At our internal meeting in Sheffield in February 2023 we agreed on a collective effort to understand the current wars from a concrete empirical, historical and political-economic perspective. At the meeting itself we primarily revisited the historical context of ‘revolutionary defeatism’ and engaged with an empirical chronology of the last 100 days of war in Ukraine. We agreed to conduct an in-depth interview with participants in Ukraine workers’ solidarity initiatives.

During our debate, the question emerged as to what extent wars are intrinsic and inevitable outcomes of capitalism and its systemic crises. In order to elevate this question to the current global configuration of the capitalist world order, we were looking for contemporary contributions to the debate. Below you can find two translations relating to a new book ‘The Capitalist War’, by Emiliano Brancaccio, Stefano Lucarelli and Raffaele Giammetti – an interview with one of the authors, and reading notes for the debate by Raffaele Sciortino.

The book is an empirical study of the relation between the tendencies of global centralisation of capital, crisis and war. The main thesis is that with the onset of a global crisis, the tendency of capital centralisation, which normally proceeds ‘peacefully’ through mergers and fusions, clashes with the nation state framework. More precisely, the main clash appears between the main indebted block (the USA) and the main crediting block (China) and their respective allies. In the current situation, the US unilaterally imposed a neo-protectionism in order to prevent further acquisitions of productive assets and resources by China. In this moment, the central banks obtain a new political role in the global ‘currency wars’, when trying to secure or challenge the hegemonic role of the US dollar, which allowed the US to amass such a large amount of debt in the first place without being ‘punished by the markets’. As these tensions between creditors and debtors intensify, ‘sanctions’ and military escalations become inevitable, evidenced by a significant expansion of military spending.

The two texts below deal with these issues in a rather academic and sometimes perhaps too rhetorical manner. Still, we think they are fruitful, as they challenge campist views that want to reduce the debate about the war to the question of ‘good or bad nations’ or portray the war in Ukraine as a dispute over ‘democracy’. We encourage reading them together with these two more concrete articles on the global microchip crisis, which is one of the main minefields of current US protectionism, and the role of central banks in this new imperialist phase.  

For proletarian internationalism


The capitalist war”

A discussion about the centralisation of capital, new imperialisms and war. Interview by Francesco Pezzulli with Stefano Lucarelli

This interview happened with the release of the book ‘The Capitalist War – Competition, Centralisation, New Imperialist Conflict’, in November 2022. The editor Francesco Pezzulli talked to one of the authors, Stefano Lucarelli. 

In the newly published book that you authored in collaboration with Emiliano Brancaccio and Raffaele Giammetti, you write that, “capitalist war is the continuation of class struggle with new and more hellish means.” Can you explain how you came to this conclusion? 

We started from one fact, the so-called ‘law’ of the centralisation of capital in fewer and fewer hands, originally theorised by Marx, that can be verified empirically. If you think about it, this is an issue that has always been put on the back burner by Marx’s contemporary scholars, but which is actually much more relevant today than, for example, reflections on the tendency of the rate of profit to fall. The analysis of the centralisation of capital had remained in the background even in the critical analyses of the globalisation process that spread especially in the second half of the 1990s. And in any case, it had never been analysed with the proper tools. Today in fact – as we demonstrate in the book – this process is confirmed by empirical data.

It is curious that after the global crisis of 2007-2008, the focus on this tendential and systemic ‘law’ has been placed precisely by the analysts of the financial world on the pages of the ‘Financial Times’ or ‘The Economist’. Even the tycoons of High Finance themselves started to debate the process of centralisation, those who – in the words of Warren Buffet – feel themselves to be the winners of the war between the social classes.

By studying the process of centralisation as accurately as possible – employing appropriate statistical and econometric techniques from the data available to understand the hierarchy of ownership structures that characterise contemporary capitalism – we can demonstrate certain aspects of the struggle between capitals. In this sense, our studies represent a first in the field of social sciences. It has been very important for us to come to terms with the scientific method that physicists such as Giorgio Parisi have proposed to study the interaction between disorder and fluctuations in systems: thanks to the ‘networks’ that we have been able to identify by applying the techniques used in the analysis of complex systems, we can see that, nowadays, more than 80% of the world’s capital is controlled by less than 2% of the world’s shareholders. This select club of very large shareholders is shrinking over time. The phenomenon affects every country in the world to a certain extent, starting with the United States and China.

