Imperialism and Global Political Economy

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In the first part, he critically assesses the classical theories of imperialism developed in the era of the First World War by Marxists such as Lenin, Luxemburg, and Bukharin and by the Liberal economist J. He then outlines a theory of the relationship between capitalism as an economic system and the international state system, carving out a distinctive position compared to other contemporary theorists of empire and imperialism such as Antonio Negri, David Harvey, Giovanni Arrighi, and Ellen Wood. In the second half of Imperialism and Global Political Economy Callinicos traces the history of capitalist imperialism from the Dutch East India Company to the specific patterns of economic and geopolitical competition in the contemporary era of American decline and Chinese expansion.

Imperialism, he concludes, is far from dead. Bookmarks has been publishing books for over 40 years. Every year we publish a selection of books and pamphlets that address the key issues facing activists and trade unionists. Many of our older publications are available from our secondhand section. Availability : In Stock. Published Date : 12 Jun Published By Polity Press.

Imperialism and Global Political Economy

ISBN : Category : Marxist Theory. A Rebel's Guide to Rosa Luxemburg. Since this was not the case, the trusts that held a more advantageous position — at the strictly economic level as well as the economic-political level the association of capital with the state — would have no interest in reaching such agreements Bukharin [] Within the Marxist tradition, the notion that capitalism could organise itself to the point of even eliminating inter-imperialist wars was proposed by Karl Kautsky.

Kautsky , [] argued that the fundamental thrust of imperialism lay in the distortion between industry and agriculture in capitalist economies. This was because the impetus towards capital accumulation and increased production was much stronger in industry than in agriculture. This greater investment capacity of industry would cause tension in both sectors, since for industry to continue growing, the agricultural sector needed to continue supplying raw materials and food. Therefore, imperialism was the consequence of highly developed industrial capitalism.

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But this would not be a new stage of capitalist development, as Hilferding had argued, but the preferred policy of finance capital. In this perspective, there is a trend towards the occupation and subordination of agrarian countries which causes a strong rivalry between industrial countries, and consequently an arms race. Kautsky [] also argued that advanced capitalist states tended to block the industrialisation of agrarian countries in order to prevent the emergence of competition. However, according to Kautsky, the conflicts among the great powers over the exploitation of agricultural regions could not continue.

The arms race and the costs of colonial expansion would reach a level that would impede the very process of accumulation, and ultimately capitalist development. Therefore, there was no need to remain in a state of war, as this would only contribute to a single capitalist economic sector, namely the arms industry. The domination of large monopolies over the economies of imperialist nations led to the renunciation of the arms race in favour of an alliance for peace.


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This implies that capitalism reaches a certain point of development and organisation that attenuates its contradictions until war becomes unnecessary. Thus, in relation to Hilferding and Bukharin, Kautsky maximised the organisational capacity of the system by concluding that capitalist powers would reach an agreement allowing the reproduction of capital in a peaceful manner throughout the world.

From the purely economic standpoint, however, there is nothing further to prevent this violent explosion from finally replacing imperialism by a holy alliance of the imperialists. The longer the War lasts, the more it exhausts all tile [sic] participants and makes them recoil from an early repetition of armed conflict, the nearer we come to this last solution, however unlikely it may seem at the moment Kautsky The post-World War Two golden age of capitalism under US hegemony revived the Kautskyan idea of an ultra-imperialism Callinicos After the collapse of real socialism in Eastern Europe and the end of the USSR in the early s, new questions were raised about the role of the nation-state, based on the neoliberal concept of market supremacy.

The view that nations were interdependent and that financial and commercial openness would be beneficial to all nations was widespread. In the context of Marxism, some authors began to argue that capitalism had come to be dominated by large corporations with no remaining ties with their home states. Capitalism had reached a degree of organisation that was preventing conflicts among states. According to the authors, imperialism no longer existed, and no country was able to play the leading roles European nations had played in the past Hardt and Negri Power was decentralised, and not bound to particular territories.

In a context of decaying sovereignty, no state was able to act as an imperialist nation Hardt and Negri In this way, Empire had been born after a transitional period following the end of World War Two, in a world defined by and organised around three mechanisms: i decolonisation, or the gradual and hierarchical recovery of world markets under the leadership of the USA; ii the gradual decentralisation of production; and iii the development of a system of international relations that spread the disciplinary productive regime and the disciplinary society in successive worldwide evolutions.

These were the three mechanisms that contributed to the evolution from imperialism to Empire Hardt and Negri Now, transnational corporations would be responsible for the economic and political transformations of post-colonial countries and subordinate regions Hardt and Negri They would also dictate the pace of production at each moment.

Rivalries among countries would be eliminated. The history of imperialist, inter-imperialist and anti-imperialist wars is over.

The end of such history has introduced a kingdom of peace. Or more exactly, we have entered the era of minor and internal conflicts. Armies would wither away. The USA would have a world police force that would not act on behalf of imperialist interests, but for imperial interest in the name of peace and order Hardt and Negri The stability of capitalism would reach its climax. Like Hardt and Negri, Robinson , , and Harris believe that capitalism is being organised by transnational institutions at the service of transnational capital, in a world where borders are dissolving.

In several works, Robinson emphasises that capitalism has undergone great changes since the classical period of imperialism analysed by Hilferding and Lenin, 11 and will find itself in a new stage known as globalisation, which will be a product of transnational capital. The dynamics of the contemporary capitalist system cannot be understood in terms of the nation-state as the centre. Therefore, the term globalisation the latest stage of capitalism is consistent with the current moment Robinson ; Harris Harris 2 asserts that the fundamental logic of capitalism, namely to accumulate and exploit labour, will not change.

