[Marxism] Bill Warren Controversy

sam pawlett gusm at uniserve.com
Fri Mar 31 16:23:03 MST 2006

Yavuz Tuyloglu wrote:
> I would be glad if anyone could help me with the controversy over
> Bill Warren's Imperialism: Pioneer of Capitalism. Especially
> responses published in journals, if not material on the net....

Funny, I was just rereading this. This book represents what is probably
the extreme of eurocentrism and the view that capitalism is
progressive.It is strongly weberian in that Warren equates rationality
with the market.Warren is very similiar to Frank Furedi, the Living
Marxism  crew,especiially James Heartfield though where they defended
the right of self-determination of nations, Warren does not. There are
several threads of the book one of which seeks to establish that
capitalism wherever it has been established has resulted in material
progress, a new or modern morality, unity among peoples and rising
incomes. The very _idea_ of progress is a product of capitalism too,
there is no concept of progress outside of colonial languages: "The idea 
of progress, of a constant tendency towards the continuous improvement 
of human life, whether material, moral or cultural is an extremely 
recent one in history, the direct outcome of the rise of capitalism"p11-2

Colonialism was progressive because it resulted in mass improvements in
health, the evidence is the population boom in Africa in the 1950's and
1960's. This after in some areas nearly 500 years of colonization which
initially led to complete genocide or massive population decrease, in
many cases slaves had to brought in to work the resources or plantations
after the population had been worked to death.Colonial education was
progressive too: "it is only too easy to overlook the more profound
effects of Western education in dissolving traditional outlooks in a
manner which,however traumatic, could only facilitate individualism,
rationality and a democratic outlook."p135.

Warren is driven    to take aim at nationalism especially third world
nationalism and any theory or idea that seeks to undermine especially in
the third world, the idea that capitalism is progressive, has been
progressive or will be progressive wherever it goes. Anything critical
of capitalism is either dismissed as backward, romantic or waved aside
with one hand as 'bourgeois.' Criticisizing capitalism or bringing up
its shortcomings is a subjectivism, evidence of a personality flaw,
wimpish liberalism and sentimentality.

Warren argues (at great length) that Marxism starting with Lenin and
culminating in the 1928 comintern congress has rejected the view that
capitalism is progressive i.e. 'bringing along' non or pre capitalist
areas and societies: "Lenin's essay reversed Marxist doctrine on the 
progressive character of imperialist expansion and, by an irresisable 
ideological process, erased from marxsim any trace of the view that 
capitlism could henceforth represent an instrument of social or economic 
advance, even in precapitalist societies. tHe historic mission of 
capitalism was declared ended." p47

  This has continued with the work of Paul Baran,
Samir amin and many others.While warren draws a distinction between
anti-capitalism and socialism he conflated capitalism, progress and
western nations or areas as well as primitiveness, backwardness, pre
capitalism with non-western nations.That is his eurocentrism or
orientalism. This view is false, proven by people like J Needham, M
Bernal, J Goody, Weatherford,J Blaut,Pomeranz and recently by J Hobson
amogst many others. No society is static or amoral, the east playing a
great role -even a necesssary one- in the 'rise of the west'. Any
reading of Marco Polo might prove it. Warren's views are very much those
of Cecil Rhodes or Winston Churchill. His view of capitalism is that of
Adam Smith and his modern followers like David Landes whom he relies a
lot on. Capitalism is about extension of the market and producing power 
where it brings people into this cycle, it spreads progress.p15ff.

Warren rails against the use of "values" or "morality" in analysis yet
this is what he does with  forceful assertion (he never argues for it
though comes close) in saying that progress -a very bourgeois and high
school textbook notion of it-- must be observed at all costs and must be
imposed by force.There is no place for values, morality or ethics in 

Progress consists in becoming like Britain with the
same values and public morality. Progress is not about having socialism,
democracy, sustainability, equality, rationality (an uncontradictory
society) or anything else. Most of these potential desiderata are
promoted by capitalism (ie the West)anyway. Warren paints huge
brushstrokes with his conception of capitalism with what amount to post
hoc explanations: because something occured under capitalism it happened
because of capitalism e.g. inventions in technology, science, the arts
not because humanity has been around long enough to hit on these
discoveries or because peole got together and fought for these things 
wile they were living under capitalism.

