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Sunday, 6 February 2011

Luxembourg: Imperialism and Immigration...

Chapter 6

However that may be, we have at last arrived at imperialism. The
concluding chapter of Bauer’s essay is entitled The Explanation of
Imperialism. After this, the reader might well hope finally to find
one. After Bauer had explained that I had only uncovered one root of
imperialism, ‘but not the only one’, one could only expect that, from
the standpoint of his theory, he himself would lay bare the other
roots. Unfortunately, this was not the case. To the end, Bauer fails
to give one single indication of the other roots, he keeps the secret
to himself. In spite of the concluding chapter’s promising title and
introduction we are still left with only the one miserable ‘root’ of
imperialism, which forms the ‘kernel of truth’ in my incorrect

In doing this, however, Bauer has already conceded too much to me, in
the shape of the ‘one root’ which he kindly accepts as true’. For here
too it is a case of either/or, and the compromise which Bauer tries to
make is basically as impermanent and ethereal as most compromises.

For if his ‘population growth’ theory of accumulation were correct,
the ‘root’ would be completely unnecessary, since then imperialism
would simply be impossible.

Let us remind ourselves what Bauer’s ‘mechanism’ consists of. It
consists in the fact that capitalist production automatically
readjusts itself to the growth of the working class. Then how can one
speak of a ‘limit’ to accumulation? Capital neither needs to nor can
it overstep this limit’. For if production grows faster than the
working class – in Bauer’s ‘over-accumulation’ phase – it compensates
for this by lagging behind the available working population again in
the following phase of ‘under-accumulation’. In this way there is in
general no surplus capital in Bauer’s ‘mechanism’ which could outgrow
his ‘limit’. Yet for the same reason this theory, as we have seen,
excludes the formation of reserve capital and the ability of
production to expand suddenly. Surplus capital appears as only a
passing phase which must periodically be replaced by the opposite
extreme, capital shortage: in Bauer’s ‘mechanism’ both phases replace
each other with the pedantic regularity of new moon and full moon.
There are no more ‘limits’ to capital accumulation than there is a
tendency for these to be exceeded; Bauer himself explicitly states
that accumulation always returns to this limit of its own accord, due
to the ‘mechanism of capitalist production itself’.[1] Thus, there is
no conflict between capital’s ability to expand and an alleged
limitation. Bauer only takes the trouble to include these concepts in
his ‘mechanism’ so that he can build some sort of artificial bridge
between it and imperialism. The explanation which he is compelled to
give of imperialism from the standpoint of his theory shows most
clearly that this construction is forced.

Since, according to Bauer, the working class is the axis around which
capital revolves, expansion of the limits to accumulation comes to
mean increase in the population of workers! This is down in black and
white in Neue Zeit.[2]

Accumulation is at first limited by the growth of the working
population. Imperialism increases the number of workers who are forced
to sell their labour power to capital. It accomplishes this by
destroying the old modes of production in colonial areas and thereby
forcing millions either to emigrate to capitalist areas or to serve
European or American capital in their native land, where the capital
has been invested. Since with a given organic composition of capital
the amount of accumulation is determined by the growth in the
available working population, imperialism is in fact a means to
enlarge the limits of accumulation.

So this is the main function and the main concern of imperialism: to
increase ‘greatly’ the number of workers, either by immigration from
the colonies or in their own country! And this, despite the fact that
anyone who is in full possession of his senses is aware, on the
contrary, of the continual presence of a complete, consolidated
industrial reserve army of the proletariat and unemployment in the
home countries of imperialist capital, in the old capitalist
countries, whilst in the colonies capital is always complaining about
labour shortage! Thus, in its urge for new wage proletarians,
imperialist capital escapes from those countries where rapid
technological progress, the energetic process of the
proletarianization of the intermediate strata and the destruction of
the proletarian family are continually replenishing the labour
reserve; it prefers to flow to the very parts of the world in which
rigid social relations in traditional forms of property keep the
labour force in such strong shackles that it takes decades of the
crushing impact of the domination of capital to produce, as the final
result of this domination, a semi-usable proletariat!