The clash of capital is never purely limited to the financial world or to the clash between the owners of the means of production. The processes that lead to the disintegration of the working class are also dependent on this clash between capitals. More precisely, when creditor and debtor capitals identify themselves as capitals of different nations, their fierce economic warfare, under particular circumstances that we analyse in the book, may turn into a full-fledged military war. Labour, of course, increasingly suffers the devastating effects of intra-capitalist struggle. 

When war becomes a possible outcome of the clash between national capitals, the process of disintegration of the subaltern social class becomes even more acute, to the point of a paradox: the subalterns no longer recognise themselves as a social class, but as a group whose interests are comprehensible only from a nationalist perspective. In this sense, capitalist war can be said to be the continuation of class struggle by new and more hellish means.

One merit of the book is to remind us that class struggle does not take place exclusively between the two ‘fundamental’ classes, but also within the capitalist class itself. Can you remind us what have been the most recent and significant moments of struggle within the capitalist class from a historical economic point of view?

The centralisation of capital into fewer and fewer hands is the result of an internal struggle within the capitalist class, between distressed debtor capital and creditor capital trying to absorb and ‘swallow’ it. In some ways, the analysis of clashes between capitals is more important than the analysis of class conflict. In every economic system there are large capitals and small capitals. What struck us in particular is that in this great sea, in which the big fish feed on the little fish – to use the image of the well-known engraving by Bruegel the Elder – there is at the same time a reorganisation of the big fish around different poles, poles that are distinct from each other because of a basic characteristic in a monetary economy of production: one can become a big fish either by accumulating debts or speculatively by accumulating credits. Creditors and debtors can coexist peacefully, but this can only happen ‘by design’. When creditors use accumulated credits in a way not shared by large debtors, then peace falters. And this happens, for example, when credits are used to redefine ownership structures that have traditionally been under the control of debtors. Large creditors and large debtors have prepared for war by accumulating weapons. This is demonstrated by an analysis of military spending over the past twenty years.

Since at least the early 2000s, we have been reflecting on the shift “from imperialism to empire” as a hallmark of capitalist globalisation. In your book, the category of imperialism is central while the category of empire is quickly considered “nebulous” (see p. 196). Can you give us the reasons for why you consider imperialism to be a central category and empire a supposedly “nebulous” entity? 

The category of ’empire’ is an outdated suggestion. But this does not mean reproposing the concept of ‘imperialism’ in the ossified terms of the twentieth century. Nor does it mean denying that Hardt and Negri’s ‘Empire’ (Harvard University Press, 2000) was an important and evocative text. And you are right to recognise the formative importance of reflecting on the transition from imperialism to empire, which many of us were part of. This theoretical exercise resulted in a way of doing politics that would attack the symbols of globalisation head-on,  symbols and organisations to which we assigned direct command capabilities over our lives. This is a political strategy that no longer exists today, but that would be necessary to reflect on again, starting with a reading of power relations that is as accurate as possible. This is also why we have begun the work on ‘The Capitalist War’. But let us reread together some key passages from Part Three of Negri’s ‘Empire’ on the limits of imperialism and try to see how those reflections can still be relevant when trying to build an alternative to the political follies we have been living with for more than two decades: 

