Members of the Wayuu ethnic group watch as a U.S. army helicopter arrives for a joint exercise in the “Tres Bocas” area in northern Colombia on March 13, 2020. JUAN BARRETO / AFP VIA GETTY IMAGES

By William I. Robinson

March 23, 2020 – What does a virus have to do with war and repression? The coronavirus has disrupted global supply networks and spread panic throughout the world’s stock markets. The pandemic will pass, not without a heavy toll. But in the larger picture, the fallout from the virus exposes the fragility of a global economy that never fully recovered from the 2008 financial collapse and has been teetering on the brink of renewed crisis for years.

The crisis of global capitalism is as much structural as it is political. Politically, the system faces a crisis of capitalist hegemony and state legitimacy. As is now well-known, the level of global social polarization and inequality is unprecedented. In 2018, the richest 1 percent of humanity controlled more than half of the world’s wealth while the bottom 80 percent had to make do with just 4.5 percent of this wealth. Such stark global inequalities are politically explosive, and to the extent that the system is simply unable to reverse them, it turns to ever more violent forms of containment to manage immiserated populations.

Structurally, the system faces a crisis of what is known as overaccumulation. As inequalities escalate, the system churns out more and more wealth that the mass of working people cannot actually consume. As a result, the global market cannot absorb the output of the global economy. Overaccumulation refers to a situation in which enormous amounts of capital (profits) are accumulated, yet this capital cannot be reinvested profitably and becomes stagnant.

Indeed, corporations enjoyed record profits during the 2010s at the same time that corporate investment declined. Worldwide corporate cash reserves topped $12 trillion in 2017, more than the foreign exchange reserves of the world’s central governments, yet transnational corporations cannot find enough opportunities to profitably reinvest their profits. As this uninvested capital accumulates, enormous pressures build up to find outlets for unloading the surplus. By the 21st century, the transnational capitalist class turned to several mechanisms in order to sustain global accumulation in the face of overaccumulation, above all, financial speculation in the global casino, along with the plunder of public finances, debt-driven growth and state-organized militarized accumulation.

Militarized Accumulation

It is the last of these mechanisms, what I have termed militarized accumulation, that I want to focus on here. The crisis is pushing us toward a veritable global police state. The global economy is becoming ever more dependent on the development and deployment of systems of warfare, social control and repression, apart from political considerations, simply as a means of making profit and continuing to accumulate capital in the face of stagnation. The so-called wars on drugs and terrorism; the undeclared wars on immigrants, refugees, gangs, and poor, dark-skinned and working-class youth more generally; the construction of border walls, immigrant jails, prison-industrial complexes, systems of mass surveillance, and the spread of private security guard and mercenary companies, have all become major sources of profit-making.

The events of September 11, 2001, marked the start of an era of a permanent global war in which logistics, warfare, intelligence, repression, surveillance, and even military personnel are more and more the privatized domain of transnational capital. Criminalization of surplus humanity activates state-sanctioned repression that opens up new profit-making opportunities for the transnational capitalist class. Permanent war involves endless cycles of destruction and reconstruction, each phase in the cycle fueling new rounds and accumulation, and also results in the ongoing enclosure of resources that become available to the capitalist class.

Criminalization of surplus humanity activates state-sanctioned repression that opens up new profit-making opportunities for the transnational capitalist class.

The Pentagon budget increased 91 percent in real terms between 1998 and 2011, while worldwide, total defense outlays grew by 50 percent from 2006 to 2015, from $1.4 trillion to $2.03 trillion, although this figure does not take into account secret budgets, contingency operations and “homeland security” spending. The global market in homeland security reached $431 billion in 2018 and was expected to climb to $606 billion by 2024. In the decade from 2001 to 2011, military industry profits nearly quadrupled. In total, the United States spent a mind-boggling nearly $6 trillion from 2001 to 2018 on its Middle East wars alone.

Led by the United States as the predominant world power, military expansion in different countries has taken place through parallel (and often conflictive) processes, yet all show the same relationship between state militarization and global capital accumulation. In 2015, for instance, the Chinese government announced that it was setting out to develop its own military-industrial complex modeled after the United States, in which private capital would assume the leading role. Worldwide, official state military outlays in 2015 represented about 3 percent of the gross world product of $75 trillion (this does not include state military spending not made public).

But militarized accumulation involves vastly more than activities generated by state military budgets. There are immense sums involved in state spending and private corporate accumulation through militarization and other forms of generating profit through repressive social control that do not involve militarization per se, such as structural controls over the poor through debt collection enforcement mechanisms or accumulation opportunities opened up by criminalization.

The Privatization of War and Repression
The various wars, conflicts, and campaigns of social control and repression around the world involve the fusion of private accumulation with state militarization. In this relationship, the state facilitates the expansion of opportunities for private capital to accumulate through militarization. The most obvious way that the state opens up these opportunities is to facilitate global weapons sales by military-industrial-security firms, the amounts of which have reached unprecedented levels. Between 2003 and 2010 alone, the Global South bought nearly half a trillion dollars in weapons from global arms dealers. Global weapons sales by the top 100 weapons manufacturers and military service companies increased by 38 percent between 2002 and 2016.

Global weapons sales by the top 100 weapons manufacturers and military service companies increased by 38 percent between 2002 and 2016.

The U.S.-led wars in Iraq and Afghanistan precipitated the explosion in private military and security contractors around the world deployed to protect the transnational capitalist class. Private military contractors in Iraq and Afghanistan during the height of those wars exceeded the number of U.S. combat troops in both countries, and outnumbered U.S. troops in Afghanistan by a three-to-one margin. Beyond the United States, private military and security firms have proliferated worldwide and their deployment is not limited to the major conflict zones in the Middle East, South Asia and Africa. In his study, Corporate Warriors, P.W. Singer documents how privatized military forces (PMFs) have come to play an ever more central role in military conflicts and wars. “A new global industry has emerged,” he noted. “It is outsourcing and privatization of a twenty-first century variety, and it changes many of the old rules of international politics and warfare. It has become global in both its scope and activity.” Beyond the many based in the United States, PMFs come from numerous countries around the world, including Russia, South Africa, Colombia, Mexico, India, the EU countries and Israel, among others.

Beyond wars, PMFs open up access to economic resources and corporate investment opportunities — deployed, for instance, to mining areas and oil fields — leading Singer to term PMFs “investment enablers.” PMF clients include states, corporations, landowners, nongovernmental organizations, even the Colombian and Mexican drug cartels. From 2005 to 2010, the Pentagon contracted some 150 firms from around the world for support and security operations in Iraq alone. By 2018, private military companies employed some 15 million people around the world, deploying forces to guard corporate property; provide personal security for corporate executives and their families; collect data; conduct police, paramilitary, counterinsurgency and surveillance operations; carry out mass crowd control and repression of protesters; manage prisons; run private detention and interrogation facilities; and participate in outright warfare.

Meanwhile, the private security (policing) business is one of the fastest growing economic sectors in many countries and has come to overshadow public security around the world. According to Singer, the amount spent on private security in 2003, the year of the invasion of Iraq, was 73 percent higher than that spent in the public sphere, and three times as many persons were employed in private forces as in official law enforcement agencies. In parts of Asia, the private security industry grew at 20 percent to 30 percent per year. Perhaps the biggest explosion of private security was the near complete breakdown of public agencies in post-Soviet Russia, with over 10,000 new security firms opening since 1989. There were an outstanding 20 million private security workers worldwide in 2017, and the industry was expected to be worth over $240 billion by 2020. In half of the world’s countries, private security agents outnumber police officers.

As all of global society becomes a highly surveilled and controlled and wildly profitable battlespace, we must not forget that the technologies of the global police state are driven as much, or more, by the campaign to open up new outlets for accumulation as they are by strategic or political considerations. The rise of the digital economy and the blurring of the boundaries between military and civilian sectors fuse several fractions of capital — especially finance, military-industrial and tech companies — around a combined process of financial speculation and militarized accumulation. The market for new social control systems made possible by digital technology runs into the hundreds of billions. The global biometrics market, for instance, was expected to jump from its $15 billion value in 2015 to $35 billion by 2020.

Criminalization of the poor, racially oppressed, immigrants, refugees and other vulnerable communities is the most clear-cut method of accumulation by repression.

As the tech industry emerged in the 1990s, it was from its inception tied to the military-industrial-security complex and the global police state. Over the years, for instance, Google has supplied mapping technology used by the U.S. Army in Iraq, hosted data for the Central Intelligence Agency, indexed the National Security Agency’s vast intelligence databases, built military robots, co-launched a spy satellite with the Pentagon, and leased its cloud computing platform to help police departments predict crime. Amazon, Facebook, Microsoft and the other tech giants are thoroughly intertwined with the military-industrial and security complex.

