Over the course of his life, Luciano Ferrari Bravo (1940–2000) managed to train several generations of militants – a true cattivo maestro in the classrooms, factories, and streets of Italy’s northeast.1 From the early 1960s on, he spent long days outside the petrochemical plants of Porto Marghera in his native Veneto, an industrial complex well-known for the many battles waged there by autonomous councils and assemblies of workers. In 1963 he and his lifelong comrade Antonio Negri helped to found the local organization Potere Operaio veneto-emiliano, and around this time Ferrari Bravo began publishing analyses in the group’s own paper as well as contributing dispatches to the Cronache Operaie, a national roundup of working-class self-activity published by Quaderni Rossi. His subsequent interventions in political strategy and Marxist theory appeared in national movement publications such as Classe Operaia, Contropiano, Potere Operaio, and Autonomia, on whose editorial board he also served.
For his entire adult life, excepting the five years he spent in jail awaiting trial on charges of insurrection against the state, Ferrari Bravo also worked in the University of Padova’s political science program, where he participated in an extraordinary collective of radical researchers including Sergio Bologna, Mariarosa Dalla Costa, Alisa Del Re, Ferruccio Gambino, and Negri. Along with others in this milieu, he was an operaista but no unthinking factoryist; in the mid-1970s Ferrari Bravo also helped to found Radio Sherwood, which played a vital role in maintaining the ecosystem of the extra-parliamentary left around Padova. During this time he authored several meticulously documented contributions to collections in Feltrinelli’s “Materiali Marxisti” series, edited first by Bologna and Negri, and later by the collective as a whole.2 “Old and New Questions in the Theory of Imperialism,” the essay which we have translated below, originally served as an introduction to one of those volumes, Imperialismo e classe operaia multinazionale (“Imperialism and the Multinational Working Class”).3 That collection, edited by Ferrari Bravo, brought together writings from Marxian and non-Marxian authors seeking to grapple with developments in the global structure of capital and international working-class struggle in the mid-1970s.
On the subject of imperialism, Ferrari Bravo was determined to register not only the overt violence of colonization and imperial expansion but also the international mobility of capital and of labor-power, giving special attention to historical developments – firstly, to the possible constitution of a unified global capitalist cycle after the second world war, and, secondly, to U.S. President Richard Nixon’s announcement of the end of the gold-dollar standard underpinning international exchanges in 1971. Before this essay, Ferrari Bravo had distinguished himself within operaismo by bringing his political perspective to bear on the margins – not only to the peripheral neighborhoods of Italy’s northern industrial triangle where southern Italian migrants lived, but to changing dynamics within the South itself. In “Forma dello stato e sottosviluppo” (“Form of the State and Underdevelopment”), Ferrari Bravo analyzed the partial industrialization of the South through the state’s Cassa per il Mezzogiorno (“Fund for the South”) as a political response to the increasing mobility of labor-power. This “plan” of reforms was designed to integrate cycles of workers’ struggles into the productive cycle of capital.4 In “Old and New Questions in the Theory of Imperialism,” Ferrari Bravo elaborates this research within the expanded frame of the world market, harvesting what he deems useful from Marx, Lenin, and subsequent theorists to develop a rigorous analysis of his current conjuncture.
Although this essay focuses on the capitalist counterrevolution of the 1970s, it is important to emphasize that Ferrari Bravo understood that process as the counterfoil to the primacy of working-class antagonism. He interprets the abandonment of the convertibility of dollars into gold as a response by the U.S. capitalist state to the tenacity of Vietnamese resistance as well as to the global wave of student and worker struggles that shook the states and capitalist cycles of countries in which U.S. multinationals were heavily invested.5 But the end of the gold-dollar standard had yielded contradictory developments – floating exchange rates, competition between currencies, and new relationships between individual nation states and national and international cycles of capital – which recomposed classes and restructured the terrain upon which both proletarians in the metropoles and anti-imperialist revolutionaries in the colonies would continue to move.
The question for Ferrari Bravo becomes, then, how to operate politically on this global level.6 Certainly if the United States had proven itself “capable of transforming itself gradually, without losing solidity but rather by increasing the intensity of its total rule,” and if the apparatuses of the state had become agents of an “international cycle of capital hinged on the multinationals,”7 this would necessitate important amendments to the theory of imperialism advanced by Lenin in his famous pamphlet, which emphasized competition between different national capitals. In order to develop a new theory, Ferrari Bravo suggests “returning to Lenin by way of Marx.”8 Rather than mine the written records of Lenin’s 1917 intervention for scientific concepts – Ferrari Bravo suggests abandoning the categories “labor aristocracy” and “parasitism” to the gnawing criticism of the mice – instead he looks to Marx for a methodology and framework within which to pose this political question anew. If Lenin’s great contribution was to recognize that “imperialism is a global figure of the political command of capital over labor-power,”9 then the return to “Lenin,” here, does not mean restoring fidelity to an old explanatory schema, but rather taking up again the project to read new international developments in capitalist processes of accumulation from the viewpoint of the proletariat in its global struggle for communism.
Such a recognition of the need to take distance from certain formulations in Lenin’s work while embracing the spirit of his discourse could only have been sharpened by the unique political context in which Ferrari Bravo made his own intervention. Not only had the international situation changed, but on the radical left in Italy, clandestine and armed tendencies were beginning to emerge, many of which sought to import guerrilla warfare tactics from national liberation struggles into their own practices.10 Without dissecting those movements in depth, Ferrari Bravo identifies a common problematic between those espousing “guerrilla warfare on asphalt” and “third-worldist” theorists of imperialism, the most emblematic being Arghiri Emmanuel.11 Trapped within an orthodox reading of Marx as a theorist of political economy, Emmanuel understood imperialism as a static wage imbalance between core and periphery, a viewpoint which left him unable to grasp the most important factor of the wage: its expression of the “irreducible political subjectivity” of the proletariat.12 Although Ferrari Bravo does not discount the revolutionary character of anti-colonial struggles, he dissects the object of knowledge constructed by Emmanuel and attempts to produce a new thought-object suitable for “a two-pronged movement which unites [accomuna] the metropolitan worker and the proletariat of the Third World in an analogous violent demand for income and power.”14 That this project remains unfinished today diminishes neither the trenchancy of his criticisms nor the perspicacity of his analysis.
Ferrari Bravo would be arrested on April 7, 1979, along with Negri, Paolo Virno, and more than 20 other militants. All were charged with fomenting armed insurrection and falsely accused of leading the Brigate Rosse (“Red Brigades”), the terroristic cell that had gained notoriety for committing high-profile assassinations.15 He would be released and cleared of all charges only in 1984, thence returning to teach at Padova, and continuing to write alongside comrades old and new in the pages of Derive Approdi and Luogo Comune. Whether addressing the changing composition of the European working class in the ‘80s and ‘90s, measuring new strategies of incorporation developed by the Italian state, or analyzing the supposed novelty of “globalization” in relation to the history of the international mobility of labor-power, many of these later studies were built upon the foundations laid down in the present essay. Indeed, despite its “humble appearance as a review of studies,”16 what follows constitutes a formidable development in Marxian theory on imperialism. Unencumbered by the dead weight of past traditions, it is guided by the militant impulse to investigate the changing composition of the international working class and the terrain on which it finds itself in order to plot the possible coordinates for a new cycle of struggles. This task must also be ours today.
– Andrew Anastasi
“Interlocking versus socialization”: under this heading, in the “Preparatory Notebooks” to the writing of Imperialism: The Highest Stage of Capitalism, Lenin collects a series of readings and reflections on the latest phase of capitalist development.17 “Interlocking” among banks, firms and public administrations, or real and proper “socialization” of production? The topic reappears, explicitly, in the final pages of the “popular outline,” and there it seems the comparison is posed in order to be refused.18 It is not a matter of setting up an opposition between, on the one hand, “real socialism” – a hypothetical, absurd, general socialization arising through parthenogenesis from within development – and on the other, the apparently anarchic chaos of the myriad relations that are woven together precisely by capitalist restructuring. Instead, it is a matter of verifying that what unfolds before the eyes is an actual process of socialization of production, which is nevertheless being developed within a shell of “private economic relations and private property relations” that determine it from all sides and tend to cause its “decay.” It is, in a certain sense, the absolutely traditional thesis of the diachronic and conflictual relation between the productive forces and the relations of production. But, here, it avoids the abstract rigidification of (Second and Third Internationalist) ideology, and not only by virtue of the fact that it is renewed by a precise and, at times, meticulous analysis of “new developments.” Above all, by privileging the model of “actual socialization,” if only from the analytical side, Imperialism provides a perspective – a viewpoint – which is thoroughly working-class. No purely moral rejection, no search for contradictions or completely “external” alternatives, but, rather, the determination, from within development, of the general conditions, of the necessary terrain of the political-military clash between the classes.
Having said this, it should be immediately added that, if the Lenin of Imperialism reflects a historically determined level of the composition of capital on a world scale, if he interprets its dynamic tendencies according to a methodology that seeks to understand development starting from the highest point of political tension determined by it (a “workers’” methodology), if, finally, he intervenes in the process with all the subjective strength of which “Leninism” was the maximum political expression in that period – all this still does not “guarantee” us anything of the “validity” – for that time – of the specific interpretation of the phenomenon offered by the “popular outline,” and even less of its immediate usefulness today. On the contrary, all this serves only to stabilize a preliminary and, in a certain sense, negative point: that any discourse on Imperialism is, even today, a discourse on Lenin, but it must be so only in the sense of critique. It is certainly not a discourse on Lenin for the “philological” reason that Lenin is the “author” of the theory in question. From the viewpoint of its economic analysis, this bears so little truth that from the beginning Lenin himself recognizes his debt – and it is a substantial debt, as we shall see – to Hobson and Hilferding in this regard.19 It is, instead, a discourse on Lenin because only in Lenin do we find no mere objectivism of economic analysis, but the grand tactics of the party. Not only is it class analysis – the “economic” categories that innervate it are immediately social and political forces; not only is its synthesis entirely oriented in the direction of a determinate political project, but, above all, its unique intervention on the problem of imperialism, in the ambit of the “classical” debate, is able to tie together the actual moment of military conflict [scadenza bellica], that enormous tactical problem for the movement, with a strategic perspective marked by a precise vision, though here largely implicit, of the political composition of the working class within that entire historical phase. Precisely for this reason, of course, the reference to Lenin can only be critical. It is not by any means a coincidence, or a fashionable trend, that the theoretical-political debate on questions of imperialism has reacquired prominence in recent years, producing, if not the “definitive” work, a remarkable and growing number of interventions and sparks.21 Indeed, we are dealing with a different composition of the global working class, utterly distinct from that of Lenin’s time, which consequently, in turn, critically examines the classics. This thematic revival has real and substantial effects, though only in some directions and despite (or perhaps precisely because of) a robust variety of approaches and viewpoints. There is, if anything, the question of why this revival of research has been so slow to appear, considering that in its main lineaments the world capitalist structure, as we have it before us, dates back at least twenty years, and actually shows itself to be entering into a phase of crisis and transformation precisely in this period. But it is a quietist and reactionary idea that a political or theoretical need finds a way of being satisfied at the correct moment in any case; moreover, a specific share of responsibility for the theoretical stagnation on the subjects in question is to be attributed, as we shall see, precisely to the “tradition” of thickheaded Leninism and of orthodoxy that still overwhelmingly blocks the terrain.
The first knot is therefore Lenin. There is an assessment of Imperialism from which it interests us to begin because it goes to the heart of the question, an assessment that views Lenin’s theoretical intervention as an unresolved combination of Fabian critique and enormous tactical drive.22 One can show that each affirmation is, by itself, correct: their violent contradictoriness is indeed the problem of judging the popular outline.
One understands nothing of Lenin, generally speaking, if one does not start from the political objectives of his discourse, from its being determinate theory for a determinate practice. This has nothing to do with the legend of an empirico-practical Lenin. It has everything to do instead with Lenin’s general method – with the method of the sectarianism of workers’ science – the method of determinate abstraction, if one wants to call it that: to measure the tendency of capitalist development by the yardstick and from the viewpoint of a determinate revolutionary project in its rich complexity, the synthesis of which is the concreteness of the revolutionary rupture.23 In this sense Imperialism is all in the method – is perfectly “Leninist.” The total working-class subject [soggetto operaio complessivo] – to which Lenin’s discourse is always “ascribed” – that establishes, against populism (or a certain populism), the formidable analysis of the development of capitalism in Russia, following a line of theoretical work so seemingly opposed to that of Imperialism, is the same one for which the theory of the intensification of the (inter)imperialist contradictions, within the given phase, is built. The fact is simply that the overall world dimensions, which in that text indicate the inevitable hegemony of the capitalist relation over all of Russian society, are here terribly concrete – they enter concretely among the political variables of the ongoing subversive project. Any pacified “tendentialism” must therefore be shattered in the urgency of the rallying cry to transform the imperialist war into civil war. There is therefore nothing more absurd than, not only, to interpret Imperialism “in pieces” – to reduce it to a theory of capital export, to separate the economic explanation from the political one25 – but to make of it a general-generic reconnaissance mission concerning a “phase” of the history of capital. Imperialism is first of all a conjunctural intervention [intervento di tendenza], and one of rupture, within the movement – it is anti-Kautsky. Therefore, on the other hand, Imperialism is necessarily part of October: in order to demonstrate that the project can “hold” – that a specific organizational strength of the Russian working class may be the weakness of global capital in Russia, the weak link.
But, on these points – concerning the “popular outline” (which is such due to its agitational function and certainly not because of its lack of depth or rigor in elaboration) as a great tactical initiative – all are in agreement. The real point is the other one: why can all this not be translated, except on backward, ambiguous, non-Marxist theoretical terrain, with “Fabian” analytical equipment, thus resulting in unsound and contradictory theory? Theoretical adequacy is necessary in Lenin: it would be absurd to have a Lenin who was “Machiavellian” in the vulgar sense. The war simply as an occasion will be, if anything, something in which extremists – and even before that, the right – cloak themselves.26 But only the blind can deny that Imperialism is laden with contradictions. Let us quickly retrace its basic steps. The dynamic central connection, from the point of view of explaining the global structure of the system, runs through the processes of sectoral concentration and monopolization, especially in areas of heavy industry and in the accentuated international mobility of capital, both in a “direct” way on the basis of the needs of the vertical integration of production, and, especially, with the nature of portfolio allocation. As to the first aspect, the role attributed by Lenin to the wave of concentration and centralization that emerges in all the developed capitalist countries from the crisis of the 1870s until the first world war – as an overall qualitative leap of the system – establishes his discourse at a level historically coeval with the processes underway, radically beyond the terrain on which official Marxism in its various expressions had been engaged since the era of the Bernsteindebatte, not to mention, of course, the theoretical framework that political economy continued to offer regarding the cycle’s operation. Nevertheless, upon closer inspection, it is precisely the figure of monopoly, with the functional characteristics outlined in the academic literature of marginalism, that reappears in the Leninist analysis, with an inversion of perspective and position that does not, however, fundamentally alter its model of interpretation.27 This has decisive consequences, in particular concerning the determination of the relation between concentration and processes of productive innovation that depend on it and determine it, and, in general, for the entire reading of the direction and meaning of the overall processes of restructuring-development, which are defined starting from the levels of concentration already attained in the era of the war.
As we have seen, the deepest economic foundation of imperialism is monopoly. This is capitalist monopoly, i.e., monopoly which has grown out of capitalism and which exists in the general environment of capitalism, commodity production and competition, in permanent and insoluble contradiction to this general environment. Nevertheless, like all monopoly, it inevitably engenders a tendency of stagnation and decay. Since monopoly prices are established, even temporarily, the motive cause of technical and, consequently, of all other progress disappears to a certain extent and, further, the economic possibility arises of deliberately retarding technical progress […]. Certainly, monopoly under capitalism can never completely, and for a very long period of time, eliminate competition in the world market (and this, by the by, is one of the reasons why the theory of ultra-imperialism is so absurd). Certainly, the possibility of reducing the cost of production and increasing profits by introducing technical improvements operates in the direction of change. But the tendency to stagnation and decay, which is characteristic of monopoly, continues to operate, and in some branches of industry, in some countries, for certain periods of time, it gains the upper hand.28
If the reservations tellingly contained in a passage like this are overshadowed, and for good reason, when it is a matter of pinpointing the politically decisive characteristics assumed by the system in its specific imperialist configuration, they are not even invoked when the search for superprofits, cartelization at the global level, and the territorial partitioning of the world are all deduced to be typical counterfoils of the new phase of the total downfall of the system in the “era” of monopoly. The schema for explaining the relation between centralization and export of capital is rigidly underconsumptionist and repeats the Hobsonian line verbatim: the “necessary misery of the masses” and inevitable relative backwardness of agriculture restrict domestic investment outlets, in connection with the declining level of the rate of profit, and in relation to the prospect of superprofits on operations, speculative and not, on the international markets.
The ambiguity of an explanation, even with hesitations, that excludes the very possibility of a productive massification and, even before that, a leap in the organic composition of social capital permitted by the degree of monopolization reached, has consequences for an analysis of the new mobility of capital at the international level. The category “capital export” turns out in reality to cover over very different phenomena. If the multiplication of long- and short-term movements of capital (above all speculative) on the basis of differentials in interest rates and “special” conditions of allocation (public and semi-public loans, etc.) in the decades preceding the war, fits with Lenin’s interpretation of the phenomenon in the appropriated terms of “Finanzkapital,” this framework can hardly by contrast be deemed appropriate for that specific and important series of “colonial” activities restructuring production at the global level – in the sectors of raw materials, and old and new energy sources – in which the first figures of multinational business make their historic trial runs.29 Here a rigid stagnationist interpretation prevents one from seeing, behind the falling rate of profit, the increase in the mass of profit; behind financial centralization, the enlargement and the real transformation of the industrial base that result from the great wave of “heavy” industrialization, which emerges between 1800 and 1900 in Europe and the United States, and of which the colonial partitioning is obviously an integral moment. And, on the other hand, conversely, the export of capital to the colonial world is well short of having the role that Lenin attributes to it, of propelling capitalist development to the periphery – this recognition will become one of the central themes of the subsequent literature on imperialism, oddly enough even for those who hold firm to the Leninist interpretation on the whole.
But we must examine the underlying theoretical structure of the line of reasoning in Imperialism. The category around which the analysis is organized is identified by a relation of divergence between processes which operate at the level of “productive” organization and the emergence of massive speculative-parasitic phenomena, on whose economic-political and ideological importance the strategic significance of Lenin’s intervention ultimately rests. Finance capital as hegemony of a banking oligarchy, of a class oriented to speculation and to income; capital export as swelling of social strata (even workers) who live by clipping coupons; imperialism as contradictory system of global domination on the part of a handful of rentier-states: this series of definitions specifies the theoretical and political axis of the popular outline.
It is characteristic of capitalism in general that the ownership of capital is separated from the application of capital to production, that money capital is separated from industrial or productive capital, and that the rentier who lives entirely on income obtained from money capital, is separated from the entrepreneur and from all who are directly concerned in the management of capital. Imperialism, or the domination of finance capital, is that highest stage of capitalism in which this separation reaches vast proportions.30
And further: “Capitalism, which began its development with petty usury capital, is ending its development with gigantic usury capital.”31
It is useless to underline the serious limitations of this formulation. Reducing the truly fundamental relation between money capital and industrial and productive capital to the process of the separation of the rentier is to place at the theoretical and political center of the analysis phenomena that, while certainly important, are ultimately secondary and derivative from the point of view of understanding the overall dynamic of the system. It is not an accident that subsequent bourgeois sociology, albeit with “apologetic” intentions, has deduced from the separation “of the ownership of capital from its application to production” exactly opposite general consequences32 ; but it might perhaps be possible to demonstrate that, also in Lenin, the theoretical split between “ownership” and application, between money capital and industrial capital, contains within itself an ideological vision of capitalist entrepreneurship of a rather Schumpeterian flavor. Certainly what is raised is the problem generally invested in the category of “finance capital,” elaborated by Hilferding and utilized as such by Lenin. Indeed: the problem “finance capital” does not only reside in the undefined, “historically” transitory character of the specific relation (of domination) between bank and industry absolutized by Hilderding, but, really, in the theoretical nature of the categories of money capital, productive capital, etc. – and most of all in the very conception of money – that underlie the Hilferdingian reconstruction, and in the economic-political functions assigned to each of them.34 Even on the key point of the function of the investment bank within the historical phase of development considered by Hilferding and, in his footsteps, Lenin, the framework offered turns out to be not only qualitatively insufficient in some crucial aspects (relative to the role of the bank, of credit, of money capital in industrialization) compared to the historic reconstruction which we have today, but also a step backwards theoretically, compared to general indications and concrete models of analysis offered by Marx himself half a century earlier.35
The figure that summarily characterizes the Leninist formulation is that of the rentier-state, denoting not only the position of a handful of states reigning over the entire rest of the world in the era of imperialism, but the overall “internal” nature of the metropolitan relation between state and capitalist development, and of its evolution. In this sense, if it is correct to consider Imperialism a politically necessary complement to State and Revolution, the complete superimposition of the two texts locks the general validity of the latter into a framework of specific references. In any case, it seems that this is one of the open problems which was mentioned, and which a strongly ideological, and moreover divided, discussion of the two thematic nuclei has kept in the shadows. What is, in Lenin, the relation between the thesis that the “rentier state is a state of parasitic, decaying capitalism”36 and the theoretical reconstruction of the state capitalist machine that emerges from State and Revolution? Here, it is important, returning to the fundamental thread of our discourse, to underline the extreme rigidity of the Leninist formulation in Imperialism: domination by parasitical interests, tendency to stagnation, decay – these features irresistibly and irrevocably permeate the entire political and ideological superstructure of the state, up from the economic “base,” in the era of imperialism. To the radical and contemptuous liquidation of Kautsky’s “centrist” opportunism, there ultimately corresponds the almost complete acceptance of its opposite, which is Hobsonian tendentialism. The framework, as incredible as it is improbable, of the future effects of the global expansion of imperialism on the European metropolis itself, which Lenin adopts wholesale from Hobson, is significant in this regard.
