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A Global and Unified System of Power?

Chrysovalantis KAMPRAGKOS


The austerity policies responding to the economic crisis have given rise to questions about the nature of supranational institutions. Are they expressions of cosmopolitan solidarity to small countries’ economic problems, or forms of neocolonialism? Are they representative of an irreversible evolution toward a transnational capitalist unity, or temporary alliances? Questions such as “Who governs in the Americas and in Europe?” are bound to appear more frequently, as antagonism rages between major financial forces striving to reorganize their capital accumulation in a fragmented world market. In this condition, the Leninist analysis of imperialism regains analytical value, in contrast to theories of globalization that have analyzed contemporary capitalism in terms of a unified transnational elite that is no longer attached to the nation-state.

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Introduction: The capitalist crisis and the challenge to theory

1The aggravation of the economic crisis reflects the inability of capitalism to operate as it did in recent decades. The major economic forces’ inability to jointly decide on crisis management; the multiple challenges to US world hegemony; the growing racist sentiments and intolerance of immigration and multiculturalism in the pluri-ethnic ground of the European Union; these are all expositions of a transition that had been in dormant state for years. Discontent simmers against hegemonic attitudes within the EU and the looming the dilemma of fiscal discipline or destabilization of the European project, unfolding in conjunction with an ever-increasing police repression against working-class protest. Yet, the joint effort of local governments and international institutions demand an observation of the exercise of g-local governance that resists moralistic accusations of specific countries or “invisible elites” as the sole agents of economic injustice.

  • 1  For an account of various debates on globalization, see Best and Kellner (2001: 205-19). The debat (...)
  • 2  My reference to these authors by no means implies that I ignore the important contributions of oth (...)

2Essentially, the crisis constitutes a locus for evaluating all analyses of indelible structural changes in evolution of capitalism. The answer to the extremely timely question of “who governs” is intrinsically related to the question of the nature of capitalism and the re-examination of whether the system is on the process of “globalization.” This discussion is certainly not a new one,1 yet the crisis point brings it forth once more. The main aim of this paper is the critique of the position held by a number of thinkers within the Left – such as Fredric Jameson, Antonio Negri and Michael Hardt, among others – that since the 1970s a transnational and unified system of power (labeled variably as “globalization,” “empire,” or “late capitalism”) has superseded imperialism.2 Instead, I suggest that Vladimir Lenin’s theory of imperialism as the monopoly-highest stage of capitalism is historically validated in the crisis, as it inevitably instigates intra-capitalist antagonisms. My opinion is based on the process of the extraction of maximum surplus value from the working class, and in the dependency of weak economies by the major capitalist forces aiming at a new stage of primitive accumulation, which aims to reorganize the international balance of power, rather than simply contain the “debt crisis.”

Two Theories of Capitalist Stages

  • 3  Jameson (1991: xviii, xix).
  • 4  Ibid., 36.

3The main axiom of the globalization theory rests on the premise that capitalism is on the course of “completion.” After the Soviet Union’s collapse a new order was claimed to have begun. “United finance capital” could now expand to previously non-capitalist areas, establishing conditions for exponential accumulation of capital and peaceful development. The relations between the major economic forces in the 1990s seemed cloudless, as politico-financial networks such as the EU and NAFTA, pointed towards the idea of a stateless transnational elite that brings down borders. Supranational institutions are now the centers of decision-making, and multinational corporations are able to penetrate the protectionism of national markets. As a result, bourgeois society is increasingly dominated by a cosmopolitanism unconceivable of half a century before. It is implied that capitalists sensed that the nation obstructs capital’s expansion, and thus had to abolish it. According to Fredric Jameson, this stage constitutes “the vision of a world capitalist system fundamentally distinct from the older imperialism.3” Consequently, it is “the purest form of capital yet to have emerged, a prodigious expansion of capital into hitherto uncommodified areas […] [by] eliminat[ing] the enclaves of precapitalist organization it had hitherto tolerated and exploited in a tributary way.4

  • 5  Lenin (1970: 14, 15).
  • 6  Ibid., 52, 53, 73.
  • 7  Ibid., 79.
  • 8  Ibid., 104.

