I'm no fan of Eric Hobsbawm, the communist apologist and sometime historian, but I have even less time for those who have no knowledge, or worse, interest in history. Over on The Times comment section, Martin Ivens has a go at Hobsbawm for having a go at globalisation.
Hobsbawm got a hearing on Radio 4’s Today programme to feast on our current woes, saying: “Globalisation, which is implicit in capitalism, not only destroys heritage and tradition but is incredibly unstable.” Forgive me for thinking that globalisation and the market has dragged hundreds of millions out of poverty in China, India and the developing world.
Hobsbawm is wrong about globalisation being implicit in capitalism. It only becomes implicit in capitalism when capitalism transcends national governments, which is corporatism and not part of western liberal democracy. For most of the hundreds of years in which there has been capitalism there has been no globalisation. it only flourishes when socialism flourishes combined with a new communications technology.
There have been three instances when this has happened. Once in the late 19th century with the arrival of the telegraph and Marxism. Again in the early 20th century with the telephone and communism. And today following the development of the internet and progressive liberalism. Other than that, capitalism has muddled along quite nicely without any problem other than the odd short recession cycle.
So even though Hobsbawm is wrong about globalisation being implicit in capitalism he is correct that it is inherently unstable. The "hundreds of millions" dragged out of poverty were thus dragged not by globalisation, but by the application of capitalism in those countries. That would have happened with or without globalisation.
What Ivens is missing though is that the depressions which always follow globalisation cause untold misery for millions more. It was the depression of the thirties caused by the globalisation of the twenties which allowed the rise of fascism and Nazism which killed millions in the forties and led to the suffering of countless millions more.
Even without the wars, the poverty that resulted in the USA as a consequence of the depression was worse than probably anything that nation ever encountered before or since. The USA never stopped being capitalist, but it did stop being globalist - and it recovered and flourished as a result.
Ivens cautions that we should not wish a return to the pre-globalisation days of the seventies as if the problems of those times were related in some way to there not being any globalisation. He is, of course, wrong. Most of the problems we had back then were problems which were more or less unique to our country and not experienced in anything like the same way in the rest of Europe and certainly not in the USA.
Most of our problems in the seventies had socialism at their root - belligerent unions and militant officials who refused to accept modernisation and technological advances that were necessary to make us competitive with the rest of the world in what was the early stages of globalisation (driven back then by the earliest stages of internationalism and our membership of the EU).
Ivens thinks times were grim back then - claiming that the governments were "impotent in the face of terrorism, union militancy and economic decline." Does he think they aren't now? Only this time it's not just the British government - it's all of Europe and the USA too. If he thinks things were bad then he is going to be in for one hell of a shock. As they say - you ain't seen nothing yet!