I first became aware of the concept “The Imperial Mode of Living”, when the organization, “Socialism in the 21st Century” announced a workshop to be held in September 2020 in Amsterdam entitled: “Conference on International Solidarity and Relational Inequality”. In the invitation for the conference, Marcel van der Linden and Joost Kircz wrote: 
”The present workshop wants to reflect on just one specific thesis, which concerns the differences in wealth of segments of the world working class. Wage earners in the Global North can buy T-shirts cheaply because their real wages are much higher than the real wages of labourers in the Global South. What is more, this may apply as well to indispensable achievements in the living standard of the Northern working class, such as all household appliances and electronic communication and media devices. In that sense workers in the North benefit from and rely on the exploitation of workers in the South.”
I have been interested in the connection between imperialism and the difference in living standards between the global “North” and the South” and the political implications of this difference, since the late 1960s. However, this was the first time I have seen this problem been the subject of a conference. It seems to be taboo and provocative to mention the fact, that large sections of the population living in the global “North”, benefits from how global capitalism works, and our imperial way of living is based on this relation and this is reflected in the political choices. The reason why I insist on breaking this taboo is the need to face the realities if we are to develop a realistic and effective strategy for another world order. Marx and Engels did not pull any punches in their description of the connection between colonialism and national chauvinism, racism, and reformism in the English working class.  Lenin portrayed rather bluntly, the connection between imperialism and opportunism, in the European working class, in the years leading up to the First World War.  He did so because an assessment of class interests was crucial in choosing the right partners in the struggle for socialism.
The concept of the imperial mode of living breaks this taboo in a nuanced way. The concept has mainly been formulated by Brand and Wissen and discussed in German-speaking circles, However, their book “The Imperial Mode of Living – Everyday Life and the Ecological Crises of Capitalism” is now published in English. This allows me to review the concept and offer some supplementary aspects to the concept.
What is the Imperial mode of Living?
In the conference paper from Amsterdam September 2020 Brand and Wissen writes:
“…..the concept imperial mode of living – more precisely imperial mode of production and living – is a particularly socio-ecological and internationalist one to understand the productive and destructive forces of global capitalism and the reproduction of inequality as a complex social relation. The imperial mode of living is in crisis but it has also stabilizing and hegemonic features (even in the Corona crisis) – it’s a relatively stable structure…
Our basic assumption is that the deeply rooted patterns of production and consumption, which predominate above all in the early industrialized capitalist societies, presuppose the disproportionate access to nature and labour power on a global scale. Developed capitalism is characterized by the fact that it requires a less developed or non-capitalist geographical and social ‘outside’, from which it obtains raw materials and intermediate products, to which it shifts social and ecological burdens, and in which it appropriates both paid labour and unpaid care services. It is exclusionary and exclusive and it presupposes an imperialist world order, which at the same time is normalized in countless acts of production and consumption so that its violent character is rendered invisible for those who benefit from it.”
In my view, the development of “the imperial mode of Living” was the result – or rather the solution – of the contradiction in the capitalist mode of production between production and consumption. To maximize profits, capital needs to expand production and thereby provide the market with an ever-increasing quantity of goods. However, the consumption power of the market, created by this production, cannot absorb the goods. Marx wrote:
“Overproduction is specifically conditioned by the general law of the production of capital: to produce to the limit set by the productive forces, that is to say, to exploit the maximum amount of labour with the given amount of capital, without any consideration for the actual limits of the market or the needs backed by the ability to pay.”
The purchasing power of the market is limited by the exploitation necessary for capitalist growth. On the one hand, the capitalist needs to keep wages as low as possible to make the biggest profits possible. On the other hand, wages make up a significant part of the purchasing power that is required to realize a profit through the sale. In other words, the capitalist form of accumulation tends to destroy its market. If capitalists increase wages, their profits decrease; if they decrease wages, their markets decrease. In both cases, capitalists become hesitant to invest, not because they can’t produce, but because they don’t know if what they produce can be sold.In volume three of Capital Marx emphases this fundamental contradiction of the capitalist mode of production:
“The ultimate reason for all real crises always remains the poverty and restricted consumption of the masses as opposed to the drive of capitalist production to develop the productive forces as though only the absolute consuming power of society constituted their limit.”
The solution – the form – this contradiction could move on in – was imperialism and the development of “The Imperial mode of Living”. Colonialism was not just a centrifugal phenomenon spreading capitalism; it was also a polarizing process. The division of the world into high wage and low wage countries, into center and periphery, lay the basis for capitalism’s growth and longevity. The periphery supplied the basis for the profit; the expanding market in the center secured the realization of the profit. This combination provided capitalism with a mode of production, which prolong its life span for more than a century.
Brand and Wissen further describes their concept:
“We understand the imperial mode of living as a concept of hegemony theory in the tradition of Antonio Gramsci, which connects the everyday life of people with the social and international structures and thus reveals the prerequisites of capitalist patterns of production and consumption. As such, it also refers to the way of working and producing in capitalist societies. Exploitation of nature and labour power is not only a structural feature of the relationship between the global North and the global South. Instead, it takes place in the class, patriarchal and racialized societies of the global North itself, where significant social and spatial inequalities exist and have increased in recent decades. What we want to emphasize however is that the exploitation of labour power in advanced capitalist countries is inherently linked to, and mediated by, exploitative structures elsewhere”.
What immediately caught my interest was the very wording of the concept, “The Imperial mode of Living – living at the expense of others”. A mode of living built on the empire. The concept of the Imperial Mode of Living is broad and deep, it includes both consumption patterns and the role of the capitalist welfare state and unequal exchange in terms of ecology. Brand and Wissen points out that:
Humankind has become a driving geophysical force: human beings have changed natural systems to such an extent that they can hardly be called ´natural’ any more…..One thing, however, is lost in this debate, namely that not just ´humankind‘ is at work here, human impact on the environment is always mediated socially through relation of power, class, gender and ´race´. And it is this mediation that counts; people in the capitalist societies of the global North, and the upper classes of these societies in particular, consume, on average, considerably more resources, than, for example, the members of (semi-) subsistent indigenous societies in the global South.
The concept of the imperial mode of living also covers the feminist perspective in terms of unpaid care and household work, and the antiracist perspective in terms of the question of migrants and refugees.
