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European Integration in Context: Globalization and the Struggles for a New World(1)

Massimo de Angelis, June 1998

Draft, Please do comment. 

I define European Integration as a constitutive moment of the process of globalization of capital. In my opinion, the various pillars of European Integration cannot be understood in any other way. In this sense, the European union is both promoting and reacting to this process of globalization. So, if we want to understand what is the EU, we must spend some time in discussing what is the process of globalization. 

There is of course a huge literature on the theme of globalization, but I think that this literature can be divided in two main approaches. Both these two approaches lead to questionable policy or political implications. 

One approach is the one defining globalization as a given reality, that is a reality in which individuals, corporations and countries must adapt to. Some of the exponents of this literature are for example Ohame in Japan, Reich in the USA, who became advisor of the Clinton administration, and of course, this is a conventional wisdom within the framework of new labour ideology: globalization is the reality of the world and the role of government and politics is to better equip countries to compete within this given reality. So, we are talking here about a broad mainstream approach of the left of center but also of the center ground of the political arena. 

There is then another approach which provides the arguments for the traditional left in all its shades and colors, which states that globalization is essentially a myth, that nation states are still in charge, and that the globalization myth is simply used to spread a sense of powerlessness among the people, so as to appease their demands. This idea is insidiously dominant within the left and some of the exponents are for example Hirst and Thompson in their book Gobalization in question, Linda Weiss in a recent article on the NLR and in a recent book, and the late David Gordon, one of the exponent of the Social Structure of Accumulation School much influential in the USA, and of course various shades of the French Regulation School. 

In my opinion, this approach is correct only in emphasizing the fact that globalization is used as an ideological weapon to enforce a sense of powerlessness. However, when we talk about powerlessness, we imply a specific notion of power. One of the problem of this literature is precisely the one of the meaning of power. According to the subtext implicit in this literature, what people supposedly brainwashed by the globalization ideology have not power to do, is to force their government to adopt traditional Keynesian policies. This is the sense of powerlessness in this literature. This of course has deep political implications. Consistently with this literature, the solution is to get rid of the globalization myth, ideology, "awaken the true consciousness" in people and force the state to adopt Keynesian policies. And of course, this literature forgets that the if it is true that the Keynesian strategy adopted to deal with the revolutionary attitudes of the working classes around the world in the 1920s and 1930s, this same strategy was kicked out of the scene of history by the tremendous wave of social movements worldwide, in the 1960s and 1970s. To call for a return of these policies is therefore reactionary politics, in the classic sense of aiming at turning back the "wheel of history". 

To deal very briefly with some of the "hard facts" used to support the thesis that globalization is a myth, we can mention for example the often quoted evidence that foreign direct investment is largely concentrated in the countries of the North, the so called triad made of Japan, USA and Europe, and therefore, we are told, we cannot truly speak of a "global" economy. This is of course true: about 80% of global FDI is concentrated in these areas of the North. However, wages and other costs in the countries of the South are only a fraction of those in the countries of the North, thus capital's power to mobilize labour is much higher. Therefore, the simple quantitative measure hides the enormous actual impact that the 20% of FDI going to the South. Impact that must be measured in terms of capital's power to mobilize labour and therefore, from a traditional radical prospective, to impose exploitation and then to extract surplusvalue which is then redistributed through the commodity chain of the global economy. 

The other "hard fact" that this literature brings about to doubt the existence of globalization, is that a large percentage of foreign direct investment is money that goes in the so called "mergers and acquisitions," and not actually productive investments. Yet again, this point overlooks the actual meaning that mergers and acquisitions have in terms of restructuring and therefore to enforce exploitative relations across the globe. Mergers and acquisitions are nothing else than what Marx calls the process of centralization of capital, and the bottom line of this is the pooling together of existing capital for its rationalization, implementation of efficiency gains along with job losses. So even the hard fact reported by this literature dominant within the left, significantly overlooks the capitalist meaning of current trends. 

