Labor and other Aristocracies

Louis Proyect lnp3 at
Sun Feb 9 13:54:13 MST 2003

Leonard Nadal:
>The homework comes in by examining say the 100 largest
>corporations in the US-- by any number of different
>measures, revenues, assets, profit; it can include
>financial and service companies, and measuring total
>payrolls assets, revenues, profits; proportion of
>assets, payrolls,revenues, profits, assets
>  derived from (or invested in
>for assets, payrolls) in the so-called colonies;

This is the same argument I've heard countless times from Doug Henwood. He
tries to show the irrelevance of Lenin's imperialism by pointing to the
fact that most investment by G7 type countries is in other G7 countries,
which is factually true. From this perspective it is a small step in logic
to taking the next step, as Colin Leys does, in describing Africa's
suffering as a function of a lack of investment. This, of course, was the
outlook of Frank Furedi's Revolutionary Communist Party in Great Britain
which was inspired to attack all initiatives by environmentalist
organizations that would deprive Africa, India from private investment and
'development' projects such as the Narmada Dam, etc.

But this is not an understanding of imperialism that does justice to the
Marxist method. As Samir Amin points out in the March, 2002 Monthly Review,
"Capitalism is not a system that sets out to maximize production and
productivity, but one that chooses the volumes and conditions of production
that maximize the profit rate of capital. The so-called marginalized
countries are, in fact, the super-exploited in a brutal manner--and
therefore, impoverished countries, not countries located at the margin of
the system.

This confusion between production and profit can also be found in an
article by Dave Kotz that appeared in Science and Society a while back.
Assuming as he did that capitalism = investment, he argued that capitalism
had not taken root in the former Soviet Union where disinvestment seemed to
be the norm, especially in manufacturing.

Returning to Lenin, an additional point has to be made. At best, his
pamphlet on imperialism was not really focused on exploitation of the
colonial world. Instead it was a polemic directed against the notion that
super-imperialism in the Kautskyist sense had mitigated the kind of
contradictions that had spawned war after war in earlier periods.

It was up to subsequent generations to come to terms with the nature of
imperialist exploitation, particularly from revolutionaries like Mariategui
who were based in the colonies themselves. But you also had important
theoretical and empirical work being done by intellectuals around the MR,
including Amin, A.G. Frank, Galeano and others.

Finally, from the standpoint of classical Marxism, I strongly recommend
Ernest Mandel's findings in V. 2 of Marxist Economic Theory which overlap
considerably with the MR intellectuals, despite his subsequent critique
(well-deserved, I should say) of dependency theory.


The export of goods to the backward countries during the nineteenth century
had the effect of destroying the old modes of production in those countries
without making possible the introduction of the new capitalist mode of
production. The export of goods made up to some extent for the inadequacy
of the native property-owning classes as regards accumulation of capital,
and so made possible an initial phase of capitalist development in these
countries. But the imperialist bourgeoisie introduced the capitalist mode
of production into the colonial semi-colonial countries in a very special
way. It developed there without any connection with the country in
question's needs for economic or industrial development, but, instead, in
accordance with exclusive interests of the imperialist bourgeoisie and of
the metropolitan country itself.

In the capitalist countries of Europe and America, as also in the dominions
of the British Empire, the capitalist mode of pro-developed more or less
organically, despite the spasmodic of its growth. The manufacturing
transformation industries were developed parallel with or even prior to the
basic industries; light was directed primarily towards the internal market,
which in its turn expanded because agriculture provided raw material for a
proportionate development of all branches of the economy, of achievement in
the short run owing to the anarchy of capitalist production, was realised
in the longer run, by way of crises and depressions.

The development of the mode of production proceeded otherwise colonial and
semi-colonial countries. The capital came from the bourgeoisie of the
imperialist countries, who were looking for a kind induction with
guaranteed markets, which would make it possible to realise the colonial
super-profits produced by colonial labour.

