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The Crises and the Movements of Global Capitalism

[University of Hawaii]

The intention of this article is to problematize global capitalism as the ‘common enemy’ of the ‘anti-globalization’ movements by placing it within the ambiguities of post-modernity. Looking at (post)-Fordism, I talk about the incompleteness of any hegemonic project. Gramscian understanding of hegemony as born in the factory may still be still valid but needs to be expanded to cover what Deleuze describes as ‘arbitrary bio-politics’. While power aims at control of minds, moods or feelings, the attempt to normalize these evades the power of any institution and contains the potentialities of its own subversion.

Keywords: capitalism; hegemony; counter-hegemony; Fordism; post-Fordism



Contemporary counter-hegemonic movements need to be deconstructing rather than ‘naming’ the ‘common enemy’ or hegemony.[1] The primary activity of new social movements is to challenge dominant cultural codes.[2] I am not going to detail here how the so-called ‘anti-globalization’ movements are creating a new and complex terrain for resisting global neo-liberal corporate capitalism as the new hegemony. Here, I will explain how the Post-fordist and post-modernity, albeit contradictory, ambiguous and non-homogenous, have been complicating „hegemonic” power without replacing the ‘factory’ itself as one of the sites where hegemony is born. Gramsci’s arguments are still relevant though not sufficient to explain the complexity of power relations in late capitalism. The ‘unifying’ rationale of contemporary ‘anti-globalization’ movements is the perception of a ‘common enemy’, totalizing and mastering peoples’ destinies everywhere. My argument is that our understanding of these counter-hegemonic movements would benefit from a ‘deconstruction’ of this perceived ‘common enemy’ itself which implies a re-conceptualization of ‘hegemony’. In this essay I intend to problematize economic global capitalism as the ‘common enemy’ of the anti-globalization movements by placing late capitalism within the ambiguities of post-modernity. No hegemony is ever complete. This incompleteness is exactly what makes the movements possible. Following Foucault’s conceptualization of power and resistance as mutually constitutive, ‘hegemony’ or capitalist dominance appears as contradictory and constitutive of what it tries to control. [3] Hence also the site where it may be ‘born’ varies.

The first section of this essay will follow Harvey’s lines of argument. The post-modern (post-fordist) awareness of fragmentation and contradictions, increasing uncertainties and anxieties, which we continue to feel since the 1970s, produces both celebratory aesthetic movements of empowerment in ‘deconstruction’ as well as charismatic re-territoralizations of ideological closure in search for new ontological securities. The anti-globalization movements mirror both these reactions in the multitude of Leftist shades of oppositional consciousness raising campaigns as well as New Right conservator tendencies. However, the movements’ difficulty in forging strategic unity lies precisely in the lack of hegemonic unity of the ‘common enemy’ itself.

Second, I will make a brief analysis of the economic and social changes that Fordism and Post-fordism generated, present the similar inherent contradictions of capitalism in the story about globalization and re-open the discussion by theorizing modernity and post-modernity and their overlapping nature in contemporary global capitalism. Arbitrary bio-economy along with bio-politics seems to characterize hegemony of capitalist power. Its center is no longer the factory as it pervades our lives irrespective of race, gender and class or occupation. Gramscian understanding of hegemony is still valid but needs to be expanded following these lines. As Hardt and Negri argue, „The first question of political philosophy today is not if or even why there will be resistance and rebellion, but rather how to determine the enemy against which to rebel.”[4]

Can we forget the factory?

Gramsci regarded Americanism as a symptom of future historical developments within production relations and looked at its impact on Europe after the WWI. America seemed to intrigue European Marxists like Gramsci because it lacked the residual problems of a feudal phase, and:

Since these preliminary conditions existed, (…) it was relatively easy to rationalize production and labor by a skilful combination of force (destruction of working class trade unionism on a territorial basis) and persuasion (high wages, various social benefits, extremely subtle ideological and political propaganda) and thus succeed in making the whole life of the nation revolve around production. Hegemony here is born in the factory.[5]

Understanding Gramsci’s belief requires more historical information about the modes of production and particularly Fordist practices of mass-production. Following Gramsci, Harvey makes a valuable presentation of Fordism, modernity and post-fordism and post-modernity. He explains how they cannot be seen as necessarily homogenous. In Fordist America there was relative fixity and permanence – fixed capital in mass production, stable standardized markets, a clear configuration of political and economic power, easily identifiable authority and meta-theories of modern descent. Though the recipe was not ‘spontaneous’ but depended on economic growth and transformation of social relations, the project of Fordism itself was in ‘becoming’.

