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Eight Reasons Why We Should All be Marxists

The third of three posts on Marxism for A2 Sociological Perspectives – Arguments and evidence for the continued relevance of Marxism 

Contemporary Marxists argues that Marxist analysis is still relevant to an understanding of modern society. A considerable amount of contemporary Marxist thought focuses on how Capitalism has become globalised and emphasises the injustices of the global capitalist system; another strand of contemporary Marxist theory focuses on how the values of capitalism (in the form of ‘neo-liberal hegemony’) have penetrated Western culture to the detriment of us all.

You might like to think about what Marxist concepts are illustrated by these cartoons

  1. Some Sociologists argue that a class based analysis of global society is still relevant.

Leslie Sklaire argues that recent decades have seen the emergence of a ‘Transnational Capitalist Class’. These are the leaders of global corporations, certain politicians and their bureaucrats who control billions of dollars of assets and financial flows. They wield their power through undemocratic international economic institutions such as the World Bank, The International Monetary Fund and the G20. These institutions were established after World War Two to help co-ordinate the expanding global economy and facilitate redevelopment after the war. However, many left wing theorists such as Joseph Stiglitz argue that since the 1970s these institutions have forced dozens of developing countries to adopt neo-liberal economic policies. Neo-Liberal policies include such things as privatising public services, cutting taxes and regulating industry less, thus allowing Transnational Corporations to open sweat shops, pollute local areas, and take all the profits away without giving very much back. The basic idea here is that the global economy is run by Corporations and Politicians for the benefit of Corporations and their high powered political supporters (One of whom is ‘Gideon’ Osborn)

  1. There is considerable evidence that exploitation still lies at the heart of the Capitalist system.

Corporations are frequently criticised for exploiting workers and the environment – through sweatshop labour and pollution, where they can get away with it. Some of the most obvious examples include Shell and oil pollution in Nigeria; Coke’s legacy of draining water local water supplies in India to produce Coke, which results in drought in local areas and Apple’s use of sweatshops in China to produce the ipad.

  1. There is some evidence that those with economic power still have disproportionate influence over the superstructure.

Marxist Theory is still relevant because…. There is some evidence that those with economic power still have disproportionate influence over the superstructure.

I should just point out that the point of this post is to provide soundbites that you can use in an exam (or an arguement with a Tory supporter of the neo-liberal state apparatus) rather than a comprehensive or balanced account of evidence for or against (the variety of) Marxist theory.

Evidence of Elite control over the government

By far the best example of state putting the interests of Capital before the interests of the majority of people is how the government has responded to the present ‘economic crisis’. 

Simply put, the state is making the poor pay for the economic problems caused by the Transnational Capitalist Class. The average guy on the street is getting poorer while the rich are still getting richer! Consider also the recent case of Ireland, where the minimum wage is being cut by one euro, VAT is being increase, and public sector jobs axed, while Corporation Tax remains at an incredibly low 12.5%  

Getting back to the cuts in Britain, this is no surprise if you actually look at the characteristics of those who make up the cabinet and the wider Tory Party; you actually find that many of them are themselves extremely wealthy. The prime minister, deputy prime minister and Chancellor are all millionaires – They are the Transnational Capitalist Class – and they are hardly likely to hurt themselves.

Evidence of Elite control over the Criminal Justice System

Another example of the elite class having control over the superstructure lies in the differential treatment of white collar crime and street crime. Even though White Collar Crime costs more to the economy than street crime, White Collar Criminals are still less likely to get punished. According to Tombs and Whyte, this is partly because the government invests fewer resources into investigating fraud and health and safety crimes (the types of crime Corporations are most likely to be guilty of) than it does into working class street crime.

