Comments on a Wallerstein article

Nicholas Siemensma nsiemensma at yahoo.com.au
Tue May 27 02:11:13 MDT 2003


 --- Julio Huato <juliohuato at hotmail.com> wrote: 

> Immanuel Wallerstein's comments are sensible and
> useful.  On the other hand, 
> the comments by Louis Proyect are beside the point:

Unsurprising to see this view expressed by someone who
tries to draw a line between "capitalism" and
"imperialism", with a perverse, wilful 

> U.S. government bent on
> messing up the 
> underpinnings of the international capitalist
> economy  

through

> imperialistic wars and nationalistic hubris. 

Julio seeks to oppose a benevolent "capitalist economy
relying on wealth production" to "forceful
appropriation" through "unsustainable" imperialism. 
If not for those nasty Bushies, goes this pretence,
capitalism would be enlightened and beneficial,
because 

> There are different ways to accumulate capital. 
> Capitalists know that.  And they will
> continue to press for those forms of
> capital accumulation that fit 
> their interests best.  In general, what
> distinguishes capitalism from 
> previous social formations is that under capitalism,
> the main mechanism of 
> wealth accumulation is surplus production and not
> mere appropriation, "rent 
> seeking," "DUP," "predation," or whichever other
> term modern economists may 
> use to denote it.  Enlightened capitalists have
> understood this at least 
> since Adam Smith.  Marx built on this.
> 

Julio, the idea that a "different kind of capitalism"
might do without imperialism and - as you suggest
below - allow "Third World economies to grow and give
people employment and hope" is disproved by the above
outline of the conditions that fostered industrial
capitalism, as essential mechanisms of accumulation
without which regional subsets (ie. Britain) would
never have approached take-off.

It shows that capitalism is an inflection in a
longstanding historical process - it emerged logically
and historically from the interstices of plunder and
imperialism, through that very plunder and
imperialism.  It is a consumation of a prolonged
process, and is thus imperialist ab initio.  The new
forms of exploitation that constitute capitalism's
vampiric "bloodsucking", as Marx called it, did not
eliminate imperialism but heightened it.  Where
earlier looting and exploitation were arbitrary acts
of slavowners and privateers that underlay great
empires, they birthed an accumulation model whose
autonomous social processes of value production made
imperialism systematic and intensified.  The state and
imperialism are thus historically and functionally
intertwined with the capitalist mode of production, as
its guarantor and indispensable condition of
existence.  

The members of this list don't need me to explain
that, or to outline the particularity of capitalist
accumulation and its baleful historical logic. 
Neither should you, so I don't know what you're
getting at by highlighting the method of *realisation*
of profit to promote a Rostowian illusion.  Whereas
the slaveower directly appropriates the surplus, the
capitalist realises surplus-value in the form of
profit by selling the products of labour as
commodities in the market.  So what?  As Marx exposed
the pretensions and logico-historical fallacies of
classical political economists who thought this
characteristic of exchange meant "freedom", so does
this latter category mean nothing when studying the
different ways states are articulated into the world
system and the global division of labour.  You surely
know this, so why pull our legs by talking up the
(potential) freedom of capitalist accumulation?
 
Centuries (and indeed millenia) of accumulated
historical effects and coalescing material feedbacks
surely mean that it is too late for the capitalist
system to outgrow its historical origins in any
fundamental way.  The range of possible adaptations
and alternatives is narrow, and explains why the
hegemon is intensifying and extending its imperial
strategy: TINA.

In the face of this implacable reality, which
determines the present conjuncture and should be the
basis of all our political activity, it is useless to
posit some imaginary utopian capitalism, allowing
development, growth, jobs and "hope" for all the
people of the world if we just get rid of this
useless, unsustainable imperialism (personified by
Bush).  This flimsy meliorism, backed up by a
misreading of Marx, is not realistic, despite the
posture of hard-headed "practical sense" you assumed
in your reply to Lou.  All your rhetoric advocating
"direct and immediate political fighting...what
Marxists should be doing instead of watching from the
sidelines" is rendered meaningless as long as you
ignore the basic realities of the epoch, and what
options they leave us for the future. 

Nick

PS Lou, the reason Wallerstein doesn't consider the
British Empire to be a "world-empire" is his
definition of that term.  While for him, world-systems
comprise units with a single axial division of labour
and multiple cultural systems, "world-economies" have
a discontinuity between economy and polity (ie. one
economy, several competing states) which allows the
market to function.  World-empires (such as Rome) have
a single division of labour in a single empire,
creating a tributary effect not conducive to
capitalism.  You're correct, IMO - he hasn't got this
quite right.   



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