Since the 1990s new patterns have emerged in world capitalism. Their immediate roots go back to the 1970s. In 1973, the major oil-producing states forced a big increase in oil prices. Among the big capitalist powers, the oil price rise hit the US less hard than others. It even made some of the US's own new oilfields profitable. Britain, too, would gain from the oil price rise, when North Sea oil production boomed in the early 1980s. But in essence the increase was one of the signals of the end of the colonial era.
By Colin Foster
In 1975, Portugal's African colonies - Angola, Mozambique, Guinea-Bissau - at last won their independence. Over the previous three decades, the great colonial empires of West European states like Britain, France, and the Netherlands, which long dominated the globe, had bit by bit been liquidated. India, Indochina, Indonesia, Egypt, Algeria, Nigeria had become independent.
In 1973 states like Iran, Iraq, Libya, Venezuela and even Saudi Arabia - some once colonies or semi-colonies, others long very subaltern and pliant partners of the big capitalist states - showed that they had their own capitalist ambitions. They were no longer willing just to serve as platforms for the ambitions of US or British oil companies.
Oil-producing states stashed a lot of their vast new revenues with the international banks, who in turn lent the cash to industrialising ex-colonial states. When the big capitalist economies lurched into slump after 1979-80, trade contracted, interest rates rose, and credit got tighter: those borrower states could no longer pay yesterday's debts from today's profits and new loans. In 1982, Mexico's failure to meet debt repayments signalled the start of a global debt crunch. The capitalists of the less-industrial states had put large slices of the loan money into safe US or European property or bank accounts, and now they co-operated with the banks in making the workers and peasants pay the cost of the crisis, on a scale which made British Tory austerity look gentle.
The crunch was not just a sudden crisis. The capitalists and governments of the poorer countries did not respond to the debt squeeze by shifting into their old mode of having their own national states as the main financiers for development, as some of them had when they became unable to meet debt payments in the 1930s. They made a new permanent regime out of heavy indebtedness, sharpened austerity and a drive for exports to cover the costs of debt. Their industrial development had reached a level requiring substantial imports - and thus international credit - to continue. Some of the costs of keeping internationally creditworthy were irksome to the ex-colonial wealthy, but most of those costs they could offload onto the workers and peasants - and most of the benefits of the borrowing they could pocket for themselves.
The USA and other big economies recovered after 1983. Though the recovery was sluggish, and interrupted by new crises in 1990-2 and 2001, it provided sufficient markets for the ex-colonial capitalists to pursue their new strategy - at least until they got well locked into it. In the 1980s, the ex-colonial states, in total, started to export more manufactured goods to the US than it imported from there.
As the ex-colonial states sweated to make debt payments, they took on new loans. Their debt burden often increased. In 1999, debt-service took 76% of Argentina's export income, 33% of India's, 30% of Indonesia's, between 22 and 26% for each of Brazil, Chile, Mexico, and South Korea.
Tariffs fell. Under the 'Uruguay round' of trade negotiations, average advanced country tariffs on manufactured imports are to be cut to less than 4%. Tariffs of ex-colonial states are set to fall from 34% (in 1984-7) to 14%. Brazil's weighted mean tariffs have fallen from 32% in 1989 to 13% in 1999; China's, from 33% to 16%; India's, from 50% to 30%; the USA's, from 4% to 3%.
World merchandise exports increased 137% between 1987 and 1997 - much faster than world output - and the merchandise exports of countries classified by the World Bank as 'low and medium income' almost tripled, increasing by 187%. The ratio of trade (imports plus exports) to output (GDP) doubled for 'low and medium income' countries between 1970 and 1997. It increased from 18% to 40% in low-income countries and from 25% to 50% in medium-income.
Investment in ex-colonial countries by companies which buy or construct facilities there (called foreign direct investment, as distinct from just buying shares or making bank loans) sagged in the 1980s but increased fast in the 1990s.
