Solid support for strikes sends clear message to universities, says UCU. Strike AT Queens University Belfast

UCU said that strong shows of support for strikes at 60 UK universities* sent a clear message that staff would not settle for pay cuts, increased pension costs or deteriorating conditions.

The union said it welcomed a call from shadow education secretary Angela Rayner for universities to put students first and bring a reasonable offer back to the negotiating table. UCU has warned that if universities fail to make improved offers then further waves of strike action could follow in the new year, with even more staff taking part. 

UCU is currently consulting with branches at other universities about being balloted again to join further action and revealed today that 3,500 people have joined the union in the three weeks since it announced this round of eight strike days.

Angela Rayner will be among the speakers at a rally in Manchester later today as strikers assemble at St Peter’s Chaplaincy on Oxford Road from 11:15am. There are also rallies in Bristol and Newcastle with others planned for later in the week in cities across the UK. All the latest news from the picket lines and rallies is available on UCU’s strike page.

Last month, UCU members backed strike action in two disputes, one on changes to the USS pension scheme and one on universities’ failure to make improvements on pay, equality, casualisation and workloads. Overall, 79% of UCU members who voted backed strike action in the ballot over changes to pensions. In the ballot on pay, equality, casualisation and workloads, 74% of members polled backed strike action. 

As well as eight strike days from 25 November to Wednesday 4 December, UCU members will begin ‘action short of a strike’. This involves things like working strictly to contract, not covering for absent colleagues and refusing to reschedule lectures lost to strike action.

UCU general secretary Jo Grady said: ‘We have been receiving news of solid support for the strikes across the UK. That support sends a clear message to universities that staff will not settle for pay cuts, increased pension costs or deteriorating conditions.

‘We agree with Angela Rayner that universities should be putting students first and coming back to us with a better offer to try and avoid further disruption. We have seen thousands of people join the union in the few weeks since we announced this round of strikes and, if universities continue to refuse to negotiate seriously, more action with even more people involved could be on the cards.’

Barriers to education facing vulnerable groups March 2018

The following statement made by Professor Kathleen Lynch UCD Professor of Equality Studies
UCD School of Education at a presentation to the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Education and Skills
May 29th 2018

 

I will make the following points based on my written submission:
Barriers to education facing vulnerable groups March 2018
1. Note that the successes of Irish education are considerable. 

2. The Intersectionality of Inequalities for Vulnerable Groups

a. There is compelling national and international research evidence that economic
inequalities translate directly and indirectly into barriers to education for all
vulnerable groups, not just those on low incomes and/or the working-class-poor.
While children with disabilities, those from ethnic minority, lone parent or
immigrant backgrounds, Travellers, children in direct provision, and other vulnerable
groups, such as those who are gay or lesbian, all experience unique barriers to
education, in all cases those who are most adversely affected within these groups
are those from poor families.

3. As all forms of inequality are intersectionally related (see Table 1 Section 4.3 of submission),
we need to address inequalities and barriers for vulnerable groups at Macro, Meso and
Micro levels simultaneously. This means that addressing inequalities at national and regional
(macro) policy-levels, at school/college and local community (meso) levels and at micro
(family, household) levels.

4. As inequalities in education are directly link to vulnerabilities in other social institutions
education policy needs to be closely aligned with other social policies including housing,
health care, transport, taxation etc. if it is to succeed in addressing vulnerabilities

5. The equality principle governing Irish public policy, and particularly educational policy, is
that of equality of opportunity which is theoretically based on merit. The evidence does not
support this claim: major social and economic inequalities inevitably undermine all but the
thinnest forms of equality of opportunity in education because privileged parents will always
find ways of advantaging their children in an economically unequal society

6. Research evidence from the US that parental investment in children’s education outside of
school is now a major barrier to equality within education as it often exceeds state
investment per capita inside school. There is a need for a systematic review and regulation
of the private (for-profit) education market in Ireland at all levels of education.

7. The limits of Equality of Opportunity and the need for Equality of Condition in education
a. In educational terms, equalizing opportunity is about promoting fairness in the
competition for advantage. It implies that there will be winners and losers, people
who do well and people who do badly. An ‘opportunity’ in this context is the right to
compete, not the right to choose among alternatives of equal value. So two people,
or two different groups, can have formal equal opportunities in education even if
one of them has no real prospect of achieving anything of value.

b. The principle of equality of condition is rooted in changing and changeable social
structures and institutions that promote inequality although it accepts that such
structural and institutional changes are complex and take time. Without equalising
conditions between students, particularly equalising economic conditions, they
cannot participate equally in education. Gaeilge and Music are two examples of
leaving certificate subjects that rely heavily on out-of-school private capital
investment.

i
Founder of UCD School of Social Justice 2005 and UCD Equality Studies Centre

Palestinian Children Conference. This Coming Weekend:

We are encouraging all unions to send delegations to this important conference. We are recommending that these are led by Senior Officials and those with responsibility for international solidarity. We also recommend  the involvement of executive committee and lay members who have a particular interest in championing the human rights of Palestinian people and their children.

To register for the conference, email the names of delegates including name and union to palestinianchildrensconference@gmail.com. Registration closes on 8 November.

The conference will take place in the CWU Conference Centre on Friday 22 Nov. at 6-9pm and Saturday 23 Nov. from 9am-5:30pm.

 

 

SIPTU members in Virgin Media Ireland to ballot for industrial action

SIPTU members in Virgin Media Ireland to ballot for industrial action

Date Released: 20 November 2019

SIPTU members employed by Virgin Media Ireland will ballot for industrial action, up to and including strike action, in a dispute concerning an attempt to impose compulsory redundancies and the failure to implement a Labour Court recommendation by the company. SIPTU Organiser, Rachel Keane, said: “At very well attended meetings of our members held recently in Limerick, Dublin and Cork it was unanimously decided to conduct a ballot for industrial action, up to and including strike action.

“Our member’s decision followed the company’s failure to engage with SIPTU representatives prior to its announcement that it intends to to make up to 65 workers redundant, failure to implement a Labour Court recommendation concerning pay and numerous breaches of a collective agreement which was agreed in 2008.”

She added: “Our members are also completely shocked at the company’s unacceptable behaviour in disrespecting their right to be represented collectively by their union. They have been through ‘transformation programmes’ with the company as recently as 2015 but now Virgin Media Ireland, owned by UK Liberty Global, is choosing to ignore normal industrial relations procedures in Ireland.”

SIPTU Organiser, Martin Mannion, said: “SIPTU wrote to the company last month seeking an immediate meeting to discuss the proposed collective redundancy and it has an obligation under Irish legalisation to consult with unions in such situations. To date, we have not received a reply to this letter. 

“SIPTU is aware that the company has already targeted individual members and will oppose any compulsory redundancies. We need to ensure that any redundancies will be voluntary and that our members will receive the redundancy package agreed by the unions and management in 2015.”

SIPTU represents more than 200 members across all grades of staff in Virgin Media Ireland locations in Limerick, Clonmel, Cork and Dublin. The dispute involves call centre, technical, administration and sales staff.

SIPTU members in SK biotech accept invitation to attend WRC talks

SIPTU members employed at SK biotech, the pharmaceutical manufacturing company in Swords, County Dublin, have accepted an invitation to attend a conciliation meeting at the Workplace Relations Commission (WRC).

SIPTU Organiser, Jim Fuery, said: “Our members in SK biotech have agreed to attend a conciliation meeting at the WRC scheduled for Tuesday, 3rd December. The company has also agreed to attend this meeting.”

