The New Imperialism by David Harvey, which is one of the bestselling IPE books, underlines the contemporary and historical development of capitalism along with its contradictions and prone to malfunctions. The book can be recommended to bachelor and masters students, studying political science and political economy, but the book can be well fitted to the former due to the fact that it does not stress much on the economic aspects and lacks sufficient empirical data and analysis in the economic and political economic spheres. It is commendable for the fact that the book is not only useful for the academic readership, but also general readership can grasp and draw reflective intellectual perspectives from reading the book because it is easy to read, and the concepts and the contents that are entailed in the book are profoundly and yet to some extent simply defined and analyzed. The book is an adequate sequential summarization of two centuries’ overall development of IPE (capitalism especially liberalism and neoliberalism) in the context of colonialism, imperialism, hegemony, and then new imperialism. The book’s main strengths are in the contextualization, conceptualization, and then theorization of key terms such as capitalist imperialism, spatiotemporal fixes, and accumulation by dispossession. Moreover, the book segmentizes and categorizes the territorial and capitalistic logics of power which reveals the dialectic and interplay between state and imperial politics on the one hand, and the molecular process of capital accumulation in space-time on the other in the capitalist/imperialist complex (pp. 26). Additionally, the book tries to differentiate between primitive accumulation and accumulation by dispossession, as well as collective power and distributive power (pp. 37). Finally, it points out that the working-classes and social resistance have been dismantled by the neoliberal forces, and the Marxist and communist single-mindedness in believing that the working-class resistance is the only way to counter-attack capitalism has weakened and limited the very left forces themselves. Therefore, after the author indicates the contradiction of anti-imperialists and anti-globalists, he advocates for how both tides should distinguish between accumulation by dispossession and expanded reproduction (primitive accumulation), and why they should signify on the former through civil society movements to force a change in the cannibalistic measures performed within capitalism. (169, 171, 176-77, & 181). Nevertheless, the author also indicates that fragments within civil society such as some (I would say the majority) of NGOs in West and other countries whose goals are reducing poverty and inequality, are actually funded by the neoliberal strata (pp. 167)
All of the above mentioned spectrums are encapsulated in three stages of the rise of the bourgeoisie class on the international stage which as the book identifies as the linear (somehow as a vicious spiral) development from commercial (mercantilist nation-based bourgeoisie under racist-national European imperialism) to industrial (universal-cultural US imperialism through decolonialization), and then to financial (transnational corporations under neoliberal globalization) class domination. It is worth noting that the theme or the storyline of the book is based on the unipolar momentum of the USA after the collapse of USSR, and the 9/11 incident as well as the internal socioeconomic crises that created an atmosphere for the emergence of ‘reactionary Caesarism’ of neo-conservatives led by Bush administration to unilaterality invade Iraq (Paul 2007: 53) which consequently led to the decapitation of the US hegemony based on consent and becoming a global dominant imperial power based on coercion that only serves its individualistic interests such as controlling the global oil supply to anchor global economy after its failure to remain hegemonic based on consensus (pp. 13, 19 & 23-25). Therefore, the US industrial-military complex supported by its tremendous financial and military powers is performing the worst kind of spatiotemporal fixes, accumulation by other means, and extra-economic coercive and militaristic measures to sustain its global domination for at least another 50 years by seizing control on the Middle Eastern oil fields that are fundamentally significant for global economy and the rise of the rest especially the potential counter-hegemonic threat of China (pp. 84, 193 & 199). However, the financial internationalization along with USA unilateralism pushes the hegemon fall into the same trap as former global hegemons did. Eventually, the hegemonic transition seems to go back to the East and South East Asia due to the flow of capital in terms of foreign direct investment and the rising production capacities of such regions which produce the real surplus-value. In contrary to these emerging industrial economies, the USA experiencing deindustrialization, has remarkable trade deficit, and its balance of payment significantly depends on foreign capital inflow and holding dollar as the international currency (pp. 69- 77, 122-23, 185, & 206).
