Torkil Lauesen Answers Bromma, on The Global Perspective
Thanks for the review and comments. It is rewarding to receive reflective feedback on your work. I was hoping for this kind of discussion.
The idea of my book is to present a holistic “stew” of history, political economy, politics, and strategy – “all from a certain political perspective”: Imperialism was necessary for the establishment and survival of capitalism. Imperialism has created a world system divided between a center and a periphery, a division that also penetrates into the living conditions of the working class.
In the historical section, I follow “the red thread” in the development of this political perspective. The aim is to show that it is not a “sectarian subculture” but a political perspective with a long historical tradition.
In the political-economic section, I present the economic as well as theoretical underpinnings of this particular perspective on imperialism. I think I provide a solid foundation.
When it comes to the political section, I present some historical and contemporary tactics and strategies for the resistance against imperialism. The idea with this section is certainly to launch a discussion about where we are heading and what our strategy should be. Particularly when I wrote the section on the present economy and policies of China I had some doubts – and still do.
Bromma observes that I write from a European perspective. Moreover, not only that, I write from the sweet spot of parasite imperialism – Scandinavia. I was well aware of the difference in terms of the level of the welfare state between the US and North Western Europe, but also the internal anti-imperialism in the US. However, I am certainly not an expert on North America or China. And it is difficult to transcend ones social background and geographical position. I am not above that, I try to be aware of it.
Concerning the current character of imperialism:
Bromma criticizes my view on imperialism for being more or less mechanical and simplistic, an extension of the past, so to speak – the Third World vs. the imperialist center – as in the 60s and 70s. Capitalism has for sure been globalized in the form of global production chains. Many of the questions Bromma raises (the new middle class and rich capitalists in the South) are consequences of the industrialization of the South based on the differences in wages and the deindustrialization of the North. I think this is the main feature of contemporary capitalism. It has actually created a fusion between capitalism and imperialism in a globalized capitalist system. However, geography still matters, because this new division of labor rests on borders and citizenship, as so vividly illustrated in the increasing border controls between rich and poor countries.
However, the consequence of the past 30 years of neoliberal globalization is also changing the dynamics of capitalism from polarization to a centrifugal capitalist dynamic (as envisioned in Communist Manifesto). The huge development in productive forces in the Global South is changing the economic and political balance of power in the world, in the direction of a more multi-polar world system. However, I do not think this is the beginning of a new prosperous epoch in the history of capitalism – it is the beginning of the end. I will return to that, but let me respond to some of Bromma’s more specific remarks.
Bromma wants to present a more “complex” view on global capitalist relations than I present:
First, Bromma misses triple oppression (gender, race, class) in my stew. I share the view that gender and class are an important part of the struggle. The global wage hierarchy is built on gender, race, and class. I think I mention that fact several times. More specific on race, see f.ex. page 253, gender: 67, 256. However, both race and gender struggles are under the influence of the division of the world shaped by imperialism.
Bromma is missing commodification of nature. I also share this perspective, there is a section on that subject on page 282, and several times, I discuss the ecological crises created by capitalism – but also this has a strong imperialist angle, exporting waste and unequal consumption of everything from energy to toilet paper.
Bromma writes that: “Today, imperialism is relying less and less on Triad armies or Triad colonial regimes. Increasingly monopoly capitalism dominates world society through privatization and financial loan-sharking, implemented through transnational institutions like the World Bank, IMF and WTO.”
I am not sure of that. There has been war in the Middle East for the last 40 years, not just about oil, but also geopolitical strategy and the terms of global exploitation. And the transnational structures built up under neoliberalism are weakening as the neoliberal political crises develop.
But let’s move to the core of Bromma’s position. He writes: “But no countries, no matter how rich they are, own imperialism–it would be more accurate to say that imperialism owns them.”
For me capitalism/imperialism is a dialectical combination of an economic system (accumulation for profit) and a political system, created by class struggle – state power and world system of states struggling for hegemony. I do not want to separate the two; imperialism is not an abstract economic system. It needs someone to do the job on the ground, someone who exploits and suppress. We are part of the system. US imperialism is not only monopoly capital but is also the American settler state, the love of liberty and free enterprise. And US capitalism is different from Russian capitalism, Indian capitalism, or Chinese state capitalism, which has its specific history.
When I read this passage in your critique:
“But what’s even more important is that the overall class and spatial organization of imperialism (including Triad-based imperialism) is being transformed by neocolonialism and globalization. Today, imperialism is relying less and less on Triad armies or Triad colonial regimes. Increasingly monopoly capitalism dominates world society through privatization and financial loan-sharking, implemented through transnational institutions like the World Bank, IMF and WTO. And monopoly capitalists from all over the world, including former colonies, are getting in on that action.”
