Comments on a Wallerstein article

Nicholas Siemensma nsiemensma at yahoo.com.au
Wed May 28 04:12:26 MDT 2003


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

> Nick Siemensma says that I
> try to
> 
> >draw a line between "capitalism" and "imperialism"
> [...]
> 
> I draw it indeed.  That is an objective distinction.
>  It is so objective 
> that prominent capitalists -- and those who
> rationalize their interests -- 
> are voicing out loud the divergent strategy that
> arises from it.

That you try to assimilate this view to Lenin's is
astounding.  The entire burden of Lenin's ideas on
imperialism is that it is *not just a strategy*.

> Capitalist accumulation is not per-se "benevolent,"
> "enlightened," or 
> "beneficial."  But capitalists who understand that
> the only sustainable 
> source of capitalist accumulation is capitalist
> production (i.e., surplus 
> value production and appropriation) deserve to be
> called "enlightened."  The 
> distinction between surplus value production and
> other forms of surplus 
> labor appropriation -- one mediated by exchange and
> the others carried out 
> by sheer extra-economic compulsion -- is the crux of
> Marx's critique of 
> capitalism.

Utter nonsense, Julio.  "The crux of Marx's critique
of capitalism"?  The "crux" of Marx's work and ideas
is that capitalism is the highest stage of commodity
production, developing all the latent potentialities
and sharply accentuating the contradictions within the
commodity-form.  Capitalism is the ultimate goal and
realisation, in logical and historical terms, of the
entire era of commodity production over the past 5000
years.  Of course, you can misunderstand capitalism by
the ideological screen of denying its specifity.  But
you can also (and *you do*) morally and politically
excuse capitalism by absolutising it and fetishing it
as an historically-unprecedented social formation, and
ignoring its basis in intensified, systematised
plunder.  The radical discontinuity Marx sees
foreshadowed in history is not between capitalism and
everything else, but between communism and everything
before it.  Liberation means emancipation from
millenia.
  
> When Marx analyzed the capitalist mode of PRODUCTION
> in his works, he... 

Sorry to be blunt, but we've all read Capital, we all
know about value theory, and parroting this stuff
doesn't get us anywhere in this argument.  The
competing colonial empires of the Victorian Era
developed from the period of primtive accumulation,
not "in opposition to it" as you claim, and the
postwar imperialism which bequeathed hegemony to the
United States arose from this European system.  To
pretend otherwise is bunkum and is not doing justice
to actual history.  

> In other words, if
> capitalism is to 
> persist, extra-economic exploitation won't
> disappear, but its relative 
> weight will be limited; forceful expropriation won't
> disappear, but its 
> relative role will be diminished.  

This is leading people into the wilderness: it
completely elides the implacable historical reality
that imperialism has become more, not less, important
to the process of capitalist accumulation.

> capitalism... may 
> use a subtler and more effective carrot-and-stick
> mix to crush our humanity, 
> but it is still unworthy of humans and it is still a
> threat to human life.

Surely it is over-generous to characterise the
strategy of the currently dominant fraction of capital
as "subtle"; what comes to mind is rather Marx's "thin
and squalid veil".  The attack on Iraq was a naked,
brazen power play, and unless we admit that our words
are mere eyewash and we are pissing in the wind.
   
> What underlies the fear that, without its overt
> abuses and scandals, 
> capitalism will be attractive and communism will
> lose all appeal to direct 
> producers is a deep distrust of humanity.  

In fact, what underlies *this* attitude and rhetoric
which is careful to deny "overt abuses and scandals"
is a really pitiful kind of political and
psychological paralysis: a slavish awe about the power
and longevity of capital, the certainty that
capitalism cannot crash and will always find a way of
dealing with its own externalities.  This makes you
unable to theorise what is going on, and unable to
cope with the entire sorry, bloadsoaked history of
capitalist accumulation.  

> The current
> state of Marxist thought 
> and of the communist movement is not unrelated to
> this theoretical 
> confusion
> in Mexico and the rest of Latin American

I'm glad they're confused too.

> communism.  In the U.S., for 
> what I've observed, the confusion takes different
> forms 
> (anti-intellectualism, pragmatism, rejection of
> theory, radicalism based on 
> moral abstractions) and the result is political
> self-ghettoization and 
> irrelevance.  Every time the distinctions between
> capitalism and imperialism 
> are blurred, the movement digs itself into a hole. 
> That's not good.  As one 

Julio, to cut to the chase, is the emergence of a man
like George Bush at the head of the world hegemon
contingent, fortuitous, accidental, serendipitous, or
is there a deeper, hidden but real connection between
(a) the dynamics and metalogics of accumulation, the
production process and the natural, technological and
energetic basis of social reproduction, the rate of
profit and relative surplus population, and (b) the
intensified imperial strategy of the US state?

Nick

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