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New Left Review I/85, May-June 1974

Arghiri Emmanuel

Myths of Development versus Myths of Underdevelopment

Bill Warren’s article Imperialism and Capitalist Industrialization in nlr 81 is a very important text, although I believe his fundamental line of argument to be misconceived. There is no doubt that he draws attention to many aspects of the vexed question of development in the Third World that are too often ignored, by Marxists as well as by bourgeois economists. However some of his theses are perhaps less surprising than he imagines. Warren’s insistence upon the relatively high industrialization rates experienced in recent decades by underdeveloped countries is certainly no great shock to the present writer. In my book Unequal Exchange I give due acknowledgement to the recent ‘wave of industrialization’ in the Third World and to the fact that annual growth rates of industrial production in some of these countries are ‘higher than those prevailing in the advanced countries (which are) themselves higher than had ever been known before’. [1] Arghiri Emmanuel Unequal Exchange, London nlb 1972, p. 375. Bill Warren is also quite correct to attack the ‘ambiguities in current Left analyses’ conceived of in terms of ‘dependence’, ‘backwardness’ and ‘underdevelopment’—understood not simply as a quantitative gap but as an undefined qualitative distortion. On this point I would indeed go somewhat further than Warren and add that the concept of ‘domination’ which he accepts is no less elusive than that to which he takes exception, as soon as direct colonial rule is no longer involved. If it is not specified whether it is political domination which entails economic domination or the other way round, reference to it involves familiar circular reasoning. In the peripeteia of the recent oil crisis and the inglorious response of some of the imperialist powers to this major challenge to their most vital interests—with their representatives queueing up in the ante-rooms of the Middle Eastern princes—it would not be difficult to find empirical material for an article no less iconoclastic than that of Warren. It is certainly the case that current Left literature underestimates the significance of formal independence, of economic—I would even say of political—nationalism, and of the ability of small countries, and of some rightist regimes of the periphery to avail themselves of inter-imperialist rivalries and to get the best out of capitalist bargaining, up to and including the use of punitive actions against foreign companies.

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