To bet­ter reflect the per­sis­tence of these more sub­tle dynam­ics of impe­ri­al­ist dom­i­na­tion, I pro­pose to approach the prob­lem from a some­what dif­fer­ent angle, name­ly from the van­tage point of “the new debt colonies” them­selves.

In the sec­ond half of this piece, I will briefly out­line the con­tours of an alter­na­tive, state-the­o­ret­i­cal approach to the study of impe­ri­al­ism, cen­ter­ing on the state’s struc­tur­al depen­dence on for­eign cred­it and invest­ment.

If so, how far can the clas­si­cal Marx­ist the­o­ries of the phe­nom­e­non take us in elu­ci­dat­ing the asym­met­ric pow­er rela­tions at the heart of the con­tem­po­rary glob­al polit­i­cal econ­o­my – and what, if any­thing, can be done to revamp exist­ing the­o­ret­i­cal frame­works to bet­ter reflect the endur­ing rel­e­vance of impe­ri­al­ism in our time?

In the absence of prof­itable invest­ment oppor­tu­ni­ties at home, cap­i­tal­ists began to look for oth­er out­lets for their excess sav­ings, lead­ing to the export of cap­i­tal abroad.This in turn gen­er­at­ed strong pres­sures for the lead­ing cap­i­tal­ist states to annex for­eign ter­ri­to­ries in order to pry open new mar­kets and safe­guard exist­ing invest­ments.The fis­cal auton­o­my of Greece and Puer­to Rico, in par­tic­u­lar, has now been abol­ished in all but name, although sim­i­lar process­es have long been afoot else­where as well.This con­tem­po­rary expe­ri­ence in turn car­ries strong his­tor­i­cal echoes.The last­ing con­tri­bu­tion of the clas­si­cal the­o­rists was to anchor their cri­tiques of impe­ri­al­ism with­in a broad­er cri­tique of polit­i­cal econ­o­my, high­light­ing the cen­tral role of finance in dri­ving impe­ri­al­ist rela­tions of dom­i­na­tion.

This, I argue, should remain the start­ing point for any con­tem­po­rary analy­sis of impe­ri­al­ism.

What are the con­ti­nu­ities and dis­con­ti­nu­ities between the two peri­ods?

And can the hot­ly debat­ed and polem­i­cal notion of impe­ri­al­ism still serve as a use­ful ana­lyt­i­cal tool to help us make sense of the cur­rent con­junc­ture?

A cen­tu­ry and a half ago, Karl Marx already observed how the emer­gence of the nation­al debt in ear­ly-mod­ern Europe con­sti­tut­ed one of the “most pow­er­ful levers of prim­i­tive accu­mu­la­tion,” lead­ing to the “alien­ation of the state” by pri­vate financiers and “giv­ing rise to stock exchange gam­bling and the mod­ern bankoc­ra­cy.” These dynam­ics inten­si­fied dur­ing the Age of Impe­ri­al­ism in the late 19th and ear­ly 20th cen­turies, when the export of Euro­pean and U. cap­i­tal to the new­ly inde­pen­dent coun­tries of Latin Amer­i­ca and the Mediter­ranean added an inter­na­tion­al dimen­sion to this long-stand­ing process of dis­pos­ses­sion through debt.

Dur­ing this peri­od, the dom­i­nant cred­i­tor pow­ers reg­u­lar­ly sub­ject­ed dis­tressed sov­er­eign bor­row­ers to exter­nal finan­cial con­trol – often under force of arms.

– Thomas Sankara (1987) God save us from the debt, and we shall be con­tent. hous­ing bub­ble and the onset of the worst cap­i­tal­ist cri­sis in liv­ing mem­o­ry, gov­ern­ments around the world con­tin­ue to bear the bur­den of his­tor­i­cal­ly unprece­dent­ed pub­lic debt loads.