A world of rich and poor
"Capital," wrote Marx, comes into the world "dripping from head to foot, from every pore, with blood and dirt." Global capital is bloody still-but on a grander scale than ever before.
In the all-new globalised society the rich are massively richer. Yet 30 million people die each year from lack of food. In Africa, only 15% of people live in "an environment considered minimally adequate for sustainable growth and development", according to the World Bank. At least 45% of Africans live in what the World Bank calls "poverty". And millions of people in Africa have been allowed to die of AIDS in a world where medicines to control HIV, and to stop unborn children from becoming infected, are easily available. For those who can pay.
A world racked by war
Millions of people around the world opposed war on Iraq, but it did not stop the "leaders of the free world", George W Bush, and his loyal toady Tony Blair, from sending in the troops. They went to war to secure their dominance in the world of free trade and capitalist exploitation. The brutal dictator Saddam Hussein may be gone, but the workers of Iraq are still waiting for their liberation-for self-government, for the right to even organise in a trade union. Other brutal wars for domination by corrupt powers, big and small, go on around the world continue yet go on, and are scarcely acknowledged by the world's press: in the Congo, in Sudan, in Chechnya
Exploitation continues and grows
To boost profitability multi-nationals think nothing of jettisoning thousands of workers everyday. Yesterday Sony axed 20,000 jobs, the day before Cadbury Schweppes ditched 55,000 people. Uncertainty and powerlessness is a way of life for the majority of us.
Capital continues its relentless march across the surface of the globe. To many it seems triumphant.
For millions of workers, peasants and poor, this is no triumph. The benefits of globalisation-such as they are-have passed by much of Africa. They have passed by much of the world outside the advanced countries and a few industrialised Asian and Latin American economies. The little "investment" a desperately poor African country gets from the multinationals is more likely to consist of building a hotel or an office of an international bank in its capital city than any project that will meet the desperate need of its people for land or bread or peace.
A society based on production for profit, with an innate drive to accumulate and expand capital, cannot meet human need.
We have the material resources to build another world
But today's global capitalist society has the material resources to meet human need. Far more so than the "advanced capitalist" countries of western Europe in the early years of the 20th century, which the Russian Marxist Bolshevik Party believed to be ripe for socialism.
Share the world's food production equally, and everyone would be well-nourished. Tax the 225 biggest personal fortunes in the world at a rate of just four per cent, and the money raised would pay for setting up access to food, clean drinking water, education and health care for everyone in the world.
But there is no profit to be made from such things. Only a socialist society, where the motivating force for production is human need rather than private profit, can stop the global round of hunger and illness and destruction.
The new global capitalism
Globalisation is not an external, superhuman force. It is the latest form of capital's inherent tendency to expand across national and natural borders.
From the earliest silk and spice trade with the East, through the horrors of the slave trade, to its carving out of new markets in post-Stalinist Russia-capital has never been contained by the boundaries of nations or nature.
There have been periods when capital's drive across borders has been stalled or partially reversed, from 1914 to 1945 for example. There have been other periods, such as the 1990s, when it has speeded up. But in its fundamentals it is not a sudden new departure.
It can be overstated. Almost all "multinational" firms are nationally-based companies with offshoots in a few other countries. Almost all the multinationals' investment is not in the lowest-wage economies, but in advanced capitalist countries and the higher-wage, more industrialised Third World countries. There they can find networks of services, suppliers, skilled labour, and market access-and competent capitalist states as guarantors of those conditions.
The globe has not become a uniform economic space, far from it. But exploiting classes across the world have reshaped themselves for the world market, in response to bruising economic crises-and taken their revenge for the working-class offensives of the 1960s and '70s, They have reaffirmed the fundamental drive of capital-brutal, crude, nihilistic-for short-term profit. The chief "social" control imposed by the nation-states in this new framework is their determined drive to push trade barriers down, to create broader arenas like the European Union, and to annex spheres previously governed by non-market public provision. The great transnational corporations have increasingly reorganised through global networks of production sites.
The dramatic effects
The "classic" pattern of world trade-bulk raw materials from the Third World to the metropolitan centres, manufactured goods the other way-has been almost inverted.