It reminds me of Toni Negri and Michael Hardt’s positon in “Empire.” That we are moving away from a division of the world between center and periphery and approaching a globalized capitalism. Not imperialism but an empire. This position is not new for me. I have been there, to quote myself in 1997:
It’s not accidental that I use the term “global” instead of “international”. Globalization is different from internationalisation. Globalization is not increased inter-nationalism, but in fact a destruction of the national aspects: economically and politically. The capitalists concerns are more transnational than they are multinational. The economic and political processes are the sum of national economics and politics, but one global process, which cuts through, raises above and liberate it self from the level of the national state. It is primarily the financial system and transnational companies – not state powers – which are the dynamo in the globalization process. National states lag behind and try to construct a relevant political framework and organisations such as EU, NAFTA, G7, and WTO. http://www.struggle.ws/mexico/comment/thoughts2.html
However, I think that the discourse of capitalist globalization and “the 1% against the 99%”, at the time, made me blind to the continued process of imperialist polarization between the center and a periphery. It was no longer the old Third World, a lot of changes had happened, but, a new periphery consisting of part of old Third World, supplied by the old Second World: China, Eastern Europe, and Russia. It was also a new division of labor. The unequal exchange consisted not only of raw materials and farming products for industrial good. Rather, industrial production in the Global South became a main source of exploitation, through labor arbitrage. However, the global production chains do not mean that capital is without a “fatherland.” The production chains are controlled by firms in the Triad. Finance is concentrated in the Triad, 70% of the goods are consumed in the Triad. Imperialist geography still matters.
I do not think “Empire” and “99%” positions reflect reality and I do not think we are moving in that direction. Trump, Brexit, weakening of WTO, NAFTA, and NATO signal that capitalism has taken a turn away from transnational governance under US hegemony. Empire presents capital as a huge monster, it describes capitalism as a system that is all-encompassing, self-perpetuating, and which dominates all aspects of our lives. Such a view is understandable, especially in the era of neoliberal globalization. However, it also tends to describe monopoly capitalism as something outside of us; but we are also part the system, participating, struggling, shaping, and reshaping.
I do not think the role of the state is becoming weaker, however it is changing how it functions. Capital/Imperialism needs states, cannot live without them. There is still US capital, which needs the US military and dollar to be hegemonic, and then there is German Euro capital, Japanese capital, Russian capital. Capital does not own the state; the state is the product of historical and current class struggle.
For sure, as you mention, the Triad is eroding and we are moving toward a more multi-power structured world. There is sand in the global neoliberal machinery, due to the impact of class struggle creating nationalist sentiment. Trump is not only a white supremacist menace. Trump is also part of the decline of US hegemony and he is a symbol of the split in capital on how to advance. That is good.
As Bromma writes:
“This change has caused a huge political backlash among outraged privileged Triad populations, who feel abandoned and disrespected. This nationalistic sentiment may slow globalization, but it isn’t going to stop it in the long run.”
I am not sure that there is a long run. We tend to believe that things will go on as they used to. But they do not. Capitalism changes in jumps and it will have an ending as do all historical systems. Trump is not a bump on the road, he signals dramatic change and maybe the final epoch of capitalism. (I agree with Wallerstein on that point.) It is not only the population in the Triad which is dissatisfied with neoliberal globalization, it also the new proletariat in Global South. Capitalism will not go back to the neoliberal globalization of 1980-2007.
The industrialization of the Global South is a transformation of historical dimensions. The integration of China and Eastern Europe into the international division of labor, which provided hundreds of millions of new proletarians within two decades from the late 80s, as industrial workplaces were moved from the center in search of higher profit, which gave capitalism a new golden age from the end of the 70s until the financial crises in 2007.
On the one hand, the result of neoliberal globalization is a continuing transfer of value and thereby a tendency to continued polarization, but on the other hand we have witnessed an unprecedented development of productive forces in the Global south, which have in some ways turned the tables. The emergence of China as a global economic power was an unintended side effect of the greed to exploit the Chinese proletariat.
The industrialization of the South is not a simple reflection of the industrialization of England, but a distorted mirror image. The industrialization of the South is not – (at least so far) – based on a domestic market, as was the case in the center, but is part of a new global division of labor in which the South is becoming the factory of the world.
Up until recently, the imperialist system has been a system centralizing surplus on the world scale, thereby creating a center-periphery structure. The development of the productive forces in the Global South are part of a process reconfiguring the world system into a more multipolar system, both economically and politically. Certainly not a homogenous relatively prosperous capitalism as in North-Western Europe and large parts of North America. This prosperous system needs to been fed by the exploitation of a periphery.
