This paper examines the relationship between the globalization of capital,
changes in class structure, and the development of new forms of social consciousness.
‘Globalization’ is not a new historical phenomenon, as many
scholars have pointed out. There have been repeated episodes of global
expansion in the history of capitalism, followed by periods of contraction or
near collapse, and as Friedman and numerous others have properly
insisted, episodes of expansion and contraction have been characteristic of
the relations among societies and cultures long before the appearance of
capitalism (Friedman 2001; 1994). The last major episode of global expansion
in the history of capitalism took place at the end of the nineteenth century,
from 1880 to 1914. It is often pointed out that roughly the same levels
of capital export and trade were reached in that period as in the present
resurgence of transnational expansion. It is important, however, not to overlook
an important difference between the two episodes, which is that in the
previous period of globalization, the nation-state was still the fundamental
economic unit, whereas in the present phase, capital, in the form of transnational
corporations and financial markets, has escaped the limits of state
fiscal and political controls, and now increasingly operates in an effectively
stateless environment. The difference is reflected in the contrasting forms
assumed by imperialism as the political framework of nineteenth century
globalization and the present system of putatively independent nation-states.
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