marxism and imperialism

Doug Henwood dhenwood at
Sun Jan 22 12:51:25 MST 1995

At 12:09 PM 1/22/95, Jon Beasley-Murray wrote:

>As a way of getting into the topic, I've just read Anthony Brewer's
>_Marxist Theories of Imperialism: A Critical Survey_, and I have a couple
>of questions as a result:
>i.  Brewer seems to think that no argument from underconsumption holds up
>in any way, shape or form.  This seems to be going too far, especially as
>so much of the discourse of multinational expansion is about the search
>for new markets.

A lot of foreign investment is motivated by serving old markets better -
setting up a plant in a country previously served by exports from a
production site elsewhere. The bulk of US foreign investment is in Western
Europe, which can't truly be considered an imperial relationship. WIth so
much Japanese and European investment now here, strictly on accounting
terms, there's no dominant power - the three metropoles are more or less
equal. Obviously political and military power of the US make up for much of
the egalitarian accounting.

A friend of mine at the New School is doing a diss on the early foreign
investment push by US firms in the 1950s, and found biz reluctant at first
to make the move. The government, in its finest role as executive committee
for the bourgeoisie, prodded them into investing in Western Europe as part
of Washington's schemes to get Europe back on its feet and the world trade
and monetary systems going again. In the late 1940s and early 1950s, there
was a great shortage of dollars abroad, meaning no one could afford to buy
US goods. If US firms invested in Europe, dollars would go abroad and could
then find their way back here; also, European economies would be boosted by
the investment.

>ii.  Brewer also seems to want to knock dependency theories on the
>head--in the terms of the dichotomy he himself presents, he seems more
>sympathetic to a "classical marxist" position of potential globalization
>of capitalism, rather than the "development of underdevelopment" as a
>permanent and necessary part of a capitalist world system.  Maybe because
>my own focus is on Latin America, and thus at least in part the Spanish
>empire there, I find this assurance harder to take.

Nothing is permanent in capitalism. Asia is an important refutation of
dependency theory, isn't it?

>iii.  Most astonishingly, although he mentions political determinants to
>a fair degree, Brewer makes almost no mention at all of cultural factors
>in imperialism, let alone in neo-imperialism or postcolonialism.  I find
>it amazing that he can think of communication technology etc. only in
>terms of the transfer of commodities or capital, rather than itself
>commodified and with its own specific effect (Hollywood, rock music etc.).

Yup. That's what makes capitalism feel so good. Even seduces me sometimes.

Doug Henwood
[dhenwood at]
Left Business Observer
250 W 85 St
New York NY 10024-3217
212-874-4020 voice
212-874-3137 fax


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