The theoretical weakness of theses positing emergence of a transnational bourgeoisie and a transnational state. A critique of the views of William Robinson


1. Introduction

In this article Ι attempt to formulate a critique of William Robinson’s theory of emergence, in the period of “globalization”, of a transnational bourgeoisie and a transnational state. Such an approach can be criticized on two levels. The first is whether there is globalization and the second whether the evolution of globalization contributes to the creation of a transnational state and a transnational bourgeoisie.

As regards the first, which is not the subject of this article, the position I maintain is that in the historical phase we are traversing a pronounced internationalization of the economy is to be detected, with simultaneous liberalization of commodity markets and capital movements. But this is not globalization

The fact that state institutions, but also attempts at international economic integrations (such as the European Union) are part of an endeavour to impose neoliberal orthodoxy in an almost totalitarian way, is a consequence of the defeat of the left on manifold levels (the collapse of so-called existing socialism, defeat of the leftist national liberation movements, the retreat of the social movements in the developed West, etc.). But this does not mean that the capital-labour relation is ceasing to be reproduced at the national level and/or that uneven development no longer applies within the imperialist chain (Sakellaropoulos 2004; Barrow 2005; Milios-Sotiropoulos 2009;) To put it somewhat differently, the dominance of this concept in the current academic and political debate, the way in which the dominant classes recognize themselves through it  (omnipotence of the free market, annulment of any other alternative form of social organization), is not proof of the existence of globalization, but rather an expression of their desire for a capitalism freed from everything that is encapsulated in the state: the class struggle, concessions to the popular strata, and, at the extreme, the possibility of overthrowing bourgeois power within a national formation.

Τhe second, on which this article focuses, has to do with the existence or otherwise of the transnational state and transnational capitalist class.  To be sure, many elements of Robinson’s problematic are to be found in works by other writers  - for example, on the question of the “global” state, in the work of Martin Shaw (Shaw, 2000) - or, on the transnational capitalist class, in the writing of Leslie Sklair (Sklair, 2000). What is exceptional about the viewpoint of Robinson is that, from a radical perspective, he combines the theoretical model of the Dependency School on exploitation of one state by another with Poulantzas’ theory of non-subjectivization of the State, concluding that for us to be freed from capitalist exploitation, social resistance will also be required to be globalized. 

To clarify my own position from the outset, we shall present in detail the views of Robinson, after which we shall examine some of the criticisms that have been formulated against them, finally outlining our own approach to the continuing existence of capitalist non-territorial imperialism, the decisive role - for the reproduction of capital-labour relations – of the nation state, the national character of capital and the consequent national character of the proletariat.


2.Robinson’s basic theses


  1. the transition to “globalization”

For Robinson, it is the transition to the historical period of “globalization” that creates the transnational bourgeoisie and the transnational state. 

The term “globalization” implies an orientation on  the historical conditions that make possible the expansion of the market both geographically,  through integration of the second and third world into the capitalist division of labour, and internally, by commodifying aspects of human activity that have hitherto not been part of the commodity-capital circuit. Particularly characteristic of the First World is the way that the productive process features a new relationship between capital and labour. The preceding Fordist social contract is superseded through diminution of the power of trade unions, extension of flexible labour, limitation of the welfare state, and ever greater imposition of the laws of the market. (Robinson, 2002, 1064). At the same time, in the Second World, the emergence of transnational elements is to be noted  within the existing elite, who begin to establish links with the “global” bourgeoisie and to articulate plans for the total (re)integration of their national formations into “global” capitalism. In the Third World, finally, the nationalistic bourgeoisie, the petty bourgeoisie and the revolutionary regimes find themselves being sidelined by the transnational tendencies in the local élites  (Robinson and Burbach, 1999: 32-33, Robinson, 200: 184).     Changes are to be observed in the productive process involving the transition from national production networks to a functional integration into “global” networks of accumulation. 

“Globalization”, with the integration of all countries into the capitalist mode of production, introduces uniformity into the “global” economy. This is not just a matter of internationalizing capital, that is to say intensifying international financial flows, but of an overall reorganization of the productive process, marking a transition to something qualitatively new. Production does not take place at the national level but is decentralized and diffused as fragments throughout the world, utilizing new technologies (Robinson, 2002, 1063) and potentialities for moving capital (industrial, commercial, financial) (Robinson and Harris 2000: 19, Robinson 2004: 14- 16). The movement of capital is not only territorial but also trans-sectoral, blurring the boundaries between industrial, commercial and financial capital and merging into a “global” system (Robinson, 2014a, 149- 153). Prefigured at the same time is the innovation of the “global” company   involving institutional investors and investment funds from around the world, while at the same time enacting cross-border mergers and buyouts, establishing joint ventures between companies from different countries, creating every manner of cross-border strategic alliances, founding transnational associations of cutting-edge enterprises, augmenting the transnational character of shareholding, and the international character of profit distribution. It is within these interconnections that small local companies and economic actors in a country are able to link up with the “global” production network even if these companies are active only within a geographically limited area (Robinson 2004: 19).  Also noted should be the significance of the “globally” integrated financial system, the power of secondary markets, and the mechanisms of insurance against investment risk. If to this are added developments such as the increased direct foreign investment, the proliferation of affiliates of transnational companies, and the growing collusion between the members of the boards of directors of different companies, then we can form a fairly comprehensive picture of today’s globalized reality (Robinson, 2012b, 174)

In this context, competition ceases to take place on an intrastate or intraregional level and is transformed into something “global”, meaning that companies become obliged to adopt strategies that will correspond to the new requirements if they do not wish to stagnate (Robinson, 2012a, 354).

At the same time,“global” regulatory and institutional structures are being established which aim at facilitating the “global” circuits of accumulation (e.g. the WTO). The WTO acquires unprecedented power, given its ability to impose sanctions on individual member states. It is the first transnational institution to embed its powers in its transnational operations and not in the national law of its members (Robinson, 2004, 117).  Finally, through economic adjustment programmes devised by institutions such as the WTO and the World Bank, the neoliberal model of governance is imposed on countries of the Second and Third World  (Robinson, 2012a, 353).



