[OPE-L:4673] Imperialism

From: P.J.Wells@open.ac.uk
Date: Mon Dec 11 2000 - 08:19:04 EST

Paul C wrote [#4671], replying to me

> The argument that it is impossible per so would seem unsustainable given
> history of the 20th century, so putting this through does seem to depend
> (a) identifying some contingent feature of the modern world economy that
> inhibits conflict

I think there is a feature that is not contingent but systematic at work,
is the spread of the capitalist mode of production and the political
superstructues associated with this.

This is an important point which I think socialist theorists will have to
work on; is it indeed the case that imperialism is essentially a phenomenon
of relations between capitalist and pre-capitalist entities (a position for
which I think Luxemburg's "Accumulation of capital" could be taken as a

There are no longer large areas with pre-capitalist state structures.

With a faint self-suspicion of nit-picking, how about Saudi Arabia?

These are the easiest for the most advanced powers to conquer.
Now as German imperialism showed in the early 40's the fact
that a country already has a capitalist state and basically capitalist
mode of production does not prevent it being a victim of imperialist
aggression, but such aggression is much more risky.

I agree with the substantive point, but unless I've missed something,
doesn't this amount to saying that

(a) imperialism is not just about relations between capitalist and
pre-capitalist entities, and hence *is* systemically possible

(b) however, the outbreak of "inter-capitalist imperialism" is subject to
greater constraints, hence less likely in a (nearly) all-capitalist world.

It seems to me that whether the latter point is systemic or contingent
depends on the focus of analysis -- given the foregoing, it would be
contingent from the point of view of imperialism as whole but systemic from
the point of view of capitalism (because of capitalism's inherent
universalising tendency).

Could you really see India or China becoming once more targets
for land grabs by any of the OECD countries?

Absolutely not (and what a great advance for humanity that this is so). But
just as I would see a conception of imperialism as being only about the
domination of pre-capitalist formations by capitalist ones as being a rather
old-fashioned one, so also would I regard a conception of imperialism that
was restricted to annexation and the like.

In fact, I would say that such an outlook was not simply old-fashioned, but
in fact wrong even in the epoch in which it had some apparent force: to take
a case from one of Paul's first posts on this, the late-19th century
imperialists never attempted to annex China: rather, they attempted to carve
out spheres of interest with special privileges.

I think the question about a putative 21st-century imperialism is whether
bodies like the WTO, etc., can in fact bring about the state of affairs
which Paul anticipated -- i.e. a single world capitalist order -- or whether
the future is one of semi-autarkic blocs (the EU, NAFTA, ASEAN (as the
creature of Japanese -- or Chinese? -- imperial influence)) competing for
influence along their margins.

Readers of George Orwell will note, of course, that the foregoing correspond
to Eurasia, Oceania and Eastasia; would anyone on this list who follows UK
politics care to volunteer an explanation of why some British Conservatives
continue to aspire to Airstrip One status, rather than taking the -- on the
face of it, more rational -- Eurasia option?


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