Local private capitalists also figured more largely, often displacing the ex-colonial states from their previous centrality in capital investment. Even states still run by 'Communist Parties', like Vietnam, Cuba and, most spectacularly, China, sought foreign investment and encouraged private enterprise. Telecoms, other utilities and basic industries were privatised in many countries. The Chilean state started privatising in 1973, and has sold off 95% of its state-owned enterprises. Mexico sold off or shut down 80% of its 1,500 state-owned enterprises between 1982 and the end of 1992, cutting 200,000 jobs in the process. South Korea started a new wave of privatisations in 1987, following previous sell-offs in 1962-66 and the early 1980s. In Pakistan, which started privatising in 1991, 43% of workers in the sold-off enterprises were laid off within the first year after privatisation, and many workers elsewhere have lost jobs, or job security, through privatisation.
In many countries, tariff reductions, a drive to make exports and attract foreign investment, and privatisation were tied together with cuts in whatever minimal welfare provision existed - such as food price subsidies - through 'Structural Adjustment Programs' negotiated with the IMF or the World Bank as the price for further loans. Fifty-five countries borrowed from the IMF under Structural Adjustment Facilities between 1986 and April 1998.
This was 'globalisation'. It has brought an increase in inequality both within and between nations. Millions have been pauperised. Whole populations, especially in sub-Saharan Africa, have been marginalised and left as 'basket cases' by the onrush of world-market capitalism. Since 1960, the gap between the richest and the poorest fifth of nations has doubled.
Yet the development of an industrial base in the ex-colonial world continues. Power production increased in 'low income' countries 170% between 1960 and 1990, and 189% between 1990 and 1998; in 'middle income' countries, 370% 1960-90, 204% 1990-98. The number of telephone lines, the amount of paved roads, the extent of drinking-water supply and irrigated land, have also increased fairly fast. Between 1990 and 1997, manufacturing production increased 49% in 'low income' countries, 57% in 'middle income' countries (and 15% in 'high income' countries). Countries like Korea, Taiwan, Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand, Mexico and Brazil now export relatively high-tech goods. Even in the poorest ex-colonial countries, there is generally some increase in the preconditions for industrial production, even if that increase is outpaced by a parallel rise in misery and poverty. The proportion of illiterates dropped fairly fast between 1980 and 1995 - from 30.5% to 22.6% - though the world's total illiterate population increased from 877 million to 885 million.
Trade has changed in structure as well as increased. Manufacturing as a percentage of the exports of 'low and middle income' countries increased from 20% in 1960 to over 50% in 1990 and over 60% in 1999. Within the reduced share of world trade due to agriculture, a new pattern has emerged where the South specialises in export of labour-intensive luxury crops and the North (especially the USA) in export of capital-intensive 'low-value' bulk foods.
John Pilger, in his book Hidden Agendas, puts a widespread view when he contends that the increase in inequality and poverty, and the increased role of big multinational companies and international banks, make globalisation really a euphemism for US reconquest of the ex-colonial world. But capitalist development can bring huge misery and inequality without having to be compounded with colonialism. And that is what is happening now.
The 'globalist' path has been followed by virtually all governments, not only those pushed into it because their debt burden obliges them to do the bidding of the IMF or the World Bank. Although no doubt the governments would prefer to be able to choose their own tempo rather than obey the international bankers, the basic strategy suits their class interests. They impose the welfare-cutting, privatising, foreign-investment-seeking plans primarily because they are capitalist governments, not because they lack national independence. They queue up to join the IMF, while in the 19th century the peoples of Africa and Asia often fought hard to avoid 'joining' colonial empires. The IMF today (2001) has 183 members, as against 130 in 1975.
Despite the rapid rise of foreign direct investment in the 1990s, the economies of most ex-colonial countries today are dominated by local capitalists. Those ex-colonial states able to provide infrastructure and educated labour for enterprises competitive in world manufacturing and services - and they include some with vast hinterlands of absolute poverty, like India and Indonesia - are doing so not because their states have been weakened, but because they have been strengthened - because they are now established capitalist states, with local capitalist classes behind them of some substance and bulk, rather than what they often were, proto-capitalist states run by a thin middle class layer anxious to use all the levers of state protectionism to build a base and ward off big outside capital. Globalisation depends on the states of newly-industrialising countries being stronger, not weaker.
