The EU question (Response to Louis - I)

Julio Huato juliohuato at hotmail.com
Wed May 2 14:53:46 MDT 2001


I
Louis Proyect wrote:

>Julio, it is a little hard sometimes for me to figure out where you are
>coming from ideologically.

Labels will not help us.  Let me type away.  You be the judge.

In 1867, Marx wrote: "The country that is more developed industrially only 
shows to the less developed the image of its own future."  Then, "even when 
a society has got upon the right track for the discovery of the natural laws 
of its movement, it can neither clear by bold leaps nor remove by legal 
enactments the obstacles offered by the successive phases of its normal 
development. But it can shorten and lessen the birth-pangs."  Again, 1867.  
Marx was at the top of his game.  After Engels's death, while the "center of 
the revolutionary movement" shifted to Russia thus giving a third generation 
of young, ambitious Marxists the political and ideological upper hand in the 
socialist movement, the history of Marxism became the history of refuting, 
denying, ignoring, running away from, or forgetting these statements.

The old Marx had to explain himself to Russian revolutionaries (who 
interpreted Capital as the Hegelian assertion of a meta-historical telos 
realizing itself through history according to some recipe) that he meant it 
instead as a historical central tendency, as the resultant of what concrete 
human beings, under contingent, historical-time-and-space constraints do 
with their lives.  In his letters to Russian revolutionaries (early 
populists whom he admired for the bold challenge they posed to the 
reactionary Russian autocracy), Marx praised their revolutionary effort and 
explained that there was nothing in Capital that excluded a priori their 
illusions of an "exclusively" Russian path to communism.  Yes, he said, 
Russians can enter communism without undergoing capitalist 
industrialization, but that will depend on socialism establishing itself in 
the rich West such that Russians can be given a hand.

In 1882, the Marxist fuels to the flame of populist hopes had almost 
officially dried out.  Capitalism in Russia was quickly eroding the 
traditional forms of collective ownership.  And Engels, who noticed it, felt 
it necessary to qualify Marx's statement even more by listing additional 
feasibility conditions for the populist path to communism, namely that (1) 
the traditional forms of collective ownership in Russia didn't reach yet 
some threshold of irreversible degradation (assaulted as they were by 
endogenous and exogenous commodification and capitalist class 
differentiation), (2) a successful revolution took place in Russia, and (3) 
it triggered a series of revolutions in Western Europe and the US ("the 
West") so that these rich countries could come and assist the Russians.

In the whole of Marx's work, the letters to the Russians stand out as -- 
perhaps -- the only passages where he expressed warm sympathy towards 
traditional collective ownership and found a use for them looking forward.  
And then, again, in evaluating his letters we must consider the political 
context, the regressive role of Russia in European history, and the role of 
Russian revolutionaries in the configuration of the events Marx was most 
concerned about.  Most of Marx's work indicates clearly that, for him, 
collective ownership of the traditional kind, based on a backward productive 
force of labor, was -- by itself -- fundamentally hopeless.  Marx's 
communism is alien to any nostalgia of bygone -- or "bygoing" -- 
precapitalist "paradises."  His concern was about human beings, not about 
old social structures that limit their ability to attain true freedom.  
Large passages in Grundrisse extol the virtues of capitalist civilization 
against the backdrop of precapitalist structures.  So do his articles on 
colonialism, his critique of utopian socialism, or the Communist Manifesto.

Forgive me this in extenso quote, but consider what Marx and Engels wrote in 
The German Ideology:

<This "alienation" can, of course, only be abolished given two practical 
premises. For it to become an "intolerable" power, i.e. a power against 
which men make a revolution, it must necessarily have rendered the great 
mass of humanity "propertyless", and produced, at the same time, the 
contradiction of an existing world of wealth and culture, both of which 
conditions presuppose a great increase in productive power, a high degree of 
its development. And, on the other hand, this development of productive 
forces (which itself implies the actual empirical existence of men in their 
world-historical, instead of local, being) is an absolutely necessary 
practical premise because without it want is merely made general, and with 
destitution the struggle for necessities and all the old filthy business 
would necessarily be reproduced; and furthermore, because only with this 
universal development of productive forces is a universal intercourse 
between men established, which produces in all nations simultaneously the 
phenomenon of the "propertyless" mass (universal competition), makes each 
nation dependent on the revolutions of the others, and finally has put 
world-historical, empirically universal individuals in place of local ones. 
Without this, (i) communism could only exist as a local event; (2) the 
forces of intercourse themselves could not have developed as universal, 
hence intolerable powers: they would have remained homebred conditions 
surrounded by superstition; and (3) each extension of intercourse would 
abolish local communism. Empirically, communism is only possible as the act 
of the dominant peoples "all at once" and simultaneously, which presupposes 
the universal development of productive forces and the world intercourse 
bound up with communism. Moreover, the mass of propertyless workers - the 
utterly precarious position of labour - power on a mass scale cut off from 
capital or from even a limited satisfaction and, therefore, no longer merely 
temporarily deprived of work itself as a secure source of life - presupposes 
the world market through competition. The proletariat can thus only exist 
world-historically, just as communism, its activity, can only have a 
"world-historical" existence. World-historical existence of individuals 
means existence of individuals which is directly linked up with world 
history.

