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