MIA: Encyclopedia of Marxism: Glossary of Terms




Glasnost, lit., “openness” and “perestroika” were the main planks of Mikhail Gorbachev’s policy in the last years of the Soviet Union.

The core idea of glasnost was to engage the mass of the population in the task of modernising the Soviet economy by subjecting the bureaucracy to political criticism “from above and from below”, with the hope that this would not only facilitate perestroika, but would motivate the Soviet workers to “work a little bit harder”. In his own words:

“So the initial task of restructuring – an indispensable condition necessary if it is to be successful – is to “wake up” those people who have “fallen asleep” and make them truly active and concerned, to ensure that everyone feels as if he is master of the country, of his enterprise, office, or institute. This is the main thing. To get the individual involved in all processes.” [Mikhail Gorbachev, Perestroika]

The only problem with glasnost is that it was too little, too late. The Soviet workers had no belief in the possibility of success and the bureaucracy was terrified of what might happen, preferring to remove Gorbachev rather than let this go any further.


Glass Ceiling

The glass ceiling is a metaphor for the invisible barrier which prevented women from getting beyond a certain level in large corporations or the public service.

The term was coined in 1986 by the Wall Street Journal’s, “Corporate Woman” column and the term quickly caught on and entered the public lexicon. The term was soon extended to refer to the systematic exclusion of people from racial minorities or other social groups discriminated against.

The concept became a major issue for liberal feminists, who claimed that all women were injured by the glass ceiling, since working class women who would never get within a mile of a glass ceiling, needed role models.



Broadly speaking, “globalisation” refers to the process of breaking down of parochial and national boundaries and the rendering all aspects of human activity on to a world-wide domain.

The term first began to be widely used in the current sense about 1980. The term “global” was first used in relation to travel in the 1890s, and first began to be used in relation to trade around 1957, but it was Marshall McLuhan’s coining of the term “global village” in 1960 which opened the way to the current usage. “Globalisation,” as the act or process of making something global, is often contrasted with “globalism,” as a person or group’s orientation to the global domain, “internationalism.”

The process of globalisation constitutes an aspect of a new phase of capitalist development, extending beyond the domain of production, distribution and exchange, involving wider social, cultural and political changes.

The proportion of trade made up by international exchange has not increased sufficiently to justify basing a definition on it, but the penetration of the domestic markets of the imperialist countries by other industrial or information producers is a new phenomenon. The global networking of computers and the “informatisation” of manufacturing production and services are crucial factors; the fall of the Soviet Union and the end of the Cold War is also accepted as part of the conditions giving rise to globalisation, inasmuch as capital now holds exclusive sway in all parts of the world, governed by a single global power.

The reversal of the flow of people, once from the industrialised, capitalist countries out to the colonies, now from the former colonies back to Europe and America, and the transformation of the USA from a net exporter of capital to a net importer of capital are also distinctive features of the era of globalised capital, as distinct from the imperialist and neo-colonialist periods which preceded it.

Ulrich Beck defines globalisation as “the processes through which sovereign national states are criss-crossed and undermined by transnational actors with varying prospects of power, orientations, identities and networks”. According to Beck, the process is irreversible because of:

  1. The geographical expansion and ever greater density of international trade, as well as the global networking of finance markets and the growing power of transnational corporations.
  2. The ongoing evolution of information and communications technology.
  3. The universal demands for human rights – the (lip service paid to the) principle of democracy.
  4. The stream of images from global culture industries.
  5. The emergence of a post-national, polycentric world politics, in which transnational actors (corporations, non-governmental organisations, United Nations) are growing in power and number alongside governments.
  6. The question of world poverty.
  7. The issue of global environmental destruction.
  8. Trans-cultural conflicts in one and the same place.
    [What is Globalisation? Ulrich Beck, 2000]

Much discussion of globalisation centres around the viability of the national state, discussion which tends to conflate the state (which is not confined in its actions to territorial borders) with government (which is legitimated only within its borders), and around free trade and protectionism.

Marx and Engels wrote a fair description of the process in 1848:

“The bourgeoisie cannot exist without constantly revolutionising the instruments of production, and thereby the relations of production, and with them the whole relations of society. Conservation of the old modes of production in unaltered form, was, on the contrary, the first condition of existence for all earlier industrial classes. Constant revolutionising of production, uninterrupted disturbance of all social conditions, everlasting uncertainty and agitation distinguish the bourgeois epoch from all earlier ones. All fixed, fast frozen relations, with their train of ancient and venerable prejudices and opinions, are swept away, all new-formed ones become antiquated before they can ossify. All that is solid melts into air, all that is holy is profaned, and man is at last compelled to face with sober senses his real condition of life and his relations with his kind.

“The need of a constantly expanding market for its products chases the bourgeoisie over the entire surface of the globe. It must nestle everywhere, settle everywhere, establish connections everywhere.

“The bourgeoisie has, through its exploitation of the world market, given a cosmopolitan character to production and consumption in every country. To the great chagrin of reactionaries, it has drawn from under the feet of industry the national ground on which it stood. All old-established national industries have been destroyed or are daily being destroyed. They are dislodged by new industries, whose introduction becomes a life and death question for all civilised nations, by industries that no longer work up indigenous raw material, but raw material drawn from the remotest zones; industries whose products are consumed, not only at home, but in every quarter of the globe. In place of the old wants, satisfied by the production of the country, we find new wants, requiring for their satisfaction the products of distant lands and climes. In place of the old local and national seclusion and self-sufficiency, we have intercourse in every direction, universal inter-dependence of nations. And as in material, so also in intellectual production. The intellectual creations of individual nations become common property. National one-sidedness and narrow-mindedness become more and more impossible, and from the numerous national and local literatures, there arises a world literature.

“The bourgeoisie, by the rapid improvement of all instruments of production, by the immensely facilitated means of communication, draws all, even the most barbarian, nations into civilisation. The cheap prices of commodities are the heavy artillery with which it forces the barbarians’ intensely obstinate hatred of foreigners to capitulate. It compels all nations, on pain of extinction, to adopt the bourgeois mode of production; it compels them to introduce what it calls civilisation into their midst, i.e., to become bourgeois themselves. In one word, it creates a world after its own image.

“The bourgeoisie has subjected the country to the rule of the towns. It has created enormous cities, has greatly increased the urban population as compared with the rural, and has thus rescued a considerable part of the population from the idiocy of rural life. Just as it has made the country dependent on the towns, so it has made barbarian and semi-barbarian countries dependent on the civilised ones, nations of peasants on nations of bourgeois, the East on the West.

“The bourgeoisie keeps more and more doing away with the scattered state of the population, of the means of production, and of property. It has agglomerated population, centralised the means of production, and has concentrated property in a few hands. The necessary consequence of this was political centralisation. Independent, or but loosely connected provinces, with separate interests, laws, governments, and systems of taxation, became lumped together into one nation, with one government, one code of laws, one national class interest, one frontier, and one customs tariff.” [Communist Manifesto]

The call for “Globalisation from below” well expresses the standpoint of solidarity and internationalism in a globalising capitalist world market.