The Shifting Terminology of Global Capitalism

Novrogod Marketplace | Apollinary Vasnetsov | 1909–09

The emergence of the current global economic system, and therefore its ‘winners’ and ‘losers’, are tied to a historicism which underlies the transition from feudalism to mercantilist capitalism, to industrialised capitalism, imperialist-colonialism, to ‘post-colonial’ capitalist globalisation. Throughout such historic stages, from the origins of politico-economic eurocentricity, capitalism has increasingly become the reinforcement of global hierarchy, thus requiring a Marxist-Dependent framework, to understand the contemporary dynamic between the emergent notions of the Global North and South.

An emergent mercantilism capacitated by technological advancements, within the feudal system, whereby the mercantilists held some privilege over the serfdom, provided the means by which capitalism materialised, and the global economic landscape shifted untoward a eurocentricity. The dissolution of ancient empire, i.e. Rome, saw the diffusion of power throughout Europe with concentrated nodes of power under which feudalism materialised, with these regions, defined under Rome, being included in the Latin West which opposed the Greek, and later Orthodox, East. Previously, modes of production allowed a similar historicism to transpire, whereby property-owning classes concentrated wealth and power, using such to inflict debt and slavery upon the working classes, within a system whereby the monarchy nominally owned all land, some of which granted to nobles, on which serfs were allowed to work in return for servitude, yet as production maintained on a low level and identification was foremost familial-tribal, modern capitalism never materialised (Gliniecki, 2018). Feudalism inevitably gives way to the emergence of the state with an increasing reliance on mercantilism as production levels increase as population levels increase and geographically concentrate. Friedrich Engels ascribes this distinction with the earlier Greco-Roman and Norman-English systems to the unfettered nature of the growth of productive forces, which increasingly develop disproportionate surpluses, thus reassociating people upon the basis of their relationship to the means of production, rather than with their family or tribe (Engels, 1884, p. 60). This necessary emergence of the state, arising at an inflection of productive forces, entangled in insoluble class antagonisms, with ‘this power, arising out of society but placing itself above it’ (Engels, 1884, p. 92), amidst conflicting claims to power, is described by Charles Tilly’s relationship, in which war-making, resource extraction, civilian protection, and state-making, reinforce one another (Tilly (Evans), 1985, pp. 169–191). However, this increasing dependence upon mercantilism, in order to provide mechanisms of resource extraction, and coordinate regional militaries and production, only gave way to the bourgeois revolutions of the Seventeenth and Eighteenth Centuries in Europe and America, leaving ‘no other nexus between man and man than naked self-interest’ (Marx, 1847, p. 12)- the advent of modern capitalism; and the establishment of the bourgeois state system following the Treaty of Westphalia in 1648, which ended the Thirty Years’ War. This coincides with the global imposition of the base-superstructure dynamic, in which the superstructure, the norms and identities that people inhabit, and their juridico-political institutions, extends from the base, the societal economic structure, reflecting bourgeois interests (Cole, 2020). This concentrated systematised state apparatus allows for mass-scale labour, producing greater wealth, concentrated in mercantilism’s managerial class, thus producing greater technologies, facilitating conflict, exploration and trade. Thus, the West emerges as the greatest benefactor of the correspondingly emergent economic system, which is only intensified under stronger iterations of exploitation as capitalism’s fetters are removed for greater profits.

This early technological capitalism reaches a point whereby labour is exploitable on a mass-scale, transforming metropolitan centres into those of wage-labour with the exploitation of the working class of the West, and increasingly so with a higher degree of exploitation of the racialism with those imported from, or remaining within, the non-West. This unfettered capitalism requires the correspondingly unfettered expansion of territory and acquisition of resources by imperialist-colonialism, impositioning a lower class, strengthening what becomes the North-South divide, in a Dependent structure. The simultaneous concentration of wage-labour production in the West and expansion of slave-labour abroad, and thus, the concentration of commerce, production, and most importantly, profit, in what is increasingly being termed the West, allows disproportionate access to capital, resource and armaments, to the benefit of the bourgeois class. Michael Parenti insists that there are few inherently rich or poor nations, as ‘you don’t go to poor countries to make money’, thus illuminating the propagandised institutional hypocrisy in terming countries like Bolivia ‘poor’, whilst benefiting from their lithium resources (Parenti, 1986). This produces an asymmetrical dynamic of conflict, translating to colonial genocide, yet an increasing reliance on non-Western resources requires the strengthening of colonialism, to which the native peoples are confined and unable to overcome, therefore reinforcing a relationship which perverts the essence of liberal interdependence. Thus emerges a structural dynamic, which may be understood in terms of phases in which the power-balances and conflict-awareness correlate, non-deterministically, whereby those of the West may be in favour of the self-determination of the colonised peoples, but function as the dominant party, from which they benefit (Gallo & Marzano, 2009). The first phase is ‘conscientisation’, where the dominated peoples become aware of the unjust status disparity, generating a broad consciousness of dominated-ness, which may be understood in terms of Dependency Theory (Ferraro & Secondi, 2008, pp. 58–64). Andre Gunder Frank herein notes, ‘contemporary underdevelopment is on large part the historical product of past and continuing economic and other relations between the satellite underdeveloped and the now developed metropolitan countries’, thus constituting the relations upon which global capitalism reinforces itself (Frank, 1978), in which dominated states become dependent upon systemic dominatory mechanisms, making detachment implausible. However, as capitalism commits this simultaneous two-fold exploitation of the working class in the West and non-West, leaders justify this expansionist exploitation through the notion of race. Tilden Le Melle traces the origins of this justificatory mechanism, in which ‘ethnologists [endeavoured] to classify peoples of the world according to biological characteristics’, lending toward a ‘tendency to view “race” as the all-pervasive explanation for social behaviour and institutions’, manifesting racialism within domestic and foreign policy (Le Melle, 2009). Hence, there emerges a system of overlapping exploitative means, and to understand such dynamics, whereby the white working class is exploited in a different manner to that of the subordinately racialised classes in the West and non-West, intersectional critical theory is necessitated. Kathryn Pauly Morgan’s ‘intersecting axes of privilege, domination, and oppression’ demonstrates the enduring effects of these imposed social orders, in which eurocentric norms pertaining to language, sexuality, race, et cetera, corresponding to varying degrees of socioeconomic enfranchisement (Morgan, 1996). Hence, there remain multiple overlapping senses of ‘winning’ and ‘losing’, all disenfranchised by the capitalist order, whilst the bourgeoise remains the ultimate winner, beholden to the West.

