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Rethinking Marxism: A Journal


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From Territorial to
Nonterritorial Capitalist
Imperialism: Lenin and the
Possibility of a Marxist Theory of
Imperialism
Spyros Sakellaropoulos & Panagiotis Sotiris
Published online: 07 Jan 2015.

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To cite this article: Spyros Sakellaropoulos & Panagiotis Sotiris (2015) From Territorial
to Nonterritorial Capitalist Imperialism: Lenin and the Possibility of a Marxist Theory
of Imperialism, Rethinking Marxism: A Journal of Economics, Culture & Society, 27:1,
85-106, DOI: 10.1080/08935696.2014.980676

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Rethinking Marxism, 2015
Vol. 27, No. 1, 85106, http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/08935696.2014.980676

From Territorial to Nonterritorial


Capitalist Imperialism: Lenin and the
Possibility of a Marxist Theory of
Imperialism
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Spyros Sakellaropoulos and Panagiotis Sotiris

The concept of imperialism has returned to political and theoretical debates.


But there are open theoretical questions. In opposition to treating imperialism in
terms of a territorial logic, we insist on the nonterritorial character of capitalist
imperialism. We go back to Lenins theoretical contribution to a possible Marxist
theory of imperialism in order to distance it from theories of empire building and
territorial expansion. We attempt to combine such a reading of Lenins writings on
imperialism with a conception of political power and hegemony on the international
plane, stressing the relative autonomy of the state and political power. We highlight
Lenins discussion of imperialisms class character, in terms of condensed class
strategies. Consequently, the aim of this paper is to offer elements of a theory of
the specifically capitalist form of nonterritorial imperialism, stressing the impor
tance of articulating Lenins concept of the imperialist chain with Gramscis concept
of hegemony.

Key Words: Antonio Gramsci, Imperialism, VI Lenin, Marxism, Mode of Production

During the 1990s, globalization emerged as the most convenient concept to


describe world affairs. During the 2000s, however, imperialism made an impressive
comeback in political and theoretical debates. Books like David Harveys (2003) New
Imperialism, Ellen Meiksins Woods (2003) Empire of Capital, or Alex Callinicoss
(2003) The New Mandarins of American Power, to cite just a few, exemplified this
tendency. Similarly, the notions of empire and imperialism became pertinent again in
mainstream discussions of international relations and conflicts, exemplified in calls
for a liberal imperialism to deal with terrorism and rogue states (Cooper 2002; Wolf
2001) and for the United States to act as a benevolent imperial hegemon to safeguard
Western values and liberties (Kagan 1998; Boot 2001; Donnelly 2002). This mostly had
to do with the emergence of an aggressive American military interventionism,
beginning with the war in Afghanistan, the brutal occupation of Iraq, and the plans
for a military strike against Iran. But however welcome it may be, the return of the
concept of imperialism to political and theoretical debate in the past decade and a
half has, unfortunately, reproduced old problems and controversies. The identifica-
tion of imperialism with territorial expansion, the explanations of international

2015 Association for Economic and Social Analysis


86 SAKELLAROPOULOS AND SOTIRIS

rivalries on the basis of the geopolitics of resources and scarcity, the tendency to
define hierarchies in the international system in terms of empire building, and the
recurring temptation of superimperialist theories all persist.
A theoretical debate on imperialism is thus more than necessary. In constituting a
Marxian approach to the concept, we should ensure that we do not limit ourselves to
the theoretical premises of realism as it has been defined within mainstream
international relations theory. While realism is seen as having merit when contrasted
with the idealist rhetoric of most current globalization or cosmopolitan democracy
theories, the simplistic Hobbesian conceptions of political power and great power
rivalry that are the backbone of realist theories of international relations theory
do not offer a possible way to theorize either the complexity of determinations
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within the international plane or the interrelation between economic, political, and
ideological antagonisms.1 Realism remains, moreover, a theoretical paradigm that
leads to a rather schematic territorial conception of the stakes in international
conflicts and antagonisms.
Unfortunately, this territorial logic is also echoed in many recent Marxist
interventions. It is echoed, in our opinion, in David Harveys notion of an imperialism
based on accumulation by dispossession. For Harvey, capitalism not only induces a
logic of endless flows of capital but also brings forward the particular importance of
spatiotemporal fixes in a social process of production of space that leads to the
historical geography of imperialism. This is also the basis of a certain territorial logic
used to ground the tendency toward imperialism under capitalism. Here, accumula-
tion by dispossession acquires importance, especially in a period of capitalist
overaccumulation, in the sense of a predatory imperialist quest for assets all over
the world,2 in a form similar to Rosa Luxemburgs (1951) insistence on capitalisms
constant need for an outside as a means to counter inherent crisis tendencies. That is
why Harvey (2003, 183) insists, Imperialism of the capitalist sort arises out of a
dialectical relation between territorial and capitalistic logics of power.
In a similar vein, Alex Callinicos (2009, 83) has insisted on the need to incorporate
the state system and the conflicts and antagonisms at that level as a dimension of
the capitalist mode of production leading to the combination of two forms of
competition: one among capitals and another geopolitical competition between
states (see Callinicos 2005, 2007, 2009). But the problem, as Gonzalo Pozo-Martin
(2007) has shown, is that this realist or geopolitical moment needs much more

1. On realism (and neorealism) as a theoretical tradition in international relations, see


Carr (1939), Wight (1994), Waltz (1979), and Frankel (1996). For a criticism of traditional
international relations theory see Rosenberg (1994).
2. The rise in importance of accumulation by dispossession as an answer symbolized by the rise
of an internationalist politics of neoliberalism and privatization correlates with the visitation of
periodic bouts of predatory devaluation of assets in one part of the world or another. And this
seems to be the heart of what contemporary imperialist practice is about. The American
bourgeoisie has, in short, discovered what the British bourgeoisie discovered in the last three
decades of the nineteenth century, that, as Arendt has it, the original sin of simple robbery
which made possible the original accumulation of capital had eventually to be repeated lest the
motor of accumulation suddenly die down. If this is so, then the new imperialism appears as
nothing more than the revisiting of the old, though in a different place and time (Harvey
2003, 182).
LENIN AND NONTERRITORIAL IMPERIALISM 87

theoretical elaboration if we want to avoid the theoretical shortcomings of


traditional realist conceptualizations of international relations.
A territorial logic was also present in Peter Gowans (1999) attempt toward a
Marxist geopolitics of American dominance, notwithstanding the accuracy of many of
his conclusions and despite his insistence that American foreign policy is based on the
promotion of American capitalist interests as national interest.
The alternatives to this conception of imperialism have also not offered answers to
these open questions. Leo Panitch and Sam Gindin (2004) have offered many insights
into the articulation of modern imperialism and the hegemony of U.S. capitalism, but
they also show a certain underestimation of conflict and antagonism, which brings
their notion of an informal U.S. empire too close to a classical superimperialist
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conception.3 Ellen Meiksins Woods writingsespecially the Empire of Capital (Wood