One of the reasons for the patriarchal nuclear family model spreading into the working class was colonial profits. The gender roles championed by the workers’ movement in the late nineteenth century corresponded to the development of the labor aristocracy. During the second half of the nineteenth century, the ratio of women to men in the industrial workforce fell by 0.7 percent a year on average. During the 1780s, for example, the percentage of married women in the small town of Cardington who worked for a wage was 67.5. In 1911, in all of England, it was 10 percent. This shift was due to factory legislation, the ten-hour workday, rising wages, and the spread of the bourgeois family model within the working class.The male worker saw the woman as a competitor in the labor market. The demand was a wage that could sustain the family. Maria Mies described this process as follows:
“Without the ongoing exploitation of external colonies—formerly as direct colonies, today within the new international division of labour—the establishment of the ‘internal colony,’ that is, a nuclear family and a woman maintained by a male ‘breadwinner,’ would not have been possible.”
White men in Western Europe and North America ruled over their own “colonies” in the form of a nuclear family with a wife to take care of the household. This was one of the factors ensuring that the former members of the dangerous class would become loyal citizens.
The European workers’ movement not only found it difficult to stand in solidarity with the women’s movement, but it also showed an almost complete lack of sympathy for the struggles of indigenous and oppressed peoples in the colonies. This was particularly pronounced in the attitudes of the white US working class toward enslaved Africans. The attitudes of English workers toward Irish immigrants were similar: they were seen as competitors on the labor market and met with hostility. As a result of colonialism, racism and notions of European superiority emerged, and the mainstream workers’ movement was far from immune to this. In The Wretched of the Earth, the psychiatrist and anticolonial militant Frantz Fanon wrote:
“Latin America, China, and Africa. From all these continents, under whose eyes Europe today raises up her tower of opulence, there has flowed out for centuries towards that same Europe diamonds and oil, silk and cotton, wood and exotic products. Europe is literally the creation of the Third World.”
When Fanon wrote that Europe is the creation of the Third World, he meant it literally. This was not limited to material or economic aspects; in colonial discourse, “European” came to mean “civilized,” other peoples were “barbaric.” Such claims were made despite the obvious barbarism of European civilization. Democracy and social justice might have been hot topics in Europe and North America in the 19th century, but that did little to stop European oppression, plunder, and exploitation around the world. The distinction between “us” and “them” was necessary to justify this brutality. Racism reflects the hierarchical division of humankind created by colonialism. The dehumanization of the colonies’ indigenous and oppressed peoples was a prerequisite for presenting the Western world as the supposed cradle of civilization. This attitude lingers on in the present distinguish between “non-Western origin” and Western immigrant called “ex-pat” when it comes to integration laws.
Brand and Wissen continues:
The imperial mode of living implies a hierarchy on a global scale: Since the onset of colonialism, the working and living conditions in the economies of the global South, with their predominant forms of resource extraction, industrial or service production, have been largely geared to the economic needs of the capitalist centres. Domestic class, gender, and racialised relations are not exclusively, but essentially, oriented towards these needs. This is the core of the concept of the ‘coloniality of power’ developed by the Peruvian sociologist Aníbal Quijano (2000).
The fact that Europe became the supposed centre of modernity is therefore due to a long historical process imbued with power that constituted certain forms of division and control of labour in the respective societies and on an international scale. In the course of colonisation, race became ‘the fundamental criterion for the distribution of the world population into ranks, places and roles in the new society’s structure of power’ (ibid, 535) of the colonised countries……
Through the history of colonialism and the structures of imperialist exploitation, an imperial mode of living develops in the imperialist center. The population in the Global North are born and socialized into this mode of living.Their actions and choices are not just made under conditions of their own choosing, but also under conditions transmitted from the past. Place of birth seems more important than class in the case of access to education, health system, and welfare in general. The imperial mode of living is normalized in daily acts of production and consumption so that its violent character and consequences are kept at a distance for those who benefit from it. Imperialism is just how the world works.
Brand and Wissen continues:
In the global North, the infrastructures of everyday life in areas such as food, transport, electricity, heat or telecommunication to a large extent rely on material flows from elsewhere, on the workers who extract the respective resources and on the ecological sinks on a global scale that absorb emissions produced through the operation of infrastructural systems. Workers in the global North draw on the latter not just because they consider them as components of a good life, but because they depend on them (cf. Lessenich 2019, 34). Mostly, it is not an individual choice that makes workers purchase cheap ‘food from nowhere’ (McMichael 2009), drive a car or light their homes with electricity that is generated by burning fossil fuels. Rather, they have to do so in order to nourish their families, to get to work or because the utility does not offer renewable alternatives. Thus, they are forced into the imperial mode of living simply because the latter is materialised and institutionalised in many of the life-sustaining systems of the global North.”
I like that Brand and Wissen concept is not “moralistic”. Imperial mode of living is not the result of “bribe” or “corruption” but is instead describes as consumption-patterns and institutions historically developed and integrated and normalized in everyday living. We are not born right-wing nationalists or social chauvinist. However, that we should be “forced into the imperial mode of living” as mentioned in the quote, is maybe too much. The working class has fought hard to improve their living standard. The reason that they succeeded in obtaining an imperial mode of living is however that the struggle took place in the context of global capitalist accumulation (imperialism). The political result was a state based on power-sharing between capital and labor – through the parliamentary system – within the framework of the capitalist welfare state.
The improved living conditions and political influence of the working class were not the results of some shrewd capitalist plot or a payoff to keep workers submissive. They were a consequence of working-class struggles. Yet, they would not have been possible without imperialism. To speak of “bribes” for the working class is an oversimplification. But as a result of improving conditions for the European working classes, the reformist sections of the labor movement were certainly strengthened and the revolutionary ones weakened.
Band and Wissen state that:
“The concept of the imperial mode of living – which, thanks to the adjective `imperial´, Joins a strongly political semantic – the finger of moral disapprobation is not to be pointed at people who have and drive a car, or at those who, without questioning it, take flights over short distances despite the availability of alternative transport, or at those who eat industrially produced meat. These behaviors should be criticized and changed – through individual behavior, legal restraints or even prohibition, while alternatives are also made possible on a societal level. …In this sense, the core starting point for social change is not `taking personal `responsibility‘ and making an individual choice ´between moral and immoral behavior`. Rather, it is primarily a question of pointing out the social structures and patterns of inequality that reproduce the imperial mode of living.”
