Bought off workers?

Greg Schofield gschofield at
Tue Jun 19 20:25:07 MDT 2001

John sorry to take so long to get back to you,

>Firstly, let me say that I never used terms such as "bought off," bribed
>etc to describe workers in the West. This language was introduce by
>D. Welch to the discussion for his own obscure purposes. My position on
>the question is explained somewhere below.

Well I would agree with David that it is implied much more generally, the
trouble with implications of course is that they are precisely the
unintended parts of a statement or position. It may be obviously present to
someone who disagrees and just as completely without foundation to the
other side. I would therefore step back a little and simply say that the
"bought-off" implication lies in analysis where the explanation of first
world worker passivity is because of the benefits being in the first world.

Of course this is unfair, but I think it accurate - I am not claiming that
you or anyone has specifically used the expression. But I believe it
inherent. However, you have every right to treat this as a mere assertion,
so I am quite prepared to modify this to a debate about the application of
Lenin's imperialism in today's context.

To jump in a quick defense, let me say that in arguing against Lenin's
Imperialism application to today's circumstances is in no way a lessening
of the brutality, bloodshed, merciless exploitation of capital, rather the
reverse because added to this list is recklessness and even more stupidity.
Capital is not less thirsty but more, capital is certainty less concerned
with the population's condition than was the case under imperialism (even
in the negative sense), and all in all the situation today has confirmed
the whole of Lenin's theory of imperialism (I emphasize the whole, not just
parts but every part together with all that that implies).

>I'm in agreement with your description of the general direction in which
>capitalist society is heading. However, parallel to the immiseration and
>impoverishment there are social groups who have continued to do very well
>out of the current arrangements. In inner city chicago where I reside
>(as a student I might add), there are new apartments going for millions
>just a few blocks away from the run down and segregated housing projects
>which are characteristic of every large US city. But no number of similar
>anecdotes will convey the dehumanising reality of a hyper capitalist
>society like this one.

On this we are in perfect accord - "hyper-capitalist society" is a rather
good expression as it picks up on some very clear trends.

>With reference to your description of the flight of capital from
>production to speculation, Magdoff and Sweezy have explained this process
>in terms of the tendency of monopoly capitalism to stagnation.

I am in agreement with both Magdoff and Sweezy in terms of monopoly
capitalism which can be used as a general term today they are absolutely
right. John it is not only because I have no disagreement with this view,
but believe it to be essential symptom of the conflict between the
productive power and the relations of production.

Sweezy also made the point that big capital did not invent, he is not wrong
in this despite appearances. Another contradiction the productive powers
are growing prodigiously, but not essential out of capital by despite it.

Big companies do not innovate (just as Sweezy says, I know there are
exceptions and I suggest he did too - human beings do not work absolutely
to form), yet their is an explosion of invention, which big capital busily
buys up and for the most part sits on. This inventive impulse, brought
about by many things, the accumulation of scientific and technical
knowledge, the social impulse of someone to try and make a difference, and
oddly a lack of faith that big capital will do it better potential new
technologies tumble out on a daily basis - but capital does very little
with this that is my point and Sweezy's (well obviously Sweezy influenced
my idea).

Now my point with this is that monopoly capital  refers to the relationship
a capital (or group of capitals) has to a market. I think this is what
Sweezy was looking at as it has tremendous implications to how the
relations of production are organised and behave. I would assume all this,
but shift my focus to the implications of the changes in the property form
itself (the public company phenomenon which is all but universal), I
believe this complements, indeed grows out of Sweezy's concerns (it was
Sweezy amongst others that made me look in this direction in the first place).

When the property form and its implications are looked at, it is here that
Lenin's Imperialism is directly superceded. Lenin understood the role of
monopoly-capital, saw it emerge (that is important as it was emergant), he
understood and spoke of the effect of these national monopolies and
imperialism by the state - it would not stretch it too far to saw for him
this was its modern impulse. The imperialism he commented on had distinct
features, it was nationally bound, the bourgeoisie still retained their
property in a private form for the most part or in the case of people like
Morgan private in all but name (his share arrangements were not designed
for trading). In a sense this is the engine for Lenin's imperialism.

Now, the property form has broken out of two critical confines, it has been
socialised through tradable shares on a gigantic scale, and
internationalised through credit transfers. There is a displacement of
capital's influence from within a particular state to above. Applying
Lenin's imperialism to this empties it of meaning, it becomes a general
truism which is my objection and just what we would expect of a concept
that has outlived itself.

