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Jul 3, 2023

Elements of capitalism have existed throughout history — in institutions like markets, class relations, ownership laws, credit systems, etc. But they were never dominant until they came together, escaping the isolated, laboratory conditions in which they once existed, to coalesce and form a world-dominating capitalist order. 

How did the bubonic plague, the world-shattering pandemic occurring in Western Eurasia in the 14th century, along with the Little Ice Age that followed it, give rise in the 1600s to the mode of production that has now come to take hold of the entire world? What is capital, and how is it a social relation, as Marx wrote? And what exactly is the relationship between capitalism and the state? Are these two opposed, like many on the reactionary right tend to assume, or are they one and the same thing, there to support and uphold one another? And what about capitalism itself — what different stages or phases of capitalism exist? How did we go from the more classic mercantile capitalist system to industrialization, culminating in monopoly, imperialism, and now what we tend to call neoliberal capitalism? And what’s coming next?

To help us zoom out and give us a historical and overarching understanding of capitalism as a system and a process, we’ve brought on investigative journalist and scholar, Christian Parenti. Christian is the author of books such as Tropic of Chaos: Climate Change and the New Geography of Violence, and, more recently, Radical Hamilton: Economic Lessons from a Misunderstood Founder. 

And just in case you were wondering, yes, Christian is the son of the political scientist, academic historian and cultural critic Michael Parenti, author of classics like Blackshirts and Reds: Rational Fascism and the Overthrow of Communism, as well as Inventing Reality: The Politics of News Media. You might have come across Michael Parenti on our Instagram where Robert loves to post so-called Yellow Parenti lectures and memes — check out our Instagram page @upstreampodcast if you want to know more.

This conversation is also an excellent complement to our recent documentary, The Myth of Freedom Under Capitalism, which you can learn more about at

Further resources:

Radical Hamilton: Economic Lessons from a Misunderstood Founder

The Great Transformation: The Political and Economic Origins of Our Time By Karl Polanyi

Thank you to James Xerxes Fussell for the cover art. Upstream's theme music was composed by Robert Raymond.

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