China, India, Indonesia or Brazil have no periphery substantial enough to feed the development of welfare capitalism, and ecologically the world cannot sustain such a world system. I would take another planet. The development of the productive forces in the Global South will accelerate the crises of global capitalism. Global capitalism will be haunted by crises generated by the contradiction between the need to expand production and the inability of the demand it creates to consume goods. Profits will decline and accumulation will come to a halt. As globalized patterns of production and consumption increase more and more, there is less possibility to resolve crises by extending capitalist relations into previously peripheral economic zones. As Marx already pointed out:
[Crises will] “…become more frequent and more violent, if only because, as the mass of production, and consequently the need for extended markets, grows, the world market becomes more and more contracted, fewer and fewer [new] markets remain available for exploitation, since every preceding crisis has subjected to world trade a market hitherto unconquered or only superficially exploited.” K. Marx (1847), Wage Labour and Capital, in MECW vol. 9. Page 228. London 1977, Lawrence Wishart.
To argue, that a rising wage level in the South will secure the continuation of capitalism as a global system and that China is just replacing the United States as the hegemonic power, overlooks the fundamental contradiction in capitalist accumulation: You cannot have it both ways: a low wage level, that fosters profits on the one hand, and a flourishing market that ensures the profits are realized through sales on the other hand. Capitalist China will face the same contradiction which Europe and North America solved by imperialist exploitation, but does not have the periphery to get out of the problems. (Cambodia and Africa will not solve the problem, we are talking of a population greater than the entire Triad.) China will not stop the disintegration of the capitalist system. The development of the productive forces of China, Vietnam, India, and other economies in the Global South reflects a shift in dynamics within that system, one that will shape the possibilities for future revolution. However, they can only try to secure their place in a future world-system, by changing to socialism.
On devious roads for more than one hundred years, capitalism is approaching a dead end. Engels’s words in a letter to Karl Kautsky in 1894 seems to be a prophesy of the circumstances:
“It is again the wonderful irony of history: China alone is still to be conquered for capitalist production, and in so doing at long last the latter makes its own existence at home impossible.” Frederick (1894). Letter from Engels to Kautsky,” in Karl Marx and Frederick Engels, On Colonialism. Page 346. Moscow 1965 Foreign Languages Publishing House.
The dynamics of capitalism are governed by the dialectical relations between the economic laws that govern accumulation and the class struggle that the consequences of these laws produce. We can describe capitalism as an economic model of accumulation, with different elements and variables. We can even express it in mathematical formulas. However, it is not a perpetual motion machine, and the mathematical equations do not add up. The system has internal contradictions. For the model to work (generate a profit) it has to secure the political/social conditions through constant class struggle.
There isn’t necessarily a direct correlation between what is good for the economy and what is possible for political governance. This would be a linear and deterministic understanding of history. Economic structures always affect class struggle, and class struggle always affects economic structures. On the level of the state, different nations vie for dominance. Imperialist countries compete with the countries of the periphery and with one another. There is a permanent struggle for hegemony. The world market and the world of states interact to shape the dynamic of capital accumulation on a world scale. The parties involved either try to optimize the economic system to serve their interests – or they try to modify it or even destroy it. The dialectical process between the laws of capital and their political consequences is the engine that drives the system. History never stops and the world always changes – but in ruptures, not along a linear path.
Let us move on to the what Bromma calls “The new geography of economic stratification”.
“Over the past several decades, as classes have globalized, the spatial organization of imperialism has also changed noticeably. There are still tremendous differences in average income between rich countries and poor countries.”
It is not only average income. The US working class wage is around 10-15 dollars per hour I believe. This is the daily wage in China and the weekly in Bangladesh.
“At the same time, the borderline between global wealth and poverty has become much more convoluted. Today, in many countries, the Global North is inside the Global South, and the Global South is inside the Global North.”
Yes there are homeless in Chicago and poor people in the US, and extremely rich people in Shanghai. I do not know how to understand the term “convoluted”. But for the vast majority of people in Chicago and Shanghai life is very different.
“One aspect of this transformation is that income inequality has skyrocketed within the former colonial world. Today, countries which used to be solidly part of the Global South–including China, India, Brazil, South Korea, Saudi Arabia and many other places–now have fantastically rich monopoly capitalist classes and significant consumerist middle classes living side by side with impoverished proletarians, poor peasants and lumpen. These classes may reside in the same country, but they live in different economic worlds. In our emerging social reality, the line between the world’s exploited and the world’s privileged now runs right through the middle of these countries.”
I definitely agree: the class structure in the Global South increasingly resembles the classical Manchester capitalism. But, that is different from current Manchester capitalism.
