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Value Chains: The New Economic Imperialism

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Winner of the 2018 Paul A. Baran—Paul M. Sweezy Memorial Award for original work regarding the political economy of imperialism, Intan Suwandi’s Value Chains examines the exploitation of labor in the Global South. Focusing on the issue of labor within global value chains—vast networks of people, tools, and activities needed to deliver goods and services to the market and controlled by multinationals—Suwandi offers a deft empirical analysis of unit labor costs that is closely related to Marx’s own theory of exploitation.

Value Chains uncovers the concrete processes through which multinational corporations, located primarily in the Global North, capture value from the Global South. We are brought face to face with various state-of-the-art corporate strategies that enforce “economical” and “flexible” production, including labor management methods, aimed to reassert the imperial dominance of the North, while continuing the dependency of the Global South and polarizing the global economy. Case studies of Indonesian suppliers exemplify the growing burden borne by the workers of the Global South, whose labor creates the surplus value that enriches the capitalists of the North, as well as the secondary capitals of the South. Today, those who control the value chains and siphon off the profits are primarily financial interests with vast economic and political power—the power that must be broken if the global working class is to liberate itself. Suwandi’s book depicts in concrete detail the relations of unequal exchange that structure today’s world economy. This study, up-to-date and richly documented, puts labor and class back at the center of our understanding of the world capitalist system.

This book belongs on the shelf alongside Naomi Klein’s The Shock Doctrine as one of the most powerful indictments of capital in our era.

—John Bellamy Foster, editor, Monthly Review magazine

In this powerful book, Intan Suwandi demonstrates how global value chains are based upon, and deepen, the exploitation of labour by capital and the geographical transfer of value from global South to global North. She makes a significant contribution to labour process theory by illuminating how lead firms use mechanisms of value chain governance to enhance the control of geographically distant labour. This work stands in, and contributes to, the monopoly capital tradition of Magdoff, Sweezy, and Foster. It represents an important and valuable contribution to emancipatory social science.

—Benjamin Selwyn, Professor of International Development, Department of International Relations, University of Sussex, UK; author, The Struggle for Development

In Value Chains, Intan Suwandi carefully and clearly uses the concept of labor-value chains and thoughtful empirical work to reveal the ways in which multinational corporations extract surplus from the global South at worker expense. In contrast to mainstream celebrations of capitalist globalization, Value Chains leaves no doubt that globalized production is best understood as a new form of imperialism.

—Martin Hart-Landsberg, professor emeritus of economics, Lewis and Clark College; author, Capitalist Globalization: Consequences, Resistance, and Alternatives

Suwandi’s important book blows apart the false notion that imperialism is dead. She shows how multinational corporations use global labour arbitrage to create “global labour value chains” to protect their profit margins, so that supposedly decentralised global production is associated with the growing concentration of profits and economic power.

—Jayati Ghosh, Professor of Economics at Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi

Intan Suwandi provides a valuable, well-written review of the “hidden abode” of exploitation in the world division of labour, bringing out the role of value chains in enforcing the power of imperialist corporations in the global South.

—Tony Norfield, author, The City: London and the Global Power of Finance

Colonial powers may have withdrawn their flags from the shores of the global South, but imperialism remains alive and well today—even if it’s hidden from view. Suwandi illuminates this reality by digging into the murky world of multinational companies and global supply chains, showing how systematic labour exploitation constitutes a flow of value from poor countries to rich countries on a scale that outstrips what even the most violent colonizers could have imagined. This is a brilliant and necessary book.

—Jason Hickel, London School of Economics; author, The Divide: A Brief Guide to Global Inequality and its Solutions

This book on global value chains is an acute and penetrating analysis of the modus operandi of contemporary imperialism. The shifting of production activities to third world countries with lower wages entails an appropriation of surplus value from these countries which is camouflaged because the act of distribution of this surplus among the various claimants in the metropolis appears in an inverted form as value addition by these different claimants. The book peels off many of these inverted perceptions that characterize bourgeois economics and underlie neo-liberal prescriptions.

—Prabhat Patnaik, professor emeritus, economics, Jawaharlal Nehru University; author (with Utsa Patnaik), A Theory of Imperialism

This is a marvelous, highly accessible book. It zeroes in on global value chains, the most important transformation of the neoliberal era, and weaves excellent theoretical insights and empirical research into a notable contribution to literature on global political economy and Marxist theories of imperialism.

—John Smith, author, Imperialism in the Twenty-First Century

Intan Suwandi is a frequent contributor to Monthly Review magazine and has written for various publications on the political economy of imperialism, both in English and Indonesian. She recently received her Ph.D. in sociology from the University of Oregon. This is her first book.

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Publication Date: August 2019

Number of Pages: 216

Paperback ISBN: 978-1-58367-781-0

Cloth ISBN: 978-1-58367-782-7

eBook ISBN: 978-1-58367-783-4