The issue of Globalization through the theory of Imperialism and the periodization of modes of production

The issue of Globalization through the theory of Imperialism and the periodization of modes of production

Abstract:  The aim of this article is to illustrate why the notions of mode of production and of social formation are still necessary for understanding the transformations taking place in the modern phase of imperialism.The basic object is to demonstrate the enduring significance of the Leninist theory of imperialism as a method used to analyse the current era of the capitalist development. What we have been witnessing over the last years is not the emergence of a new mode of production or the transition to a new stage of capitalism, so-called globalization, but merely imperialism in its modern phase.

Keywords:  globalization, imperialism, Marxism, modes of production, nation state


Some introductory and methodological remarks

            The question of the concept, not to mention the existence or non-existence, of globalization has perhaps been the most widely-discussed subject in recent years in the field of the social sciences. Adoption of this term from the end of the 80s brought into existence a theoretical current, the so-called globalists, who considered that entry into globalization marks the transition to a new, qualitatively different, phase of human history.Globalization is a transformational trend towards a more unified world, where an event in one area will affect developments in other areas (Giddens 1990). This entails a time-space compression - in essence a change in the notion of the relationship between space and locality, signifying a shrinking form of the world (Harvey 1989).

There is an extensive, rapid and unprecedented flow of capital, assets and merchandises around the globe, its origins being traceable to the liberation of  markets and opening of the frontiers (Dichen 1998). The consequence of this are on one hand a new global division of labour, on the other hand  erosion of the state sovereignty, the rise of the supranational organizations and the emergence of a multilayered global governance. Given that the national governments are embedded in this system of global governance, their roles are radically limited by the imperatives of economic globalization (Sassen 1996; Rosenau 1997). The open markets, with corresponding ability of capital to move freely across the globe have obliged governments to adopt  similar neoliberal policies to attract foreign investors. (Hoogvelt 1997; Shaw 1997). The intensification of global competition induced national governments to reject  programmes of social protection and the institutions of the welfare state for fear of jeopardizing the competitiveness of their national economies.

Ideology and civilization, from this standpoint, have lost their national character to the advantage of a more global and common world-wide way of thinking and behaving. What has come to predominate is a cosmopolitan global culture transcending fixed national identities. The circulation of cultural goods across the globe creates the basis for a transnational civil society (Held and McGrew 2000).

A number of important objections have been raised to all these arguments by another theoretical current, the so-called sceptics.  They claim that there is nothing either global (Hirst 1997) or unprecedented (Hirst and Thompson 1999) about globalization. The world economy has entered an internationalized phase in the course of which the states of the Triad (US, EU, Japan) undergo more economic and social changes than in the near past but fewer than in the pre-WWI era (Ruigrok and Tulder 1995; Weiss 1998). The main characteristic of that era was internationalization of the economy, making the first wave of globalization in many respects more important than its modern counterpart. The so- called ‘multinationals’ are in fact nothing more than national corporations operating internationally (Hu 1992). Even in the financial sector the degree of economic integration is quite limited (Zevin 1992). Last but not least, immigration rates were higher during the 19th century than in our day (Williamson and O' Rourke 1999).

The role of nation-states remains very significant given that it is still the case that most nation-states themselves choose which kinds of policies are appropriate for their own areas of jurisdiction. The fact that states are legitimized by their people constitutes an important factor in the international settlement. Far from adopting a common global policy, each state, with its own specific national political traditions, shapes in its own way the form and the content of the state’s sovereignty.

            As far as 'global' culture is concerned it does not seem that any important changes are really taking place. The national mass media and their associated institutions still play a central role in formation of national identity. Education retains its nation-centred  content and the media assign importance to local news and local events (Thompson 1995). Moreover, as globalism sceptics single-mindedly stress, there is no global culture or  global history. Nor is there a common set of memories that can give rise to a global way of thinking..

            Even though our position has much in common with the views of the sceptics, we find it impossible to overlook the fact that there are a number of methodological weaknesses that necessitate a different view of the data. What are these theoretical weaknesses? The most fundamental of them is that everything is approached in a descriptive manner, in keeping with the conception of the neutrality of social development. What is present is economic development, the activity of states, technological progress, changes in culture, etc. What is absent is the concept of conflicting social interests, an approach to the state that sees it as a terrain for the exercise of a specific class politics, and culture a construction comprised of elements of the dominant ideology. In essence these are views which do not penetrate  the content of developments but remain at the level of their external form. Thus it remains at a low level of abstraction and it is limited to two areas. The first has to do with historical sources and exposition of the statistical data. It examines which data appear more credible and how world trade or foreign investments can be calculated. The second is related to the methodological approach to the changes at present under way in the most significant areas of human life. Can we speak of a compression of space and time as a result of the new technologies, especially the use of computers, or must we consider, from the point of view of the social diffusion, the invention of the telegraph as starting point for the modern era, given that the telegraph is the basis for production of the telephone, the telephone for the radio, the radio for the television, the television for the internet etc.?

            What conceivable alternative viewpoint might there be? It is to be expected that there would be a different approach from the Marxist current in which the concept of globalization would be questioned not through lack of empirical data but because its adoption marks a suppression of questions such as the historical development of the relations of exploitation within the capitalist system and the specific role of imperialism as a theoretical and historical parameter in the interpretation of developments. Unfortunately what seems to prevail is a confusion in relation to the question. One group of theorists, including most notably W. Robinson and his collaborators (Burbach and Robinson 1999; Robinson 2001; Robinson and Harris 2003) considers that globalization is a reality and that because of it a transnational bourgeois has been brought into existence. However, most Marxists insist on the conceptual and analytical importance of the term ‘imperialism’ (Went 2002-3; Harvey 2003; Wood 2003; Panitch and Leys 2004) and many of them rejected the majority of the arguments put forward by globalists: the allegedly unprecedented nature of the phenomenon, the integration of national economies to a single world economy, global culture, the failure of state power, (Petras 1999; Ruccio 2003). The main problem with all these positions is their acceptance, or rather non-rejection, of the term ‘globalization’. According to these Marxists both imperialism and globalization are legitimate and viable concepts. Globalization may perhaps be a new form of imperialism. Or an inherent element in imperialism.  Or something parallel to imperialism. None contest the usefulness of the term. They adopt the concept of globalization but at the same time acknowledging the continuing importance of nation-states and recognizing imperialism in its present-day form.

            It is undoubtedly a hopeful sign that over the last years the critique of imperialism has made a theoretical comeback and is not considered merely outdated. But a genuine renewal of the critique of imperialism requires theoretical negation of the very notion of globalization.  My claim, and this is addressed to all who make assertions on ‘globalization’, is that such views overlook the crucial question of how the phenomena ascribed to globalization are to be explained, and theorized. Scientific explanation entails emergence of a theoretical structure (or articulation of concepts) capable of specifying what it is that  makes these phenomena (or empirical data) necessary. In fact ‘globalization’ has yet to qualify as a theoretical concept: a fully developed theory of a global social system at work. Until such  times as it does so we are quite entitled from a theoretical viewpoint to treat ‘globalization’ as an ideological notion: denoting a reality substantially at odds with its literal meaning.  If neither global capital (or a global power block) nor a global proletariat exist, then no globalization exists either, in the strict sense of a uniform global system of social relations.

