(By Anthony Mustacich)
The current crisis of neoliberal capitalism has given rise to much resistance across the world, from the Occupy Wall Street movement in the U.S. to the political revolutions in the Middle East and North Africa. As capitalist regimes everywhere impose austerity measures on their populations, reducing the capitalist state to nothing more than its policing functions, even the welfare states of Western Europe are becoming the visible fists of the markets’ “invisible hand.”
This decimation of the welfare state is typically accompanied by a widening gap in wealth between the rich and the poor. Thus, in the United $tates the Occupy movement has adopted the slogan “we are the 99%,” in counter reference to the elite 1% who own a majority of the wealth in America. However, as we shall see, this equation is based on faulty arithmetic, as it overlooks or ignores the global wealth disparity between the First World and the Third World as a whole. In reality, the wealth of the First World nations is derived from the conquest, colonization, and continued exploitation of the Third World nations of Africa, Asia, and Latin America. This is the principal contradiction in the world today that must be resolved if humanity is to evolve into a higher stage of social organization.
It is taken for granted nowadays that we live in a “globalized” world, but many neglect the fact that capitalism has been a global system from its very inception. In fact, “from its origins in the 17th century, when merchants from England, Spain, Portugal and the Netherlands invested their wealth in large state-chartered trading companies, capitalism has organized production and exchange on an intercontinental scale.”1 What is crucial to understand, however, is that this process of globalization was and remains characterized by unequal development, whereby the development of some is inextricably linked to the underdevelopment of others. In other words, “the impoverishment of the peripheral capitalist countries of the Third World and the enrichment of the core capitalist countries of the First World are dialectically related processes, that is, the latter become richer insofar as the former become poorer.”2
It is also true that capitalism developed in the West, particularly in its industrial stage, by feasting on the blood, sweat and labor of its own national working-classes. Karl Marx showed long ago that it is the exploitation of labor power that produces the surplus value for capitalists to expand their capital. Marx thought at the time that an inherent tendency towards the overaccumulation of capital would eventually lead to a fall in the rate of profit, triggering a corresponding fall in wages and increased immiseration for workers which would ultimately drive them towards socialist revolution. However, Marx did not live long enough to see how colonialism and imperialism would eventually act to offset these self-destructive tendencies of capitalism, earning the support of workers and prolonging its demise. Continue reading