Late Imperialism. Understanding our Labour Efforts

Late Imperialism.

 

From Monthly Review August/September Issue 2019

The single most influential work on imperialism remains V. I. Lenin’s classic study of a century ago, Imperialism: The Latest Stage of Capitalism (better known by the title given to it following its first publication, Imperialism: The Highest Stage of Capitalism).1 Lenin employed the term modern imperialism or simply imperialism to refer to the age of concentrated capital, during which the entire world was being carved up by the leading states and their corporations, distinguishing the imperialist stage from the colonialism/imperialism of the mercantilist and freely competitive stages of capitalism that preceded it. “Colonial policy and imperialism,” Lenin insisted, “existed before this latest [imperialist] stage of capitalism, and even before capitalism.”2

The new imperialist stage, beginning in the last quarter of the nineteenth century and extending into the twentieth century, was seen as a product of the growth of giant capitalist firms with monopoly power, the close connection forged between these corporations and the nation-states in which they arose, and the resulting struggle for control of the world’s populations and resources—leading to intercapitalist competition and war. “If it were necessary to give the briefest possible definition of imperialism [as a “special stage”],” Lenin wrote, “we would have to say that imperialism is the monopoly stage of capitalism.”3

Lenin’s general analysis of imperialism belonged to a group of largely complementary theories in the Marxian tradition that included such works as Rudolf Hilferding’s Finance Capital (1910), Rosa Luxemburg’s The Accumulation of Capital (1913), and Nikolai Bukharin’s Imperialism and the World Economy (1915).4 Yet, Lenin’s own analysis was unrivaled in its ability to capture the dominant world conditions up through the Second World War, including accounting for the world wars themselves. A strong point in his analysis was its concrete, historical character, divorced from rigid theoretical formulae. It encompassed such varied phenomena as the growth of monopoly and financial capital, “division of the world among the international trusts,” capital export, the race for energy and raw materials, class struggle, geopolitical rivalry in the struggle for economic territory and spheres of influence, the emergence of a labor aristocracy in the capitalist core, and the contest for global and regional hegemony.5

While emphasizing intercapitalist competition, Lenin also pointed to the hierarchy of nation-states, which served to divide the core powers from the poorer nations of the periphery that fell within their imperial orbits. His analysis went beyond colonialism to discuss neocolonialism in relation to Latin America. In the 1920s, alert to the revolutionary struggles occurring in Mexico, Turkey, Persia, China, and India, Lenin pioneered in extending his analysis to the consideration of all “imperialist-oppressed colonies and countries” and all “dependent countries,” giving rise to revolution in the periphery against “international imperialism.”6

However, history in the Marxian conception is a dialectic of continuity and change. By the 1960s, Lenin’s analysis, despite its comprehensiveness, needed updating. In the post-Second World War era, the United States emerged with near absolute hegemony over the capitalist world economy. At the same time, the world saw the greatest revolutionary wave in history associated with the break with colonialism, the rise of neocolonialism, and the emergence of a rival sphere of post-revolutionary society, including states with socialist aspirations.7 In this changed atmosphere, corresponding with the Cold War, the United States and its allies presented a new ideology of economic growth, development, aid, and modernization within the capitalist ideological framework. An army of liberal and social democratic intellectuals, including such figures as Mark Blaug, Benjamin J. Cohen, Robert W. Tucker, and Barrington Moore Jr., were enlisted in the 1960s and ’70s to deny the existence of economic imperialism, if not imperialism more generally, aiming their analysis at various figures on the left and in the United States in particular, including Paul Baran, Paul Sweezy, William Appleman Williams, and Harry Magdoff.8

At the very center of the intense debate on U.S. imperialism in the 1960s and ’70s in the context of the Vietnam War was Magdoff’s The Age of Imperialism: The Economics of U.S. Foreign Policy (1969), written just over fifty years after Lenin’s great work. Taken together with Magdoff’s collection of historical and theoretical essays from the late 1960s and ’70s—Imperialism: From the Colonial Age to the Present (1978)—The Age of Imperialism stands as the single most integrated economic, historical, and theoretical analysis of U.S. imperialism at its peak, in the so-called golden age of monopoly capitalism.9

Magdoff, more than any other figure at the time, modeled the dialectic of continuity and change in the Marxian analysis of imperialism, linking his work to Lenin’s earlier analysis. Like other major Marxian theorists of imperialism from the mid–twentieth century to today, such as Baran, Sweezy, and Samir Amin, he continued to lay stress on the concentration and centralization of capital, along with the rise of monopolistic corporations, as the key to understanding late twentieth- and emerging twenty-first-century imperialism. In addition, Magdoff built on the complexity and multifaceted nature of Lenin’s original approach, attempting to replicate this for a later era. Magdoff had designed the statistical productivity measures (still used today by the U.S. Department of Labor) for the Works Progress Administration’s National Research Project on Re-employment Opportunities and Technological Development during the New Deal in the 1930s. He was a pivotal figure in the organization of U.S. war industry in the Second World War as chief of the Civilian Requirements Division of the National Defense Advisory Commission and in his role in the War Production Board, where he was put in charge of planning and controls in the machinery industries. He subsequently headed the Current Business Analysis Division of the Department of Commerce where he supervised the U.S. government’s Survey of Current Business and then served as economic adviser to U.S. Secretary of Commerce (and former U.S. Vice President) Henry Wallace. This extraordinary background in the construction and analysis of U.S. economic statistics and in wartime planning meant that Magdoff was well equipped to provide definitive empirical demonstrations of economic imperialism on the part of U.S. corporations and the U.S. state, along with its relation to the wider dimensions of world imperialism.10

In Magdoff’s treatment, imperialism could not be viewed at the high level of abstraction sometimes used for the analysis of the logic of capital. Rather, a reasonable approach to imperialism required attention to the inner workings of global capitalism, informed by theoretical abstraction, but ultimately confirmed and made meaningful at a concrete, historical level.11 This conformed to the method of Karl Marx himself, who developed his critique of political economy by means of successive approximations moving from the abstract to the concrete. Marx thus began his critique with Capital (originally slated as volume 1 in a six-volume work), representing the most abstract level of analysis, and intended to complete it with volume 5 on International Trade and volume 6 on The World Economy and Crises—that is, in terms of the concrete analysis of what today would be called the imperialist world system. However, he never got beyond volume 1 of the original plan, which turned into the three volumes of Capital.12

Imperialism, Magdoff argued, was inherently complex and changing in its configurations, reflecting both the centripetal and centrifugal forces governing the system. Where U.S. imperialism was concerned, it had to be interpreted in such a way that the “essential one-ness” between economic, political, and military-strategic objectives/tendencies was revealed. The role of multinational corporations abroad could not be separated from the role of U.S. military bases spread across the planet or the need to control oil and other strategic resources. Magdoff was at his best in refuting those who attempted to claim: (1) that foreign direct investment and trade were of little economic significance to the United States (he demonstrated that foreign direct investment had risen from around 10 percent of U.S. after-tax nonfinancial corporate profits in 1950 to about 22 percent by 1964); (2) that the U.S. economy was not dependent on oil or other raw materials located abroad and had no inherent geopolitical interests; and (3) that U.S. profits were only marginally affected by surplus extracted from the periphery of the world system.13 The fact that the other major capitalist countries all acceded to U.S. hegemony did not mean that intercapitalist competition had entirely disappeared or would not resurface in the future. Responding to those who questioned whether “imperialism was really necessary” to the United States, Magdoff explained that “imperialism is the way of life of capitalism.”14

