Fictitious Capital for Beginners
Imperialism, 'Anti-Imperialism', and the Continuing Relevance of Rosa Luxemburg
Year Published: 2007
Resource Type: Article
Cx Number: CX7931
Rosa Luxemburg's framework enabled her to see how capitalism could ultimately destroy society - barbarism, in her words, or the 'mutual destruction of the contending classes' as the Communist Manifesto put it in 1847 - by being required to turn more and more to primitive accumulation and non-reproduction, a prophecy we see materializing before our eyes today.
despite the post-modern platitudes of figures such as Hardt and Negri, or e.g. the protestations of the much more rigorous orthodox Marxism of the school around Paolo Giussani in Italy, imperialism is still very much with us. While we might seem to some to be charging through an open door, the serious theoretical amnesia and retrogression on the international left in the past three decades oblige us to quickly sketch some recent history.
Rosa Luxemburg also had the great merit of emphasizing capitalism as a transitional mode of production between European feudalism and socialism. This may seem a truism, but it is much more than that. In her survey of the rise and fall of classical political economy from the Physiocrats to the Ricardian school, she points out that only a socialist (i.e. Marx) could solve the problem of the source of profit and of expanded reproduction. To wit: capitalism must be seen as a necessarily incomplete, transient mode of production, which lives in part off the pre-capitalist modes it looted and continues to loot, and whose full crisis is only visible to someone seeing 'beyond' it. Capitalism is therefore a system in which no practical viewpoint, either of an individual capitalist or of the total social capital, or finally of labor power as a commodity (the class-in-itself) can be 'concretely universal', that is capable of practically acting on real problems. All viewpoints on capital 'within' the system, including 'class-in-itself' struggles of individual groups of workers, are 'negation of the negation' viewpoints, and only the perspective that looks prior to and beyond capitalism can be a 'self-subsisting positive' with a universal (class for itself) program. From the Italian pirates of the 11th century to the slave labor in the Dominican Republic or Brazil today, capitalism has never stopped its 'looting' of labor power and resources 'outside' the closed (vols. I and II) system of exchange of equivalents. Thus the ongoing presence of capital's initial looting of non-capitalist sources of wealth, for Luxemburg, also points to the possibility of its barbaric end (of which interwar fascism was more than a foretaste), if it is not positively superseded by proletarian revolution.
The fictitious bubble in the contemporary world is first of all the huge ($3-4 trillion, at current, conservative) estimates) dollar 'overhang,' the net U.S. external debt ($11-12 trillion held abroad, minus $8 trillion in US assets overseas), held mainly in central banks. Everything, from a capitalist viewpoint, must be done to prevent its deflation. The U.S. government is busy depreciating it 'managing empire through bankruptcy', and its foreign holders fret at the erosion of their holdings. But they relend the money to the U.S. government and U.S. financial markets, making possible more domestic U.S. credit, more consumption, and more imports from America's creditors, because the collapse of the dollar would be their collapse as well, and they as yet see no alternative.
If the preceding is correct, it constitutes an alternative view of imperialism to that of Lenin (still upheld today by myriad Trotskyists, for starters). The political issue for the left as I see it is not so much imperialism, which I take as a given, but the ideology of "anti-imperialism", in which a diffuse Porto Alegre/World Social Forum mood today enlists such "progressive" forces as Hugo Chavez, Hezbollah, Hamas, the Iranian mullahs, the Taliban, the Iraqi "resistance", and perhaps tomorrow Kim jong-il; yesterday it included Saddam Hussein. Post-1945 and particularly post-1973 developments have been blurring the lines on the old 'anti-imperialist' road map.
We see U.S. world hegemony disintegrating faster than we generally imagined possible (almost recalling the speed of the collapse of the Soviet bloc). Out of this disintegration, what will emerge? Proletarian revolution? I hope so. But what could also emerge, as the U.S. emerged in 1945 on the ruins of the British empire, is a new center of world accumulation.