Globalization… What it is and how to Fight it


“Globalization” is a word describing the process by which the entire world has been woven into a single marketplace, rigidly ruled by the economic laws of the profit system. Most of those who oppose the WTO, the IMF, and NAFTA know that these and other alphabetized institutions in charge of capitalist globalization represent the interests of the world’s largest and most powerful financial and industrial corporations.

But those who have established themselves as the spokespersons of the opposition to these institutions refuse to call a spade a spade. Rather than say what cannot be denied, they treat these regulatory instruments of world capitalism as separate and apart from capitalism and the capitalist class as such.

Thus, they tend to treat such problems as child labor, unemployment, erosion of the ecological equilibrium of the planet, and the super-exploitation of the neocolonial world as if capitalism and capitalists have little or nothing to do with these and the many other connected social, economic and environmental evils.

They act as though a solution can be reached merely by changing the policies of these regulatory institutions of world capitalism or by changing the personnel in charge-or at the most, achieve a solution by abolishing one or more of these institutions.

A growing minority of mostly young people, however, have rightly concluded that it is the social and economic system of capitalism, as such, that lies at the root of all these and other evils.

In contrast to these radicalizing youth, however, the loudest critics of globalization avoid mentioning that these great economic and social injustices are the natural fruits of the capitalist organism.

After all, if by globalization was meant the abolition of borders artificially separating human beings according to imaginary lines drawn on maps, the roles of those for and against the accepted version of globalization today would be reversed. The logic of borders separating each capitalist state from every other leads inexorably to the negation of human solidarity and the perception of “foreigners” as alien beings.

Capitalist globalization is indeed the abolition of borders. But only in regard to the free movement of commodities and capital to and from wherever the world’s most powerful capitalists can realize the highest returns on their exports and investments. And they will use whatever force is necessary to open up those borders that remain closed to the unrestricted penetration by imperialist capital wherever it has been so far excluded.

Exactly what capitalists mean by free enterprise, in particular, and freedom and human rights in general is their own freedom to ravish the planet. Moreover, it means running roughshod over the rights of the entire human race, as they have done to Africans, Cubans, Iraqis, and Yugoslavs, to mention only a few of imperialist capitalism’s most recent victims.

In defiance of logic, those who refuse to condemn the capitalist source of the evils they oppose attack “free trade” as if it were not an elemental component and inseparable part of the capitalist system of exchange. Thus, to free trade they counterpose protectionism-that is, the imposition of tariffs on imports to protect the internal markets of their capitalists from more efficient competitors.

Moreover, capitalists, who are not in the least concerned with appearing to be consistent-at one and the same time-are always in favor of free trade abroad and protectionism when that is necessary in their home markets.

Anti-globalization & the labor movement

Among the loudest and most hypocritical opponents of capitalist globalization is the American labor bureaucracy. Before anyone ever heard of the word “globalization,” the AFL-CIO officialdom had been vigorously campaigning for the imposition of tariffs on imported goods that would otherwise squeeze American-made products out of the domestic marketplace.

Starting as long as 40 years ago, the AFL-CIO launched their campaign to protect American companies with the slogan, “Buy American!” Their alleged aim was to protect the jobs of American workers. But even when they succeeded in helping “their” capitalists gain higher rates of profit, the jobs and wages of American workers-including that of their own dues-paying members-have continued to be cut down, also by their capitalists.

Furthermore, even if protecting profits actually protected workers’ jobs and living standards-and as the decades of declining industrial jobs and wages proves, it does not-it would still be in conflict with the class interests of American workers.

Moreover, the labor bureaucrats had at first ignored the big social and economic questions now identified with the movement against “globalization.” Not a word of protest was uttered by them, for instance, against the victimization of child labor and the super-exploitation of Mexican, Chinese, and other workers. The AFL-CIO failed to protest these injustices from the time of the beginning of their protectionist campaign until just a few years ago.

And the last thing on the AFL-CIO’s list of worthy causes was the campaign to save the environment from being sacrificed on the altar of capitalist profits. Even now, the labor officialdom gives these progressive demands little more than lip-service.

The tactic of boycott

Let’s stop for a moment to examine more closely the proper use of the boycott tactic, since the slogan “Buy American!” amounted to an implicit boycott of all goods not made in the USA.

In the first place, we have no quarrel with the boycott as a legitimate labor tactic, although it is no substitute for the strike as the primary economic weapon in the arsenal of the working class. The boycott is most appropriate as an auxiliary to the strike.