Bauer fantasizes about a ‘giant’ stream of workers coming from the
colonies to the old centres of capitalist production, while anyone
with eyes can see that, on the contrary, workers emigrate to the
colonies, along with the emigration of capital from the old centres to
the colonies, which, as Marx says, ‘indeed only follows emigrating
capital’. Indeed, look at the ‘giant’ stream of people from Europe
settling in North and South America, South Africa and Australia in the
nineteenth century. Look at the different modes of ‘moderate’ slavery
and forced labour European and North American capital employs to
secure the necessary minimum of labour in the African colonies, in the
West Indies, South America and the South Seas.

According to Bauer, English capital fought long and bloody wars with
China for half a century to secure a ‘giant’ stream of Chinese coolies
to meet the drastic lack of English workers. The same urgent need must
have caused the united European crusade against China at the turn of
the century. French capital was obviously mainly after the Berbers in
Morocco to compensate for its deficit of French proletarians.
Naturally, Austrian imperialism in Serbia and Albania was primarily
hunting for fresh labour. German capital is now scouring Asia Minor
and Mesopotamia with a torch for Turkish industrial workers, all the
more as there was such a shocking lack of labour in all sectors in
Germany before the World War! Clearly, Otto Bauer, ‘as a man who
speculates’, has yet again forgotten our plain earth. He cold-
bloodedly interprets modern imperialism as capitalism in search of new
labour. This is meant to be the nucleus, the innermost principle
motivating imperialism. Only as a matter of secondary importance does
he mention the need for overseas raw materials, which has no economic
connexion with his theory of accumulation, and comes like a bolt from
the blue. If accumulation in the specific ‘isolated capitalist
society’ can flourish as well as Bauer shows us, then it must have at
hand all the necessary natural treasures and gifts from heaven on the
miraculous island – quite different from the miserable capitalism of
harsh reality, which from its very inception has depended for its
existence on the world’s means of production. And finally, in the
third place, Bauer quite casually mentions in two sentences the
acquisition of new markets as a minor motive for imperialism, and only
as another means to mitigate the crises. This, of course, is another
‘nice thing to say’; as is commonly known on our planet, any
considerable expansion of the market is followed by an enormous
sharpening of the crises.

This is the ‘explanation of imperialism’ Otto Bauer finally gives: ‘In
our opinion capitalism is possible even without expansion.’[3] This is
the culmination of his theory of ‘isolated’ accumulation, and we are
left with the consoling assurance that one way or the other, ‘with or
without expansion capitalism will bring about its own downfall ...’

That is historical materialist research method in ‘expert’ execution.
So capitalism is also conceivable even without expansion. Indeed, for
Marx the urge of capitalism to expand suddenly forms a vital element,
the most outstanding feature of modern development; indeed, expansion
has accompanied the entire history of capitalism and in its present,
final, imperialist phase, it has adopted such an unbridled character
that it puts the whole civilization of mankind in question. Indeed,
this untameable drive of capital to expand has gradually constructed a
world market, connected the modern world economy and so laid the
historical basis for socialism. Indeed, the proletarian International,
which is to make an end of capitalism, is itself only a product of the
global expansion of capital. But all this is quite unnecessary, a
different historical course is conceivable. Indeed, is anything
‘inconceivable’ for a powerful thinker? ‘In our opinion capitalism is
conceivable even without expansion.’ In our opinion modern development
is conceivable even without the discovery of America and the
circumnavigation of Africa. If one thinks about it for long enough one
can even conceive of man’s history without capitalism. Finally, the
solar system is conceivable without our earth. German philosophy is
perhaps conceivable without its ‘metaphysical clumsiness’. Only one
thing seems to us to be quite inconceivable: that an official Marxism
which thinks in this way could, as the intellectual avant garde of the
Labour movement in the phase of imperialism, have resulted in
something other than the miserable fiasco of Social Democracy which we
have to witness today in the World War.