  1. the transnational bourgeoisie

The question that is posed by Robinson is how it is possible for capitalism at an ever-accelerating rate to become transnational (as, correspondingly, does labour) and for the same thing not to happen with the capitalists and the workers (Robinson, 2001-2, 501). The answer given by Robinson is that the social groups, both the dominant and the dominated, have been globalized through the structures and the institutions of the ethnocentric world. From the moment that the national productive structures are transformed into transnational ones, the “global” classes, whose organic development was taking place within the national state, are transformed into transnational ones through incorporation into the “national” classes of other countries. The formation of the “global” social class includes accelerated division of the world into a “global” bourgeoisie and a “global” proletariat. (Robinson and Harris, 2000: 17,  Robinson 2001: 168-169).

What the above means is that in this new period factions of the bourgeois classes from  different countries are being merged with  new capitalist groupings in transnational space (Robinson, 2012a: 355).  This new transnational bourgeoisie is the faction of the “global” bourgeoisie that is represented by transnational capital (Robinson, 2001, 165). It has a consciousness of its own identity and at its summit is a managerial élite that controls the processes of globalized political strategy, corresponding to the transnational financial capital that is the hegemonic faction of capital globally. (Burbach  and Robinson, 1999, 33-34). As regards action, given the consciousness of its transnational character, the transnational bourgeoisie promotes a class-based project of capitalist “globalization” reflecting the globalized character of its decisions and the rise of a transnational state machine subject to its directives  (Robinson and  Harris, 2000, 22). At the level of the national state the transnational bourgeoisie has as its spokespersons the local representatives who comprise the transnational sector of the local bourgeoisie.

Through all these developments a dense network of transnational organizations has been created, comprising the basis on which the construction of the transnational state (see below) is being attempted. Within this network, the transnational bourgeoisie operates and intervenes at numerous different levels. The executives of transnational corporations conduct their European business through the administrative structures of the European Union and the North Americans through the corresponding institutions of NAFTA. At the same time, they are in contact and collaboration with the WTO and the World Bank when it comes to shaping the economic context in South America and the way that it is likely to affect the interests of the “global” bourgeoisie in that region, while for implementation of their Asiatic plans they work together with the Asian Development Bank. As for other institutions, such as the Davos Forum, business executives and bankers together elaborate strategies which will subsequently be adopted and implemented by the UN and the WTO, with the same also happening at the annual meetings of the IMF and World Bank.  Given that transnational capitalists are forever on the move worldwide, their practices incorporate all these different forums in a seamless network (Robinson, 2001, 182).

The “global” proletariat, for its part, is also shaped less on a national and more on a social basis, reflecting the equalizing tendency in the conditions for accumulation globally. Globalized capital exerts its influence through the new system of flexible labour, abolishing spatial barriers at the same time as significant tendencies towards proletarianization become observable in sectors of the economy hitherto characterized by pro-capitalist preferences (farmers, artisans) and in branches of small and medium production which previously supported and served local markets. At the same time, a phenomenon of growing unemployment has made its appearance in the strata impoverished through deprivation of the means of production (Robinson, 2004, 102- 106). The additional factor of immigration flows also plays an important part in shaping the “global” proletariat while capital, for its part, is no longer inclined to pay for reproduction of labour power from the moment that it can extract a labour force  from the “global” employment pool (Robinson, 2001, 172).



c) the transnational state

In parallel with these developments, and above and beyond the constitution of the transnational bourgeoisie, the globalization process contributes to the emergence of the Transnational State. The Transnational State is an emerging network comprising, on the one hand, reconstructed nation states now integrated into new forms of association and on the other economic (IMF, World Bank, WTO) and political (OECD, G-7, G-22, EU) forums, (Robinson, 2010b, 10). In the period of globalization the Transnational State oversees the movements of the “global” economy, through maintenance of the prerequisites for exploitation and accumulation of capital, representing the aggregate of competing capitals (Robinson, 2001, 157), taking the central decisions and affecting the lives of most people on the planet.    

That said, one should not make the mistake of assuming that there is some kind of correspondence between the transnational state and the national state whereby the former possesses the “global” territoriality and has at its disposal specialized political institutions analogous to those activated by the national state, albeit in miniature. On the contrary “an emergent TNS apparatus does not and need not have a centralized form as historically developed in modern nations; it may exist both in transnational institutions and in transformed national states. It is multilayered and multicentered, functionally linking together institutions that have different histories and trajectories and that have been tied to distinct structures and regions, and should not be confused with the notion of a constituted “global state”. Transnational bodies such as the IMF and the WTO have worked in tandem with national states to rearticulate labor relations, financial institutions, and circuits of production into a system of “global” accumulation. What is crucial is a shift in the role of national states to promoting the interests of “global” over local accumulation processes. The TNS can be seen as an “institutional ensemble” or network of institutions loosely unified by virtue of capitalist “globalization” and the imperatives of its reproduction. The TNS does not attempt to control territory per se but rather to secure the conditions that allow capital to  accumulate freely in and across all territories. (Robinson, 2014, 68).  So the national state is not something external and opposed to the Transnational State: it has been incorporated into it (Robinson 20014:100-101).  This does not happen only because the state is weak but because there is a specific balance of social forces which is creating the conditions for the “global” construction of capitalism (Robinson, 2004, 109).    


d) the role of the USA


All the above serves to elevate the Transnational Bourgeoisie and the Transnational State into the position of the new hegemon, in the Gramscian sense, given the downgrading of the role of the USA. (Robinson 2004: 101; Robinson 2001: 167). The USA will be used by the transnational elites to extend and consolidate the “global” capitalist system. The American state in the new historical phase is a locus for focusing the pressures that come from all parts of the world for the resolution of the problems of “global” capitalism (Robinson, 2012b, 185). The interventions of the USA facilitates the power shift from locally and regionally orientated elites to those that are more favourably disposed to the transnational project (Robinson , 2010a, 71).



e)  The theory of Imperialism


On the subject of Imperialism, with the North-South antithesis as his point of departure, Robinson concludes that by virtue of “globalization” it has been transformed, so that – “The North South Divide is growing and should not be understated. However, humanity is increasingly stratified along transnational class lines. Given the accelerated creation under globalization of lakes of wealth in Third World countries and seas of poverty in First World countries, it makes more sense to see the world as increasingly divided along class, rather than national, lines” (Robinson, 1996, 423).


