Issue 25: Editor's introduction

The lead article in this issue is a contribution to clarifying the real meaning of "globalisation". Marxist scholar Humphrey McQueen examines the question of to what degree recent changes may represent a qualitatively new stage in the expansion of capital.

To do this, he places the last quarter-century in the context of four previous periods of globalising capital: early plunder/commerce and money-dealing, the mercantilist era, 19th century "free trade" and imperialism. His central focus is class relations, and in particular the contradictory struggle of capital to reduce labour time while simultaneously appropriating ever greater amounts of it. He dismisses the technological view of globalisation: "The substantive dynamics in each phase … have to be distinguished from their technologies. The internet is no more globalisation … than the telegraph was Lenin's imperialism."

These dynamics are analysed and then summarised: "Globalisation Mark V can be traced back to the solution to the crisis of accumulation that struck capital in the 1930s. The `trough in unemployment' from the 1940s to the mid-1970s pushed up wages at a time when the political, industrial and ideological strength of the working classes were also unprecedented. The usual conflict between the capitalist as employer and as marketer then assumed gigantic proportions. The cost of labour time had to be attacked if accumulation were to resume. Since the 1980s, that aim has been achieved by restructurings. However, the competition between oligopolies expanded production investments just when effective demand was either being contained, or sustained by debt. The resultant excess capacity is now threatening to inscribe deflation, which will be compounded by debt traps."

The following articles deal with aspects of the "globalised" class struggle in three quite different countries: the Philippines, South Africa and France. Ben Reid looks at the role of social democratic "civil society organisations" within the government of Philippines President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo. Their relations, he notes, provide a vantage point from which "to observe recent trends towards the cooption of social movements in the global capitalist periphery". The belief or hope that the Arroyo and preceding Estrada government could be significantly influenced from within has proved an illusion.

Dale McKinley describes the rise of new social movements in South Africa, in response to the African National Congress government's neo-liberal policies and the ANC's absorption of most of the previously independent struggle organisations. Despite government attacks, he writes, these new movements "are not about to simply shrivel up and die. Indeed, the ANC's propaganda notwithstanding, the realities of South Africa's contemporary political economy strongly point to both a qualitative and quantitative intensification of the political activities of social movements."

Two articles by Murray Smith examine the situation in France following May-June 2003, which experienced "the biggest wave of strikes and demonstrations since the historic general strike of May 1968". The first article analyses why the strike movement failed to stop the government's neo-liberal pension and education "reforms". One of the lessons, he concludes, is that "it will be necessary to address the question of building a political alternative to the traditional left ... which will require a process of anticapitalist regroupment".

In the second article, Smith reports on the congress of the Ligue Communiste Révolutionnaire, held October 30-November 2, at which how to encourage left unity was a major focus of the discussion. Included with the article is the congress's "appeal for an anti-capitalist regroupment".

A broader overview of left unity in the current world situation is provided by José Ramón Balaguer Cabrera, a leader of the Communist Party of Cuba. That party, he writes, conceives of alliances "as a first step toward convergence, unity, fusion and synthesis of the demands, needs, aspirations and interests of all the oppressed and exploited social class sectors … not as a mere and circumstantial electoral coalition …"

Three further articles describe aspects of internationalism and left regroupment. John Percy reports on the scam carried out by entrepreneurs in the Ukraine, who convinced at least a dozen small "internationals" that they were political allies worthy of material support. Next is a political statement of the Socialist Project, a new attempt in Canada to build a broad anti-capitalist alternative. And Murray Smith reports on the successful second European Social Forum, held in Paris in November.

In "Engels and the theory of the labour aristocracy", Jonathan Strauss examines Engels' development of the theory as he observed the English working-class movement in the late nineteenth century. Engels' theory then became the basis of Lenin's theory in the era of imperialism.

Finally, we are pleased to be able to bring readers Barry Sheppard's memoirs concerning the African American leader Malcolm X. As Sheppard notes, Malcolm's revolutionary ideas have been largely obscured since his assassination; this account will help to clarify the reality, especially concerning the period after Malcolm broke with the Nation of Islam.