Werner Bonefeld

Hobgoblin 5 2003


The pros and cons of the globalisation debate have been well rehearsed and the contest between its proponents and critics are well established. This paper does not add to this debate. It focuses on the common basis upon which the argument of both side of the debate rests. The critique of this common basis opens up a discussion about the real alternative to 'globalisation', and that is, the project of human emancipation.

The pros and cons of the globalisation debate are well established. For it's proponents, globalisation is the best of all worlds: it has freed capital from the dependent masses, rendering them powerless. This view is understandable. The bourgeoisie knows what class divisions are and what the class struggle entails. It is it's business to pursue it's interests with relentless vigour. And the critics? Here, too, the project of emancipation is seen to have been made redundant by globalisation and the foremost task of the Left is to humanise capitalism through regulative reform (cf. Held, 1995; Hirsch, 1995). The task then is to regain regulative control of global capital so it attends to human needs. This critique of glbalisation, a critique for the state, is self contradictory; at the same time globalisation is seen to have disempowered the national state, the left is urged to transform the capacity of the state to control capital.

Were one to follow the debate on globalisation uncritically, one would have to conclude that the state is 'withering away'. Unfortunately for Lenin, this withering away is seen to have taken hold within capitalism itself. The state is seen to be 'in retreat and only 'residual functions' are left to the state; and these remaining functions are seen, without even a hint of irony, to be those that ensure capital competitiveness (Cerny, 1996). This state is defined as a 'competition state' (cf. Cerny, 1990; Hirsch, 1995) that makes its territory ready for capital investment regardless of social costs.

Paradoxically then, the idea of a powerless state, a state in retreat, is founded on the conception of the state as a strong and powerful state! Under conditions of globalisation, the state is seen to be charged with deregulating the so-called labour distortions, so that the economy can be, and remains free, and of using force to achieve social compliance with the real democracy of the market, that is the democracy of demand and supply. 'Laissez-faire too is a form of State regulation, introduced and maintained by legislative and coercive means. It is a deliberate policy, conscious of its own ends and not the spontaneous, automatic expression of economic facts' (Gramsci, 1971, p. 160). This, then, is the so-called neo-liberal transformation of the state that the proponents endorse. For the critics, on the other hand, this neo-liberal state is not able to safeguard the 'free' economy from self-destruction. This is the basis of their claim that the crisis of the state, a crisis brought about by globalisation, amounts to a regulative crisis, i.e. a crisis of the political regulation of capital. For this reason, they castigate the capitalist character of the competition state, demanding regulative reform so that it is more than a capitalist state!

The two 'sides' in the debate on globalisation are, despite their differences, distinctive only as variants of a common theme. Both see the rrelationship between the 'state' and the 'national economy' in terms of two distinct and competing forms of social organisation. The proponents of globalisation argue that it is the economy that determines the political, and the critics charge that the state remains capable of regulating the economy over and above 'capital'. The question, then, is that of 'relative autonomy'. Should it be accorded to the economy or does it remain with the state? Should it be accorded to the economy or should it remain with the state? The respective perspectives on globalisation confront this question through ethical lense. The proponents espouse the 'autonomy' of global capital as the the most powerful wealth-creating system ever devised by humankind, and the critics uirge bthe humanisation of inhuman conditions. It is well know that, in the world of ethical convictions. misable conditions need not to be changed. All that is required is to interpret them more favourably.

Regulation: Market and State
The proponents of globalisation argue that the market works best if left unattended by the state. State 'intervention' is seen to restrict and limit private initiative, strangle economic development on the basis of national protectionism and, ultimately, undermine bourgeois cosmopolitanism on the basis of nationalism and war (James, 2001). Globalisation is the best of all worlds (Ohmae, 1995) and social distress is regarded, if it is acknowledged at all, as a transitory side-effect that will disappear once the 'famous' trickle down effect has taken hold.

