It is now a universal belief on the left that the world has entered a new imperialist phase.… The challenge for Marxian theories of the imperialist world system in our times is to capture the full depth and breadth of the classical accounts, while also addressing the historical specificity of the current global economy. It will be argued in this introduction (in line with the present issue as a whole) that what is widely referred to as neoliberal globalization in the twenty-first century is in fact a historical product of the shift to global monopoly-finance capital or what Samir Amin calls the imperialism of “generalized-monopoly capitalism.”
Lenin, Bukharin, Stalin, and Trotsky in Russia, as well as Mao, Zhou Enlai, and Den Xiaoping in China, shaped the history of the two great revolutions of the twentieth century. As leaders of revolutionary communist parties and then later as leaders of revolutionary states, they were confronted with the problems faced by a triumphant revolution in countries of peripheral capitalism and forced to “revise”…the theses inherited from the historical Marxism of the Second International.… With the benefit of hindsight, I will indicate here the limitations of their analyses. Lenin and Bukharin considered imperialism to be a new stage (“the highest”) of capitalism associated with the development of monopolies. I question this thesis and contend that historical capitalism has always been imperialist, in the sense that it has led to a polarization between centers and peripheries since its origin (the sixteenth century), which has only increased over the course of its later globalized development.
Globalization is not a novel development in the history of capitalism. In his final Monthly Review article, Paul Sweezy argued that globalization is a process, and that it has been occurring for a long time.… The accumulation of capital…has always meant expansion. Furthermore, this very process of growing and spreading is global in scope and, most importantly, imperialistic in its characteristics. Marxist scholars have long argued that imperialism has always accompanied capitalism…. Nevertheless, even if we start with the idea that globalization—or global capitalist expansion—is not novel, this does not trample the argument that the development of such expansion is marked by new characteristics in certain periods. Examining these historically specific characteristics can highlight the imperialistic “nature” of capitalism throughout history, including the development of our current global economy, which will be the focus of this essay.
In this article, we aim to demonstrate that the low prices of goods produced in the global South and the attendant modest contribution of its exports to the Gross Domestic Product of the North conceals the real dependence of the latter’s economies on low-waged Southern labor. We argue that the relocation of industry to the global South in the past three decades has resulted in a massive increase of transferred value to the North. The principal mechanisms for this transfer are the repatriation of surplus value by means of foreign direct investment, the unequal exchange of products embodying different quantities of value, and extortion through debt servicing.
Capitalism is preeminently a money-using system where a large part of wealth is held either in the form of money or as money-denominated assets, namely financial assets. For the system to work, it is essential that the value of money should not keep declining against commodities; otherwise people would move away from holding money, and it would cease to be not just a form of wealth, but even a medium of circulation.… Hence, capitalism seeks to ensure the stability of the value of money in a number of ways. One is the maintenance of a vast reserve army of labor, not just within the metropolis but also in the third world.
The globalization of production and its shift to low-wage countries is the most significant and dynamic transformation of the neoliberal era. Its fundamental driving force is what some economists call “global labor arbitrage”: the efforts by firms in Europe, North America, and Japan to cut costs and boost profits by replacing higher-waged domestic labor with cheaper foreign labor, achieved either through emigration of production (“outsourcing,” as used here) or through immigration of workers. Reduction in tariffs and removal of barriers to capital flows have spurred the migration of production to low-wage countries, but militarization of borders and rising xenophobia have had the opposite effect on the migration of workers from these countries—not stopping it altogether, but inhibiting its flow and reinforcing migrants’ vulnerable, second-class status.
When international media were broadcasting live video footage of Tunisians gathering in hundreds of thousands in front of the central office in Tunis of the long-terrifying ministry of home security, chanting in one voice “the people want to bring down the regime,” something had already changed: ordinary people realized they could make huge changes. Weeks later, the Egyptian uprising removed the Mubarak regime that had been entrenched in power for over thirty years…. The neoliberal forms of imperial rule that had destroyed the hopes of the liberation movements were under attack. In order to counter the possibilities for a massive breakthrough at the popular level, the Western forces mounted an invasion of Libya using the mantra of humanitarianism to disrupt, militarily, political and economic life in Africa. Later in collusion with the counter-revolutionary forces in the Egyptian military, Western imperialism sought to roll back the gains of people in the streets of Tunis and Cairo.
Medicine and public health have played important roles in imperialism. With the emergence of the United States as an imperial power in the early twentieth century, interlinkages between imperialism, public health, and health institutions were forged through several key mediating institutions. Philanthropic organizations sought to use public health initiatives to address several challenges faced by expanding capitalist enterprises: labor productivity, safety for investors and managers, and the costs of care. From modest origins, international financial institutions and trade agreements eventually morphed into a massive structure of trade rules that have exerted profound effects on public health and health services worldwide. International health organizations have collaborated with corporate interests to protect commerce and trade. In this article we clarify the connections among these mediating institutions and imperialism.