However, I would like to add that there is a relation between being and consciousness. The mode of imperial living has political consequences; it creates an interest in the defense of the imperial structures. The Social democrats of the Second International defended colonialism and were loyal towards their respective national state in the inter-imperialist world wars.
The History of the Imperial mode of Living
The imperial mode of living came to exist gradually through the history of colonialism. By the end of the nineteenth century, the North-Western European population had become users of several goods imported from the colonies for mass consumption. Especially sugar, rice, tea, coffee, and tobacco. For capital, the most important raw material, in the first phase of the industrial revolution, was cotton. It was imported from the slave plantations in the USA before the American Civil War, and from India and Egypt afterward. In 1850, the amount of sugar imported from the colonies was only surpassed by that of cotton. Even the poorest classes spent 6 to 7 percent of their income on colonial imports. Between 1850 and 1875, the per capita consumption of these goods increased even more: tea by 60 percent, sugar by 75, tobacco by 18, liquor by 33, and wine by 66. People were having tea with sugar as well as bread and jam for breakfast, instead of porridge, which had been the staple food of the poor for centuries. While the British consumed the sugar mainly in tea, the French had it in the coffee with milk. As early as 1800, more than six hundred coffee shops in Paris served café au lait.
The discussion of the relationship between imperialism and the change in living conditions in the imperial center is not new. It was raised already by J. A. Hobson (1858–1940), who was an English left-leaning social liberal economist, critical toward imperialism. In his book “Imperialism – A Study” published in 1902, he provided an economic study of the imperialist system, in which he explains why capital needs colonial markets and relies on the exploitation of foreign territories. An idea, which Rosa Luxemburg picks up and which also is central for Brand and Wissens concept of “The Imperialism mode of living.” Capitalism needs external areas to exploit and were to dump its ecological and social problems.
However, Hobson not only coined and popularized the term “imperialism”; he was also the first to speak of the colonizing power as a “parasite” on the colony. He expected the future rulers of European countries to consist of a wealthy elite, mainly working in finance. They would keep the masses content by paying them relatively high wages for service-oriented jobs. Similar to “Living on the expanse of other” in the discourse of the “Imperial mode of living”
In the racist language of his time, Hobson anticipates the following result of the colonial intervention in China:
“ In a word, the investors and business managers of the West appear to have struck in China a mine of labor power richer by far than any of the gold and other mineral deposits which have directed imperial enterprise in Africa and elsewhere; it seems so enormous and so expansible as to open up the possibility of raising whole white populations of the West to the position of “independent gentlemen,” living, as do the small white settlements in India or South Africa, upon the manual toil of these laborious inferiors.. . . Such an experiment may revolutionize the methods of Imperialism; the pressure of working-class movements in politics and industry in the West can be met by a flood of China goods, so as to keep down wages and compel industry [of Western workers].”
This is more or less a description of how the world economy looks like today. Hobson suggested
that capitalists might buy the docility of western working classes by sharing the rents obtained by the exploitation of low-wage Chinese labor. China has indeed become the productive industrial center of the world, while the countries of Western Europe and North America have primarily turned into consumer and service societies, as Hobson states:
“We have foreshadowed the possibility of an even larger alliance of Western States, a European federation of great Powers which, so far from forwarding the cause of world civilization, might introduce the gigantic peril of a Western parasitism, a group of advanced industrial nations, whose upper classes drew vast tribute from Asia and Africa, with which they supported great tame masses of retainers, no longer engaged in the staple industries of agriculture and manufacture, but kept in the performance of personal or minor industrial services under the control of a new financial aristocracy.”
This parasitism brings to mind the Imperial mode of ling in the wealthy parts of today’s London, Paris, Rome, New York, Los Angeles, and tourist areas in southern Europe and North America.
Lenin adopted Hobsons terms imperialism and parasitism but extended the analysis. Lenin (1917) summarized the creation of parasite states thus:
“The export of capital, one of the most essential economic bases of imperialism, still more completely isolates the rentiers from production and sets the seal of parasitism on the whole country that lives by exploiting the labor of several overseas countries and colonies.”
When Lenin wrote a preface for the 1920 edition of Imperialism as the Highest Stage of
Capitalism in German and French, he emphasized the system’s parasitic element:
A few words must be said about Chapter VIII, “Parasitism and Decay of Capitalism.”As already pointed out in the text, Hilferding, ex-“Marxist,” and now a comrade-in-arms of Kautsky and one of the chief exponents of bourgeois, reformist policy in the Independent Social-Democratic Party of Germany, has taken a step backward on this question compared with the frankly pacifist and reformist Englishman, Hobson. The international split of the entire working-class movement is now quite evident (the Second and the Third Internationals). The fact that armed struggle and civil war is now raging between the two trends is also evident – the support given to Kolchak and Denikin in Russia by the Mencheviks and Socialist-Revolutionaries against the Bolsheviks; the fight the Scheidemanns and Noskes have conducted in conjunction with the bourgeoisie against the Spartacists in Germany; the same thing in Finland, Poland, Hungary, etc. What is the economic basis of this world historical phenomenon? It is precisely the parasitism and decay of capitalism, characteristic of its highest historical stage of development, i.e., imperialism. As this pamphlet shows, capitalism has now singled out a handful (less than one-tenth of the inhabitants of the globe; less than onefifth at a most “generous” and liberal calculation) of exceptionally rich and powerful states which plunder the whole world simply by “clipping coupons.” Capital exports yield an income of eight to ten thousand million francs per annum, at pre-war prices and according to pre-war bourgeois statistics. Now, of course, they yield much more. Obviously, out of such enormous superprofits (as they are obtained over and above the profits which capitalists squeeze out of the workers of their “own” country) it is possible to bribe the labor leaders and the upper stratum of the labor aristocracy. And that is just what the capitalists of the “advanced” countries are doing: they are bribing them in a thousand different ways, direct and indirect, overt and covert. This stratum of workers-turned-bourgeois, or the labor aristocracy, who are quite philistine in their mode of life, in the size of their earnings and in their entire outlook, in the principal prop of the Second International, and in our days, the principal social (not military) prop of the bourgeoisie. For they are the real agents of the bourgeoisie in the working-class movement, the labor lieutenants of the capitalist class, real vehicles of reformism and chauvinism. In the civil war between the proletariat and the bourgeoisie they inevitably, and in no small numbers, take the side of the bourgeoisie, the “Versaillais” against the “Communards.” Unless the economic roots of this phenomenon are understood and its political and social significance is appreciated, not a step can be taken toward the solution of the practical problems of the communist movement and of the impending social revolution.”
