Comments on Chris Harman

Louis Proyect lnp3 at
Tue Apr 2 07:05:17 MST 2002

I thank Einde for taking the trouble to make Chris Harman's footnote, which
is not online, available to us. It has the merit of fleshing out a position
that I sensed was implicit in the online article that I referred to in my
article. Harman writes:

"The term "semi-colonial" can only be correctly ascribed to countries where
direct foreign military interference makes nonsense of the pretence of
political independence- for instance, countries like El Salvador, Nicaragua
and Panama through much of the 20th century. It cannot be applied to a
country with a ruling class which runs its own state, exercising an
internal monopoly of armed power, and then does deals with the great
imperialist powers in which it is a junior partner."

I am afraid that this approach smacks of the same kind of schematicism that
you find in their approach to post-capitalist societies. It goes something
like this. Marx said that socialism consists of a, b, c. In the USSR, b (or
c) was lacking; therefore it was not socialist. The same kind of formal
logic is on display with respect to the question of colonialism (or
neocolonialism). *Unless* direct foreign miltiary interference or the
threat of same is part of a country's history, the term is inapplicable.
Let's compare this kind of binary thinking to how Trotsky viewed Czarist
Russia, a country that did not fit into neat categories. In fact, he refers
to Russia as simultaneously a "privileged colony" and imperialist. This is
from chapter 2 of History of the Russian Revolution:

"India participated in the war both essentially and formally as a colony of
England. The participation of China, though in a formal sense "voluntary,"
was in reality the interference of a slave in the fight of his masters. The
participation of Russia falls somewhere halfway between the participation
of France and that of China. Russia paid in this way for her right to be an
ally of advanced countries, to import capital and pay interest on it — that
is, essentially, for her right to be a privileged colony of her allies —
but at the same time for her right to oppress and rob Turkey, Persia,
Galicia, and in general the countries weaker and more backward than
herself. The twofold imperialism of the Russian bourgeoisie had basically
the character of an agency for other mightier world powers.  

"The Chinese compradors are the classic type of the national bourgeoisie, a
kind of mediating agency between foreign finance capital and the economy of
their own country. In the world hierarchy of the powers, Russia occupied
before the war a considerably higher position than China. What position she
would have occupied after the war, if there had been no revolution, is a
different question. But the Russian autocracy on the one hand, the Russian
bourgeoisie on the other, contained features of compradorism, ever more and
more clearly expressed. They lived and nourished themselves upon their
connections with foreign imperialism, served it, and without their support
could not have survived. To be sure, they did not survive in the long run
even with its support. The semi-comprador Russian bourgeoisie had
world-imperialistic interests in the same sense in which an agent working
on percentages lives by the interests of his employer."

Louis Proyect
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