The following is an excerpt from a essay titled The Socialist Project in a Disintegrated Capitalist World, written by Greek writer Arghiri Emmanuel in 1976.

The North-South division

It is largely accepted today that development and under-development are not autonomous and juxtaposed phenomena which can be examined each within its own terms, but that they are phenomena organically and functionally interrelated.

That is a common place. What is less familiar is the observation that not only is development of the periphery blocked by the very existence of the center, and the growth of the center reinforced by the resources drawn from the periphery, but that this center is today over-developed to the very same extent that the periphery is under-developed.

What can this over or under-development be measured against? It may be measured in relation to the level of development which the existing economic system, in this case the capitalist mode of production, can, under present historical conditions, secure at the level of the whole of mankind.

This means that the United States can be the United States and Sweden can be Sweden only because others, that is, the two billion inhabitants of the Third World, are not.

This also means that every material equalization from the top down is excluded. If, by some miracle, a socialist and fraternal system, regardless of its type or model, were introduced tomorrow morning the world over, and if it wanted to integrate, to homogenize mankind by equalizing living standards, then to do this it would not only have to expropriate the capitalists of the entire world, but also dispossess large sections of the working class of the industrialized countries, of the amount of surplus value these sections appropriate today. It seems this is reason enough for these working classes not to desire this ‘socialist and fraternal’ system and to express their opposition by either openly integrating into the existing system, as in the United States of America or the Federal Republic of Germany, or by advocating national paths to socialism, as in France or Italy.

This is not a question of principles, but a question of interests. A few global figures will be enough to show this. In 1973, the average annual wage in the USA amounted to around US$10,500. The population of the entire capitalist world at that time was about 2.6 billion, and there was a little over a billion economically active. To pay all these economically active people on an American scale would require close to eleven trillion dollars. However, the total national income of these countries in 1973 amounted to only $2.7 trillion.

This means, even if all income earned without the counterparts of labor, profits, rents, interest rates, etc., (which are all components of surplus value) were abolished and mankind resolved to be satisfied from now on with simple reproduction, relinquishing all progress and consuming its entire product, it would not, under these hypothetical conditions, be able to reach more than an average wage of $2,500 per year, that is, a quarter of the American wage.

It is precisely this that severs solidarity between the working classes of the center and the periphery. While all the working classes were subjected to exploitation, no matter how disparate its degree, even when one was 90% exploited and the other 10%, they had an interest in uniting and fighting arm-in-arm, and together expropriating their exploiters, despite the fact that this expropriation improved the situation for some considerably more than for others. But from the moment the workers of certain countries ceased to be the suppliers of surplus value (no matter how little) and became recipients, the situation was reversed and the positions of the working classes became antagonistic to one another.

It might be maintained that this comparison in terms of dollars or surplus value rates is too abstract and illusory. I will suggest another, in physical terms. Today, the citizen of America consumes an extraordinary amount of basic raw materials. Were all the inhabitants of this planet to follow his example and consume the same amount per person, all known deposits of iron ore would be exhausted in forty years, copper deposits in eight years, tin deposits in six years, and petroleum in five and a half years!

However, exhaustion of deposits and reserves is not the only factor that prevents world equalization from above. Ecological limits represent another.

If today’s developed countries can still rid themselves of their wastes by dumping them into the sea or the air, this is so because they are the only ones doing it; similarly, if their citizens can still travel by plane without great difficulty, that is because others have not the means to fly and leave them the privilege of clogging the skies, etc., etc.

These calculations involve no unsubstantial and slippery concepts such as surplus value, capital, etc., or such computable categories as profit, interest rates, etc., but of the consumption of palpable materials. Hence, it is the great mass of the population, the wage-workers themselves who are involved.

It follows from this that apart from all other considerations and all other antagonisms, under today’s objective natural and technological conditions, and in the foreseeable future, the people of today’s rich countries can consume all the things that make up their material well-being and which they seem to value, only because others use them either very little or not at all. They can reprocess their wastes simply because others have nothing much to reprocess. Otherwise, the ecological balance would be fatally imperiled.

This is what makes the antagonism between the center and the periphery irresolvable and transforms the entire working class of certain countries into the worker aristocracy of the earth.


”The Socialist Project in a Disintegrated Capitalist World” by Arghiri Emmanuel. From Socialist Thought and Practice : A Yugoslav Monthly, vol. 16, no. 9, 1976, pp. 69-87.

Translated by the Maoist Information Website. Read full article here.

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  1. […] dealt with at any great depth that I’m aware of. Second, this deals more with imperialism and international divisions, i.e. how whites view Third World people not merely non-whites on the other side of […]


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Ecology/Environment, Political Economy