At this point, of course, a question might be raised as to the significance such a discussion might have above and beyond the plane of pure theory. My position is that in  fact it has the most explicit of implications for political strategies and corresponding planning.  If we accept the concept of globalization we must reassess a a great deal of what has been seen as established fact and it is interesting that that section of Marxists, with Robinson at their head, who accept the concept of globalization, have been led along that road. From the moment that there is transnational capital there is a transnational bourgeoisie and a corresponding transnational working class. Capitalist planning thus takes place at the transnational level and the corresponding anticapitalist struggles must similarly be enacted at the transnational level. It is thus a structurally determined reality that the United States finds itself in a phase of decline as its place is gradually being taken by the power of transnational capital, and first and foremost finance capital. From this perspective viewpoints like those of Petras or Harvey, who consider that the rise of finance capital is an indication of the weakness of the United States converge with elements of the rhetoric of globalization, given that it remains unclear which other state emerges as the beneficiary from this process. My position is that the capitalist mode of production is reproduced within national  social formations, which are interlinked as unequal partners in the imperialist chain. Many aspects of social reality are internationalised but this internationalisation bears the stamp of class because it takes place under the hegemony of the most powerful national imperialistic formations and the corresponding national bourgeoisies, with the American bourgeoisie in the leading position. Any other approach accepting the existence of globalization leads us to analytical schemata approximating the concept of ultra-imperialism as espoused by Kautsky.

 One prerequisite, for all the above to become comprehensible, is that there should be an extensive representation of the terms  mode of production, social formation, capitalist mode of production. From that point onward the guiding principle should be the development of the capitalist system, with insistence on the pertinence of Imperialism and exposure of the theoretical weakness of the Globalization concept. What Ι assert is that the social framework since Lenin's era has not changed insofar as its fundamental elements are concerned. This is not to say that that no changes have occurred at all. Capitalism today is not the same as it was in the industrial revolution. Some remarkable mutations have occurred over the last century so that it is possible to speak of two phases in the imperialistic/monopolistic stage. The first phase of imperialism (enlarged reproduction) lasted from the end of the 19th century until the oil crisis of 1973. The second phase, dating from 1973, immediately following the oil crisis, can be defined as the attempted exit from that crisis. All the new phenomena (capitalist restructuring, postfordism, reinforcement of financial capital, creation of new intergovernmental organizations, etc), occurred in this phase; but in any case the new phase does not constitute a brief bout of Globalization but a sub-period of imperialism. Thus, what we have been witnessing over the last years is not the emergence of a new mode of production or the transition to a new stage of capitalism, but merely Imperialism in its modern phase.


2. Mode of production and social formation: the case of the capitalist mode of production


  1. The mode of production (MP)

In our effort to comprehend these developments our first – perhaps - task is to establish a  definition of the mode of production. Our thesis is that the mode of production emerges from a combination of productive forces and productive relations, along with the mechanisms and laws of motion that derive from these productive forces and relations (Balibar 1970). More precisely, the mode of production (MP) comprises a specific nuclear structure of social relations characterized by the function of  “internal” laws of motion of the dominant social contradiction, in the case of the capitalist mode of production the conflict of capital and labour (Μηλιός 1988: 101). This is immutable. It cannot be changed because if it were it would have to be described as a different mode of production. What can be transformed as a result of class struggle is the structure of social power within a specific social formation (SF),  in other words the external determinations of the laws of motion shaping the dominant social contradiction (Μηλιός  1988: 107). At the level of a SF, the mode of production can be divided into stages, which are in turn similarly divisible into equivalent phases.The notion of “stage” implies more structural forms and a higher level of abstraction.  “Phase” denotes forms and features within stages and consequently a lower level of abstraction. There are also transitional conjunctures between stages and between phases (Poulantzas 1979a: 21-3).

Every MP forms a spherical structure, constituted by three peripheral structures: the economic, the judicial-political and the ideological. Within every MP there is one structure which is dominant over the others. Which this structure will be at any given time is ultimately determined by the economic structure (Harnacker 1974: 136-140).

            Moving at such a high level of abstraction, the notion of mode of production cannot be transformed in any precise way, constituting as it does a structure functioning without impediments or distortions. What exists in reality is the formation of a mode of production, with the ‘tough’ structure of the ideotypical mode (the ‘internal’ rules of functioning) and the special characteristics (‘external’ rules of functioning) brought about by the class struggle within a specific social formation.


b)  The Social Formation (SF)

            A SF corresponds to a specific and geographically defined social entity. It consists of: a) an economic structure in which different systems of production coexist, more correctly modes and forms of production, like the simple commodity production which does not belong to any specific MP; the more powerful among these dominate the others and define the general framework of economic functioning; b) an ideological structure within which are reflected the ideological perceptions corresponding to the different economic systems that exist in the economic infrastructure; and c) a judicial-political structure, which is formed in order to safeguard the interests of the dominant system of production and assure its reproduction.

            In any case, what should become clear is that within a given SF the dominant MP presents options (its so-called “external” characteristics) which differ from its abstract ideal type. This occurs for two reasons: firstly because the class struggle has introduced countertrends and thus modified some secondary aspects of a mode of production, (for example, the duration of the working day differs from formation to formation). Secondly, because what exists in reality is the articulation of different modes of production, resulting in overpowering of the dynamics of reproduction of the dominant MP, but only in combination with preservation of unity of the SF (Lipietz 1977: 20-1).


 c. The Capitalist Mode of Production (CMP)


            The CMP is distinguished by a series of elements which, as a whole and in  co-articulation, make it different from all former modes of production.

            The economic structure is characterized by: a) appropriation of means of production from direct producers; b) inability of producers themselves to secure control of the means of production (sanctity of private property); and c) realization of relations of distribution on the basis of products’ exchange value, expressed through money.

            Relations of exploitation thus take the form of the wage relationship, with the process of production embodied primarily in private units of production in which a social and technical division of labour applies. The surplus-product is extracted from workers in the form of surplus value while exchange relations are subordinated to the  law of value, as is the workforce. Finally, private production is transformed into a social process through exchange of  commodities (Μιχαηλίδης 1986: 56-7).

            Politico-ideologically we have the specific formation of the bourgeois state, comprising at the institutional level a material crystallisation of the contradiction between capital and labour. The fact of direct producers’ total deprivation of means of production enables distinctive separation of the state from the economic sphere and ability to dispense with non-economic methods for extraction of surplus value. But irrespective of this, the state plays an intensively active role by exercising a series of functions: i) political functions, guaranteeing the dominance and hegemony of the bourgeois class; ii) economic functions, ensuring and often itself undertaking a whole spectrum of tasks prerequisite for maintaining continuity of production; and iii) ideological functions, by means of the ideological state apparatus (ISA- Althusser 1976), which codifies and disseminates the dominant ideology.

