This is an extremely important moment: the point where, the repertoire of ‘hegemony through consent’ having been exhausted, the drift towards the routine use of the more repressive features of the state comes more and more prominently into play. Here the pendulum within the exercise of hegemony tilts, decisively, from that where consent overrides coercion, to that condition in which coercion becomes, as it were, the natural and routine form in which consent is secured. This shift in the internal balance of hegemony – consent to coercion – is a response, within the state, to increasingly polarization of class forces (real and imagined). It is exactly how a ‘crisis of hegemony’ expresses itself. . .. the slow development of a state of legitimate coercion, the birth of a ‘law and order’ society.. . . The whole tenor of social and political life has been transformed by [this moment]. A distinctively new ideological climate has been precipitated.
Responses to the Crisis
How have social and political forces around the world responded to the global crisis? When we observe that the structural crises of the 1870s, the 1930s, and the 1970s had been resolved through a restructuring of the capitalist system, this does not mean that things necessarily got better for the mass of humanity. “Resolved” means that restructuring allowed for the resumption of sustained accumulation. As I have emphasized thus far, crises open up the possibility of change that can go in many different directions. How a crisis unravels depends, among other things, on the agencies of the constellation of social forces that come together in particular conjunctures, the correlation of force among classes in these conjunctures, distinct projects that are put forward in response to the crisis, political conditions, and contingency – all within the bounds of what is structurally possible. Here I identify three responses to the crisis that are in dispute, although this does not mean that there are not, or will not be, other responses not addressed here.
As in the case of democracy, which is used in a positive sense to describe, from particular positions, radically different and consciously opposed political systems, imperialism, like any word which refers to fundamental social and political conflicts, cannot be reduced, semantically, to a single proper meaning. Its important historical and contemporary variations of meanings point to real processes which have to be studied in their own terms.
Theories of a “new imperialism” proliferated in the years following the September 2001 attack on the World Trade Towers and the Pentagon and the subsequent U.S. invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq. These theories argued that the United States set about to renew a U.S. empire in order to offset a decline in its hegemony amid heightened inter-imperialist rivalry. So popular were new imperialism theories that they came to be seen as common sense; critics were seen as heretics or nut cases, and alternative explanations nearly disappeared from the intellectual and political radar. Yet these theories rested on a crustaceous bed of assumptions that must be peeled back if we are to get at the root of twenty-first century global social and political dynamics. The lynchpin of “new imperialism” theories is the assumption that world capitalism in the twenty-first century is made up of “domestic capitals” and distinct national economies that interact with one another and a concomitant realist analysis of world politics as driven by the pursuit by governments of their “national interest.” Realism of this sort sees each national economy as a billiard ball banging back and forth against the others. This billiard image is then applied to explain global political dynamics in terms of nation-states as discrete interacting units (the interstate system). The realist paradigm that dominated the study of international relations during the post–World War II period lost much of its luster as globalization unfolded in the 1980s and 1990s, but then made a powerful comeback following the events of the 2001 and renewed U.S. interventionism.
[Foxconn] has a workforce of over one million worldwide and as human beings are also animals, to manage one million animals gives me a headache.
The solution to the sanitation crisis – at least as conceived by certain economics professors sitting in comfortable armchairs in Chicago and Boston – has been to make urban defecation a global business. Indeed, one of the great achievements of Washington-sponsored neoliberalism has been to turn public toilets into cash points for paying off foreign debts – pay toilets are a growth industry throughout the Third World slums.
Capitalism goes through regular crises about once a decade, what we call cyclical crises. But the crisis that exploded in 2008 with the global financial collapse and the Great Recession points to a deeper structural crisis, such as we faced in the 1970s, and before that in the 1930s, meaning that the system can no longer continue to function in the way that it is structured. These types of crises are therefore restructuring crises. They must result in a restructuring of the system if there is to be any resolution to the crisis. Yet in such a conjucture the structural crisis has the potential to become systemic, depending on how social agents respond to the crisis and on the unpredictable element of contingency that always plays some role in historical outcomes. A systemic crisis is one in which only a change in the system itself will resolve the crisis.
The fundamental problem of the social science is to find the [historical] laws according to which any state of society produces the state which succeeds it and takes its place.
Any understanding of the global crisis requires an inquiry into how the reproduction of global capitalism is possible – or indeed, if it is possible at all. An examination of the mechanisms of such reproduction involves analysis of the institutions in global society that make it possible, in actuality or in theory. How are the class relations of global capitalism institutionalized? What are the system’s institutional and political authority structures? How can we understand the political constitution of the dominant classes in global society – in particular, the TCC? How does the TCC organize itself in order to pursue its interests around the world?
