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Chapter 6 Class Struggle, Political Power, and the Capitalist State
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Poulantzas: The Internationalization of Monopoly Capitalism

In Classes in Contemporary Capitalism and State, Power, Socialism , Poulantzas examines the structural transformation of monopoly capitalism since its emergence in the late nineteenth century. He is concerned, above all, with the emergence of a dominant international capitalist mode of production and the effects of internationalization on the class structures and relatively autonomous states of national social formations. Poulantzas maintains that the most important developments within the international capitalist system have been the dissolution of independent national social formations, however economically powerful these may be, and the emergence of new internal relations of domination and dependence that extend across the national boundaries of even the most industrialized countries.

The present stage of monopoly capitalism, Poulantzas insists, is de-


termined by a social division of labor that is global in nature and that has subordinated national capital and national class relations to the requirements of international capital and its extended reproduction. By focusing on the relationship between American capital and the European Economic Community in the seventies, Poulantzas is able to grasp the general process by which a truly integral, multinational capitalist mode of production has come into being. For this reason his analysis of the seventies retains its interest, advancing our knowledge of the painful restructuring of the eighties and the relentless global Gleichschaltung of the nineties. Poulantzas explains the monopoly stage in terms of the extended reproduction of the capitalist mode of production and its twofold tendency first to expand within social formations, where it takes root and establishes its dominance, and second to expand beyond the limits of this formation. While internal and external expansion are interrelated, Poulantzas argues that external expansion, imperialism, becomes increasingly dominant as monopoly capitalism develops. Gradually the importance of commercial capital and the export of commodities, characteristic of imperialism during the stage of competitive capitalism, is supplanted by the importance of industrial capital and the export of capital during the monopoly stage.

During the monopoly stage, imperialism becomes progressively a more integrated structure. It is an "imperialist chain," Poulantzas insists, made up of national formations linked together by relations of dominance and dependency such that each link "reflects the chain as a whole in the specificity of its own social formation" (Poulantzas 1975, 42). As monopoly capitalism develops from a primarily national to a primarily international mode of production, each social formation making up the imperialist chain internalizes the international structure until, eventually, a point is reached where national structures become little more than "a function of the forms that the dominance of the capitalist mode of production at the international level assumes over the other modes and forms of production that exist within a social formation" (Poulantzas 1975, 42-43). From its very inception, the imperialist chain is forged by relations of domination and dependency. Initially a fundamental cleavage separates the imperialist "metropoles" from a subordinate "periphery" of social formations dominated and dependent on imperialism. During the stage of competitive capitalism, the metropoles remain national, largely autonomous, social formations, while an equal relationship of town (industry) and country (agriculture and raw materials) is established between the core and the


periphery. With the transition to monopoly capitalism, however, a process of transformation is initiated in the relationship between metropole and periphery and between the imperialist social formations themselves. As monopoly capitalism becomes progressively more internationalist, it generates new relationships of domination and dependency that restructure the imperialist chain as a whole, undermining the national independence of the metropoles and breaking down the distinction between core and periphery.

What drives the development of the imperialist chain is the uneven development of capitalism within the metropoles. In Classes in Contemporary Capitalism , Poulantzas distinguishes the stages of competitive and monopoly capitalism and delineates the different phases of the latter. By the end of the eighteenth century, at least in the economic heart-lands of Europe, competitive capitalism had largely supplanted the articulation of feudal and capitalist modes of production characteristic of the transition to capitalism. Competitive capitalism is defined by Poulantzas as primarily a national mode of production involving the real subsumption of labor to capital and the dominant as well as determinant place of the economic instance within the social formation. It is characterized by an articulation of petty commodity production and industrial capital, with the latter, in the form of the factory system, dominant.

Production units are relatively simple and decentralized, and the level of the concentration of capital is still quite modest during the competitive stage; as a result, industrial capital exerts certain "conservation" effects on petty production. Extensive exploitation of labor predominates—the major transformation being the restructuring of petty production along the lines of greater regimentation and more efficient division of labor—but the beginnings of exploitation by means of machinery are clearly discernible. Of particular significance, with respect to the distinction Poulantzas wishes to make between competitive and monopoly capitalism, is the "unity" of the plurality of powers of capital during the former stage and their "dissociation," restructuring, and reintegration during the latter stage. Competitive capitalism is characterized by a "coincidence of economic ownership and possession" and by a "unity of the powers deriving from the ownership and possession of the means of production" in the person of the individual capitalist entrepreneur.

By the late nineteenth century the concentration and centralization of industrial capital in the advanced capitalist social formations inau-


gurates the stage of monopoly capitalism. Poulantzas distinguishes three phases in the development of monopoly capitalism: he "transition from competitive to monopoly capitalism" beginning in the later nineteenth century and ending with World War I; the "consolidation of monopoly capital" as a national mode of production and the international contradictions it creates, contradictions that culminate in the Great Depression and World War II; and finally the "present phase," characterized by the birth and development of a multinational mode of production, a phase of global integration beginning with the "Americanization" of Europe after World War II.[6] The timing of Poulantzas's periodization is less important to us here than the general tendency it describes, namely, the transformation of a predominantly national mode of production to a predominantly international, or, perhaps more accurately, a multinational, mode. Let us briefly summarize Poulantzas's discussion.