However, the book fails to come up with authentic alternatives in terms of systemic changes or system changes (except referring to a new-New Deal, reindustrialization, or self-imposing austerity measures for the USA), which makes it hard to identify the book as a problem solving theory or critical theory, and as the result along with its empirical deficiency it narrows the book down to a normative abstraction of the underling reality during early 2000s (pp. 75-7). Moreover, the book not only lacks sufficient empirical data, but also provides inaccurate estimations. For instance, the Iraq war costs is being estimated more than $200 billion, and the author might be believing that by invading Iraq, oil prices would go down stating that the USA will not be recovered and start to make the war a productive investment unless the oil price goes down to $20 per barrel (pp. 204). However, the invasion of Iraq costs have already reached almost $2 trillion, and after the invasion, regime change, and opening up of Iraq’s economy, not only did not created a market for USA’s over-accumulated capital in terms of investment, but oil prices skyrocketed and reached $150 per barrel until the oil price crush in 2014 (Paul 2007: 57-61). Additionally, the USA invasion of Iraq has failed in controlling the oil supply of the country, and by now, the US hegemonic power and influence in the Middle East (mainly except of Israel, Saudi Arabia, and Kurdish populated regions) are degrading by every day. Another important aspect is that the author purposely miss-conceptualizes “hegemony” stating that the three main pillars of hegemony are money, productive capacity, military might. One might assume that the author tries to keep the USA in the hegemonic rank (pp. 42 & 181). Nevertheless, it is well established and collectively agreed upon that the foundations for establishing hegemonic bloc are ideologies, material capabilities, and institutions, as well as, consensus then coercion are two simultaneous and corelated necessities to sustain hegemonic position (Read: Hegemony and Social Change: 1994).
In order to categorize the two logics of power, the book differentiates the logics as follow: the capitalist who has means of production or money capital invests where investment brings him more money and serves his own individual advantage without being responsible except for his immediate ‘social circle’. He is not restrained in space-time and can move anywhere he wishes to and establish larger corporations with other capitalists. In contrast, the politician or stateman who holds absolute power such as in monarchy or authoritarian regime or represents the power of the people such as in an electoral system tries to sustain the power of his own state against other states. Also, he is accountable for serving the social groups within the defined borders. While states cannot teleport, and the nature of power within states is in constant succession, thus the stateman is confined within the spatiotemporal defined location (pp. 27). In a territorially defined location, the antagonistic relation between the two power logics leads to the overconcentration of capital accumulation in some regions across the country, and consequently when overaccumulation occurs, the capitalists seek to find ‘somewhere else where profitable opportunities have not yet been exhausted’ (pp. 94). However, competition in spatial location eventually leads to monopolistic advantages. Immovable factories, airports, ports, and simply the ownership over lands make privileged capitalists to win the competition over those who do not own them (pp. 96). Therefore, capitalists have tendencies towards ‘massive centralization of capital’ and to preserve their monopolistic advantages of financial power, economies of scale, and technological innovations via patent rights, licensing laws, and intellectual property rights in collaboration with the statesmen and legislatives (pp. 98). “The tensions between competition and monopoly… centralization and decentralization… all arise out of the molecular processes of endless capital accumulation in space and time... Thus, is the history of creative destruction written into the landscape of the actual historical geography of capital accumulation” (pp. 101). According to Rosa Luxemburg’s conceptualization of ‘capital accumulation through extra-economic coercive techniques’ in both capitalist and non-capitalist modes of production (Bond 2014), the process eventually leads to underconsumption where insufficient or lack of demand makes profits stagnate or decline (pp. 137). Therefore, capitalist sector will destroy and thrive on non-capitalist sectors to create areas that are capable of generating profits (pp. 138). However, the author extends the definition to “overaccumulation as the lack of opportunities for profitable investment as the fundamental problem” claiming that it is still possible to accumulate amid the stagnant demand if costs of inputs decline correspondingly. Yet, accumulation crisis is inevitable in capitalism, and in both scenarios, it leads to over-extension of the market to have access to cheaper inputs (pp. 139). Eventually such over-extension of market ends up with transformation of the economy from production lines to financial speculations where state and financial institutions financialize and externalize the over-accumulated capital/credit (Bond 2014), and ‘fictitious capital’ emerges due to financialization, liberalization, and privatization (pp. 113, 142 &144). The tightly interwoven dialectical interplay between the two logics of power, leads to the configuration of capitalist imperialism when overaccumulation cannot be absorbed within, or the internal capitalist opposition is tremendous against social projects and redistribution of wealth. Subsequently, the territorial logic of power becomes expansionist and wages war against other states (pp. 125-6 & 183). The author cites both Hannah Arendt and Paul Kennedy respectively to demonstrate the dialectical interplay between both power logics as, “A never-ending accumulation of property must be based on a never-ending accumulation of power. . . [Yet] Overextension and overreach have again and again proven the Achilles' heel of hegemonic states and empires” (pp. 34 & 35).