            Another point that it is also important to make clear in relation to the capitalist State, in conjunction with all the rhetoric about globalization, is that capital as such, as a blind tendency towards unfettered accumulation, knows no borders. Capitalist social relations, on the other hand, require borders. They cannot be reproduced without the nation-state, which is not an “essential” political form but the outcome of the historical process that culminated in its emergence.  The development of capitalism is an uneven process, subject to various determinations and the different forms and rhythms of the class struggle. This generates a fragmentation into different loci of reproduction of capitalist relations, into different national territories. To put it differently, it is important to understand the specific character of geographic space in reproduction of the capital relation, something which will subsequently  help us to understand the importance of the manner of constitution and the functioning of the imperialist chain. Space is nothing more than the site of social (class) practices and  is characterized first and foremost by its national dimension (Μηλιός 1985: 63-4). Thus the site of functioning of the capitalist mode of production (CPM) is the national formation, whose borders and cohesion/homogenisation is underwritten by the State . The State is the institution which, with a view to serving the long-term interests of bourgeois power, elaborates strategies for political management of the labour force, intervenes in the process of securing the profits of national capital and promotes its expansion into international space. This results in fragmentation of the territory of the world into separate regions of capitalist domination and reproduction of the social relations of capital (Μηλιός 1988).



On the subject of social classes in the capitalist mode of production.

What we have said about the key role of the state in reproduction of capitalist relations of domination and exploitation also helps us to understand why there is not, and why there cannot be, either a global bourgeoisie or a global proletariat, given the inconceivability of constituting social classes outside the framework of a specific national social formation (Παλαιός 1987: 107). As Althusser has shown (Althusser 1979: 30) social classes may be created only through class struggle and class struggle in the capitalist mode of production is conducted within national formations. Consequently the bourgeoisie and the working class are generated and evolve precisely because of the existence of the opposite social pole. This means that exploitation of the working class by the bourgeoisie leads to reproduction of the capitalist system.  There could not be a bourgeoisie if there were not a corresponding proletariat. The specific conditions of exploitation existing within each national formation also bring about reproduction of the polarities between classes. There are no classes outside national formations. Even in instances where  bourgeoisies develop international activities, their ability to do this is a product of their exploitation of the working class in their own country.

In the light of these conclusions, what happens in reality is that each national bourgeoisie has first and foremost to contend with its own national working class so as to be able to secure a larger share of the surplus value and secondarily to manage to compete as an equal with the other national bourgeoisies in the international arena.  From the moment it succeeds in penetrating other social formations also, it takes on the characteristics of a national bourgeoisie of the national formation in question. There is thus no global bourgeois class comprising capitalists with common global interests. The basic elements with every capitalist are the rate of profit he extracts from his workers, the level  reached by the collective worker and the average rate of profit that prevails in the specific national economy. There is similarly no global proletariat with common global interests. The members of the working class live under different conditions of exploitation from one formation to another.



3. Sketch of periodization of social formations pertaining to the CMP


a) The stage of primitive accumulation of capital[1]


            At this stage the deconstruction of previous modes of production can be observed, first and  foremost the feudal and secondarily the Asiatic, and the appearance of the first forms of capitalist exploitation.


One basic element is the existence of important changes because of the scientific discoveries of the 17th and the 18th centuries. At the political level, the contradiction between the developing CMP and the corresponding pre-capitalist modes is beginning to be observed, and this awareness is reflected in the political forms of the authoritarian state.


b) The Liberal Stage

            The predominance of the CMP over pre-capitalist modes of production reaches a climax in the liberal stage. The basic characteristics of this stage are the extension of the CMP, the freeing of trade, the creation of the bourgeois state and the elaboration of bourgeois ideology. At the economic level, the first manifestations of real subordination of labour appear, while at the same time the production process is undergoing gradual automation.

            At the political level, the creation of the bourgeois state will be accompanied by the emergence of significant labour struggles (historically, this occurred, firstly with the Chartists and later with the revolutions of 1848) that will result in the broadening of the franchise.

Finally, at the ideological level, the consolidation of bourgeois ideology is effected through the creation of two basic ideological subsets: a) the notion of the individual-citizen, and b) the formation of a national ideology through the unification of populations with different ethnic traits and through the creation of a national history.


c) The Monopolistic Stage   

            The consummation of the transition from the liberal to the monopolistic stage brought  with it  a new series of common traits, which govern the functioning of the  CMP within the developed SFs.

To be precise, real subordination of labour to capital is generalized, with relative surplus value established as dominant, as a way of exploitation of labour. The advent of certain important technological developments may be attributed to generalized use of electricity as a form of energy, expanded employment of the internal combustion engine and growth of the chemical industry. The result is a collective tendency towards automation of the production process, and all that this entails: a rise in productivity and fall in prices and consequently in the cost of reproduction of the workforce along with augmentation of the profitability of capital.  At the same time, the phenomena of concentration (with the creation of conglomerates) and centralization (incorporation of smaller units into larger, fusion of industrial and banking capital) are intensified. At the supranational level, there is a continuation of the process of internationalization of investment, commodities and money capital. These are developments which serve to reproduce competition between capitals (both individual and 'national') and consequently intra-imperialistic conflicts. Finally, the function of the ISA is generalized, the nuclear family is reconstituted, managerial classes develop and a new petit-bourgeois class flourishes.

The monopolistic stage has also been called by Lenin (1982: 89) the imperialistic stage. The use of this term is not accidental. The term imperialism was coined because of capitalism’s development to the monopolistic stage. The emergence of certain quantitative and qualitative prerequisites facilitated constitution of the substructure upon which the superstructure of imperialism was to be erected. These characteristics were: a) the centralization of infrastructure and capital to such a degree as to engender monopolies; b) fusion of industrial and bank capital and formation of financial capital; c) increase in export capitals; d) creation of multinationals; and e) completion of the division of the world among the most powerful capitalist states.

            What is interesting in Lenin’s definition is that it does not confine itself to an economy-centered approach to the phenomenon but also underlines the importance of  the specific political and military power that makes possible the division of the world among the most developed states.

 It becomes much easier in this light to understand the wording of the thesis concerning the formation of the imperialistic chain. The increasing internationalization to be noted between the years 1870 and 1914 through the export of capital, investments and commodities, and the creation of multinational companies was to contribute to the multileveled complexity of the different social formations and to the shaping of the imperialistic chain. The term ‘multileveled’ is used for purposes of making it clear that we are not talking about a pyramid, with the economically advanced countries in the highest positions and the economically backward ones in the lowest. In reality, the chain serves a twofold function involving both its hierarchy and the incorporation of formations within it. The transition to the monopolistic stage in a series of  specific social formations opens up opportunities for economic and geographic expansion of capital. Of course, important divergences exist between developed social formations, as of course they do between the different components of the international state system as a whole. Their incorporation into the imperialistic chain did not come as a result of some immanent transformation at the international level, but in consequence of the pressures of one state on another. These pressures were economic, reflecting differences in productivity related to differences in the level of evolution of each state. They were also geopolitical and military, reflecting the disproportionate power of some states. The association of these states by virtue of the abovementioned procedures (another current term might be ‘unilateral interdependence’) resulted in the formation of the imperialistic chain, in which all capitalist states participate: their level of development is not predicated on their participation but on the position they occupy within the chain. A state may thus not yet have made the transition to the monopolistic stage and nevertheless participate in the imperialist chain, at a lower level than other formations that are already in the monopolistic stage. On the other hand, for a country (or a social formation) to be ranked in the imperialistic chain, not only the entirety of  its political and military power but also its level of economic development must be factored in. Which of the two elements has more weight depends in each case on the evolution of class struggle at an international level as well as at a local level (Poulantzas 1979a: 24). In other words, what appears to be decisive in relations among the states in the chain is uneven development (Poulantzas 1979: 49- 50), leading to different, hierarchically unequal, positions.