Of course, tactics and strategy in the practical struggle are not
directly dependent on whether one considers the second volume of
Capital to be a finished work or just a fragment, whether one believes
in the possibility of accumulation in an ‘isolated’ capitalist society
or not, whether one interprets Marx’s models of reproduction one way
or the other. Thousands of proletarians are good and brave fighters
for the aims of socialism without knowing about these theoretical
problems . for the reasons of a common basic understanding of the
class struggle, an incorruptible class instinct and the revolutionary
traditions of the movement. But there is the closest connexion between
the understanding and treatment of theoretical problems and the
practice of political parties over long periods. In the decade before
the World War, German Social Democracy, as the international
metropolis of proletarian intellectual life, displayed total harmony
in theoretical as well as practical areas; in both areas the same
indecision and ossification appeared, and it was the same imperialism
as the overwhelmingly dominant manifestation of public life which
defeated the theoretical as well as the political general staff of
Social Democracy. The proud monolithic edifice of official German
Social Democracy was revealed at its first historical trial to be a
Potemkin village.[4] Similarly, the apparent theoretical ‘expert
knowledge’ and infallibility of official Marxism, which blessed every
practice of the movement, turned out to be a grandiose façade hiding
its inner insecurity and inability to act behind intolerant and
insolent dogmatism. The sad routine moving along the old tracks of the
‘tried and tested tactics’, i.e. nothing but parliamentarianism,
corresponded to the theoretical epigons who clung to the master’s
formula whilst renouncing the living spirit of his teachings. We have
already noted in passing some proof of this thoughtlessness in the
‘supreme court’ of ‘experts’.

But the connexion with practice is in our case even more obvious than
it may seem at first sight. It basically means two different methods
of fighting imperialism.

Marx’s analysis of accumulation was developed at a time when
imperialism had not yet entered on to the world stage. The final and
absolute rule of capital over the world – the precondition on which
Marx bases his analysis – entails the a priori exclusion of the
process of imperialism. But – and here lies the difference between the
errors of a Marx and the crass blunders of his epigons – in this case
even the error leads on to something fruitful. The problem posed and
left unanswered in the second volume of Capital – to show how
accumulation takes place under the exclusive rule of capitalism – is
insoluble. Accumulation is simply impossible under these conditions.
This apparently rigid theoretical contradiction has only to be
translated into historical dialectics, in that it conforms to the
spirit of the entire Marxist teaching and way of thinking, and the
contradiction in Marx’s model becomes the living mirror of the global
career of capitalism, of its fortune and fall.

Accumulation is impossible in an exclusively capitalist environment.
Therefore, we find that capital has been driven since its very
inception to expand into non-capitalist strata and nations, ruin
artisans and peasantry, proletarianize the intermediate strata, the
politics of colonialism, the politics of ‘opening-up’ and the export
of capital. The development of capitalism has been possible only
through constant expansion into new domains of production and new
countries. But the global drive to expand leads to a collision between
capital and pre-capitalist forms of society, resulting in violence,
war, revolution: in brief, catastrophes from start to finish, the
vital element of capitalism.

Capital accumulation progresses and expands at the expense of non-
capitalist strata and countries, squeezing them out at an ever faster
rate. The general tendency and final result of this process is the
exclusive world rule of capitalist production. Once this is reached,
Marx’s model becomes valid: accumulation, i.e. further expansion of
capital, becomes impossible. Capitalism comes to a dead end, it cannot
function any more as the historical vehicle for the unfolding of the
productive forces, it reaches its objective economic limit. The
contradiction in Marx’s model of accumulation is, seen dialectically,
only the living contradiction between the boundless expansionist drive
and the limit capital creates for itself through progressive
destruction of all other forms of production; it is the contradiction
between the huge productive forces which it awakens throughout the
world during the process of accumulation and the narrow basis to which
it is confined by the laws of accumulation. Marx’s model of
accumulation – when properly understood – is precisely in its
insolubility the exact prognosis of the economically unavoidable
downfall of capitalism as a result of the imperialist process of
expansion whose specific task it is to realize Marx’s assumption: the
general and undivided rule of capital.

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