Colonial Latin America (Louis)

Julio Huato juliohuato at hotmail.com
Mon Jun 11 18:36:38 MDT 2001


Louis Proyect <lnp3 at panix.com>:

>It is important always to look at what Marx or Lenin wrote on these sorts
>of questions in their totality.

Right.

>For example, while Marx believed in 1853
>that British colonialism would benefit a country in thrall to Asiatic
>despotism, by 1880 he had changed his mind completely and regarded
>colonialism only as a "bleeding processs."

In net terms, colonialism was a bleeding process.  It was plunder. But
colonialism proper is pretty much gone.  The dominant type of economic
relationship in today's world market is trade, both of commodities ('goods
and services') and financial assets (which includes capital exports).  It is
not altruism or cooperation.  It is capitalist commerce.  It entails the
exploitation of workers by capitalists the capitalist way.  But it doesn't
entail consistent or systematic plunder of one country against another.
IMO, not to a significant extent.

Bottom line, we need to disentangle the different threads of what we call
'dependency', 'colonialism', or 'imperialism'.  It doesn't help to muddle
the issues even more.  In fact, what we sometimes call 'imperialism' refers
to the opposite of trade, i.e., embargos, economic sanctions, and economic
blockade, which entail refusing to trade and invest regularly in the target
country.

>By the same token, Lenin's 1916 pamphlet was focused not so much on the
>role of monopoly capital in the colonies but on its tendency to provoke war
>in the metropolitan citadels. It was an analysis of the economic background
>of WWI essentially.

Right.  I alluded to this.

>But by 1920, the focus had shifted entirely. In a very real sense, almost
>everything written on the national question from this point onwards
>emphasizes the inability of capitalism to provide any benefits to backward
>countries.

We also have to look at the context in which he wrote it.  The background in
Lenin's writings in 1920 is the long civil war the Bolsheviks waged against
whites and foreign powers.  The expansive trend of capitalist
internationalization of prewar times was halted and even reversed.  The
world market was fragmented.  Europe was in an economic mess.  'War
communism' prevailed in Russia.

After WW2, we have witnessed a new wave of capitalist growth and a renewed
intensity in the internationalization of capital.  The principles of
national independence and self-determination that Lenin advocated were
entirely derived from first democratic principles.  In this period, Lenin
did not undertake any meticulous study of the tendencies of world
capitalism.

Moreover, my impression is that as Lenin came to the realization that Soviet
Russia had to survive in relative isolation, his assessment of the ability
of Russia to build socialism was rather gloomy.  Switching to NEP was a
recognition of the need to allow for a measure of capitalist production and
accumulation.  His obsessions then were to keep the party and the state from
getting bureaucratized or infiltrated by the NEP-men and manage the state
sector efficiently (electrify, plan).

>While Lenin had been identified as a "stagist" in the early
>1900s in his debate with Trotsky on permanent revolution, but 1920 there
>was consensus that socialism was the only way forward.

We have to use hindsight.  The reasons for this were (1) the illusions of
the epoch (the state of world capitalism after WW1 fed them) and (2) the
desperate need Soviet Russia to break its isolation, which required
successful revolutions led by communists abroad -- if not in rich countries,
at least in other poor countries.  In the present conditions, this doesn't
hold.

>In a speech to workers in the East at the 1920 Comintern, Lenin refers to
>the problem of "dependency" that is virtually identical to that found in
>Paul Baran and the MR school. In fact, Lenin states that in countries such
>as China, India, etc., the revolution will have a dual character. It will
>be for national liberation as well as socialism. Moreover, he goes so far
>as to say that not only is national liberation a more urgent need in such
>countries, but that Communists should participate in struggles initiated by
>BOURGEOIS NATIONALISTS. But nowhere will you find any concession to the
>idea that the spread of capitalism will provide any benefits such as
>railways, telegraphs, increased labor productivity, etc.

I'd like to see that Lenin's quote where he reverses his statement that
capital exports accelerate capitalist development in the target countries.
And we must look at the context -- interwar historical conditions.

As for telegraphs and railways being benefits, if there's any need to say it
is because you and others deny it.  Of course, they are capitalist
businesses.  They are first and foremost for the benefit of capitalists.
Under capitalism, everything that is not the independent radical struggle of
workers winds up being for the benefit of the capitalists.  But that doesn't
mean that there are not lesser evils for workers under capitalism.  Is it
necessary to say that this infrastructure is a tangible benefit for workers
in the 'Third World', not only in their daily lives, but also because it
affords them the opportunity to build an alternative under better
conditions?
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