Can emergent early 21st century neo-fascism be defeated without coming to grips with late 20th century restructuring of capitalism into a global system?

Charles and Karen McFadden
January 2017

A recommendation to read William I. Robinson (2014, Cambridge University Press) Global Capitalism and the Crisis of Humanity

With personal commitments to work for the achievement of a system beyond capitalism that dates back to the middle of the 20th century, we can attest to guidance in our youth from a theoretical perspective that included recognition of:

(i) internal conflict within each capitalist nation-state between a subordinate, largely industrial, working class and a nationally-bound, predominantly monopolistic capitalist ruling class;
(ii) imperialist relationships between the leading capitalist nation-states and those nations subordinate to them as colonies (for example, India's colonial subordination to the UK and Algeria's colonial subordination to France) or as neo-colonies (for example, Mexico's and, indeed, each of the nation states of Latin America's subordination to the investor class of the United States – institutionalized by the Monroe Doctrine); and
(iii) inter-imperialist conflicts which culminated in World Wars I and II.

That theoretical perspective also included recognition of the development of capitalism beyond its stage of development in the 19th century when its basic characteristics were identified by Karl Marx and Frederick Engels, including the emergence by the 20th century of monopolistic corporations and an increasing role for finance capital.

Of course, like all theoretical perspectives within the social sciences, this one was a simplification of reality, ignoring relationships whose effects were then relatively minor, such as the existence of institutions and "families" that had some measure of independence from the nation-state political boundaries imposed on them, such as those financial institutions, industries and individuals who had massive investments and "family" connections outside their "home" nations (such as the Rothschilds and their capital, the Duponts and their chemical and other holdings and the Rockefellers and their oil and financial wealth).

While a business cycle of boom and bust was recognized to exist as a feature of capitalism, including recessions on average ten years apart, also recognized were the deeper structural crises that occurred less frequently, requiring structural adjustments within the system for it to continue, such as those identified by Robinson (1870s, 1930s, 1970s). These socio-economic crises with deep structural characteristics were understood to correspond to over-accumulation of capital (more money than the capitalist class could profitably put to use). Such crises exacerbated chronic shortages of materials and food, contributing to mass starvation and disease, especially within nations emerging from feudalism in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, such as Russia and later most of Asia, which when coupled with war were instrumental in fomenting waves of social revolution, such as those that followed each of World War I and II and were thought to represent historic breaks from capitalism and colonialism and the beginning of a future for socialism.

In retrospect, it seems to us now that the early and mid-20th century can be more accurately, if incompletely, characterized as the last gasp of a moribund feudalism and the first wave of consolidation of capitalism on a world scale, inhibited by the creation of self-defined socialist states and the emergence within capitalist states of socialist and communist parties. That world, however, came to an end before the 20th century faded into history, although the view of contemporary capitalism as a system confined within nation states has not yet done so.

It now appears, with late 20th – early 21st century capitalist globalization, that what was a small perturbation within early 20th century capitalism has become its dominant characteristic, a capitalism that is transnational in allegiance and scope. Contemporary capitalism, as ably documented by William I. Robinson, has managed to escape, to a degree previously unimaginable, the political dominion of nation-state governments. Today, the leading nation-state governments, foremost that of the United States, appear to be the captives of a still emergent transnational capitalist class and its national representatives. The counterpart to the transnationalized capitalist ruling class (capitalists and their representatives) is today a transnationalized working class, a class now subject primarily to an internal race to the bottom in its material conditions, including both stable income and a livable natural environment.

The transnationalized capitalist class is today, it would seem, largely free to increase its share of wealth and income at the expense of working people. Its immediate constraints – and remaining opportunities – include those states (such as North Korea and Syria) that continue to hold out against transnational capitalist class dominance and that wealth within nations that has still to be totally privatized. Beyond these barriers to the dominion of capital, the only significant material constraints to transnationalization are the limits of Earth's capacity to supply human labour and materials to meet capitalism's unquenchable thirst.

But there is a moral constraint, one that might quickly translate into a political barrier to the ruling transnational capitalist class. This constraint is the popular legitimacy that ruling classes must achieve to continue their dominion over that increasing share of humanity that exists outside of themselves. And what legitimacy can a room full of billionaires and their toadies claim for rule over and against the vast majority of humankind? Only the legitimacy which the seeming absence of a viable alternative provides. Robinson's work, with that of allied social science researchers, serves to fill the existing void of knowledge and understanding of the current stage of capitalism. This work, in turn, is extended by those who function between theory and practice to ground the working class with a renewed understanding and vision of a world beyond capitalism, beyond the control of a vanishingly small number of billionaires and their minions.