            Τhe conclusion emerging from all the above is that the forging of the imperialist chain should not be equated with the entry of national social formations into the imperialist-monopolist stage. Truly, that in a number of developed capitalist countries monopoly capital should acquire ascendancy as the hegemonic fraction of the bourgeoisie – generating an intense internationalization of capitalist activity, is  a sine qua non for formation of the imperialist chain.  But beyond that they are two quite different things. The imperialist chain includes all the national capitalist formations and its form is affected by intra-imperialist conflicts taking place within it. Inside the national formations regroupments may occur. The hegemonic position may be occupied successively by different bourgeois fractions, monopolistic and non-monopolistic, and in certain cases (as shown by the experience of actually-existing socialism) there may be departures from the imperialist chain on the part of specific national formations..


Up to this point we have been occupied with a general consideration of the terms of transition to the monopolistic/imperialistic stage as well as with the constitution of basic presuppositions for its functioning. In the following part we propose to examine the periodization of this stage into two separate phases, that of the expanded reproduction of imperialism, and that of the efforts of exit from the crisis. Our aim is to make clear the differences and the similarities and to shed light on why the debate about globalization cannot be incorporated into the framework of the debate on creation of a new stage.


d). Phase of Enlarged Reproduction of Imperialism

This concerns a period of time that begins when World War I ends and is completed with the outbreak of the crisis of overaccumulation in 1973. At the level of production, units of mass production are created, manufacturing commodities that can be stored for extended periods of time. This procedure is characterized by the hiring of well-paid semi-qualified workers, the systematization of the process of extraction of experience and skills from the direct producers, the codification of the latter by scientific and managerial staff, and the fragmentation of the process of production into simple standardized duties, such as require a low level of experience and specialization and can be quantified both in terms of working pace and in terms of amount of work produced.

At the same time, the verticalization of production creates the necessities for upgrading of the role of the managerial strata, thus increasing the bureaucratization of organizational forms. All this is carried out against a backdrop of ongoing tendencies of concentration and centralization of  capital and internationalization of the economy at every level (investments, commodities, and money capital).

            The role of the state in the economic sphere is enlarged. It undertakes crucial parts of the productive and reproductive process, and also of the sphere of circulation through expanding national enterprises and taking over those which function with low-to-negative profit rates (to the extent that the continuation of its activities is a prerequisite for reproduction of basic conditions of capitalistic production).

            Besides all the above, this phase entailed the crystallization of a certain hierarchy in the imperialistic chain through consolidation of American hegemony, which also established its clear preponderance both at the level of productivity and at the political and military level, especially after the American victory in World War II and the establishment of America’s role as leader of  opposition to the Eastern bloc in the Cold War.

            As far as the political level is concerned, new elements include the consolidation of mass parties, generalization of the right to vote, formation of the first catch-all parties and a closing off of relations between parliamentarians and the executive. At the same time the expansion of the right to vote undercut popular reaction, normalizing the operations of liberal democracy. Bourgeois political parties now function as mechanisms for co-optation of popular demands, agents of stabilization of social peace. No danger for the bourgeoisie was posed by immoderate dispensation of the right to vote. On the one hand there was displacement of real power from parliament to government,; the relative autonomy of parliamentarians disappearing. On the other the hard core of the state (‘repressive state apparatus’) was at all times in a position to put an end to ‘excessive’ popular demands (characteristic examples being Spain 1936, Guatemala 1954, Greece 1967).

            At the ideological level the predominant conceptions were: development, progress, faith in parliamentary democracy, trust in the institutions of the state, social mobility, change in social status. All these constituted various forms of investment in the normal operation of capitalist imperatives. Taken together with activity at the state level they made a significant contribution to consolidating the power of the bourgeois class. Another important factor was the mass media, with its fast-growing influence and noteworthy capacities, along with family and education, for diffusing the dominant ideology. Last but not least, the consolidation of the Soviet bloc and its transformation after World War II into the common enemy of all citizens of ‘the West’ was a prominent factor in forging consensus with the popular strata.


The crisis of 1973

At the  conclusion of the  phase just described, the historic tendency towards enlarged reproduction came to a climax  with the outbreak of the structural crisis of 1973. This was a crisis of over-accumulation, expressed in falling rates of profit. The following factors played a role in bringing this crisis to the surface: a) the sharpening of the class struggle during the ‘60s; b) the intensification of intra-imperialistic conflicts; and c) the crisis of the Taylor-Fordian model for organizing production. Interaction of these three elements compounded the tendency of the rate of profit to fall and led to the crisis of  overaccumulation. The crisis was manifested in a radical deterioration in rates of profit followed by a persistent demand for ever larger increases in capital investment, against a backdrop of unchanging rates of increase in productivity. One consequence of this was an abrupt rise in prices of unabsorbable raw materials. It proved impossible to deal with this situation through the conventional measures of strengthening demand, applying counter-cyclical policies and expanding credit. A conjuncture had been reached where, in a context of contradiction between falling tendencies in the rate of profit and the tendencies countervailing this fall, the latter were not in a position to counterbalance the rise in the technical composition of capital.



e) The phase of the effort to exit from the crisis and the importance of the policy of capitalist restructuring

            The outbreak of the crisis in 1973 signaled the transition to a new phase in the monopolistic/imperialistic stage, one which remains uncompleted to this day. Its basic element is the endeavor to create countertrends to the tendency of the rate of profit to fall and to find a solution to the crisis of overaccumulation.        

            The initial strategy adopted for overcoming the crisis of ’73 involved application of counter-cyclical policies, with the state seeking to take over the running of enterprises with low rates of profit and continue existing policies of redistribution. The second oil crisis of 1979 was to reveal the limits of this policy. Against a backdrop of declining popular struggles throughout the ‘70s, the capitalistic ruling classes were obliged to readjust their policies of exit from the crisis.  The policy that was to be chosen was what was called by many 'neo-liberalism', 'Thatcherism' or 'Reaganism'. Its basic element was unconstrained implementation of policies of “rationalization”: rejection of capitals exhibiting low levels of profitability, augmentation of unemployment so that it might function as a means of holding labour costs down and disciplining the labouring class, redistribution of incomes in favor of capital, limitation of labour rights, return to private capital or closing down of all enterprises the state had taken over.

One problem with this policy was that it did not contribute to the rise of new social strata which could profit from the changes being implemented, in this way bringing into existence the necessary social alliances. This would have multiple repercussions, ranging from the rise of social democratic parties to power to (on the other hand) a discovery of the impossibility of activating all latent productive capital, thus impeding the creation of trends to counter the tendency of the rate of profit to fall, and precluding national economies from finding a route to exit from the crisis.  The impasse would also be clearly illustrated in the rapid increase of unemployment, something that had not occurred on this scale since the crisis of ’29 (Walker 2001: 4), and in the precipitate rise in the exchange rate of the dollar, reducing the competitiveness of goods produced in dollar-based economies.  The result was that in 1982 profits would come to only 57% of the average for the period 1956-1965 (Dymenil and Levy 2001: 7).