I also agree with you on the issue of exploitation of women, both in term of industrialization as for example in the textile industry or service industry, and in terms the reproduction of labor power within the family structure. The same goes for the transnational working class and migration, which is an aspect of labor arbitrage. I think I write about these phenomena, see for example 234-35, 247, 248-52, 253, 258-60.
Geography still matters, borders are important, they still divide the world in term of wages, life expectancy, and so on. There are extreme pressure on the borders of Europe, North America and Australia.
Let me turn to a part of the critique which surprises me:
“Yet Lauesen, along with many other anti-imperialists, still counts on these very same capitalist men to forge a “South-South” anti-imperialist front. This seems to confuse enemies with friends. Taking reactionary elites’ hypocritical rhetoric largely at face value, The Global Perspective evades the fact that the oppressed people of the Global South will have to fight to overthrow these ruling classes as part of their struggle against world imperialism.”
If that is the impression the book leaves, I have failed to be clear. I am definitely for socialist revolutions in the Global South. I think they are necessary to end Imperialism. Imperialism is an aspect of capitalism. An anti-imperialist is anti-capitalist. So Iran or the current Chinese government are not anti-imperialist although they are opposed to US hegemony. The Iranian regime kills communists and the Chinese put them in prison. They are not my friends. However the opposition against US hegemony is not without importance for the global balance of power.
Bromma’s main argument for my confusion is the part of the book which deals with China. Concerning China, I think a change toward anti-imperialism and socialism will require a revolutionary process.
What I am stating in the book – with some uncertainty – is that such a process can happen both as a movement opposed to the Communist Party or it can take place as a struggle inside the party. Such a power struggle will be fought mainly on the streets, in the factories, and in the countryside, not in the halls of power.
But one scenario could be that the crises of global neoliberalism will force the Communist Party to focus on the domestic market. Such a strategy will imply higher wages and lower profits, which will accelerate the class struggle in China, also inside the party. As mentioned above I do not think that internal or external exploitation can sustain the development of welfare capitalism for hundreds of millions of workers in China.
Let me quote a concluding passage on China from the book:
A new anticapitalist politics is always possible in China. It might come from social movements or from inside the Communist Party. Seeds can be sown by bottomup movements like the New Rural Reconstruction Movement and the current labor movement, which organize independently from the state but talk about “changing the social substance of state power.” Any new anticapitalist politics in China will require the mobilization of peasants and workers. The left wing of the Party alone will not be able to revitalize the country’s political life. This can only be accomplished by struggles on the ground. It is crucial to support relevant projects, and to ensure people have a right to organize and express themselves. There must be democratization at the workplace. If the Communist Party wants to play a progressive role in the future, it will have to be involved in these struggles—it needs to “go to the masses” and formulate a new politics.
I believe that a socialist resolution of China’s economic and political contradictions is still possible, the main reason being the militant history of the Chinese working class. A working class fighting for socialism can take control of the economy’s most important sectors. They can enter into an alliance with migrant workers, peasants, and the proletarianized petty bourgeoisie. This requires the organization of trade unions and open conflict with the procapitalist wing of the Communist Party. Globally, China could play an important role as an active supporter of the struggles against neoliberalism we are witnessing all across the Global South—akin to the support that the Soviet Union lent to Third World liberation struggles in the twentieth century. This, of course, can only happen if the workers and peasants of China resist the temptations of national chauvinism. The significance of a truly socialist China can hardly be exaggerated. It could tip the global balance of power and create a decisive advantage for the global working class.”
However, it is true that I consider the rise of China to a global power counterbalancing the hegemony of the US as an opening for revolutionary struggle globally.
That does not mean that my enemy’s enemy is my friend. Far from it.
The coming years will be dramatic. We are at the threshold of decisive struggles. The capitalist-imperialist offensive we have witnessed over the past 30 years is running out of steam. The objective conditions for radical change are excellent. The problem is the subjective forces. It is up to us to change that factor. We may have been too optimistic in the 1970s; I think we are far too defensive and pessimistic today.
The development of the productive forces in the Global South has not only placed its working class in a central position; if the workers of the Global South break the global chains of production, it is the core countries of the world capitalist system that will scream. The industrialization of the Global South has also created a much stronger foundation for the development of socialist society than was the case in the struggle for national liberation in the post-World War II period.
We in the Global North must support the struggle in the South, and make sure that the North is no safe “hinterland” for Imperialism. That means struggling against racism, right-wing national, social, and gender chauvinism. Struggling against imperialist political and military intervention. We will be called national traitors; we will be a minority, but an important minority. The good news is that in a structural crisis the “agent” plays a decisive role.
Yours, In common struggle,
Bromma’s critical review of The Global Perspective can be found on the Kersplebedeb website here.
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