Archive for the ‘Economics’ Category

global_perspectiverThe following interview was first published in English on leftwingbooks.net, see here.

This is the English version of an interview with Torkil Lauesen that Gabriel Kuhn conducted for the German daily junge Welt. Torkil Lauesen is a Danish anti-imperialist whose book The Global Perspective: Reflections on Imperialism and Resistance has recently been published by Kersplebedeb. In 1991, Lauesen was sentenced to ten years in prison for his involvement in the so-called Blekingegade Group whose activities have been featured in the PM/Kersplebedeb release Turning Money into Rebellion: The Unlikely Story of Denmark’s Revolutionary Bank Robbers. (The book can be bought here)

In 1991, you were sentenced to ten years in prison because of your antiimperialist activities. Now, 25 years later, you have written a book titled The Global Perspective: Reflections on Imperialism and Resistance. Has nothing changed?

Everything has changed in order to stay the same: The industrialization of the Global South and the global chains of production have intensified imperialism. Superprofits for capital have increased, while the prices for consumer goods in the Global North have decreased. U.S. hegemony has declined. We now live in a multipolar world with new powers emerging. So-called real socialism no longer exists, and national liberation movements have all but disappeared.

At the end of the 1980s, antiimperialism pretty much vanished from the left’s radar. Why?

National liberation struggles in the Global South subsided and neoliberalism ushered in a golden capitalist era. Furthermore, the talk about globalization concealed the ongoing reality of imperialism.

Was there no globalization?

Of course there have been drastic changes in capitalism in the last thirty years: innovations in transport and communications have altered the entire system of production and distribution. But very few have people have analyzed this in the context of the imperialist order. This is particularly odd considering the fact that globalization has made the imperialist system stronger, not weaker.

Did the so-called anti-globalization movement lack an understanding of imperialism?

The term “anti-globalization movement” is misleading. People were against a globalization from above. They had a global perspective, challenged dominant power structures, and brought socialist ideas back into political debate. But it is true that imperialism was largely absent from their analysis. This also meant that the movement wasn’t particularly radical. In the worst cases, it fueled reactionary tendencies: demands for strong nation states, an affinity with conservative factions of capital, and so on.

Is there an antiimperialist comeback today?

There is certainly renewed interest in antiimperialism. One only has to look at recent book releases, or at the articles published by Marxist journals such as Monthly Review.

Would your book have received less attention ten years ago?

It would not have been published.

How so?

There was no interest.

What has changed?

The transformations in capitalism have made global injustice blatantly obvious. In the Global North, we have become reliant on goods from the Global South: the electronics we use, the clothes we wear, the fruits we eat, the furniture we buy at IKEA – everything is produced under conditions that no one here would condone yet everyone is aware of. So it is not surprising that people take more interest in these matters again, also at an analytical level.

What are the biggest differences between the “old” and the “new” antiimperialism?

National liberation is no longer at the center. The new antiimperialism is primarily anticapitalist. Global production has strengthened the productive forces in the Global South. There are millions of new proletarians. This opens up new possibilities.

The Marxist groups you were organized in during the 1970s and 80s talked much about the First World’s “labor aristocracy,” and about how the working classes of the imperialist nations could not be considered revolutionary. Do you hold on to this perspective?

Yes, and I think the developments of the last 50 years have proven us right. Look at housing and the pension system, for example. The wage levels in the Global North in connection with neoliberal taxation, finance capitalism, and the development of the real estate market meant that substantial sections of the working classes have invested their incomes into buying homes. They have sometimes made more money from owning real estate than from their wages. Meanwhile, their pensions have become linked to financial capital by pension funds, which are invested in stocks and bonds. In other words, the well-being of workers in the Global North is directly linked to the well-being of capitalism. They have much more to lose than their chains.

The differences in wages and living standards between the Global North and the Global South remain staggering. The low prices we pay for our smartphones, sneakers, and chocolate bars are directly related to the low wages paid to the people producing them. If labor aristocracy sounds outdated, let’s speak of a consumer aristocracy.

Don’t people in the Global South profit from this development? There are more jobs – and wages are rising, too, if slowly. Everyone talks about the “new middle classes.”

The world is no longer divided into rich countries that produce and poor countries that provide raw materials. There have been shifts, no doubt, and certain classes in the Global South have profited as well. But make no mistake: we are not witnessing the former colonies finally catching up with the industrialized countries,as some suggest.

Why not?

Because imperialism requires a periphery. Someone needs to be exploited. The boundaries between the exploiters and the exploited may shift, but not everyone can belong to the exploiters. The system doesn’t work that way.

But if the boundaries between rich and poor countries have become less clear, does it still make sense to focus on the divide between the Global North and the Global South? Don’t we instead need a global class analysis in order to understand the dynamics between the exploiters and the exploited?