“Lenin’s book on imperialism presents itself, above all, as a synthesis of the analyses of other authors […]. The text also contains original contributions, the most important of which is the approach to the critique of imperialism from a subjective point of view, which is related to the Marxist thought of the revolutionary potentials inherent in the crisis. […] Lenin adopted Hilferding’s hypothesis that capital had entered a new phase of development of international dimensions, characterised by monopoly, which would produce an aggravation of contradictions […]. But Lenin did not accept that the utopia of a unified international bank could be taken seriously and that overcoming the crisis […] could ever be realised. […] Lenin agreed with Kautsky’s basic thesis that there is a trend in capitalist development toward international cooperation by individual national finance capitals that would probably give rise to a single world organisation. What he vigorously rejected was Kautsky’s use of this projection to justify a peaceful future […]. [W]ith his reworking of the concept of imperialism, Lenin was able to anticipate the transition to a new phase of capital that went beyond imperialism and was able to identify the place (or non-place) of emerging imperial sovereignty. […] [Imperialism] firmly maintains its frontiers and the distinction between inside and outside. At present, however, imperialism has become the boundary of capital […] the boundaries created by imperialist practices obstruct the course of capitalist development and the full realisation of the world market. Capital must get rid of imperialism and destroy the barriers between inside and outside. […] This is the alternative implicit in Lenin’s thought: either world communist revolution or empire.”

It seems to me that in ‘Empire’, the possibility that there are different types of imperialism is not denied. Imperialism is not reducible to a single abstract model, except for a need for simplification on the part of the authors. What we show in ‘The Capitalist War’ is the co-presence of at least two models of imperialism, one hostile to the other. Both are not reducible to the Kautskyist model of twentieth-century imperialism. In the ‘Post-Fordist Lexicon’ (Feltrinelli, 2001) Hardt identifies an imperial sovereignty 1) in a decentralised and decentralising device of domination represented by the world market, 2) in an order that de facto suspends history and seeks to fix for eternity the present state of affairs, 3) in the fact that the distinction between the public and private spheres tends to blur, and 4) in a power always consecrated to peace in which there can be no war against an external enemy. Despite these efforts to define invariant features of a concrete imperial sovereignty, we soon had to recognise that what we called ‘empire’ was something multilateral. 

Moreover, it was characterised by recurrent financial and economic crises that were accompanied by international tensions. The tensions resulted in wars that presupposed the identification of external enemies traced back to specific national territories: think Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria. In 2011, Christian Marazzi spoke of “conflictual cooperation” at the level of multipolar governance, recognising that the Federal Reserve was speculating on restrictive monetary policies in emerging countries: 

“The central banks of emerging countries, which have pursued expansionary monetary policies over the past three years and thus helped to avoid a long-lasting global recession, are now being called upon by the Fed to do the dirty work, namely to raise interest rates to reduce the risk of inflation on a global scale.” 

It was precisely its multilateralism that made the empire ungovernable (the thesis is taken up in ‘Diary of the Infinite Crisis’, 2015). Negri himself in his ‘Five Lessons of Method on Multitude and Empire’ (Rubbettino, 2003) acknowledged that the book with Hardt, whose draft dates back to 1997, did not touch on some issues that have become fundamental: on the one hand, the very strong American insistence on the unilateralism of imperial action; on the other, the refinement of control mechanisms that extend towards war and are sometimes inherent in war – war which today constitutes sovereignty or sovereign policy, just as discipline and control constituted it yesterday. 

So, as you see, although ‘Empire’ represented a great  and new attempt to reorganise the demands and claims of subjects that had been disrupted by the violence of capitalism – by the way, a capitalism that presented itself as the only peaceful alternative to realise a world of international exchange in which there were no defeated and no enemies – in reality there remained very little of the distinctive elements of empire as summarised by Hardt in the entry I have referred to. More than two decades have passed since Negri’s and Hardt’s attempt to reconstitute a ‘science of political mobilisation’ on an international scale that assumed a form of global sovereignty without centre or borders. 

The analytical effort we address in ‘The Capitalist War’ is aimed precisely at understanding the movements of large and small capital within and outside national borders and the implications that the process of centralisation also has on the terrain of sovereignty. We encounter precisely such a multilateralism as a consequence of capitalist centralisation. A problematic and unstable multilateralism that defines different ideas of the global order in conflict with each other.    

The Russian-Ukrainian war is taken as a reference in the book. What lessons, from the perspective of your work, does this terrible event provide us with? If you were to venture a prediction, how do you think it will end?

