In response to my post of July 18 (“China and the alternative world-system”), Alan Spector has posted the following message in the Progressive and Critical Sociologist Network discussion list.
Of course the Chinese leadership and the many, many millionaires in China have not even touched, much less scratched the surface of exploitation, violence, and oppression that US imperialism has committed. But this phrase is unconvincing: “The position taken by most Cuban scholars is that Chinese foreign policy forms exploitative relations to the extent that the commercial partner accepts it.”
Which "commercial partner?" The government of Ethiopia, the few wealthy bankers who profit from that government, or the workers? Are the workers "voluntarily" accepting it? Do wage workers in Bangladesh sweatshops "voluntarily" accept their situation because they "voluntarily" show up for work rather than starve? While the rebels in Sudan some years ago were obviously supported by Western imperialism, does that mean one should ally with the extremely repressive government?
Capitalism goes through a process of development -- the twists and turns, the zigs and zags are different from place to place, but it is not just a simple "world system" of extraction and exchange. The root is exploitation. Using "nations" as the category lumps oppressors and exploiters in the poorer nations into the same category as those they oppress and disarms rebellion that is genuinely seeking to create alternatives to exploitative capitalism. Would Saddam Hussein be considered an ally of the oppressed?
The limits to the capitalist world system are indeed getting squeezed. Whether the historical pattern of capitalism's limits will be resolved by "democratic" alliances of semi-periphery forces or whether it will be resolved by inter-imperialist war is the question.
China does not use coercive measures, the threat of force or sanctions to induce governments to accept commercial agreements, and for this reason, Cuban scholars tend not to view China as an emerging imperialist power, even though some of these agreements, particularly with respect to Africa, are in opposition to the interests of workers and to the autonomy of the nation. Certainly, neocolonized nations are not truly independent, and the neocolonial situation is itself coercive; but China takes no particular aggressive action, and in this respect, it departs from the conduct of the global powers, which also have historic responsibility for the establishment of the neocolonial world-system. At the same time, China has increasingly moved toward the signing of agreements with progressive governments in Latin America that are controlled by popular sectors or a coalition of forces that include the popular sectors, agreements which have positive consequence for the people and for national development. Such cooperation by China with progressive and Left governments contrasts sharply with the hostility of the United States and Western Europe toward these governments, and for this reason, China is held in high regard by the popular movement in Latin America.
I take the notion of states as central actors in the modern world-system from the world-systems perspective of Immanuel Wallerstein, which was formulated in the 1970s on the basis of Wallerstein’s personal encounter with the African nationalist movements of the 1960s (see “Immanuel Wallerstein” 7/30/2013; “Wallerstein: A Critique” 7/31/0213; “Wallerstein and world-systems analysis” 3/25/2014). The idea makes a great deal of sense from the Third World perspective, inasmuch as states were the principal actors in the imposition of colonialism and neocolonialism; and to the extent that Third World movements have been able to reduce the effects of colonialism and neocolonialism, or to transform the colonial reality into a more democratic situation, it was accomplished by national liberation movements that took control of governments and implemented alternative policies. So in the modern world-system, states have been central actors in domination and liberation.
When we take the modern world-system as our unit of analysis and seek to understand its origin and development, we arrive at the understanding not only that nation-states are the principal actors in the world-system, but also that there is a fundamental division between colonizing and colonized nation-states (see “Overcoming the colonial denial” 7/29/2013; and “Dialectic of domination and development” 10/30/2013). And we see that this colonial divide effects the character of exploitation. In the colonial situation, the workers are not only exploited in Marx’s sense, receiving wages that are less than the value of the products that they produce; but they also are “superexploited,” receiving less than what is necessary for life (“Unequal exchange” 8/5/2013). In contrast, in the core region of the world economy, where colonizing nations are located, workers were superexploited during an earlier phase, but as the capitalist world-economy developed, the capitalist class was able to utilize profits from the exploitation of the colonies to make concessions to workers’ movements in the core, thus creating a situation in which core workers, for the most part, are exploited but not superexploited (see “The modern world-economy” 8/2/2013). The colonial divide also created a difference with respect to the characteristics of social movements. In the core, the first movements to emerge were formed by workers, artisans, and intellectuals tied to them, leading Marx to formulate the concept of the proletarian vanguard (“Marx on the revolutionary proletariat” 1/14/14). But in the colonies, the movements from the outset were formed by multiple classes seeking independence from colonial rule in addition to the protection of the social and economic rights of the people, as was illustrated in the Vietnamese Revolution (see ““Ho reformulates Lenin” 5/7/2014). These national liberation movements were able to attain political independence, but the economic function of labor in providing superexploited labor was preserved in most of the newly independent nations, creating a global neocolonial situation (see “The characteristics of neocolonialism” 9/16/2013).
