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Marx’s idea of ‘globalization’ can help make sense of China’s status today

Author  :  HU LIU     Source  :    Chinese Social Sciences Today     2017-09-20

As globalization deepens, it is important for China to recognize the opportunities and challenges through further exploration of Karl Marx’s philosophy of history.

Globalization is the essence of developmental trends in the world today, and it provides the historical backdrop for the evolution of socialism with Chinese characteristics.

As globalization deepens, it is vital to the fate of socialism with Chinese characteristics for the nation to recognize the opportunities and challenges through further exploration of Karl Marx’s philosophy of history. 

Theory of world history

While it is true that Marx never used the term “globalization,” he discussed the concept avant la lettre as part of his theory of world history. Marx’s general understanding and elaboration on the nature, characteristics and developmental laws of world history were actually explanations of globalization, which can primarily be seen in his discussion of three topics.

First, Marx adopted a unique approach to studying world history. He established an analytic framework based on the changes of social forms, providing a holistic way of understanding and explaining these changes. 

For Marx, the formation of world history was, in nature, the massive transformation of traditional society into modern society as well as the resultant systemic reforms of social life and establishment of new forms of civilization. This transformation was caused by the global development of modern industry as well as science and technology after the 16th century, particularly the Industrial Revolution in Western Europe.

Hence, world history is a new stage of historical development, in which the entire social life of humanity became imbued with a global character. It is also a world history of establishing a completely new civilization by involving all the nationalities, even the least advanced ones in modern industrial civilization. The latest phase of globalization is merely the further quantitative expansion and deepening of this world history, which is basically an epochal and holistic change. 

The second issue is the relationship between the duality of capital logic and globalization. Marx analyzed the internal contradictions within the modern mode of production, which is also the source of internal momentum for the development of world history. In this way, he revealed the internal logic, i.e. capital logic of the development of globalization.

Marx argued that due to the profit-making nature of capital, the entire planet is being transformed into a single market. At the same time, capital strives to compress the entire planet into an immense global market to decrease the time of circulation for capital down to near zero. This could be realized by improving the fundamental infrastructure of transportation, communication and credit system. In this way, the entire world is brought under the dominion of capital. 

In this sense, globalization is, first of all, the globalization of capital. However, from the very beginning, the expansion of capital was accompanied by struggles between globalization and opponents because of the contradiction of the duality of capital.

This phenomenon indicates that globalization internally conceives of ways and means to transcend the abstract dominance of capital. The consequence of globalization is not the globalization of capitalism. Socialist nations are also capable of transcending the dominance of global capital on the basis of using this capital, creating another kind of fairer globalization. 

Last of all, deep study of the theory of world history and globalization cannot be done without a profound comprehension of modernity. Modernity inherently has global nature and globalization is a modern phenomenon. Marx’s study of world history is closely connected with the ideas about modernity he elaborated on in his criticism of modern capitalist society. Marx noted the profound influence that the reflexivity of modernity has on globalization. In Speech on the Anniversary of the People’s Paper, he wrote: “In our days, everything seems pregnant with its contrary.”

For Marx, the globalization of modernity, which, to some extent, is the inevitable result of historical development, is first of all the globalization of capital. In other words, globalization of modernity represents a trend of development from unilateral globalization dominated by capital to multilateral globalization in which the role of capital is decentralized. 

In short, globalization means the coexistence of decentralization and diversity. In this sense, nationality and traditional culture was provided with fertile soil during the globalization of modernity. The globalization of modernity also provides a logical premise for establishing a multilateral, interactive and co-existent global order and a community of shared destiny for humanity while broadening the space for the free development of individuals.

Hence, modernization inevitably involves globalization, but that does not necessarily negate the national character of modernization as well as its traditional cultural connotations. 

Contemporary values

Rich contemporary values can be found in Marx’s stances, views and methods of observing globalization. They are particularly enlightening efforts to uphold and develop socialism with Chinese characteristics. Marx’s views are also helpful for promoting the “Belt and Road” initiative and constructing the “community of shared destiny for humanity.”

From the perspective of epochal and holistic changes in human history, Marx viewed globalization as a feature of our era and a trend of development. Marx’s theory transcends the thinking pattern that equates globalization with Western-centrism, which is commonly seen in globalization theory. Marx’s idea of globalization is of methodological significance for developing socialism with Chinese characteristics, which should stress its global sense as well as national characteristics. In this way, the construction of a community of shared destiny for humanity can be united with the Chinese dream of national rejuvenation. 

Viewing globalization as a trait of the times requires observing and addressing all the major historical events and problems in a certain era by connecting them with globalization. This methodology is intrinsically different from the globalism or the discourse system advocated by Western neoliberalism.

However, stressing globalization does not diminish the role of national identity. It demands scientifically and rationally designing and regulating the development path of a nation on the basis of sincerely safeguarding the holistic interests of humanity.

Marx analyzed world history and the internal momentum driving globalization from the perspective of the duality of capital logic. This method is vital to comprehending contemporary globalization as well the development of socialism with Chinese characteristics. 

Globalization is full of conflicts as well as twists and turns. It contained profound internal contradictions from the very beginning. Globalization is increasingly coming under fire as more and more global issues and crises arise. Marx’s analysis of the developmental process and contradictions of world history indicates global conflicts and crises cannot be addressed by simply negating and deconstructing globalization. By analyzing and criticizing the logic of capital internal to globalization, we may find practical ways to address global conflicts and crises, i.e. socialist and communist practices. In this way, the internal momentum of globalization can be transformed from blind capital power into a force that can be consciously harnessed by humanity for its own development.

According to Marxist theory, the dominance of capital over globalization should be analyzed by using the dialectical methods of dealing with the contradictions. We should address the contradictions and conflicts that have accumulated in the process of globalization while rejecting all kinds of romantic and nihilist attitudes. We should pay attention to the direction of globalization and rationally make institutional arrangements. In particular, we should pay attention to the role that socialism plays in guiding and regulating the logic of capital, addressing various conflicts and barriers in the development of globalization by following the principles which conform to and embody the nature of socialism. In this way, globalization can be promoted in a healthy and orderly way. 

Marx’s analysis of the relationship between the paradox of subjectivity in modernity and globalization was useful to promote socialism with Chinese characteristics by utilizing capital. For Marx, capital is closely related to the destiny of humanity. For the purpose of its own reproduction, capital will inevitably utilize the attributes of both nature and humanity. Hence, it is the intrinsic requirement of capital to universally exploit all the attributes of humanity and foster highly civilized humans.

However, the nature of capital determines that it is incapable of truly shaping highly civilized and comprehensively developed humans. Capital helps humanity get rid of the natural limitations for development while at the same time creating social limitations for human development. Under the dominance of capital, a human cannot exist as a free individual but rather as a form of personal independence based upon dependence mediated by things. 

Reforming the reversed situation demands reforming the capitalist form of production and establishing a new community of freemen, which must be achieved by fully utilizing capital. The ultimate purpose is to safeguard and realize the comprehensive development of humanity rather than globalization. Therefore, while promoting socialism with Chinese characteristics by utilizing capital, the development of humans should be the primary value. In this way, the socialist direction of China’s development can be maintained.


Hu Liu is from the Institute of Marxist Philosophy at the Southwest University.

Editor: Yu Hui

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