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Globalisation: states, markets and class relations

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image of Historical Materialism

The concept of ‘globalisation’ increasingly dominates economic and political debate in the 1990s. However, despite a profusion of commentaries and case studies on aspects of ‘globalisation’ such as ‘Japanisation', ‘Americanisation', ‘McDonaldisation’ and, of course, global information technologies, there are few radical interrogations of the notion of ‘globalisation/internationalisation’ and little discussion of the theoretical implications of recent changes in the global political economy (GPE). The central argument of this paper is that in order to make sense of these developments a broad focus is required which begins by conceptualising the changing nature of relations between national states in the global economy and concludes by understanding these relations in class terms. This is not simply to restate the importance of an international relations or international political economy ‘dimension', since these ‘disciplines’ fail absolutely to relate ‘interstate’ restructuring to the re-composition of class relations. Rather, the aim of the paper is to prompt a more general theoretical reorientation towards understanding the process of international restructuring as one undertaken by national states in an attempt to re-impose tighter labour discipline and recompose the labour/capital relationship. My starting point, therefore, is that global capitalism is still structured as an antagonistic state system, and that many of the changes which characterise the global political economy are introduced by states in an attempt to solve problems that have their roots in labour/capital conflict. In summary form, the paper concludes that the concept of ‘globalisation’ obscures more than it reveals and that Marx's understanding of the relationship between labour, capital and the state remains a more productive starting point for analysing contemporary global processes.


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