It is precisely because of the theoretical necessity of Lenin to claim that
such imperialism was the highest stage of (private) capitalism, that I
believe is just one of the reasons why this present period is more
correctly referred to as Bourgeois Socialism - note aspects of previous
imperialism are brought over along with much else, it is just that the
concept becomes less and less useful.

> > The apparent new productive investments made by big capital in the third
> > world are rarely made by big capital itself, but come from the within
> those
> > countries or from smaller capital.
> >
>I'm not sure about your take on this. Apart from resource extraction, new
>investments in the third world tend to be in sunset industries (eg steel
>relocating from Pittsburgh or Port Kembla) and labour intensive industries
>and sweatshops, while high value and strategic industries (avionics, high
>end computing, military and space technology) remain a carefully guarded
>private monopoly with close links however to the state (and we're talking
>of specific states, not just any state).

Well another way of saying this (bearing in mind the nature of military
supplies) these high tech military and semi-military industries stick
pretty close to their major buyer. These are just the industries which
manifested first the aspects that have now been generalised across
capitalism, by all the ties of history we should expect them to be somewhat
more conservative (that is working through well know channels) simply
because they were previously the most advanced forms.

There is nothing sunset about industries such as steel - steel consumption
is rising steadily, more steel is being produced now than in the past. They
were sunset industries because of large scale divestments. Often the big
steel companies seated always in the homelands of imperialism big and
small, no longer own mills, but contract to mills especially built for them
in the third world - that was the shift and it is one of the best examples
of the point I am trying to make.

The capital needed for the mill becomes a debt owed to the former steel
giant, who rents its capacities as it concentrates on the far more
profitable realisation of surplus. Often it is the very steel capital that
supplies its fiance as an investment, rigged to rake-off even more surplus.
The third world steel producers are tied to contracts of production and
aside from the corrupt and near corrupt payments made to the few, the
actual realisable surplus for the mill itself is very small and very
dependant on keeping the variable part of capital low.

The industry is only sunset for the first world, for the third world, steel
and other heavy industry is increasingly becoming a booming (but very
dispersed and often as mini-mills - a technological innovation in many
respects). Now there is no-doubt that every thing about my description
could be easily called imperialism, but this is just a label for sweating
labour on a global scale and a hundred other words could do it equal
justice. My point is that we need concepts which reveal the specific
characteristics of our age, and imperialism is no help in this.

> >
> > ... investment in the means of production within the homeland - that is
> > the major reasons classically imperialist countries grew so strong (by the
> > way that is where the surplus went).
> >
>What you say is true, but again, do not ignore the fact that the classical
>imperialist states were dependent on their colonies, as Britain was on
>India. I don't see what there is to debate here, since the British ruling
>class at the time was quite candid about the fact that without the control
>and de-industrialisation of India there could be no satanic mills in
>Manchester, not to mention the slaves of Africa or the disappeared natives
>of the Americas.

John this would also be my point as well. The benefit for the English
working class was being exploited in highly productive industries whose
establishment was part made by capital derived from the surplus taken from
the colonies. This is classic imperialism, my question is where do you see
this happening today?

Surplus is being raked-off at a furious rate, poor workers are being
super-exploited, but where is the productive benefits for the imperial
homeland (despite the US's obvious wealth and power), only some high tech
industries which for the most part produce either no actual products for
consumption, products that have monopoly prices but little labour
components (software, to a certain extent drugs), military and
semi-military industries (which as I said are likely to be conservative and
just practically situated in or near their biggest buyers). The rest, so
much of the rest is progressively going over to nonproductive labour (the
productive labour in the US is still large but it is not growing and that
is the point).

The critical point is that the concept of imperialism is not just a label
for exploiting sweated labour on a grand scale. To be of use it has to
reveal more of what is going on, I argue that its present use is clouding

> > Large financial capital stands above governments even the US....
> >
>yet it relies on the US Federal Reserve to bail it out at the first sign
>of instability, as in the recent LTCM fright, or the fist of NATO to
>ensure a favourable environment for its activities, as in Eastern Europe.
>Greg, really ought to know better than to simply repeat this fluffy
>globalisation 'discourse'.

This bailing out process is often no more than a way to suck more state
money into financial trading, remember these shakes are self-induced for
the most part. Remember also that the actual reserves (ie gold reserves)
have long ago been sold off.

You make a mistake John, there is nothing fluffy about the concept of
international financial capital dictating to governments - in fact I would
say this has been one of the more obvious trends over the last thirty
years. That most of these bourgeois speak in American accents is not
unexpected (it is the biggest club), but the power relations have changed,
the passport they hold is not relevant nor their residence, the capital
they control floats above all this.