4This theorization stands in contradistinction to Lenin’s definition of imperialism, formulated in his 1916 pamphlet Imperialism, the Highest Stage of Capitalism. For Lenin, after 1870 the increasing concentration and centralization of capital inherent in the capitalist mode of production led to the formation of cartels active in various productive branches, thus resulting in the transformation of free competition into monopoly.5 The major result of this was the birth of finance capital, the export of which from major financial centers to other countries now prevailed over commodities.6 As a result, interdependence between national and foreign markets grew alongside monopolies’ activities: “things ‘naturally’ gravitated towards an international agreement among these associations, and towards the formation of international cartels.7 However, contrary to the belief of liberal thinkers (such as J. A. Hobson, or the US president Woodrow Wilson) who thought that this internationalization would create perpetual peace, Lenin claimed that the displacement of free competition by monopoly led to the ruthless antagonism for materials and influence; thus imperialism emerged “as the development and direct continuation of the fundamental characteristics of capitalism in general.8

  • 9  Ibid., 106.
  • 10  Ibid., 109; italics in the original.
  • 11  Qtd. in ibid., 109.

5During this period, “the territorial division of the whole world among the biggest capitalist powers is completed.9” Consequently, the great powers are bound to vie with one another for the repartition of the world, “not so much directly for themselves as to weaken the adversary and undermine his hegemony” through the penetration of markets by finance capital via international associations.10 Karl Kautsky, chief theoretician of the Second International, based on these associations the concept of ultra-imperialism, which separated the economic origins of imperialism from its political implementation, and predicted the extension of the policy of the cartels to foreign policy […] a union of the imperialisms of the whole world and not struggles among them, a phase when wars shall cease under capitalism, a phase of “the joint exploitation of the world by internationally united finance capital.11

  • 12  Ibid., 144.
  • 13  Ibid., 98.

6For Lenin this was an illusion due to capital’s increasing centralization. He regarded peacetime alliances of imperialist forces as temporary, for they “prepare the ground for wars, and in their turn grow out of wars,12” and stressed the “zeal [with which] the international capitalist associations exert every effort to deprive their rivals of all opportunity of competing.13” Thus, he deemed the struggle for monopoly as the determining factor of international economy and politics, independently of capitalists’ wishes. Hence the reason for Lenin calling imperialism “the highest stage of capitalism.” He did not imply that there are barriers to the expansion of capital; the conceptual error of the theory of a next stage is the equation of imperialism with expansionism and its understanding as a perpetual state of war, or an external system of imposition, rather than the expression of the essential form of capitalist development.

How Transnational is Capitalist Expansion?

7As it has been evident from Lenin’s analysis, the merging of corporations into multinational giants had been a tendency prior to World War I. What is, then, the difference that renders globalization a qualitative leap from the imperialist/monopoly stage of capital? Certainly, it is the increasing global cooperation between nation-states within supranational political formations, unto which states cede a part of their sovereignty, and ultimately some functions, thus leading to globalization of power.

  • 14  Hirst and Thompson (1999: 71).
  • 15  Ibid., 76.

8According to statistics for multinational corporations’ activities, those contribute to the Gross Domestic Product of specific national economies, namely the ones within the G8. Paul Hirst and Grahame Thompson have shown that the flow of capital is distributed mainly between the “Triad” of North America, Western Europe and Japan,14 indicating that globalization is “partial in its truly international features.15

  • 16  Marx (1992-3 III: 299).
  • 17  Marx (1973: 414).

9Multinationals have a “legal nationality,” which they use for political support. The transnationality of corporations depends on the outgoing strength of the national formation they are rooted in and not on the existence of one global total capital, which for Karl Marx is a relation that forms the average rate of profit that in its turn “depends on the level of exploitation of labour as a whole by capital as a whole.16” Yet, as he said, “[c]apital exists and can only exist as many capitals, and its self-determination therefore appears as their reciprocal interaction with one another,” meaning that capital is essentially fed by antagonism.17 In other words, capital may not have a “fatherland,” but it retains its nationality, despite its transnational movement. Or to put it in another way, it is never denationalized, but only changes “national team jerseys,” because it is necessary to be entwined with national ideology and the nation-state’s structure. As such, supranational institutions are alliances between capitalist classes which shed neither their national characteristics, nor their monopolistic interests.

  • 18  Luxemburg (2003: 104).
  • 19  Ibid., 104-105.
  • 20  Ibid., 330.
  • 21  Ibid., 348.
  • 22  Ibid., 426.