And all this is true because transnational capital possesses unprecedented capacities for exerting extortionate pressure. So forms of extra-economic coercion such as military and other forms of imperialistic intervention come to play an ancillary role (Robinson, 2004, 118). The developments described by Robinson lead to the conclusion that “The end of the extensive enlargement of capitalism is the end of the imperialist era of world capitalism... The implacable logic of accumulation is now largely internal to worldwide social relations and to the complex of fractious political institutions through which ruling groups attempt to manage those relations…. it is not imperialism in the old sense either of rival national capitals or conquest of precapitalist regions by core states. We need a theory of capitalist expansion - of the political processes and the institutions through which such expansion takes place, the class relations and spatial dynamics it involves” (Robinson, 2014b, 127).



f) the new political project  


At the level of political praxis, Robinson’s theory leads to the general conclusion that we are in a historical phase when it is by no means obvious that alternative policies  could be implemented nationally, contributing on the one hand to a resolution of the economic crisis and on the other to redistribution of wealth. From the moment that the Transnational State is created it does not appear that the unfolding of struggles at the local level could possibly yield any positive result, however significant they might remain for the propagandizing of demands such as those for social justice and progressive social change. Therefore, for there to be prospects of success, social struggles must acquire transnational dimensions, generating a transnational class consciousness, creating militant transnational institutions and devising a transnational political project in support of the popular classes (Robinson, 2012b, 195)        



3)  Discussion

Robinson’s positions have been subjected to criticism, both direct and indirect. One basic criticism that has been made relates to the geographical distribution of the international economy based on the fact that manufactured products are identified with nations,  and it is the State itself that comes to strengthen the “national economy” and its production

As regards geographical distribution, the arguments are that there is no globalization of the economy but rather regionalization and the emergence of specific poles of economic activity. The supposition in this connection is that a tendency towards economic internationalization of certain regional groupings, or simply regions in the geographic sense, and involving specific countries, can indeed be detected.  When it comes to direct foreign investments, the places where there has been an indisputable increase are all in the North America-Europe-Asia/Pacific “triad”. Correspondingly, such augmented internationalization as exists in the developing world involves very specific countries. As indicated by Kieley, just five developing countries receive 62% of the investments and ten receive 75%, with another 49 countries taking a mere 2%. China alone receives 50% but even in that case, most of the investment comes from neighbouring countries (Kieley, 2005a, 42). At the same time, it should be borne in mind that there are great disproportions between the populations of the different regions. Direct foreign investment per capita is 12 times higher between developed countries (Anievas 2008: 196- 197). We come to similar conclusions vis à vis the evolution of “global” trade, with the following qualification: the increase in industrial exports from developing countries lags behind the increase in production of added value from exports of industrial goods from developed countries. Only 10% of total exports of the products of high-level research and development comes from developing countries (Kieley, 2012, 178) and in many cases their share in the globalized production networks  correlates negatively with the high proportion of added value  (Kieley, 2008, 425). But even with portfolio investments things seem no different because only a small proportion of the overall “global export flow, not exceeding 10%, goes to developing countries (Kielly, 2005b, 907).  

On the question of national identification, Anievas argues that even among the one hundred enterprises that are regarded by UNCTAD (The United Nations Conference on Trade and Development) as the world’s most transnational, this in fact applies only for some of them, and not to the same degree. We are led to corresponding conclusions if we take into account the businesses included in the Fortune 500 or in the twenty largest multinationals as designated by the World Investment Report (Anievas 2008, 196)[1]

As for the role of the State, Robinson’s critics assert that the overwhelming majority of enterprises have a national identity, implying a continuing support from each corresponding state in the competition between its “national” corporations and the other similarly “national” corporations, which in turn enjoy support from “their” national states. In this sense there continue to exist different state economic policies, not to mention high, albeit relatively limited by comparison with the past, tariffs, which are in force both in China and in India.      

Robinson’s response to this is that his censurers are criticizing him for the wrong reasons. Robinson does not dispute that “globalized” enterprises have their headquarters in a specific country, and that in the great majority of cases this is a country to the developed West. Nor does he deny that the same is occurring in international trade, which is conducted chiefly between the developed countries and a handful of countries in the East Asia/Pacific region. His argumentation is along other lines altogether.  For Robinson what is important is not geographic space, and this is the great difference from the past, with two aspects to it. The first is that a significant proportion of the transactions of every type do not take place in reality, in some geographic location, but in the virtual reality of the internet. The second, and more important, is that irrespective of where they have their headquarters and in which geographical region they are active, globalized enterprises cannot display any national or regional identification for the precise reason that they are globalized!  This is not some kind of game with words but reflects the emergence of a new reality whereby on the one hand the manufacture of a product is so fragmented geographically as to be unable to assert a national identity and on the other the ownership regime of the shares of an enterprise is so complicated that it becomes impossible for a specific national identity to be assigned.    

            Our position is that in many of their facets it is by no means easy for Robinson’s views to be drawn into question on the basis of statistical data, precisely because the argument will always be put forward that that the data indicating a national or regional identity are inconsequential given that it is not possible for every multinational company to have a national or regional identity owing to the entirely dispersed character of its capital base.