A question raised by Robinson is whether the world crisis that broke out in 2007 represents a systemic crisis, that is, one that can only be resolved by system change. Our answer is in the affirmative. Either humanity rises to the occasion and resolves the crisis by creating a new system, or civilization will be lost to a spiral of barbarism and ecological holocaust.

The above theoretical perspective, of course, is our own, influenced by Robinson. So let's now allow Robinson to speak for himself, if only enough to entice your interest in becoming better acquainted with his thinking by carefully reading his latest book.

The emergence of transnational capitalism

From Robinson's introduction comes this precis (p2):

"In my view globalization constitutes a qualitatively new epoch in the ongoing and open-ended evolution of world capitalism, marked by a number of qualitative shifts in the capitalist system and by novel articulations of social power. I have highlighted four aspects unique to this epoch.

"First is the rise of truly transnational capital and a new global production and financial system into which all nations and much of humanity have been integrated, either directly or indirectly. We have gone from a world economy, in which countries and regions were linked to each other via trade and financial flows in an integrated market, to a global economy, in which nations are linked to each other more organically through the transnationalization of the productive process, of finance, and of the circuits of capital accumulation. No single nation-state can remain insulated from the global economy or prevent the penetration of the social, political, and cultural superstructure of global capitalism.

"Second is the rise of a Transnational Capitalist Class (TCC), a class group that has drawn in contingents from most countries around the world, North and South, and has attempted to position itself as a global ruling class. This TCC is the hegemonic faction of capital on a world scale. …

"Third is the rise of Transnational State (TNS) apparatuses. The TNS is constituted as a loose network made up of trans- and supranational organizations together with national states that functions to organize the conditions for transnational accumulation and through which the TCC attempts to organize and institutionally exercise its class power. …

"Fourth are novel relations of inequality, domination and exploitation in global society, including an increasing importance of transnational social and class inequalities relative to North-South inequalities that are geographically or territorially conceived."

"Capitalist globalization is an ongoing, unfinished, and open-ended process, one that is contradictory and conflict-ridden, driven by social forces in struggle; it is structure in motion, emergent, with no consummated end state." [Here and in what follows, all emphases, in italics, are in the original.]

Social structure and social agency

In the final section of his introduction (p12-15), Robinson's elucidation of suitable methodology in the social sciences is by itself worth the price and effort to obtain this work. Particularly important is his elucidation of the respective roles of social agency and social structure. For example, he observes (p.13) that "contingency, agency, and conjunctures involving the coming together in unique ways in each historical circumstance of multiple causal chains make historical outcomes open-ended and not as predictable as positivists assume."

Robinson concludes his introduction with the observation that "it is during moments not of equilibrium but of crisis that the intervention of agency can be most effective in bringing about structural change…. In rare historic moments - systemic change." Need we add – given that the present socio-environmental crisis is an existential one - that we are morally obliged to prepare for and be at high alert to the emergence of such opportunities? We have nothing to lose and a world to save.

Concentration and centralization of globalized capital

In bringing together some of the salient data, Robinson notes (p.23-24):

"There has been an historically unprecedented concentration of wealth and power in a few thousand global corporations, financial institutions, and investment funds… Unlike earlier epochs in the history of world capitalism, this concentration and centralization involves the amassing and growing power not of national but transnational capitalist groups. A 2011 analysis of the share ownerships of 43,000 transnational corporations undertaken by three systems theorists at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology identified a core of 1,318 TNCs [transnational capitalist corporations] with interlocking ownerships. Each of these core TNCs had ties to two or more other companies, and on average they were connected to twenty. Although they represented only 20 percent of global operating revenues, these 1,318 TNCs appeared to own collectively through their shares the majority of the world's largest blue chip and manufacturing firms, representing a further 60 percent of global revenues – for a total of 80 percent of the world's revenue.

" 'When the team further untangled the web of ownership, it found much of it tracked back to a 'super-entity' of 147 even more tightly knit companies – all of their ownership was held by other members of the super-entity – that controlled 40 percent of the total wealth of the network,' observed one analysis of the study. In effect, less than one percent of the companies were able to control 40 percent of the entire network. Revealingly, the top fifty were mostly major global financial institutions – among them the Goldman Sachs group, JP Morgan Chase, and Barclays Bank… The study shows transnational financial capital to be the dominant (hegemonic) fraction of capital on a world scale… It should be clear that such an extraordinary concentration of economic power in pursuit of common global corporate interests exerts an enormous structural power over states and political processes, notwithstanding competition among transnational corporations."