For Magdoff, writing in the late 1960s and early ’70s, the main changes in the structure of imperialism since Lenin’s time—beyond decolonization and the rise of U.S. hegemony—were all related to the further development of monopoly capital: (1) the emergence of the military-industrial complex; (2) the rise of multinational corporations (including multinational banking) and their growing penetration of the periphery; and (3) “the priority of the interests of military-multinational industry on the affairs of state.” This description, he noted, applied first and foremost to the United States itself, but reflected relations also materializing among rival imperial powers. In essence, he was pointing to a tendency within the system toward the formation of a more generalized monopoly capitalism, beginning in the United States, but lording itself over the entire globe. A key element in Magdoff’s Age of Imperialism was his chapter on the growth of “The Financial Network,” investigating the whole phenomenon of multinational banking and finance in general—a treatment that he was to carry forward in the early 1990s in Globalization: To What End?, which included his analysis of “The Globalization of Finance.”15

It will be argued here that the globalization of production (and finance)—which emerged along with neoliberalism out of the economic stagnation of the mid–1970s and then accelerated with the demise of Soviet-type societies and China’s reintegration into the capitalist world system—has generated a more generalized monopoly capitalism, theorized by thinkers such as Magdoff, Baran, Sweezy, and Amin. This ushered in what can be called late imperialism.

Late imperialism refers to the present period of monopoly-finance capital and stagnation, declining U.S. hegemony and rising world conflict, accompanied by growing threats to the ecological bases of civilization and life itself. It stands at its core for the extreme, hierarchical relations governing the capitalist world economy in the twenty-first century, which is increasingly dominated by mega-multinational corporations and a handful of states at the center of the world system. Just as it is now common to refer to late capitalism in recognition of the end times brought on by simultaneous economic and ecological dislocations, so it is necessary today to speak of late imperialism, reflecting the global dimensions and contradictions of that system, cutting across all other divisions, and posing a “global rift” in human historical development: an epochal crisis posing the question of “ruin or revolution.”16

The persistent failure of many on the left, particularly in the advanced capitalist states, to acknowledge these developments is largely the result of a growing abandonment of the theory of imperialism, substituting more reified conceptions related to globalization, seen as dissolving former imperial hierarchies. This is so much the case that a host of alternative frameworks are now offered suggesting: (1) the progressive and self-annihilating role of imperialism; (2) shifting hegemonies within the world system conceived as a substitute for the theory of imperialism; (3) “deterritorialized” (stateless, borderless) Empire; (4) abstract political imperialism led by the United States or rule by supranational organizations removed from economic forces; (5) the rise of transnationalism as an entity in itself largely independent of states and geography; and (6) the supposed reversal of imperialist dominance. Hence, before examining the historical phenomenon of late imperialism it is necessary to view some of these prevalent misconceptions on the left in the imperial countries themselves, resulting from a refusal to come to terms with the complex, many-sided structural realities of late imperialism in the twenty-first century.

The Western Left and the Denial of Imperialism

The issue of the abandonment of the critique of imperialism within much of the Western left was dramatically raised by Prabhat Patnaik in his November 1990 Monthly Review article entitled “Whatever Happened to Imperialism?” Writing two decades after Magdoff’s The Age of Imperialism and a little more than a decade after Imperialism: From the Colonial Age to the Present, Patnaik, an economist at Jawaharlal Nehru University in New Delhi, observed:

An outsider cannot help noticing a remarkable transformation that has taken place in the Marxist discourse in the United States over the last decade: hardly anybody talks about imperialism any more. In 1974, I left Cambridge, England, where I was teaching economics, and have now returned to the West, this time to the United States, after 15 years. When I left, imperialism occupied perhaps the most prominent place in any Marxist discussion, and nowhere was more being written about and talked about on this subject than in the United States—so much so that many European Marxists accused American Marxism of being tainted with “third worldism.”… Marxists everywhere looked to the United States for literature on imperialism.…

This is obviously not the case today. Younger Marxists [in the United States] look bemused when the term is mentioned. Burning issues of the day…are discussed, but without any reference to imperialism. Radical indignation over the invasion of Panama or military intervention in Nicaragua and El Salvador does not jell into theoretical propositions about imperialism. And the topic has virtually disappeared from the pages of Marxist journals, especially those of a later vintage.

Curiously, this is not because any one has theorized against the concept. The silence over imperialism is not the aftermath of some intense debate where the scales tilted decisively in favor of one side; it is not a theoretically self-conscious silence. Nor can it be held that the world has so changed in the last decade and a half that to talk of imperialism has become an obvious anachronism.17

At the time, Patnaik attributed the change in left perspectives in the United States to absence of a major war, such as the Vietnam War, in the 1975–90 period. But of equal importance in the 1980s and early ’90s, governing the mood in radical circles, was the evolving economic situation, with the U.S. economy, along with that of the other advanced capitalist countries, experiencing deepening economic stagnation in contrast to faster growth in some parts of Asia. On this shaky basis, the dependency thesis of the “development of underdevelopment,” made famous especially by Andre Gunder Frank, writing in Monthly Review, was designated as erroneous even by many on the left—in spite of the fact that the gap in national income between the leading imperial countries and the developing world as a whole continued to widen, with the share of world income received by the top 20 percent of the world’s population (divided into nation-states) rising from 66 percent in 1965 to 83 percent in 1990.18

Marxist theorist Bill Warren argued as early as 1973 in “Imperialism and Capitalist Industrialization” in New Left Review that dependency in poor countries was in “irreversible decline” due to “a major upsurge” in capitalist development in the third world. According to Warren, Marx, in articles such as “The British Rule in India,” had seen colonialism/imperialism as playing a constructive role in underdeveloped countries. This was later mistakenly “reversed” by Lenin in his Imperialism, which represented an “about-turn” in Marxist theory, giving rise to dependency theory. The problems of development facing the poorer countries, Warren argued, were not primarily external, as depicted by dependistas, but could be traced to “internal contradictions.” This outlook, though not widespread in the 1970s when Warren first introduced it, was to gain considerable influence within the Western left by 1980, when his posthumous Imperialism: Pioneer of Capitalism was published.19

A quite different departure from classical theories of imperialism appeared in the afterword to the 1983 edition of Giovanni Arrighi’s The Geometry of Imperialism. A leading Marxian-inspired world-systems theorist, Arrighi ended up abandoning the theory of imperialism, which he no longer considered relevant, replacing it with a more limited conception of struggles over world hegemony. The model of the capitalist world-system with its shifting hegemonies was seen by Arrighi as an adequate substitute for the more complex notion of imperialism. The decline of the nation-state in the wake of globalization meant that the old theories of imperialism had become “obsolete,” and the theory of monopoly capitalism was likewise seen as dated. What remained was a world-system and the jostling for hegemony.20

However, the most far-reaching left rejections of the Marxian critique of imperialism were to await the present century. In 2000, Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri published Empire, arguing that imperialism was now a thing of the past—with the Vietnam War representing “the final moment of the imperialist tendency”—only to be replaced by a new deterritorialized global constitutional order and world market modeled on U.S. political-economic relations, in a left version of Francis Fukuyama’s “end of history.” The hierarchical imperialism of old, Hardt and Negri argued, had been succeeded by the “smooth space of the capitalist world market”—a view that anticipated by five years neoliberal globalization pundit Thomas L. Friedman’s claim that “the world is flat.” Hence, it was “no longer possible,” they wrote, “to demarcate large geographical zones as center and periphery, North and South.” This transcendence of imperialism in favor of the stateless, borderless sovereignty of Empire, based in a world market consisting of mere network relations without a center and periphery, was seen as emerging out of the inner logic of capitalism itself. “Imperialism,” Hardt and Negri stated, “actually creates a straitjacket for capital,” the inner logic of which ultimately requires a “smooth space” or flat world in which to operate.21

