11/7 discussion with Stanley Aronowitz

In our next meeting, we will discuss class formation and theories of the state with Stanley Aronowitz.

Monday, November 7, 2011 @ 6:30pm
Room 6107

The two readings he has suggested are:
How Class Works
Paradigm Lost: State Theory Reconsidered

please email mdrury@gc.cuny.edu for access to these readings.

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10/25 reading session on Lenin

Our next meeting will be on:

Lenin’s State and Revolution

Tuesday, October 25 @ 6:30pm at Slattery’s.

See you there!

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10/4 meeting notes

Reading: Giovanni Arrighi’s The Geometry of Imperialism: The Limits of Hobson’s Paradigm

These notes are meant to expand on a couple points and raise some questions that came up during the discussion on Arrighi’s work clarifying Lenin and Hobson on imperialism.

Arrighi’s work is very much a work of the 1970s. The analysis is couched in the idiom of structuralism and systems theory prevalent at that time. He makes an explicit distinction between political and scientific works, arguing that the former attempts to strategically expand the implicit scope of concepts while the later strives for conceptual precision in the definition of terms and relationships. For Arrighi, this distinction is important to foreground when comparing Lenin’s political text to Hobson’s scientific one. This work is also important in Arrighi’s intellectual transition to write The Long Twentieth Century over a decade later. In working through the confusion surrounding the understanding of imperialism, Arrighi is shifting towards the concept of global hegemony.

Arrighi begins by pointing to some macroscopic anomalies with respect to Lenin’s theory of imperialism in the postwar period that calls for a renewed examination of the concept of imperialism. Indeed, Lenin himself recognized that definitions of such terms always have “a ‘relative and conditional value’ and can never ’embrace all the concatenations of a phenomenon in its full development'” (16). Two particular historical developments are highlighted by Arrighi: (i) a unified world market resumed its place as the site of capitalist accumulation and competition, and (ii) states have forgone the types of politico-military rivalries implied in the division and re-division of the world. These two trends are a principle source of Arrighi’s attempts to place imperialism, defined by him as war-like state expansion, in an expanded field of forms of nation-state expansion.

Arrighi in reconstructing Lenin’s theory of imperialism claims Hobson’s and Hilferding’s works as crucial influences. In this work, Arrighi mainly works through Hobson to arrive at a clearer understanding of Lenin’s imperialism. This begs the question: to what extent can Arrighi’s analysis of Hobson be read as a commentary on Lenin? Arrighi takes the position that Lenin “shared not just a few isolated hypotheses, but the very mode in which Hobson had outlined his diagnosis of imperialism” (24).

Arrighi identifies in Hobson, nation (nationalism), state power and finance capital as central concepts relating to imperialism. The expansion and contraction of nation states transformed by the transnational concept of finance capital leads to different orderings of the inter-state system consisting of colonialism, formal empire, informal empire and imperialism. Here nation and nationalism is the hardest to theorize and historically contingent. However, Hobson—a proponent of liberal internationalism studying Britain in the 19th Century—found it important to account for nationalism.

In attempting to understand inter-imperialist rivalries that led to territorial expansion and wars, Arrighi identifies state power and finance capital as the main determinants. Here, while Lenin sees finance capital as being either transnational or linked to nation states, for Hobson it is mainly a transnational phenomena. Lenin, in this sense, is seen by Arrighi to vacillate between Hobson’s and Hilferding’s understanding of financial capital. The relationship of state power to the transnational phenomena of finance capital including the relative power of one with respect to the other is what constitutes the shifting characteristics of imperialism. So, for example, the post-war era until the 1970s when Arrighi is writing this work might be characterised as a period where not only inter-imperialist rivalries were not as pronounced but also where the relative power of nation-state’s with respect to finance capital was stronger compared to other era’s characterized by the dominance of Keynesian economics and the Bretton Woods regime of control over banks and international finance.

While Arrighi’s work is useful in clarifying some of the questions around imperialism, the important question of whether imperialism continues to be a useful category remains. If we think of imperialism as a category linked to capitalist expansion constituted by state power and finance capital, is the concept still important in an age where territorial wars and inter-imperialist rivalries might be reduced by both an aversion to overt colonization and the presence of a global hegemonic power such as the United States? If, as Lenin argues in 1916, the spatial field of capitalism is global “so that in the future only redivision is possible” (76), to what extent does imperialism help us understand the dynamic of redivision if spatial expansion is more or less complete?