'Transnational capital may be more effective than was the old-style military imperialism in penetrating every corner of the world, but it tends to accomplish this through the medium of local capital and national states... it depends on many local jurisdictions - on, say, the Indian or Chinese state - to maintain the conditions of economic stability and labour discipline which are the conditions of profitable investment' (Ellen Wood).
Full-fledged capitalism has spread much more widely than ever before. As the gleaming skyscrapers reach upwards in the cities of the ex-colonial states, the grim shanty towns spread outwards. Hundreds of millions of people suffer hideously - peasants pushed out of subsistence farming by the drive towards higher-priced world-market cash-crops; workers who lose their jobs in privatisations or debt crises; the urban poor, hit by cuts in food subsidies and increases in public transport fares and utility charges; and whole peoples in those ex-colonial countries still dependent on bulk raw material exports.
The pillage of the workers and peasants of the ex-colonial countries continues, but in a different form - the urbane international banker replacing the colonial soldier and tax collector. The difference of form is not just a 'formality'. Far from it. Today's 'imperialism of free trade' is a domination of rich over poor, and richer nations over poorer nations, achieved primarily, to use a phrase from Marx, by 'the dull compulsion of economic relations... Direct force, outside economic conditions, is of course still used, but only exceptionally'.
Historians have called British imperialism in the early and middle 19th century, 'the imperialism of free trade'. In South America, for example, Britain did not need to establish its own colonial rule in place of Spain's. The competitive supremacy of its industry gave it economic dominance, and with that political influence. A new, more multi-faceted, more universal, 'imperialism of free trade' is the main form today.
It is not 'purely economic', purely a matter of the anonymous and automatic workings of the market. The capitalist market economy, despite having 'the dull compulsion of economic relations' at the core of its relations of exploitation, requires far more police, military establishment, and machinery of government than pre-feudal or tribute-paying economies. The deliberate, semi-political or political, actions of IMF and World Bank officials, of World Trade Organisation negotiators, of the big business executives who fly around the world requesting and giving bribes, and of the metropolitan administrators of military and economic aid programmes, all count for much.
But the basic mechanism is the pursuit by the big multinationals and banks of a world open to the free flow of their products and their capital, the drive towards such a world by the biggest capitalist states, and the compulsion on the weaker capitalist states either to join in such a world, with all its disadvantages to them, or be excluded, with even greater disadvantages.
Three distinct epochs of modern imperialism can now be distinguished.
* Between the 1870s and the end of the Second World War, 'imperialism' meant a world divided up into rival colonial empires. Each of the big capitalist states ruled over vast millions of less-capitalistically-developed peoples, using their territories as controlled sources of industrial raw materials, captive markets for manufactured exports, and sites where capital could be safely exported (mainly for extractive industries and infrastructure) to win dividends, interest and profits. They used colonial or semi-colonial rule because they could do at manageable cost; in order to give them advantage in rivalry with other big powers; and often because without direct metropolitan power no cooperative local machinery of government could be established strong enough to drive the population into the world-market economy, squeezing out raw materials and pushing in metropolitan exports.
* In the epoch from the Second World War to 1989, the USSR practised an ultra-monopolistic imperialism in its sphere of influence, and the USA deliberately promoted an 'imperialism of free trade' as its main counter.
In its 'backyard', Central America, until the 1960s at least, it maintained a system of semi-colonialism, under which the Marines could be sent in against any large reformist threat to the super-profits of the big American corporations which dominated whole countries based on the export of a few raw materials.
But even in Central America, the pattern began to shift in the 1970s. And elsewhere, steadily but effectively, the USA favoured the break-up of the old colonial empires held by Britain, France and other European powers. It did that because it knew that its capital could dominate on the basis of free trade, and because otherwise the colonial independence movements would be pushed towards seeking alliance with the USSR.
