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Race, Surplus Population and the Marxist Theory of Imperialism

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Abstract:  This paper argues that capitalist accumulation requires imperialist expansion, and that this expansion creates a “raced” surplus laboring population. The argument proceeds in seven parts: that Marx's assertion in chapter 25 of Capital that capitalism produces an ever‐increasing relative surplus population is tenable in all but the longest of time frames; that imperial expansion played an important role in the transition to capitalism, though not for the reasons traditionally given; that overinvestment rather than the increasing organic composition of capital best explains imperial expansion in the capitalist era; that the uneven development of capitalism produces at the same time an uneven development of the surplus laboring population; that race has served as a mark of membership in the surplus laboring population; that by intertwining itself with the surplus laboring population, race serves to perpetuate itself despite its contradictions; and that despite this resilience, the contradictions of race also set in process conflicts that make it possible to overcome imperialism.

Document Type: Research Article


Affiliations: International Studies, DePaul University, Chicago, IL, USA;, Email:

Publication date: November 1, 2011

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