10The logical question, then, is what the content of economic alliances is. As I have already mentioned, the current structural crisis makes necessary a new round of primitive accumulation via the global reorganization of capitalist operation. Primitive accumulation was not only present at the dawn of capitalism, but is structural to it. As capital gravitated toward monopolistic forms of profit valorization, accumulation also gained monopolistic characteristics. This means that monopoly is not a phase of capitalism that can be “overcome.” Theorists of globalization relate capitalist accumulation to infinite expansion, without which the system will collapse. This analysis explains crises in underconsumptionist terms, and is not new, as it had been upheld by Rosa Luxembourg, who argued in The Accumulation of Capital that capitalism needs continually non-capitalist areas in order to find outlets for commodities. For Luxemburg, demand “cannot possibly come from the capitalists […] themselves,18” or from workers either, because “by buying consumer goods therefore [they] merely refund to the capitalist class the amount of the wages they have received.19” As such, there must be an additional consuming public that justifies the expansion of investment and commodity production, which for Luxemburg existed in non-capitalist societies: “Accumulation of new capital can only proceed therefore under the same conditions under which already existing capital is reproduced,20” namely “amidst a non-capitalist society.21” Luxemburg believed that when the number of non-capitalist areas is greatly reduced, capital will face objective limits, and collapse: “But the more violently, ruthlessly, and thoroughly imperialism brings about the decline of non-capitalist civilisations, the more rapidly it cuts the very ground from under the feet of capitalist accumulation.22

  • 23  Apter (1999: 10).
  • 24  Hirst and Thompson (1999: 83 ff).

11Accordingly, for globalization theorists, the Third World’s penetration by multinationals and the erosion of local cultures by mass media and infotainment creates an unprecedented consumer public. For Emily Apter, “transnational corporations[‘] […] allegiance is not to the nation-state but to a global consumerism that thrives on cultural hybridities.23” Consequently, national barriers that had been preventing the free flows of capital are decaying. However, studies have shown that commodity and capital circulation takes place almost solely within the interior of major capitalist markets.24 Underconsumptionism is an essentially monocausal and linear account of crises, ignoring the fact that capitalism is reorganized not by improving living standards of citizens so that they consume more, but by creating the conditions of securing more surplus value. Marx describes how underconsumpionism is only an assumption, outside the actual field of reproduction:

  • 25  Marx (1992-3 II: 156, 157; italics in the original).

12The production of surplus-value […] can thus grow, and the whole reproduction process finds itself in the most flourishing condition, while in fact a great part of the commodities have only apparently gone into consumption. […] [Crisis] becomes evident not in the direct reduction of consumer demand, the demand for individual consumption, but rather in a decline in the number of exchanges of capital for capital, in the reproduction process of capital.25

  • 26  James (2001: 1).
  • 27  Ibid., 3.
  • 28  Hirst and Thompson (1999: 75; italics in the original).

13Even if underconsumptionism were valid, it does not explain why globalization and the abolition of the nation-state’s centrality was not pursued by capitalists earlier in the 20th century. Instead, capitalism, which supposedly cannot survive without expanding to non-capitalist areas, resorted to violent repartition of the world through world wars, precisely at times when there were more geographic and economic spaces available for expansion. Additionally, there have been important well-detailed accounts of the far more intense international co-operation in the first decades of the 20th century than in recent decades. In his book The End of Globalization, historian Harold James shows how the markets’ more genuinely “globalized” nature before World War II indicates that while globalization is considered irreversible, “historical reflections lead to a more sober and more pessimistic assessment,26” and that “[a] major financial crisis can have systemic effects and catastrophically undermine the stability of the institutions that make global interchange possible.27” In relation to the multinationals’ essentially national activity, Hirst and Thompson have said that economic disruption of the world can be anticipated. This is not a new argument but it is one worth re-emphasizing in the contemporary conditions of the absence of superpower rivalry and an increasing plurality of antagonistically poised voices and social forces.28

  • 29  Kuhle Wampe (1932: online).

14The 1932 film Kuhle Wampe or Who Owns the World?, co-written by Bertold Brecht, is indicative not only of the world market’s reach decades before “globalization,” but also of national capitalist interests within it. Significantly, the film was produced before Hitler’s rise to power, as well as before the protectionist wave which eventually led to World War II. In the film’s climactic finale, workers belonging to the Communist Party of Germany hop on a train after a sports day, and quarrel with a group of middle-class men who are discussing about the world crisis and the Brazilian government’s burning of surplus amounts of coffee to maintain high prices. The wealthy men complain of being forced to cope with Brazil’s protectionism. One gentleman says, “And why do we pay the high price? Because our hands are tied. International politics!” Then, he supports Germany’s grabbing colonies in order to take control of coffee production and prices.29 The fact that the market self-regulation and cosmopolitanism of a previous era was crushed in the maelstrom of recession and capitalist competition indicates that bourgeois ideologues do not hesitate to abandon their self-proclaimed values.

  • 30  Marx (1973: 747; italics in the original).
  • 31  Ibid.