There is nothing wrong with a global class analysis. But we must not exaggerate the blurring of boundaries. The boundaries are still there. In most countries of the Global South, the so-called new middle class makes up less than ten percent of the population – in many countries, far less. In the Global North, more than ninety percent of the population belong to the consumer aristocracy. There is a new underclass in the Global North, yes, but it remains relatively small. Someone living off welfare in Denmark remains in many ways privileged over industrial workers in the Global South. The modern welfare state has institutionalized the consumer aristocracy, providing education, health care, and pensions. There is no equivalent in the Global South.

A 1983 book published by a Marxist group you belonged to included a chapter with the title “What Can Communists in the Imperialist Countries Do?”. What’s your answer today?

We are a minority, but an important minority. The priority must be to support antiimperialist forces in the Global South; forces that have a radical anticapitalist profile and a popular base. These can be revolutionary political organizations, labor movements, or the remnants of the national liberation struggles in Palestine, Kurdistan, Western Sahara, and elsewhere. We must support these forces materially, practically, and politically. Solidarity means action and must be concrete. But it must also include analysis and the development of strategy.

Another important aspect is to make the imperialist hinterland less safe. We must oppose political and military interventions in the Global South. We must also fight racism and demand citizenship for refugees and migrants. We must support the free movement of people across borders. Solidarity is not based on citizenship but on class.

Finally, we need to develop viable forms of organization, practical skills, knowledge, and tactics for the struggles that lie ahead. We must think strategically: this means to think several years ahead, not just until the next election. This implies, of course, that we must be prepared for the repression we will face by an increasingly authoritarian state.

What role does the state play in the coming struggles?

Antiimperialist politics cannot be advanced without engaging with the state in some way. The state defines the political reality we live in. But seizing state power should not be the focus of our activities. Socialism in one country is impossible. The nation state is the champion of the political right, which ties in with its nationalist, racist, and chauvinist orientation.

It is also wrong to portray the welfare state as a bulwark against capitalism. The European welfare state cannot exist without imperialism; anyone who believes so denies the realities of the global accumulation of capital. What, for example, would an independent economy of a country in the Global North look like? Who would produce all the things that people have become dependent on? How many people in the Global North are still involved in industrial production? Most work in the service industry, in design, in advertising – in jobs that are dependent on other people producing what they consume.

There is nothing wrong with welfare. The problem is that the capitalist welfare state rests on imperialism, and that a global capitalist welfare state is impossible. Welfare for all requires a fundamental change of the system.

Can strong nation states in the Global South not help undermine the imperialist system?

This idea relates to the notion of delinking. There are reasons why China has given up such policies. The economic options of countries in the Global South are determined by global capitalism, whether their governments like it or not. Attempts to delink as an individual country can be very costly, economically and politically. This does not make the concept false, but it must not be reduced to the independence of an individual nation state. Globalization has made new forms of delinking possible, first and foremost in the form of South-South collaboration.

What are the most important struggles in the Global South today?

If we consider the long term, the workers’ and peasants’ struggles in China are of vital importance. For the first time in the history of capitalism, a peripheral state has moved to the center of global production, which makes the future very uncertain. And we must always keep an eye on the Middle East. It is no coincidence that the region has been highly contested for fifty years. It is very important for imperialism; not only because of the oil, but also because of its strategic position: this is where the West meets the East and the North meets the South.

Which are the political forces we need to support?

In China, it is the political left, that means both the left factions of the Communist Party, left-wing intellectuals, and the workers’ movement. In the Middle East, it is more difficult to say, since everything is so chaotic, and left-wing forces have become very weak.

What about Kurdistan?

The Kurds fighting in Turkey and Syria are certainly progressive forces. But they are not a major player in the region. They rely on allies, which implies great dangers. The big players in the region remain the imperialist powers, and they can easily turn their allies into pawns. To follow the logic that my enemy’s enemy is my friend might be inevitable under certain circumstances, but it never delivers longterm results. At the same time, it is easy to insist on a correct political line from a safe distance; if you are active on the ground, things can look very different.

The PKK and its affiliates now pursue an antiimperialism that is no longer based on an independent nation state. Does this set an example?

It’s tricky. What is the state? Don’t even progressive Kurds build state-like structures in the territories they control? But, yes, they are pursuing a new strategy, and this is interesting. It puts particular pressure on the governments controlling Kurdish territories, as they can no longer simply go after “separatists,” which has always been an excuse for repression. The situation in Chiapas is similar: the Zapatistas do not define self-determination by demanding an independent nation state but by exercising power differently. There are important lessons to be learned here.

Is it realistic to expect the demise of imperialism?

