The Warlike Logic of Capitalism

Image: Markus Spiske


It is through violence that capitalism expands and guarantees its hegemony as a world system of capital accumulation and surplus value extraction.

Capitalism is violent by nature. It was founded on the colonial violence that characterized mercantilism, unlike the forms of violence of other times (Frankopan, 2019). It is a European phenomenon that is structured on “primitive accumulation”, a form of expropriation of the means of production. Through military power, colonial policies guaranteed control over markets and raw materials; such policies entered the warlike 1995th century (Hobsbawm, XNUMX) in the dispute for spaces of accumulation in the world.

At the beginning of the 1917th century, the “domination of large monopoly groups” in the “division of the world” was already characteristic of capitalism, as Lenin pointed out in 1912. These are large corporations constituted by the alliance of productive capital with financial capital, acting in symbiosis with the military power of its national States in the dispute for the world space of accumulation. Luxemburg, in XNUMX, analyzing the contradictions of the capital accumulation process in each local space, realized the war that was approaching.

Keynes, in 1936, demonstrated that the internal contradictions of uncontrolled capitalism were the causes of the two world wars and the way for the system to resolve its crises of overproduction (problems of effective demand) and overaccumulation (excess capacity), very important issues. previously analyzed by Marx. War is, therefore, the result of the natural contradictions of the accumulation process and its expansive nature, that is, the limitless accumulation that imposes on large corporations, in alliance with their national States, the conquest and control of spaces in the world. to ensure the continuity of the accumulation process. It is a constitutive European phenomenon of capitalism.

From the Second World War, the new institutional arrangement (breton woods) makes room for a new way of sharing the world. Large corporations undergo a broad process of productive internationalization through direct investment (FDI) from the center to the periphery and, mainly, through FDI between the countries of the center itself – Europe-USA – in the North Atlantic. In this expansion process, large multinational groups open productive branches in relevant countries for capital accumulation. It is worth remembering that it was also through this movement that large North Atlantic capital industrialized part of Latin America, including Brazil, in alliance with the hegemonic class fractions in each location, supported by violent dictatorial governments (Schoutz, 1998) in the 1960s and 70s. XNUMX-XNUMX.

In this post-war institutional arrangement, the US assumed the role of military guardian of the interests of the hegemonic “new order”, which was constituted around NATO. That is why they always appear as protagonists in the various wars, invasions, coups d'état that became widespread, mainly on the periphery of the system. They assumed the role of “global police” in this new North Atlantic power arrangement.

They also became the guardians of the world's money, with control over global financial flows, with the dollar as the international currency. For this reason, the Fed, in alliance with the European Central Bank, has the power to freeze and control global financial wealth, country reserves in dollars, weapons ("atomic", as the New York Times) which he uses as a complement, now against Russia, but which he had already used against Venezuela and Iran. The Swift system is at the heart of this control.

With this, the aim is to demonstrate how classical imperialism changes in its form, although not in its content. Today capital is transnationalized (Sklair, 2001). From the 1980s and 90s, with the so-called “globalization”, US and European corporations joined forces in mergers, acquisitions, joint ventures, which resulted in various forms of control via ownership, contracts, outsourcing, etc. They have become financialized transnational corporations, holdings in charge of networks of productive companies scattered in value chains in the relevant areas of the world. Capital's central control was elevated, but parts of the production process were spread across key countries in a new form of “world sharing”. Neoliberalism is the ideology introduced into the State apparatuses and materializes in concrete (liberalizing) policies that allowed this strategic movement of transnational capital in its productive restructuring in the world.

This global restructuring of capital makes the division of the world no longer done predominantly between States, as it was in classic imperialism – a State policy for the expansion of its companies –, to become a division between transnational capitals, which they make use of the dispersed States and subordinate them to their interests. Transnational corporations (TEs) do not weaken national states; on the contrary, they need them and act through them to guarantee the implementation of policies of their interest in each national space. As summarized by Chomsky (2017), in the case of the US, the government implements the programs that the corporate sector elaborates. It is the privatization of politics by controlling electoral systems.

Thus, transnational companies need to enter the State apparatus and compose its bureaucracy, this being their means of exercising command power within each national State to define strategies and economic policies in their favor. This even occurs in the US, as shown by Chomsky (2006). This process is carried out through alliances with local class fractions, taking the appearance of national interest. Transnational companies interfere from within the State, as a “local power”, both in internal and external policy. If necessary, strategies are used, through local groups, to destabilize opposing political agents and promote coups d’état (see Moniz Bandeira, 2013; Chomsky, 2006 and 2017; Anderson, 2015), movements now called “color revolutions” (as in Libya, Syria, Egypt).

As Carroll (2010) demonstrates, the transnational companies of the North Atlantic axis exercise this power through supranational institutions, such as the World Economic Forum, Bildeberg Conference, Trilateral Commission and International Chamber of Commerce. Such institutions are under the control not of a State, but of transnational corporations, which use them to pressure dispersed national States to define policies and disseminate the ideology that penetrates their devices and places them under their control. They act as international lobbyists for large transnational corporations. This new institutional arrangement has NATO as its military arm, also a supranational institution. This explains the joint action of countries in international conflicts and the form of control over the so-called Great Area, the epicenter of the historic conflict (dispute for control of oil and gas) that now erupts into war.