If then globalization is not a state of affairs as those who want us to subserviently accept it as a given reality believe, nor it is simply a myth although of course this is one of its aspects what is it? I regard globalization as a set of capitalist strategies which are made of two basic components, which are also basic aspects of any capitalist strategy. These two components, we may call a process of "enclosure" and a process of "integration". 

By enclosure I mean, in general terms, the imposition of fragmentation and atomization among people. The strategy of enclosure is a strategy of "disempowerement" of people or, as Marx puts it when he analyses the so called "primitive accumulation", a strategy of separation of people from a "common". Marx analyses this in the context of early English land enclosures. Few years ago an American journal called "Midnight notes" has talked about these "new enclosures", to distinguish them from the old ones. Myself and others have thus argued that there are other forms of commons, often the product of social conflict, created while the capitalist mode of production develops. For example, one of these commons can be defined as "social commons," entitlements such as those people won as a result of struggles appeased by the Keynesian deals in the post-war period, and that are included in the various forms of the "welfare state". Enclosure thus is a strategy which separates people from those commons, whatever common are. 

These new enclosures may range from attack on conditions of life by a World Bank funded dam in India threatening hundred of thousands of farming communities, to cuts in social expenditures in the UK threatening hundred of thousands of metropolitan families. All these are simple forms of basic enclosures. The imposition of these enclosures may occur through direct brutal force as in the example of the early land enclosures or modern forms of land expropriations or simply through a process of engineering financial constraints. This last form is of course very insidious, because it attempts to make people to accept the belief that there is in fact no money around to satisfy their needs, to maintain old entitlements, or to finance the formulation of new ones. For example, the convergence criteria within the European Union adopted with Maastricht, and the consequent caps in public expenditures, are key components of enclosure strategies. They are presented as external given constraints, so as any social demand can be met only within parameters of efficiency and not of real needs. At the general global level, the deregulation of financial capital and its increase mobility, constitutes a threat to any government that, as a result of particular local balances of forces, may wish to give in to popular demands of expansion of social entitlements. Another case of external constraints, especially for those countries which either face a short term balance of payment crisis and/or have not particularly developed financial markets, is the IMF promoted Structural Adjustment Policies. These aim, among other things, at the reduction in the social component in public spending and again are presented as external constraint, given, unavoidable. It must be noted, that a current WB preoccupation, given the growing unpopularity of the IMF, is to further promote financial capital deregulation in countries of the South, so as their financial constraints are de-politicized under the impersonal rule of apparently objective and politically neutral market forces. 

The aim of these enclosures is thus to forcibly separate people from whatever access to social wealth they have, which is not mediated by the market. The access to social wealth not mediated by the market empowers people vis-á-vis corporate sharks and all those institutions of the profit driven economy. The entitlements of the welfare state guaranteed in the context of the old Keynesian deal up to the mid/end 1970s, were compatible with capital's accumulation, but only to the extent that social wage was able to grow along with productivity growth, or, to put in another slightly more technical way, only to the extent the relation between productivity and wage growth measured against the growth of the capital labour ratio, was allowing a non-declining rate of profit at the social level. This was made possible through the institutionalization of trade unions and the state's facilitation of their bureaucratization. The struggles of the 1960s and 1970s brought this deal to an end. The wave of anti-union legislation in countries such as the UK or the US in the 1980s for example was the neoliberal reaction to people's struggles and the consequent crisis of the capitalist relation of production generated by it. 

