Book of the Day: The Making of Global Capitalism

* Book: The Making of Global Capitalism. Leo Panitch and Sam Gindin.


by Bastiaan van Apeldoorn, Naná de Graaff:

“Leo Panitch and Sam Gindin’s masterly ‘political economy of American empire’ stands out among other recent books on the topic, not only in the detailed and meticulously researched history it provides, but also with respect to its interpretation of US imperialism as ‘superintending capitalism on a worldwide plane’.[1] Ellen Meiksins Wood’s Empire of Capital (2003) for instance also, at least implicitly, sees the US state as a key author of globalisation (indeed she equates globalisation with the ‘new imperialism’),[2] but she does not analyse the central role of the US state in the making of this global capitalist empire in any detail. The same can be said of David Harvey’s The New Imperialism, which interprets the American empire more in terms of a spatial fix to recurrent crises of over-accumulation, as well as a (somewhat unclear) fusion of territorial and capitalist logics.[3]

The Making of Global Capitalism is the first book length account to tell the story, in considerable empirical detail, of how from the 1930s onwards, and following in the tracks of its earlier economic expansionism, the US state has consciously pursued a project of making, and subsequently maintaining, global capitalism. In telling this story Panitch and Gindin—unlike others—also pay much attention to the roots of American imperialism in America’s domestic capitalist political economy, while in terms of its international role much consideration is given to the construction of global finance, including a chapter on the making of the current crisis and its implications. Clearly, this book is a major contribution to the debate on the nature of American empire and the future of its global power.

The book’s central thesis, that the role of the American state has been critical in the making of global capitalism, is compellingly argued. If nothing else, it should finally put to rest the notion of a ‘decline of the state’ as a result of globalisation. What we take issue with in this essay, however, is how Panitch and Gindin view the nature of the US state and, how, related to that, they explain its domestic and above all international role as a maker of global capitalism. If US imperialism, as a state project, has been the driving force of the making of global capitalism then what are and have been the driving (social) forces behind this state project? As it is not the state itself that possesses agency in the strict sense of the word but the individuals at the command of state apparatuses, we argue that one needs to explain their agency, which cannot be seen in isolation from their particular social contexts, i.e. the social power relations in which they are embedded. This is not to say that narrow capitalist interests dictate state policies, but that the social background, biographies, and career patterns of these state officials matter, because this tends to shape their worldview. This worldview, we argue, is in turn crucial for explaining the way in which US state managers have—to paraphrase Panitch and Gindin—shaped the world after their own image. Our main argument is thus that the making of global capitalism can be explained by the close nexus between the US state and US capital formed by corporate elite networks in which many key state officials are embedded.” (

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