A short note on comparative political economy

The examination of the theory, method and concept suggests a dichotomy between bourgeois and Marxist political economy. Attention to capitalist accumulation permits the consideration of both political and economic issues. The study of capitalist accumulation with emphasis on precapitalist and capitalist modes of production can integrate the inquiry that has so far led the economists to investigate questions about the material base of society and political scientists to study the issues of the political and ideological super-structure.

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Some might say that economists should be concerned with theories of imperialism and political scientists should deal with the theories of state and class. However, all these concerns should be integrated by the political economist. The solution is the reconstitution of economies and political science into political economy.

Political economy fundamentally addresses the broad historical sweep of capitalism, especially over the past hundred years. In the Das Kapital Marx gave us the foundations for such study. Paul Sweezy in The Theory of Capitalist Development and Ernest Mandel in Marxist Economic Theory interpreted Marx’s findings, emphasizing the economic implications. However, a synthesis by Stanley W. Moore in The Critique of Capitalist Democracy focused on the political ramifications.


Mandel’s Late Capitalism attempts to integrate theory and history in the tradition of Marx, dialectically moving from abstract to concrete and vice versa, from the parts to the whole and back again to parts, from contradiction to totality and back to contradiction. Samir Amin in Accumulation on a World Scale combined theory with history on a holistic level. He insisted that all modes and formations of the contemporary world reflect an accumulation on world scale. Capitalist and non-capitalist world markets are not separate because there was one world market in which the former socialist countries participated marginally. Moreover, capitalism is a world system, not a mixture of national capitalisms.

Other attempts to provide a holistic overview of political economy include Parry Andersen’s Passages from Antiquity to Feudalism and Lineages of the Absolute State. They studied the political economies of European feudalism and capitalism. Immanuel Wallerstein, in The Modern World System, elaborated Andre Gunder Frank’s theory of capitalist development and underdevelopment and emphasized market relations.

Four thinkers – Mandei, Amin, Anderson, and Wallerstein – among others have rekindled an interest in the history of political economy. It orients us toward old and new issues neglected by most contemporary economists and political scientists. All four borrowed from Marxist tradition of political economy and enriched it by their valuable contributions. Mandel explained that the entire capitalist system is a hierarchical structure of different levels of productivity and the outcome of the uneven and combined development of states, religions, branches of industry and firms, unleashed by the search for super – profits.

In this system, unity coexists with lack of homogeneity, development with underdevelopment and super profit with poverty. Given these variations, features of lower stages combine with those of upper stages to produce a formation of contradictory character and allow a qualitative leap in the social evolution of backward people. Brenner criticises this approach because he thinks, it has neglected relations of production and class struggle. He doubts whether a national solution will prevail over the problems of world wide accumulation.

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