The Imperialism study group has been discussing John Smith’s Imperialism in the Twenty-First Century: Globalization, Super-Exploitation, and Capitalism’s Final Crisis. We have been fortunate to have the author join the group and lead the discussion. Below are two email discussions on the labour aristocracy from John Smith and Walter Daum.
John Smith on labour aristocracy
Guglielmo Carchedi, Behind the Crisis (2012), p262:
“Some authors see a contraposition between the notion of labour-aristocracy as an internal segmentation within the imperialist countries (for example, unionised versus non-unionised workers, as stressed by Engels) and a different notion stressing, as in Lenin, that in a way all workers in the imperialist countries beneﬁt from the appropriation of international value. But there is no contraposition between the two theses, once it is realised that it is not those firms that appropriate international surplus-value that pay higher wages than other ﬁrms. They simply realise higher proﬁts. Rather, the policy of higher wages is pursued by the states in the imperialist countries which appropriate (part of) that international surplus-value from those ﬁrms (for example, through taxation) and pursue pro-labour economic policies, as for example more favourable labour- (and wage-) legislation or infrastructures. Thus, it is the whole of the working class in the imperialist countries that profits from the appropriation of international surplus-value and not only privileged and relatively small sections of it. At the same time, it is also true that labour in the imperialist countries profits in various degrees from the appropriation of international surplus-value according to each imperialist country’s class-segmentation and differently in various phases of the cycle.”
This contains some very interesting insights. Among the many discussion points here, the most important concerns the role of the state. In defending my book against the arguments of Sartesian and others, I pointed out that, despite the anti-labour offensive and attempts to roll back the state characteristic of the neoliberal era, despite the austerity regimes since the 2008 that have attempted to intensify these attacks, and despite the big holes made in the welfare state and the impoverishment and destitution of a minority, so far, of workers in the imperialist countries, Government spending on health, education & transfer payments (pensions, unemployment pay etc) rose from around 25% in 1980 to 35% in 2010 in the UK, in the US by the same degree from a lower base, while in France it has increased from 35% to 45%. Similar increases are to be observed in all other imperialist countries; data for oppressed nations is far more patchy but indicates that social expenditure consumes a much smaller fraction of a much smaller GDP. As Tony Norfield argued in The China Price and as I argued in my book, much of this social expenditure is paid for by surplus-value extracted from super-exploited Bangladeshi etc workers and appropriated by imperialist states through various types of taxes.
Bangladeshi garment workers demonstrate at the site of the Rana Plaza garment factory building collapse
At a well-attended book launch last week in Nottingham (more than 50 people attended), when I mentioned this and said that, when we hear people argue “why should we let immigrants use our health service or send their kids to ‘our’ schools,” the correct and true response should be “because they have already paid for it,” and pointed out that this is not what any section of the British left says, from Corbyn to the so-called revolutionaries – I noticed many heads in the audience nodding their agreement. (more…)