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New Left Review I/81, September-October 1973


Bill Warren

Imperialism and Capitalist Industrialization

Current Marxist views of the relationship of imperialism to the non-socialist underdeveloped countries are that the prospects of independent economic development or independent industrialization in such countries are nil or negligible (unless they take a socialist option); and that the characteristics of backwardness, underdevelopment and dependence [1] These three terms represent alternative emphases on different dimensions of the alleged effects of imperialism on the Third World. They clearly illustrate the ambiguities of current Left analyses. ‘Backwardness’ is completely vague and must anyway be viewed in relation to technical, economic and social potentialities which. however, have been both created and revealed (raising expectations) by imperialism. The ‘underdevelopment’ concept, understood not simply as retardation, but as a distortion of economic development, suffers from the fact that, apart possibly from the us, England and France, there has never been a so-called ‘normal’ development of industrial capitalism in any country and the distortion referred to appears to be judged so against an unstated ideal criterion. ‘Dependence’ as a concept becomes extremely tricky in an increasingly integrated world economy. Does, for example, the us’s increasing need for Middle East oil and Algerian natural gas make it dependent on these countries or are these countries dependent on the us market? While recognizing this the terms ‘underdeveloped countries’ or the ‘Third World’ will be used without qualification in the text to refer to capitalist underdeveloped countries. which prevent such development are the necessary results of imperialist domination. Despite the state of controversy in which the theory of imperialism currently finds itself, these conclusions were generally accepted by all participants in a recent symposium on imperialism. [2] Studies in the Theory of Imperialism, eds R. Owen and B. Sutcliffe, 1972. It will, on the contrary, be the burden of this article that empirical observations suggest that the prospects for successful capitalist economic development (implying industrialization) of a significant number of major underdeveloped countries are quite good; that substantial progress in capitalist industrialization has already been achieved; that the period since the Second World War has been marked by a major upsurge in capitalist social relations and productive forces (especially industrialization) in the Third World; that in so far as there are obstacles to this development, they originate not in current imperialist-Third World relationships, but almost entirely from the internal contradictions of the Third World itself; that the imperialist countries’ policies and their overall impact on the Third World actually favour its industrialization; and that the ties of dependence binding the Third World to the imperialist countries have been, and are being, markedly loosened, with the consequence that the distribution of power within the capitalist world is becoming less uneven.

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