The second aspect of the globalization strategy is integration. By taking away entitlements from people, by thus enforcing a process of social fragmentation, capital at the same time must find a way to put together these fragments, to integrate them into the process of capitalist accumulation. The essential elements of this process of integration are the same in any phases of the capitalist mode of production and include: the transformation of money capital in means of production and labour power, the performance of work activity and therefore the extraction of surplus value, and the realization of the value produced on the market through the sales of the commodity produced. The extent to which this process runs smoothly vis-à-vis social conflict and other inherent crises, defines the condition for another round of capitalist accumulation at a greater scale, for another round of greater exploitation and imposition of alienated work. Yet, the territorial locations, technological organization of production and commodity flows change as results of these crises and social conflict. The globalization strategy is the attempt to redefine these forms underlying the process of capitalist integration, to increase capital's power of integration and extend it throughout the globe, to recuperate within it more numerous spheres of life, to extend people's dependence upon this same process, and of course to increase the share of total value produced going to capital. In this sense, the main organizing principle used to enforce this greater integration has an old name: competition. Thus, if it is certainly true that capital has always been global, and that integration within the global factory is an old strategy, today's strategies of people's integration within the process of accumulation are pervasive in that people in the center must compete with those in the center, those in the periphery must compete against those in the periphery as well as against those in the center. 

In the last 15-18 years, the strategies underlying the process of European integration can be entirely located within the strategic framework of the globalization process, defined by the two coordinates of enclosure and integration. Some of the key strategic elements of European integration are for example these: 

1. The regional single market that was established in 1993. This strategy was very clearly designed and timetabled by the European Roundtable of Industrialists, ERT, which is a coalition of 45 European Transnational corporations. In 1985 for example the ERT comes out with a plan and timetable for the introduction of the single market. This plan was very similar to the one that was in fact adopted few month later by the European Commission and approved by heads of government. The single market was designed for one particular reason, that of promoting Europe within the global economy to enhance and promote European competitiveness vis-à-vis other trading blocks, mainly Japan and US. To promote European competitiveness within the world economy through the reduction of European internal trade barriers and the formation of a single market implies in turn to increase the competitive race within the European union and therefore to increase the standards of socially necessary labour time imposed on European workers by pitting these same workers against each other, increase work intensity, etc. Along these same lines, more recently the ERT and the European Commission have stepped up demands for labour flexibility, and the institutionalization of the casualization of labour. The agenda of the single market as promoted by ERT and European Commission has also now reached a new stage by targeting telecommunication, transport, services, and the harmonization of tax system. 

2. The call for the restructuring of European infrastructures. Again, also in this case, competitiveness within the global economy is the main objective. By restructuring European infrastructures the aim is increase the speed of mobility of commodities and variable capital across Europe and therefore to turn the cities and regions of Europe into productive nodes of a factory assuming continental dimension. In this sense, the many environmentalist movements across Europe are attacking with their own practice the project of European competitiveness by preventing the building of many of the 12,000 kilometers of new motorways planned by European capital or the campaigns against environmentally destructive high speed trains, among many other cases. It is therefore crucial that we understand the environmental movement as a key component in the struggle against the project of European competitiveness, by throwing a spanner in the works of the project of European capital to turn the beautiful fields, mountains and shores of our continent into an input of production. 

3. The Maastricht treaty and EMU is another pillar of the European globalization strategy. Again, the project of monetary integration was a project designed by ERT and checked all the way through its implementation. The meaning of EMU is very clear, the Maastricht criteria are in the front line of European enclosure policies by disempowering people, eliminating social entitlements, and shifting resources towards capital, for growth and accumulation. 

4. Finally a new front line of the process of European integration vis-á-vis globalization, goes under the name of "benchmarking." Again, ERT promoted benchmarking philosophy in a document in 1996 called Benchmarking for policy-makers: the way to competitiveness, growth and job creation. Here benchmarking is defined as "scanning the world to see what is the very best that anybody else anywhere is achieving, and then finding a way to do as well or better." Of course the notion of what does constitute the "very best" is a biased notion. The average European commuter could in principle find tremendous inspiration in the costumes of Toztil Indians in Mexico. The latter convivial relation with the community and nature may certainly be considered a "very best" when compared to the relation that our stressed out commuters have with fellow passengers in a polluted environment. But of course from this does not follow that ERT would suggest to reduce the speed of work and life to promote conviviality among European citizens. Of course not. The very best is defined in terms of production standards, rhythms of work, efficiency gains. Now, the interesting thing is not that benchmarking is a criteria adopted by corporations. These have been trying to copy or innovate productive processes ever since capitalist competition existed. Here instead the attempt is to institutionalize international competitiveness as the primary criteria for decision making of politicians and political institutions. This implies, a further move away from the political to the technical sphere and the consolidation of the dominance of neoliberal policies in virtually every field of policy making. So you can look at benchmarking criteria applied from hospitals to prisons, from schools to parliament. All spheres of life become increasingly characterized by criteria which echoes those imposed by the market, thus reproducing the pressures brought about by competition even in spheres that are not directly located in the market and that, from a common sense point of view, they should be governed by human needs and aspirations. 

