Prospects for Anti-Capitalism in a Divided World, by Yuriy Dergunov

Review of the book: Lauesen T. (2018) The Global Perspective. Reflections on Imperialism and Resistance, Montreal: Kersplebedeb.

Torkil Lauesen’s book The Global Perspective. Reflections on Imperialism and Resistance is written from a perspective that can be described as Third Worldist Marxism. For its author, such views are not just theoretical convictions, as they constitute the core of his long-term political activism, whose history reads like a fascinating novel. Until the end of the 1980s, Lauesen was one of the key members of a secret political group that had committed a number of high-profile crimes, including the largest robbery in Danish history, and was dubbed “the Blekingegade [Blekinge Street] gang ” in the media. I will use the term “Blekingegade Group” to be more semantically neutral, based on the reconstruction of the group’s history written by Gabriel Kuhn {Kuhn, 2014} and the former members themselves {Jørgensen, Lauesen, Weimann, 2014}.

Let’s take a short trip in history. The Blekingegade Group was formed as a result of a split in the Communist Working Circle (CWC). The CWC was founded by literature scholar Gotfred Appel, who was expelled from the Danish Communist Party for Maoist sympathies; it became the first Maoist organization in Western Europe in 1963. At one point, the CWC had official status as the sister organization of the Communist Party of China (CPC). The distinctive feature of the CWC was its theory of a “parasitic state”, the idea that the working class in Western countries held a privileged position in the world capitalist system due to imperialism, and became an ally of their own bourgeoisie; specifically, this thesis was illustrated by the low level of working-class support for the movement against the war in Vietnam.

In the late 1960s, this position conflicted with the position of the CPC on protest movements in Western Europe and the United States: while Beijing’s official position was to assess the protests as optimistically as possible and emphasize their revolutionary potential, Appel insisted on the futility of hoping for a revolutionary situation in the capitalist metropoles. This led to a breakdown in relations between the CWC and the CPC.

In 1971, Torkil Lauesen joined the CWC. By that time, the CWC had concluded that there was no point in actively engaging with the Danish public and was focusing on supporting national liberation movements in the Third World by establishing contact with representatives of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), the Frente de Liberación de Mozambique (FRELIMO), the Zimbabwe African National Union (ZANU), the Mouvement populaire pour la libération du Angola (MPLA), as well as Irish Republicans and the Canadian Liberation Support Movement (LSM), both of which held rather similar positions to the CWC. As part of this activity, an initiative called “Clothes for Africa” was organized, which collected items and medicines for refugee camps controlled by national liberation movements (from 1972 to 1978, more than 130 tons of clothing were transferred {Jørgensen, Lauesen, Weimann, 2014, p. 41}). In parallel, a number of CWC members were also involved in illegal activities related to robbery and fraud. The proceeds were used to support the PFLP (most members of the legal entity were apparently unaware of what was going on).