If any country 'went communist' or threatened to do so - Vietnam 1965-75, Cuba in the 1960s, Nicaragua after 1979 - then the USA would certainly not rely on automatic economic mechanisms to stop this. The USA would use direct, murderous, often huge military force to police the frontiers of its sphere of influence. If US strategists saw a military dictator as offering more stable and compliant local rule than a democratic or reforming alternative - if the dictator would be 'a son-of-a-bitch, but our son-of-a-bitch', in the phrase coined by F D Roosevelt for Trujillo in the Dominican Republic and found so apt that later US leaders repeated it for Somoza in Nicaragua and Batista in Cuba - then the USA would deploy its might to make that dictator a pillar of what it called 'the free world'. That happened much further away than in Central America - in Chile with Pinochet, in Iran with the Shah, in Indonesia with Suharto.
There was still a difference from the old European colonial empires. The USA did not want governor-generals, except to a limited degree in Central America. It did not want trade blocs tying particular poorer countries exclusively to its economy. It could and did tolerate nationalisations and protective tariffs enacted by the ex-colonial governments, so long as they remained broadly within its sphere.
South Korea, for example, was kept within the US sphere of influence at the cost of a large war against Stalinist North Korea (1950-53). It was heavily dependent for its startling industrial growth on its position as a supply base for the US war effort in Vietnam. Yet it had a markedly 'nationalist' industrial policy, largely based on local ownership, and with more Japanese than US capital among the foreign owners of its enterprises. Its position in the US 'imperialism of free trade' was markedly different from its position before World War Two in the Japanese colonial empire.
* Since 1989-91, the USSR has no longer existed as a superpower. The old Stalinist bloc has collapsed. The USA has been able to push for a whole world based on the 'imperialism of free trade'. It can do this in an environment where communication and transport costs have been radically reduced; where manufacturing, especially of a great variety of less bulky goods, spreads wider and wider; and where a greater number of poorer countries have both the state-power and infrastructural preconditions for becoming sites for world-market industry.
A structure is emerging which Toni Negri and Michael Hardt, in their recent influential book, call 'Empire'. Not an empire, not the empire, not the US empire, either, but simply 'empire'. It is not the work of the USA alone, not by any means. Other capitalist powers, big and small, have joined in, because, once the push is underway, joining in gives fewer disadvantages than staying out. International bodies like the WTO, the IMF, the European Union, and even the UN have seen their weight substantially increased, although we are qualitatively distant from a 'world government'. The pressures towards a world of three big trade blocs (Americas, Europe, Japan-centred Asia) have been contained and subordinated to a more general 'globalisation'.
The shift towards an 'imperialism of free trade' has come partly because the great metropolitan capitalist interests can afford it. For example, exclusive control by their 'own' nation-state over sources of raw materials is less important to modern big capitalist concerns - often organised in transnational companies with substantial operations in many countries outside their home country, and with several alternative sources for most raw materials - than to the big capitalist classes of earlier eras.
Historically the central reason, however, was nothing to do with the metropolitan profiteers 'mellowing'. The social and political awakening of the peoples of Africa, Asia and Latin America, their transformation from populations with dispersed and illiterate peasant majorities into nations with big cities, substantial working classes, autonomous bourgeois classes and some industry of their own, made the risk and expense of colonial or semi-colonial rule generally far too great for the metropolitan powers.
Ever since the liquidation of the old colonial empires became an unmistakable trend, Marxists have argued about 'the end of imperialism'. However, all the theories of the 'end of imperialism' have been as confusing as their mirror-images, the schools of thought insisting that the differences between the imperialism of today and that of, say, 1916, when Lenin wrote his famous pamphlet entitled Imperialism, are only superficial and secondary.
This is best seen by reviewing those various theories.
In his writings around 1916, Lenin argued - against others in the Bolshevik Party, such as Bukharin and Pyatakov, who claimed that the political independence of small nations was an utter impossibility in an imperialist epoch - that imperialism in the sense of the world dominion of finance capital and monopoly capital centred in the most powerful nations could quite possibly continue even with political independence of the ex-colonies. No Marxist, therefore, has ever said straight out that the end of colonial empires is the end of imperialism.