I think you have misunderstood me on this point. The state becomes all the
more important because it has finally been made subservient to capital (ie
one of many states, rather than the state of a particular capital), there
are great implications in this!!

>To the same extent that imperialism is no longer imperialism of the
>"classical" era, so is capitalism no longer the capitalism of the steam
>and cotton era. I have not however, abandoned the concept of "capitalism"
>on this account.

All things to there place, I am quite prepared to abandon "private
property" in favour of "socialised property" for major capital forms (as
suggested by the Grundrisse), because the private property form has been
burst asunder. and no longer reveals the essential nature of class society
(rather we have to distort reality in order to make it fit the private
property form).

The capital-labour relation is going strong, but the bourgeoisie have
negated most of their class past, they are no longer the bourgeoise of the
past, however I have no fitting name for them (I will not call them
capitalists because this term is ONLY applicable to private capital owners
of which there are very few), I like to think of them as
Courtier-Bourgeoisie I think this term most apt but a little bulky.

Imperialism has already passed through the highest phase of private
capitalism and is in the process of becoming its opposite - Bourgeois
Socialism seems by many definitions very apt indeed. John there was logic
in Lenin's idea of imperialism, persisting with it is to defy its logic and
all I can see is that this creates needless ideological distortions. Honour
Lenin by burying his concept as it was meant to be.

>Greg, I think we had more recently the gulf war, and an aggression against
>Yugoslavia, not to mention the 'great game' currently going on in the
>Caspian and Caucasia. But semantic debates about which of these
>legitimately constitutes a "classical" imperialist or colonialist action
>according to some arbitrary definition are frankly just unproductive and a
>distraction, and I will not partake in such.

John, this is an ideological error (bear with me a minute), because it
suggests that any military action is by definition imperialistic. Where is
the colonial exploitation? Where is the surplus being dragged out of these
places (which it is but not by imperialism) being reinvested in the means
of production in the imperial homeland - if this does not happen it makes
no sense calling it imperialism. If you think this is a distraction and
unproductive then this equates to not wishing to know the new features of
capital for even if I am completely wrong that is what the real debate is.

>Again, though dirty and sunset industries are relocating to China and
>India (this is called 'development'), Boeing is not going to leave the US
>in the forseable future, Aerospatiale is not relocating to the Congo
>basin, and future LCTM's are still going to rely on the Federal Reserve to
>contain the inherent instability of the financial system.

Not entirely true John after all when these aircraft are assembled, where
do the parts come from? What constitutes the raw material for an aircraft -
the smelly mills in China may well be within the same industry as flashy
Boeing (industries going sideways to similar products, going upwards as a
connection of products - ie department I and II).

>Much of what you say is true, but on a rather abstract level. The point
>I would urge you again not ignore is that workers in the South are
>oppressed both as workers and as oppressed nations.

Is this not extremely abstract the only oppressed nations I know of are
indigenous nations within states. As far as I know aside from this the
number of actual administered colonies are very few indeed and all very small.

The indonesian worker is oppressed by the indonesian state, regardless of
what reason this state acts, the nation might be being screwed but it
exists and no-one else administers it.

>This fact presents a
>serious challenge to a revolutionary movement since as well as confronting
>the capitalist classes the global working classes have to simultaneously
>deal with the ideological legacy of the past centuries of oppression,
>a legacy which has now aquired a life of its own, both in the South and
>the North. The rub is that this legacy cannot be washed away by appeals to
>abstract humanism. It can only be overcome through concrete acts of
>solidarity and a common struggle.

And the fact that because it is no longer imperialism capital places first
world and third world workers as direct competitors (this is very new and
completely non-imperialistic). From this competition arises, in struggle,
real and practical solidarity - the legacy is lack of organisation and
political leadership - that I agree must be remedied and part of that is
slothing -off outworn concepts

John, forget the rhetorical spirit of the last few paragraphs, the real
point is finding those concepts which work, Marx and Lenin would be the
first to dispose of any idea that stood in the way of knowing more. What is
the concept of imperialism actually doing, just what does this concept give
us that is critical, and how can we justify the wholesale abandonment of
the exact theoretical meanings of imperialism, just so it appears to fit
current facts? I say this as comrade not to score some cheap points, do not
do me the injustice of assuming that because I come against this concept,
which you no-doubt hold dear for good reason, that I am prettifying
capital, or am somehow unaware of the suffering it inflicts on the world,
or am softening my or any communists attitude to overthrowing it - take
this out of the equation as our common ground and the question within this
paragraph most closely sums up my criticism of the concept.

Greg Schofield
Perth Australia

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