From Diomedes77 and Anti-Capitalist Meet-Up

Cover of On the Making of Global Capitalism

A Marxist look at global capitalism.

As a first group diary, this will be fairly narrow in scope and ambition. There have already been numerous excellent reviews of The Making of Global Capitalism, and a symposium over at Jacobin. It’s a bit too late at this point for me to try to compete with any of that, so I thought I’d just intro one of the most important books of the last decade, in hopes that it might spark debate here.

Leave it to the Canadians to get things right — or left, as the case may be. Leo Panitch and Sam Gindin are both Canadian professors, socialists, and schooled in Marxism, but unlike their American peers, not subject to automatic censure and scorn. As this group is no doubt aware, socialists and/or Marxists in America are pretty much shut out of public discussion, demonized without a hearing, and absent from debates in a field they should dominate. No “school” of economic thought comes close to the rigor, objectivity, depth of analysis or independence of the Marxians, and no analysis is more needed in our day. But in America, the system and its willing executioners have effectively silenced them.

Again, this is not the case in Canada, or Europe, where a far healthier, but still less than optimum diversity exists.

The book in question is exhaustively researched. It’s nearly overwhelming in its breadth and detail, and makes for an excellent pairing with Piketty’s recent Capital, which I have but have not yet read beyond its introduction. This is not a beach book. This is not a casual, page-turning barn-burner. But it is a serious work of scholarship, and in my view, deserves at least three adjectives — which should be rarely used:

definitive, classic and indispensable.

The reasons for that are pretty simple for me. Panitch and Gindin have mapped out American economic history so we can connect the dots. Like the best scholars, they rarely interject their own conclusions into the mix, and leave that up to the reader. But, unlike other attempts along these lines, the book reads as something inevitable, a process toward logical conclusions, with each section reinforcing this along the way. From their preface:

This book is about globalization and the state. It shows that the spread of capitalist markets, values and social relationships around the world, far from being an inevitable outcome of inherently expansionist economic tendencies, has depended on the agency of states and of one state in particular: America. Indeed, insofar as the relationship between the American state and the changing dynamics of production and finance was inscribed in the very process that came to be known as globalization, this book is devoted to understanding how it came to be that the American state developed the interest and capacity to superintend the making of global capitalism. In this respect, this is emphatically not another book on US military interventions; it is about the political economy of American empire. In this quite distinctive imperial state, the Pentagon and CIA have been much less important to the process of capitalist globalization than the US Treasury and Federal Reserve. This is so not just in terms of sponsoring the penetration and emulation of US economic practices abroad, but much more generally in terms of promoting free capital movements and free trade on the one hand, while on the other trying to contain the international economic crises a global capitalism spawns.

The trick for governments, as they demonstrate, is to walk the tightrope between allowing the most free rein possible for Capital, while avoiding, or delaying inevitable crises. Toward the end of the book, the authors show how the American state moved from an attempt to prevent economic catastrophe, to simply trying to manage or contain them after the fact. This reader connected the dots from that and the preceding pages to note that the more freedom the state gives to capitalism, the bigger it needs to be in order to bail it out, defend it, prop it up, keep it going. Which points to one of the rare weaknesses of this account, in my view. I think the authors don’t give enough weight to military intervention on behalf of Capital. But given the overall brilliance of their analysis, I can live with that.

Contrary to right-wing myths about “big gubmint” and capitalism, there is a paradox in place. The more we privatize and commodify existence, the greater the need for governments. The more we extend market integration, the more likely local disasters become global, as we saw most recently in 2007/2008. As in, the more “successful” the American state is in spreading the gospel of Supply Side Jesus, the more likely we are of having Armageddon after Armageddon, until, finally, governments no longer have the resources to begin anew. Capitalism will be its own death, but it’s unlikely to happen because workers finally have that much needed epiphany, find true solidarity with each other, and throw off their yokes. It is far more likely that capitalism dies of its own irrationality and unsustainable nature, its Grow or Die trap.

As an ardent anti-capitalist, I long for the day of its death. But not that way. Not the way of final, worldwide economic catastrophe. Too many people will suffer, and it’s actually far more likely, in my view, that the replacements will be right-wing dictatorships, rather than the first modern day attempt at true socialism, real democracy, and actual emancipation. To get there, we need a democratic revolution, a non-violent revolution, and to provoke that we need to show the best route to “limited government” is without capitalism, which requires massive government to keep it alive. The Making of Global Capitalism provides mountains of evidence for the toxic, centuries-old marriage between State and Capital. It’s time for a divorce.

*A good C-Span discussion by the authors here.