During the '80s a new strategy was adopted, within the framework of the same phase of the monopolistic/imperialistic stage, its aim being to overcome the crisis of overaccumulation  through a series of very important transformations not only at the  economic but also at the political and ideological level. It was a strategy for capitalist  restructuring, which we judge will continue until rates of profit return to former levels. Only 65% of the fall from the levels of profitability prevailing between 1956 and 1965 has so far been covered (Dumenil and Levy 2001: 7), and this despite a fall of 15% in the share of GNP accruing to wages (alongside a 36% fall in the productivity of capital[2]) (Dymenil and Levy 1999: 83).

The basic directions of the capitalistic restructuring are:

a) adoption of policies of austerity;

b) changes in working relations which take the form of total flexibilization of the labour process;

c) alterations in the process of production which are related to i) changes in organization of labour, ii) changes in the level of education and in the skills of the collective worker as well as promotion of programs of continuous retraining, so that constant technological changes can be monitored, iii) with the incorporation of working people into acceptance of the company's goals, the intensification of workplace authoritarianism, etc;

d) the worsening of conditions of negotiation on behalf of working people through i) the defeat of the trade union movement, on the one hand due to the osmosis that characterized its relations with social-democracy, on the other due to its focus on demands for wage increases rather than changes at the level of working relations (Ιωακείμογλου 1990: 29-30), ii) the regime of increasing unemployment and iii) pressures deriving  from the generalization of part time employment.

As far as the political level is concerned, the most important developments have to do with the transformation of political parties into mere transmission belts for state power, a phenomenon resulting from the dominance of the dynamics of re-structuring. The result are policies in which the satisfaction of material interests of the dominated classes (primarily the urban working classes and agricultural strata but also corresponding petty-bourgeois layers whose collaboration is not necessitated by the dynamics of restructuring) plays no role. This impels the parties on the one hand to homogenization[3] and on the other to inability to represent satisfactorily the interests of popular and petty bourgeois classes. As a result, the image of the party as a collective with a specific width of vertical and horizontal organization, complementing relations of representation through  trade union structures, is in crisis (Mancini 1999: 235). In the traditional social-democratic  milieu in particular, these developments manifest themselves with particular intensity: the importance of the party apparatus is being downgraded, the new governmental cadres are not representatives of regional and local organizations but mostly cadres of business enterprises (in which a continuous process of osmosis and interweaving is ascertained, in some cases culminating in accusations of corruption, or violation of terms of competition, and so on).[4] The media are the chosen channels of diffusion of the party line; the centre of formal political speech is displaced in an effort, albeit often distorted, to represent popular interests in peripheral areas such as the quantity and effectiveness of governmental work, transparency in the functioning of institutions, etc. At the same time, there is further displacement of real power not only from the legislature to the executive and from there to the administration (Φεραγιόλι 1985: 41-4; Poulantzas 1978: 243- 253; Poulantzas 1979: 187-8;), but also towards a variety of committees, organizations, banks and councils which function as the most authentic representatives of the powerful monopolistic parts of domestic and international capital, precisely because they do not reflect, even in a distorted way, the presence of popular strata. This is an apparatus hermetically sealed against the influence of popular classes, elaborating the planning  of state policy as well as the networks by means of which it is interlinked with the corresponding apparatus of  the different intergovernmental institutions.

                At the same time, and in contrast with current idle talk, there is an observable increase in government interventionism in the economy, not in the form of withdrawal of direct investments, but by means of a dual movement involving on the one hand creation of conditions for boosting enterprise profitability (indirect or direct privatization of the apparatus of labour force reproduction, development of infrastructures, implementation of state provisioning of a wide range of financial inputs, adoption of policies of austerity and enactment of flexible working relations), and, on the other, more centrally, increasing concern with regulating currency frameworks, levels of interest rates, money production, income distribution, etc. (Βεργόπουλος 1996: 326-8).

            At the juridical-repressive level, an upgrading of judicial power is observable which in some cases (Italy) has acted as a catalyst for change in the political system, also functioning  more generally as a vehicle for regularization of the restructuring procedure, complementing directives of the executive defined within the framework of the dominant strategy. The resultant upgrading of the repressive apparatus is mainly precautionary in character, it is very rare for intensification of repression to occur in the absence of intensified popular struggles, but it also entails modernization in terms of methods and coordination. Thus, the establishment of international institutions such as TREVI, the Schengen Treaty and so on aims at the mapping out of a comprehensive policy for shaping an authoritarian state through administrative reorganization  and heightening of the  effectiveness of  repressive agencies.

            At the ideological level, the first noteworthy change concerns the transition from the collective identity of the worker, student or member of a political party to an individualized understanding of reality, a phenomenon to which the media greatly contribute, addressing themselves as they do to the individual consumer. In this way, a comprehensive de- ideologized individualism becomes the norm, ideologies  customarily having been inserted into a collective rubric and the preference now being for “non-ideology” or “the  end of ideologies”, notions which albeit themselves in effect offer the advantage of strengthening fragmentation and isolation as social practices. Also visible as an element in these tendencies is a  certain displacement within  the dominant  ideology in favor of  acceptance of technocracy and competitiveness,  moving beyond ideological concomitants such as development, (Τσουκαλάς 1997: 16) potentially conducive to abolition of inequalities, containing as they do the seeds of social compromise, albeit unilateral.             

               As far as the ISΑ is concerned (Althusser 1976; Αλτουσέρ 1987), current developments do seem to involve some elements that are new from the perspective of the traditional links among the IAS identified by Althusser. Althusser considers that the major IAS in modern times is education and that this, coupled with the family (Althusser 1976: 96-7), is the predominant dyad in the ideological apparatus of the state. The position advanced in this essay is that the changes that occurred in social life prior to the onset of capitalist restructuring, along with those that have taken place since, amount to what has been a further strengthening of the role of education, through the growth of the idea of lifelong learning and upgrading of the influence of the media. Other factors have, of course, also contributed to this development: the creation of new media (multimedia, Internet, cable, satellite and digital television) and the further diffusion of older ones (television, radio, video). This evolution in no way cancels out the structural function of the family/education dyad. The media do not substitute for the two fundamental components of the ISA, but, by upgrading them and strengthening them, they function as a mechanism for more intensive propagation of the basic messages elaborated by family and education. Central elements in, for example, nationalist ideology are reconstituted as an ideological reference point through the apparatus of family and education and re-shaped through the media.

            In any case, the facet that is important to underline is that upgrading of the media in such a way that it undertakes a greater and greater part of the organisation of bourgeois hegemony, without of course being able to go beyond its dominant strategy or achieve autonomy from it, does not cancel but merely modifies the role of political parties, constituting a new preferential field for the  exercising of party policy.


5. Changes in Imperialism

            Transition to the phase of attempted exit from the crisis is something that can be observed not only at the level of changes occurring within the social formations involved in it, but  also at that of the changes taking place within the imperialist chain, as well as in the ways in which developments at both levels are interrelated.