Lenin develops Hobson’s theory of the parasite state by including the concept of ”labor aristocracy” and its political representatives—the social democrats—in the parasitism. He thereby also highlighted the power-sharing between labor and capital in the management of the parasite state in the form of parliamentarism. Brand and Wissen quotes Gramsci for a statement that also points in that direction: 
“Obviously, the fact of hegemony presupposes that the interests and tendencies of those groups over whom hegemony is exercised have been taken into account and a certain equilibrium is established.”
The parasite state is for sure still a capitalist state. It is based on the accumulation of capital and private property is protected by law. However, the parasite state is a special form of the capitalist state. Its political form is a parliamentary democracy. There are universal suffrage and welfare for the majority of the working class. Even though the welfare state has come under pressure by neoliberal policies, politicians of all stripes remain committed to its most basic framework. The parasite state is certainly not a dictatorship of the bourgeoisie. But who then has the power in the parasite state? Moreover, what is the nature of its class struggle?
The form a particular state takes depends on the class struggle that shapes it. The parasite state needs to protect the capitalist mode of production. However, as a parliamentary democracy, it also needs to consider the balance of power between the classes that uphold it. Hence, the parasite state is based upon the imperial living.
There is nothing new in power-sharing between classes in the ruling of the state. The absolutist state of the seventeenth century stood for a power-sharing agreement between the feudal aristocracy and the emerging bourgeoisie. The modern democratic parasite state represents a power-sharing between capitalists and the working class. Its government does not represent the sole interests of capitalists or the working class; it represents the interests of a particular mode of production -global capitalism. The modern democratic state is a compromise that has allowed the easing of the working class’s misery in the global North, within the capitalist order, and on the back of the countries of the global South.
I could not find references to Hobson’s or Lenin’s texts on “parasite states” in Brand and Wissen’s development of the concept of Imperial mode of Living. There are also very few references to the theory of the political economy of imperialism in general, such as Arghiri Emmanuel, Samir Amin Immanuel Wallerstein, Zak Cope, Utsa Patnaik, and Prabhat Patnaik or John Smith.which however presented a paper at the workshop in Amsterdam. For me, an economic analysis of imperialism is essential for an understanding of how the mode of imperial living manifest itself. Imperial living implies imperialism. Brand and Wissen concept certainly includes the imperialist aspect but refers more to sociology, ideology critic, and state theory using Bourdieu, Gramsci, Jessop Foucault, and Joachim Hirsch. However, such a difference in theoretical perspectives can be fruitful if they are combined. The Imperial mode of living has the strength of describing both the class, gender, race, and ecological effects of imperialism on society. It describes how economics works at the micro-level, in shaping identities and political attitudes.
The current state and crises of the Imperial mode of living
Brand and Wissen give many examples of how this socialization into an imperial mode of living takes place. The most detailed example is how the automobile industry, state, infrastructure, fossil energy companies, private consumption, and branding fuse into “Imperial auto-mobility”. We are buying more and more cars. One is not enough for a family anymore. The new electric cars with their batteries are a new burden on the environment in terms of mining for lithium, cobalt manganese, and nickel and dumping of waste. The frequent car advertisement videos on TV connect driving with freedom, showing pictures of cars moving smoothly around in beautiful nature scenery. The Freedom to move wherever you like, when you like. The freedom to choose the car, which matches your identity or who you want to be. The Imperial mode of living promise individuality:
“Imperial mode of living goes hand in hand with material well-being for many people, but also that its attractiveness lies in enabling – or at least promising – individuality and autonomy in one’s own conduct of life. At the same time, the imperial mode of living breaks with the universal norms of equality based on human rights and stands for individual liberty, to remain unmolested in one´s own conduct of life and consumption.”
Often I have heard the following wish submitted when a person is asked: What would you do if you won a million and had a month of vacation? “I would fly to the United States and travel across the country in a Ford Mustang Cabriolet from town to town, from diner to diner, eating burgers and T-bone steaks drinking coke. A dream, which combines the idea of freedom and individuality with utter conformism.
New management technologies based on certain conceptions of “freedom” and “individuality” have evolved since the late 1950s, as the “consumer society” took off in Europe. Sociological and psychological experts used branding and marketing technics to link consumption with identity construction. The food we eat, the clothes we wear, the car we use, the cosmetics we put on, the way we decorate our homes creates our identity.
The commercials are not only about the properties of the specific product but visualize the lifestyle we can become part of by consuming the product. The brand is more important than the function. We choose products depending on who we are or the identity we want to be. The wearing a Nike trainer suit and sneakers or North face jackets by people on the run from war and poverty in North Africa or the Middle East signalize a longing to join the imperial mode of living. Branding has a huge impact on how value is distributed between countries and between work functions and companies.
According to liberalism, the “free” choice in consumption makes us “free” individuals. A free market equals free people. We interpret our past and imagine our future as the result of the choices that have been made and the choices that need to be made. These choices are in turn seen as the realization of the personality of the individuals. A competent human being is an individual who is able to realize oneself through the exercise of constant series of free choices. According to neoliberalism, the fate of individuals is no longer determined by social circumstances such as class or status, but by the ability to acquire the skills needed to make the right choices that can realize one’s dreams. By the management technologies the Imperial mode of living is internalized – Neoliberalism runs through our veins.
