I suppose most people who got their Marxist education in Marxist parties share certain basic assumptions about how First World economic and political hegemony over the so-called Third World has been achieved. It was a function of economic exploitation going black like me essay thesis to the discovery of the New World and the several hundred years of advantage this gave the First World, as it expanded its control over countries to the East as well.
So I was surprised, if not shocked, to discover that Robert Brenner, a leader of the left-wing American group Solidarity, wrote a series of articles in the 1970s denying such connections. Brenner’s critique was directed against a group of thinkers who, like Paul Sweezy, viewed themselves as operating in the Marxist tradition, and others, like Andre Gunder Frank, who rejected Marxism altogether. I will argue that the ‘development of underdevelopment’ is indeed an indispensable condition for capitalist development itself, but before doing so it will be necessary to provide some historical background into Marxist thinking on these questions. Since Brenner claims to be defending classical Marxism against newfangled, neo-Smithian deviations, it would be useful to now review what Marx and Marxists have written.
Manufacture and the movement of production in general received an enormous impetus through the extension of commerce which came with the discovery of America and the sea-route to the East Indies. While Marx explicitly ties the introduction of “masses of gold and silver” to changes in the “positions of classes to one another,” Brenner on the other hand dismisses the importance of such connections. You get a very strong sense that Brenner’s fight was against Maoism. Since this current had already fallen into disrepute when his articles were written, could we be dealing with the beating a dead horse phenomenon?
The notion of “core” versus “periphery” does suggest the Maoist People’s War schema of the countryside surrounding the city, but by the late 70s, China had become an ally of the United States and Maoist groups had disintegrated internationally. Brenner writes, “So long as capitalism develops merely through squeezing dry the ‘third world,’ the primary opponents must be core versus periphery, the cities versus the countryside–not the international proletariat, in alliance with the oppressed people of all countries, versus the bourgeoisie. Now who would take such an alliance seriously, except aging members of Bob Avakian’s Revolutionary Communist Party? Since Lenin’s famous “Imperialism, the Latest Stage of Capitalism” has very little to say about the periphery, one might conclude that this was not an important part of his analysis. But Lenin’s writings on imperialism are much larger in scope than this particular essay, which focuses on the rivalries that led to WWI.
In reality, Lenin did have ideas on core-periphery relations that sounded exactly like the sort of thing published regularly in Monthly Review in the 1960s. This he regarded as “the fundamental question of modern socialism. Lenin cites a letter from Engels to Marx, dated October 7, 1858, which states: “The English proletariat is actually becoming more and more bourgeois, so that this most bourgeois of all nations is apparently aiming ultimately at the possession of a bourgeois aristocracy and a bourgeois proletariat alongside the bourgeoisie. For a nation which exploits the whole world this is of course to a certain extent justifiable. The bourgeoisie of an imperialist ‘Great’ Power can economically bribe the upper strata of ‘its’ workers by spending on this a hundred million or so francs a year, for its superprofits most likely amount to about a thousand million.
The Communist International that was founded in opposition to the verbal socialism of the trade union bureaucracy, parliamentarians, etc. EVEN when they were LED by the national bourgeoisie. In reports by Lenin and numerous delegates, there was little of Brenner’s anxiety to be found. Constant reminders of how one NATION exploits another were made.
Unfortunately, the revolutionary internationalism of the Baku conference was to give way to the cautious policies of “socialism in one country. Although Marxist scholarship as a whole suffered during Stalin’s reign, colonial questions perhaps suffered most. Wherever Communist Parties sank roots, the intelligentsia who gathered around and joined such parties tended to de-emphasize the question of oppressed and oppressor nations. Against these utopian hopes, Andre Gunder Frank argued that bourgeois development in Latin America was impossible. Brenner hails this as a step forward: “Frank’s original formulations aimed to destroy the suffocating orthodoxies of Marxist evolutionary stage theory which the Communist Parties’ political strategies of ‘popular front’ and ‘bourgeois democratic revolutions’ had been predicated.