The greater part of Western Europe might then assume the appearance and character already exhibited by tracts of country in the South of England, in the Riviera and in the tourist-ridden or residential parts of Italy and Switzerland, little clusters of wealthy aristocrats drawing dividends and pensions from the Far East, with a somewhat larger group of professional retainers and tradesmen and a larger body of personal servants and workers in the transport trade and in the final stages of production of the more perishable goods; all the main arterial industries would have disappeared, the staple foods and manufactures flowing in as tribute from Asia and Africa […]. The influences which govern the imperialism of Western Europe today are moving in this direction, and, unless counteracted or diverted, make towards some such consummation.37
“The author [Hobson] is quite right,” Lenin comments, and adds: “if the forces of imperialism had not been counteracted they would have led precisely to what he has described.” But – and this is the point – in the overall logic of the popular outline, the meaning of that reservation is hardly specified through much analysis, which is nearly nonexistent, of the internal connection that ties the monopolistic and imperialist development of capitalism to the potentially new characteristics of the struggle of the working class – a connection that must qualify the political program and the program of power [il programma politico e di potere]. Instead, it is posed as the naked historical necessity of a total opposition – socialism or barbarism.
What is at the root of all this? What does not obtain is the relation between the political functions of the theory, with respect to the impending decisive moment [scadenza a breve] of the Russian 1917, and the global dimensions within which it must be validated. This, indeed, must never be forgotten: that if the axis of Lenin’s discourse is, as always, oriented toward the determinate tasks of the revolution against autocracy, the war is a decisive moment [scadenza generale] for the movement – the party’s battle must be general and homogeneous (and in fact it is from the moment of the explicit rupture with Kautsky). Now, the theoretical impasse, and the practical tragedy, is simply that what appears on one hand as a weak link of capital, as the “organizational” strength of the Russian proletariat, should “logically” appear – if the theoretical referents are not altered – as the weakness of the global working class. The basic contradiction that dominates all others in the line of reasoning in Imperialism runs between the processes of ongoing capitalist concentration (and of centralization insofar as it is an instrument of the latter) assumed as the general theoretical base for interpreting the phenomenon, and the concept of the labor aristocracy, which is, paradoxically, the only outcome on the terrain of class composition.
The “stratum of workers-turned-bourgeois, or the ‘labour aristocracy,’ who are quite philistine in their mode of life, in the size of their earnings and in their entire outlook,”39 is the strange fruit of the vast process of the concentration of production, of the increase of the scale of accumulation which also underlies and continually feeds the imperialist transformation of the system; and it is the extraordinary counterpart to the Leninist model – on which he gambles his entire political “career” – of the leadership [direzione] of the massified worker over the entire revolutionary process in the Russian subcontinent, in any case, of his holding fast to the workers in the factory, to their compact organization imposed by the very mechanism of the capitalist organization of work.40 Naturally, the existence of phenomena of “upward” stratification with clear political functions is a recurrent fact and somewhat to be expected [fisiologico] in the history of capital, and Lenin, naturally, is well aware of this dialectic.41 The disproportionate importance attributed to this stratum of the class in explaining the mechanism of a relative imperialist stabilization is not therefore simply the fruit of polemical passion.
It should be noted that behind this lies a material mismatch [sfasamento] in the levels of global capitalist development that does not get posed as an explicit theoretical problem.42 In the concrete situation of the capitalist development of the Russian subcontinent, the very recent beginnings of the process of industrialization, its localized functions (and therefore technological levels and levels of the organization of work) and, in any case, its objectively limited dimensions, make the class of factory workers – even when it includes the most diverse stratifications of worker-figures, from the decayed artisan of the old manufacturing to the new “craft” [mestiere] worker – a compact mass, decisive spur of the revolutionary process, “political aristocracy for the occasion [materialiter],” as has been written43 – whose program of power the “external” party had been founded from “afar” to serve. But at the level of the “advanced” countries, where, indeed, concentration can function politically as the first great historical massification, as liquidation of the entire old relation between worker and labor, the decisive function attributed by Lenin to a specific elevated stratum of the class is clearly an absurdity. The only real labor aristocracies are those on the defensive with respect to the processes of restructuring that the war itself powerfully incentivizes – they are members [base] within the international movement of the councils of a specific “left” ideology; and, furthermore, they are members in the subsequent evolution of the movement, a great part of the ideological baggage and the “tradition” of the Third International.44
It is perhaps granting too much cunning to history and to Lenin’s own political intuition to project his dismissive judgment of the “aristocracies,” branded as a mere phenomenon of trade-union opportunism, onto these outcomes. But the fact remains that, on the theoretical terrain, in Imperialism this concept plays the role of falsely projecting onto capital those things which are clearly contradictions, limits, and delays of the organization of the class within the “advanced” areas of development – and, consequently, of reducing potential but actual phenomena of “integration” to the level of a merely ideological mechanism. But, even before that, the concept also “removes” contradictions and limits in the contemporary [for Lenin] Marxist theory of development. The tension – which is essential in Lenin, which is Lenin – within a general theoretical axis oriented in the direction of an insurmountable anarchy of capital, between the project of the party as a project of planning [progetto di piano] and the given possibilities of capitalist development in that phase, reaches the limit of its vitality. There the entire “collapsist” [crollista] tradition is renewed, for the first and last time, in the revolutionary sense – the war itself is, in fact, Zusammenbruch politics in action.
The subsequent sequence of events in the international class struggle – starting from the immediate postwar period – will lay bare the intensity, but also the extraordinariness, of the conjuncture within which Imperialism was conceived and in which it was really able to perform a formidable function for the movement. The political conditions changed, due to the very existence of the new workers’ power in the Soviet Union – and this will be the sole modification that the official workers’ movement will take into account on the level of “doctrine,” leading duly to rightward consequences45 ; but the material conditions – the “model” – of capitalist development that Lenin had before him also changed, at least starting from the Great Depression46 ; and, from there, consequently, the organizational needs and the contents of the program of the class struggle changed as well. This, above all, makes Imperialism’s limitations, in terms of its origins, both explicit and “true,” and makes it, unlike many classic writings (Lenin’s included), a work of its time.47
A lack of appreciation of the limits of Imperialism – certainly not due to simple, orthodox Talmudism – has represented a serious obstacle to an understanding theoretically founded on the world dynamics of the system, the absence of which is lamented today from all quarters. This is paradoxically also true for the viewpoint of bourgeois theory, to the extent that it wanted to test itself against the theoretical challenge of Marxism and was not limited to research, even if copious and useful, within a limited range. But here it is not worth retracing the “sites” [luoghi] of this economic and historiographic critique, which involves, to give some examples: arguments related to the historical non-demonstrability of immediate interests in support of operations of colonial annexation; the contestation that there exists a definite correlation between those operations and the quantity, direction, etc. of the flows of capital exports; attempts to demonstrate that the cost-benefit balance of (above all “direct”) relations of colonization sometimes resolve disadvantageously for the dominant countries; that the very “profitability” of foreign investment – at least from the point of view of the average profit rate, if not the marginal – is hic et nunc negative.48 It involves, as even Bob Sutcliffe has demonstrated recently, positions that unjustifiably flatten out Lenin onto Hobson (besides identifying colonialism and imperialism tout court); that fall systematically into the simple logical error of confounding levels of theorization and levels of simple generalization – it is one thing to construct a theoretical model that incorporates economic interests as decisive forces in imperialist dynamics, it is another to pretend to find in each empirical case the same sequence as the model. And, one can add, when they turn to theorization, they often prove to be incredibly vulgar – and we can justifiably include Schumpeter himself in this judgment.50
But here it involves taking the argument back onto the other side, onto the line of the post-Leninist “tradition.” The judgment of it that is implicitly given, imputing to it a serious theoretical inertia, is based on the determination that it was nourished by a debate (when there was debate) about the validity of the Leninist theory completely abstracted from a class viewpoint – a debate, in other words, not “justified” by an independent [autonomo] analysis of new relations between class composition, theory of the cycle, and theory of organization. To argue in support of this judgment would mean retracing the entire history of Marxist theories on imperialism, starting from the 1920s, which is neither possible nor within the scope of this introduction.51 But take a recent polemical exchange – which the reader will find documented in this collection – between Ernest Mandel and Martin Nicolaus: this, it seems to us, would serve as the best example. The subject, posed some years ago, is that of the new relations between the United States and Europe (and Japan) resulting from the boom, first of direct investments beyond the Atlantic, and second of foreign trade, over the course of the 1960s.52 It resurrects a multitude of traditional questions and alternatives within the ambit of the theory of imperialism: super-imperialism versus inter-imperialist contradictions, commodity export versus capital export, wage differentials and productivity differentials, autonomy and “relative” subordination within the imperialist “chain,” and so on. But the exchange that one sees between the Trotskyist Mandel, apparent defender of Marxist orthodoxy on “economic” terrain, and the third-worldist Nicolaus, with his passionate reaffirmation of the political sense (of the politische Stossrichtung) of the Leninist model – resolves itself entirely within half-century-old categories (from finance capital to labor aristocracy), finishing in a bankrupt alternative between a political line that represents only an echo of “left” Gaullism, and the fruitless invocation (fruitless “for us”) of a revolutionary collapse provoked by the peripheral proletariat. Nothing of what the 1960s has represented on the terrain of class struggle, on both sides of the Atlantic, seems to be present, if not as a remote backdrop and (this is true for Mandel) deprived of autonomous effect on the “objective” laws of capitalist development. But, moreover, even with respect to the latter, the discussion shows clear difficulties of formulation and leads to results which are hardly convincing, and at times contradictory. To cite a single point, the interpretation of the present crisis as a crisis of overproduction with respect to the dynamics of world demand – this is Nicolaus’s thesis54 – would seem to agree with the picture drawn, conversely, by Mandel: aggravation of international competition, intensification of the forms of commercial and financial war, and so on.
But leaving aside the merits of this debate for now, it is important instead to extract from it a problem of a general character, which also runs through the essays in this collection (and in the most perceptive Marxist research in general), but which remains almost regularly avoided as such.55 It concerns the possibility of founding, directly upon Marx’s theoretical corpus, the forecast of a process of the internationalization of capital that determines the existence, beyond the world market as an economic area of exchange between different countries, of a truly and properly global capitalist cycle – with the unity of cycles of production and circulation tending to eliminate the “economic” significance of the division of the world into nation-states. This is, for example, the problem already implicitly raised by the central Leninist argument of the new role played by the export of capital in comparison to that of commodities; moreover, it is the problem objectively posed by the current phase in the history of imperialism. That it is not a philological question should be obvious, and it would be truly strange to be deluded into thinking one might find some buried treasure between the folds of Marx’s texts, a ready-made theory of the dynamics of the world market. From this viewpoint, collages such as the one arranged for this purpose by Henryk Grossman fifty years ago can be considered preparatory work at best. His thesis on the merely extrinsic character of this “lacuna” can be countered effectively even on the philological plane: the succession of preparatory plans for Capital and the existence of the manuscripts rule out the possibility that Marx was never able to put his hand to the projected sixth book, or that he never thought to confront these problems in a systematic manner.56 But this is clearly not the question. As the debate mentioned above demonstrates, the renewal of Leninism generally ends up being performed mechanistically, as a simple annexation of the subsequent changes that have intervened on the scene of international power relations to the schema of Imperialism. This proves more and more to be a fruitless operation. Instead it is a matter, if the formulation is permitted, of returning to Lenin by way of Marx. Today, renewing Leninist analysis in the political sense requires us to make this passage once again: to find in Marx, in his method before even in the contents of his discourse, the correct way (correct “for us”) of posing the question. In this case: what determines capital – as a political-material relation, as a relation of force – in its configuration and its international dynamics?
The constitution of a “world market” is defined by Marx several times as the greatest historical task of capital. This thesis is “established” already in the first pages of Capital: the analysis of the concept of abstract labor shows, in fact, that an infinite multiplicity of articulations is necessary to its historical-theoretical existence, a continual overcoming of the “limits set by use-value.”57 Such an overcoming is possible ultimately only on the widest possible extension of the area of exchange, on the world market.
But it is only foreign trade, the development of the market to a world market, which causes money to develop into world money and abstract labour into social labour. Abstract wealth, value, money, hence abstract labour, develop in the measure that concrete labour becomes a totality of different modes of labour embracing the world market. Capitalist production rests on the value or the transformation of the labour embodied in the product into social labour. But this is only [possible] on the basis of foreign trade and of the world market. This is at once the pre-condition and the result of capitalist production.58
Let us stop for a moment on this last point. How is it possible that a result is, at the same time, a presupposition? The explanation clearly must be sought in the mechanism, and the historical process, of “primitive” accumulation – in which, indeed, the Weltmarkt dimension is fundamental to Marx’s analysis.59 Within it, “antediluvian” forms of capital – capital which, so to speak, has not yet become such – work ceaselessly to extend the borders of the world market, via the specific mechanism of accumulation that characterizes them – accumulation “durch Prellerei.” Precisely because its immediate source of profit is the earnings from the exchange – a gain which accumulates in enormous proportions in the “metropoles” of the system – mercantile capital is compelled to relentlessly extend the reach of the area of exchange, rather than its intensity. As Marx comments in Theories of Surplus Value:
Say, in his notes to Ricardo’s book translated by Constancio, makes only one correct remark about foreign trade. Profit can also be made by cheating, one person gaining what the other loses. Loss and gain within a single country cancel each other out. But not so with trade between different countries. And even according to Ricardo’s theory, three days of labour of one country can be exchanged against one of another country – a point not noted by Say. Here the law of value undergoes essential modification.60
In what do these essential modifications of the law of value in its global operation consist? This is precisely the point which will need to be clarified. But the problem which is immediately posed is that of the relation between the Marxian illustrations of Urkapitalismus and the Leninist thesis of a gigantic “return” of world capitalist accumulation, in its mature phase, to its originary forms of movement.
It is undeniable that there is a strong analogy between the category of “parasitic” capital utilized by Lenin and the categories developed by Marx in his analysis of “primitive” accumulation61 : in any case, the treatment of the relation between “economy” and “politics” is similar, between on the one hand the level of the social relations of production, and on the other the function of the state machine [macchina statale] in general. As, in the first instance, it sustains and protects, when it does not manage directly, the necessary process of the extension of the “market,” so, in the second instance, does it drive forward and safeguard the parasitic structure (parasitic to the second power) that the relation of production has gradually assumed on the global level.
The analogy is, for us, obvious. But the theoretical context within which that relation was interpreted is profoundly different in each instance. In Lenin there is an undeniably explicit intensification of the “putrescence” that the system undergoes in returning to its origins – this remains, as we have tried to show, the theoretical axis of Imperialism. On the contrary, in Marx, the atypical structure of “mercantile” accumulation has significance and “counts” exclusively on the basis of the emergence of the truly and properly capitalist relation – in particular, on the basis of the progressive destruction which it produces in the conditions of production and pre-capitalist social relations within the countries involved. The “presupposition” Weltmarkt dialectically inheres in its capitalistically progressive “result” – the coercive road inheres in the “natural” one. It should be noted that the question concerns the methodological structure of the discourse, and not immediately its contents. “Gigantic usury capital,” which returns, in Lenin, to dominate the scene in the greatest phase of the history of capital, may well be different in structure from that protagonist of the originary phase, but it is the demonstration of such a difference that is missing in Lenin, or which acquires inflections that are methodologically a long way from the Marxian model. But, moreover, one cannot clearly perceive in all of Marx’s own writings the coherent operations of the methodical schema exemplarily pursued in the analysis of primitive accumulation. And this is perhaps for reasons opposite to those just now indicated concerning Imperialism, due to a strict devotion not always justified in the contents of that analysis. This seems to be the case with Marx’s writings (and those of Engels) “on colonialism.”62 In these there predominates a sort of linear “optimism” concerning the future effects of colonial domination in the countries subjected to capitalist “progress,” which they are destined to achieve via the same domination, through a rapid substitution of the capitalist mode of production for the ancient social relations of production. Of course, this optimism has been proven incorrect by subsequent historical events, but it is also not sufficiently founded on a specific analysis of the process.63 It must be taken into account that – not unlike for the problem of the structure of accumulation in the late-joiner64 countries, with which Marx will only seriously begin to concern himself in the final years of his life – the question of the internal effects of colonial annexation is absolutely secondary, in these writings, to that of the relation between modifications in the international framework of power which the annexations themselves entail, and the symptomatology of crisis at the level of the world market – to the relation that defines, in Marx’s head after 1848, the underlying conditions of the revolutionary process.65
We now leave aside primitive accumulation and its problems, in order to try to delineate a possible Marxian model of the international movement of capital, starting from the full affirmation of its dominance, qua “industrial” (productive) capital, in the countries (or in the most important among them) that compete on the international market. Also, in this case it is necessary to proceed from certain, fundamental, methodological positions. Having established, as a matter of fact, the world market as “presupposition” and “result” of the process, the analysis must not from the outset be constrained to roaming around within the complex phenomenology that the empirical existence of such a market presents to observation. Under no circumstances is this its task.
In presenting the reification of the relations of production and the autonomy they acquire vis-à-vis the agents of production, we shall not go into the form and manner in which these connections appear to them as overwhelming natural laws, governing them irrespective of their will, in the form that the world market and its conjunctures, the movement of market prices, the cycles of industry and trade and the alternation of prosperity and crisis prevails on them as blind necessity. This is because the actual movement of competition lies outside our plan, and we are only out to present the internal organization of the capitalist mode of production, its ideal average, as it were.66
Competition does not enter immediately into the methodical research plan – and this holds true for what unfolds on the international market. Naturally, the refusal to remain stuck within the phenomenal appearance exemplified in the above cited passages does not mean that such an appearance constitutes a type of inessential and mystifying veil, without any independent [autonomi] material effects. Its relation to the categories developed by the analysis is, in any case, dialectical. This is particularly true for the totality constituted by the international market. Another passage suffices on this point:
…their own exchange and their own production confront individuals as an objective relation which is independent of them. In the case of the world market, the connection of the individual with all, but at the same time also the independence of this connection from the individual, have developed to such a high level that the formation of the world market already at the same time contains the conditions for going beyond it.) Comparison in place of real communality and generality.67
The determination of capital as an “ideal average” constitutes only a first moment of research, which must then move on to reconquer the concrete totality of the phenomenon (as “unity of many determinations”), following the theoretically and historically irreversible process of “transformation” of the figures that constitute it (the value of labor-power in wages, of surplus-value in profit, of value in price). Capital as “ideal average,” capital im Allgemein, appears only then in its real existence and as “social power.”
Capital in general, as distinct from the particular capitals, does indeed appear (1) only as an abstraction; not an arbitrary abstraction, but an abstraction which grasps the specific characteristics which distinguish capital from all other forms of wealth – or modes in which (social) production develops. These are the aspects common to every capital as such, or which make every specific sum of values into capital. And the distinctions within this abstraction are likewise abstract particularities which characterize every kind of capital, in that it is their position [Position] or negation [Negation] (e.g. fixed capital or circulating capital); (2) however, capital in general, as distinct from the particular real capitals, is itself a real existence. This is recognized by ordinary economics, even if it is not understood.68
The reconstruction of capital as Gesammtkapital is precisely the purpose of the third book. Its kernel, as we know, consists in a schema of the distribution of surplus-value produced by the whole class of productive workers across the “many” capitals operating within a given social formation, conditional upon a profit which is tendentially equal for each (an “average” profit) and which is based on a difference in organic composition, continuously renewing itself, within and among the various sectors.69 “Competition,” in general the coexistence of several particular capitals within the cycles of production and of circulation – in a word, the “market” – returns here to present itself, not as an “apparent movement” from which to abstract, but as an institutionally necessary moment of the system.
