William I. Robinson and jerry harris


III. HEGEMONY AND THE GLOBAL POLITICS “FROM ABOVE” OF THE TCC



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III. HEGEMONY AND THE GLOBAL POLITICS “FROM ABOVE” OF THE TCC

The new global ruling bloc consists of various economic and political forces led by the TCC whose politics and policies are conditioned by the new global structure of accumulation and production. It is the logic of global accumulation, rather than national accumulation, that guides the political and economic behavior of this ruling bloc, henceforth referred to as the “globalist” bloc. At the center of the Globalist bloc is the TCC, comprised of the owners and managers of the trans-national corporations and other capitalists around the world who manage transnational capital. The bloc also includes the cadre, bureaucratic managers and technicians who administer the agencies of the TNS, such as the IMF, the World Bank, and the WTO, the states of the North and the South, and other transnational forums. And membership in the hegemonic bloc also includes the politicians and charismatic figures, along with selected organic intellectuals, who provide ideological legitimacy and technical solutions. Below this transnational elite is a small and shrinking layer of middle classes who exercise very little real power but who — pacified with mass consumption — form a fragile buffer between the transnational elite and the world’s poor majority. It is in this way that we can speak of a historic bloc in the Gramscian sense as a ruling coalition and a social base in which one group exercises leadership (the TCC) and imposes its project through the consent of those drawn into the bloc. Those from this poor majority who are not drawn into the hegemonic project either through material mechanisms or ideologically are contained or repressed.


The globalist bloc is loosely constituted and the TCC has had difficulty securing its leadership and reproducing hegemony. A necessary condition for the attainment of hegemony by a class or class fraction is the supersession of narrow economic interests by a more universal social vision or ideology, and the concrete coordination of the interests of other groups with those of the leading class or fraction in the process of securing their participation in this social vision. Here, the narrow interests of transnational finance capital (currency speculators, bankers, portfolio investors, etc.) seems to hold out the prospect of frustrating a hegemonic project. As well, a unified social vision has been difficult to secure because distinct sectors of the TCC have often sought different and even conflicting solutions to the problems of global capitalism based in the historic experiences of their regional systems. In this section we shift the narrative from conceptual and theoretical issues to political and conjunctural analysis of the TCC, including strategic debate and tactical differences within its ranks, and in particular, rising splits and factional disputes.19
The globalists consolidated ideologically in the early 1980s under the program of the “Washington Consensus” (Williamson, 1993), or global neoliberalism, first launched by the Reagan and Thatcher regimes. Neoliberalism as a model for economic restructuring seeks to achieve the conditions in each country and region of the world for the mobility and free operation of capital. The program seeks to harmonize a wide range of fiscal, monetary, industrial, and commercial policies among multiple nations, as a requirement for fully mobile transnational capital to move simultaneously, and often instantaneously, across numerous national borders. In addition to fiscal, monetary, exchange and related measures intended to achieve macroeconomic stability, restructuring includes: liberalization of trade and finances, which opens the economy to the world market; deregulation, which removes the state from economic decision making (but not from activities that service capital); and privatization of formerly public spheres that could hamper capital accumulation if criteria of public interest over private profit are operative. Neoliberalism thus generates the overall conditions for the profitable (“efficient”) renewal of capital accumulation through new globalized circuits, and facilitates the subordination and integration of each national economy into the global economy. The neoliberal model finds its legitimation in neoclassical economics, and in the globalist rhetoric of free trade, growth, efficiency, and prosperity. Global neoliberalism also entails building a new legal and economic superstructure for the global economy. This process parallels the nation-building stage of early capitalism that constructed an integrated national market with common laws, taxes, currency, and political consolidation around a common state. Globalization is repeating this process, but on a world scale.20
By the earlier 1990s, the globalists had achieved what appeared as a veritable Gramscian consensus around the neoliberal project. It was indeed a consensus in that: it represented a congruence of interests among the dominant groups in the global system; these interests were being advanced through institutions that command power (the world’s states and the TNS apparatus); and this consensus had achieved ideological hegemony by setting the parameters for, and the limits to, debate among subordinate groups around the world on options and alternative projects. In this sense, the “Washington consensus” reflected the emergence of a new global capitalist hegemonic bloc under the leadership of the TCC. However, cracks in the consensus had become apparent by the close of the decade.

Splits in the Globalist Bloc

The world recession of the 1990s and the sequence of crises, from Mexico in 1995, to Asia in 1997, followed by Russia and Brazil in 1998, exposed the fragility of the world monetary system and caused rising alarm and exposed important contradictions and growing splits in the globalist bloc. The more deeply rooted and complex global capitalism becomes the more each shock to the system generates tensions within the ranks of the TCC. The TCC has become increasingly fragmented in its globalist discourse, in its political vision, and in its ideological coherence. The globalist ruling bloc has three main groups or factions: the free-market conservatives, the neoliberal structuralists, and the neoliberal regulationists. The debates that dominate the summits of power in global society do not correspond to the familiar political categories of the pre-globalization era. The distinct positions of these factions have less to do with narrow economic–corporate interests than with strategic political issues of class rule. Foremost is the question of how best to structure the new global economy, achieve world order, and assure the long-term stability and reproduction of the system.