During Fordism, economists were imagining ‘principles of scientific management’ to radically increase productivity by breaking down labor processes into rigorous tasks. The challenging efforts were going as far as the ‘perfect worker’ had to be created through the imposition of a certain way of life, almost like a new Man: sexuality, family, morality and societal modus vivendi, they all had to harmoniously create the happy atmosphere of capitalist life.

So in 1916, Ford sent an army of workers to ensure that the ‘new man’ of mass production had the right kind of moral probity, family life, and capacity for prudent (i.e. non-alcoholic) and ‘rational’ consumption to live up to corporate needs and expectations. (…) So strongly did Ford believed in corporate power that he increased wages with the onset of the great depression in the belief that this would boost demand, revive the market and restore business confidence.[6]

One is already familiar with the devastating consequences of the Great Depression for the workers and how it took a New Deal to save some of the situation, besides Ford’s encouragements that workers should cultivate vegetables during their spare time in order to survive. In addition, the ideological divisions (between a Left or Right) were melted in the general efforts to imagine a way out of the Depression. But clearly it took a savage collapse for the capitalist states to re-think productive regulation:

The democratic statis of the 1920s had to be overcome by a modicum of state authoritarianism and intervention for which very little precedent (save that of Japan’s industrialization, or the Bonapartist interventions of Second Empire France) could be found.[7]

has to keep in mind the above story in order to understand that the relative balance of the post-war situation has not been just an accident but the actual ‘effort’ and struggles of many parties involved in economics, social practices and state’s politics. Indeed, through welfare Keynesianism, postwar Fordist way of life had combined more stable economic growth with rising material standards. The state and the economy were interdependent; Fordism depended on a State specific role. Moreover, state power legitimacy depended on the Fordism’s capacity to produce benefits (including social care) more justly, evenly and non-discriminatorily (a very difficult task considering the historical bias in favor of the white and the male).

It is in this context that the Breton Woods agreement in 1944 made the world dependent on the US dollar stability. In addition, Yalta’s Stalinist ‘conquest’ in 1945 has secured the impulse for the US’s mobilization of the productive, social and political forces to forge capitalism. This ‘war’ against communism justified other repressions of workers’ unions (given the fragile Werner Act of 1933) and offered the possibility to consolidate what Gramsci called ‘hegemony’. Hence, the state has continued to play the role of a partner in developing the capitalist hegemony despite prevailing neo-liberal ideas that try to neutralize its importance.

Following crisis of over-accumulation, Fordism is challenged in the 1970s; This was the age of new social movements struggling to humanize capitalism and calling for a new social economy sensitive to ecology, economic security and basic human needs. Observations about the so-called ‘transition’ to post-Fordism point to a decline in old manufacturing base and of skilled, male manual working class, rise of services, white-collar classes, feminization of work force, development of new Information Technology, dominance of multinationals with greater autonomy from state, globalization of finance and communication revolution. There was also more choice and product differentiation, supposedly targeting consumers’ lifestyle, tastes and cultures rather than class-based. In terms of cultural patterns, post-Fordism has brought more pluralism and fragmentation, weaker collective solidarities and block identities, new identities associated with greater work flexibility and individual choice through consumption. It is within these transitions that one could better observe the paradoxes of capitalism given its tendency towards instability, crisis and change as well as its ability to stabilize through institutions (some degree of regulation and normalization) that are able to secure a longer stability.

