New Imperialism

David Harvey’s book, New Imperialism, seeks to explain current events by uncovering the underlying forces within the chaos of surface appearances. Why America fights? Why Iraq? Propagandistic claims and rhetoric will not answer such questions because they are made to mask the real objective. For example, if democracy really matters in the case of Iraqi war, then why not war against Pakistani and Saudi regimes? Instead of claiming that Saddam should be removed from his position because he supported terrorism, we were informed just a couple weeks after the war that Saddam had no relation to 9/11. Therefore, it is important to seek the explanation beyond the “said” to the unsaid.

To make a long story short, today’s events in America are related to the history of capitalism, to the rise of bourgeois imperialism as the way out of capital overaccumulation in Europe and America. The first capital overaccumulation marked by the European-wide economic collapse of 1846-50 indeed opened the way for bourgeoisie to incorporate within the state apparatuses. It first happened in Europe and then in the USA in aftermath of the Civil War. The solution of capital overaccumulation is what Harvey calls, “spatio-temporal fix”, in which the capitalists expanded the geographical territory to invest and trade. Here is in this context that the USA was better off than its counterparts in the Europe. Its governmental form, not burdened with feudal and aristocratic residuals of the sort to be found in Europe, broadly reflected corporate and industrial class interest and had, since independence, bourgeois to the core (as formalized in the constitution). Political power internally was devoted to individualism and opposed to any threat to private right and profit rate. It was a multi ethnic society preventing narrow nationalism. It was also exceptional in possessing abundant space for internal expansion, within which both the capitalistic logic and territorial logic could find room.

With all of those advantages, the Post War History (1945-1970) is simply the history of the USA domination both in technology and production. The only serious opponent was the Soviet Union, but the country had lost vast numbers of its population and suffered terrible degradation of its military and industrial capacity. If imperialism is understood as distinctively political project on the part of actors whose power is based in command of a territory and a capacity to mobilize its human and natural resources toward political, economic, and military end (territorial logic of imperialism), the US domination during the Post War History, is not kind of that. But, if it means “the molecular process of capital accumulation in space and time” or imperialism as a diffuse political economic process in space and time in which command over and use of capital takes primacy, this is the case of the U.S. domination during 1945-1970.

Because the capitalists have their own logic, it is actually difficult for the state, even though as powerful as the U.S., to control the expansion of capital accumulation. The switch into financial domination of the world in the 1970s was a specific move taken within the United States to enhance financial capitalism against manufacturing and productive capitalism. Manufacturing and productive capitalism has largely been pushed out of the United States; much of it has moved to East and Southeast Asia. The United States is no longer a dominant player in the world of production. But the U.S. took the view that that didn't matter; provided it always had the financial power. The U.S. used the financial power to its advantage during the 1980s and 1990s, in particular, and assembled a great deal of wealth out of this particular “financialization” strategy. During this period, neo-liberalism leads the way. However, we now see an end of this strategy. The internal budget deficit of the United States is making the U.S. into a chronic debtor country. This is a real threat to America hegemony.

Is it the reason why the U.S. administration now pursuing territorial imperialism? He is not really sure about it. But the real fact is the return of conservative politician, whose vision is maintaining authority and order here and abroad, to the power. It has not got the leverage it once had through financial strategy or through productive capacity, or even through cultural persuasion that America once had. The only leverage it has got left is indeed the military one, and the military one has always been about territorial logic. So a return to militarization brings it back into territorial aggrandizement.

So, is “new imperialism” really “new”? No, Harvey puts it in this way, “The American bourgeoisie has, in short, rediscovered what the British bourgeoisie discovered in the last three decades of the nineteenth century, that… it [is], ‘the original sin of simple robbery’.... 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.”

Which Logic Rules?

There are two logics of power in this book: territorial logic and capitalist logic. There some different points between two logics. While the capitalist holding money capital will wish to put it wherever profits can be had and typically seeks to accumulate more capital; the politician and statesman seeks outcomes that sustain the power their own state vis a vis other states. While the capitalist seeks individual advantage, the statesman seeks collective advantage.
During its first of hegemony, as mentioned above, the U.S. relied more on capitalist logic than territorial logic. However, it then moves from that logic to territorial logic. So, the question is, is it the end of capitalism? Can we compare the U.S. with China?

It is maintained that free market and freedom of enterprise is the key features for capitalism to grow. The U.S. has both, but the capital flow to China where the freedom of enterprise are really controlled by the government. The current case of Google and Yahoo, simply showcased that capitalist logic is not merely about freedom of enterprise. It seems that as long as the capitalist can accumulate their capital, they will do everything and make adjustment to the territorial logic. On the other hand, the leader of capitalism, the U.S., finally has to follow the suit: make use of territorial logic by maintaining control on the key economic region of the world: the Middle East with its oil wells.

Reading such facts, it is still difficult then to understand the current events. Why America fight against Iraq? If the U.S. is merely only concerned on maintaining its hegemony, what about its capital accumulation? If the war against Iraq is to ensure capitalist accumulation, why China need no such strategy?

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