Globalisation, the Nation-State and Class Struggle
During the observance of the 150th anniversary of the Communist Manifesto in 1998, many bourgeois critics were struck by the fact that the Manifesto foresaw with remarkable clarity how a globalised capitalism will come into being. Another reason why the Manifesto commanded attention from the bourgeois economists and thinkers was the eruption of the first serious crisis in the world capitalist system after the end of the Soviet Union.
Within a span of seven years after world capitalism triumphantly announced the demise of socialism, the vulnerabilities and the predatory nature of international finance capital came to the centre-stage. The 1997-98 crisis began in the South East and East Asian economies. Japan, the most powerful economy in the world was badly affected. This was followed by the collapse in Russia and the spreading crisis in Brazil. At this juncture, the United States, which is the most powerful capitalist country in the world, was still registering growth. Three years later, by mid-2000, the situation altered. After a prolonged period of recovery, the United States is now in recession. With the United States and Japan simultaneously in recession, the world economy is witnessing a serious slump. The volatile nature of international finance capital under the imperialist-driven globalisation has now come to the fore. The travails of Argentina in end 2001 graphically illustrate the price exacted on the people by the masters of international finance.
Globalisation and Imperialism
While the Manifesto dealt with the global capitalism developing in the nineteenth century, the current globalisation offensive of imperialism and the unprecedented internationalisation of capitalism and its mobilisation poses new problems for the working class movements at the national and international level.
The capitalism that the Manifesto describes has a startling contemporaneity. The "globalised capitalism" existing at the beginning of the 21st century was envisaged in the passages dealing with the spread of capitalist relations in the Manifesto. “The need of a constantly expanding market for its products chases the bourgeoisie over the whole surface of the globe. It must nestle everywhere, settle everywhere, establish connexions everywhere.”
In order to develop Marxist theory and practice for the contemporary times based on the historical materialist outlook, it is necessary first of all to be grounded in the seminal analysis by Marx and Engels of capitalism and bourgeois society; the next step is to pick up the thread of development of world capitalism based on Lenin's analysis of imperialism. There can be no fight back against globalisation without the recognition that imperialism is an ever-present reality in the contemporary world. It is only those who accept the framework of "development" set out by the IMF-World Bank of globalisation as a theory of universal development and of a democratic society based on free market values who will refuse to recognise that imperialism has become more exploitative, deforming and destructive in its impact on the world.
While the analysis of capitalism was not complete in the Manifesto, it progresses and assumes a mature form in Capital. Subsequently Lenin’s Imperialism opened the way for new initiatives for the Communist movement. The developments within the imperialist structure since then, particularly the growth of speculative international finance capital in the last two decades of this century is a major concern for Marxist theory and for working class movements around the globe.
The Nation-State: Arena of Class Struggle
A specific problem thrown up by the situation is the role of the nation-state in the globalised imperialist system, which has direct implications for the class struggle. There has been an erosion of the sovereignty of nation-states due to their inability to exercise regulatory functions when faced with the volatility and demands of speculative finance capital that moves with impunity across borders. The nature of this type of finance capital and its phenomenal growth need not detain us here. But it is important to recognise the enormous difficulties such flows of finance capital cause for nation-states who are unable to prevent its predatory inroads or to counter the policies it imposes through the IMF-World Bank and the World Trade Organisation. The question is whether these harmful trends can be fought through the medium of the nation-state and by making the nation-state the centrepiece for class struggles.
For this, a proper appreciation of the nation-state as the arena of class struggle is required. The Communist Manifesto which outlines the global character of capitalist operations, at the same time, emphasises the importance of class struggle within national boundaries. “Though not in substance, yet in form, the struggle of the proletariat with the bourgeoisie is at first a national struggle. The proletariat of each country must, of course, first of all settle matters with its own bourgeoisie.” One hundred and fifty years later, this principle is still valid, despite the vastly increased internationalisation of capital.
