Africa in the World: Capitalism, Empire, Nation-State

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They are about the dynamics of global capitalism. Each one illustrates the operation of global ecnomic forces as they manifest themselves in specific national and regional forms. But at the same time, all the articles in their various ways show how persistently those global dynamics continue to be driven by forces within, and relations among, national economies and nation-states.

They illustrate—from the inside out, so to speak—how global capitalism operates through the medium of various relations among national economies and states. In what follows, I want to explore, in general terms, some of the connections between capitalism and the nation-state and to sketch out their development from the beginning until now.

To understand the current relations between capitalism and the nation-state, we need to know something about their earlier connections.

The emergence of capitalism was closely tied to the rise of the nation-state, and that close link shaped the development and expansion of capitalism thereafter. It is not at all uncommon to insist on the connections between the emergence of capitalism and the rise of the nation-state, or even to define capitalism as a system of nation-states. This permitted the development of a trade-based division of labor, without the burden of massive appropriation by an imperial state which would syphon off surpluses that could otherwise be invested.

Let me propose a somewhat different account of the relation between the rise of capitalism and the nation-state. This account will be based on certain presuppositions which can only be stated here baldly, without elaboration, but which have been discussed at greater length elsewhere.

Introduction to Nation-States

How, then, do these presuppositions apply to the relation between the rise of capitalism and the nation-state? We can certainly accept that capitalism emerged in the distinctive context of the early modern European nation-state. But not all European, or even Western European, nation-states developed in the same way. The French absolutist state, for instance, had an economic logic quite distinct from capitalist forms of exploitation or capitalist laws of motion.

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Nation-States and Sovereignty | Boundless World History

The rise of capitalism and the nation-state were intertwined in England as nowhere else. But to insist on the particularity of this English relationship is not at all to deny the close connection between capitalism and the nation-state in general. On the contrary, the particular nature of the English relationship only serves to emphasize that close connection. The point is not only that England gave rise to capitalism but also that England produced a distinctively unified and sovereign nation-state. In other words, the social transformations that brought about capitalism were the same ones that brought the nation-state to maturity.

This unity existed in a very wide variety of forms. For instance, many ancient empires employed state power to collect tribute from subject peoples, including their own peasants, and imperial office was the principal means of acquiring great wealth. The fragmented military, political, and judicial powers of the state became the means by which individual lords extracted surpluses from peasants. At the same time, political parcellization was matched by economic fragmentation. The feudal ruling class was eventually compelled to consolidate its fragmented political power, in the face of peasant resistance, and parcellized sovereignty gave way to more centralized monarchies in some parts of Europe.

One effect was to reproduce the unity of political and economic power at the level of the central state, while never completely overcoming the parcellization of feudalism. Formed in a process of state centralization that elevated one among many feudal powers to a position of monarchical dominance, French absolutism remained in many ways rooted in its feudal past. This was a mode of appropriation very different, in its means and in its laws of motion, from capitalist exploitation—depending, for example, on direct coercion to squeeze more surpluses out of the direct producers, instead of on intensifying exploitation by enhancing labor productivity.

Aristocrats, the church, and municipalities clung to their old autonomous powers, military, political, or judicial. Competing for the same peasant-produced surpluses, the central state typically co-opted many potential competitors by giving them state office, exchanging one kind of politically constituted property for another.

But the remnants of aristocratic privilege and municipal jurisdiction, together with the tensions among various forms of politically constituted property, remained to the end just as much a part of French absolutism as was the centralizing monarchy. These fragmented forms of politically constituted property, like the centralized version, were antithetical to capitalist appropriation. They were inimical to capitalism in yet another sense, too: they fragmented not only the state but the economy. Instead of a national market, there was a series of municipal markets not to mention internal trade barriers characterized not by capitalist competition but by the old forms of carrying trade, not the appropriation of surplus value created in production but commercial profit-taking in the sphere of circulation.

To put it another way, the parcellization of sovereignty and the parcellization of markets were two sides of the same coin, rooted in the same property relations. The fragmentation of both economy and polity was overcome first and most completely in England. But this unity was not simply a matter of political or legal unification. Its corollary was a degree of economic unification unlike any other in history, something like a national economy—an integrated, and increasingly competitive, national market—already in the seventeenth century.

Both political and economic unity can be traced to the same source. The centralization of the state in England was not based on a feudal unity of economic and political power. The state did not represent a private resource for office-holders in the way and on the scale that it did in France, nor did the state on the whole have to compete with other forms of politically constituted property.