In 1978, due to internal organizational disagreements, the CWC split. One of the organizations that emerged as a result of the split was the “Manifesto-Communist Working Group” (M-CWG; Manifesto was the name of the magazine published before 1982), of which Lauesen was a core member. M-CWG began to develop its own theoretical perspective, using the products of the “golden age of imperialism theory” which was occurring at the same time as the group was active, as this period in the development of Marxist theory is referred to by Lauesen {pp. 192-204}. The members of the group proceeded from the premise that Lenin’s analysis of imperialism, which was based on the export of capital and monopolistic superprofits, could no longer explain the essence and scale of global inequality in the second half of the twentieth century. Therefore, it was necessary to turn to contemporary works about dependency theory and world-systems analysis, which understood global capitalism in terms of a core/periphery structure. An important role here was played by Samir Amin and Immanuel Wallerstein, but, undoubtedly, the main source of theoretical inspiration of the M-CWG was the research of the Greek-French economist Arghiri Emmanuel, best known for his book Unequal Exchange {Emmanuel, 1972}. According to Emmanuel, restrictions on labor mobility as a factor of production in the world economy have led to significant differences in the “historical and moral element” of labor costs in different periods and countries. Ultimately, according to Emmanuel, wages in different countries are an independent variable that play a key role in explaining socio-economic development. On the one hand, a rise in wages led to increased technological sophistication and expanded the national market. On the other hand, the wage gap itself led to different prices of goods produced in different countries. It was here that Emmanuel understood unequal exchange from the point of view of the Marxist theory of value: equal time spent on socially necessary labor (cost) can receive fundamentally different price expressions in the course of exchange in the world market. As a result, the capitals of countries with higher wages determine the value produced by workers from countries with lower wages.[1] Thus, self-sustaining dynamics emerge in the world economy: “Every increase in wages, resulting from the conjunction of all these factors, increases the inequality in external exchange and thereby enriches the wealthier country still further. This enrichment in turn sets all these factors in motion, which leads to the creation of new needs among the workers, an increase in the value of labor power, and, finally, a fresh increase in wages. Wealth begets wealth.” {Emmanuel, 1972, p. 131; italics in the original}. The mechanism identified by Emmanuel strongly determined the nature of class conflict within metropoles — in fact, “a de facto united front of the workers and capitalists of the well-to-do countries, directed against the poor nations, co-exists with an internal trade union struggle over the sharing of the loot” {Ibid., p. 180}. The CWG members established personal contact with Emmanuel and under his influence wrote the book Unequal Exchange and the Prospects for Socialism, where they defended the idea that essentially the only way for the inhabitants of imperialist countries to participate in the struggle for socialism is through material support for national liberation movements in the “third world”. {Manifest-Kommunistisk Arbejdsgruppe, 1986, pp. 197-202}. Emmanuel wrote a preface to this work.

Based on this analysis, the CWG continued its work. Until 1986, there was an initiative called “Clothes for Africa”, and in 1987, a volunteer café was opened to transfer funds to Third World movements. In 1982, following the Israeli invasion of Lebanon and the departure of the PFLP leadership from Beirut, the nucleus of the organization stepped up its illegal activities with a series of high-profile robberies.

The most notorious case, which put an end to the group, was the robbery of a cash collection vehicle near a post office in Copenhagen in 1988. The activists stole 13 million kronor, fatally injuring a policeman during their escape. Several members of the group were arrested on suspicion of this crime, including Lauesen, but the investigation could not provide conclusive evidence of guilt. The police’s key lead was a set of identical keys found on three members of the group, but it was not possible to determine the apartment the keys were for. The day before the suspects were to be released for lack of evidence, another wanted member of the group was involved in an accident, and the police found a similar set of keys, along with bills for the apartment in Blekingegade. This is how the police got their most important evidence, and how the group got a name that could be used by the media {Kuhn, 2014, pp. 1-3}.

Lauesen was sentenced to ten years in prison and was released in early 1995 with a master’s degree in political science. The book reviewed here is the fruit of his many years of work, which develops and adapts the ideological work of M-CWG to contemporary conditions of neoliberal globalization and its crisis. In spite of what from an academic perspective might be seen as the author’s extremely dubious biography, this is a solid book of 545 pages, including a 46-page bibliography. Although it is written in a mixed genre, part memoir and part political manifesto, its core is scientific analysis.

It is unlikely that Lauesen’s work would be of interest if it were just a book by a former prisoner holding fairly marginal views, even by the standards of the radical left. It is generally accepted that dependency theory, which proceeded from the fact that the underdevelopment of the periphery is reproduced by the nature of its integration into the world capitalist system, has lost its academic respectability, and Third Worldism has disappeared as a significant political position. To a large extent, this is true if we compare the intellectual and political context of the 1970s with the “end of history” of the 1990s and the criticism of neoliberalism from an altermondialist perspective from the late 1990s to the early 2000s. But the situation began to change, and after the return of theories of imperialism with the backdrop of the “war on terror” of the 2000s {Callinicos, 2009; Harvey 2003; Wood, 2003}, we can talk of a full-blown revival of theories of capitalism focused on the phenomenon of peripheral exploitation. In the Anglo-Saxon world, the most important works in this regard are the books by Zak Cope {Cope, 2012} and John Smith {Smith, 2016}, and in parallel, dependency theory is experiencing a revival in Latin America, the homeland of this approach {Osorio, 2016; Sotelo, 2017}. Lauesen’s book turns out to be interesting in that, as part of a quite pronounced theoretical trend, it expands on the themes of other authors, complementing the political, economic and sociological analysis of the exploitation of the Global South with thoughts about political strategy which result from the core/peripheral hierarchy in the world capitalist system.

