First published: May 1993
The consideration of inter-imperialist competition is frequently not integrated into the body of Marxist economic analysis, which is too often seen as relating to the study of the workplace or to national capitalism, with inter-imperialist competition running ‘parallel’ to this. This is radically wrong.
The starting point of Marx’s analysis is the development of ‘capital in general’ or ‘the capital of the whole society’ . This is sometimes taken to be the capital in a nation state, but this is wrong.  Capitalism is an international system in which the world economy is dominant. The decline in the rate of profit throughout the 1960s and 1970s, from which capital has still not recovered and which is the driving force of the present crisis, was an international decline working itself out in all countries.
But capital as it actually exists is not ‘capital in general’. As Marx put it: ‘In their actual movement capitals confront each other in certain concrete forms’.  Capital exists as different firms, and different nations with different companies and trusts, in competition with each other. It exists, as Marx put it, as ‘many capitals’. Competition between these capitals is the ‘essential locomotive force of the bourgeois economy’.  Competition is the mechanism by which the fundamental laws of the capitalist economy work themselves out.