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Dave Renton, Marx on Globalization

'All fixed, fast-frozen relations, with their train of ancient and venerable prejudices and opinions, are swept away, all new-formed ones become antiquated before they ossify. All that is solid melts into air, all that is holy is profaned ... the need of a constantly expanding market for its products chases the bourgeoisie over the whole surface of the globe. It must nestle everywhere, settle everywhere, establish connections everywhere' ... this was the Communist Manifesto's description of the global reach of capitalism.

Globalisation, evidently, is not a new phenomenon; but on the eve of the new millennium, the processes that constitute the phenomenon of globalisation are intensifying, and being experienced in new ways.

The immense scholarship and analytic powers of Marx mean that his writings on international capitalism and its effects remain of interest in current debates on globalisation. With this in mind, Lawrence and Wishart offer a new selection from the writings of Marx, in the hope that it will enrich current discussions. The immense scholarship and analytic powers of Marx mean that his writings on international capitalism and its effects remain of interest in current debates on globalisation. With this in mind, Lawrence and Wishart offer a new selection from the writings of Marx, in the hope that it will enrich current discussions.

The selection includes extracts from The Communist Manifesto, Capital volumes 1-3, The Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts of 1844 and The Poverty of Philosophy

Marx on Globalisation was published by Lawrence and Wishart, London, in May 2001. ISBN: 0 85315 909 2. £13.99.

Review, Socialist Standard, October 2005

This is a selection from the writings of Marx and Engels relevant to the global capitalism we are experiencing today, edited and selected by Dave Renton, who provides a short introduction to the whole work and one-page introductions to each of the sections. Renton doesn’t really put any of his own (Leninist) politics in his contributions to the book, which are kept to a minimum. The vast bulk is taken up with selections from works by Marx and Engels. There are extracts from the Communist Manifesto, The Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts of 1844, The Poverty of Philosophy and Capital, as well as a few letters, unpublished drafts and pieces of journalism.

For the first section, on the world economy, Renton uses the ‘Bourgeois and Proletarians’ chapter of the Communist Manifesto. That Marx understood the long-term trends within capitalism to be global in nature can be illustrated by this well known excerpt: “All fixed, fast-frozen relations, with their train of ancient and venerable prejudices and opinions, are swept away, all new-formed ones become antiquated before they ossify. All that is solid melts into air, all that is holy is profaned . . . the need of a constantly expanding market for its products chases the bourgeoisie over the whole surface of the globe. It must nestle everywhere, settle everywhere, establish connections everywhere”. Marx and Engels were the first writers to understand that the capitalist society would spread and expand.

Marx and Engels didn’t use the word ‘globalisation’, as the term is a recent invention. Though many globalisation theorists argue that the world has now entered into a new economic era, Renton points out that “most commentators would agree that many of the processes being analysed today go back to the old international economy, which has been with us for some time. Such processes as world capitalism, market trade between regions, the growth of finance and new patterns of work, have been part of our life since 1840s, when Marx and Engels began to write”. Despite changes and developments, from the nineteenth century to the 21st century, capitalism is still capitalism. In the introduction Renton uses the following quote from Eric Hobsbawm: “Marx and Engels did not describe the world as it had already been transformed by capitalism in 1848; they predicted how it was logically destined to be transformed by it”.

The second section, on progress, includes a passage from Marx’s Capital that describes the origins of the industrial capitalist. This is a good selection, as this is the part of this work that is the most accessible and in many ways the best starting point for anyone reading Capital (it has been said that it is best not to read Capital starting from the first chapter). This section also includes a speech by Marx from 1848 in which he expresses contempt for both backward-looking protectionism and supposedly progressive free trade (even though in the end he favours free trade but only because he sees it as hastening the contradictions of capital and so the social revolution). Pro- globalisation folk praise free trade and unfortunately many so-called anti-capitalists make the error of advocating some form of protectionism.

In the third section Renton asks whether Marx and Engels did actually believe in the inevitability of one pattern of economic development. In the 1840s they took their examples from Britain and it is often said that they believed the whole world would have follow that lead. But in a letter to Russian socialists Marx wrote that he did not believe that Russia had to follow the English model in forcing the peasants off the land as the first step towards industrialisation, as long as the social revolution had taken place in Europe. In that case, Marx mentioned the possibility of Russia bypassing capitalism and passing to socialism on the basis of the communistic peasant mir.

