Dominant Capital and the New Wars

Shimshon Bichler, Jonathan Nitzan


The recent shift from global villageism to the new wars revealed a deep crisis in heterodox political economy. The popular belief in neoliberal globalization, peace dividends, fiscal conservatism and sound finance that dominated the 1980s and 1990s suddenly collapsed. The early 2000s brought rising xenophobia, growing military budgets and policy profligacy. Radicals were the first to identify this transition, but their attempts to explain it have been bogged down by two major hurdles: (1) most writers continue to apply nineteenth century theories and concepts to twenty-first century realities; and (2) few seem to bother with empirical analysis. This paper offers a radical alternative that is both theoretically new and empirically grounded. We use the new wars as a stepping stone to understand a triple transformation that altered the nature of capital, the accumulation of capital and the unit of capital. Specifically, our argument builds on a power understanding of capital that emphasizes differential accumulation by dominant capital groups. Accumulation, we argue, has little to do with the amassment of material things measured in utils or abstract labor. Instead, accumu-lation, or capitalization, represents a commodification of power by leading groups in society. Over the past century, this power has been restructured and concentrated through two distinct regimes of differential accumulationbreadth and depth. A breadth regime relies on proletarianization, on green-field investment and, particularly, on mergers and acquisitions. A depth regime builds on redistribution through stagflationthat is, on differential inflation in the midst of stagnation. In contrast to breadth which presupposes some measure of growth and stability, depth thrives on accumulation through crisis. The past twenty years were dominated by breadth, buttressed by neoliberal rhetoric, globalization and capital mobility. This regime started to run into mounting difficulties in the late 1990s, and eventually collapsed in 2000. For differential accumulation to continue, dominant capital now needs inflation, and inflation requires instability and social crisis. It is within this broader dynamics of power accumulation that the new wars need to be understood.

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