Start your review of Imperialism and Global Political Economy Write a review Shelves: political-stuff Very good, very thorough examination of imperialism, backed up by both theory, history, and economic data. Sep 08, Darin is currently reading it Callinicos is trying to clarify his position within the Marxist debates on imperialism. He breaks the field into three basic categories: 1 The de-emphasis of nation-states and the post-Cold War rise of transnational imperialism, as articulated by Hardt and Negri, and exemplified by that quote about how the rich in America have much more in common with the global ruling class than they do with fellow Americans, 2 the hegemonic view, in which the US is still the major force, but allows other Callinicos is trying to clarify his position within the Marxist debates on imperialism. And he seems to find a lot more nuance in his own position than he does in the other two.

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Copied with thanks from the International Socialism Website. The main reasons for this are, of course, the global primacy of the United States and the arrogance with which the Bush administration has flaunted this pre-eminence, above all in the military field. Marxists should be particularly well equipped to respond to this development, given the importance that their tradition has given to the concept of imperialism.

Stated most rigorously by Bukharin, what I henceforth call the classical Marxist theory of imperialism affirms that capitalism in its imperialist stage is defined by two potentially conflicting tendencies: 1 the internationalisation of production, circulation and investment and 2 the interpenetration of private capital and the nation-state. In consequence, an increasingly integrated world economy becomes the arena for competition among capitals that tends now to take the form of geopolitical conflict among states.

The First and Second World Wars were from this perspective inter-imperialist conflicts reflecting antagonisms at the heart of capitalism in its imperialist stage. From this perspective modern imperialism is what happens where two previously distinct forms of competition merged, as they did in the late 19th century: 1 economic competition between capitals; 2 geopolitical competition between states.

Geopolitical competition can no longer be pursued without the economic resources that could only be generated within the framework of capitalist relations of production; but capitals involved in increasingly global networks of trade and investment depend on different forms of support, ranging from tariff and subsidy to the assertion of military power, from their nation-state.

This dialectical relationship sets the stage for an analysis of capitalist imperialism in terms of the intersection of these two distinct but intertwined logics of power. The problem for concrete analyses of actual situations is to keep the two sides of this dialectic simultaneously in motion and not to lapse into either a solely political or a predominantly economic mode of argumentation.

Hardt and Negri famously assert that inter-imperialist rivalries have been transcended in the transnational network power of Empire. Accordingly, this article is devoted to assessing this critique and the alternative analysis it seeks to support. At the same time, they move from different premises from those of Hardt and Negri to the same conclusion, that geopolitical competition has largely been transcended in contemporary capitalism.

This was a fundamental mistake that has, ever since, continued to plague proper understanding. The classical theories were defective in their historical reading of imperialism, in their treatment of the dynamics of capital accumulation, and in their elevation of a conjunctural moment of inter-imperial rivalry to an immutable law of globalisation Global Capitalism and American Empire London , hereafter GCAE, p.

Capitalist imperialism, then, must be understood through an extension of the capitalist theory of the state, rather than derived directly from the theory of economic stages or crises. And such a theory needs to comprise not only inter-imperial rivalry, and the conjunctural predominance of one imperial state, but also the structural penetration of former rivals by one imperial state GCAE, pp.

Rather like J. It sharply slowed down the American economy, and in doing so, Panitch and Gindin argue, it accelerated the process of industrial restructuring that broke the power of organised labour and attracted capital back to the US. The structure forged at the beginning of the s holds good today, Panitch and Gindin argue. If anything it is stronger now than it was then. Not simply does this overstate the extent of the competition, which unfolds within the context of a global neo-liberal economic order dominated by the US, but the implication that these economic tensions might be translated into geopolitical confrontations, even military rivalries, is entirely false.

First of all, their adherence — identified as 2 above — to a supply-side theory of crisis is a crucial move. What such a theory does is to render the movements of the capitalist economy dependent on those of the class struggle. Hence, once the balance of class forces had shifted back in favour of capital — as it did, not just in the US but throughout advanced capitalism between and — the ineluctable consequence was a recovery in profitability and an end to crisis.

This differentiates Panitch and Gindin from those, such as Brenner and Harvey, who argue correctly, in my view that global capitalism continues to suffer from the crisis of profitability and over-accumulation that first exploded in the mids.

They elaborate their own alternative approach thus: This does not mean that it is no longer useful to speak of contradictions inherent in capitalism, but we must be careful not to make too much of their consequences unless they take the form of class contradictions that raise challenges to capital in terms of whether it can adapt or respond and labour in terms of whether it can develop the political capacity to build on the openings provided.