All three factions are “globalist” in that their projects are to construct global capitalism; they all speak for the TCC rather than for national capitals. Moreover, all three are neoliberal in that none question the essential premises of world market liberalization and the freedom of transnational capital. In a nutshell, the free-market conservatives call for a complete global laissez-faire based on an undiluted version of the Washington consensus. The neoliberal structuralists want a global superstructure that could provide a modicum of stability to the volatile world financial system, adjusting the Washing-ton consensus without interfering with the global economy. And the

neoliberal regulationists call for a broader global regulatory apparatus that could stabilize the financial system as well as attenuate some of the sharpest social contradictions of global capitalism in the interests of securing the political stability of the system. They envision creating a post-Washington globalist consensus. However, even the regulationists do not propose any sort of a global Keynesianism that might involve redistribution or state controls on the prerogatives of transnational capital.


The leading globalist faction is the structuralists, including figures such as President Bill Clinton, George Bush (Junior and Senior), Newt Gingrich, World Bank President James Wolfensohn, IMF Managing Director Michel Camdessus, currency speculator George Soros, many Trilateralists and executives of TNCs and major financial institutions. They have had important success in rapidly developing an incipient infrastructure for the global economy, such as the NAFTA and the GATT, establishing the WTO, and expanding the power of the IMF and World Bank. What distinguishes this faction is its adherence to neoliberal political and economic policies, its concern to build a stable and regulated environment for global accumulation, and its effort to protect world financial institutions from ruin and failure.
Of the $1.3 trillion invested daily in currency markets, some two-thirds is held for seven days or less. Only one percent of all speculative transactions stay put for a year or longer. Huge profits are made possible because this instability and quick movement of money results in rapid fluctuations of currency values. It is the prospect of extreme market instability generated by this frenzied global financial activity that the structuralists find so unsettling. “Markets can move like a wrecking ball, knocking over one economy after another,” George Soros has warned. “The swings cannot be avoided altogether, but they need to be brought under control” (cited in Harris, 1999, 4).
This fear was brought home by the Asian crash. Propelled by the overnight devaluation of Asian currency and the tidal wave of bankruptcies, the IMF stepped in to expand control over international monetary policies with a $120 billion bailout of Asia (followed by another $42 billion to Brazil). This bailout sparked a cascading de-bate among the globalists. Conservatives opposed such structural interference in the free market and regulationists raised the tone of their concern over neoliberal social policies. Much of the discussion focused on stricter regulations of financial institutions, better market supervision of risk management practices, and how to respond to the social fallout resulting from IMF policies. The debate also revealed growing differences between the World Bank and IMF. In fact, the IMF has increasingly been at the center of the debate in the globalist camp. The Fund used the Asian crisis to place greater lever-age on third-world countries to further open up to global corporations.
In opposition to the IMF’s apparent structuralist approach, the World Bank has advanced regulationist arguments. Its 1997 report, The State in a Changing World, questioned the promotion of the “minimalist state” and argued for a larger governmental role in protecting and correcting markets. The report sought to move “attention from the sterile debate of state and market to the more fundamental crisis of state effectiveness” (25). While the report stressed that free market policies should be maintained and in fact deepened, it emphasized that “ liberalization is not the same as deregulation” and argued that the state’s purpose is in “safeguarding the health of the financial system” (65). In a second report in November 1998 the Bank focused its criticism on particular features of IMF policies. Targeted were the IMF’s rapid push for total financial liberalization, the need to control short-term investments, and greater aid for the poor.
The differences here are more of tactics than strategy. The de-bate is not over free trade, open markets, or long-term foreign investments. Rather it centers on how best to protect the global financial system. Camdessus believes that the current world crisis can be tamed by moderate policy adjustments regarding international regulation and oversight but that IMF policies are basically correct and already showing signs of success in Asia. The same approach was taken by President Clinton’s former Secretary of Treasury Robert Rubin, his replacement, Lawrence Summers, and Britain’s Prime Minister Tony Blair. For structuralists grouped around the IMF the global crisis calls for greater centralization. Italian Treasury Minister Carlo Azeglio Ciampi called for the IMF’s Interim Committee to become the “embryo” of an economic government for the world. The Interim Committee, which Ciampi chairs, seats finance ministers from 24 core countries. Ciampi argues that the Committee should “become the main channel of communication between the international financial community and national decision-makers” because the crisis makes it “necessary to reinforce the instruments for intervention by inter-national financial institutions” (AFP, 1998). The IMF, in his view, should become this instrument, circumventing any national control over economic policy.
The conservatives are the most ideologically driven sector among the globalists. Representing this trend are former Secretary of State George Schultz, former Citibank CEO and speculator Walter Wriston, former Treasury Secretary and international speculator William Simon,

Reagan-era economists Lawrence Kudlow and Martin Feldstein, Presi-dent of the Heritage Foundation Edwin Feulner, and Ian Vasquez of the Cato Institute. Deeply influenced by Milton Freedman, this sector sees any bureaucratic central planning as interference in the pure functioning of the market. As Kudlow has stated: “IMF statism is no better than Soviet statism” (Lerner News Hour). Conservatives argue that the market needs to carry its own risks, and firms must be allowed to fail without being saved by international agencies. It is within this process that a Schumpeterian “creative destruction” occurs. Money is freed from bad management and goes to those who know best how to invest. Bankruptcy, or the destructive side of capitalism, is necessary to free capital to be used to create new wealth. “Capitalism without bankruptcy is like Heaven without Hell,” according to Kudlow (ibid.). Schultz, Simon and others have actually called for the abolition of the IMF. As argued by Wriston, the power to change government policies is best left to international financiers, not bureaucratic agencies: “Money is asserting its control over government, disciplining irresponsible policies, and taking away free lunches everywhere. If your economic policies are lousy, the market will punish you instantly. I’m in favor of this kind of economic democracy” (1998, 202–203).





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