Such ideas were hardly novel, except within Marxian circles. What was innovative was the use of Marxian and postmodern terminology to boost views long promoted within establishment U.S. foreign policy, which resulted in Hardt and Negri’s work being highly praised by the New York TimesTime magazine, Foreign Affairs, and other mainstream publications. It was this that led Ellen Meiksins Wood to refer to Hardt and Negri’s Empire as, in effect, “a manifesto on behalf of global capital.”22

Hardt and Negri’s rejection of any continuity with classical Marxian theories of imperialism opened the way to various sometimes insightful, but one-dimensional, approaches on the left, converging with mainstream ideology. In The Making of Global Capitalism in 2013, Leo Panitch and Sam Gindin stressed the ability of the U.S. state, primarily through actions of the Treasury Department and the Federal Reserve Board, to create a “world after its own image,” subordinating European capital to its influence. The argument, which was inspired in part by Peter Gowan’s critique of the “Dollar-Wall Street Regime,” while informative, was an almost exclusively political one, systematically downplaying the economic dimension of imperialism, including finance capital, multinational corporations, continuing international rivalry, and the deteriorating conditions of the underdeveloped world. Panitch and Gindin thus provided an analysis of U.S. empire, much more conversant with received views, as opposed to the classical conceptions of imperialism with their numerous critical dimensions. In The Making of Global Capitalism, the older structure of imperialist countries in the center and the dependent countries in the periphery gave way to smooth “networks of transnational production as well as finance” revolving around “American capitalism’s central place in global capitalism.” What was conveyed was a stable U.S. world hegemonic order, rooted in a Washington-Wall Street consensus and seemingly destined to continue indefinitely—a mirror image of the view prevailing within U.S. foreign policy circles but now emanating from the left. In this interpretation, global capitalism arising out of “American Empire” and managed by the U.S. state entirely subsumed the more complex and multifaceted, and at the same time more concrete analysis of imperialism offered by thinkers such as Lenin, Luxemburg, Magdoff, and Amin.23

If Panitch and Gindin emphasized the rise of political empire, largely dispensing with what John Hobson had called the “economic taproot of imperialism,” transnationalization theorist William I. Robinson went in the opposite direction, arguing that capital in the age of globalization has completely swallowed up nation-states and created a new transnational order dominated by free-floating transnational corporations, giving rise to a “transnational capitalist class” and the “transnational state.” Writing in A Theory of Global Capitalism in 2004, Robinson declared that “globalization involves a supersession of the nation-state as the organizing principle of social life under capitalism.”24

In 2018, in “Beyond the Theory of Imperialism” (a chapter in his Into the Tempest), Robinson made a clean break with classical theories of imperialism: “The class relations of global capitalism are now so deeply internalized within every nation-state that the classical image of imperialism as a relation of external domination is outdated” and must be abandoned, together with notions such as center, periphery, and surplus extraction. “The end of the extensive enlargement of capitalism is the end of the imperialist era of world capitalism.… It is not imperialism in the old sense either of rival national capitals” or the domination “by core states of precapitalist regions” that is needed, but “a theory of capitalist expansion” as a specifically transnational and supranational process characterized by shifting “spatial dynamics.”25

Meanwhile, Marxist geographer David Harvey leaped beyond all of these perspectives, claiming in 2017 that the flows of capital have so changed direction that “the historical draining of wealth from East to West for more than two centuries has…been largely reversed over the last thirty years” (emphasis added). He admitted: “I don’t find the category of imperialism that compelling.” Imperialism was a concept not to be found in Marx, but mainly attributable to Lenin. The whole notion of global “peripheries” was said to be unclear as to its boundaries, and Arrighi’s notion of “shifting hegemonies” could be seen as displacing earlier Marxian theories of imperialism.26

In his 2003 New Imperialism—a work he now says was not meant to promote the concept of imperialism so much as to combat neoconservative attempts to adopt the term as their own—Harvey praised Hardt and Negri’s depiction of “a decentered configuration of empire that had many new, postmodern, qualities.” His book ended by advocating a new “‘New Deal’ Imperialism,” viewed as a more progressive imperialism under a more enlightened Washington Consensus, replacing the current neoliberal/neoconservative global order. For Harvey, the left was to be chastised for its “icy reception” to Warren’s notion of the progressive character of imperialism.27

If Harvey’s position on imperialism over the years has been somewhat incoherent, his current rejection of the notion of an imperialist world system in the name of a supposedly more dynamic view focusing on constantly shifting spatial configurations, which have “reversed” traditional center-periphery relations, could not be clearer in its implications. Referring to contemporary globalization tendencies, he explains that “it didn’t even make sense to try to cram all of this into some universal concept of imperialism.” The entire Marxian analysis of imperialism has become a theoretical “straitjacket.”28 In conformity with Arrighi, he discards the “rigid geography of core and periphery…in favor of a more open and fluid analysis.”29 In the process, however, it becomes necessary to break with the entire historical-materialist critique of imperialism. In his 2014 The Seventeen Contradictions of Capitalism, imperialism does not even warrant inclusion amongst his list of capitalism’s double-digit contradictions. His chapter on “Uneven Geographical Developments and the Production of Space” does not once mention imperialism, nor center and periphery. The only direct reference to Lenin’s Imperialism is aimed at downplaying the structural role of monopoly capital, which Lenin had associated with imperialism.30

Late Imperialism

There is no question that world capitalism has changed in the century since the First World War, when Lenin developed his critique of the imperialist stage. Yet, this has to be seen in the context of a historical dialectic that embraces continuity as well as change. Imperialism is a historical as much as a theoretical category. If half a century ago it was still possible to refer, as Magdoff did, to “the age of imperialism,” even to the point of seeing this as imperialism’s “golden age,” today we are clearly in an era of late imperialism associated with: generalized monopoly-finance capital; the globalization of production; new forms of surplus extraction from the periphery to center; and epochal economic, military, and environmental challenges. The crises facing the system and human society as a whole are now so severe that they are creating new fissures in the state in both the advanced capitalist and emerging economies, with a rapid growth of protofascist and neofascist tendencies, on the one hand, and a revival of socialism, on the other.