Competition within a globalized system

With respect to competition within the system, Robinson concludes (p.27):

"In my approach conflict among capitals is endemic to the system, yet in the age of globalization that competition takes on new forms not necessarily expressed as national rivalry. Competition dictates that firms must establish global as opposed to national or regional markets. The global economy is both competitive and integrated. There is conflict between national and transnational fractions of capital as well as fierce rivalry and competition among transnational conglomerations that turn to numerous institutional channels, including multiple nation states, to pursue their interests…

"The TCC [transnational capitalist class] has established itself as a class group without a national identity and in competition with nationally based capitals. The TCC does not identify with particular nation-states, but this does not prevent local fractions from utilizing national state apparatuses to advance their agendas, nor does it prevent particular national and regional contingents of the TCC from drawing on particular ethnic identities and cultural practices to achieve their interests."

The working class in the era of globalized capital

Robinson writes (p.49-50) "The idea of a global working class – distinct from that of an international working class of earlier epochs – has begun to take hold… How should we conceive of and identify a global working class? For one, the growth of such a class is reflected in the escalation of wage remittances… The migrant worker is a representative of the global working class par excellence, but workers in the global economy are hardly limited to this category of worker… The number of global workers, defined as those making goods for export or who have migrated for their work, tripled from 225 million in 1980 to 900 million in 2005. Yet neither is working for the global economy limited to laboring in the global factories, farms, mines, and service complexes – the most visible and direct production sites in global circuits of accumulation. It involves as well those who engage in productive activities that feed into those circuits, such as subcontracted supply and input networks and ancillary services. And it would be difficult to find working class communities anywhere who are not dependent on these globalized circuits for their social reproduction."

He goes on to observe (p51) that "the process [globalization] acts as a centrifugal force for a global working class that exists objectively – structurally, or as a 'class-in-itself' – but has not developed a subjective consciousness of itself or shared cultural practices and sensibilities as a collective actor or organizational forms that would give greater coherence to transnational agency as a 'class-for-itself'."

While the transnational capitalist class does recognize itself as a class and acts collectively in its own self-interest, this has yet to occur within the now globalized working class. Hence the bold public acknowledgement by hedge fund manager, Warren Buffett, the world's second wealthiest billionaire, "There's class warfare, all right, but it is my class, the rich class, that's making war, and we're winning." 

The dictatorship of transnational capital

"Formal and real subordination is closely related to the concepts of real economic possession by capital, which refers to capital's control over the labor process, and real economic ownership by capital, which refers to control over the economic organization or goals of production and appropriation of surpluses. Under capitalist globalization there has been an acceleration of these processes of subsumption and of possession. Transnational capital has subordinated virtually the entire world's population to its logic and its domination through these processes. In this sense the world's people live under a dictatorship of transnational capital (in the literal sense of the word, such that transnational capital dictates) – a dictatorship more powerful, omnipresent, and deadly than any in history." p.52

The ultimate outcome of neoliberalism

"Neo-liberalism is a concrete program and also an ideology, a culture, a philosophical worldview that takes classical liberalism and individualism to an extreme. It glorifies the detached, isolated individual – a fictitious state of human existence – and his or her creative potential that is allegedly unleashed when unencumbered by state regulation and other collective constraints on 'freedom'. With the death of the collective, 'there is no society, only the individual,' as Margaret Thatcher was to famously declare. Neoliberalism as an ideology legitimates individual survival, everyone for him- or herself, and the law of the jungle. The means of survival are to be allocated strictly on a market basis – in its ideological construct, neo-liberalism sees these markets not as created and structured through state and societal relations of power and domination but as products of nature. Followed to its logical conclusion, neo-liberalism as a prescription for society would mean the end of social reciprocity, of collective redistribution of the social product, an end to the family and eventually to the species itself." p.55

Coordination within globalized transnational capitalism

"The members of the TCC [transnational capitalist class] and transnational managerial elites operate through the dense network of institutions that comprise a TNS [transnational state] apparatus as they manage their investments and pursue their political concerns around the world… The U.S. national state is the closest thing to a center within the TNS. There is no central coordinating mechanism. But the degree of centralized cohesion is not what determines whether the network constitutes a TNS; rather, it is the ability of the TCC and transnational elites to operate institutionally through this network to coordinate policies and practices across borders in the effort to achieve their class interests, exercise class power at a transnational level, and develop a field of transnational power." p.83

Robinson then proceeds to make his case through a series of examples, following which he addresses some of the most important consequences, including the role of the TNS as an instrument of coercion and labor control, further reasons for reading the book and not relying on this selective representation of its major arguments. In particular, the concluding pages of Chapter 2 on the transnational state offer explanations for the evident crisis of rule by the transnational capitalist class and, consequently, its fascist tendencies.