The first version of the 'end-of-imperialism' came from Michael Kidron of the SWP (then IS), though the SWP has since flipped over from his views to something much more like a standardised Stalinised-Leninism. Kidron based himself on the idea, drawn from selected passages of Lenin, that the essence of imperialism was the export of capital.
In some circles, that idea had led to the conclusion that decolonisation would mean metropolitan capitalism choking to death on its uninvestible riches. Kidron used the same assumptions to argue that the post-1950 metropolitan capitalist prosperity meant the end of imperialism. Imperialism had been the 'highest stage but one' of capitalism.
Arms spending was draining away the glut of capital, so the basic economic mechanism of imperialism no longer operated. The demand created by the state through the 'permanent arms economy' filled the 'underconsumptionist gap' supposedly caused by workers not being able to consume enough. Export of capital was no longer needed to provide a 'drain' for excess capital from the advanced countries. The Third World was also less and less important to the advanced capitalist countries as a source of raw materials, because of new technologies, use of substitutes, etc.
In short, imperialist exploitation of the Third World was no longer necessary for the West, and that explained decolonisation. However, Third World countries were left crushed and battered in the world of military competition between nation-states. 'The societies maimed and shattered by the imperialist explosion of the last century are again being maimed and shattered - by the growing economic isolationism of the west (an imperialist implosion as it were)...'
Kidron's argument fell down on several grounds. Firstly, imperialism is not fundamentally about providing a 'drain' for superfluous capital. Secondly, the 'functionalist' argument that economic activities must happen if they are 'necessary for capitalism', and not happen if they are not 'necessary for capitalism', is false in general. A capitalist world is shaped by capitalists acting on capitalist interests - with deflections and detours imposed by workers pursuing workers' interests - not by some superhuman force called 'the needs of the system'.
Kidron's argument also fell down on straightforward factual grounds. The major trend has been 'globalisation', or at least internationalisation, of capital, rather than 'growing economic isolationism', and capitalist development in the ex-colonial states has not been squeezed into nothingness.
So drastic was the factual falsity of Kidron's argument that another 'end of imperialism' argument soon developed which was its exact contrary. For Kidron, imperialism had ended because of 'not enough' capital in the Third World; for Bill Warren, because of 'too much' capital there.
Warren was a member of the British Communist Party and then of a Stalinist-Kautskyist sect, the British and Irish Communist Organisation. His first article, in 1973, presenting facts on industrial development, was an important blow in forcing Marxists to re-think their 'conventional wisdom' of the time about the supposed impossibility of serious capitalist development in the ex-colonies. But Warren's further theorisations became a simple inversion of the 'orthodoxy' he was arguing against, that of the supposedly inexorable and uniform 'development of underdevelopment'.
Where the 1960s radical orthodoxy said that colonialism hindered the development of the colonies, also that the removal of formal colonial rule had not removed those hindrances. Warren replied that colonialism helped the development of the colonies - and that the end of colonialism helped even more! Where the radical orthodoxy attacked the social and cultural effects of colonialism and imperialism, Warren responded with a vigorous defence of the historically progressive role of bourgeois culture - yet had little but scorn for a major example of that progressive role, the self-assertion of the ex-colonial peoples through bourgeois national struggles.
Where the radical orthodoxy held that imperialism generates underdevelopment - using 'underdevelopment' as a term to cover both lack of capitalist industry, and unevenness of industrial development, and mass misery within that development. Warren replied that imperialism generates development - meaning growth of capitalism, and increasing evenness of development, and increased social welfare.
Warren came to paint the development of capitalism in the most glowing colours, not only recognising it (as Marxists must) but effectively praising and advocating it. Everything that pointed to capitalist progress in the Third World was played up, the other side of the picture played down. One example: Warren noted briefly that 'Agriculture has failed...' in the ex-colonial countries - but rapidly moved on to speculations about favourable prospects for the future.
If you read closely, Warren offered qualifications and reservations. But the main drift of his argument was that the world is moving towards more even development, with relations of economic domination weakened. In fact capitalist development has become more uneven. The economic domination of big states, international banks, and transnational corporations has sharpened, not weakened.
