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*Over the next week or two we will be running three synopses of parts of
the opening chapter of John Smith’s *Imperialism in the 21st Century (New
York, Monthly Review Press, 2016)*.  The synopsis and commentary below is
written by Phil Duncan.*

Marx began *Capital* not with a sweeping historical survey but with an
examination of the humble  commodity.  He did this because the commodity is
the cell of capitalism and within a single commodity can be found the key
contradictions of capitalism as a whole socio-economic system of
production.  Especially the contradiction between value (which takes the
form of exchange-value) and use-value.

In his work on imperialism today, John Smith begins in a similar way.  Not
with the humble, single generic commodity but with three specific
commodities: the cup of coffee, the t-shirt and the iPhone.  He chooses
these three because they are good examples of the globalisation of
commodity production today.  Specifically, these are commodities produced
in the Third World and largely sold in the First World, and the companies
that exercise domination over their production, distribution and exchange
are First World companies.

They are emblematic of the internationalisation of commodity production,
distribution and exchange.
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