Institutions are social interactions systematized – that is, institutionalized – by a system of norms and rules enforced by distinct coercive mechanisms, while structures organize sets or matrices of institutions. Hence social practices take place through institutions, and social groups and classes organize themselves through institutions; all but the most entirely coincidental social relations are institutionalized. One of the most important of these institutions is the state. Political institutions have secured economic reproduction ever since human beings moved beyond communal societies. The rise of the state in conjunction with the appearance of significant surpluses and the division of society into classes constitutes the central political instance in the development of class societies. There is therefore a historically constituted inner connection between state forms and production processes that we want to analyze with respect to capitalism and its transnational phase.
Drug lords need banks. A glimpse: Bloomberg Markets magazine’s August 2010 issue reported that drug traffickers who used a DC-9 jet to move cocaine from South America to Mexico had purchased the jet ‘with laundered funds they transferred through two of the biggest banks in the U.S.: Wachovia Corp. and Bank of America Corp’. But banks also need drug lords. In 2008, drug money saved the major global banks from collapse and thus, stretching just a bit, saved capitalism from a devastating internal crisis when the speculative capital markets imploded.. . . Antonio Maria Costa, the head of the UN Office on Drugs and Crime [told The Observer in London] that he had seen evidence that the proceeds of organized crime were ‘the only liquid investment capital’ available to some banks on the brink of collapse.
It is easier to imagine the end of the world than it is to imagine the end of capitalism.
We do not attempt dogmatically to prefigure the future, but want to find the new world only through criticism of the old. But if the designing of the future and the proclamation of ready-made solutions for all time is not our affair, then we realize all the more clearly what we have to accomplish in the present – I am speaking of a ruthless criticism of everything existing, ruthless in two senses: The criticism must not be afraid of its own conclusions, nor of the conflict with the powers that be.
In 2003 I co-organized a conference in Santa Barbara, California, titled Towards a Critical Globalization Studies. The conclave brought together some 100 leading scholars worldwide on globalization with leading activists and intellectuals from the global justice movement. Our objective was to explore what a critical study of global society involves and how such a study is related to struggles for social justice around the world. I argued that there is no such thing as free-floating academics and that all intellectual labor is organic in the sense that studying the world is itself a social act, committed by agents with a definite relationship to the social order. Intellectuals who consider themselves revolutionaries should have as their task analyzing the system of global capitalism, I continued, exposing its myths and lies, unmasking its legitimating discourses and ideologies, and identifying the forces that benefit from the continuation of this system. If we are to contribute to movements for social justice through our intellectual labor, then we should seek to aid those directly organizing mass struggles around the world to transform this system by applying our training and experience to elucidating the real inner workings of the social order and the contradictions therein. Central to this undertaking is putting forward a cogent and systematic critique of global capitalism. For her part, the scholar-activist Susan George cautioned at the Santa Barbara conference that academics who wish to be relevant should study the rich and powerful, not the poor and powerless.
All men will see what you seem to be; only a few will know what you are.
Our world is burning. We face a global crisis that is unprecedented in terms of its magnitude, its global reach, the extent of ecological degradation and social deterioration, and the scale of the means of violence. This is a time of great upheavals, momentous changes, and uncertain outcomes; fraught with dangers, including the very real possibility of collapse as well as the growing threat of repressive social control systems that serve to contain the explosive contradictions of a global capitalism in crisis. Certainly the stakes bound up in the raging conflicts of our day are too high for the usual academic complacency. I believe that the most urgent task of any intellectual who considers him or herself organic or politically engaged is to address this crisis. If nothing else, we will all agree that global capitalism is a highly unstable and crisis-ridden system. If we are to avert disastrous outcomes we must understand both the nature of the new global capitalism and the nature of its crisis. This book is an attempt to contribute to such an understanding.
In this book I aspire to analyze and theorize the global crisis from the perspective of global capitalism theory. Wide-ranging debate continues on the nature of the twenty-first-century global order and its contemporary crises. I have been centrally concerned with these matters for over two decades, seeking above all to construct a theoretical framework for situating them – specifically, a theory of global capitalism. The world in which Karl Marx analyzed capital has radically changed. The global capitalism perspective offers a powerful explanatory framework for making sense of the crisis. Analysis of capitalist globalization not only says something about the nature of the crisis but is also a template for probing a wide range of social, political, cultural, and ideological processes in this twenty-first century. Following Marx, we want to focus on the internal dynamics of capitalism in order to understand the crisis. And following the global capitalism perspective, we want to see how capitalism has qualitatively evolved in recent decades. The systemwide crisis we face is not a repeat of earlier such episodes such as that of the the 1930s or the 1970s precisely because world capitalism is fundamentally different in the twenty-first century.
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