“…[W]e thank Dr. Cope for his immense and ongoing contributions to the political economy of anti-imperialism—so far most comprehensively in Divided World Divided Class, now in its second edition—and for his work on this project. And Torkil Lauesen, former member of CWC (the original publishers of the bulk of the present work) and M-KA, whose contributions to this global discussion are dwarfed only by the mind-boggling acts of solidarity which he and his comrades are responsible for (the best, and pretty much only, English-language resource for which is the astounding Turning Money Into Rebellion: The Unlikely Story of Denmark’s Revolutionary Bank Robbers, edited by Gabriel Kuhn, and available from PM Press and Kersplebedeb).
We look forward to the positive contribution the present project stands to make to this discussion.” – Foreword
[As many of our readers are aware, Marx & Engels: On Colonies, Industrial Monopoly and the Working Class Movement was published with Kersplebedeb last month. For those who aren’t aware, check it out here. Now is as good a time as any to pick up this valuable little volume, especially with free shipping on all orders over 50 USD for the month of June!]
Originally compiled by the Danish Communist Working Circle (CWC) and including an indispensable introduction by Zak Cope and Torkil Lauesen, as well as a short foreword by the Organizing Committee for the Revolutionary Anti-Imperialist Movement, the bulk of this handy little text comprises passages from the corpus of Marx and Engels as they attempt to confront the differential effects of colonialism on the populations of the oppressor and oppressed nations respectively. From Engels’ warning to Bebel not to be “bamboozled into thinking there is a real proletarian movement going on [in England]…” [p.125] (a warning First-Worldists would regard as heresy) to Marx’s observations on the effect of colonial spoils on the English working class “which in part I cannot tell the English workers themselves. … The English working class will never accomplish anything before it has got rid of Ireland. The lever must be applied in Ireland.” [p.107] The selections show us Marx and Engels as their eurocentric—that is, upholding the centrality (as regards revolution) of the “developed” capitalist countries of north amerika and western Europe—framework begins to break down in the course of the development of the workers’ movement in Europe. It is a trend which has continued within Marxism, augmented by thinkers like Lenin (which will be elaborated on in an upcoming volume of the same type with another indispensable introduction by Cope and Lauesen), but also marxists of the colonial and oppressed nations, such as M.N. Roy, Ho Chi Minh, M. Sultan-Galiev, D.N.Aidit, Lin Biao and others past and present.
Centering these passages in theory and in history, Lauesen and Cope draw on an immense body of research to illuminate the undercurrents of parasitism which resulted in the organizational and theoretical difficulties—embourgeoisement, chauvinism, opportunism etc.—faced by Marx and subsequent revolutionaries as the exploited, spiteful masses of toilers, especially in Great Britain, began the transformation to beneficiaries of colonialism who “gaily share the feast of England’s monopoly of the world market and the colonies.” [Engels, p.123] Even before the repeal of the Corn Laws, and thus the beginning of above-subsistence wages for the mass of British workers, consumption of sugar, tea and coffee became feasible for large sections of the populace. After the repeal of the Corn Laws, however, we see that
Following the fall in corn prices, the industrial capitalists tried to decrease wages, but the working class was able to limit this decrease and thus obtain an improvement. This victory was added to shortly after the abrogation of the Corn Laws, by the introduction of a ten-hour working day, a goal for which the workers had been fighting for thirty years. Here organized labour was unexpectedly supported by the landowners in Parliament, who thirsted for revenge on the industrial capitalists. [p.14-15]
From this point on, the average wage rose, consumption increased, and Europe began shifting, under the intoxicating effect of colonial spoils, “from repression to inclusion” by way of “(1) imported colonial mass consumption goods, (2) raw materials imports for expanding British industry, (3) profit from colonial trade, taxes, and investments, and (4) an area for settlements for the “industrial reserve army” – the unemployed surplus population in Europe.” [p. 23] Friedrich Engels, author of The Condition of the Working Class in England, the decisive portrait of the toilers in 1845, observed 40 years later that these circumstances “had turned the English working-class, politically, into the tail of the “great Liberal Party,” the party led by the manufacturers” [p.130] Here the rise of a labor aristocracy became evident. “The engineers, the carpenters and joiners, the bricklayers, are each of them a power … not only have their employers been with them, but they with their employers, upon exceedingly good terms. They form an aristocracy among the working-class; they have succeeded in enforcing for themselves a relatively comfortable position, and they accept it as final.” [p.134] For Engels, this situation was temporary and would, with the opening up of Free Trade and colonies by other powers, fade away.
