Bought off workers?

jenyan1 jenyan1 at
Wed Jun 20 22:07:53 MDT 2001

On Wed, 20 Jun 2001, Greg Schofield wrote:

> > > 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.

Your analysis here is completely wrong . Within global exchange, owners
of textile mills were once accorded a privileged position in relation to
the producers of the raw materials consumed by the textile industry. Apart
from land, which could not be produced and therefore was grabbed from the
Indians, the relevant inputs were cotton and slaves.  At this point
Britain asserted its dominance over global trade by de-industrialising
Bengal and making it impossible for India to manufacture the privileged
product which at that time happened to be textiles.

As we know, textiles gradually lost their privileged position in global
exchange and today Indian Bengal and Bangladesh are once again able to
produce textiles. However, this is now to their woe.

Thus, the following two statements are equivalent:

  (i) Textiles have lost their privileged positions in global trade and
those who depend on the production of these items are condemned to penury
and 'backwardness'. (I'm using the conventional term, though Nestor
correctly pointed out that 'arrested development' would be more accurate).

 (ii) Textiles are a sunset industry in the West, and no 'advanced'
economy seeks to create, enforce or retain a monopoly on textile products.

This analysis applies to steel, provided we note that not all forms of
steel have lost their privileged position in the global economy. High
quality specialist steels remain a monopoly, whose producers are still
accorded a privileged position, though low quality and rolled steels are
now produced all over the globe, including the third world, though perhaps
not yet to the same extent as textiles and rubber ducks.

If we bear in mind the preceeding, it becomes evident that your
observation "high tech military and semi-military industries stick pretty
close to their major buyer" is a tautology and one which does not reveal
much about the global power relations. Namely, the problem is not
geographical or one of proximity, but the fact that the hegemonic power in
the global system retains for itself the monopoly over the production of
the high tech products, including such military industries, which secure
its position in the global pecking order.

The key point therefore is that the US is accorded privileges in the
international economy in proportion to its control over the circulation
and production of privileged products.

Those who produce cobalt, though it is a raw material of high tech
industry, are doomed to irrelevance since they are substantially unable
to assert their monopoly over their product. Those with the capability to
produce say F-15's however, are quite able and willing to impose
conditions on the suckers who dig up cobalt.

In terms of the global pecking order there is little difference between
being dependent on the cobalt, cocoa, textiles or running shoes. There is
a world of difference however if you are in a position to assert a
monopoly over high tech products, especially given that the latter
includes such items as F-15's.

> > >
> > > ... 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?

Everywhere. Let us put aside the net capital flows from the rest of the
world, let alone the Third World, to the USA. Let us note for instance
that Saudi Arabia and indeed most of the Arab world is a US protectorate
under US military occupation. Not only does this guarantee the security of
the international community's energy supply, but it ensures that the oil
rent is safely recirculated within financial circuits controlled by the
West. It denies the Arab people any possibility of indigenous or
autocentric development.

> 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
> analysis.

I'm sorry to say that your analysis, though rich in verbiage, reveals a
impoverished knowlege of the actualities of the Third World.

> > > 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.

Here you include an element of truth, but to disguise yet more falsehoods.
There are still conflicts between different capitals. The fact that these
now appear muted is due as much to the fact that American capital is able
to assert its hegemony over the others (ie the Japanese, the European and
the other very lesser pretenders like Australia and Canada which are
likely to be swallowed up entirely in the near future), and to preserve
for itself a privileged position in the global pecking order.

In other words the North American state-capital nexus is the global
imperium.  Capital neither floats nor stands above the state as you would
have it; the state and capital together form part of the whole and are
intertwined in countless ways.

This does not mean that this imperium is completely intolerant of
competitors. It is however intolerant of competitors who do not accept the
fundamental features of the system, especially the US military monopoly
on the US hegemony finally rests.

> >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).

You may have a point here. Unfortunately I have to admit to not having
given this question any thought, and will not comment.

> >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.

You are in logical error. The 'value' assigned to the products being
dragged out of these places (the third world) is written down to the
subservient position of the producers, though neoliberal ideology
attributes this outcome to the laws of the market (which, though a social
and political construct, now assumes the immutable status of gravitation).

Secondly, the military action by the hegemonic global power (and its
various underlings) to which I refered have clearly defined imperialist
objectives. The action in the Gulf was to destroy the Arab upstart Saddam
Hussein who threatened to impinge on the various monopolies. In the
Caspian, as you  know, the US is seeking to undermine the Russian
position. This although both states claim to be capitalist.

> >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).
Your analysis is wrong because you seem unwilling to accept the fact that
producers of raw materials (be it iron ore, bauxite or raw steel) have
very low status within the global economic and political hierarchy.

I'm particularly surprised at your stand given that the Australian
bourgeois press, which you surely read occasionally, frequently laments
Australian capital's dependence on the production of raw materials.

> 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.

Why do you keep pointing out the obvious fact that there are few directly
administered colonies? Nobody is claiming this, least of all me. What is
true is that states like Indonesia and Saudi Arabia, though they retain
titular independence, are substantially colonised.

Suharto like Mobutu, Yeltsin, Arafat, the Al-Saud family and countless
others today was an American puppet. Since these puppet administrators are
moreover acknowleged as such, what is there to debate here?

Note the fundamental asymmetry that the Indonesian bourgeoisie, insofar as
such a thing exists, does not however have the prerogative of installing a
puppet regime over Australia, let alone any state higher up the pecking

Greg, Imperialism is an undeniable fact of life in the Third World today.
In denying it you are either purposely dissembling or inadvertently
showing your ignorance of the contemporary realities of the Third World.
Since I can only imagine that you are writing in good faith, I'll assume
the latter.

> 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
> 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.

I don't think that you are prettifying capitalism at all since it's quite
evident where you stand on this. What I do think is that you have not
properly understood the contempory relation between the Third World
and the West. Which perhaps is why you persist in drawing attention to
obvious and undeniable differences between the world as it was in
1916 and the reality of the last few decades.

Much as I've enjoyed our exchange, my research calls. It has nothing to do
with these questions and unfortunately sometimes has to take precedence
over else. So this will be my last communication for a while.

J Enyang

> Greg Schofield
> Perth Australia

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