2000s >> 2009 >> no-1261-september-2009

Book Reviews

Globalization in Question. By Paul Hirst, Grahame Thompson and Simon Bromley. Polity Press, 2009

Globalization is one of the key concepts of our time, accepted by both the right and left as the cornerstone of their analysis of the international economy. In both political and academic discussions, the assumption is often made that globalization of the past few decades is a qualitatively new stage in the development of international capitalism; that integration of national economies into the international economy is an inevitable process to which national governments are largely powerless. This book challenges these notions.

The authors, using detailed evidence, argue for the following conclusions. The present highly internationalised economy is not unprecedented. In some respects, the current globalized economy has only recently become as open and integrated as the regime that prevailed from 1870 to 1914. Genuinely transnational companies are relatively rare. Most companies are based nationally and trade regionally or multinationally on the strength of a major national location. There is no major trend towards the growth of truly global companies. Foreign direct investment is still highly concentrated among the advanced industrial economies, and the Third World remains marginal in both investment and trade. The emergence of India and particularly China has disrupted this picture, though it has not significantly shifted the centre of gravity from the already advanced countries. Investment, trade and financial flows are concentrated in the Triad of Europe, Japan/East Asia and North America, and this dominance seems set to continue. Supranational regionalization (e.g. European Union, North American Free Trade Agreement, Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation) is a trend that is possibly stronger than that of globalization. The major economic powers, centred on the G8 with China and India, have the capacity, especially if they coordinate policy, to exert powerful governance pressures over financial markets and other economic tendencies. Global markets are therefore by no means beyond regulation and control, though this will be limited by the divergent interests of states and their ruling elites.

The authors show some awareness of the historical development of capitalism, though they view this largely as the history of technological innovation. As the above shows, the emphasis in this book is on the institutional arrangements (social, economic and political) and their interrelationships within capitalism, with no real comprehension of the underlying dynamic of capitalism. As a result they do not explain that it is the competitive accumulation of profits which is the driving force of capitalism’s inherent tendency towards globalization.


Globalisation Laid Bare. Lessons in International Business. Industry and Parliament Trust. 2009. £11.99.

The Industry and Parliament Trust is a body set up to promote “mutual understanding between the UK Parliament and the worlds of business, industry and commerce” and this is their take on globalisation. Introduced by Sir Richard Branson, it is a collection of short articles by various other capitalists and their academic and political supporters.

The contributors main concerns seem to be how to avoid protectionism re-emerging in the current crisis and how to accommodate to China as an emerging industrial and commercial power. The contributors from the three main parties (Vince Cable, Alan Duncan and Baron Mandelson) all say the same thing – “down with protectionism” and “keep liberalising world trade” – reflecting their common perception of what is in the best interest of British capitalism.

The only dissenters are “Indian ecofeminist” Vandana Shiva and Clare Short.


Bloody Foreigners – The story of immigration to Britain. By Robert Winder. Abacus, 2004

“In 1859 Friedrich Engels poked a man in the eye with an umbrella and soon heard from the man’s lawyers. ‘Needless to say’, he wrote, ‘these blasted English don’t want to deprive themselves of the pleasure of getting their hands on a bloody foreigner.’”

This book is an account of the ‘tangled roots’ of history that make up the mongrel ‘British nation’, pointing out that from the amalgamation of Jutes, Saxons, Romans, Danes etc. up to the present time one would be hard-pressed to find a true (pure) Englishman. Immigration, and conversely emigration, has been an intricate part of its development. In the 12th century came French Jews to London, Lincoln, York and Norwich; in the Elizabethan age Italian musicians, German businessmen and the first African slaves; then Protestants from the Low Countries seeking religious tolerance; Huguenot refugees from France ‘en masse’ in the 17th century; likewise Greek Christians fleeing from the Turks. In 1768, courtesy of the slave trade, there were 20,000 black Londoners out of a total population of 600,000 and in 1840 400,000 Irish escaping the potato famine came to Manchester, London, Liverpool and Glasgow. By the end of the 19th century 40,000 Italians and 50,000 Germans had settled here plus 150,000 Jewish evacuees from Tsarist pogroms in Russia. At the time of their arrival most of these groups suffered hostility of varying degrees but as the generations rolled by they were gradually accepted.

Some of the well-known immigrants and their institutions include Rothschilds, Reuters, Marks and Spencer, Trust House Forte, Tesco, Joseph Conrad, Harold Pinter, Doris Lessing, Simon Schama and Linford Christie.

Kings were imported from Germany and Holland, queens from France and Spain and fighting forces from the wide world were drafted to fight in World Wars 1 and 2 and then post-WW2 large numbers of workers were actively recruited from the colonies.

As a result of intricate research Winder exposes the manipulations, lies and exaggerations of media accounts of more recent waves of immigration and asylum seekers, e.g. in the Thatcher era, with immigrants making up 4 percent of the population, she gave her vision of what made Britain ‘Great’ – 9 percent felt there were too many immigrants before she expounded compared with 21 percent who admitted to being worried afterwards. Other examples reveal the actual state of monetary and housing benefits to immigrants which are wildly different from the stories abounding in the media.

Poor bloody foreigners – they’re just used as a convenient group, easy to label and point the finger at. Instead of falling for the divide and rule tactics which weaken us all, workers should recognise who their real enemy is and work together to defeat the system that enslaves us all.


The Rise and Fall of Communism. By Archie Brown. Bodley Head. 2009. £25.

Archie Brown, an Oxford professor and expert in the subject, begins by defining his terms. By Communism (with a capital C) he means what existed in Russia and 14 other countries and which still exists in varying degrees today in five of them (China, Vietnam, North Korea, Cuba and Laos), characterised by the monopolisation of power by a Communist party, organised on rigidly hierarchical lines and severely disciplined, the state ownership of the main means of production and a top-down command economy. By communism (with a small c) he means the “self-governing, stateless, co-operative society” which the Communist parties proclaimed as their long-term aim – and which was Marx’s aim too (and also our, only and immediate, aim, even if we prefer to call it socialism).

Taking this into account, this 700-page tome is an objective account of the coming into being, history and demise in Europe of Communist (what we’d call state capitalist) regimes which he sees as the salient fact of the 20th century. Unfortunately for us genuine communists, apart from the suffering imposed on the workers of the countries concerned, this dragged the name of communism (with a small c) through the mud, so making the task of spreading the idea of a stateless, classless, moneyless society as the alternative to capitalism all the more difficult.


Rare doings at Camberwell and Muzak to my ears, Past Tense £1.50 and £1 respectively (p&p 50p for one item, 80p for two) from Past Tense, c/o 56a infoshop, 56 Crampton Street, London SE17 (cheques to A. Hodson)

Muzak to my ears, the history of canned music, as well as a commentary on its present use, is a welcome reminder of how capitalism penetrates every facet of our lives, perverting and twisting human behaviour to its own sick requirements. Like all Past Tense publications, it is exceptionally reasonably priced and well-presented, as well being informative and novel. The author is fortunately by no means trite enough to suggest a “solution”, merely stating the facts and leaving the reader to reach their own conclusions. I think you know ours. Rare doings in Camberwell is a local radical history production. It is very wide ranging in its scope, and if there is no mention of the real radicals – social revolutionaries – that is because such are rare birds anywhere.


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