The critics of globalisation argue that the instability of the world economy since the early 1970s has led to the emergence of a qualitative different phase of accumulation, transforming the fordist Keynesian welfare-state into a post-fordist neo-liberal competition state. Neo-liberalism is seen to be appropriate to this phase of transition. Nevertheless, for the critics, neo-liberalism's destructive force demands a political resolution and that is, the creation of new forms of regulation at the national and international level. These new forms are conceived either in terms of anti-globalisation forces, elevating the national state as the principle agent of economic regulation (see Panitch) or in terms of cosmopolitan democratic structures, that is, forms of regulation appropriate to the new phase of accumulation (see Held, 1995).

The attraction of the proposal of regulative transformation resides in its ethical appeal to make the world a better world without destabilising the relations of exploitation. Yet, what are these new regulative mechanisms meant to regulate? The answer is capital. Capital is to be regulated so that it attends social needs, containing its 'neo-liberal' self-destructive force in favour of the common good.

What, however, is the common good in a capitalistically constituted form of social reproduction? The 'good' appears to amount to the creation of wealth that capital is able to achieve for all, if it is rendered accountable to liberal-democratic forms of regulation. Capital is thus viewed as a mere economic mechanism that, if regulated well, supports social well-being. In short, the common good refers to the well-functioning of capitalist accumulation. Indeed, regardless of its historically changing forms, the capitalist state has always been to secure the bonum commune of a capititalistically organised form of social reproduction.

The demand for the political regulation of capitalist reproduction is appealing. Who would seriously object to a socially comprehensive and 'fair' regulation of capital! It is a great shame however, that those advocating the re-regulation of capital through the good offices of the state fail on the whole to offer, and this against the background of ever increasing labour productivity, any view whatsoever on how capitalist accumulation can be regulated to liberate millions and millions of people, not only in the 'developing' countries but in centres of wealth too, from, on the one hand, conditions of misery poverty and starvation and ever increasing intensity of labour, on the other. What then is meant by the demand for a ' a more inwardly oriented economy.' It appears to operate in the shadow of Keynes' description, in the 1930s of 'National Self-Sufficiency' : 'ideas, knowledge, art, hospitality, travel - these are the things which should of their nature be international. But let goods be homespun whenever it is reasonable and conveniently possible; and, above all, let finance be primarily national' (Keynes, 1982, p. 236). History, it is sadi repeats itself only as farce. Conditions change and so do the conditions of national socialist ideas - the absurdity of human pre-history, however, requires something else (Agnoli 2000).

The ethical appeal of the demand for regulative transformation resides in its critical comparison between the less than perfect reality of capitalist relations and the pleasant norms of equality and freedom. Such critical comparison allows merely for a moralising criticism which fails to see that the pleasant norms are inadrquate to their content, the bad reality of a capitalist mode of production. In relation to an earlier resolution to global crisis, Adorno's insight demands serious consideration: Auschwitz, he argue, not only confirmed the violence of the bourgeois relations of absrtract equality and identity. It also confirmed the bourgeois relations of pure identity as death

Adam Smith was certain in his own mind that capitalism creates the wealth of nations and he noted that 'the proprietor of stock is properly a citizen of the world; and is not necessariliy attached to any particular country. He would be apt to abandon the country in which he was exposed to a vexacious inquisition, in order tyo be assessed to a burdesome tax, and would remove his stock to some other country where he could either carry on his business, or enjoy his fortune more at his ease' (1981 848-90) Ricardo concurred, adding that 'if a capital is not allowed to get the greatest net revenue that the use of machinery will afford here, it will be carried abraod' leading to'serious discouragement to the demand for labour'. (Ricardo 1995 39)

According to Hegel the accumulation of wealth renders those who depend on the sale of their labour power for their social reproduction, insecure in deteriorating conditions. He concluded that despite the accumulation of wealth, bourgeois society will find it most difficult to keep the dependent masses pacified, and he saw the form of the state as the means of reconciling the social antagonism, containing the dependent masses. Ricardo formulated the necessity of capitalist social relations to produce 'redundant population'. Marx developed this insight and showed that the idea of 'equal rights' is in principle a bourgeois right. In its content, it is a right of inequality (see Marx, 1968). Against the bourgeois form of formal equality, he argued that communism rests on the equality of the individual, that is, the equality of individual human needs.