But — whatever might or might not have been true in the past — name a serious contemporary Marxist political economist who thinks otherwise the implication that such exist is the caricature. Supply-side theories of crises are agent-centred, since they explain the business cycle in terms of the relative capacities for self-organisation of collective class actors. By contrast, both the theory of crisis that Marx developed in Capital, volume III, and the modified theory recently put forward by Brenner explain crises of over-accumulation by a structural tendency towards a falling rate of profit that cannot be altered by acts of collective will on the part of the contending classes — though of course how classes respond to the effects of this tendency is crucial in shaping the resolution of crises.

If these arguments are correct, the implications are very serious for Panitch and Gindin. Their narrative of post-war capitalism gives primacy to a single actor — the American state — that is able to shape and then reshape the world as its informal empire relatively unconstrained — both because of its power relative to other actors and because of the power of states and capitalist classes collectively to determine the fate of the world economy.

But if tendencies to boom and crisis are the consequence of structural realities — in particular, relatively decentralised and anarchic competition among capitals — that are not easily amenable to collective interventions even by the most powerful capitalist states, then these states, the US included, are much more constrained in their actions than Panitch and Gindin are prepared to concede.

Here it would be useful to compare their work with that of Harvey, who in The New Imperialism seeks to integrate the geopolitical strategy of the US under George W. Secondly, Panich and Gindin insist on giving proper weight to the state as a relatively autonomous actor. Insofar as remarks of this kind imply a rejection of instrumentalist conceptions of the state that treat it as a mere tool in the hands of big business, the point is well taken.

But, once again, it is hardly news. Marxists have over the past few decades sought to develop theorisations of the state that give proper weight to its role as an independent actor. Harvey, as the passage cited at the start of this paper makes very clear, conceives the relationship between the logics of territorial and capitalist power as a dialectical one in which the two potentially contradict one another.

Similarly, I conceptualise imperialism as the intersection of economic and geopolitical competition in part precisely to avoid the suggestion that the latter is an epiphenomenon of the former. Here again, there is an important element of truth to their argument. It is undeniable that there is an asymmetrical relationship between the US and even the most powerful of the other advanced capitalisms — Japan, Germany, Britain, France, etc.

It is inherent in the nature of imperialism that it involves economic and geopolitical competition among a plurality of major capitalist states. But it does not follow that this competition must necessarily take the form of conflict, ultimately military, among a relatively small number of roughly equal Great Powers or coalitions of Great Powers — as it did in the lead-up to both the First and Second World Wars.

Moreover, the idea of a return to the Great Power rivalries of — , while as I argue below containing an important element of truth, stated baldly implied a simple repetition of earlier historical patterns without taking into account the effects of the concrete forms taken by economic and geopolitical competition in the intervening Cold War era. Thus the historic achievement of the American state during the s was the construction of a transnational economic and geopolitical space that unified the entire advanced capitalist world under US leadership: much of the material that Panitch and Gindin cite documents this process.

One consequence of this arrangement was that capital and commodities flowed with growing freedom within this space, to the benefit, again as Panitch and Gindin show, of US banks and transnational corporations. Panitch and Gindin are right to see this achievement as a result of the pursuit of a conscious grand strategy by the American ruling class, as numerous studies have confirmed.

But they are insufficiently sensitive to the strains to which it has been increasingly subjected as a result of two overlapping processes. The first is the impact of the long-term structural crisis of profitability and over-accumulation, itself to a significant extent a consequence of the emergence from the s onwards of Japan and Germany as major economic competitors to the US.

While of long standing and indeed partially related to the first process , these tendencies were reinforced by the collapse of the Cold War partition of the world in —91, which removed the most obvious rationale for the system of alliances that had knitted together advanced capitalism under US hegemony.

The fact that, instead of disintegrating after the Cold War, the transnational economic and geopolitical space constructed in the s became genuinely global was in no sense inevitable. Its extension was a result of the creative political intervention of the American state, particularly under the Clinton administration, for example, to take advantage of the Balkan Wars to force through NATO and EU expansion on terms that preserved and indeed extended the role of the US as the leading military and political power in Eurasia, and to reinforce the role of the Bretton Woods institutions as enforcers of the neo-liberal Washington Consensus on terms favourable to the Anglo-American model of free-market capitalism.

The crisis over Iraq brought all this into dramatic focus. The difficulty with this line of argument is that it says nothing at all about the strategic thinking behind the Iraq war. If one takes the work of policy intellectuals other than the neoconservatives and in some cases hostile to them or at least critical of the Iraq adventure — for example, Henry Kissinger, Zbigniew Brzezinski, Philip Bobbitt, Joseph Nye and John Mearsheimer, one finds the same preoccupation with the future of US hegemony in the face of a variety of powers that can be expected to challenge it at least at the regional level.

All these weighty strategic analyses could be so much epiphenomenal fluff, beneath which lies the reality of a secure and invincible American empire. Personally I find it more economical, however, to take this material at face value, and to treat it as evidence of the very long-standing preoccupation of US grand strategy to prevent the emergence of a hostile Great Power or coalition on the Eurasian landmass.