15Crisis management depends primarily on the extraction of maximum surplus value, by intensifying working conditions both in advanced countries and the so-called periphery. This will ultimately lead to an impasse as the rate of profit cannot rise indefinitely. Marx analyzed the rate of profit as the relation of surplus value to the sum of constant capital (machinery and raw materials) plus variable capital (living labor, namely workers), and as inversely related to the rate of surplus value; thus, the higher the rate of surplus value, the lower the rate of profit.30 As competition grows, capitalists increase constant capital and reduce variable capital in order to maximize surplus value and sums of profit. Yet, this leads to the rise of the organic composition of capital (the ratio of constant capital to variable capital), and to a fall of the rate of profit, since the rate of profit depends on the relation between the part of capital exchanged for living labour and the part existing in the form of raw material and means of production. Hence, the smaller the portion exchanged for living labour becomes, the smaller becomes the rate of profit.31

  • 32  Ibid., 750.

16This means that the decline of the rate of profit, and by extension crisis, coincides with the decrease of workforce and wages as a means of “expanding the quantity of surplus labour with regard to the whole labour employed.32” To ease this effect, capitalists would logically increase surplus value, but decrease constant capital; yet this would reduce competitiveness. Therefore, capitalists can only achieve constant advancement of production and long-term accumulation by reorganizing the world market in their favor. As there now is a plurality of forces sharing the world market pie, the only way out of this impasse is the destruction of capitals. This process will lead to a resurgence of antitheses and the breakdown of consensus among major powers, culminating in the radical redistribution of markets, and the historic re-emergence of the nation-state.

American and European Rivalry in the Crisis Context

  • 33  Hardt and Negri (2009: 204).

17The very resurgence of American violence in the 2000s may be seen as the beginning of the end for the consensus. Facing structural economic problems, related to the 1973 crisis and the military race with the USSR, as well as to the rise of other powers claiming an advanced role (EU, China, Russia, etc.), American capitalism knew it deserved better. It is now clear that the military campaigns have resulted in complete failure. In Commonwealth, Antonio Negri and Michael Hardt claim in conspiratorial tones that the US failed to achieve unilateral hegemony because this was an attempt at reviving an obsolete imperialism by way of a neoconservative coup d’etat in order to hinder the formation of “[a] new Empire that was qualitatively different from the previously existing imperialisms, which had been based primarily on the power of nation-states.33” In short, the “bad” Americans attempted to withdraw from the supposed agreement of global cooperation with the other capitalist forceswho, in their naïveté, did not foresee America’s intentions.

  • 34  Ali (2010: 113).

18The military failure, however, is not due to an insistence upon a statism doomed to fail in the age of globalization, but to the increase of military, financial, and monetary (introduction of euro) rivalry. Moreover, the European unification, originally backed by the US, has now escaped American control. As such, the rise of Obama is itself a response both to intra-imperialist contradictions, and to the worldwide contempt against the American value system. This is not only evident in the rapprochement with the Arab world, in the context of the new power relations after the Arab Spring. The spectacle of the Obama “Change” is an underlying reversal of the political and cultural antagonism between “conservative Christian” America and “progressive” Europe, as the latter is becoming increasingly unreceptive of migration and multiculturalism. Yet, in spite of the less aggressive appearance of American international policy in comparison to the Bush era, it remains tied with rivalry, and is within the scope of Lenin’s claim that the struggle to weaken rival forces by usurping their spheres of influence is central to capitalism. The very involvement of the US-controlled IMF in the European debt crisis aims at regaining spheres of influence in the weak links of Europe by challenging Germany’s disciplinary methods. As Tariq Ali has said, “[i]f a textbook illustration were needed of the continuity of American foreign policy across administrations, and the futility of so many softheaded attempts to treat the Bush–Cheney years as exceptional rather than essentially conventional, Obama’s conduct has provided it.34” In this sense, the American foreign policy’s democratic outlook aims to present the EU as the true exploiter which drowns Southern Europe in debt.

19Similarly, the European Union’s crisis management aims at the realization of its primitive accumulation, by solidifying its own imperialist dominion. The main vehicle for this has been the over-exploitation of the working classes and dependent countries through privatizations and a tight control of labor markets and fiscal systems. The motives that gave birth to the “supranational” EU can be traced back to the post-war state of the European powers. Destroyed by World War II and decolonization, and caught in the middle of the Cold War, they were faced with a financial and military relation with the US that entailed a state of political and military control. None of the European imperialist forces could claim an internationally dominant role on their own; yet after the monetary unification, Western European capitalism (with the main axis of Germany as a financial-industrial giant and France as a military nuclear force) strives to compete with the US.

