The hypothesis to be discussed in the present paper is that globalisation marks and redefines not only the present world order but also the radical social movements that turn against it. Since, roughly, 1980 radicalism has become more “globalist”. Resistance movements focus much more than before on the problem of globalisation, making either the promotion of (alternative forms of) globalisation or, conversely, the struggle against it a focus of their attention.
The new point about present-day radical movements would not be that they perceive a global opponent. That has always been the case. The communists, for example, always saw the whole of world capitalism as their enemy. Anti-colonial movements realised that they faced a colonial world system. Nevertheless, in practice these movements did in each separate country aim primarily for the overthrow of the locally governing powers. They set it as their task to create independent nation-states or, having overthrown the government, to provide these states with another politico-economic system. The present struggle, however, is no longer in the first place oriented towards changes within a certain state. It has the world system as such - embodied either in real institutions such as the WTO or in a phantastic hidden world government - as its target. The goal is either to transform or to destroy the world centre. This change of focus of radical social movements is, furthermore, expressed in their mode of operation. The new counter-movements, even those inspired by nationalism, are no longer organised on a national basis or as co-operative efforts of national sections, but in a transnational, global way. They operate as networks without nationality, mobile brigades looking out for national arenas where they can “touch down”.
I will carefully distinguish between “globalisation” and “globalism”. Whereas the former concept refers to a process the world is allegedly going through, the latter characterises a point of view. Whereas globalisation refers to trends in the political, economic, ecological and other aspects of the world order, globalism is a characteristic of (some) ideologies. Globalisation is strictly speaking no part of the hypothesis, which holds that, regardless of the reality or irreality of the globalisation phenomenon, radical movements increasingly believe that such a process is occurring and focus their actions on influencing it; i.e. they become ever more “globalist”. Nevertheless, we can obviously not do without a background discussion of globalisation.
Whether we live in an era of globalisation is not only a question of empirical fact but also of interpretation and definition. Most scholars would not object to an overall view of development in which the relatively open world economy of the Gold Standard, under the Pax Britannica, was followed by a period of relative renationalisation after 1914. After the Second World War national parochialism gradually retreated again. From, roughly, 1980, a process of liberalisation and deregulation of international trade, investment and capital movements highlighted a new globalising trend.1 But the consensus on the significance of these broad trends is a relative one. Whether we accept the present era as one of true globalisation or merely as one of renewed internationalisation partly depends on our definitory framework.
One approach is to define globalisation broadly as a process of world-wide spreading of people and cultural phenomena and increasing contacts between countries. According to David Held, globalisation occurs when the spatial organisation of social relations and interactions is transformed in such a way that “transcontinental or interregional flows and networks of activity, interaction, and the exercise of power” are generated. Interconnectedness is moving up from the local, through the national and even regional level, to global (i.e. interregional and transcontinental) levels.2 In Jan Aart Scholte’s definition, globalisation refers to “supraterritoriality”: the advent and spread of social spaces in which distance, borders and location have become relatively irrelevant. Supraterritoriality takes several forms. Technologies allowing us to, virtually or really, cover large distances in very little or no time. Economic corporations without a home base, researching, producing and marketing their products on a world scale. Globally organised finances. Global organisations, movements and governance agencies. Man-made ecological phenomena affecting the whole world. Global consciousness: symbols, events, solidarities.3
The drawback of Held’s and Scholte’s definitions is that they do not explicitly address the question of whether and how globalisation can be distinguished from extreme forms of internationalisation. Provided that it is of global scope, intensified international interaction qualifies as globalisation. This seems unfortunate. The nation-state is the main framework into which humanity has in recent history organised themselves. Therefore, in order to be able to appreciate the real scope of the processes presently going on, we would do good to include the overcoming of the nation-state in our definition of globalisation.4 For Paul Hirst and Grahame Thompson, to distinguish between internationalisation and globalisation is the point of departure. In an inter-national economy, despite growing integration into the world market, national