Now, the Marxian model just mentioned is valid within a social formation, within a “national” market. To what extent and in what sense can we extend it to the operation of the international market? Marx explicitly establishes, in the third book, that the level of abstraction is “determined” according to the viewpoint of the operation of a national capitalist society:
The distinctions between rates of surplus-value in different countries and hence between the different national levels of exploitation of labour are completely outside the scope of our present investigation. The object of this Part is simply to present the way in which a general rate of profit is arrived at within one particular country.70
In spite of this, the applicability of this model to the international “market” has been considered possible at various times – recently by Christel Neusüss, with whose attempts we concern ourselves most of all. It should be noted that we do not mean to systematically organize the parts of Marx’s analysis that develop the essential aspects of such a market (and to which we will return), but which after all develop them from the viewpoint of the social capital of “a given country” (effects of foreign trade on the fall of the rate of profit, function of the international rate of interest on the movements of money-capital from one country to another, world money). On the contrary, we mean to establish, to put it simply, whether the global population, or better, all the social relations (of production) of developed countries participating in the world market, are constituted in a single social formation of a capitalist type. As we have said, attempts in this direction are not lacking – Henryk Grossmann’s remains important, but it has limited appeal today, due to the objective difficulty of anticipating developments which would happen at a later time, and due to Grossman’s aprioristic will to bend the line of reasoning to his dear thesis on the nature of crisis (always and exclusively as crisis of overproduction). Grossmann does not go beyond the “logical,” abstract dimension of the problem: if the decisive dimension of the capitalist Ausgleichung is the national one, it cannot at the same time be the international one, and, vice versa, if the latter is the case, the “capitalist homogeneity,” so to speak, of the national markets is necessarily fractured.71
The more important difficulty remains, therefore – and it is easy to realize – the theoretical status that can be attributed to the functions of the state machine in general. Neusüss’s approach to this subject is as simple as it is suggestive. She gambles on the dialectical, so to speak, and moreover tendential character of the process of capitalist Ausgleichung. The very formation of a general rate of profit is, as Marx explicitly warns, a process “toward a limit”:
In theory, we assume that the laws of the capitalist mode of production develop in their pure form. In reality, this is only an approximation; but the approximation is all the more exact, the more the capitalist mode of production is developed and the less it is adulterated by survivals of earlier economic conditions with which it is amalgamated.72
Now, the survivals of which he speaks in this passage can well be assumed within a general category of “frictions” in regard to competition, of obstacles to the full unfolding of its “equalizing” and concentrating effects. The state must be examined as an institutional “friction” vis-à-vis international competition, although naturally its function may be, and is in fact, the greatest stimulus to the expansion of the world market, precisely as its historical role has generally been that of organizing the unification of the domestic market. The coeval growth [concrescita], within historically very different but inextricable forms, of its specific political-institutional (as well as directly “economic”) functions within capitalist development, makes the state machine an ineliminable component of the operation of the international market. It is responsible, as we shall soon see, for the irregular, and moreover incomplete, validity of the law of value. It is worth returning to a long passage that synthesizes the fundamental themes of Neusüss’s approach:
Capital constitutes itself as total social capital in relation to the many individual capitals by means of competition. But it cannot by itself actually accomplish this process of constitution if the State does not put into place, in relation to the historically given situation, all the general conditions – be they material, juridical, or political in the strict sense – which particular capitals, precisely by their nature, cannot establish. In their origins and national character, the juridical relations that regulate the circulation of capital, as a reflection and control of the mutual relations between owners of commodities, establish the true and proper separation between national and world-market circulation. In fact, circulation in the world market is regulated through and through by the dispositions of state institutions, and, in fact, there exist precarious contractual relations that express the tendency of capital to drive forward the world market, as the totality of particular capitals, in the sense of a real total capital; but in contrast to within the State, here there is always the possibility that economic relations will degenerate into relations of plunder, deception, and open exploitation. This is not sufficient; the real national existence of the State as representative and collector of single national capitals is further clarified here insofar as theft is always mediated by the State – it is, as a rule, carried out with the deployment of state power. In these cases the function of the national State is completely exposed: facing inward, it guarantees the social existence of the plurality of individual capitals; facing outward, it can implement a politics that diametrically contradicts the political unification of various national capitals into a total global capital. This is because it offers to the counterposed interests of national capitals in competition with one another a political form against which it can fracture the validity of economic laws on the world market.73
Before following the next development of this formulation, it is necessary to make some general critical observations. It is, indeed, a formulation that wants to hinge itself on the Marxian schema already recalled, of the transformation of capital from simple relation of value (surplus-value) to social capital, but which, in our view, does so in a rather mechanical manner. The process of the constitution of capital into social capital actually ends up being identified with the sphere of the real and perfect validity of free competition. Certainly, the Aufhebung of the “frictions” of free competition should not be understood as a neoliberal, anti-monopolistic74 postulate, but as a result of the specific function performed domestically by the state in validating the purity of the capitalist law of accumulation. But what exactly is that law? And above all, what forms does it assume today, at a certain historical level of maturity? The limit of Neusüss’s approach, on this score, is twofold: on the one hand, her reconstruction of Marx’s analysis tends to reduce the scope within which he has relevance to an historical range, one which is, after all is said and done, limited to the epoch of “competitive” capitalism; and, on the other, she then aspires to extend that same reconstruction, unaltered, into the present. Here it should be noted that she is not dealing with the problem of the monopolization of the economy taken in itself. Naturally, she has taken into account the process of concentration; but for Neusüss, such a process, despite being a necessary consequence of the laws of capitalist accumulation – which in fact correspond to it – is not subject to generalizations, as it unfolds within a rather different historical particularity of the state-capital relation (within an always different “historischen Milieu”). Essentially Neusüss reduces monopoly to a transformed form of competition. This is, in fact, a correct operation, provided that one abandons the objectivistic perspective that is, instead, her signature, and provided that one reads the categories of competition, monopoly, and so on for what they really mean in Marx.75 From the objective economic point of view, monopoly is the exact opposite of competition. The continuity, which is so dear to Neusüss, of the capitalist relation and of the operation of its laws even when free competition has become a faded historical memory, is significant only as the continuity of domination, and, concurrently, as the result of the permanence of the class struggle. Not even the dialectic between the particularity of single capitals and social capital seems to be an essential objective feature of the system today – as the saga of really-existing socialism shows.
This type of recuperation, too rigidly loyal to the letter of Marx’s texts, has some very respectable motivations: throughout the discourse, there is a continuous polemic, whether implicit or explicit, with the “Theorie des Staatsmonopolistischen Kapitalismus,” the interpretation of current-day modifications in the state-capital relation, which Neüsuss finds intent on legitimizing the most opportunistic praxis [prassi] of the workers’ movement in the West – “theory” which has been developed especially in the milieu of the GDR and of official German and French communism, of which we cannot concern ourselves here.77 But it does not really seem as though the barrage launched by Neusüss from the trenches of Capital, or, better, her reading of Capital, constitutes an adequate reply. The litmus test, even in this case, is the question of the state. On this point Neusüss’s vision is perfectly complementary with what has been said so far. Once and for all, one hundred years ago as well as today, the state is an organized apparatus [apparato organizzato] which, from a position outside and above, prepares and guarantees the external conditions for capitalist development – conditions which are material (“infrastructural”), juridical, and political. The state is neither more nor less than a function of the social development of capital, and an external function: it is, as a rule, subject to the accusation of only performing unproductive labor. The antinomic character of the capitalist social relation does not operate dialectically within the political-state form [la figura politico-statale]. Neusüss appeals to the authority of Pashukanis in vain; her Pashukanis is that of Kelsen and of revisionism in general, the Pashukanis of “all law as private law” and of the dullest institutionalism.78 Down this road, not only does one fail to grasp the character of today’s crisis of the state, which is a crisis of its overall attempt to re-qualify itself as direct planner [pianificazione] of development, but one remains on this side of that fundamental historical experience.79
But we return now to the main thread of the argument. The hypothesis that has emerged is that of an anomalous structure of the world market, and, moreover, a structure which cannot be assimilated to that of the domestic market, because of the intermediation of the state. In the domestic market the modern state, rather than being an obstacle, has precisely the task of removing obstacles, and of constructing the conditions for a “normal” unfolding of the process of capitalist Ausgleichung. Marx is explicit in indicating these conditions:
This constant equalization of ever-renewed inequalities is accomplished more quickly, (1) the more mobile capital is, i.e. the more easily it can be transferred from one sphere and one place to others; (2) the more rapidly labour-power can be moved from one sphere to another and from one local point of production to another. The first of these conditions implies completely free trade within the society in question and the abolition of all monopolies other than natural ones, i.e. those arising from the capitalist mode of production itself. It also presupposes the development of the credit system, which concentrates together the inorganic mass of available social capital vis-a-vis the individual capitalist. It further implies that the various spheres of production have been subordinated to capitalists. […] A final precondition is a high population density. The second condition presupposes the abolition of all laws that prevent workers from moving from one sphere of production to another or from one local seat of production to any other. Indifference of the worker to the content of his work. Greatest possible reduction of work in all spheres of production to simple labour. Disappearance of all prejudices of trade and craft among the workers. Finally and especially, the subjection of the worker to the capitalist mode of production.80
Now, the active role of the state in determining or allowing the realization of this twofold condition is transformed, up to a certain point, in the world market, into the role of institutional intermediation and therefore into an obstacle, actual and potential, to the completion of the process.
The institutional character of this intermediation should be underlined: it does not depend exclusively on particular state “policies” on the terrain of international exchange. Thus, incidentally, the fact that the international arrangement is to this day reconstructed as a mutual regulation, in principle, between states, and that the effective juridical regulation of international exchanges has a basis, either in a pact or deriving from a unilateral state determination81 – all this, to take an example, is not simple ideology. If anything, it is an ideologically “real” reflection of the situation. Single capitals, not (exclusively) states, remain the real subjects of the world market. But, indeed, the imputation to the state of all foreign trade and the subsequent outstanding debt and credit registered by the balance of payments – these are not simple accounting expressions, but instead confirm the specific nature of this market.
What is, therefore, the theoretical model within which to comprehend its operation? Judging from some hints, even if they are incidental, Marx himself seems inclined toward reusing the schema of “simple mercantile” production. Discussing, in the central tenth chapter of the third book, the “equalization of the general rate of profit,” Marx “supposes” at a certain point – in order to bring out the heart [punctum saliens] of the problem – a situation in which the workers themselves are the owners of their respective means of production. In this case, the exchange of products that contain a different ratio of living labor to dead labor takes place approximately, but directly, in terms of value.
Under these conditions, the difference in the profit rate would be a matter of indifference, just as for a present-day wage-labourer it is a matter of indifference in what profit rate the surplus-value extorted from him is expressed, and just as in international trade the differences in profit rates between different nations are completely immaterial as far as the exchange of their commodities is concerned.
And he continues:
it is also quite apposite to view the values of commodities not only as theoretically prior to the prices of production, but also as historically prior to them. This applies to those conditions in which the means of production belong to the worker, and this condition is to be found, in both the ancient and the modern world, among peasant proprietors and handicraftsmen who work for themselves. This agrees, moreover, with the opinion we expressed previously, viz. that the development of products into commodities arises from exchange between different communities, and not between the members of one and the same community. This is true not only for the original condition, but also for later social conditions based on slavery and serfdom, and for the guild organization of handicraft production, as long as the means of production involved in each branch of production can be transferred from one sphere to another only with difficulty, and the different spheres of production therefore relate to one another, within certain limits, like foreign countries or communistic communities.82
We now understand the reasons for Marx’s assertion, cited above, that the law of value undergoes “essential modifications” on the international market. These terms are not chosen randomly. Because of its separation along national-state lines, international society is not capitalistically homogenous – it does not exist as a capitalist society. The law of value is not transformed here into its opposite – law of surplus-value and then of profit – but applies as such. It applies as law of exchange of equivalents, but with this essential modification: while inside a country the capital gains produced must be mediated by exchange, although they cannot arise from it, since there is a necessary offsetting of “unequal” exchanges, in the sphere of international trade there is the possibility (but then there is no other possibility from circulation) of systematically transferring value from one place to another, from one contracting party to another. What is then the mechanism which, on the one hand, maintains international exchange of commodities as exchange of equivalents, according to the law of value, and on the other hand, determines it as unequal exchange? Marx mentions it explicitly in the neglected chapter in the first book dedicated to the “difference between national wages.” He writes:
In every country there is a certain average intensity of labour below which the labour for the production of a commodity requires more than the time socially necessary, and therefore does not count as labour of normal quality. In a given country, only a degree of intensity which is above the national average alters the measurement of value by the mere duration of labour-time. It is otherwise on the world market, whose integral parts are the individual countries. The average intensity of labour changes from country to country; here is it greater, there less. These national averages form a scale whose unit of measurement is the average unit of universal labour. The more intense national labour, therefore, as compared with the less intense, produces in the same time more value, which expresses itself in more money. But the law of value is yet more modified in its international application by the fact that, on the world market, national labour which is more productive also counts as more intensive, as long as the more productive nation is not compelled by competition to lower the selling price of its commodities to the level of their value.83
“In a given country,” therefore, all labor is reducible, and is reduced in fact, to “normally” productive labor; more generally, in a given country, competition works not only on the “products” but on the very “factors” of production, pushing capital and labor into more and more productive sectors. On the international market, however, this second type of competition is blocked, or forced to operate in a partial and mediated way, by the modifications that are established within the various countries between the relative costs of various productions. The national levels of intensity and productivity of labor are modified mainly for reasons relating to internal development: these are arranged on a “scale” whose unit of measure is a simple arithmetic average. “Normal” international labor does not exist anywhere in reality.84 Therefore the daily laboring of a more productive nation does not only produce more wealth but, proportionally, more value – and it swaps places with a proportional multiple of the working days in less productive countries. This means – as we have seen in the Ricardian schema, or, better, in the schema from which Ricardo develops his theory of international specialization – the presuppositions are, after all, the same.85
Of course, this requires an essential element of integration. Marx certainly does not conceive of the world market as a primitive system of barter. It may be a “simple market” system; but it is precisely for this reason that he finds the doubling of the commodity form, into commodity and money, to be just as intrinsically necessary.86 However, the resulting twofold circulation of commodities and money takes on a specific characteristic here: the doubling of the very form of money into world money and national money-currency. The movement of exchange on the international market cannot be represented as a simple sequence of C–M/M–C, with each M necessarily doubling and multiplying into sequences of Mx–My, etc.87 – national currencies with specific relations of value between them. On the one hand, the “local forms” assumed by money disappear in the general commodity of the world market, “money in the eminent sense of the word,” the general means of exchange in its naked materiality. On the other hand, if world money is not in fact a new determination that must be added to money in general, it necessarily is averaged in the circulations of national currencies. Most international transactions take place directly in national currencies of the interested countries; they are only made in world money in exceptional cases and for specific purposes. If, on the one hand, this double circulation is to allow the modified operation of the law of value on the international level, since the relative value of the single currencies with respect to world money (gold) expresses the greater or lesser productivity/intensity88 of the working day in each nation; then, on the other hand, it also determines the limits within which this operation unfolds. In the international monetary system that Marx has before him (in the process of becoming the Gold standard89 ) the adjustment of value outside of the national currencies is an automatic function of the trade deficit, and the movement of prices and of exchange rates should function, according to the orthodoxy of the system, in a manner inverse to the movements of the commodity market.90 This remains true even if, as is equally well-known, Marx’s entire monetary conception is radically opposed to Ricardian views and, for this reason, to that way of interpreting a causal link between movements of world money in the reserves of various countries, and price flows and exchange rates (a law which exactly inverts of the important account given by quantitative theory).
Ultimately, this first approximation of Marx’s texts concerning the world market provides us with a framework that, although probably adequate to the general structure of the market that presented itself to Marx, does not seem to measure up, theoretically, to the legitimate expectations of today’s reader. Beyond the fact that it was necessarily conditioned by transitory empirical characteristics (to which we shall return), this analysis seems above all to suffer from a clear disproportion between the central role that, in principle, is imputed to the world market (“massive historic task of capital”), and its reconstruction as a mere result of the process, a social area that, even with capitalist development having been achieved at the maximum level – only global labor is abstract labor, only world money is money – preserves a paleo-capitalist structure in itself and for itself. And, above all, this analysis does not develop, at first glance, any active and autonomous function arising within development, limiting itself to recording, by its existence alone, its level and maturity. Capitalist development is, in its essence, the development of a specific social formation within national environments – this seems to remain the viewpoint of Capital. From this point of view, the world market is represented in reality as foreign trade: and in this form it can then adopt a close relation with the process of accumulation – in particular as countertendency to the fall in the rate of profit.91 A truly contradictory countertendency; on the one hand, in fact,
in so far as foreign trade cheapens on the one hand the elements of constant capital and on the other the necessary means of subsistence into which variable capital is converted, it acts to raise the rate of profit by raising the rate of surplus-value and reducing the value of constant capital. It has a general effect in this direction in as much as it permits the scale of production to be expanded. In this way it accelerates accumulation, while it also accelerates the fall in the variable capital as against the constant, and hence the fall in the rate of profit. And whereas the expansion of foreign trade was the basis of capitalist production in its infancy, it becomes the specific product of the capitalist mode of production as this progresses, through the inner necessity of this mode of production and its need for an ever extended market.92
Even in this case, therefore, the relation between foreign trade and national capitalist cycles confirms the secondary, even derivative, location of the world market, with respect to the process of capital accumulation on a world scale. Truly It seems, as we have just seen, a perfect inversion with respect to the mercantilist infancy of the system, when the illusory identification of wealth with gold was still based on the fact that products were transformed into commodities, and therefore into money, only on the world market.
But does all this truly exhaust what Marx can tell us about the world market, or does it not instead constitute a still partial and deformed representation of his method of analysis?
The structure of the world market that emerges from those of Marx’s texts which we have just reviewed, indeed corresponds, albeit only partially, to a (necessary but insufficient) first level of his method of investigation: it corresponds, that is, to the determination of theoretical figures which elaborate the phenomenon as an ideal average. It is the thematic arc which proceeds from money as world money – with precious metals balancing the surplus of the entire process of the international exchange of commodities (and, as such, “its formal character as medium of circulation is essentially irrelevant”: its material is everything93 ) – to the general conditions of international (equal-unequal) exchange. And it is an elaboration of figures that ultimately reflects, in its final components, the very historical process of the constitution of the world market from the infancy of capital to its first unfolding as a social relation of exploitation, according to a succession that transforms, but also maintains, the originary elements of the system. In other words, Marx’s observations on the role of precious metals are applicable here:
No matter how much the modern economists imagine themselves beyond Mercantilism, in periods of general crisis gold and silver still appear in precisely this role, in 1857 as much as in 1600.94
The additional (theoretical and historical) step, which should consider the world market precisely as the continuous result and presupposition of development, does not – it is useless to deny it – end up systematically elaborated in Marx. To overburden the texts we have just now recalled in this way serves only to distort his thought in a primitivistic manner.
All this does not mean that it is not possible to gather some general indications for a further elaboration within Marx’s own writings. On the contrary. In the first place, there are indications on the correct manner of understanding the set of concepts recalled in the preceding paragraph. Discussing the problem of the relative wage in the twentieth chapter of the first book, Marx sets up at, a certain point, a decisive polemic with Carey. According to him, the advantage of investing capital in various countries according to their different wage rates would be distorted by the intervention of the state in the distribution of national income. According to Carey, therefore,
state intervention has falsified the natural economic relation. The different national wages must therefore be calculated on the assumption that the part of them that goes to the state in the form of taxes was received by the worker himself. Ought not Mr. Carey to consider further whether these “state expenses” are not the “natural fruits” of capitalist development? His reasoning is quite worthy of the man who, first of all, declared that capitalist relations of production were eternal laws of nature and reason, whose free and harmonious working was only disturbed by the intervention of the state, and then discovered afterwards that state intervention, i.e. the defense of those laws of nature and reason by the state, alias the system of protection, was necessitated by the diabolical influence of England on the world market, an influence which, it appears, does not spring from the natural laws of capitalist production.95
The critique of free-tradist [libero-scambista] optimism – to which even the young Marx had given his “revolutionary support”96 – is important in this context because it neatly clarifies that any rigidly dualist conception of the relation between the “naturalness” [naturalità] of economic laws and the “artificiality” of political-institutional mechanisms is totally extraneous to Marx. The state, and not only the free-trade97 state but also the protectionist one, is also a natural product [frutto] of the development of capital. And vice versa: the interference of the state subsists in whatever “commercial” policy is adopted, on the basis of the needs of development in each phase. Therefore, as much as competition is not the sole possible terrain for accumulation, so, on the other hand, does competition involve [implica] the state, and is always regulated by the state [statalmente].98
Secondly, there is rich material (only partially studied thus far) in the analyses conducted by Marx “in the field,” so to speak, on commercial cycles and on international crises (those of 1857 and 1866), in part resumed and re-elaborated in A Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy, the Grundrisse, and in the third book of Capital (part 5). In these writings, the abstract connection between the figures – each possessing its own function – that compose the total cycle (even and, above all, in its international dimension) is presented in its living and contradictory dynamic and is determined politically. The terrain of the crisis, in particular the international crisis, is privileged by Marx, starting from the failure of 1848, less as a material condition of any revolutionary relaunching (an “opportunity”), than as a unique sphere that reveals, all the way through, the contradictory transformation that the system has been undergoing in the meantime, and the different role assumed by the various components of the cycle (productive capital, monetary capital, “interest-bearing” capital, speculative capital) in the living structure of the political power of capital.99 The world market is precisely at the center of Marx’s work of excavation, and it is so from a perspective which is indeed new with respect to the categorial rigidity of the schema illustrated in the preceding paragraph. In this case, everything from which it was at first necessary to abstract, now comes to the fore: “the connections by means of the world market, its conjunctures, the movement of the prices of the market, the periods of credit, the cycles of industry and of business, the alternation of prosperity and crisis”: in a word, if one wants, the concrete movement of international “competition.” Simplifying to the extreme: that schema really100 determined the world market as global division of labor, mediated by foreign trade, on the basis of the diverse capacity of capital to exercise the direct exploitation of labor-power. Indeed, “the irrelevance to the difference in the rates of profit” that presides over the international exchange of commodities establishes, upon encounter, the right of more developed capital to profit from the difference inherent in the inequality of the exchange. And one can add that, in the context of the Ricardian presuppositions of that reasoning, this does not foreclose the possibility of the accumulation of peripheral capital, if it succeeds in further squeezing (and historically it does!) a real wage which seems absolutely (in physical terms) close to mere survival, though it may eventually be higher in relative terms.101 This structure of international trade, therefore, rewards capital that has already reached – that has already been compelled to reach – the phase of exploitation in terms of relative surplus-value, and simultaneously it outlines an international division of labor that fosters, at its edges, the most exacerbated tensions of the method of extraction of absolute surplus-value. And so how far we are, even in the sharing of presuppositions, from the idyllic framework of international specialization offered by the theory of comparative costs!