2003), despite being one of the best theorizations of the difference between
precapitalist and capitalist imperialism and her insistence that fully capitalist
imperialism emerges mainly along with U.S. postWorld War II predominance in an
international system comprised of sovereign statestends to treat capitalism mainly
in terms of capitalist social-property relations (in the form of the ideal type of
English capitalism) and to underestimate the importance of the evolution of modern
state forms, especially in continental Europe.
It is therefore important to work further in the direction of theorizing nonterritor-
ial capitalist imperialism. To this end, we begin with a rereading of Lenins writings on
imperialism and their continuing relevance. We then present arguments in favor of
the particular relevance, for the study of imperialism, of a Marxist conception of the
relative autonomy of the political and its specific efficacy as a condensation of class
strategies, as developed by Nicos Poulantzas, along with stressing the importance of
the Gramscian notion of hegemony. Finally, we proceed to an alternative theorization
of the emergence of capitalist imperialism in order to substantiate our argument for
the specifically nonterritorial logic of capitalist imperialism.

Lenins Theory of Imperialism and Its Relevance

There are two possible readings of Lenins theory of imperialism. One is to consider it
a Marxist version of classical theories of colonial empire building: a version either of
those theories relating imperialism to an overabundance of capital in tandem with
growing social instability or of those theories considering imperialism an expression of
certain factions of the ruling bloc that sought to gain from overseas expansion and
military buildup (Hobson 1902). According to this view, Lenin presents a theory of
irremediable capitalist stagnation and overproduction that can only be temporarily
dealt with by colonization, the latter providing the necessary outlet for idle capital
and a means of social pacification through the creation of a labor aristocracy.

3. Despite this criticism, we have to stress that Panitch and Gindins (2012) recent Making of
Global Capitalism is one of the most detailed and wide-ranging accounts of American
imperialism.
88 SAKELLAROPOULOS AND SOTIRIS

Undoubtedly, certain theoretical and analytical problems in Lenins writings on


imperialism can (mis)lead one to such a reading:

(a) Lenin (1917) endorsed Bukharins book on world capitalism. Bukharin, although
not a theorist of a global, unified capitalist system in the strict sense, tended to
present an image of global capitalism as an integral system in which antagonistic
relations occur not only between states or power blocs but also between big
capitalist trusts, thus underestimating the importance of the role of states in
international relations and conflicts.4
(b) Lenin emphasized the formation of monopolies as a distinctive feature of the
imperialist stage, sometimes underestimating competition between capitals.
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(c) He tended toward an instrumentalist theory of the state as a tool in the hands of
monopoly capital and big trusts.
(d) He defined imperialism (and monopoly capital) as inherently parasitic and crisis
prone.
(e) He agreed with Hilferdings (1981) original position that the export of capital
toward the periphery was the result of limits to capital accumulation in the
imperialist center, as well as with Hilferdings conception of the predominance of
monopolies and cartels.
(f) He held the opinion that imperialism leads to some sort of bribing of sections of
the working class in order to form a labor aristocracy, which was a rather
simplistic and misguided description of the concessions the labor movement had
been able to secure from the bourgeoisie.

A superficial reading of Lenins (1970a) pamphlet on imperialism can lead to such an


interpretation. But another reading is possibleone that opens a different way of
theorizing colonialism and the transformation of the modern world by the emergence
of the capitalist mode of production. In such a reading, Lenins theory of imperialism
revolutionizes the theory of the international system, giving imperialism a wholly
different meaning than simple empire building. Lenin tried to think of the international
system as a complex unity of economic, social, and political contradictions, as a
hierarchy of social formations, engaged not only in economic competition but also in
political and military antagonism. Lenins (1964b, 342) emphasis on uneven develop-
ment as a characteristic of modern imperialism, his insistence on competition, and his
description of the antagonisms on the world scenewhich he gave in the introductory
speech at the Second Congress of the Communist International (Lenin 1966)are a few
examples. This can also be seen in Lenins reformulation of the notion of revolutionary
crisis as the condensation of contradictions in all instances of the social whole: a
condensation that is always specific to a particular conjuncture and relation of forces
(Lenin 1964a, 1970b).5
The most important point in Lenins approach is that social relations take analytical
priority over interstate relations. States behaviors on the international plane are

4. In this sense, we disagree with Alex Callinicoss (2009, 41) reference to a Lenin-Bukharin
synthesis.
5. On classical theories of imperialism see Milios (1988, 1146).
LENIN AND NONTERRITORIAL IMPERIALISM 89

conditioned by their social structure and the balance of forces in the class struggle.
Imperialism is not the outcome of a simple drive toward territorial expansion but is
the result both of specific tendencies in the development of capitalist accumulation
(e.g., relative surplus value as the predominant form of surplus extraction, the real
subsumption of labor to capital, the concentration and centralization of capital) and
of the contradictions that arise out of capitalisms class-antagonistic nature. This is
why Lenin considers imperialism to be a specific stage in the development of capital.
However reminiscent of an evolutionary theorization of capitalist development this
conception of stages can be, it nevertheless has the advantage of linking interna-
tional behavior to capitalist accumulation and class contradictions. For Lenin,
moreover, the internationalization of capital is not an expression of capitalist
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stagnation but is an aggressive tendency helping to expand the reproduction of


capitalism, the consolidation of the ruling bloc, and the tentative dominant role of
capitalism over noncapitalist modes of production.
The emphasis on class relations and antagonisms marks a sharp difference between
Lenin and his theory of imperialism and proponents, such as Charles Conant (1898), of
American expansionism in the form of economic imperialism as a solution for the
overabundance of capital. Lenins intervention goes far beyond a theory of idle
capitals, the difficulty of wealth redistribution and the unavailability of domestic
productive outlets. The fundamental issue for Lenin was not capital exports as such
but capital exports as part of a broader tendency: the expansion of capitalist social
relations on a global scale, the political and military antagonisms that followed this
expansion, the violent character of this process, and the resulting challenges for the
revolutionary movement. Beginning with his early work on the development of
capitalism in Russia, Lenin (1977) insisted on capitalisms transformation of all social
forms it contacts. Although Lenin lacked a theory of the articulation of modes of
production that could help explain the symbiotic relation of capitalism with many
noncapitalist modes of exploitation, we think that he managed to grasp the particular
way capitalism may emerge within specific conjunctures not simply as a dominant
mode of production but as the central node around which other modes and forms of
production can be articulated. Such a conception of capitalist imperialism can
explain why, especially during colonial expansion, forms of capitalist and noncapi-
talist exploitation can coexist, coemerge and even codevelop.
Equally important is Lenins insistence on the concept of uneven development, in
the formulation of which Trotsky (2007) also played an important role. Following
Richard McIntyres (1992) reading, we think that uneven development is not merely
about quantitative differences between social formations but that it describes the
necessarily singular and overdetermined character of both capitalist accumulation
and class antagonism.6 On the international plane, uneven development is the
necessary outcome of the complex history of the emergence and domination of
capitalism in different parts of the world. It refers to the consequent creation of

