Idiots Without Borders: “What’s Left?” November 2012, MRR #354

Doctors Without Borders. Lawyers Without Borders. Engineers Without Borders.

These are three of the best known “Without Borders” international NGOs. They’re among a varied field that includes Action Without Borders, Cars Without Borders, Magicians Without Borders, Words Without Borders, etc., etc. But there isn’t any Business Without Borders, or Capitalism Without Borders because, frankly, these are redundant terms. Google them, and you get, as top listing, an HSBC bank/holding company web page which talks about “helping businesses grow internationally.” Again, a somewhat redundant concept. According to Marx, from its very inception and by its very nature, capitalism expands beyond all national borders, relentlessly and inexorably, through international commerce, colonialism, imperialism and globalization. And indeed, modern capitalism is replete with international features— multinational corporations; globalized markets, labor, and finance; transnational flows of information and capital.

Now comes the tricky part. You see, just because capitalism necessarily goes beyond national borders doesn’t mean it supersedes nationalism or the nation-state. The idea that it can is what I call capitalist utopianism. An example is that, when tensions between European countries were building toward war prior to 1914, a number of intellectuals insisted that capitalism had so interwoven the national economies of Europe that war was impossible and, indeed, unthinkable. Known as Manchester Liberalism in England, the theory was that international free trade would make wars impossible because nations would be prevented from becoming self-sufficient, a requirement for any prolonged war. Then came the first World War—with its mechanized, chemical and trench warfare—which proved to be one of the deadliest conflicts in human history that lasted over four years.

This capitalist utopianism persists in the über idealism of libertarianism, where free market capitalism solves all ills, from ending poverty and providing low-cost quality health care to insuring peace and preventing global warming. Libertarians like Ron Paul have made the equation explicit with respect to that bane of nationalism and the nation-state: war. International free trade equals world peace. Even the crypto-fascism of neoliberalism—which combines domestic privatization, deregulation and financialization with an aggressive, interventionist foreign policy—considers the forceful spread of democratic, neoliberal free market regimes to be the sine qua non of a new world order of international peace. Thankfully, libertarianism remains an untried experiment. As for neoliberalism, we have only to consider George W. Bush’s prediction, about how overthrowing Saddam Hussein and installing democracy in Iraq would bring democracy to the entire Middle East as regime after regime fell like dominoes before the power of neoliberalism’s democratic capitalism, to realize the absurdity of this utopian experiment. The Arab Spring, which allowed fundamentalist Islamic elements to come to the fore in the affected societies, has proven yet another negation of neoliberalist efforts.

The fantasies of free market advocates aside, we do need to take note of two trends that seem to run counter to the exigencies of nationalism and the nation-state. The first is the tendency of capitalism to create supra-national blocks in developed regions of the world, what was once called the First World and which is now referred to as the Global North. Capitalism seems to foster transnational political and economic unification, from the very loose North American free trade zone under NAFTA’s rubric, to the much more coherent European Economic Union that has morphed into the European Union. This is the case even as the EU experiences major problems that threaten its stability and the viability of the Eurozone. In the second tendency, global capitalism is witnessing the fracturing of existing nation-states into ever smaller units, and even failed states, in the underdeveloped regions of the world. This geography was once covered by the term the Third World, and is now called the Global South. The journalist Robert D. Kaplan described this well in his book The Coming Anarchy: How scarcity, crime, overpopulation, tribalism, and disease are rapidly destroying the social fabric of our planet, a cumbersome title that nevertheless aptly sets forth the main factors contributing to this disintegration of the nation-state. Whether these tendencies are long term, or temporary, remains to be seen.

These two tendencies, by the way, also run counter to the gross oversimplifications promulgated by the Left, which takes the opposite tack by blaming every social ill, from poverty to global warming, on capitalism. Marxism in general, and Leninism in particular, with a good deal of left anarchism thrown in for good measure, consistently defend the notion that something like war is due to capitalist competition for markets, or in the case of Lenin’s Imperialism, the Highest Stage of Capitalism, to inter-imperialist rivalries. Nationalism and the nation-state are there, beneath the surface, but almost as an afterthought, powered almost entirely by the motor force of capitalism. In turn, certain anarchist tendencies will proclaim that “war is the health of the state,” or that “patriotism is a menace to liberty,” or that “nationalism is the weapon of the state,” sometimes going so far as to subsume capitalism’s internationalist tendencies to the requirements of nationalism and the nation-state. The transnational and disintegrative trends of capitalism described above mitigate against both Marxist and anarchist ideology.

Indeed, nationalism and the nation-state appear to have gotten the better of international socialism, whether Marxist or anarchist. In the days when “real, existing socialism” stretched from the Elbe River to the South China Sea, with outposts in Africa and the Caribbean, Stalin’s “socialism in one country” was orthodoxy, and about the only folks socialist countries fought with and invaded were other socialist countries. Whether it was border clashes between the Soviet Union and Red China, or border clashes between Red China and Vietnam, or the Soviet Union invading Hungary and Czechoslovakia, or Vietnam invading Cambodia, the demands of nationalism and the nation-state trumped the internationalist pretensions of Marxist-Leninist socialism every time. As for anarchism, from the start its strident anti-nationalism did not include a critique of ethnic/national identity. Then, anarchism acquired a sympathy for and a support of national liberation struggles, socialist or otherwise. Finally, anarchism developed a balls-out national anarchist tendency under the syncretic influence of neofascism.

Don’t get me wrong. Socialism—whether Marxist, Leninist, or anarchist—hasn’t made much of a dent against capitalism, either. Capitalism is the economic system, de facto or de jure, the world over. Capitalist globalization is the reality, whether we like it or not. Capital and the nation have managed to kick socialism to the curb, historically speaking. Whether or not capital has kicked the nation to the curb is still up in the air. This is not to say that capitalism, any more than nationalism or the nation-state, is natural and inevitable. However, you have to acknowledge what is, in order to comprehend what might be.

Advertisements

Leave a comment

No comments yet.

Comments RSS TrackBack Identifier URI

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s