  • 35  Robinson (1996: 20).

20Neutral analyses of the European completion ignore the fact that it is neither a state as the US, nor a federal super-state. Besides their cooperation, Western European capitalisms are antagonistic to each other. The unification, which is faster on the monetary level, is hardly realizable on the political one. The disagreement between France and Germany on the Greek debt’s haircut is exemplary, as it shows contradictions between the two countries’ finance monopolies. My analysis here is in stark contrast with William Robinson’s claim that “tactical differences between national governments of core countries over how to advance transnational interests […] take on the appearance of fundamental contradictions between ‘rival national capitals’ and ‘national interests,’” and that “[e]vents may appear as contradictions between nation-states when, in essence, they are contradictions internal to global capitalism.35” On the contrary, I suggest that compromises between the forces of the world capitalist system, besides being temporary, do not represent anything but an aspect of intra-imperialist rivalry, especially if considered through the notion of primitive capitalist accumulation. Certainly, this process does not evolve mechanistically, as cultural and territorial elements, along with the composition of the bourgeoisie in each national formation, condense the historical in the form of political interrelation and should not be ignored but be placed dialectically in the analysis.

Greek Capitalism: The Crossways of Cosmopolitanism and Fascism

21The reality of uneven capitalist development finds its ideal expression in the EU, refutes the global economic convergence, and underscores the improbability of a transnational ruling class. The nation-state’s role, which is said to be diminishing within globalization (even more so in the EU), is reconstructed through the pervasive nature of uneven development. This happens not despite, but because of the rise of international governance that reinforces the links between local bourgeoisies and imperialist centers, in order to intensify exploitation. Greece, a paradox of a dependent nation-state within the allegedly cosmopolitan EU, can serve as an enlightening example, if viewed according to Giorgio Agamben’s theory of the state of exception.

22The Greek nation-state’s dependency on foreign powers has been continuous since its inception. The theory of Greece’s dependency is based on the analysis that, while it has fulfilled its capitalist completion, it has historically attained a middle level of development without producing means of production or reaching the level of monopoly finance capital. Greece’s position within the international division of labor is historically determined by the Greek bourgeoisie’s nature as a retailer and parasitic class dependent on foreign capital. Consequently, it has historically maintained its class rule in terms that accommodate its cosmopolitan attachment to foreign capital with a nationalist rhetoric that projects the prospect of a regionally powerful Greece.

23Since the 1980s Greece has become increasingly dependent on European capital, through the depletion of its industry and agriculture by community directives. The golden years of development in the 2000s had been the result of infrastructure construction funded by foreign finance capital, and the end of that period, around 2005, marked the beginning of the crisis. Since the 2010 initiation of economic adjustment programs, the motive for the European aid to Greece has not been cosmopolitanism. It is precisely because Greece is one of the weakest links of the European imperialist chain that it is preserved as a problematic economy, by tightening dependency through debt increase. Contrary to widespread views, the Greek economic condition is not the result of debt but of the crisis, and reflects its position in the international division of labor. Debt unmanageability is a result of the crisis and justifies the deregulation of working conditions and the massive proletarianization of middle layers, making the Greek labor market more competitive and exploitable.

24Greece’s entry to the EU has been a strategic choice of local capital. Due to Greek capitalism’s historically-determined dependency, the Greek bourgeoisie’s interests have been more easily safeguarded through its attachment to imperialism. The crisis makes this an even greater necessity, as the Greek bourgeoisie’s rule can only be sustained by justifying exploitation through the European one-way street. As such, dependency by no means equals neocolonial servility, nor has Greece become a protectorate. The nation-state’s role is instrumental; it safeguards class rule and disseminates a nationalist discourse to justify the suppression of class struggle. Since 2010, governments have been blaming the working class and other laboring sectors for the crisis, as they supposedly had excessive rights due to power of trade unions. The international version of this propaganda is the essentialist discourse of Greek laziness and thriftlessness. Furthermore, undocumented migrants and militant class struggles are scapegoated for the disintegration of Greek society. Labor strikes are deemed unpatriotic, as they disrupt economic life, and deteriorate the country’s finances by preventing investments and ruining tourism.

  • 36  Agamben (2003: 2, 3).
  • 37  Ibid., 7.