In this framework, money appears in its most “eminent” form, as world money, but also in its most simple. Money as money, measure of value in its naked, metallic, material existence; means of acquisition and, above all, of payment, where the imbalance of the mutual debt positions of states (due to structural causes, sudden needs, or crises) comes to expire; instrument of hoarding (reserve) for the needs of this specific circulation. Yet it is only when capitalist development at the strong points of the system reaches a certain historic threshold of maturity that the connection between internal cycles and the world market displays, within it, (world) money as capital. The linear proportionality of the rules of (purely monetary) simple circulation is disrupted by the disproportionality specific to those of capitalist circulation. At first, and to a certain extent later on, in “normal” periods that proportionality seems still to function: the international finance circuit functions as simple proportional representation of the national finance circuits.102
As soon as the general crisis has burned itself out, and we again have a state of equilibrium, the gold and silver […] is again distributed in the proportions in which it previously existed as hoards in the various countries. With circumstances remaining otherwise the same, the relative size of the hoard in each country is determined by this country’s role in the world market.103
The task of crises – of general crises – is precisely that of revealing the intricate fabric of relations that the evolution of the capitalist chrysalis has woven together on the global level. It is worth noting that, already in its elementary existence of simple circulation, the world market contains in itself the germs of crisis. In his critique of Say, Marx had shown that the unity of the acts of exchange is dialectical: it includes the possibility of the rupture of its extremes. And yet, “no more than the possibility. For the development of this possibility into a reality a whole series of conditions is required, which do not yet even exist from the standpoint of the simple circulations of commodities.”104 The study of these relations is, indeed, the great subject of his writings recalled here.
Now, it is clearly not our aim here to compose, in a systematic manner, the numerous fragments of analysis on the conjuncture of the world market which Marx has left us.105 In the context of his general polemic against Ricardo’s monetarist conceptions, he generally utilizes the contributions of the “banking” school, anticipating the contradictory functions of the Gold standard. From these analyses, we are interested in underlining only one point here. Let us allow Marx himself to speak once more:
As regards the question of imports and exports, it should be noted that all countries are successively caught up in the crisis, and that it is then apparent that they have all, with few exceptions, both exported and imported too much; i.e. the balance of payments is against them all, so that the root of the problem is actually not the balance of payments at all […] In times of general crisis the balance of payments is against every country, at least against every commercially developed country, but always against each of these in succession – like volley firing – as soon as the sequence of payments reaches it; and once the crisis has broken out in England, for example, this sequence of dates is condensed into a fairly short period. It is then evident that all these countries have simultaneously over-exported (i.e. over-produced) and over-imported (i.e. over-traded) and that in all of them prices were inflated and credit overstretched. In every case the same collapse follows. The phenomenon of a drain of gold then affects each of them in turn, and shows by its very universality: (1) that the drain of gold is simply a phenomenon of the crisis, and not its basis; (2) that the sequence in which this drain of gold affects the different countries simply indicates when the series reaches them, for a final settlement of accounts; when their own day of crisis comes and its latent elements in turn emerge in their own case.106
The point here is not the intrinsic “nature” of the crisis: the “excess production” which is imputed here must be read, as always, within the general context of the Marxian discourse of the crisis. But, as to its international dimension, it is important to underline Marx’s insistence on the always “real,” and not monetary, cause of the crisis. In the concrete economic and monetary system which he has before him, the diversity and the inequality of national development of capitalist relations and the national administration of credit (of the rate of interest) induce disproportions that spread through proximity – through the nexus of the balances of payments – from one country to another. Any attempt to block this transmission may count as a deferral that aggravates the situation: this is a leitmotif of Marx’s empirical analyses of the international conjuncture.107 In this sense, this material, which poses the problem of world money in a new and concrete manner, does not substantively nullify the schema illustrated earlier. Ultimately, the structure of international trade, as we have seen it, remains in place, as a function of the development of single national poles: the increasing autonomization of financial mechanisms, and the financial flows that Marx seeks to reconstruct in their particularities, must continually be resolved in the crisis, in the reconfirmation of the equilibrium or, indeed, in a new commercial equilibrium depending on a different configuration of the world market, which has emerged, in the meantime, in part through colonial partitioning.108
The terrain of international crises (as moments of truth in the transformations of the world market) consequently becomes a privileged terrain of analysis. And it is truly surprising, then, that this is one of the subjects least studied by Marxists. It seems almost as though the concise and in itself valid Leninist polemic of the 1890s against the positions of the legal Marxists, on the question of the “foreign” market, has since impeded the research – in fact, when it comes to the international cycle-crisis trend during the 1800s, we are still compelled to refer to Tugan-Baranowski’s Handelskrisen! However, it is precisely between the epoch of English hegemony on the world market – Marx’s epoch – and the two decades preceding the first world war – Lenin’s epoch – that one can observe a first historical leap in the relation between national capitalist cycles and world market. The crisis of the 1870s (after the Commune!) is the ultimate nineteenth-century crisis, and not only in a literal sense. It is within this “long depression” that the bases of a transformation in the relation are established.
The belle époque image of the era of the Gold standard and its automatisms is, of course, completely formulaic. Already it contained within it a series of contradictions that were prevented from exploding before the Great War only by particular historical circumstances and the wise use of policies which were far from the dominant laissez-faire [liberista] ideology. Meanwhile, there was the change of the United Kingdom’s position in the field of the world market. The decline of the English commercial balance in the final quarter of the last century is a fact of historic importance. The recession of the “diabolical English influence” on international trade is, fundamentally, the result of the appearance on the scene of new poles of national capitalism, Germany and the U.S. above all. Already then, this was seen with hope by the elderly Engels: the fall of the English monopoly (monopoly of the greatest energy source, carbon, plus colonial monopoly) would have made socialism reappear among the English workers.109 Meanwhile German, French, and, subsequently, American commodities consistently surpassed English ones on all the “free” markets. The Listian controversy against the “school” was finally finding its realization: the protection of internal industrialization – which, while graduated in various ways, was always decisive – proved to be successful. The expansion of international trade, aside from developing according to the initial proportions or continually reconquering the equilibrium (as the slick hypotheses of “comparative advantages” would have it), dramatically and irreversibly disequilibrated the form and the very nature of the world market. In this sense (we will return to this), with respect to the English “model” – the model, as specified in the “Introduction” of Capital, for the future development of the continent – and, after the French collapse of 1870 and the interruption of the Bonapartist modernization, the truly decisive historical site from the point of view of the tendencies, Wilhelmine Germany (and, immediately afterwards, the United States).
In the second place, and in a parallel manner, a new polarization of the international financial structure is established. This is obviously a very complex topic, of which we seek to grasp, here, only one point. The multiplication of the financial centers (London and Paris, Berlin and New York)110 corresponds only apparently to the ideological schema subtending the “theoretical” operation of the Gold standard. In reality, it takes the contradiction inherent in its real operation to the extreme. On one side, it confirms the indefinitely open structure of the system’s automatic equilibria: in fact, it reproduces on the financial terrain (world money market, exchange market, loan capital market) the changes that have taken place in the real division of (capitalistically) productive labor; on the other, however, it requires and finds a “closure” in the role maintained in any case by the pound sterling: the Gold standard is born (and maintains itself) in reality as Sterling standard.111 Yet it was so in a masked manner, so to speak, which was nonetheless in contradiction with the guiding principles and, therefore, intimately fragile. Increasingly, where the mechanisms that are theoretically sufficient for the equilibrated financing of exchanges do not reach, from the rigging of the discount rate to operations on the open market, it involved ad hoc agreements and interventions: only in this way, in certain crucial moments, did world money flow to where, on a case-by-case basis, it was acutely necessary.
According to De Cecco’s convincing reconstruction, it was to a large extent the specific function carried out by the English colonial dominions, in particular by India, which allowed sterling a dominant role in the system, such as it was. Not only, as it is known, is the British commercial disequilibrium more than offset, beginning from the end of the last century, by the enormous asset of profits gained through foreign investment, but colonial foreign trade itself (Indian in particular) recoups on the world market some substantial surpluses, the supply of which is placed, willy-nilly, completely into the hands of the financial apparatus of the City.112 The umpteenth refutation, obviously, of various bourgeois historiographical criticisms (as have already been mentioned) of the Leninist theses on the economic importance of colonial operations; but also, indirect confirmation (which cannot be developed here) of the impossibility of assuming “colonialism” in terms of a total homogeneity and a single function.113
This is, obviously, the framework of the “classical” debate on imperialism, which indeed reveals a contradictory attitude with respect to this question (and it is for this reason that we recall it here). On the one hand, one can say that it is calibrated exclusively in relation to the English “case”: the figure of the parasitic state actually conforms to this, on account of the nature of the share of national income earned from abroad, the disproportionate role maintained by finance, and, finally, the “technological stagnation” simultaneously experienced by its industrial structure.114 The classical debate seems almost to attribute a secondary importance to the extraordinary historical significance of the active role of institutions in the late-joiner115 countries (signally in Germany) – initially in the forms of an accentuated centralization of the operations financing industrialization, and then, subsequently, with equipment intended to directly or indirectly govern the structure and composition of supply – when compared to the tendencies of the state-development relation, which is instead treated as essential. On the other hand, if a politics of fierce protections and then of imperialist expansion, which tends even to destroy the world market as simple area of exchange, corresponds to the anything but “parasitic” role of the state within second-comer116 industrialization, in this very phase the conditions, which had up to that point impeded the evolution of the international market from a mere moment of simple circulation to becoming the direct center of the accumulation process on a world scale, are changing radically. But concerning the whole process of internationalization, the classical debate performs a reading by all means conditioned by what has just been said.
The international movements of labor-power in this phase are events which largely remain to be studied.117 What is certain, however, is that they repeat on an enormous scale, though in different forms, the “originary” movements of the “slave trade” [tratta]: let it suffice to recall the massive extractions of labor-power from India and China, both towards other colonial areas (Africa) and to the metropolis, or to recall the waves of transoceanic immigration to the United States. If all this does not eliminate the existence of closed national markets of labor, still less is the relative international immobility of capital overcome by the waves of “capital export,” which the classical debate on imperialism rightly places at the center of its attention, and which constitute in fact the first massive historical phenomenon of “internationalization” of capital. In other words, this is still a hybrid form, so to speak, of transition, of the process of internationalization: this does not therefore represent a real qualitative leap of the system. As the recent literature on foreign investment has put into relief, this is dominated in this phase, quantitatively and qualitatively, by the figure of the investment “portfolio.”118 Although the nature of the latter cannot be made clear but in contrast to “direct” investment (a distinction that is not necessarily fully perceived in this moment), the phenomenon appears reconstructed, even then, in a substantially correct manner.
In the first place, there are state and communal loans. The vast growth of the state budgets, caused both by the growing complexity of economic life in general, and by the militarisation of the entire “national economy,” makes it ever more necessary to contract foreign loans to defray the current expenses […] Another form of capital export is the system of “participation,” where an enterprise (industrial, commercial, or banking) of country A holds stocks or bonds of an enterprise in country B. A third form is the financing of foreign enterprises, creating of capital for a definite and specified aim […] A fourth form is credit without any specified aim (the latter calls for “financing”) extended by the large banks of one country to the banks of another country. The fifth and last form is the buying of foreign stocks, etc., with the purpose of holding them (compare activities of banks of issue), etc.
These lines [righe] by Bukharin are from 1915, but the general lines [linee generali] of more recent studies do not differ substantially from this description.119
The adequate theoretical figure that encompasses [ricomprendere] the nature and dynamic of this specific mobility of capital is already totally developed in Marx: it involves capital as commodity – the loan capital market. In the 5th section of the third book Marx unfolds the general lines of his theory of this market, albeit in a rather fragmented manner:
On the money market it is only lenders and borrowers who face one another. The commodity has the same form, money. All particular forms of capital, arising from its investment in particular spheres of production or circulation, are obliterated here. It exists in the undifferentiated, self-identical form of independent value, of money. Competition between particular spheres now ceases; they are all thrown together as borrowers of money, and capital confronts them all in a form still indifferent to the specific manner and mode of its application. Here capital really does emerge, in the pressure of its demand and supply, as the common capital of the class, whereas industrial capital appears like this only in the movement and competition between particular spheres.120
Whence the Marxian theory of the rate of interest and its critique of the existence of a “natural rate”:
As far as the permanently fluctuating market rate of interest is concerned, this is a fixed magnitude at any given moment, just like the market price of commodities, because on the money market all capital for loan confronts the functioning capital as an overall mass; i.e. the relationship between the supply of loan capital on the one hand, and the demand for it on the other, is what determines the market level of interest at any given time.121
The rate of profit – which exists uniquely as a tendency, as a movement tending to equalize the particular rates of profit – constitutes only the external limit of the determination of the rate of interest, but the laws of formation of the one are in fact different from those of the other – their connection clearly resides only in the movement of the cycle. But the different nature of the two rates has a fundamental importance in this context, precisely for that aspect from which Marx’s analysis seems to want to abstract:
In stressing this distinction between the interest rate and the profit rate, we have so far left aside the following two factors, which favour the consolidation of the interest rate: (1) the historical pre-existence of interest-bearing capital and the existence of a general rate of interest handed down by tradition; (2) the far stronger direct influence that the world market exerts on the establishment of the interest rate, independently of the conditions of production in a country, as compared with its influence on the profit rate.122
Exactly as the rate of interest historically anticipates the formation of the rate of profit, so it anticipates, at the level of the world market, the tendential movements of the rate of profit. The influence of the world market on the national rates of interest is in fact only an appearance [faccia] of the inverse process. Marx affirms this explicitly at the end of his analysis of credit:
The credit system hence accelerates the material development of the productive forces and the creation of the world market, which it is the historical task of the capitalist mode of production to bring to a certain level of development, as material foundations for the new form of production. At the same time, credit accelerates the violent outbreaks of this contradiction, crises, and with these the elements of dissolution of the old mode of production.123
Capital export and the process of capitalist internationalization preceding the first world war are largely the practical realization of this anticipatory function of the movement of capital that is productive of interest. As such, they reproduce on a broad scale the characteristic ambivalence of this movement. The “classical” literature is aware, even without systematizing it, of this ambivalence. Thus, the Leninist emphasis on the contrast between export of commodities and export of capitals does not change the fact that, in the last analysis, for Lenin as for almost all the contemporaneous literature, the second is still a direct function of the first, on the “strictly economic” plane, according to the unchanging schema: export of manufactured goods against import of raw materials. And it is in this light that one should also read and appreciate the twofold polemic developed by Lenin: on the one side, against anyone who unduly extends the moments of anticipation of that form of international mobility of capital (against Kautsky, but also against Bukharin); on the other, against anyone who elides them within a “normal form” of the cycle and within the schemas of enlarged reproduction.124
The identification of the anticipatory functions of the movement of money capital is, however, the closest to a preview that the immediate content of Marx’s analysis in Capital can offer us. All of this analysis – in this way no different from the “classics” on imperialism – is linked to a series of historical and institutional conditions destined to completely fade away. The turning point, also for the international economic and monetary system, is yet again the Great Depression:
The great testing time for the mechanism, even in the highly complicated form in which it subsisted in the Twenties, came with the Great Depression and continued into World War II. By this time classical monetary theory was substantially discredited because economic reality was so patently in conflict with its basic postulates. It is not much of an exaggeration to say that in 1939 a large section of received economic theory, at least that which dealt with international trading and monetary arrangements (in some respects the most important segment of economics), lay in ruins -- as did the actual network of relationships which it set out to explain […] The war of 1939-1945 was a watershed, and, afterward, there was a new beginning in international economics.125
What then are the essential characteristics of this new phase? The general datum from which it is necessary to start, and to explain, is made up of the unprecedented “service” [prestazione] offered by the capitalist system as a whole from the end of the war through the entire 1970s. Starting from the immediate postwar period, all of the signs of development begin to move upwards with rhythms that far exceed the historical trend. The main nucleus of this prolonged expansion is constituted precisely by the accelerated development and new configuration assumed by the monetary market: its growth rate is, in fact, significantly superior to all other indicators.
At the base of the performance of postwar western capitalism are three interrelated factors: the control of internal demand through a politics of intervention and public spending, the exceptional development of demand and global commerce, and the international monetary system.126
More precisely, the prolonged functioning of a positive spiral of export-investment-credit-export for all of the countries with major capitalist cities is based on two conditions: on the one hand, the generalization to all these countries of “Keynesian” models of public assistance [sostegno] for demand and of control of the cycle which act as “shock absorbers” for the recessive pressures that originate from one country or another in isolation. On the other hand, this spiral is based on an international financial mechanism that supports the increase of exchange and is indeed secured by the deficit of the balance of U.S. payments.127
Together, these two conditions make up the essence of the new field of relations in which global capitalist development takes place after the Great Depression. And these two homogeneous conditions are the fruit of the same theoretical and political inspiration. If the “Keynesianism” of the internal politics of the regulation of the cycle starting from the New Deal128 is by now commonplace, what presides over the reconstruction of the international system of economics after the second world war is less perceptible. It seems to be undeniable that not only the guiding “spirit” but also the very concrete content of the problems solved by the sequence of acts and institutions in which reconstruction consists are perfectly complementary and, in some way, part of a single conscious design of the government of development at the global level. Certainly, for the most important of such acts, the Bretton Woods agreements, the approach supported by Keynes himself was defeated in the confrontation with White’s American plan. Certainly (and this counts for much more), whatever the prevalent “ideology” at Bretton Woods was, the actual system of financing the expansion of the global market was determined on its own, realizing what the cautious conservatism of Jacob Viner had been defining since 1944 as a “daydream” and, further, “not a wholly pleasant one” – a global gold-dollar standard.129 But a genuine contrast between the White plan and the Keynes plan did not exist, which Viner himself saw well in his own immediate commentary.130 What largely divided them and therefore what was in question was not Keynes’s “Keynesianism” but his official role as bearer of the interests of the declining British Empire. For all the fundamental problems of the international reconstruction of the system, the core recommendations were the same: Bretton Woods was only the enforcement [giustizia] of ideological differences, registering the true relations of force. The primary necessity is the stabilization of the monetary field and, on the basis of this, the determination of an adequate mechanism of financing the expansion of trade; even so the American system, mainly oriented toward the purposes of stabilization, prevails; the idea (the ideology) of the bancor131 must forcibly give way to the simple fact of the concentration of monetary gold in the United States and, even moreso, of the capacity of the dollar to represent the unparalleled strong and functioning economy of the capitalist world. And yet the need, here common to both levels, for a non-punitive stabilization capable of providing an adequate framework for general development, is really satisfied by the mechanism based on the International Monetary Fund. Unity and fixity of exchange (defined by post-war devaluation) and, after an appropriate time period, the full convertibility of the currencies redesign, for the first time in decades, a genuine (multilateral) system able to make monetary stability, expressed by the return to fixed exchange through the linkage of the gold-dollar relation, not an end in itself, but an indispensable instrument of the expansion of the world market and as such a common expansion for all of the metropolitan countries that participate in it. Certainly, the brand new supranational institutions are not solving the problems of the formation of liquidity and of the adjustment of the balances of payments as such, but rather, during the 1950s, the Marshall Plan and the impulses created by the American military machine (Korea).132 But precisely what else was the Marshall Plan if not a realistic international mechanism for reconquering levels of full employment based on the perfectly Keynesian principle of allowing debtor countries to always have available the necessary means to finance any continuous surplus or deficit in international payments (until reaching “full” employment)?133
If however the definition of “regulated” capitalism can and must be extended, in the post-war period, even to international economic relations, the performance of the monetary and financial system is not in itself considered able to explain events. The latter, far from representing a simple “complement” of the imperialist system, is a fundamental, constituent part of it. It is equally obvious, however, that gold-exchange136 , exactly like the systems that preceded it, contained from the beginning its own inexplicable and irresolvable internal contradictions at a pure monetary level. The force but also the contradiction of this system, which events then made explicit and which persist unresolved, is precisely, as is well-known, in the double function of the dollar as national and global money. But the true problem raised by the monetary crisis, which became frantic at the end of the 1960s, is not so much that of the reasons which finally broke the “dynamic” equilibrium on which the system stood for a long stretch, as it is that of the reasons why the open disequilibrium on which it now stands – “a dollar is a dollar” as the essential rule of the system – instead of leading to an overall crisis of the traditional type, albeit one with “purifying” functions (a general fall in the levels of the valorization of capital, and generalized instability of the mechanisms of political control), is resulting in a sort of stabilization sui generis. The passage from the gold-exchange to the dollar standard137, declared in August 1971, clearly could not unfold in a painless way. But the most characteristic trait of the crisis that we have now in front of us is in its presentation as a managed crisis [crisi guidata]. All of its decisive passages, from the declaration of the inconvertibility of the dollar to the oil “crisis” (with the expected consequences on all of the “intermediate” countries of the imperialist chain) are easily recomposed as the cards of an overall strategy firmly in the hands of the driving imperialist country. If this is true, the problem – the underlying problem of a theory of imperialism today – becomes that of knowing what is the system of forces that, immediately during the postwar reconstruction, came to constitute modern imperialism – U.S. imperialism – in a bloc capable of transforming itself gradually, without losing solidity but rather by increasing the intensity of its total rule.138
Delineating such a system of forces is clearly not the task of this introduction. The set of essays presented give, we believe, a wide enough idea of the current directions of research. We can linger on one point, however, which brings out the richest theoretical and political implications (and hence also the space that is given to the subject in this collection). I refer to the role of the multinational enterprise within the framework of today’s neo-imperialism. The enormous dimensions of the phenomenon are largely known.139 But if official economic theory laments the impossibility of situating the comprehensive description available within the traditional theoretical framework of international economics, even Marxist theory seems not to have arrived at a satisfying systemization. The acquisitions are mostly negative. Even those who, among the first to study this subject, underlined the centrality of multinationals in the “tremendous qualitative leap”141 carried out by the system with their diffusion, have since had to gradually exclude the applicability of the old categories of the classical theory of imperialism in their discussions: in the case of the “direct” investment of capital abroad, the agents of which are precisely the multinationals, it is not a genuine export of capital; and neither are multinationals reducible to the specific bank-industry symbiosis that constitutes financial capital.142 And even less, clearly, can an interpretation in terms of the pure speculative movements of money capital be applied, although a speculative component is certainly present in the financial strategy of such companies.143 And finally, neither can the point of view of the enterprise, as such, of its always more vast and differentiated historical processes of transformation and adaptation to market conditions (in the broad sense), fully account for the objective, overall modification that the system is undergoing due to the presence within it of this figure of organization of capitalist command.144 One thing is certain, however. The expansion of multinationals, the international division of labor they have created, the control held by the functions of innovation, and the absorption of growing and crucial quotas which appear formally as foreign trade characterize a qualitatively new phase in the evolution of the system. The wave of internationalization of capital prior to the first world war repeats itself at a higher and different level. For the first time, in this case, we can speak of the integrated international capitalist cycle. Within the productive and social area dominated by multinationals – which is an area precisely external, by definition, to national-state dimensions – all of the conditions come to be realized of a perfectly Marxian process of Ausgleichung of production for profit. The “tendency” of a general rate of profit at the global level to constitute itself, although far from being able to realize itself today completely over planetary dimensions, is no longer posed as a far away limit of the process but rather rooted on a real plurinational articulation of the processes of valorization. Bourgeois theory itself shows it consciously: the theory of the “product cycle” (Vernon) is an example of the involuntary application of the operating schema of innovation within the accumulation of relative surplus value, developed by Marx in the first book of Capital.145
The real internationalization of the capitalist cycle cannot however be conceived as a linear process of the extension of conditions of the widening reproduction of capital at the global level. It is by definition a politically contradictory process: the longer it extends itself, the more it must recuperate in intensity and concentration: the more it gains in articulations, it risks just as much in vulnerability. One can turn to read, and it has been done, the contradictoriness of the process in “objective” terms: the tendential constitution of a general rate of profit would simultaneously renew the tendency of such a rate to fall. If we examine the qualitatively and quantitatively decisive phenomenon of the new phase of internationalization, namely the “direct” investment of American capital in Europe throughout the 1970s, it has exactly this trend: a gradual “freeze”147 of the rates of profit inexorably follow the initial boom. But to see the new international articulation of capital as yet another phase of youth or conversely as an extreme phase of maturity – this means again abandoning oneself to consolatory images. It has developed contemporaneously with a radical political crisis that the workers’ struggle has imposed on the system in these same years. A crisis that has forced not the objective validity – normal or modified – of the law of value, but a desperate and powerful capitalist attempt to make it count anyway. Not the abstract opposition between politics and economics, of laws of the (international) market and reasons of state [ragioni di stato], but the contradictory necessity of capital to give once again an “appearance,” an economic form, to relations of pure violence, and at the same time to abstract, to make autonomous, to guarantee such relations of domination, outside and against the suffocating objectivity of the process (the “fall” of profit).
