufficiency, we have intercourse in every direction, universal inter-dependence of nations...

[The bourgeoisie] compels all nations, on pain of extinction, to adopt the bourgeois mode of production; it compels them to introduce what it calls civilization into their midst, i.e., to become bourgeois themselves. In one word, it creates a world after its own image.

Marx also talked about how capitalist competition naturally produced the concentration of greater and greater wealth in fewer and fewer hands--the growth of increasingly large firms controlling ever bigger market.

Engels wrote in the 1870s about the development of business "trusts," in which "freedom of competition changes into its very opposite--into monopoly."

QUOTING THE Manifesto is useful not simply to show how brilliant and farsighted Marx and Engels were. It shows that globalization in the Marxist sense is not a policy but a dynamic built into the very nature of capitalism.

David Korten, who wrote an excellent book called When Corporations Rule the World, argued in his most recent book, The Post-Corporate World, that the solution to a world dominated by greedy transnational corporations is to apply "the familiar principles of...market economics to create societies that function in service to life."

For Korten, globalization is a policy that must be scrapped in favor of different policies. But a market devoted to human need is a contradiction in terms--like a hired assassin committed to the Bible's Fifth Commandment.

"Free" exchange produced a mass of people on one side with only their labor to sell and a minority on the other who monopolized the tools, machinery, factories and so on necessary to carry on productive work.

The labor of the majority produced profits for the minority since capitalism began. Out of "free" competition, the big fish swallow the little fish, and monopolies develop. As production expands, capitalists must create a world market.

The clash between states for control of markets and resources produces military conflict. The condition of wealth piling up on one side is the poverty of millions on the other. All of these things are built into the nature of capitalism. They can't be gotten rid of like a blemish on an otherwise smooth face. Capitalism is the blemish.

The point is that whatever momentary policies governments and businesses pursue, the underlying dynamic of the system remains unchanged.

That is why socialists argue that this system cannot be re-jigged to be more responsive to human need. It must be dismantled by the workers whose labor makes profits possible--and replaced with democratic planning for human need.

First published in the April 14, 2000, issue of Socialist Worker.

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