More than our chains to lose
However, I would like to draw attention to other sides of the Imperial mode of living, not mentions by Brand and Wissen As neoliberalism introduced more privatized and individualized patterns of consumption and finance capital penetrated the lifestyle of the middle class and large sections of the working class, it became common and to invest a large part of income in real estate. Former tenants became real estate owners. In the US, around 64% own their home. In Western Europe, it ranges between 50% and 85 %. It is not the ownership of a home itself, which is the problem. To own your home as “use value” – a roof over your head so to speak – is widespread over the world, even by poor people. The problem arises when ownership turns into finalization and speculation and becomes an important source of income. Since the 1970´there has been a huge increase in the prices of real estate especially in the major cities. A yearly increase in prices at 10-15% is not unusual. There was a slump during the financial crises 2007-8, but the prices have been on a steady rise again. Common wage earners developed interests in the market of real estate and taxation of property. There is a real estate agent on every corner of the city. Political parties are very hesitant to tax gains on real estate because they know they will lose votes if they do. By the right decisions in selling and buying houses or flats, ordinary people could make more money on the real estate market than they could on the job, using the rise in equity of their property to renew the bathroom, kitchen, or for consumption. Just as you can have a career in the labor market, many have a career in the real estate market, increasing the square meters and location of a property. Financial speculation made its way into our daily life.
Another link, which chains the working class in the global “North” to the wellbeing of global capitalism, is the spread and extension of the pension system since the 1980ties. Historically, only state employees from whom special loyalty was required, such as the police, army officers, railroad, and the postal staff received an occupational pension. However, today, occupational pension is an essential part of collective bargaining, in both the public and private labor markets in the global North.
An occupational pension is generated by payments of a certain percentage of the wage into an individual account of each employee, in a pension fund. The percentage varies from country to country and labor agreement, typically between 10 and 20 %. The pension fund invests this capital as ordinary capital, in the market of shares, equities, bonds, or invest in real estate to get the highest profit to the individual wage earners account. Occupational pension funds thus form part of the accumulation process as all other capital. The funds create profits for capital and interest for the wage earner and thus social security in the old age if capitalism is doing well.
In Sweden and Denmark, more than 90% of wage earners have an occupational pension. The total size of Danish occupational pensions are growing so fast that by 2030 they will exceed the value of the public old-age pension. Already today, the size of the assets of the pension funds are 1.5 Denmark’s gross domestic product. Employers, employees, and representatives of the state usually manage the pension funds jointly. They manage huge sums of money. In North America, approx. 30% of the financial capital comes from pension funds. In Western Europe, it is approx. 40%.
The size of pension funds is far from marginal. Total private pension assets in the 36 countries in the OECD amounted to $42.5 trillion at the end of 2018. By contrast, 52 non-OECD countries, where more than two-thirds of the global population live, held approximately $1.9 trillion in pension fund assets. In other words, around 75 times more wealth per head is invested in pension funds in OECD countries than in the rest of the world. OECD countries have the highest pension coverage in the world. In most cases, coverage is estimated to be more than 90 percent of wage earners. South Asia and sub-Saharan Africa have the lowest coverage with less than 10 percent of working-age people.The fact that large parts of the working class have invested in real estate and shares binds to a desire for the wellbeing of capitalism and defense of imperialism.
A recent trend spreading into the middle class, especially among younger people is financial speculation. You can download an application on the smartphone and start trading shares and bonds. This trend has become widespread during the last year under the Coved-pandemic. “Robinhood”, one of the most high-profile trading apps, As the name of the company suggests, Robinhood promoted their product as having the mission of leveling the financial playing field. “Robinhood”, which acquire over 13 million users in just seven years, reported three million new accounts in the first quarter of 2020. Half of these were first-time traders. The median age is around 30 years. Even before lockdown drove novices into the world of trading, investment platforms were growing; more than 100 million people trade and invest online. Even though the name “Robin Hood” is linked to take money from the rich and giving them to the poor. Financial trading connects you to the wish of the wellbeing of the capital system. The finalization of everyday life is becoming part of the imperial mode of living.Large groups in the Global “North” are so closely linked to the wellbeing of capitalism that it is in their interest to defend the ruling system.
Imperial mode of Living in Crises
I share the view of Brand and Wissen that the Imperial mode of living is in crises. It is a consequence of the triple crises of neoliberalism: economic, political, and ecological. Global capitalism is running out of periphery, out of humans and nature to exploit. It is reaching its limits.
“the Imperial mode is in the process of succeeding even at the cost of self-destruction. By its nature it implies disproportionate access to natural and human resources on a global scale – in other words elsewhere.”
The current ecological, economic and political crises of neoliberalism are reflected in the contradiction of the imperials mode of living. The existence of the imperial mode of living presupposes a periphery to exploit, which thereby abstain from enjoined the fruits of their labor and natural resources.
As Arghiri Emmanuel writes:
“6% of the world’s population already consumes over 40% of the world’s raw materials. Present world production in physical terms could only feed, clothe, house, etc., about 600 million people on the American level….Just as their inhabitants can still travel by air and fly the world’s skies only because the rest of the world does not have the means to fly and leaves the world’s air routes to them alone. And so on…”
This was written 45 years ago, at the very moment of the breakthrough of neoliberalism and the subsequent outsourcing of industry to the global South and dissolution of the former socialist bloc and thereby expanding the periphery of the imperialist center with millions of new laborers and access to additional natural resources.
The Imperial mode of living still has an immense attraction globally. The KaDeWE – Kaufhouse Des Westen – the huge department store in West Belin, with its selection of fashion brands, new electronics, and food from all over the world, symbolized the imperial mode of living, in contrast to “real existing socialism” in DDR during the cold war. I had an enormous attraction on the population in East Berlin. When the Berlin wall fall, the populations of DDR and the rest of East Europa embrace the imperial mode of living, however far from all became included.
Neoliberal globalization and outsourcing at first nourished the imperial mode of living for decades, however, it also changes the periphery. The industrialization of the global South especially China developed the productive forces and tuned the periphery into a vital part of the world economy. China became the factory of the world. The new proletariat is less and less prepared to accept the unequal exchange. They want their share of the resources and value they create.
The development of imperialism is in the process of undermining the very existence of the imperialism mode of living. In China, India, Brazil the upper class and an expanding middle class adopted the imperials mode of living as their own. However, more important, in recent years, the working class in China, consisting of hundreds of millions of people, have experienced a rising wage level and thereby reduced the imperialist rent and increased their consumption. From a periphery, which contributed to the imperial mode of living in the North, China has become a competitor in economic and ecological terms. This is what is behind the hybrid war between US and China.