If we trace the war between Russia and Ukraine back to the relations between large creditors and large debtors, which are the outcome of the process of centralisation of capital, it appears in a different light than the narratives that are most prevalent, and which risk plunging us into a false consciousness: this is not a war for the self-determination of a region or for the sovereignty of a nation, nor for the denazification of a territory or for the freedom of an attacked people. As we write in the introduction to ‘The Capitalist War’: 

“That bloody conflict marks the start of a large-scale economic contest, which will serve to test whether the US and its allies can safely jump from free trade to protectionism and everyone else must passively adapt – or whether from now on the rules of the economic game will be decided according to a different order of global power relations.”

Future research will serve to confirm or disprove the following hypothesis: the big debtor (the US) is working to overcome global multilateralism. In order to return to a bipolarism – or if you prefer using the metaphor proposed by Toni Iero to move from a truel to a duel – the US must break the Russian-European and Sino-European trade integration, forcibly creating a Russian-Chinese pole. 

With this book we wanted to make available some analytical tools and a scientific method of reading events that can be understood in the simplest way possible. We did this in the belief that geopolitical analysis without the critique of political economy risks remaining a narrative too dependent on individual feelings. And we did so in the hope of distributing an antidote against the false consciousness that is one of the greatest obstacles to the resumption of genuine democratic debate in this country. And I in particular was writing while always having in my head a line from a poem by Friedrich Hölderlin: “But where the danger is, also grows the saving power.”


“The capitalist war” – Some reading notes, by Raffaele Sciortino

We publish this interesting contribution sent to us by Raffaele Sciortino that highlights the merits and some problematic issues of the fundamental collective work “The Capitalist War”, written by Emiliano Brancaccio, Stefano Lucarelli and Raffaele Giammetti.

In the current political and cultural climate, even and perhaps especially on the “left”, before discussing the war it seems obligatory first to curtsy a couple of times in front of the Atlanticist mantras of “Russian aggression”, about “Putin a criminal in the service of the oligarchs”, about “defending Ukrainian democracy,” and so on. In such a stifling situation, a book like the one by E. Brancaccio, R. Giammetti, S. Lucarelli (BGL), “The Capitalist War”, offers a breath of fresh air as well as bringing one’s feet back down to earth. [1] And it is perhaps no coincidence that the reflections contained therein on the deep roots of the current conflict do not come from radical leftist circles that are nowadays steeped in neo-progressivist wokeness of Anglo-Saxon import and far removed from any class perspective. Instead it comes from serious scholars (yes, scholars) who show the ability to research and reason as a group, skills that have all but disappeared today, unafraid to swim against the current.

BGL’s analysis, supported by empirical evidence and adequate quantitative methodology, puts the Marxist ‘law of tendency’ toward the centralisation of capital in oligopolies whose network extends to a global scale at the centre of current developments. [2] The book discusses the links between this process of centralisation, on the one hand, and the crisis of democracy (more precisely: of the “Western liberal-democratic order”, p.35) and the tendency toward inter-capitalist warfare, on the other. [3] The reading is anything but neutral, it becomes immediately critical of the existing state of affairs: “in the overt process of centralisation of capital and oligarchisation of Western political institutions, assigning to the imperialism of the United States and its allies the role of bulwark of civil and political liberties is becoming simply grotesque” (p. 13). And the authors do so from a clearly antagonistic position with respect to ‘our’ camp: “fighting against the imperialism of one’s own country” (p. 14).

What follows is an invitation to read the book with some of my observations about stronger and weaker points, for further and possibly collective study. I am making brief and hopefully concise points, asking to excuse the schematic nature of bullet point formulations.

First, some words about the book’s important and valuable focus and implications:

– The book re-introduces the Marxist concept of centralisation closely related to the productive assets of the enterprises in question, as opposed to the often vague and nebulous use of the concept of financialisation that has prevailed in recent decades as a framework for so-called neoliberalism.

– It emphasises the unequivocal link between capitalist centralisation and imperialism in the “scientific” Marxist meaning of the term – imperialism not (only) as a policy but in the first instance as an objective process marking a “historical phase” of capitalist accumulation. It does so by revisiting the (not exclusively) Marxist debate on the subject and a rich bibliography that refers not only to the ‘classics’ but also to the 1950s-1960s-1970s and the era’s fundamental reference points for the debate of the ‘new’ imperialism. It is an invitation to revive this debate, which is fundamental and now unavoidable for any political strategy of struggle against capitalism.