This lead us to another aspect of the European Union which has tremendous political implications for all of us. The questions of sovereignty, of politics, of power. Sir Leon Brittan in a recent speech devoted on the theme, wrote: 

[I]n order to meet the challenges of globalization the multilateral system has had to embark on a much broader based process of liberalization than in the past, but has also had to buttress that process with an effective discipline which is pro tanto a diminution of unfettered national sovereignty.(2)
So, as in the context of the world economy, the decline of national sovereignty corresponds to the increase in the power of the market, and unelected global institutions such as WTO that has the power to undo national and regional legislation aimed at erecting some barriers over environmental and social issues so in the context of the European union, the decline of national sovereignty corresponding to the increase in the power of the European commission to deal with commercial policy without even the need to consult the European Parliament. Yet, even the European commissioner knows that there is a danger in this decline in national sovereignty. 
As globalization proceeds, as supranational institutions converge and as European integration develops, it is more than ever important that electorates do not feel that they have been cheated of their own power to influence decision-makers. This requires a more subtle division of labour between different centres of power and political institutions. Decisions should be made at their most appropriate level.(3)
In other words, the process of globalization disempowers national governments, that is reduces the ability for national government to enter into negotiation with social movements and claims of various "interest groups." People may feel cheated about this, and of course a problem of legitimacy may follow. What to do? Brittan suggests the formula of the "pooling of national sovereignty", a formula borrowed by Ferdinand Mount (quoted by Brittan) 
. . . authority must reside and be seen to reside where it is, in theory, supposed to reside. A headmaster should be allowed to act like one. A manager should be left to get on with managing. Similarly, local communities should not feel that local decisions are unnecessarily dictated by national or international structures. The necessary degree of pooling of sovereignty will only be acceptable if people are confident that their Governments will always be vigilant to ensure that there really is something to be gained every time a step in the direction of further integration is taken. Governments entering into international commitments must consider carefully whether the effects of those commitments will not intrude unnecessarily into the minutiae of regional or national practices.(4)
In my opinion, this highlights the institutional forms taken by today's various versions of localism: European regionalism, British devolution, London's major, and the concessions to the Northern league in Italy. From here, the new form of bourgeois democracy that is being developed. This can be summarized as the management of the crumbs of the polis vis-à-vis the big priorities set by transnational corporations, world trade organization, and Brussels' bureaucracy. It is a case of centralization of priorities and decentralization of responsibility to implement these priorities. This pooling of sovereignty implies that the priorities of capital's sovereignty are taken as given at any level of social aggregation and at any level of political administration: that is the priorities of competitiveness and accumulation. According to this project, the role of the national parliament is no longer the recuperation of social conflict and the management of the class relation. Rather, politicians in the national parliament, or the regional or city councils, are increasingly required to administrate the country, region, city, or neighborhood as a productive node of the global factory. In this sense, the main purpose of the administrators is to make the country, city, region or neighborhood more competitive than others, and therefore more able to attract capital than others. Thus, pooling sovereignty can be seen, in Weberian terms, as a strategy of recuperation of legitimacy. Devolution therefore does not mean devolving power to regions, etc., but to make people actively involved in the management of the world capitalist machine at their own local level. However, the process of globalization, and with this the process of European integration, by attempting to expropriate a residual power that people used to have in the Keynesian era, that of negotiation through representation of a trade union or a political party, that is negotiation of conditions of work, wage and social entitlements, also carry the risks in terms of the maintenance of social control. Two important developments are here worth mentioning with regards with state strategies of recuperation of the deviant behavior of the "socially excluded". On one side, their increased criminalization occurred in the last two decades, which in countries such as the UK and especially the US made use of "private" prisons run as businesses and fully inserted within the networks of global economy. Second, a more recent development, that is the liaison that institutions such as WTO, WB and national governments are nurturing and promoting with many NGOs, a liaison dangerously paralleling the one adopted by the state with the Trade Union Movement in the 1930s and which opened the way for the Keynesian strategy of recuperation of social conflict. Although it is still perhaps too early to say, the hidden agenda may well be to set the ground for a recuperation of the inevitable spread of social conflict, and therefore the use of many NGOs to serve the purpose of mediating between the demands springing out of struggles of people distributed within a territory, and the competitive needs of a locality. 