Rightly, therefore, the critical relationship that is determined through the nature of the cycle of capital at the level and “dimensions” of the national state – meaning, the intermediate capitalist states of the imperialist chain – has become one of the central points of the current debate on imperialism. It is, first, the material fact that the hegemony of multinationals tends to make obsolete all the old functions of the state (protection, etc.) now grouped, as can be seen, into the figure of “limits” to international competition. The typology of the various forms of “defense” employed in these years against the “invasion” of foreign capital easily shows an underlying fragility over the long term, fueling only entirely ideological perspectives on the non-existent possibility of a global “counter-offensive.”148 Second and more generally, it is the crisis, today already glaring, of the old “Keynesian” figure of state-planning, of a state capable of an overall control over the domestic cycle and an effective and differentiated administration of the microeconomic variables that compose it. The song sung from the depths [de profundis] by Charles Levinson for Keynes and the neoclassical economists, for Heller and for Friedmann, is probably premature (and also strongly off-key if it is in reference to the United States, a genuine “global state” of contemporary imperialism).149 Yet the insistence on the new quality of inflationist processes underway and on the inconsistency of the traditional explanations and instruments of state control appear fully well-founded.
The relationship between dimensions of the process of the internationalization of capital (both on the terrain of labor processes and on that of the relations of production) and dimensions of the nation-state cannot however be posed in a mechanical way. Naturally there is a problem of dimensional adequacy. Bob Rowthorn has rightly brought attention back to the paradoxicality of the “English case”: the weakness of the English state precisely as a consequence of the international composition of its capital.150 This is in general the common basis of the Europeanist ideology, in all of its versions: and it is already in itself significant that the most disparate positions converge on this, ranging from the traditional Europeanism of the right to the neo-Europeanism of the workers’ movement. The true problem is completely different – and it is a merit of Nicos Poulantzas (also included in this anthology) to have underlined this point.151 The problem is to verify how much, in the presence and at the same time in the qualitative modification of the international “mobility” of capital, the traditional functions of the state (concretely, the European states) have in the meantime been requalifying themselves as functions of the same international cycle of capital hinged on the multinationals. Poulantzas underlines the effects of this process on the national political classes, the strategic break which is determined within them on the basis of the different nature of interests represented. But the resulting spark is helpful for reconstructing a series of institutional modifications that are of enormous importance today: the dislocation of relations between the apparatuses of the state, emergence of new “separate bodies,” and so on. The entire political terrain of working-class struggle is characterized from this; exactly as the entire mechanism of the struggle-cycle relation has come to change in the meantime.152
The re-establishment of a Marxist theory of the international cycle, including in its most recent historical development in which it no longer presents itself in the “simple” guise of the world market, seems possible following the trajectory outlined in the preceding paragraphs. Nonetheless, the weighty objectivism of an analysis that moves exclusively in the direction suggested up to now – an analysis that takes into account, in reality, only the contradictory, “critical” possibilities of capitalist development – will not have gone unnoticed. The dynamic [mossa] but compact objectivity of the “movement of capital” that results, and against which only an external attack now appears possible – it matters little at this point whether it originates from the center or the “periphery” – begins to yield, and to reveal its own internal political tensions, if one splits the mechanism, specifically, along the lines of its politically decisive elements. In short, it makes sense to go back to Marx to look for the keys to reading the global integration of the capitalist cycle only insofar as one does not thereby lose the fundamental contribution that Leninism has generated. Imperialism is a global figure of the political command of capital over labor-power. The intensification of inter-imperialist conflicts and of international monopolistic “competition,” far from disrupting or weakening the terms of this command, constitutes instead a historic moment of formidable centralization. Lenin never tires of cautioning: we must not allow ourselves to be confused by the form, be it peaceful or violent, of the process, and we must not allow its unitary substance to elude us.153 And, as is clear, inter-imperialist “contradiction” and its “inevitability” are nothing other than the result of a qualitative leap that concerns all of the terms of the capitalist relation of production, from the terrain of direct production to that of social circulation and the realization of the value of goods, as well as of the political and institutional forms of the exercise of power. On all of these grounds the capitalist equation renews itself: concentration of production equals concentration of power. From the Kombinat to the trust, from the banking oligopoly to authoritarianism as a state-form, the entire weaving of the organization of capitalist power over labor-power is being restructured in the direction of the overall concentration-increase of the levels of strategic determination, both as regards the national sections of labor-power, and as regards all the material conditions – international as well as national – of the unity and fluidity of the cycle of capital.
But where does this qualitative leap originate? What are its internal, political-material reasons and, thus, the criteria of its verification from the capitalist point of view? Why, in short, imperialism as a new “phase” of development? It is precisely this type of question – only apparently naive – which is posed, without being made explicit, in Lenin’s texts, that we must know how to “read.” The presence of this fundamental problematic horizon is, after all, discernible in Lenin’s insistence on critiquing his own economic definition of the phenomenon while simultaneously offering an alternative “political” definition, not only as more comprehensive, but as the only correct one. Nonetheless, as we have attempted to show, there is a jump between the two. A logical and theoretical link is missing between the reconstruction of the imperialist economic mechanism and a definition of it which ends up applying only on a strict party terrain (as a head-on clash between the revolutionary tendency and the bourgeois tendency within the movement).155 What is missing is a scientifically established relation between the specific character of the struggle on the political terrain and that of the power and dynamics of the economic categories that are involved therein. How can the “workers’” tendency of the movement present itself with the just claim to conquering the political relation of force, if it has not existed, more fundamentally, as autonomous working-class subject [soggetto operaio] within the relation of production?
Of course, in Lenin, only the possibility of an extreme (extremist) divergence of the terms of the relation exists. Of course, it is legitimate and possible to “read” both Lenin’s question and his answer in the (correct) sense that within imperialism there is – that imperialism itself is – a new and specific historical quality of class struggle, a new working-class subject [soggetto operaio], a different quality of objectives and program, and another type and theory of organization. Is a different approach to the problem possible today? That is, can the “weak link” in the logic of the Leninist analysis be eliminated with recourse to figures that more closely reflect the political quality of the class composition with which we are dealing, and thus the overall frame of reference of the very imperialist configuration of the system? We are referring, as may be intuited, to categories like the wage. Far from implying the reassertion of a crude workerist interpretation on a planetary scale, the examination of the functions and contradictions of the wage is meant to push “to the limit” the theoretical possibilities of a class reading of imperialism.
Let us resume the thread of the previous discussion. The determination of a “general” rate of profit at the global level is the tendential result of a long historical process. The tendential nature of the process clearly concerns both the incomplete and imperfect character of its emergence throughout the historical phase considered, as well as the intrinsic nature of the phenomenon. It is, ultimately, made possible by the coming-to-be, as a necessary and sufficient condition, of that vast international mobility of capital of which we have been speaking. However, if the possibility of moving significant quantities of money capital (that part of capital which, within the circuit, is found in the form of money) sectorally and territorially across national borders, drawing on the new surplus value realized according to the “normal” rhythm of accumulation – or, disinvesting in conjunctural baisses, or, what is more, resorting to credit (that is, capital which is common to the capitalist class) – if all of this establishes the possibility of a properly international circuit of capital (M – C … P … C’ – M’), it does so only to the extent that there is a correspondingly substantial mobility of labor-power, or, in any case, that universal conditions for the labor market exist such that its price is made equivalent everywhere. 156 That is to say that, although the conditions posed by Marx to justify the abstractness of his analysis at the level of “national society” need not apply in conjunction, nevertheless, the second one, or its failed realization, poses a limit whose nature must be specified. It is a question of conditions which not only have a quite different material structure, but which originate from relatively independent processes, and which permit a very different – and not necessarily conjoined – degree of governability: on the one hand, the relative increase of state policies and international coordination in the direction of a broadly free-trade157 politics, which aims to overturn legal and non-legal obstacles to the circulation of capital (the external limit of which is the degree of accumulation and maturity achieved by development); on the other hand, the much more modest and long-term policies of immigration-emigration which, as a rule, fit passively and post-festum into the framework of the semi-automatic workings of the market. In any case, it seems evident that, from a historical standpoint, there has been no parallel, either geographic or chronological, between the two processes; if anything, admitting such a broad generalization, it would be necessary to think of an inverse form of correlation, the mobility of capital substituting for or making superfluous – as the case may be – the mobility of labor, and vice versa.158
All this poses an obvious theoretical difficulty, which is not the problem of how to determine the wage, but of whether a relationship exists – and, if so, of what kind – between the determination of the (real) wage within the sphere – or, better yet, in the presence – of fundamentally national markets of labor-power, and the typically international determination of the rate of profit.
For Marx, beginning with the analysis of the wage as a transformed and “apparent” form of the value of labor-power, the determination of the wage is, in principle, a process which is independent of the determination of profit. “For each period considered,” the wage level is a datum determined by the social costs of the production of labor-power – not unlike for the classical economists [i classici], albeit excluding genuinely “biological” components and emphasizing, instead, “historic and moral” ones. Naturally, this given is changing, in the long-term, precisely as a consequence of this same process of accumulation: “The rate of accumulation is the independent, not the dependent, variable; the rate of wages is the dependent, not the independent variable.”159 What consequences does this approach have on the reconstruction of the workings of the world market? As we have seen, the diversity of national wage levels is represented, in commercial exchanges between different nations, as an unequal exchange, that is, as an (equal) exchange of values that represent national work-days of differing productivity and intensity. But what happens when the world market tends to dissolve itself as pure and simple area for the exchange of commodities, becoming traversed by the establishment of a global capitalist cycle, as such? An explicit response to this does not exist in Marx; it must be admitted that, very banally, the problem of the relationship between “global” profit and national wages has no solution in Marx simply because it is not posed there.
Nor, on the other hand, do the constructions offered by the bourgeois theory of international trade appear to provide significant answers, notwithstanding their sophistication. As in other sectors, in this one too, neoclassical political economics, which dominates the field, proves to be in crisis from its very foundations. Yet, unlike how it operates in other sectors of inquiry, here, not even the alternative of a return to the classics seems possible. The basis of all the marginalistic elaboration accumulated over the course of the last decades to the present, remains, as is well-known, the short Ricardian chapter on the theory of comparative costs: and so, contemporary criticism, advancing by way of individual developments on that sparse original material (as, for example, the Hecksher-Ohlin model) is compelled to carry out a predominantly negative labor. The reasons for this extraordinary continuity have been explained:160 they are essentially apologetic, theoretical-practical reasons, in defense of a private enterprise which trades freely on the international market, and opposed to any – in this case, a fortiori – extension of the labor theory of value to the sphere of exchanges between different countries. But, as always, the apologetic intent alone cannot explain an entire theoretical tradition. On the contrary, it illuminates the solidity of its true presuppositions. It is not accidental that the first conspicuous fissures in the neoclassical edifice emerged during the immediate post-war period. Protectionisms, various shades of autarchy, and macroscopic and prolonged violations of free-trade161 could be exorcised as exceptions to the principles (à la Smith or List – it matters little which), in order to then be removed by means of the violent measure of inter-imperialist war. But, at war’s end, once it was a matter of reconstructing a new international order, the political emergence of the enormous underdeveloped world revealed itself to be ever less compatible with the theoretical categories of the traditional capitalist form of the world market, if not immediately in the practical domain.
To return to our subject: let us take the famous contribution of W. Arthur Lewis, published in 1954, in the wake of the no-less renowned investigations launched by the U.N. in the second half of the 1940s on the evolution of the terms of trade.162 The example isn’t chosen at random. According to many, Lewis’s exposition remains the most systematic on the subject to date. In it, we find the international mobility of capital (abandoning, in this respect, an essential presupposition of Ricardo’s theorem), development (within the underdevelopment) of a sector of industry oriented toward the local market, and national differences in wage levels. All these end up combined, by virtue of his making these latter levels of productivity dependent on the subsistence sector of the underdeveloped country. The productivity (or non-productivity) of the latter explains both the rates of accumulation and of profit, and the downward pressure exerted on wage rates, conditional upon the boundless supply of labor specific to backwardness. And yet, not even this extreme revisionist attempt, from within the neoclassical perspective, seems to have yielded useful results. On the empirical level, during the subsequent two decades, an upward trend in wage rates in underdeveloped countries is ascertainable. These have begun taking off in a way that is completely inconsistent with the prescriptions of the model: a considerable growth, in patches, of real wages in the export sector and, in general, in manufacturing, spurred by multinational investment, and not in the least obstructed by the miserable levels of subsistence in surrounding areas.163 However, this has repercussions, on the theoretical level, on that umbilical cord that still ties a reconstruction like Lewis’s to neoclassical orthodoxy. That is to say: the dependence of the wage on the levels of productivity (in Lewis’s case, in sectors that differ from those in which the wage itself is “produced”), mediated by the structure of the market for labor-power. Not to mention that the presupposition of such a “market” is, in itself, within the sphere of underdevelopment, a colossal theoretical and political mystification.164
It is legitimate to suppose that Arghiri Emmanuel’s analysis, which is the subject of this section, was derived directly from the recognition of the impossibility of proceeding any further, by way of corrections or modifications – substantial though they may be – on the old theoretical route. The point of view and the objective that sustain the analysis are radically different: “the formation of international value is a special case of the general theory of labor value in its developed form as the theory of price of production” through “the assumption that seems to me [Emmanuel] the most realistic possible in the world of today, the assumption that the capital factor is mobile but the labor factor is immobile on the international plane.”165 In fact, Emmanuel applies the Marxian models of the price of production to international exchanges. As is well known, even in the realm of the formation of the price of production within a capitalist social formation, an unequal exchange establishes itself, loosely speaking: to the identity between mass of surplus value and mass of profit corresponds a diversity between surplus value and profit realized by each unit or sector according to the different organic compositions of each. Emmanuel demonstrates that, if there are “institutionally unequal” rates of surplus value, the formation of the international price (of production) systematically provokes a movement of value toward the country with higher wage levels. Such an unequal exchange, “in a strict sense,” is specific to international trade and has nothing to do with – does not originate from – productive specializations of any type.
The criticism that Emmanuel’s work has elicited is universally known. It began with the contestation of the fundamental premise of the whole argument: the equalization of profit at the global level and the concept of “international value” were, purportedly, “false abstractions.”166 Obviously, if one does not allow for the existence of a global rate of profit, as a consequence of the admitted international mobility of capital, “the argument is finished before it has even begun,” as Emmanuel himself recognizes. The conclusiveness of Emmanuel’s rejoinder to those who argue that the diversity of degrees of exploitation of waged workers in developed countries should not be made commensurate with the varying levels of productivity of labor, is dubious. It develops on the terrain of principles and ends up begging the question:
Well, I argue in terms of world economy because I am seeking the laws of the formation of international value and the possible transfers of wealth from one country to another that may be hidden in the structure of this value. Furthermore, I argue in terms of world economy quite simply because I am replying to an argument that is based on comparing the rates of surplus value practiced in different nations, which implies application of the law of value on the world scale. If the nation were the only reality, and world economy a false abstraction, comparison between rates of surplus value and rates of exploitation in different nations would itself be meaningless.167
But, whether or not a tendency toward the equalization of world profit exists and, with it, the correctness or not of the abstraction “international value,” remain, first and foremost, questions to be measured on the empirical plane. Nonetheless, it is important to add that no one has contested the scarce data presented by Emmanuel to this end or has offered an alternative reading.
From an essentially analogous point of view, Emmanuel’s adoption of Marxian models of the transformation of value into price of production was subsequently criticized as unfounded and not pertinent. In reality, it seems neither more nor less justified than Marx’s own. But we will come back to this.168 The fact nevertheless remains that, if we are dealing with a question of determining the “international value” of commodities, within the context of a social formation that is not “simple mercantilism” but which is characterized by the presence of multiple “factors” of production and of sectoral differences in organic composition, the course is exactly the one followed by Marx to determine the price of production: that is to say, beginning from the same presuppositions on the terrain of the theory of value. Marx did not adopt this strategy because, simply, his problem was posed on this side of the determination of an international price of production.
More apparently pertinent are the observations of those who underline the disproportion between the dimensions of the phenomenon that is studied (admitting the exactness of Emmanuel’s reconstruction) and the general theoretical-political deductions that the author derives from them. Suffice it to recall the theme of the “horizontal” split in the world between rich and poor countries which, according to the political leitmotif of the research, would replace all previous contradictions as the principal strategic one. Although the calculation of the magnitudes involved is controvertible, Emmanuel himself is ultimately compelled to recognize this fact:
However substantial may be the transfer of value engendered by unequal exchange, and even if we take into account not merely the immediate and momentary impact this has but also its cumulative effect from year to year, this transfer does not seem to be sufficient to explain completely the difference in standard of living and development that there is today between, on the one hand, the big industrial countries, and on the other, the underdeveloped ones. To find the reason for this we must look at the movement of capital and the international division of labor.169
However, these corrections are largely neutralized by a systematic underestimation (at times, a veritable liquidation) of the “autonomous” effects of the movement of capital, as distinct from the movement of commodities. Emmanuel’s argument that there can be no transfer of value that is not ultimately “channelled” by a movement of commodities is the classic argument that proves too much: if it were true, it would apply to each specific function of money capital, credit, and so on.170
However, it is best not to proceed beyond this survey: it is not our intention to discuss the merit of Emmanuel’s analysis, but, rather, to grasp the sense and the limits of his approach. In general, reactions to his work have assumed a “sensationalist” hue which goes well beyond the particular developments of his analysis – a scandal in which there is a curious crossover between the accusation of abandoning the theory of value, and of excessive fidelity to it. Charles Bettelheim’s weighty critical appendix, which has accompanied the volume since its first edition, is representative of this. The central argument, reiterated by others time and again is, essentially, the one already alluded to, of the “paradox” concealed in the relation between wage differentials and productivity differentials.171 Emmanuel himself sums it up succinctly: the working day or total labor time (eight-hour day) is posed as equal everywhere, as in fact it is.
Therefore, if there is any difference in degree of exploitation [of wages between underdeveloped and advanced countries], this can only consist in a difference in the “necessary” time. But the necessary time is longer in the underdeveloped countries than in the advanced ones, and this is not only in order to produce a unit of some particular article of working-class consumption, but even to produce the entire range of such goods, although the amount consumed by a worker in the advanced countries is substantially greater than that consumed by a worker in the poor ones.172
Hence a lower rate of surplus value, or, of exploitation, in the latter. However, in this case, Emmanuel’s reply is impeccable:
The mistake lies in calculating the worker’s necessary time on the basis of the individual value instead of social value of the subsistence goods […] in the entire system under consideration. In the context of world economy, the only value that counts is measuring necessary time in social (world) value, and not the individual (national) value of the goods represented in wages.173
Emmanuel’s great merit lies, essentially, in that for which “orthodox” Marxism reproaches him: in having fully taken seriously the Marxian theory of the wage and of value (the two are indissolubly linked to one another) in what is characteristic to it, that is, in its assumption of the wage as a relatively independent datum, and of having drawn from this an in-depth application to the “case” of international trade.