Less people in the South are prepared to suffer for the sake of the imperial mode of living of others. If they cannot improve their living condition at home because of ruthless exploitation or imperial wars, many become emigrants or refugees. They risk their lives to reach Nord America or the European Union in the hope of been integrated into the imperial mode of living. They seek the security and the welfare goods that the imperial mode of living in the center offers. However, this push from the “South” brings out repressive and violent sides of the parasite state. The imperial mode of living is not for everyone, it is exclusive. In the North, neoliberalism had already weakened the social state and its redistribution of wealth. In fear of “diluting” the welfare state, the majority of the population in the Global North refuses to share the benefits of the welfare state. It is certainly not wrong to defend the principle of public and free health, education, unemployment support, etc., but the struggle has to be fought in a global context. An isolated national defense of the capitalist welfare state is a defense of a privileged position in global capitalism and thus support for imperialism. In defense of the imperial mode of living, refugees and emigrants are meet with hostile national chauvinism and racism. The fact that more and more people are appealed by the attractiveness of the imperial mode of living and at the same time are deprived of benefitting from it in the same way as they were used to, due to the crises on neoliberalism, can be seen as the causes of the rise of the social and political protest from left-wing and rightwing populism.
However, it is a loser game. The Imperial mode of production cannot be defended nor can it be universalized, as there is no exploitable periphery to mother earth. Brand and Wissen states that:
“We are aware of the hegemonic character of the imperial mode of living – that is, the breadth and depth of its acceptance in society. In that mode, the global North is attempting to maintain something that cannot be maintained, and something that cannot exist on a universal basis is expanded and universalized in many countries of the global South. Therefore, in the face of growing upheaval and increasingly brutal externalizations, we recognize – politically and analytically – the urgent need for genuine alternatives that lead to a solidary mode of living, justice (both social and ecological), peace and democracy.”
The solidary mode of Living
The reason for analyzing the imperial mode of living is to change it. What distinguishes Marxist analysis is that it produce the theoretical insight that complements the kind of action that changes the world. To advance a strategy for change, Brand and Wissen use the concept “Solidary Mode of Living”. In a short chapter, they draw the contours of this huge subject. Brand and Wissen states that: 
” ..in the formula that solidarity means – besides its inter-relational dimension – not to live at the cost of others and a the cost of nature, i.e. to overcome a mode of production that essentially rests on exploitation of human labour power and the destruction of the bio-physical foundations of life on earth. In that sense, solidarity has a highly institutionalised and structural dimension as it also implies to enable people and societies that they must not live at the expense of others and nature.”
Just as globalized capitalism, with its imperialist transfer of value, is the basis for the imperial mode of living, then “the solidary mode of living” must have a corresponding mode of production and distribution of wealth on the national and global level. This huge subject is outside the scope of the book. But, what about the strategy for change? As I have read Brand and Wissen book, they take the starting point inside the imperial mode of living. We must focus on: 
“peoples every day activities and the structure that make them possible….Change of the imperial mode of Living must begin at different points.. . -…it is also important to change subjectivity..and shift power relationships. It is about the specific dimensions of life – nutrition, housing, clothing, health, mobility – beyond the practices of discipline that support capitalist expansion, appropriation and the entrenchment of social hierarchies. The processes through which a solidary mode of living spreads will happen both in change of social conditions and in people´s own transformations of their way of thinking and acting. ”
We are on the terrain of the Foucault micro-power relationship:
“Michel Foucault called this form of practical criticism of the existing conditions and of one´s own involvement in them, and the emergence of another subjectivity, “ the art of not being quite so governed” or the “art of voluntary inservitude.” Even if Foucault intended this theory to apply mainly to individuals, we believe that it also applies to collective actors, such as trade unions and society as a hole.
This perspective was also turned into an anti-capitalist strategy by J.K. Gibson- Graham in 1993 in the article with the catchy title: “Waiting for the Revolution, or How to Smash Capitalism while Working at Home in Your Spare Time. The discourse goes like this: Theory – our perception of the world – has an impact on our practice. In the view of J.K. Gibson- Graham the structuralist interpretations of the world do not facilitate political resistance. The problem is the structuralist totalitarian tendency. It tends to describe capitalism as a system that is all-encompassing, self-perpetuating, and which dominates all aspects of our lives. A huge monster. Such a view is understandable, especially in the era of neoliberal globalization, but if you lose sight of the pockets of resistance, disobedience, and opposition that exist if you do not see the cracks in the system, you marginalize and weaken anti-capitalist and non-capitalist forces. You make it appear as if capitalism has no outside, and that the only way to overcome it is a “big-bang revolution,” suddenly and radically changing everything everywhere. However, this is wishful thinking and not a realistic political strategy. It leads to pessimism and despair according to J.K. Gibson- Graham
To advance, we must describe and interpret the world—and capitalism—in a different way according to J.K. Gibson- Graham. What if we understand capitalism as an assemblage of practices and strategies, of ways to produce, distribute, manage, and govern on the micro-level? As a system that depends on the continuous repetition of everyday routines? If we do this, we will see cracks in the system, chances to resist, and possibilities to change the daily patterns that reproduce our submission. It is a much more promising approach than regarding neoliberalism as an all-powerful, untouchable monster.
Capitalism is not only structure. It is also a web of technologies of power. These technologies rely on millions of individual actions and aim to make both production and governance effective. They include human resource management, Just in time production, branding and marketing, and other forms of governance. They not only safeguard profits, they also shape our values, norms, and identities, and the ways we relate to one another.
But there are always opportunities to resist. We can change the ways we relate to one another. Feminists can attack patriarchy in the here and now, at their home, at their workplace, and in public. Anti-capitalists can attack capitalism right here and now in the same way. With micro-analysis we can see all the small details that keep the system running, and we can develop relevant forms of resistance; we won’t be facing a situation that leaves us powerless, but one that feels empowering. This has nothing to do with the fragmentation of political struggle or reformism according to J.K. Gibson- Graham. The capitalist system is a network of power relations, trying to harness all forces available. Effective resistance must do the same. We need to connect all forms of counter-power to strengthen and support resistance wherever it appears.
This way of thinking also relates to Joachim Hirsch, on which Brand and Wissen leans:
“We see ourselves in the tradition of “revolutionary Realpolitik” (Rosa Luxemburg) and “radical reform” (Joachim Hirsch) by insisting that counterhegemonic projects need to be formulated and unfolded in many areas and at various scales. We insist that, in addition to explicit political and social struggles, one inevitable entry point for radical change is the contradictory everyday consciousness of people. ….
