It is with great flattery that I discovered that Jason Unruhe, of Maoist Rebel News and Iranian state television fame, had replied to my article on the prospects on socialism and the third world. However, his analysis, much like his mohawk, are in desperate need of rethinking.
But first, let me make some clarifications regarding the claims I made in my first article. Jason seems to be under the impression that my “anti-proletariat theory” seems to exclude the possibility of revolutions occurring in the third world. In fact, I said quite the opposite, citing Rojava and the Zapatistas as modern examples of such revolutions. Revolutions have occurred throughout the third world in its history, but have we really seen one which succeed in abolishing private property, the capitalist class, and commodity production? Perhaps I am being too judgmental here, let us lower the standard even further, where have we seen a revolution in the third world create a dictatorship of the proletariat, which had credible intentions towards bringing about socialism, and did not degenerate into pure capitalism, with no indication of any attempt to move beyond (anything more than lip service)?
Indeed, revolutions occur at every stage of historical development, but the level of development and character of production will still dictate the material possibilities of society. A society based on primitive commodity production or natural resource extraction (with the notable exception of OPEC member countries), as is the case with most of the third world, will still endure relative poverty to the first world even if there is complete socialization of production and redistribution of wealth. This presents a very big problem for post-revolution third world countries, all of which must deal with a population with rising wants and needs, and a first world presenting an inviting opportunity for emigration. There is at once a massive pressure to industrialize, to lift the people out of poverty. Yes, even Jason admits that capitalism must constantly expand, find new markets for both labor and finished commodities, but he seems oblivious to the way that third world countries play into this system, how they wish to also experience the riches of capitalism, especially those in power.
Mao himself was no stranger to class collaborationism, willing to put up with domestic bourgeoise in the name of anti-imperialism, “The national bourgeoisie differs from the imperialists, the landlords and the bureaucrat-capitalists. The contradiction between the national bourgeoisie and the working class is one between exploiter and exploited, and is by nature antagonistic. But in the concrete conditions of China, this antagonistic contradiction between the two classes, if properly handled, can be transformed into a non-antagonistic one and be resolved by peaceful methods.” It is then no wonder that Deng would later liberalize the economy, and redefine socialism as capitalist development. All third world ostensibly socialist countries which were not overthrown with American military backing eventually succumbed to this fate. Even Cuba is now redrafting its laws to permit private property and foreign direct investment. If these socialist countries were authentic dictatorships of the proletariat, that is, dictatorships of class and not simply a clique of party/state bureaucrats, there could perhaps be some confidence the country could peacefully transform into socialism after developing capitalism to the needed productive capabilities. For if that was the case, the workers could of course respond to the massive inequality and constant crisis of capitalism by abolishing it, but that is not the case, and the workers have little control of their states in any place from Cuba to China.
Indeed, for third world socialism to succeed in development, it requires assistance in the form of machines, tools, resources and trade with the first world. Something that won’t happen in our current international system without increasing domination of the people at the hands of foreign and domestic capital. In this way, revolution in the third world requires revolution in the first world for long term success. This is not some Trotskyist mysticism, as Jason would have you believe, but an extension of the basics of the theory of capital accumulation and the history of international development. I am not, nor have ever been, a Trotskyist.
There are some anticipated rejections to this point. That should the third world in its totality revolt, they would command enough of the productive means and natural resources to force imperialist countries to hand over their capital, to pay reparations. The problem with this is that it’s already been tried, as this is in the interests of third world countries regardless of economic system. The G-77 bloc of countries made a push for the “New International Economic Order”(NIEO) after it became clear the power OPEC had over western countries when it spurred the oil crisis. The NIEO was designed to give developing countries a more favorable balance of trade, as well as redistribute wealth from the first world to the third. But it failed, mostly due to a lack of OPEC support and a lack of discipline among its member countries. Such collective action problems will remain so long as the third world lacks a central authority; there are too many temptations to act unilaterally.
Another issue Jason brought up was that much of industrial production is now occurring in the third world. Which is correct, and if he actually paid attention to the content of the previous article, he would know that it was pointed out. But this only means that the forces of capitalism which afflicted the industrial world of the 20th century are now beginning to afflict the third world in the same manner. Can these forces be overcome, yes, one would hope so so. But at the same time, this movement of capital and production is increasing the strength of the worker’s movements in the first world. Membership of socialist organizations is growing, and a return to class based politics is on the calendar after decades of neo-liberal identity politics of different flavors.
At the end of the day, where Jason and I differ is that he seems to believe that there is no potential to resist capitalism in the first world, which is simply not true, and an insult to workers not just of the first world, but those in the third who have expressed their solidarity with our sorry asses, (the memory of Hugo Chavez expressing support for Occupy Wall Street comes to mind). The material reality means the importance of first world workers here is paramount, just as with workers anywhere else. The resistance to capitalism and imperialism must come from workers everywhere, our slogan has never been “workers in the third world rise up,” or “workers in the first world rise up,” but “workers of the world, unite!”
I do find it curious that his primary example here is North Korea, however, considering that Chinese foreign direct investment is much greater in Vietnam and various African countries.