The Contemporary Contours of Imperialism

By Das Gupta, Chirashree | Monthly Review, June 2019 | Go to article overview

The Contemporary Contours of Imperialism


Das Gupta, Chirashree, Monthly Review


The Contemporary Contours of Imperialism

Sunanda Sen and Maria Cristina Marcuzzo, eds., The Changing Face of Imperialism: Colonialism to Contemporary Capitalism (New York: Routledge, 2018), 338 pages, $145, hardcover.

Situated largely within the Marxist debates on imperialism-but addressing the liberal formulations too - The Changing Face of Imperialism: Colonialism to Contemporary Capitalism is an important intervention regarding the material basis of imperialism and its three-hundred-year-old history of unequal power relations. The book consists of an introduction by the editors, Sunanda Sen and Maria Cristina Marcuzzo, followed by fourteen chapters arranged thematically. Five chapters are devoted to exploring the conceptual basis of imperialism, three to analyses of patterns of contemporary imperialism, another three chapters to the relationship between imperialism and colonial control, and the last three to the link between contemporary capitalism and the Indian economy.

The book broadly addresses five issues: (1) the nature of finance capital and the novel yet familiar processes of value extraction; (2) the world of capital; (3) global production networks and labor regimes; (4) the institutional system of nation-states in the new global order; and (5) the nature of integration from colonial regimes to now.

The discussions on finance capital are hinged on the differences between the John Hobson-Rudolf Hilferding-V. I. Lenin thesis and the notions of contemporary imperialism advanced by Prabhat Patnaik and Satyaki Roy. Patnaik, Roy, and Noemi Levi Orlik all analyze the implication of the political hegemony of the dollar and the rentier accumulation that characterizes this regime of primary accumulation of finance capital. Anjan Chakrabarti, Roy, John Smith, and Byasdeb Dasgupta locate the specificities of value-extraction processes in the structure and nature of global production networks and contemporary labor regimes. However, Chakrabarti and Dasgupta veer toward an analysis of contemporary imperialism that bases the labor process in informality and dualism. Surajit Mazumdar argues that the discussion on the nature of the integration of countries like India into the global circuit of capital has been on subordinate terms and has led to a premature deindustrialization in the case of India. Subhanil Chowdhury demonstrates the ambiguities of the definition of foreign direct investment and the lack of maneuvering space for the bourgeoisies of India and China. Amiya Bagchi, Sen, Gerald Epstein, and Utsa Patnaik address the possibilities and limits of the nation-state in an imperialist international order. In doing so, the focus is on both the relationship between the metropolitan working class and the metropolitan ruling classes, as well as the relationship between the metropolitan working class and the working class of the periphery. This creates room for the debate on decoupling to be addressed in fresh ways. It also points to the possibilities and limits of South-South and North-South solidarities.

In the opening essay, titled "Imperialism, the 'Old' and the 'New': Departures and Continuities," Roy provides a critical overview of the major Marxian theories and debates on imperialism. Among all the debates, he argues, the most contentious has been that on the role of the nation-state. He concludes that "oppressors of the world at various levels are far more integrated and interdependent than ever before but the complex network of hierarchies that characterize the current phase of capitalist domination is always potent with fissures and ruptures that might not have a national character as it used to be earlier" (34). He argues that, in the sphere of distribution, conflicts today are more apparent in terms of class than between nations.

Smith, in his essay "Marx's Capital and the Global Crisis," provides a value theory of contemporary imperialism that reinforces Roy's argument but moves it from the sphere of distribution to the sphere of creation of value. …

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