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?’.footnote1 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’.
Yes, in spite of the ‘oversights’ that might be put down to polemical zeal, Warren’s theses would make an excellent pamphlet. Unfortunately, Imperialism, Pioneer of Capitalism is not a pamphlet but a book based on
Alas, when we examine his detailed arguments, all the positive features of his position ‘turn into their opposite’. He may grasp the Third World’s heterogeneity, but he treats the Third World as a ‘corpus’ of homogeneous figures. He may recognize its industrial development, but he does not pay the slightest attention to the character of such industrialization. He may prioritize internal causes, but he quite simply refuses to analyse the specificity of the socio-economic structures in question. He may avoid confusion of anti-imperialism and anti-capitalism, but at the price of a veritable apology for capitalism. He may do away with normative criticism, but only in order to restore the hold of the latter-day Moloch and its high-priest Adam Smith: ‘Accumulate, accumulate! That is Moses and all the prophets!’ Warren’s return to ‘original Marxism’ is, in fact, a return to the nineteenth-century Marxism of Struve and Kautsky, which continued to flourish in the Third International, particularly in Stalin’s writings. For Stalin declared his faith in limitless development of the productive forces, understanding by this a one-way, linear, quantitative growth in the mass of machinery and the flow of commodities.
Such a religion, however, stands in no need of Marx. It has other high-priests in such traditional bourgeois growth-theorists as Walt Rostow,footnote2 and all the modern apostles of ‘industrialization’ and ‘supplyside’ policies. If it now finds succour among Marxists seeking to revive the most questionable of the Old Man’s ideas—for example, his trust in the Promethean virtues of capitalist technical progress—this says a great deal about the ideological defeat suffered by anti-capitalist forces in the seventies.footnote3 We shall return to this point below, but let us first examine some key areas of Warren’s argument. To what does he refer when he seeks to prove ‘the illusion of underdevelopment’? What does he have to say about it? What criteria does he use? Well, he refers to the ‘non-existence’ of underdevelopment, to the hollowness of the concept of neo-colonialism. Building around us his first redoubtable paradox, Warren has the facts and figures to demonstrate that the dominated countries are not so underdeveloped after all. Unfortunately, he has to base himself upon a sample of countries, if only to prove that the sample growth-rates are not at all out of the ordinary. However, his very choice of countries shows that Warren implicitly recognizes what he seeks to disprove: namely, the existence of problem-countries, prudently termed
In fact, Warren does not even define the object of his analysis—a fine method for a Marxist theoretician! For if we leave aside self-proclamation by a particular country, we are offered no criteria with which to delimit this ‘Third World’. Should a common colonial history perhaps be the defining feature? But then we could count on the fingers of one hand the non-West-European countries that have never borne any kind of colonial yoke: Japan, Thailand, Afghanistan, and which others? Curiously, Warren seems to overlook that every country in the Americas is the product of colonization. Perhaps the missing criterion lies in the specificity of internal socio-economic structures—the true root of ‘underdevelopment’ in most Marxist thinking. Even Lenin saw this as the basis of a ‘democratic and anti-imperialist’ stage of the revolution, at least in those countries where, for reasons bound up with colonization, there had been no capitalist agrarian reform. It is, indeed, hard to grasp the different fates of two ex-colonies such as Argentina and Australia without taking into account the history of their agrarian structures.footnote4 Warren, however, objects to this approach in the name of a supposedly Marxist dogma that pre-capitalist forms are bound to dissolve. Any analysis which refers to the survival or consolidation of particular semi-feudal or latifundist forms of production is swept aside without any concrete investigation. We are a long way from Lenin’s patient study of the development of capitalism in Russia. What would be the point? After all, capitalism inevitably dissolves everything other than itself!
Now, all Marxist historical analysis proves exactly the opposite. After Spanish colonization of Central and South America, every serviceable Maya, Aztec or Inca structure was consolidated and mobilized for the extraction of minerals,footnote5 while slavery was ‘reinvented’ for the purposes of colonial agriculture. In the seventeenth century in Eastern Europe, the capitalism of Amsterdam and then London imposed the ‘second serfdom’,footnote6 whose final, more or less debased forms were only abolished in 1918 (after the fall of the Turkish, Austro-Hungarian and Russian empires), or even in 1945 by the ‘people’s democracies’. In France, itself, the history of agriculture refutes Kautsky’s thesis: for petty commodity production, much more profitable than capitalist farming for the agro-food companies, is still the basic form of the exploitation of peasant labour.footnote7
Given that Warren sees a case for the ‘importation’ of capitalist relations (‘Imperialism, Pioneer of Capitalism’), it might appear that external structural dependence is the defining characteristic of his object of study.