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Sam King

Monopoly capital, in Lenin’s sense, involves the transfer of value from non-monopolies to monopolies, as well as among monopolies and among non-monopolies. It does not negate Marx’s theory of value as Sweezy, Amin, Shaikh and Smith all argue. Rather it applies Marx’s law of value to monopoly conditions. The amount of extra surplus value accruing to an individual monopoly capital (i.e. that above the average rate) is determined by the degree of monopoly that capital possesses. The degree of monopoly is fundamentally determined, in the most important spheres, by the degree of domination in the labour process. Therefore, the degree of appropriation of other capital’s surplus value is determined in the labour process also. Hence there is a clear parallel between monopoly competition and the way Marx showed that capital can gain above-average profit in pre-monopoly conditions – by its superior labour productivity.

in Imperialism and the development myth
Sam King

Neoliberal monopoly-dominated ‘free trade’ represented a more advanced form of domination and exploitation compared with earlier eras. Many of the most profitable corporations specialised in particular labour processes within an overall world division of labour. Almost all specialised in one type of labour: sophisticated labour. While the separation of capital into monopoly and non-monopoly groupings predates the neoliberal period, during it, production processes were more vigorously divided into two opposite labour types – what we might call ‘ordinary’ and ‘sophisticated’ labour. Independent firms were tasked with carrying out separate stages of the production process even for a single product, sometimes thousands of kilometres apart. The two types of labour stand in contrast to each other technically and, flowing from this, in terms of the income they can generate. Simple labour processes are more easily replicable, while sophisticated labour is far less so. Simple labour processes therefore cannot, by definition, be monopolised as such. Sophisticated labour, also by definition, always possesses a monopolistic characteristic, as such, to one degree or another. Non-monopoly firms are assigned, or left to compete for, simple and well-known labour processes. Through these they can gain only non-monopoly profits. The monopolies control high-end, specialised and scientific labour. On this basis they can gain the high, monopoly profits that investment in such labour processes also demands.

in Imperialism and the development myth
Sam King

Polarisation of labour processes and profit rates in the ‘neoliberal period’ occurred between monopoly capitals (which dominate sophisticated labour processes) and non-monopoly capitals (which carry out ‘ordinary’ labour). It is only the sophisticated labour and production processes that can form a sustainable basis for high, monopoly profits. This division of labour also corresponds to the division between rich and poor societies. The rich, imperialist countries are the base of operations for the monopoly corporations while the poor countries produce corporations that are restricted to the ‘domination’ of only ordinary labour processes. Hence, they can and do increase their production without ever thereby catching up. This division of labour has meant that in the neoliberal period, Third World societies massively increased their share of the world’s work but suffered massive terms of trade losses and achieved only a very modest increase in their share of world income. By contrast, the period was highly lucrative for the rich, imperialist countries.

in Imperialism and the development myth
Sam King

Third World capital can sometimes win in competition with imperialist capital for the production of simple commodities. To the extent a commodity is labour intensive and can be produced using ordinary labour, it will be more competitive to produce it in the Third World where such labour is cheap and abundant. On this basis we can see the emergence of a small number of large Third World corporations that dominate specific segments of the production process. Yet such production cannot achieve a high, monopoly profit as it can be achieved by many competing Third World producers. Low Third World profits and wages become the determinant around which prices are set for commodities produced in this way. Analysis of the largest corporations in the world as listed on both the Fortune and Forbes databases shows that almost no large Third World corporations are competitive with imperialist-based corporations in the most lucrative areas of the world economy. An overwhelming majority of Third World corporations listed are national, not global monopolies. The far smaller number of Third World global corporations are almost all concentrated into low-end and low-margin economic sectors, or they exist within sectors that are dominated overall by First World companies. As a result, Third World corporations, on average, have far lower gross profits, return on assets and market capitalisation.

in Imperialism and the development myth
Sam King

The creation at one pole of the labour process of simple processes (whether carried out by humans or machines) requires, at the other pole, the design, development, control, maintenance and management of these same processes. On the one side, we have ordinary, bulk processes, and on the other, sophisticated labour. The extent to which the ordinary bulk process will be carried out by humans or machine is determined by competition between the two – something greatly affected by the price of labour. That competition, in final analysis, is really competition between ordinary labour and the sophisticated labour that brings machines into being. In the post-war period Third World labour tended to be relatively excluded from the global labour process as the imperialist countries invested in semi-automated production. In the ‘neoliberal’ period the reverse tendency occurred as ‘hyper-globalisation’ sought to super-exploit abundant cheap labour. Over the last several years, the world economy has again started to reset as the super-abundant global cheap labour supply in China, Eastern Europe and elsewhere started to dry up. What seems likely to determine the extent and contours of globalisation into the future is not technology. Both tendencies require technology, though in different areas. Where imperialist states and corporations choose to invest is what determines what types of technology will be developed.

