L-I: more on the post-1917 world-system

M A Jones mark at SPAMjones118.freeserve.co.uk
Mon Sep 20 07:57:01 MDT 1999

India and the USSR were both developmental states but  India was
incorporated into the capitalist world-market; the Soviet Union was not,
until 1991. The USSR was articulated into the world system as a constitutive
instance, but it was not incorporated into the world-market until near the
end. The post-1917 world-system was founded on a historical dialectic
between the USSR and the capitalist powers. We have to differentiate between
the _accumulation regime_ applying historically, and the world-market, which
is only an epiphenomenon of the accumulation regime. The world-system is
both spatial, structural and temporal in its dimensions. It is an evolving
dynamic entity whose laws are the laws of capitalist accumulation, mediated
through various historical instances. It is not a static entity capable of
functional description or analytic deconstruction. It cannot be reduced in
this way.

These historical instances may appear within the world-system in different
guises. A state can be, and can be represented as, one competitor among
others, even primus inter pares. But the same state can also be hegemonic,
can be a condition of existence for the system, and therefore an
overdetermining instance of it. That is true today of the US. It was true of
the USSR. It was true of Britain 120 years ago. It has never been true of
China, Japan, Germany or India.

The Indian bourgeoisie used its state for its own purposes. There was
historical continuity with the Raj and its client princes. No such
continuity existed after 1917 in Russia even tho' positions in the
bureaucracy were often filled by people who often occupied similar niches
under the autocracy, or came from the same social couche. They became
'Soviet' patriots and however willingly or unwillingly, served a regime
whose raison d'etre was survival against external blockade.

For reasons of self-interest as well as conviction, they identified with
Soviet power. This made the mass psychology  and functionality of Soviet
bureaucracy, party and state elites quite unlike that of any national
bourgeosie, even the Prussians or Japanese.

The Indian ruling class, after 1947 as much as before, was always a chapter
of the world bourgeoisie. India, China, Japan and Germany have all been
developmental states pursuing goals of national development and using
protectionism, mercantilist trade policies and semi-autarkic growth paths to
pursue their national goals. The USA, too, was a protectionist developmental
state before WW1. At that time only the UK was committed to free trade and
had an open economy; it too was forced into imperialist protectionism by
1914. But in all cases the relative autonomy enjoyed by national elites
never took the form of articulating that state's confrontation with world
capitalism. The Indian bureaucracy did not legitimise itself internally by
reference to external enemies in the constant no-war/no-peace continuuum
which defined Soviet existence, uniquely in the history of major states
during the capitalist era. The Soviet regime was not the representative of
world capitalism and bourgeois social hegemony within Russia, but the
principal obstacle to that hegemony. It stood in locum tenens for the Soviet
proletariat as the latter's historical embodiment and negation. The end of
the Cold War was thus a crisis for the Soviet nomenklatura, a large
proportion of which vanished in the Soviet rubble. The incorporation of the
Indian developmental state into the neoliberal world market had no such dire
consequences for the Indian bourgeoisie (the notion that all the
apparatchiks  are now Russian capitalists is factually not supported).

True, the USSR was also a developmental state, articulated into the
world-system in similar contradictory ways to India, Japan etc. The
parallels exist. After Rapallo (1923) inaugurated Lenin's policy of
'peaceful co-existence', the Soviet Union's place within the world-system
was defined for the rest of its history. But the USSR always bore the double
burden of its overdetermining role as a condition of existence of the

China between 1949-1976 was the most autarkic state of all, but did not bear
this double burden. China too was trapped in a logic of primary accumulation
whose only possible outcome was eventual incorporation into the world market
as a peer-competitor of other more or less capitalist states. This event is
also evidence that the growth in global productive forces means no national
economic enclaves are feasible, no autonomous development path can work; the
incorporation of Russia and China into the neoliberal world-system has an
objective foundation. There are no longer alternatives.