The ‘regulation theory’ presents three elements that explain a ‘successful’ transition of capitalism.[8] First, it is the existence of a regime of accumulation, that is, regularities at the economy level enabling capita accumulation. Second, there is a mode of regulation, i.e., laws and habits that secure capitalism’s reproduction. Thirs, there is a mode of societalization, namely, the political and social compromises, alliances and ideological hegemonic processes which support mass social cohesion and integration to stabilize the given development path. These elements facilitate new technology-based work with worker segmentation and social marginalization, stronger industrialization of service sectors with changing patterns in social structure towards white collar, enforced mobility of labor and new geographies of employment (relocation of production in cheaper spaces and with cheaper workers in developing nations), monopolies of major firms and institutions, weaker trade unions and erosion of worker solidarity. In other words, these have been the new opportunities as well as the new forms ‘enslavement’ of labor by capital characteristic of our current times. Post-fordism is still in the making precisely because of the absence of a complete dominant or binding mode of societalization.[9]

The modes of accumulation are still efficient because the schemas of reproduction are still coherent while the production for surplus profit is still the main principle of economic life nowadays. Nowadays transnational corporations locating their manufacturing processes in Third World countries have already found the principles of ‘scientific exploitation’ and not only ‘management’ as during Fordism. The world of CEOs itself is a controversy when famous corporate people themselves start acknowledging that in pursuit of profits, corporations create monsters that may destroy us as well as production that is ‘plundering’ the Earth. While some of them still consider labor practices in the developing world as necessary because people have no other choice, the question is how the choices’ spectrum is maneuvered. As Rupert argues, it is essential to remember is that the capitalist organization of production is not natural or necessary but the result of historically situated agents. Private powers are understood in terms of ownership and control of property which give the authority to act in the social organization of production even without democratic accountability.

Capitalism’s structural separation of the ‘economic’ from the ‘political’ may have crucial ideological effects: for it enables the wage relations to take on the appearance of a voluntary exchange between abstract individuals in the market; while at the same time, the state may appear as a class neutral public sphere in which abstract individuals may interact as formally equal citizens pursuing politics of self-interest.”[10]

Historical materialism – as a critique of capitalism (of fordist roots) understood as a particular historical form of organization of human social life rather than a natural or necessary expression of our human nature – is not limited to Marxism or Gramscianism nor it refers simply at economics and domestic sphere but rather enriches the understanding of politics by connecting the global economic and political systems. Surely, to a certain extent people make their own history and construct a certain ‘human core’ in particular socio-historical contexts. Capitalism clearly generates some freedoms – as liberation from feudal serfdom. But there are also other serfdoms and limits on the very freedoms and rights we have gained through democratic political emancipation. Re-construction and re-creation of history is not purely de novo because „Under historical circumstances of capitalism, our inability collectively to determine the social organization of our productive activity, the kind of society we live in, and the kind of people we will become, is for Marx an index of our un-freedom.”[11] The dependence of the majority on the limited and alienating ‘wage’ is ‘enslavement’. This reification of social power relations becomes the sine qua non of life and human destiny itself. The market seems beyond our control and hence we internalize it as natural and inescapable. An irony of democracy lies in its dependence on money power which explains the infinite populism of most politicians. The problem now is not the so-easily ‘discredited’ ‘Marx’ but those who refuse to critically engage in discussions about capitalism fearing the label of ‘Marxist’.

To the extent that capitalism and its putatively private relations of power organize crucial parts of social life on a transnational scale, the struggles surrounding these relations and their various articulations in sites around the world merit serious study as part of the question of global power and resistance.[12]

The ‘transitions’ to (post)fordism have brought a different experience of time and space, while science and morality were blurred, images, fragmentation, ephemerality and culture taking precedence over narratives, eternal truths and unified politics. But just as modernity and post-modernity are melting together in a fluid mutual constant transformation, Fordism and post-Fordism are coexisting to a varying degree. While the modernist-Fordist flexibility was following a certain narrative of Becoming, postmodern flexibility is, however, more ambiguously, non-teleological, flexible in production techniques, labor markets and consumption niches, more fictional (even with capital), fantastic, immaterial (particularly of money), abounding of images, ephemeralities and contingencies. Yet, and very important, postmodernism and post-fordism also embodies strong nostalgias and potential commitments to Being (ontological securities) and to Space (conquest of time through spatialization, fixation), which is observed in the rise of charismatic leaders and politics, neo-conservatism and neo-fascism[13], which may also be seen as part of the counter-hegemonic movements despite them claiming left internationalist and pacifist character. This last observation also gives us a possible explanation for the ambiguity and contradictory complexity and diversity of the counter-hegemonic movements trying to challenge the ‘hegemony’ of late corporate capitalist globalization. I will focus next on the complexity of ‘hegemony’ in late capitalism to argue that Gramscian understanding of hegemony is still valid but needs to be expanded to cover arbitrary bio-economy along with bio-politics.