The section on Imperialism counters the argument of some modern globalisation theorists who argue that world capitalism will bring the third world up to the same level of development as the richest western countries. Renton’s book is a good selection of Marx and Engels work relating to the global capitalism of today and it serves well as an introduction to their thought. It would make a good read for someone new to Marx.

Gabriel

Review: Eleanor Macdonald, Political Studies 50/3 (August 2002), p. 647.

In Marx on Globalization, Dave Renton has assembled twenty-one selections from Marx and Engels' writings that pertain to the contemporary debates on globalisation. The selections are organised thematically; to wit, these are: the world economy, progress, development, imperialism, technological determinism, commodities and consumerism, capital (money, wages and trade), capital (finance and profit) and labour.

In his brief but useful introduction to the collection, Renton makes a strong case for the value of Marx to the globalisation debates. He offers a framework for managing the debates about globalisation, distinguishing among cultural, social and economic approaches to the discussion, as well as classifying optimists and pessimists, sceptics and believers in the debate. He also takes issue with some of the more ready arguments that are used to dispense with Marx's contribution, leaving the complexity of that discussion to the reading selections.

The selections themselves are short, very readable and well chosen. Introductions to each section serve to establish context; Renton quickly summarises events and debates in which Marx was engaged when he wrote, thereby establishing the analytical significance of each piece. The relevance of those debates to contemporary ones is assumed, however, rather than argued. The thematic organisation of the book and the clarity of its design make it a very useful resource of teaching purposes as well as for the curious browser. In developing a text that readily engages Marx's for our times, Renton has done the debate on globalisation a great service.

Review: Mark Thomas, Bookmarks Review of Books, July 2001

This collection contains extracts from some of Marx's best-known work.  But there are also some less known and surprising pieces.  An article on 'Bread Manufacture' of all things throws up insights into the relationship between science and capitalism, and the resulting adulteration of our food.

Marx's writings on global capitalism offer a powerful challenge to those who claim that capitalism is all conquering and immune to challenge.  Marx's argument that capitalism by its very nature is depedendent on the world of labour, and so vulnerable to human action, is highly relevant to the debates on globalisation.  This collection is both timely and highly accessible.

Review: Stephen A. Brown, Morning Star, 23 July 2001.

Books that string together selected extracts from Karl Marx's texts can be a mixed blessing.

On the one hand, they enable the reader to discover what Marx said on a particular topic free from his polemics against writers that are now worth of only a footnote in the history of political theory.

On the other hand, such a collection artificially divorces what the editor thinks is the most important passage from the whole text, often leaving the reader with little or no idea of the context of the passage or of why Marx said what he did.

We can forgive Dave Renton for this, as he is using Marx's texts in order to understand the much-discussed political and economic issue of globalisation.

However, according to Renton, given that Marx had much to say about it in the 19th century, globalisation is not a new phenomenon.

Globalisation is a disputed term, but it can be loosely defined as a process whereby a particular feature of the social world that previously was different in one country to another or restricted to one part of the world, to an extent, has become homogenised across the globe.

What complicates Renton's task is that many theorists disagree over what globalisation is and whether is a good thing or not.

In an excellent introduction that serves to initiate the reader to the debates surrounding globalisation, Renton distinguishes three different variants of globalisation - political, economic and cultural, and to compound matters, both a pessimistic and an optimistic analysis.

Political globalisation looks towards the world of international relations, resulting in individual nation-states no longer acting unilaterally on the world stage, but enter into some form of co-operation with other states, often through institutions such as the United Nations.

Cultural globalisation notes the flow of information, goods and people across the world at will, which economic globalisation stresses the steady advancement of capitalism across the globe - a tendency typified by the global reach of MacDonald's, Pepsi and Microsoft.

Renton is clear that all of these different types of globalisation are inextricably linked, but argues that they each have a particular affect on all our lives.

The reasons why Marx and Engels works are worth returning to on globalisation is that they were among the first writers to systematically investigate global capitalism and its tendency to expand across the world.

That they considered the worldwide economy to be dynamic, in that nation-states were affected by international trends, rather than simply the other way round, is all the more remarkable when we consider that both writers came from societies just emerging from rural economies and monarchical rule.

Marx and Engels own writings follow the introduction, themed and prefaced by commentaries by Renton on subjects including commodities and consumerism, technological determinism and capital, money wages and trade.

The book is to be recommended not just for Renton's excellent introduction to the debates and literature on globalisation, but also for his demonstration that Marx and Engels have plenty to say on contemporary social and political issues that affect all our lives.