an obession with first principles

Leftist Globalization

Posted: Thursday Jul 5th | Author: JohnO | Filed under: Anthropology, Philosophising, Politics | View Comments

I couldn’t even read Fukuyama’s book “The End of History”. It’s on my shelf, and the first few pages are so dripping with ideology and holding his hands over his eyes I had to stop. I firmly agree with Derrida’s critiques. Fukuyama’s largest crux is “democratic peace theory”, which, I believe, is wrongly stated. The reason that “western-style democracies rarely go to war” has nothing to do with democratic representation of the polis. It has everything to do with economics.

I’m reading “The Great Transformation” by Polanyi right now. And it has a simple thesis: market commodification is responsible for the first world war. The industrial revolution upended the entire makeup of human society. Polanyi likened the psychological effects recorded in England to those recorded by slaves kidnapped from their homeland and dropped into an entirely different world.

The governments actually were primarily responsible for the welfare of the poor (and in this time, “poor” meant anyone who had to work for a living, e.g. not landed gentry). All of the nationalistic responses to the commodifications of labor and goods was an effort to restore the results of the welfare government. All fell short, and sometimes had disastrous effects.

The gold standard that was adopted in order to facilitate the further commoditization of labor and goods resulted in nationalistic responses of checks and balances, tariffs, etc. His thesis (and keep in mind, Polanyi is an avowed socialist) is that the abundance of nationalistic responses to market capitalism is what created the conditions for a world war.

I find his thesis and arguments very compelling. We can say three things as a result of this kind of argument:

  1. Market commodification does reduce violence between nation-states.
  2. Nationalistic reactions, even well-intentioned, to preserve both the welfare of the poor, and the welfare of capital at the same time set the stage for war.
  3. Market commodification replaces the violence of war with the violence of the market/capital

In my opinion this has ramifications for how leftists battle the current regime of neoliberal economics (which can easily viewed as capital’s battle after WW1 to re-introduce favorable economic terms and doctrine for capital), and the current battle against neoliberalism seen in the Trump administration.

It’s clear due to his often conflicting economic policies, that he really does not have a handle on how international economics works at all. In ways he continues neoliberal doctrine of hollowing out any and every state apparatus and banishing it from having any interplay with “the free market”. But his international obsession with tariffs and protective measures (I honestly have no clue who he thinks he is protecting) are precisely what Polanyi observed during the Hundred Year Peace. And the retaliatory tariffs and policies being put in place by Canada, China, the coming reaction from the EU, and I would presume Mexico once the new administration is seated, is what Polanyi argues led directly to WW1.

If the traditional attempts to fight globalizing market forces, like isolationism, lead to war, then how should we address the violence that market forces deals out to all of us each day?

The constant refrain from the anti-WTO protests of the late nineties and early two thousands was that capital has been globalized (e.g. moves without any restraints across any and all borders), but citizens have consistently been prevented from the same freedoms. Indeed, this is a direct contradiction (ala David Harvey) of what a labor commodity market ought to stand for. And of course this is being wielded violently against the citizens qua workers. What would a truly globalized citizen look like?

The other aspect of Polanyi’s critique is that the welfare reforms that intended to help the poor rarely did. One reason they often cannot is because they must always first satisfy capital, either through a gold standard which is enforced harshly, or other mechanisms. What would a truly globalized welfare system look like that refused to satisfy capital? Which, instead, forced capital to compete after all competition is supposedly enshrined as a virtue?!