Internationalization of Capital is Part of a Drastic Crisis Process according to Robert Kurz
By Gerd Bedszent
[This review of Robert Kurz' "Das Weltkapital," Berlin 2005 is translated from the German on the World Wide Web, http://www.jungewelt.de/2006/01-02/023.php.]
Globalization has become a vogue word in the last years. Neoliberal strategists do not give their critics a wink of sleep. A new leftist mass movement arose under the banner of globalization criticism since the consequences of this process like the closing of industrial sites, privatization of public services and dismantling social benefits could not be repressed. However the past debate moved mostly only on the surface and didn't touch the causes of the process. Leftist theoreticians increasingly idealize the once bitterly reviled capitalist nation state. Responsibility for the escalation of social cruelties is assigned to "profit-greedy" transnational finance capital. As a fatal consequence, the distinctions between leftwing and rightwing theory are becoming blurred.
For Robert Kurz, globalization is an element of the crisis process of late capitalist society. An increasing world market orientation of capital results from the melting off of domestic markets owing to massive job cuts. Through outsourcing of administrative branches and their diffusion in regions with low wage costs, formerly national businesses quickly transform themselves into transnational firms. This causes a decline of nation-state structures.
Since the beginning of the debates around globalization, it was often argued that this was not a new phenomenon. Kurz points out that capital export is a product of the modern age while export of consumer durables has occurred from time immemorial. Before the First World War, there was no talk of international capital. Financing businesses overarching states were limited to credit firms. The Siemens corporation that played a pioneering role in the globalization process had 80,000 workers just before the First World War with 15,000 of them employed abroad. In 2001, this share had risen to 70percent. In the 1970s, several hundred so-called "multis" existed worldwide. Today there are 60,000 multinational businesses with 50 million employees.
Kurz analyzes the rapid progress of decline of the capitalist economic system. With its universalization, the capitalist mode of production has come into contradiction with itself since it can only exist in the interrelationship of national economy and the world market. With the dissolution of capitalist economics in the maze of outsourcing subsidiaries, sub-contractors and sub-sub-contractors, the national economy falls by the wayside since it cannot reorganize itself in a transnational framework. The state becomes a disintegrating empty husk, a plaything of the mafia clan, ethno-militias, warlords, religious sects and other waste products of capitalist society.
Kurz devotes one of the most important chapters of the book to the "national form of money." With the genesis of capitalist goods production, money that originally only helped in the transfer of consumer durables mutated into a "totalitarian end-in-itself" of commercialization. In place of an original substance value (coin stamping, gold-backing), the nation state became the legal-political guarantor of the means of payment. The state deprived of its national-economic foundation owing to the globalization process can no longer fulfill this guarantee, according to Kurz. Therefore the fate of the national economy is also the fate of money.
For Kurz, Fordist accumulation strikes its historic limit with the shriveling process of abstract labor as a result of the micro-electronic revolution. He awards unhindered capital streams trampling through the globalized world that capacity to form the long-term foundation of a supportive structural model of capitalist reproduction. With the uncoupling of financial streams from the real economy, maximum profits can now be realized through trade with financial titles, not through the production of goods. The commodity market is degraded into a mere appendage of the business market. The result is a massive shattering and cannibalizing of firms to realize the highest possible short-term profit by reselling their components. Kurz describes this as the "auto-cannibalization of capital that cuts off and splits up its own members out of the sudden craving for profit that can no longer b stilled."
In some sections, Kurz discusses the background of current events. He correctly characterizes social democratic politics as an attempt at social state "health shrinking." A small part of the clientele should be preserved while the rest vanish in the social Hades or underworld. He unmasks the sudden return of social rhetoric with the former SPD chief Muntefering as cheap populism. The red-green Herman government assailed the "plague of mosquitoes" by means of a change in the law from January 2004.
In his book Kurz warns against a reduced capitalism criticism and its alarming nearness to anti-Semitic ideas. The emancipatory alternative is still abstract: championing a "direct need-oriented world society that considers the different self-dynamics [... ] beyond the market and the state, beyond the industrial economy and the national economy." How this can be realized remains open. Beside liberation from the pressures of the world of goods, resisting the exactions of capitalist crisis management is vital. The last remaining superpower [the US] must be confronted in grappling with the political economy.