Recognizing the role of the nation-state as the principal actor of the modern world-system in no sense involves overlooking class division in the colony or the neocolonized nation. Class divisions are central to the dynamics of colonies and neocolonies, and they are the principal factor in shaping the action of states. The national bourgeoisie typically is composed of an estate bourgeoisie dedicated to the export of agricultural products to the core; and an emerging national industrial bourgeoisie tied to the domestic market. Mining and banking are generally under foreign ownership, but national ownership also exists in these sectors. The popular classes include the petit bourgeoisie, industrial workers, artisans, agricultural workers, peasants, and the lumpenproletariat. During the independence struggle, the popular classes and the national bourgeoisie are allies; but when political independence is attained, their opposed interests become manifest. As the Cuban scholar Jesús Arboleya has noted, during the struggle for independence, the national bourgeoisie represents the interests of the emerging nation before the colonial power; but once independence is attained, the national bourgeoisie represents the interests of the former colonial power within the newly independent nation. In most cases, the national bourgeoisie controls the “independent” government of the neocolony, and it governs in accordance with its interests and the imperialist interests of the global powers.
These social dynamics are generally understood by Third World intellectuals tied to popular social movements. Knowledge of social dynamics is rooted in social position, and what Third World intellectuals are teaching us is the possibility of combining the vantage point of the worker and the vantage point of the colonized.
Popular revolutions in the Third World reached an earlier zenith in the 1960s, and since 1995, they have experienced renewal and have reached their most advanced stage. They seek to take control of governments and to govern in defense of the popular classes and sectors. When popular revolutions have succeeded in taking control of the state, they typically have engaged in an ideological attack against the national bourgeoisie, accusing it of betraying the nation by virtue of its complicity with imperialism. As Hugo Chávez would say of the Venezuelan bourgeoisie after the triumph of the popular revolution in Venezuela, “They were on their knees, there is no other way to say it, they were on their knees before the imperial power.”
The Third World popular revolutions are anti-imperialist revolutions, seeking to abolish neocolonialism; and they are class revolutions, seeking to dislodge the national bourgeoisie from power and to place the state under the control of delegates of the people, who are charged to govern in defense of the interests and the needs of the people. The Third World popular revolutions are at the vanguard of the global socialist revolution; they are redefining the meaning of socialism, and they are making significant contributions to the evolution of Marxist-Leninist theory and practice.
Recognizing the important role of Third World popular revolutions in constructing an alternative to the neocolonial world-system does not imply support for repressive Third World governments. Repression is normal in the neocolonial situation, for in representing the interests of the national bourgeoisie and international capital, Third World governments must repress popular movements. The great majority of repressive Third World governments have been allies of imperialism. The Third World popular revolution seeks to displace them with governments that defend popular interests and needs, and that therefore do not have need of repression. When in power, Third World popular revolutions have developed structures of popular democracy and/or representative democracy, and have succeeded in ending repression and establishing citizen participation. The global Third World popular revolution does not support Third World governments that repress popular movements, even when such governments have anti-imperialist dimensions.
Key words: Third World, revolution, colonialism, neocolonialism, imperialism, democracy, national liberation, sovereignty, self-determination, socialism, Marxism, Leninism, Cuba, Latin America, world-system, world-economy, development, underdevelopment, colonial, neocolonial, blog Third World perspective, China, world-systems perspective