In this context, it is important to understand the role of the ruling classes in the lesser-developed capitalist countries. The bourgeois-landlord classes in most of these countries have abandoned the quest for a relatively autonomous development of capitalism within their countries and embraced free-market prescriptions. The integration with the global order of international finance capital is seen as the only path for their class development in a world in which the Soviet Union is absent as a countervailing force. This, however, cannot be a permanent phenomenon. As the contradictions in the world capitalist system intensify, there will be shifts in the positions of the domestic ruling classes.
The vulnerability of these nation-states in the face of international capital flows is substantial but it should not be exaggerated to the point of helplessness. The orthodoxy of the IMF-World Bank postulates that no country can survive and develop without opening up to free capital flows. But the South-East Asian crisis and now Argentina illustrate, above all, the folly of such unregulated capital flows. It also illustrates that the nation-state is the only instrument available to regulate the depredations of finance capital and to put this on the agenda of international forums. For example, despite the Mahathir regime being unabashedly capitalist, Malaysia challenged this Fund-Bank orthodoxy by imposing capital controls during the 1997-98 South-East Asian crisis.
Nationalism and Class Struggle
The nation-state and its mechanisms cannot be left to be wielded by the domestic ruling classes to implement the dictates of international finance. Both for the immediate protection of the working people and the fight against imperialist domination, the struggle to reorient the direction of the state must be waged with determination. The working class movement must take the leadership of the entire people in this struggle. This is what is implied in the Manifesto which exhorts the working class to “rise to be the leading class of the nation” and “constitute itself the nation”, if it is to acquire political supremacy. The increasing weight of the working class-led democratic movement against imperialist subjugation would bring about a shift in the national correlation of forces and open the way to check and counter the pro-imperialist shift of the domestic ruling classes.
The class struggle will be conducted mainly in the terrain of the nation-state; this is not a negation of internationalism. The imperialism of today aggressively seeks to suborn the nation-state to enforce its policies rather than allow the state to act on the priorities of the domestic classes and the people. Loss of sovereignty of the nation translates directly into loss of sovereignty for the people and their rights. The sovereignty of the people is expressed through democratic institutions that represent nation-states and their people. The erosion of sovereignty is not in economic terms alone, it undermines political institutions and democracy and affects people’s rights in public education, health and social security.
The issue in India is precisely this at present. Among the third world countries, India has a relatively more developed bourgeoisie and a republican constitution which underpins a defective but functioning parliamentary democracy. The “globalisation” agenda, which was embraced by the Indian ruling classes in the 1990s, has opened the way for a direct attack on this form of democracy.
While it is axiomatic that the Left refuse to be coopted in this consensus and continues to build resistance to imperialist pressures, the real alternative cannot be presented in terms of economic policy changes alone. They are crucial but not sufficient. The fight for sovereignty, for democracy and the unity of the people has to have a political-ideological component. For as the Manifesto underlines, “the class struggle is essentially a political struggle”. The advance of Marxist theory and practice in the third world countries depends on how effectively we tackle this conjuncture of class struggle in a nation-state with a dominant imperialist-globalised system.
The Manifesto while correctly foreseeing the triumphant ascendancy of global capitalism was over-optimistic about its capacity to breakdown national barriers. “National differences and antagonisms between the peoples are daily more and more vanishing, owing to the development of the bourgeoisie, to freedom of commerce, to the world market, to uniformity, to in the mode of production…..”. In the era of imperialism, the twentieth century witnessed two world wars originating in imperialist-driven national rivalries and host of national conflicts leading to mass slaughter. Evidently the rise of bourgeois rule exacerbates national rivalries and its effects carry on even in states which transit from capitalism.