We therefore propose at this point a different kind of critique of Robinson.   


4) Critique of Robinson

a)The question of Imperialism

Robinson’s thesis is that we have made the transition into a new historical period different from that of classical imperialism. The latter involved geographical conquest of states and regions, along with exploitation of poorer by richer states.  As wars of conquest have receded in importance and economic processes have been globalized, we are not entitled to evoke the concept of imperialism either to denote an active historical period or to employ as an analytical tool.

In our view the above position is vitiated by two serious methodological errors: a)  long before the initiation of the phenomenon that Robinson, among others, calls “globalization”, the imperialism of the 20th century did not have seizure of territory as its predominant orientation, in contradistinction to colonialism, and b)  again unlike in colonialism, in the imperialism of the 20th century there could not be direct economic exploitation of one country by another, a position that had been formulated in the past by the so-called Dependence school.


i) the non-territorial character of Imperialism since the 20th century and the role of the USA

Direct territorial domination and expansion is a characteristic of pre-capitalist modes of production where direct access and possession of land and scarce resources and the ability to exercise direct physical force on populations in order to extract surpluses (‘extra-economic’ coercion) were structural aspects of social reproduction. On the contrary the emergence of capitalism as a dominant mode of production, and of an international system based on territorially sovereign nation-states, meant that productivity, technological change, real subsumption of labour, meant that territorial gains of colonial dominions were no longer essential conditions for the reproduction of the system. On the contrary what emerges as the main aspect of modern, specifically capitalist, imperialism is the internationalization of capital.

  The development of the characteristics such as the centralization and the concentration of capital, capital exports, the rising role of the finance capital and the importance of inter-imperialist rivalries, and the fact that the very process of expansion of capitalist relations of production through colonialism eventually led to the emergence of aspiring bourgeoisies that demanded national liberation and territorial integration, created the prerequisites  for the transition to a new stage of capitalism, the imperialist stage which did not specifically entail the possession of colonies (Brewer, 1990, 123) [2].

In this light we must tackle the question of the causes of war. If one sees war, especially imperialist war, as a form of territorial expansion, then it is true that the development of capitalism and the importance of capital exports make this sort of expansion (and any military preparation for it) unnecessary. But one should not forget that two World Wars were primarily not the outcome of territorial disputes. 

Specifically on the role of the USA, American foreign policy after 1945[3] aimed not only at guaranteeing American supremacy but also at offering elements of a collective strategy for the whole imperialist chain (rapid industrialization, ‘fordist’ accumulation strategies, mass consumerism and individualism, a combination between anti-communism and technocratic ideology). Even the most openly ‘geopolitical’ forms of American political and military interventions can be best interpreted by reference to a hegemonic strategy. They are not simple imperial outposts, but mainly make manifest to ability of the US to provide  a military  guarantee for the capitalist social order all over the world (Apeldoorn de Graaf 2016: 56).

This complexity of hegemony in the imperialist chain means that we should always be very careful when talking about imperial decline. Crisis of hegemony cannot be a simple factor process. In the 1970s the US suffered actual military defeats in South-east Asia, capital over-accumulation, fiscal crisis, and the economic challenge posed by Japan and West Germany. Yet the US not only managed to retain global leadership but also to eventually offer in the 1980s and 1990s an hegemonic strategy that combined neoliberalism, capitalist restructuring, the intensification of the internationalization of capital and the lowering of barriers to the free flow of capitals and products, the incorporation into the imperialist chain of former socialist formations, the authoritarian backlash against labour, and a more aggressive form of imperialist interventionism.


ii) The potential for exploitation, country by country

            Taking the view that in the past the states of the North were able to exploit those of the South, indirectly but blatantly, Robinson espouses the theory of unequal exchange that was supported in the past by theoreticians of the Dependency School such as Arghiri Emmanuel and Samir Amin.

For Emmanuel unequal exchange is the historical, social and economic phenomenon that is brought into existence when, on account of the differences in remuneration of labour, a transference of value is observed from the underdeveloped to the developed states (Emmanuel, 1972, 130-131).

Accepting the general outlines of Emmanuel’s argumentation, Samir Amin notes that because the inequality in wages generates a price structure conducive to the incorporation of states into the “global” market, which in turn is derived from the inequality between the prices of goods produced for export and the corresponding domestic prices (Amin, 1974, 382). The consequence of this structure of exploitation of the periphery by the centre is that the increase in productivity generated by primitive accumulation does not contribute to a rise in real wages but on the contrary maintains the situation of uneven development.

For my part, I believe that the use of the term “unequal” is inappropriate because for Marxism commodity exchange necessarily involves exchange of equivalents   (Bettelheim, 1972, 270- 271). What requires interpretation is not “unequal exchange” but the inequality in the social productivity of labour that contributes to underdevelopment (Bettelheim, 1972,  291- 292).

            But exploitative relations cannot exist simply on the terrain of commerce: “they must also be grounded in in the realm of production” in order to be reproduced.   The more so because it is not conceivable that exploitation should exist between countries but only between classes constituted at the level of the social formation (Bettelheim, 1972, 300- 302). Otherwise we are in danger of imagining that the proletarians in the countries of the centre do not suffer exploitation and do not produce surplus value. 

            This reference to the related discussion of the 1970s was aimed at demonstrating that there has been no breach with the past on the subject of unequal exchange, as asserted by Robinson, simply because the term is inappropriate. 