6. A Marxian theory of uneven development will pay special attention to the uneven and
combined development of modes of production, to the uneven ebb and flow of the various
fundamental class processes and their conditions of existence that characterize any and every
social formation (McIntyre 1992, 91).
90 SAKELLAROPOULOS AND SOTIRIS

antagonistic total social capitals and the fragmentation into different and mostly
national polities. In this process, different class histories led to different balances
of forces between dominant and subaltern classes (but also among power blocs)
and consequently to different paths for state formation and also to differing domestic
and international strategies. Uneven development and the different strategies for
capital accumulationnot only in terms of international market antagonism but also
in terms of states promoting the interests of antagonistic total social capitals and
bourgeoisiescreate the material conditions for conflict. It is exactly this articula-
tion of the economic and the political, itself uneven, contradictory, and contingent
on the dynamics of the conjuncture, that leads to interimperialist rivalry and war.7
Consequently, in Lenins theoretical intervention, imperialism undergoes a
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profound semantic change: it loses whatever references it had to empire building


and gains something differentthat is, the specifically capitalist tendency to the
internationalization of capital, the expansion of the articulating dominance of
capitalist productive relations all over the globe, and the political (and military)
strategies (and antagonisms) that make possible the enlarged reproduction of these
tendencies.8
Lenins gradual distancing from some of the more economistic aspects of his 1916
pamphlet was not the only notable theoretical turn. Bukharin (1972) modified his
original position in his 1924 polemic against Luxemburgs Anti-Critique, in which he
defended Marxs schemata concerning the possibility of reproduction without third
persons or non-capitalist periphery and also provided a theory of capital exports.
According to Bukharin, the driving force behind capital exports is not the problem of
realization (the basis of underconsumption theories) but the search for higher profit
rates; this can explain why imperialist policies are not directed solely against the
noncapitalist periphery but also against the capitalist center, and he cites the French
occupation of Ruhr as an example.
In sum, the importance of Lenins theoretical contribution lies in the following
points:

(a) Lenin revolutionized the theorization of the international system by giving


internal class relations and contradictions analytical priority over interstate
relations. Contrary to most theories of international relationsboth realist
and idealist, which have their origins in classical political philosophy and
nineteenth-century diplomatic history and tend to view states as subjects that act

7. The difference between Kautskys (2004) vision of ultraimperialism and Lenins emphasis on
interimperialist antagonism is analytical and concerns Lenins insistence that uneven develop-
ment and antagonism are essential characteristics of the imperialist chain, whereas forms of
interimperialist cooperation are contingent outcomes of particular conjunctures.
8. Imperialism, in turn, is the set of conditions that shape and are shaped by the existence of
this exploitation. Yes capitalist imperialismnot because capitalists always get what they want,
nor because forms of colonial expansion and domination did not predate the emergence and
development of capitalism, nor finally because imperialism can be reduced to or explained
entirely in terms of the economy (capitalist or otherwise)but because the particular forms of
imperialism I am referring to, from the British annexation of India to the U.S. military barrage on
Iraqi forces and the new war on terrorism, cannot be divorced from those (complex, changing)
conditions and effects of capitalism to which I just referred (Ruccio 2003, 87).
LENIN AND NONTERRITORIAL IMPERIALISM 91

out of their own willLenin insisted that the policies of states are governed by
the internal class balance of forces, the degree of capitalist development, and
the particular class strategies around that development.
(b) Lenins emphasis on capital exportsnot simply as productive investments abroad
but as the expansion of capitalist social relationsas the predominant form of
the internationalization of capital, and also on the internationalization of capital
as the material basis of imperialism, had revolutionizing effects. Contrary to the
traditional conception of international power politics as expressions of conflicting
national interests, Lenin insisted on the internationalization of capital as a
contradictory expansion of capitalist social relations resulting in singular
articulations of capitalist and noncapitalist modes and forms of production, but
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with capitalist social forms being dominant not necessarily quantitatively though
surely qualitatively in the sense of inducing the transformation of all social
relations and practices. International conflicts must be viewed as class antagon-
isms mediated by nation-states and as expressions of the long-term interests of
the power blocs in these states: namely, alliances of the dominant classes, in
which capitalist classes play a leading role.
(c) Lenins emphasis on the internationalization of capital through capital exports
dealt a decisive blow to the notion of imperialism as simple territorial expansion.
Despite Lenins many references to the division of the world among the Great
Powers, the core of his argument regarding capital exports is that the expansion
of capital no longer requires territorial annexation or formal empire but rather
the articulation of capital accumulation and political power. His insistence on
antagonism, moreover, and on conflict and on the particular, nonuniform
dynamics related to a given conjuncture of interimperialist rivalry prevent his
position from falling into the teleology of a uniform transition and development.
(d) Lenins emphasis on the role of states in imperialist dynamics and rivalries and on
the necessity of state apparatuses for the expression and mediation of capitalist
interests in the international system leads also to a political theory of
imperialism. Imperialism presupposes political power as a condensation of class
interests, and interimperialist rivalries are political rivalries, struggles between
different power blocs, including struggles between alliances of states, something
that can also account for the importance of international organizations. This
emphasis on the relative autonomy of the political protects Lenins argument
from economistic reductionism and keeps capital accumulation and capitalist
class interests as the necessary material ground of the whole process. That is why
Lenin proposed a possible explanation for World War I as the culmination of rival
strategies for leadership and dominance in the imperialist system. It can also
explain the possibility that the international is also the plane where internal
contradictions and political strategies are being played out, from the many
examples of aggressive military campaigns in order to galvanize domestic consent
along nationalist lines to the current use of international economic organizations
such as the International Monetary Fund to promote political agendas that were
initially domestically articulated.
(e) Also important in Lenins thought is the emergence of the concept of the
imperialist chain as a suitable description of the hierarchal, uneven, and
92 SAKELLAROPOULOS AND SOTIRIS

contradictory character of the international system, as well as the combination of


hierarchy and interdependence on the international plane and the use of the
concept of the weakest link as an attempt to describe the potential condensation
of contradictions in a specific social formation.9 Class struggle within each social
formation determines its position in the hierarchy of the imperialist chain. The
form of social alliances, the stage of capitalist development, the level of
capitalist productivity, its military and political force, as well as its ideological
influence, can reinforce or undermine the relative international power of a
capitalist social formation. A social formations position in the imperialist chain is
based not only on its level of economic development but also on the entirety of its
political and military power.
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Lenins endeavor was to prove that a new form of imperialist expansion had
emerged. Our intention is to show that this conception is still theoretically viable and
offers a way to of thinking about capitalist imperialism without resorting to
noncapitalist conceptions of empire building.