Centralization and decentralization of capitalism, the role of the U.S. state and the end of the imperialist era of world capitalism

After addressing at some length twentieth century theories of imperialism and their fading relevance, Robinson turns attention to the reorganization of capitalism characteristic of globalization. With respect to the uneven character of capital accumulation, Robinson observes (p.115) that "the spatial reorganization under globalization is making apparent the social (as opposed to territorial) and contingent nature of uneven accumulation. Capitalist globalization results in an accelerated social concentration and centralization of capital but not in a spatial centralization. To the contrary, it results in its opposite, a spatial decentralization… The rise of affluent zones and gated communities alongside the marginalized and ghettoized can be seen around the world; gentrification and homelessness side by side in every urban center."

Addressing the role of the United States within globalized transnational capitalist rule, Robinson notes (p.122), "There is little disagreement among global elites, regardless of their formal nationality, that U.S. power should be rigorously applied (e.g., to impose IMF programs, to bomb the former Yugoslavia, for 'peacekeeping' and 'humanitarian' interventions, and so on) in order to sustain and defend global capitalism. The U.S. state is a key point of condensation for pressures from dominant groups around the world to resolve problems of global capitalism and to secure the legitimacy of the system overall. In this regard, 'U.S.' imperialism refers to use by transnational elites of the U.S. state apparatus to continue to attempt to expand, defend, and stabilize the global capitalist system. We are witness less to a 'U.S.' imperialism per se than to a global capitalist imperialism. We are witness to an empire of global capital, headquartered, for evident historical reasons, in Washington."

With respect to imperialism, Robinson writes (p.126): "If we mean by imperialism the relentless pressures for outward expansion of capitalism and the distinct political, military, and cultural mechanisms that facilitate that expansion and the appropriation of surpluses it generates, then it is a structural imperative built into capitalism. It is not a policy of particular core state managers … but a practice immanent to the system itself."

Further (p.127), "capitalist imperialism is considerably more complex under globalization than the facile North-South/core-periphery framework through which it is typically viewed. The class relations of global capitalism are now so deeply internalized within every nation-state that the classical image of imperialism as a relation of external domination is outdated… Imperialism is not about nations but about groups exercising their social power – through institutions – to control value production, to appropriate surpluses, and to reproduce these arrangements…

During the 500 years since the genesis of the world capitalist system, colonialism and imperialism coercively incorporated zones and peoples into its fold. This historical process of 'primitive accumulation' is coming to a close. The end of the extensive enlargement of capitalism is the end of the imperialist era of world capitalism."

The nature and significance of 'The Great Recession" – a systemic crisis?

Robinson begins his fourth chapter (The 'Great Recession') in the following way (p.128-9):

"The 'Great Recession' of 2008 was triggered by the collapse of the global financial system, but it has much deeper structural causes. It was not in essence a 'financial' crisis, much less simply an institutional disorder. Moreover, it was – and is – a crisis of the world capitalist system and not of any particular country or region… How can we characterize the crisis? Is it cyclical, structural, or systemic? Cyclical crises are recurrent to capitalism about once every ten years and involve recessions that act as self-correcting mechanisms without any major restructuring of the system. The recessions of the early 1980s, the early 1990s, and of 2001 were cyclical crises.

"By contrast, the 2008 crisis, in my view, signaled the slide into a deep structural crisis. Structural crises reflect deeper contradictions that can be resolved only by a major restructuring of the system. The structural crisis of the 1970s was resolved through globalization. Prior to that, the structural crisis of the 1930s was resolved through the creation of a new model of Fordist-Keynesian or redistributive capitalism, and prior to that the structural crisis of the 1870s resulted in the development of corporate capitalism and a new wave of colonialism.

"The current systemwide crisis will not be a repeat of earlier such episodes in the 1970s, 1930s and 1870s, precisely because world capitalism is fundamentally different in the twenty-first century. A systemic crisis involves the replacement of a system by an entirely new system or leads to an outright collapse. A structural crisis opens up the possibility of a systemic crisis. But whether it actually snowballs into a systemic crisis – in this case, gives way either to capitalism being superseded or to a breakdown of global civilization – is not predetermined and depends entirely on the response of social and political forces to the crisis and on historical contingencies that are not easy to forecast. This is an historic moment of extreme uncertainty, in which collective responses to the crisis on the part of distinct social and class forces are in great flux."

