How Empire Works: An Interview with Laleh Khalili - Viewpoint Magazine (2023)


How Empire Works: An Interview with Laleh Khalili - Viewpoint Magazine (1)

Position: How do you understand imperialism? Is it still a viable concept? What analytical frameworks do you think are best suited to understanding the balance of power at the international level?

Laleh Khalili: More crudely, I understand modern imperialism as the will to make the world a safe place for the movement of capital (mainly ruled by US capitalists and their allies), if necessary by force of arms. Although we hear a lot about capital not having a home state, I still think that there are forms of imperial power emanating from the North Atlantic, and particularly from the United States, that countries like China still have a long way to go to sustain themselves. The legal infrastructures, business and accounting rules, frameworks for trade and investment, and financing pathways required for businesses are largely determined by established institutions in the North Atlantic. These institutions are defended by courts, financial sanctions, and various other forms of hegemonic control. But ultimately, the United States has never hesitated to use force when it saw its broader interests, and the interests of capital, at risk.

I think what is also striking about US imperialism is the extent to which it is not interested in holding territory, except to the extent that it needs bases for the projection of its military power and for the logistical positioning necessary for a rapid response to the challenges. your rule is required. In fact, the United States often prefers, and particularly since the withdrawal from Iraq in 2009, that its military remain invisible. To this end, it builds bases in inaccessible places like the island of Diego Garcia in the Indian Ocean, which it acquired from Britain in a shady deal in the 1970s after Britain expelled all its residents. The United States is also taking advantage of offers from friendly regimes in Europe, Asia, Africa and Latin America to house their armed forces at their bases. These are covered by powerful security and secrecy apparatus, by regimes of obliging and grateful clientele.

(Video) Sinews of War and Trade; a Conversation with Author Laleh Khalili and Pascal Menoret

VP: How do we avoid a simplistic notion of imperialism as synonymous with the "foreign policy" of certain nation-states?

LK:It is important to recognize that imperialism asDeviceincludes extraction and economic exploitation structures; asymmetric forms of capital accumulation; modalities of military control; and complete legal and administrative apparatuses that ensure the subjugation or exploitation of some throughout the world by others. Imperialism also brings with it changing discourses that serve as an alibiYStimuli of these larger processes: on the one hand, the discourses of scientific racism; today speeches about chaos or lack of democracy or something like that.

VP: How has your work in logistics influenced your idea of ​​imperialism? We have witnessed significant changes both in the technical infrastructure of warfare and in the cross-border mobility of military materiel and weapons, not to mention the tense relationship between contemporary capital accumulation, right-left responses to globalization, and the implications for class composition and industry. fights

LK:It made me very aware that coercion and political economy spheres are not the only settings in which empire operates. What is fascinating is the inclusion of all corners of the world in the sphere of capital. Very often this incorporation occurs either through the wars waged by the United States and its allies, but more and more, and especially since the end of the Bretton Woods regime, commercial and financial instruments are being used to convert the corners of the world in capitalist production and integrate. control regimes more and more firmly. But just as important, capital now travels not only from London or New York or the North Atlantic, but also from Singapore and Dubai and Hong Kong and Shanghai.

Imperial remains, and this is made clear time and time again, that the rules of the game remain in Washington, D.C. and defined in the North Atlantic. I mean things we think about: multilateral and bilateral treaties, international legal agreements, trade and trade rules, but also things we often don't think about: accounting rules; corporate arbitration processes; the calculation that goes into the purchase of insurance; the definition and attribution of copyright; etc

And beyond that, of course, the power of finance and weapons remain crucial. Whether or not the election of Trump heralds the beginning of the decline of the United States (which I really don't believe at all), the United States remains the greatest military power in the world and is still willing to project violence. The pathways through which investment returns travel, the circuits of capital and finance, still point primarily to the North Atlantic region, even as we see more and more capital from Asia and Africa traversing these circuits.

(Video) Sinews of War and Trade

VP: How can we understand the long construction of an international legal apparatus that enforces the free movement of goods through these maritime and commercial spaces?