Anti-globalisation in Critical Perspective
During the last decade we have seen the deep recession of the early 1990s, the European currency crises in 1992 and 1993, the plunge of the Mexican peso in December 1994 which rocked financial markets around the world, the Asian crisis of 1997, the Brazilian crisis of 1999, the Argentinean crisis of 2001. Japan teeters on the edge of depression and then there is the speculative bubble in the New York Stock Exchange and the dramatic global slowdown. As Itoh (2000, p.133) comments, 'the nightmare of a full-scale world economic crisis cannot easily be excluded'; indeed, there is hardly a day without warnings about the immanent burst of the bubble and a world wide depression. And then there is war. How many wars have been fought since the end of the cold war and how many will follow in the years to come? And then there is terrorism. The events of September 11th demonstrated with brutal force the impotence of sense, significance, and thus reason and ultimately truth. The denial of human quality and difference was absolute. Their death was total - not even their corpses survived. And the response? It confirmed that state terrorism and terrorism are two sides of the same coin. Between them, nothing is allowed to survive.

The gloomy prospect of a full-scale world economic crisis and world war is not inevitable. The crisis might be contained on a permanent basis. It is possible too that the crisis will not be permanent, that it will in fact be resolved: what the resolution of 'permanent crisis' can mean stands behind us as a warning of a possibly nightmarish future. 'We know how rapidly an epoch of global prosperity, underpinning prospects of world peace and international harmony, can become an epoch of global confrontation, culminating in war. If such a prospect seems unlikely now, it seemed equally unlikely a century ago' (Clarke, 2001, p.91).

The resurgence of anti-capitalist movements across the globe, is a hopeful sign. Yet, there is no place for complacency. The most disturbing is the contemporary disinterest in revolution. What does anti-capitalism in its contemporary form of anti-globalisation mean if it is not a practical critique of capitalism and what does it wish to achieve if its anti-capitalism fails to espouse the revolutionary project of human emancipation? Anti-capitalist indifference to revolution is a contradiction in terms. Such contradictions seek resolutions and these do not necessarily lead to revolution in the proper sense of the word: the project of human emancipation.

The struggles in which capitalist development is 'embedded and the outcomes to which those struggles give rise are not imposed by any economic logic' (ibid.). Contemporary anti-capitalist movements, from Chiapas (Holloway and Pel ez, 1998) to the Piqueteros of Argentina (Dinerstein, 2002), from Seattle to Genoa (de Angelis, 2001; Federici and Caffentzis, 2001) and beyond, gives ground for optimism (Leeds, 2001). Yet, what is meant by anti-globalisation? 'The renunciation of internationalism in the name of resurgent nationalism' is the biggest danger (Clarke, 2001, p.91). The critique of globalisation fails if it is not a critique of the capitalistically constituted form of social reproduction. 'Anti-globalisation' gives in to the most reactionary forces if its critique of globalisation is a critique for the national state.

The history of protectionism, national self-sufficiency and 'national money' has always been a world market history (Bonefeld, 2000), with the possible exception of North Korea and Albania during the Cold War. Further, the critique of globalisation fails if it is merely a critique of speculative capital and that is, a critique for productive accumulation. It was the crisis of productive accumulation that sustained the divorce of monetary accumulation from productive accumulation (Bonefeld and Holloway, 1995). The critique of speculation has to be a critique of the capitalist form of social reproduction. Without such a critique of capital, the critique of speculation is reactionary. It summons the idea of finance and banks and speculators as merchants of greed. In the past, such views underpinned modern anti-semitism and its idea of a community of blood and soil (Bonefeld, 1997). The fact that Nazism espoused 'industry' and rejected what it saw as vampire like finance, should be sufficient to highlight the rotten character of such a critique of globalisation.

Further, the idea of a Third Way has to be exposed to reveal its meaning and that is, that money must manage and organise the exploitation of labour. The historical comparison with the 1930s shows what this means in practice. The so-called golden age of Keynesianism emerged from a human disaster of incomprehensible dimensions. Besides, and without sinister associations, the idea of a Third Way emerged for the first time in Italy at the beginning of the 1930s. Its proponent was Mussolini. Now, at the beginning of the new Century and beyond the traditional opposition between capitalism and soviet communism, the Third Way entails something else. What is the opposite term to the unfettered global accumulation of capital? Is the opposing term the national state that, with transformed regulative powers, forces capital to attend human needs and guarantee human dignity? Something seems strangely amiss with the Third Way. May be Agnoli is right when he argues that 'in the misery of our time, we find the "positive" only in negation' (Agnoli, 1992, p. 50).