Criminalization and the War on Immigrants and Refugees

Criminalization of the poor, racially oppressed, immigrants, refugees and other vulnerable communities is the most clear-cut method of accumulation by repression. This type of criminalization activates “legitimate” state repression to enforce the accumulation of capital, whereby the state turns to private capital to carry out repression against those criminalized.

There has been a rapid increase in imprisonment in countries around the world, led by the United States, which has been exporting its own system of mass incarceration. In 2019, it was involved in the prison systems of at least 33 different countries, while the global prison population grew by 24 percent from 2000 to 2018. This carceral state opens up enormous opportunities at multiple levels for militarized accumulation. Worldwide, there were in the early 21st century some 200 privately operated prisons on all continents and many more “public-private partnerships” that involved privatized prison services and other forms of for-profit custodial services such as privatized electronic monitoring programs. The countries that were developing private prisons ranged from most member states of the European Union, to Israel, Russia, Thailand, Hong Kong, South Africa, New Zealand, Ecuador, Australia, Costa Rica, Chile, Peru, Brazil and Canada.

Those criminalized include millions of migrants and refugees around the world. Repressive state controls over the migrant and refugee population and criminalization of non-citizen workers makes this sector of the global working class vulnerable to super-exploitation and hyper-surveillance. In turn, this self-same repression in and of itself becomes an ever more important source of accumulation for transnational capital. Every phase in the war on migrants and refugees has become a wellspring of profit making, from private, for-profit migrant jails and the provision of services inside them such as health care, food, phone systems, to other ancillary activities of the deportation regime, such as government contracting of private charter flights to ferry deportees back home, and the equipping of armies of border agents.

Undocumented immigrants constitute the fastest-growing sector of the U.S. prison population and are detained in private migrant jails and deported by private companies contracted out by the U.S. state. As of 2010, there were 270 immigration jails in the U.S. that caged on any given day over 30,000 immigrants and annually locked up some 400,000 individuals, compared to just a few dozen people in immigrant detention each day prior to the 1980s. From 2010 to 2018, federal spending on these detentions jumped from $1.8 billion to $3.1 billion. Given that such for-profit prison companies as CoreCivic and GEO Group are traded on the Wall Street stock exchange, investors from anywhere around the world may buy and sell their stock, and in this way, develop a stake in immigrant repression quite removed from, if not entirely independent, of the more pointed political and ideological objectives of this repression.

Every phase in the war on migrants and refugees has become a wellspring of profit making.

In the United States, the border security industry was set to double in value from $305 billion in 2011 to some $740 billion in 2023. Mexican researcher Juan Manuel Sandoval traces how the U.S.-Mexico border region has been reconfigured into a “global space for the expansion of transnational capital.” This “global space” is centered on the U.S. side around high-tech military and aerospace related industries, military bases, and the deploying of other civilian and military forces for combating “immigration, drug trafficking, and terrorism through a strategy of low-intensity warfare.” On the Mexican side, it involves the expansion of maquiladoras (sweatshops), mining and industry in the framework of capitalist globalization and North American integration.

The tech sector in the United States has become heavily involved in the war on immigrants as Silicon Valley plays an increasingly central role in the expansion and acceleration of arrests, detentions and deportations. As their profits rise from participation in this war, leading tech companies have in turn pushed for an expansion of incarceration and deportation of immigrants, and lobbied the state to use their innovative social control and surveillance technologies in anti-immigrant campaigns.

In Europe, the refugee crisis and EU’s program to “secure borders” has provided a bonanza to military and security companies providing equipment to border military forces, surveillance systems and information technology infrastructure. The budget for the EU public-private border security agency, Frontex, increased a whopping 3,688 percent between 2005 and 2016, while the European border security market was expected to nearly double, from some $18 billion in 2015 to approximately $34 billion in 2022.

The Coronavirus Is Not to Blame

When the pandemic comes to an end, we will be left with a global economy even more dependent on militarized accumulation than before the virus hit.
As stock markets around the world began to plummet starting in late February, mainstream commentators blamed the coronavirus for the mounting crisis. But the virus was only the spark that ignited the financial implosion. The plunge in stock markets suggests that for some time to come, financial speculation will be less able to serve as an outlet for over-accumulated capital. When the pandemic comes to an end, we will be left with a global economy even more dependent on militarized accumulation than before the virus hit.

We must remember that accumulation by war, social control and repression is driven by a dual logic of providing outlets for over-accumulated capital in the face of stagnation, and of social control and repression as capitalist hegemony breaks down. The more the global economy comes to depend on militarization and conflict, the greater the drive to war and the higher the stakes for humanity. There is a built-in war drive to the current course of capitalist globalization. Historically, wars have pulled the capitalist system out of crisis while they have also served to deflect attention from political tensions and problems of legitimacy. Whether or not a global police state driven by the twin imperatives of social control and militarized accumulation becomes entrenched is contingent on the outcome of the struggles raging around the world among social and class forces and their competing political projects.

William I. Robinson is professor of sociology, global studies and Latin American studies at the University of California at Santa Barbara. His most recent book is Global Capitalism and the Crisis of Humanity. This article draws on the author’s forthcoming book, The Global Police State, which will be released by Pluto Press in July 2020.

Category : Capitalism | Ecology | Fascism | Globalization | Marxism | Neoliberalism | Blog

The Systems We Depend On Are Upside Down

By Ian Angus
Climate & Capitalism

June 25, 2019 – A frequent C&C contributor, Martin Empson regularly reviews new and old books on his blog, Resolute Reader. Recently, he reviewed Barry Commoner’s 1971 classic The Closing Circle, calling it “an important contribution to our understanding of the struggle we need.” He says he wishes he had read it years ago.

My only disagreement is with his statement that Commoner was not a Marxist. True, he did not use the label, but I can’t find much in his work that a serious Marxist could disagree with.

Commoner was a remarkably good writer, a scientist and political activist who had a gift for explaining complex ideas clearly and concisely. The Closing Circle is a classic that every ecosocialist should read. Click here to read Martin Empson’s review.

Reading that review spurred me to re-read another of Commoner’s books, The Poverty of Power, published in 1976 when the capitalist world was being shaken by a recession and soaring oil prices. While much of the data and analysis is specific to that period, it did a wonderful job of presenting a radical critique, in terms that would be accessible to any reader. As the excerpts below show, what Commoner wrote is still very relevant today.

Commoner opened The Poverty of Power (which was a mass market paperback, by the way) with this fine account of a social order that puts first things last.

“In the last ten years, the United States — the most powerful and technically advanced society in human history — has been confronted by a series of ominous, seemingly intractable crises. First there was the threat to environmental survival; then there was the apparent shortage of energy; and now there is the unexpected decline of the economy. These are usually regarded as separate afflictions, each to be solved in its own terms: environmental degradation by pollution controls; the energy crisis by finding new sources of energy and new ways of conserving it; the economic crisis by manipulating prices, taxes, and interest rates.

“But each effort to solve one crisis seems to clash with the solution of the others — pollution control reduces energy supplies; energy conservation costs jobs. Inevitably, proponents of one solution become opponents of the others. Policy stagnates and remedial action is paralyzed, adding to the confusion and gloom that beset the country.

“The uncertainty and inaction are not surprising, for this tangled knot of problems is poorly understood, not only by citizens generally, but also by legislators, administrators, and even by the separate specialists. It involves complex interactions among the three basic systems — the ecosystem, the production system, and the economic system — that, together with the social or political order, govern all human activity.

“The ecosystem — the great natural, interwoven, ecological cycles that comprise the planet’s skin, and the minerals that lie beneath it — provides all the resources that support human life and activity.

“The production system — the man-made network of agricultural and industrial processes — converts these resources into goods and services, the real wealth that sustains society: food, manufactured goods, transportation, and communication.

“The economic system — the recipient of the real wealth created by the production system — transforms that wealth into earnings, profit, credit, savings, investment, taxes; and governs how that wealth is distributed, and what is done with it.

“Given these dependencies — the economic system on the wealth yielded by the production system and the production system on the resources provided by the ecosystem — logically the economic system ought to conform to the requirements of the production system, and the production system to the requirements of the ecosystem. The governing influence should flow from the ecosystem through the production system to the economic system.

“This is the rational ideal. In actual fact the relations among the three systems are the other way around. The . environmental crisis tells us that the ecosystem has been disastrously affected by the design of the modem production system, which has been developed with almost no regard for compatibility with the environment or for the efficient use of energy: Gas-gulping cars pollute the environment with smog; petrochemical factories convert an unrenewable store of petroleum into undegradable or toxic agents. In turn, the faulty design of the production system has been imposed upon it by the economic system, which invests in factories that promise increased profits rather than environmental compatibility or efficient use of resources. The relationships. among the great systems on which society depends are upside down.