I think that if we want to reshape a vision of liberation, if we want a discourse of human liberation to regain hegemony among people in front of the defeatism and fatalism of our times, it is our duty as researchers and activists to attack the rat race of competition as organizational principle of society, in all its variety and forms. The problem is then, to replace it with what? The traditional left in the UK calls for "socialism". However, in a context in which the word "socialism" means a million different things for million different people, it becomes emptied of meaning, certainly not the ground for cohesion and strategic vision. The traditional left also nurtures the ambiguity that power is something that can be seized, that governments can be influenced or controlled by a "truly socialist party", that once in power or in its vicinity can change the relations of power among people in society. Of course when the story ends in ways very different from the one predicted by the intelligentsia of the "true socialist party", a complicated plot of betrayal and treason is used to justify that failure. In the context of the global capitalist economy, this vision is even more surreal, distopian and, in relation to the actual forms taken by today's rule of capital which include financial, productive and trade globalization strategies, naive. 

However, in my opinion, real power cannot be seized in any form, not through reform of through revolutionary means, it can only be exercised. It is in the exercising of power that resides both the moral high-ground and material strength necessary to bring cohesion through diversity across different movements with no other objectives than to change the way we live at any level of social aggregation. So when a collective force from below is in the business of exercising power, at the same time it sets a limit to the power of capital to shape our lives. In this very moments, as we know, thousands of people are reclaiming the use of street for convivial and human purposes rather than for the circulation of commodities and variable capital. There are a million of other examples like this. 

The exercising of power however, is not a fixed vision, it does not fit with any of our fixed ideological dogmas. Exercising power is a process of getting united but not by an abstract principle (socialism, communism, anarchy, solidarity, or whatever is our background and the principle we may identify with), but by an inclusive practice of consensual and direct democracy in the context of the material conditions we happen to live in. The key thing of this process of learning of exercising power through inclusive process is already happening at any level of social aggregation, local, city, country-wide, continental or world level. Struggles are increasingly taken the form of a new society, they are increasingly turning from struggles simply "against" into struggles "for". Local picket lines are turning into occupations, inviting people to decide what to do and then do it, rather then keeping people out. City demonstration are turning into convivial celebrations. Country-wide environmental struggles are turning into alternative forms of life in campsites near controversial building sites. The demands for entitlements are turning into land occupations (at the subcontinental level in Brazil) and train hijacking of the "socially excluded" and unemployed, as in the case of the Euromarch last year. Unemployed in France are starting to object to the demands for full employment, and instead demanding and exercising their right to have full lives. Conferences are turning into self managed "communist bubbles" like the ones organized by hundreds of people and attended by thousands, as the two Encuentros originally promoted by the Zapatistas which necessitated an international organization yet horizontal and not vertical in character. In short, the way to the future is in the present, and this way is all bottom up, not top down. 


1. Edited transcript of a talk delivered at the Capital and Class conference: "Real People's Europe: Neoliberal Srategies, Social Conflict and Counter-Strategies in the European Union" 6 June 1998. 

2. Sir Leon Brittan, "Globalization" vs Sovereignty? The European Response. Speech, Rede Lecture, Cambridge University, 20th February 1997. (In 

3. Ibid. 

4. Ibid.

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