this were severe for the left. The concept of imperialism has always been especiallyimportant as much for its emotive and mobilizing qualities as for its analytic ones.Indeed, in Patnaik’s view, rather than ‘a theoretically self-conscious silence’, it was the‘very fact that imperialism has become so adept at “managing” potential challenges to itshegemony [that] made us indifferent to its ubiquitous presence.’
Yet the left’s silence onimperialism also reflected severe analytic problems in
the old Marxist theory of imperialism. Indeed, this was obvious by the beginning of the 1970s – the last time theconcept of imperialism had much currency on the left - amidst complaints that theMarxist treatment of imperialism ‘as an undifferentiated global product of a certain stageof capitalism’ reflected its lack of ‘any serious historical or sociological dimensions’.
As Giovanni Arrighi noted in 1978, ‘by the end of the 60s, what had once been the
of Marxism – the theory of imperialism – had become a tower of Babel, in which noteven Marxists knew any longer how to find their way.’
The confusion was apparent in debates in the early 1970s over the location of contemporary capitalism’s contradictions. There were those who focused almostexclusively on the ‘third world’, and made its resistance to imperialism bear all theweight as the source of transformation.
Others emphasized increasing contradictionswithin the developed capitalist world, fostering the impression that American‘hegemony’ was in decline. This became the prevalent view, and by the mid-1980s thenotion that ‘the erosion of American economic, political, and military power isunmistakable’ grew into a commonplace.
Although very few went back to that aspect of the old Marxist theory of inter-imperial rivalry that suggested a military trial of strength,an era of intense regional economic rivalry was expected. As Glyn and Sutcliffe put it, all