Religious-Ethnic Chauvinism: Reactionary Response
At present, the struggle against imperialism is impeded and complicated by a host of ethnic-nationality-religious problems in the third world countries and the former socialist states. The implantation of free-market principles, the retreat of socialist influence and the impact of the destructive force of globalisation in the social and cultural spheres have stimulated or aggravated ethnic-religious identities and feelings. The rise of religious sectarian movements, terrorism and ethnic-caste conflicts is a reactionary response to the current crisis faced by nation-states and multinational states in all parts of the world. Imperialism has the capacity to accommodate and co-opt such forces. US imperialism has shown itself capable in South Asia of collaborating with the Taliban in Afghanistan (in 1996-97); with the Islamic fundamentalists in Pakistan (as in the 1980s) and the Hindu chauvinists in India with whom they have forged a benign relationship. The disruption of popular unity, due to the chauvinist and undemocratic attitude of the ruling classes towards the minorities and because of the rise of sectarian forces often backed by imperialism, has to be countered by the working class movement and the Left.
The Left cannot aspire for national hegemony unless it doggedly builds a democratic movement which incorporates and guarantees the rights of ethnic and religious minorities. Countering both the “big” and “little” chauvinisms is required if the working class has to head an anti-imperialist nationalism. The experience of the South Asian countries should lead to more emphasis by the Left on federalism and regional autonomy as one of the ways to deal with the democratic aspirations of the minorities and to counter separatism. Further, the struggle for democratic rights for the people is now partly reflected in the struggle for decentralisation of decision-making powers in the administrative and economic spheres.
Globalisation and Military Power
The Manifesto lucidly encapsulates the way capitalism develops within a society by breaking down the feudal relations and externally by breaking down the barriers of the "barbarian countries" by expanding production and trade. Notably the use of military force and colonial conquest does not figure in the Manifesto. The "heavy artillery" which batters down all barriers is the "cheap prices of commodities".
It is in later works that Marx talked about the colonial regimes founded on conquest, pillage and loot and gives vivid accounts of the British colonial depredations in India, China and other pre-capitalist societies.
The development of imperialism only heightened the use of military force and the development of weapons of mass destruction. The 20th century saw more people killed than any other preceding century. The use of military force to uphold the imperial order has now evolved to a new stage commensurate with the new offensive under the imperialist-driven globalisation. An important feature of the imperial order under globalisation is the increasing reach and sophistication of military power exercised by its leader, the United States.
The fashioning of the new military doctrine of the United States has been conditioned by two factors, the dominance of the US economic and military power after the end of the cold war and the growing monopoly over the use of high technology for military purposes.
The United States maintains and develops its formidable military strength for a global role which has three aspects. It needs the military machine to protect and maintain the imperialist order. Secondly, its overwhelming strength is required to exercise leadership of the imperialist bloc, though as the hegemony it has a partnership with other imperialist countries particularly Germany and Japan. Finally, it targets and attacks much weaker third world countries, like Iraq, to establish its credibility and reputation as a global superpower. It is the classic use of force as example, to elicit obedience and compliance.
The US military power has not been reduced with the end of the Soviet Union. After the cold war, the United States ruling circles had to invent new threats to its imperial interests. The concept of rogue states was fashioned. These are states like Iraq, Iran and North Korea which were cited as potential threats to the United States and its strategic interests. In order to make the threat from these "rogue" states credible, systematically propaganda was unleashed about the weapons of mass destruction which they can make and wield. In the new world order set out by the United States, the use of force is resorted to with impunity. Beginning with the Gulf War in 1991, the military strategy of the United States unfolded. The 78-day bombing of Yugoslavia is a prime example of how the United States would use its high-tech weaponry for aerial bombing, missile attacks and crippling the enemy's defence and economic infrastructure. The NATO under US instigation has adopted a new strategic doctrine which sanctions intervention in any part of the world by the NATO countries. The September 11 attacks on the US have set the stage for a new offensive under the guise of a "war against terrorism". The war on Afghanistan will embolden the US-led military alliance to undertake similar adventures against recalcitrant countries.
