A Critical Political Economy of Trade Theory and Practice
Chapter 5: Marxism, trade and the limits of radical nationalism
This chapter considers a range of broadly Marxist perspectives on trade. This book is informed by Marxism and sympathetic to an understanding of trade as inextricably linked to questions of power and exploitation. However, there are significant problems with some of the most influential accounts, beyond which a properly critical political economy therefore needs to go. The next section briefly discusses Marx. Trade relations could be important for Marx but, at least methodologically, they played a subordinate part in his analysis of capitalism. The following section discusses Marxist theories of imperialism as they were developed in the early years of the twentieth century. These early theories had the great merit of applying Marxist ideas to the concrete questions of their day but leave unresolved problems and followers have subsequently seized on some of their weaker points. The chapter then discusses the theory of unequal exchange (UE), particularly as it was articulated by Emmanuel (1972). This postulates a systematic transfer of value, impoverishing the periphery and enriching the core. Emmanuel sees the process driven primarily by higher wages in the core and higher exploitation in the periphery. The penultimate section considers broader ideas of dependency and world-systems theory (WST), which incorporate UE into a bolder and historically richer understanding of global capitalist development in which the power of core states play a vital causal role. The final section develops some criticisms, mainly ‘internal’ Marxist criticisms.
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