On the one hand, the administration has if anything strengthened its rhetorical commitment to spreading democracy by the sword.

On the other, despite regular predictions to the contrary by Washington, London and a significant section of the Marxist left, France and Germany continue to resist American pressure to participate in the occupation of Iraq. Behind this lies, of course, the failure of the occupation itself. Despite numerous announcements of a new dawn, most recently at the elections in January , the US is confronted with the opposition of a large majority of the Iraqi people to its presence, and with the armed resistance of a determined and well-rooted minority.

Let us return to the issue of inter-imperialist rivalries. All of this is fair enough, and one can add other specific reasons why economic competition within the Western bloc need not translate into military conflict. Transatlantic tensions reached their height when, in the early months of , the Bush administration apparently embraced a policy, not as had traditionally been US strategy of encouraging further European integration, but of divide and rule.

This shift gave France and Germany a strong incentive to develop greater autonomy from the US — but it also made this harder to achieve, given the existence of a bloc of EU states more closely aligned with Washington and led by Britain, whose cooperation would be essential to any serious attempt to enhance European military capabilities.

Economic rivalries among transnational corporations whose investments and markets are concentrated in one of the three points of the G7 triad — North America, Western Europe and Japan — and that rely on state support in their competitive struggles remain a structural feature of the contemporary global political economy.

Like all human phenomena, US imperialism is subject to the law of unintended consequences. American politicians and commentators have tended to portray the affair as a case of parochial, money-obsessed Europeans failing to see the bigger geopolitical picture.

But the aim of the French president, Jacques Chirac, seems to have been straightforwardly geopolitical — to find in the rising power of China a counter-weight to American hegemony. Nor was this said simply by members of the Taiwan lobby or bug-eyed Republican China-bashers. Panitch and Gindin do acknowledge the possibility that China may come to constitute a counter-example to their general analysis: China may perhaps emerge eventually as a pole of inter-imperial power, but it will obviously remain very far from reaching such a status for a good many decades.

This polarisation of present and future seriously underestimates the fluidity of contemporary geopolitics. It would be easier to believe that it could if the inflow of capital financing the deficit were attracted by higher profits than are obtainable elsewhere: but, in fact, to judge by the fact that American corporations receive higher returns on their foreign direct investments than they do from their assets within the US, the reverse is true.

But the role, already noted, that Asian central banks now play in financing the deficit highlights the role of more political or more political-economic considerations in this policy — for example, avoiding the dependence on foreign capital that had such a devastating impact during the crisis of —98 and keeping Asian currencies at a competitive level against the dollar and thereby permitting the maintenance of the high-export economic model on which East Asian capitalism is based.

In this context, there was an element of playing with fire in the recent campaign in the US and the EU for renminbi revaluation. Even if one discounts any such displacement of the US by China, the profound tensions being concentrated in East Asia cannot be ignored. The Chinese boom has played an important role in reorienting the global political economy, as China has become a major supplier of cheap manufactured goods to the US and the rest of the advanced capitalist world, as well as a key purchaser of intermediate goods from Japan, South Korea and the EU, and of raw materials from the Middle East, Latin America and Africa.

Simultaneously China has also become a lightning-rod for geopolitical tensions, has supplanted Japan as the main object of protectionist agitation in the US, and has been identified by the Pentagon and the CIA as the Great Power with which America is most likely to go to war. We must hope — and act to ensure — that this fragility does not make itself felt in too brutal and destructive a way. Notes 1.

Doyle, Empires Ithaca NY, , p. See A. Callinicos, Marxism and Global Governance, in D. Held and A. McGrew eds. Roemer ed. Teschke, The Myth of London But this is a non sequitur that confuses genesis and structure: the state system first took shape in the early modern era of the transition from feudalism to capitalism but was transformed as the capitalist mode became dominant and is now a constitutive dimension of that mode. For discussion of related issues, see A. I have elaborated this perspective in A.

Callinicos, Making History 2nd edn, Leiden , pp. Albritton et al. Harvey, The New Imperialism Oxford , pp. See the critical responses collected in G. Balakrishnan ed. Boron, Empire and Imperialism London Panitch and S. Panitch and C.


Imperialism and global political economy

Copied with thanks from the International Socialism Website. Callinicos appears to accept our argument on how capitalist imperialism was transformed. His entire argument in this respect appears to be founded on the claim that the economic crisis of the s has never been resolved. Callinicos misunderstands our argument when he says that we see class struggle from below as the sole cause of the crisis of the s; we make it very clear that renewed economic competition was also at the root of this. This was so precisely because of the integration in production and finance that had already taken place and continued apace amid this revived competition. Callinicos does not challenge this, nor does he dispute our argument that it was after the US applied neo-liberal discipline to itself under the Volcker shock that the international authority of neo-liberalism was established, emulated and generalised. It was this that resolved, for capital, the crisis of the s.


Alex Callinicos



Imperialism and Global Political Economy


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