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The Empire Strikes Back: 21st Century Imperialism & What it Means For You and the World

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In partnership with the Independent Working Class Education Network

Black Lives Matter, Brexit and the Union Jack have thrown up associations of colonialism and imperialism as historical concepts driven by nationalistic sentiments and conquest.

But has imperialism disappeared or merely cloaked itself in a new identity to suit the neoliberal era? Has military conquest been replaced with economic conquest under the guise of trade and the dominance of international capital?

Authors like Naomi Klein have pulled back the curtain on this new economic dominance and its effects. This event will hear from speakers supporting the view that the neoliberal era marks not the passing of imperialism into history, but the intensification and indeed culmination of capitalism’s centuries-old imperialist trajectory.

The speakers will investigate the global economic architecture of the Washington Consensus that dominates global affairs and imposes conditions on the Global South by the developed nations acting on behalf of capital.

Leah Sullivan is Senior Campaigns Officer for International Trade at War on Want, whose slogan of ‘Poverty is Political’ has seen years of actively campaigning for political change as the solution to the problems of the Global South. Leah will focus on the free trade agenda and its effects on labour and environmental standards around the world.

John Smith is the author of Imperialism in the Twenty-First Century: Globalization, Super-Exploitation, and Capitalism’s Final Crisis, and winner of the Paul M. Sweezy Memorial Award. He argues that the core capitalist countries need no longer rely on military force and colonialism - although these still occur - but are increasingly able to extract profits from workers in the Global South through market mechanisms and, by aggressively favouring places with lower wages, the phenomenon of labor arbitrage.

Dave Berry is a trade unionist and political educator from the Independent Working Class Education Network whose lifelong activism has sparked an interest in political economy and labour relations. The aim of IWCE is to encourage democratic, inclusive debates that affect people's lives and allow them to interpret the forces that shape their lives.


The Independent Working Class Education Project aims to learn the lessons of history to inform current class struggle. Inspired by the Ruskin Students strike of 1909, we organise open informed discussions and look at how interesting presentations can be used in a variety of circumstances.

We offer materials and contacts and always try to operate in a non-sectarian way; we are not committed to any particular political current.


War on Want is a movement of people working to end global poverty and human rights abuses.

We believe a better world is possible. A world in which everyone lives a dignified life free from exploitation, injustice and climate disaster. Poverty is political: the most effective way to end it is by taking collective action to challenge the structures of inequality and injustice.

We campaign in the UK to challenge human rights abusing corporations and governments, to hold those responsible for inequality and poverty to account. We publish in depth research exposing injustice and human rights abuse globally. We work in partnership with grassroots social movements, trade unions and workers’ organisations in the Global South and across the world. We stand in solidarity with all people fighting for their rights.

Part of our 2021 festival strand

Putting Citizens in the Lead

Strand sponsors

Voluntary Action Sheffield

Our vision is for people to work together to make a vital and growing contribution to quality of life in all Sheffield’s communities. We support the development of voluntary and community action in the city, so it is sustainable and brings about positive social change.

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