[Marxism] On Panitch/Gindin's Making of Global Capitalism

Patrick Bond pbond at mail.ngo.za
Fri Dec 14 21:57:05 MST 2012

/Red Pepper/

  No better model

        The Making of Global Capitalism: the political economy of
        American empire, by Leo Panitch and Sam Gindin, reviewed by
        Patrick Bond

This morning, in the most important newspaper in Africa, Johannesburg's 
/Business Day/, I come across this remark in the publisher's weekly 
column: 'The thing is that Americans, in a way none of the rest of us 
fully appreciate, are driven by an unshakeable conviction that if they 
work together they can do almost anything better than anyone else. That 
sort of conviction only occurs in democracies and the more pure the 
democracy, the stronger the consensus in society.'

Fortunately I can quickly turn to an antidote sitting on my desk, a vast 
tome that took more than a decade to construct, but that 
bullshit-detects such romanticism by revealing -- better than anything 
else now available -- Washington's combined, uneven and fatally 
contradictory processes of imperialist expansion, catastrophic 
financialisation, excessively liberalised trade, intensifying class 
struggle and crisis mismanagement.

In /The Making of Global Capitalism/, Canadian political economists Leo 
Panitch and Sam Gindin provide a masterful century-long history of US 
corporate activity and state economic strategy. Insofar as capitalist 
states are where class interests are codified, their spicy reading of 
dry officialdom's milquetoast narratives is absolutely vital to our 
knowledge about power.

Having worked with Panitch and Gindin during 2003-04, I can testify that 
their on-ground practices and building of a formidable community of 
radical scholars at York University's political science department and 
in the Toronto left are exemplary, as is the /Socialist Register/ 
project, which is properly catholic in treating the most crucial debates.

Grappling with the past five years of world turmoil, Panitch and Gindin 
were probably shaken by the recent period, for it was my experience that 
the very word 'crisis' was previously frowned upon in their Empire 
seminar, so convinced were they that mechanisms of accumulation and 
class domination were firmly in place. Financial markets did, then, 
appear smooth and seductive, especially to workers who shouldered 
unprecedented debt burdens along with widespread belief in ever-rising 
real estate prices. But this in turn created both a collaborative labour 
aristocracy steadily losing privileges, and the repo man's knock at the 
door of the sub-prime house. As Panitch and Gindin explain, this was a 
divisive and atomising process in the US, compared say to earlier 
collective-action episodes such as Mexico's 1995 'El Barzon' debt 
rebellion or early 1990s South African 'bond boycotts'.

It is here that Panitch and Gindin add so much to our understanding of 
too-clever elite displacement of persistent crisis, in my view. Still, 
though, they would describe the mid-1980s-2000s as an era of growth in 
which crisis tendencies of prior decades -- born of a 'profit-squeeze' 
(i.e. worker militancy) -- were actually resolved. But given those 
steadily rising debt ratios from the early 1980s, which can only partly 
be explained by technological advances in financial engineering, I still 
don't buy it. My sense is that, like David Harvey's argument in /Enigma 
of Capital/ and /Limits to Capital/, global capitalism relied upon the 
spatial fix (globalisation), temporal fix (financialisation, stretching 
out payment times), and 'accumulation by dispossession' (imperialism) as 
crisis management techniques: i.e. shifting, stalling and stealing 
instead of the restructuring required to restart accumulation properly.

Yet thanks to Panitch and Gindin, we know much more about how this was 
arranged. Writing in their Washington-centric world (so unlike Hardt and 
Negri's /Empire/), there are two corollaries that I hope are further 
debated. First is their tenacious denial of 'the collapse of investment 
due to general overaccumulation', which is disputed in other recent 
books by John Bellamy Foster, David McNally and Alex Callinicos. We 
could unpack whether vast software investments during the late 1990s 
splurge were real or bogus from the standpoint of surplus value 
extraction. And then, regarding profit rates, we might strip out rentier 
profits earned by most of the west's biggest 'productive' firms and 
conclude with a different interpretation of genuine corporate health, 
contrary to the tycoons' botoxed, steroided appearance, disguising their 
muscle-bound paralysis.

Second, we need to consider the lack of inter-imperialist rivalry in 
this story, at a time when world--1 per cent fragmentation foils 
globo-governance initiatives such as renewing the World Trade 
Organisation Doha round, legitimising the Bretton Woods Institutions, 
refashioning the currently anarchic world financial 'architecture', 
subduing Latin America's pink tide, or making the UN security council 
work better for imperialism.

Most valuable, though, are the ways these Canadians set out 
anti-capitalist principles and critiques of reformism, and defend 
socialist aspirations. In perhaps no other site in the English-speaking 
academic world are such committed, principled and generous leaders so 
warmly received by colleagues and students, and more importantly, by 
workers and communities in struggle. This means taking with utmost 
seriousness both their analysis and strategy, for even if they do not 
always jump the gap perfectly, no one I know has a better working model.

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