Rethinking Political Power, Hegemony, the State,


and International Antagonism

In this section we offer the theoretical framework we will use regarding the
specificity of political power, state formation, and hegemony in social formations in
which capitalism plays a nodal role in the articulation of modes of production. In our
opinion, only such a theorization can help us explain the articulation of the
internationalization of capital with interstate conflict and antagonismthat is, the
emergence of imperialist strategies and hierarchy in the international system
without resorting either to a territorial logic of expansion or to some variety of the
empire metaphor.
In contrast to the tautologies used in traditional political science, in which political
power is simply taken as a given, Marxism offers a definition of power as the
capacity of a social class to realize its specific objective interests (Poulantzas 1978,
104, emphasis in the original). This priority of exploitation over domination offers an
explanation of power as class power, the ability of social groups to control the
extraction and distribution of surplus labor because of their specific objective
structural class position. It offers a possible explanation of the class character of
power relations and struggles and therefore also of state apparatuses. We do not deny
that there have been many cases of economistic readings of Marxism that transform it
into a historical metaphysics of economic reductionism and technological evolution-
ism, but we believe that there have also been readings that insist on a non-
economistic and more dialectical approach involving the uneven and overdetermined
relations between productive relations, political power, and ideological representa-
tion, beginning with the seminal work of Louis Althusser (1969, 1971). The key point,

9. On the importance of the concept of the imperialist chain see Poulantzas (1974, 203) and
Althusser (1965, 926).
LENIN AND NONTERRITORIAL IMPERIALISM 93

in our opinion, is to stress at the same time the analytical priority of exploitation over
repression and domination and the importance of the fact that political practice has
as its object the condensation of all the contradictions of the various levels of a social
formation (Poulantzas 1978, 41). This notion of the political escapes the shortcomings
of both mainstream political sciences notion of political power as administrative
command and also the notion of political power as direct control of the state by
capitalist factions as portrayed by many varieties of economistic Marxism. In this
noneconomistic reading of Marxism, the insistence on the class character of political
power is combined with the position that class strategies are also necessarily political
strategies: strategies aimed at reproducing or destabilizing social formations as
complex and contradictory unities of economic, political, and ideological relations
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and practices. It is in this sense that we can accept both Marxs (1894, 778) insistence
that the specific economic form, in which unpaid surplus-labour is pumped out of
direct producers is the innermost secret of every social structure and Althussers
(1969, 113) warning that although economic relations are determinant in the last
instance, the lonely hour of the last instance never comes. It is a conception of
political power that manages to maintain the link between politics and the economy
and at the same time to ground the necessary relative autonomy of the political that
is an indispensable presupposition if we want to avoid both the economism of
traditional Marxism and the groundless conception of politics found in traditional
politics.
To this we must add the importance and theoretical fruitfulness of the Gramscian
concept of hegemony (see Gramsci 1971; Buci-Glucksmann 1980; Boothman 2008;
Thomas 2009). For us it does not simply imply the combination of coercion and
consent. Rather, it refers to the complex modalities of social and political power in
capitalist societies that make a social class become the leading social force in a
society. The concepts of hegemony and hegemonic apparatus, moreover, as part of
Gramscis (1971, 239; and see Thomas 2009, 137141) theorization of the integral
state, also offer a way to theorize the extent and complexity of state apparatuses
and their economic, political, and ideological practices and interventions. Along with
Althussers (1971, 1995) conception of ideological state apparatuses and their role in
social reproduction and Poulantzass relational conception of the state as a
condensation of social forces (Poulantzas 1980), this theoretical direction maintains
the relation between state functioning and social class formations, brings forward the
role of the state in the elaboration of class strategies and the transformation of class
interests into political projects, and stresses how the state is being traversed and
conditioned by class struggles and antagonisms.
That is why one cannot take states as self-sufficient actors in shaping the
international plane but must look at the different class alliances and power blocs
and how these affect the formation of capitalist class strategy, state policy, and
consequently international policy. States behaviors on the international plane are
conditioned by the articulation of class contradictions and political strategies and the
emergence of hegemonic power blocs. Interstate relations can be viewed as class-
based relationsas relations (and conflicts) between different power blocs. The
current return of geopolitics is a welcome refusal of the economistic idealism of the
globalization rhetoric. It poses the danger, however, of a return to a pre-Marxist
94 SAKELLAROPOULOS AND SOTIRIS

conception of political power. Of course, if geopolitics is a metonymic reference to


the states relative autonomy vis--vis the economy or to the relative autonomy of
the political in general, then we do not disagree in principle, but we still insist on a
terminology that underlines the conceptual break between Marxist and non-Marxist
theories of imperialism.
Regarding the recent debates on the Marxist theory of imperialism discussed in the
introduction of this article, such a conception of class strategies and state policies
enables a conceptualization of imperialism during a period of intense international-
ization of capital as a class political strategy on an inherently antagonistic
international plane. Here, the antagonism between capitals is also mediated through
the antagonism of power blocs, and states as potential representatives of collective
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capitalist interests constantly interveneby economic, ideological, political, and


military meansin order to promote not simply specific capitalist interests but also
the more general conditions for capitalist accumulation through strategies that are
also overdetermined by political and ideological considerations having to do with
their specific class balance of forces and the articulation of modes and forms of
production. That is why we oppose the territorial or geopolitical logic expressed in
many recent interventions. It is not that capitalists and capitalist states do not
preoccupy themselves with territorial or spatial questions (for example, natural
resources) or with geopolitical questions (for example, regional military balance of
forces), but this is not the basic logic of capitalist imperialism. To substantiate this
position, however, and to distance it from a teleological or deterministic conception,
we will proceed in the next section to an alternative theorization of capitalist
imperialism.

From Colonialism to Capitalist (Nonterritorial) Imperialism

The territorial character of precapitalist imperialism has been well documented.


