International Viewpoint 345, November 2002
The renewal of interest in the study of imperialism has changed the debate on globalization, previously centred exclusively on the critique of neoliberalism and on the new features of globalization. A concept developed by the main Marxist theorists of the 20th century — which enjoyed a wide diffusion in the 1970s — has again attracted the attention of analysts because of the aggravation of the social crisis of the Third World, the multiplication of armed conflicts and the deadly competition among countries.
The notion of imperialism conceptualizes two types of problem: on the one hand, the relations of domination in operation between the capitalists of the centre and the peoples of the periphery and on the other the links which prevail between the great imperialist powers at each stage of capitalism. What is the contemporary relevance of this theory? To what extent can it contribute towards clarifying contemporary reality?
The polarization of incomes confirms the importance of the theory in its first sense. While the wealth of three multimillionaires exceeds the GDP of 48 nations and a person on the periphery dies of hunger every four seconds, it is difficult to ignore the widening of the gap between the advanced and underdeveloped countries. Today nobody could believe that this asymmetry is a temporary phenomenon, to be ultimately corrected by the benefits of globalization. The peripheral countries are not simply the “losers” from globalization; they are also subjected to an intensification of the transfers of income that have historically held back their development.
This drainage has led to the intensification of extreme poverty in the 49 poorest nations and major deformations of partial accumulation in the dependent semi-industrialized countries. In this second case, the prosperity of those sectors inserted in the international division of labour is bought at the expense of those economic activities centred on the internal market.
analysis of imperialism does not offer a conspiracy theory of underdevelopment
nor does it absolve the local governments of responsibility for this situation.
It simply presents an explanation of the polarization of accumulation on a
world scale and the reduction of the possibility of its evening out among
different economies. The accelerated margin of development which in the 19th
of imperialism attributes these asymmetries to the systematic transfer of the
value created in the periphery towards the capitalists of the centre. This
transfer is concretized through the deterioration of the terms of trade, the
extraction of financial resources and the transfer of industrial profits. The
political effect of this drainage is the loss of the political autonomy of the
peripheral ruling classes and the increasing level of
aggression is the imperialist response to the disintegration of states,
peripheral economies and societies, provoked by the growing
effects are most visible in Latin America and the
Economic expropriation, political recolonization and military interventionism are the three pillars of the current imperialism. Some analysts limit themselves to describing this oppression as an inexorable destiny, in a resigned manner. Some present the fracture between ‘winners and losers’ of globalization as a ‘cost of development’, without explaining why this price persists over time and is still being charged to those nations who have already paid it in the past.
The neoliberals tend to prognosticate that the end of underdevelopment will happen in those countries that gamble on ‘attracting’ foreign capital and the ‘seduction’ of companies. However, the dependent nations who have entered on this road in the past decade by opening their economies up are now paying the heaviest price in the ‘emergent crises’. Those who were the most committed to privatization have lost most on the world market. In providing every facility to imperialist capital, they have lifted the barriers that limited the pillage of their natural resources and they are paying for it today by more asymmetrical trade exchanges, growing financial instability and a sharpened industrial disarticulation.
Some neoliberals attribute these effects to the limited
application of their recommendations, as if a decade of negative experiences
had not furnished enough lessons as to the result of their recipes. Others
suggest that underdevelopment is a consequence of the temperamental
inadequacies of the population of the periphery, the weight of corruption or
the cultural immaturity of the peoples of the
Katz teaches at the
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