Recognizing the continuity with earlier phases of imperialism is as crucial to our understanding of the present as our awareness of the distinguishing characteristics of the current phase. Each historical phase of imperialism relies on different means of exploitation and expropriation to feed accumulation on a world scale. Imperialist countries at the core of the system invariably attempt to restructure labor in the capitalist periphery (or in the precapitalist external areas) to reinforce power and accumulation at the center of the system. At the same time, the core imperial nations are often in competition with each other for global spheres of influence. The early colonial era in the mercantilist stage of capitalism during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries centered not on free exchange but on “profit upon expropriation,” along with the “extirpation, enslavement and entombment in mines of the indigenous population” of the Americas and much of Africa and Asia.31

In the later, mid–nineteenth-century colonial era or stage of free competition under British hegemony, free trade operated in the core of the world economy, but this went hand in hand with colonialism in much of the world, where unequal exchange and outright robbery and plunder predominated. In 1875, Robert Arthur Talbot Gascoyne-Cecil, the 3rd Marquess of Salisbury, then secretary of state for British India, declared: “As India must be bled, the bleeding should be done judiciously.”32 Bled it was, but not “judiciously.” As Utsa Patnaik has demonstrated in detail, the present value of the “drain” of surplus from India to Britain from 1765 to 1938 amounts “on a highly underestimated basis” to £9.2 trillion, compared to a £2.1 trillion gross domestic product (GDP) for the United Kingdom in 2018.33

Nineteenth-century colonial capitalism evolved by the end of the century into what Lenin called the imperialist stage, characterized by the rise of monopoly capital in all the great powers, the decline of British hegemony, and rising tension over the division of the entire world among the core capitalist powers. These conditions led to two world wars among the rival claimants to hegemony over economic territory. Following the Second World War, the United States emerged as the world hegemon within the capitalist world, in a context that also included a Cold War with the rival socialist-oriented world. While promoting an ideology of free trade and development, the U.S. hegemon nonetheless put in place a system of neocolonialism enforced by multinational corporations, dollar hegemony, and a globe-spanning string of military bases—from which numerous military interventions and regional wars were to be launched. This was accompanied by the siphoning off of much of the economic surplus of the global South.

With the rise of monopoly-finance capital, the world has entered a new phase of imperialism, late imperialism, rather than a superseding of imperial relations. Late imperialism, as we have seen, represents an epoch in which the global contradictions of the system are revealed in ever starker forms and in which the entire planet as a place of human habitation is now at risk—with the catastrophic effects falling disproportionately on the most vulnerable of the world population. All of this is bound to generate greater geopolitical conflict as capitalism’s failure as a society becomes evident.

None of this was a complete surprise for the more astute analysts of globalization. In 1992, Magdoff wrote that,

contrary to widespread expectations, sources of tension among the leading capitalist powers have increased side by side with their growing interdependence. Nor has the geographic spread of capital reduced the contradictions between the rich and poor nations. Although a handful of third world countries, benefiting from the globalization process, have made noteworthy progress in industrialization and trade, the overall gap between core and periphery nations has kept on widening.… The process of globalization has produced much that is new in the world’s economy and politics, but it has not changed the basic ways capitalism operates. Nor has it aided the cause of either peace or prosperity.34

Indeed, there is something deeply ironic about the growing rejection of the theoretical critique of imperialism in the present global context. As Argentinian Marxist Atilio Borón observed in 2003 in “Empire” and Imperialism, imperialism today reflects those “fundamental features” with respect to the concentration and centralization of capital on a global scale portrayed by the classical Marxist theorists of imperialism, but in more developed forms:

This new stage [of imperialism in Lenin’s sense] is characterized, now even more than in the past, by the concentration of capital, the overwhelming predominance of monopolies, the increasingly important role played by financial capital, the export of capital and the division of the world into “spheres of influence.” The acceleration of globalization that took place in the final quarter of the last century, instead of weakening or dissolving the imperialist structures of the world economy, magnified the structural asymmetries that define the insertion of the different countries in it. While a handful of developed capitalist nations increased their capacity to control, at least partially, the productive processes at a global level, the financialization of the international economy and the growing circulation of goods and services, the great majority of countries witnessed the growth of their external dependency and the widening of the gap that separated them from the centre. Globalization, in short, consolidated the imperialist domination and deepened the submission of peripheral capitalisms, which became more and more incapable of controlling their domestic economic processes even marginally.35

The new phase of imperialism that arose at the very end of the twentieth and the beginning of the twenty-first century has been described by Amin and various authors associated with Monthly Review as a system of global monopoly-finance capital or a capitalism of “generalized monopolies.”36 In this more integrated imperialist system, five hundred corporations account for nearly 40 percent of world revenue while most other firms in the world economy are entangled in the webs of these giant firms and exist as mere subcontractors.37 Production and circulation are now organized in the form of global commodity chains, serving to highlight the different roles of center and periphery within these commodity chains. This is in line with the global labor arbitrage, which serves to promote the intensified exploitation/expropriation of labor in the global South, leading to the capture of much of this extra value by the North. The heightened imperialist controls of global finance and communications are inherent parts of this process without which the globalization of production would not be possible.38

The late 1970s and ’80s saw the growth of neoliberal globalization, which sought with considerable success to subordinate states, particularly in the global South, to the rules of a world market where, by definition, the financial center rules. Late imperialism can thus also be seen as the period in which economic stagnation, financialization, and the planetary ecological crisis all emerged as widening, irreversible fissures, inseparable from the system of monopoly-capitalist accumulation itself and finding its ideological justification in neoliberalism.

A distinguishing feature of globalized production and finance in the current century is the systematic exploitation of low unit labor costs in the South, a product of the fact that wages are kept at levels far below those of the North due to: (1) the enormous global reserve army located primarily in the South; (2) restrictions on the movement of labor between countries, and particularly from poor to rich countries; and (3) the force of imperialist pressures past and present.39 As economist Tony Norfield, former executive director and global head of foreign exchange strategy in a major European bank, explained in 2015 in “T-Shirt Economics: Labour in the Imperialist World Economy,”

everybody knows that workers in developed capitalist countries are paid more than those in poorer countries. However, the divergence in average wages can nevertheless be surprising: not just 20 percent or 50 percent, but more like a factor of 2, 5, 10 or 20 between the richer countries and the poorer countries. Mainstream economic theory explains this—and justifies it—by arguing that workers in richer countries are more productive than in poorer ones, because the former are more educated and skilled, working with higher levels of technology. Yet this explanation does not sit well with the reality that many manufacturing employees in poor countries are employed, directly or indirectly, by major corporations, and working with technology that is often comparable to that in the richer country.40

Production by (or contracted out by) foreign multinationals in poor countries relies on the same or near to the same technology utilized in the rich economies, leading to comparable levels of productivity. The result, combined with extremely low wages, is that unit labor costs in manufacturing in the so-called emerging economies of China, India, Indonesia, and Mexico in 2014 were only 46, 37, 62, and 43 percent, respectively, of U.S. levels.41 This generates vastly inflated gross profit margins for multinationals located in the North. The total production cost (reflected in the export price) for a T-shirt produced in 2010 through a subcontractor in Bangladesh working for the Swedish firm Hennes & Mauritz (H&M) was 27 percent of the final sales price in Europe, with the workers in Bangladesh receiving a mere pittance for their labor. One worker at the factory received €1.36 for a ten to twelve hour day.42 The price markup (or gross profit margin) on an iPhone assembled in China in 2009 was over 64 percent.43 The widening gross profit margins associated with the global labor arbitrage have led to a rapid globalization of production, with the world share of industrial employment located in developing (including emerging) economies rising from 52 percent in 1980 to 83 percent in 2012.44

Today, a large and rapidly growing portion of production is outsourced to the periphery in the form of arms-length contracting or what is known as the non-equity modes of production (such as leasing, licensing, franchising, and management-service contracts), constituting a kind of middle ground between foreign direct investment by multinationals and actual trade. In 2010, the non-equity modes of production generated over $2 trillion in sales.45

Still, not all value-chain production exploiting low unit labor costs in the global South takes the form of subcontracting or the non-equity modes of production. Much of it occurs in the form of more traditional foreign direct investment by multinationals. In 2013 alone, U.S. receipts from investments abroad in foreign companies, equities, bonds, etc., amounted to $773.4 billion, while U.S. payments on its liabilities from investments that foreigners made in the United States added up to only $564.9 billion, resulting in a net gain of some $209 billion (equal to about 35 percent of total U.S. net private domestic investment for that year). This only accelerated problems of surplus capital absorption.46 As Baran and Sweezy wrote in 1966 in Monopoly Capital, “foreign investment, far from being an outlet for domestically generated surplus, is a most efficient device for transferring surplus generated abroad to the investing country. Under these circumstances it is, of course, obvious that foreign investment aggravates rather than helps to solve the surplus absorption problem.”47