If the emphasis is on expansionism as imperialism, could a deepening of finance capital through the financialization of economies facilitated not through the overt conquest but through the control of regimes that rule other states be a way of articulating the importance of the concept of imperialism? Would this be a way of also distinguishing between neoliberalism and imperialism? Where neoliberalism is seen as a diffused vision of financialization of economies – imperialism addresses the importance of centres of state power and the constitution of an international order with hierarchy in the inter-state system even as there is deepening of financialization. Is an understanding of imperialism as expansionism, not solely with a territorial logic, but one of the deepening of financialization and the control of regimes a useful theorization? Financialization in this sense appears to fill out some of the “new conceptual spaces” that Arrighi called for at the end of his analysis. Likewise, financialization gives a new dimension to Hobson’s observation that finance capital and the state are the primary elements that distinguish imperialism as a specific form of capitalist “expansionism.”

—Ahilan Kadirgamar, Mark Drury, and Neil Agarwal

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9/20 meeting notes

Some notes on our last meeting… comments, amendments, and additions are welcome!

Notes from Marxist Reading Group on Sept 20th, 2011

Lenin, Imperialism, the Highest Stage of Capitalism
Panitch and Gindin, Capitalist Crises and the Crisis This Time

In this session, we returned to Lenin’s writings on imperialism to ask the question: to what extent is Lenin’s analysis of imperialism relevant to our own time? The following notes are just some of the points and questions that came up during that discussion.

Panitch and Gindin argue that there has been a shift from ‘predominantly monopoly capital’ to ‘predominantly financialized capital.’ Such financialization has entailed finance capital reaching down to the worker as consumer, with home mortgages and credit card debt. They further claim that Lenin’s emphasis on inter-imperialist rivalries have shifted in an age of a uni-polar world under US hegemony

Lenin was writing at a time when the total territorial division of the world at the beginning of the twentieth century was central to his analysis. After this, there could only be re-divisions of the earth’s surface—the basis for inter-imperialist wars. This being the culmination also of centuries of colonial rule, the analytical distinction between colonialism and imperialism becomes important. [see David Vine, Island of Shame]

It is important to think about the interstate system here. Is there a shift from the inter-imperialist wars that Lenin wrote about to an international order based on hegemony of a single dominant world power? Furthermore, many of the states that constitute the Third World were not states at the time when Lenin was writing. How does imperial or hegemonic power relate to the Third World states at the current moment? What is the relationship of such Third World states to finance capital flowing from hegemonic financial centres? In our age, is it more about the control of regimes in the Third World as opposed to direct control over territory? And how do such Third World states relate to their own populations even as they have a tenuous relationship with the inter-state system? [see Arrighi, Geometry of Imperialism]

Questions were raised to whether such a framing of Lenin’s relevance today misses the point. Is such framing sufficiently attentive to Lenin’s method? Lenin understands imperialism as a totality. His text was written as a political pamphlet, meant to convince workers of the correctness of a particular political project. It must be understood in this context. Is Lenin using the concept of “state” in the way we are assuming? Should the questions we pose about our current moment be grounded in the current moment, while drawing inspiration and the element of praxis in Lenin’s writing? [see Voloshinov, Marxism and the Philosophy of Language]

In light of the ongoing global economic crisis, how do we understand the legitimacy and future of neoliberalism? Is neoliberalism, to borrow from Lenin, a latest stage of capitalism? How do we distinguish imperialism from neoliberalism, both as concepts and processes? How do we understand the collapse of neoliberal regimes with the Arab Spring even as we find differing imperial (hegemonic) responses to such changes? Are these important question for us to think through?

Respectfully submitted,
Ahilan and Neil

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10/4 reading session on Arrighi


Giovanni Arrighi, The Geometry of Imperialism

Tuesday, October 4 @ 6:30pm at room 6107.

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Samir Amin 9/11 webcast

Samir Amin, speaking from Cairo, was webcast to the Brecht Forum on 9/11 in discussion with Biju Mathew. Full video is available at the link below:


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9/20 inaugural session on imperialism

Our first working session on imperialism with Neil Smith will be held on/at:

Tuesday, Sept. 20th at 6:30pm
second floor of Slattery’s (8 East 36th Street)

the (re-)readings are:
Lenin, “Imperialism, the Highest Stage of Capitalism”
Leo Panitch and Sam Gindin, “Capitalist Crises and the Crisis This Time”, 2011 Socialist Register

(please see the googlegroups email for links to readings)

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Notes on the Necessity of Studying the State

In the course of last year’s discussion, the state frequently emerged as an important factor in understanding capitalism’s tendency toward generating both crisis and imperialism.  Recognizing the state’s imbrication in processes of capital accumulation and destruction, however, does little to clarify our analytical understanding of the relationship between capital, social formations and political authority.