It is indisputable that very important modifications have taken place in the function of the imperialist chain, especially in the last ten to fifteen years. To understand their  size and importance what has to be kept in mind at all times is the overall historic framework as shaped by the creation of the USSR.  The coming into existence of the Soviet Union and, some decades later, the Warsaw Pact, was to divide the world into two camps in constant conflict.[5] These regimes developed social structures which to a great extent mirrored those of the Soviet Union. This occurred because the significant military, economic and political support provided by the USSR to the  rest of the Eastern countries created relationships of dependence with a resultant subversive influence on the evolution of these countries, so that the outbreak of crisis in the USSR had a multiplier effect leading to the very rapid collapse of the Eastern political-economic model.

            A second factor in the equation has to do with the crisis of neocolonialism and the development of significant national-liberation movements on part of the former European colonies, movements with a pronounced Marxist input. The reality is that what carried more weight with these states was their need for national integration, something that made it difficult for them to be incorporated into the Eastern bloc, while at the same time their need for survival in a complex international environment obliged them to distance themselves from the two basic poles. Failure to solve internal conflicts would lead most of them into the orbit of neo-fundamentalism, while the dynamics of the fall of real existing socialism would decisively contribute to their incorporation  into the capitalism mainstream.

As for the countries which attempted to create a socialist socio-economic system on the basis of a model different from that of the Soviet Union (e.g. China, Vietnam), they faced a whole additional set of problems, irrespective of whether or not they joined the ranks of the non-aligned countries. On the one hand, the international defeat of the communist movement also had its effects on them, putting them on the defensive. On the other hand, and this is most important, the predomination within them of those political forces that would make feasible a transition to a new system or social organization seems to have been removed from the realm of possibility. Gradually, relations of exploitation were created around the appropriation of the social surplus, resulting in the formation of a state bourgeois class, which from a certain point onwards started to orient itself towards developing a closer relationship with the West, taking advantage of its special position in the system of intra-state power.

            The result of all this is, from the beginning of the ‘90s, the reconstitution of the imperialist chain, incorporating both the ex-socialist and the ex-nonaligned countries. Only in the light of the changes to the foundations brought about by the fall of the Eastern coalition can we understand the transformations that have taken place in the imperialist chain.

The first point to consider is that of the increasing internationalization of economies. This has a bearing both on the flow of financial capital and on exports of investments and goods. Growth in the mass of exchange and investments is to a large extent attributable to the impact of the overaccumulation crisis and to the need for capital to be invested where the highest profit levels may be anticipated. At the same time, the impossibility of finding a definitive exit from the crisis will impel some quite important fractions of capital into the financial sphere, where it is judged that maximum returns are to be secured.

An important factor behind this tendency to channel capital into the financial sector is the reality of much more rapid circulation of capital there because of the unrivalled opportunities opened up by technological progress. However, it should be clarified that this is not so much a technological as a class issue, in the sense of being a strategy elaborated on the part of the bourgeois class. Apart from the indisputable speculative and profiteering element in it, the mass orientation of capital towards the stock-exchanges signals a burgeoning capitalist and imperialist confidence in relation to capital-importing countries. Within this framework, direct withdrawal of capital, an instrument increasingly efficacious because of changing assessments of the dynamics of economies in specific areas, functions as a mechanism for transference of pressures from one link of the imperialist chain to the next. These are pressures related to needs for improvement in the terms of reproduction of capitalist relations and also in the rate of profit. In any case, the prospective of mass withdrawal of capital, even as an unspoken threat, functions as a lever for enforcing the political priorities of the most powerful imperialist countries.

The second point is a consequence of what was described above and concerns the tendency towards increasing internationalization of state functions, something  manifested in the first instance in endeavors to effect supranational integration but also more generally in greater international presence of the state.

As far as the issue of the supranational organizations is concerned, it should be underlined that what is at stake is the free movement of capital, commodities and investments in specified geographical areas through political and institutional agreements between the states interested. Political coordination of these attempts at integration, for which the European Union provides the most developed example, represents a certain kind of gamble but it does not seem possible that in the foreseeable future discussions will be able to focus on the bringing into existence of a uniform state mechanism. It might be more appropriate to talk about endeavours to take advantage of the dynamic of capitalist accumulation and  the necessity of  transcending national borders with a view to reversing the tendency of the rate of profit to fall.

At the same time, the state is a participant in the various bodies that come together in international symposia, undertaking representation of the  special interests of its specific bourgeois class. Given that there has been a proliferation of such initiatives in recent years, it is undeniable that a significant proportion of the energies of modern states are consumed in activities of this kind. Does this justify references to an “transnational state”?  Are the changes quantitative or qualitative? Is the question then how many public officials participate in international negotiations, how many working hours are funded for that purpose and what percentage of public revenues is expended on them?  Is the state internationalized from the moment they exceed a certain limit, and prior to that not?

            Obviously a different approach to the question would yield different answers. As indicated previously, the internationalization of certain types of economic activities which is currently under way in specific geographical areas has led the most powerful sectors of the relevant national bourgeois classes to embark on a series of international initiatives. The state, as the collective capitalist established to secure the interests of the bourgeois class, participates in all these bodies precisely to defend these special interests. That is its role and its mission, deriving from its nature. It is not something which happens incidentally or as a by-product of something else. The state is internationalized because by so doing it corresponds to the social interests it structurally represents. From the moment that the domestic bourgeois class judges that the process of internationalization is not in its interest, the state will cease to be internationalized. There is no predestined route which the state in the nature of things must traverse, merely a social and historically defined, but open-ended trajectory. 

            The third point has to do with the military interventions that have been carried out over the last decade. It is worth underlining that there is nothing accidental about the choice of areas. A calculated decision is made in favor of engagement in social formations where instability is observed that is judged potentially painful for the interests of countries that are in a hegemonic position in the imperialist chain. Imperialist interventions, of course, do not take place on neutral territory but in areas racked by internal disputes, which in turn are sharpened by the external interventions, making peaceful solutions much more difficult. In essence, the  ‘indigenous’ opposing sides aim at achieving predominance as rapidly as possible so as to be in a more favorable position at the moment that the external intervention occurs, something  regarded as certain. 

The final point has to do with how at the end of the Cold War and the collapse of the regimes of the East, the position of the USA has been strengthened as the hegemonic leader in the imperialist chain. The improvement in the American economy, the victorious outcome of the conflict with the opposing military bloc, along with the inability of any other state to confront the USA politically or militarily, testify to the dimensions of its comparative advantage against any possible challenger. At the same time, for the purposes of further expansion of its influence, American military doctrines will be reshaped, decisions will be taken in favor of engagement in certain local crises regarded as important and, possibly most importantly, there will be a conscious effort to upgrade NATO as the primary agency of collective security, with simultaneous extension into areas of Eastern Europe at the expense of other organizations (OSCE, Europol). The outcome of developments in Bosnia is the touchstone for this viewpoint, where following the failure of European efforts to organize a settlement, only American intervention was able to yield such a ‘solution’ in accordance with imperialist interests. Exactly the same sequence of developments was then seen in Kossovo, where after a failed attempt to secure the consent of the UN Security Council for a military intervention, NATO was employed to establish American influence there. The most recent, and worst, case has been that of Iraq, where without even the consent of NATO, the US has nevertheless proceeded to intervene. The result is the creation of protectorates, dependent states whose only function is to secure the geopolitical and military interests first and foremost of the USA and then of the remainder of the NATO countries.