A third and more recent theory about the 'end of imperialism' is, so to speak, neither 'not enough' capital in the Third World, nor 'too much' there, but rather 'too much' capital nowhere in particular.
This argument acknowledges the continuing or growing power of multinational banks and corporations, indeed highlights it, but argues that they have become increasingly footloose, increasingly free of ties to particular states, and so the actions of the big capitalist states are increasingly 'uncoupled from' and secondary to the actions of particular capitalist interests. Since (so the argument goes) imperialism means actions by big capitalist states to impose the interests of their 'own' particular capitalists on other states, it is obsolete. So argue such writers as David Becker and his colleagues in their book Postimperialism, and David Lockwood in the Australian Marxist journal Reconstruction.
In the first place, most imperialist state actions in the heyday of 'high imperialism' were not directly linked with the interests of a particular business, either. In an influential polemic against what he understands as 'Marxist theory of imperialism', D K Fieldhouse writes that the theory 'alleges that partition [of the world] was due to economic necessity. The industrialisation of continental Europe and the revived protectionism of the last quarter of the century made tropical colonies necessary as never before to provide markets for manufactures, fields for the investment of surplus capital, and an assured source of raw materials. Colonies were deliberately acquired to fill those needs.' In fact, 'remarkably few colonies were annexed as the result of a deliberate assessment of their economic potential by an imperial power... In short, the modern empires lacked rationality and purpose: they were the chance products of complex historical circumstances.'
Everything is a 'product of complex historical circumstances'! Kautsky, Luxemburg and Hilferding had demonstrated the roots of colonial conquest in the logic of capitalist exploitation in the colonies, not just in a 'rationality' of metropolitan-capitalist deliberations. And Lenin pointed to politically or ideologically motivated colony-grabbing and 'the conquest of territor[ies], not so much directly for themselves as to weaken the adversary...'
It is true that world capitalism's new 'regime' since the late 1980s has combined great accumulations of highly mobile capital with more-or-less free trade, and that in this regime imperialist interventions, whether by the IMF in Indonesia or Brazil or by the US military in the Gulf, are on the whole more likely to be about securing the general conditions for profit-making by the big transnational capitalist interests than to resemble the mid-century 'sending in the Marines' by the USA to keep small Central American countries safe for the United Fruit Corporation. But, overall, the 'post-imperialist' writers exaggerate the 'uncoupling'.
And anyway, what conceptual precision is gained by insisting that the Gulf War, or the actions of the IMF, are not imperialist? The argument that 'imperialism' is defined by (some rehash or other of) Lenin's picture of the world in 1916 is no better when used to claim that the world today is not imperialist than when used to insist that, being imperialist, it must correspond to that 'Leninist' picture.
Imperialism has seen many forms, and it is pedantic dogmatism to claim that the modern 'imperialism of free trade', led by the IMF, the World Bank, the big commercial banks, the transnational corporations and the military power of the US and NATO, is not a form of imperialism.
It still destroys and oppresses, and maybe on a larger global scale than its forerunners. It is a system which conveys the choicest fruits of the world's labour to the billionaires in 'highly concentrated command points in the organisation of the world economy... a new type of city... the global city... New York, London, Los Angeles, Tokyo... The more globalised the economy becomes, the higher the agglomeration of central functions in a relatively few sites, that is, the global cities' (Saskia Sassen). Despite all the relative capitalist advance in the ex-colonial world, and some significant advance in commerce within Latin America, the proportion of 'low and middle income' countries' trade done with the 'high income' countries, rather than with each other, increased between 1987 and 1997. The producers of the ex-colonial world still mostly have to do their haggling in trade with bigger, richer, more powerful concentrations of capital, centred in the rich countries. Yet the difference of form has immense political significance.
In Marxist documents of the era of 'high' imperialism, the era dominated by great rival colonial empires, the term 'imperialism' was often used not to designate the system, but as a shorthand or pejorative alternative name for 'the colonial or semi-colonial power'. Imperialism designated a person, or at least a definite social grouping, as in 'the plans of imperialism' or 'the aims of imperialism'. And the Marxists could write about battles to 'drive imperialism out' of a country, or to wrest a country from 'the grip of imperialism'. No great confusion resulted. They meant the struggle for national independence.