in Imperialism and the development myth
Sam King

Historically, industrialisation has been seen as a virtual definition of development in both bourgeois and Marxist literature. During the neoliberal period, China and other Third World states rapidly expanded the local presence of certain industries and aspects of industries that had historically been central to imperialist monopoly – such as coal, steel and autos – leading many Marxists to believe that China is dislodging imperialist economic power. However, it is necessary, with Marx, to distinguish first between manufacturing and assembly, on the one hand, and from true industrial production, on the other. Further, industrialisation in the modern era is no longer limited to the production process alone – something long anticipated by Marx. Today ‘services’, logistics, data analysis, the organisation of work and all manner of professional labour are increasingly subject to both mechanisation and scientific organisation. That is to say, these too are being industrialised. In this context, even if it were the case that certain historical industries, such as certain standard manufacturing, came to be dominated by the poor countries, this would not signal imperial decline any more than it is signified by the shift of the centre of textile manufacture from Manchester to Bangladesh and China.

in Imperialism and the development myth
Sam King

One typical feature of the contemporary world economy is the growing importance of state support to private capital – particularly for large corporations. Contemporary Marxist writing tends to overlook state support given in the production process itself, instead emphasising fiscal and financial support, state repression and state military roles or its legal and regulatory functions. The state’s role is too often separated from the labour process itself. Yet, the modern state plays an indispensable leadership role in both the reproduction of labour power and what Marx called a ‘revolutionising of the means of production’. Imperialist states, and especially the United States, are the driving force of technological change. The US Department of Defense and Department of Energy in particular have been largely responsible for the basic technologies used to revolutionise the production process after the Second World War and into the digital age. State support is also crucial for the largest Third World capitalist firms. This is particularly so in the most developed Third World societies. The ideal Third World state – from the point of view of the imperialist countries and their monopoly firms – aims not to organise and subsidise the development of new competitors, but to actively facilitate the penetration of foreign direct investment and to promote complementary forms of economic development and production within its territory. That is to say, production that uses its competitive advantages, principally cheap labour. In the most developed Third World societies this also involves direct state involvement in creating the conditions for production – albeit at a lower technical level than in the rich countries.

in Imperialism and the development myth
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the reproduction of highest labour power
Sam King

The rapid pace of technical change means that technical superiority in any given labour processes is an inadequate basis for long-term economic domination over competitors. Over time, every process becomes more commonplace and ceases to be advanced in relation to competing producers. Reproduction of dominance by any given section of capital requires constant involvement in innovation of new technology through the systematic organisation and acceleration of research and development. In this context, competition between capitalist firms tends to shift from the sphere of production to the sphere of research, development and other preparation of the conditions for production. The highest and most important of these conditions is the development of the labour force and especially of highly skilled labour of all types. In Late Capitalism, Mandel observed that, in the conditions of modern imperialism, competition between countries moves tendentially from the sphere of production to the sphere of social reproduction. However, Third World societies experienced colonial subjugation and continue to be excluded from the benefits of humanity’s common social development. Where a given society’s level of development is not equal to the rich, imperialist countries, that society is forced into a process of production and reproduction on a qualitatively lower level than the imperialist states and cannot compete with them. This inequality is reinforced because national development and the development of advanced science can never be adequately built upon a productive foundation specialising in the simple labour processes assigned to Third World countries within the contemporary global division of labour.

in Imperialism and the development myth
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Third World capitalism par excellence
Sam King

Modern growth of Chinese capitalism has acquired an unprecedented economic importance with vast social implications. Its degree of success or failure in bringing social progress to Chinese people is central to assessing the prospects for capitalist development across the Third World more broadly and also for understanding the trajectory of the world economic system. Recent growth of research and development in China appears to indicate a move into higher technology production. However, quantitative growth of research and development does not tell us much about its quality or type. In China there is far more ‘development’ going on than basic research of new productive technologies. Development of existing techniques makes China a competitive place to locate many production processes, but it does not threaten the monopoly of the rich, imperialist countries over high-technology production. China is also commonly viewed as a financial power in part due to the large size of its state-held foreign currency reserves. However, closer examination of Chinese reserves and how these are invested, shows many of the weaknesses not strengths of Chinese capitalism. What explains the long economic boom, lasting several decades, in China is not that China is a rising challenge to the dominance of the rich countries. Rather, China has ascended from the position of one of the poorest Third World countries, at least in terms of dollar income, to a productive and income level comparable to other relatively developed Third World societies such as Mexico and Brazil.

in Imperialism and the development myth
Sam King

The existence of economic, political or military conflict between the United States and China is believed to indicate that China is a rising threat to US domination. However, the United States and other rich countries historically have engaged in the most belligerent conflicts and warmongering with many Third World societies, including those far weaker than contemporary China. The ‘trade war’, which is an economic attack on China by US imperialism, aims to secure and strengthen imperialist claims to value brought into the world economy by Chinese labour. The battle is not over which country will be dominant but the degree to which the United States and other rich countries can continue to exploit China. China’s rapid economic development over the last several decades has changed the conditions of this exploitation, and forced the rich, imperialist countries to adjust their posture. Chinese policies such as the Belt and Road Initiative or its military posture do not represent serious or credible threats to the dominance of the rich countries. Rather, the idea that they do originates as a justification for imperialist attacks on China.

in Imperialism and the development myth