Lenin’s distinction between usury and debtor states recognizes the relationship between finance capital and the state in an emergent international division of labor.  Harvey’s use of the term, the state-finance nexus, highlights the continued preeminence of finance capital in directing state power.  But does this relationship obtain across the various histories of state formation and imposition?  Similarly, how do we understand the relationship between state power and different class interests, both conceptually and historically?  Does the relationship between a national bourgeoisie and state power obtain in the Third World as it is assumed to in the West?  Is the postcolonial state a legitimate and useful category?

Our understanding of the state has practical implications, too.  If, as Callinicos suggests, any pragmatic anti-capitalist politics must account for the capture and maintenance of state power, what, exactly is to be captured?  The central bank?  A set of ideological state apparatuses?  A monolithic center of power, in the Weberian tradition, or a mask of legitimation production (Abrams, 1977)?  And, what are the relations of force crystallized in the legitimacy of state power in different contexts?  Marx’s Eighteenth Brumaire seems particularly instructive in this regard, but how do we apply similar insights to contemporary contexts?

Possible readings (this is far from a finished or complete list – for example, other names have come up such as Poulantzas-Miliband debate, Bob Jessop – so further suggestions are welcome):

Abrams, Philip. “Notes on the Difficulty of Studying the State (1977).” Journal of Historical Sociology 1, no. 1 (1988): 58-89.
Alavi, Hamza. “The State in Post-Colonial Societies: Pakistan and Bangladesh.” New Left Review I/74 (August 1972): 59-81.
Althusser, Louis. Lenin and philosophy, and other essays. New York: Monthly Review Press, 1972.
Chibber, V. “Reviving the Developmental State? The Myth of the ‘National Bourgeoisie’.” The Socialist register., no. 2005 (2004): 144-165.
Lenin, Vladimir. State and revolution. New York: International Publishers, 1932.
Marx, Karl. Eighteenth brumaire of louis bonaparte. [S.l.]: Filiquarian Publishing, 2007.
———. The Civil war in France: the Paris Commune. New York: International Publishers, 1968.
Trouillot, Michel-Rolph. “CA Forum on Theory in Anthropology: The Anthropology of the State in the Age of Globalization: Close Encounters of the Deceptive Kind.” Current Anthropology 42, no. 1 (2001): 125.
———. Haiti, state against nation : the origins and legacy of Duvalierism. New York: Monthly Review Press, 1990.
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”we existed…”

May I tell a story? I have no idea whether it is true. It is the third day of the Bolshevik Revolution, and Lenin is sitting somewhere in Saint Petersburg. Trotsky comes running in and says, “Kronstadt has been taken! We are lost!” Or whatever he said. And Lenin answers, “It doesn’t matter! We existed for three days!” That’s what I mean. It won’t be carried to completion, but we are a generation that sees a vision of a utopia.

Vilem Flusser, The Freedom of the Migrant,  trans. Anke K. Finger, Minnesota UP, 2003, p. 106

Wall writing says in Turkish: It is so cold here Comrade Marx!

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Sri Lanka: Global Finance, Authoritarianism and the Second Wave of Neo-liberalism

I am posting below my article in the Sunday issue of the Island, a popular daily in Sri Lanka, based on a talk I gave in July, to the Socialist Study Circle which meets at the N. M. Perera  Centre, Colombo. I would appreciate your feedback, including your reactions to the notion of a “second wave of neoliberalism”.

Global Finance, Authoritarianism and the Second Wave of Neo-liberalism

September 4, 2011

By Ahilan Kadirgamar

Over the last two years, even as the Rajapaksa regime has been consolidating its political position through a series of landslide election victories, there has been increasing criticism of its illiberal tendencies. Such criticism has focused on the continuation of war-time militarisation and emergency rule, and the further centralisation of power in the executive presidency as with the year-old 18th Amendment. An emergent authoritarianism mobilising Sinhala Buddhist nationalist forces has constrained domestic opposition through the intimidation of dissent and the strategic control of media and its ownership. The regime’s approach towards the national question has been one of rejecting minorities’ grievances and aspirations, including any serious movement towards a political settlement, and manipulating those minority representatives succumbing to patronage politics. Unfortunately, without democratic mobilisation and other forms of struggles, such illiberal tendencies are not the exception, but characteristic of liberal democracies.
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