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.
This passage is a strange mixture of truism, implied caricature, and potential error. 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.
Bukharin Nikolai - Imperialism and world economy - Free PDF
In my view, Panitch and Gindin are mistaken both in holding to an over-politicised theory of crisis and in asserting that global capitalism in general, and the US in particular, have overcome the crisis of profitability that developed in the s. 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.
Review: The World Economy and Capitalism
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 , 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. But the fact that the US-dominated space did not fragment does not mean that serious tensions do not exist within it, or that maintaining it intact does not require continuing and contested effort on the part of the American state.
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. Moreover, it is important to understand that, whatever is eccentric, aberrant, or disputed about the neocon worldview relative to the broader US national security elite, it is not this concern with addressing the problem of potential peer competitors. 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.
Lenin and Bukharin on imperialism
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