Imperialism is the world-monster that ties all our destinies.


Imperialism is real. The core economies use financial, political and military means to enforce asymmetric economic relationships between the global north and the global south to maximize profit. Imperialism has long been identified by the left as a dynamic in world capitalism– however a coherent political economy has yet to emerge. This notes, which are heuristical and not academic, are my attempt to bring some coherence to the political economy of imperialism. Much of this discussion will be based off ideas I explored in previous posts  – mainly, that capitalism is a global, nonlinear and complex system, with emergent properties that arise from the non-intuitive coupling of different parts of the system. Therefore, linear approaches to imperialism, e.g. core economies’ wealth is proportional to the plunder and rape of the peripheries, or in the opposite case, that imperialism simply doesn’t exist, contrast to the spirit of this article. These vulgar approaches to imperialism also lead to questionable political conclusions, as I will show in the following paragraphs.

Some leftists, especially those outside the marxist tradition, either identify imperialism merely through the military adventures of the global hegemon – The United States – and its allies, or don’t even talk about it. Their silence then suggests that the only class and power dynamics that matter are national – within the sovereignty of the nation-state. In this simplistic picture, the rich and politicians hoard a national GDP that they refuse to redistribute  to the hard working american or canadian workers. This is the picture of mainstream social democracy. This limited view of class exploitation and wealth redistribution, where the relevant economic agents lie within the nation’s borders, can devolve in some cases to national chauvinism – with slogans such as “british jobs for british workers”.

The opposite argument, which is equally vulgar, simplifies the core-periphery relationship by posing a unidirectional flow of value from the periphery to the core, implying that the global north’s wealth is a function of the global south’s pauperization. Some of them, such as the followers of J. Sakai, argue that most of the white working class is in the core economies is a “labor aristocracy”, and therefore  exists in a parasitical relationship with the periphery (and oppressed minorities). In its more extreme variants, this argument implies that white workers are not exploited at all, and are just beneficiaries of imperialism. Often the political implications of these arguments boil down to a moralism or orientalism – “revolutionary consciousness” as a function of the degree of pauperization faced by a demographic, and a fetishization of the armed peasant movements that bubble up in faraway peripheries, such as the ones in India, Nepal, or Peru.

In order to to correct the vulgar models of imperialism (and capitalism) as delineated above, I will sketch a more complex picture. Imperialism emerges from the nonlinear and complex coupling of all the workers of the world. A global division of labour arises that sustains the world-hierarchy of states. The production of an airplane in a factory in Seattle couples agents that exist thousands of miles from each other: a child worker collecting cobalt with his bare hands in a Congolese mine, the Engineer credentialed by some prestigious american or european university, the unionized wielder that owns a mortgaged house in some american suburb, a bolt produced in a Mexican firm with lax safety regulations. The core economies enforce the smooth functioning of this global assembly line through financial and military means. Predatory loans, NAFTA, the World Bank, and the IMF, are some parts of this imperialist machinery. This imperialism creates feed-back effects in the global south, retarding the progress of certain parts of peripheral society, while accelerating the development of its profitable parts. Furthermore, the business cycle is displaced downward into the peripheries through the intensification of imperialist policies that  extract a surplus. This surplus then is used to dampen the economic crises in the global north. Due to the secular trend of diminishing rate of profit experienced by the core economies since the 70s, imperialism intensifies in order to keep producing even more marginal  returns. Imperialism is necessary to maintain the competitive edge of core economies, since a refusal to engage in predation will lead to the competitor states gaining the upper hand. Because social democracy is based on capitalist growth, rather the restructuring of society to serve human needs – it can only be maintained through the intensification of imperialism. In other words, the social-democrat that sees its task as merely the redistribution of the national GDP to its compatriot citizen-workers is either a chauvinist or an idiot.

