[Marxism] Imperialism and the US working class (Was YADL)

Joaquin Bustelo jbustelo at gmail.com
Mon Apr 6 10:41:30 MDT 2009


chegitz guevara raises a number of points worth commenting on:  

CG: <<Now, Juaquin raises the issue of modern "stuff" being better than
"stuff" from forty years ago, and this is undeniably true. Doesn't matter
though, as poverty is both relative and real. Some poor people today live
better than rich people did 3,000 years ago. Doesn't mean we shouldn't
consider them poor. Better, cheaper tvs doesn't mean that people are richer.
It means that what were once luxury items (like salt and pepper) are now
things that anyone can have.>>

COMMENT: My point is simply that the statement that wages have fallen 10%
over a period of 20 or 30 years is not a meaningful one, because the
implicit statement is that 8-tracks and iPods are interchangeable. That may
be true in some abstract sense of constant dollar equivalence, but for the
consumer it is not their exchange value but their use value which is
paramount. Thus the "deprivation" of the worker who with their wages can now
afford only one iPod whereas they use to be able to buy three 8-tracks is
likely to be perceived as progress by that person. Moreover, the very
difficult problem of quantification in exchange value of changes in the
quality of products over time, and changes in consumer purchasing patterns
in response to price changes, making the "basket" of goods used to measure
inflation outdated, means that a measurement like a 10% decline in wages
over 20 or 30 years is ALSO not meaningful in exchange-value terms, because
the cumulative error of the measuring instrument may be as great or greater
than the measured change. This is especially the case when the two big
issues that have been identified with this sort of index would tend to give
the index and upward bias, i.e., overstate inflation.

CG: <<Juaquin also raised the point that living in an imperialist country is
better than living in a developing nation (ceteris paribus). Leaving out
certain Indian reservations, the rural poor in America, and some poor in
certain American cities (Gary, Camden, etc), it's mostly true.
But if we extend that argument to its logical conclusion, then MIM (or it's
successor splinters) are correct, and for all intents and purposes, the
entire population of the imperialist world benefits from imperialism.>>

COMMENT: I don't know the MIM or how it construed the statement, "for all
intents and purposes, the entire population of the imperialist world
benefits from imperialism." This is largely true as working people compare
the situation of an average person in an imperialist country compared to
that of a person in the third world. If you move from a third world country
to an imperialist one, as a general rule you "benefit" in the sense of
getting a higher standard of living. 

CG: <<Of course, it ignores how much of America's wealth is
self-generated.>>

COMMENT: This, however, speaks to a different interpretation of "benefits,"
benefits in the sense of "exploits." I think THAT is a discussion about
morality. That said, I believe it is true that imperialist COUNTRIES AS
SUCH, as complex socio-economic formations, "benefit" (realize net economic
gains) from their economic relations with third world countries at the
expense of the latter. But this is Marxism of the purest water, directly
from Marx, as we will see in a minute.

CG: <<In truth, it's not a simple question, because despite the fact that
most trade in the U.S. is inter-imperialist trade, there is the question of
value added from products extracted from the Third World.
<<But Marxism 101 tells us that the products coming from the Third World are
valued by the socially necessary labor embodied in them, and while
monopolies certainly distort that value . . .
<<It's too complex a problem to be figured out in email threads. It's a PhD
project, analyzing all the threads of capital and figuring out exactly how
much imperialism contributes to living standards in the imperialist world.>>

COMMENT: It is NOT true that "products coming from the Third World are
valued by the socially necessary labor embodied in them," according to Marx.
On the contrary, Marx explains that trade between countries at different
levels of development is of necessity an unequal exchange. From Capital,
Chapter 22:

*  *  *

MARX: In every country there is a certain average intensity of labour below
which the labour for the production of a commodity requires more than the
socially necessary time, and therefore does not reckon as labour of normal
quality. Only a degree of intensity above the national average affects, in a
given country, the measure of value by the mere duration of the
working-time. This is not the case on the universal market, whose integral
parts are the individual countries. The average intensity of labour changes
from country to country; here it is greater, there less. These national
averages form a scale, whose unit of measure is the average unit of
universal labour. The more intense national labour, therefore, as compared
with the less intense, produces in the same time more value, which expresses
itself in more money. 

But the law of value in its international application is yet more modified
by the fact that on the world-market the more productive national labour
reckons also as the more intense, so long as the more productive nation is
not compelled by competition to lower the selling price of its commodities
to the level of their value. 

In proportion as capitalist production is developed in a country, in the
same proportion do the national intensity and productivity of labour there
rise above the international level. [2] The different quantities of
commodities of the same kind, produced in different countries in the same
working-time, have, therefore, unequal international values.

*  *  *

COMMENT: The key is this: "on the world-market the more productive national
labour reckons also as the more intense," and Marx had already noted that
"The more intense national labour, therefore, as compared with the less
intense, produces in the same time more value, which expresses itself in
more money." Also Marx is very clear in saying what is involved is relations
between NATIONS: After noting that expending more or less labour time than
the average in producing a given commodity does not change its value within
a country, he adds: "This is not the case on the universal market, whose
integral parts are the individual countries."

As can be seen from what Marx says, where two countries at different levels
of development are concerned, as a rule trade results in a net transfer of
value FROM the less developed to the more developed country. A similar point
is made in the Grundrisse, on the point "Theory of foreign trade. Two
nations may exchange according to the law of profit in such a way that both
gain, but one is always defrauded."

"From the possibility that profit may be less than surplus value, hence that
capital [may] exchange profitably without realizing itself in the strict
sense, it follows that not only individual capitalists, but also nations may
continually exchange with one another, may even continually repeat the
exchange on an ever-expanding scale, without for that reason necessarily
gaining in equal degrees. One of the nations may continually appropriate for
itself a part of the surplus labour of the other, giving back nothing for it
in the exchange, except that the measure here [is] not as in the exchange
between capitalist and worker." 

To this unequal exchange, you have to add rents of various kinds (the
"intellectual property" scam, for example), the whole usury racket, which is
closely intertwined with the advantages the U.S. realizes from its currency
being the main reserve and international trade currency (all the dollars
involved in international trade and in the reserves of central banks and
private parties abroad originated in the United States and got abroad by
being used to purchase something. Because those dollars remain abroad, the
U.S. has, in  effect, gotten something for nothing. And also the monopoly
pricing already mentioned by CG.

Joaquin





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