The dominant role of finance capital, abetted by the U.S. state

"The rise to hegemony of transnational finance capital is really the story of the rise to power of the TCC [transnational capitalist class] and the dictatorship of the TCC, in the literal sense of its having the power to dictate." And later on the same page, Robinson continues: "…[T]he global market joins creditors and debtors around the world. It is important to emphasize the transnational – rather than international – nature of the class relations embedded in this global financial structure." p.140

"The market in U.S. treasury bonds is the biggest financial market in the world… It was transnational not 'U.S.' – capital that relied on U.S. debt and deficits to sustain profit making around the world… The U.S. state has acted as the instrument of global capitalism, and the United States as a major axis or nodal point for globalized accumulation. U.S. treasury bailouts of the Wall Street based banks in late 2008 and early 2009, for instance, went to bail out individual and institutional investors from around the world, while the U.S. debt was itself financed by these selfsame investors. According to a 2011 report by the U.S. government's General Accounting Office, between 2007 and 2010 the U.S. Federal Reserve undertook a whopping $16 trillion in bailouts to banks and corporations from around the world that were not made known to the public." p.144

Responses to the crisis within globalized capitalism

In his longest chapter, Robinson identifies and analyses varied responses of the transnational capitalist class to the present structural crisis of the system, including "passive revolution" from above, militarized accumulation, a school to prison pipeline in oppressed communities and the emergence of a twenty first century neo-fascism. He concludes Chapter 6 with the following observations (p.212-213):

"The masculinist and militaristic culture that accompanies militarized accumulation has reached unprecedented heights. The fusion of militarization and extreme masculinization – masculine fear of female power, misogyny, and homophobia … has invaded the sphere of mass culture. An increasingly fascistic pop culture combines this celebration of militarization and masculinity with fantasy, mysticism, and irrationality, as epitomized in the mass appeal of extremely violent computer games, the proliferation of reality TV shows, and the glorification of military aggression, social violence, and domination in mainstream Hollywood cinema…

"The immense structural inequalities of the global political economy cannot easily be contained through consensual mechanisms of social control, that is, through consensual or hegemonic domination. Nonetheless … a twenty-first-century fascism would not look like twentieth-century fascism. Among other things, the ability of dominant groups to control and manipulate space and to exercise an unprecedented control over the mass media, the means of communication, and the production of symbols, images, and messages means … that repression can be more selective … and also organized juridically, so that mass 'legal' incarceration takes the place of concentration camps. … The ideology of twenty-first-century fascism often rests on irrationality – a promise to deliver security and restore stability is emotive, not rational. Twenty-first-century fascism is a project that does not – and need not – distinguish between truth and the lie."

"In the United States, the challenge for anti-neo-fascist forces is how to build an antifascist front that could bring together a grassroots fight-back with some of the reformist forces from above, yet in which hegemony over such a fight-back is exercised by popular forces from below and not by elite reformers. Beyond the United States, the counterweight to a twenty-first century fascism must be a coordinated fight-back by the global working class that involves rebuilding working class organizations, including independent trade unions and socialist movements, and extending cultures of social solidarity and transnational resistance. The only viable solution to the crisis of global capitalism is a massive redistribution of wealth and power downward to the poor majority of humanity along the lines of a twenty-first-century democratic socialism, in which humanity is no longer at war with itself and with nature. And the only way such redistribution can come about is through mass transnational struggle from below."

A new crisis of hegemony

Among Robinson's conclusions are the following:

"The 'neo-liberal counterrevolution' that rolled back the welfare, developmentalist, and social-democratic states of twentieth-century redistributive capitalism never won the active support of a majority of humanity. Elites and their organic intellectuals worldwide may have reached consensus around neo-liberalism and set about from within the TNS [transnational state] institutions to restructure world capitalism through globalization. But the popular classes never internalized this neo-liberal worldview. If neo-liberalism appeared to achieve a broader consensus, this was because of the worldwide defeat of the left in the 1980s and the dramatically changed correlation of global class and social forces in favor of transnational capital and its agents in the late twentieth century." p.217

"It appeared in the wake of the 2008 financial collapse that neo-liberalism…was giving way to 'post-neo-liberal' policies involving new forms of state regulation and intervention intended to bring some stability to the chaos of unbridled accumulation or in some cases to allow the limited introduction of redistributive measures. It is not clear if such a post-neo-liberalism will manage to prevail. At the time of writing it appears quite the contrary – that global elites are pursuing a tenacious new round of neo-liberal restructuring coupled with new modalities of repression and social control to contain the discontent that austerity generates.

     "The present moment is therefore a time of ongoing and escalating conflict around the world without any clear resolution to a brewing crisis of hegemony. Extreme volatility appears endemic to the system." p.218

"Conflict in global society is prone to occur at multiple levels: among transnationally oriented elites and those with a more local, national, or regional orientation; between agents of global capitalism and popular forces, within and among nation-states; among competing groups within the globalist bloc who may foment interstate or other types of conflict in pursuit of their particular interests; or simply among communities divided along ethnic or cultural lines in the face of economic destabilization and social stress." p.219

Responding to the social crisis

Among Robinson's critical remarks about some of the left responses to this crisis of hegemony are the following.