It was thought that, after the collapse of the USSR, the doors would be open for this North Atlantic system to control the world and for the implementation of neoliberalism as a “single way of thinking” and a strategy for controlling national states. The result was “color revolutions” (Moniz Bandeira, 2013), which left a trail of destroyed countries under the pretext of “bringing them democracy” (by force) and European “civilization”, in addition to institutional coups d’état, such as happened in Brazil, with elections manipulated by the power of money and the new media, which put puppets in charge of important countries, including the US and England, and the fabrication of candidates who were easy to manipulate, incompetent, without a national strategic notion. These practices led to the discrediting of political action or activity as a form of social organization, that is, to the destruction of “politics”. In fact, politics is privatized by financial and media power (Chomsky, 2017).

This fact could not be more disastrous at a time of great world transformations. Important countries rely on ignorant representatives. It deepened the strategy of dismantling the State through neoliberal ideology, which has gained ground since the 1980s and guarantees the dominance of big capital over politics. Only the States that did not submit to destructive neoliberalism preserved their structure and intelligence to face the challenges that the crisis of the hegemony of the North Atlantic system presents.

The current problem is the confrontation of this way of functioning of the capital of the north-Atlantic axis in its expansion and control of the Greater Area with the growing resistance of Russia and its return to the geopolitical game, as well as with the projection of China as a new economic power expanding world. This is not a classic conflict between rival states, although it appears to be so, but the contradictions that the North Atlantic control system encounters in this new configuration of the world and that call into question its hegemony and protagonism.

On the one hand, the North Atlantic concert had imagined having freed itself from any limit to its global expansion since the dismantling of the former USSR, in the 1990s, subjected to radical neoliberal policies that destroyed its productive structure and handed over its large corporations to the former bureaucratic elite, constituting a class of millionaires in Russia. For this reason, the agreements aimed at containing the expansion of NATO were never respected, which, for some time, has threatened to expand into Ukraine (Chomsky, 2017; Moniz Bandeira, 2013).

In 2014, this expansive process resulted in a “color revolution” in the country. Now, with the conflict open, the concert concretely faces resistance, which results from the Russian reconstruction policy, pursued with an iron fist by Putin with the objective of putting the country back in a position of global protagonist, refusing to integrate the periphery subordinated to the traditional North Atlantic imperial control policy.

On the other hand, the logic of big capital, blinded by the collapse of the USSR and the successful implementation of neoliberal policies in the world, including in Latin America, was not able to perceive the growth of contradictions that led to the crisis of the system in its financial heart. in 2008, neither did the ingenious Chinese strategy of taking advantage of Western neoliberalism to attract part of the large European and North American transnational capital to its territory and subordinate it to its interests.

Large transnational companies operate today in joint ventures with Chinese companies, central in the global value chains, and obtain substantial profits by putting their private transnational interests in conflict with the interests of the USA and Europe as national States. This makes a frontal attack on China almost impossible (and illogical), even more so now that the country has reached a technological level and a productive scale that may even make it possible for it to do without foreign capital – although this is not in its interest. In addition, China is strengthened by strategic productive structural alliances built with its neighbors – including Japan – in a win-win arrangement that keeps them tied to the point of preventing external attacks. Moreover, to the dismay of the North Atlantic arrangement, the country plans to expand on a new “silk road”.

As a result, the North Atlantic arrangement finds it difficult to control and attack China directly, although it has tried to do so via a threat to North Korea, in addition to having rehearsed the “umbrella revolt” in China’s backyard, in Hong Kong, in 2014. Thus, controlling the Eurasia region is an alternative to maintaining the dominance of imperial logic. As David Harvey pointed out in 2003, a direct attack on Russia through the old pressure on surrounding countries, such as Ukraine, was a way out.

That country is central to the North Atlantic strategy, both to destabilize Russian power and to control oil and gas in the region, also hindering Chinese economic progress in its new silk road project. The conflict that can be seen is the very manifestation of the traditional and well-known logic of imperialism, now under the control of large transnational corporations, which came to control the States.

Unfortunately, it is through violence that capitalism as a European phenomenon, which emerged in Europe, expands and guarantees its hegemony as a world system of capital accumulation and extraction of surplus value. Violence is a constitutive part of his nature. With the unfolding of the current crisis, perhaps this warlike world (dis)order is at an end.[I]

* Rubens R. Sawaya is a professor at the Department of Economics at PUC-SP and author of Subordinated Development: Transnational Capital in the Process of Accumulation of Latin America and Brazil (Brill/Haymarket).



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CHOMSKY, N. (2017). Who runs the world? Review.

FRANKOPAN, P. (2019). The heart of the world: a new universal history from the silk road, the meeting of the east with the west. Review.

HARVEY, D. (2003). The new imperialism. Loyola Editions.

HOBSBAWN, E. (1995). The Age of Extremes, the Short Twentieth Century 1914-1991. Co. of Letters.

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[I] Thank you for the review by Thaís Nicoleti de Camargo.

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