And further. 
It was about thirty years ago that Joachim Hirsch and colleagues coin the term `radical reformism`…The term reflected a critic of social-democratic proposals to reform capitalism through modernization, as well as authoritarian state socialism; both ideologies agreed that society could be substantially shaped by the state . By contrast, radical reformism see the task as one of comprehensive change in social relations, in which there is no Archimedean point (such as state or private property).The basis of Hirsch idea was and remains that (along with various innovations learning processes and conflicts) entirely different modes and logics of social reproduction that replace the capitalist dynamics of transformation and their drive to accumulation and hegemony are required.”
On more practical political terms. Brand and Wissen uses the Zapatism movement in Chiapas as an example of this strategy:
.”… one of the most important stimuli for radical critic and change of the imperial mode of living emerged from Latin America… The Mexican writer Carlos Fuentes called the Zapatist uprising the ´first post-communist rebellion….The Zapatistas armed struggle only lasted a few days and continued by other means that revolutionized an entire generation´s understanding of political transformation. They were – and are – nor focused on taking over state power and have consistently centered their effort on the fundamental transformation of economic, political and cultural conditions from below.”
Similar ideas are formulated by John Holloway in his book; “Change the world without taking power.”
The Zapatistas take the rallying cry Ya Basta! seriously. They have reclaimed their dignity in a world that degrades them. They say they are armed with a truth that turns the neoliberal system into a lie. However, fighting neoliberalism is no easier than fighting state power. Far from it. Neoliberal power rests on many legacies beyond the purely economic: patriarchy, racism, militarism, the devaluation of nature, consumerism, media control. None of this is only imposed on us from the outside; neoliberalism has entered our veins, a virus of individualism and greed increasingly difficult to get rid of.
The Zapatistas wanted to rekindle the hope for a different world after the collapse of “real existing” socialism in the years following 1989. That’s why the media nicknamed them “professionals of hope.” The Zapatistas set out to create a “truth” that was different from the “truth” forced upon us by those who rule the world (“truth” is the poetic word for the academic words discourse or counter-hegemony). Holloway writes: 
“[T]he EZLN is not the weak party, it is the strong party. On the side of the government there are only military force and the lies spread by some of the media. And force and lies will never, never be stronger than reason.”
This statement seems absurd. There are countless examples of military might winning against the “truth”; however, there are also examples of “truths” that have brought state power to its knees.
The struggle over defining what is the “truth” touches all of society. It occurs everywhere where people relate. In daily ordinary conversation, in media, in different forms of political manifestations. The ruling order has its values and norms. Counter power implies developing different values and norms. One of the ways this happens is through practice; for example, by exercising power in a different way than we are used to. The state has the police, the military, and the justice system. They belong to the traditional apparatus of power. But seizing state power to change the world—and the truth—is not enough. It does not necessarily change people’s habits, values, and norms.
Che Guevara addresses this problem in the texts “Man and Socialism in Cuba”, in which he stresses the subjective factor as the dominant in the socialist transition. The socialist human being should assume the central role in the post-revolutionary transition to socialism. Revolutionized by their many different forms of practice (labour, culture, participation in political life); they should change themselves along with society, performing an act of self-realization through revolutionary activity and thus transcend individualism and egoism into solidarity.
We should not disregard the power of the capitalist state to eliminate such attempts of radical reformism as the Zapatist movement.
The tools of state power are effective tools of oppression; they are not effective tools of change. NATO possesses overwhelming military power and destructive capacity, but this is of little help in developing new values and norms. The US proved capable of ousting Saddam Hussein and the Taliban, but incapable of building nation-states in its own image; incapable even of building stable nation-states at all. In order to establish a political system in Iraq and Afghanistan that at least served its interests, NATO was dependent on collaboration with forces whose values and norms were very different from its own. An actual change in values and norms is a long process. This is the lesson learned not only in Iraq and Afghanistan, but also in Somalia, Libya, and Syria.
The Zapatist movement is balancing on a thin line. They do not confront state power head-on. They focus on autonomy. The state is only confronted when the defense of autonomy makes doing so necessary. That’s why the Zapatistas keep their arms. The Zapatistas do not want to be a vanguardist Leninist party. Their aim is not to build enough military strength to go to war with the Mexican government. For the Zapatistas, power is not something you can inherit or take; power consists of actions that shape people’s lives. When the Popular Revolutionary Army (Ejército Popular Revolucionario, EPR), a guerrilla movement active in the south of Mexico, suggested forming a common front with the Zapatistas, Subcomandante Marcos rejected the offer: “What we seek, what we need and want is … not to take power, but to exercise it. I know you will say this is utopian and unorthodox, but this is the way of the Zapatistas.”
Has this approach worked? Well, the Zapatistas have survived for more than twenty years despite constant pressure by the Mexican state. This cannot be credited to the EZLN’s military strength alone, which is very limited. It must, first and foremost, be credited to the political strength of the people of Chiapas. It must also be credited to international support—not by states, but by social movements, progressive organizations, and ordinary people. The Zapatistas still exercise their power by engaging with the people, that is, in the way they run schools and clinics, produce and distribute food, and make decisions. However, will they be able to resist a full-scale military confrontation with the state?
The idea of a vanguard party to lead the way has been criticized and contradicted by the argument that the masses can only liberate themselves. However, it takes an organization, which can cover and coordinate the many types and forms of struggles from the politics in parliament and strikes at the workplace to the demonstration and street fighting, land occupation in the countryside, armed struggle in forest and mountainsides. The ability to act in unity, quickly and coordinated at the right moment does not flow spontaneously from the depths of the mass movement. It takes an organization in close contact with the masses to be able to concentrate and formulate the demands and to plan the strategy to reach them. One of the reasons for the failure of the German revolution was according to Rose Luxemburg the lack of a disciplined organization backed by a well-organized “red armed force.”
