Note: This is kind of stream of consciousness, and I am probably not being as accurate and precise as I could or should be. It’s also, obviously, not comprehensive — the Third World is too large, to write a comprehensive overview is too large a project, and the gaps in my knowledge are even larger. If you’re actually going to bother reading through this, bear with me. I’m writing this so that I can glean from it and turn parts of it into a more comprehensible paper..
The recent collapse of the global financial system has brought renewed interest to Marx, Marxism and socialism in mainstream literature. It’s probable that a lot of this will translate into academic “I-told-you-so” literature as well. The question of Marx here is one of a prescient and penetrating critic of the systemic operation of capitalism. Globalization typically refers to the proliferation of neoliberal ideology, policies and practice throughout the world starting in the 1970s, reaching a high point in the late 1980s as all and sundry adopted neoliberal capitalism as the way to go, and a surfeit of academic and activist analysis of globalization as globalization with the anti-globalization movements of the late 1990s and early 2000s. However, in the Communist Manifesto — published in 1848 — Marx and Engels wrote of capitalist production and ideology spreading throughout the world, remaking it in its own image. They also pointed out that the systemic operation of capitalism led to recurring crises — crises through which capitalism could reinvent itself or which oppositional forces could exploit (so to speak) to bring about a more just and equitable state of affairs.
One might think Marx and Engels to be prophets, but that the capitalism they were describing was the capitalism of the 19th century. Indeed, capitalism has changed since then — through several crises capitalism has been reinvented, reshaped, compromised and reestablished. But in many ways it remains the same, for at its essence is the appropriation by a few of the wealth produced by the many. While there is a form of exploitation intrinsic to capitalism (that of capitalists appropriating the wealth of workers) as a mode of production, there is more to it than just that. For capitalism had to begin somewhere, and the mode of exploitation of workers inherent to it was not always the way it worked. There first had to be a massive accumulation of capital outside the system — what Marx called primitive accumulation. Where did this mass accumulation come from? Locally, in England, it came from the enclosure of the commons (lands peasants would use in common), and the appropriation thereof by landed gentry, kicking peasants off the land and thereby establishing roving bands of unemployed and shitpoor people who had nothing to lose. These migrated to towns and cities to work in factories in shitpoor conditions. Yet there was also the massive pillaging of the Americas, India and parts of Africa, not to mention Ireland, among others. What Marx and Engels saw in their time, even as early as 1848, was the expansion of capitalism to many corners of the world.