On the theory of imperialism.

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Baderneiro Miseravel
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Dec 10 2010 11:46
On the theory of imperialism.

I often find in my country "marxists" and others defending that the "good living conditions" of the proletariat in Europe and North America are only possible because of the exploitation of poorer countries with worse work conditions such as Brasil. Basically, because of imperialism.

While there is some (bu not a lot of) logic in the argument, I find that this is often an excuse to spill chauvinist nonsense that the european workers are somehow privileged and don't deserve support or to defend nationalist (anti-imperialist?) ideas disguised as "defense of the poor".

So, I was looking for good texts that criticized this position or thoughts you had on this. I find that is a very influential idea (and is also applied to attack "privileged workers" in my own country, such as public sector workers) which is often an obstacle to solidarity, as well as poor theory.

Any ideas? What's the relation between better living conditions in the developed countries and worse conditions of exploitation in others?

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Demogorgon303
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Dec 10 2010 12:03

I'd guess this is a variant of the idea of "labour aristocracy" that has its origins with Lenin (and others).

The ICC wrote a piece titled "The ‘labour aristocracy’: a sociological theory to divide the working class" back in 1981. I won't link to it here as we've been asked not to but you should be able to find it via google.

Boris Badenov
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Dec 10 2010 14:44

See, Demo, instead of making it look like libcom is doing a FULL ASSANGE on the ICC you could just try to make the argument against labour aristocracy yourself, preferably in a way that is less stiff and formalistic than the default ICC standard; I think that would help the OP much more.

I think you're right Bederneiro to be skeptical of such language that seeks to "otherise" the Western working class as inherently reactionary and corrupt. The labour aristocracy theory is absolutely untenable from a historical POV. First of all in colonial countries the indigenous workers' relationship to "their" empire has often been marked by both complete indifference (see Bernard Porter's "The Absent-Minded Imperialists" for the British context) or acute jingoism and patriotard sentiments. This doesn't mean that in any Western country with a colonial empire, the national working class was invariably supportive of the colonial project because they, as "labour aristocrats," saw in it a guarantee of a higher standard of living.
Secondly the colonial project didn't happen because the ruling class in England, France or the Netherlands had a summit meeting and decided to exploit X or Y native population so they could "pay off" their indigenous working classes. Yes, the empire ultimately ended up being a ruthless vehicle for bloody exploitation and genocide, but it started off like any other capitalist project, via the market and political negotiation. Britain's informal empire for example, i.e. during the first half or so of the 19th c., was much more based on political patronage (and it's important to remember the role that elites in colonized places played in the advent of the empire; they were much more important than the Western working class) and trade deals than direct military/bureaucratic control (which of course tends to run counter to market interests as it creates social instability and corruption). Only later in the century does India become a properly occupied territory, Africa get partitioned, and so on.
This means that there is no "imperialist stage" in the development of capital or any such horseshit. Any multinational corporation today has the possibility of becoming the kind of informal empire that most Western powers enjoyed for much of their colonial histories (indeed you could argue that big corporations are in a sense colonial projects).
My advice is to be profoundly distrustful of all leftist/leninist attempts at rewriting history, especially when it comes to issues of the First vs. the Third world, as this is exactly where the reactionary and populist character of leninism (and most strands of modern leftism) is revealed.

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Demogorgon303
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Dec 10 2010 19:32

I apologise to Baderneiro Miseravel for using his request for help to make a point regarding a dispute that, to my knowledge, he or she has no involvement in. I'll respond on linking policy on that thread rather than derailing this one.

As for the text I suggested, I offered that in good faith in response to the OP's request and think it offers some useful points.

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waslax
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Dec 10 2010 22:51
Baderneiro Miseravel wrote:
I often find in my country "marxists" and others defending that the "good living conditions" of the proletariat in Europe and North America are only possible because of the exploitation of poorer countries with worse work conditions such as Brasil. Basically, because of imperialism.

I would guess that these "marxists" are actually Maoists. Their theory of imperialism will not hold up to critical scrutiny. Surely it is up to them and their theory to actually demonstrate how wealth exploited from "poorer countries" gets transferred to the proletariat in Europe and North America. I don't see how they can do that. By which mechanism, or at whose hand, does this wealth get into the hands of the European and North American proletariat? The trans-national ('imperialist') capitalists from Europe and North America have neither any interest nor desire to share the spoils they have extracted from "poorer countries" with the proletariat in "their" richer countries. They keep it all for themselves, obviously.