However, the other extreme side of the debate, which sees the global north’s wealth as merely proportional to the exploitation of the periphery is also vulgar. A large bulk of the global north’s economic growth is based in capital intensive industries and the transformation of society into a productive,  well-oiled machinery. Advances in science and technology due to centuries of  capitalist competition leads to machinery and logistical apparatus that produce more fuel, cars, and computers per unit of labor time. In other words, a second of labor in the core is worth more than a second of peripheral labor, due to the accumulated and enormous mass of dead labour in the form of technology, institutions, and capital, which younger capitalist countries lack. Furthermore, capitalism in the core economies has domesticated society into an aggregate of cogs and springs that produce value: the well maintained roads that transport workers and commodities across firms, the rule of law that cracks down on criminality and enforces business as usual, the social peace supported by economic growth. This domestication of an amorphous human mass into well defined workers, capitalists, and technocrats contrasts to the chaos of peripheral societies, where kinship ties, fealty and honor, criminality, and fragmented institutions hamper the dominion of capital. This two properties of the system – domestication, and technological innovation, are tightly coupled, and feed off each other, causing much faster economic growth in the global north than in the peripheries. Therefore, the global north isn’t simply wealthier because of imperialism, but it legitimately produces more value per unit of labor time.

The complexity of imperialism raises some important political points. First, social-democracy, which is designed to coexist with the global market, can only be sustained by imperialism, simply because refusing imperial mechanisms would make the social democratic state less competitive. Furthermore, if the secular trend of diminishing rate of profit continues in the core economies, the returns from imperialism will decrease, as the purchasing power of workers and firms in the periphery lowers due to imperial policies, making the whole social democratic project unsustainable in the long run. Finally, The global coupling of the division of labour implies that socialism cannot be simply sustained in one country – simply because a sole country cannot develop the whole intricate division of labor necessary to sustain a modern society within a small, isolated geographic area. Thus, the fevered dreams of building socialism in an isolated third world country are empty – such socialism will be based on the export of raw resources, never unshackling it from imperialism. Greece, Venezuela, and arguably the old USSR, are testament to the bankruptcy of anti-capitalism in one country.

The existence of imperialism and the global coupling of all the workers of the world, require international socialist organization with transnational material ties – ties that don’t just reduce to the lip-service that we see in current anti-capitalist movements. Today’s socialists have the almost unsurmountable task of finding the complex nodes of the global assembly network in order to disrupt them. Finally, by uncovering the global couplings of the division of labor, socialists can begin dreaming about a global, socialist society that eschews unbounded growth in favor of human needs.


5 thoughts on “Imperialism is the world-monster that ties all our destinies.

  1. Here is the end of the first paragraph

    Therefore, linear approaches to imperialism, e.g. core economies’ wealth is proportional to the plunder and rape of the peripheries, or in the opposite case, that imperialism simply doesn’t exist, contrast to the spirit of this article. These vulgar approaches to imperialism also lead to questionable political conclusions, as I will show in the following paragraphs.

    I have been pondering more specifcally the question of whether or not, and if so how, the flow of money gives an advantage to the core capitalists countries. It is difficult for me to summarize what I have been thinking about. I sent an email to a number of people about this subject recently. Sadly no one has answered it so far. Perhaps my letter was to incohearent.

    So here is another attempt to summarize my thoughts. The US government has a budget deficit of 20 trillion dollars. Most of this has been run up in the last 30 years. The US has also has a trade deficit of 11 trillion dollars. Now i can not document a direct relationship between the US federal budget deficit and the US economic trade deficit because I do not have the resources to do so. But it intuitively seems to me that there is a conncetion. I do not think that the US could have run up an 11 trillion dollar trade deficit if there had not been an at least 11 trillion dollar federal budget deficit.

    BUT!! what harm has the US done to its trading partners workers in the process of running up this trade deficit?? Once a US firm or agency makes payment in US dollars for what ever it was that it recieved the foriegn recieving agency or firm can turn around and immediately pay for what ever it is that it needs to meet its own needs. Now admitadly those needs are defined by the local capitalists. But as it is not the duty of the US government to spread socialist revolution and would not be the duty of the US government to do so even if it were run by the spirit of Rosa Luxemburg, John Lenin, and the Marx Brothers, the US can not be blamed for such conditions. (Unless of course it can be blamed for such conditions becuause its agents were coconspiators in a counter revolution.)

    Yet why is it the United States has the huge negative balance of payments? Why doesn’t China have an 11 trillion dollar trade deficit? Why doesn’t Vietnam, or Angola or Indonesia have a balance of trade deficit as large per capita as the USA?

    Something seems to be amiss with this situation but I can not put my finger on it.


