Last week the Centre for the Study of Social and Global Justice (CSSGJ) at the University of Nottingham hosted its Annual Lecture with the additional financial assistance of the local association of the University and College Union. Previous speakers have included David Harvey (2006), Gerald Cohen (2007), Hilary Wainwright (2008), Philip McMichael (2009), Siba Grovogui (2010), and Samir Amin (2011). This year it was a pleasure to host Leo Panitch and Sam Gindin presenting their new book The Making of Global Capitalism published by Verso.

The book is rightly heralded as a groundbreaking assessment of American empire in shaping global capitalism. In their now classic phrase, Panitch and Gindin trace how the American state came to superintend capitalism on a worldwide scale. Across a whopping tomb of some 450 plus pages, they deliver a truly accessible and popular account of the political economy of the American state as the ultimate guarantor of capitalist interests globally throughout the twentieth century. On the night of the annual lecture, Panitch and Gindin also delivered a wonderful example of public and political engagement, which has catapulted a wave of interest in their new book.

In summarising the superintendence of global capitalism by the American state, Panitch and Gindin start from the assumption that ‘the explicit long-term goal of the American state was to create the material and legal conditions for the free movement of capital throughout the world’. In their lecture this was articulated by rejecting the relevance of inter-imperialist rivalry in explaining the unfolding expansion and competitive pressures of an expanding global capitalism. Instead, ever deepening capitalist social relations have spread under the aegis of the American state that has internationalised a form of hegemony understood as class rule. As a result, capitalist states have come to accept American empire as the basis of the coordination and management of the global capitalist order.

The project for a global capitalism therefore entailed the internationalising of the New Deal turn to Keynesianism, based on deficit public spending to stimulate demand and investment, which was then responsible for the Bretton Woods framework after World War II. As Panitch and Gindin stated in their lecture, the subsequent era of neoliberalism was thus “seeded” in the Keynesian welfare state to the extent that this “incubator” was then “burst asunder” by the mechanism of neoliberalism, understood as the expansion and deepening of markets and competitive pressures.

Within CSSGJ, the Marxism Reading Group is currently appraising The Making of Global Capitalism and this same emphasis also comes through in book and its account of the transition to global capitalism. Hence, in tracing the form and rise of global capitalism Panitch and  Gindin state that in global finance ‘the baby had outgrown its New Deal-era incubator’ and therefore ‘capitalism outgrew the cradle of Bretton Woods’ by the 1970s.

Without doubt, Panitch and Gindin deliver an exceptionally clear history of the role of American empire in forging the realisation and contradictions of global capitalism. This is a political economy of American empire that rivals the work of Eric Hobsbawm in its accessibility and its forensic grasp of the intellectuals of statecraft (referring to a whole community of American state bureaucrats, leaders, foreign policy experts, and advisors who comment upon, influence, and conduct the activities of statecraft) essential to the making of global capitalism.

As always, the speakers were pushed on the evening on this or that aspect of their argument. Also, debate is proceeding apace in the Marxism Reading Group around a host of queries stemming from the ongoing reading of the book. These include:

  • whether there is an eagerness to reject the notion of inter-imperialist rivalry that consequently falls too readily into an acceptance of Karl Kautsky’s notion of ultra-imperialism, meaning a focus on ‘a holy alliance of the imperialists’?;
  • whether there is a carrying of categories, such as American empire and global capitalism, from the present back to the past that assumes their prior existence rather than their explanation?; and
  • whether there is a focus on class struggle at the heart of the making of global capitalism that neglects process for outcome, meaning that the outcome of class conflict in shaping global capitalism is the priority rather than the conflicts themselves?

These were just some of the issues swirling around the lecture theatre after last week’s talk and in the corridors of the School of Politics and International Relations that clearly demonstrates how the imaginations of students, scholars, and the wider public in and beyond Nottingham have been captured by CSSGJ’s Annual Lecture.

The legacy of Leo Panitch’s and Sam Gindin’s The Making of Global Capitalism will be as widespread and extensive as its subject matter: global in reach. Their visit was crowned with a toast to the unmaking of global capitalism and the future intellectual and practical struggles to come!

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