25The new national discourse against the country’s internal and external enemies imposes a fascistization of public life by encouraging conservative sentiments and social automation to legitimize state terror and racism. The parliament’s legislative powers are minimized; measures agreed with the EU are forwarded by the executive power as emergency bills, without actually being discussed within the parliament or government cabinets. This leads to the establishment of a permanent state of exception, which for Agamben is the annulment of the regular function of democracies in times of war so as to protect the nation. After WW II, and increasingly in the “globalization” era, “[f]aced with the unstoppable progression of what has been called a ‘global civil war,’ the state of exception tends increasingly to appear as the dominant paradigm of government in contemporary politics.36” Moreover, “the gradual erosion of the legislative powers of the parliament – which today is often limited to ratifying measures that the executive issues through decrees having the force of law – has […] become a common practice.37

26Fascistization and the state of exception have become central in the Greek political system. Due to the deepening of the political crisis, a new development is the state-sponsored elevation of the fascist Golden Dawn party into the parliament. The fascists have assumed a public image as leaders of a grassroots movement that seeks to punish traitorous politicians who have rendered the state a “protectorate,” as well as restore order and security where the state fails to do so. Their rhetoric, along with multiple racist pogroms that receive a level of popular – if passive – support, effectively serve bourgeois interests, since their activities act as a pretext for increasing police presence and the subversion of democratic rights. Yet, despite its nationalist frenzy, fascistization is inherently tied with the presence of Greece within the “cosmopolitan” EU, because the interests of dependent Greek capitalism are better served in it. As such, the bourgeois nation-state retains its essential and diachronic role as the organ of class rule even in the era of “globalization.”

The Continuous Centrality of the State in the Age of Neoliberalism

  • 38  Poulantzas (2008: 282).

27Such an analysis runs against the theory of the state’s relative autonomy which was, among others, associated with the structuralist Marxism of Nicos Poulantzas and Louis Althusser. Poulantzas regarded the bourgeois state as the “resultant” of the relations of power between classes within a capitalist formation […] [and] ha[ving] its own institutional specificity (separation of the political and the economic) which renders it irreducible to an immediate and direct expression of the strict ‘economic-corporate’ interests of this or that class or fraction of the power bloc.38

28In other words, the state does not represent the fixity of class domination, but a constantly shifting coexistence of classes and groups. Its autonomy entails a supra-class essence, which may be against the interests of private monopolies, as in countries with popular leftist parties and Keynesian policies. As such, it is rational for globalization theorists to consider the state obsolete in the age of neoliberalism, as the welfare state is dismantled and infrastructures are privatized. However, the equation of the welfare state with the very machinery of the state is ahistorical. The state is a relation corresponding to the concrete conditions of the economic base, serving the needs of the dominant class at any spatiotemporal condition. The welfare state expressed capitalist exigencies in the context of the Great Depression and working class militancy. While never ceasing to be a form of class dictatorship, it was nevertheless recognition of the limits to capital’s sustainability. Neoliberalism, which emerged in the context of the 1973 crisis and the historic weakness of the working class to exert pressure on capital, projected the inexistence of limits to infinite capitalist development.

  • 39  Hirsch (1978: 63).
  • 40  Engels (1967: 76).

29The collapse of the supposedly anti-capitalist welfare state shows that the bourgeois state does not have any autonomous interests. As Joachim Hirsch says, it is “the expression of a specific historical form of class rule and not simply as the bearer of particular social functions;39 or, according to Friedrich Engels, it is, “no matter what its form […] the ideal personification of the total national capital.40” Far from being undermined in the period of aggressive neoliberalism, the state is not a residue of the past that obstructs globalization, but perfectly compatible with the transformations of capitalism.

  • 41  Ahmad (1987: 8; italics in the original).
  • 42  Hobsbawm (1990: 191).

30As for the very destiny of the nation, my analysis of Greek bourgeois dependence on fascism in order to stabilize its position within the EU, suggests that nations are not static entities that had been defined once and for all in the initial period of national formation. In his debate with Fredric Jameson on third-world literature, Aijaz Ahmad claims that “[t]here is neither theoretical ground nor empirical evidence to support that bourgeois nationalisms of the so-called third world will have any difficulty with postmodernism; they want it.41” This idea may also be extended to include the fusion of cosmopolitanism and nationalism, as in my example of Greece, a non-Third World, Western dependent country. Nationalism now relies less on creating myths of “an immemorial past” (Benedict Anderson), and has adapted to the high-tech world of finance capital, and thus, can hardly be perceived as a residual culture, to borrow Raymond Williams’s term. However, current forms of “cosmopolitan” nationalism operating at the intersections of state and international governance do not exclude the presence of racist and essentialist categories. In this sense, I think that Eric Hobsbawm was wrong when he predicted “the decline of the old-nation state as an operational entity.42

  • 43  Chatterjee (2011: 218).
  • 44  Dahl (1961: 12).