  The destruction of indigenous cultures (and by implication
people) is part of progress: "Since Marx and Engels considered the role
of capitalism in pre capitalist societies progressive, it was entirely
logical that they have welcomed the extension of capitalism to
non-european societies. That this extension was externally initiated and
generally imposed by force did not annul or even qualify their
judgement. Violence did not necessarily mean retrogressive disruption or
great suffering than peaceful reaction. The exogenous introduction of
capitalism, for the devastatingly superior productivity and cultural
attributes of capitalism are bound in the end to subordinate all other
modes of production and eventually eliminate them entirely."p40-1.

"Nor need Marxists cavil at the thought that progress sometimes requires
the use of force." p127 Strange progress that uses force. More: "it is
pertinent to note that if the technical advances of capitalism have
brought the world horrors on an unprecendented scale, this is
essentially a by-product..the horrors of the twentieth century although
obviously unprecedented in number killed are relatively  equivalent in
their impact to the enormities and brutalities of earlier centuries of
the Golden Horde or the 30 Years War."p23 In what sense historical
progress then? The victims of progress never see the benefits which
always come after the fact. Why was the imposition of capitalism
resisted so fiercely,and for so long by so many?

Warren considers the alternative: "such visions have been used...in the
assumption that equally effective nation-states would or could have
arisen, and would or could have formulated modernizing aims, without
colonialism...there is no need for marxists to accept the implicit
proposition that all societies develop at the same pace and can register
approximately at any given time. Of even less merit is the alternative
proposition:that to judge other societies by 'our' standards is
ethnocentric or (Eurocentric) and betrays deplorable ignorance and
insularity. The first assumption is factually incorrect; the second
logically implies the abandonement of any conception of progress"p126-7.

As for the first assumption noone will ever know, the "meeting" of
cultures never took place as equal human beings in a conversation. There
is no reason to suppose that it couldn't have though. People all have
the same brains, we are all products of the same process (evolution) and
have the same  biology. There is nothing in geography that led to a
unique 'rise of the west'. The cultural determinist argument is false as
well; markets, entrepeneurs, public morality, rationality and conscience
all existed in other cultures. The world was more or less equal in
tecnological and economic level in 1500.As for morality, who can argue 
with what people in the west did to one another?  There are no unique 
properties of the west that led to its particular historical trajectory 
allowing it to become a colonizing power, particularly rationality which 
plays a big implicit role in Warren (and Weber.) Irrational people 
formed into a  society would not last long.

  The point of ethnocentricity is that there is no *neutral* standard,
algorithm, definition that can be used to compare cultures across a
mutually agreed upon (by the different cultures)set of desiderata. Any
application of a standard will be circular since it is impossible for an
individual not to imbedded in a culture which contains its own normative
standards, social norms and notion of progress. The concomitant thesis,
cultural relativism is the basis for the whole discipline of
anthropology and a good deal of history and sociology i.e. trying to
understand different cultures and their societies by their own standards
and logic, some of which makes the west come out badly. A lot of them
were peaceful and sustainable meaning that they would have (if they
still existed) long out lasted the extinction of western capitalism,
making them better adapted to nature with a better relationship to
nature which will end capitalism in the future, if nothing else does. 
Accepting the concept of ethnocentrism or even cultural relativism does 
not imply abandonement of progress, only that when it comes to progress 
and change of economic,social, cultural systems people within these 
systems had better do it themselves and decide on what exactlyit is. 
Part of the liberalism that Warren despises  so much acknowledges that 
there is no one idea of progress or "the good life" that could be agreed 
upon by everyone and one should accomdate them all. Further, the 
question on why progress (or what a groupd of people call 
progress)*must* take place at the expense of all else? The colonialists 
and conquistadors were not like this.

I'll stop here and refer those still reading to the work of Jim Blaut
which goes into some of this including the cultural argument which I
didn't address much in this post already too long.

There is much else in Warren's book, he argues that his views are those
of Marx and Engels even though Marx sided with the Narodniks whom Warren
discusses and condemns. Bill Warren's book was published after his death
(at a young age, I gather.) He was, I think, a member of the Communist
Party of Great Britain and the British and Irish Communist
Organization.It is worth reading if you haven't read David Landes or the
other apologists for colonialism and imperialism (Bairoch, Fieldhouse,
Hopkins, Bauer.) Warren relies on these for his account of history.


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