Re: [OPE-L] Imperialism, from list to list

From: Paul Zarembka (zarembka@BUFFALO.EDU)
Date: Mon Dec 04 2006 - 13:32:00 EST

Loren's posting is excellent.  However, on the point about "primitive
accumulation", which Jerry asked about, I responded on the originating
list as follows:

"Yours [Loren's] is a very common misuse of the concept of "primitive
accumulation", albeit easy to slip into. You conflate "primitive
accumulation" with any separation from means of production at any period
in capitalist development, including the modern period. Marx's concept was
clearly only about the original transition from feudalism to capitalism.
He was focusing on how the engine of capitalism arose out of feudalism. He
didn't truly resolve the issue, but was (merely) posing it. Luxemburg was
quite aware of that delimitation. Thus, she wrote:

    'At the time of primitive accumulation, i.e. at the end of the Middle
Ages, when the history of capitalism in Europe began, and right into the
nineteenth century, dispossessing the peasants in England and on the
Continent was the most striking weapon in the large-scale transformation
of means of production and labor power into capital. Yet capital in power
performs the same task even today, and on an even more important scale --
by modern colonial policy.... With that we have passed beyond the stage of
primitive accumulation; this process is still going on." (Luxemburg,
Accumulation of Capital, pp. 369-70)'

"The separation from means of production in the modern period is
'accumulation of capital' proper, not 'primitive accumulation. Probably
the basis of conflating 'primitive accumulation' with any 'separation',
even in the modern period, is an unconscious avoidance of the meaning of
'accumulation' itself, a meaning incorrectly driven by Lenin's statement
that 'accumulation' is 'new production'."

I might add that, in my view, Lenin's political economy has penetrated
interpretations of Marx more than many of us are aware.

Paul Z.

THE HIDDEN HISTORY OF 9-11-2001   --"a benchmark in 9/11 research", review
Volume 23 (2006), RESEARCH IN POLITICAL ECONOMY, P. Zarembka, ed, Elsevier

On Mon, 4 Dec 2006 glevy@PRATT.EDU wrote:

