Transnational Capitalism

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William Carroll's investigations, as summarized by Samir Amin:

"Carroll’s immediate conclusions are as follows:

(i) Transnational interpenetration has not diminished the strength of national systems; ‘the transnationalisation of the corporate network has not fragmented national corporate networks’ (p. 24), or a ‘transnational network is a kind of superstructure that rests upon rather resilient national bases’ (p. 34).

(ii) Links between corporations are strengthened, with this initially taking place at the national level (even in Europe). Germany has the most well-integrated national system in comparison with other European countries; following that is north-western Europe (Germany, France, the Netherlands, Switzerland, Sweden and Great Britain, who altogether occupy a single position within this network of links); and finally the Atlantic (made up of Europe as set out above, and the United States and Canada). In contrast however, Japan–Europe and Japan–North America links are somewhat stunted. Worse still are the links between the central Atlantic on one side and the rest of the world on the other side (including developing countries, China and others).

(iii) The European network excludes practically the whole of eastern Europe and the Balkans; and is entirely centred upon the advanced capitalist countries of occidental Europe.

(iv) The European and Atlantic integrated networks are principally made up of commercial and industrial corporations, with banking corporations featuring very marginally. The banks are strongly linked to certain areas within the national system of production, but are not linked to each other directly. As such, banks remain broadly ‘national’ in comparison with other corporations; they are not generally considered as European or Atlantic entities.

(v) Western European integration (not simply European, as eastern and southern European countries are typically excluded) is well ahead in comparison with other models of transnational integration.

From his observations, Carroll arrives at two major conclusions:

(i) The western European construction is fully working. I will return to this point, which has been formulated far too hastily in my opinion, and risks instilling an erroneous perspective on the situation.

(ii) National foundations are still important. Carroll illustrates his conclusion using the following points: ‘the notion that the elite is becoming disembodied from national moorings and repositioned in a supra national space underestimates the persistence of national and regional attachments’ (p. 129).


Beyond the narrow conclusions we can draw from Carroll’s recordings of the cross-representation between boards of directors, he does make important observations:

(i) The economies of the global South, including emerging countries (even the most successful among them, China) have been marginalised thanks to the intensifying transnational interdependence of the global North. Carroll goes so far as to say, ‘the network seemed to present one facet of a collective imperialism, organised to help manage global capitalism’ (ibid, p. 55). I note here the return to my thesis concerning the emergence of collective imperialism, a term more appropriate in my opinion, than the extremely vague ‘globalisation’.

(ii) Transnationalisation only truly holds the interest of the economies within the North Atlantic (US, occidental Europe), whereas Japan seems only to participate very marginally in this process." (

Capitalism remains nationally autocentric

Samir Amin:

"I have always claimed – and I stand by this position – that the social formations of central capitalism create autocentric and integrated production systems, even if they are internationally open, or even aggressively open. The concept of an autocentric system is in itself rather complex and links together several different elements: (i) technical interdependence between the various branches of production (as shown on input–output tables); (ii) methods for managing the conflicting relationship between capital and labour; (iii) links relating the dominant monopolies to the other branches of production submitted to the first and integrated within the reproduction of capital (since the end of the 20th century), or integrated within capitalism; (iv) methods for managing money as a means for putting overall capital interests before the conflicting interests of the individual capitalist; and (v) the nature of the (aggressive) opening of the economy to globalisation and the methods for managing the asymmetric transnationalisation which accompanies it." (

Transnational Resistance?

Samir Amin:

"Faced with the institutions created by the transnational bourgeoisie, Carroll proposes a counter-strategy, in which four promising new institutions emerge. These are: (i) the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC); (ii) the Transnational Institute Amsterdam, itself a branch of the Institute for Policy Studies based in Washington; (iii) Friends of the Earth International (FoEI); and (iv) the World Social Forum (WSF), which was first held in Porto Alegre in 2001.