  2. One of the things that I find really stunning about the United States is how so many otherwise highly intellegent people get side tracked into devoting thier lives to causes that are either not of a crucial pressing nature, such as the search for life in outerspace, or seeking to understand whether the visable unsiverse will end with a big crunch or a big freeze, or even worse spend thier lives defending a culture of barbarism by, for example, trying to put people like Chelsa Manning in prison rather than people like General Franks.
    The FBI, for example, has very high standards for even getting in to its training program. Yet as an institution it is completely worthless in keeping the American people safe from those who prey on them.
    The members of the FBI are such suckers they actually think that they are a force for good in the world.
    Although I consider the collective behavior of the agents of the FBI disgraceful I can not help but recognize that thei FBI equivelents in other countries around the world behave in a manor that is really not much better.
    I am certianly not the first American to say this. Yet after even after decades of disgraceful behavior nothing has ever really changed. WW 2 was a giant scam. Yes the nazis were real and terrible but once the US entered the war the western allies could have easily defeated Germany. No I am not talking about something in which someone could say hindsight is 20-20. No the strategy to defeating Germany quickly was obvious at the time to anyone who would have had the strategic skill of a basement Risk player. But nothing was said becasue everyone thought that such decisions were above their pay grade and they trusted those in positions of authority to make the best decision for the common good Yet such an accounting of the truth, that the leaders of the US and the UK blatantly betrayed thier public trust, has never been made public. The cold war was a scam. Just a few nuclear weapons made an arms race unneccessary. Then in the arms race that took place the US and its allies always had an immense advantage. After the fall of the USSR the peace dividend never occured. Then the endless war on terrorism was created by the leadership of the USA to wage war on the planet including its own people.
    Millions of otherwise highly intellegent Americans support this state of affairs. It makes me wonder if their behavior is determined by calculations that occur between their ears or if behavior is determined by calculations done by a supercomputer doing a universe simulation equivelant of the Stanford Prison Experiment.


  3. Are you OK? Have you perhaps gone on a vacation or been arrested? The reason that I ask is that you have not responded to my comment yet that I left days ago. OK there is no rule that a blogger must respond to someone who posts a comment. For a blogger that gets dozens of responses a day or more it would not even be possible to respond to all of the comments. But as far as I can tell you are getting less than one response a day.
    I would think that under the circumstances the least you could do would to be to say. Hey thanks for your comment and and even bigger thanks for connecting to my blog. If you could not think of anything more to say in response to my comments you might add something like. I am not sure that you actually read my post because your comments do not seem to be about anything that I wrote. Maybe that is because you did not understand my comments. Maybe it is because I did not understand your comments. Could you elaborate on this that or the other thing?
    I have a blog and I know that I would be very excited in anyone ever even visited it, let alone left a comment. If someone left a comment I would be estatic. I have had a blog for years and as far as I can tell knowone has ever even visited it, other than me, so of course that have been no comments other than one that I made to myself on my own public blog, a blog that is apparently secret because no one knows about it, or cares to know about it.
    Of course if someone were to visit my blog and leave a comment it would now take a month to get a response because I only check my own blog once or twice a month now to see if anyone has ever visited it. Such circumastances would make it extraordinarily difficult to communicate through my blog. The blog is obviously nothing like twitter. I am virtually computer illiterate.
    With my other comments I actually linked another blog that is not written by me. This time I am not going to link any blog. If you or anyone for that matter wants to find my blog they can find it and many other interesting blogs by googling my name. What is more important than finding my blog though is making your virtuous virtual guests feel at home when they viist your blog.


  4. The following link is a good article. But it is the comment after it which is the main reason that I have linked it. The events of the article and the comments may have taken place more than a half century ago. Yet the M.O. of the continuing criminal conspiracy ruling the societies of the USA and UK is clearly outlined. Now the words continuing criminal conspiracy may cause red flags to go up in the minds of lots of people that think that they are logical thinkers. I think the term continuing criminal conspircy is an accurate one for a set of institutions, official or not, that would lead well intentioned, non career, soldiers to fight Nazi Germany with both hands tied behind their backs. Then after that manufacture a decades long cold war with a large but still developing country and after that manufacture a decades long clash of civilizations. The main reason that this continuing criminal conspiracy does not seem like a continuing criminal enterprise is because it has faced almost no domestic resistence.


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