Since the 1980s the USA, for example, has imported more manufactured goods from the ex-colonial world than it has exported to them, and exported more bulk raw materials than it imports. In agriculture, the picture is increasingly that the advanced countries control the bulk exports like wheat, while ex-colonial countries export luxury crops.
Global capitalism is not levelling out world inequalities. On the contrary. In 1960, the 20% of the world's population living in the richest countries were 50 times richer than the 20% living in the world's poorest countries. By 1995 that gap was 82-to-1. In the case of Africa, the increase in poverty is not just relative. Africa is getting poorer in absolute terms too. Prices for most of its commodities have fallen unsteadily but continually since the 1960s.
Within individual countries, too, inequality between classes is increasing. During the 18 years of Tory rule in Britain, from 1979 to 1997, the top 20% of the population saw their income increase by about 60%, while the bottom 20% saw their income fall. Inequality has increased even further under Blair. The USA has seen even sharper polarisation.
The growth of the working class
Capital creates its own gravedigger: the working class-the class whose labour is vital to capitalist society and which alone has the power to overthrow and replace its rulers. Global capital has created a working class that today, probably, for the first time in history, is the largest class of the world's population.
Although capital creates inequality between nations and regions, its central axis is not so much nation versus nation as class versus class.
The workers of a rich country like Britain are certainly much better off than those of Indonesia or Mexico, but the difference is not as large as it looks.
Humans are social animals, and poverty, above starvation level, is always relative. Low-waged workers in Britain avoid starvation. But so do workers-as distinct from the landless rural poor-in ex-colonial countries.
Even in Britain, in low-income families, one child in 10 under the age of five goes without enough to eat at least once a month and over half the children and parents regularly have "nutritionally poor" diets. Low-paid British workers may have phones, VCRs, Playstations and better housing, but they suffer the same sense of being pushed down below the level of society as do their Third World brothers and sisters.
There is no fundamental conflict of interests between the better-off British worker and the Indonesian worker-or the better-off and the worse-off worker in Britain itself. On the whole, any gains won by one group improve the bargaining position of the other. Almost everywhere, trade unions are first formed by more skilled, better-off, more secure workers, and then become a means for raising the standards of the whole working class, including the jobless, the disabled, and pensioners.
Between the British worker and the British boss, or the Indonesian worker and the Indonesian capitalist, there is, however, a stark clash of interests. Better wages for the worker, or better "social wages" for the working class, mean worse profits for the capitalist.
The workers' programme for change
The answer is not complicated, but it is radical. The organised working class must establish conscious human control of the wealth of the great multinationals and their owners, of the international banks and financial institutions, and of landed property everywhere.
There is no need to nationalise every small business, or to plan in detail from the centre the whole world economy. Conscious, collective human control over the major investment decisions will do, for a start.
Where the rural areas are dominated by huge landholdings, as in Latin America, the landless poor should all get a plot of land and the equipment, the technical training, the credit and the access to supplies and markets to enable them to cultivate it. Every village and every shanty town should be supplied with clean water, sewage, roads, public transport, phone lines, electricity, a health centre providing free care, a school, an industrial training centre, and small-scale light industries, whose products should be protected from the competition of the big corporations.
Local workers should be trained in building skills and supplied with the materials necessary to build decent housing.
In the advanced countries, too, like Britain, there will be much to do to restore the Health Service, house the homeless, bring education up to standard, re-establish public transport-in short, to restore the principle of the welfare state and to extend it so that everyone is guaranteed a secure and (within the limits of what science can do to keep us healthy) comfortable life.
The other side of this programme, in both the poor and the wealthier countries, is that it will create decent and worthwhile jobs for everyone able and available to work.
The struggle for democracy
Economist Amartya Sen has noted that: "One of the most remarkable facts in the terrible history of hunger is that there has never been a serious famine in a country with a democratic form of government and a relatively free press." That is true, even though all Sen means by "democratic government" is the very limited parliamentary sort of democracy we have in Britain today. A genuinely accountable democracy, a working class democracy, with all representatives and officials on workers' wages and subject to recall, would ban not only famine but any sort of material poverty.
Today, the struggle for that democracy takes place at a global level. As capital seeks to impose itself around the globe, the words "workers of the world unite" have never been more relevant.