Abstract only
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
Abstract only
Sam King

The neoliberal period reconfirmed global polarisation between rich and poor societies. It made the central mechanism of Third World exploitation explicit – unequal exchange in trade. Hence, it has been possible to arrive at a simple and empirically verifiable outline of the economic foundation of contemporary imperialism. Marxists long contended there is no satisfactory application of Marx’s law of value to the international economy, nor a contemporary Marxist theory of imperialism. Few imagined what the neoliberal period proved: the resolution of both theoretical problems lay in the fusion of Marx’s law of value with Lenin’s theory of monopoly finance capital. The resulting concept of non-monopoly capital and elaboration of its role and relationship to monopoly capital flows from Lenin’s work. As capitalist property, monopolies ultimately rely on commodity production for the market and hence can never create a world where all production is monopolised. In the neoliberal period non-monopoly capitalist production was expanded, integrated into the global division of labour and drawn into a world market dominated by the monopolies. Differentiating between monopoly and non-monopoly is superior to other explanations of global polarisation because it simultaneously explains the forms of development of production in the Third World, the different dynamic in the imperialist world and the relationship between the two poles. That is, it characterises Third World and imperialist economies with reference to the inner life of their own societies. At the same time it explains the conditioning of those economies and societies by their situation in imperialist capitalism as whole.

in Imperialism and the development myth
Sam King
in Imperialism and the development myth
Sam King

Influential Marxist work written inside the rich, imperialist countries this century either ignores the enormous and growing global polarisation between rich and poor countries or acknowledges it only weakly and partially. No major work adequately explains how this fundamental global social divide is maintained and reproduced. Harvey’s theoretical framework of ‘accumulation by dispossession’ allowed him to move from The New Imperialism (2003) to arguing by 2014 that there is no imperialism. The Monthly Review tendency, by contrast, argues that imperialism and the global rich–poor divide is a centrally important problem. However, contemporary Monthly Review writers such as Bellamy Foster cannot demonstrate how this situation is maintained – that is, how the imperialist countries maintain their dominance. Researchers influenced by world-systems theory have developed empirical evidence about how contemporary imperialist economic domination works. This contributed to an upturn in new Marxist work from around 2011attempting to explain the global divide. Among the most important, and most ambitious of these works is John Smith’s Imperialism in the Twenty First Century (2016). Smith’s explanation of how surplus value is transferred from poor to rich countries is shown to repeat core arguments of Arghiri Emmanuel’s Unequal Exchange (1972) and Samir Amin. However, Smith’s work does not explain how rich countries reproduce their dominance. The common weakness is that no work explains imperialist domination through analysis of the global labour process itself. That is why none can demonstrate how imperialism can keep dominating.

in Imperialism and the development myth
Sam King

The ‘neoliberal period’ was not the scene of widespread anti-imperialist mass movements like those of the post-Second World War era. One result of this has been a collapse in anti-imperialist writing inside the imperialist countries since around 1980. While Marxist scholars focused on the domestic class struggle or other issues, they mostly did not openly claim imperialism had ended. Rather, they renounced Lenin’s theory of imperialism but did not replace it, and produced few new works. Lenin’s work was rejected mostly without being discussed or even read. Rather, for decades, it was repeatedly dismissed by almost all First World Marxist scholars, usually with simple reference to other contemporary scholars, often using clear caricatures and demonstrable misinterpretation, or was just ignored. Rejecting Lenin was spearheaded by Bill Warren, whose 1980 book Imperialism: Pioneer of Capitalism argued the poor countries were catching up to the rich ones. Warren is the only modern Marxist scholar to elaborate a rejection of Lenin. His analysis also pioneered (among Marxists) the now typically neoliberal idea that expanding capitalist production (GDP growth) leads countries towards breaking the chains of imperialist oppression. Warren was an open supporter of imperialism – arguing it brings development to the Third World – so few contemporary Marxists endorse his work. However, the overwhelming majority (including Harvey and Callinicos) adopt his economic analysis: GDP growth equals development and means poor countries are breaking imperialism’s grip (or becoming imperialist themselves). Warren thought Brazil, Zaire and Colombia were catching up. Today’s Marxists believe it is 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
Sam King

It is the overwhelming view, among mainstream commentators, that China is rising in a way that is somehow imperialist or ultimately will challenge the monopoly on wealth and power of the existing rich countries. Similarly, most First World Marxist writing sees China as either a ‘new imperial power’ or developing in that direction. However, there is no well-known Marxist attempt to detail or analyse how they believe such a historically unprecedented transition could occur and how China has supposedly transformed from being the largest Third World country to a new imperialist power. The most common argument given amounts to reviving Warren’s position: that all capitalist economic growth (GDP growth) leads to advanced capitalism. In that view, a lot of economic growth – as has occurred in China – would bring about very advanced capitalism, and therefore capitalist imperialism. Conflating the spread of capitalist commodity production with the idea of building an advanced economy (or a new imperialist country) is the principal contemporary manifestation of Marxist adaption to capitalist economic doctrine as articulated in Warren’s Imperialism: Pioneer of Capitalism (1980). Against this view, China experts like Ho-fung Hung, Sean Starrs and Peter Noland are far more cautious and articulate fundamentally different views of China’s development and prospects.

in Imperialism and the development myth
How rich countries dominate in the twenty-first century
Author: Sam King

"Over a hundred years since the beginning of modern imperialism, the former colonial world is still prevented from joining the club of imperialist powers. The gap between rich and poor countries is not narrowing but growing. China is usually presented as challenging the dominance of the United States and other rich countries. However, imperialist domination over the most sophisticated aspects of the labour process gives the rich countries and their corporations control over the global labour process as a whole – including in China. Third World producers are forced to specialise in the opposite types of work – in relatively simple and low-end labour, for which major price markups and large profits are rarely possible. This is the kernel of unequal exchange in world trade. The imperialist system develops two types of capital – monopoly and non-monopoly capital – and two types of societies – rich, monopoly, imperialist societies and poor, non-monopoly, ‘Third World’ societies. China’s ascendance to become the most powerful Third World country in no way threatens to topple continuing imperialist dominance. Most contemporary Marxist writing has not been focused on global income polarisation and imperialist exploitation of the poor countries. For this reason, it has been unable to explain how exactly the same countries continuously reproduce their dominance. However, the actual conditions of the neoliberal world economy have made explicit how this happens through the labour process itself. In doing so it has also shown how Marx’s labour theory of value can be concretely applied to the conditions of monopoly capital today.

Sam King

The ‘neoliberal period’, from around 1980, saw wide-scale and rapid development of the productive forces across what used to be known as the ‘Third World’. This led to widespread expectations and perceptions that many regions were catching up to the development level of the rich countries. However, the income statistics tell a very story. Not only is the Third World not catching up with the income of the rich countries, it is falling further behind. That is the case for almost all of the so-called developing countries individually and also for them as a whole – including China. Besides the Cold War exceptional cases of South Korea and Taiwan, no Third World nations have either joined the small club of rich countries or even come close to doing so. The rich countries today form almost entirely the same club that has dominated the world economy for over a hundred years. Not only is the gap between the richest and poorest societies growing, today almost every country in the world, including 98.5 per cent of the global population, are concentrated in states that are either rich or poor – but mostly poor. There are no large, truly ‘middle-income’ countries. This polarisation of the whole world into rich and poor countries increased throughout the neoliberal period and the relationship between the two groups remains unchanged.

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