How can one speak of new hegemonies?

When approaching the concept of ‘hegemony’ or power domination in contemporary post-Fordist era we can argue that the organization of human organization is beyond bio-politics and aims at control of minds, moods, feelings, potentialities of life; but the attempt to normalize these is arbitrary, evades the power of any single (global) institution (including factories or states) and most importantly, contains the potentialities of its own subversion.[14] In Post-fordim, capitalism’s commodity production is based on the ability of labor power to create surplus value, surpass its own limits, itself becoming just another commodity. Crises appear as soon as the labor power refuses to turn to a commodity as we can see in the counter-hegemonic movements criticizing globalization worldwide. More importantly is that, increasingly detached from spatial, physical and biological aspects, labor force has become rather ‘mental’. Labor force moves in time and unrolls over the boundaries and hierarchies of space. Hence, it is almost impossible to organize, control and locate such labor force through the place it belongs to or its practices. Again here we can see the contradictions of capitalism, both empowering and enchaining.

In the lines of argumentation of contemporary philosophers, such as Agamben of Deleuze, we are faced with a type of bio-political economy where production has rather become spatially boundless and temporarily endless: the factory-office and its borders have dissolved into a multitude of productive singularities. Post-modernity and post-fordism bring fragmentary and fluidity in the means of societal production and control. This makes us speak of a new form of non-foundational economic capitalism, which through the new knowledge economy, produces new cartographies of control and obedience and hence new types of hegemony.

The floating currency (influencing and influenced by the floating ‘signifier’ or lack of foundational truths) and the generic human capacities (intellect, perception, linguistic-relational abilities) as supporting the means of production are blown in the air without a foundation rationality to confine their movements. This is empowering, disempowering, confusing, re-assuring and frightening as well. Deleuze says that the changed conception of „money” perhaps best explains the transformation from disciplinary societies to those of control[15]: whereas discipline was always related to molded currencies having gold as a numerical standard, control now is based on floating exchange rates, modulations of the movements of currencies. It is precisely this loss of standard/foundation or faith that distinguishes contemporary ‘Arbitrary power’ from despotic or disciplinary bio-power and Fordist hegemony.

Agamben argues that it is the arbitrariness of power today that has to be revealed and challenged.[16] Cases such as „International legality” (Kuwait 1991), „humanity” and „human rights” (Somalia 1993, Bosnia 1995, Kosovo 1999), „enduring freedom” (Afganistan 2001), „fight against terrorism” (Iraq 2003) make us think that the modern (bio)power which used to receive its legitimization from particular institutions and their tasks (factory produces, hospital takes care of illness, state protects labor force, army wages war, research is done in a university) is replaced by an ‘arbitrary’ power in the a ‘society of controls’ which avoids commitment to any particular institution which would set limits and slow them down. There is no clear Law within which power functions. What is interesting about arbitrary power is that it seems to never simply act toward an end, a detail which helps us further problematize the idea of a ‘common enemy’ one can fight against in movements. The new formless form of power as a non-state, non-institutional form of intervention is the logical „form” of power within an economy whose foundation has collapsed (organization without meaning). Knowledge economy is the continuance of capitalism without a foundation, and arbitrary power is its logical form of organization. While Fordism may have convinced the ‘nation’ of its ‘scientific truths’, nowadays the ‘nakedness’ or arbitrariness of any ‘hegemony’ cannot be easily naturalized.