Far from representing a sterile “reference to other analytic levels” – a reproach which would be pertinent if a merely interdisciplinary problem were at stake – Emmanuel’s theoretical proposal provides leads that are genuinely fertile and original for an understanding of the forces acting on the international level.174 Nonetheless, these remain mere leads. In effect, Emmanuel’s whole political argument moves subsequently in a direction that repeats all the old clichés of third-worldism – a third-worldism of the most equivocal kind. The wage-imbalance which is responsible for unequal exchange is once more assumed to be a static structure (the entirety of Emmanuel’s model is, ultimately, comparative statistics) and translates politically as the theory of an “objective” antagonism which would counterpose the various sections of a global proletariat, and as a “rich and poor” theory of the global state-system. Coherently, the indications that Emmanuel offers here and there on exit strategies for the current situation follow the same trajectory: the general proposition of a sort of global incomes policy; a positive appraisal of the interruption of the stagnation of wages produced by multinational investment in underdeveloped countries; the special recommendation of the path toward developing areas of regional protection between equally underdeveloped countries, and so on.175 His is an extreme political “moderation,” to put it lightly, which, furthermore, shows how “revolutionary” outcomes do not necessarily follow from a “third-worldist” model! But let us try to alter the point of view from which Emmanuel, himself, reads the sequence of elements that constitute his model.
The level and the “quality” of life of the metropolitan worker are not the historically acquired result of an already stabilized system of distribution of national income and of a political framework which is, by now, predisposed to regulate the relation between workers and capital indefinitely. All this is a silly social-democratic illusion or, worse yet, a “sociology of conflict.” On the contrary, they represent but one index, always “outdated” but, nevertheless, suggestive of a political confrontation which continually accumulates violence on both sides of the relationship, and which determines, as a problem of survival (question de vie ou de mort) the entire activity of the capitalist political class, from the everyday management of economic life all the way up to the “big” problems of the international equilibrium of power. However, this is true – and begins to be true – as applies to the dynamic of the wage, which is dependent within the sphere of the underdeveloped world. It is here, where it might have been most useful, that Emmanuel’s approach wears politically thin and condemns itself to failure. It is obvious that, beginning with moments of “primitive” accumulation which are, as a rule, introduced violently from outside, the modifications undergone by the old distribution of income, even where they assume the form of a further polarization, have progressively shifted the overall terrain of proletarian struggle into underdevelopment. Contemporaneously, a series of old representations dear to the international left in each of its tendencies have been disappearing. For example, that of a homogeneously backward condition applying to the entire underdeveloped world. All of the criteria set out to theoretically organize and empirically measure such a homogeneity (the absence of development based on the internal market, reduced number of sectors involved in the process of development, dependence on – and the impossibility of control over – external sources of funding, extremely circumscribed space for a “technologically independent development”) appear inapplicable to a whole host of areas that constitute the strengths of the new political geography (need we say, imperialist political geography?) of global underdevelopment.176
Forget “objective” contraposition of interests within the global proletariat! A two-pronged movement which unites [accomuna] the metropolitan worker and the proletariat of the Third World in an analogous violent demand for income and power, and which exerts a continuous, formidable pressure on the whole structure of global power – all this is what Emmanuel’s outlook, and a third-worldist outlook in general, refuses to understand.
A profoundly correct appraisal of the strategic importance of the “wage” for the reconstruction of the workings of the system, and not as mere “economic” category, ends up presenting itself as a simple, albeit radical, innovation in the corpus of political economics – as an “economistic” exercise. And yet, beyond the intentions and the legitimate delimitation of the field of study, it is precisely the problem raised by investigations such as Emmanuel’s – that is, the problem of connecting the various aspects of the current crisis/transformation177 of the imperialist global conjuncture into a theoretically coherent whole, beginning with the objectively and subjectively central role of the proletarian struggle – that represents the keystone of a theory of imperialism worthy of its time.
All the more so to the extent that the present-day dimensions of such a “crisis” reveal themselves to be far-reaching and subject to a rapidly accelerating dynamism. Within this crisis, for example, the matter of the abrupt change of prices of raw materials – in particular, of middle-eastern oil – confirms the accuracy of the approach criticized up to now, only in the obvious sense that the existing terms of trade178 on the international market have constituted – and continue to constitute – the principal vehicle of the plunder of the underdeveloped world.179 What it does not permit us to see, and which thus falsifies it, is the real political substance of the matter. That is, on the one hand, the class framework within which the latter unfolds: the increasing difficulties posed for the American economy and the global role of the dollar, firstly, by Vietnamese resistance and, secondly, by the growing insubordination of the multinational worker in Europe – a privileged area of American foreign investment during the 1960s. This is at the root of the collapse of the old monetary system, which the United States takes hold of at the end of the decade.180 On the other hand, what escapes the critical approach is the clearly delineated, albeit rather complexly articulated, relationship between the various sections of capital and of the state political class implicated in the process: the crucial role of American multinationals – and, in this instance, of capital derived from oil – which are the principal subjects of the operation of raking up and recycling international money capital and the direct agents of the politically necessary reconfiguration of the old organic composition of the automotive industry; the further dependence – “entry into the belly of the American whale,” as it has been described181 – but also the necessary “renewal” of the executive powers in underdeveloped countries, which are compelled to enter the terrain of a simultaneous militarization and accelerated development; the reconfiguration and further balkanization of the European bourgeoisie, representative of a capital devoid of independent possibilities of strategic determination and thus disposed, bon gré mal gré, to profit from the margins of survival afforded by American cover.182
To continue: the reduction of the role of metropolitan class struggle to the mere determination of the wage “datum” – “exogenous” but static element and simple measure of the fundamental process of exploitation “via” unequal exchange – the explicit negation of its direct and ongoing “revolutionary” function upon the structure of power, provokes curious distortions for those who observe the general conditions of the present-day within which such a struggle increasingly takes place. The scene is clearly dominated by a colossal inflationary process which constitutes, most notably, the central dynamic problem of development in this phase. Although it may be true that the real wage is modified only in the long-term – in each phase it is a given – but this is, in turn, the outcome of contradictory and politically determined movements of monetary incomes and prices. A relationship between productivity and wages stands out here, which Emmanuel denies is the case for real wages (rightly so, in his marginalist version). On the one hand, wage differentials between industries of differing productivity – also, and especially, beyond national borders – tend to cancel out toward the top, restoring space to cost-push183 theories of inflation, however “backward” they may be, and to renewed incomes policy proposals. On the other hand, they tend to continually reconstitute themselves according to the differentiated increase of the productivity of labor and of the setting of prices according to a precise strategy of sectoral restructuring of the cycle.184
It bears repeating that the problem of unequal exchange, considered in and of itself – of its nature, consistency, and effects – is not in question here, whereas the overall theoretical framework within which third-worldism typically approaches the analysis of imperialism is. In its domain, Emmanuel’s position is uniquely rigorous, and develops the Marxian presuppositions which it takes as its starting point with extreme coherence. This is precisely why it is necessary to state that the underlying limit of Emmanuel’s analysis does not lie in Emmanuel, but in Marx himself, or, better yet, in the “orthodox” reading of Marx as a “theorist of political economy.” The point to grasp here is the contradictoriness of the claim of continuing to construct an “economic” theory of the price of labor-power, and the acknowledgement, which is present in Emmanuel, of the exogenous character of the “wage” (relative to the level of development achieved by the productive forces) not merely as a biological and ethical-historical fact, but as the fact of an irreducible political subjectivity. Put otherwise, the point to recognize is that if a “problem of transformation” exists in Marx, it concerns the price (of production) of labor-power well before the inputs185 of capital.
In this sense, Emmanuel’s work constitutes one step forward and two steps back, not only because of the crude political generalizations that he derives from it, but primarily because of the theoretical route exemplarily suggested therein. It is not accidental that – compelled by criticism, and by his own intellectual coherence, to reflect thoroughly on his own assumptions – Emmanuel ends up adopting the exit strategy of Sraffism in its “left” variant. Yet, the starting point remains the same: the Marxian schema of the price of production ultimately poses an insoluble problem on the basis of the labor theory of value – previous solutions to the problem of the transformation of values into prices being irrelevant if posed as solutions to a “mathematical” problem. The significance of the conclusion is analogous: once a “temporal” factor (a function of capital) is admitted as existing alongside the labor factor, the “transformation,” if it remains impossible as “pure modification of form,” becomes once again legitimate only if it includes in the model the relationship of distribution between wage and profit. However, the point is that the inclusion of the relation of force between workers and capital applies only to re-establishing political economy at all costs: the technical difficulty or, even, impossibility of making a calculation between two machines of equal value but with different “turnovers” should not affect, even minimally, the role played by time as a factor – of that something which corresponds to capital anyways, as a use of the accumulation fund.186 Thus “the dream cherished by economists throughout the ages of finding a fixed standard for the value of commodities, the ratio to which of each commodity would give us an absolute value for this commodity” is criticized only so as to be renewed, even if only for the aspiration of “arriv[ing] at an evaluation that is more ‘objective,’ or, rather, that is more social in its structure and basis, than, for example, the outcome of a strike.”187
It may seem strange to have devoted the final part of the introduction to an author, Arghiri Emmanuel, about whom nothing written appears in the following collection. Within the limits that we have tried to specify, he nevertheless represents a powerful and original contribution to the necessary renewal of the studies on imperialism, but, apart from clear extrinsic reasons (of space and of the accessibility of his works), the real justification for his non-inclusion lies in the more limited and moreover different purposes of the collection of writings presented here. Purposes certainly of documenting the various tendencies, more or less traditional, within the western left, which are debating the problems of a renewed theory of imperialism (with the exclusion, however, of the “orthodox” positions of the official workers’ movement, and with the inclusion of a surely “bourgeois” but significant author, Raymond Vernon); but with some limitations about which it is fair to warn the reader. In the first place, concerning the levels of abstraction and of theoretical analysis: all, or almost all, of the essays presented offer not finished theoretical contributions but syntheses of maximum breadth, working hypotheses, “theories of middle range,”188 one might say, which indeed can better provide a panorama of the various positions. In the second place, limits in terms of subject matter: which is indeed that of the general characteristics of imperialism in the present phase, its differences with the preceding epoch, the broad outlines of its foreseeable evolution. Of the various great issues that make up the problem today, from the question of the “dependency” of the peripheral countries (considered in itself) to that of the nature of the crisis of the international monetary system, from the question of the dependent imperialist “metropoles” (Europe, Japan) to that of the nature and role of the socialist bloc – particular space has only been dedicated to the specific figure of the multinational enterprise and its significance in today’s imperialist dynamic, albeit still with the cut indicated; whence the division of the volume into two parts.
Two words on the concrete origin of this work can best illustrate its goals. It was conceived within a research project conducted over the past two years at the Institute of Political Sciences of the University of Padova (with funding from CNR [National Research Council]), from which some results have been published in a volume by various authors, L’operaio multinazionale in Europa (Milano: Feltrinelli, 1974). From the initial stage of its formation, I took it upon myself to more closely carry out the controls necessary to determining what relation there might be between the research that we had in mind (modifications to the class composition in a multinational environment) and the categories available in the corpus, old and new, of the theories of imperialism. Already in an international seminar held at the Institute in the spring of 1973, I had to present some substantially negative results. There is not much that is really fruitful, today, in that tradition, for those who want to truly understand the class dimensions of the processes of international restructuring underway, and for those who want to reconstruct them from this viewpoint. I re-submit those same conclusions, now re-elaborated and, I hope, sufficiently substantiated. I believe that, on the scientific terrain, even “negative” results may have their importance – provided that they serve to relaunch the research. Whether, then, with this volume recorded and with this [introduction], steps have been taken forward and in the right direction, is not for me to judge. I would like to take the opportunity to thank all the comrades with whom I have had the fortune of working, and in particular Toni Negri, who has directed the research from beginning to end.
–Luciano Ferrari Bravo, December 1974
–Translated by Andrew Anastasi, Alessandra Guarino, and Dave Mesing
This translation is based on the original publication of this essay as the introduction to Imperialismo e classe operaia multinazionale, ed. Luciano Ferrari Bravo (Milano: Feltrinelli, 1974), 7–70. It was subsequently republished in the posthumous collection of Ferrari Bravo’s writings, Dal fordismo alla globalizzazione: Cristalli di tempo politico (Roma: Manifestolibri, 2001), 75–146.
Thanks to Tijana Okić and Steve Wright for their helpful comments on the draft translation.
Cattivo maestro (“wicked teacher”) was the epithet lobbed at Antonio Negri, Ferrari Bravo, and others when they were charged with insurrection in the “April 7th affair” of 1979 (see also the note below). The most detailed biographical and critical sketch of Ferrari Bravo in English appears in Steve Wright, “Cattivi Maestri: Reflections on the Legacy of Guido Bianchini, Luciano Ferrari Bravo and Primo Moroni,” in Reading Negri: Marxism in the Age of Empire, eds. Pierre Lamarche et al. (Chicago: Open Court, 2011), 21–56. In Italian one can consult Antonio Negri’s biography, Luciano Ferrari Bravo: Ritratto di un cattivo maestro con alcuni cenni sulla sua epoca (Roma: Manifestolibri, 2003), and Sergio Bologna’s “Prefazione” to a posthumous collection of Ferrari Bravo’s essays, Dal fordismo alla globalizzazione: Cristalli di tempo politico (Roma: Manifestolibri, 2001), 7–36. Recently, the Archivio Multimediale Luciano Ferrari Bravo has begun to make available a number of remembrances of Ferrari Bravo by comrades, as well as his own writings. ↩
In Viewpoint’s fourth issue, “The State,” we published our translation of selections from “Il New Deal e il nuovo assetto delle istituzione capitalische,” Ferrari Bravo’s contribution to Operai e stato: lotte operaie e riforma dello stato capitalistico tra rivoluzione d’Ottobre e New Deal (Milano: Feltrinelli, 1972), 101–34; see Luciano Ferrari Bravo, “The New Deal and the New Order of Capitalist Institutions (1972),” trans. Evan Calder Williams, Viewpoint 4 (October 2014). In English one can also see the partial translation of “Forma dello stato e sottosviluppo,” Ferrari Bravo’s contribution to Stato e sottosviluppo: Il caso del Mezzogiorno italiano (Milano: Feltrinelli, 1972), 11–124; see Luciano Ferrari Bravo, “The Industrialization of the South,” trans. Patricia Tummons, International Journal of Sociology 4, no. 2–3 (Summer–Fall 1974): 148–78. ↩
Luciano Ferrari Bravo, ed., Imperialismo e classe operaia multinazionale (Milano: Feltrinelli, 1974), 7–70. ↩
See Ferrari Bravo, “Forma dello stato e sottosviluppo,” as well as the selections translated in “The Industrialization of the South.” The understanding of the the state and capital operating by means of a shared piano (“plan”) was widespread among operaisti, and it deserves a more careful reconstruction than we are able to conduct here. ↩
See section 5, in the essay below. Whereas the capitalist replies to workers’ movements before 1945 could be perceived perhaps most clearly by considering changing processes within the factory itself (reorganization of labor processes, increased use of machines in relation to human labor-power), Ferrari Bravo and his comrades were keen on charting how post-war capitalist strategies were unfolding on the fiscal, juridical, and monetary planes. It must be emphasized that these different methods utilized by capital to increase exploitation should not be understood as historical stages in a unilinear chronology of capital, but as articulated practices that assume unique combinations in different conjunctures. ↩
Negri, Ritratto, 68. ↩
See section 4 in the essay below. ↩
See section 2 in the essay below. Bologna notes that Ferrari Bravo and his comrades approached Lenin with “severe criticism of his theories, wherever they seemed obsolete or misleading, and respect, identification, [and] admiration for his practices.” Bologna, “Prefazione,” 13. In late 1974, when Ferrari Bravo was drafting the present essay, Negri had only recently finished delivering his course on Lenin, which takes a similar tack, to students at Padova. See Factory of Strategy: Thirty-Three Lessons on Lenin, trans. Arianna Bove (New York: Columbia University Press, 2015). ↩
See section 5 in the essay below. ↩
Negri criticized the approach of these small armed groups succinctly in 1973: “The whole of 1971 saw the sectarian setting-up of groups, and the bureaucratic usurpation of leadership, against the organised instances of working class autonomy. The real task – of re-articulating from within itself the compactness of the newly unified strength of the working class – was transformed into an external undertaking of guidance and abstract leadership.… The groups, in the period from the end of 1971 up till March 1972, went onto the attack – alone!” Negri, “One Step Forward, Two Steps Back,” in Working Class Autonomy and the Crisis: Italian Marxist Texts of the Theory and Practice of a Class Movement, 1964–79, ed. Red Notes (London: Red Notes, 1979), 55–59, 57. For corresponding reflections by Potere Operaio, see Steve Wright, Storming Heaven, 2nd ed. (London: Pluto Press, 2017), 130–39; see also David P. Palazzo, “The ‘Social Factory’ in Postwar Italian Radical Thought from Operaismo to Autonomia” (PhD diss., Graduate Center, City University of New York, 2014), 346–48. ↩
Bologna, “Prefazione,” 14. ↩
See section 5 in the essay below. ↩
On this topic Ferrari Bravo can be distinguished from Mario Tronti, whose “Lenin in England” insists that proletarian initiatives have produced “more revolutionary history than all the revolutions the colonised people have ever made.” See Tronti, “Lenin in England,” in Working Class Autonomy and the Crisis, 1–6, 5. With greater elaboration, see also Tronti’s “Internazionalismo vecchio e nuovo,” Contropiano 1, no. 3 (September–December 1968): 505–26. ↩
See section 5 in the essay below. ↩
Ferrari Bravo and others arrested in the April 7th affair collectively authored a number of essays, some of which have appeared in English, which serve as useful introductions to that fiasco. One, written shortly after the authors’ confinement, is Mario Dalmaviva et al., “Memorial from Prison,” trans. Committee April 7, London, in Autonomia: Post-Political Politics, eds. Sylvère Lotringer and Christian Marazzi (Los Angeles: Semiotext(e), 2007), 196–200. Another, co-authored by Negri and Ferrari Bravo in 1980, sought to grapple with the charge of “insurrection” and to situate Potere Operaio’s activities relative to other groups on the extra-parliamentary left; see “Reflections on a Phantom,” in Italy 1980–81: After Marx, Jail! The Attempted Destruction of a Communist Movement, ed. Red Notes (London: Red Notes, 1981), 23–24. Finally, one can see an essay penned several years later by the accused as they continued to await trial, the authors drawing a balance sheet of the previous decade while languishing in Rebibbia prison in Rome; see Lucio Castellano et al., “Do You Remember Revolution?” trans. Michael Hardt, in Radical Thought in Italy: A Potential Politics, eds. Paolo Virno and Michael Hardt (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1996), 225–38. ↩
Bologna, “Prefazione,” 15. ↩
Translators’ Note: We have opted to translate fase as “phase” rather than “stage,” although we have retained “stage” when it appears in the standard English translations of Lenin. In the original Italian publication of this introduction, Ferrari Bravo cites sources in English, French, German, and Italian. We have substituted these with references to English editions of texts wherever possible. ↩
See, respectively, V.I. Lenin, “Notebooks on Imperialism,” in Collected Works, trans. Clemens Dutt, vol. 39 (Moscow: Progress Publishers, 1974), 202, 239, 242, and chapter 10 of Lenin, Imperialism, The Highest Stage of Capitalism: A Popular Outline, in Collected Works, trans. Yuri Sdobnikov, vol. 22 (Moscow: Progress Publishers, 1974), 298–304. (The latter text is henceforth cited, in the text and in the notes, as Imperialism). ↩