The only difference between the USSR and other developmental states (where
development always, everywhere took the form of industrialisation and the
creation of bureaucracy and elite interest groups which came to identify
more with their peers in other countries than with their own state) was that

The 20th century world system was not based simply on US imperialism
supplanting the older British hegemony. It was based on an antinomial
dualism: it was 1917 which birthed the present world system. Without October
and the coming into existence of the USSR, US hegemony could only have been
established through a further round of inter-imperialist wars, if at all: as
Lenin foresaw in 1916. Therefore the entire outgrowth of world capitalism,
including the tripling of the world population, since 1917 has resulted from
the the dialectic of relations between the USSR and the USA. The USSR was
not just one developmental state among many others, and sharing most of the
same problems, illusions (of self-sufficiency, of national mission and
exceptionalism etc.). It was also an overdetermining factor which determined
the TOTALITY of the capitalist world-system. Neoliberalism did not achieve
final victory until after 1991 (not after 1976).

This difference explains much in the different fates of the developmental
states since 1991. Between 1990-1996 Chinese GNP increased by 56%. Ex-Soviet
GDP DECLINED by 50 %. The Chinese state had long been incorporated as a
periphery into the world market and was not challenged by the collapse of
the 1917-91 world-system.

Following the collapse of the world-system based on global confrontation
between the USSR and the US, ALL the developmental states have experienced
difficulties or are entering periods of heightened stress. This is also true
of Japan and Germany. They, like India before them and like China soon, have
been forced to abandon the illusions of national development. The fate of
Soviet Russia is therefore also the fate of Germany, Japan etc.

In 1917 the masses erupted into history on the international plane for the
first time, but the October Revolution was recuperated to the contradictory
and ultimately fatal horizon of national development within a world-system.
The collapse of that system after 1917 must also mean that capitalism has
launched onto a new historical trajectory, in which counter-revolution can
never again take the form of national reaction or consolidation of national
elites. This means that the present epoch is exceptionally dangerous for
capitalism: any social or economic crisis must be contained either by terror
and the social destruction of the working class and its capacity for
resistance (Russia; IMF bailouts in S E Asia, 'streuctural adjustment'
programmes etc) and/or by consent bought by forced growth and

A breakdown in the system would not result in inter-imperialist wars but in
the collapse of capitalism as a whole, and either a relapse into utter
barbarism, worse even than Russia today, or the reconstitution of the
world-system as socialism under the political control of the proletariat.

There are no other options, and neoliberalism/globalism can be seen as a
recognition forced on capitalism by events, by the momentum of its own
growth, that the continuation of civilisation requires the reconstituting of
human society in a truly global form. But neoliberalism/globalism can only
conceive of that common human destiny in the most destructive terms, namely
by forced redistribution of wealth and power from the peripheries to the
metropoles, and by allowing the mechanism of supranational accumulation full
play, which can only result in massive immiseration in the peripheries,
which will see the complete loss of their productive assets and potentials
in many cases, as the logic of accumulation drives the system to ever
greater concentrations of production, of power and wealth. Therefore it is
already clear that the system cannot find equilibrium and further global
crises are inevitable.

More: the collapse of the world-system's resource base is already happening
and IMO is the real reason for the apparently capricious and 'inexplicable',
'wilful', 'irrational' desire of the IMF to plunge crisis-stricken economies
deeper into recession: because in fact they cannot  be allowed to resume
their previous growth path. The dangers to the world energy-system and the
viability of the biosphere are just too great.

For an illustration of just how parasitic world-capitalism has now become,
take the case of Caspian oil: 'the oil deal of the 21st century' according
to Forbes Magazine, the saviour of capitalism etc.

Caspian oil was not a secret: its existence has been known since at least
1960. Total Caspian reserves, and I have been studying this, are not likely
to be more than 100 bn barrels, and may be much less. It is 5-10% of world
reserves. That is less than five years' world supply at present demand
levels. Caspian oil will be pumped out at 2-4bn bbls a year when all the
pipelines are open. Bearing in mind that Soviet oil production in 1990 was
8.5 bn bbls a day and is now 3.5 bn, this means (taking into account that
'Caspian oil' is actually former Soviet oil which the west has plundered)
will never even restore oil production in the FSU to its highest historical

If the Soviet developmental state had not collapsed, world demand for oil
would already be hard to meet. The recent 40% fall in crude prices have to
take this into account: the true cause of cheap oil is (a) crisis in SE
Asia; (b) collapse and barbarism in the FSU; (c) effects on global demand of
anthropogenic global warming.