– The authors stress the close link between centralisation and war – even behind the Ukrainian war – which BGL articulate in the sense of an emerging inter-capitalist clash between creditor/debtor countries on a world-historical scale that radicalises (à la Lenin?) and pushes competition from the economic to the geopolitical and military level.

– At a lower level of analysis, still anchored within the framework of systemic reproduction (…), the book addresses the very important role of central banks as a mechanism of regulation and thus of inter-capitalist struggle between debtors/creditors, internal and external to individual countries, within the framework of centralisation processes exacerbated by the accumulation crisis (see the whole of Ch. 7 in Part I). Thus the authors recognise the central banks’ inevitably political function, avoiding the neoclassical perspectives, which reduce the banks’ role to providers of equilibrium and enterprise efficiency, but also without granting concessions to any version of the ‘autonomy of the political’, which was characteristic of the subjectivist readings (a la ‘the plan of capital’) in vogue in the extreme of the 1970s (pp. 94-5). 

This is a crucial issue given the ever-renewing ‘currency wars’. I recall here the dollar/euro one of the early 2010s, demurely renamed as the European sovereign debt crisis, but one could also go back to the Asian crisis of 1997-98. It is also significant in the light of the global role of the dollar and the policies of the US Federal Reserve. We have to understand the role of central banks if we want to untangle the current economic intertwinement between inflation and upward manoeuvres on interest rates and, more generally, understand the possible coming to an end of the “frozen” [4] situation of the latent debt crisis and (low) business failure rates in the West that characterised the decade of ‘quantitative easing’.

– Last, but not least, the book underscores the impossibility of reformism as a gradualist response to the catastrophic course of capital.

Following are some problematic points of fundamental interest (for me) in view of possible further study:

– BGL speak of two imperialist blocs (e.g., p.11), one of the US-led debtor countries, with Europe in tow, the other emerging from the Chinese-led creditor countries, which are rising, but rendered unstable by the escalating confrontation with the US hegemon. If I understand correctly, we would then be facing up to not only an already formed Chinese-led bloc, but also a situation where Beijing challenges the hegemony of Washington – the authors seem cautious in this regard. The point is that around China we do not see (yet?) a real geopolitical bloc made up of alliances (the Sino-Russian realignment is not properly established either), although it is true that Beijing, thanks to its economic rise, is increasingly acting as a backbone for a whole set of countries, outside the Western circle, visibly dissatisfied with an increasingly predatory US hegemony, with less and less win-win returns. This is not only due to the very justified fear of an expected angry reaction from the US state, in light of their unmatched primacy in geopolitical hard and soft power. But, fundamentally, it is in relation to the pivotal role in the international capital circuit still played by the US and the dollar, with no possible replacement in sight in the short to medium term. At present, the US is representing the only effective system of alliances – actually, of vassal-tribal hierarchies – beyond various and hopefully growing creaks. 

– This points to an essential issue: the persistent asymmetry between the US (and the Western world) on the one hand and China and other emerging countries on the other. A monetary and financial asymmetry – which is amply documented, just think of the reserves in US dollars and in US Treasury bonds that trade surplus countries are forced to hold, thus bestowing loans at minimal cost, and in all likelihood non-repayable, issued in the debtor’s floating currency – that also ultimately refers back to the international division of labour. Now, it is true that Beijing is trying to centralise its capital (here we can see the indispensable role of the party-state, which, not surprisingly, ‘liberalisers’ of all sorts would like to see undermined) but, precisely, it is still half way in this process and the obstacles are as great as the drive to overcome them. [5] Put another way: the world system is that of imperialism (as a ‘stage of development’), but not all countries are (already) imperialist, even though some of them are trying, on the back of their own internal capitalist development and the dynamics of class conflict, to move up the world capitalist hierarchy, primarily within the value chains to which the world market has entangled them. Not all centralisations are qualitatively equal and, even more, a guarantee of access to the dominant club.

