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Global Capitalism, Global War, Global Crisis

by Gorkem Altinors on October 8, 2019

The ‘antagonistic’ relationship between globalisation and the nation-state has always been at the heart of the debates in International Relations and International Political Economy (IR/IPE). Are nation-states unceasingly playing the major role in shaping international politics, or is globalisation taking over this role, leaving nation-states as obsolete? The orthodoxy of ‘Realist IR versus Liberal IR’ dichotomy manifests itself in this question as ‘states versus markets’. Andreas Bieler and Adam David Morton’s seminal work, Global Capitalism, Global War, Global Crisis responds to this question unorthodoxly: neither. In fact, they diagnose the very ontology of this question as ‘externally’ constructed and they offer an alternative historical materialist account in which the relationality between the nation-state, geopolitics, and globalisation are conceptualised ‘internally’.

Bieler and Morton borrow the concept of the philosophy of internal relations à la Bertell Ollman and apply it to the study of IR/IPE. They argue that internal relationality holistically associates not only the relations of production, state-civil society relations, and the conditions of class struggle, but also global capitalism, global war, and global crisis with each other and with the ‘international’. Historical materialism’s dialectical understanding transcends the binary of ‘states versus markets’ because it focuses on the forces of social struggle in the global political economy as it analyses capital’s connection to the inter-state system of uneven and combined development, social reproduction, and ecological crisis. The book consists of the introduction and conclusion plus three main parts: conceptual reflections, thematic consideration, and empirical interventions. Conceptual Reflections, Part I focuses on two topics: first, the centrality of class struggle is discussed within the framework of ‘agency and structure’ in international politics, and second, the role of discourse in the economy is reviewed as part of the material structure of ideology. In this part, Bieler and Morton take on the ‘agency versus structure’ and the ‘material versus ideal’ problems in theorising the study of international politics and they problematise the incompatibility between the notions. They argue that “the philosophy of internal relations enables an appreciation of agent-structure issues within a critical theory of world order” (p. 27) and it “does not detach structure from superstructure but conceives their development as intimately bound together and related internally” (p. 52). Following a critical review of the social constructivist and poststructuralist accounts, Bieler and Morton propose a historical materialist position for both meta-theoretical considerations on class struggle and the materiality of ideas, as they go beyond the strategy of analytical dichotomies. The internal relations between the structural conditions of capitalism and collective social class agency transcends the dualism and conceptualises ‘agency in structure’. A combined method of the Marxian dialectical ontology and the Gramscian historicist epistemology divulges the internal relations between agency and structure. According to Bieler and Morton, “class struggle is the moment when agency meets structure, when labour and capital, the two main collective forces opposing each other in capitalism, meet the structuring conditions of capitalist social relations of production” (p. 49).

The conceptualisation of the role of ideas in international theory, in other words, the material structure of ideology, is a challenge to the ‘economism’ criticism leveled against historical materialist theories. Bieler and Morton deliver a Gramscian historical materialist account for the analysis of ‘base and superstructure’, or in particular ‘material and ideal’. Antonio Gramsci’s holistic approach to hegemony, formalised in the concepts of the ‘integral state’ and ‘historical bloc’, allows them to develop an international theory that works with dialectical unity and goes beyond the spatial separation of the state and civil society. The integral state, the dialectical combination of political society and civil society, and historical bloc, plus the dialectical combination of base and superstructure, all represent perfect examples of how the philosophy of praxis is constructed. These concepts indicate how not only state-market, state-civil society, base-superstructure, and material-ideal are internally related, but also national-international and the geopolitical-global as dialectically combined. This dialectical unity transcends the limits of ontological exteriority in methodological nationalism/inter-nationalism, the presumption that self-interest-oriented nation-states are the main actors in the making of the inter-state system and a nation-state’s domestic and international affairs are mutually exclusive as the state’s external relations with civil society is limited to a certain territory. Bieler and Morton’s historical materialist challenge to methodological nationalism/inter-nationalism does not only point out the Eurocentric nature of mainstream IR/IPE theories, it also reveals the limits of the neo-Weberian criticism on Eurocentrism.

In Part II, Thematic Considerations, Bieler and Morton further elaborate their theoretical position, namely Gramscian Historical Materialism. They deliver three thematic discussions in three chapters in accordance with the title of the book: first, the expansion of capitalism through uneven and combined development as ‘global capitalism’; second, the role of state and geopolitics as ‘global war’; and third, the conditions of exploitation and resistance as ‘global crisis’. Chapter 4 points out another Gramscian term ‘passive revolution’. It articulates passive revolution through the historical specificity of capitalist development and the formation of the international states system. As mutually inclusive processes, the rise of capitalism and the emergence of the modern state are historically developed through capitalist social property relations à la Robert Brenner. The geopolitics of global capitalism is studied in Chapter 5. Bieler and Morton highlight that the relations between the state and the global political economy, and between the interstate system and globalisation are realised internally. The unity of global capitalism and geopolitics conceptualises individual states as the condensed “expressions of the materiality of the underlying social relations of production as well as conditions of class struggle articulated within and through them” with the interstate system and global capitalism, that is to say that “the interests of transnational capital have become internalised in specific forms of state” (p. 128), though the relationality between the national and the global. Hence rivalry between states should not be neglected. Exploitation, resistance, class struggle, and social reproduction occupy the main topics discussed in Chapter 6. It is argued that race, ethnicity, gender, and sexuality are internally constituted not only in the social relations of production, in other words, class struggle, but also in geopolitics and the ‘international’.