In order to perpetuate its historical existence, world capitalism is
plundering the last resources of cheap energy, a factor predisposing the
outcome of present crisis processes towards a complete collapse of
civilisation and barbarism.

In 1900, according to Eric Hobsbawm in the Age of Imperialism, 45% of the
world's population lived in industrialising capitalist countries and shared
the same general standard of life. Today the proportion so privileged is
less than 15% and the pools of prosperity will evidently continue to shrink,
relatively and absolutely. This is the main trend: growth in China is a
counter-trend and cannot continue against the main trend. China itself will
collapse and there can be enclaves of metropolitan-bourgeois power, culture
and wealth (Shanghai/Hongkong) but they will not be adequate motors for
national development as a whole, any more than the Japanese metropole can be
the locomotive for sustained regional development within Asia as a whole.
These tectonic dynamics shaping the new accumulation regime are visible and

These trends have continued for so long now that they constitute the
inarguable arbiters of ALL long-run secular trends this century. The dynamic
is driven by the concentration of production, centralisation and
concentration of capital and, now, the hypertrophy of capital into huge
uninvestable pools of essentially flight capital, i.e., this is the final
stage of a finance-rentier capital bubble.

The ending of illusions about growth and development has also been a crisis
for that version of socialist emancipation which itself derives strictly
from industrial logics of development and 'economic growth'.

The 20th century world system was characterised by the coalescing of
emancipatory rationales, visions and illusions with a certain model of
national development overseen by mission-driven elites. This required an
inversion of Marxism, its co-option to the historic trajectories of
Enlightenment nation-building, and the subsequent involution of proletarian
parties into engines of social control, construction, production involving
'conveyor-belts' of class power. That is the form our conception of the
'Dictatorship of the Proletariat' has perforce taken, but it was quite clear
to Lenin and the Bolsheviks, to Gramsci, to Mao, and to many other
proletarian leaders and figures, that things did not and do not have to be
this way. The involution of the party form and its collapse into the waiting
arms of pre-existing state-bodies, a highly visible process in Soviet
history, was simply a correlative of the counter-revolutionary process which
absorbed 1917, 1949 and other revolutions, within the global
accumulation-regime. But a World Revolution, which is the only possible
_proletarian_ outcome of any crisis of neoliberal/global capitalist economy,
may produce/entail a quite different 'Dictatorship of the Proletariat', one
whose purpose is to generalise freedom within a process of de-accumulation,
a redistributional regime in other words. The purpose of the DoP would then
be precisely to prevent/forestall the emergence of new instances of
centralised power driving/driven by centralising accumulation dynamics.

If you look at the DoP as Marx/Engels described (which is hardly at all) or
as Lenin visualised it in _State and Revolution_, the sense of this is quite
clear: socialism is a fairly protracted period in which the general level of
personal and social culture is raised. The DoP is a general social process
in which all classes AND INDIVIDUALS participate but in which the
proletariat predominates.

People's War is a highly contradictory prefiguring of this: it entails a
militarised party with a top-down leadership operating a kind of martial
law. But a condition of its existence is mass participation. Under
conditions of possible capitalist restoration and counter-revolution,
Peoples' War, always unstable, is at risk of capsizing into the mass
voluntarism and excesses of the GPCR, or its opposite, the ultramilitarism
of the Shining Path.

But the collapse of the neoliberal/globalist accumulation regime entails the
desturction of the capitalist mode of production, its historical
termination. And after the collapse of accumulation on a world scale, it
will be impossible to restart accumulation on a localised basis. Commodity
exchange and markets will inevitably retreat to earlier forms before
disappearing altogether. In the absence of the threat of capitalist
restoration, the creation of  a truly universal world civilisation can
continue under its own unfettered momentum, constrained only by the problems
of restoration of shattered communities and fragmented, non-viable

Mark Jones

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