Because surplus extraction mainly involved extracting surpluses out of peasants and
was mainly based on extra-economic coercive means, some form of direct political
rule over the areas these peasants populated was necessary. The only way to increase
political and economic power was for the state to be able to expand the territory of
its rule. Empire as a form of political rule emerged in this context, first as the empire
of property (Wood 2003): an attempt to use superior political force in order to
acquire land and, consequently, wealth. The origin of many theoretical problems has
been the fact that the emergence of capitalism coincided with a period of territorial
expansion, in the form of colonial empire building. We think it is necessary to bear in
mind the following points regarding territorial expansion during the emergence of
capitalism.
First of all, aspects of the initial striving toward colonial empire building,
especially from Spain and Portugal, had much to do with precapitalist forms of
peasant surplus extraction, depending mainly on landed property and extra-
economic forms of exploitation (Wood 2003). The fact that this form of imperialism
was historically concurrent with the emergence of capitalism in other areas, or that
the influx of materials from the colonies eventually strengthened capitalist
LENIN AND NONTERRITORIAL IMPERIALISM 95

production in Europe, does not mean that all the social relations and forms it was
associated with were intrinsically capitalist. This is not to underestimate the many
ways capitalism incorporates noncapitalist forms of exploitation into highly original
new combinations, from plantation slavery in the Americas until the nineteenth
century to all current forms of forced labor or even modern slavery being part of
regimes of exploitation that contribute to forms of capitalist accumulation.10
Second, although so-called primitive accumulation was linked to territorial colonial
expansion, and although Marx in Capital presents a very clear picture of how colonial
rule was a necessary prerequisite,11 territorial expansion should not be projected to
the whole history of capital as an essential feature.
Third, we think that a distinction has to be made between precapitalist and
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capitalist forms of trade and commerce, despite the coexistence of both forms in the
early colonial era. Capitalist trade increases the pressure for surplus extraction in the
labor process; in contrast, precapitalist trade connected the center of production
with a distant market to gain profits and had the ability to set prices monopolistically
and to use direct physical control and military force (Rosenberg 1994; Wood 2003).
Fourth, although colonial expansion was at first necessary to violently expand the
reach of capitalist social relations in noncapitalist parts of the world, imperial
colonialism in the twentieth century ceased to be a necessary aspect of the
reproduction of capitalist accumulation. This was not the result of some immanent
teleology but of a series of historical factors. The changes associated with rising
productivity in the capitalist center, itself the result of technological innovation and
the turn toward forms of relative surplus-value extraction, had repercussions in the
relative importance of colonial production. During the nineteenth century, developed
capitalist industry used the colonies for exports. About 1 million yards of cotton cloth
were exported from Britain to India in 1814 and around 2,050 million in 1890; these
imports covered about 5575 percent of total textile consumption and reflected
technological innovations that raised British productivity. Globally, the share of third-
world manufacturing in world production fell from 73 percent in 1750 to 7.5 percent
in 1913 (Bairoch 1986, 1989). On the eve of the First World War, the industrial
independence of the capitalist core countries in terms of the means of production had
been accomplished. Some 99 percent of metals used by developed countries
industries came from the developed world; 90 percent of its textile fibers and 100

10. On the relation between early capitalist development and slavery see Blackburn (1998). On
classical liberalisms acceptance of slavery see Losurdo (2011). On contemporary forms of forced
labor, see the ILO (2009).
11. The different moments of primitive accumulation distribute themselves now, more or less
in chronological order, particularly over Spain, Portugal, Holland, France, and England. In
England at the end of the 17th century, they arrive at a systematical combination, embracing
the colonies, the national debt, the modern mode of taxation, and the protectionist system.
These methods depend in part on brute force, e.g., the colonial system. But, they all employ the
power of the State, the concentrated and organized force of society, to hasten, hot-house
fashion, the process of transformation of the feudal mode of production into the capitalist
mode (Marx 1887, 477).
96 SAKELLAROPOULOS AND SOTIRIS

percent of its energy had the same origin. In sum, the self-sufficiency of developed
countries in raw materials was about 968 percent around 1913 (2089).12
The industrial independence of the core countries became even more evident in
the period between the two wars. Barriers to free trade led developed countries to
find substitutes for imported raw materials through the invention of artificial
fertilizers, synthetic rubber, rayon, nylon, and a vast range of plastics (Harman
2003). The incapacity of the colonies to develop their own industry combined with
the consequences of the Depression in 192933 so that colonial governments were
forced to increase the duties on imported industrial products, even those coming
from the colonies metropolises, including Britain and France (Hobsbawm 1995,
2046). The result was the adoption of a policy of import substitution and the
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creation of indigenous industry (Tomlinson 1996, 1503), a trend that led to the
formation of an indigenous bourgeoisie, even though in most cases it led to forms of
domination without hegemony (Guha 1997). A whole series of struggles, uprisings,
and revolutions challenged not only colonial rule but also many of the social relations
and forms associated with it, leading to the emergence after World War II of many
new nation-states, to the end of colonialism, andat least partly as a result of
workers and peasants struggles and the influence of socialist, communist, and
radical nationalist ideasthe recognition of social and political rights to large parts
of formerly colonial populations.
Fifth, refusing a strategy of territorial imperialism, the United Statesespecially
after World War IIchose a completely different course of action. The U.S. ruling
class had realized that territorial enlargement was necessary only as a means to
enhance primitive accumulation. U.S. elites adopted an overseas economic expansion
backed by military bases in contrast to propositions that favored colonialism (as in
the Philippines, Puerto Rico, and the Virgin Islands) (Tully 2005; Parrini and Sklar
1993), whereby Britain and the other imperial states were trapped in a strategy
related to a previous phase of capitalist development. This does not imply that
American imperialism was less violent but that the exercise of force was aimed at a
different form of imperialism. The insistence, therefore, on the relation between
imperialism and territorial expansion cannot explain the emergence of the United
States as the leading capitalist social formation in the twentieth century, nor can it
explain the emergence, especially in the postWorld War II era, of a nonterritorial
imperialism based on the internationalization of capital and on hegemonic relations
within an imperialist chain of territorially sovereign nation-states.

