“If the free traders cannot understand how one country can enrich itself at the expense of another, we should not be surprised, since these same gentlemen do not want to understand either that within a country one class can enrich itself at the expense of another.” – Marx, Discourse on Free Trade, 1848
After the Seattle Protests and before 9/11 there appeared a new publishing marvel: the capitalist manifesto. Prompted by the increasing occurrence of anti-globalisation protests in the imperialist countries, these works sought to justify the status quo whilst competing, ideologically and in terms of sales, with books such as Naomi Klein’s No Logo. The movement on the streets was winning the battle of ideas.
Mistakenly bought up by trendy music shops keen to cash in on the latest fad, I imagine many copies of these books were then mistakenly bought by anti-capitalist consumers and now sit unread on bookshelves across the country.
I never acquired one of these manuals for the global market economy, I spend far too long deliberating over purchases; such is my indecisiveness I read the back cover blurb and flick through the index for keywords. My familiarity with this oeuvre stems from spending too long skim-reading rather than hours of study of the (lame) arguments.
Fukuyama’s spell had been broken. The ‘end of history’ had itself ended. The triumphal tone had to be lowered; as The Economist noted, the movement on the streets was winning the battle of ideas. The antipathy towards globalisation had to be countered.
Written and promoted by an unholy alliance of management gurus, bloated business-funded think tank ‘thinkers’, the odd ex-leftist, and rich kids fresh out of business school, works in defence of capitalism concentrate on condemning historical alternatives whilst simultaneously criticising those who agitate for future alternatives for refusing to accept that there is no alternative.
It is odd that books should have to be written defending an economic system, is it not? It begs the question: if free-market capitalism is more efficient, more effective, and more progressive than other economic arrangements, why is it so lacking in popularity? In truth these works were hagiographies for the capitalist class that neglected to mention the subject directly. By their deeds shall you praise them, but never mention names, let alone classes.
I’ve yet to find one of these books that mentions what Marx actually wrote, rather than what they think he wrote; that discusses – let alone mentions – that the development of capitalism into an international economic order depended upon colonialism; that mentions Lenin’s theoretical development with regard to imperialism… You get the picture.
The working class is suspiciously absent, except perhaps for a mention of how well workers have done out of capitalism and that this implicitly disproves Karl and Freddy. No assessment of the claim of that there now exists a split in the proletariat internationally: an affluent section of the working class in the oppressor countries has been bought off by the ruling class; this stratum, the ‘aristocracy of labour’, sees its interests as antithetical to those of workers in oppressed countries, for it gains indirectly from their exploitation.
I’ve always been baffled by the dismissal of the Marxian position that profit, and by extension, value derives from the labour of workers rather than the hard work and diligence of propertied individuals. In fact, this view existed before Marx: it was expressed by David Ricardo and Adam Smith. Supposedly, the labour theory of value has long been discredited along with everything else thought up by bearded revolutionaries.
It occurs to me that bourgeois economists in the 19th Century were not aiming at a mass audience – or an audience of the masses – and so there may have been more openness as regards certain matters, such as the source of profit, the existence of classes and conflict between them, et cetera. Modern apologists for global capitalism must avoid dealing with the basics in depth, and keep to an emotive rather than a comprehensive rendering of the subject, lest the truth come out.
As if to ruin my argument that the defenders of imperialism are coy about its true impact, here is Thomas Friedman, writing in the New York Times Magazine in 1999:
“The hidden hand of the market will never work without a hidden fist. McDonald’s cannot flourish without McDonnell Douglas, the designer of the F-15. And the hidden fist that keeps the world safe for Silicon Valley’s technologies to flourish is called the US Army, Air Force, Navy and Marine Corps.”
And he wrote the following in a book published in 2000, The Lexus and the Olive Tree:
“As your country puts on the Golden Straightjacket two things tend to happen: your economy grows and your politics shrinks… [The] Golden Straightjacket narrows the political and economic choices of those in power to relatively tight parameters. That is why it is increasingly difficult to find any real differences between ruling and opposition parties in those countries that have put on the Golden Straightjacket. Once your country has put on the Golden Straightjacket, its political choices get reduced to Pepsi or Coke – to slight nuances of taste, slight nuances of policy…”
Thankfully, the Golden Straightjacket can be taken off. Recent acts of escapology by Venezuela, Bolivia, and Ecuador have shown the way forward for the oppressed countries. The number of socialist and anti-imperialist countries is sure to grow in coming years as millions of working people seek to follow their example.
I hope that I am not being overly optimistic in saying that the future of imperialism has never looked so uncertain.