Evidence of Elite Control over the mainstream Media

Greg Philo argues that it is simply crazy it is that the agenda in the media is about ‘what services should the government cut’ rather than ’should we tax the wealthy or make cuts.[1] Philo points[2] out that there are other solutions to the current economic crisis – there is enough property wealth in the country – we could just take it off them, but the government is making the average man on the street pay instead. In his film, 

Evidence of Elite Control of the Education system

Evidence for elite control of the education system lies in the fact that if you are wealthy, you can buy your children a private education, which gives them a much greater chance of getting into a top university and high getting a highly paid, prestigious job.  The statistics make for extremely uncomfortable reading… Intelligent children from the 20% of richest homes in England are seven times more likely to attend a high-ranking university than intelligent children from the poorest 40%’.Looked at another way, of 80,000 15-year-olds who’d been on free school meals in 2002, only 45 had made it to Oxbridge- compared to the high-end private Westminster school which averages 82 successful applicants every year.[3]

People from upper middle class, public school backgrounds dominate every economic sector except those – such as sport and hard science – in which only raw ability counts. Through networking, confidence, unpaid internships, most importantly through our attendance at the top universities, we run the media, politics, the civil service, the arts, the City, law, medicine, big business, the armed forces, even, in many cases, the protest movements challenging these powers. The Milburn report, published last year, shows that 45% of top civil servants, 53% of top journalists, 32% of MPs, 70% of finance directors and 75% of judges come from the 7% of the population who went to private schools.’[4]

  1. There is evidence that we are still under ideological control – but we don’t realise it.

Antonio Gramsci, A humanist Marxist writing in the early twentieth century first pointed out that what he called ‘Hegemonic Control’ plays an ever important role in advanced Capitalist societies. Hegemonic control occurs when the intellectual and moral leadership provided by the dominant class provides the fundamental outlook for the whole of society.

Greg Philo points to one very good recent example of this in recent years – the fact that we are so willing to accept cuts to public services when the richest ten percent of the country own so much wealth that if we just took one fifth of their wealth we would clear the national deficit, yet this idea doesn’t not even appear in the media. Agenda Setting has removed it and so we do not even consider it.

  1. Capitalism is kept going by creating ‘false needs’

Successful companies today spend billions on advertising campaigns to convince us that we need the products that they make. Looked at objectively much of what we buy we don’t need, yet the Capitalist class invests billions convincing us to buy things that we do not need.

Worse that ideological control – More generally, numerous Sociologists such as Richard Wilkinson and David Garland point out that the more unequal a country, and the more a country has adopted neo-liberal policies – the higher the prison population. It would appear that the closer a country is to ‘pure capitalism’ the more punitive the elite class is.

  1. Alienation and Commodity Fetishism

We in west have become so obsessed with consumer culture that we end up defining ourselves through the products we consume, and how we ‘pick and mix them’ (this means fashion, holidays, houses, cars, mobile phones). From a Marxist point of view this is incredibly shallow – Marx believed that we are only fully human when we are fully engaged with the political and economic processes of our society. From the Marxist point of view, Capitalism just encourages us to be childlike and define ourselves through our styles and our hobbies and to forget about politics and economics. In the truest sense we are alienated from our productive base while our identities become more and more dependent on material goods.

  1. David Harvey argues that economic crises are inherent to the Capitalist system and that in recent years these crises have become more severe and more frequent.

Harvey argues that any sane person should join an anti-capitalist movement because the root problems of Capitalism are the same as they were in Marx’s day – click here for his analysis of the problems of Modern Capitalism

  1. Capitalist exploitation is so bad in some parts of the world that there is vehement resistance to it – especially in Latin America – President Hugo Chavez of Venezuela, for example, perceives himself as an anti-Capitalist, as do many people of Latin America. The Zapatistas in Mexico is another good example and the World Development Movement also has Marxist undertones.

  • See the first 20 mins or so of John Pilger’s ‘War on Democracy’ to here Hugo Chavez talk in Marxist terms – on stream

  1. Although you don’t see it in the media there are tens of thousands of people who call themselves Communists and who sympathise with Marxism and the wider anti-capitalist movement. Left Wing criticisms and the anti-capitalist movement are still very much alive today.