6. Globalization and Imperialism: two notions incompatibles

At the theoretical level what has been said in relation to the concepts of mode of production, social formation, constitution of social classes, role of the state in capitalism and creation of the imperialist chain all helps us to understand why imperialism and globalization cannot coexist in a coherent theoretical model. The fact is that if there is neither global capital (a global capitalist power block) nor a global proletariat, then there is no globalization in the strict sense of a unified global system of social relations. It is true that capital as such is governed by a tendency towards endless and unfettered accumulation, and as such knows of no borders . But this is only capital in its most simple and abstract form as self-valorised value. The notion of the capitalist mode of production is a much more complex theoretical abstraction of economic, political and ideological practices, structures and institutions which make possible the reproduction of capitalist social relations. The reproduction of capitalist social-productive relations requires the emergence of the capitalist mode of production and its reproduction in specific social formations. The nation-state was the concrete political form that proved to be the most effective, in contrast to others that were also tried, like the colonial corporation (for example the Dutch East India Company or the English East India Company), the empire, the colonial empire, the city-state, the network of commercial cities (Balibar and Wallerstein 1990: 122).

If we accept this then an alternative periodization would be possible only if we could point to a specific turning point that marks the possibility of a global social formation, or at least of a transnational social formation, that is if we could theorize the reproduction of the capitalist mode of production in a global scale. This should include a theory of the formation of a transnational power block and the specific forms of transnational class struggle (including the formation of a possible transnational popular alliance). All other arguments in favour of ‘globalization’ either in the form of the tendency of capital to transcend national barriers or in the form of increased communication and cultural exchange, simply miss the point. And the same goes for any ‘eclectic’ theoretical approach which attempts to bring together globalization, the continuing importance of nation-states and current forms of imperialism.

            At a lower level of abstraction also the question of changes in imperialism thus leads us to a series of conclusions which also diverge from notions concerning globalization. The breaking away of some states from the imperialist chain was arrested with the crisis of the eastern regimes and their return to capitalism. This development represents a significant capitalist victory over an alternative form of social organization, but it does not constitute globalization.

            If anything in the relatively recent past deserves to be noted as an important change it is the economic strengthening of certain states which are securing significant shares of international markets. We refer to the cases of the countries of South-East Asia and China with the turn to the free market it has carried out in recent years. But not even this constitutes globalization. It may mean upgrading of certain national formations and a probable intensification of economic antagonisms. It does not however mean globalization.  In the past there was the so-called socialist bloc which functioned as a political counterweight to the capitalist states with the result that there were a minimum of concessions to the popular strata in Western countries.  Conversely, the hyper-exploitation to which the popular classes of the Asian states are subjected is a mechanism exerting pressure on the working classes of the advanced capitalist states. This does not, however, constitute globalization because these pressures are integrated differently within each separate national formation. It is for this reason that there exists neither a specific international rate of profit, nor a specific international basic wage nor specific international working conditions. In particular, in what concerns multinational enterprises, what we should note is that they are forced to adapt to the conditions of the national formation in which they are investing.

            In reality the whole problematic of globalization brings us back to an older problematic of Kautsky on ultra-imperialism. Recall that according to Kautsky (1914) sooner or later the capitalists in the imperialist states would realize that war brings nothing but destruction. This realization will lead to a new phase of ultra-imperialism, in the sense of a federation between the leading capitalist states and the abandonment of the arms race. In other words, therefore, on the basis of this reasoning Kautsky excluded the recourse to war as a means of resolving intra-imperialist differences. The point is not how mistaken Kautsky was in his predictions, given that the text in question was published just after the outbreak of World War I. The question is that the whole rhetoric of globalization appears to exclude the possibility of new wars between the key imperialist states, given that market forces, above and beyond the states, “are leading the globalizing processes”. But such possibilities cannot be excluded. Even if empirically since the Second World War there has been no instance of inter-imperialist warfare, the basic element to be retained from the dynamics of the imperialist chain is antagonism between national formations with the potential to find expression in warfare. Modern history is filled with examples of conflicts at the periphery  and there is always the possibility of these conflicts being resolved in other ways too. In any case without the concept of antagonism between states a plethora of facts from the disputes over the functioning of the World Trade Organization to today’s differences in approach to the prospect of military intervention in Iran, remain outside any framework of interpretation. 

            As far as the United States is concerned, we have explained why it remains the undisputed hegemonic force in the imperialist chain, notwithstanding anything that might be asserted about its economic difficulties (e.g. by Arrighi 2005).  Nevertheless, apart from anything asserted above it is important to make two additional points:

Τhe first point has to do with the fact that the position a country occupies in the imperialist chain is linked not only to the robustness of its economy and its political and military strength but also to its capacity to elaborate new blueprints for capitalist hegemony capable of securing the consent of other capitalist states. This notion of hegemony pertains to those historically specific conjunctures fulfilling the prerequisites for the long-term interest of the ruling bloc of the leading imperialist formation, including the safeguarding of certain aspects of the class interests of the ruling classes in the other formations in the imperialist chain.  The hegemonic position of the United States is thus no way the necessary end result or the product of some “general” laws of capitalism or indeed the outcome of some unspecified antagonisms between the most powerful states necessitating the intervention of the United States as mediator or referee. Current American foreign policy can be described as hegemonic on the strength of (a) its offer of  a possible means for organizing international affairs and problems through deployment of force, military exportation of the market economy and western “democratic” institutions along with crackdown on any movement that challenges the internationalization of capital and international ‘police’ interventions on a global scale, (b) its offer of a domestic hegemonic project comprising even greater market and trade liberalization via authoritarian statism, police repression and social conservatism. These two aspects are more or less interlinked: Aggressive military interventionism serves not only as a foreign policy tool but also as a powerful ideological representation of the power of capital – the US Marine as an emblem for the aggression of global capital.

 The second point relates to the connection between the United States and upgrading of the role of finance capital. The fact that a much larger proportion of capital than in the past is being channelled towards the sector of finance is more or less indisputable. But it is not a development spawned by non-existent globalization. It represents a conscious move by the American bourgeoisie, and the American state, who both stand to gain from such changes. Specifically, the biggest banks and the biggest companies in the stock exchange are American, while at the same time American finance houses predominate in international capital movements, the management of privatization and the derivatives markets. Deregulation of capital flows in conjunction with the supremacy of the dollar  as the international currency enables the United States to continue to borrow large amounts of money every year. . The political and military power of the USA enables them to ignore the threat of sanctions from international institutions. The global role of the dollar secures for Americans the ability to acquire rights from its use, to pay off the (large) public debt of the United States through its central bank by issuing dollars. It also provides very wide margins for manoeuvre and considerable autonomy in the planning of domestic monetary policy.

