Our first meeting, and discussions both before and after it, dealt essentially with the economic aspects of Lenin’s analysis of imperialism. We looked at the question of super-exploitation and super-profits and a bit at the rise of monopolies. We subsequently moved on to examine the political aspects of Lenin’s analysis, with a meeting that largely revolved around the division of the world into oppressed and oppressor countries and what impact super-profits had in terms of the working class in the imperialist centres.
Marx and Engels, for instance, had identified a labour aristocracy in Britain, comprised of skilled upper layers of the working class. Lenin also wrote about the labour aristocracy but an issue which had arisen since is whether modern technology has made jobs in the imperialist centres much more vulnerable and sections of what Marx, Engels and Lenin had identified as labour aristocrats really existed any more. Are we primarily talking about a much more narrow group – eg the labour bureaucracy – rather than a more significant labour aristocracy?
On the other hand, proletarianisation in the Third World and the existence of what is sometimes called ‘the China price’ has cushioned life for the working class in the imperialist centres. Thus, one participant argued that the working class as a whole in the imperialist centres occupies a privileged position – workers in Third World countries, for instance, simply don’t have social welfare or anything like the conditions of existence of workers in the imperialist centres, despite producing massive amounts of surplus-value. Moreover, a majority of the working class is now in the Third World and perhaps it is they who hold the key to the world revolutionary process.
Several study group members thought this was an overly pessimistic view that meant suggesting workers in the West could not really function politically as an insurgent class and social agent and that we are dealing with something more like a labour aristocracy than a working class which, as a whole section of society, benefits from what is essentially the plunder of surplus-value from the Third World.
But what does this imply for Marxists in the First World?
The next meeting of the group is being attended by John Smith, author of Imperialism in the twenty-first century, so we’ll be continuing this particular discussion no doubt.