Saturday, 13 December 2008

Midnight Muddling

Is it possible to do without conceptions of modernisation and dependency theory?

My reading thusfar on modernisation theory is sketchy - limited to the knowledge that modernisation theory was propagated by American sociologists and political scientists in the post world war two context. And anything in the post world war context was a free world - evil communist nexus. Modernisation theory attempted to explain why the 'Third World' was underdeveloped or undeveloped (there is a subtle difference here) - the 'Third World' was still traditional and 'backward' and, had not made the transition to a modern, industrialised society. As Prof Bernstein explained in lecture 4 for TPP, the undeveloped 'Third World' was everything the modern, developed, industrialised world was not. Hence, to get to that ideal stage of development, the 'Third World' needed a modern elite assisted by a benevolent West. Prof Bernstein stressed that we should understand this in the fight against communism which threatened to engulf, win over, influence these vulnerable Third World states. This is a sketchy understanding but serves my purpose for the moment.

As is clearly easy to see, modernisation theory was ahistorical. It ascribes the 'backwardness' of states to their 'backward' cultures, still very traditional. 

Dependency theory thus takes a step back and attempts to explain why these states are not only undeveloped but underdeveloped. 

And I am going to go all romantic here. It is essentially what you and I would instinctively believe. It is the stuff of revolution, of rebellion, of political consciousness, the realisation of struggle, factoring in imperialism and exploitation,  and of cause and effect. It incorporates language that does not even exist on the other side. What other grand umbrella but Marxism can equip the thinker, you and me, for such analysis? But as I said, it is instinctive. There are 'millions of anti-imperialist militants' who know it as it is:

"Bjorn Beckman's observation on dependency of the 1980s was no doubt true, however: 'Academics may have contributed in articulating it but the tremendous diffusion of its perspective can only be understood as a response to specific historical experiences and the development of social forces at the world level, including the realities of colonialism and neo-colonialism, the rise of socialist countries and armed liberation struggles. It is not a specific political line with a uniform theoretical basis. It is a position held by millions of anti-imperialist militants most of whom may have never heard of or read the works of Andre Gunder Frank or Samir Amin."

(Bjorn Beckman, 'Imperialism and the 'National Bourgeosie'", Review of African Political Economy 22, 1981) 

Dependency theory's roots are in Marx and his analysis of the historical development of capitalism. Capitalism had a specific role to play for the future success of socialism. In a very compacted piece by Gabriel Palma (and learned a great deal of the evolution of Marx and Engel's thought, the expansion of the left in Russia by the likes of Lenin, further trajectories by the Narodnik folk who thought they were more Marx then Marx himself), we read that Marx "condemns this expansion as the most brutalising and dehumanising that history has ever known" but that it is necessary for the development 'backward' countries. Capitalism has to take root, take off before the proletariat can organise itself  and stage a socialist revolution.  Contrary to the line adopted by dependency theorists which did not come along until the 50s or 60s in Latin America, Marx was optimistic about capitalism taking off in countries where capitalism had made impact. 

From what I understand, then, is that the Narodnik folk are the original dependency theorists who as early as 1860 were pessimistic about capitalism taking off in in 'backward' countries. They pointed to the slow development of capitalism in Russia and because it was a 'late entrant' into the capitalist system, it would not take off. Hence, they believed that the solution was to move directly towards socialism. 

This is what Andre Gunder Frank proposes in his 1966 piece. There are three levels of analysis in Frank: i) there are ares in the periphery which are incorporated into the world economy ii) this has transformed the peripheries necessarily into capitalist economies iii) this is achieved through interminable metropolis-satellite chain, surplus is generated and drawn off to the centre. In this context, there is no real possibility of sustained development - it will only be underdevelopment. 

The nature of capitalist imperialism was already clearly defined by early Marxist analysis in Russia by Bukharin and Preobrazhensky  in the early 20th century. It was the 'policy of conquest which financial capital in struggle for markets, for the sources of raw materials and for places in which capital can be invested.' This would result in a dependency towards a greater integration of the world economy, a considerable degree of capital movement, international division of labour restricting growth of 'backward' economies to solely the production of mineral/agriculture primary products supplied cheaply by subsistence level labour. The 'backward' countries would be affected by increasing indebtedness and a productive structure which leads 'backward' countries to consume what they do not produce and produce what they do not consume. Regardless of when these unequal relations between centre and peripheries were forged in the monopolistic phase of capitalism, possibilities of development for the 'backward' countries would remain limited. 

What astounds me is the painfully accurate analysis of the lasting subjugation of 'backward' countries by capitalism made at the time it was made either by Marx in describing the capitalist modes of production and his elaboration of primitive accumulation or, the analysis of imperialism by thinkers following Marxist analysis and extending it to the prospects for colonial and post colonial countries. Capitalism and imperialism are synonymous. Explosion in my mind. Capitalism's imperialist nature, need for resource extraction, new markets for investment was plainly evident to Marxist analysis. There was no doubt of capitalism's nature of exploitation. 

Can we do without dependency theory, then? What we really  have to ask is whether or not we can ever do without conceptions of capitalism and imperialism.  What is the Third World struggle? To close the capitalist gap? To enjoy economic growth? Political stability? To eliminate poverty? End its conflicts? Are the Third World distortions, miserable human conditions, political instability legacies of imperialism? Why could not the Third World catch up with developed West? Because it was backward and remains so? Or is it because it is permanently subjected to unequal and exploitative dependency on centres of wealth in the West?  

Is there any other way to look at the world? 

I find it interesting that dependency theory propagated as it did in Latin America. Why did it develop there? Did this logically take root there because it was a good 100 or 150 years since independence from Europe? (Although Latin America suffered its share too in Cold War proxies and devastation wreaked by the US) What was happening in the 1950s and 1960s in Africa or Asia? Well, it should be noted that Africa was only beginning to gain independence from Europe. If we take a thinker from Africa, say Franz Fanon, and I need say no more, his work centered on anti-colonial thinking, its dehumanising effects: Black Skins, White Masks or Wretched of the Earth. Eqbal Ahmed was writing eloquently of American's terrorism in Vietnam. The Algerians were fighting the French and, "Battle of Algiers" was being made (Eqbal Ahmed helped to research the script).  The former colonies were fighting for independence, looking towards the future and, seeking their destiny. This world was flush on socialist thinking than anything else. Socialism was the ideological inspiration and, national state planning was going to be the tool. On the whole, I imagine, Africa and Asia was merely realising its political independence. It seems only logical that Latin America was going to give birth to dependency theory analysis. 

Can we extrapolate this analysis and apply it to political and social aspects of the 'backward' countries? Are not these spheres also under subjugation? 

Capitalist countries continued to march forward, build their economic prosperity and, even build political unity. Why has an entity like the EU and EC successfully merged most of European terrority and consolidate political unity and, not in Africa or Asia? Why is politics still so fractured? 

Again, it seems that Latin America is blazing the trail in terms of seeking alternative political paradigms. Or at least it seems. And this has to be explored further in my analysis. Where is Latin America now? How much has dependency theory and its broad propagation there moulded political consciousness, movements and organisation?

"Thank you, before I begin, I'd like everyone to notice that my report is in a professional, clear binder...When a report looks this good, you know it'll get an A. That's a tip kids. Write it down." Calvin, Calvin and Hobbes

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