The advanced conceptual and thematic discussion in the first six chapters is enriched by practical knowledge that is provided in Empirical Interventions, Part III. This part consists of three chapters as well, once again in accordance with the title of the book: the emergence of rising powers and the BRICS in the global political economy as ‘global capitalism’; the conditions of ‘new imperialism’ and the invasion of Iraq as ‘global war’; and the financial crisis in 2007-8 and the Great Recession as ‘global crisis’. In Chapter 7, following an empirical discussion around the BRICS, the rise of the ‘Global South’ and Chinese production in the new international division of labour, it is argued that the developments in China in the last twenty years do not constitute an alternative to neoliberalism. The ‘new imperialism’, US hegemony, and the Iraq War are among the main discussion in Chapter 8. Bieler and Morton argue that “neither an approach focusing on inter-imperialist rivalry nor an approach emphasising multilateral cooperation under the leadership of the United States can adequately examine the internal relations between the geopolitical and capitalist dynamics underlying world order” (p. 214). Having criticised the uncritical and unquestioning assumptions of the transnational state thesis and challenged the assumption that US imperialism is not linked to class fractions or conditions of an empire, the authors highlight their position as it “demonstrates the importance of the creation of the physical infrastructure in the built environment through fixed capital within conditions of global war as one way of providing temporary relief from the problems of over-accumulation and the crisis tendencies in the general rate of profit raised by the contradictions of capitalism” (p. 215). Chapter 9 focuses on the trouble in the Eurozone. Spatially speaking, the Eurozone crisis was triggered by the global financial crisis and specific geographical conditions in the Eurozone, however, as argued in the chapter “the crisis is much more fundamentally rooted in the conditions of uneven and combined development and capitalism’s general tendency towards crisis … within the context of financialised relations of class power” (p. 217). The crisis eventually resulted in the rise of austerity and ecological crisis that is internally related to the inter-state system and the international.

Finally, in the conclusion, Bieler and Morton aim (1) to highlight the “topography of connected class struggles that bespeak the combined manner of radical ruptures of resistance” and (2) to address “the spatial dynamics of class struggle … [and] … to demonstrate how the internal relationship of the three master themes of Global Capitalism, Global War, Global Crisis are themselves internally related” (p. 249). The authors successfully manage to combine all themes and topics discussed in the book under multiple forms of ‘double unity’ and cross-relational relationships, that is to say the spatiality of master themes are combined with the social factory. Ultimately, this relationality is connected to a disruption-oriented approach to resistance movements (Bailey et al. 2017), which open a window to radically open-ended dialectical considerations of ruptures of resistance in the global political economy.

David Held and Anthony McGrew (2003) once identified two sides in, what they called, “the great globalisation debate”: “sceptics” and “globalists”. As 2019 marks the centennial anniversary of the birth of IR as a formal discipline, it is crucial to rethink the ways we conceptualise the relationship between globalisation and the nation-state. Andreas Bieler and Adam David Morton’s cornerstone study, Global Capitalism, Global War, Global Crisis does not only develop a critical account that transcends the externally constructed dualisms between the expansion of capitalism, the role of the state in the geopolitics, and the conditions of exploitation, resistance, and global crisis; it also provides invaluable empirical insights that evidently illustrates the internal relationality between the rising powers and the BRICS, the conditions of new imperialism, and the Global Financial Crisis of 2007-8. For future research projects, such as the rise of authoritarian and populist regimes around the globe, the crisis of migration/refugees in Europe, and resistance movements against neoliberalism, this book provides an excellent analytical framework. As well as scholars and students of Political Economy and International Relations as disciplines, anyone who is interested in international politics would enjoy reading this book with its systematic methodology and clear language. All in all, Global Capitalism, Global War, Global Crisis is a masterpiece, and I dare say a ‘canonical book’, in the study of IR/IPE theories, globalisation, international historical sociology, and global political economy.


Bailey, David J., Mònica Clua-Losada, Nikolai Huke and Olatz Ribera-Almandoz (2017) Beyond Defeat and Austerity: Disrupting (the Critical Political Economy of) Neoliberal Europe. London: Routledge.

Held, David and Andrew McGrew (2003) “The Great Globalization Debate: An Introduction” in David Held and Anthony McGrew (eds.) The Global Transformations Reader: An Introduction to the Globalization Debate. Second Edition. Cambridge & Malden, MA: Polity Press, pp. 1-50.

Gorkem Altinors
Dr Gorkem Altinors is an Assistant Professor in politics at Bilecik Seyh Edebali University. He holds a PhD in Politics from the University of Nottingham where he was a research assistant at the Centre for the Study of Social and Global Justice (CSSGJ). His research interests include Critical IR/IPE, neoliberalism, authoritarianism, populism, Eurocentrism, Islamism, and MENA politics. His contributions are published on Mediterranean Politics, Turkish Studies, Political Studies Review, Capital & Class, Progress in Political Economy, and LSE Middle East Centre Blog. His forthcoming book The State and Society in Modern Turkey: From Kemalism to Islamism will be published by Brill, Historical Materialism Book Series.

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