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The great war machinep

By Riccardo Petrella, Le Monde diplomatique, May 1997

To be opposed to the kind of aggressive globalisation typical of a market economy that is capitalist, liberalised, deregulated, privatised, highly technocratic and competitive does not imply opposition to other forms of government and globalisation that rely on cooperation—quite the reverse. This, after all, is a need perceived by hundreds of thousands of organisations that are trying to set in place, in every corner of the globe, new principles and new, cooperative forms of world government.

These are organisations active in all areas with an impact on the security of mankind. In the military field they oppose the proliferation of nuclear weapons and promote general disarmament; in the environmental field they encourage sustainable development in line with the recommendations of the 1992 Rio Conference; and, in relation to security of food supply, they are seeking to bring to an end the scandal of the 800 million people suffering from malnutrition. Those organisations are also strongly represented in the dialogue between different cultures and civilisations and in the development of scientific and technological research geared towards human and social needs etc. The most serious obstacle in their path is globalisation in its current form, based on the primacy of the interests of private enterprise and its freedom of action that is subject to no boundaries, and the sovereignty of an—allegedly—self-regulating market.

Instead of distributing the planet’s material and non-material resources—never mind its human resources—in the best possible way, globalisation is a source of wide-spread dysfunctionalism and brazen waste. Catering for the needs of society is not, admittedly, one of its objectives. And that is why claims as to the effectiveness of globalisation made in some quarters are quite simply absurd.

After the dollar ceased to be gold-convertible at a fixed rate—a decision taken by US President Richard Nixon in 1971—and capital movements became generally liberalised (in the United States in 1974 and throughout the European Community as of 1990) the world has been in a state of total monetary instability. We have seen the development of a financial economy that is purely speculative and increasingly dissociated from—when it is not completely at odds with—the real economy and a genuine industrial culture. In some areas, the aim of short term profitability triggers crises of overproduction (in the car industry, the electronics industry, the information technology industry and the steel industry); in others it is the cause of shortages (in housing, education and food supply) and in many other sectors it leads to falls in productivity (basic cereals and data processing systems etc).

Globalisation steers economies towards production structures geared to the ephemeral and the evanescent (because the lifespan of products and services is generally and extensively reduced) and to the precarious (temporary work, flexible working and the imposition of part-time working). Instead of constantly enhancing the available resources it renders them obsolete, useless and unable to be recycled as rapidly as possible). All this is to the detriment of work with a human face and social interaction.

On the pretext of exploiting the right resources, from the right place, for the right product, on the right market and at the right time, for the right consumer, globalisation of production structures allows the big networks of multinationals to exploit small and medium-sized enterprises intensively and at the lowest possible cost, at a world level. Marginalised into the role of increasingly vulnerable subcontractors, these SMEs are considered to be nothing more than profit centres at the service of the big corporations. The situation is worse still for those SMEs which are themselves subcontracting from larger subcontractors. Insecurity and a sense of exploitation is no longer the prerogative of workers, peasants and the self-employed—small businesses are now genuinely prey to the same uncertainties.

Re-engineering, flexible production, externalisation, downsizing: all these new management techniques are contributing to the development of the great global machine of the capitalist free market, whose sole objective is to extract the maximum profit at the lowest cost from the world’s resources. Resources, individuals, groups within society, towns, regions, indeed whole countries are abandoned or excluded: they have not been judged profitable enough by—or for—the global machine. Hence the frenzy of competition they engage in in order to be competitive, that is to say simply in order to survive.

Are we then going to allow this great war machine to be the sole arbiter of the economic, technological, political and social history of the 21st century?