"The bankruptcy of the strategy and program of much of [the] twentieth-century left - social democratic as well as self-declared socialist and communist – its dogmatism, vanguardist, hierarchical, and often authoritarian practices, left a generation of youth with an equally defeatist rejection of theory, of socialist organizations, programs, and strategies. The dominant tendency in many late twentieth and early twenty-first-century global justice movements and popular rebellions became variants of anarchism, syndic-anarchism, 'horizontalism,' 'autonomism,' and so on – varied approaches to struggle that have in common two notions above all. The first that we can 'change the world without taking power,' that is, that we create an alternative society in the interstices of the existing global capitalist one, without confronting the (capitalist) state, overthrowing it, and utilizing revolutionary state power as part of a broader project of emancipation. The second is the idea that neither revolutionary theories and political organization (whether called parties or not), nor socialist (or even any) programs, are necessary." p.121

With respect to "localism" as a strategy, he asks (p122-3), "How viable are transformative strategies based on the notion that local communities can withdraw from global capitalism? The attempt to create alternative communities at the local level, to set up cooperatives, to decentralize circuits of food supply, to withdraw from the global agro-industrial regime, to decentralize energy distribution and consumption, and to construct cooperative enterprises and local solidarity economies are necessary and important. Yet they do not in themselves resolve the problem of power. In the absence of a strategy to confront the state and to transform the system from within we are left with the dangerous illusion that the world can be changed without resolving this matter of power. Global capitalism is now internal to practically all communities on the planet. It has spun webs of worldwide interdependency that link us all to a larger totality. Global capitalism is indeed totalizing. The notion that one can escape from global capitalism not by defeating it but by creating alternative spaces or islands of utopia ignores the unpleasant fact that no matter how one wills it to be so, these spaces cannot disengage from capitalism, if for no other reason than that capital and the state will penetrate – often forcibly – and continuously reincorporate these spaces."

The specter of an ecological holocaust

In his conclusion, Robinson also addresses the ecological dimension of the crisis of hegemony, the specter of ecological holocaust, including the following comments.

"The three key questions that are of concern to us here are: first, can ecological holocaust be averted without superseding capitalism? Second, how is ecological crisis related to other dimensions of global crisis? Third, how do the popular and working classes combine struggle against the deleterious social effects of transnational capitalist plunder with struggle against the deadly effects on the environment that result from this plunder?" p.228

With respect to the first question, Robinson responds by reminding us that the accumulation imperative is at the core of the capitalist system, meaning that "a stationary state under capitalism is not possible,"…"by definition, there can be no resolution of the 'metabolic rift' from within the system of global capitalism,"…"expansion is reaching its limit" and that "ecologically, the system draws ever more destructively on the limited resources and absorptive capacity of nature, as the economy continually grows in scale in relation to the planetary system." He argues that "those that call for 'pragmatism' and operating within 'the limits of the possible' miss the point: it is more utopian to believe that the crisis can be resolved within the confines of the system than to believe the system can and must be overthrown." p.229

Robinson also reminds us, using precapitalist historical examples of socio-ecological collapse: "When no social or political force is able to prevail and impose a stable system of domination, demise has been the outcome, from Easter Island and the Mayan states…to the collapse of the Roman Empire and several Chinese dynasties… The domination of some human beings over others in class societies, whether capitalist or precapitalist, has historically been coupled with human domination over nature in a way that renders civilization unsustainable.

    "What makes capitalism unique is not that it is in fundamental contradiction with nature. Rather, it is the scope and the magnitude of this contradiction, such that human activity now threatens the earth system itself. The current moment is distinct in that this time the collapse would be that of global civilization." p.230

With respect to his second question, the relationship of the ecological to other dimensions of global crisis, Robinson calls attention to the escalation of social and political conflicts in the face of the effects of climate change and the fatal intersection between the ecological crisis and the crisis of inequality, making the poorest the most vulnerable. Turning to his third question, he agrees that "policies, protocols, and politics can mitigate climate crisis within the existing global order (which is to say that under certain circumstances the development of alternative energy sources may be profitable enough for capital to develop them on a larger, global scale), so long as there are mass environmental justice movements that are strong enough to force the TCC [transnational capitalist class] and its state agents to adopt them…The imperative of a transnational environmental justice movement leads us back to the matter of power, the struggle against the very logic of global capitalism, and the need to replace it with a system in which humanity is no longer at war with itself and with nature." p.232

"Wither a global democratic socialist project?" Robinson asks.