Beyond Functionalism and Teleology

The temptation of a functionalist and/or teleological theorization of the emergence


of modern imperialism and the state system has always been great. In such a reading
of world history, the modern state form and, consequently, interstate conflict and

12. At the same time, a great part of British investment was directed toward its dominions
(Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and South Africa) and toward the United States, Argentina,
and Uruguay (Hobsbawm 1989, 66).
LENIN AND NONTERRITORIAL IMPERIALISM 97

antagonism would represent the realization of a tendency inherent in the evolution of


capitalism. Even in a more functionalist version, in which no reference is made to
some historical telos and in which the state and the modern conception of law and
politics are presented as necessary conditions for the emergence of capitalism, there
is always a sense that a certain historical development was predetermined to follow a
certain path.
We oppose such a conception and insist that the emergence of the modern state
system and of nonterritorial imperialism is neither the ideal type of a capitalist
international system nor the fulfillment of an inherent essential or teleological
tendency. It is rather the contingent outcome of a complex and uneven historical
process in which many political forms emerged but proved unable to guarantee the
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extended reproduction of capitalism. In this process, capitalism not only coincided


with precapitalist modes of production and their political forms but also actually used
them as a means to consolidate its dominance (Anderson 1974). tienne Balibar
(1991, 89) has shown that it is quite impossible to deduce the nation form from
capitalist relations of production and that many other state forms emerged and
competed, before the consolidation of the modern state system, in a process that was
far from predetermined.
Thats why we can say, following Althusser, that there was an encounter of
different historical elements in a historically original articulation that led to this
dominance, an encounter that included false starts, missed rendezvous, and dead
ends before it took its current form.13 The notion of the encounter entails the
possibility of an encounter between different elements not to happen or not to take
hold, thus avoiding the risks of teleology inherent in any attempt to think the history
of capitalism and capitalist imperialism from the viewpoint of the accomplished fact
of the current form of capitalism and the state system. Our insistence on a
nonterritorial logic of capitalist imperialism does not imply that this is the evolution
or the full expression of an inherent tendency. It rather suggests that different
elements, forms, and practices, with their own temporalities and histories, were
articulated and led to what we now define as capitalism and the state system. English
agrarian capitalism, the banking practices of the Italian cities, the tendency toward
centralized state forms with well defined territorial limits, the emergence of modern

13. The notion of the encounteralthough associated with Althussers (2006) post-1980 texts,
which were published posthumouslywas in fact a central tenet of his theoretical endeavor
from 1966 onward. The following passage from a 1967 text exemplifies this nonteleological
reading of the emergence of capitalism: But capitalism is the result of a process that does not
take the form of a genesis. The result of what? Marx tells us several times: of the process of an
encounter of several distinct, definitive, indispensable elements, engendered in the previous
historical process by different genealogies that are independent of each other and can,
moreover, be traced back to several possible origins: accumulation of money capital, free
labour-power, technical inventions and so forth. To put it plainly, capitalism is not the result of a
genesis that can be traced back to the feudal mode of production as if to its origin, its in-itself,
its embryonic form, and so on; it is the result of a complex process that produces, at a given
moment, the encounter of a number of elements susceptible of constituting it in their very
encounter. Evolutionist, Hegelian or geneticist illusions notwithstanding, mode of production
does not contain potentially, in embryo, or in itself, the mode of production that is to
succeed it (Althusser 2003, 296).
98 SAKELLAROPOULOS AND SOTIRIS

bourgeois culture, none of these were predetermined to be part of the extended


reproduction of capitalist social relations. Their nonteleological encounter led to the
emergence of capitalism as we now define it. In the same manner, the specifically
nonterritorial logic of capitalist imperialism is not the expression of an essentialist
teleological tendency; it is the result of an encounter between the logic of capitalist
accumulation, the consolidation of the modern state system and the nation form as
the most suitable form for the reproduction of capital, and the histories of class
struggle that determined these processes. We do not deny the coexistence of
territorial and nonterritorial logic in the actual history of imperialism (in the same
manner as the coexistence of different modes of production or of different state
forms) or the fact that territorial logic persisted as the ideological conception of
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imperialism. But we want to suggest in the next section that the end result of this
process without telos has been the full actualization of a nonterritorial logic.

Specifically Capitalist Nonterritorial Imperialism

Direct territorial domination and expansion were characteristic, particularly in


Europe, of precapitalist modes of production, where both direct access and
possession of land and scarce resources and also the ability to exercise direct
physical force on populations in order to extract surpluses (extra-economic
coercion) were structural aspects of social reproduction. The emergence of capital-
ism as a dominant mode of production and of an international system based on
territorially sovereign nation-states, the evolution of social and political struggles,
and the growing importance of productivity, technological change, and the real
subsumption of labor meant that the territorial gain of colonial dominions was no
longer an essential condition for the reproduction of the system. On the contrary,
what emerged as the main aspect of modern capitalist imperialism was the
internationalization of capital. By internationalization we refer to all forms of
product and capital exports, capital movements, trade and financial transactions,
global relocations of production, the lowering of barriers to trade and investment,
international agreements, policy initiatives, and organizations facilitating these
procedures, including forms of international coordination and even the creation of
forms of supranational integration such as the European Union. The internationaliza-
tion of capital is indeed inducing the expansion of specifically capitalist social
relations of production, in articulation with noncapitalist modes and forms of
production in complex processes of reproduction and transformation.
The tendency of capital to transcend national borders and search all over the world
for better profitability is not an unmediated, purely economic process. If political
power and bourgeois hegemony are necessary conditions for the reproduction of
capitalist social relations, the same goes for the internationalization of capital: some
form of political intervention (and ideological legitimization) is necessary for it. This
is a structural necessity; the specific form of this political and ideological guarantee
is subject to historical contingencies, which can explain the move from imperialism in
the form of rival colonial empires to the more modern imperialism of a hierarchy of
LENIN AND NONTERRITORIAL IMPERIALISM 99

imperialist formations, with the United States in the hegemonic role of politically and
militarily guaranteeing the global collective capitalist interest.
The development of the centralization and concentration of capital and of capital
exports, the rising role of finance capital, and the importance of interimperialist
rivalriesand the fact that the very process of the expansion of capitalist relations of
production through colonialism eventually led to the emergence of aspiring
bourgeoisies that demanded national liberation and territorial integration (in most
cases under the pressure from movements or alliances of subaltern classes demanding
social and political emancipation)created conditions for a new form of imperialism
that did not specifically refer to the possession of colonies (Brewer 1990). This does
not mean that the evolution of capitalism led to a world of peacefully coexisting
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nation-states. Competition between capitals is an organic aspect of capitalism, in


