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PART 3 - PASSAGES OF PRODUCTION
3.1 - THE LIMITS OF IMPERIALISM
The world is nearly all parceled out, and what there is left of it is being divided up, conquered, and colonised. To think of these stars that you see overhead at night, these vast worlds which we can never reach. I would annex the planets ifI could; I often think of that. It makes me sad to see them so clear and yet so far.
Cecil Rhodes
For a large portion of the twentieth century, the critique of imperialism has been among the most active and urgent arenas of Marxist theory.[1] Many of these arguments are today certainly outdated and the situation they refer to is utterly transformed. This does not mean, however, that we have nothing to learn from them. These critiques of imperialism can help us understand the passage from imperialism to Empire because in certain respects they anticipated that passage.
One of the central arguments of the tradition of Marxist thinking on imperialism is that there is an intrinsic relation between capitalism and expansion, and that capitalist expansion inevitably takes the political form of imperialism. Marx himselfwrote very little about imperialism, but his analyses of capitalist expansion are central to the entire tradition of critique. What Marx explained most clearly is that capital constantly operates through a reconfiguration of the boundaries of the inside and the outside. Indeed, capital does not function within the confines of a fixed territory and population, but always overflows its borders and internalizes new spaces: "The tendency to create the world market is directly given in the concept of capital itself. Every limit appears as a barrier to be overcome."[2] This restive character of capital constitutes an ever-present point of crisis that pertains to the essence of capital itself: constant expansion is its always inadequate but nonetheless necessary attempt to quench an insatiable thirst. We do not mean to suggest that this crisis and these barriers will necessarily lead capital to collapse. On the contrary, as it is for modernity as a whole, crisis is for capital a normal condition that indicates not its end but its tendency and mode of operation. Capital's construction of imperialism and its move beyond it are both given in the complex play between limits and barriers.
The Need for an Outside
Marx analyzes capital's constant need for expansion first by focusing on the process of realization and thus on the unequal quantitative relationship between the worker as producer and the worker as consumer of commodities.[3] The problem of realization is one of the factors that drives capital beyond its boundaries and poses the tendency toward the world market. In order to understand the problem we have to start out from exploitation. "To begin with," we read in the Grundrisse, "capital forces the workers beyond necessary labour to surplus labour. Only in this way does it realize itself, and create surplus value" (p. 421). The wage of the worker (corresponding to necessary labor) must be less than the total value produced by the worker. This surplus value, however, must find an adequate market in order to be realized. Since each worker must produce more value than he or she consumes, the demand of the worker as consumer can never be an adequate demand for the surplus value. In a closed system, the capitalist production and exchange process is thus defined by a series of barriers: "Capital, then, posits necessary labour time as the barrier to the exchange value of living labour capacity; surplus labour time as the barrier to necessary labour time; and surplus value as the barrier to surplus labour time" (p. 422). All these barriers flow from a single barrier defined by the unequal relationship between the worker as producer and the worker as consumer.
Certainly, the capitalist class (along with the other classes that share in its profits) will consume some of this excess value, but it cannot consume all of it, because ifit did there would be no surplus value left to reinvest. Instead of consuming all the surplus value, capitalists must practice abstinence, which is to say, they must accumulate.[4] Capital itself demands that capitalists renounce pleasures and abstain as much as possible from "wasting" the surplus value on their own consumption.
This cultural explanation of capitalist morality and abstinence, however, is just a symptom of the real economic barriers posed within capitalist production. On the one hand, if there is to be profit, then the workers must produce more value than they consume. On the other hand, if there is to be accumulation, the capitalist class and its dependents cannot consume all of that surplus value. If the working class together with the capitalist class and its dependents cannot form an adequate market and buy all the commodities produced, then even though exploitation has taken place and surplus value has been extracted, that value cannot be realized.[5] Marx points out further that this barrier is continually exacerbated as labor becomes ever more productive. With the increase of productivity and the consequent rise in the composition of capital, variable capital (that is, the wage paid the workers) constitutes an increasingly small part of the total value of the commodities. This means that the workers' power of consumption is increasingly small with respect to the commodities produced: "The more productivity develops, the more it comes into conflict with the narrow basis on which the relations of consumption rest."[6] The realization of capital is thus blocked by the problem of the "narrow basis" of the powers of consumption. We should note that this barrier has nothing to do with the absolute power of production of a population or its absolute power of consumption (undoubtedly the proletariat could and wants to consume more), but rather it refers to the relative power of consumption of a population within the capitalist relations of production and reproduction.