Related Posts

The Traditional Marxist Perspective on Society – Eight Key Ideas

Eight Criticisms of Traditional Marxism

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The Pessimist View of Globalization

Pessimist globalists argue that globalization is a form of Western, American Imperialism. They see globalization as a process in which Western institutions and ideas are imposed on the rest of the world. Transnational Corporations are the backbone of this new global order and these are the institutions that benefit from especially economic globalization. Two examples of pessimist globalists are Ha-Joon Chang and Jeremy Seabrook.

Global Pessimism

Chang argues that neoliberals paint a false picture of the benefits of economic globalization through the spread of neoliberal economic policy, suggesting that neo-liberal policies actually benefit rich countries and corporations more than poor countries. Neoliberal policies simply make it easier for western companies to move into a poorer country, take over local businesses, extract natural resources, pay local people low wages, and leave behind a trail of pollution because there are fewer national regulations which prevent them from doing so.

Chang refers to the World Bank, the IMF and the WTO as the ‘Unholy Alliance’ and claims they exist to force developing countries down the free-trade road. For example, the IMF and the World Bank will only lend money to developing countries on the condition that they adopt free-trade policies. Change points out that, as a result, the neoliberal world economy is dominated by the developed-world – rich countries conduct 70% of world trade for example, while Sub-Saharan Africa still (even in 2017) accounts for much less than 10% of global trade.

Seabrook argues that, by definition, globalization makes all other cultures local, and, by implication, inferior. He suggests that globalization implies a superior, civilised mode of living – it implicitly promises that it is the sole pathway to universal prosperity and security – consequently diminishing and marginalisation local cultures. Seabrook suggests that globalization sweeps aside the multiple meanings human societies and cultures have derived from their environments. He argues that integration into a single global economy is a ‘declaration of cultural war’ upon other cultures and societies and that it often results in profound and painful social and religious disruption.

Pessimists are further concerned about the concentration of the media in the hands of a few, powerful media corporations. Media conglomerates, mainly American (such as Disney, Microsoft, Time Warner and AOL) and Japanese (Sony) have achieved near monopolistic control of newspapers, film, advertising and satellites. It is suggested that media moguls are able to influence business, international agencies and governments and, consequently, to threaten democracy and freedom of expression.

It is also argued that such companies are likely to disseminate primarily Western mainly American, forms of culture. For example, most films releases by these organisations are produced in Hollywood and of a formulaic (predictable) plot. There have been concerns that these Western forms of culture reflect a cultural imperialism that results in the marginalisation of local culture.

Steven argues that ‘for the past century, US political and economic influence has been aided immensely by US film and music. Where the marines, missionaries and bureaucrats failed, Charlie Chaplin, Mickey Mouse and the Beach Boys have succeeded effortlessly in attracting the world to the American Way’.

Finally, mass advertising of Western cultural icons like McDonald’s and Coca-Cola has resulted in their logos becoming powerful symbols to people in the developing world (especially children) of the need to adopt western consumerist lifestyles in order to modernise.

Cultural globalization may therefor eventually undermine and even destroy rich local cultures and identities. Barber and Schulz (1995) fear the globalized world is turning into a monoculture, or McWorld in which cultures and consumption will be standardised, while other commentators have expressed concern about the coca-colonisation of the developing world.

Supporting Evidence for the pessimist view of globalization

global pessimism

1. Increased trade has had unequal benefits. Mainly Europe and America, lately Asia have benefited, but most of Sub Saharan Africa is largely left behind.

  • The graph outlining economic growth since 1800 in different continents on page 1 of the intro to GD document illustrates this point very well..
  • For a good example of the pessimist view of globalisation read KT’s summary of ‘liquid times’ by Zygmunt Bauman – You only need read the sections entitled ‘surplus people’ and ‘the experience of inequality’. I suggest you read selectively and look for three examples that illustrate Bauman’s point: ‘when the rich pursue their goals, the poor pay the price’. 