But little good can come from an indiscriminate, unfocused boycott. And “Buy American!” is the most unfocused and therefore most impractical of all boycotts.

Moreover, since the sole aim of such an all-inclusive boycott is to promote the sale of goods produced by your own country’s capitalists, it unites workers and capitalists in a common struggle against the workers and capitalists everywhere else. Absolutely nothing good can come from this! This policy is part and parcel with the labor bureaucracy’s practice of negotiating concession contracts so that “our” bosses can make a “reasonable profit” and by so doing “save our jobs.”

In other words, AFL-CIO bureaucrats have implicitly, and sometimes in so many words, parroted the bosses’ false charge that “exorbitant wages” are pricing American products out of the marketplace. To accept that preposterous rationalization for wage cuts is worse than just being wrong; it leads to American capitalism’s competitors demanding that their workers also cut their pay or lose their jobs. It leads, in short, to a rat race no workers anywhere can win and serves no one’s interests but that of the capitalist class.

Working people, however, learned long ago how to fight against such capitalist-inspired whipsawing of worker against worker. They had observed that the capitalists who are in the market to buy labor power tend to gang up against workers and drive wages down as low as they can. Thus as sellers of their power to labor by the hour, day, and week, workers have no choice but to retaliate by also joining together to drive wages up as high as they can.

As old Karl Marx put it: when buyers and sellers are arrayed against each other in the marketplace, “the side that beats itself up the least,” tends to come out on top. Thus, in this way the labor bureaucracy has served to beat down their membership’s gut instinct to fight back in defense of their class interests.

The lesson to be drawn from this is applicable to the concerns of all those opposed to the evils of what they perceive as globalization. A far more effective tactic than accepting wage cuts or supporting the demands of the protectionist sector of American capitalism is to help workers in competing capitalist countries, as well as at home, to carry out successful struggles for higher wages and other economic and social gains.

Thus, to combat competition from much lower-paid Mexican workers, for instance, it would be far more effective for American unions to do whatever is necessary to help Mexican workers organize and fight to raise their wages and living standards in line with the principle of class solidarity. But that’s the least that should be done if the AFL-CIO bureaucracy were serious about their alleged goal of saving American workers’ jobs.

The real reason for the steady decline in good-paying industrial jobs is hardly a mystery. Its main cause is not cheap labor; the advanced productive technology of American industry far outweighs the advantage of cheap labor in the less developed countries of the world.

In fact, the scientific and technological advances that have enabled capitalists in the developed countries to compete so effectively in the world market is really the primary cause of job losses here and everywhere else. The uninterrupted process of replacing living human labor power with ever-more productive machines is the primary source of the problem of growing global unemployment.

The only way to slow down and reverse that trend would require the resumption of the historic labor struggle for a shorter workday and workweek with no reduction in weekly pay.

This takes us to the the real reason for the AFL-CIO misleadership’s protectionist policy. They know, for instance, that a campaign to help Mexican workers in a struggle to raise their living standards would be taken as a hostile act by the protectionist wing of the American capitalist class, which the labor bureaucracy perceives as its friend and ally.

And were the labor bureaucracy to back up such a campaign in support of labor struggles in Mexico with a serious campaign for a shorter workweek in this country, they know that it would be perceived by the capitalist class in both countries as a veritable declaration of class war-or more accurately, a war by labor against capital to match the current one-sided class war by capital against labor.

In fact, such a combined campaign by the AFL-CIO in support of Mexican and other workers’ struggles for higher wages, along with a serious and long-term perspective of reducing the workweek at home and abroad, is the only way to effectively defend working-class interests everywhere.

In other words, the American working class would be far better served by such a fighting policy rather than appealing to capitalists to repeal NAFTA and other so-called “free trade” legislation.

(The AFL-CIO merely threatens electoral action against capitalist politicians to enact protectionist legislation. They don’t even bother to mobilize their membership for effective economic and political action independent of their capitalist political “friends.”)

In contrast to this impotent class-collaborationist strategy, just imagine the inspiring impact an AFL-CIO-led combined long-term campaign to raise both Mexican and American workers’ living standards would have.

Such a class-struggle strategy, moreover, applies with the same force toward all the other progressive demands of the movement against the evils of capitalist globalization. The super-exploitation of child labor, after all, is really a direct result of the inability of their parents to feed, clothe, and send their children to school. The scourge of such exploitation of children would be solved in passing, as it were, when a powerful, well organized, and highly motivated working-class fighting campaign succeeds in forcing the capitalist classes, step by step, to provide higher wages, benefits, and social services.

