Continuing my review of critiques of Hardt & Negri’s Empire, today, again through courtesy of Traxus, there’s THIS POST from the archives of Lenin’s Tomb. Leninino’s (not the “real” Lenin, hence the diminutive) essay addresses the broader issue of nationalism in the global economy, which is only one aspect of H&N’s book. H&N contend that, whereas the USA is the center of Empire’s hegemony and power, the globalization of Empire through international trade and the free movement of capital and labor across boundaries is effacing the importance of separate nations.
Leninino notes that the “state” isn’t a self-explanatory concept. In Weberian liberal terms the state is a mechanism for protecting a particular geographic territory and its people, whereas for Marx the state is a force for securing the ends of the bourgeoisie. In this latter formulation the modern state isn’t merely a means of overcoming obstacles to free trade within and between territories: it serves to reinforce the obstacles separating bourgeoisie from proletariat; it functions as the instrument of an unacknowledged ideology.
Leninino acknowledges the empirical fact that economic activity has become increasingly global, with greater multinational investment in infrastructure, reductions in tariffs and other trade barriers, etc. This isn’t a new trend, L observes — geographical extension has always been part of modern capitalism. But most of this multinational activity still takes place between nations, and especially among those few nations that dominate world capitalism. He cites evidence that firms’ international investments generate lower profit margins than do their domestic investments. Nations also continue to restrict the in-migration of low-wage labor. Whether new state policies serve to release or to restrict trade across national boundaries, they are actions taken at the national level.
“I think it is useful to dispense with the term ‘globalization’,” L. concludes. “Given what has been said, it can be seen as an obfuscatory device with little real referent.” Globalization is a “fiction,” an “ideological construct” that attempts to unify a variety of independent and multidirectional trends. “If [one person] said that globalization was making the poor worse off, while someone else said that it enabled one to communicate with many people of different faiths and backgrounds, they would not be disagreeing because they are speaking of different things.” The former is speaking from the perspective of Marx’s definition of state; the latter, from the liberal definition.
I’m not sure of the implications here. Leninino acknowledges that the economy has been extending itself internationally for a long time. As L. presents it, Marx’s definition of state can be decoupled from nation and its geographic and ethnic connotations, such that the state’s bourgeois empowerment apparatus could go multinational or global without significantly changing its function. Arguing that national interests still dominate multinational exchange seems to support Weber’s liberal definition of state as a mechanism for protecting local interests. Is that the idea: that globalization is a liberal deception intended to seduce people into believing that something like global communism is emerging from multinational capitalism? If so, then why would Marxists want to deny the acknowledged movement toward a horizon dominated by a global bourgeois state? Maybe it’s because a strictly national bourgeois state is easier to topple. Let’s say that Empire is only an American-centered movement that comprises only a handful of nations working in loose collaboration to dominate other nations and the working class. If so, then by thwarting America and its collaborators Empire can be toppled. It’s not a total world hegemony; it’s just a very powerful locality with plenty of external space surrounding it, plenty of opportunities to resist from outside the Empire.