“Thus, what confronts us is not a series of separate crises, but a single basic defect — a fault that lies deep in be design of modern society.”

Throughout The Poverty of Power, Commoner brilliantly expanded on those ideas, showing that “our current crisis is a symptom of a deep and dangerous fault in the economic system.” He concluded with these words.

“Here we come to the end of the blind, mindless chain of events that transformed the technologies of agricultural and industrial production and reorganized transportation; that increased the output of the production system, but increased even more its appetite for capital, energy, and other resources; that eliminated jobs and degraded the environment; that concentrated the physical power of energy and the social power of the resultant wealth into ever fewer, larger corporations; that has fed this power on a diet of unemployment and poverty. Here is the basic fault that has spawned the environmental crisis and the energy crisis, and 1 that threatens — if no remedy is found — to engulf us in the wreckage of a crumbling economic system.

“Now all this has culminated in the ignominious confession of those who hold the power: That the capitalist economic system which has loudly proclaimed itself the best means of assuring a rising standard of living for the people of the United States, can now survive, if at all, only by reducing that standard. The powerful have confessed to the poverty of their power.

“No one can escape the momentous consequences of this confession. No one can escape the duty to understand the origin of this historic default and to transform it from a threat to social progress into a signal for a new advance.”

Every socialist with an interest in environmental issues (and that ought to be every socialist!) can benefit from reading Barry Commoner. Although his books are out of print, they can be found in libraries, and used copies are readily available online at reasonable prices.

For more about Commoner’s idea, and an overview of his major works, see Barry Commoner and the Great Acceleration.


Category : Capitalism | Climate | Ecology | Blog



University of California, Santa Barbara, CA, USA

ABSTRACT This article analyzes and theorizes the global crisis from the perspective of global capitalism theory. The crisis is unprecedented, given its magnitude, its global reach, the extent of ecological degradation and social deterioration, and the scale of the means of violence. If we are to avert disastrous outcomes, we must understand the nature of the new global capitalism as well as its crisis. The system-wide crisis will not be a repeat of earlier such episodes of crisis in the 1930s and the 1970s precisely because world capitalism is fundamentally different in the early twenty-first century. Among the qualitative shifts in the global system this article highlights are: (1) the rise of truly transnational capital and the integration of every country into a new globalized production and financial system; (2) the appearance of a transnational capitalist class; (3) the rise of transnational state apparatuses; (4) and the appearance of novel relations of inequality and domination in global society. The current crisis shares several aspects with earlier structural crises of the 1970s and the 1930s but also several features unique to the present: (1) the system is fast reaching the ecological limits of its reproduction; (2) the unprecedented magnitude of the means of violence and social control, as well as the concentrated control over the means of global communications and the production and circulation of symbols; (3) limits to the extensive and intensive expansion of capitalism; (4) the rise of a vast surplus population inhabiting a ‘planet of slums’; (5) the disjuncture between a globalizing economy and a nation-state based system of political authority. The discussion draws on theories of over-accumulation and legitimization crises. It shows how in the face of stagnation pressures, the system turned to three mechanisms at the turn of the century to sustain the global economy: militarized accumulation, frenzied worldwide financial speculation, and the raiding and sacking of public budgets. The article discusses how diverse social and political forces are responding to the crisis, explores alternative scenarios for the future, and warns of the danger of a ‘twenty-first century fascism’. Finally, the article examines the role of organic intellectuals in public interpretations of the crisis and possible solutions.


Correspondence Address: William I. Robinson, Department of Sociology, University of California Santa Barbara, Santa Barbara, CA 93106 – 9430, USA. Email:, # 2013 Taylor & Francis

I have been writing about world capitalism since the 1980s, about globalization since the early1990s, and about the notion of a transnational capitalist class (TCC) and transnational state (TNS) apparatuses since the late 1990s, as part of a broader collective research agenda in what some of us have referred to as the global capitalism school (see, inter alia, Robinson, 1996a, 1996b, 1998, 2004, 2005, 2007, 2008; Robinson and Harris, 2000). This work has put me in touch with a network of friends and colleagues also researching these matters, among them Leslie Sklair, Bill Carroll, Jerry Harris, and Georgina Murray. My thoughts on globalization have congealed over the past decade into a more synthetic theory of global capitalism as a new epoch in the ongoing and open-ended evolution of world capitalism, characterized by novel articulations of transnational social power, as laid out most explicitly in Robinson (2004) and Robinson (2008, ch. 1). Here I want to place the matter of such social power in the context of the global crisis. The fact is, our world is burning; we are facing a global crisis of unprecedented scale and proportions. In my view our very survival is at risk. The most urgent task of any intellectual who considers him/herself organic is to address this crisis—in our intellectual production and in our social activity.

This crisis, I reiterate, is unprecedented, given its magnitude, its global reach, the extent of ecological degradation and social deterioration, and the scale of the means of violence. We truly face a crisis of humanity. The stakes have never been higher. We have entered a period of great upheavals, momentous changes, and uncertainties, fraught with dangers if also opportunities. We now confront the growing threat of ecological collapse and of what I refer to as twenty-first century fascism as one of several political responses to crisis. If we are to avert such outcomes we must understand both the nature of the new global capitalism and the nature of its crisis. I aspire here to analyze and theorize the global crisis from the perspective of global capitalism theory. This perspective offers a powerful explanatory framework for making sense of the crisis. Following Marx, we want to focus on the internal dynamics of capitalism to understand the crisis, and following the global capitalism perspective we should look for how capitalism has qualitatively evolved in recent decades. The system-wide crisis we face will not be a repeat of earlier such episodes in the 1930s or 1970s precisely because world capitalism is fundamentally different in the early twenty-first century.

How specifically, is world capitalism different now than during previous episodes of crisis? There have been several qualitative shifts in capitalism that I have highlighted elsewhere (see, inter alia, the works referenced above) that here we can summarize as follows:

(1) The rise of truly transnational capital and the integration of every country into a new globalized production and financial system. This represents a transition from a world economy, in which countries and regions were linked to each other via trade and financial flows in an integrated international market, to a global economy, characterized by global circuits of accumulation, that is, transnational production and a single globally integrated financial system. This is a new global economic structure.

(2) The appearance of a new TCC, a class group embedded in new global circuits of accumulation rather than national circuits. As a class group the TCC has drawn in contingents from most countries around the world, North and South, and has attempted to position itself as a global ruling class. This TCC represents the hegemonic fraction of capital on a world scale.

(3) The rise of TNS apparatuses, loose networks composed of supranational political and economic institutions and of national state apparatuses that have been penetrated and transformed by transnational forces. The TNS functions to organize the conditions for transnational accumulation and through which the TCC attempts to organize and institutionally exercise its class power.

(4) The appearance of novel relations of inequality, domination, and exploitation in global society, including an increasing importance of transnational social and class inequalities relative to North – South inequalities that are geographically or territorially conceived.

I have been focusing in recent years on the occurrence and significance of accumulation and legitimization crises in the global system. It is clear that the collapse of the global financial system in 2008, what some called the Great Recession, was merely the straw that broke the camel’s back. This is not a cyclical but a structural crisis, a ‘restructuring crisis’, such as we experienced in the 1970s and before that in the 1930s (and even before that, in the 1870s). Cyclical crises are recurrent to capitalism about once every 10 years and involve recessions that act as self-correcting mechanisms without any major restructuring of the system. The recessions of the early 1980s, the early 1990s, and of 2001 were cyclical crises. Structural crises reflect deeper contradictions that can only be resolved by a major restructuring of the system. The crisis of the 1970s was a structural crisis that was resolved through capitalist globalization. And prior to that, the 1930s was a structural crisis that was resolved through the creation of a new model of Fordist – Keynesian or redistributive capitalism. This twenty-first century crisis has the potential to develop into a systemic crisis. A systemic crisis involves the replacement of a system by an entirely new system or by an outright collapse. A structural crisis opens up the possibility for a systemic crisis. But if it actually snowballs into a systemic crisis—in this case, if it gives way either to capitalism being superseded or to a breakdown of global civilization—is not predetermined and depends entirely on the response of social and political forces to the crisis and on historical contingencies that are not easy to forecast. This is a historic moment of extreme uncertainty, in which collective responses to the crisis from distinct social and class forces are in great flux.

