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PSIR Book Review: ‘Capitalism and Imperialism’

By August 26, 2022May 22nd, 2023Current Affairs, Optionals, PSIR

‘Capitalism and Imperialism: Theory, History and the Present’

Capitalism and Imperialism: Theory, History and the Present – Kandaswami Subramanian.

What is Capitalism?

  • Capitalism is an ideological phenomenon which envisages money-using economy, treats market as god and desires state to play no direct role in managing the economy.

What is Imperialism?

  • Imperialism is “the practice, the theory and the attitudes of a domination metropolitan centre ruling a distant territory”.

What is Colonialism?

  • Colonialism is a consequence of imperialism and is the implanting of settlements on distant territory. It involves a concrete act of conquest.
  • Utsa Patnaik and Prabhat Patnaik in their book ‘A theory of Imperialism’ establish that “there is a continuity between the colonial period and present, in spite of the fact that countries of Third world are no longer ruled by the foreign powers”.
  • They talk in phases about emergence of imperialism and the causes for its persistence.
  • The phases in their book are as follows:
    • Colonialism prior to the First World War;
    • the interwar years;
    • the post–Second World War years, the “Golden Age of Capitalism”;
    • the era of globalization; and
    • the current conjuncture, which marks the dead-end of globalization.
  • In their work they show that there is an unchanging relationship between the metropolis and the periphery.

The central arguments in their work are:

    • Capitalism is not a closed system rather it is an open and ever expanding system and needs a pre – capitalist periphery to support it through the supply of primary produce.
    • Open Economy, pursuit of deflationary policies are integral part of imperialism and entail the subjection of periphery.
    • Globalization entails not only income deflation in the periphery, but also the setting up of a regime for regulating income deflation in the periphery for protecting the value of money.
    • Patnaiks argue that some of the constituents governing the relationship between Imperialism and Periphery have weakened.
    • But the mode of operation of Capitalism is still exploitative.
    • Capitalism has to be fought by a coalition of peasants and workers. Considering Imperialism as a weakened force would give birth to rightist forces, e.g. fascism, in the global south.
    • In this way they keep the debate on imperialism alive.


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Critique of Patnaiks’ work:

  • They make no attempt of reckoning of the rise of Asian tigers, of India, of China.
  • Epochal Changes occurred in global economy with the changing structures of trade flows, the rise of supply chains and the emergence of multilateral and bilateral free trade agreements but these remain unaccountable in their work.
  • Their argument does not capture the dynamics and complexity of current trade.
  • Institutions like IMF and World Bank have acceded to the demand of developing nations (change in loan conditionalities). This confirms imperialism has lost its relevance to a great extent.


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