To continue that usage in today's epoch of the 'imperialism of free trade' is confusing.
Battles to 'regain' or 'increase' national independence are today generally a snare. The ex-colonial states mostly have as much political independence as they can have in a dog-eat-dog capitalist world. No extra measure of 'independence' can undo economic dominance arising from the fact that the international banks have the dollars needed for international trade, and the big transnational corporations the technologies needed for world-competitive production. To 'wrest a country from the grip of' the 'imperialism of free trade' is only to wall it off from the world market - the one alternative, in today's world, even worse and more destructive than integrating it into the world market.
Imperialism can be fought only by working-class struggle, which must tackle the local capitalist classes as the most immediate enemy. If those capitalist classes, or factions of them, call on the workers and peasants to rally behind them in the cause of 'anti-imperialism' or 'national independence', generally they are lying, or promoting downright chauvinism.
Time was when 'imperialism' could be used as shorthand for 'the advanced capitalist states', without great confusion. To do that today is essentially to use the word 'imperialist' as a way of branding advanced capitalism as a particularly bad form of capitalism. But the evil in advanced capitalism is capitalism, not advance!
Capitalism develops unevenly on a world scale, and with a tendency for the unevenness to increase and compound itself. Some countries become sites for modern infrastructure, advanced industries and services, major finance capital, the headquarters of multinational companies, and heavy investment, while others remain with few industries (often primary-product or low-technology), operated by low-wage labour, with low investment and widespread pauperism. Capitalism is in its very essence a system of ruthless competition, where the rich and the strong do down the poor and the weak, and the richer capitalist states, and the banks and multinationals based in them, dominate over poorer countries. This system is as predatory as ever. But it is predatory because of the logic of capital, not because of the special ill-will or arbitrary propensities to tyranny of the US or any other particular government. The states which police it are as vicious as ever. But there is no way to "fight imperialism" of this sort by upholding the weaker predators against the stronger. Against political domination we fight for the right to self-determination of all nations and for consistent democracy. Against the impositions of the IMF on poorer countries, we support the struggles of workers and peasants in those countries. Against the depredations of international capital, we fight for social ownership and for the planned use of the world's resources and technology to get rid of poverty. This fight against imperialism is a part of our fight against capitalism, not something superseding and overriding it. Old-style military-conquest imperialism is practised today most often not by the big powers, whose capitalist classes find the "dull compulsion of economic relations" cheapest and most effective, but by smaller "sub-imperialist" powers who have to resort to such risky methods for lack of economic strength. The term "sub-imperialist" was coined in the 1970s by Ruy Mauro Marini, for Brazil. Brazilian capital has acquired its share of what Saskia Sassen calls "command points" largely by economic-based means. But it is not so easy for smaller states. The last of the European colonial powers to relinquish their empires were the economically weakest, Portugal (in 1975) and Russia (in 1989-91). Today some ex-colonial or ex-semi-colonial countries have some military means to dominate their neighbours, but relatively little economic clout. They use the methods of the old imperialism, "paleo-imperialism", as it might be called - Turkey in Kurdistan and Cyprus, Serbia in Kosova, Iraq in Kurdistan and Kuwait, Indonesia in East Timor, Morocco in the Western Sahara, Libya in Chad, Ethiopia in Eritrea, Argentina in the Falklands... This "paleo-imperialism" is a small-scale parody of the high imperialism of the late 19th century. It is not anti-imperialist. It is not a progressive alternative to the economic domination of the big powers. It may clash with the modern "imperialism of free trade", and with the USA as the chief policeman of that new order - or cooperate with it as a junior partner. But even when it clashes with the USA, the "paleo-imperialism" does not represent liberation or progress. It does not show a way out of underdevelopment, or towards a fairer and more equal world. Only independent working class struggle can do that. And the working class which can wage that struggle is growing in numbers, and often in organisation, all across the ex-colonial world.
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