Global Imperialism and the Great Crisis: The Uncertain Future of Capitalism

Global Imperialism and the Great Crisis: The Uncertain Future of Capitalism

Global Imperialism and the Great Crisis: The Uncertain Future of Capitalism

Global Imperialism and the Great Crisis: The Uncertain Future of Capitalism


In this provocative study, economist Ernesto Screpanti argues that imperialism- far from disappearing or mutating into a benign "globalization"- has in fact entered a new phase, which he terms "global imperialism." This is a phase defined by multinational firms cut loose from the nation-state framework and free to chase profits over the entire surface of the globe. No longer dependent on nation-states for building a political consensus that accommodates capital accumulation, these firms seek to bend governments to their will and destroy barriers to the free movement of capital. And while military force continues to play an important role in imperial strategy, it is the discipline of the global market that keeps workers in check by pitting them against each other no matter what their national origin. This is a world in which the so-called "labor aristocracies" of the rich nations are demolished, the power of states to enforce checks on capital is sapped, and global firms are free to pursue their monomaniacal quest for profits unfettered by national allegiance.

Screpanti delves into the inner workings of global imperialism, explaining how it is different from past forms of imperialism, how the global distribution of wages is changing, and why multinational firms have strained to break free of national markets. He sees global imperialism as a developing process, one with no certain outcome. But one thing is clear: when economic crises become opportunities to discipline workers, and when economic policies are imposed through increasingly authoritarian measures, the vision of a democratic and humane world is what is ultimately at stake.


The main thesis of this book is that contemporary globalization is bringing about a type of imperialism that differs fundamentally from those of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.

The most significant difference is that the great capitalist firms, by becoming multinationals, have broken out of the confines within which they operated and that they exploited in the era of colonial empires. Nowadays capital accumulates in a global market. One of its dominant interests is therefore to dismantle all the barriers, obstacles, and political pressures that states can place in its way. Whereas in the past every nation’s monopoly capital took advantage of its state’s drive to imperialist expansion, because it could use this as a way to enlarge the domestic market, today the boundaries of national empires are seen as obstacles to commercial expansion and accumulation. And whereas monopoly capital previously had an interest in raising trade barriers and implementing mercantilist policies, which it saw as defenses against the competition of foreign firms, nowadays multinational capital votes for free trade and financial globalization. I call this new form of capitalist domination of the world global imperialism.

A second difference involves the relationship between state and capital. Their long-established symbiotic bond, based on the convergence of the state’s interest in building political power and the interest of capital in creating a protected imperial market, is weakening. Big capital now places itself above the nation-state, toward which it tends to take an instrumental and conflicting attitude—“instrumental” because it seeks to bend the state to its own interests, both through the direct action of . . .

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