Simultaneously with all this the United States frequently comes into conflict with other countries in relation to  distribution of profits from financial sector activities. A characteristic example of this is the Asian crisis of ’97- 98, during which the USA made considerable efforts to curb the role of Japan in solving the crisis when the latter country sought to finance a way out of the crisis with proposals for creation of a separate fund for management of the region’s financial flows, imposing utilization of the dollar for handling to the crisis and promoting a number of measures that would benefit American companies (Λαπαβίτσας 2002; Lapavitsas 2006: 137).

To conclude, in contrast to the views postulating uncontrolled globalized financial markets or downgrading of the position of the USA, the fact is that the fall in profitability in the industrial sector brings capital into the financial sphere under the hegemony of the American state and the American bourgeoisie. Nevertheless this development does not signify the advent of a new type of capital accumulation. On the contrary, what can be asserted is that the United States instrumentalizes the overall situation so as to be able to press for imposition of “discipline” on the salaries and social rights of working people, sacrificing them at the altar of neo-liberalism, deregulation, the rule of the markets and the free movement of capital (Rude 2004).


Throughout the above discussion our aim has been to highlight the continuity in the functioning of the imperialist chain under the hegemony of the USA. What needs emphasizing is however that the specific hegemonic project includes contradictions, which are sharpening with the unfolding of the class struggle. To be specific, the following questions might be singled out: a) at the level of economic antagonism, China’s emergence as a major manufacturing centre, utilising its huge reserve army of labour (Glynn 2005: 13-8) b) significant problems, creations of the neoliberal agenda, are emerging within American society, notably in relation to erosion of public services, as exemplified in the inability to cope successfully with hurricane Katrina (Davis 2005). There also signs not only of greater social polarization within American society (Ehrenreich 2001; Yates 2004), but also of greater social unrest, as demonstrated by the recent huge demonstrations of immigrant workers c) the ‘discreet’ but also growing questioning on the part of Russia of aspects of American foreign policy. d) the American effort to maintain supremacy by aggressively escalating crises to the point of military intervention, something exemplified in the case of the war against Iraq, seems as demanding too great a toll from its allies, especially since this particular form of imperialist aggression is increasingly unpopular. e) the occupation of Iraq has not up to date had the originally projected results. On the contrary, the US, instead of leading the transition to a peaceful, free and democratic Iraq, is faced with a growing resistance movement (Cockburn 2005) f) there is the problem of the plans for some sort of military aggression against Iran. On the one hand, US strategic considerations are quite obvious: Iran, as a regional power defying aspects of American foreign policy, is an obstacle to the current American “grand strategy”. On the other hand, some sort of military aggression against Iran will certainly aggravate the over-stretching of US military forces, and it will strengthen anti-war and anti-imperialist feelings all over the world g) last but not least there have been social and political movements that challenge aspects of imperialist policy which in some cases they have won elections and state power, especially in Latin America, and in others they have created remarkable social resistances (anti-global and anti- war movements).

To sum up, what we should retain is that in the period we are now passing through, the class struggle is being articulated within the national social formation and through mediation of the national states also makes its entrance into the imperialist chain. There continue to be hegemonic imperialist states elaborating long- term strategies for representation of imperialist capitalist interests just as there continues to be resistance to these policies which for the most part takes place within the national formations, exerting – secondarily – its influence within the imperialist chain.





            The object of this article was to show why the notions of mode of production and of social formation are still necessary for understanding the transformations taking place in the modern phase of imperialism. The basic aim was to demonstrate the enduring  significance of the Leninist Theory of Imperialism as a method to analyze the current era of the capitalist development .

            It was demonstrated that the five basic elements of Imperialism (formation of monopolies, creation of financial capital, increased export of capital assets, formation of multinational enterprises, division of the world among the most powerful states) retain their importance to this day and that the characteristics of modern capitalism are correspondingly derivable from the basic elements of imperialism. Formation of the imperialist chain does not signify the appearance of a globalized stage. The concept of imperialism underlines the importance of the law of uneven development between states. Every state has its own specific economic, political, military and cultural power, through deployment of which it seeks to realize its objectives. Powerful states have greater opportunities for imposing their strategies to a greater or lesser extent. This helps us to understand how the most important element in imperialism is not "homogenization" or "Globalization" but the transfer of pressures from one formation to another. Such processes create a range of characteristic features in the functioning of the capitalism system which are common to states at the same level of development. At the beginning of the 20th century, the developed states (those with high  levels of productivity and military power) divided up the world into their  respective spheres of influence. It was this that created the imperialist chain in which all nations participated independently, each in accordance with its own particular level of capitalist development. Thus national formations which had not progressed to the imperialistic stage were also implicated in the imperialist chain. Transformations at the international level were contingent on the balance of power between the participant states.

            The creation of the socialist camp at the end of the Second World War signaled the appearance of two parallel networks of social relations. This transformation created the impression that the world was divided. After the collapse of real existing socialism, the appearance of a single and uniform world recreated. Undoubtedly from a geographic viewpoint, there is one world and one planet, but socially, economically, and politically the reality is many national capitalisms unilaterally connected. The most developed of them have proceeded to the phase of attempted exit from the crisis, applying the policies of capitalist restructuring.  These policies, in conjunction with removal of the threat of really existing socialism and the downturn in labour struggles, signify a strengthening of the power of the most influential countries and are accompanied by a growth in inequalities between the classes in each country as well as between the richest and the poorest countries of the world.


I thank Panagiotis Sotiris and two anonymous reviewers for their useful remarks on previous drafts of this essay.




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[1]At this stage, as correctly N. Poulantzas (1979) notes, there is an unstable equilibrium between the capitalist and previous modes of production;  in no way can it be asserted that the CMP is predominant. It is mentioned, however, within the framework of this sketch because what interests us is periodization from the moment of the appearance of the CMP, not the moment of its predominance.

[2]We follow Brenner’s definition on this issue who notices as productivity of capital the ratio of output/ capital in constant dollars (as cited by Dymenil and Levy 1999: 82).

[3] It is interesting that on the side of pre-election programs, as well as on that of the types of policies being  implemented, what appears is increasing convergence between conservative and social-democratic parties (strict fiscal policy, policies of austerity, downgrading of the importance of unemployment) to such a degree that all controversy is confined to the question of  how effective or ineffective specific governmental practices may or may not be. But the important really existing difference between the parties is situated in the social character of their electoral base. This results in a dual contradiction. On the one hand, the social-democratic parties following conservative policies are obliged continuously to invent methods for persuading their audience of the correctness of their policies of redistribution. On the  other hand, the conservative parties, especially over the last decade, have to promote a popular image without at the same time losing their traditional bourgeois and petty bourgeois support.

[4] The channeling of a significant current of public dissent into unrestrained scandal-mongering, whether economic or otherwise, with the most characteristic instances in France, Italy, Greece, Britain and Germany, goes from strength to strength. It is as if there is a deliberate seeking out of scandals for diversionary purposes. In many cases, what gets a lot of publicity are not even genuine offenses: public opinion is led to preoccupy itself with unimportant, or even non-existent, issues. Witness the controversies surrounding the Lewinski affair or the life and death of Diana.

[5] Of course another side-effect of the conflict was the creation of the movement of non-aligned states as a third organizational focus between the two dominant poles. It is no accident that this movement disappeared when the Eastern coalition began to collapse.