[Marxism] Window shoppers in the world economy

Jurriaan Bendien andromeda246 at hetnet.nl
Tue Jul 13 17:05:45 MDT 2004

If I recall correctly,  in his book "Historical Capitalism", Wallerstein
suggested that Marx's immiseration thesis could be credibly sustained if
taken to apply to the world as a whole, and if you factored in population
growth and the peasantry.

Of course, in comparing money-incomes you also have to consider what the
money can buy. Regrettably rather little research has been done on the
evolution of the class structure of the world population as a whole.

In her book "The Accumulation of Capital", Rosa Luxemburg provided
a good definition of imperialism: "Imperialism is the political
expression of the accumulation of capital in its competitive struggle for
what remains still open of the non-capitalist environment." (p.446).

This definition emphasises that the economic foundation of imperialism is
both the quest for market expansion on which the expanded reproduction of
capital depends, and the international competition between rival, mainly
nationally-based, capitalist power blocs. An imperialist political policy is
based on these economic imperatives.

Luxemburg herself considered that "this field for the expansion of capital
is yet insignificant as against the high level of development already
attained by the productive forces of capital." (ibid.)

But exactly what is the basic problem here ? Richard J. Barnet and John
Cavanagh suggested an answer in their book "Global Dreams: Imperial
Corporations and the New World Order".

"The Global Shopping Mall", they wrote, "is a planetary supermarket with a
dazzling spread of things to eat, drink, wear and enjoy. Dreams of affluent
living are communicated to the farthest reaches of the globe, but only a
minority of the people in the world can afford to shop at the Mall. Of the
5.4 billion people on earth, almost 3.6 billion have neither cash nor credit
to buy much of anything. A majority of people on the planet are at most

Even if we revise those figures (total world population now is 6.2 billion
or so) it's still true that 4 billion people live on an income of about $2
per day or less. Increases in real incomes are, to a large extent, cancelled
out by population growth.

The expansion of a deregulated capitalist market means that the strongly
positioned market actors typically defeat the weak, and that means an
absolute increase of socio-economic inequality with respect to real income,
assets owned and opportunities. "More market" typically means "more social
inequality", either relatively or absolutely. This is evident also in the
USA itself.

New Zealand ex-premier David Lange, in defending his government's more
market experiment in the 1980s, therefore turned the argument around,
stating that "inequality is the motor of the market economy". The market
gains its dynamism from people seeking to better their lot, and justifies
itself if wealth does "trickle down".

But the question is raised of how countries which constitute only "emerging
markets" can be viably integrated into the capitalist world economy, given
that they must seek to compete from an initial position of economic
disadvantage (lower productivity, less bargaining power, weaker currencies,
technological dependence, debts). The more deregulated those economies are,
the less able they are to defend their position in the world market.

This problem has its social corollary: in countries where the mass of the
population lacks substantive cash buying power, market participation just
isn't the main means for social integration. That's apparent also in Iraq.

The invasion in Iraq aiming to rebuild that nation clearly exhibits the twin
characteristics of imperialism which Rosa Luxemburg specified, but the
failure of this nation-building project is also spectacular.

"The real lessons of Iraq are that the nature of conflict has changed and
that our
military doesn't perform very well in these new circumstances," according to
retired Navy Capt. Larry Seaquist, quoted by Christian Science Monitor (Brad
Knickerbocker, "How Iraq will change U.S. Military Doctrine, CSM, 2 July

For example, the so-called "information revolution" did not furnish critical
intelligence information. "The huge investment in computer networks, drone
aircraft, and the other high-tech gadgetry failed to provide situational
awareness about the only thing that counted - which Iraqis favored and which
opposed the occupation," says Seaquist. "That failure led to the need to
snatch thousands of Iraqis for interrogation - a strategy that turned out
not only to be ineffective but a strategic disaster for the entire
enterprise." (ibid.)

"The surprise-free assumption would be 50,000 US troops in Iraq for at least
the next generation, along with the current footprint in Central Asia for at
least as long," says John Pike, of GlobalSecurity.org in Alexandria, Va.

Knickerbocker comments that "One lesson of Iraq may be that
nationalism and tribalism are so strong now that nation building is a
process that should be avoided." (ibid.)

National-security specialist Ivan Eland of the Independent Institute in
Oakland, Calif. suggests "no amount of good planning could have surmounted
herculean task of remaking an entire society from the ground up, especially
a fractious one like Iraq with no experience with democracy." (ibid.)

"I do think there's a big story coming out of the huge volume of Army
officers who will have rotated through Iraq and seen [future] needs," says
Mr. Corbin at the Center for Defense Information. "That kind of near
universal common experience in a bureaucracy creates a vital shared
understanding and language that can be the base for broad institutional
change." (ibid.)

So anyway the problem of the successful integration of the world's peoples
in a unified capitalist world market (the dream of globalisation) remains.
Even with overwhelming military superiority, market integration remains
highly problematic. Forward to the empires of soldier kings ?


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