> The following post from Loren Goldner has been making its way
> from list to list.  It originated on a yahoo group and has
> been re-sent at Loren's request to PEN-L and then on to
> aut-op-sy and elsewhere. If you scroll down past the "Is
> this not imperialism?" sections, you will see a short critique of
> different theories of imperialism, including Lenin's and
> Luxemburg's.  While not the main issue in the debate, I don't
> recall Luxemburg suggesting that the 'primitive accumulation
> of capital' is permanent.  Does anyone have any comments about
> the following?
> In solidarity, Jerry
> ================================================================
> On another list I'm on, an Italian comrade
> dismissively referred not merely to Lenin's theory of
> imperialism (which I also reject) but to the very idea
> that there is or ever had been such a thing. This
> following is my reply, heavily influenced by
> Luxemburg, which I thought might interest some people
> on this list as well.
> Question for Antonio: if the U.S. is not imperialist,
> or if, as you say, imperialism was only ever a theory
> or an ideology, why does the U.S., long after the
> supposed end of the Cold War (not including of course
> the little lingering questions of China, North Korea,
> Vietnam and Cuba) maintain a military presence, overt
> and covert, in 110 countries?
> Why did the U.S. become so involved in
> counter-insurgency in Latin America and the Caribbean
> in the 1980's (Nicaragua, El Salvador, Guatemala,
> Honduras, the invasion of Grenada)? Why did it provide
> military advisors to the Mexican government's military
> action against the EZLN after 1994? Why,in 2002, did
> it attempt to overthrow Chavez?
> This is not imperialism?
> How exactly would you characterize the various
> "revolutions" backed overtly or covertly by the U.S.
> in Serbia, Georgia and the Ukraine? Why does the U.S.
> embassy in Kiev have 750 employees? Some of us think
> that's connected to a geopolitical strategy aimed at
> controlling the borderlands of Russia and China, a
> classic remake of the 19th century "great game" Why
> has the U.S. backed the extension of NATO to include
> most of the former Warsaw Pact states? Why did the
> U.S. (oops, sorry, I mean NATO) intervene in the wars
> in ex-Yugoslavia and militarily humiliate Serbia?
> This is not imperialism?
> What was the meaning of the 1993 intervention in
> Somalia? Why is the U.S., officially and unofficially,
> so concerned about China's new presence in Africa,
> particularly where oil is concerned? This great power
> rivalry over raw materials in Africa, Asia and Latin
> America--don't we vaguely remember this from an
> earlier era?
> This is not imperialism?
> In East Asia, the U.S. maintains 35,000 troops in
> South Korea, important bases in (and a close alliance
> with) Japan, naval fleets ready to defend Taiwan, all
> of this aimed at containing what the CIA openly
> identified as the main future rival of the U.S.:
> China.
> This is not imperialism?
> And should I bother mentioning the Middle East?
> Support to the hilt for Israel, helping foment the
> (how short lived!) "Cedar Revolution" in Lebanon,
> close ties with NATO partner Turkey as a
> counter-weight to Iran. The U.S. has more military
> hardware in little Gulf State Qatar than in any other
> country in the world except Germany.
> This is not imperialism?
> Turning away from the U.S. for a moment, what about
> the French role in the French zone in Africa? Troops
> in Chad and Mali and Ivory Coast? The French role in
> the Rwandan bloodletting? The strong support for the
> FLN government in Algeria during the civil war against
> the FIS?
> And the Japanese outsourcing system throughout
> Southeast Asia?
> This is not imperialism?
> You will of course have noticed that I have limited
> myself to the merely military and counter-insurgent
> level. Let's not--without being reductionist or
> vulgar, God forbid--forget the 200+ multinationals,
> most of them American, which still constitute the
> lion's share (and an increased share0 of world
> production.
> The weight of the U.S. through "international"
> institutions such as the IMF and World Bank, imposing
> "structural adjustment" programs on 100 developing
> countries, producing 60+ failed state or near-failed
> states?
> The "fact" that the income ratio of the West to the
> developing world has greatly INCREASED (I don't have
> the exact figures) in the past 30 years, in spite of
> important development in countries such as China,
> Brazil, India during that time?
> How do YOU explain such a phenomenon, if imperialism
> no longer exists and (if I understand you) never did?
> You ask what imperialism means when a country such as
> China, with an average per capita income of $1200 a
> year, has lent something like $1 trillion to the "lone
> superpower", the U.S. while masses of people in the
> U.S. have become impoverished?
> Well, that's a very good question, and if you read
> Michael Hudson's excellent book, Super-Imperialism
> (1972; new edition 2002) you will see that U.S.
> imperialism since World War II has not, indeed,
> followed Lenin's model (which was always flawed), but
> has perfected the strategy of "managing empire through
> bankruptcy". You overlook the fact that that $1
> trillion consists of little green pieces of paper
> exchanged for real Chinese goods produced by the
> exploitaiton of Chinese workers, pieces of paper then
> re-lent to the U.S. consumer so he/she could buy those
> goods. Nice system! Perhaps you think that $1 trillion
> will ever be seriously repaid? Not if U.S. policy
> makers get their way and the Chinese revalue to the
> desired level of 4 renminbi=$1, cutting the value of
> those reserves in half. Ask the Japanese, who saw
> THEIR dollar holdings reduced in value by 32% by
> Nixon's
> dissolution of Bretton Woods in 1971.
> Yes, Lenin's theory of imperialism is out of date, and
> was seriously flawed even when it was written. So
> having dispensed with the kind of military,
> geopolitical and obvious phenomena that any vulgar
> leftist could point to, and get down into the "deep"
> economic questions.
> I'm sure you throw Rosa Luxemburg's Accumulation of
> Capital into the same historical dustbin as Lenin's
> Imperialism. Well, I don't. I won't presume to guess
> your reasons for this, but whatever her flaws, she was