31In consequence, the notion of the state’s governmentalization, in which global decision-making centres weaken the state’s authority, now reduced to administration and the approbation of laws effectively revoking its political powers, and enable the entrance of more citizens into the bourgeoisie, does not perceive the dialectic of local and international power. I refer particularly to Partha Chatterjee’s Foucauldian theory of governance, according to which the relatively autonomous Indian state enables “much greater mobility within [the] formation [of the capitalist class]” by opening up to private and foreign capital.43Similarly, Robert Dahl’s theory of polyarchy and shift from oligarchy to pluralism, which is parallel to the theory of the autonomous state, cannot be sustained in the crisis condition, as it rests upon temporal and empirical observations. In Greece, the liberalization of “closed-shop” professions is a conscious tactic of the bourgeoisie to end social mobility and monopolize economic activity. Theodoros Pangalos’s (former Greek socialist Deputy Prime Minister) 2010 notorious phrase “We all ate the money together,” was central in the Greek political system’s strategy of fascistization. Furthermore, it signified the transient nature of theories about the balancing mediation of interests within the state. The result is, contrary to Dahl’s argument, not a condition of “noncumulative or dispersed inequalities44” but an absolute state of cumulative and concentrated ones.

32Neither can the theory of polyarchy be applied in the field of international politics and economy, insofar as it projects linearity, irreversibility and lack of tension. The inevitability of intra-imperialist antagonism as an inherent tendency of capitalism necessarily leads to the negation of polyarchy and of the Hegelian-like unity of opposite capitals, which for the globalization theorists is truer to the Geist of capital. In this sense, it is crucial to view the economic and political system in its totality and go beyond Hegel’s notorious “what is rational is real; and what is real is rational,” which limits theory within formalistic approaches.

Conclusion: Armed Conflict and the International Balance of Power

33The inevitable question then: Why do the supranational institutions that are at the core of international power not collapse under the weight of antagonism, pulling the world into another round of global conflict?

34I think that, in line with Lenin’s analysis of the inevitability of intra-imperialist wars, emphasis must be given on the overall process of conflict. The strategy of imperialist powers to weaken each other concentrates on activating primitive accumulation through the formation of their respective completions. The EU’s imperialist nature shows that this cannot be limited to the US; the widely debated end of American hegemony is indicative of the process of international repartition.

  • 45  Baudrillard (1994: 33).

35Schematically, then, it could be said that, since technology possesses a gigantic destructive power, priority is given to the creation of stable balances of power rather to than a violent resolution of contradictions. International law is based precisely on these balances. Although an analysis of capitalist competition, such as Jean Baudrillard’s, for whom the nuclear threat during the Cold War existed only as simulation, undoubtedly sheds light on the state of emergency as a pretext for state repression and obedience, it is one-sided in assuming that capitalist interests are not in conflict with other ones. Baudrillard talks of a universal security system, a universal lockup and control system whose deterrent effect is not at all aimed at an atomic clash but, rather, at the much greater probability of any real event, of anything that would be an event in the general system and upset its balance.45

  • 46  Ibid.

36Consequently, “[d]eterrence is not a strategy, it circulates and is exchanged between nuclear protagonists exactly as is international capital in the orbital zone of monetary speculation whose fluctuations suffice to control all global exchanges.46” In contrast, I insist that imperialist powers do not possess nuclear weapons for “simulation,” but precisely in order to destroy their rivals. However, the international correlations of power cannot yet determine clear-cut alliances and blocs; therefore, the recourse to a “final solution” passes through imperialists’ attempts to intimidate and weaken their rivals through currency wars and diplomacy. As I have noted, Obama’s election bears this function.

37By extension, my claim that multiple combined and rivalling capitalist interests govern the world, refers neither simply to oil extraction, nor to an invisible financial and political elite that works out its affairs smoothly in high towers; even further, it is not rooted in a moralistically anti-capitalist economic determinism that does not pay attention to the superstructure’s importance. Intra-capitalist relations involve, apart from the geopolitical dimension, also a politics of coercion and pre-emptive projection of might. Thus, the American-NATO campaign in Afghanistan was neither driven simply by a nationalist avenging spirit, nor conducted for internal purposes of showing that the state was still powerful. Instead, it was a message for all potential rivalsand not only Islamists or “rogue states”that the US still possessed the monopoly of violence against any agent that would challenge American financial and military domination; moreover, the manner in which the US sought to implicate other countries in their incursion attained a “with-us-or-against-us” form, exacerbating American hegemonic claims.