<Communism is for us not a state of affairs which is to be established, an 
ideal to which reality [will] have to adjust itself. We call communism the 
real movement which abolishes the present state of things. The conditions of 
this movement result from the premises now in existence.>

That is, the premises required are (1) a mass of absolutely alienated 
producers, who are (2) highly able to produce wealth and (3) interconnected 
at a world scale.  And, as a proof of his grasp of the driving forces of 
human history, if communism were to be tried at a local scale (nationally, 
say in a hypothetical country named Russia), then "each extension of 
intercourse" (i.e., the pressures of capitalist competition, a new ascending 
wave of capitalist expansion) would "abolish local communism."  I'm not 
saying Marx could foresee with accuracy the events of the last 12 years in 
Russia and Eastern Europe.  All I'm saying is that whenever we think that 
new conditions have rendered Marx's fundamental conclusions obsolete, we 
better think twice.  The guy could see very far.

Finally, let me stress the last paragraph of the quote: "The conditions of 
communism result from the premises now in existence."  Not from our wishful 
thoughts, but from the premises now in existence.  What we can actually 
achieve depends on this, which shouldn't be a reason to be modest in 
wanting.  (This is not Biblical exegesis; it sounds to me like plain common 
sense.)

But there is a continuously renewed social basis for populist illusions.  It 
is nice to think that there is a free ride to communism on the train of past 
history, with no premises to build or wait for.  The new generation of 
Russian populists came up with an elaborate rationale in defense of their 
exclusive branch of socialism.  They resorted to Sismondian and Malthusian 
theses that attributed to capitalism a tendency to choke for lack of demand. 
  They predicted capitalism would never penetrate Russia because there was 
no domestic market for it to grow, all vital external markets had already 
been carved out by the European powers, etc.  Plekhanov and above all Lenin, 
with ruthless logic, exposed the inconsistencies of all populist objections 
to capitalist development in Russia and showed the historical infertility of 
their project.  By the way, the theoretical contempt with which Lenin judged 
Rosa Luxemburg's work on accumulation was not alien to the populist notes it 
rang: Purely endogenous capitalist expanded reproduction lacked the 
purchasing power required to "realize" the entire social surplus value, 
therefore the constant engagement of noncapitalist zones was vital for 
capitalism to keep going, etc.

Then came Lenin's theory of imperialism based on a supposed fundamental 
change in the laws of motion of capitalism.  At least this is the way many 
interpreters have regarded it.  Not me.  I have studied this document as 
carefully as I've been able to, and I respect it deeply.  But this is not a 
book in the same league as Marx's Capital.  I don't mean to say in style or 
even in the quality of the intellectual effort.  Of course, Lenin and Marx 
were two different individuals even if Lenin was also a man of genius.  No 
doubt.  I just mean to say that Lenin's Imperialism didn't try to follow up 
on Marx's theoretical plan.  It was, fundamentally, a historical analysis 
aimed to draw immediate political conclusions out of immediate economic 
events, to take a congruent socialist position vis-à-vis the world war, and 
to steer the workers' movement in the direction of its highest communist 
political payoff.

Lenin's goals were entirely legitimate, but Marx's Capital was aimed to 
something else.  It was aimed "to examine the capitalist mode of production, 
and the conditions of production and exchange corresponding to that mode. 
[...] Intrinsically, it is not a question of the higher or lower degree of 
development of the social antagonisms that result from the natural laws of 
capitalist production. It is a question of these laws themselves, of these 
tendencies working with iron necessity towards inevitable results."  I've 
learned to take these remarks seriously.

Colonial conquests, military threats, wars, assassinations, annexations, 
bribery, trade conditions imposed on poor countries by means of economic, 
political, legal, cultural, and military blackmail, bare theft, all these 
and others are "business" methods capitalists will never forego.  The nature 
of commodity production, more specifically, the profit motive is such that 
capitalists are continuously pushed to break laws, ethical boundaries, and 
codes of conduct -- including those of their own doing.