> absolutely right about the permanence of primitive
> accumulation in capitalism. Primitive accumulation
> means accumulation that violates the capitalist law of
> value, i.e. non-exchange of equivalents. Perhaps you
> think that the mathematical formulas in the first
> partof vol. III of Capital adequately describe how
> capitaalism works. They certainly do: IF the concrete
> processes of social reproduction to which they refer
> are in fact reproducing themselves. Rosa (and here i
> follow her 100%) argued that this is not a matter of
> mathematics, but of concrete analysis of real
> processes. When Western capital sucks Third World
> labor power whose costs of reproduction it did not pay
> for into the world division of labor, whether in
> Indonesia or in Los Angeles, that's primitive
> accumulation. when capital loots the natural
> environment and does not pay the replacement costs for
> that damage, that's primitive accumulation. When
> capital runs capital plant and infrastructure into the
> ground (the story of much of the U.S. economy since
> the 1960's) that's primitive accumulation. When
> capital pays workers non-reproductive wages, that's
> primitive accumulation too. Lenin never discussed
> these things (if I recall, he never once mentioned
> social reproduction) but Rosa Luxemburg wrote a whole
> book about it. You want to dismiss these ideas with a
> complacent wave of the hand?
> Be my guest; it's your loss.
> I could go on. I daresay that a good book illustrating
> nothing but what I have mentioned could be written,
> and there's a lot more, which we can get into if
> Meltdowners take up the debate.
> In conclusion, let me say that I posted the article on
> Third World investment in the West precisely to get
> some debate going with people who still defend the
> Leninist view (and there are plenty). It never
> occurred to me that there were people out there who
> question the very idea of imperialism itself. So be
> it.
> Let me be clear: I absolutely reject Lenin's model of
> imperialist "super-profits" earned by "monopolies"
> paying off an "aristocracy of labor". So did Rosa
> Luxemburg, who in 1913 (how antiquated!) argued that
> the taxation of workers to pay for armaments was part
> of the imperialist project. Some aristocracy!
> For several decades, I have been attempting to develop
> an alternative view of imperialism to that of Lenin
> (still upheld today by myriad Trotskyists, for
> starters). Lenin's intention in 1916 was to explain
> the "betrayal" of socialism by the Western European
> parties of the Second International, thereby showing
> that he believed their earlier avowed statist model to
> have been "socialist"to begin with. The issue as I see
> it is not so much imperialism, whose existence I never
> questioned, but the ideology of "anti-imperialism",
> which today enlists such "progressive" forces as
> Chavez, Hezbollah, Hamas, the Iranian mullahs, the
> Taliban, the Iraqi "resistance"  and perhaps now the
> unreconstructed Stalinists of Belarus; yesterday it
> included Saddam Hussein. For the Trotskyists, it's
> anyone from outside the "charmed circle" of Western
> powers of 1914 who points a gun at someone from within
> the charmed circle. In my opinion, such a view, with
> the contorted calls for "critical support" and
> "military support"to the oddest political formations,
> abandons the main thrust of the great Zimmerwald
> Conference of 1915: the main enemy is at home. I know
> perfectly well the arguments from the other side:
> World War I was an inter-imperialist war, the
> 'anti-imperialist" wars are something else.
> I believe (and the purpose of posting the Financial
> Times article was to show) that post-1945 and
> particularly post-1973 developments have been blurring
> the lines on the old 'anti-imperialist' road map.
> We see U.S. world hegemongy disintegrating faster than
> we ever imagined possible (almost recalling the speed
> of the collapse of the Soviet bloc). Out of this
> disintegration, what will emerge? Proletarian
> revolution? I hope so. But what could also emerge, as
> the U.S. emerged in 1945 on the ruins of the British
> empire, is a new center of world accumulation. My
> favorite candidate for that new center is East Asia.
> Suppose, in some yet to be imagined scenario, China
> and Japan (who, despire rhetoric, have ever-closer
> economic ties), along with the Tigers (e.g. Korea,
> Taiwan) and the 'flying geese" (Malaysia, Thailand,
> etc.) manage to constitute an economic bloc, an Asian
> currency? It's hard to imagine this happening without
> some equivalent of World War II. If this became the
> basis of a new phase of capitalist expansion,
> comparable to the U.S. centered expansion of
> 1945-1975, would it somehow be any more "progressive"
> than the U.S. dominated phase?
> No way.
> The question, then, along the way, is how to situate
> the various world forces in play as the U.S. declines.
> Chavez recently made a world tour that included
> Belarus, Russia, Iran and China. Latin America is
> booming right now because of exports to China. Parts
> of Africa are reviving for the same reason. I am
> perfectly aware that as of now all this comes back to
> the "indebted U.S. consumer" and a collapse of the
> dollar empire would stop the music...for a while. But
> as a Japanese minister, weary of the growing dollar
> reserves in the Bank of Japan, said not too long ago:
> "give us
> 15 years, and we won't need the U.S.". With the dollar
> declining by the day on world exchanges, how much
> longer will the Chinese, the Koreans, the Japanese,
> the Middle Eastern oil sheiks, the Russians, the
> Venezuelans, and the Medillin drug cartel--all major
> holders of dollars--be willing to hold onto a
> depreciating asset? And if out of this debacle emerges
> a new pole of capitalist accumulation, whether or not
> it includes "old" imperialist powers (e.g. Japan) will
> it be "progressive"?
> That, to me, is THE question today for the
> theoreticians, still working off the Leninist model,
> of "anti-imperialism" have to answer. How much longer
> can the international left be offering "critical
> support' or "military support" to the Taliban before
> it finds itself, as so many times in the past, the
> ideological midwife of a new reactionary
> constellation?
> Loren

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