"Lenin might yet have the last laugh"

Louis Proyect lnp3 at SPAMpanix.com
Tue May 9 07:04:13 MDT 2000


Published in the Christian Science Monitor:  "Lenin and Globalization", CSM
 Lenin and globalization or Yes Virginia, there is such a thing as
imperialist  rivalry and war

Lenin and globalization
Benjamin Schwarz
Page: OPINION, Page 9

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. Since
World War II, the US has created a new kind of international politics among
the advanced capitalist states. Whereas these states had formerly sought to
protect their national economies from outside influences and to enhance
their national power in relation to their rivals, they would now seek
security as members of the US-dominated alliance system and their economic
growth as participants in the US-secured world economy, adjusting their
national economics as dictated by world market tendencies.

But at the close of the 20th century, global capitalism's contradictions
are becoming apparent, as the international economy's very success begets
potentially lethal challenges to it. Just as "war made the state," so the
world market's unprecedented autonomy, power, and pervasiveness is
precisely the sort of challenge that could provoke the expansion of the
state's capabilities and prestige (which, of course, raises the specter of
totalitarianism). In short, as the global economy goes from strength to
strength, the state must subdue it or be destroyed by it. Even more
important, it is precisely because capitalism has reached its highest stage
that the state may have a chance against it. As the global economy has
become more interdependent, it has become more fragile. For instance, the
emergent technology industries are the most powerful engines of world
economic growth, but they require a level of specialization and a breadth
of markets possible only in an integrated world market. This web of global
trade, production, and finance is tenuous - its strands remain anchored in
states, entities that under normal circumstances are unmoved by appeals to
comparative advantage and global economic efficiency. In still another way,
the global economy has perhaps sown the seeds of its own destruction.

The problem with the US-created global economy is that it has been all too
successful. Through trade, foreign investment, and the spread of technology
and managerial expertise, economic power has diffused from the US to new
centers of growth. With a shift in the international distribution of
economic strength, the Pax America will inevitably be undermined. If the
assumption of power politics, upon which America's post-1945 foreign policy
is based, proves correct, then, as US preponderance weakens, the normal
conditions of international relations will reemerge. Independent and
jealous states jockeying for power and position will of necessity shred the
web of the integrated global economy. Capitalism - at least the advanced
state of capitalism represented by the global economy - may collapse as the
political order that nurtured it crumbles. Although the empire he built is
in ruins and his revolution discredited, Lenin may yet have the last laugh.

Benjamin Schwarz is a Los Angeles-based correspondent for The Atlantic
Monthly.
(c) Copyright 1999. The Christian Science Publishing Society


Louis Proyect
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