In order to realize the surplus value generated in the production process and avoid the devaluation resulting from overproduction, Marx argues that capital must expand its realm: "A precondition of production based on capital is therefore the production of a constantly widening sphere of circulation, whether the sphere itself is directly expanded or whether more points within it are created as points of production" (p. 407). Expanding the sphere of circulation can be accomplished by intensifying existing markets within the capitalist sphere through new needs and wants; but the quantity of the wage available to workers for spending and the capitalists' need to accumulate pose a rigid barrier to this expansion. Alternatively, additional consumers can be created by drafting new populations into the capitalist relationship, but this cannot stabilize the basically unequal relationship between supply and demand, between the value created and the value that can be consumed by the population of proletarians and capitalists involved.[7] On the contrary, new proletarians will themselves always be an inadequate market for the value of what they produce, and thus they will always only reproduce the problem on a larger scale.[8] The only effective solution is for capital to look outside itself and discover noncapitalist markets in which to exchange the commodities and realize their value. Expansion of the sphere of circulation outside the capitalist realm displaces the destabilizing inequality.
Rosa Luxemburg developed Marx's analysis of the problem of realization, but she changed the inflection of that analysis. Luxemburg casts the fact that "outside consumers qua other-than-capitalist are really essential" (pp. 365-66) in order for capital to realize its surplus value as an indication of capital's dependence on its outside. Capitalism is "the first mode of economy which is unable to exist by itself, which needs other economic systems as a medium and a soil."[9] Capital is an organism that cannot sustain itself without constantly looking beyond its boundaries, feeding off its external environment. Its outside is essential.
Perhaps this need constantly to expand its sphere of control is the sickness of European capital, but perhaps it is also the motor that drove Europe to the position of world dominance in the modern era. "Perhaps then the merit of the West, confined as it was on its narrow 'Cape of asia,'" Fernand Braudel supposes, "was to have needed the world, to have needed to venture outside its own front door."[10] Capital from its inception tends toward being a world power, or really the world power.
Internalizing the Outside
Capital expands not only to meet the needs of realization and find new markets but also to satisfy the requirements of the subsequent moment in the cycle of accumulation, that is, the process of capitalization. After surplus value has been realized in the form of money (through intensified markets in the capitalist domain and through reliance on noncapitalist markets), that realized surplus value must be reinvested in production, that is, turned back into capital. The capitalization of realized surplus value requires that for the subsequent cycle of production the capitalist will have to secure for purchase additional supplies of constant capital (raw materials, machinery, and so forth) and additional variable capital (that is, labor power)-and eventually in turn this will require an even greater extension of the market for further realization.
The search for additional constant capital (in particular, more and newer materials) drives capital toward a kind of imperialism characterized by pillage and theft. Capital, Rosa Luxemburg asserts, "ransacks the whole world, it procures its means of production from all corners of the earth, seizing them, ifnecessary by force, from all levels of civilisation and from all forms of society . . . It becomes necessary for capital progressively to dispose ever more fully of the whole globe, to acquire an unlimited choice of means of production, with regard to both quality and quantity, so as to find productive employment for the surplus value it has realised."[11] In the acquisition of additional means of production, capital does relate to and rely on its noncapitalist environment, but it does not internalize that environment-or rather, it does not necessarily make that environment capitalist. The outside remains outside. For example, gold and diamonds can be extracted from Peru and South Africa or sugarcane from Jamaica and Java perfectly well while those societies and that production continue to function through noncapitalist relations.
The acquisition of additional variable capital, the engagement of new labor power and creation of proletarians, by contrast, implies a capitalist imperialism. Extending the working day of existing workers in the capitalist domain can, of course, create additional labor power, but there is a limit to this increase. For the remainder of this new labor power, capital must continually create and engage new proletarians among noncapitalist groups and countries. The progressive proletarianization of the noncapitalist environment is the continual reopening of the processes of primitive accumulation -and thus the capitalization of the noncapitalist environment itself. Luxemburg sees this as the real historical novelty of capitalist conquest: "All conquerors pursued the aim of dominating and exploiting the country, but none was interested in robbing the people of their productive forces and in destroying their social organisation."[12] In the process of capitalization the outside is internalized. Capital must therefore not only have open exchange with noncapitalist societies or only appropriate their wealth; it must also actually transform them into capitalist societies themselves. This is what is central in RudolfHilf erding's definition of the export of capital: "By 'export of capital' I mean the export of value which is intended to breed surplus value abroad."[13] What is exported is a relation, a social form that will breed or replicate itself. Like a missionary or vampire, capital touches what is foreign and makes it proper. "The bourgeoisie," Marx and Engels write, "compels all nations, on pain of extinction, to adopt the bourgeois mode of production; it compels them to introduce what it calls civilisation into their midst, i.e., to become bourgeois themselves. In one word, it creates the world after its own image."[14] In economic terms, this civilization and modernization mean capitalization, that is, incorporation within the expanding cycle of capitalist production and accumulation. In this way the noncapitalist environment (territory, social forms, cultures, productive processes, labor power, and so forth) is subsumed formally under capital.