The twenty-first century global crisis shares a number of aspects with earlier structural crises of the world economy of the 1970s and the 1930s, but there are also several features unique to the present. One is that the system is fast reaching the ecological limits of its reproduction. The world capitalist system is a truly global system and the transformations in natural systems brought about by human activity have now begun, in the words of ecologist Peter Vitousek, to ‘alter the structure and function of Earth as a system’ (as cited in Foster et al., 2010, p. 35). The ecological holocaust underway cannot be underestimated: peak oil, climate change, the extinction of species, the collapse of centralized agricultural systems in several regions of the world, and so on. According to leading environmental scientists, there are nine ‘planetary boundaries’ crucial to maintaining an earth system environment in which humans can exist, four of which are experiencing at this time the onset of irreversible environmental degradation and three of which (climate change, the nitrogen cycle, and biodiversity loss) are at ‘tipping points’, meaning that these processes have already crossed their planetary boundaries (see Foster et al., 2010, p. 14).

Another is that the magnitude of the means of violence and social control is unprecedented, as is the concentration of the means of global communication and symbolic production in the hands of a very few powerful groups. Computerized wars, drones, bunker-buster bombs, global surveillance, biometrics, data mining systems, star wars, and so forth have changed the face of warfare. Warfare has become normalized and sanitized for those not directly at the receiving end of armed aggression in this age of warfare as spectacle and asymmetric warfare, in which one side has overwhelming superior strength and the also the ability to control public perceptions of conflicts. At the same time, we have arrived at the panoptical surveillance society and the age of thought control by those who control global flows of communication and symbolic pro- duction (for discussion on these matters, see, inter alia Barkawi, 2005; Gilliom and Monahan, 2012; Graham, 2010; Hirst, 2011; Mattelart, 2010).

A third is that capitalism is reaching apparent limits to its extensive expansion. There are no longer any new territories of significance that can be integrated into world capitalism, de-ruralization is now well advanced, and the commodification of the countryside and of pre- and non- capitalist spaces has intensified, that is, converted in hot-house fashion into spaces of capital, so that intensive expansion is reaching depths never before seen. Capitalism must continually expand or collapse. How or where will it now expand?

A fourth is the rise of a vast surplus population inhabiting, to use the phrase coined by Mike Davis (2007), a ‘planet of slums’, dispossessed yet locked out of the productive economy, thrown into the margins, and subject to sophisticated systems of social control and to destruction—to a mortal cycle of dispossession – exploitation – exclusion. Proletarianization worldwide has accelerated through new waves of primitive accumulation as billions of people have been dispossessed and thrown into the global labor market. The global wage labor force doubled from some 1.5 billion in 1980 to some 3 billion in 2006 (Freeman, 2005). Yet those uprooted and dispossessed have not been absorbed into formal employment. The International Labor Organization (ILO, 1997) reported that at the end of century one-third of the world’s economically active population was unemployed—that is, idle labor, or what Davis terms the ‘outcast proletariat’ found in the world’s megacities; by the late 1990s, as Davis points out, for the first time in human history the urban population of the earth outnumbered the rural population. Fifth, there is a disjuncture between a globalizing economy and a nation-state based system of political authority. TNS apparatuses are incipient and have not been able to play the role of what social scientists refer to as a ‘hegemon’, or a leading nation-state that has enough power and authority to organize and stabilize the system (Robinson, 2004, 2007, 2008).

Development of the Crisis

Let us review how the crisis has developed and what it tells us about global capitalism and global society.

Emergent transnational capital underwent a major expansion in the 1980s and 1990s, involving: hyper-accumulation through new technologies such as computerization and informatics; neoliberal policies; and new modalities of mobilizing and exploiting the global labor force, including the flexibilization and casualization of labor and a massive new round of primitive accumulation, displacing hundreds of millions of people, especially in the Third World country- side, who became internal and international migrants. But hyper-accumulation was followed by renewed stagnation in the late 1990s as the system faced a new round of crisis. Sharp social polarization and escalating inequalities worldwide fueled the chronic problem of over-accumulation of capital. The concentration of the planet’s wealth in the hands of a few and the accelerated impoverishment and dispossession of the majority has been extreme under capitalist globalization.1 This pauperization of broad majorities has meant that transnational capital cannot find productive outlets to unload the enormous amounts of surplus it has accumulated; ceteris paribus, global output has expanded as the global market has contracted. By the twenty-first century the TCC turned to several mechanisms to sustain global accumulation in the face of over-accumulation.

What were these mechanisms? One is militarized accumulation. Making wars and undertaking interventions unleash cycles of destruction and reconstruction, and generate enormous profits for an ever-expanding military – prison – industrial – security – financial complex. We are now living in a global war economy that goes beyond such ‘hot’ wars as in Iraq and Afghanistan. A second is the raiding and sacking of public budgets. The TCC uses its financial powers to take control of state finances and to impose further austerity on the working majority. It employs its structural power to attempt to accelerate the dismantling of what remains of the social wage and welfare states. And a third is frenzied worldwide financial speculation. This involves turning the global economy into a giant casino. The TCC has unloaded trillions of dollars into speculation in housing and real estate markets, food, energy, and other global commodities markets, into bond markets worldwide (that is, public budgets and state finances), and into every imaginable

‘derivative’, ranging from hedge funds to swaps, futures markets, collateralized debt obligations, asset pyramiding, and Ponzi schemes. The extent of such speculation in fictitious value defies logic and the imagination: in 2006 financial markets were trading more in a month than the annual gross domestic product of the entire world (Graham, 2010, p. 4)!

Elsewhere I have discussed at some length how these three mechanisms have played them- selves out since the turn of the twenty-first century (see, inter alia, Robinson, 2007, 2008, 2010, 2011, 2012, forthcoming; Robinson and Barrera, 2012). The key questions I want to

pose here are: Where is this crisis headed? What are the possible outcomes? What does all this tell us about global capitalism and also about the prospects for confronting global capitalism?

How has the TCC responded to the crisis, both in terms of its direct class interests, and in pol- itical terms, that is, in terms of its relationship to political processes at the national and transna- tional levels? In fact, the TCC has used the crisis to pursue its class interests aggressively. Historically, dominant groups attempt to transfer the cost of crisis onto the mass of popular and working classes and in turn these classes resist such attempts. This appears to be the global political moment. Transnational capital and its political agents have attempted to resolve the structural crisis by effecting a vast shift in the balance of class and social forces worldwide in its favor, in an effort to deepen many times over and to consummate the ‘neoliberal counterrevolution’ that began in the 1980s. Here, ‘resolved’ does not mean that things get better for the mass of humanity but that there is a resumption of sustained accumulation. Europe and the United States now face the same neoliberal policies that have been imposed on the Global South since the 1980s.

While transnational capital’s offensive against the global working class dates back to the crisis of the 1970s and has grown in intensity ever since, the 2008 financial collapse and the ‘Great Recession’ that followed was, in several respects, a major turning point. The multi-billionaire Warren Buffett, chairman of Berkshire Hathaway, and one of the richest men in the world, famously stated in 2006 that ‘There’s class warfare, all right, but it’s my class, the rich class, that’s making war, and we’re winning’ (as cited in Carroll, 2010, p. 1). In fact, the global crisis provided the TCC with an opportunity to intensify this war. As the crisis spread it generated conditions worldwide for new rounds of massive austerity, including a greater flexibilization of labor, slashing the social wage, speed-ups, and so on. The crisis allowed the money mandarins of global capitalism and their political agents to squeeze more value out of labor—directly, through more intensified exploitation, and indirectly, through state finances. Social and political conflict escalated around the world in the wake of 2008, including repeated rounds of national strikes and mass mobilizations in the European Union, uprisings in North Africa and the Middle East, and so on.

Although TNS apparatuses failed to intervene to impose regulations on global finance capital they did intervene to impose the costs of devalorization on global labor. Crises, moreover, provide capital with the opportunity to accelerate the process of forcing greater productivity out of fewer workers. According to one press report, the largest employers in the United States, for instance, ‘have emerged from the economy’s harrowing downturn loaded with cash thanks to deep cost-cutting that helped drive unemployment into double digits. . . . and [resulted in] huge gains in worker productivity’ (Petruno, 2010, p. A1).

Apart from the massive devalorizations of 2007 and 2008, the crisis has therefore involved less a devalorization of capital than a further transfer of wealth from labor to transnational capital and has set the stage for a new round of deep austerity. The crisis has in part been dis- placed to state budgets—bailouts, austerity, deficits, etc.—yet this needs to be seen in terms of class relations. The bailouts of transnational capital represent in themselves a transfer of the devaluation of capital onto labor. The budgetary and fiscal crises that supposedly justify spend- ing cuts and austerity are a matter of political decisions; they are contrived, literally. They are a consequence of the unwillingness or inability of states to challenge capital and their disposition to transfer the burden of the crisis to working and popular classes. Mass unemployment, foreclo- sures, the further erosion of social wages, wage cuts, furloughs, the increased exploitation of part-time workers, reduced work hours, informalization, and mounting debt peonage—including capital’s claim to the future wages of workers through public debt—are some of capital’s trans- fer mechanisms. Unless there is effective resistance, global capital is likely to make permanent the further flexibilization of labor and other concessions it is wringing out of workers through the crisis.