Paraphrasing Marcuse (1998), the human being is a thinking being and if thought is the site of truth, then the human being has to possess the freedom to be led by thought in order to realise what is recognised as truth, namely that the human being itself is the constitutive basis of a world which seems to exist as if it were a person apart. Anti-globalisation has, thus, to mean complete democratisation so as to make all social forces accountable to human needs. In sum, the demand for a new democratically constituted regulation of capital should be taken seriously. Though, it should be deepened and not restricted to legitimate the social engineering of discipline. It should first of all be taken on in the tradition of Enlightenment thought: Doubt everything! Second, it should be taken to its logical conclusion: the democratic organisation of socially necessary labour by the associated producers themselves, that is, the utopia of the society of the free and equal that Marx summed up with one word: communism.

Lastly, moaning about the 'excesses' of capital has to stop. A lamenting critique merely seeks to create a fairer capitalism, conferring on capital the capacity to adopt a benevolent developmental logic. Capital is with necessity 'excessive' in its exploitation of labour. To lament this is to misunderstand its social constitution. Further, the critique of politicians, however necessary that might be, fractures the understanding of the essence of the political in bourgeois society. Politics is the system of the seizure of power and the retention of power and the exercise of power. It might be necessary to ask politicians to go away. However forceful and understandable the proclamation of this 'leave us alone', it is not enough. What needs to be comprehended is that the constitutive basis of the state does not rest with the political class. What needs to be negated is the form of the state which Marx summarised as: 'the concentration of bourgeois society'. In short, discontent with politicians amounts to, paraphrasing Marx, a critique of charactermasks, deflecting from the social constitution of their existence and because of this it affirms the state as if it were an 'independent being which possesses its own intellectual, ethical and libertarian bases' (Marx, 1968, p. 28). It thus amounts to a mere rebellion for a virtues state - a state, that is, which secures the bonum commune of bourgeois society. Discontent is important. However, if it wants to take itself seriously, it has to reveal the rotten character of bourgeois society and its state and it does this by recognising that it is its own social practice that constitutes the topsy-turvy world of capital.

Adorno's (1994) statement that one cannot live honestly in the false totality of bourgeois society is only partially correct - an honest life begins already in the struggle against the falsehood of bourgeois society (Negt, 1984, p.90). As Agnoli (2001, p.14) has argued in a different context, history shows that the interests of the ruling class has always entailed violence and destruction. For us that means that those who do not engage in the negation of the capitalist mode of production, should not speak about freedom and peace. Put differently, those who seriously want freedom and equality as social individuals but do not wish to destabilise capitalism, contradict themselves.

The struggle for the society of the free and equal is a struggle over the principles of the social organisation of labour. Instead of a social reality where the products of social labour appear to have mastery over, instead of being controlled by Man, social reproduction has to be 'controlled by him' (cf. Marx, 1983, p.85). Marx's critique of political economy does not rest in its macro-economic interpretation by those self-declared charactermasks who claim to possess the scientific insights into economic laws and the technical expertise and capacity to regulate 'the economy' through the good offices of the state. Rather, it is realised in its negation (Marcuse, 1979, p.242). In sum, 'all emancipation is the restoration of the human world and of human relationships to Man himself' (Marx).

The theoretical and practical orientation on the utopia of the society of the free and equal is the only realistic departure from the inhumanity that the world market society of capital posits.

The demand for a regulative reform of global capital is an unquestionably useful, and that is consensus creating and therewith pacifying, or peace-making, deceitful publicity. Against the background of the contemporary indifference to the project of human emancipation, we have again to dream revolution. The principle of hope in the society of the free and equal has to be rediscovered. 'The more improbable socialism appears, the more desperate one has to stand up for it' (cf. Horkheimer, 1974, p.253).



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