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Thu Jan 31, 2013, 02:15 PM

The Making of Global Capitalism

from truthdig:

The Making of Global Capitalism
Posted on Jan 31, 2013

This piece is the conclusion to Leo Panitch and Sam Gindin’s new book, “The Making of Global Capitalism: The Political Economy of American Empire” (Verso Books, 2012). It is used with permission and protected by copyright.

Although Marx discerned in the middle of the 19th century that a new class of capitalists was creating ‘a world after its own image’, it actually took until the beginning of the 21st century before ‘a constantly expanding market’ could be said to have fully spread capitalist social relations ‘over the entire surface of the globe’. Moreover, it was not a generic ‘bourgeoisie’ driven by competition to ‘nestle everywhere, settle everywhere, establish connections everywhere’ that alone made global capitalism after its own image. It took an empire of a new kind, founded on US capitalism’s great economic strength and centred on the capacities of the American state, to make global capitalism a reality. Yet no sooner did the task look to be more or less complete when the fourth great crisis of global capitalism (after those of the 1870s, the 1930s and the 1970s) spread rapidly across the world. Marx’s observation 150 years earlier, that the making of capitalism on a global scale was ‘paving the way for more extensive and more destructive crises’ while at the same time ‘diminishing the means whereby crises are prevented’, seemed all too fully confirmed. And it was now the American empire that seemed to resemble ‘the sorcerer who is no longer able to control the powers of the nether world whom he has called up by his spells’.

Given the severity and duration of the latest crisis in a global capitalist economy that the American state had been so central to constructing, it was hardly surprising to see a resurgence of pronouncements that US hegemony was coming to an end. As pundits of every persuasion once again blur the lines between a capitalist crisis and the decline of the US empire, it is especially important to recognize the central role which the American state continues to play in reproducing global capitalism. To be sure, the current crisis has amply demonstrated the many challenges and contradictions it faces in doing this, but it has also demonstrated that while the American empire is certainly not always able to control the spirits it has called up from the deep, it nevertheless remains critical to the system’s survival.

The new crisis has confirmed more generally the continuing significance of states in global capitalism. Although the institutions of the European Union have more constitutional authority than other international organizations, their inability to intervene so as to resolve the debt crisis of their smaller member states is largely due to the internal political dynamics within other member states, above all Germany. The eurozone crisis also confirms a basic fact about the nature of both globalization and informal empire: state sovereignty is not effaced within it. This can be seen in the difficulties the American state has continually had to confront in getting the German state, from the time of the Herstaat banking crisis in the 1970s to the Mexican crisis in the 1990s to the crisis of the Euro today, to overcome its obsession with inflation and ‘moral hazard’ and to take its share of responsibility for containing crises. Yet this cannot be understood in terms of states, least of all Germany, retreating from free trade and free capital flows in favour of economic nationalism. After decades of economic integration, there are no national bourgeoisies like those that supported the fascist turn in Germany or Italy in the interwar period.

When the term ‘empire’ was openly embraced to characterize the American state at the time of the Bush administration’s response to 9/11 (including by some of its advisors), the stress was placed, in Niall Ferguson’s words, on the ‘potential advantages of a self-conscious American imperialism’ as against ‘the grave perils of being an “empire in denial”’. The anxieties of a Kansas farmer that ‘we are trying to run the world too much… like the Romans used to’ were taken as exemplifying not just the difficulties of mediating the American state’s international and domestic roles, but the loss of imperial vigour and discipline, the main measure of which, allegedly, was that the bill for Social Security in the US was larger than the bill for national security. Notably, it was not a new world of rival imperial states that occupied the minds of such analysts of US empire. The eyes cast askance at Germany and France over the tensions which the invasion of Iraq initially produced were largely overcome once these states introduced the motion at the UN to have it endorse the occupation a year later; while the US integration with China was such that Ferguson himself dubbed it ‘Chimerica’. With the typically absurd hyperbole that was so common in the years after 9/11, he rather claimed it was now only ‘non-state actors’ like criminal organizations and terrorist cells ‘who truly wield global power’. ..................(more)

The complete piece is at: http://www.truthdig.com/arts_culture/item/the_making_of_global_capitalism_20130131/

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