Before we can discuss globalization, we need some agreement about what that economic, social, and political phenomenon is all about. When did it start? Is it the inevitable development of historic forces or do governments and international institutions control it? What are its primary features? How do we recognize it? One would think, after nearly 30 years of debates, studies, and mountains of literature on the subject, there would be some clarity and agreement on the fundamentals. But when powerful vested interests derive benefit from obfuscation there is nothing but a proliferation of theoretical mumbo-jumbo and apologetics. One is more likely to get a straight, coherent answer from a sweatshop worker than an economist or historian.

What serious-minded people are talking about when we talk about globalization is modern capitalism and the dramatic, wrenching transition it has been going through for the past thirty to forty years. To understand this historic transition, there is no need to pin down a specific date since that would make a mockery of analysis. Globalization began to emerge in public awareness, though in a fragmented way, sometime in the 1970s and 1980s. That’s a close enough time frame for an analysis. The transition was most marked, though little understood, in the US by the off-shoring of the garment industry which closed down US factories and began moving operations to places like South Korea—one of the first sweatshop nations.

It is foolish to do what renowned theoreticians, including Andre Gunder Frank and Immanuel Wallerstein, have done by tracing globalization to primordial times; or to the development of trade and a market economy in the third millennium BC; or 600 years ago and the conquest of the Americas by Christopher Columbus; or to the 11th century Sung epoch in China; or any other epochs in ancient history where trade and the market economy began to emerge--or even to the industrial revolution. That’s classic obfuscation under the guise of intellectualism that has nothing to do with people’s serious concerns about what is going on now.

There’s no question globalization has ancient roots but if we’re going to scrutinize history for antecedents, then the history of colonialism is far more relevant than tracing trade routes and market patterns in the ancient world because if there's any analog in history for globalization, it is classic, barbarous colonialism. Modern globalization can certainly be traced to World War I fought over colonial powers dividing up the world & to World War II where the unresolved competitions erupted again. This led to the formation at Bretton Woods of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank in 1944 and the formation of the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT) in 1947. These are the primary, though not the only international institutions managing globalization. But whether the role of those agencies is known or understood, to most people globalization refers to the transition that began to emerge in the 1970s with outsourcing of entire industries to overseas plants with low wages, vulnerable and super-exploited child and female labor, and weak trade union organization.

Pro-capitalist journalists & economists talk about globalization as though it were part of the inevitable processes of the capitalist system—a system they consider desirable and part of natural law, a reflection of human nature. They portray globalization as development, as scientifically, culturally, and economically beneficial, even a way to eradicate inequality and poverty. The economist Amartya Sen won himself a Nobel Prize peddling that line; economist Milton Friedman was feted for promoting its barbarism as progress; and journalists Thomas Friedman and Paul Krugman have made careers shilling it. They treat globalization as a determinist process driven by the engine of economic development and something that cannot be thwarted or opposed.

There is an element of determinism about globalization. As Karl Marx pointed out, capitalism has within it the seeds of its own destruction. That isn’t just a pithy little solace since capitalism is unlikely to collapse on its own though it is relentlessly fraught with conflict because it is based on inequality and competition. Modern capitalism cannot function without social hatreds, particularly racism and misogyny. As long as such massive oppression is required to maintain the system, there will be instability and conflict. Inexorable conflict. As long as capitalism is based on the nation-state, there will be competition over markets—and that means wars. Inevitable wars.

The capitalist system is also vast and complex and while decisions about how to resolve crises are made in boardrooms, government cabinets, and executive suites, the system has an independent life of its own. Large elements of it are unmanageable—even to the capitalists--and must be uprooted and overthrown because they are so violently at odds with human civilization.

The way we know that human intervention and decision-making are critical to capitalism and that globalization is not just an inexorable economic process is the military apparatus and coercion necessary to maintain and enforce it. Along with the development of globalization has come constant, multiple wars; military fleets and bases all over the world. Militarism is the dead-give-away that decisions, not determinism operate the system.