Overaccumulation as an inevitable crisis condition in capitalism can be fixed by: 1) temporal fix via investing in long term projects, social expenditures, and mega-projects that promise returns in the future, 1) spatial fix through extending market, opening up new markets with new material, social, and labor capabilities, or 3) the combination of these two strategies (pp. 109). The author gives an empirical example of the nineteenth century, when Europe resolved its overaccumulation through long-term infrastructural investments and geopolitical expansions mainly through the Atlantic trade (pp. 42-43). Technological innovations particularly in communication and transportation contributed in the time-space compression, or as Marx called ‘the annihilation of space through time’ (globalization) before and after the interwar period. Globalization is a self-evident tendency of the global capitalism (pp. 98). However, during the interwar period, due to the rise of nationalism and implementation of protectionist policies, globalization was suspended (Rodrik 2000: 177). Therefore, the overaccumulation of capital and labor during this period could not be absorbed via spatial fix, and some countries like Germany or USA heavily invested in highways and infrastructures, while others devalued the capital, and eventually they all destroyed the capital surpluses in WW II (pp. 88).
According to the author, there are two distinct and main strategies to accumulate capital in capitalism. Primitive accumulation includes a wide range of processes starting from commodification and privatization of land, labor, and money up to the use of slavery, national debt, and eventually the emergence of credit system (pp. 145). For instance, after the opening up of China to the world economy, many state enterprises were forced to close or privatize to make the rest of the Chinese enterprises more competitive in the world market (pp. 154). On the other hand, accumulation by dispossession is the processes of capital accumulation through dispossessing ownership from one and giving to another, destroying the old capitalist spheres and sectors and creating them anew so that capitalism can survive, continue, and thrive on the ruins, blood, and tears as Joseph Schumpeter contextualized it as creative destruction (Rajagopal 2012: 180). While primitive accumulation ‘opens up a path to expanded reproduction’ within non-capitalist sectors including social reproduction and nature, accumulation by dispossession destroys the already opened-up and expanded reproduction capacities and spheres (pp. 162 & 164). Although accumulation by dispossession occurs within the core-states and peripheral regions altogether, “its most vicious and inhumane manifestations are in the most vulnerable and degraded regions within uneven geographical development” (pp. 173).
Finally, the last stage of capitalist maturity, even though the author indicates it as new beginning, is financializing and externalizing the over-accumulated internal capital. The author contextualizes financialization as follow: after the collapse of Bretton Wood system due to overaccumulation, over-supply of dollar globally, inflation, and then devaluation, neoliberal financialization emerged in the late 1970s and early 1980s. Consequently, the Washington Consensus of the mid-1990s was established which was another accumulation by dispossession and spatiotemporal fixes, by imposing the Golden Straitjacket of liberalization, privatization, and financial deregulation on the rest of the world in exchange for rescue packages (pp. 68). Systematic devaluations and inducing artificial crises into the veins of weaker and emerging economies; for instance, led to the Asian Financial Crisis in 1997. As the result, they became vulnerable to speculation and asset destruction, which later on the internal asset owners were replaced by western and Japanese asset owners leaving the countries indebted and exposed to risks (pp. 112). The contingent instabilities of global financial system later proved to be even wide spreading and causing insolvencies which subsequently the Paris Club was formed to set rules for debt restructuring (pp. 118). This systematic systemic crisis allowed the Wall Street/US Treasury complex supported by the IMF that guaranteed debt repayment through enforced structural adjustments on debtor-countries enabled the USA to have control over the global financial system (pp. 129). Although financial flows are crucial for productive investments and production as well, there are a great array of unproductive spheres within financial system which “money is simply used to make more money through speculation on commodity futures, currency values, debts, and the like” (pp. 131-32). Moreover, whenever the deregulated financial forces fail and cause systemic meltdowns, the neoliberal governments especially the USA provide bailouts to deliver the capitalist logic of power from damnation (pp. 151).