Arbitrary power makes us think of ‘arbitrary’ resistance which, seem to reiterate Harvey’s fears when approaching the idea of aesthetic politics. Beyond ideology, faith and domination, resistance to arbitrariness may embrace arbitrariness – in a multitude of forms. When one has no faith, one has no limits. The awareness of the potentialities of the ‘multitude’ bringing ontology into our immediate life is overwhelming. There is no need for common cause, no need for unified institutionalized collectivities of faith to become political and the only element at stake is change through multiplicity of sites of resistance to match the mulciplicities of ‘hegemonic’ (or dominant) sites. When theorizing about the ‘anti-globalization’ movements it may be more productive to focus on these multiplicities. However, in order to do that, the understanding of ‘global capitalism’ needs to be broadened and nuanced as to also capture its arbitrariness.

Concluding remarks

Theorizing capitalist power as non-institutionalized, non-centralized and non-ideological may have some intellectual benefits. One may further analyze the implications that this conceptualization might bring for resistance movements. This approach may help us escape the blockage that the anti-globalization movements seem to experience when searching for a unified cause and institutional organization to counteract global capitalism. If sociology and political science (which are still state-centric in favoring state or community-polis in general even inter-nationally) can imagine resistance outside an organized collective (such as social movements objectified and unified resulting from the polis-centric logic) the understanding of late capitalism as non-unified both in terms of ideology, means, ends and institutions is productive. Hegemony needs to be looked for and counter-acted everywhere indeed.

Moreover, conceptualizing power hegemony as ‘floating’ in the ‘air’ may be limiting to the extent that the realities of bio-power as spatial and the ‘wage-slavery’ are still very much alive in certain Worlds. The world may be one global village (especially for capital, finance and powerful actors that enjoy the ‘lines of flight’, facilitated by the exact ‘rigid segments’ that they are undermining, namely the State and its institutions[17]) but it is far from being identical in hegemonic practices.

Considering the continuing preference for state-centric approaches historically favoring the White, the Western and the rich through different forms of imperialism or the corporate elite hijacking Empire’s institutions, the problem of resistance still lingers in how and where we see ‘centers’ of dominance. There are more worlds out there that are trapped into structural constrains and national-building narratives (the North, the South but the South includes post-colonial, Third World and post-communist Europe). While rejecting the attempt to homogenize these broad localities themselves, this paper argues that conceptualizing collective resistance has to take into account the differences in capitalist practices that these regions face. Labor practices in developing countries where Western corporation enjoy paradises of cheap labor and very low standards are resembling prisons and ‘armies’ and the coercive force used on poor, docile (mostly women) bodies is outrageous. Rupert’s observation is crucial in this sense: „capitalism’s ‘dual freedom’ means that there is scope for some choice in the wage relationship. However, migrant domestic workers and in fact most temporary migrants are still denied this freedom.

Power and resistance come in multiple forms and they all deserve closer investigations. Nowadays, as Said mentions, imperialism (or neo-colonialism) still lingers in all aspects of social and economic life. We can observe it in the new globalization processes, which prompted the anti-globalization movements. These are generally movements against the (mostly American) corporate conquest, i.e. the privatization of every aspect of life[18]. However, no map of an Empire is ever finalized. Hegemony is never complete since it may equal suicidal – both power and resistance ‘create’ maps and ‘conquests’ – and is never monolithic or fixed but rather unstable and ambiguous.



Agamben, Giorgio. Homo Sacer: Sovereign Power and Bare Life, Daniel Heller-Roazen (Translation), (Stanford: University Press. Stanford,1998).

Amin Ash, (ed.) Post-Fordism: a reader (Cambridge: Blackwell, 1994).

Bakan Joel. The corporation: the pathological pursuit of profit and power. (New York: Free Press, 2004).

Deleuze, Gilles, Dialogues, Gilles Deleuze and Claire Parnet (London: Athlone, 1987).

Deleuze, Gilles, Foucault, translated by Sean Hand, (Minnesota: University of Minnesota Press, 1988).

Deleuze Gilles, Félix Guattari. Thousand plateaus: capitalism and schizophrenia, transl. by Brian Massumi (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1987).