Lauesen’s book consists of three parts. The first is devoted to the history of capitalism, imperialism and anti-imperialist struggle in the era preceding neoliberal globalization. The author considers the formation of capitalism as a world system through the prism of the changing dominant sectors of the economy and hegemony. As he sees it, since the end of the 19th century we can observe the political integration of the working class of imperialist countries into bourgeois society, its transformation from “dangerous classes into citizens” {p. 60}. According to Lauesen, in this regard it is categorically incorrect to talk about the working class being “bribed” by capital, as it has often been formulated in the Leninist tradition. Such bribery is impossible in terms of the rationality of an individual capitalist. The improvement of living conditions of the working class in Western countries was the result of its struggle, but it was only thanks to imperialism that it turned out to be possible without hurting the capitalist system itself. On the other hand, if the classical Leninist approach regarded the labor aristocracy as a small privileged layer of the working class, Lauesen, following Emmanuel and Cope, assumes that the vast majority of employees in imperialist countries are privileged. As a result, it is material causes, not opportunism and ideological hegemony, that Lauesen sees as explaining the racism and chauvinism of the Western working class (and of social democracy as its political expression). Examples of this are the support of social democracy for colonialism and imperialist wars, fascism as an “extreme form of labor aristocracy” {p. 139}, and the indifference of Western workers to the fight against colonialism and imperialist interventions since World War II. On the other hand, despite a promising start, the Comintern’s anti-imperialism did not achieve its goals due to the general Eurocentrism of its political strategy and the close connection with the realpolitik of the Soviet state.

Considering the struggle against imperialism during the Cold War, Lauesen bemoans the unwillingness of the majority of anti-colonial movements to adopt the socialist path of development after coming to power, noting, however, the theoretical contributions of figures of “Third World” anti-imperialism such as Kwame Nkrumah, Amilcar Cabral and Ernesto Che Guevara in developing the concept of neo-colonialism, by which the realities of imperialist exploitation are adapted to new socio-political conditions, and in serving as a bridge to the “golden age of imperialism theory”. Analyzing the experience of Western organizations, Lauesen examines the Danish CWC and M-CWG, the Canadian LSM and the American “Weathermen”. As this anti-imperialist veteran of the 1970s and 1980s writes, “I object to our being painted as ‘revolutionary romantics.’ The real romantics were those who thought that the working masses of the imperialist countries would rise in rebellion.” {p. 205}

According to Lauesen, there were a number of reasons why the anti-imperialism of the Cold War era was defeated. On the economic front, it was difficult for small industrialized countries to follow the strategy of “de-linking” from the global economy as advocated by Samir Amin. At the same time, the project of a “new world economic order” aimed at the global redistribution of wealth, which the leaders of the coalition of developing countries tried to implement through UN bodies, also collapsed. Politically, the main problem was the organization of the world system as a system of nation-states, so taking power on the level of a single state meant being forced to play on the contradictions between global political blocs, which replaced the task of social transformation. Finally, once the Soviet-Chinese political confrontation began, competition between states claiming to be committed to socialism was a significant problem for anti-imperialist movements. It was replaced by the decline of socialist ideology, which came with the collapse of the Soviet Union, which also affected left-wing critics of the USSR. The absence of visible socialist alternatives channeled resistance to capitalism on the periphery into the form of right-wing religious fundamentalism.

