Intellectual Origins Of America-Bashing Part 5 America as "root cause"

Introduction see Intellectual Origins Of America-Bashing

From Part 4: Immiserization goes global. What I now would like to consider is not the thesis itself, but the role that this thesis played in bolstering and revitalizing late twentieth-century Marxism. For it is here that we find the intellectual origins of the international phenomenon of America-bashing.

If there is any element of genuine seriousness in this movement - if, indeed, it aspires to be an objective and realistic assessment of the relationship of America to the rest of the world - then that element of seriousness is to be found in the global immiserization thesis: America has gotten rich by making other countries poor.

Furthermore, this is no less true of those who, like Chomsky, have focused on what is seen as American military aggression against the rest of the world, for this aggression is understood as having its "root cause" in America's systematic exploitation of the remainder of the human race.

If American exploitation did not create misery, it would not need to use military force. It is the global immiserization thesis that makes the use of force an indispensable tool of American foreign policy and that is responsible, according to this view, for turning America into a terrorist state. This explains the absolute centrality of the global immiserization thesis in the creation of the specter of America now haunting so much of our world.

The Baran-Wallerstein revision of the classical immiserization thesis into its global context was far better adapted to fix what was wrong in Marxist theory than the revisionist notion of relative immiserization discussed above. For, as we have seen, what was needed was real misery, and not merely comparative misery, since without such misery there would be no breakdown of capitalism: no civil war, no revolution, no socialism. And who can doubt that great real misery exists in the Third World?

In addition to providing a new and previously untapped source of misery, the Baran-Wallerstein revision provided several other benefits. For example, there was no longer any difficulty in accepting the astonishingly high level of prosperity achieved by the work force of the advanced capitalist countries - indeed, it was now even possible to arraign the workers of these countries alongside of the capitalists for whom they labored - or, rather, more precisely, with whom they collaborated in order to exploit both the material resources and the cheap labor of the Third World.

In the new configuration, both the workers and the capitalists of the advanced countries became the oppressor class, while it was the general population of the less advanced countries that became the oppressed - including, curiously enough, even the rulers of these countries, who often, to the untutored eye, seemed remarkably like oppressors themselves.

With this demystification of the capitalist working class came an end to even a feigned enthusiasm among Marxists for solidarity with the hopelessly middle-class aspirations of the American blue-collar work force. The Baran-Wallerstein revision offered an exotic new object of sympathy - namely, the comfortably distant and abstract Third World victims of the capitalist world system.

Perhaps most important, the Baran-Wallerstein revision also neatly solved the most pressing dilemma that worker prosperity in advanced capitalist countries bequeathed to classical Marxism: the absolute lack of revolutionary spirit among these workers - the very workers, it must be remembered, who were originally cast in the critical role of world revolutionaries. In the new theoretical configuration, this problem no longer mattered simply because the workers of the capitalist countries no longer mattered.

Hence the appeal of the global immiserization thesis: The Baran-Wallerstein revision neatly obviates all the most outstanding objections to the classical Marxist theory. This leaves two questions unanswered: Is it true? And even if it is true, does it save Marxism?

Whether the immiserization thesis is true or not is simply too complex a topic to deal with here. Indeed, for the sake of the present argument, I am willing to assume that it is absolutely true - truer than anything has ever been true before. For what I want to concentrate on is the question of whether the Baran-Wallerstein revision is consistent with Marxism's claim to represent a realistic political agenda as opposed to a mere utopian fantasy. And the short answer is that, no matter how true the global immiserization thesis might be, it does not save the Baran-Wallerstein revision of Marxism from being condemned as utopian fantasy - and condemned not by my standards or yours, but by those of Marx and Engels.

This is because the original immiserization thesis was set within the context of a class war within a society - an actual civil war between different classes of one and the same society, and not between different nations on different continents. This makes an enormous difference, for it is not at all unreasonable to think that a revolutionary movement could succeed, by means of a violent and bloody civil war, in gaining the monopoly of force within a capitalist society, and thus be able to dictate terms to the routed capitalists, if any survived.

But this is an utterly different scenario from one in which the most advanced capitalist societies have a monopoly of force - and brutally effective force - at their disposal. For in this case it is absurd to think that the exploited Third World countries could possibly be able to alter the world order by even a hair, provided the advanced capitalist societies were intent on not being altered.

What could they do to us? Go to Part 6: 9-11 calling.


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