2. TNCs pollute, extract resources from and exploit cheap labour in the developing world. E.G.s include Shell in Nigeria, Coke in India and of course the Bhopal incident in India.

Also see the following video sources (you can search for both on estream)

  • The Age of Stupid (section on Shell in Nigeria)
  • Crude – The Real Cost of Oil (outlines Chevron’s pollution of the Amazon

3. Culture may be increasing global, but this mainly means Americanisation according to Pessimists. This takes the form of Cocacolonisation, and Dysnification – where American forms of popular culture and the shallow materialism this promotes erode local traditions. Another aspect of this is Mcdonaldisation

  • this and this suggest possibly suggest one of the downsides of the spread of consumer culture…
  • This illustrates the threat of Americanisation and Cocacolonisation very well – how some French people view Coca Cola as undermining their national identity. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DxjMqrZ6psw
  • This site does a very good job of explaning what Mcdonaldisation is – http://www.mcdonaldization.com/

4.    Sport may be increasingly globalised, but just as with trade there are winners and losers, especially where the Olympics are concerned… 

5. Rather than the spread of democracy, it is more accurate to talk of the spread of U.S Military power, as outline by John Pilger in the War on Democracy, and the fact that the U.S. spends almost $700 billion on its military every year.

  • The second half of John Pilger’s ‘The War on Democracy’ outlines America’s military involvement in more than 50 countries since World War 2 – Evidence suggests that the USA uses military force to get rid of democratically elected leaders that are not pro-U.S.

6. The spread of global media really means the spread of massive media firms such as Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp, with programmes such as Fox News presenting a pro-American view of the world. Also think of popular culture – X factor, and Hollywood and global advertising. The pessimist view on such aspects of the global media is that they lead to increasing cultural homogenisation.

7. Zygmunt Bauman argues that global cities are best described as ‘fortress cities’ – especially in the developing world cities are places of huge inequalities where the rich hide themselves away in exclusive gated communities and the poor are left to the slums.

Not exactly a global village?
Not exactly a global village?

Revision notes on globalisation…

If you like this sort of thing and want some more context on globalisation, then you might like these revision notes on globalisation, specifically designed for A-level sociology. 

Globalisation coverNine pages of summary notes covering the following aspects of globalisation:

– Basic definitions and an overview of cultural, economic and political globalisation
– Three theories of globalisation – hyper-globalism, pessimism and transformationalism.
– Arguments for and against the view that globalisation is resulting in the decline of the nation state.
– A-Z glossary covering key concepts and key thinkers.

Five mind-maps covering the following:

– Cultural, economic, and political globalisation: a summary
– The hyper-globalist view of globalisation
– The pessimist view of globalisation
– The transformationalist/ postmodernist view of globalisation.
– The relationship between globalisation and education.

These revision resources have been designed to cover the globalisation part of the global development module for A-level sociology (AQA) but they should be useful for all students given that you need to know about globalistion for education, the family and crime, so these should serve as good context.

They might also be useful to students studying other A-level or first year degree subjects such as politics, history, economics or business, where globalisation is on the syllabus.

Related Posts 

Jeremy Seabrook: Three Responses to Globalization

The Optimist View of Globalisation

The Transformationalist View of Globalisation

The Traditionalist View of Globalisation

Sources Used to Write this Post:

Chapman et al (2016) Sociology for AQA.

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The Role of Transnational Corporations in Development

A few criticisms of  the role of Transnational Corporations in International Development 

Criticisms of Coca ColaTransnational Corporations are one of the primary agents of Global Capitalism and many have been criticised because of the social and environmental harms they cause in the pursuit of profit. In this blog I outline some case studies of Corporations exploiting workers.

My main inspiration for writing this blog is ‘The Corporation’ (1) (2). However, although this blog does draw on this excellent resource, it also provides more contemporary examples of corporate harm than this 2004 documentary.

Examples of Corporations exploiting workers

Probably the best known criticism to be levelled at well known Corporations such as Nike, Addidas and Primark is that they profit from ‘sweatshop labour’ – with the workers who manufacture their products working extremely long hours in poor conditions and for extremely low wages.