But the under-developed countries are by definition poor, with a narrow
internal market for manufactured goods; their wants in respect of
industrial products are moreover as a rule covered by the capitalist
industry of the metropolitan country, which is not in the least tempted to
compete with itself. This is why the capital exported to the
under-developed countries specialises essentially in production for the
world market (together with the establishment of the infrastructure needed
for this production).

"Such modern production as was developed in colonial areas was primarily
for the world rather than the local market. The growth of the seaports is
evidence of this, as is the absence of interior communication networks . .
. In all colonial areas, the contribution of the local peoples to
industrial development has mainly taken the form of labour." (Condliffe,
"The Commerce of Nations")

And in order to avoid competition with the metropolitan country's
industrial production, this production for the world market is essentially
a production of agricultural and mineral raw materials. The economy of the
colonial and semi-colonial countries becomes the complement of the
capitalist economy of the metropolitan countries and is developed only
within the limits set by this function.

The result is a completely one-sided economic development, limited to the
production of a small number of products or even of a single product
(monoproduction, monoculture). In Chile, the tax on sodium nitrate exports
provided, on an average, half of the state's revenue between 1880 and 1930;
after that, copper took first place. In Cuba sugar is the backbone of the
economy; in 1937 it accounted for 78.7 per cent of the value of all
exports. In the same year, exports of tin from Bolivia made up 70 per cent
of all exports. This percentage is still higher in the case of cotton
exported from Egypt, the Sudan and Uganda, of oil exported from Venezuela,
Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Qatar. Coffee provided in 1955 69 per cent
of Guatemaia's exports and 84 per cent of Colombia's. In the same year
bananas made up 74 per cent of Panama's exports, and coffee and bananas
together 72 per cent of exports from Honduras, 75 per cent of those from
Ecuador, and 87 per cent of those from Costa Rica. Ground-nuts and products
derived from them represented 85 per cent of Senegal's exports, and coffee
and cacao 85 per cent of those from the Ivory Coast.

In Malaya exports of rubber and tin accounted in 1939 for over 80 per cent
of the total figure. In Greece tobacco provided between 55 and 60 per cent
of all exports in the inter-war years. India's exports of jute and tea,
Brazil's of coffee and cotton vary between 55 and 75 per cent of the total
exports from these countries. In Indonesia the exports of rubber, petrol,
tin and copra make up 80 per cent of the total. Ceylon's exports of rubber
and tea account for the bulk of sales abroad. The list could be completed
by including practically every other under-developed country.

Monoculture and monoproduction make these countries strictly pendent on the
international business situation, and entail a number of economic and
social defects: a fundamental instability in the economy. which is subject
to sudden fluctuations; repeated bursts of inflation and increase in the
cost of living; substantial periodical unemployment; serious disturbance of
the country's ecology through soil-erosion; over-exploitation of the soil,
causing its exhaustion; under-of the population owing to the excessive
spread of mono-culture with disastrous effects on the fertility of the soil.

"The prevailing starvation in South America is a direct consequence the
continent's historical past. This history is one of colonial exploitation
along mercantile lines. It developed through successive economic cycles,
the effect of which was to destroy, or at least upset, the economic
integrity of the Continent. There were the cycle of gold, cycle of sugar,
the cycle of precious stones, the cycle of coffee, cycle of rubber, the
cycle of oil. And during the course of each these cycles, one finds a whole
region giving itself up entirely to the monoculture or mono-exploitation of
a single product--at the same forgetting everything else, and thus wasting
natural wealth and neglecting the potentialities of regional food supply.
The one-crop culture of cane sugar in the Brazilian North-East is a good
example. The area once had one of the few really fertile tropical soils. It
had a climate favourable to agriculture, and it was originally covered with
forest growth extremely rich in fruit trees. Today the all-absorbing,
self-destructive sugar industry has stripped all the available land and cc!
it completely with sugar cane; as a result this is one of the starvation
areas of the continent. The failure to grow fruits, greens vegetables or to
raise cattle in the region has created an extremely food problem in an area
where diversified farming could produce an infinite variety of foods."