"Despite the dangers humanity faces, the current interregnum offers major opportunities for transformative, emancipatory projects. First, the system has lost its legitimacy. Second, neo-liberalism appears to be reaching material and ideological exhaustion. Third, the dominant groups worldwide look to be divided and often rudderless. Fourth, the 'Thirdworldization' of the First World opens up new opportunities for radical globalized politics, for organic alliances across North and South…

    "What configuration of social and political forces could bring about a post-capitalist global order? A socialist alternative is not at odds with a struggle for global reformism, and in fact such an alternative would most likely snowball out of efforts to bring about a reform of the system. Reforming and transforming, or superseding, the system of global capitalism must be mutually reinforcing. People struggle around the conditions of their daily existence, to address the problems that disrupt and undermine that existence. These are virtually, by definition, reformist struggles. What is crucial is for popular, radical, and socialist-oriented forces in the global justice movement to put forward an alternative vision that goes beyond reformism and to have such a vision achieve hegemony within any global counterhegemonic bloc. Such a bloc must move from challenging the 'fairness' of the market to replacing the logic of the market with a social logic." p.232-3

Robinson looks to the linking of three related struggles to move past capitalism. These include labour struggles at the point of production, community struggles around the sites of social reproduction and political struggles. He argues, "Just as 'reform and revolution' were never mutually exclusive struggles or processes, neither are struggling to build power from below and struggling to take power exclusive or antagonistic projects. To the contrary, they are mutually reinforcing, part of a broader project of transformation." Also, "if there can be no socialism without democracy in the twenty-first century, it is equally true that democracy is not possible without socialism." p.235

"The axis of an anticapitalist and universalist struggle must be the new global working class, with its rainbow and heavily female face, one that is transnationally organized. The empowerment of the global working class involves a completely new conception of labor organizing and unions; it involves organizing informal sector workers, the unemployed, immigrant workers, part-time and contract workers, and so on. Resistance means flexibly switching from interrupting accumulation by withholding labor to interrupting accumulation by disrupting the normal functioning of the system." p.236

"If the (capitalist) state as a class relation is becoming transnationalized, then any challenge to (global) capitalist state power must involve a major transnational component. Struggles at the nation-state level are far from futile. They remain central to the prospects for social justice, to progressive social change, and to any resolution of the crisis. But any such struggles must be part of a more expansive transnational counterhegemonic project, including transnational trade unionism, transnational social movements, transnational political organizations, and so on. And they must strive to establish sets of transnational institutions and practices that can place controls on the global market and rein in some of the power of global capital as the first step in a resolution of the crisis. An alternative to global capitalism must be a transnational popular project. The popular mass of humanity in its struggle for social justice must develop a transnational class consciousness and concomitant global political protagonism involving strategies, programs, organizations, and institutions that link the local to the national, and the national to the global." p.237-8

Our concluding remarks

In concluding our review of Robinson we add our own voice to his. Robinson began his conclusion by adapting an argument from Marx about the role of intellectuals in the revolutionary struggle. In that view, the primary role of intellectuals in the revolutionary movement is the critique of the existing system, "a ruthless criticism of everything existing," a criticism that "must not be afraid of its own conclusions, nor of the conflict with the powers that be" (Karl Marx, quoted on p.214 by Robinson). In Robinson's own words, "Intellectuals who consider themselves revolutionaries should have as their task analyzing the system of global capitalism…exposing its myths and lies, unmasking its legitimating discourses and ideologies, and identifying the forces that benefit from the continuation of this system."

In the 19th century, when Marx did his critical research and writing, the majority of intellectuals, including the revolutionaries among them, came from the ruling classes, capitalist and feudal, and self-identified as a sociological stratum of those ruling classes. In this first quarter of the 21st century, a majority of workers are engaged intellectually in their work, reflected in the requirement of secondary and post-secondary education as a qualification for employment. Most of those whose work is principally intellectual are part of the working class.

This recognition does not contradict Robinson, nor Marx, but suggests that our view of the working class must take into account the part that intellectual labour plays in the contemporary production of goods and services. Intellectual labour has largely become proletarianized in the century and one half since Marx wrote. Such labour is undertaken in the main by those who are, in effect, employees of the capitalist class, even when vestiges of their former relative independence remain, and then largely only in their own minds, as illusions. Those who work primarily on intellectual tasks increasingly share with the rest of the working class an alienation from their human right to participate equally in decisions about what work is to be done, for whom it is to be done and often even how and where it is to be done. These are decisions which under capitalism are reserved for senior levels of management. The members of this senior managerial class include the leading capitalists themselves, who today join in passing through the revolving doors between economic units directly controlled by the capitalist class and the so-called public services indirectly controlled by the self-same capitalists.

