The concept of imperialism has fallen out of the political lexicon of many leftists in the West, with some deeming the concept irrelevant for understanding the dynamics of contemporary capitalism.
Marxist economist Prabhat Patnaik has been one of the leading voices countering this trend. In A Theory of Imperialism, a book he co-authored with Utsa Patnaik, Patnaik explores how a new form of imperialism is at work in the unfolding of the capitalist system.
In this exclusive interview for Truthout, Patnaik states the case for the continuing relevance of imperialism as an analytical construct for understanding and challenging effectively the logic and dynamics of contemporary capitalism.
C.J. Polychroniou: How do you define imperialism and what imperialist tendencies do you detect as inherent in the brutal expansion of the logic of capitalism in the neoliberal global era?
Prabhat Patnaik: The capitalist sector of the world, which began by being located, and continues largely to be located, in the temperate region, requires as its raw materials and means of consumption a whole range of primary commodities which are not available or producible, either at all or in adequate quantities, within its own borders. These commodities have to be obtained from the tropical and sub-tropical region within which almost the whole of the Third World is located; and the bulk of them (leaving aside minerals) are produced by a set of petty producers (peasants). What is more, they are subject to “increasing supply price,” in the sense that as demand for them increases in the capitalist sector, larger quantities of them can be obtained, if at all, only at higher prices, thanks to the fixed size of the tropical land mass.
This means an ex ante tendency toward accelerating inflation as capital accumulation proceeds, undermining the value of money under capitalism and hence the viability of the…