Monday, November 20, 2017

Marx on Imperialism

     While Karl Marx wrote a bit on imperialism, it was Lenin who contributed most to this argument.  In this interpretation, capitalists would respond to the falling rate of profit by domination over foreign countries. These foreign countries would provide them cheap labor (to maintain the reserve army) and cheap raw materials. The foreign countries would also provide markets to offset the problem of inadequate consumer spending in the home country (caused by the low wages).  It is true that until the end of World War II, much of the Third World was divided into formal colonies of the capitalist countries.  To Marxists, the domination by the capitalists is the major reason why these former colonies are still poor.  We will consider the influence of these Marxist ideas when we consider China and Mexico later in the course. 

     Since there were many capitalist countries, Marxists believed that there would be conflict as to which country’s capitalists would dominate a specific foreign country.  This would lead to imperialist wars.  For example, Marxists saw the war between the United States and Japan (World War II) as an imperialist war to determine which country’s capitalists would have domination over the countries of the Pacific!  Marxists also saw World War I as an imperialist war; many Marxists refused to participate in it.  They saw it as a war in which the capitalists of the victorious countries would benefit but the workers would get nothing. Because of this, they believed that the workers would refuse to fight.  This belief, of course, did not come true.  Marxists have often overstated the class consciousness of workers and understated their feelings of nationalism.

     But while Marx himself wrote very little about imperialism, he did write about the global expansion of the capitalist economy.  In this, he was very prescient.  The following long paragraph from the Communist Manifesto was written in 1848.  It could have been written today in talking about the global economy.

                “All fixed, fast, frozen relations, with their train of ancient and venerable prejudices and opinions, are swept away, all new-formed ones become antiquated before they can ossify.  All that is solid melts into air, all that is holy is profaned, the man is at last compelled to face with sober senses his real condition of life and his relation with his kind. The need for a constantly expanding market for its products chases the bourgeoisie over the whole surface of the globe.  It must nestle everywhere, settle everywhere, establish connections everywhere.  The bourgeoisie has through its exploitation of the world market given a cosmopolitan character to production and consumption in every country.  To the great chagrin of reactionaries, it has drawn from under the feet of industry the national ground on which it stood. All old-established national industries have been destroyed or are daily being destroyed. They are dislodged by new industries, whose introduction becomes a life and death question for all civilized nations, by industries that no longer work up indigenous raw material, but raw material drawn from the remotest zones; industries whose products are consumed, not only at home, but in every quarter of the globe.  In place of the old wants, satisfied by the production of the country, we find new wants, requiring for their satisfaction the products of distant lands and climes. In place of the old local and national seclusion and self-sufficiency, we have intercourse in every direction, universal interdependence of nations. And as in material, so also in intellectual production. The intellectual creations of individual nations become common property.  National one-sidedness and narrow mindedness become more and more impossible, and from numerous national and local literatures there arises a world literature.

                  The bourgeoisie, by the rapid improvement of all instruments of production, by the immensely facilitated means of communication, draws all, even the most barbarian nations into civilization.  The cheap prices of commodities are the heavy artillery with which it batters down all Chinese walls, with which it forces the barbarians’ intensely obstinate hatred of foreigners to capitulate.  It compels all nations, on pain of extinction, to adopt the bourgeois mode of production; it compels them to introduce what it calls civilization into their midst, i.e., to become bourgeois themselves. In one word, it creates a world after its own image.”

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