Marxism in rich countries (Charles-2)

Julio Huato juliohuato at hotmail.com
Fri Jun 8 08:56:09 MDT 2001


I'd like to respond here to another question Charles poses.  It motivates a
discussion on the strategy of workers in the 'Third World'.  I expect
readers to take my assertions with a ton of salt.  What I have in mind is
mostly Mexico, which -- in some way -- may not be a typical 'Third World'
country.

>CB: That's what we have been discussing. I say, with Lenin, that part of
>the cause was the use of imperialist booty to buyoff segments of the
>working class in the U.S.
>
>You mentioned that you thought it was the greater productivity of the
>working classes in the rich countries that provided their higher standard
>of living.  This higher productivity comes from more advanced instruments
>of production in the main, no ?  How would that impact strategy today ?
>

Higher productivity comes from more advanced instruments of production and
from a more qualified collective producer.  In turn, more advanced
instruments of production are products, so they come from more advanced
instruments of production and a more qualified collective producer... and so
on.  In my first posting of this thread, I tried to make a point that
productivity is fundamentally labor POWER or (a synonym Marx used) the
productive FORCE of labor.  IMO, people tend to overestimate the importance
of hardware and stuff.  Know-how, experience, expertise are really really
important.  Marx (or Engels?) suggested that Robinson Crusoe's could
conceivably survive and thrive in isolation because he carried with him (not
much junk but) the knowledge and experience of a highly productive society.
The colonial settlers experience, however we look at it, is another instance
of how the subjective ingredient is crucial.  [I have been promising some
notes on power, where I'll address these and other issues.  Hope to type
them soon.]

Now to address Charles' question, the implication of this idea (that the
higher productivity of workers in the 'core' is what enables their higher
wages) is that, as a rule, they are not systematic accomplices of the
super-exploitation of workers in the 'Third World'.  It can be shown,
factually, to workers in the 'core' countries that (as a rule) they do NOT
benefit from the abuse and super-exploitation of the 'Third World'.  The
advancement in the working and living conditions of workers in the 'Third
World' is DIRECTLY to the advantage of workers in the 'core' countries.
That's the way to break the ideology of the 'lower standards' and the 'race
to the bottom'.  It is to the DIRECT benefit of workers in the 'core'
countries to support the struggle of workers in the 'Third World' for higher
real wages, better working and living conditions.

Now, for the workers in the 'Third World' to improve their working and
living conditions under capitalism, their productivity has to grow.  There's
no way around that.  Marx showed that it is possible for capitalists to
increase exploitation and, at the same time, take wage increases.  Moreover,
his analysis implies that this is perfectly possible without fiscal or
monetary manipulation (no inflation is required, no government-budget
deficit).  This is, Marx thought, the characteristic method of exploitation
of the capitalist mode of production: RELATIVE surplus value production.
The condition for this to take place is a sustained growth in productivity.
It makes sense to me.

IMO, because of this, workers in the 'Third World' should not oppose the
growth of productivity.  In Wage Labor and Capital, Marx says that growth is
the most favorable environment for the proletariat under capitalism.  He
emphasized, of course, that even in the best environment, the proletarians
are exploited, their RELATIVE poverty increases, and crises ensue.  But that
we know already.  In the conditions in which workers live in the 'Third
World', the struggle against absolute poverty is top priority.  Reducing
absolute poverty, even if by a small percentage, in the 'Third World' is
tantamount to turning millions of producers into educated, powerful, and
demanding historical agents. Workers in the 'Third World' should not oppose
the growth of productivity.  The growth of productivity is growth of their
explotation but it is also growth of their historical POTENTIAL.  They
should instead focus their struggle on higher real wages, better working
conditions, better living conditions, universal suffrage, respect to the
popular vote, public accountability, and solidarity with workers abroad.

IMO, Marx's socialism is not in the current agenda of the poor countries.
(Political revolutions are required in some countries, where the
establishment of universal suffrage and respect to the popular vote may be
opposed violently by the powers.  In such countries, the use of force
becomes a legitimate revolutionary instrument.  In that case, big chunks of
Lenin's and Mao's approaches become relevant.)  IMO, the condition Marx
imposed on the Russian revolutionaries in the 1870s is indispensable.  And
it doesn't exist as of today.  There are no socialist rich countries ready
to lend a hand to socialist construction in the 'Third World'.  Although the
possibility of popularly-backed attempts to build socialism is rather
abstract, if and when it happens, this efforts is to be fully supported.
But there's no point in ignoring the historical experience.

[Let me just add a caveat that seems obvious to me.  When I talk of growth
of productivity, I mean the growth in per worker output of the right kind of
wealth.  It means that a lof of the trash capitalism generates (pollution,
military consumption, advertising, etc.) is not to be considered as
legitimate wealth.  Whatever our assessment of the consumers' and
environmentalist movement in the US (to the extent I know anything about
them), IMO, it shows that workers as consumers can and should also mobilize.
  The workings of the capitalist mode of production do not preclude that
workers exercise their purchasing power wisely and thereby contribute to
shaping up the industrial structure, business practices, a cleaner
environment, etc.]
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