The epoch of rising capitalism

Julio Huato juliohuato at
Fri Nov 14 18:41:00 MST 2003

José Pérez wrote:

>Stalin writes, "A nation is not merely a historical category but a
>historical category belonging to a definite epoch, the epoch of rising
>capitalism." Is that really true? Then how to account for the national
>struggles of the 20th century, with the national awakening of billions of
>people of the colonial and semicolonial world?

It does not occur to José that, as far as the masses of the colonial and
semi colonial world are concerned, this still is -- in a very concrete way
-- the epoch of rising capitalism.  His implicit assumption is that the 20th
century was the epoch of declining capitalism.  But that's his personal
opinion (which many on the list probably share).

My heretical view, however, is that even today -- in the 21st century --
that is not the mass opinion in China, India, and the rest of the southern
Asian sub-continent -- to name the area of the world where the bulk of the
Third World's population live.  Ask people in these countries whether
capitalism as a mode of production (a generalized "market economy") is in
decline -- or something to that effect.  Frame it as you may, they will
overwhelmingly say no.  Even people in Africa or Latin America, in highly
populated countries like South Africa, Nigeria, or Brazil, will give a
similar answer.

Specific reactions will vary from country to country, but most people in
most poor nations will basically say that they want economic progress --
meaning a decent occupation and standard of living, individual and
collective respect.  Most people in most poor nations also believe that
*capitalism* leads to economic progress, that markets are progressive, that
unregulated or mis-regulated capitalism worsens people's lives
unnecessarily, and that publicly-funded measures are required to protect
them from frequent market turmoil.

The economists have a formula that encapsulates the agenda of people in the
Third World: "economic development."  In our times, "economic development"
is the name of the game in the Third World.  It basically means markets,
capitalist production, with public institutions that guarantee the formal
"rule of law" and a reasonable protection for the disadvantaged, the
displaced, the poor.  The people in the Third World will experiment
politically in order to attain "economic development."  And they will move
on to higher or different goals and question the structure of capitalist
production only after "economic development" is attained or is proved to
their satisfaction to be an impossible chimera.

That "economic development" -- if attained -- will in fact turn out to be
the development of new social conflicts and antagonisms should be obvious to
all Marxists.  But, to use Marx's formulation, the Third World masses suffer
nowadays "not only from the development of capitalist production, but also
from the incompleteness of that development.  Alongside the modern evils,
they are oppressed by a whole series of inherited evils, arising from the
passive survival of archaic and outmoded modes of production, with their
accompanying train of anachronistic social and political relations."

This is the social geology of our times.  Humans can only tackle the
problems they set to themselves.

In Russia in the 1920s, this reality led Lenin -- against the wills of
"radicals" in his party -- to enact the NEP.  In the 1930s, it turned
Stalin's collectivization into a disaster.  As we speak, it underlies the
push towards industrial modernization in China.  After fifty years of
misguided industrialization strategies and catastrophic economic crises that
Marxists have attributed to the structural contradictions of capitalism, it
made possible the "neoliberal" reforms in Latin America.  Even now, with
enormous mass discontent against the economic performance of
"neoliberalism," this *is* still the social geology of Latin America.

As they perceive it in the Third World, the task of direct producers in our
epoch is to remove the obstacles that hinder economic development (i.e., the
capitalist mode of production).  The obstacles to the development of
capitalist production in the Third World are many and they feed back into
one another.  But the problems that cut to the chase are political in nature
-- primarily the lack of a political leadership that recognizes the tasks of
the times and acts accordingly.

The immediate goal in the Third World is the advancement of the workers'
interest as these nations build the legal and political superstructure of
modern capitalism.  In the national struggle for "economic development," the
workers have specific needs that they should strive for.  And the work of a
political enlightened leadership is to assist workers in this.  Should the
workers take political power and do the best they can with it?  Of course
they should try.  But, in this light, both the strategy to take power and
the strategy to hold it will not be the same that under the presumption that
workers can leap to socialism through some process of "permanent

The theory of imperialism common in the Left (a recycled version of the old
dependency theory) is part of the problem: The idea that imperialism is the
necessary manifestation of capitalist production in our times, that the
underdevelopment of capitalist production in the Third World is a necessary
manifestation of imperialism, and that the only way out of underdeveloped
capitalism is "socialism" (i.e., a heavily nationalized economy led by
radicals with some measure of participatory democracy).

This theory of imperialism has little to do with, for instance, Lenin's view
of the contradictory character of capital exports: "The export of capital
influences and greatly accelerates the development of capitalism in those
countries to which it is exported. While, therefore, the export of capital
may tend to a certain extent to arrest development in the capital-exporting
countries, it can only do so by expanding and deepening the further
development of capitalism throughout the world."  (Imperialism, the Highest
Stage of Capitalism)

The "radical" view that "imperialism" or environmental limits impede a
reasonable realization of economic development in the Third World does not
stick, because it conflicts with the basic needs of people in the Third
World.  Hence the huge political disconnect.

A reason why Marxists may have a hard time dealing with this reality is that
it appears as if the people in the Third World -- most people in the world
in fact -- reject Marx's communism.  The same bunk we get from the media and
the bourgeois ideologists.  Communism is the movement of the modern direct
producers generated and trained under capitalist production to emancipate
themselves and the humankind.  It's an emancipatory movement built on
material premises, not on good wishes or illusions.  People in the Third
World are not rejecting Marx's communism.  People in the Third World cannot
reject Marx's communism because Marx's communism is not in their agenda --
it's not on their horizon.

This doesn't mean that the needs of people in the Third World are not
amenable to Marx's theory and communism.  It doesn't mean that communists
have no important tasks to accomplish in the Third World.  To borrow from
Melvin, the political conclusion is always and everywhere to "support the
workers in their current struggle."  The issue is what the current struggle
of the workers in the Third World is really about and how taking it for what
it is -- and not for what we would like it to be -- takes us forward.


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