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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
The starting point for Chinese technological development is essentially the same as for any other Third World society – relative scientific underdevelopment in most areas compared to the rich, imperialist countries. Lack of basic research and scientific knowledge (at least outside of the military sphere) is proving to be an insurmountable obstacle to Chinese attempts to upgrade the technological level of its production processes. Even designated priority areas, such as the Chinese-built midsize passenger airliner, the C919, demonstrate the extreme limitations and dependency of Chinese high-technology production. The so-called trade war has also shone a light on severe Chinese weakness in what is perhaps the key strategic technology today – microchips. While China produces some microchips domestically, these are not the high-end chips needed to manufacture advanced products, such as Huawei’s top-shelf phones or top-of-the-line 5G telecommunications infrastructure. The trade war has further uncovered China’s inability to respond to US aggression with any technology bans of its own – as might be expected if China were the rising technological power house that so many commentators appear to believe. The historical transition from British hegemony to German power and then US hegemony was associated with the independent development in those countries of revolutionary new technological advances. There appears to be no such technological leadership associated with contemporary China despite for several decades now being the largest producer of and market for many important goods and services.
The substantial posse of Marxist writers and academic specialists who have for decades declared Lenin’s Imperialism as wrong and antiquated could be expected to have unearthed and popularised countless errors and misjudgements from the book. Yet no such list appears to exist. In place of one, various caricatures of ideas that do not actually appear in Lenin’s book Imperialism: The Highest Stage of Capitalism keep getting repeated. Two common caricatures are that Lenin viewed colonialism as a necessary form of imperialist domination and that Imperialism is overly fixated on the ‘export of capital’ (that is, foreign investment). The first is supposed to show that Lenin’s work is irrelevant now that colonialism is over. The second was supposed to show the same. Even though foreign investment has now bounced back, the label still sticks. However, Lenin emphatically rejected the idea that export of capital is the central question in understanding imperialism. This is evident both from the text of Imperialism itself and also from arguments Lenin made in the Bolshevik party and elsewhere about how to understand imperialism. Similarly, Lenin explicitly argues both in Imperialism and elsewhere – such as against Bukharin – that colonialism is not a necessary feature of imperialist domination. On this question Lenin makes a whole series of insightful observations on national independence, national struggle and anti-colonialism that were later proven correct by the national liberation movements and political independence after the Second World War.
The Basque militant organisation Euskadi Ta Askatasuna (Basque Country and Freedom, ETA) emerged in Franco’s Spain in the late 1950s. Since embracing armed struggle in 1968, ETA has been a thorn in the side of the Spanish state. The Basque group entered the Spanish national consciousness on 20 December 1973 with the spectacular assassination of Admiral Carrero Blanco, the designated political heir of Francisco Franco. Since then and despite the democratic political transition following the death of Franco in 1975, ETA has carried on its violent campaigns across Spain. Furthermore, the organisation’s seemingly endless ability to regenerate itself in the face of ongoing police repression has contributed to the production of a performative representation of ETA as one of Western Europe’s most virulent clandestine movements. This chapter reflects upon how such representations of ETA as the arch-enemy, whose simple existence endangers the nature of Spain and its democratic future, could have unleashed the desire for agencies of a democratic State to imitate ETA’s unlawful violence and enact an extra-judicial campaign of assassination against ETA.
Despite US nuclear weapons being deployed on its territory for most of the Cold War, and notwithstanding a close military relationship with the US, South Korea has frequently been anxious about the risk of alliance abandonment. Only with the advent of deeper institutional alliance networks at the political level over the past twenty years has Seoul become more reassured of US extended nuclear deterrence. Confronting a nuclear-armed North Korea with which it is still technically at war, South Korea places strong value on the US nuclear umbrella and has successfully negotiated a more structured dialogue on extended nuclear deterrence at the operational level.