Boyd Orr has had to note that "in some of the central Latin countries soil
erosion is more serious than in North America"; owing to the lack of
rational exploitation, which in turn is due to monoculture.

The same phenomena are found in Africa and Asia: "It is not only because it
cuts down local production of foodstuffs that the regime of production for
export is ruinous to the natives, but also because it exausts the soil by
intensifying the factors of erosion. This has hap pened with
cocoa-bean-growing in the Gold Coast and monkey-nut growing in Senegal."
Professor Gouron declares that the "great extension of the cultivation of
ground-nuts is a false wealth" for the Sudan, that its forests are on their
way to disappearance and that the soil and agriculture are suffering
frightful damage. In Ceylon, the Report of the Kandyan Peasantry Commission
(Colombo, 1951) explains how the monoculture of coffee and tea, and the
uncontrolled deforestation, brought about ecological damage which was the
fundamental cause of the serious floods experienced in 1957.

In Egypt the extension of cotton-growing and the practice of permanent
instead of periodical irrigation caused a rapid exhaustion of the soil.
Owing to the lack of drainage, the same phenomena, closely linked with
monoculture, transformed the Nile valley into a real lazar-house: 55 per
cent of the population had bilharzia, 30 per cent ankylostomiasis and 15
per cent malaria; among the rural population the percentage of unfortunates
suffering from bilharzia, a very debilitating disease, amounted to 75 per cent.

The reduction in the area under grain crops in countries like India,
although they suffer from a chronic shortage of foodstuffs, is a further
consequence of monoculture. In the period between 1934-35 and 1939- 40, the
area of India's soil under food crops declined by 1.5 million acres, while
during the same period the area under export crops increased in the same
proportion. At the time of the Korean war boom a similar phenomena
occurred; the area under rice fell by 8 per cent to the advantage of the
area under cotton. In Egypt the wheat-growing area fell sharply during the
First World War, to the advantage of cotton, causing a serious famine.

The apologists of imperialism sometimes claim that monoculture and
monoproduction are the consequence of "natural" conditions in the colonial
and semi-colonial countries. This does not fit the facts. Though these
countries certainly possess abundant natural riches, equivalent riches did
not lead to monoproduction in England, Canada, Sweden, Belgium, Bohemia,
Silesia, the Ruhr, etc. Monocultures, far from being "natural" have usually
been imported from abroad (notably, coffee in Java, Ceylon, and Brazil,
cotton in Egypt and the Sudan, sugar-cane in Cuba, etc.). The best example
in this connection is natural rubber in South-East Asia:

"The increased demand was met from plantations (both large-scale
capitalistic estates and peasant smallholdings) of South-East Asia. chiefly
Malaya, Sumatra and Java, while the output of wild rubber from South
America declined despite favourable prices. A reason for the migration of
the rubber-growing industry is to be found in the access of these countries
to large reservoirs of labour South India, China and Java, as well as to
the capital markets of Western Europe; the presence of enterprising
European merchant firms and a stable administration also played an
indispensable part. It is of special interest that neither Malaya nor
Sumatra, the two main producing countries, had a large indigenous labour
force, a particularly fertile soil, or supplies of local capital when
rubber was established there. No survey of their resources carried out, say
in 1895, would have suggested that within a few years these territories
would be the principal producers of the leading tropical plantation crop.

In fact, as the same writers make clear, it was not only the crop itself
that was introduced from abroad, but also the labour (Africans the West
Indies, Tamils to Ceylon, Chinese to Malaya and Indonesia, Indians to East
Africa, etc.).

Thus, the penetration of the capitalist mode of production into the
colonial and semi-colonial countries during the last three-quarters of a
century has more than anything else produced there the degrading barbarous
effects of an all-round commercialisation of social life, without the
complementary civilising tendencies of capital being allowed to flower.

