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New Left Review I/132, March-April 1982

Alain Lipietz

Marx or Rostow?

Reading John Sender’s glowing introduction to Bill Warren’s ‘Imperialism, Pioneer of Capitalism’, I thought I could recognize several of the themes broached in my article on ‘Towards Global Fordism?’. [1] In breaking with traditional theories of dependency, I am basically indebted to the work of two Latin American writers, Carlos Ominami and Ricardo Hausmann. See the references attached to my article; and C. Ominami, ‘Aperçu critique des théories du dèveloppement en Amérique Latine’, Revue Tiers-Monde No. 80, October–December 1979. But unfortunately, although Warren’s book has the great merit of identifying many weighty issues for Marxists in the dominated countries, his conclusions and even his method of confronting these ‘facts’ have made my hair stand on end. Yes, there is a lot of truth in Warren’s book. It is true that we must have done with a certain Romantic critique of ‘development’ which falls short of the necessary precision, balance, autonomy, and so on. It is true that, since ‘the living soul of Marxism is concrete analysis of a concrete situation’ (Lenin), the priority task is to study the Third World countries as they are, before dreaming of what they should be—although Warren himself scarcely brings this project nearer to completion. It is true that Lenin’s own ‘bestseller’, Imperialism, The Highest Stage of Capitalism, was already a poor book, containing a quite erroneous analysis of the tendencies of imperialism. Indeed, capitalism itself has cheerfully given the lie to Lenin’s thesis, rising from one stage to another until the glorious 1960s—although Warren does not mention the wars and other monstrosities integral to this process. It is true that a moral critique of imperialism is not necessarily a critique of capitalism, and that anti-imperialism has too long served as a demagogic cover for the development plans of a modernist local bourgeoisie, whether liberal or statist in orientation—although it would have been nice to see an equally rigorous critique of the ‘lackeys’ of foreign capital. It is right to stress that domestic causes are paramount, that the local elites bear the main responsibility for their country’s plight, and that ‘dependence’ only perpetuates itself on the ground of an internal situation—although Warren could have mentioned the military interventions which, after all, have provided enough of the headlines over the last thirty-five years. It is true that capitalism and industrialization are rapidly developing in the dominated countries—although not in all of them, and not in the carefree way suggested by Warren. It is true that the Third World can no longer be grasped as a single, homogeneous entity, susceptible to uniform criticism of ‘dependent development’ or a fortiori ‘the development of underdevelopment’.

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Alain Lipietz, ‘Marx or Rostow?’, NLR I/132: £3

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