Other factors as well enter into the transfer of value from developing countries, including capital flight from the global South estimated at more than a $1.7 trillion dollars in 2012.48 Indeed, every single form of financial transaction between the global North and South includes an element of what Marx called “profit upon expropriation” or simple robbery, reflecting the uneven power relations.49 As Norfield writes, finance “is a way for rich countries to draw income from the rest of the world economy.”50 A 2015 report by the Centre for Applied Economics of the Norwegian School of Economics and the United States-based Global Financial Integrity estimates that net resource transfers, many of them illicit, from developing countries (independent of the hidden transfers associated with unequal exchange) amounted to $2 trillion in 2012 alone—rising to $3 trillion if estimates of same-invoice faking are included.51

A number of studies have been carried out to estimate the extent of the hidden value transfers due to unequal exchange relations between global South and North, whereby the latter gets “more labour in exchange for less.”52 One approach, pioneered by Canadian economist Gernot Köhler, utilized purchasing power parity (PPP) data to show how labor incorporated into export products from the global South—given the difference between nominal and real exchange rates—failed to reflect what that labor would be worth in terms of local purchasing power in the emerging economy. In the words of Jason Hickel in The Divide:

Köhler’s method is to calculate the difference between nominal exchange rates and real exchange rates (i.e. corrected for purchasing power) for goods traded. For example, imagine a nominal exchange rate between the US dollar and the Indian rupee of 1:50. Now imagine that India sends R1,000 worth of goods to the US, and receives $20 in return. That would be a perfectly equal exchange. Or at least so it would appear. The problem is that the nominal exchange rate isn’t exactly accurate. In India, R50 can buy much more than the equivalent of $1 worth of goods. For instance, perhaps it can buy closer to $2 worth. So the real exchange rate, in terms of purchasing power, is 1:25. This means that when India sent R1,000 worth of goods to the US, it was really the equivalent of sending $40 worth, in terms of the value that R1,000 could buy in India. And yet India received only $20 in return, which in real terms is worth only R500. In other words, because of the distortion between real and nominal exchange rates, India sent $20 (R500) more than it received. One way to think of this is that India’s export goods are worth more than the price they receive on the world market. Another way is that India’s labour is underpaid relative to the value that it produces.53

Köhler’s empirical results, relying on PPP, could thus be seen as a rough measure of the transfer of value generated in the South (non-Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development [OECD]) countries, but credited to the North (OECD) countries, via what economists call unequal exchange. In this way, he was able to estimate that such value transfers in 1995 alone amounted to $1.75 trillion, representing losses equivalent to almost a quarter of total non-OECD GDP.54 Although such empirical estimates are open to question in a number of respects, there can be little doubt about the underlying reality or the order of magnitude of the “imperialist rent.”55

As John Smith argues, “the vast S-N flows of value” associated with unequal exchange are “rendered invisible in statistics on GDP, trade, and financial flows” precisely because the value generated in the South is “captured” in the North. All sources of income, whether wages, profits, rent, or interest, arising from the enormous gross profit margins on Southern production are simply booked as value-added in the global North, contributing to Northern GDP.56

The huge profits from outsourcing and other means of global value capture further exacerbate problems of surplus capital absorption. Much of this imperialist rent ends up in tax havens and becomes a means of amassing financial wealth concentrated in a small number of corporations and wealthy individuals, while largely disconnected from the ongoing and increasingly problematic process of production, investment, and growth in the United States and other imperialist nations.57 This then worsens the overall problem of stagnation, characterized by excess capacity, underemployment, slow growth, rising inequality, and periodic financial bubbles and crises.

Amin argued that imperialist rent had two distinct components. The first was the rent derived from the imperialist exploitation of Southern labor. The second was the draining of natural resources from the South and violations of its sovereignty in this respect by multinational corporations and imperialist states. Although the first form of imperialist rent was, at least in principle, measurable in value terms, the second form of rent, since it concerned use values (and capital’s appropriation of free gifts of nature), rather than exchange values, was not.58 Nevertheless, Marx, he insisted, had provided ways of perceiving ecological contradictions and ecological imperialism.

Imperialism engages in an enormous struggle for the control of strategic resources. It has been estimated that the U.S. military spends approximately 16 percent of its base budget on directly safeguarding global oil supplies alone.59 It is difficult to exaggerate, as Magdoff emphasized, the extent to which military and natural resource interests are interrelated. Military hegemony plays a key role in all issues of securing economic territory and strategic resources.

Multinational corporations are inextricably tied to the financial and political-military power of the particular states in which they are based, without which they could not exist for a moment, and on which their ability to engage effectively in international competition depends. In the case of the top hundred nonfinancial corporations in the world, three quarters have their home in just six countries: United States, United Kingdom, France, Germany, Japan, and Switzerland. According to Norfield,

what distinguishes an imperialist company is not its size or competitive success, or even its global importance as a major producer of goods or services, although it will often be a big company given the advantages it enjoys. What distinguishes it is the backing it receives from a powerful nation-state in the world economy, and any advantages it gets because it is located in and identified with that imperialist state. Likewise, what in economic terms distinguishes an imperialist state is its ability to exert power in the world economy on behalf of its “national” capitalist companies.”60

End Times

Imperialism today is more aggressive and boundless in its objectives than ever.61 In the present period of declining U.S. hegemony, as well as economic and ecological decline, the dollar-oil-Pentagon regime, backed by the entire triad of the United States/Canada, Europe, and Japan, is exerting all of its military and financial power to gain geopolitical and geoeconomic advantages.62 The goal is to subordinate still further those countries at the bottom of the world hierarchy, while putting obstacles in the way of emerging economies, and overthrowing all states that violate the rules of the dominant order. Intercore conflicts within the triad continue to exist but are currently suppressed, not only due to the overwhelming force of U.S. power, but also as a result of the perceived need in the core to contain China and Russia, which are seen as constituting grave threats to the prevailing imperial order. In China and in Russia, for different but related historical reasons, global monopoly-finance capital lacks the dominant combination with the national capitalists within their political economies that is present in the other BRICS countries. Meanwhile, the European Union is in disarray, experiencing centrifugal, as opposed to centripetal tendencies, arising out of economic stagnation and the instability generated by imperial blowback emanating from adjacent regions, particularly the Middle East and North Africa.