The truth is this: during the period of England’s industrial monopoly the English working-class have, to a certain extent, shared in the benefits of the monopoly. These benefits were very unequally parcelled out amongst them; the privileged minority pocketed most, but even the great mass had, at least, a temporary share now and then. And that is the reason why, since the dying-out of Owenism, there has been no Socialism in England. With the breakdown of that monopoly, the English working-class will lose that privileged position; it will find itself generally — the privileged and leading minority not excepted — on a level with its fellow-workers abroad. And that is the reason why there will be Socialism again in England. [p.133]
It is safe to say that he was wrong as regards this last, primarily because both he and Marx underestimated the sheer size of the colonial subsidy received by Britain and later all of the colonial powers. The process by which the colonial powers, especially Britain, could mute class struggle with a pacifying standard of living did not go unnoticed by colonial subjects. Dadhabai Naoroji, co-founder of the Indian National Congress and member of Parliament, characterized the unrecompensed wealth transferred to Britain as a result of its disadvantaged colonial position as a “drain,” both physically and morally. [p.26] This “drain theory” was officially adopted as the INC’s explanation of the economic relationship existing between Britain and India. And drain it did. The authors demonstrate masterfully how Britain’s average consumption and wages rose in the period following 1850, but how India alone accounted for a great deal of the raw materials, markets and “Home Charges” as Naoroji called them (we might describe these rents, taxes, repatriated profits etc. as colonial rent) and thus the stuff from which, not just parasitic British capitalism was built, but the whole rotten structure of that society where even the workers “gaily share the feast”.
Subsequent thinkers would develop Naoroji’s “drain theory” further, a precursor to modern theories of parasitism, including Cope. One example the authors cite is the venerable Hosea Jaffe, Marxist author, teacher, activist, and a founding member of the Non-European Unity Movement in South Africa, who coined the term “hidden colonial surplus value” to describe the process by which the overdeveloped countries sap surplus labor from the underdeveloped ones. According to the authors, Jaffe, as with Cope’s work much later, shows how
Repatriated profits represent only the visible portion of the value transfers generated by foreign investment and loan capital, whilst superprofits (the extra or above average surplus-value extracted from the labour of nationally oppressed workers) represent the invisible portions retrieved through capital export imperialism, unequal exchange, and debt usury. …
…[T]he intra-imperialist rate of profit may be negative if hidden surplus-value from invisible net transfers amounts to more than net profits. In such a case, value-added (s + v) is less than wages (v), and profits derive only from the exploited nations whilst wages are subsidized by superprofits. In short, were the Third World workers involved in the production of commodities for First World markets suddenly to be remunerated at the same rate as “workers” in the latter, the entirety of profits of the world’s leading capitalist powers would be completely annihilated. [p.24] [Emphasis ours]
Naturally, the polarization between the colonial and mother-country workers made unity increasingly impossible. Chauvinism, opportunism and revanchism have since characterized the relationship of the overdeveloped-country workers with respect to the underdeveloped. [More on this in the upcoming Lenin volume] This history of the development of the parasitic arrangement between capital and labor is not merely academic, but strategic.
As we wrote in the foreword, “We do not approach this project lightly. The left, whether in the core or the periphery, gains nothing from pretending that the horizons of struggle for the masses of the oppressor and oppressed nations are the same. In fact, they stand to lose bitterly by doing so.” As we face a more and more uncertain future, with the growing cloud of imperialist war and inter-imperialist rivalry on the horizon; with the surging of popular fascist demagogues, especially in europe and north amerika, offering the populations of the overdeveloped countries their perceived pride and status back and more, we must be equipped to answer the age-old question, posed long before Mao: “Who are our enemies, who are our friends?” With the knowledge that the standard of living, regardless of how unequally it is distributed over the majority of the overdeveloped world, is the result of global plunder that continues in a more sophisticated form now than in Marx or Lenin’s time, is it wise to agitate for the division of those spoils by the working class of the overdeveloped countries uncritically? On this point the authors are clear:
Fighting for higher wages and better living conditions for First World workers is reactionary outside of the struggle against imperialism. … The increasingly respectable fascist movement promises the highest levels of parasitism for white workers, national business interests unhappy with neo-liberalism, and the petty-bourgeoisie opposed to the fiscal requirements of globalized finance capital. The denial of gigantic imperialist value transfer adds fuel to the fire of right-wing populism.” [p.52]
This little volume is not only an excellent trove of passages from Marx and Engels, but an indispensable piece for all scholars, activists and organizers who wish to confront modern capitalism-imperialism within the belly of the beast.