Globalization has gained such momentum since its inception that it has left many wondering whether, like Thatcher’s championing of free-market capitalism, there is no alternative and our globalized reality is irreversible. This piece attempts to profile a group of neo-Marxist writers’ approaches to globalization and the fresh and interesting alternatives they pose in the face of this thundering force. This alternative view has become especially pertinent in light of the 2008 financial crisis and the repercussions we continue to face today. We have seen the very promoters of global capital turn inwards and promote national industries in an attempt to rescue their economies so what are the implications for regions such as Africa? Has the time come to rethink globalization altogether?
The early 1980s saw the birth of a global phenomenon that signified a new age of global interconnectedness. Globalization was the product of the end of the Cold War and the triumph of Western, specifically American, hegemony. Liberal Democratic political ideologies, technological innovations and neoliberal economic policies transcended borders and became the medium of inter-state relations. According to Cox, globalization was not a conscious decision of political leadership but rather the result of structural changes in capitalism. When it comes to politics versus economic change, the domestic responsibilities of states seem to have become subordinate to the exigencies of the global economy. Global finance has achieved a virtually unregulated and electronically connected 24-hour-a-day-network whereby global production is able to make use of the territorial divisions of the international economy to minimize costs and maximize profits. This change in the economic sphere has had profound political implications; globalization is quick to associate democracy with the free market although this has very little historical justification and, as previously mentioned, the political realm has appeared to take a subordinate role to the global economy. Although the impetus of globalization has been equated with the spread of neo-liberal economic policies, some authors have identified an interesting link between globalization and the alternatives that it itself creates.
In the era of globalization, the structure of world politics has undergone significant change. The old Westphalian concept of a system of sovereign states is no longer adequate as sovereignty becomes and ever looser concept. Sovereignty is now closely linked to cultural identity and has much less control over the economy, although it can even be debated that cultural identity is also fashioned in the same centers of influence. The world can be divided into micro and macro-regions. It is these macro-regions (Europe, Asia and North America) that are definable primarily in economic terms but also have important political and cultural implications. These macro-regions are at the heart of global capital which makes them leading actors on the global stage and therefore centers of great political and cultural influence. It is also possible, however, to go beyond the three macro-regions that Cox outlines and look at the global sphere as being dominated by one set of powers: international financial institutions; Cammack explains how the World Bank (WB) and International Monetary Fund (IMF) have secured for themselves a central role in the governance of global capitalism.
The countries that suffered the most from the 2008 global financial crisis were the most ardent pioneers of globalization and the result, ironically, was that they turned inwards, prioritizing national industries and erecting economic barriers. It would be interesting here to look at the possible implications of these changes on regions such as Africa that are not necessarily at the forefront of globalization but, by the very nature of globalization, participants in its political and economic activities. Although it has been argued that the epicenters of globalization were the worst hit, the whole world was inevitably affected and Africa could therefore potentially benefit from looking at the potential alternatives as herewith outlined.
The relevance of these arguments to this article is that their unique perspectives on globalization open the door to alternatives to the domination of the global economy by capital and the puppeteers behind it. At the beginning of this article I posed the question: is there any chance of rethinking globalization train? Rather than reaching a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ conclusion to such a question, it might be more valuable to examine how the concept of interconnectedness could be harnessed and used in different ways. Cox’s neo-Marxist and Cammack’s ‘new materialist’ evoke the spirit of Karl Marx himself and his notion of community and shared benefits. Both approaches equate global governance with global capitalism and, using core concepts of Marxist political economy such as primitive accumulation, capitalist accumulation and hegemony, critique global capitalism and look to the alternatives that it itself creates.
Cox explains how the new emerging world order has a multi-level structure, keeping in mind micro and macro-regionalism, and social forces are at the base of this structure which means that there is indeed room for intervention and transformation. Cox therefore suggests the need for a Gramscian war that also penetrates every level of the multi-layered structure and introduces a new discourse of global socialism. According to Cox, the emerging new structure is inherently unstable because there is tension between its two leading principles: interdependence and territory. This instability is both the reason change is needed and also the means by which change is possible. Change needs to be effected by building a coherent coalition of opposition at local and national level. Cox gives the example of labor movements because they have shown to be good at organizing groups based on ideological values. According to Ernest Mandel, an orthodox Marxist, a form of socialist planning lies in the logic of capitalism itself and through the “objective socialization of labor” planning actually reigns supreme in the modern factory and extends into the firm. This seems to echo Marx’s theory that communism emerges from the womb of capitalism itself. Constructing an alternative world order would need to involve a change in consumerism to “maximize the emancipatory and participatory opportunities for people”. Just as global capitalism permeates all levels of society, its counter-movement would need to do the same at the same micro and macro levels that were discussed earlier.
In conclusion, the question should not be whether it is possible to stop globalization but rather how certain features of globalization could be channeled into redirecting global capitalism to another form of global governance that is centered on allowing more people to participate and benefit. This article has introduced one school of alternatives that use elements of Marxist theory to illustrate how change is possible. It must be said that, although these ideas are compelling, they are rooted in theory and, as even the authors explicitly state, any such change would take a long time and enormous effort. The aim of this article is to highlight the fact that such alternatives do exist in the face of a sometimes overwhelming phenomenon, but sustains that globalization is irreversible and should be reformed rather than eradicated.
Written By: Emma George