Foster-Panitch debate on the relevance of "imperialism"
M. Junaid Alam
redjaguar at attbi.com
Sat May 31 11:47:12 MDT 2003
I downloaded this .mp3 file, it's about 93 MB, so I don't know if it is
feasible for those on lower than broadband connections to download it by
right-clicking the link and pressing 'save target as'. Just clicking the
link doesn't do anything for me.
Anyway, I do not think it is fair to classify Lenin's concept of
imperialism as economically reductionist, because that pamphlet called
the Highest Stage of Capitalism was written as a brief, and under
conditions of censorship, so as Lenin himself said it had an economic
Having said that, I think there needs to be a serious evaluation of what
"proletarian revolution" means in the advanced countries. What does that
term mean in a service-oriented economy, faced with outsourced labor,
de-industrialization, and a rapidly diminishing union membership? What
is the cause for the lack of imagination in the working class?
Privileged labor aristocracy? All-encompassing propaganda?
Clearly these questions were bothering American Marxists at least as
long as 40 years ago, when Baran began talking about capitalism in
America as a serious illness or disease, to counter the notion that just
because there was no significant internal resistance that does not make
the system beneficial. Baran takes a number of swipes at capitalism on a
moral-cultural level, which seems to segue into what Marcuse and the
Frankfurt school say on things like 'repressive tolerance' in society.
One of the reasons I stopped being a member of a socialist organization
was because I no longer considered a revolution in the US a possibility.
On my campus, where there are about 10-15,000 students, maybe 5 are
socialists, and 10-15 more are progressives. My (still) comrades on
campus would respond that this is only because it is a "middle-class"
campus. Well a lot of America is "middle-class" in that sense.
I think that at its core, imperialism refers to a a class system whose
dynamics have been inflated and distorted by geographically-determined
unequal accumulation of capital. For me, it is hard to see what else
could explain the convulsion of nationalisms and fundamentalisms flaring
up in every corner of the world. This indicates to me that the
penetration of capital in the periphery is not transformative but
utterly destructive, not least in the social, cultural, and ecological
spheres. Marx's panegyric to capitalism in the opening section of the CM
may have applied to Europe, but whereas the North is dictating the terms
of capitalism to the South now, there is nothing progressive in
If the Americans take over the Middle East to sweep away the old
decaying regimes, for example, what kind of capitalism will the Arabs
face? First of all, not one they themselves actively moved to create,
and secondly, one marked by nepotism and cronyism on the American end a
la Halliburton and Bechtel, with complementary occupation soldiers and
colonial-appointed authorities to boot.
And what kind of capitalism will America face? One with more cuts in
social services, public services, education, but propped up by the same
kind of national chauvinism that impels Israeli labor to fling
themselves at Likud? The American state has taken a decisive,
qualitative shift in its world agenda, summoning all kinds of far-right
hubris among large layers of society in the process. The present period
is a zig-zag of the color line and the class line.
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