economies remain the principal entities. In a globalised economy, the international economic system becomes as it were autonomous, subsuming and determining what remains of national economies. On these criteria, in Hirst and Thompson’s view, the world economy is still inter-national. Likewise, international systems of governance remain based on the national state. The state’s powers have been reduced, but it remains the only source of legitimacy of the international organisations to which it grants part of its sovereignty.5According to Linda Weiss, globalisation means that the nation-state is no longer important, the “displacement of ‘national’ (and therefore ‘international’) networks by ‘transnational’ networks of economic interaction.” On these criteria, we now have strong internationalisation of the world economy rather than real globalisation. The state remains pivotal.6
Irrespective of the accuracy of Weiss’s and Hirst and Thompson’s empirical conclusions, their definition of globalisation has the advantage of sharply setting it off from intensified internationalisation. In Ulrich Beck’s conceptual framework, too, “globality” or “world society” is “the totality of social relationships which are not integrated into or determined (or determinable) by national-state politics.” “Globalisation” is the process leading up to globality, “the processes through which sovereign national states are criss-crossed and undermined by transnational actors”.7 However, it would be insufficient to identify globalisation simply with transnationalisation. The latter process does not necessarily assume global scope. Combining Beck’s focus on the overcoming of the nation-state with Held’s strictures on the necessarily interregional and transcontinental scope of the process, I will, then, define globalisation (leading up to the condition of globality) as transnationalising processes with a world-wide scope. Globalisation can be interpreted as the climax of internationalisation, the latter process being taken to an extreme where it reaches a new quality in which the constituting national elements are lost. Globalisation means that economic, ecological, cultural and other processes can no longer be understood in terms of interacting national processes but only as one integrated global whole. Idealtypically, globalisation ends in the creation of a single supranational sovereignty – a world state.
Globalisation is not only a subject for scholarly debate, it is a politically charged subject. There is by now a substantial body of literature aiming not only to increase our knowledge of the process but also to influence it.8 But for our present purpose the main question is whether, measured against the above definition, globalisation is a reality. Most scholars would agree that national sovereignty seems at present to be subjected to some kind of erosion.9 But the consensus is flimsy. As we saw, Weiss and Hirst and Thompson hold that the world economy must still be analysed in terms of interacting national economies. They also tend to deny that globalisation is at present undermining the nation-state as the main political framework.10 Held and others take the intermediary position that, whereas the sovereign nation-state remains in business, its powers are being redefined and reconstructed. The state remains strong, but is enveloped in a messy network of overlapping international and supranational agencies - a “new medievalism”.11 Anthony Giddens, Kenichi Ohmae and others insist that transnational forces are undermining the significance of borders and the political sovereignty of states.12 Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri even observe a “new global form of sovereignty”, though not yet a world state. “Empire” has no territorial centre of power. Hybrid and flexible, it is “composed of a series of national and supranational organisms under a single logic of rule”.13
Culturally too, the reality of “world society” is a complex question. Should we, for example, treat the global spread of American commercialism as indicative of globalisation? On our strict definition this is doubtful. After all, this world culture remains marked by the culture of one particular nation.14 Mike Featherstone dismisses the whole idea of a homogeneous world culture. At present cultural processes no longer longer fit in the container of the national state, but transnational phenomena typically remain locally coloured and are not free of national characteristics.15 John Tomlinson analyses “deterritorialization”, with cultures increasingly on the move across the globe. But the result is often a “hybridization” of national cultures, typically from western-commercial and non-western traditions.16
In summing up, no serious scholar doubts the fact that the national state is at a minimum challenged by global, transnational processes – economic, ecological, cultural and other – and that elements of supranational governance begin to appear. But the reality of completely globalised phenomena remains questionable. It seems that we more typically have quasi-globalised phenomena that are still heavily marked by nationality and international interaction.17 There is no emerging consensus about the depth of the globalising process. The question of whether globality is only dimly visible at the horizon, or whether nations and national states are by now engaged in a real process of being overcome is unsolved.