This expansionism, and the resurgence of nationalist-empire of the North, culminated in the World Wars of the Twentieth Century, which saw the post-hoc reallocation of colonised territory, causing further political and socioeconomic tensions; yet, under globalisation, an amplified and more insidious capitalism requires an even greater resource availability- a system of North-South neo-imperialism. This period of conflict, and its eurocentric resolutions, brought about an anti-colonial movement which demanded national liberation, led by non-Western transcontinental Marxism, as Thomas Sankara in Africa, Bhagat Singh in Asia, George Habash in the Middle East, and Che Guevera in South America, attempted to comprehend imperial exploitation, the asynchronicity of societal development, the forms of dependence, and its reflections on political resistance (Brangsch, et. al, n.d.). These anti-capitalist forces in the non-West became necessary as colonialism fell yet imperialism intensified, whereby capital has become subject to unaware movements through space and time (Pilger, 2001). Herein, the second and third phases of the structural dynamic reinforce one another in confrontation, where the dominated peoples demand change and the recognition of their rights, and negotiation, the involvement of third parties, i.e. international institutions. In the post-War era, and the reconstruction of Europe, the Bretton Woods institutions were established (Peet, 2009), amidst a lattice of ‘international’ institutions, yet were later ‘reoriented’ to ‘assist’ the development of the South. Due to the eurocentricity of such, the fourth phase of sustainable peace, where the relationship between the parties is restructured, becoming more balanced and leading to collaborative peace, remains implausible. The insufficiencies of these intergovernmental organisations, in collaboration with structurally inadequate nongovernmental organisations, and the intrinsically exploitative nature of transnational corporations, with an increasing resource dependency, generates an neoliberal empire, as is the case in Indonesia, whereby the Bretton Woods institutions collaborated, to great economic benefit, with Western media and transnational corporations at the behest of the Indonesian working class, under General Suharto. The end of World War II also brought about the Cold War, from which the notion of the East-West dichotomy was strengthened, whereby any nation which adopts Western norms and values became associated as so, including Israel and Australia, despite geographical divergences (Ebaye & Ogbang, 2016), and from such, the notion of the Worlds (Sauvy, 1952), where the First denotes the most economically developed, whilst the Third denotes the least developed. The post-Cold War dismemberment of many former Soviet Republics, meant the Worlds system became too complex, thus shifting to the Global North-South dichotomy, whereby those previously of the East, or Third World, were attributed to the South. Both desire consumerism, yet over-consumption has bred environmental unsustainability (Hickel, 2019), and the resurgence of civil war, has prompted a new notion of Human Security, codified by the United Nations, with a shift in stress from ‘territorial security to food, employment and environmental security’ (Kaul, et. al, 1993), tied to Sustainable Development, ‘a concern for renewable resources’ (Mingst, et. al, 2017). Often considered utopian is the social-democratic Nordic model; however, this is similarly inadequate in pursuing Sustainable Development, with mass exploitation of the South, further making the fourth phase irreconcilable. Its diffusion of effects of unsustainable practices through space and time means that human development indicators in the North secede from habitat destruction, climate change, economic underdevelopment and inadequate human security, in the South. This hegemonic Northern concentration of wealth corresponds to the aforementioned bourgeois nature of the Seventeenth and Eighteenth Century revolutions, as wealth inequality in the United States today exceeds that of France in 1789 (FRB, pp. 59–83, n.d.). Here, it becomes apparent that the superstructure provides the conditions in which productive relations appear just and natural; however, only the terminology associated with exploitation shifts. The strengthening of international capitalism, and Dependent mechanisms, thus besets the South as the ‘loser’ to the North in the global economic system.

The expansion and strengthening of the international order, and its ‘winners’ and ‘losers’ may only be understood by adopting emergent overlapping historical contexts and theoretical frameworks, in which imperial economic expansion is grounded in a reinforcement of the ‘winners’ and ‘losers’. Throughout these historical developments, a capitalist eurocentricity is increasingly emphasised, with shifting terminology, of the West, to the First World, to the Global North, yet with each iteration, increasingly exploits the East, the Third World, and the Global South.


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