– The above relates to the creditor/debtor country pattern. Let us stay with China and leave out the difficult position of Germany and Japan in this scheme. The real novelty of post-1970s imperialism – we might say, beginning with the dollar-gold decoupling of ’71, but already triggered by the establishment of the multinational enterprise – is a new mode and configuration that has gradually become structural. On the basis of this new imperialist configuration,  in a nutshell, the US dominates the essential crossroads of the complex web of capital export and import, not in spite of, but through its balance of payments deficit. In the case of the US, the indebtedness due to the double deficit, of the balance of payments and of the state, are thus ultimately not elements of weakness but of strength. We can see it as a strength that the US and the dollar hegemony can force all actors on the global market to finance this debt as a condition for the access to the international capital circuits and liquidity. Hence the unchallenged international role, to this day, of the dollar that is neither balanced nor balanceable in the short to medium term if world capitalist reproduction is to be preserved. Today such an element of strength, which is structural and therefore strategic for Washington, proves to be increasingly problematic, as it is increasingly expropriative, and triggers reactions such as China’s. This does not imply, however, in my view, any ‘declinist’ theory about the US, but rather the jamming, by leaps and bounds, of the fundamental mechanism of asymmetric globalisation (and here we would be talking about the crisis of world accumulation, and not just the rise of the Chinese, which is obviously an important factor). China’s is thus not a hegemonic, but a challenge of survival (analogous, but on a more general level, to Russia’s military move in Ukraine). The US strategy of selective decoupling is not a strategy of de-globalisation and retreat to a circumscribed geographical area. One could consider it a realistic hypothesis that such kind of decoupling would be fine with Washington’s adversaries, provided that alternative, though not antagonistic, monetary circuits were formed and the EU could participate in them without being disrupted by the US. Instead the current decoupling is an expression of reasserting global hegemony under the new conditions (an outcome that I consider problematic, however, for reasons that it would be too long to argue here).

– On the relation between centralisation and accumulation: perhaps one can advance the hypothesis that the two processes, which BGL’s work rightly differentiates, proceed synergistically when accumulation works, but with the jamming of the process of accumulation, centralisation ends up overriding and superseding, so to speak, accumulation? Thus confirming the link between centralisation and capitalist crisis and, hence, with inter-capitalist war. If this is the case, then it becomes more apparent than the authors think that it is the intertwining, rather than disentanglement, of the general laws of capital’s tendency that we are facing. 

– Finally, the relation between centralisation and democracy: a thorny issue, starting with the very definition of what is meant by democracy. Be that as it may, I would not be so sure that the “democratic card” – albeit of an increasingly formal exercise, covering up the substantial oligarchy of the political sphere – has ceased or will cease to be played by the West, either internally or as a lure to the middle classes and non-Western youth (as happened in Ukraine in ’14), as a trademark of its own superiority. It is the legacy of over a century of imperialism, and it will not be easily overcome.

It remains for us to figure out – us, who are not neutral observers, albeit today compelled to observe rather than contribute to collective action – how all this is articulated to the class struggle; the class struggle that is always existent, though rendered invisible or opaque to its own agents; and a class consciousness, which is not always given and indeed today seemingly remote. Be that as it may, the objective issues identified by ‘The Capitalist War’ will be with us for quite a while.


[1] A critical look at the war-imperialism nexus is gradually emerging from a body of work including Maurizio Lazzarato, ‘War or Revolution’.

[2] As a side note, this process of centralisation has to be distinguished from the ‘normal’ concentration process.

[3] I refer to Andrea Fumagalli’s review ( for more precise details.

[4] V. B. Astarian, R. Ferro, Accouchement difficile (

[4] Here I refer, and apologise, to the third part of my book ‘Stati Uniti e Cina allo scontro globale’, recently published at Asterios.

* * *

Raffaele Sciortino, PhD in political studies and international relations, is an independent researcher. He works on international political economy, with particular reference to globalisation, and geopolitics in its intertwining with social movements. He has published, among others, I dieci anni che sconvolsero il mondo (Asterios, 2019) and Stati Uniti e Cina alla scontro globale (Asterios, 2022).