We should note here that European capital does not really remake noncapitalist territories "after its own image," as if all were becoming homogeneous. Indeed, when the Marxist critics of imperialism have recognized the processes of the internalization of capital's outside, they have generally underestimated the significance of the uneven development and geographical difference implicit in them.[15] Each segment of the noncapitalist environment is transformed differently, and all are integrated organically into the expanding body of capital. In other words, the different segments of the outside are internalized not on a model of similitude but as different organs that function together in one coherent body.
At this point we can recognize the fundamental contradiction of capitalist expansion: capital's reliance on its outside, on the noncapitalist environment, which satisfies the need to realize surplus value, conflicts with the internalization of the noncapitalist environment, which satisfies the need to capitalize that realized surplus value. Historically these two processes have often taken place in sequence. A territory and population are first made accessible as an outside for exchange and realization, and then subsequently brought into the realm of capitalist production proper. The important point, however, is that once a segment of the environment has been "civilized," once it has been organically incorporated into the newly expanded boundaries of the domain of capitalist production, it can no longer be the outside necessary to realize capital's surplus value. In this sense, capitalization poses a barrier to realization and vice versa; or better, internalization contradicts the reliance on the outside. Capital's thirst must be quenched with new blood, and it must continually seek new frontiers.
It is logical to assume that there would come a time when these two moments of the cycle of accumulation, realization and capitalization, come into direct conflict and undermine each other. In the nineteenth century, the field for capitalist expansion (in material resources, labor power, and markets) seemed to stretch indefinitely, both in Europe and elsewhere. In Marx's time, capitalist production accounted for very little of global production. Only a few countries had substantial capitalist production (England, France, and Germany), and even these countries still had large segments of noncapitalist production-peasant-based agriculture, artisanal production, and so forth. Luxemburg argues, however, that since the earth is finite, the logical conflict will eventually become a real contradiction: "The more violently, ruthlessly and thoroughly imperialism brings about the decline of non-capitalist civilisations, the more rapidly it cuts the ground from under the feet of capitalist accumulation. Though imperialism is the historical method for prolonging the career of capitalism, it is also the sure means of bringing it to a swift conclusion."[16] This contradictory tension is present throughout the development of capital, but it is revealed in full view only at the limit, at the point of crisis-when capital is faced with the finitude of humanity and the earth. Here the great imperialist Cecil Rhodes appears as the paradigmatic capitalist. The spaces of the globe are closing up and capital's imperialist expansion is confronting its limits. Rhodes, ever the adventurer, gazes wistfully and yearningly at the stars above, frustrated by the cruel temptation of those new frontiers, so close and yet so far.
Even though their critiques of imperialism and capitalist expansion are often presented in strictly quantitative, economic terms, the stakes for Marxist theorists are primarily political. This does not mean that the economic calculations (and the critiques of them) should not be taken seriously; it means, rather, that the economic relationships must be considered as they are really articulated in the historical and social context, as part of political relations of rule and domination.[17] The most important political stake for these authors in the question of economic expansion is to demonstrate the ineluctable relationship between capitalism and imperialism. Ifcapitalism and imperialism are essentially related, the logic goes, then any struggle against imperialism (and the wars, misery, impoverishment, and enslavement that follow from it) must also be a direct struggle against capitalism. Any political strategy aimed at reforming the contemporary configuration of capitalism to make it nonimperialist is vain and naive because the core of capitalist reproduction and accumulation necessarily implies imperialist expansion. Capital cannot behave otherwise-this is its nature. The evils of imperialism cannot be confronted except by destroying capitalism itself.