It seems clear that transnational finance capital was able to privately appropriate state bailouts and turn them into super profits. In 2009 Wall Street reported a resumption of massive profits, even in the midst of severe recession and low levels of consumption, a decline in productive investment, and a sharp rise in unemployment. By 2010 global corporations were registering record profits and corporate income escalated. After suffering losses in 2008, the top 25 hedge-fund managers were paid, on average, more than $1 billion each in 2009, eclipsing the record they had set in pre-recession 2007 (Freeland, 2011, p. 4). The Dow Jones, which had dropped from 14,000 to 6,500 in late 2008 and early 2009, rose to 13,000 in early 2012. In the United States, corporate profits in 2011 hit their highest level since 1950. Between 2008 and 2011, 88% of national income growth in the United States went to corporate profits while just 1% went to wages. In comparison, in the recovery from the 2000 – 2001 recession, 15% of income growth went to wages and salaries while 53% went to corporate profits, and in the recovery that began in 1991 50% of the growth in national income went to wages and salaries while corporate profits actually fell by 1% (Greenhouse, 2011). According to Federal Reserve data from late 2010, companies in the United States held $1.8 trillion in cash, more than it had at any time since 1956 (at adjusted prices) in uninvested cash—a powerful indicator of the persistence of over-accumulation (as cited in Parenti, 2011, pp. 228 – 9).

Here I want to comment further on a new structural feature of global capitalism, the rise of‘surplus humanity’, a mass of hundreds of millions, if not billions, of people who constitute a group distinct from the earlier ‘reserve army of labor’ about which Marx wrote. This rise of such a mass has major implications for political projects, both hegemonic and counter-hegemo- nic. As I have noted, the process of achieving greater productivity with fewer workers has accel- erated under globalization. The newfound mobility of transnational capital and new forms of spatial organization has allowed it to break free from earlier nation-state constraints to unbridled accumulation—that is, the power and ability of working and popular classes to impose those constraints within the bounds of the nation-state. Spatial reorganization helps transnational capital to break the power of territorially bound labor and to impose new sets of capital – labor relations based on fragmentation, flexibilization, intense discipline regimes, and the cheap- ening of labor, together with new forms of social control and reproduction. This is combined with a massive new round of primitive accumulation and displacement that has given rise to a global army of superfluous labor, to the marginalization of some one-third of humanity that has been dispossessed from the means of production, locked out of productive participation in the global economy, dehumanized, and subject to new forms of social control and repression—what I referred to earlier as a mortal cycle of dispossession – exploitation – exclusion. Iwill come back momentarily to the matter of surplus humanity.

Responses to the Crisis

Apart from the TCC, how have social and political forces worldwide responded to the crisis? Clearly, the crisis is resulting in a rapid political polarization of global society. Both left- and right-wing forces appear to be insurgent. There are three identifiable responses that are in dispute:

The first is reformism from above aimed at stabilizing the system, at saving it from itself and

from more radical responses from below. Transnational reformist-oriented elites have proposed regulating global financial markets, state stimulus programs, fomenting a shift from speculation to productive accumulation, and limited redistributive measures. Elites such as George Soros, Jeffrey Sacks, and Joseph Stiglitz, as well as representatives from the international financial institutions and some governments are now guided less by neoclassical than institutional econ- omics and pursue a ‘global neo-Keynesianism’.2 Nonetheless, in the years following the 2008 collapse it seems that these reformers have been unable, or unwilling, to prevail over the power of transnational finance capital. Moreover, such powerful transnational capitalists as Warren Buffett and Carlos Slim have advanced reformist – redistributive discourses, but their eagerness to take advantage of the crisis to make profits prevents them from playing a significant reformist role.

A second response is popular, grassroots, and leftist resistance from below. This resistance appears to be insurgent in the wake of 2008 yet spread very unevenly across countries and regions. Reflecting this insurgency are: mass uprisings in EU countries in the wake of the sover- eign debt crisis and the imposition of draconian new austerity programs; uprising in North Africa and the Middle East; the turn to the left in Latin America; the revival of labor militancy in the United States and the Occupy Movement; a major escalation of strike activity in China; and so on (on the global revolts, see inter alia Mason, 2012; and on Latin America in particular, see Robinson, 2008).

A third response is twenty-first century fascism. The ultra-right is an insurgent force in many countries. In Latin America, a neo-fascist right is present in Colombia, Honduras, and Mexico. In the EU and the United States, such groups as the Tea Party, Christian fundamentalism, skin- heads, the anti-immigrant movement, and so on are on the rise. My fear is that if reformism from above fails and popular and leftist forces are not able to seize the initiative then the road may become open for a twenty-first century fascism. The proto-fascist right seeks to fuse reactionary political power with transnational capital and to organize a mass base among historically privileged sectors of the global working class—such as white workers in the North and middle layers in the South—that are now experiencing heightened insecurity and the specter of downward mobility. The proto-fascist response has involved militarism, extreme masculinization, racism, the search for scapegoats (such as immigrant workers and Muslims in the United States and Europe), and mystifying ideologies, often involving race/ culture supremacy and xenophobia, embracing an idealized and mythical past, as well as racist mobilization against scapegoats. We should recall that fascism is a particular response to capitalist crisis, one that seeks to contain any challenge to crisis that may come from subordinate groups (for further discussion, see Robinson and Barrera, 2012, and Robinson, forthcoming, ch. 5).

It is in this regard that we must now return to the matter of surplus humanity. What has taken place through capitalist globalization is the severing of the logic of accumulation from that of social reproduction. Central to the story of global capitalism and crisis, as well as to the specter of neo-fascism, is the mass of humanity that has been expropriated from the means of survival yet also expelled from capitalist production as global supernumeraries or surplus labor, relegated to scraping by in a ‘planet of slums’ and subject to all-pervasive and ever- more sophisticated and repressive social control systems. From the vantage point of dominant groups, the challenge is: how to contain the mass of supernumeraries, the marginalized, and the resistance of downwardly mobile majorities?

We are witnessing transitions from social welfare to social control states. The need for dominant groups around the world to assure widespread, organized, mass social control of the world’s surplus population of rebellious forces from below gives a powerful impulse to a project of twenty-first century global fascism. Simply put, the immense structural inequalities of the global political economy cannot easily be contained through consensual mechanisms of social control, that is, through hegemonic domination.

There is an explosive growth of social inequality and intensified crises of survival for billions of people around the world. This involves the breakdown of the social fabric at the same time as the state’s ability to function as a ‘factor of cohesion’ (Poulantzas, 1968) within the social order breaks down to the extent that capitalism has globalized and the logic of accumulation or com- modification penetrates every aspect of social life—the ‘life world’ itself. As a result, ‘cohesion’ requires more and more social control in the face of the collapse of the social fabric.

The inability of national states to meet the contradictory functions of accumulation and legit- imization means that economic crisis intensifies the problem of legitimization for dominant groups, so that accumulation crises appear as spiraling political crises; ‘governability’ becomes more and more elusive. States resort to a host of mechanisms of coercive exclusion, among them: legal changes to criminalize the excluded—often racialized—and to subject them to mass incarceration and the punitive whip of prison – industrial complexes; repressive anti-immigrant legislation; manipulation of space in new ways so that both gated communities and slums are controlled by armies of private security guards and technologically advanced sur- veillance systems; ubiquitous, often para-militarized policing; mobilization of the culture indus- tries and state ideological apparatuses to dehumanize victims of global capitalism as dangerous, depraved, and culturally degenerate; ideological campaigns aimed at seduction and passivity through petty consumption and a flight into fantasy. This last aspect is crucial: the culture of global capitalism attempts to seduce the excluded and to channel their frustrated aspirations into petty consumption and fantasy as an alternative to placing political demands on the system through collective mobilization.

All this provides fertile bases for projects of twenty-first century fascism. Images of what such a political project would involve span from: the late 2008/early 2009 Israeli invasion of Gaza and its ongoing ethnic cleansing of the Palestinians; the scapegoating and criminalization of immigrant workers in the United States, Europe, Australia, and many other countries; genocide in the Congo; the spread of neo-Nazis and skinheads in Europe; the UN/US occupation of Haiti and the Indian occupation of Kashmir; the trashing of Somalia; and the explosive spread of the Tea Party and far-right Christian fundamentalism in the United States.

