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New Left Review I/118, November-December 1979

Bernard Semmel

On ‘The Geometry of Imperialism’

Giovanni Arrighi’s The Geometry of Imperialism (NLB, 1978) is an effort by a well-known Italian Marxist economist to deal critically with the Leninist theory of imperialism. That theory, as Arrighi observes, is virtually the only theory of Marxism to which non-Marxist economists give serious consideration. More specifically, the author of this study has attempted a systematic treatment of one of the two theoretical foundations of Lenin’s formulation, that produced in 1901 by the English liberal economist J. A. Hobson. (The second, of course, was Das Finanzkapital, published in 1910 by the Austro-Marxist, Rudolf Hilferding.) The work is useful in clearing up some of the ambiguities in a theory which, as Arrighi has observed, has become a ‘Tower of Babel,’ in which not even Marxists knew any longer how to find their way. However, in its intentionally laconic style, and in the somewhat artificial limitation of its range of discussion, the author has obscured almost as much as he has illumined.

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