LK:This is about less imperialismjoyaas a legacy of colonialism. As historians of the Indian Ocean have shown us, before the arrival of the Portuguese, no ruler in the region had attempted to assert sovereignty over the seas. The Portuguese began the practice of requiring permits from merchant ships in the depths of the ocean. The British perfected the concept of "sea lanes" as spaces to assert control over Asian trade and compete with other European powers. In a certain way, imperialism was less concealed in maritime spaces when it came to the strategic bases of different empires in places like Aden or Hormuz or Diego García or the Horn of Africa. But perhaps the most relevant part of the answer would be to point out that the very idea of ​​international law arises from the Dutch attempt to control the maritime spaces in the Indian Ocean, at a time when capitalism as a set of social rights and political relations is coming to the fore. Kraft light in the northwest corner of Europe. The central thesis of Hugo Grotius in hissea ​​of ​​freedom, written in response to intra-European skirmishes in the Indian Ocean, is that the sea should be a "free" trading area. But what this terminology means, of course, is that the European imperial powers must agree to a form of balance of power in which maritime spaces are free to be used by the European powers, so that they can freely promote Asia's resources. and to accumulate capital on the back of their exploitation of the peoples and resources of the Indian Ocean.

Vice president:In examining the colonial precursors of free trade, how do you see these afterlives of the colonial encounter in contemporary logistics and free trade as a recasting of our understanding of colonialism, so derided by advocates of globalization and free markets as a often unprofitable company? His historical research seems to indicate that colonialism was the often costly and economically disadvantageous constitution of capitalist social relations on a global scale.

LK:It was certainly expensive, but I'm not sure if it's financially (or otherwise) detrimental. It is important to realize that the calculation of cost-benefit analysis was never really the only factor (or even a factor) in the colonization processes. Colonization was as much about finding new places to invest excess capital, finding new natural resources to replace depleted or non-existent domestic resources, finding new markets, and so on. But it was also really a strategic domain and a political domain that generated prestige and power at home and abroad, built on the bones and ruins of colonized lives, societies and economies.

VP: You recently did research on European and North American managers in ship finance, global insurance, resource management, legal advisors, accountants, etc. In his argument, this "cosmopolitan cohort" is indispensable for considering the conditions of possibility for the (relatively) fluid movement of capital through different parts of the world. This group, whose people move between the Global North and the Global South, the intermediate places they occupy between distant geographies, the state and the market, form an identifiable layer ofthe ruling class? More clearly, does this layer of managers form a common antagonist for social struggles in different parts of the world?

LK:I am hesitant to generalize about this middle group of managers in general, in part because it increasingly includes technology and finance professionals from the Global South (particularly India). In many places, European experts recalled former colonial officials, who viewed colonial service as a form of social mobility. Certainly many of the British port managers and the like I met in the Gulf were from Britain's working class. Finance and insurance experts, on the other hand.especially if they are in the higher ranks Againthey form a discernible and more or less coherent ruling class, and whether or not they are aware of their ideological and functional role in the global movements and accumulation of capital, they certainly function as efficient cogs in this immense machine.

(Video) Aga Khan Program Lecture: Laleh Khalili

VP: One conclusion from your study of the parastatal complex is that there has been a massive expansion of the modes, spaces and actors of contemporary imperialism and transnational power relations. What is the state of the semi-state complex after the Obama presidency?

LK:A paragovernmental complex primarily refers to an interrelated entity of corporations and government agencies whose mission and boundaries are mixed or blurred. Excellent article by Tim Mitchell from 1991: "state borders” cites ARAMCO as a semi-governmental institutionin perfect completion. Mitchell argues that ARAMCO's ownership is blurry since it is owned by both governments and private investors; The company shapes foreign policy and has influenced domestic policy in both Saudi Arabia and the United States, and the company is geographically and operationally dispersed.

Within the world of security, the relationship between companies like Palantir or Blackwater and government agencies creates a kind of parastatal complex. In these companies, the employees are usually former military, intelligence or security officials. The purpose of these firms is to provide auxiliary or agency services to United States government agencies. Where one person's work ends, it is often difficult to determine where another's work begins.