Consequently, from the content of i) and ii) the conclusion emerges that in contrast to the views of Robinson, Imperialism is not territorial in character, the USA continues to occupy a central position in world developments and in the context of capitalist imperialism there can be no economic exploitation of one state by another. So no change is to be observed at these levels from the period prior to 1973. The changes that have occurred involve issues that do not draw into question the non-territorial character of imperialism. Characteristically we cite the integration into the imperialist chain of both the former colonies and the former socialist countries[4], resulting in intensification the rate of economic internationalization, changes in the balance of forces inside Western societies favouring the neoliberal management of capitalism and the development of informatics and the new technologies.  But these changes do not amount to “globalization”; they merely epitomize the dissemination of capitalist relations of production and domination to the entirety, almost, of the world.  Above and beyond that the imperialist chain continues to be in operation, with the participation however of nearly all the states of the world. It is comprised of capitalist nation states whose aim is to reproduce the power of their own bourgeoisies. Internationally, the states in question represent the interests of their national bourgeois classes, each seeking to improve their position in the international competitive stakes. The creation of international organizations and regional coalitions aims precisely at this, namely at participation in larger economic units for the purpose of increasing rates of profitability and liquidating less productive capital.  

Let us now examine all this in more detail, starting from the question of the State.


c) the question of the State  

The thesis adopted by Robinson when he accuses his critics of espousing a Weberian approach to the state highlights a basic weakness in the theory of international relations (the conception of the state as subject/player on the international chessboard and not as vehicle for certain specific social interests). To see the role of the State as one of being incorporated – necessarily in a subaltern capacity – into the “globalization” process gives rise to a number of other theoretical problems. 

It is undoubtedly important to subject to rigorous criticism the traditional notion of international power politics as expressions of national interests. The main problem of traditional theories of interstate relations and geopolitical conflicts is that they entail a rather simplistic notion of power as force and command. In contrast, I will insist οn  a definition of power as the “capacity of a social class to realize its specific objective interests” (Poulantzas, 1978, 104). This priority of exploitation over domination offers an explanation of power as class power; the ability of social groups to control the extraction and distribution of surplus labour because of their specific objective structural class position. It offers a possible explanation of the class character of power relations and struggles and therefore also of state apparatuses. That is why we cannot take states as the primary forces in shaping the international plane, but instead we must look at the different class alliances and power blocs and how these affect the formation of objective capitalist class interest.

In this connection, while we indeed cannot perceive states as being unconstrained subject-players on a “global”chessboard, on the other hand – and here too there is a problem with Robinson’s theory – the decisive significance of its class character should not be forgotten. Capitalist states exist as such to reproduce the capitalist system of exploitation and domination. It is precisely because there is a struggle both between classes and within classes that the State exists and intervenes in order to preclude the development of tendencies transcending this system.

The most important element in the above thesis is that it helps us understand why “the relations of power within each national social formation not only have priority over processes of internationalization of capitalism but regulate the way in which the “national” is integrated into the “international” (Milios, 1985, 64). The dynamic of an economy, its productivity, the degree of exploitation of its working classes, all of these are parameters that determine the position of a social formation within the imperialist chain. This is because the imperialist chain is not a spatial juxtaposition of states, but an uneven, unbalanced interweaving of national formations. Even in instances of accomplished economic integration, these are merely strategic alliances of national bourgeoisies (Milios, 1997, 107-110) (see below).

 In the light of all this, there can be no question today of some kind of de-nationalization of the state.  All this process of upgrading the functions of the nation-state so as to improve the competitiveness of national capitals and transfer the costs to the popular strata has the effect of intensifying the transfer of power to centres inaccessible to popular control (Pooley, 1991, 70).  As a result the features of the authoritarian state are reinforced, with real power displaced from the legislature to the executive and from there to the administration (Poulantzas, 1978, 218-227.) It is also displaced to the various committees, councils and organizations that function as the most authentic representatives of the powerful monopolistic fractions of local and international capital, precisely because they do not reflect, even in a distorted way, the presence of popular strata.

This makes it possible for the presence of the State to serve as a means for implementing policies of austerity and contraction of its social, in conjunction with expansion of its repressive, functions (Pilger, 2001, 10) with a view to the curtailment of the social gains achieved by the dominated social classes in previous decades[5]. To put it somewhat differently, the state is there to guarantee the organization and representation of ‘the national economy’ as an entity seeking to compete with other national economies on the best possible terms for the local bourgeois class. If we wished to use Hobbesian terms we could say that nations are at war to protect their national economies, though in fact the real enemy is not so much other states as their own citizens (Tsoukalas, 2002, 235).

It is only in this light that we can comprehend the particularities of the national-international nexus under the new conditions.  What should therefore be noted is that the process of co-decision by nation-states within the framework of supranational integration entails a number of complexities which greatly transcend the one-dimensional state-supranational entity relationship. In fact all the member-states are also present, each with its own special interests and objectives, leading to formation of coalitions and counterbalancing tendencies – since a state can make concessions on one issue if it has guarantees that on another it will be treated more favourably - as well as antagonisms (Harman, 1996, 21) and deadlocks. The basic strategy of the dominant classes is mapped out initially at the national level, also taking into account the international balance of forces (Kotzias, 1995, 57).    These decisions are needless to say taken at élite levels, contributing to further redistribution of power to the advantage of governmental and quasi-governmental networks of power (top bureaucrats, committees of experts) impenetrable to the rank-and-file. The role of the State is not restricted in this way, but the role of Parliament and representative institutions is.  The State is strengthened, with power overcentralized at the apex of the pyramid (Moravcsik, 1994, 4). Behind a screen of negotiations, invoking as an alibi the pressures to which a national government is subjected from its partners in the various international organizations, internal policy issues are relabelled foreign policy issues, the content of which can be modified only to a very slight extent (Moravcsik, 1994, 3). The result is that national parliaments, mindful of the risk of sanctions being imposed in the event of non-compliance (Moravcsik, 1994, 9- 10), routinely and more or less without discussion rubber-stamp decisions taken at an international level.