The Pentagon has formulated the Joint Vision 2020 which spells out the long-term strategy of the United States after the Bush administration took over. It talks of "Full Spectrum Dominance" i.e. the ability of the US forces "operating unilaterally or in combination with multinational and interagency partners to defeat any adversary and control any situation across the full range of military operations. The document states "given the global nature of our interests and obligations, the United States must maintain its overseas presence forces and the ability to rapidly project power worldwide in order to achieve full spectrum dominance." The September 11 terrorist attacks in the United States has given the US ruling circles an unprecedented opportunity to put in practice their new strategic doctrine.
It is not the threat of terrorism which motivates the United States and its NATO allies to bypass the United Nations and international norms to engage in brazen military aggression around the world. As the leader of the imperialist bloc, the United States is constantly seeking to cow down any potential opponent or threat to the imperial order by resort to force. In this respect, the globalisation of the 21st century is very much similar to the use of military force by the colonial powers when the Manifesto was written in the mid-nineteenth century.
The struggle against the military hegemony of the US and the fight against brazen military aggression which tramples on national sovereignty is once again centred on the nation-state. The basis of the resistance to military attacks has to be an anti-imperialist nationalism which mobilises the entire people. Saddam Hussain in Iraq, notwithstanding his repressive regime, has survived so far based on this mobilisation.
Central Role of Working Class
All efforts to negate the message of the Manifesto focus on the centrality accorded to the working class in the revolutionary transformation of society. The reverses suffered by socialism in the last decade have only reinforced the trend which seeks to revise this part of Marxist theory. Contrary to this revisionism, the recent experience of the struggle against globalisation provide adequate grounds to assert the central role of the working class. It is only this class which has put consistent resistance to the imperialist offensive, however, defensive in nature. The French workers strike of 1995, the heroic month long general strike of the South Korean workers in 1996, the three-day strike of the South African workers against privatisation in 2000, and the new, incipient forms of coordinated trade union struggles developing in Western Europe against the European Union’s pro-big business policies confirm the pivotal role workers will play in the coming days. The new phenomenon of mass protests against globalisation initiated in Seattle in 1999 and witnessed most recently in Genoa during the G-8 Summit in 2001 also have a significant participation by the working class and trade unions.
The working class today is neither disappearing nor shrinking in size. This is true of even the advanced capitalist countries. But the composition and internal structure of the work-force has changed. In India, the differentiation on caste and ethnic lines persists in the consciousness of workers. Very little attention has been paid to the formation of class consciousness by ideological and cultural intervention to supplement the political-organisational activities. Apart from this, what is of great import for the trade unions and the working class movement in general is the role of women workers. The Manifesto envisaged the growing induction of women into the industrial work force “The more modern industry becomes developed, the more is the labour of men superseded by that of women”. Women would become part of the growing proletariat as a cheap source of labour power.
An important feature of the capitalism brought about by the imperialist-driven globalisation is that women constitute a major part of the workforce exploited through part time and contract work with low wages. The same phenomenon is seen in the developing countries. In India, the female labour force amounts to 127 million. To bring this female work force which is low-paid and doubly exploited into the proletarian movement is an important question. Without recognising them as part of the proletariat and organising them, the advancement of the trade unions, and the working class movement developing into a `national' movement is not possible.
The Manifesto has a compelling appeal as it is not an abstract analysis of capitalism but the first programmatic call for a social revolution relying on the working class to emancipate humanity. It spells out the need for organisation of the working class, for a revolutionary party. It is, therefore, the starting point in the journey traversed so far to develop a revolutionary strategy and movement against the depredations of capitalist globalisation. While the Manifesto envisages the worldwide movement of the working class for socialism, it pays attention to the contemporary realities of each country and the last section deals with the relations between the Communists and other political parties in different countries. While the Manifesto sets out the main aim of expropriating capitalism and the basic approach to establishing an alternative system, it also points out that "these measures will of course be different in different countries".
The Communist Manifesto has an enduring relevance in these times of imperialist globalisation and the false propaganda it purveys.