This vast interconnected complex of public and private institutions, intertwined with and involved in security work, logistics work and global prison work, has actually been around for a long time. I would say that, over time, the distribution of delimitation and the process of naming things public or private, sovereign or not, has actually changed.

For example, we see the security company G4S involved in border surveillance in Europe, contract work in prisons in Israel, and other security work around the world. Blackwater, which provided mercenary services, has undergone a series of transformations and name changes and has become a "protection service" providing security services for government agencies. The former owner and CEO of Blackwater is now based in Abu Dhabi and provides logistics security services for the Chinese government and private investors in East Africa. Private companies around the world, companies with recognizable names like DHL, provide logistics services to the US military and probably other armed forces as well. The US Correctional Services and various police departments have extensive relationships with their counterparts around the world. Counter-terrorism training is now a global phenomenon, with both military and police forces participating in cross-border counter-terrorism operations and intelligence sharing.

These complexes, these institutions are often normalized, institutionalized and consolidated through the daily work of the companies and bureaucracies involved. There may be some policy changes at the top, but as we have seen, institutions, particularly those dealing with security, continue to operate across borders without changing much over time. So, in a way, I don't see the post-Obama era as a particularly disruptive time. At least not yet.

(Video) Laleh Khalili: Quartermasters of Capital

VP: There was a recent exchange onfootholdand other places between Jasper Bernes and Alberto Toscano on logistics, the form of value, capitalist social relations and the State. 1 It has been suggested that conflicts arise around these logistics bottlenecks.the container port or the nodes in the Walmart distribution chainthey are attacks on capitalist power or immediate challenges to value in motion. Given your work establishing and developing maritime infrastructure in the Persian Gulf, do any of these positions sound convincing? As central elements of the logistics architecture, could these bottlenecks act as possible levers to restore international solidarity and coordination? Could the disparate struggles within and against this infrastructure provide us with ways to articulate common strategic reference points on a global scale?

LK:I loved the Toscano-Bern exchange and found it incredibly productive to think about.Debora Cowen's amazing work on theLogistics deadly life.It has also shown the extent to which logistics is as much about containment as it is about the movement of goods, and that ways to break these strategies of containment, for example through the mobilization of workers, are critical to understanding the forms of dissidence and evolution in the 21st century. fight are century. However, it is precisely in the Gulf where it becomes clear that the possibility of a kind of mobilization that effectively challenges moving value still depends on antiquated structures for mobilizing workers, and in the absence of unions or fairer labor laws, the These workers' basic ability to resist deportation after a protest is greatly hampered. Global coordination can open avenues for global solidarity (for example, from Oakland dockers refusing to unload Israeli ships, or South African dockers striking in support of struggling European dockers). At the same time, constant innovations in economic management technologies support not only the process of capital accumulation, but also forms of forestry mobilization: ports far from cities; automation both on land and on ships; flags of convenience; dual employment contracts on ships, which contemplate huge differences between salaries and free time between the crew and the officers; etc It is a mutually constitutive process: new forms of work bring new forms of protest bring new forms of containment bring new forms of mobilization bring new forms of work.


↑1 See also Alberto Toscano”,logistics and oppositionmute, August 9, 2011; Jasper Bernese, “Logistics, counter-logistics and the communist perspectivefinal notes 3(2013); Albert Tuscany, "Logistics Status Guidelinespoint of view magazine4 (2014); Joshua Clover y Jasper Bernes, "The ends of the statepoint of view magazine4 (2014). Siehe auch Deborah Cowen, „Disrupting Distribution: Subversion, the Social Factory, and the ‚State‘ of Supply Chains“,point of view magazine4 (2014).


1. Nikola Tesla's TERRIFYING Invention Has Just Been Revealed In Old Documents
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2. Verso Live: Laleh Khalili & Rowland Atkinson
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3. London Review of International Law Annual Lecture: Moving Oil with Laleh Khalili
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4. Laleh Khalili | Sinews of War and Trade: Shipping and Capitalism in the Arabian Peninsula
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5. Alan Turing Decoded: An Evening with Sir Dermot Turing (ENIGMA)
(International Spy Museum)
6. A Brief History of Commercial Capitalism-Talk by Prof. Jairus Banaji, SOAS, University of London
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