the sense that such competition is inscribed in the very structure of the capitalist
market. But competition between different capitals on the international plane takes
the form not only of competition between different national capitals but also of
competition and antagonism between different states representing different collect-
ive capitalist interests. That is why the notion of the imperialist chain is still an
accurate description of the uneven and complex relations of interdependence
between different social formations and power blocs.
When we talk about political intervention as a prerequisite for the international-
ization of capital, we do not refer only to classical forms of military intervention or
gunboat diplomacy. For example, the formation of the current international
financial architecture was not a spontaneous process, and the same goes for the
lowering of barriers to the free flow of products and capital and for the political
decision to expose capitalist social formations to the competitive pressure of world
markets and capital movements.
We must tackle the question of the causes of war in this light. If one sees war,
especially imperialist war, as a form of territorial expansion, then the evolution of
capitalism and the importance of capital exports make this sort of expansion (and any
military preparation for it) unnecessary. But one should not forget that the two world
wars were not primarily the outcome of territorial disputes. It is true that the
question of the dissolution of empires acted as a catalyst for World War I, and one
should not underestimate the initial importance of Nazi Germanys claim over all of
the territories with German-speaking minorities during the outbreak of World War II.
But it is also obvious that in both world wars the scale of the mobilization and the
extent of the conflict were beyond simple territorial claims. It was a fight for
leadership and hegemony in the capitalist world. These wars were mainly forms of
escalating political antagonism due to condensed contradictions concerning the
hegemonic position in the imperialist chain. If one sees war as an extreme case of
political confrontation, then one can insist on the position that antagonism remains
the structural aspect of interstate relations. Whether this antagonism takes the form
of military confrontation or remains in political terms (namely, within the limits of
current international law and custom) depends on the conjuncture, the scale of the
interests and strategies at stake, the balance of forces both regionally and globally,
the domestic social and political configuration, and the question of whether a war
effort will galvanize or destabilize hegemony.
100 SAKELLAROPOULOS AND SOTIRIS

This does not mean that territorial expansion, integration, and conflict have not
been important aspects of the history of capitalism. The modern nation-states
emerged through the formation of bourgeois power blocs and their claims for national
sovereignty (as a necessary condition for the expanded reproduction of capital
accumulation and bourgeois rule), claims that more often than not led to war and
interstate conflict. National liberation and/or integration have beenand still are
important motives for war, but this should not be confused with imperial ambition
and interimperialist conflict, even in cases where interimperialist rivalry is presented
in the more legitimate vocabulary of national dignity.
Our emphasis on the nonterritorial character of specifically capitalist imperialism
should not be read as a negation of the territorial or spatial aspects of capitalist
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accumulation. Nor should it be read as a reference to the free flow of capitals in a


homogenized, deterritorialized international space. On the contrary, the nonterri-
toriality of capitalist imperialism is exactly the result of the territoriality of the
modern nation-state as a main political form for the reproduction of capitalist
relations of exploitation. Nation-states remain the primary loci for the extended
reproduction of capitalist accumulation, thus determining the actual territoriality
or spatial configuration of modern imperialism. Traditional geopolitics, on the
contrarywith its references to spheres of influence, strategic interests, and
vital resourcestends to reproduce an image of the world that has more to do with
the colonial-imperial outlook, in the form of capitalist empires viewing the
noncapitalist world as an open space for domination and exploitation, as opposed
to the actual reality of great parts of the world being capitalist social formations and
sovereign nation-states. Moreover, capitalist imperialism has been instrumental in
inducing processes of capitalist transformation, due to the pervasive ability of
capitalist social relations and forms to transform other modes and forms of
production they come into contact with.
Consequently, regions where noncapitalist relations of production were once
predominant have indeed been transformed through processes of the international-
ization of capital, in ways that are neither linear nor uniform and that in many cases
are unfinished. But the degree of success in no way controverts the overall tendency.
The position taken by Chakrabarti and Dhar (2009, 435) is revealing in this respect.
They argue that the dominant discourse generated by the Western capitalist powers is
aimed at the rationalization of the process of the capitalist transformation of
noncapitalist regions. It is based on the contraposition of the developed North and
the underdeveloped South, of industry and agriculture, of institutionalized forms of
employment and informal working modes, of the modern as opposed to the
traditional, and (in the final analysis) of the Western capitalist as against the third-
world precapitalist. The justification for making the South capitalist has been that its
inhabitants have become victims of backward third-world structures, and this is
presented as the reason for poverty on such a mass scale in their countries.
Consequently, whatever Western interventions take place are necessary so that the
Third World victims of this situation will be enabled to escape from it. In this
framework, rapid capitalist industrialization is perceived as a remedy for overcoming
poverty.
LENIN AND NONTERRITORIAL IMPERIALISM 101

In vast swaths of the third world, but also in some areas of the so-called developed
world, the prevailing social and economic forms are inextricably bound up with
relations to the land and to the natural world and are erected on the basis of
relations between people (not necessarily relations of kinship), resulting in a plethora
of social relations of ownership, or the absence of ownership, of land and available
resources. The presence or not of markets, of caste relations, of gender relations,
and of race relations plays an important role. Capitalist social relations of production
may be introduced into such regions in two ways: through violent expropriation of
land for the implementation of so-called development plans, with all the radical
deterioration of living conditions that this entails; or through a multitude of
interventions from various international organizations and NGOs, which the inhabi-
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tants are supposed to accept exactly because they are thought to be in a state of
capitalist underdevelopment. Such interventions aim at ensuring their exodus from
the supposed underdeveloped environment in which they find themselves (Chakra-
barti and Dhar 2009, 956).
The above undoubtedly constitutes aspects of the reality being experienced by
communities that are characterized by noncapitalist relations. But this does not
contradict the main tendencynamely, the expansion of capitalist social relations
through the internationalization of capital. The predominance of a mode of
production and its complex articulation with different modes of production is never
quantitative but qualitative, recalling Lenins analysis of the development of
capitalism in Russia. In the postWorld War II period, with the end of colonialism,
the capitalist mode of production established itself in many social formations in an
uneven, complex, and overdetermined relation of coexistence and transformation
with other modes and forms of production. This does not mean that tendencies
countervailing capitalist modernization have not been important, including the tragic
history of Soviet-style socialist construction, certain sui generis revolutions (neither
socialist nor capitalist, the Iranian Revolution being such an example; see Gabriel
2001), and experiments with socialist transformation in Latin America. The expansion
of capitalist relations through the internationalization of capital is not a natural
tendency but a contingent result of class struggles and the balance of forces between
different social and political strategies.
An important role in this has been played by the fact that, under U.S. hegemony,
Western capitalist countries were victorious in their antagonism with the USSR and
other socialist countries. The current prevailing tendency has thus been the
economic, political, and military extension of the influence of capitalist imperialism,
contributing to the emergence of a capitalist framework within which almost the
entire planet is being subsumed. Even in China, where there was no regime change, a
series of openly neoliberal reforms and strategies has led to a regime of capitalist
accumulation that brings back memories of the first stages of capitalist exploitation.
It is obvious that we oppose a teleological schema whereby capitalism unfolds
within various social formations, moving from stage to stage and establishing the
imperialist chain in a uniform course. Class struggle is never-ending and unpredict-
able. What we have tried to describe are the powerful tendencies that characterize
the historical trajectory of the capitalist system. We are not implying that all the
developments noted are of the same character or follow an identical course, nor are
102 SAKELLAROPOULOS AND SOTIRIS

we suggesting that a specific developmental dynamic of imperialist capitalism will


continue into the future.