Deleuze, Gilles. „Postscript to the Societies of Control, October, 59, Winter ,1992.

Foucault, M. The history of sexuality: An introduction. (Harmondsworth: Penguin Books, 1990).

Foucault, M., „Of other spaces”. Diacritics, 16, 22–27.

Foucault Michel, Religion and Culture (NY: Routledge, 1999).

Foucault, Michel. Society must be defended: lectures at the Collège de France, 1975-76, Mauro Bertani and Alessandro Fontana (eds.), (New York: Picador, 2003).

Gramsci, Antonio, Selections from the Prison Notebooks, Quintin Huare & Geoffrey N. Smith (eds.) (NY: International Publishers, 1971).

Harvey, David, The Condition of Postmodernity: An Enquiry into the Origins of Cultural Change (USA: Blackwell, 1990).

Hardt Michael and Antonio Negri. Empire (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2001).

Melucci, A., Nomads of the Present. Social Movements and Individual Needs in Contemporary Society (Century Hutchinson, Victoria, 1989)

Melucci, A. Challenging Codes. Collective Action in the Information Age, (CUP: Cambridge, 1996).

Mertes, Tom. (ed.) Movement of movements: is another world really possible? (New York: Verso, 2004).

Rupert, Mark. Ideologies of globalization: contending visions of a new world order (New York: Routledge, 2000).

Rupert Mark and M. Scott Solomon, Globalization and international political economy: the politics of alternative futures, (Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield, 2006).

Said Edward, Culture and Imperialism (New York: Random House, 1993).

Starr, Amory. Naming the enemy: anti-corporate movements confront globalization (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 2000).




[1] I am referring here to the name of one of the major book on this topic, i.e. Amory Starr, Naming the enemy: anti-corporate movements confront globalization (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 2000).

[2] Melucci, A. Challenging Codes. Collective Action in the Information Age, (CUP, Cambridge, 1996), pp. 89-93.

[3] See Michel Foucault, Society must be defended (New York: Picador, 2003).

[4] Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri, Empire (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2001), p. 211.

[5] Antonio Gramsci, Selections from the Prison Notebooks, Quintin Huare & Geoffrey N. Smith (eds.) (NY: International Publishers, 1971), p. 285.

[6] David Harvey, The Condition of Postmodernity: An Enquiry into the Origins of Cultural Change (USA: Blackwell, 1990), p. 126.

[7] Harvey, „ The Condition „, p. 129

[8] See Ash Amin, (ed.) Post-Fordism: A Reader (Cambridge: Blackwell, 1994).

[9] Bob Jessop, „Post-Fordism and the State”, in Ash, Amin (ed.) Post-Fordism: a reader (Cambridge: Blackwell, 1994). Jessop argues that the state is adapting to and contributing to multi-layered changes in global politics.

[10] Mark Rupert, Ideologies of globalization: contending visions of a new world order (NY: Routledge, 2000), p. 3

[11] Rupert, Ideologies of globalization, p. 15

[12] Rupert Mark and M. Scott Solomon, Globalization and international political economy: the politics of alternative futures, (Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield, 2006), p.19.

[13] Harvey, The Condition of Postmodernity, p. 339

[14] See Michel Foucault, Society must be defended (New York: Picador, 2003) and Gilles Deleuze, Félix Guattari. Thousand plateaus: capitalism and schizophrenia (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1987).

[15] Gilles Deleuze, „Postscript to the Societies of Control, October, 59, Winter ,1992, pp. 3-7.

[16] Giorgio, Agamben, Homo Sacer: Sovereign Power and Bare Life, Daniel Heller-Roazen (Translation), (Stanford: University Press. Stanford,1998).

[17] Gilles, Deleuze Félix Guattari. Thousand plateaus: capitalism and schizophrenia, transl. by Brian Massumi (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1987).

[18] Klein, Naomi. (2004). ‘Reclaiming the commons’ in Tom Mertes & Walden Bello (eds.) Movement of movements: is another world really possible? New York: Verso. pp. 219-230.


IRINA VELICU este PhD, Universitatea din Hawaii.




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