It was the imperialist export of capital that realised, for the first in
man's history, a genuine world-wide division of labour, a real universal
world market, which intimately bound together all the in the world. At the
time when this development had reached its highest point, on the eve of the
First World War, the still relatively free circulation of goods, capital
and people (though already hindered by protectionist and monopolistic
tendencies) made all countries interdependent. Capital thus accomplished
the socialisation and de facto internationalisation of production on the
world scale, though almost exclusively to the advantage of the metropolitan

In bourgeois society, where the production of commodities becomes
universal, no producer produces use-values first and foremost for his own
consumption, using only his "surplus" for exchange. Similarly, before 1914.
in no country was the totality of the production of commodities intended to
satisfy primarily the country's own needs, with only the "surplus" for
export. Each country has a number of branches of production which work
primarily for the world market--shaped by international transfers of
capital and in no way corresponding to any "natural" or "geographical"
structure, let us recall! --and it exists only thanks to the income from
these branches. The direct or indirect labour of the workers of many
countries enters into every one of the products consumed in any single
country. The social productivity of labour, considered from the
international standpoint, goes forward with giant strides, owing to this
specialisation which crushes the harmonious development of the backward
peoples, just as the division of labour within a capitalist nation gave a
tremendous push forward to the productive forces while pitilessly crushing
the free development of individuals.

The interdependence of all the countries in the world is vividly described
by Rosa Luxemburg: "German metal products go to the neighbouring countries
of Europe, to South America and to Australia; leather and leather goods go
to all parts of Europe; German glassware, sugar and gloves go to Britain;
furs to France, Britain and AustriaHungary; glycerine dyes to Britain, the
U.S.A. and India; slag for fertiliser to the Netherlands and
Austria-Hungary; coke to France; coal to Austria, Belgium, the Netherlands,
Switzerland; electric cables to Britain, Sweden and Belgium; toys to the
U.SA.; German beer, indigo, aniline and other dyes derived from tar,
medical supplies, cellulose, goldsmith's work, stockings, fabrics and
clothing made of wool and cotton, rails, all are exported to nearly every
trading country in the world ...

"On the other hand, however, we eat Russian bread and Hungarian, Danish and
Russian meat; the rice we eat comes from the Dutch East Indies and the
U.SA.; the tobacco from the Dutch East Indies and Brazil; we import cocoa
from West Africa, pepper from India, lard from the U.S.A., tea from China,
fruit from Italy, Spain and U.S.A.; coffee from Brazil, Central America and
the Dutch East Indies; meat extract from Uruguay; eggs from Russia, Hungary
and Bulgaria; cigars from Cuba; watches from Switzerland; champagne from
France; hides from the Argentine; bed-feathers from China; silk from Italy
and France; flax and hemp from Russia; cotton from the U.SA., Egypt and
India; fine wool from Britain; brown coal from Austria; saltpetre from
Chile; Quebracho wood for tanning from the Argentine; wood for building
work and pit-props from Russia; wood for basket-making from Portugal.
copper from the U.SA.; tin from the Dutch East Indies; zinc from Australia;
aluminium from Austria-Hungary Canada; asbestos from Canada; asphalt and
marble from Italy, stones from Sweden; lead from Belgium, the U.SA. and
Ausgraphite from Ceylon; phosphoric lime from the U.SA. and iodine from

This world-wide division of labour, achieved through the export of capital,
centralised the production of manufactured goods in Western Europe and the
U.SA., the production of basic foodstuffs in Eastern Europe and the large
overseas countries (the U.S.A., Canada, the Argentine, Australia), and the
production of vegetable and mineral materials in the rest of the world. But
this division of labour, originally created by the export of capital, is
inevitably undermined by frightful differences in standard of living, the
brutal subjection of one nation to another, prepare the way for the
colonial revolution which in turn pushes forward the industrialisation of
the underdeveloped countries and intensifies the international
contradictions of capital.

(From V. 2 of Marxist Economic Theory)

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