Under these circumstances, global value/supply chains, along with energy, resources, and finance, are more and more viewed in military-strategic terms. At the center of this interlocked, globalized world order is the unstable hegemony exercised by Fortress America over both Europe and Japan. The United States today is pursuing a strategy of full-spectrum dominance, aimed at not only military, but also technological, financial, and even global “energy dominance”—against a backdrop of impending planetary catastrophe and economic and political disarray.63

In these deteriorating conditions, neofascist tendencies have reemerged once again, constituting monopoly-finance capital’s final class-based recourse—an alliance between big capital and a newly mobilized reactionary lower-middle class.64 More and more, neoliberalism is merging into neofascism, unleashing racism and revanchist nationalism. Anti-imperialist peace movements have waned in most of the capitalist core, even in the context of a revival of the left, raising once again the question of social imperialism.65

There is a sense, of course, in which much of this is familiar. As Magdoff noted,

centrifugal and centripetal forces have always coexisted at the core of the capitalist process, with sometimes one and sometimes the other predominating. As a result, periods of peace and harmony have alternated with periods of discord and violence. Generally the mechanism of this alternation involves both economic and military forms of struggle, with the strongest power emerging victorious and enforcing acquiescence on the losers. But uneven development soon takes over, and a period of renewed struggle for hegemony emerges.66

Late imperialism, however, represents a historical end point for the capitalist world order, presaging either planetary catastrophe or a new revolutionary beginning. Today’s Earth System emergency gives new urgency to the age-old collective struggle for “freedom in general.”67 The wider human struggle must build on the continuing revolutionary resistance of the workers and peoples in the global South, aimed first and foremost at overthrowing imperialism, as the global manifestation of capitalism. Labor in core nations cannot be free until labor in periphery nations is free and imperialism is abolished.68 What Marx called socialism, a society of sustainable human development, can only be constructed on a universal basis. All narrow, invidious, exploitative relations must go, and humanity must at last confront with sober senses its relations with its kind and its unity with the earth.69

