r.biel at ucl.ac.uk

Mark Jones markjones011 at tiscali.co.uk
Thu Sep 5 14:57:52 MDT 2002

At 05/09/2002 19:29, Louis Proyect wrote:
>Robert Biel's "The New Imperialism: Crisis and Contradictions in
>North/South Relations" (Zed Books, 2000) is everything that Hardt-Negri's
>"Empire" is not.

This is a wonderful book by Biel and, prompted by my mentor Lou Proyect, I
just spent a day at the British Library going thru it. Great, especially,
on the importance to capitalist accumulation and to the wealth enjoyed by
the big swinging dicks of Wall St and their fashionable-parlor-socialist
acolytes and alleged critics, is the unsung and unpaid domestic drudgery of
Third World Women. As Biel points out, the same people who argue in favour
of the maquiladoras and the entrenchment of wage-slavery in the
peripheries, as somehow enlightening alternatives to such domestic
drudgery, are in  their own persons and in their engrossment of the labour
of others, beneficiaries of that domestic drudgery, for without the
immiseration and cruel exploitation of unseen masses of women,
part-peasant, part-proletarian, hag-ridden by patriarchy and ultimately at
the service of Wall St and its mouthpieces, imperialism could not continue
to exploit the South at all. These silent, invisible women, hundreds of
millions of them, are a condition of existence of late capitalism, of US
imperialism in  its exterminist phase of final decay. Those  who want to
silence such authentic voices of the oppressed women of the South as
Vandana Shiva are its servants. Biel provides a rebuttal to their craven
politics in terms which even economists can understand.

However despite its strong points, so well summarised by Lou that you don't
need to buy the it, there are one or two, no, make that four, thing wrong
with Biel's book.

First, his approach to the USSR (his Maoist inflection doesn't permit him
to comprehend either the scale of the human catastrophe ongoing in eastern
Europe, or the implications, positive and negative, of the disappearance of
the USSR for global relations of production and for US hegemony).

2nd his approach to the nature of contemporary imperialism (he's a
semi-kautskyite who believes in ultra-imperialism. Now. while it is true
that there exists a baleful solidarity of the thieving North against the
abused South, the idea that the USA is merely one imperial power among
others, a primum inter pares, is absurd. The US is the heart of the global
cancer of capitalism, the primary tumour).

3rd Biel's approach to the ongoing and apocalyptic eco-crisis, which
combines man-made climate change, mass extinction and poisoning of the
ecosphere is far too weak (He kind of mentions it, but it is hardly central
to his thinking; but, to paraphrase Trotsky, you may not be interested in
eco-catastrophe, but eco-catastrophe is sure interested in you).

4th Biel's political conclusions are tepid, insipid and utopian; and here I
diosagree with Lou's more upbeat judgment.

I'm glad of Lou's review and despite my overall negativity, this is a good
book. Especially good factually (but an archive search of marxmail or the
A-List will bring up a lot better and more recent stuff, for free. Where do
Zed get off charging $25 for a slim paperback?)

Mark Jones

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