The so-called postmodern left may have a more nuanced understanding of state power and participatory and democratic activism, however, the structural analysis and organizational principles promoted by the classical left are far from being outdated. Loose networks, text messages, and social media savvy are not enough to change powerful economic and political systems. This was demonstrated, for example, during the Arab Spring and the more or less spontaneous uprisings in many places on the planet in the last years. However, it has been difficult to see what unites them beyond the ability to mobilize through social media and what can best be summed up as dissatisfaction with the politicians who govern them. People are dissatisfied with higher fuel prices as in France, or on mobile telephony as in Lebanon, but also by the contempt of regimes or the disregard of the problems of large groups, such as the poor in Chile or the young unemployed in Iran. These uprisings have been met with brutal state violence. What these uprisings have in common is also a lack of a vision of what it is for a society they want instead as well as strategies and organization to achieve this goal. Social media means that frustrations are heard and dissatisfaction spread, but they have difficulty bringing the protests beyond demonstrations in the streets. We can expect more of such spontaneous revolts until a more structured political force emerges and proves to be able to organize and channel this anger into a struggle not only for another government but a different world order.
We must be conscious of power’s different forms. Power is exercised in many places and by many people, but the same goes for resistance. In resisting power, we must use all the tools available to us. The specific situations we find ourselves in determine which ones are most effective. The mixture might be different from situation to situation.
The difference between North and South
Brand and Wissen states:
“One basic mechanism of the imperial mode of living lies in externalizing its socially and ecologically problematic conditions and consequences. The externalization systematically produces poor working condition and exploitation, authoritarian political and social conditions, precarious living conditions and ecological destruction. Abolishing the different mechanism of externalization is without a doubt, one of the most difficult tasks faced in the struggle for a solidary mode of living.”
As I see it; both the objective and subjective conditions for the struggle for a solidary mode of living are different, concerning whether you are part of the imperial mode of living or you are exploited by the mode of production, which generate it. Roughly speaking whether you live in the Global North or South. (Taking into consideration the growing middle- and upper class in the South and marginalized segments in the North.)
I the short (less than 5 years) and middle run (5-10 years) the majority of the population in the global North has an interest in defending the imperial mode of living, while the South has the two options: trying to be integrated into the imperial mode of living or trying to develop a sustainable and solidary alternative. The first option will be in fierce competition with the states of the global North. Choosing the second option will generate a life-and-death struggle of global capitalism.
There are contradictions and crack within the imperial mode of living itself, which can and should be used to weaken it.
Brand and Wissen states there is a pedagogical task:
“One of the prerequisites for achieving this task (to overcome the Imperial mode of living) is to make this externalization visible as a crucial component of the very concept of the imperial mode of Living. This means elucidating and sharing the insight that one´s own privileges are based on the exploitation and destruction not only “at home” but also “elsewhere.”
But it is important to keep in mind, that the imperial mode of living is a manifestation and temporary solution of the contradiction within capitalism between expanding production and stagnating consumption, which is solved by externalization – imperialism. Consequently, the main opposition is to be found in the surrounding external areas wherein the exploration of humans and nature take place. The resistance here is the driving force against imperialism. The creation of a solidary mode of living is as Brand and Wissen states:
“… is also always a solidary mode of (re)production, must change the highly fragmented supply and value chains and their embedded imperatives of capitalist valorization. Externalization of the negative implications of the imperial mode of living takes place through them, causing numerous conflicts and environmental destruction.”
The position of the Zapatistas in Chiapas is for sure outside the Imperial mode of living. To change the imperial mode of living we need the participation of the vast majority of the world population, living in Asia, Africa, and Latin Amerika. The development of the class struggle in countries like China India South Africa Egypt Brazil Mexico will be decisive for our future. We need them organized in movements, that can change the way capital global production chains works. We need them to act through institutions including state formations to match the state power of the US and European Union. However, as this struggle moves forward and the crises of the Imperial mode of living deepens in the global North, and the possibility to restore or defend it seems more and more impossible – the situation will change.
As Brand and Wissen state:
… This move towards alternatives requires courage in thinking and acting, a certain optimism and productive self-criticism, empathy with those who are weaker and marginalized and … the willingness to interview and cooperated with progressive social actors.”
Solidarity is rooted in a common struggle against capitalism. The majority in the global North has a materiel interest in maintaining the capitalist system in the short and middle run. The left in our part of the world will not be the driving force in the transition toward global socialism. However, the struggle within “the belly beast” can play an important role. There are – and has always been counter streams of anti-imperialism, even in the North. Act of solidarity has been resistance against imperialist wars. Support to liberation movements. Solidarity is more than words. Solidarity is something material you can hold in your hand. Solidarity is practical help in common struggle. Solidarity is also changing our way of living, so we do not participate in the exploitation of others and harm our common environment.
- There will be a follow up to the Conference the 3-4.9. 2021 in Amsterdam. See: https://soc21.nl/alle-activiteiten/historicizing-the-imperial-mode-of-living/ ↑
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- Brand Ulrich and Wissen Marcus (2018): The Limits to Capitalist Nature. Theorizing and Overcoming the Imperial Mode of Living. Rowman & Littlefield. London. ↑
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- . Hobson, John (1902), Imperialism, A study. Chapter V, Part II, p. 314. London 1948 England: Allen and Unwin ↑
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- Brand, Ulrich & Wissen, Markus (2021), The Imperial Mode of Living – Everyday Life and the Ecological Crises of Capitalism. Page 39. Verso London 2021.Gramsci, Antonio (1929-35) Prison Notebooks, Vol. 2, Notebook 4, page 183. Columbia University Press. New York 1996. ↑
- There is one reference to Andre Gunder Frank, on page 76. ↑
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- For more on the pension system see my book: “The Global Perspective” page 296-98. ↑
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- J. K. Gibson-Graham is a pen name shared by the feminist econimics Julie Graham and Katherine Gibson. J. K. Gibson-Graham. (1993) Waiting for the Revolution, or How to Smash Capitalism while Working at Home in Your Spare Time. in Rethinking Marxism Rethinking, Vol 6 no. 2 page 10–24. ↑
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- Che Guevara, Ernesto (1965) Man and Socialism in Cuba. Letter from Major Ernesto Che Guevara to
Carlos Quijano, editor of the Montevideo weekly magazine Marcha. Guairas, Book Institute, Havana, 1967. Online: https://www.marxists.org/archive/guevara/1965/03/man-socialism-alt.htm ↑
- EZLN, “Communique to the soldiers and commanders of the Popular Revolutionary Army,” August 29, 1996. Here from, Chiapas Revealed, Issue 1. (2001): Andrew Flood, “What is it that is different about the Zapatistas?” struggle.ws ↑
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