However, it will adopt new methods for doing so. In turn, Robinson , argues that the contemporary capitalist system has four new features: i the rise of a truly transnational capital and the integration of all countries into a new global productive and financial system, in which national or regional capital still exist, but transnational capital is dominant; ii the emergence of a new transnational capitalist class; iii the rise of transnational state apparatuses; and iv the emergence of new relations of power and inequality in the global society.

Critical Readings in Political Economy: Mechanisms of Imperialism

For this reason, in the era of globalisation, competition no longer takes place among nation-states, but only among companies. This Empire no longer serves the interests of a national bourgeoisie, but of a transnational capitalist class:. We are witness to new forms of global capitalist domination, whereby intervention is intended to create conditions favourable to the penetration of transnational capital and the renewed integration of the intervened region into the global system.

US intervention facilitates a shift in power from locally and regionally oriented elites to new groups more favourable to the transnational project. The enhanced class power of capital brought about by these changes is felt around the world […]. In sum, the US state has attempted to play a leadership role on behalf of transnational capitalist interests Robinson According to Robinson 9 , the US state is a key instrument for the reproduction of the global capitalist system, since it acts as a defender of the interests of big capital, repressing the sectors that oppose it.

Although this has directly benefited some US companies US capital , these firms are in fact transnational conglomerates with interests that are not tied to US capital but to global capital Robinson Hardt and Negri , Robinson , , Robinson and Harris and Harris argue that capitalism had been organised to the point where wars will no longer be necessary. However, Hardt and Negri were more emphatic about the role of the state when they argued that, in practice, there would be no armies, but rather a type of transnational police called upon from time to time to maintain order anywhere in the world.

Panitch and Gindin , also argue that globalisation will not stimulate inter-imperialist rivalries in the future, but will instead encourage a form of co-operation that will lead to a period of stability. According to these authors, to understand this new stage of imperialism one needs to understand the role of US imperialism after World War Two.


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  • Therefore, to understand contemporary imperialism and globalisation, one needs to theorise about the capitalist state along three dimensions: economic, political and territorial. Without these prerogatives of the state, capitalism cannot survive Panitch and Gindin As regards the political dimension, following the end of the Cold War, liberal democracy became a model for all capitalist states.

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    Lastly, the territorial dimension is implicit in the first two. Capitalism has evolved by deepening economic ties, especially within territorial spaces, marked by national borders and identities Panitch and Gindin States remain subordinated to capital accumulation and capitalist logic, but this does not eliminate their importance. However, the end of the Cold War revealed a new hierarchy among the advanced nations. The separation of economics and politics in the international sphere facilitated global integration, and competition no longer had to be expressed in an imperialist rivalry, as understood by some Marxist theorists in the early 20th century.

    Panitch argues that the term imperialism itself could be obsolete, since inter-imperialist rivalries no longer exist Gowan, Panitch and Shaw That is, the informal American Empire has replaced geopolitical conflicts. According to Panitch and Gindin , it is necessary to investigate the separation of economics and politics at the international level over the past two centuries:. This involves not only an understanding of the progressive marketization and commodification of social life, but also of the processes by which the national-territorial capitalist state, in its modal liberal-democratic form, was universalised and inscribed into the constitution of international institutions and international law by the midth century Panitch and Gindin It is the separation between economics and politics in the international sphere that enables the existence of informal Empires.

    This separation was incomplete in the period of globalisation between and Panitch and Gindin This is why the expansion of colonialism, the resistance to adopting liberal democracy, and the particularism of each state in relation to capital accumulation generated severe contradictions in the three dimensions of the capitalist state, leading, in turn, to inter-imperialist rivalries.


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    • At that point, Marxist theory understood that the contradictions generated by these factors could not be resolved. Panitch and Gindin argue that the definition of imperialism as a stage of capitalism avoids the pitfalls of an a-historical theory of imperialism. US democracy brought the credibility of the USA to the rest of the world, even when its militarism was explicit.

      However, the other powers have not become passive actors of American imperialism; they continue to operate with relative autonomy in relation to the internationalisation of the state, and their actions reflect the balance of social forces and internal political initiatives in each state. This allows them to pressure the USA into carrying out its responsibilities in managing global capitalism in a more autonomous way of pressures emanating from within the American social formation itself.

      But in doing so, the capitalist powers recognise that the USA has the capacity to play a leading role in the expansion, protection and reproduction of capitalism Panitch and Gindin Thus, the country would be more than a mere agent of the particular interests of American capital, as it also assumes responsibility for the making and management of global capitalism Panitch and Gindin Hence, the European bourgeoisie and states have no interest in defying US imperialism, as it ultimately serves the interests of a global capitalist class.

      Panitch and Gindin recognise that, even with such accumulated power, the USA has failed to bring the capitalist economy to a new level of stability. However, global financial volatility and the ensuing crises have made the peripheral countries of Asia, Africa and Latin America more dependent on interventions by the American Empire.

      Thus, the success of the USA lies in its ability to create a sphere of influence that makes the use of military force unnecessary. So, for these authors, there are no more inter-imperialist rivalries. Panitch and Gindin present some relevant insights into the international system and the conduct of the USA as an imperialist power. However, they overestimate the capacity of the American state as the organiser of the system and the driving force of global development, while neglecting the role of the class struggle in capitalist development inside each nation-state Milios and Sotiropoulos When class struggle is mentioned, it is subordinated to the will of the dominant state.

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