The second part of the book is devoted to the political economy of neoliberal globalization and the resulting recomposition of the global class structure. As noted by Lauesen, today’s global capitalism differs significantly from post-war capitalism, where inequality between the center and the periphery corresponded to the international division of labor between industrial and agrarian countries. Today, the number of industrial workers in the South is many times greater than in the North, although living standards vary between regions. At the same time, neoliberal globalization does not abolish global inequality between countries as such, but gives it new forms, preserving the essence of hierarchical relations in the world capitalist system related to the superexploitation of the labor force in the periphery. Globalization of production is based on global labor arbitrage (i.e. the transfer of production to countries with cheap labor) and the control of global production chains by corporations of the North. This leads to the integration of unequal exchange into the global production process, which is geographically dispersed across countries with different levels of labor costs. From the perspective of the Marxist theory of value, according to which value is created in the production process, the bulk of productive labor is carried out by workers of the Global South, while functions concentrated in the North, such as development, design, management, marketing, branding, and advertising, are non-productive labor. The fact that the production chains concentrated in the North do not actually create value, but generate most of the value added, indicates that the value created in the South is being captured. As a result, according to Lauesen, it would be correct to speak not so much about core and periphery[2] as about “consumer” and “producer” economies. Thus, a new productive interpretation — regarding global capitalism — is given to concepts already established in sociology, such as “consumer society” or “post-industrial society”.

The new global division of labor has changed the global class structure. In the South, proletarianization has been very active, largely based on the informal sector of the economy and the low cost of labor due to the pressure of the giant reserve labor force. Only to a small extent can we talk about the formation of a new middle class in the South. At the same time, the large capital in the South, which is increasingly important by world standards, is being globalized to a much greater extent than the working classes. In the North, there are still “workers …  with more than chains to lose” {p. 295}, although they are becoming more fragmented, amongst other things as a result of the uneven distribution of the costs of neoliberalism (discussed below). The picture is complicated by global migration, which creates enclaves of the South in the North.

Lauesen believes that neoliberal globalization has reached an impasse, facing a series of crises that undermine its dynamics. The geographical expansion of production in search of cheap labor no longer brings the same returns as it did initially, and leads to gradual wage increases in producing economies due to the class struggle that is unfolding there. The further expansion of production chains to Africa and some Asian countries is unlikely because they “do not have the strong state apparatus, political stability, or population size required for another significant wave of proletarianization.” {p. 315} For the same reason, Lauesen rejects the possibility of China becoming a new hegemon in the world capitalist system – according to him, China will have no periphery available for superexploitation. Two other significant factors in the neoliberal globalization crisis Lauesen addresses are the flight of transnational capital from tax payments which cannot be divorced from neoliberal globalization, and which has led to the problem of public debt and budget cuts in the countries of the North, and the environmental costs of consumerism in the North combined with weak environmental regulation of production in the South. As a result, we face the economic, political and environmental crisis of global capitalism, which opens up a window of opportunity for radical socio-political change.

The third part of the book describes the existing forms of anti-capitalism and its prospects in the context of the crisis of neoliberal capitalism. This is undoubtedly the most interesting part of the work under review, as it is here that Lauesen not only summarizes developments in contemporary theories of imperialism and dependence, but expresses his main original ideas.

Considering the features of the class structure in the “parasitic states” of the Global North and their influence on the nature of the political struggle in the context of the globalization crisis, Lauesen identifies the following main groups of wage earners:

  • undocumented and documented migrants who are victims of racism (and, in fact, are the only representatives of the classic exploited working class in the North);
  • unskilled and skilled industrial workers who recently have been inclined to support right-wing parties and movements;
  • skilled workers in niche high-tech sectors (pharmacy, biotechnology, etc.), who are the backbone of neoliberal social democracy;
  • the administrative and creative class engaged in management, design, marketing, branding, finance, etc., remaining the main backers of neoliberal globalization;
  • the precariate, a rather heterogeneous layer, including both short-term low-paid workers and professionals working in high-paid sectors without long-term contracts.

In general, the role of wage earners in imperialist countries remains controversial: “In their struggle against capital, the working classes of the Global North face a dilemma: on the one hand, neoliberalism is dismantling the welfare state, which was the result of working­class struggles; on the other hand, neoliberalism is a requirement for globalized production, which today—via taxes on the relatively high wages in the Global North made possible by the low wages in the Global South—has become necessary in order to maintain the welfare state. In other words, the relationship between the labor aristocracy and capital is ambivalent. On the global level, the labor aristocracy still benefits from the capitalist order, but on the national level, it must fight harder and harder to receive its share. It wishes to preserve capitalism, but in a form that protects its privileges. This is becoming increasingly difficult.” {pp. 429-30} At present, we are witnessing the formation of interclass alliances, which include, on the one hand, industrial workers, vulnerable sectors of the middle class, and nationally conservative fractions of capital; on the other hand, transnational capital, the upper strata of the middle class, and professionals in niche industries. The first class alliance is the basis of right-wing political trends,[3] the second defends that which is impossible in modern conditions: the preservation of the system functioning in its familiar way. Leftists who support classic forms of social democracy (and not its neoliberalized “Third Way” version) are not able to propose a global strategy that does not imply a struggle for a local social state, but the joint liberation of the working classes of the center and the periphery. So for Lauesen, thinking about a strategy to combat capitalism makes sense primarily in the global perspective.

