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Empire of Capital

What does imperialism mean in the absence of colonial conquest and imperial rule?

Capitalism makes possible a new form of domination by purely economic means, argues Ellen Meiksins Wood. So, surely, even the most seasoned White House hawk would prefer to exercise global hegemony in this way, without costly colonial entanglements. Yet, as Wood powerfully demonstrates, the economic empire of capital has also created a new unlimited militarism.

 By contrasting the new imperialism to historical forms such as the Roman and Spanish empire, and by tracing the development of capitalist imperialism back to the English domination of Ireland and on the British Empire in America and India, Wood shows how today’s capitalist empire, a global economy administered by local states, has come tom spawn a new military doctrine of war without end, in purpose or time.

Reviews

  • “A splendid book.”
  • “A thought-provoking genealogy of empires throughout history.”
  • “The best articulation of the secular Left's critique of global capital.”
  • “...a timely book...a powerful antidote to one of the afflictions of the interregnum, the belief that appearance is everything.”
  • “The most compelling account yet of imperialism in its current phase.”

Blog

  • Nationalism and Imperialism: The Premises of Hobson's Definition

    Giovanni Arrighi's The Geometry of Imperialism was published by New Left Books in 1978, in a translation by Patrick Camiller. "I was disturbed, at the time," Arrighi later told David Harvey, "by the terminological confusions that were swirling around the term ‘imperialism’. My aim was to dissipate some of the confusion by creating a topological space in which the different concepts, which were often all confusingly referred to as ‘imperialism’, could be distinguished from one another."

    In Marxist debate, Arrighi argued, such confusions could be traced to Lenin's classical theory of imperialism, which at times fails to clearly distinguish it from "the monopoly stage of capitalism" or "finance capital." Arrighi's study would then be neither 
    "a simple reproduction of the thought of this or that theoretician" nor the development of a new theory of imperialism, but rather an examination of "the presuppositions of the theory of imperialism in order to explicate, specify, and delimit them." Those presuppositions were to be located not in Lenin's own theory, but in that of J.A. Hobson, which preceded it.

    In the excerpt below, the book's first chapter, Arrighi identifies 
    four primary elements of Hobson's conception of imperialism and isolates them in the form of Weberian ideal types, which them serve as the coordinates for his "topological" reconstruction. 



    It is no easy task to define the concept of imperialism. The same term is customarily used to designate diverse, and in certain respects antithetical, concepts. Indeed, theoretical controversy is often based on nothing more than a failure to grasp what is the object of reference.

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  • New Perspectives on Neoliberal Finance

    The changing nature of capital markets since Rosa Luxemburg wrote The Accumulation of Capital begs for a reexamination of the original mechanisms she described.

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  • Ellen Meiksins Wood: The Separation of the Economic and the Political in Capitalism

    Ellen Meiksins Wood (1942-2016) was a leading political theorist and one of the world's most influential historians. Her wide-ranging and original work, covering topics which range from examinations of Athenian democracy to contemporary American imperialism, has, alongside Robert Brenner, inaugurated the 'Political Marxist' approach to history. Political Marxism is founded upon a critique of the teleology and formalism of many forms of Marxism in an attempt at rehistoricising and repoliticising the Marxist project. The influence of Ellen's distinctive work can be seen across the social sciences and has influenced generations of scholars.

    To celebrate her work, we are making available one of her most influential essays, "The Separation of the Economic and the Political in Capitalism", originally published in NLR 1/127 (1981).


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