Rethinking Hierarchy and Hegemony in the Imperialist Chain

In light of the above, we can discuss hierarchy in the imperialist chain, especially
since the current return of the notion of imperialism in political and theoretical
debate is also a result of the United States openlyand unilaterallyasserting its
leadership. Can the role of the United States be described simply as world dominance
or power supremacy, through the use of force and the ability to guarantee trade and
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capital flows and access to contested territories and scarce resources?14 We think
that such a view regresses to a more traditionally realist view of international
relations and a territorial logic of interstate relations. Moreover, the Hobbesian view
of power antagonism between self-sufficient and selfish agents, which charac-
terizes realism, is inadequate to theorize the complex dialectic of competition and
cooperation, antagonism and interdependence, conflict and alliance that is building
in the international system. The United States has not been simply imposing its will
on unwilling subjects (despite the occasional twist of arms) but manages (at least up
to now) to assume a position of leadership in what is at the same time a terrain of
antagonisms and an imperialist bloc. What can be described as the more geopolit-
ical moment of current imperialismnamely, the safeguarding of the flow of oil
toward the Westcannot be theorized in territorial terms since the current American
military interventionism in the Middle East is performed in the name of the collective
interest of the capitalist world to have access to energy resources, and not in the
name of direct American colonization.
The notion of hegemony discussed above (see Rethinking Political Power,
Hegemony, the State, and International Antagonism) offers ways to think through
the complexity of relations and hierarchies in the international system. It presents
political power and class domination as the dialectic of direction, coercion, and
consent and offers a wider sense of class antagonisms and political struggles, going
beyond both realist cynicism and idealistic legalism. Hegemony, in this view,
comprises political direction, social class alliance building, social, political, and
military repression, ideological misrecognition, and material concessions.15 Hege-
mony is not simply coercion plus legitimization; an attempt to theorize the
complexity of class antagonism and political power thus offers a better description
both of social antagonism and of the hierarchies arising on the international plane.
Moreover, since hegemony refers to a power relation, it consequently entails conflict
and antagonism.
If the notion of the imperialist chain is accurate as a description of the contradictory,
hierarchical, uneven, and interdependent character of an international system based

14. See, for examples of this reading, the work of Andrew Bacevich (2002, 2005).
15. Lenin (1970a, 109) uses the notion of hegemony but in a more geopolitical sense: An
essential feature of imperialism is the rivalry between several Great Powers in the striving for
hegemony, i.e., for the conquest of territory, not so much directly for themselves as to weaken
the adversary and undermine his hegemony.
LENIN AND NONTERRITORIAL IMPERIALISM 103

upon the enlarged reproduction of capitalist social relations in nation-states, then the
notion of hegemony can help explain the mechanisms of leadership in the imperialist
chain. The leading social formation is not just the most powerful, either economically
or politico-militarily; above all it must be able to offer plausible strategies for the
collective capital interest of the whole imperialist chain. Hegemony can account for the
dialectic between antagonism and hierarchy better than traditional power-politics
approaches that can account only for contingent balance-of-force hierarchies and not
for cases of strategic political and moral leadership.
This notion of hegemony in the imperialist chain should not be seen as an altruistic
attitude. It refers rather to historically specific conjunctures wherein fulfilling the
prerequisites for the long-term interests of the ruling bloc of the leading imperialist
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formation also induces the safeguarding of certain of the class interests of the ruling
classes in the other formations in the imperialist chain. Naturally, there is also plenty of
room for antagonisms and even for crises of hegemony. American foreign policy after
1945 aimed not only at guaranteeing American supremacy but also at offering elements
of a collective strategy for the whole imperialist chain (rapid industrialization, Fordist
accumulation strategies, mass consumerism and individualism, a combination of
anticommunism and technocratic ideology). Even the most openly geopolitical forms
of American political and military interventionwhich can indeed be used as an
illustration of an attempt toward world domination, for instance with the extended
network of military and air force bases and CIA stationscan be best interpreted by
reference to a hegemonic strategy. They are not imperial outposts but mainly make
manifest the ability of the United States to militarily guarantee a capitalist social order
all over the world. American political and military intervention during the past sixty
years did not solely aim at guaranteeing American interestsnor did it aim at creating
coloniesbut it also aimed at safeguarding the reproduction of capitalist social
relations, bourgeois rule, and capitalist accumulation.
This complexity of hegemony in the imperialist chain means that we should always
be very careful when talking about imperial decline. The crisis of hegemony cannot
be a simple-factor process. In the 1970s the United States suffered actual military
defeats in southeast Asia as well as capital overaccumulation, fiscal crisis, and the
economic challenge posed by Japan and West Germany. Yet the United States not only
managed to retain global leadership but also to eventually offer in the 1980s and
1990s a hegemonic strategy that combined neoliberalism, capitalist restructuring,
the intensification of the internationalization of capital, the lowering of barriers to
the free flow of capitals and products, the incorporation in the imperialist chain of
former socialist formations, an authoritarian backlash against labor, and a more
aggressive form of imperialist interventionism. In this sense the current conjuncture
of a global capitalist crisis surely poses a test and challenge for U.S. hegemony but
should not be considered as automatically leading to imperial decline.

Conclusion

The concept of imperialism remains indispensable in any attempt to critically


theorize conflict and antagonism on the international plane in correlation with the
104 SAKELLAROPOULOS AND SOTIRIS

dynamics of capitalist accumulation and the contradictions and struggles that


traverse capitalist state forms. But this demands that we move beyond simplifications
and the borrowing of concepts from theoretical traditions alien to the way Marxism
revolutionized how we think of power and power relations, beginning with a
rereading of Lenins interventions. Not a combination of political economy and
geopolitics is needed but a theory of the specificity of capitalist nonterritorial
imperialism. The history of the emergence of capitalist imperialism substantiates this
position. Moreover, within capitalist imperialism only a Marxist conception of political
power, of hegemony, and of the dialectic of the economic and the political can offer a
way to theorize conflict, antagonism, and hierarchy in the imperialist chain. Such an
attempt to redefine imperialism will not only be more theoretically useful but will
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also bring forward the many ways we can combine the struggle against imperialism
with the struggle against capitalism.

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