Beyond the differing nuances and concerns specific to each of these institutions, a single common denominator unifies them as a coherent group. First, these institutions are largely ‘reformist’, sometimes to the extreme, like the ITUC, who no longer even defends the ‘old-style’ social democratic programmes – a compromise between capital and labour worthy of the name – and is satisfied with minor proposals aimed at alleviating the most dramatic social consequences of the policies dictated by the monopolies. The FoEI is not interested in examining the fundamental relationship between capitalist logic and ecological disaster and as such is able to act as a viable interlocutor for the World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD). The WSF charter forbids the research of credible alternative policies and is satisfied with simply recording the spontaneous societal changes that are produced by the ‘resistance’." (


The Transnationality Index

Samir Amin:

"In 1993, UNCTAD (United Nations Conference on Trade and Development) proposed methods for measuring this transnationalisation by creating the simple and practically self-explanatory ‘transnationality index’ (TNI). This index links together three related elements: the number of foreign workers contributing to a firm’s total workers; the total volume of exports in comparison to a firm’s overall trade; and the amount of work that is sub-contracted externally compared with the total amount of work available. Between 1996 and 2006 the TNI rises visibly." (


Samir Amin, a history of the concept amongst those critical of capitalism:

"To my knowledge, since 1970 Stephen Hymer is the first person to have formulated this positive response (to a question which was far less frequently asked at that time) by stating that ‘an internationalist capitalist class is emerging whose interests lie in the world economy’ (William K. Carroll, ‘The Making of a Transnational Capitalist Class?’, Zed, 2010, p. 2).

Kees Van Der Pijl (‘The Making of an Atlantic Ruling Class’, 1984) has always integrated his analysis of transformations within the global economic system with those of the wider global political economy, putting all of his emphasis on the political dimension, as should be expected. He was amongst the first to have proclaimed (and rightly so, in my opinion) that the ‘European project’ was actually born in Washington; ‘European unification was a product of US intervention’ (Carroll, 2010, p. 155).

However, more recent steps towards acknowledging the emergence of an ‘Atlantic transnational capitalism’ that comprises the United States and north-west Europe have been proposed by Leslie Sklair (‘The Transnational Capitalist Class’, Blackwell, 2001), W.I. Robinson (‘A Theory of Global Capitalism’, John Hopkins, Baltimore, 2004) and William K. Carroll (2010).

Robinson has gone the furthest in terms of defining the qualitative transformation of capitalism by defining the new bourgeoisie as the ‘group that owns leading worldwide means of production’ (Carroll, 2010, p. 3).

Leslie Sklair defines the new transnational capitalism by combining the different dimensions of his latest investigation into one reality. The global leading class is therefore made up of the following: ‘corporate executives’; market majority-holders and the politicians at their disposal (‘globalizing bureaucrats and politicians’); the technocrats also at their disposal (‘globalising professionals’); and even the most privileged classes who benefit from globalisation (‘consumerist elites’). The existence of such an association, for Sklair, is hardly worth mentioning. Yet, can we assume that this constitutes a single global class? Or is it a group of associated classes that delineate a globally dominant historic bloc (à la Gramsci)? Or could it be a group of classes (of differing nationalities amongst other things) who are conscious of their shared interests yet are still in competition with each other? The latter response is that of Pijl and it is a view that I share, the reasons for which I will come to later.

The most recent work on the question of the globalisation of capitalism, that of William Carroll (2010), is an empirical study of titanic proportions. Carroll has created an indicator for measuring the interpenetration of capital at both national and transnational levels, in Europe, the North Atlantic and worldwide. This indicator is made up of the number of firms whose directorates are subject to cross-representation. Carroll has therefore recorded each of the instances of exchanged representation for the group of 100, or in this case the 500 largest corporations in the world. The end product of Carroll’s investigation is a system of ranking which ascertains to what degree the interpenetration of capital occurs; this piece of work is, to my knowledge, unparalleled in its precision and magnificent illustrations; his series of graphs (which turn black with higher levels of interpenetration and grey or even white when interpenetration is less frequent) make for an enlightening set of results." (