The transition to monopoly capital involves the appearance and extension of monopoly capital in the context of an unstable articulation of monopoly and competitive capitalism that is still national in character. It is a stage dominated by the concentration and centralization of capital in the form of holding companies or trusts, but it is also characterized by a "massive dissociation" of the plurality of powers of capital previously concentrated in the person of the individual entrepreneur. The predominance of joint stock companies produces a dissociation of economic and legal ownership, while the appearance of holding companies and trusts introduces a dissociation between powers deriving from economic ownership. Economic ownership concentrates, embracing several production units, yet the relatively distinct powers of economic possession attached to these units are subordinated, not eliminated, and considerable powers of possession remain in the hands of subordinate ownerships. A further dissociation is introduced in the form of professional managers, agents who exercise the powers of capital without actually possessing them. Finally, previously existing forms of production units, extending across diverse and distinct branches and industries, are also preserved. Despite the fact that the exploitation of labor becomes progressively more intensive, the labor processes of individual production units are only formally subordinated to monopoly capital; in actuality they retain a degree of autonomy characteristic of competitive capitalism.

Poulantzas has little to say about the consolidation of monopoly capitalism as the dominant mode of production and the crises of revolu-


tion, counterrevolution, war, and depression produced by its uneven development. This silence is unfortunate, for it is hardly an exaggeration to describe the global crisis of the interwar years as the birth pangs of multinational capitalism. It is also important to recognize the significance of a new monopoly capitalist regime of accumulation, "Fordism," which emerges first in the United States in the early twentieth century and becomes the ideal-typical model of monopoly capitalism after World War II. The path-breaking analysis of Fordism and the consolidation of monopoly capitalism appeared in A Theory of Capitalist Regulation (1976; English translation, 1979), a study of American capitalism from the Civil War to the Carter presidency published two years after Class in Contemporary Capitalism by French economist Michel Aglietta, another former student of Althusser.[7] According to Aglietta, the decisive change between competitive and monopoly capitalism occurs in the mode of accumulation or method of maximizing surplus value during each stage. Aglietta defines the mode of accumulation under competitive capitalism and during the transition to monopoly capitalism as "extensive": the organization of labor through mechanization is the primary method of maximizing surplus value, while existing patterns of social consumption and "traditional ways of life" are left to persist or dissolve as they will without radical reorganization. With the consolidation of monopoly capitalism, however, there is a shift from extensive to "intensive" accumulation: an entirely new "way of life" is created for the wage-earning class as the totality of time and space, consumption as well as production, is reorganized to maximize surplus value.

The new regime of accumulation, which Aglietta (following Gramsci) calls Fordism , is based on the "synchronization of mass production and mass consumption." More specifically, it is the articulation of a labor process, organized around the semi-automated assembly line, and patterns of consumption, organized by stratified "life-styles," each characterized by individual acquisition of commodities mass-produced for private consumption. The linchpin of Fordism, Aglietta maintains, is a reversal of the "iron law of wages," at least for key segments of the labor force, and a new strategy of gearing wages to productivity and getting them back through a rapidly expanding domestic market. The result, the so-called consumer society, is characterized by a more regular and more rapidly increasing rate of surplus value than its predecessor. The internationalization of Fordism inaugurated and sustained the global economic hegemony of the United States throughout the twentieth century.


The third and contemporary phase of monopoly capitalism is, according to Poulantzas, dominated by the restructuring of global capitalism after World War II under the direction of the United States. The internationalization of Fordism, accelerated by American control over the economic and political destinies of Europe and Japan, has transformed monopoly capitalism into an integrated multinational mode of production that has gradually supplanted predominantly national forms. The spectacular, if temporary, economic boom of the postwar "economic miracle" obscured, at least until the seventies, the less felicitous outcome of this globalization process: a shift of the burden of exploitation back from the peripheral economies to the metropoles themselves. Only with the global recession of the seventies and the economic restructuring of the eighties is it becoming clear that the classic metropole/periphery distinction is dissolving and that multinational corporations have become globally integrated production units maximizing profits in all geographic regions and in all areas of economic activity.[8] Poulantzas also emphasizes the tendency of multinational monopoly capitalism to reverse the dissociation of the powers of ownership and possession previously introduced by monopoly capital in its national form. Multinational conglomerates replace trusts and holding companies as the dominant organizations and establish single centers of economic ownership of what are, in effect, multinational industrial firms. Concentrated economic ownership entails real economic possession of subsidiaries and the real subsumption of their previously autonomous labor processes. Finally, Poulantzas notes how the new complex production units closely articulate and integrate labor processes divided between various establishments in several countries. Gaps between different levels of economic ownership and different levels of possession are also being closed, and the powers associated with them are concentrating again.

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