International and supranational organisations thus constitute a new arena for action, within which the headquarters state is transformed into a vehicle for managing new alliances (Kotzias, 1995, 223) and regulating their content in accordance with strategies and targets that have already been mapped out at the national level. To put it somewhat differently, there is no supernatural power inducing the nation state to seek integration into supranational entities but simply an awareness that in that way the dominant interests in the national power bloc will secure the maximum benefit.   Inside the international coalitions, in the course of difficult negotiations, decisions are taken which, condensing the existing balance of power between the different members, aim at optimal management of the class interests they express. At the same time the formation of new coalitions generates a new need for the institution of bureaucratic mechanisms to handle the practical questions that arise on the subject of implementing international decisions. In this sense the European Union does not constitute an autonomous entity dissociated from the aspirations of the national states but more a supportive institutional aggregation[6] which, while retaining the specific characteristics of the administrative bureaucracy encapsulates[7] and reproduces the national and economic antagonisms.

Finally, another weak point of Robinson’s that should be noted is that he does not believe that the State any longer contributes to reproduction of labour power because it has the capacity to extract a work force from a global pool. We take up the issue below of how far that actually happens. For the moment let us accept that this it is in fact so. For a start, within the geographical boundaries of a state it is not only migrants that are in employment but also members of the local population.  For them there cannot be any objection to the State spending public money on reproduction of their labour power. Public education, insurance systems, public health care, unemployment benefits, housing benefit: how else are these to be categorized? Of course due to the change in the balance of forces many of the above have been subjected to cuts (but here too there are great differences between one country and another) but their existence is entirely indispensable for reproduction of the capitalist system. The reason for this is that the capitalist system could not function properly in a framework of totally privatized institutions for reproduction of labour power. In that – improbable – contingency the cost of reproduction of labour power would skyrocket, with the result that capitalist countries would remain without available labour power or the companies affected would close because of low rates of profitability, or the workers’ consumption habits would change, reducing the profitability of other entrepreneurial sectors. But even in the case of migrants, from the moment that their presence in the host country is legal, the same applies for them as applies for locally born citizens.  Robinson’s thesis could apply specifically for undocumented immigrants but on the one hand the Western states implement strict controls for eliminating the phenomenon of undocumented immigration and on the other, as we shall see below, the number of immigrants is relatively small in the OECD countries.


To conclude, there is no Transnational State nor has there been  a reversal of the central role of state mechanisms. In a more internationalized and more intensively capitalist context states continue to concern themselves with defense of their national bourgeoisie both against national working classes and against other competing national bourgeoisies (Cammack 2007: 13).  

Let us examine now why social classes always bear the stamp of the nation.


d.On the constitution of social classes

To understand the significance of the national attributes of social classes it is relevant to mention the specificity of geographical space in the reproduction of capitalist relations and in the mode of constitution of the imperialist chain. Geographical space is simply the locus of social (class) practices characterized first and foremost by its national dimension (Milios, 1985, 63-64). Thus the centre of operations of the capitalist mode of production (cmp) is the national formation whose boundaries and cohesion/homogenization are secured by the state (Milios, 2000, 95). This is the most successful “mode” of reproduction of the cmp if compared with others that have been tried (for example the colonial trading company, the empire, the colonial empire, the city-state, etc.) (Balibar and Wallenstein 1990, 122) The result is fragmentation of “global” geographic space into separate regions of capitalist domination and reproduction of capitalist social relations (Milios, 2000, 109-110). What exists in reality is class struggle within a concrete formation characterized by a specific articulation of modes of production under the hegemony of the cmp. Given that the class struggle shapes the composition of the social classes, the bourgeoisie and the working classes and all the other classes that may exist within the framework of a formation develop and evolve precisely by virtue of the existence of the opposite social pole. The exploitation of the working class by the bourgeoisie accordingly leads to reproduction of the capitalist system and its social representatives. There could not be a bourgeoisie if there were not a corresponding working class. The specific terms of exploitation and domination that exist in each formation lead to reproduction of class divisions. There are no classes outside national formations. Even in the event that bourgeoisies embark on international activity, this has as a starting point the fact that they are exploiting the working class in their own country. The particular terms of this exploitation are what makes the decisive contribution to the specific levels of profitability and productiveness of capital.


e.On the character of multinational enterprises

On the subject of the so-called transnational/multinational enterprises, our position is that when foreign investments are made they are incorporated in the framework of a national economy and operate on the basis of the conditions that apply to it. The “foreign” capital is obliged to comply with local legislation and adapt to it – a parameter that establishes, in a different way for each country, the boundaries of its action (Hu, 1992, 115). At the same time, from the moment that the “foreign” capital enters into the phase of circulation it becomes subject to the consequences of acquisition of the national currency, irrespective of the details of its legal sovereignty (Mavris and Tsekouras, 1983, 67). Any revaluation or devaluation of the national currency has the same effects on imported capital as it has on local capital. Finally, the introduction of supportive legislation by the state (developmental laws, salary caps, investment incentives etc.) is something of equal benefit to local capital and outside capital. In that respect external capital operates as national capital (Milios 1997: 95, Milios 2000: 120) with the sole difference that it can apply for assistance from the mother company and the mother country. But this remains a species distinction and not a genus distinction compared with other national capitals. In other words the problem is not just legal/technical in character but is very much an issue of class because it is the general terms of constitution and development of each national social formation that set in motion the relations of exploitation, on a basis encompassing utilization of fixed capital, irrespective of legal property forms. From the moment that they invest in another country, foreign investors are transformed into national capitalists of the country in question. By the same token all workers within a national economy, irrespective of their nationality, are members of the same working class (for example, Italian migrants to the USA are members of the American working class, and American workers in Italy are members of the corresponding Italian working class.)

On the basis of this rationale, every affiliate of a multinational company and every enterprise that undertakes under contract to produce a component of a product is a national company functioning on the basis of the national law of the country in which it operates, with all that entails: labour regime, tax regulations, tariff policy, laws on investments, etc. And naturally the laws covering these subjects differ greatly from one country to another.


f) The asymmetrical character of multinational production

That said, something that should not be underestimated is that even transnational production of a commodity is carried out in manner that is in many ways asymmetrical. Let us examine four examples: iphones, ipods, t-shirts and coffee.