But just as Marx explained the nature of surplus value production (the 
fundamental driving force of capitalism) by excluding sheer theft and 
deceit, it must be stressed that the "imperialist" methods belong to the 
logical -- though not the chronological -- prehistory of capitalism.  They 
conform the permanent process "primitive capital accumulation" that will 
accompany "normal" capitalist accumulation perhaps until its demise, but 
they are not inherent, necessary conditions for capitalism to exist.  
Capitalism can be (yes, it can be, in principle) clean, decent, and well 
groomed.  Yet, as far as communists are concerned, it'll remain the same 
"old filthy business."   The communists' desire to overthrow capitalism may 
increase proportionally to the moral disgust caused by its violence and 
hypocrisy, but the historical justification of communism cannot stem from 
mere moral indignation.

IMO, it has not been shown that the existence of "monopolies" (large 
incorporated capitalist firms) in the rich capitalist countries alters in 
any fundamental way the laws of profit-rate equalization (and production 
price formation) laid out by Marx in the volume 3 of Capital.  If anything, 
the opposite has been shown.  For instance, Anwar Shaikh has shown that for 
recent but protracted periods in the history of the United States (the main 
"imperialist" country on earth) the evolutions of the 
market-price-to-productivity ratios in "monopolized" and "nonmonopolized" 
industries exhibit no statistically significant difference.

This body of evidence is widely available in the United States, not so in 
other countries.  And it may exist only in English.  IMO, besides land rent 
and the like (cases examined by Marx), there is no indication that 
"monopolies" make super-profits in a consistent or, at least, systematic 
fashion in a way that contradicts volume 3 of Capital.  In other words, 
there's a good chance that, as Marx stated it in Capital, super-profits are 
relatively ephemeral, temporary phenomena due to transitory technological 
advantages.

There are other key aspects of Lenin's theory of imperialism that deserve a 
serious critical evaluation.  The notion that monopoly super-profits allowed 
(allows) for imperialist countries to bribe "aristocratic" segments of their 
national working classes (an idea that, without the monopoly super-profits 
part of the argument, Engels advanced for British workers) must be 
scrutinized closely.  There are data to test whether rich capitalist 
countries exploit poor capitalist countries (read *classes* between my 
lines, please) because they are rich or whether they are rich because they 
exploit poor countries.  On the other hand, whether poor countries are poor 
because "imperialist exploitation" stunts their development or they are 
exploited because they are poor.

I'm no expert, but my guess is that the statistical evidence will show that 
(1) rich countries are rich, first and foremost, because their workers are 
significantly more productive than workers of poor countries; (2) "unequal 
trade" (i.e., normal competitive trade under capitalism), "repatriation of 
dividends," "debt service payments," etc. can't account for the huge 
differences in productivity levels and growth rates observable across 
nations; (3) poor countries are poor because their workers are significantly 
less productive than others; and (4) workers in poor countries are 
significantly less productive, because these societies are less 
capitalistic.

Why haven't they become more capitalist already?  Marx's theory of history 
gives us clues.  When productive forces can't move ahead, it's usually 
because the economic structure needs adjustment or replacement.  When 
relations of production are stuck, that's because the political, legal, and 
ideological "superstructure" needs adjustment or replacement.  No 
imperialism permanent stunting of capitalist development in the "periphery" 
is required here. What aspects of the Latin American political, legal, and 
ideological "superstructure" require adjustment or replacement?  I hope we 
can discuss that later.

Back to the history of ideas.  What strikes me as curious is that Lenin's 
theory of imperialism based on "monopoly capitalism" has allowed some 
interpreters to impute Lenin a sort of neo-populist stance.  I'm not sure if 
this interpretation is valid, but it is common as shown in this list.  What 
I know is that the idea that capitalism is impossible in the "Third World" 
(because capitalism became "imperialism") has restored wholesale the 
populist views that Lenin abhorred.

I can't go into much more detail here.  I've written a lot already and need 
to respond to the rest of Louis's comments.  My point is that Lenin's theory 
of imperialism must be examined in the context in which it was developed.  
I'll end up by listing some traits of the ideological and political climate 
in which Lenin and his contemporaries were immersed, and this should give us 
clues as to the features of the theory of imperialism: (1) The weight of 
Marx and Engels's view of communism as only a few generations away from 
their time, (2) the tremendous political force and prestige that socialism 
gained from the late 19th century through the early 20th century in the 
entire world, (3) the Dickensian brutality of newborn capitalism in the poor 
countries, sharpening conflicts that strictly speaking stemmed from the lack 
of capitalism (le mort saisit le vif!), and (4) the international conflicts 
that led to WWI.  In these circumstances, it's not hard to see why Lenin, 
Parvus, Trotsky, Luxemburg, Bukharin and others believed in the imminence, 
if not of communism (its earlier stage, socialism), at least of the 
proletarian dictatorship safeguarding some transitional period (thus 
dilating Marx's tighter schedule in the Critique to Gotha's Program).  But 
expectations were not realized.  The early notices of a dying capitalism 
were greatly exaggerated.
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