From this perspective, the analysis of the world trade union movement carried out by Lauesen is very interesting. According to the author, the two main organs of influence of the organized trade union movement are the International Labor Organization (ILO; a UN body in which member countries are represented by two delegates from the government, one each from the trade union federation and the employers’ association) and the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC; the most significant international union of trade unions following the merger of two international federations in 2006), both of which are today unable to effectively represent the interests of the global working class. The ILO has extremely limited leverage, while the ITUC, due to the greater coverage of the North by the trade union movement, is controlled by organizations representing a minority of the world working class. The trade unions of the countries of the center and the periphery that are part of the ITUC have different priorities (protecting industries from industrial transfer in the first case, and wage levels in the second) and rely on different struggle strategies (lobbying in the North and mass mobilization in the South). This chapter focuses on the mass movements of Chinese migrant workers, miners in South Africa, and social unions (which differ from classic unions in that they address a wider range of issues) of Indian women.

In the chapter on parties and movements, Lauesen focuses on the Communist Party of China and social movements against neoliberal globalization. The way he sees it, the final choice of China’s path to development is yet to be made, and there is a left wing in the CPC, which may become stronger with the growth of the labor movement in the country, which in turn will have huge consequences for the world situation. At the same time, Lauesen has a fairly positive evaluation of the experience of the Mexican Zapatistas he visited in 1996 soon after his release from prison, noting both the transnational nature of their strategy, which provided them with support from sympathizers around the world and protection against repression by the Mexican government, and their rejection of democratic centralism and of the struggle for state power. Analyzing the experience of the World Social Forum, Lauesen notes the split between classical and postmodern leftists, recognizing, however, a certain correctness for each of them.[4] Perhaps, in this chapter, Lauesen is speaking out against all orthodoxy, seeing the progressive potential in organizations whose positions seem to be mutually exclusive. As he himself writes: “Today, I am convinced that it is neither realistic nor desirable to have one revolutionary organization leading the way. The days of the Comintern are long gone. We need organizations able to combine the Bolsheviks’ efficiency and strategic thinking with the broad alliances many social movements are able to build.” {p. 447; italics in original}

What are the prospects for anti-capitalism in a divided world? Based on the work of John Foran {Foran, 2005}, who identified a number of necessary conditions for revolutions in “third world” countries,[5] Lauesen asserts that some of these conditions have already been met in the countries of the Global South, while others are being created in the context of the crisis of neoliberal globalization.

In his view, there are a number of objective preconditions for moving towards socialism. The previous victory over colonialism has helped to ensure that anti-imperialism develops into a class struggle against capitalist superexploitation, while the globalization of production has provided the countries of the Global South with developed productive forces and make it possible for them to partially de-link from the world capitalist system, not on the basis of autarchy, but on the basis of South-South cooperation. At the same time, the growing importance of the South in the global economy would make the impact of possible revolutionary changes on the global system as a whole palpable. On the other hand, Lauesen does not see this as meaning that there will be no activists in the North able to orient themselves towards a global perspective for the liberation of all humankind rather than protecting the class privileges of the labor aristocracy — and in the context of the impending chaos, such activists may have a very significant role to play.

In summary, Lauesen has written a very courageous book that views “the present as history”; this work is not only detached from the frozen traditions of left-wing political thought, but seeks to preserve their valuable aspects. Certainly, the author will be criticized for obviously controversial aspects – in particular, for a very broad interpretation of the size of the labor aristocracy in the modern world (for a larger study of this issue, see the book by Zak Cope {Cope, 2012}), and for an unfashionable-among-the-radical-left view of China as a country whose ruling bureaucracy retains in the eyes of Lauesen a certain socialist potential. But these are all issues that require specialized research, not just repeating the sectarian theoretical canon {Krul, 2013}.