The iphone is designed by Apple's American engineers in California, as is the iphone’s “brain”, the A6 integrated circuit, which is however produced by the Korean Samsung company. IOS software is also produced by Apple, with other American companies from Ohio and Texas producing the device’s audio components. The French-based STMicroelectronics, based in Geneva, manufactures the integrated gyroscope. The Japanese Sharp and the Korean LG make the liquid crystal screens. The rare earths used to manufacture the device come from mines in China. Assembly of all parts and production of the finished article is carried out in Zhenjiang province (Papakonstantinou 2018: 81). The total production cost of each device in 2009 was $178.96 and the selling price was $500, which meant a 64% profit shared between Apple, its North American suppliers and the US state. Of that $500, the Chinese workers received just $6.5 for each device. If Apple used US labour, the cost of production would rise by $65 per device.

As far as the ipod, another Apple device, is concerned, twice as much foreign labour is needed for its production as US labour. But in 2006 the 13,920 US workers received about 750 billion dollars (53,879 dollars per person) annually in payment, as opposed to the $320 billion ($11,743 per person) paid to the 27,250 non-Americans (mainly in China and the Asia-Pacific region). This was explained by the fact that all the production workers (19,160 out of 19,190) come from the Asian countries whereas the American workers belong to the upper sections of the working class (7,789 are employed in retail and other non-professional positions), with 6,101 belonging to petty-bourgeois and managerial strata (engineering and other professionals). In the latter category, out of a total of 9,366 workers, 6,101 were from the US and 1,140 from Japan. More detailed data show that between the two hierarchical scales there are significant wage differentials: In the United States, the engineering and other professional employee was paid on average $85,000 a year, for Japan the figure was $65,000, for Singapore $20,000, and for China $10,000 In the US, the other non-professional employee was paid $25,580, in Japan $20,000, in Singapore $9,000, and in China $1,000 (Linden Dedrick-Kraemer 2011: 229). But what is most significant is that the profits from Apple's stock exchange dealings went almost entirely to American shareholders and to a small extent to the others that participated in production of the device (Papakonstantinou 2018: 82).  

As far as profitability is concerned, similar phenomena of asymmetry are to be seen between enterprises. If we compare Apple with HonHai’s core supplier, HonHai in 2013 earned $10.7 billion (with sales to the sum of $132.1 billion), corresponding to  $8,865 for each of its 1,232,000 employees. In the same year Apple earned $41.7 billion in profits (with sales in the order of $164.7 billion or profits of $572,800 for each of its 72,800 employees (47,000 of whom live in the USA) (Smith 2016: 30). 30).

Correspondingly asymmetrical is the situation with the production of T-shirts for the Swedish multinational Hennes & Mauritz (H&M). Production is carried out in Bangladesh, where a worker is paid €1.36 per day and in one hour the machine she uses produces 250 T-shirts. In Germany, the T-shirt is sold for €4.95 and the profit for H & M is 60 cents, with 79 cents the 19% VAT going to the German state (Norfield 2011). This means that in one day the Bangladesh worker is paid 17 cents an hour (on the unlikely assumption that she works eight hours) whereas H & M earns €150 and the German state €197.5.Overall, of the €4.95 sale price, forty cents is accounted for by the cost of transporting the cotton as a raw material from the US to Bangladesh, 0.95 cents remains in Bangladesh to be distributed between the enterprise, the workers, the government and the suppliers of other raw materials and services, 0.06 cents goes for transport to Germany and the remaining €3.54 contributes to German GDP (Smith 2016: 13).

The same can be said for the price of coffee, where Smith estimates that while its production is carried out by small growers, its disposal by economic giants such as Nestlé and Procter & Gamble reaches profitability levels of 900% (Smith 2016: 31 - 32).   

All this means that in the production networks not all stakeholders are of the same weight and this is also reflected in the distribution of income. In other words the  internationalization of the economy does not lead to a levelling of the playing field. Instead, utilizing the already existing divisions, it reproduces the imbalance of wealth associated with the inequalities between countries


g.Migration flows as a source of labour power

One basic element in Robinson’s theory is the capacity of globalized capital to draw on labour power from a “global” reservoir of propertyless and unemployed people. But this is not a precise formulation, either theoretically or empirically: theoretically because, as we have indicated, workers in a country are part of its working class, irrespective of where they were born. Correspondingly, even if they are employed under an “informal” regime, working uninsured for wages clearly lower than what is officially prescribed, here too the wage rate for unregistered workers is determined by the general figure for the average national wage and so differs from country to country. From the empirical viewpoint the available figures show that between 2000 and 2015 net immigration into the countries of Europe, North America and Oceania was 2.8 million a year, a figure that rises to 4.1 million for movement of population from low- and medium-income countries to high-income countries (United Nations, 2015, 11). In any case in aggregate the number is not higher than 60 million, that is to say less than 1% of the world population. Correspondingly in 2015 in the OECD countries the number of people born in another country came to 120 million, that is to say less than 2% of the “global” population or 10% of the total population of the OECD countries (OECD 2016).  Consequently only a very small proportion of working people globally can be categorized as migrants who have subsequently become the object of outrageous exploitation by multinational enterprises operating away from home.

