This reading is part of the Imperialism Study Series put together by DSA Los Angeles and used in our own Socialist Night School study sessions on imperialism. The reading comes from module 2, “America’s Ascent Into Power.”
The excerpted version of “The Specificity of Imperialism” (PDF) by Salar Mohandesi that we are reading for our study series is approximately 8,900 words with an estimated reading time of 32 minutes.
“Imperialism,” David Harvey announced at a roundtable last year, should be seen as a “sort of metaphor, rather than anything real.” This came as quite a shock, not least because it was none other than Harvey himself who wrote one of the most acclaimed accounts of contemporary imperialism, The New Imperialism.
Harvey went on to explain that recent developments in capitalism – such as multinational corporations, technological networks, or shifts in the global division of labor – have raised enormous questions about how we understand imperialism today. What, for example, are we to make of the fact that Latin America is being turned into a massive soybean plantation, with most of the exports headed for China? Or, to take a similar, though even more drastic example that Harvey does not mention, how can we explain the fact that the single greatest U.S. export to China is soybeans, while China’s biggest export to the United States is computers? Does that make China an imperialist power? Is it extracting wealth from the periphery? Is the United States slipping into the periphery?
Reality, Harvey suggested, has become far too complicated for conventional models of imperialism. In fact, the concept of imperialism has become a kind of “straightjacket,” preventing us from really understanding new historical developments.
Keep reading (PDF)
Want to Know More?
The full version of Salar Mohandesi’s “The Specificity of Imperialism” can be read at Viewpoint Magazine. It is about 13,500 words with a 49-minute read time.
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