Of course, none of these remarks deny the advantages that some intellectual workers obtain in exchange for service to the capitalist class as ideological and managerial controllers over other workers. But the numbers of such persons constitute only a small fraction of the total number of intellectual workers required within contemporary production and distribution. The trend towards proletarianization of intellectual workers, and their increasing dependence on part time work and work with less security and fewer rewards has long been evident, for example within the field of education, and increasingly within engineering and medicine, the other two mass professions of intellectual workers.

This change in the composition of the working class has the following implication, among others, for the struggle to achieve an alternative to capitalism. The potential of the working class for displacing the capitalist class and leading society towards an ecosocialist alternative is strengthened by its increased level of education. The fight for science and education reflects the need and right of the working class for knowledge. Its fight for the exercise of imagination reflects its need and right to be engaged in problem solving and decision making. More than ever, its twenty first century banner includes the implements of intellectual labour, and the aim of ending the remaining degree of separation of intellectual and manual labour and with it the class-based social system that fosters such a separation.

The future beyond capitalism is spelled out by the present needs of the working class and not, for example, by the schematic ideas of many of those grant-funded intellectuals who remain, in that respect, bound to the projects of the ruling capitalist class. The working class today has all the tools it needs to be masters of its own home. It has no need for the busload of billionaires, much less the sociopaths among them, who today own the majority of the wealth that past and present generations of workers have created and who make the major decisions over the use of that wealth. The working class has no need of the capitalist class nor of the diminishing number of intellectuals who ally their ideological work with the self-interest of that class. The global working class and its increasing contingent of intellectual workers has a world to win and the intellectual tools to make it a more just, democratic and sustainable one.

Our addition to Robinson, then, is an acknowledgement of the role of intellectuals within the working class in giving voice to our class's vision of an alternative to capitalism, one that is continuously tempered by its experience in the process of transformation of the social system.


This website was launched September 1, 2010 in support of a green social democratic alternative to neoliberal capitalist policy and practice. The primary result is a work by Charles and Karen McFadden of seven chapters, grouped under the title, Towards a Green Social Democratic Alternative to Capitalism available here in pdf and html formats.

Below under the heading What’s New can be found the most recent materials posted on this website, including opinion pieces, book reviews, articles and selections from the 2017 edition of the main work.  For the interest of new and returning visitors, new materials will be included quarterly.

What's New


Authors' Preface

1.6 The epochal nature of the period we are entering

6.0 The socialism we need against the "socialism" of the 20th century

6.8 Additional concerns about 20th century variants of "socialism"

6.9 The people united!

7.1 Policy alternatives and political movements to advance them


Charles and Karen McFadden, Is revolutionary transformation on the agenda

Charles and Karen McFaddenHumanity on the Brink

Charles and Karen McFaddenMovements of Resistance to Movements for System Change

Charles McFaddenTranslating Green Principles into Education Policy and Practice

Charles and Karen McFadden, The Role of Revolutionaries in the Labor Movement


Charles McFadden, The People United for a More Just Sustainable Future

Karen and Charles McFaddenCan emergent early 21st century neo-fascism be defeated without coming to grips with late 20th century restructuring of capitalism into a global system

Karen and Charles McFaddenA Dominant Capitalism or a Sustainable Environment? Why we can't have both.


William I. RobinsonThe Crisis of Global Capitalism and Trump's March to War

William I. RobinsonTrumpism, 21st Century Fascism, and the Dictatorship of the Transnational Capitalist Class


George HewisonWINNIPEG 1919 & THE COLD WAR

George HewisonArt Manuel - "Unsettling Canada

George HewisonThe NDP and LEAP


Albert Einstein, David Swanson, Jill Stein, Chris Hedges, William I. Robinson, and others Selected articles for Winter 2018



1.7 The dynamics of capitalism as a system and the limits of single issue reforms

2.11 The economy in transition towards a new deal for labor and the community

3.1 The challenge of a moribund economic system

3.7 Public banking: A cornerstone of a green social democracy

4.7 Economics and culture

6.5 Using the non-market economy as an opportunity to begin moving beyond capitalism


1.6 The epochal nature of the period we are entering

2.0 Theoretical Perspective: Defining Green Social Democracy

2.5. Socialism and green social democracy in historical materialist theory

4.3 Culture in historical perspective

5.1 Contrasting a green social democratic world with the currently prevailing, but challenged neo-liberal one

6.2 Socialism and capitalism as coexisting social systems


2.11 The economy in transition towards a new deal for labor and the community

5.7 Defeating neo-liberal capitalism: The role of social movements

7.3 Justice: Creating a just society, based on the right of all to a dignified, secure existence

Creative Commons License

Creative Commons License: Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International (CC BY-NC-ND 4.0) applies to all work posted on this website except that which appears with authors whose last name is other than McFadden, in which case standard copyright should be assumed to apply.