With regard to the TCC, I believe we can identify three sectors of capital in particular that stand out as most aggressive in pursuing accumulation strategies that make them most prone to supporting or even promoting neo-fascist political arrangements. These are: speculative finance capital; the military – industrial – prison – security complex; the extractive and energy complexes. Capital accumulation in the military – industrial – security complex, for instance, depends on never-ending conflicts and wars, including the declared wars ‘on crime’, ‘on drugs’, and ‘on terrorism’, and the undeclared wars on immigrants and on gangs (and poor, dark-skinned, and working class youth more generally), among others, as well as more generally on the militarization of social control. Financial accumulation requires ever greater austerity that is hard, if not impossible, to impose through consensual mechanisms.

If the imperative of social control gives a powerful impetus to the militarization of global capitalism, this militarization has another key function, that of sustaining global accumulation in the face of stagnation. Militarization as response to the crisis of global capitalism achieves the simultaneous objectives of social control and repression and of coercively opening up opportu- nities for capital accumulation worldwide, either on the heels of military force or through the state’s contracting out to transnational corporate capital the production and execution of social control and warfare. The examples abound: the invasion and occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan; the transnational intervention in Libya’s internal conflict; the above-mentioned wars on drugs, terrorism, and immigrants; mass incarceration, including in prisons and detention centers constructed and often run by private corporations; the building of border walls (in Pales- tine, between the US and Mexico, in green zones in Iraq and elsewhere, between South Africa and several of its northern neighbors, and so on). Hence the generation of conflicts and the repression of social movements and vulnerable populations around the world becomes an accumulation strategy independent of any political objectives. This type of permanent global warfare involves both low and high-intensity wars, ‘humanitarian missions’, ‘drug interdiction operations’, ‘anti-crime sweeps’, and so on.

The US state as the most powerful component of the TNS has mobilized vast resources and political pressures, taking advantage of the dollar’s role as the global currency and therefore of the extraordinary power of the US Treasury, to absorb surpluses and sustain global accumulation by militarizing that accumulation and creating a global war economy under the pretext of a ‘war on terror’ and a ‘war on drugs’ (note also that wars accelerate the turnover time of the circuit of militarized accumulation).3 In sheer monetary terms, the escalation of US state military spending in the wake of September 11, 2001 is stunning (Table 1).

Table 1. US military spending, 1997 – 2012 ($billions, 2005)

clip_image004Year Amount

1997 ……………………………..325

1998 ……………………………..323

1999 ……………………………..333

2000 ……………………………..360

2001…………………………….. 366

2002…………………………….. 422

2003 ……………………………..484

2004…………………………….. 544

2005…………………………….. 601

2006 ……………………………..622

2007…………………………….. 654

2008 ……………………………..731

2009 ……………………………..795

2010 ……………………………..848

2011 ……………………………..879

2012 ……………………………..902∗

∗ Projected



A twenty-first century fascism would not look like twentieth century fascism. Among other things, the ability of dominant groups to control and manipulate space and to exercise unprecedented control over the mass media, the means of communication and the production of symbols, images, and messages means that repression can be more selective and also organized ‘juridi- cally’ so that, for example, mass ‘legal’ incarceration takes the place of concentration camps. Such caging removes surplus labor from society and turns that surplus labor into a source of ongoing profits (see, inter alia, Alexander, 2010; Gilmore, 2007). The ideological and policing processes involved in the mass warehousing of ethnically oppressed groups and the poor have the effect of displacing social anxieties over crisis, economic destabilization, and downward mobility into the population targeted for marginalization, police repression, and caging.4 In this regard, vast new powers of cultural hegemony open up novel possibilities for atomizing and channeling grievances and frustrated aspirations into escapism and consumerist fantasies. Fashion and entertainment industries market anything that can be converted into a commodity. With this comes depoliticization at best, if not the ability to channel fear into flight rather than fight-back. The ideology of twenty-first century fascism often rests on irrationality; the promise to deliver security and restore stability is emotive, not rational. Twenty-first century fascism is a project that does not—and need not—distinguish between the truth and the lie.

Interpreting the Crisis

In conclusion, barring the overthrow of capitalism, any resolution of the crisis from the vantage point of the vast majority must involve a global redistribution downward of income. This, in turn, would have to involve establishing a measure of state intervention, regulation, and redis- tributive capacities that state elites, so far, have been unable or unwilling to undertake. It would mean reining in transnational finance capital—the most globalized and most globally mobile fraction of capital. We see here the contradiction between globalized capital and a nation-state based system of political authority. We see the structural power this disjuncture gives to the TCC, especially to transnational finance capital, as well as the obdurate penetration of national state apparatuses that the TCC has achieved in pursuit of its interests. In the United States, let us recall, corporations are legally considered ‘people’ and can now provide unlimited funding to political parties and campaigns. As never before, economic power translates into political control, or the power to determine political outcomes.

The most enlightened among transnationally oriented political and economic elites have been clamoring for TNS apparatuses with a transnational regulatory and interventionist capacity as a requisite for restabilizing the system. It remains to be seen if such efforts will come to fruition. Even if they do, it is unlikely, in my view, that a global capitalism ‘with a human face’ is possible—indeed, an oxymoron. A transnational neo-Keynesianism can do little to resolve the ecological holocaust. The reformist interpretation of the crisis as resulting from a lack of institutional regu- lation together with the unfortunate greed of the wealthy ignores, as it must if it is to remain true to its defense of capitalism, the contradictions of accumulation that generate the underlying causes of the crisis. Yet this reformist interpretation which is quite compatible with global capitalism may become hegemonic in the absence of an alternative anti-systemic interpretation put forward by organic intellectuals identified with the global popular and working classes and their interests.

Now from the viewpoint of those from below, the objective is not merely a project of redistribution within the prevailing global power structure and socioeconomic system; it is to redistribute power downward and transform the system. What type of a transformation? In my view, any transformative project would need to place democratic socialism back on the agenda. It would require new forms of production, collective laboring, and consumption that is in harmony with nature. We would want to—and must—develop new modalities of political organization in which the grassroots base and social movements are empowered to exercise democratic control from below. And any emancipatory project must involve building cultures of solidarity and transnational resistance.

Times of crisis open up space for collective agency and for contingency to influence the course of history in ways that are not possible in times of relative stability, and in ways that are less predictable than in such times. How the masses of people understand the nature of global crisis becomes itself a critical battleground in the struggle for alternative futures. Hence crucial to any struggle in global society to resist the war unleashed against the global working and popular classes is putting forward a coherent explanation of the crisis and of possible solutions from a working class, leftist, ecological, and democratic socialist-oriented perspective.

This is where organic intellectuals and socially committed scholars come in. In my view, and in conclusion, the only viable solution to the crisis of global capitalism is a massive redistribution of wealth and power downward to the poor majority of humanity along the lines of a twenty- first century democratic socialism, in which humanity is no longer at war with itself and with nature. Otherwise, humanity may be headed for what Chew (2007) has termed a new dark age.


This article is based on a keynote speech delivered at the International Conference on ‘Global Capitalism and Transnational Class Formation’, jointly sponsored by the Global Studies Center of the Czech Academy of Sciences, the Global Studies Association North American branch, and the globalization research unit of the International Studies Association, September 16 – 19, 2011, Prague. The ideas on global crisis developed here can be found in further detail in Robinson (2008, 2010, 2011, 2012, forthcoming), and Robinson and Barrera (2012). I would like to thank Globalizations special issue editor Jason Struna and two anonymous reviewers for their suggestions.


1 One of the most notorious outcomes of globalization is an alarming widening of the gap between the global haves and have-nots, as, among countless studies, the annual Human Development reports of the United Nations Development Program show (UNDP, 1992 – 2011). The annual World Wealth Report published by Merrill Lynch and Capgemini identifies what it terms High-Net-Worth Individuals, or HNWIs, those people who have more than $1 million in free cash, not including property and pensions. The 2011 report identified some 10 million of these HNWIs in 2010, concentrated in North America, Europe, and Japan, but with the most rapid growth among the group taking place in Asia-Pacific, Latin America, Eastern Europe, Africa, and the Middle East. The collective wealth of the HNWIs surpassed $42 trillion in that year, well over double of what it was 10 years earlier, and 10% higher than the previous year (Merrill Lynch and Capgemini, 2011). Beyond the growth of the superrich, however, is social polarization between some 20% of humanity that has been able to enjoy the fruits of the global cornucopia and some 80% that has experienced downward mobility and heightened insecurity and lies outside what McMichael (2007) refers to as ‘global consumer networks’.

2 On such reformist, institutionalist, and neo-Keynesian thinking, see inter alia, Soros (1998), Stiglitz (2003), and

Sacks (2006). These three are neither anti-capitalist nor anti-globalization; they speak of a capitalist globalization ‘with a human face’.

3 I cannot here expand on the matters of militarization and intervention as accumulation or on the role of the US state, but see inter alia, Robinson (2007, 2012, and forthcoming, esp. chs 3 and 5).

