NOTE/ PRABHAT PATNAIK*
Whatever Has Happened to Imperialism?
An outsider cannot help noticing a remarkable transformation that has taken place in the Marxist discourse in America over the last decade or more, namely, hardly anybody talks of imperialism any more. I left Cambridge, England, in 1974, where I was teaching Economics, and have returned to the West, this time to the USA, after a lapse of 15 years. When I left, imperialism perhaps occupied the most prominent place in any Marxist discussion, and nowhere was more being written about and talked about on this subject than in the USA, so much so that many European Marxists accused American Marxism of being tainted with 'third worldism*. Herbert Marcuse had written about advanced capitalism having manipulated its internal class contradictions to a point where the only effective challenge (other than from students and marginal groups within) that could be launched against it was in the 'periphery*. The Monthly Review had a more or less similar position. And there was a veritable flood of books and articles written on the role of US imperialism in the third world. Many of these were no doubt somewhat naive, and almost subscribed to a conspiracy theory; but they had a vigour, and Marxists everywhere looked to the US for literature on imperialism.
That is obviously not the case today. Younger Marxists look bemused when the term is mentioned. Burning issues of the day, such as Eastern Europe, or Perestroika, are discussed, but without any reference to imperialism. Radical indignation over the invasion of Panama, or the wars promoted in Nicaragua and El Salvador, does not jell into theoretical propositions about imperialism, and the topic has disappeared from the pages of Marxist journals, especially those of a later vintage.
Curiously, this is not because any one has theorised against the concept. The silence over imperialism is not the aftermath of some intense debate where the scales tilted decisively in favour of one side;
it is not a theoretically self-conscious silence. Nor can it be held that the world has so changed in the last decade and a half that to talk of imperialism has become an obvious anachronism. No doubt, a decade and a half ago, half a million US troops had been engaged in a bloody
Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi, and University of California, Riverside
Social Scientist, Vol. 18, Nos. 6-7, June-July 1990