Adam Hanieh, Capitalism and Class in the Gulf Arab States (London: Palgrave McMillan, 2011)

The revolutions across the Middle East shocked political analysts and academics alike, as their intellectual tools proved insufficient for understanding the region’s class dynamics. In the last two decades, rapid transformation in the Gulf states (Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and United Arab Emirates), best symbolized by construction of the world’s tallest skyscraper in Dubai, provided a big challenge even to critical approaches in Middle Eastern studies, such as the “rentier-state theory,” which grasped the state as the main factor behind social stagnation and political inertia in the region. Adam Hanieh’s Marxian analysis of capitalism in the Gulf could not be timelier as socio-political storms blow over this intellectual steppe.

The goal of Hanieh’s book is to map two intertwined processes of regionalization: a) the formation of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) and its integration of the Gulf region with international capitalism; b) the formation of a pan-GCC capitalist class, which Hanieh terms Khaleeji capital, a multinational capital fraction that is now fully integrated into the international circuits of capital. Hanieh situates these two processes within the wider development of contemporary capitalism.

Hanieh engages with three types of literature: 1) radical geography, which grasps “space” and the processes of its production as an internal moment of capital accumulation (Henri Lefebvre, David Harvey, Robert Brenner); 2) case studies on class formation in individual countries of the Gulf region (Jill Crystal, Kiren Aziz Chaudhry, Gilbert Achcar); (3) radical political economy, on internationalization of capital. Here I focus on the last category and its impact on Hanieh’s theoretical framework.

Internationalization of capital has been a growing concern for political economy since the 1970s. Neo-classical and neo-institutionalist economists grasped the phenomenon in terms of transnational capital flows and the economic operations of multinational corporations. In the 1970s, Marxian political economy approached the topic from two complementary angles. Ernest Mandel and Bob Rowthorn applied Lenin’s and Bukharin’s classical Marxist theory and grasped internationalization as an aspect of capital’s inherent tendencies toward centralization and concentration. Pointing to the emergence of new centers of accumulation in Europe and Japan, they noted the impact of internationalization on rising inter-imperialist rivalry. Neo-Marxian political economists such as Robin Murray, Christian Palloix, and Nicos Poulantzas, on the other hand, drew on Marx’s theory of circuits of capital (developed in Capital, vol. 2) and studied internationalization of circuits of commodity, money and productive capital in space and time.

Marxian scholars’ interest in internationalization increased in the 1990s, after a relative decline in the 1980s. Neo-Gramscian scholars, for example, focused on internationalization of capital fractions (Robert Cox), on transnational capital formation (Kees Van der Pijl), and on the formation of transnational historic blocs (Stephen Gill) and elites (William Robinson). With the early 2000s, radical scholars brought questions of spatial relations and processes within capital accumulation into the debates on internationalization. Hardt and Negri argued for de-territorialisation of spaces of capital, whilst Dick Bryan, Greg Albo and Constantine Tsoucalas pointed to the continuing significance of territoriality of capital accumulation, noting that exploitation takes place in specific places of production although money and commodities are exchanged and distributed in international space of flows.

Against the backdrop of these ongoing debates, Hanieh studies three aspects of internationalization: 1) how commodity, money, and production circuits of capital accumulation increasingly have taken place on a pan-GCC scale; 2) the transformation of national capital groups to regional, hence international capital groups; and 3) the continuing relevance of territoriality and exploitation in production-sites, which are subject to regulation by the sovereign states (e.g., with regard to migrant labor).

Hanieh uses both macro- and micro-economic data. Reliance on macro-economic data for analyzing a regionalization process seems paradoxical. After all, if the space of accumulation has been regional, how can data on national economic performance be useful?1 If Hanieh’s unit of analysis is a particular class (Khaleeji capital, which is a regional phenomenon), then how can he rely on national indicators, which approach the national economy as a unit? Hanieh does not adequately explain the relevance of macro-economic indicators for his research. As for micro-economic data, he uses 500 company reports in order to map how each individual capital group is internationalized. In my opinion, this is the best way of using Marx’s account of circuits of capital for empirical research. Hanieh looks at commercial, monetary, and productive circuits of individual capitals within the numerous company reports of particular capital groups.

Hanieh’s account enables us to formulate three questions, which can be topics for future research and discussion. First, class struggle is an internal aspect of class formation. Working-class militancy, for example, may force a capital fraction to change its long-term strategy of capital accumulation, thereby conditioning the formation of a particular class fraction. Working-class forms of resistance may be either explicit (as in strikes) or more discreet. Can these distinct methods of struggle be analyzed in terms of Gramscian concepts of hegemony and passive revolution?

Second, expansion of capital in time and space is one thing, and transformation of social property relations is another. Social formations which are not dominated by the capitalist mode of production may be integrated into international capitalism. Such integration does not automatically lead to capitalist transformation. With regard to the Gulf region, one may ask: how did Gulf countries’ integration into global capitalism (via their regional economy) relate to the emergence of wage-labour?

Third, internationalization of capital has two contradictory tendencies: convergence and divergence. On the one hand, as Marx wrote, the capitalist mode of production “bathes all the other colours and modifies their particularity.” Internationalization of capital then means convergence of all social formations as they adjust to the imperatives of global competition. On the other hand, capitalism acquires uneven character as it expands to spaces with historical particularities, including distinct institutions and different balances of class forces. Hanieh’s book can be taken as an attempt to come to terms with such contradictory aspects of capitalism. He demonstrates that Khaleeji capital has fully integrated into world capitalism, yet this integration has taken a particular path due to the historical and spatial characteristics of the region. What are the similarities and differences between this particular internationalization and the mode of internationalization of capital in East Asia, Africa, Eastern Europe, etc.? Can we come up with a general theory of capital internationalization in the developing world? In order to answer these questions, similar studies need to be done of other regions, pointing toward a broader comparative analysis of capital formation.

Hanieh’s book is a great contribution to political economy. It has the additional merit of being useful to activists. It is very accessible, serving as a good introduction to the region and its revolutionary upheavals.

Reviewed by Yasin Kaya
Ph. D. Student in Political Science
York University, Toronto


1. On the relevance of national economic indicators in the globalized economy, see Dick Bryan, “Global Accumulation and Accounting for National Economic Identity,” Review of Radical Political Economics, vol. 33, no. 1 (March 2001): 57–77.

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