[Marxism] What is the current phase of imperialism?

Patrick Bond pbond at mail.ngo.za
Sun May 18 23:03:39 MDT 2014

On 2014/05/19 01:40 AM, Louis Proyect wrote:
> (...the article appears useful.)
> http://www.socialistaction.net/Theory/Marxist-Economics/What-is-the-Current-Phase-of-Imperialism.html

I think there are some good arguments and some weak ones. From South 
Africa, many of us are interested in the renewed Imperialism debate 
because the situation seems much more comparable to the way Luxemburg 
framed matters, in terms of accumulation by dispossession (our 
reconsideration of her view of Southern Africa is here: 
ccs.ukzn.ac.za/files/RL%20Capital-africa.pdf ). Luxemburg isn't 
mentioned in Burke's paper. In contrast, Burke's view of today's 
imperialism is skewed and conjunctural: "the new situation is that the 
US was unable to bomb Syria, it finds itself negotiating with, rather 
than bombing Iran, and its coup in the Ukraine may not be entirely 
successful in drawing Russia's neighbour into NATO's sphere of 
influence." This is too narrow a perspective on what's "new"; the 
/economic /support for contemporary imperialism within the G20 is far 
wider than Burke considers: "/Military dominance and repeated shows of 
military force are necessary to underpin a system of global financial 
extortion/." Maybe this is true at some level, though it's hard to say, 
it really hasn't been tested at the world scale, it's a hypothesis.

I think it's far more appropriate to look at concrete cases where global 
financial extortion has occurred - the bailouts and squeezes associated 
with devalorisation of overaccumulated financial capitals over the last 
few decades, the Quantitative Easings and restructured financial 
arrangements such as the IMF's recapitalisation and the 2008-9 reflation 
- to learn how imperialism reproduces via global financial extortion.

That's why it's amusing to see Burke's annoyance, directed specifically 
against me (though there are quite a few of us who want to query the 
overall ameliorative role of imperialism's financial allies in the BRICS 
and in July when BRICS meets in Brazil we'll have a new journal out 
dedicated to this concern). Burke: "the economic rise of China has 
warranted a strategic 'pivot' towards Asia in an attempt to curb the 
rise of the only economy that could rival US supremacy in the 
foreseeable future. Given this absolute priority and the reduced 
circumstances of the US economy, it has been necessary to suspend new 
large-scale direct military interventions elsewhere. This curb on US 
power has had immediate and beneficial consequences for humanity. Syria 
could not be bombed and neither could Iran. In these, Russian opposition 
to US plans was a key political obstacle... This curb on US power, 
however limited or temporary, should be welcomed by all socialists, by 
all democrats and simply by all those who desire peace. Instead, we have 
the strange spectacle that some on the left have raised the charge that 
Russia is imperialist <http://links.org.au/node/3736>, or that China is, 
or countries such as Brazil, or India or South Africa are 
'sub-imperialist' <http://links.org.au/node/3265>! This is not a 
coincidence. In the US State Department's frustration it has produced 
every type of calumny against 
Putin, including that he is an imperialist[i] <file:///S:/Recent/#_edn1> 
and akin to Hitler. Self-styled socialists who simply echo these charges 
are not highly amenable to logical argument."

There is actually a logical argument and putting an exclamation point 
there isn't a convincing rebuttal, is it. Just over a year ago, as the 
BRICS met here in Durban ( http://links.org.au/node/3265 ), we laid out 
what this subimperialist function now represents (drawing on Marini's 
Brazilian tradition): the BRICS countries "advanced the cause of 
neoliberalism by reaffirming its global institutional power structures 
and driving over-productive and over-consumptive maldevelopment, and 
they colluded in destruction of not just the world environment -- 
through prolific contributions to climate change -- but in the sabotage 
of any potentially workable global-scale ecological regulation 
(favouring instead deepened commodification through emissions trading). 
The BRICS agenda of relegitimising neoliberalism not only reinforces 
North American power, of course. In each case, the BRICS countries' 
control of their hinterlands for the sake of regional capitalist 
hegemony was another impressive feature of sub-imperialism." These are 
not rebutted nor even considered by Burke. Here's an update from a few 
weeks ago: http://www.pambazuka.org/en/category/features/91303

Burke's arguments worry me because after a defense of Lenin (sadly, in 
part via the error-prone Hilferding), he looks at financial extortion 
via a distracting graph showing US long-term interest rates (and he 
mislocates several of the 1980s-90s financial crises), not even 
mentioning 2008. And he reads way too much off the short-term financial 
outflows from 'semi-colonial' (sic) economies without considering the 
huge portfolio inflows to BRICS and MINTs, driven by overaccumulated 
financial markets in the North, much as Luxemburg identified in 
/Accumulation of Capital /a century ago.

So no, I don't find it useful, Louis - instead, sloppy and strange. (If 
anyone knows Burke and can cc him, maybe we can get a constructive 
discussion going.)


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