  • 47  Marx (1973: 258).

38In conclusion, the answer to the question of “who governs,” is inseparable from the question of the exercise of power, and cannot remain stable over time. For, as Marx had said, “[c]apital is not a simple relation but a process, in whose various moments it is always capital.47” This means that it is a non-linear process in which all of its aspects and contradictions unfold and expand. Therefore, the crisis represents a decisive challenge to all theories of the mutations of the capitalist mode of production. The discussion brings forth a whole range of referential categories that are deeply intertwined, rendering the question of power highly complex and contradictory. What is required is a dialectical interdisciplinary approach that combines analytical methodologies of political economy, cultural studies and international relations, along with research into the class composition of societies. The discussion’s philosophical implications also demand consideration. For, the task of highlighting the nature of international power in its totality necessarily confronts abstract philosophical questions, such as the dialectic of form and content, and the very form of content itself, as well as requires research into the historical and political roots of theory.

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1  For an account of various debates on globalization, see Best and Kellner (2001: 205-19). The debate was largely renewed with the publication of Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri’s Empire; see Balakrishnan (ed) (2003).

2  My reference to these authors by no means implies that I ignore the important contributions of other authors, such as Leslie Sklair and his analysis of the “transnational capitalist class,” or William Robinson’s notion of the “transnational factions of national bourgeoisies.” These authors are equally significant in the debate on globalization and, additionally, share the other writers’ call for a counterhegemonic alter-globalization. Still, my refence to Jameson, Hardt and Negri (to which Habermas and Bauman could be added) is because I consider – again at the risk of ignoring other significant authors – them to possess the kind of “sociological imagination” that C. Wright Mills hinted at in his landmark 1959 work, by proposing a combination of philosophy, political economy and cultural studies to offer a totalizing view of the paradigm shifts in world capitalism. In other words, I regard them, in the words of Ian Buchanan when he wrote of Fredric Jameson, as “founder[s] of discourse […] whose thought comes to us in the form of a system which we can inhabit and deploy for our own perhaps quite different purposes” (2002: 225).

3  Jameson (1991: xviii, xix).

4  Ibid., 36.

5  Lenin (1970: 14, 15).

6  Ibid., 52, 53, 73.

7  Ibid., 79.

8  Ibid., 104.

9  Ibid., 106.

10  Ibid., 109; italics in the original.

11  Qtd. in ibid., 109.

12  Ibid., 144.

13  Ibid., 98.

14  Hirst and Thompson (1999: 71).

15  Ibid., 76.

16  Marx (1992-3 III: 299).

17  Marx (1973: 414).

18  Luxemburg (2003: 104).

19  Ibid., 104-105.

20  Ibid., 330.

21  Ibid., 348.

22  Ibid., 426.

23  Apter (1999: 10).

24  Hirst and Thompson (1999: 83 ff).

25  Marx (1992-3 II: 156, 157; italics in the original).

26  James (2001: 1).

27  Ibid., 3.

28  Hirst and Thompson (1999: 75; italics in the original).

29  Kuhle Wampe (1932: online).

30  Marx (1973: 747; italics in the original).

31  Ibid.

32  Ibid., 750.

33  Hardt and Negri (2009: 204).

34  Ali (2010: 113).

35  Robinson (1996: 20).

36  Agamben (2003: 2, 3).

37  Ibid., 7.

38  Poulantzas (2008: 282).

39  Hirsch (1978: 63).

40  Engels (1967: 76).

41  Ahmad (1987: 8; italics in the original).

42  Hobsbawm (1990: 191).

43  Chatterjee (2011: 218).

44  Dahl (1961: 12).

45  Baudrillard (1994: 33).

46  Ibid.

47  Marx (1973: 258).

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Chrysovalantis KAMPRAGKOS, « A Global and Unified System of Power? », Mémoire(s), identité(s), marginalité(s) dans le monde occidental contemporain [En ligne], 14 | 2015, mis en ligne le 29 août 2015, consulté le 16 juillet 2020. URL : ; DOI :

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Chrysovalantis KAMPRAGKOS

Aristotle University of Thessaloniki, Greece

Holder of an MA in American Literature and Culture from the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki (AUTh), he has participated in conferences and published articles centered on themes of globalization and its relation with art and culture. He has also participated as a tutor in the AUTh’s Program for the Education of Immigrant and Repatriated Students. His theoretical interests include the relationship between the national and the global, and literary and theatrical responses to globalization.

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