Although medicine and public health have played important roles in the growth and maintenance of the capitalist system, conditions during the twenty-first century have changed to such an extent that a vision of a world without an imperial order has become part of an imaginable future. Throughout the world, diverse struggles against the logic of capital and privatization illustrate the challenges of popular mobilization. In addition to these struggles, groups in several countries have moved to create alternative models of public health and health services. These efforts—especially in Latin America—have moved beyond the historical patterns fostered by capitalism and imperialism…. All the struggles that we describe remain in a process of dialectic change and have continued to transform toward more favorable or less favorable conditions. However, the accounts show a common resistance to the logic of capital and a common goal of public health systems grounded in solidarity, not profitability.
By the end of 1990, foreign direct investment—that is, investment in manufacturing, real estate, raw materials, extraction, financial institutions, etc., made by capitalists of all lands outside their national borders—reached over $1.5 trillion…. [W]hat is significant about this number is not only its size but the unprecedented speed with which it has grown in the last two decades: the amount directly invested in foreign lands nearly tripled in the 1980s alone…. This upsurge and diversification of globalization has been introducing new economic and political features in the countries of both the periphery and the core. In the periphery, foreign capital has penetrated more widely and deeply than ever before. In the core, this change of direction has helped produce in the world’s key money markets an extraordinary spiraling of credit creation, international flows of money capital, and speculation.
Insofar as imperialism is about the struggle over and capture of economic territory (which must be broadly defined to include not just geographical territory such as land and natural resources, but also the creation of new markets, sources of labor, and forms of surplus transfer such as are reflected in intellectual property), these changes [in imperialism since the early 20th century] have created distant demands upon imperialist structures and processes…. [So] how can capital (which is increasingly global in orientation) generate the superstructures through which the transfers of value are ensured and the investment risks are moderated and contained? It will be argued that there has been an endeavor to resolve this by refashioning the global institutional architecture in ways that operate to increase the conditions of “stability” for large capital while increasing its bargaining power vis-à-vis working people and citizens, as well as nation-states and even smaller capitalist enterprises.
In two Monthly Review special issues, “Education Under Fire: The U.S. Corporate Attack on Students, Teachers, and Schools” (July-August 2011) and “Public School Teachers Fighting Back” (June 2013), we sounded an alarm regarding the rapid restructuring and privatization of U.S. K–12 public schools. In terms of the scale of nationwide restructuring, the corporate takeover of education is unprecedented in modern U.S. history. The closest comparison we can come up with is the destruction of the street car systems across the United States and the building of the interstate highway system—in which freeways went right through cities for the first time, often in the face of neighborhood and community resistance. With respect to K–12 education, unimaginable amounts of private funds have gone into pressuring and corrupting government at every level, while the control mechanisms of the new educational system are increasingly left in private, not public, hands. The Common Core Standards and related high-stakes tests are at the center of this new system, and are the product of private corporate groups outside the direct reach of government.
Soviet ecology presents us with an extraordinary set of historical ironies. On the one hand, the USSR in the 1930s and ’40s violently purged many of its leading ecological thinkers and seriously degraded its environment in the quest for rapid industrial expansion. The end result has often been described as a kind of “ecocide,” symbolized by the Chernobyl nuclear accident, the assault on Lake Baikal, and the drying up of the Aral Sea, as well as extremely high levels of air and water pollution. On the other hand, the Soviet Union developed some of the world’s most dialectical contributions to ecology, revolutionizing science in fields such as climatology, while also introducing pioneering forms of conservation. Aside from its famous zapovedniki, or nature reserves for scientific research, it sought to preserve and even to expand its forests.
The fast-reviving South African left is urgently coming to grips with the most acute national crises of structure and agency the country has experienced since the historic freeing of Nelson Mandela in February 1990 and the shift of the entire body politic in favor of the African National Congress (ANC) and the South African Communist Party (SACP).… The subsequent rise in unemployment, inequality, poverty, and environmental degradation soon reached some of the worst levels in the contemporary world. The consequent social unrest is now so high that President Jacob Zuma…promised increased “public order policing” personnel and the purchase of a new generation of technologically advanced weapons, including sonar canons…. In this conflagration, what survived of the left is now growing by leaps and bounds. Within a decade, it may become a force capable of an electoral challenge to the ANC for state power. But much will depend upon how it regroups amidst shards of splintered radical projects, with myriad questions hotly debated in the movement.
Turkey’s ruling party has turned the country, which it calls “the new Turkey,” into a capitalist nightmare: a triad of neoliberal economics, political despotism, and Islamist conservatism. This article provides an overview of neoliberalism in Turkey, then looks at the government’s extraction policies, highlighting the Soma mine massacre as one tragic example of the destructive policies of the governing party, the Adalet ve Kalkınma Partisi (AKP, Justice and Development Party). It also examines the extreme authoritarianism of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan (formerly prime minister), and the growing cultural-relgious conservatism, which the AKP has interlaced with Islamist rhetoric. This hegemonic triad of neoliberalism, despotism, and conservatism is an especially dangerous one. However, it is being increasingly criticized, and resistance movements against neoliberal policies are growing. All of this gives some hope for Turkey’s future.