4 On these themes, the modern classic 1970s’ study by Stuart Hall and his colleagues, Policing the Crisis (1978) still bears remarkable pertinence.


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William I. Robinson is professor of sociology, global and international studies, and Latin American and Iberian studies at the University of California at Santa Barbara. His latest book, Global Capitalism, Global Crisis, will be published by Cambridge University Press in 2014.

Category : Capitalism | Ecology | Fascism | Hegemony | Keynes | Marxism | Socialism | Blog

interview with Hugo Moldiz, Bolivian Marxist

Hugo Moldiz interviewed by Coral Wynter and Jim McIlroy

April 24, 2013 — Links International Journal of Socialist Renewal — Hugo Moldiz is a respected Marxist journalist and author living in La Paz. He has written several books, including Bolivia in the Times of Evo, published by Ocean Sur in 2009. He is editor of the weekly La Epoca and has also contributed many articles to the magazine America XXI. We interviewed him during a recent visit to La Paz, Bolivia. Translation from the Spanish by Coral Wynter.

* * *

What is the significance of the election of an Indigenous president in Bolivia?

The very fact of the election of an Indian to the highest level of government, to the presidency, was a revolutionary act. This may not mean so much in other parts of the world, but when we understand the nature of the social formation in Bolivia, it is very significant. This is due to the way the republic was established [in 1825] and its development based on the past colonial period, involving the development of forms of capitalist control over work and the stealing of our natural resources (the source of the original capital).

Successive governments further entrenched this by the almost total exclusion of the majority of people, the Indigenous people, from political participation. It was a double exclusion for the Indigenous people — from political power as well as from participation in society. If you want to look at it in class terms and also from the point of view of the national culture, capitalism in countries like Bolivia has been sustained by colonialism. Thus from this perspective, the arrival of Evo Morales was very significant and resulted from the emergence of an Indigenous, peasant and popular movement and the formation of a new power bloc that is moving to displace the old power structure.

What is the proportion of Indigenous people among the overall population of Bolivia?

In the last census in 2001, 64% of the Bolivian population was recognised as Indigenous. The proportion could be even higher because, before the victory of Evo Morales, before the inclusion process, the Indigenous and peasant movement was only just emerging. From about 2000, or even a little before, there was a process of construction of collectives, of an increase of Indigenous self-esteem. In the previous census of 1991, there was a minimal percentage of Indians who considered themselves Indigenous. This happened not only because the census didn’t ask the question whether people identified as Indigenous. On top of this, people of Indigenous origin viewed the census as an instrument of oppression in society.

For Indians who lived in the city, they considered themselves anything but Indian, because the word “Indio” was a bad word. If I were Indian, I had to present an identity card as an Indian, which would not open doors for me, but rather close them.

I think in this census [which was held on November 21, 2012], the number of people who identify as Indian will be more than 64%. When we speak of “Indio”, we are not just speaking of peasants: we are talking about the Indigenous people. Peasant is a concept of class: we are talking about Indigenous people who live in both rural and urban areas.

In addition, we are going to see the planning of the economy in the period up to 2025. A second major aim is to have a better distribution of national wealth. Until now, the distribution of wealth in Bolivia has been regulated by the number of people who live in a certain area. Today the proposal is to change that criterion, or at least complement it, to establish a better basis for access to basic services, which is one of the 2025 objectives of the president.


Category : Bolivia | Capitalism | Ecology | Marxism | Socialism | Blog

A group of volunteers wave green handkerchiefs as they ride their bicycles in Beijing on November 21, 2012 for the launch of a world-tour to promote low-carbon lifestyles. The activity, which will see volunteers set off on a global tour from Libo County in Guizhou Province, was launched under the themes of bringing back the handkerchief, using less tissue paper, travelling by environmentally friendly means, and living a low-carbon lifestyle. / Xinhua (Photo by Zhao Jing)


Creating an Ecological Civilization

By Jiang Chunyun

From: English Edition of Qiushi Journal. a publication of the CCP  Central Committee

Vol.5 No.1 January 1, 2013

As the old Chinese proverb goes, “To return a kindness with gratitude is a good deed, the act of an upright man; to treat a kindness with ingratitude is a bad deed, the act of a petty man.” These words, “good” and “bad,” “gratitude” and “ingratitude,” have long been the most fundamental criteria for judging the morality and action of an individual. Do children treat their parents with respect out of gratitude for the loving care their parents have given them? Do countrymen serve their motherland wholeheartedly out of gratitude for everything their motherland has afforded them? And do human beings have awe for and cherish their green home out of gratitude for the life that nature has granted them? Everybody on earth, individuals and groups alike, must find rational answers to these questions, regardless of their nationality, race, gender, class, and occupation, and must require both themselves and others to act in accordance with a just code of speaking out for good and doing good instead of evil.

Life on earth began as early as several hundred million years ago, while the story of human evolution started only several million years ago. This means that humans are latecomers. At every step of human evolution—from our transformation from Australopithecus to Homo erectus, and again from archaic Homo sapiens to Homo sapiens—we have been cared for by nature, which, like a great and holy mother, has allowed humankind to grow from a species with few members to one with several billion members. In comparison with family and country, the care that nature has bestowed on us is more fundamental, more worthy of our gratitude. Yet how have we treated nature? This may be a difficult question to answer, but it is one that we must answer as a matter of conscience.

Frankly speaking, there are many people who are able to show appreciation towards nature. These people have made active contributions to ecological protection and the improvement of the environment. But at the same time, there are also people who have no sense of gratitude towards nature. These people are indifferent towards the changes that are affecting nature and the environment. Moreover, there are even people who are so ungrateful towards nature that they would wantonly damage the environment. These people are by no means few in number, and their violations against nature are on the increase. This is the root cause of the ecological degradation and environmental deterioration that has plunged the human race into a survival crisis.

Ecological and environmental issues began to emerge with the advent of agricultural society, although at that time the impact of human activities on the environment was gradual and relatively minor. However, with the arrival of the Industrial Revolution and the rapid development of science and technology, human beings began to deal serious damage to the environment as they created great material wealth and cultural achievements. This damage has become increasingly serious in modern times. Air pollution, water pollution, soil pollution, desertification, global warming, the melting of the glaciers, the depletion of the ozone, the spread of acid rain, the sharp drop in biodiversity, and the frequent occurrence of fatal diseases and natural disasters—these startling facts are a warning that the earth’s biosphere, which mankind relies on for its survival, is damaged. They tell us that the major ecological systems supporting the earth’s biosphere, such as forests, grasslands, wetlands, rivers, lakes, farmlands, mountains, the atmosphere, and oceans, are bruised all over, weakened, and that untold dangers lurk amongst them. The biosphere is like a cracked fish tank which is losing its water. As the water seeps out of the tank at an increasing rate, the survival of the fish inside is coming under threat. Therefore, if we are unable to repair the biosphere quickly, the damage will only become worse and worse. This will continue until the biosphere eventually ceases to function, being no longer able to operate, and when that happens humankind will descend into a desperate struggle for its survival. This is not alarmist talk, but a real depiction of a hidden crisis that will threaten the survival of the human race.

In an effort to address the human crisis that has been triggered by environmental deterioration, the international community and the countries of the world have frequently convened meetings, signed conventions and accords, issued declarations, made commitments, and taken action. While in some cases these efforts have led to positive results, in overall terms our efforts to restore ecosystems and rectify environments have yielded few results. At most we can say that there has been partial improvement. The trend of environmental deterioration on a global scale is yet to be reversed, and there are even signs that it is becoming more serious. James Speth, the Dean of the School of Forestry and Environmental Studies at Yale University and former Administrator of the United Nations Development Program, says that the trend of environmental decline, which has made the international community uneasy, is yet to be fundamentally mitigated. Ill omens still exist, and these problems are becoming more ingrained, bringing about immediate danger. Speth believes that problems such as global warming, environmental pollution, resource depletion, ecological degradation, and the loss of biodiversity are much worse than we are able to understand, willing to admit, or tend to estimate.