What the proletariat in Europe and North America have acquired they have acquired solely by means of their own struggles. The thing is, historically their countries and their ruling classes were the first ones to develop capitalistically, which has given them this fundamental advantage over all late-comers to the game. The more developed capital is, the bigger and more productive it is, the greater its advantage over all other competitors, assuming a 'free market' with 'free trade' between countries. It is this reality -- uneven development -- that has given workers in the more developed countries more opportunity for increasing their wages and benefits. But that does not depend on exploitation of workers from poorer countries.

Any supposed "marxism" which tells workers in poor countries that they have more in common with their own ruling class than with the workers of the 'rich' countries is a fraud; it is a nationalist state-capitalist force that will lead nowhere. Any supposed "marxism" that militates against the fundamental idea for the workers of the world to unite to overthrow (all) their exploiters and oppressors is clearly neither marxist nor communist. It is political poison for workers everywhere.

ajjohnstone
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Dec 11 2010 03:54
Quote:
Lenin's theory of imperialism had contained the seeds of such a shameful outcome from the start as it made the most significant struggle at world level not the class struggle but the struggle between states, between so-called anti— imperialist and progressive states and so— called imperialist and reactionary states. This was a dangerous diversion from the class struggle and led to workers supporting the killing in wars of other workers in the interest of one or other state and its ruling class.
http://www.worldsocialism.org/spgb/aug98/imperial.html

Anti-imperialism is the slogan of local elites.Anti-imperialism is a doctrine long used by capitalists in relatively weak countries to try and pursue their own ends.

Marxian economics does not measure the level of exploitation by how high or low wages are but by reference to the amount of surplus value produced as compared with the amount of wages paid, whether high or low. By this measure the workers of the advanced countries were more exploited thin those of the colonies, despite their higher wages, because they produced more profits per worker. Lenin failed to understand why different rates of wages prevail in different countries. According to him, wages are higher in imperialist countries because the capitalists there bribe their workers out of the superprofits which they earn from exploiting the subjugated countries.

Marx's explanation as to why wages were higher in these countries. Both productivity and the rate of exploitation (ratio of paid to unpaid labour) were higher there:
"The more productive one country is relative to another in the world market, the higher will be its wages compared with the other. In England, not only nominal wages but (also) real wages are higher than on the continent. The worker eats more meat, he satisfies more needs. This, however, only applies to the industrial worker and not the agricultural labourer. But in proportion to the productivity of the English workers their wages are not higher (than the wages paid in other countries)" (Theories of Surplus Value, Part Two, pages 16-17).

A lower rate of wages does not make any one country any less capitalist than another:
"The different states of the different civilised countries, in spite of their motley diversity of form, all have this in common, they are based on modern bourgeois society, only one more or less capitalistically developed" (Critique of the Gotha Programme, 1875).

A country may be highly industrialised or a developed agricultural one or the chief supplier of raw materials for industry or whatever. This happens due to the division of labour amongst the various capitalist countries. So one "nation" cannot exploit another "nation".

Lenin's theory of imperialism pitted the working class of undeveloped countries against that of the developed ones. That leads to upholding national interest against class interest.

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devoration1
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Dec 11 2010 05:29

How 'developed' was the theory of imperialism according to Lenin? I was under the impression that much of the 'labor aristocracy' + Third Worldism were sort of added on later via Maoism using a few quotations from Lenin as proof of their revolutionary heritage?

ajjohnstone
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Dec 11 2010 07:26

This article by the group Wildcat is an interesting read. Covers Lenin but also Bukharin Kautsky and Luxemburg's views on imperialism.

Quote:
"Lenin argued that Imperialism was in part a conscious strategy to buy off the working classes in the Imperialist countries. His evidence consists of one quote from arch-imperialist Cecil Rhodes, , and one from Engels to the effect that the workers of England "merrily share the feast" of its colonies... From Rhodes' opinion that Imperialism would help avoid revolution in Britain, Lenin derived his theory of the Labour Aristocracy, which shows his moralism at its crudest. His condemnation of the "economic parasitism" by means of which the English ruling class "bribe the lower classes into acquiescence" is completely antithetical to materialism, as are his complaints that the "Imperialist" countries oppress the weaker ones....Lenin's position was not a mistake. The Labour Aristocracy theory had the political purpose of enabling the Bolsheviks to argue for the workers in the colonies to form united fronts with their local ruling classes against Imperialism. This in turn had the aim of dividing the working class internationally, and turning it into cannon fodder for capitalist war."