Lenin, Imperialism, 195. On the work of John A. Hobson, Imperialism: A Study (New York: Cosimo, 2005), an Italian version is finally available: L’Imperialismo (Milano: ISEDI, 1974). The editor, Luca Meldolesi, does not however touch on this point in his introduction (Hobson as Lenin’s “source”). ↩
For the classical “Imperialismusdebatte,” one can now see the anthology by Renato Monteleone, Teorie sull’imperialismo (da Kautsky a Lenin) (Roma: Editori Riuniti, 1974). A general bibliography is in Hans-Ulrich Wehler, ed., Imperialismus (Köln: Kiepenheuer & Witsch, 1970), 443–59. See also Tom Kemp, Theories of Imperialism (London: Dobson Books, 1967). ↩
A good bibliography of the most recent debate on imperialism is in Dieter Senghaas, ed., Imperialismus und strukturelle Gewalt (Frankfurt: Suhrkamp, 1972), 379–403. We will by turn gesture to successive contributions. We point out now the special issues of Quaderni storici 20 (May–August 1972) and Classe, notebook 6 (November 1972), dedicated respectively to the nineteenth-century origins of imperialism and to its present configuration. ↩
Massimo Cacciari, “Sul problema dell’organizzazione, Germania 1917–1921,” introduction to Kommunismus 1920–1921, by György Lukács (Padova: Marsilio Editori, 1972), esp. 52–61. ↩
Antonio Negri excellently clarifies these characteristics of Lenin’s method in Factory of Strategy, trans. Arianna Bove (New York: Columbia University Press, 2015), in an explicit polemic with the Dellavolpean and Althusserian interpretations. ↩
See Vittorio Strada’s important introduction to Lenin in Che fare? (Torino: Einaudi, 1971). ↩
Notwithstanding the explicit admonitions of the same Lenin: “We shall see later that imperialism can and must be defined differently if we bear in mind not only the basic, purely economic concepts […] but also the historical place of this stage of capitalism in relation to capitalism in general, or the relation between imperialism and the two main trends in the working-class movement.” Lenin, Imperialism, 267. ↩
On this subject see, for the Italian case, Mario Isnenghi, Il mito della grande guerra (Bari: Laterza, 1970), 92ff. and passim, with indications largely generalizable to the European intelligence of the era. ↩
One can look back by way of example at Marshall’s chapters on oligopoly: Alfred Marshall, Principles of Economics (London: Macmillan and Co., 1961), 278–90, 477–95. [TN: LFB likely meant “monopoly” rather than “oligopoly” here; the cited chapters by Marshall, entitled “Industrial Organization, Continued: Production on a Large Scale” and “The Theory of Monopolies,” contain no mention of oligopoly.] ↩
Lenin, Imperialism, 276. ↩
For oil, aluminum, copper, see Raymond Vernon, Sovereignty at Bay: The Multinational Spread of U.S. Enterprises (London: Longman, 1971), chapter 2 and literature cited therein; Mira Wilkins, The Emergence of Multinational Enterprise: American Business Abroad from the Colonial Era to 1914 (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1970), chapter 3. For a general framework of the movements of capital, see Brinley Thomas, “The Historical Record of International Capital Movements to 1913,” in Capital Movements and Economic Development, ed. John Hans Adler (London: St. Martin’s Press, 1967), 3–32. ↩
Lenin, Imperialism, 238. ↩
Lenin, Imperialism, 233. ↩
We refer, of course, to the strand inaugurated by Adolph Augustus Berle and Gardiner C. Means in The Modern Corporation and Private Property (Buffalo, N.Y.: W.S. Hein, 2000 ). ↩
At the end of the 1930s “the decline of investment bankers” could have been declared “irreversible”: Paul Sweezy, The Present as History, 2nd ed. (New York: Monthly Review Press, 1953), 189–96. See also note 142 below. ↩
Rudolf Hilferding, Finance Capital: A Study of the Latest Phase of Capital’s Development, trans. Morris Watnick et al. (London: Routledge, 2006), especially part 1, 60ff. In his essential introduction to Il capitale finanziario, by Rudolf Hilferding (Milano: Feltrinelli, 1961), Giulio Pietranera develops this point, partially absolving Hilferding from accusations (by Kautsky and by Lenin himself) of overturning the Marxian theory of money. See xvii–xxvi. ↩
See Sergio Bologna, “Money & Crisis: Marx as Correspondent of the New York Daily Tribune, 1856–57 [Part 1],” trans. Ed Emery and John Merrington, Common Sense 13 (January 1993): 29–53, esp. 32–40. [TN: The English translation of the second half of Bologna’s essay was published in Common Sense 14 (October 1993): 63–88.] ↩
See Lenin, Imperialism, 278. ↩
Hobson quoted in Lenin, Imperialism, 279–80. [TN: LFB left out the ellipsis in his reproduction of the Italian translation of this passage. We have reinserted it here.] ↩
This is obviously one of the essential components of the theory of the party itself in Lenin. See also Vittorio Strada’s previously cited introduction to Che fare? The development of the “Bolsheviks” and the increase of the international responsibilities of the party do not alter this fundamental fact until 1917. An application of this viewpoint which is still interesting today is Lenin’s intervention, “On the Slogan for a United States of Europe,” in Collected Works, trans. Julius Katzer, vol. 21 (Moscow: Progress Publishers, 1974), 339–43. ↩
See the preface to the French and German editions in Lenin, Imperialism, 189–94. In the sense of the centrality even today of the figure of the labor aristocracy, see Martin Nicolaus, “Theory of the Labor Aristocracy,” Monthly Review 21, no. 11 (April 1970): 91–101. It is pushed even a little further in Lelio Basso, “La teoria dell’imperialismo in Lenin,” in Estratto Da ‘Annali’ Feltrinelli (Milano: 1974), 726, imputing the Leninist concept of the restriction of the area of workers’ opportunism to the sole “objective” dimensions of the aristocracy. ↩
See also Negri, Factory of Strategy, and earlier, “Lenin e i soviet nella rivoluzione,” Classe Operaia 2, no. 1 (1965): 26–32. [TN: See Factory of Strategy, 111n1, for an account of how Negri incorporated that earlier article into his 1972–73 course on Lenin at the University of Padua. A revised version of “Lenin e i soviet” also appears in Negri’s Insurgencies: Constituent Power and the Modern State, trans. Maurizia Boscagli (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2009), 268–92. In Italian one can also find this text in Crisi dello stato piano, comunismo e organizzazione rivoluzionaria (Florence: CLUSF, 1972), 93–128.] ↩
Lenin’s “Tayloristic” readings in the “Notebooks on Imperialism” are particularly significant for this argument: e.g. 152–60. ↩
The thesis of uneven development of capitalism is, is understood as, an old category already developed by Lenin in the era of the discussion with the Narodniks on the relation between internal development and external market. Its utilization in the different theoretical context of the imperialist thematic is carried over from there. It is not possible to discuss this point here. There is a sharp critique of the theory of uneven development, both in Lenin and in the Theorie des Staatsmonopolistischen Kapitalismus, in Christel Neusüss, Imperialismus und Weltmarktbewegung des Kapitals (Erlangen: Politladen, 1972), 78–93. ↩
See Cacciari, “Sul problema dell’organizzazione,” 59. ↩
On this subject see Sergio Bologna, “Class Composition and the Theory of the Party at the Origins of the Workers-Council Movement,” trans. Bruno Ramirez, Telos 13 (Fall 1972), 4–27. ↩
In particular in the post-Stalinist version of “peaceful coexistence.” ↩
Rodolfo Banfi insists on this in “Per un’analisi dell’elaborazione marxista sull’imperialismo,” Rivista storica del socialismo 30 (January–April 1967), 49–76. He does not seem to want to take into account Riccardo Guastini, “La formazione imperialistica mondiale e le contraddizioni della nostra epoca,” in Classe, notebook 6 (November 1972), 3–67. ↩
An attempt at a balance sheet of the “answered and unanswered questions of imperialism” can be found in Bob Sutcliffe, “Conclusion,” in Studies in the Theory of Imperialism, ed. Roger Owen et al. (London: Longman, 1972), 312–30. But see also the significant annotations of Renato Zangheri’s introduction to Problemi di storia del capitalismo, by Maurice Dobb, 2nd ed. (Roma: Editori Riuniti, 1969). ↩
The “bourgeois” historiography to which we refer is extremely vast, but the themes of its anti-Leninist polemic are always the same. The positions are exemplarily summarized in writings such as: W.L. Langer, “A Critique of Imperialism,” Foreign Affairs 14 (October 1935): 102–11; Pierre Renouvin, introduction to Les Politiques d’expansion impérialiste (Paris: Presses universitaires de France, 1949); John Gallagher and Ronald Robinson, “The Imperialism of Free Trade,” The Economic History Review 6, no. 1 (August 1953): 1–15, and above all D.K. Fieldhouse, “Imperialism: An Historiographical Revision,” The Economic History Review 14, no. 2 (December, 1961): 187–209. ↩
See Sutcliffe, “Conclusion,” 315–20. ↩
The recent work by George Lichtheim, Imperialism (Harmondsworth: Penguin Books, 1974), seems to me a typical example of this argument. As for Joseph Schumpeter’s “Sociology of Imperialisms,” the patent inadequacy of the categories he uses (social atavism and so on) cannot suffice for his committed, and in some ways brilliant, attempt to uncouple the “progressive” destiny of capital from the repellant phenomenology of imperialism. See Joseph Schumpeter, “Sociology of Imperialisms,” in Imperialism and Social Classes: Two Essays (Auburn, Ala.: Ludwig Von Mises Institute, 2007), 3–98. Instead, we attach great importance to this text: Massimo Cacciari, “Imperialismo e lotta di classe,” Contropiano 3 (September–December, 1969): 717–36, esp. 722–23. ↩
Regarding the Third International, it is a debate that largely concerns the questions of the national liberation movements. There is a very large bibliography of material produced by the Third International in Enrica Collotti-Pischel and Chiara Robertazzi, eds., L’Internationale Communiste et les problèmes coloniaux (Paris: Mouton, 1968). ↩
Their exchange, partially documented in this anthology, had been preceded by other interventions: Ernest Mandel, “Where Is America Going?” New Left Review I, no. 54 (March–April 1969): 3–15, as well as Martin Nicolaus, “The Universal Contradiction,” New Left Review I, no. 59 (January–February 1970): 3–8, and Ernest Mandel, “The Laws of Uneven Development,” New Left Review I, no. 59 (January–February 1970): 19–38. The question has given rise to an avalanche of writings, and by no means has it been extinguished, even though reality has taken it upon itself to eliminate the abstractness of some initial contrasts. On Mandel’s positions, but with an independent elaboration, we should at least note Robert Rowthorn, “Imperialism in the Seventies: Unity or Rivalry?” New Left Review I, no. 69 (September–October 1971): 31–54. I criticized this essay in detail in “La sfida americana in Europa,” Potere Operaio 49 (June 1972): 25–28. ↩
The pull exerted by Gaullism on the Neo-Europeanism of the official workers’ movement in the West is something that should be studied. For some materials, see the proceedings of the conventions “I comunisti italiani e l’Europa” and “I Partiti comunisti e l’Europa,” in Quaderni di Politica ed economia 3 (November–December 1971). ↩
See Martin Nicolaus, L’oggettività dell’imperialismo: Anti-Mandel (Firenze: La Nuova Italia, 1973), 16–23. (The first part of Nicolaus’s pamphlet is not included in this anthology. [TN: “Pamphlet” in English in the original. Nicolaus’s entire polemic with Mandel was never published in pamphlet form in English, but see the sources cited above.]) The Sweezian derivation of the thesis is obvious; also, as to the point in the text, see the editorial by Paul Sweezy and Harry Magdoff, “Imperialism in the Seventies: Problems and Perspectives,” in Monthly Review 23, no. 10 (March 1972): 1–8, 1. ↩
This basically pertains to works like that of Neusüss, Imperialismus (partially translated for this volume), the sketch of which I have followed in this paragraph. ↩
According to Grossmann, Marx would have simply omitted “die vielen Stellen, an welchen er die Rolle und Funktion des Aussenhandels im Kapitalismus behandelte, in einem Kapital zusammenzufassen”: see Henryk Grossmann, Das Akkumulations- und Zusammenbruchsgeseiz des Kapitalistischen System (Frankfurt: Neue Kritik Verlag, 1970), 421. [TN: This passage does not appear in the abridged English version of the text; see Henryk Grossmann, The Law of Accumulation and Breakdown of the Capitalist System, Being also a Theory of Crises, ed. and trans. Jairus Banaji (London: Pluto, 1992).] On this subject, see the well-founded critique in Roman Rosdolsky, The Making of Marx’s Capital (London: Pluto, 2004), 23–26. ↩
Karl Marx, Capital, trans. David Fernbach, vol. 3 (London: Penguin, 1991), 775. [TN: LFB has attributed what appears to be his own paraphrase to the Italian translation of Marx, which reads slightly differently. LFB writes “i limiti posti dal valore d’uso,” while the source page in Italian reads, ”La limitazione viene qui posta dal valore d’uso,” in italics. Fernbach translates that passage as, “The limit in this case emerges through the use-value.” For the Italian, see Marx, Il Capitale, vol. 8 of 8 (Editori Riuniti: Roma, 1970), 32.] On abstract labor as a historical-theoretical nexus, I still consider important the research of J.C. Michaud, Teoria e storia nel Capitale di Marx (Milano: Feltrinelli, 1960). ↩
Karl Marx, Theories of Surplus-Value in Marx-Engels Collected Works, trans. Emile Burns et al., vol. 32 (London: Lawrence & Wishart, 1989), 388. ↩
Karl Marx, Capital, trans. Ben Fowkes, vol. 1, part 8. Its importance is underlined, ultimately polemically, in Aurelio Macchioro, “Introduzione al primo libro del Capitale,” Nuova Rivista Storica 57, no. 1–2 (1973): 62–63. [TN: Here LFB refers the reader to chapter 24 of the Italian translation of Capital, which, owing to different chapter breaks, corresponds to the entirety of the English “Part Eight: So-Called Primitive Accumulation.” For the Italian see chapter 24 in Il Capitale, vol. 3 of 8 (Editori Riuniti: Roma, 1970). Also, a note on terminology: whenever the word originaria appears in quotation marks, or next to the word accumulazione, we’ve opted to translate it as “primitive,” to remain consistent with the Penguin English translations of Marx. However, when originaria appears elsewhere, we have rendered it as “originary,” in order to dispense with unnecessary connotations.] ↩
Karl Marx, Theories of Surplus-Value, 294. Along the same lines, see Marx’s various annotations on the “mercantilists”: “it is also the characteristic feature of the self-interested merchants and manufacturers of that time, and belongs to the period of capitalist development that they represent, that the transformation of feudal agricultural societies into industrial societies, and the resulting industrial struggle of nations on the world market, involves an accelerated development of capital which cannot be attained in the so-called natural way but only by compulsion.” Karl Marx, Capital, vol. 3, 920 (LFB’s italics). ↩
Neusüss observes precisely this: Imperialismus, 33–38. Lenin himself is explicit, see Imperialism, 233ff. ↩
On this, see the collection in Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, On Colonialism (New York: International Publishers, 1972). See also Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, India Cina Russia, ed. B. Maffi (Milano: Il Saggiatore, 1960), and in particular Marx’s famous essay, “The Future Results of British Rule in India,” Marx-Engels Collected Works, vol. 12 (London: Lawrence & Wishart, 1979), 217. [TN: “On colonialism” in English in the original.] ↩
Paolo Santi broadly insists upon this in his introduction to L’economia mondiale e l’imperialismo, by Nikolai Bukharin (Roma: Samonà e Savelli, 1966), 32ff. But see also Hélène Carrère D’Encausse and Stuart Schram, eds., Marxism and Asia: An Introduction and Readings (London: Allen Lane, 1969), 7–15. The question is, on the other hand, at the center of the controversy on the Asiatic mode of production, on which one can see Gianni Sofri, Il modo di produzione asiatico (Torino: Einaudi, 1969), and my note, “Imperialismo sottosviluppo e lotta operaia,” Compagni 2–3 (1970): 41–42. ↩
TN: In English in the original. ↩
Sergio Bologna, “Money and Crisis,” 33–34 and passim. ↩
Marx, Capital, vol. 3, 969–70. ↩
Marx, Grundrisse, 161. The methodological questions in the text have also been at the center of a large debate in Italy, starting above all with the famous works of Lucio Colletti, Galvano Della Volpe, Cesare Luporini, and others. ↩
Marx, Grundrisse, 449. Interesting, for our own purposes, is the example that Marx immediately offers: “For example, capital in this general form, although belonging to individual capitalists, in its elemental form as capital, forms the capital which accumulates in the banks or is distributed through them, and, as Ricardo says, so admirably distributes itself in accordance with the needs of production. Likewise, through loans etc., it forms a level between the different countries. If it is therefore e.g. a law of capital in general that, in order to realize itself, it must posit itself doubly, and must realize itself in this double form, then e.g. the capital of a particular nation which represents capital par excellence in antithesis to another will have to lend itself out to a third nation in order to be able to realize itself. This double positing, this relating to self as to an alien, becomes damn real in this case.” ↩
This redistribution constitutes capitalists as “functionaries” of social capital, not only in a mechanical sense, as pro rata holders of a quota of total surplus-value, but in so far as it rewards innovative entrepreneurship, “progressive” exploitation. ↩
Marx, Capital, vol. 3, 242 (LFB’s italics). ↩
Grossmann, Akkumulation, 505ff. Grossmann conducts a sharp critique of his contemporary literature. For an overview, see Lucio Colletti and Claudio Napoleoni, Il futuro del capitalismo: crollo o sviluppo? (Bari: Laterza, 1970). ↩
Marx, Capital, vol. 3, 275. ↩
Neusüss, Imperialismus, 136. [TN: The present translation of this passage is based on LFB’s Italian rendition of the German original. We have also benefited from consulting a partial English translation of the German, which appears in the text of Oliver Nachtwey and Tobias ten Brink, “Lost in Translation: The German World-Market Debate in the 1970s,” Historical Materialism 16, no. 1 (2008): 37–70.] ↩
Ibid., 132–33. ↩
On this general point I generally refer to the essays of Antonio Negri: “Marx on Cycle and Crisis,” in Revolution Retrieved: Writings on Marx, Keynes, Capitalist Crisis and New Social Subjects (1967–83), trans. Ed Emery et al. (London: Red Notes, 1988), 43–90; “Crisis of the Planner-State: Communism and Revolutionary Organization” in Books for Burning, trans. Ed Emery et al. (New York: Verso, 2005), 1–50; and “Workers’ Party Against Work,” in Books for Burning, 51–117. ↩
Neusüss’s positions are also interesting as they reflect those of an entire tendency that has had an important role on the German extreme left in recent years. One can see the first series of the magazine Sozialistische Politik and also Problemen des Klassenkampf. On the latter, see the essay by Christel Neusüss, Bernhard Blanke, and Elmar Altvater, “Kapitalistische Weltmarkt und Weltwährungskrise,” Prokla 1 (1971): 5–116; and above all, for the general presuppositions, see Elmar Altvater, “Notes on Some Problems of State Interventionism” (1972). ↩
See, among others, Horst Hemberger et al., Imperialismus heute. Das Staatsmonopolistische Kapitalismus in Westdeutschland, 5th ed. (Berlin: Dietz, 1968); Traité marxiste d’économie politique: Le capitalisme monopoliste d’Etat, 2 vols. (Paris: Éditions Sociales, 1971); and Ruggero Spesso, “Caratteri e modificazioni del capitalismo monopolistico di stato,” Critica marxista 1 (January–February 1969): 57–71. ↩
See Neusüss. Imperialismus, 130 and 265n. That this is not the only possible reading is demonstrated recently by Antonio Negri, “Rileggendo Pasukanis,” Critica del diritto 1 (1974): 90-119. [TN: Negri’s essay was subsequently republished in La forma Stato (Milano: Feltrinelli, 1977), 161–95, but has not appeared in an English translation.] ↩
That seems to me the entire sense of the above-cited essay by Altvater, “Notes on Some Problems,” as well as the positions such as those developed by Paul Mattick in Marx and Keynes: The Limits of the Mixed Economy (Boston: Porter Sargent, 1969). ↩
Marx, Capital, vol. 3, 298. ↩
An analysis of the structure of international law from this point of view would be quite opportune. It is not a coincidence that even the more “realistic” attempts to get to the bottom of the traditional contraposition between monism and dualism cannot exceed the level of a merely political-territorial subjectivity. On this see Gaetano Arangio-Ruiz, Gli enti soggetti nel diritto internazionale (Milano: Giuffré, 1956). ↩
Marx, Capital, vol. 3, 277–78 (LFB’s italics). ↩
Marx, Capital, vol. 1, 701–02. ↩
On the one hand, there is, in short, the reducibility and the effective reduction of any type of labor to simple labor (which remains, moreover, a problem still open today); on the other hand, there is the continual redetermination of socially necessary labor, as a result of the incessant modification of the productivity of the system. The two processes coincide to the extent that it is a tendency of capital to deposit intelligence into machinery. ↩
“The same rule which regulates the relative value of commodities in one country, does not regulate the relative value of the commodities exchanged between two or more countries.” So begins the true demonstration of the law of comparative costs in David Ricardo, On the Principles of Political Economy and Taxation (London: J.M. Dent & Sons, 1917), 81. For the most part it is, naturally, only the point of departure (relative immobility of the factors of production). Christian Palloix discusses this point broadly, but not always in a clear manner, in L’économie mondiale capitaliste, vol. 1 (Paris: Maspero, 1971), 174–87, 247–59. ↩
“When money leaves the domestic sphere of circulation it loses the local functions it has acquired there, as the standard of prices, coin, and small change, and as a symbol of value, and falls back into its original form as precious metal in the shape of bullion. In world trade, commodities develop their value universally. Their independent value-form thus confronts them here too as world money. It is in the world market that money first functions to its full extent as the commodity whose natural form is also the directly social form of realization of human labour in the abstract. Its mode of existence becomes adequate to its concept.” (Marx, Capital, vol. 1, 240.) ↩
“The business of coining, like the establishing of a standard measure of prices, is an attribute proper to the state. The different national uniforms worn at home by gold and silver as coins, but taken off again when they appear on the world market, demonstrate the separation between internal or national spheres of commodity circulation and its universal sphere, the world market.” (Marx, Capital, vol. 1, 221–22.) On the nature and consequence of this double circulation, see Neusüss, Imperialismus, 142ff. ↩
TN: In the original. ↩
TN: Here, and below, in English in the original. ↩
On this see Flaminio De Cindio, Il Sistema monetario aureo (Roma: Editori Riuniti, 1961). ↩
This relation constitutes a classic topos in the history of Marxism, starting from Lenin’s polemic with the “legal” populists and Marxists in the 1890s, which was represented then as an alternative between a development in the key of underconsumption (á la Luxemburg) or in the opposing key (á la Grossmann). On these subjects, see also Palloix, L’économie, vol. 1, 187–99. ↩