We tend to forget that capitalism is a historical system. Like other historical systems, it has a beginning and an end. To solve its internal contradictions, it must expand, that means that it must destroy pre-capitalist and non-capitalist modes of production, recruit new proletarians, and open up new markets. All of this requires a periphery. But the periphery cannot expand without end. Countries like China, India, and Brazil have no periphery substantial enough to support welfare capitalism. Therefore, the system is reaching an impasse.

How troubled are the ruling classes?

Capital is divided in its response to the current crisis. Some factions want to continue on the path of neoliberal globalization. Others want to return to a nation-based accumulation of capital with authoritarian rule and warfare to secure imperialist exploitation. And some focus exclusively on financial speculation. Capitalism will not survive this century, maybe not even the year 2050.

That’s 30 years from now…

The coming years will be nothing short of dramatic. There will be uprisings in response to severe economic depression. There will be widespread unrest because of ecological devastation. And there might be revolutionary struggles as a consequence of inter-imperialist wars.

We are at a historical threshold. A new world order will emerge from brutal conflicts between progressive and reactionary forces. The stakes are high. Will the system self-destruct and take the whole world down with it? Will it revamp itself in the form of a global apartheid system? Or will it be replaced by socialism?

The development of the productive forces in the Global South provides them with much power. If they throw a monkey wrench in the global chains of production the imperialist countries will get hurt. The industrialization of the Global South has created a much more promising base for the development of socialism than the national liberation struggles did. There is no reason to be pessimistic. We need to start to organize and prepare for the changes to come.

(July 2018)

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Every week the French revolutionary organisation Lutte Ouvriere produces workplace bulletins at hundreds of workplaces all over France where they have members and supporters.  The bulletins deal with issues in those particular workplaces along with an editorial that goes into all the bulletins and deals with national or international issues.  Below is the editorial from the bulletins of June 25.

The Lifeline is a refugee rescue ship, like the Aquarius. Outfitted by a German non-governmental organization, it is stranded at sea off the coast of Libya with 230 migrants on board because the Italian and Maltese governments deny them the right to dock. France, which is so used to lecturing other governments, is refusing them too. Once more we are witnessing the terrible predicament of women, men and children hopelessly knocking on Europe’s doors, after having been through hell.

In Italy, the far-right Minister of Internal Affairs, Salvini, is using this affair to make a show of his intransigence. He has already made proposals worthy of the racist laws adopted under Mussolini, for example a law that would oblige all Roma people to be registered.

In France, Minister of Internal Affairs Collomb speaks the same language as far-right politicians. He claims that France is under the threat of “being submerged”. And he boasts of his recent decisions making it harder for refugees to be eligible for asylum status and increasing the number of expulsions.

Asylum seekers wander from one (more…)

Striking workers blockade a major road leading into centre of Buenos Aires, June 25. Photo: Jorge Saenz

 

by Robert Belano

A general strike across Argentina brought major industries and transportation to a halt on Monday. The major union bureaucracies — the CGT and the CTA — called for the strike but refused to mobilize workers in the streets. However, the far left parties and the most combative unions organized rallies and roadblocks in various cities. It is the third general strike that has been organized against the Macri government since the right-wing president assumed office in 2015.

Left organizations — in particular, those which compose the Left and Workers’ Front — blocked various bridges and access points to the capital city of Buenos Aires as well as cities in the interior of the country like Cordoba and Rosario. Throughout the capital, not a single bus, train or subway line was running. More than 600 flights in and out of the country were canceled. Schools, banks, ports and thousands of businesses were shuttered.

The workers’ primary demand is for an immediate increase in their salaries at least equal to the inflation rate. Inflation has surpassed 27 percent in the past year while the government is proposing salary increases of only between 15-20 percent for this year, meaning that even after the proposed increases, workers would experience a major decrease in real wages and their standard of living.

This skyrocketing inflation is compounded by the major hikes in utility bills that have been imposed since (more…)

Many useful articles have been written about the recent demonetisation, perhaps the most discussed economic event in India in recent times. The entire discussion has brought to the fore many aspects of India’s economy. Among them is an important theme that we have emphasized in earlier issues of Aspects: Namely, the gulf between different sectors of the economy. This gulf has economic and political implications.

This gulf can be seen in many measures, which are expressions of a single reality: the gap between the income of the ‘informal’ (‘unorganised’) and ‘formal’ (‘organised’) sectors; between rural areas and urban areas; between the sectors producing commodities (agriculture, manufacturing) and the services sector; between income-poor regions which are rich in natural resources and other regions where income is concentrated.