So what exactly is globalization? Despite the mountains of theoretical treatises that make it unintelligible, it is the same thing as neoliberalism, the barbaric phase of capitalism. The system is chaotic, irrational, and in constant internal conflict, but the agencies of international capitalism—like the IMF, World Bank, and GATT—have a matrix of policies from which they operate in order to manage the system. These agencies are systematically, and using repression against popular opposition, restructuring the system to alter the relationship between the ruling oligarchies and the working class (to the immense disadvantage of working people) and between the richest nations and the plundered nations (to the immense disadvantage of working people in the poorest countries). It’s a restructuring to disempower the international working class and reduce it to beggary.

What are the features of this restructuring? It is truly important to understand them from an international perspective because being provincial in our understanding leads to “chickens coming home to roost” writ large. First and foremost, globalization means the widespread development of sweatshop economics in the plundered countries, justified over and over again as economically necessary by economists and journalists like Krugman, Friedman, and Kristof who are the minions of oligarchy and do not speak for working people, most emphatically not for sweatshop workers.

Globalization means monopolization, particularly in agriculture where five multinational enterprises now control the entire world food supply. It means industrial farming and plantations which backed by the IMF, World Bank, and national capitalist regimes forcibly expropriate hundreds of thousands of small farmers, rural workers, and indigenous tribes who are forced to migrate to urban slums or other countries for work. This has led to the most massive human immigration crises since World War II—even before the refugee crises from Africa and the Middle East.

Globalization means multinational enterprises forcibly expropriating indigenous tribes to build hydroelectric dams and to strip mine for natural minerals with reckless disregard and which contaminate and destroy the environment. It means deforestation projects, one of the main factors which lead to climate change. It means violent political repression, especially of indigenous tribes who resist expropriation and environmental destruction. It means the cultural destruction and social cohesion of peoples all over this world on every continent in the interests of private profit.  It means fostering ethnic conflicts and genocide to justify military intervention.

Globalization means repressing and undercutting adult labor and promoting more easily bullied and exploited child labor. It means eliminating social services for working people like public education, healthcare, pensions, and privatizing sanitation, access to clean water, and waste management. It means population control programs which are a disguised form of racist eugenics. It means the growth of urban slums and general unemployment—or employment picking through mountains of toxic trash to earn pennies per day. The more you examine globalization, the harder it becomes to distinguish from colonialism. It is, in fact, a modern form of it.

The internet has been an indispensable tool for globalization and that plus military purposes is primarily why it was developed. There is a very useful body of literature on that subject. Market conditions, capital transfers, political reports, weather reports, surveillance photos, communications of all sorts can be done in an instant where previously it could take days or weeks. What wasn’t intended was that the internet would become so powerful a tool for the oppressed and for reporting the news from around the world that ‘wasn’t fit to print.’ That’s a feature of globalization the power elite didn’t count on and which interferes with their management schemes.

If globalization is the management and restructuring of capitalism at our expense, we can intervene into that process on behalf of our own interests, to advance the cause of working people. That does not mean opposing sweatshop economics because what we consider our jobs are outsourced to other countries and we want to bring them back home. It means joining forces with working people around the world—and developing the organizations necessary to implement that—to guarantee workers’ rights, safe working conditions, union-scale wages, and the end of child labor for working people everywhere, with no second-class status for the poorer countries and no phony solidarity at their expense.

There is no way out from under the scourge of neoliberalism, the barbaric phase of capitalism, that tries to short circuit the imperative of international solidarity with working people everywhere. That is the sine qua non of social transformation involving opposition to war, military occupation, and support for immigration/refugee rights. The fight for democratic rights, including free speech and the right of assembly is fundamental to that struggle.

Working people have a daunting historic mission but it is possible and necessary if we want our children to come of age in a world suitable for human beings to live and love in.



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