Equalization and Subsumption
Lenin's book on imperialism is cast primarily as a synthesis of the analyses of other authors to make them accessible to a wide public.[18] Lenin's text, however, also makes its own original contributions, the most important of which is to pose the critique of imperialism from the subjective standpoint and thus link it to the Marxist notion of the revolutionary potential of crises. He gave us a toolbox, a set of machines for the production of anti-imperialist subjectivity. Lenin often presents his arguments by way of polemic. His analysis of imperialism is articulated primarily by challenging the theses of RudolfHilf erding and Karl Kautsky. In order to develop his critiques, however, Lenin considered carefully, and at times assumed as his own, the theoretical assumptions of both these authors. Most important, Lenin adopted Hilferding's fundamental thesis that as capital expands through the imperialist construction of the world market, there emerge ever greater obstacles to the Ausgleichung (the equalization) of rates of profit among various branches and sectors of production. Peaceful capitalist development, however, depends on at least a tendency toward equalized economic conditions: equal prices for equal commodities, equal profit for equal capital, equal wages and equal exploitation for equal work, and so forth. Hilferding recognized that imperialism-which structures the nations and territories of capitalist development in an ever more rigid way and assigns authority to national monopolies- impedes the formation of an equalized rate of profit and thus undermines the possibility of a successful capitalist mediation of international development.[19] In effect, the domination and division of the world market by monopolies had made the process of equalization virtually impossible. Only if the national central banks were to intervene, or better, ifa unified international bank were to intervene, could this contradiction, which portends both trade wars and fighting wars, be equalized and placated. In short, Lenin adopted Hilferding's hypothesis that capital had entered a new phase of international development defined by monopoly and that this led to both an increase of contradictions and a crisis of equalization. He did not accept, however, that the utopia of a unified international bank could be taken seriously and that a still capitalist Aufhebung (subsumption) of the crisis could ever come about.
Lenin regarded the position of Kautsky, who also took Hilferding's work as his point of departure, as even more utopian and damaging. Kautsky proposed, in effect, that capitalism could achieve a real political and economic unification of the world market. The violent conflicts of imperialism could be followed by a new peaceful phase of capitalism, an "ultra-imperialist" phase. The magnates of capital could unite in a single world trust, substituting an internationally united finance capital for the competition and struggle between nationally based finance capitals. We can thus imagine a phase in the future, he claimed, in which capital achieves a peaceful subsumption and resolution in which not a unified bank but market forces and monopolies more or less regulated by states could succeed somehow in determining the global equalization of the rate of profit.[20] Lenin agreed with Kautsky's basic thesis that there is a trend in capitalist development toward the international cooperation of the various national finance capitals and possibly toward the construction of a single world trust. What he objected to so strongly was the fact that Kautsky used this vision of a peaceful future to negate the dynamics of the present reality; Lenin thus denounced his "profoundly reactionary desire to blunt the contradictions" of the present situation.[21] Rather than waiting for some peaceful ultraimperialism to arrive in the future, revolutionaries should act now on the contradictions posed by capital's present imperialist organization. Thus, while generally adopting these authors' analytical propositions, Lenin rejected their political positions. Although he fundamentally agreed with Hilferding's analysis of the tendency toward a world market dominated by monopolies, he denied that such a system was already in effect in such a way that it could mediate and equalize the rate of profit. He denied this not so much theoretically as politically. Lenin maintained that capitalist development in the monopoly phase would be plagued by a series of contradictions and that communists had to act on them. It was the responsibility of the workers' movement to oppose every capitalist attempt at organizing an effective equalization of imperialist rates of profit, and it was the task of the revolutionary party to intervene in and deepen the objective contradictions of development. What had to be avoided most was the realization of the tendency toward "ultraimperialism," which would monstrously increase the power of capital and take away for a long period to come the possibility of struggles on the most contradictory and thus weakest links in the chain of domination. Lenin writes, either as hope or as prediction, "This development proceeds in such circumstances, at such a pace, through such contradictions, conflicts and upheavals-not only economic but political, national, etc.-that inevitably imperialism will burst and capitalism will be transformed into its opposite long before one world trust materialises, before the 'ultra-imperialist,' world-wide amalgamation of national finance capitals takes place."[22] Lenin's logical d‚marche here between analytical propositions and political positions was certainly tortuous. Nevertheless, his reasoning was very effective from the subjective point of view. As Ilya Babel said, Lenin's thought ran along "the mysterious curve of the straight line" that carried the analysis of the reality of the working class to the necessity of its political organization. Lenin recognized the untimely element of the definition of imperialism and grasped in the subjective practices of the working class not only the potential obstacles to the linear solution of the crises of capitalist realization (which Luxemburg emphasized too), but also the existing and concrete possibility that these practices-struggles, insurrections, and revolutions-could destroy imperialism itself.[23] In this sense Lenin took the critique of imperialism from theory to practice.
From Imperialism to Empire
One of the most remarkable aspects of Lenin's analysis is his critique of imperialism as a political concept. Lenin brought together the problematic of modern sovereignty and that of capitalist development under the lens of one unified critique, and by weaving together the different lines of critique, he was able to glimpse beyond modernity. In other words, through his political re-elaboration of the concept of imperialism, Lenin, more than any other Marxist, was able to anticipate the passage to a new phase of capital beyond imperialism and identify the place (or really the non-place) of emerging imperial sovereignty.
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