Instead, state formation took the form of a kind of division of labor between political and economic power, between the monarchical state and the aristocratic ruling class, between a central political power that enjoyed a virtual monopoly of coercive force much earlier than others in Europe the English aristocracy, for instance, was demilitarized before any other in Europe , and an economic power based on private property in land far more concentrated than elsewhere in Europe in France, for instance, by far the most land continued to be held by peasants.

Instead of enhancing their own coercive powers to squeeze more out of peasants, they relied on the coercive power of the state to sustain the whole system of property, while they exercised their purely economic power, their concentrated landholdings, to intensify the exploitation of labor by increasing its productivity. The weakness of politically constituted property in England, in other words, meant both the rise of capitalism and the evolution of a truly sovereign and unified national state.

Chinese arms sales are not subject to the duplicity of the other champions, which are skilled in imposing embargoes. Even Gabon, the fief of the French army, conducts military exercises with China. In military matters, even more than in economic ones, Chinese leadership in these South-South relations is obvious.

It was also there to secure the interests of South African capital. The French army has regained its dominant position with Operation Sangaris. The present dynamism of extra-African capital in Africa is not accompanied only by military activism on the part of traditional and emerging powers. There is the ideological or cultural dimension, a factor of consent, a mainstay of Gramscian hegemony.

The Politics of Imagining Asia: Empires, Nations, Regional and Global Orders

There too neoliberalism has changed the rules of domination. In colonial times and during the first two postcolonial decades, Africa did not escape the global intellectual ferment, characterized by a dynamic reflexive critique of imperialism and capitalism, sometimes articulated with political practice. That has no longer been quite the case since the late s, with the backlash that had begun during the previous decade, which promoted the integration of many anti-imperialists and anti-capitalists into power structures, at a national level or in international organizations.

Working in these institutions ultimately led to their transformation into careerists. The failure of the so-called communist bloc, which had become indisputable, just at the time when neoliberal structural adjustment was being increased in Africa, worsened the situation by increasing the deficit in the plurality of socio-political ideals.

The challenge to structural adjustment was stifled in the sovereign national conferences and other procedures for political reforms. The objective was to set the market economy in stone. This supposed generosity, fiscally beneficial to the donors, is part of the spread of the one-way thought of the Washington Consensus.

African children go to school thanks to some stars of show business, with whom Africans of the Africa Progress Panel pose for a photo, looking honoured. Such are the realities of the subordination of the public to the private, while public money is stolen by the rulers. By supporting, together with the chancelleries of central capitalism, certain organizations or movements of defence of human rights and freedoms, this philanthrocapitalism effortlessly imposes limits on the perspectives of emancipation as well as on criticism of local situations and of the countries where the sponsoring foundations are based.

So people who do not grasp that find it disturbing, but they are free to think what they want.

Working Groups

The superficial conception of democracy that prevails in these African movements also reflects the control over African graduates by imperialism in the form of academic scholarships and teaching posts. The United States attracts more African graduates through, for example, the Partnership for African Universities, launched in Dakar in and principally under the responsibility of the Carnegie, Ford, MacArthur and Rockefeller Foundations. Agronomic research laboratories are increasingly subordinated to being financed by agribusiness.

Reflections on society are increasingly appreciated according to the paradigms promoted by a few think tanks and dominating the journals which have become most influential. African university teachers, at least in French-speaking Africa, which is what I know about, absolutely do not discuss paradigms. There is not, at the present time, any debate on economics [ We are in a logic where people have to make a living and are just sucked into the system.

In this respect, the emerging powers content themselves with rivalry in the provision of scholarships, led by China, but without being prepared to match the former colonial powers. You only have to listen to the applause of African spectators when Hollywood heroes massacre Indians or Asians to realize the power of such means.

The expansion of revivalist and Pentecostal churches is quite obviously accompanied by the central role accorded to the money spent from the colossal fortunes of pastors, who are disciples of God and Mammon at the same time. Faced with this ascendancy of capitalist imperialism, now reinforced by the emerging capitalist powers, accomplices and competitors of the traditional imperialism, as well as by the growth of African capitalism, the African peoples, exploited and oppressed, are not, in spite of everything, resigned to subjugation.

More about this book

These are struggles that all too often the neocolonial system, serving the capitalist bloc traditional imperialism, emerging powers, African capital manages to isolate from each other, on both the local and pan-African, or even extra-African and international levels, manages to contain and direct them according to its interests. Without building and consolidating popular solidarity and convergences in the struggles against the various tentacles of the capitalist octopus in Africa, in other words a pan-African anti-capitalist dynamic, there will be no emancipation of the exploited and oppressed people of Africa and no participation by them in the construction of a humanity where people will live well.

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