To conclude, as the author states that “some sort of transnational capitalist class emerged… [And] Just because Wall Street was awash with money did not mean, therefore, that Americans owned that money” (pp. 186). The emergence of transnational capitalist class in the deregulated capitalist world, which the author fails to shed light upon, has no obligation to any state, commanding hundreds of trillion of dollars (Breu 2014: 27), and restrained by no international law (Rajagopal 2012: 180) is , in actuality, the undeniable forthcoming hegemonic candidate (Hout 2008) based on fictional consensus and digital coercion (I would say) that now tends to invest in the rising powers and emerging markets as their safe havens for investment (Woischnik & Steinmeyer 2016: 15) and fertile lands to destroy and thrive on.
[The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of BasNews]
Bachelor of Arts in International Studies and Law at the American University of Iraq, Sulaimani
Studies Master’s Degree in Global Political Economy and Development at University of Kassel, Germany
References and Additional Sources:
Balakrishnan Rajagopal. (2012). International Law and Its Discontents: Rethinking the Global South. Proceedings of the Annual Meeting (American Society of International Law), 106, 176-181. doi:10.5305/procannmeetasil.106.0176
Bond, P., 2014. BRICS and the Tendency to Sub-imperialism. Pambazuka News, 10.
Chase-Dunn, Christopher, Peter Taylor, Giovanni Arrighi, Robert Cox, Henk Overbeek, Barry Gills, Andre Gunder Frank, George Modelski, and David Wilkinson (1994): Hegemony and Social Change. Mershon International Studies Review 38, no. 2, 361-76. doi:10.2307/222747.
Christopher Breu. (2014). Against Austerity. Symplokē, 22(1-2), 23-39. doi:10.5250/symploke.22.1-2.0023
Hout, Wil., 2008. A Study of Transnational Capital as Leading Actor in the Creation of a New Historic Bloc: The Relevance of China. (IPED). Academia.edu. Institute For Social Studies, https://www.academia.edu/3336481/International_Political_Economy_and_Development_IPED_?email_work_card=thumbnail.
Huang, M. (2011). AN IN-DEPTH CRITICAL ANALYSIS OF NEOLIBERAL AND NEW IMPERIAL HEGEMONY: Review of "The New Imperialism and A Brief History of Neoliberalism" by David Harvey. World Review of Political Economy, 2(3), 513-520. Retrieved October 3, 2020, from http://www.jstor.org/stable/41931939
Paul, D. E. (2007). The Siren Song of Geopolitics: Towards a Gramscian Account of the Iraq War. Millennium, 36(1), 51–76. https://doi.org/10.1177/03058298070360010401
Rieck, C., Schmidt, L., Friedrich, M., Woischnik, J., Steinmeyer, A., Feltes, T., . . . Wenniges, T. (2016). Rise and Fall of Regional Powers (pp. 8-33, Rep.) (Wahlers G., Ed.). Konrad Adenauer Stiftung. Retrieved October 3, 2020, from http://www.jstor.org/stable/resrep10116.3
Rodrik, D. (2000). How Far Will International Economic Integration Go? The Journal of Economic Perspectives, 14(1), 177-186. Retrieved October 3, 2020, from http://www.jstor.org/stable/2647061
Woodward, Keith (2004) "Book Review: David Harvey, The New Imperialism. New York: Oxford UP, 2003.," disClosure: A Journal of Social Theory: Vol. 13, Article 14.