Lauesen’s work has one clear advantage. In addition to being the most ambitious example of a Third Worldist view of the problems of political strategy in a neo-liberal crisis, this work is perhaps the best book to get acquainted with the current state of dependency theory as a way to understand capitalism, at least as far as the works of authors from Western Europe and North America are concerned. In this sense, a certain superficiality of the second chapter makes more complex constructions accessible to the uninitiated reader. For readers interested in a deeper analysis of global capitalism from such a theoretical perspective one can recommend the books mentioned above {Cope, 2012; Smith, 2016}.

First published in the journal “Sociology of Power”, vol. 30 (4). 2018.



Callinicos A. (2009) Imperialism and Global Political Economy, Cambridge: Polity Press.

Cope Z. (2012) Divided World Divided Class: Global Political Economy and the Stratification of Labour Under Capitalism, Montreal: Kersplebedeb.

Emmanuel A. (1972) Unequal Exchange: A Study of the Imperialism of Trade, New York and London: Monthly Review Press.

Foran J. (2005) Taking Power: On the Origins of Third World Revolutions, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Harvey D. (2003) The New Imperialism, Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Jørgensen N., Lauesen T., Weimann J. (2014) “It Is All About Politics.” G. Kuhn (ed.) Turning Money into Rebellion: The Unlikely Story of Denmark’s Revolutionary Bank Robbers, Montreal: Kersplebedeb: 21-92.

Kagarlitsky B. (2017) Mezhdu klassom i diskursom. Levye intellektualy na strazhe kapitalizma [Between the Class and the Discourse: Left-Wing Intellectuals on Guard of Capitalism], Moscow: Izdatel’skii dom Vysshei shkoly ekonomiki.

Krul M. (2013) “What is wrong Marxism Today? A Polemic”. Notes & Commentaries.

Kuhn G. (2014) “Anti-imperialism Undercover: An Introduction to the Blekingegade Group.” G. Kuhn (ed.) Turning Money into Rebellion: The Unlikely Story of Denmark’s Revolutionary Bank Robbers, Montreal: Kersplebedeb: 1-20.

Manifest – Kommunistisk Arbejdsgruppe (1986) Unequal Exchange and the Prospects for Socialism, Copenhagen: Manifest.

Osorio J. (2016) Teoría marxista de la dependencia. Historia, fundamentos, debates y contribuciones, México: UAM -Xochimilco; Editorial Itaca.

Smith J. (2016) Imperialism in the Twenty-First Century: Globalization, Super-Exploitation, and Capitalism’s Final Crisis, New York: Monthly Review Press.

Sotelo A. (2017) Sub-Imperialism Revisited: Dependency Theory in the Thought of Ruy Mauro Marini, Leiden: Brill.

Wood E.M. (2003) Empire of Capital, London: Verso.



[1] This is not the only, but it is the main mechanism of unequal exchange according to Emmanuel, although he considered in his paper a more traditional for Marxists way to explain the redistribution of value due to differences in the organic structure of capital.

[2] The latter term, according to Lauesen, portrays the countries of the South as something insignificant for global capitalism, although it did not initially have such connotations.

[3] The alliance includes the industrial working class of the North; its demands for industrial protectionism and restrictions on migration should be understood not so much in the perspective of the class struggle of the traditional base of the left-wing movement, which was lost “due to” the blindness of the left-wing intellectuals, as Boris Kagarlitsky asserts in his recent book {2017}, as evidence that in the struggle for their privileges, the labor aristocracy can move to openly right-wing positions.

[4] Here one can sense the unexpected influence of Michel Foucault, whom Lauesen discovered while in prison; on his experience of becoming familiar with Foucault and understanding the nature of power, see the appendix to the book {p. 473-488}.

[5] They include: dependent development; personalist regime, colonial state or “open polity” as a political regime; oppositional political culture; economic downturn; “world-systemic opening”, i.e. favorable conditions for the course of the revolution on a global scale, for example, hegemonic distraction from internal problems.

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