The gulf is also within each sector, between the activities which make up most of the employment, and the activities which have most of the income. For instance, what is termed the ‘services sector’ encompasses both the courier delivery man and the captains of the financial world; ‘urban areas’ include the most miserable squalor and the most obscene wealth; mining regions are the homes of destitute tribals as well as the fiefdoms of mining barons. Thus when we talk of any of these categories or regions we need to be clear which sections and activities we are discussing.

The perverse course of ‘development’ being pursued by the economy, far from narrowing this gulf, keeps reproducing it and expanding it, by transferring not only surpluses but even, increasingly, natural assets (which are not reproducible) from the informal sector to the formal sector. This process substantially explains the dramatic growth of inequality in recent years.

While the current policies are touted as ‘formalising’ the economy, in fact thoroughgoing formalisation (which critically involves formalising employment and its terms) is not on the cards. Instead, policy measures that, within the existing framework, increase the share of formal sector firms (corporations) in the economy actually increase the incomes of the cream of the formal economy, without increasing employment in that sector. At the same time, they depress the incomes and employment of the vast majority in the informal sector. Thus we find that:

(i) the share of the organised sector in national income (GDP) has risen from about one-third in the 1980s to well over half today; but

(ii) within that organised sector GDP, the share of workers’ wages has collapsed, causing the share of profits to rise correspondingly;

(iii) more than half the workers in the organised sector are now informal workers (contract, casual, etc); and

(iv) the unorganised sector still accounts for the overwhelming majority of jobs – i.e., a growing number of workers in this sector have to share a shrinking percentage of national income.

The entire discussion on this question betrays how (i) the very methodology of estimating GDP disregards or discards the (more…)

It’s easy to have woman working and stay at home dad when the woman is being paid over $470,000 a year; but what about poor families?

by Don Franks

NZ prime minister Jacinda Ardern’s bearing of a baby while in office has understandably launched many words.

Michelle Duff writing in the NZ Herald enthused: “When her partner Clarke Gayford is excited about being a stay at home dad, it’s equally inspirational.

“It sets a precedent.  It normalises powerful women and nurturing, caring men.  It decimates outdated ideals of where a mother ‘should’ be – at home, with the children, while dad earns the money.  It smashes those boring boxes and makes room for new shapes, new ways we can all live our lives.

“It creates a conversation about (more…)

A number of participants in the Imperialism study/discussion group initiated by Redline have been involved in debating David Harvey’s view of imperialism recently through the Review of African Political Economy.

Thanks to Walter Daum for sending us the links.  We have very much valued discussing imperialism with him, John Smith and Andy Higginbottom as well as Tony Norfield and other folks involved in the study/discussion group.

So much of the left in the imperialist world downplays the question of imperialism or reduces it to military invasions such as the Gulf Wars, Afghanistan etc.  The political economy of imperialism, including the role it plays in shaping the material position, experience and political consciousness of workers in the First World often tends to be overlooked or even denied.

David Harvey Denies Imperialism
by John Smith
January 10, 2018
 
Realities on the Ground: David Harvey replies to John Smith
by David Harvey
February 5, 2018
 
Imperialist Realities vs. the Myths of David Harvey
by John Smith
March 19, 2018
 
Dissolving Empire: David Harvey, John Smith, and the Migrant
by Adam Mayer
April 10, 2018
 
Towards a Broader Theory of Imperialism
by Patrick Bond
April 18, 2018
 
Is Imperialism Still Imperialist? A Response to Patrick Bond 
by Walter Daum 
May 16, 2018
 
A Self-Enriching Pact: Imperialism and the Global South
by Andy Higginbottom
June 19, 2018

This year is Marx’s bicentennial.  He was born in 1818 (May 5).  And March 14 was the 135th anniversary of his death.

This year is also the 170th anniversary of the Communist Manifesto.

Below are some of the pieces we have run on Redline about Marx’s ideas, including pieces which showing their continuing relevance to understanding the world as it is and as it could be.

What is Marxism?

What is exploitation?

How capitalism works – and why it doesn’t

Two articles on Wages, prices & lies and capitalist crisis

4,000 words on Capital

Karl Korsch on “tremendous and enduring” impact of Marx’s Capital (1932)

Engels on Marx on the Working Day

Marx’s critique of classical political economy

Capital, the working class and Marx’s critique of political economy

Capital and the state

How capitalist ideology works

Pilling’s Marx’s Capital: philosophy, dialectics and political economy

How capitalism under-develops the world

The political economy of low-wage labour 

Whatever happened to the leisure society?

Pensions and the retirement age – the problem is capitalism, not an aging population

A nightmare in whiteware: the ‘teamwork’ system, exploitation and alienation

Value, price and the ‘transformation problem’ in Marx’s Capital

The transformation problem and Marx’s crisis theory

Productive and unproductive labour in capitalist society

The use-value of Marx’s value theory