Marx, Capital, vol. 3, 344. Marx continues: “Capital invested in foreign trade can yield a higher rate of profit, firstly, because it competes with commodities produced by other countries with less developed production facilities, so that the more advanced country sells its goods above their value, even though still more cheaply than its competitors. In so far as the labour of the more advanced country is valorized here as labour of a higher specific weight, the profit rate rises, since labour that is not paid as qualitatively higher is nevertheless sold as such.” ↩
Marx, Grundrisse, 227. ↩
Marx, Grundrisse, 227. ↩
Marx, Capital, vol. 1, 705 (LFB’s italics). ↩
“But, generally speaking, the Protective system in these days is conservative, while the Free Trade system works destructively. It breaks up old nationalities and carries antagonism of proletariat and bourgeoisie to the uttermost point. In a word, the Free Trade system hastens the Social Revolution. In this revolutionary sense alone, gentlemen, I am in favor of Free Trade.” Karl Marx, “Speech on the Question of Free Trade” (1847), in Marx-Engels Collected Works, vol. 6 (London: Lawrence & Wishart, 1976), 465. ↩
TN: In English in the original. ↩
On the relation between “market” and accumulation see also the intense polemic in Martin Nicolaus, L’oggetività, 85–88. ↩
This is the theme of the “revolution from above” in Marx (Bonaparte, Palmerston). On this, see Bologna’s essay, “Money and Crisis,” which can be usefully contrasted with the reading of “Bonapartism” in Marx developed in the way of Nicos Poulantzas, Fascism and Dictatorship, trans. Judith White (London: Verso, 1979). ↩
TN: LFB uses the Latin realiter here. ↩
On the concept of relative wage, see Marx, Capital, vol. 1, chapter 20; Rosdolsky, The Making of Marx’s Capital, 293–96; and the section of Neusüss’s work, Imperialismus, in this volume. ↩
Cf. Suzanne De Brunhoff, Marx on Money, trans. Maurice J. Goldbloom (London: Verso, 2016), 103. ↩
Marx, Capital, vol. 3, 703–04. ↩
Marx, Capital, vol. 1, 209. ↩
A great part of this material is contained in the fifth section of the Third Book of Capital; in his preface, Engels illustrates the state of great “confusion” concerning this section (Capital, vol. 3, 95–96). For reconstructions, see the scarce works that deal with the theory of money in Marx: Henri Denis, La monnaie (Paris: Éditions sociales, 1951); Bruno Fritsch, Die Geld- und Kredittheorie von Karl Marx (Frankfurt: Europa Verlag, 1971); Carlo Boffito, Teoria della moneta (Torino: Einaudi, 1973); De Brunhoff, Marx on Money; Suzanne De Brunhoff, La politica monetaria (Bari: Laterza, 1974). ↩
Marx, Capital, vol. 3, 622–24, and the comment on these pages in De Brunhoff, Marx on Money, 103–07. ↩
See, for example, his articles for the New York Herald Tribune, on which Bologna comments in “Money and Crisis.” ↩
In this sense it is false that in Marx there does not exist, or there exists only in nuce, a theory of imperialism: cf. A. Macchioro, “Introduzione al primo libro del Capitale.” ↩
Friedrich Engels, “Preface” [to the Second Edition, 1892] in The Condition of the Working Class in England, trans. Florence Kelley Wischnewetzky (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2010), ix. Regarding Engels’ opinions on this subject, see the polemic between Nicolaus and Mandel, in this volume. ↩
See Marcello De Cecco, Economia e finanza internazionale dal 1890 al 1914 (Bari: Laterza, 1971), 145ff. ↩
D. Williams, “The Evolution of the Sterling System,” in Charles R. Whittlesay et al., eds., Essays in money and banking in honour of R.S. Sayers (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1968); but certainly also, Robert Triffin, The Evolution of the International Monetary System: Historical Reappraisal and Future Perspectives (Princeton, N.J.: International Finance Section, Dept. of Economics, Princeton University, 1964). ↩
TN: “City” in English in the original. ↩
Cf. De Cecco, “Economia,” 63–64. ↩
See, for all this, Albert H. Imlah, Economic Elements in the Pax Britannica (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1958), 70ff; Phyllis Deane and William A. Cole, British Economic Growth, 1688–1959. Trends and structure (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1962). ↩
TN: In English in the original. ↩
TN: In English in the original. ↩
Cf. Valerio Castronovo, “Congiuntura economica e politica colonialista,” Quaderni storici 20 (May–August 1972): 455; see also H. Myint, “The ‘Classical Theory’ of International Trade and the Underdeveloped Countries,” The Economic Journal 68, no. 270 (June 1958): 317–37. ↩
See, for all this, John Harry Dunning, Studies in International Investment (London: Allen & Unwin, 1970) and his introduction to International Investment (Harmondsworth: Penguin Books, 1972), 9–23. ↩
Nikolai Bukharin, Imperialism and World Economy (London: Martin Lawrence Ltd., 1930), 41. (LFB’s italics.) ↩
Marx, Capital, vol. 3, 490. ↩
Marx, Capital, vol. 3, 488. ↩
Marx, Capital, vol. 3, 490. (LFB’s italics.) ↩
Marx, Capital, vol. 3, 572. ↩
The anti-Kautskyian polemic already developed by Lenin in his introduction (1915) to Imperialism and World Economy, by Bukharin, 9–14, also takes its distance from certain of the latter’s general theses; in fact Bukharin is, to my eyes, the author of a true and proper theory of super-imperialism far more than Kautsky and his theoretical mess [pasticcio] on industrial capital which annuls the agrarian territories! The other direction of Lenin’s (implicit, but no less real) polemic which is referred to in the text is obviously toward Rosa Luxemburg. “The whole of the so-called ‘national economy,’ i.e. the capitalist world economy, is completely unorganized. In the whole, which stretches across oceans and continents, no plan, no consciousness, no regulation prevails; only the blind reign of unknown, uncontrolled forces plays its capricious game with people’s economic fate. There is indeed, still today, an over-powerful lord that governs working humanity: capital. But its form of government is not despotism but anarchy.” (Rosa Luxemburg, “Introduction to Political Economy,” in The Complete Works of Rosa Luxemburg: Volume 1, Economic Writings 1, ed. Peter Hudis [London: Verso, 2013], 134.) The “anarchy” of capital at the world level has a rather different theoretical sense in the context of Lenin’s discourse. ↩
Eric Roll, The World After Keynes (New York: Praeger, 1968), 90. But see also Triffin, Evolution of the International Monetary System, chapter 2. ↩
Salvatore Biasco, “La fine di un’era: lo sviluppo economico capitalistico nel dopoguerra,” Nuovo Impegno 2 (1972): 107. Biasco continues: “a fourth must be added: the exploitation of underdeveloped countries.” It is excluded from Bianco’s argument because “if it is correct to claim that imperialism is a cause of underdevelopment for backward countries, it is wrong and a bit misleading to say that imperialism and only imperialism is the spur for development in industrialized countries.” Ibid, 105. We will return to this in the following section. ↩
Biasco, “La fine di un’era,” 109. Some wider bibliographical information, excluded from the limited scope of this introduction, can be found, also for the history of international economics after the second world war, in Franco Catalano, La crisi del sistema monetario internazionale (Milano: Etas Kompass, 1972), 329–50. ↩
Permit me to refer to Luciano Ferrari Bravo, “Il New Deal e il nuovo assetto delle istituzioni capitalistiche,” in Operaie e stato (Milano: Feltrinelli, 1972), 101–34, and to the bibliography indicated there. [TN: For an English translation of selections from this text, see Luciano Ferrari Bravo, “The New Deal and the New Order of Capitalist Institutions (1972),” trans. Evan Calder Williams, Viewpoint 4 (October 2014).] ↩
Jacob Viner, Two Plans for International Monetary Stabilization (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1943), 5. [TN: “Gold-dollar standard” in English in the original.] ↩
Ibid., 7ff ↩
TN: The “bancor” (“bank-gold” in French) was proposed by Keynes as an international currency that would have a fixed exchange rate with all member countries’ national currencies and gold reserves. See Benn Steil, The Battle of Bretton Woods: John Maynard Keynes, Harry Dexter White, and the Making of a New World Order (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 2013), 143–150. ↩
On the relationship between liquidity and adjustment with respect to the International Monetary Fund system, see among the many sources, James E. Meade, “The international monetary mechanism,“Three Banks Review 64, no. 63 (1964): 3–25. On the points stressed in the text see G. Mengarelli, “Origine e crisi del sistema monetario internazionale,” Critica Marxista 45 (1969): 124–30, and above all, Catalano, La crisi del sistema monetario internazionale, chapters 5–8. ↩
“The system permitted a sort of dynamic equilibrium: the American deficit allowed the other countries overall to find themselves with a surplus; that is to say that in any moment in time, each of the countries could have its own balance of payments in surplus; in the same way if the economic dynamic of a country moved it away from a situation of equilibrium with respect to the others, the policies undertaken to alleviate the relative deficit allowed the country in question to return to surplus, but in this way makes it such that the deficit does not necessarily pass to other countries.” Luca Meldolesi, “Sistema monetario e sviluppo capitalistico,” Classe e stato 3 (1967): 64–65. ↩
Biasco, “La fine di un’era,” 107. ↩
As in Harry Magdoff, The Age of Imperialism: The Economics of U.S. Foreign Policy (New York: Monthly Review Press, 1969), 67. ↩
TN: In English in the original. ↩
TN: Both in English in the original. ↩
For an accurate and up to date description of the terms of the monetary crisis, cf. Gaetano Stammati, Il sistema monetario internazionale (Torino: Boringhieri, 1973), 128–52. For the general political terms of an interpretation of the crisis, refer to Antonio Negri, “Theses on the Crisis,” in Working Class Autonomy and the Crisis, ed. Red Notes (London: Red Notes, 1979), 39–54. Also cf. Sergio Bologna, “Petrolio e mercato mondiale: cronistoria di una crisis,” Quaderni piacentini 52 (1974): 3–27. Also excellent is the pamphlet from Proletarische Front, Der Gegenwärtige Imperialismus (Hamburg, 1972). ↩
A rich theoretical bibliography on this subject (which moreover is becoming exterminated) can be found thanks to the informative work of Enzo Rullani, Lo sviluppo multinazionale delle imprese industriali (Milano: Etas Kompass, 1973). ↩
See Franco Momigliano, Lezioni di economia industriale e teoria dell’impresa (Torino: Giappichelli, 1972), 283ff; also see, Charles P. Kingleberger, ed., The International Corporation (Cambridge: MIT Press, 1970), 12–13; John H. Dunning, ed., The Multinational Enterprise (London: Allen and Unwin, 1971), 359–62. ↩
Paul Baran and Paul Sweezy, “Notes on the Theory of Imperialism,” Monthly Review 17, no. 10 (March 1966): 15–31; but see also the numerous interventions that Baran, Sweezy, and Magdoff have dedicated to the subject in the pages of Monthly Review. ↩
Cf. Paul Sweezy, “The Resurgence of Financial Control: Fact or Fancy?” in Monthly Review 23, no. 6 (November 1971): 1–33. ↩
That at the historical origins of the American direct foreign investment boom there are reasons for speculation on the international financial market does not mean anything about the intrinsic nature of the phenomenon and its reversibility; thus, instead, see Paolo Leon, Congiuntura e crisi strutturale nei rapporti tra economie capitalistiche (Padova: Marsilio, 1973), 49–56. ↩
This is the point of view of Stephen Hymer, “The Multinational Corporation and the Law of Uneven Development,” in Economics and World Order, ed. J.N. Baghwati (London: Collier-Macmillian, 1972), 113–40; and, more generally, The Multinational Corporation: A Radical Approach (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1979. [TN: An Italian translation of Hymer’s article was included in the volume Imperialismo e classe operaia multinazionale, for which, as noted above, the present essay originally served as Introduction.] ↩
Raymond Vernon, “International Investment and International Trade in the Product Cycle,” Quarterly Journal of Economics (May 1966): 190–208; Vernon, Sovereignty at Bay (New York: Basic Books, 1971), 65–112. On Vernon’s model see also Paolo Pasca, Il “ciclo del prodotto nuovo” (Napoli: Morano, 1974). Compare such a model with the use of the Marxist figure of the cycle by Elmar Altvater, “Multinational Corporations and the Working Class” in Multinational Corporations and Labour Unions, ed. Kurt P. Tudyka (Nijmegen: SUN, 1973). ↩
For example, by Elmar Altvater, Die Weltwährungskrise (Frankfurt-Wien: Europa Verlag, 1969). ↩
TN: In English in the original. ↩
The typology of these “defenses” is described by Franco Momigliano, Lezioni di economia industriale e teoria dell’impresa, 295ff; for the theme of the counteroffensive, disregarding the European “literature” à la Servan-Schreiber, cf. again Rowthorn, “Unity or Revolt.” ↩
Cf. Charles Levinson, Capital, Inflation and the Multinationals (London: Allen and Unwin: 1971), 11–26. ↩
Rowthorn, “Unity or Revolt,” 45–47. ↩
Nicos Poulantzas, “Internationalization of Capitalist Relations and the Nation-State,” trans. Elizabeth Hindess, in The Poulantzas Reader: Marxism, Law and the State, ed. James Martin (London: Verso, 2008), 220–57. [TN: This essay by Poulantzas was included in the volume Imperialismo e classe operaia multinazionale.] ↩
For this general thematic I refer again to Antonio Negri’s “Workers’ Party Against Work”: “Stagnant capital […] is nevertheless planned capital. It is the dynamic regulation of conflictuality and therefore of a relation between classes. This relation cannot be annulled. We must get used to separating planning from development.” Negri, “Workers’ Party Against Work,” 68. ↩
“International cartels show to what point capitalist monopolies have developed, and the object of the struggle between the various capitalist associations; This last circumstance is the most important; it alone shows us the historico-economic meaning of what is taking place; for the forms of the struggle may and do constantly change in accordance with varying, relatively specific and temporary causes, but the substance of the struggle, its class content, positively cannot change while classes exist.” Cf. Lenin, Imperialism, 253. ↩
TN: In English in the original. ↩
Lenin, Imperialism, 284ff. ↩
See Myint, “The ‘Classical Theory,’” passim; Meir Merhav, Technological Dependence, Monopoly, and Growth (Oxford: Pergamon Press, 1969), 31–36. ↩
TN: In English in the original. ↩
Ideas on this can be found in the essay by Ferruccio Gambino, “Class Composition and U.S. Direct Investments Abroad,” December 1974. [TN: Gambino’s essay was originally written for the volume Imperialismo e classe operaia multinazionale. Subsequently an English translation was prepared for the third issue of the American journal Zerowork, but that issue was never published. A revised translation has since been published online at Harry Cleaver’s Zerowork website.] On the emergence of forms of “governance” of the international labor market, see Alessandro Serafini, ed., L’operaio multinazionale in Europa (Milano: Feltrinelli, 1974). ↩
Marx, Capital, vol. 1, 770. On the one hand, this is a consequence of the capitalist law of population which compels its level to remain within the requisites of accumulation. On the other, it is the permanent result of the relative process of production, which is precisely directed, with the incessant increase of productivity, to reduce necessary labor time and, consequently, the relative value of labor. This schema is not substantially altered by Marx’s discussion (in Value, Price and Profit) of the possibilities and limits of union action on the terrain of the wage. The thesis supported therein, on the basis of which a contractual increase in the price of labor can translate into an effective modification of the distribution of the wage, via the compression of profits (against the opportunistic idea of a necessary translation of price increases) – notwithstanding its current validity, under the conditions of oligopoly on both sides of the relation – does not, in the first instance, exclude the thesis of the necessary constriction of the movements of the wage, but only limits it to the realm of compatibility with the requisites of accumulation. In the second instance, what matters most here does not affect the fundamental premise of the whole model that, for each period or cycle of accumulation, the wage-level remains a predetermined datum. In an “originary” phase, [it is determined] by the costs of the simple reproduction of labor-power, and, in subsequent phases, by the further modifications that it undergoes as a result of the joint pressures of the relation of forces between classes and of the amplitude of the process of accumulation that has been attained. On all this, see Arghiri Emmanuel, Unequal Exchange: A Study of the Imperialism of Trade (New York: Monthly Review Press, 1972), chapter 3. ↩
Emmanuel, introduction to Unequal Exchange, 7–12. ↩
TN: In English in the original. ↩
W. Arthur Lewis, “Economic Development with Unlimited Supplies of Labour,” in The Economics of Underdevelopment: A series of articles and papers, eds. A.N. Agarwala and S. P. Singh (New York: Oxford University Press, 1963), 400–49. [TN: “Terms of trade” in English in the original.] ↩
Gerald Meier, “Development Without Employment,” PSL Quarterly Review 22, no. 90 (1969): 309–19; Hla Myint, “Dualism and the Internal Integration of the Underdeveloped Economies,” PSL Quarterly Review 23, no. 93 (1970): 128–56. C. Daneo, “Imperialismo e ruolo della classe operaia occidentale,” Classe 3: 348–56. ↩
Giovanni Arrighi, Sviluppo economico e sovrastrutture in Africa (Torino: Einaudi, 1969), 98ff. ↩
Emmanuel, Unequal Exchange, 266–67. ↩
Charles Bettelheim, “Theoretical Comments,” in Arghiri Emmanuel, Unequal Exchange, 296ff. ↩
Emmanuel, Unequal Exchange, 383. ↩
Michele Salvati, “Lo Scambio ineguale: un intervento polemico,” in Salari, sottosviluppo, imperialismo, eds. Eugenio Somaini et al. (Torino: Einaudi, 1973), 73–75. Salvati essentially elaborates both of the criticisms (extension that is both without motivation and not pertinent). Their superimposition is perhaps the consequence of the curious story of Emmanuel’s text: the subject is taken up and developed by Emmanuel in subsequent texts (see the appendix to the Italian edition and, now, the second French edition) with arguments that backtrack substantially on the text of the first edition. ↩
Emmanuel, Unequal Exchange, 371. ↩
Naturally, there is not necessarily a transfer of value behind each movement of capital, just as there is not always a true export behind the “export” of capital, but the opposite. This is not only because the repatriation of profits rapidly surpasses the initial investment, but also because, as a rule, the latter finances itself on the local market (this is especially relevant to U.S. investment in Europe in the post-war period). See Harry Magdoff, The Age of Imperialism, 10–12 and passim. As concerns European financing of such investments, see Bruno Colle and Graziella Pent, Il Potere Sovranazionale Privato (Bologna: Il Mulino, 1974), 27–33, and bibliography. ↩
See also Nicos Poulantzas, “Internationalization.” ↩
Emmanuel, Unequal Exchange, 380. [TN: Ellipsis in LFB.] ↩
Emmanuel, Unequal Exchange, 382. ↩
This is how Salvati refers to the general premise of Emmanuel’s argument – the independent, really-existing [realiter] character of the variable of real wages – in Salvati, “Lo Scambio Ineguale,” 78. ↩
In addition to Unequal Exchange, see also Arghiri Emmanuel, “White-Settler Colonialism and the Myth of Investment Imperialism,” New Left Review I, 73 (1972): 35–57 (which contains, among other things, interesting considerations on the real context of forces which, in the case of the ex-Congo, sustained positions like that of Lumumba, to whom Emmanuel served as economic advisor). ↩
For the criteria of identification of dependent development, see Bob Sutcliffe, “Imperialism and Industrialization in the Third World,” in Studies in the Theory of Imperialism, eds. Roger Owen and Bob Sutcliffe (London: Longman, 1972), 174–76, and, more broadly, Bob Sutcliffe, Industry and Underdevelopment (London: Addison-Wesley, 1971), chapter 9. Recently, a severe attack on these and similar widespread representations has been launched by Bill Warren, in “Imperialism and Capitalist Industrialization,” New Left Review I, 81 (1973): 3–44, eliciting resentful rejoinders, for example that of Philip McMichael, James Petras, and Robert Rhodes, in “Industry in the Third World,” and a partial agreement on the part of Emmanuel himself, in “Current Myths of Development,” both in New Left Review I, 85 (1974). (One should keep in mind that Warren’s intervention tended essentially to demonstrate the “economic” advantages of political independence!) One can legitimately assume that the discussion has only just begun. Among the explanatory models of dependent industrialization it is worth citing Samir Amin, Accumulation on a World Scale: A critique of the theory of underdevelopment (New York: Monthly Review Press, 1974), especially part 2, and for a rapid synthesis, also by Amin, Sulla Transizione (Milano: Jaca Book, 1973), 32–65. Obviously, the general question of “dependency” exceeds the scope of the subject of this introduction. ↩
TN: In the original. ↩
TN: In English in the original. ↩
A synthesis of the data can be found in Angus Hone, “The Primary Commodities Boom,” New Left Review I, 81 (1973), 72–92; see also Sergio Bologna, “Petrolio e Mercato Mondiale,” and Emmanuel, “Current Myths of Development,” 79–82. ↩
It must be added that at the very moment when the necessity of restarting the American cycle as the driving force of the entire imperialist chain requires raising the margins of investment and accumulation (in accordance with the new conditions of generalized stagnation) and expanding them by returning to “real” wealth and to a commodity which would constitute an adequate measure, the front of the global proletarian struggle undergoes a qualitative leap. At the very heart of a crucial area, and holding fast to the vital demands for an identity and for national independence, the Palestinian resistance blazes through the stages of its own class function, not only within the specific political-military struggle against Israel, but as active reference-point of the proletarian condition of the entire Arab world. ↩
Bologna, “Petrolio e Mercato Mondiale,” 15. ↩
Emmanuel is cognizant of the new conditions of “development,” although he does not address the question: “the current situation of generalized inconvertibility, which has no precedent in the history of capitalism [is] a situation characterized by a new type of inflation, which one could term of-equilibrium, since it is independent of the cycle of the conjuncture and because, up to a certain point, it has an equilibrating force on the system. In this situation, entrepreneurs can easily account, day by day, for the increase in wages and, just as automatically and in an institutionalized way, add their pre-established margin of profit, as though it were not a question of wage distribution and in spite of all of the economists’ pure theories.” Arghiri Emmanuel, “Risposta a Somaini,” in Salari, sottosviluppo, imperialismo, eds. Somaini et al.,130. ↩
TN: In English in the original. ↩
For all this see, polemically, Levinson, “Capital, Inflation and the Multinationals,” 27–39, 121–36; see also Massimo Cacciari, Dopo L’Autunno Caldo: Ristrutturazione e analisis di classe (Padova: Marsilio, 1973), 153–57. ↩
TN: In English in the original. ↩
Emmanuel, Unequal Exchange, 415. ↩
Emmanuel, Unequal Exchange, 394, 415. ↩
TN: In English in the original. ↩