The global capitalist system is incapable of facing the challenges facing the world today, even as the United States is engaged in leading a new imperialist project, writes Awatef Abdel-Rahman
The crisis of the contemporary world in its various manifestations is part of a crisis of civilisation that endangers the future of humanity. Capitalism, which first emerged around the year 1500 CE, has turned into a system that is incapable of facing challenges. With the passage of time, such challenges have been enlarged, and today they are threatening many countries throughout the world with famines, plagues and tribal wars.
Globalisation, presented to us as the latest stage of capitalism, must be questioned. It is true that capitalism has offered many of the means necessary for solving the problems of many of the world’s countries. However, the capitalist logic has made it difficult or impossible to create equal chances for these countries to grow and succeed.
This contradiction is a main characteristic of the capitalist system, which depends on the expansion of markets and the price system to guarantee its continuation. The expansion of the market has no limits under capitalism and simply serves the interests of capital, in other words the centres of the contemporary global system.
The price system under capitalism covers all human activities, with health, education, scientific research and intellectual property all having been turned into commodities. Each of them has a price, and each has been privatised to make quick gains. The environment has also become a commodity through trading in natural resources like water.
Globalisation in its current shape looks like an archipelago scattered in an ocean. The number of islands forming the archipelago differs from one area to another, increasing in areas that are the bases of multinational companies. They decrease in areas that have managed to achieve a significant level of industrialisation, and they can be hardly noticed in areas that started the process of industrialisation, but that did not manage to build a national production system, like the Arab world. The archipelago disappears altogether in non-industrialised areas.
In a globalised system, the state is subject to both pressures from above the powers controlling globalisation and pressures from below from its local agents, including businessmen, brokers, drugs and arms dealers and leading figures in the bureaucracy.
In addition to market expansion and the price system, there is also the most destructive element of capitalism, which is the polarisation of the world. Over the last 500 years or so, the capitalist system has been dealing with the majority of the world’s population as exceeding actual needs. As a system of production, capitalism is based on three dimensions – the capital market, the commodity market and the labour market – and in its current globalised form it tends to exclude the last of these, in other words the labour market.
The continuing existence of political borders between countries does not allow for the existence of a genuine labour market on the global level, which is why capitalism in its globalised form leads to polarisation. Its rules allow only for capital accumulation and the re-production of unequal development. It also deals with human beings – their health, education, creative abilities and natural resources – as commodities.
Under the current system of economic globalisation, we can imagine a future for the world that is strongly marked by polarisation and depending on techniques that serve monopolies owned by the centre in the shape of the US and Canada, the European Union and Japan. These monopolies include the fields of technology, finance, natural resources, communications and the media. In addition to stereotyping world culture, these five pave the way for further political manipulation. The expansion of the modern media market is one of the main factors responsible for the erosion of the concept of democracy and its practice, for example.
Finally, there is the monopoly in the field of weapons of mass destruction. Before World War II and during the Cold War due to the then bipolar world order, this field had its limits. Now the US is in almost sole control of the field.
These five monopolies determine the framework in which the law of global value operates. This law automatically enlarges the alleged added value of new activities in the interests of the centre. It also determines a new pyramid of world income distribution, leading to expanding global inequality.
The world is witnessing the spread of a third wave of imperialist expansion, with the collapse of the former Soviet Union at the end of the last century and of nationalist systems in the Third World helping this to spread.
The main targets of capital are still the same, however: expanding markets, looting the natural resources of the globe and the exploitation of labour power worldwide in the interests of capital.
The ideological discourse directed to Western public opinion has been renewed, with the right to interfere in the affairs of other countries under the pretext of defending democracy and human rights composing one of its main strands. Although the peoples of Africa and Asia can easily recognise the false character of this discourse and its double standards, European and American public opinion still hail it exactly as it once hailed the discourse of early or pre-imperialism.
Today, a new North American project that aims to dominate the world is in the process of being launched. The US believes it stands in the world arena alone with no competitors. We do not have a counter-project that could limit US power, as was the case during the bipolar stage of world affairs between 1945 and 1989. The European project is weak, and the countries of the South, which used to stand as a unified front in the face of western imperialism during the period of Non-Alignment, have lost their confidence.
China, alone able to resist US power, has no other ambition than to protect its own national project. It is playing no role in shaping the larger international order.
As a result, US strategy now looks towards achieving certain targets that can be summed up as: neutralising other partners such as Europe and Japan and reducing their ability to move outside the US framework; controlling the Middle East and Central Asia and looting their petroleum resources; preventing the foundation of regional blocks that could be capable of negotiating globalisation; and marginalising areas of the South that do not have strategic value.
The US is fond of wrapping its imperialist project in phrases such as its “historical mission,” attempting to legitimate US dominance as necessary for progress and democratic practices. This official discourse links US dominance to world peace and economic progress, dealing with them as inseparable. However, of course the truth is completely different.
While the US and European media play a role in promoting this project, in doing so they deceive Western public opinion, which still believes that the European and US governments are democratic and that it is impossible for them to practise evil. This role, they say, is only practised by the dictatorships of the countries of the South. Naturally, this belief leads them to overlook the impacts of global capital.
Globalisation, presented as a destiny imposed by economic progress and a form of positive change for all societies, is in fact a strategic choice that aims to grant the US economic, political and military control over the world as a whole. This dominance is usually viewed as being multidimensional and relative. It is multidimensional because it is not just economic dominance, but is also ideological, political and even cultural in form.
It is relative because the world capitalist economy is not a global empire dominated by just one centre. The dominant centre in this system is always obliged to reach compromises with others, even if they are temporarily submissive. Hence, dominance always depends on developing power relations with partners in the world system.
*The writer is a veteran professor of journalism
*A version of this article appears in print in the 18 July, 2019 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly under the headline: The crisis of capitalist globalisation