gschofield at one.net.au
Sun Jun 17 23:32:14 MDT 2001
George I think this debate is worth taking slowly, so please forgive me for
commenting and adding to your post
>it seems to me that the theoretical problem is how to understand the
>benefits that flow to the core workers from the super exploitation of the
There are many things here, so lets separate a few out - I will try and
express them in a way that is mutually acceptable (but not necessarily
succeed), it is going to be difficult because besides the natural
complexity of the subject we also have so many historical left overs and
some just technical problems.
First the nature of the commodities from the third world under classic
imperialism and the conditions that pertain to today.
For the most part classic imperialism concerned itself with the raw
materials gained from the colonies, (I am jumping past the early phase when
accumulated wealth was simply robbed). For the most part imperialism
discouraged colonial manufacture because it would compete in the colonies
with commodities made in the imperial homeland.
Classically, colonial labour was used intensively and for creating raw
products, there was some capital investment, especially for administrative
purposes, but overall much was done by hand by cheap labour (sometimes
compelled most often driven from the land). Hence for much of this history
of classical imperialism the colonies (with obvious exceptions) were kept
capitally poor, infrastructures designed around administrative needs,
manufacture little for direct consumption on the world market, and often
lacked the big industrial capital investments altogether.
The classic commodities were things like bananas, coffee, tea, cocoa,
cotton, minerals etc. And I will agree that during this period the working
class of the imperial homelands had access to cheap commodities based on
raw materials created in administrated colonies. Capitalism, had augmented
the productivity of workers by simply the scale of operations, the
applications of simple technologies (pesticides, fertilizer, a few machines
for bottle-necks etc), but very little else.
Where colonial manufacturing naturally grew was around administrative HQ's,
the remnants of this are everywhere to be seen, from service industries to
modest manufacture but rarely if ever to the stage of providing products of
consumption for the world market.
The largess that capital gained from the colonies was used in a number of
ways, imperial homelands often got some of their items of consumption very
cheaply (especially those requiring little or no further preparation)
coffee drinking in the US and France, Chocolate drinking in Germany (not so
much these days), and of course Tea in England (and let us not forget the
addiction to sugar which also has a colonial reason for being).
But in getting it cheaply they were not getting any surplus at all, rather
because capital had by the size of the plantations able to create huge
mountains of such products, they lowered the price in order to sell these
mountains, the surplus they pocketed, none reached the European workers,
while if anything these same products were in the colonies cheaper again
than in the imperial homelands. To use a trite example, people in the
colonies still keep the culinary traditions established by their own
Classic imperialism allowed for development, or rather responded to it, but
did not despite its own publicity push balanced development forward rather
it was content to distort, slow and enhance the uneveness (as against
develop) because each step forward in the colony threatened imperial market.
George I trust this is acceptable? Because I want to draw attention to the
necessary nature of the imperial state in this and how the largesse was
actually spent in the imperial homeland.
There were some cheap products, but no surplus in this at all (they more or
less sold at their right price but became cheaper in the homeland because
from there they were dispersed to the rest of the world). Then there was
the public infrastructure which was made possible because of the general
wealth of the imperial homeland and from some of the surplus gained from
the colonies (but very little from this source). In this the working class
had some share, but public works of public benefit came either out of their
pockets or sometimes as gifts from individual bourgeoisie.
This is critically important especially if we are to understand Lenin on
Imperialism, the surplus was given out (only a proportion but a healthy
proportion) in terms of "good works" paid for by the bourgeoisie personally
- consciously or unconsciously this was social bribery but its importance
was that it cemented small sections of the working class to particular
bourgeois figures and families. The same benefits wrought by the state do
not receive the same loyalty and cannot have the same purpose. Reformist
leaders in this way were directly bribed, given positions of status and
enjoyed in the public works - the whole done for the most part privately
and the so-called leaders not necessarily pocketing any cash in the direct
Imperial homelands are likely to have less state works and more privately
endowed public works. Countries not being actively colonised and not being
very big imperialists, usually are forced to rely more on state measures
than private endowments (Russia and to a lesser extent Germany are prime
examples - but Japan is very good in its own right). Britain until 1945 had
very skimpy state supported public infrastructure (once the colonies went
much had to replace the vacuum). At the moment the US holds closest to the
classic imperial model but there are caveats here.
Engels and Lenin's accusation of the role of imperialism was based on the
points above, not some economic force benefiting workers, but a political
measure made by the bourgeois class as a national ruling class. The
necessary connection was via their pockets anything else would be pointless
from their class perception.
Now this is where the vital importance of the state comes in, more
specifically the relationship between a national ruling class in the
imperial homeland and the colonies and imperial policy. For the most part
capital was confined to within the imperial borders (yes with lots of well
known big investments - Russian Railways etc), that is until the 1970's
where full electronic credit dispensed with borders as far as finance
capital was concerned.
In classic imperialism the imperial state was defining, the determining
element, the relationship of the bourgeoisie to it, its actions as its
"board of directors". The imperial state thus acted to the class interests
of the national bourgeoisie, and could only be understood in this light. To
my mind that is classic imperialism.
However, today things are very different, once free (at least financially)
from the constraints of any state, the situation was bound to change
rapidly and in new directions.
The answer to old imperialism was national liberation and the attempt to
build up the productivity of society with state power in this broad
generalisation we can sweep from China over India, across Indo-China and
Indonesia, likewise Africa, and include South America though the trajectory
was something different again.
George rather than take this further at this point is there a possibility
of agreeing that something substantial happened when finance capital became
free of states in the 1970's, in a sense I believe it was heading in this
direction right from 1945, while national liberation was reshaping and
giving birth to so many "new" nation states, finance capital was struggling
against being confined in even the imperial homeland (and its shrinking
Before looking at whether the modern worker in the 1st world benefits from
whatever the present era is, is there a disagreement with how I roughly
shaped the situation of say the English worker under old imperialism or is
there something you would wish to add?
>we get better housing, more food, better appliances and other
>material rewards. all of this must be analyzed and explained. it can not
>just be that we work harder. productivity in the economic sense is not a
>question of who works harder. this in no sense means that core workers are
>not exploited by capital. and our benefits from this system are small when
>compared to those of the capitalists. in earlier times, there was less
>competition between core and periphery workers because of the global
>division of labor. factory workers do not compete with mine or agricultural
>workers. they do compete with factory workers in other parts of the world.
>so now days core workers feel that other people have gotten their jobs.
George I would like to return to this.
>formulating a political strategy must be related to the fundamental economic
>realities. however, this strategy does not simply flow from the material
>conditions. it needs to be developed. I mention this because Greg has
>emphasized the role of organizing. I am no great strategist, but it seems to
>me that there is not a choice between domestic or international struggles.
>they are both connected. we have no choice but to deal with both arenas of
>core workers have been integrated into the world system of commodity
>production and consumption differently than periphery workers. this brings
>us to the question of being bought off. this is a rather ugly problem. after
>all, what do I care about the working conditions of the people who produce
>my coffee, sugar and computers. I may be brought around to see that I should
>care. capitalism is a dirty business. no one's hands are clean.
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