Guest Writings
12/06/04 Response to article on the New Imperialism by Dave Pugh

On William Bowles' article, The New Imperialism, I read it over, carefully. I think his analysis points us in the wrong direction.

Bowles relies heavily on Marx's statements that for socialism to flourish, it needs a developed economic base and an educated populace. However, as many revolutionaries who came after Marx have pointed out, Marx wrote BEFORE the development of imperialism as a world system. This divided the world into a handful of relatively wealthy and stable imperialist countries, and the oppressed nations of Asia, Latin America and Africa.

Due to this, all but one of the major revolutions in the 20th century—the Soviet Union, China, Vietnam, Korea and Cuba—took place in the “third world.” Imperialism's weak grip on these countries was successfully broken by mass-based revolutionary armed movements. In Russia, the devastating defeats suffered by the Russian autocracy in World War 1 created “third world” conditions, creating a revolutionary opening for the Bolsheviks.

Bowles refers in passing to the “failure” of the “20th century socialisms—Russia, China, etc.” The reader is left with the impression that the main reason these socialist states “failed” was because they lacked a developed economic base and an educated population. What we really need is a deeper analysis of the positive and negative experiences of the socialist and formerly socialist countries, including how they handled class struggle within their countries, and how they defended themselves against imperialist encirclement and subversion. The next wave of national democratic and socialist revolutions in the 21st century has to stand on the shoulders of the revolutionary pioneers of the 20th century, not simply write them off as “failures.”

Even though imperialist globalization has developed the productive forces in some parts of the Third World, the basic division of the world between imperialist and oppressed nations has not changed. In 2004, imperialism's weakest links are still found in Asia, Africa and Latin America, not in North America, Europe or Japan. (This situation could change, but revolutionary situations in the imperialist countries tend to be much less common.)

Bowles' analysis is re-cycled Eurocentrism. It doesn't recognize the revolutionary potential (and actualities) of revolutionary struggles in the Third World—which today have larger and more radical working class movements due in large part to globalization (eg. imperialist super-exploitation). These struggles can also have a radicalizing effect on people in the imperialist countries.

Bowles says he doesn't agree with a “sit and wait” approach—letting imperialist globalization take its course, creating “the material conditions for socialism” worldwide. However, this is the direction in which his analysis points. Without understanding how imperialism creates revolutionary openings in today's world, Bowles' call to “reformulate the socialist project” is dead in the water. Even in Europe.

I welcome comments, criticisms, etc

Dave Pugh, NYC

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