The reasons for global environmental deterioration are deep-seated. Though we cannot rule out the influence of reverse ecological succession, the fact remains that the most fundamental cause of global environmental deterioration is humankind’s failure to treat nature correctly. Human beings have made irreparable mistakes due to their biased understanding of the relationship between humans and nature. The predatory exploitation of resources and irrational modes of production and lifestyles that came with the Industrial Revolution have had a devastating impact on ecosystems and the environment. Traditional industrial civilization was undoubtedly a revolutionary step forward from agricultural civilization, creating much higher productivity, huge material wealth, as well as technological and cultural achievements. However, the shortcomings of industrial civilization are not difficult to see: it is extremely profit-driven, greedy, predatory, aggressive, and even crazy in nature, its values and approach to development being the rapid accumulation of wealth and capital at any cost. In recent centuries, under the influence of these ideas, developed industrial countries in the West engaged in an unprecedented campaign to conquer, plunder, and destroy nature. With this came a long succession of colonial wars which not only saw millions die and hundreds of millions become slaves, but also caused the world’s ecological environments to suffer on an unprecedented scale. Many of those who plundered the world’s natural resources were proponents of anthropocentrism, the view that human beings are the masters of nature and that all other things in the natural world are mankind’s possessions, consumables, and servants. Guided by these notions, they robbed, seized and destroyed without restraint, and led extravagant, luxurious, and extremely wasteful lifestyles. In more than 200 years of industrial history, developed countries in the West have consumed around half of the world’s non-renewable resources, which took billions of years to form.

Fact has repeatedly warned us that we cannot rely on traditional industrial civilization to correct its own mistakes when it comes to the environment. Traditional industrial civilization has therefore come to a dead end. Despite this, however, certain developing countries have failed to break away from the developmental mode of traditional industrial civilization as they have sought to industrialize. As a result, within the space of just decades, they have encountered the kind of environmental pollution and ecological degradation that took one or two hundred years to emerge in the West. These countries must now meet the challenge of maintaining a balance between economic development and environmental protection.

Since the latter half of the last century, we have come to the profound realization that industrial civilization is unsustainable. Drawing from the lessons of the past, we have proposed the creation of an ecological civilization, which is characterized by sustainable development and harmony between mankind and nature. Ecological civilization provides us with broader prospects for resolving the environmental crisis and maintaining balance between development and the environment. It represents a substantive step forward from industrial civilization, because it not only embodies the strengths of industrial civilization, but is also able to address its weaknesses and failings by applying brand new ideas. The basic features of ecological civilization can be summarized as follows.

First, human beings are a part of nature. The relationship between human beings and other creatures should be one of equality, friendship, and mutual reliance, as opposed to a relationship in which humans are supreme.

Second, since it is nature that has given us life, we should feel gratitude towards nature, repay nature, and treat nature well. We should not forget the debt that we owe to nature, or treat nature and other creatures violently.

Third, humans are entitled to exploit natural resources, but we must take the tolerance of ecosystems and the environment into account when doing so in order to avoid overexploitation.

Fourth, human beings must follow the moral principles of ensuring equity between people, between countries and between generations in resource exploitation. We should refrain from violating the rights and interests of other people, other countries, and future generations.

Fifth, we should advocate conservation, efficiency, and recycling in the utilization of resources so as to maximize efficiency whilst keeping consumption and the impact on nature to a minimum.

Sixth, we should view sustainable development as our highest goal, rejecting the overexploitation of resources and short-sighted acts aimed at gaining quick results.

Seventh, the fruits of development must be enjoyed by all members of society and not monopolized by a small minority.

It is essential that we correct the way we treat nature and assume our rightful position in nature. As the wisest of all creatures, we should give full play to our intelligence and capacity for thought by shouldering the responsibility of caring for, protecting, guiding, and strengthening nature, and ensuring that all of nature’s creatures are able to live in harmony and develop in a balanced, orderly, and continuous fashion.

It must be noted that while China has made remarkable achievements in socialist modernization during more than 30 years of reform and opening up, it has also encountered serious environmental problems that are undermining its sustainable development. Fact has demonstrated and will continue to demonstrate that we must take Marxism-Leninism, Mao Zedong Thought, and the theories of socialism with Chinese characteristics as our guide, commit to the path of socialism with Chinese characteristics, implement the Scientific Outlook on Development, which puts people first and seeks to promote comprehensive, balanced, and sustainable development, and build a resource-conserving and environmentally friendly society. These are not only the essence for promoting ecological progress and realizing the transformation of human civilization, but also a prerequisite and solid foundation for ensuring the sound and rapid development of economy and society, the balancing of economic development and environmental protection, the establishment of a harmonious society, and the improvement of people’s wellbeing.

There are two old Chinese sayings which, through their dialectical materialism, reveal to us the key to success in any undertaking. The first is: to go undefeated in a hundred battles, you must know both the enemy and yourself. The second is: success belongs to those who are prepared, and failure to those who are not. If we are to reverse the trend of environmental degradation and save the biosphere, we must correctly assess the state of our living environment, face up to environmental problems instead of trying to conceal them, use scientific means to anticipate dangers that lurk ahead, and sincerely reflect on our maltreatment of nature. Once we have acknowledged our errors we must take action to correct them. To do this, we must enhance our sense of mission, danger, and responsibility, and take the necessary measures to turn a precarious situation into a favorable one, so as to realize a sound balance between development and the environment.

It is about time that we changed our way of thinking and discarded our concept of a traditional industrial civilization in favor of a modern ecological one. It is about time that we put an end to our irrational modes of development and consumption, and made efforts to save the earth’s biosphere.

The struggle to save the biosphere and transform our civilization from a traditional industrial civilization to a modern ecological civilization will be an endeavor more magnificent than any seen before in human history, and a complex social undertaking of huge proportions. It will require that we humans carefully consider, correctly understand, and answer a series of questions, some of which are as follows: What is the relationship between human beings and nature? Is it one of the conqueror and the conquered, the dominator and the dominated, and the ruler and the ruled? Or is it one of equality, friendship, harmony, coexistence, and mutual flourishing? Why is earth the only cradle of life among the vast number of celestial bodies in universe? What is the earth’s biosphere, and how will ordinal or reversed ecological succession affect the survival and development of human beings? Which biological systems support and maintain the earth’s biosphere? Is it inevitable that the survival and development of the human race will come at the expense of ecosystems and the environment? How should we understand the relationship between promoting an ecological civilization and transforming our modes of development and consumption? How should we deal with the contradiction between limited natural resources and limitless human desire? Should we make up for the huge damage caused to nature by long-term overexploitation? If so, how do we repay this debt? Should we let nature rest and regain its strength like humans do when they become old or ill? What is the role of science and technology in saving the biosphere? What is the relationship between population growth and resources, environment and sustainable development? What do the constant wars of human beings mean to nature? How do we give full play to the role of law and ethics as effective means of guaranteeing environmental protection and the salvation of the biosphere? Why must we improve our methods and standards for evaluating economic and social development? How should the countries of the world cooperate and coordinate with one another in saving the earth’s biosphere and developing ecological civilization?

Drawing lessons from both our successes and failures in interacting with nature, we must see the global environmental crisis for what it is, and work out the relevant theories, ways of thinking, and countermeasures as we commit ourselves to the path of promoting ecological civilization.

(Originally appeared in Red Flag Manuscript, No.22, 2012)

Author: Former Vice Chairman of the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress of China

Note: This article is a slightly abridged version of the preface of the book Saving the Earth’s Biosphere—Concerning the Transformation of Human Civilization, which was edited by the author and published by Xinhua Press in September 2012.

Category : Capitalism | China | Ecology | Socialism | Blog

By Atlee McFellin via Common Dreams

In a recent article about success in the sharing economy, Van Jones explained the degree to which sharing, crowdfunding, and other similar concepts are fundamentally transforming the economy as we know it. He turned to examples like Zipcar, Solar Mosaic, AirBnB, and Couchsurfing to show this transformation happening on the ground.

For the few who don’t know, Jones founded Green For All, one of the central organizations within the growing green economy movement. His tremendously poignant article makes one wonder to what extent this sharing economy is similar to the green economy and how are we to understand their relatedness theoretically and organizationally? One could certainly say they have much in common, from the role the above-mentioned firms play in helping protect the environment by crowdfunding solar panels or reducing people’s need to own their own car.

It’s one thing to see what ideas or outcomes they have in common. For the broader purposes of looking towards our collective potential to fundamentally transform the economy, it’s also important to look at how they relate to one another organizationally. This two-part series attempts to do just that. The first part looks at the green economy movement theoretically and organizationally, while the second part looks at the sharing economy, solidarity economy, and new economy to make the case for a New Economy Coalition acting to unite them all.Credit: New Economy Institute

Even though the green economy has been growing in the U.S. for decades, its birth into mainstream social consciousness very much began with the push for a Green New Deal as an immediate solution to a collapsing economy in late 2008. We saw the potential for job creation through public investment with the Green Jobs Act prior to the collapse and the subsequent American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. (1)  The hope behind the push for a Green New Deal is based upon FDR’s New Deal legislation in the 1930s and the works of economist John Maynard Keynes. The focus is a massive reinvestment by the government into the economy. With a Green New Deal that investment would be focused on renewable energy, energy efficiency, public transportation, improvements to the electrical grid, and other carbon-reducing strategies for job creation.

Category : Capitalism | Ecology | Technology | Blog