The purpose of this blog is to provide analytical commentary on formal and informal labour organisations and their attempts to resist ever more brutal forms of exploitation in today’s neo-liberal, global capitalism.

Saturday, 5 September 2015

Analysing Global Capitalism: the centrality of class.

The recently published collection of essays by Hugo Radice on Global Capitalism (Routledge, 2015) represents impressive global political economy scholarship across three decades from the 1980s to 2011. Radice makes two key contributions. First, he successfully re-asserts the importance of focusing on class and class struggle in analysing the global political economy. Second, he provides insightful criticism of ‘progressive nationalism’, which is highly relevant for the upcoming debate over UK membership in the European Union (EU).

The centrality of class

A broad range of issues are covered in the volume including Britain in the global economy and the possibility of progressive nationalism, questions of the relation between finance and industrial capital, tensions between centre and periphery in global capitalism and the possibilities of national development, the future of the EU as well as the causes of the global financial crisis in 2007/2008 and the discussion of potential alternatives.

As wide-ranging as the scholarship in this volume is, however, the research is held together by Radice’s focus on a class analysis, by which he means ‘an analysis that rests on the view that the relation between the property-owning bourgeoisie and a propertyless proletariat is the most fundamental constitutive feature of capitalism as a social order’ (P.11). When analysing change and restructuring in global capitalism, Radice argues, it is not states, transnational corporations or international organisations, who are the key actors, but classes. ‘Without denying the role of the former as institutions of capitalist governance, we cannot discover who does what to whom in global neoliberalism unless we reinstate class at the centre of our critique’ (P.168).  

The futility of ‘progressive nationalism’

It is this focus on class analysis and the social relations of production, which ensures that the book is highly relevant for contemporary issues and here in particular the debates over the forthcoming UK referendum on EU membership. It is not only forces on the right, who advocate withdrawal from the EU, but also on the left, who hope for a socialist alternative outside the EU. By contrast, Radice was already clear on the impossibility of such a strategy in the 1980s, when he soundly rejected calls for ‘progressive nationalism’. ‘The capitalist world economy is now so thoroughly integrated across national boundaries’, Radice wrote, ‘that an autonomous national capitalist strategy is no longer possible; and further, that neither in the capitalist class, nor in the national state, can the left find partners for an alliance powerful enough to mount a reformist economic programme on a national basis’ (PP.20-1). A British socialist alternative has to include a European dimension (P.118).

Even when thinking about alternatives, it is the focus on class analysis, which guides Radice. Exploitation in capitalism takes place in the hidden abode of production organised around the private ownership of production and wage labour. Any transformative alternative, therefore, has to start with changing the social relations of production. Any transformative alternative has to ‘make a frontal attack on private ownership’ (P.43).

I strongly recommend this book for reading!

[The final version of this book review will be published in Political Studies Review, Vol.14/3 (2016) and available at SAGE Online First Platform.]

Prof. Andreas Bieler

Professor of Political Economy
University of Nottingham/UK
Personal website:

5 September 2015

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