chapter  5
13 Pages

Imperialism and the Stages of Capitalist Development

Marx, Weber, and Schumpeter all conceived capitalism as a dynamic form of society which manifests definite tendencies of development; and they made predictions about its future, at least in Schumpeter’s ‘weak’ sense of trying to ‘diagnose observable tendencies and to state what results would be, if these tendencies should work themselves out according to their logic’, while taking into account ‘resistances’ or counter-tendencies which might arrest the development at ‘some halfway house’ (1942, p. 422). With the benefit of hindsight we can now reassess their views against the background of a century of capitalist development in a rapidly changing world situation, and attempt a new analysis of the main tendencies and counter-tendencies. In doing so, however, we must recognize the substantial differences between the three thinkers. Not only did they write from different social and historical vantage points, which profoundly affected their judgement of events, but the subsequent development, or lack of development, of their ideas followed very different paths. Marx’s theory gave rise to a school-or, more precisely, diverse and often divergent schools-of thought within which it has been continuously revised and reformulated. Weber’s analysis, by contrast, was not extensively discussed.1 The main debate has revolved almost entirely around his thesis concerning the origins of Western capitalism,2 and only in recent years, as will be seen, has greater attention been given to the theme of rationalization as a central feature of capitalist development. Similarly, Schumpeter’s later work, Capitalism, Socialism and Democracy, though widely read, did not generate the kind of theoretical debate which might have been expected, and his ideas have only recently been critically reassessed (Heertje, 1981), but again without giving rise, apparently, to any extensive discussion.