“We are a witness less to a ‘U.S.’ imperialism per se than to a global capitalist imperialism. We face an empire of global capital, headquartered, for evident historical reasons, in Washington.” – William I. Robinson
There is much sensationalistic talk today about how the United States wants to dominate the world militarily, asserting its unprecedented might to carry out world conquest; and there seems to be significant evidence to back this conclusion.
But William I. Robinson, in his book Global Capitalism and the Crisis of Humanity, offers a different perspective.
He sees today’s global situation not as a battle between nation states for world dominance, but as a battle between classes: The working and popular classes, and what he and many other scholars refer to as the Transnational Capitalist Class (TCC).
Further, this is not a military battle, but an economic battle, with military force used as a tool to assert class hierarchy.
In today’s globalized economy, elites from across the globe, through various institutions such as the World Bank and the IMF, attempt to arrange the economic situation in a way that best meets their interests: meaning, in a way that rakes in as much profit as possible.
This process of arrangement has many faces, from the imposition of harsh austerity on less powerful countries, to setting absurd conditions for loans and bailouts, to neoliberal privatization and deregulation strategies which pry open resource markets for exploitation by transnational corporations, and so on.
In short, Robinson urges us to see US “imperialism” from a broader perspective: Elites within the United States are not just attempting to meet the interests of US-based corporations, but those of transnational corporations in general, the CEOs and executives of which make up the Transnational Capitalist Class.
The picture of today’s global economy is essentially a perversion of Marx’s famous rallying cry: Businessmen of the world, unite!
Robinson uses the example of the Iraq war, and the War on Terror generally, to illustrate his theory.
Iraq is a region with abundant resources, yet, because of Saddam Hussein’s nationalism, it was difficult to exploit them. After 9/11, there was an excuse to do so, and to do so forcefully.
Much has been made of US-based corporations such as Halliburton and Lockheed Martin making a killing off of the destruction of Iraq, which is true. However, in Robinson’s view, this has created the misconception that the war was about US interests rather than the interests of global elites.
To address this claim, Robinson points to the fact that,
the very first transnational oil company to be assisted by the U.S. State Department in the wake of Washington’s invasion and occupation was the ‘French’ oil company Total, followed by Chinese oil companies that were able to enter the Iraqi oil market thanks to the U.S. occupation.
In the 1980s and 90s, when neoliberalism became the dominant economic dogma, policies were imposed “peacefully” through various means of “coercion” such as the threat of sanctions and crippling embargoes, and through “trade agreements” such as NAFTA and GATT, which allowed elites to reap the benefits of an expanded marketplace.
But, Robinson asserts, this method began to dry up, becoming “less effective as a means of sustaining global accumulation in the face of stagnation.”
The solution? Give neoliberalism weapons, bombs, and flying death machines.
The train of neoliberalism became hitched to military intervention…Wars, interventions, and conflicts unleash cycles of destruction and reconstruction and generate enormous profits.
We are now living in a global war economy that goes well beyond ‘hot wars’ such as those in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Military aggression became an instrument for prying open new sectors and regions, that is, for the forcible restructuring of space in order to further accumulation, either on the heels of military force or through the state’s contracting of corporate capital for the production and execution of social control and war.
The “War on Terror”, much like the “War on Drugs”, is a way of justifying the exploitation of foreign markets and the subordination of “undesirable” populations, both to dump surpluses and to solve more fundamental crises of global capitalism.
The recent conflicts in the Middle East, and future conflicts, should be seen from this perspective, in Robinson’s view.
[US interventionism aims] to create conditions favorable to the penetration of transnational capital and the renewed integration of the intervened region into the global system. US intervention facilitates a shift in power from locally and regionally oriented elites to new groups more favorable to the transnational project. The result of US military conquest is not the creation of exclusive zones for ‘US’ exploitation, as was the result of the Spanish conquest of Latin America, the British of South Africa and India, the Dutch of Indonesia, and so forth, in earlier moments of the world capitalist system.
The enhanced class power of capital brought about by these changes is felt around the world. We see not a reenactment of this old imperialism but the colonization and recolonization of the vanquished on behalf of the new global capitalism and its agents. The underlying class relation between the TCC and the US national state needs to be understood in these terms.
The US state houses the ministry of war in a much-divided global elite cabinet.
These insights, and this broad perspective, provide a wake up call for those working for justice within the United States and abroad. Capital, thus exploitation and coercion through “peaceful” or forceful means, is now global, and it must be addressed as such.
Changes within the United States can, of course, make a significant impact on the global situation, given the United States’ prominent role within it.
But if we continue with the narrow perspective of “US hegemony” without addressing the emergence of the Transnational Capitalist Class and the dominance of transnational corporations globally, and the class warfare that underlies much of recent history, we are missing the forest for the tress.