In chapter 5 of The Corporation, one researcher calculates that workers at one of Nike’s factories in Indonesia were earning 0.3% of the final selling price of the products they were making. Now, I know there are middle men, but in classic Marxist terms, this is surely the extraction of surplus value taken to the extreme! The anti- sweat shop campaigns are years old now, but still ongoing –

Of course sweat shop labour is not limited to the clothing industry – the BBC3 series ‘Blood Sweat and T shirts/ Takeaways/ Luxuries’, (3) in which young Brits travel to developing countries to work alongside people in a wide range of jobs, clearly demonstrates how workers in many stages of the productive process, including rice sowing, prawn farming, gold mining, and coffee packing, suffer poor pay and conditions. Many of the goods focussed on in this series end up being bought and the sold in the West by Transnational Corporations for a huge mark up, and it is extremely interesting to see the Brits abroad struggling with the injustice of this.

Apple SweatshopsThe Daily Mail recently conducted some undercover journalism in a Chinese factory that makes the i-pad – where the report they ‘encountered a strange, disturbing world where new recruits are drilled along military lines, ordered to stand for the company song and kept in barracks like battery hens – all for little more than £20 a week.’ Apparently workers have to endure shifts up to 34 hour s long, and the factory has been dubbed the ‘i nightmare factory’ (4)

Even worse conditions are to be found at some of Coke’s bottling factories in Columbia according to the killer coke campaign. Campaigners have documented a ‘gruesome cycle of murders, kidnappings and torture of union leaders involved in a daily life and death struggle’ at these plants. The bosses at some of Coke’s factories in Columbia have contacts with right wing paramilitary forces, and use violence and intimidation to force unionised labour out of work, and then hire non unionised labour on worse contracts for half the pay. There have been more than 100 recorded disappearances of unionised labour at Coke’s factories. (5) (6)

Now the Coca Cola Corporation is obviously not directly to blame for this, as Columbia is one of the more violent countries on the planet, and this culture of violence and intimidation is widespread. The company is, however, responsible for making the conscious decision to choose to invest in a region well known for such practices, and failing to either pull out or protect its workers.

See http://www.nosweat.org.uk/ for more details of Corporate Complicity in sweat shop labour and Union Busting (7)

(1)  http://www.youtube.com/view_play_list?p=FA50FBC214A6CE87 – All the chapters of the Corporation on youtube – although you should really show your support by purchasing this documentary!

(2)  http://www.thecorporation.com/ – The web site of The Corporation.

(3)  http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b00s6103 – The BBC web site for the recent ‘Blood, Sweat and luxuries programme which has an interest blog of comments and a ‘what can you do to help’ link.

(4)  http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-1285980/Revealed-Inside-Chinese-suicide-sweatshop-workers-toil-34-hour-shifts-make-iPod.html

(5)  http://www.killercoke.org/pdf/KCBroch.pdf – a link to the main campaign leaflet of the ‘killer coke’ campaign.

(6) http://www.staticbrain.com/archive/killer-coke-coke-is-the-drink-of-the-death-squads/ – featuring a video of the song ‘Coke is the drink of the Despots’ – sing along if you like!

(7)  http://www.nosweat.org.uk/files/New%20general%20leaflet%2009.pdf – A link to the most recent nosweat leaflet which has some nice ‘sweatshop sums’ peppered throughout which provide facts such as ‘Children as young as 10 were found working in a shop for Primark – Primark made sales of 1.1 billion in the sixth months to March 2009.’

The Golden Arches Theory of Decline – This 2016 post by George Monbiot argues that Transnational Corporations such as Mcdonalds are undermining democracy and that a global system which concentrates power in the hands of a relatively few TNCs is not compatible with the democratic will of the people of Nation States – hence why Trump won in the USA – he’s one of the few political candidates to have promised to limit the power of TNCs.