In the context of such a strategy, mass demonstrations in support of the struggles by workers and all their natural allies in the various social movements becomes an important means of reinforcing the general struggle to abolish social, economic, and political injustice.

Labor’s key role in anti-globalization movement

In our criticism of the policy of those who seek to lead the struggle against the evils of capitalist globalization, we have focused on the failure of the bureaucratic misleadership of the AFL-CIO. This is because it stands at the head of the only force that has the objective power to mount a massive and effective opposition to this anti-social global capitalist process.

The AFL-CIO is a power far greater than its 12 million members would indicate, since it also has the capability of mobilizing many more millions of American workers and their natural allies. While workers and their families constitute the great majority of the population, their potential power is greatly magnified by their strategic location at all points of production, distribution, and communication in the modern capitalist economy.

In short, the working class is a force whose power is exactly symmetrical to that of its natural antagonist, the capitalist class. Both classes have their fingers on the button that makes the economy stop and go-the capitalists by their right of ownership, and the workers by virtue of their democratic and human right to withhold their labor.

Thus, the potential power in the hands of these two powerful antagonistic classes can take the human race forward or backward. Either forward, to a world socialist society based on production for the satisfaction of human needs, not profits; or backward to capitalist barbarism, ecological destruction, and permanent war. There’s no middle ground.

The labor bureaucracy’s failure to name what lies at the heart of the problem and their penchant for pointing the finger of blame elsewhere symbolizes what make their policies a part of the problem. It is a manifestation of the age-old tendency of a tyrant’s apologists to blame tyranny on those appointed to high position by kings, prime ministers, and presidents, rather than on the ruling class whose interests they serve.

The labor bureaucracy-along with the privileged sectors in every movement for social, economic, and political justice-serve as capitalism’s apologists and its direct agents inside the labor and social movements.

However, a significant and growing minority of those involved in the protests against the evils of capitalist globalization have begun to call the problem faced by the human race by its right name. And the fact that it is mostly high school and college youth who have begun carrying anticapitalist picket signs and chanting anticapitalist slogans suggests that, although they are still a small minority, a new rise in mass consciousness is not far ahead.

This is an indication that the current stage of incipient radicalization is bound to become a full-blown class-conscious radicalization. And although this radicalization is still in its earliest stages, it reflects a far broader trend gestating inside the ranks of the working class itself, but still just beneath the surface of events.

This unmistakable trend doesn’t come out of the blue. It’s a long overdue product of the radicalization of Blacks, Latinos, women, and youth of the 1960s and ’70s. The current generalized reaction to the accelerating trend toward capitalist concentration into mightier but fewer mega-corporations and their expansion into every nook and cranny of the globe is convincing evidence that world capitalism is rapidly approaching its ultimate limits in this finite world of ours.

Paradoxically, the quantum leap in capitalist global expansion-its very successes-compels it to accelerate its intrinsic tendency toward increasing its rate of exploitation of the world’s working class and that of the latter’s natural allies among the world’s exploited and oppressed.

The working class is already showing signs of resistance to intensifying oppression in Latin America, where general strikes have been unusually frequent in the last few years. The only thing holding back a generalized labor upsurge virtually everywhere is the unusually prolonged expansion of world capitalism and the failure thus far of the construction of a new fighting leadership by the working class.

But capitalist expansion cannot go on indefinitely, and the highly volatile stock market is a symptom of its rapidly approaching end.

All these things indicate that the coming mass radicalization of the working class is not only unstoppable, it will swiftly catch up and surpass the advanced consciousness of the small but important minority now in the vanguard of struggle against the evils of imperialist capitalist globalization.

Now is not the time to mourn the plight of the world’s billions of people being ground down to the lowest depths of poverty, as terrible as that is. Now is the time to organize for the big challenges and big opportunities ahead to free the human race from capitalist barbarism. 

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[Editor’s note: We reprint this article by the Committee for the Abolition of Illegitimate Debt (CADTM). In 1989, the Bastille Appeal was launched, inviting popular movements throughout the world to unite in demanding the immediate and unconditional cancellation of the debt of the so-called developing countries. This crushing debt, along with neo-liberal macro-economic reforms imposed on the global South, has led to an explosion of worldwide inequality, mass poverty, flagrant injustice and the destruction of the environment.