If, finally, Robinson’s argument focuses on the idea that the “global” labour pool is comprised of the billions of workers from the Third World that are exploited by multinational enterprises in the country where they were born and live, meaning that they are not emigrants but a local labour force, then what prevails is what was said concerning the identity of multinational enterprises. The exploitation of those workers by capital is something conducted on the same terms as the exploitation of the other workers living in the same country, irrespective of whether or not they work for a multinational enterprise.


h. The political project

The fact that we are mentioning this issue last does not mean that it is the least important. In some respects it could be seen as the most important. Robinson’s conclusion is that because there is this dynamic of globalization that is bringing into existence the “global” bourgeoisie and the “global” proletariat, social struggles must be centred on globalized forms of resistance. Even though Robinson has as his point of departure a desire to effect change in the interest of the working classes of all the planet, the prospect he posits is a very problematic one and cannot yield any concrete outcome. First and foremost, social struggles are necessarily conducted at the national level; this is because the popular strata encounter the same level of exploitation and domination. Secondly because it is in this way that resistance can be organized more effectively and thirdly because in this way certain specific material conquests can be won from the institution they target, which is the central state. The possible counterargument that basic political decisions are now taken outside national borders is answerable in two ways: on the one hand, as we have shown, the situation is more complex and in any case the national state continues, because  this is demanded by the balance of internal social forces, to enjoy wide margins of autonomy, and on the other hand because political  changes in one state are transmitted as different forms of pressure through the imperialist chain and operate on the other states if corresponding resistances are manifested within them. In essence, through the theory of “globalization” of social struggles, Robinson attempts to bypass the real difficulty the radical left-wing of each country has with organizing social movements within the intervening society, recasting this problem as a vague project of “globalized” mobilizations.


This article has attempted to shed light on the problematic content of Robinson’s theories of the transnational bourgeoisie and transnational state, concepts that derive from the similarly problematic adoption of theoretical schemata concerning “globalization”. What I, unlike other critics of Robinson and “globalization”, focus on is not the juxtaposition of statistical data on the national or regional character of so-called monopolized enterprises or unequal distribution of foreign investment or international trade. Without underrating the value of this work, we have concluded that, given the way that Robinson’s theory is formulated, what is more necessary is a theoretically-oriented critique. So we have shown that we continue to live in the era of capitalist non-territorial imperialism in which the US state exercises a hegemonic role and which was initiated at the end of the Second World War and in the years following, producing an intensified internationalization of economies. The changes that have taken place in the last forty years (entrenchment of neoliberalism as the West’s dominant political project, incorporation of the former socialist states into the imperialist chain, capitalist transformation of the former colonies, proliferation of informatics and the new technologies) do not amount either to “globalization” or to what Robinson presents as some of its derivatives (a transnational bourgeoisie, a “global” proletariat, a transnational state).The ascendancy of capitalist forces in much of the world has led to an expansion of the activities of the most powerful sections of capital which judge that they can only gain from exposure to international competition. The national states defend this orientation through their institution of, and participation in, international economic organizations. These organizations amount to an unbalanced condensation of the interests of the dominant classes of each member state. Their first and foremost objective is to obtain additional advantages over their own dominated classes. They have, also, as a secondary objective, the construction of a framework for liquidation of uncompetitive capital.





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[1] More or less along the same lines is the study by Rugman-Verbeke (2003), which points out that of the 500 largest multi-national corporations only ten are “global”, twenty-five have a bioregional orientation, eleven are host-region-oriented, 320 are home-region-oriented, while for the others data is either inadequate or completely lacking. 

[2] According to Wood “Capitalist imperialism has become almost entirely a matter of economic domination, in which market imperatives, manipulated by the dominant capitalist powers, are made to do the work no longer done by imperial states or colonial settlers. But we are now discovering that the universality of capitalist imperatives has not at all removed the need for military force. If anything, the contrary is true. The new imperialism cannot dispense, as did Locke’s theory of colonial expropriation, with a doctrine of war. It is, again, a distinctive and essential characteristic of capitalist imperialism that its economic reach far exceeds its direct political and military grasp. It can rely on the economic imperatives of ‘the market’ to do much of its imperial work. This sharply differentiates it from earlier forms of imperialism” (Wood 2003: 153).

(3) According to Apeldoorn-de Graaf in reality the very construction of the USA as a capitalist state entails the conception of non territorial expansionism in a territorial world (Apeldoorn- de Graaf 2016: 36- 38).

[4]Robinson includes factions of the bourgeois classes of both the former socialist countries and the so-called Third World in what is designated as the transnational bourgeoisie. He does not, however, explain how the pursuit of entrepreneurial activities by cadres of the ubiquitous Communist Party of China is consistent with the above view, or which factions of Indian capital have been incorporated into the transnational capitalist class or even how the Putin regime and the economic élite that has formed around it can be included in this schema.  

[5] Robinson’s view that states are occupied with promoting the “globalization” of capitalism and not with defending national enterprises ignores the political support that nation states provide to their national monopolized companies that undertake activities in other regions of the world, being exposed to a variety of attacks precisely because of their national identity.

Let us provide some concrete examples: In September 2016 the chairman of the German Parliament's Finance Committee, Peter Rammsauer, accused the US of launching an “economic war” against his country when the US Department of Justice imposed a 14 million dollar fine on Deutsche Bank. For his part the Europarliamentarian Markus Ferber of the Christian Social Union said that the fine against Deutsche Bank was in effect Washington's tit for tat for the equivalent fine of 13 billion imposed by the EU on the American multinational Apple for tax evasion in Europe (it paid only 0.005% tax on profits at its European parent company in Ireland).Jack Lew in turn levelled the accusation that Germany’s imposition of a crippling fine on Germany was an indirect form of protectionism. He threatened the EU with indictment before the tribunal of the World Trade Organization. A little before this, Merkel's deputy chairman in parliament Michael Fuchs had again accused the US of "economic warfare" in reaction to the $16.5 billion fine imposed on Volkswagen following the scandal over the allegedly “clean” automobiles manufactured by the German multinational in the US.


[6] The term “aggregation” is used to make it clear that the individual conflicts that can emerge have to do with sectors of a single administrative machine and not disputes that are “national” in character and linked to the national origins of the administrative personnel

[7]According Nicos Poulantzas “ institutions and apparatuses do not ' possess' their own 'power', but simply express and crystallize class powers.” (Poulantzas 1979: 70).