Notes

  1.  I. Lenin, Imperialism: The Highest Stage of Capitalism (New York: International, 1939). When published in 1917, the title of Lenin’s pamphlet was Imperialism: The Latest Stage of Capitalism. See V. I. Lenin, Selected Works in Three Volumes (Moscow: Progress, 1977), 640–41, 801. Emphasizing this fact, Witold Kula, a Polish historian, wrote in 1963: “The methodological differences between these formulations are fundamental. The determination ‘the newest [latest] stage’ refers to the past…whereas the determination ‘the highest stage’ says something more, also about the future; that in the future there will be no ‘higher stage’ than this one.” Kula quoted in John Bellamy Foster and Henryk Szlajfer, introduction to The Faltering Economy (New York: Monthly Review Press, 1984), 21. Consistent with this, Lenin generally refers in the actual text of his pamphlet to imperialism as the “latest phase” or “latest stage” of capitalism, in conformity with the subtitle to Rudolf Hilferding’s Finance Capital: The Latest Phase of Capitalism.
  2.  Lenin, Imperialism, 78, 81–82, 88, 92. It was in his October 1916 article “Imperialism and the Split in Socialism” that Lenin for the first time placed primary emphasis on the conception of imperialism as the highest stage, as opposed to the newest or latest stage, based on what he viewed as the “moribund” character of capitalism in the early twentieth century. This helps explain the later change in the title of his pamphlet, after its first publication in 1917. V. I. Lenin, Collected Works, vol. 23 (Moscow: Progress, 1964), 105–20. In response to Lenin, Samir Amin has written that “imperialism is not a stage, not even the highest stage of capitalism: from the beginning it is inherent in capitalism’s expansion.” Samir Amin, “Imperialism and Globalization,” Monthly Review 53, no. 2 (June 2001): 6. Lenin, however, used the term in a double sense, to refer both to imperialism in general, going back to the beginning of capitalism, and also (in a more focused way) to refer to what was called in his time the “new imperialism” or imperialist (monopoly) stage of capitalism.
  3.  Lenin, Imperialism, 13–14, 85, 88, 91. For those who think Lenin’s Imperialism was the work of a moment, it is useful to look at the more than 700 pages of notes, containing extracts from 148 books and 232 articles in English, French, and German, that he took in preparation for writing it. See V. I. Lenin, Collected Works, vol. 39 (Moscow: Progress, 1968), 20.
  4.  Rudolf Hilferding, Finance Capital (London: Routledge, 1981); Rosa Luxemburg, The Accumulation of Capital (New York: Monthly Review Press, 1951), Nikolai Bukharin, Imperialism and World Economy (New York: Monthly Review Press, 1929). Although in many ways complementary to Lenin’s later analysis, Luxemburg’s emphasis on imperialism as primarily destruction and assimilation of precapitalist external areas enormously weakens her theory, Utsa and Prabhat Patnaik note, “as an abiding relationship under capitalism.” Utsa and Prabhat Patnaik, A Theory of Imperialism (New York: Columbia University Press, 2017), 87.
  5.  Lenin, Imperialism, 89. With respect to the labor aristocracy, Lenin insisted that “a privileged upper stratum of the proletariat in the imperialist countries lives partly at the expense of hundreds of millions in the [so-called] uncivilized nations” (Collected Works, vol. 23, 107). (Note: While distinguishing between civilized and uncivilized nations, Lenin put scare quotes around the former and treated it, as in the socialist tradition, as a euphemism for capitalism.) For the historical basis of Lenin’s treatment of the labor aristocracy, see Eric Hobsbawm, “Lenin and the ‘Aristocracy of Labor,’” in Lenin Today, ed. Paul M. Sweezy and Harry Magdoff (New York: Monthly Review Press, 1970), 47–56.
  6.  I. Lenin, Selected Works in Three Volumes, vol. 3 (Moscow: Progress, 1975), 246, 372–78. Lenin’s analysis of imperialism has often been converted into a simplistic theory of excess surplus in the advanced capitalist states and capital export, rooted in underconsumption. This excessively crude interpretation of Lenin is exemplified by Bill Warren’s influential Imperialism: Pioneer of Capitalism (London: Verso, 1980), 50–83. For a strong critique of this simplistic view, see Prabhat Patnaik, Whatever Happened to Imperialism and Other Essays (New Delhi: Tulika, 1995), 80–101.
  7.  S. Stavrianos, Global Rift (New York: William Morrow and Company, 1981), 623–24.
  8.  Mark Blaug, “The Economics of Imperialism,” in Economic Imperialism, ed. Kenneth E. Boulding and Tapan Mukerjee (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1972), 142–55; Benjamin J. Cohen, The Question of Imperialism (New York: Basic, 1973), 99–141; Barrington Moore, Jr., The Causes of Human Misery (Boston: Beacon, 1972), 117–32; Robert W. Tucker, The Radical Left and American Foreign Policy (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1971).
  9.  Harry Magdoff, The Age of Imperialism (New York: Monthly Review Press, 1969); Harry Magdoff, Imperialism: From the Colonial Age to the Present (New York: Monthly Review Press, 1978).
  10.  For an indication of how much more adept Magdoff was in the use of economic statistics than his critics, see “A Technical Note,” in Imperialism, 11–14.
  11.  Magdoff, The Age of Imperialism, 18–19.
  12.  Ernest Mandel, introduction to his planned Critique of Political Economy, vol. 1, Karl Marx (London: Penguin, 1976), 27–28; John Bellamy Foster, “The Imperialist World System,” Monthly Review 59, no. 1 (May 2007): 1–16. Samir Amin saw his work as addressing the range of questions that Marx intended for volumes 5 and 6 of Capital, but not as Marx would have approached it in the mid–nineteenth century but rather in relation to the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries. See Samir Amin, Modern Imperialism, Monopoly Finance Capital, and Marx’s Law of Value (New York: Monthly Review Press, 2018), 131–35.
  13.  Magdoff, Imperialism, 239; Bernard Baruch, foreword to The Revolution in World Trade and American Economic Policy, Samuel Lubell (New York: Harper, 1955), xi; Magdoff, The Age of Imperialism, 182.
  14.  Magdoff, Imperialism, 260–61.
  15.  Magdoff, Imperialism, 110–11; Magdoff, The Age of Imperialism, 67–113; Harry Magdoff, Globalization: To What End? (New York: Monthly Review Press, 1992), 17–25.
  16.  Stavrianos, Global Rift. On “ruin or revolution,” see Karl Marx and Frederick Engels, Marx and Engels and the Irish Question (Moscow; Progress, 1971), 142.
  17.  Prabhat Patnaik, “Whatever Happened to Imperialism?,” Monthly Review 42, no. 6 (November 1990): 1–14.
  18.  Andre Gunder Frank, “The Development of Underdevelopment,” Monthly Review 18, no. 4 (September 1966): 17–31; Harry Magdoff, “A Note on the Communist Manifesto,” Monthly Review 50, no. 1 (May 1998): 11–13, reprinted in this issue.
  19.  Bill Warren, “Imperialism and Capitalist Industrialization,” New Left Review 181 (1973): 4, 43, 48, 82; Warren, Imperialism: Pioneer of Capitalism, 48. Warren, unlike many later Marxist theorists, was aware of Lenin’s role in the rise of dependency theory in the Second Congress of the Communist International in 1919. See Warren, Imperialism: Pioneer of Capitalism, 97–98; Research Unit for Political Economy, “On the History of Imperialism Theory,” Monthly Review 59, no. 7 (December 2007): 42–50. Warren’s claim that Marx saw imperialism as playing a constructive role with respect to industrialization was refuted in Kenzo Mohri, “Marx and ‘Underdevelopment,’”Monthly Review 30, no. 11 (April 1979): 32–42; and Suniti Kumar Ghosh, “Marx on India,” Monthly Review 35, no. 8 (January 1984): 39–53. A more recent refutation, relying on some new materials, is Kevin Anderson, Marx at the Margins (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2016).
  20.  Giovanni Arrighi, The Geometry of Imperialism (London: Verso, 1983), 171–73; Giovanni Arrighi, “Lineages of Empire,” in Debating Empire, ed. Gopal Balakrishnan (London: Verso, 2003), 35. In The Long Twentieth Century, Arrighi dispensed entirely with the analysis of monopoly capital and monopoly power in the evolution of the modern giant corporate enterprise—thereby abandoning the monopoly stage of capitalism that Lenin had identified with imperialism—choosing rather to substitute neoclassical transaction-costs analysis as an adequate explanation for the growth of multinational corporations. Giovanni Arrighi, The Long Twentieth Century (London: Verso, 1994), 218–19, 239–43.
  21.  Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri, Empire (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2000), 178, 234, 332–35; Thomas L. Friedman, The World Is Flat (New York: Farrar, Strauss, and Giroux, 2005); Francis Fukuyama, The End of History and the Last Man (New York: The Free Press, 1992).
  22.  Ellen Meiksins Wood, “A Manifesto for Global Capitalism?,” in Debating Empire, 61–82; John Bellamy Foster, “Imperialism and ‘Empire,’” Monthly Review 53, no. 7 (December 2001): 1-9.
  23.  Leo Panitch and Sam Gindin, The Making of Global Capitalism (London: Verso, 2013), 12, 26, 275; Tony Norfield, The City (London: Verso, 2017), 14–17; Peter Gowan, The Global Gamble (London: Verso, 1999), 19–38.
  24.  William I. Robinson, A Theory of Global Capital (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2004), 44–49; John A. Hobson, Imperialism: A Study (London: James Nisbet and Company, 1902).
  25.  William I. Robinson, Into the Tempest (Chicago: Haymarket, 2018), 99–121. On the empirical weaknesses of the transnational capital thesis, see “Transnational Capitalism or Collective Imperialism,” Pambazuka News, March 23, 2011; Ha-Joon Chang, Things They Don’t Tell You About Capitalism (New York: Bloomsbury, 2010), 74–87; Ernesto Screpanti,Global Imperialism and the Great Crisis (New York: Monthly Review Press, 2014), 57–58.
  26.  David Harvey, “A Commentary on A Theory of Imperialism,” in A Theory of Imperialism, Patnaik and Patnaik, 169, 171; David Harvey, “Realities on the Ground: David Harvey Replies to John Smith,” Review of African Political Economy blog, February 5, 2018; David Harvey, “Imperialism: Is It Still a Relevant Concept?,” (contribution to discussion on this topic presented at Center for Public Scholarship, New School for Social Research, New York, May 1, 2017), available on YouTube. In his earlier works, Harvey was quite sympathetic to the notion of imperialism, as in his 1975 article on “The Geography of Capital Accumulation,” reprinted in David Harvey, Spaces of Capital (New York: Routledge, 2001), 260–61. See also David Harvey, The Limits to Capital (1982; repr., London: Verso, 2006), 439–42.
  27.  David Harvey, The New Imperialism (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2003), 7, 27, 163, 209–11; Harvey, “Imperialism: Is It Still a Relevant Concept?”
  28.  Harvey, “Imperialism: Is It Still a Relevant Concept?”; Harvey, “A Commentary on A Theory of Imperialism,” 169.
  29.  Harvey, “Realities on the Ground.”
  30.  David Harvey, Seventeen Contradictions of Capitalism (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2014), 135. Harvey says that “rent seeking,” as used by Joseph Stiglitz to refer to the taking of wealth rather than its creation, “is nothing more than a polite and rather neutral-sounding way of referring to what I call ‘accumulation by dispossession’” (Harvey, Seventeen Contradictions of Capitalism, 133). One might say, in turn, that “accumulation by dispossession” is merely a polite and rather neutral-sounding way of referring to what Marx called expropriation (or profit upon expropriation).
  31.  Karl Marx, Capital, vol. 1 (London: Penguin, 1976), 915. On Marx’s concept of “profit upon expropriation” (or profit upon alienation), see John Bellamy Foster and Brett Clark, “The Expropriation of Nature,” Monthly Review 69, no. 10 (March 2018): 1–27.
  32.  Marquess of Salisbury quoted in Paul A. Baran, The PoliticalEconomy of Growth (New York: Monthly Review Press, 1957), 145.
  33.  Utsa Patnaik, “Revisiting the ‘Drain,’ or Transfers from India to Britain in the Context of Global Diffusion of Capitalism,” in Agrarian and Other Histories, ed. Shubhra Chakrabarti and Utsa Patnaik (New Delhi: Tulika, 2017), 311.
  34.  Magdoff, Globalization, 4, 41.
  35.  Atilio Borón, “Empire” and Imperialism (London: Zed, 2005), 3.
  36.  Amin, Modern Imperialism, 162, 193–95.
  37.  John Bellamy Foster and Robert W. McChesney, The Endless Crisis (New York: Monthly Review, 2012), 76–77.
  38.  Intan Suwandi, R. Jamil Jonna, and John Bellamy Foster, “Global Commodity Chains and the New Imperialism,” Monthly Review 70, no. 10 (March 2019): 1–24.
  39.  On the global reserve army, see Foster and McChesney, The Endless Crisis, 125-54.
  40.  Tony Norfield, “T-Shirt Economics: Labour in the Imperialist World Economy,” in Struggle in a Time of Crisis, ed. Nicolas Pons-Vignon and Mbuso Nkosi (London: Pluto, 2015), 23–28; John Smith, Imperialism in the Twenty-First Century (New York: Monthly Review Press, 2016), 13–16.
  41.  Suwandi, Jonna, and Foster, “Global Commodity Chains and the New Imperialism,” 14–15.
  42.  Norfield, “T-Shirt Economics,” 25–26.
  43.  Foster and McChesney, The Endless Crisis, 140–41.
  44.  International Labour Organization, Table 4a. Employment by Aggregate Sector (by Sex), in Key Indicators of the Labour Market(KILM), 8th ed. (Geneva: International Labour Office, 2014); “Economic Groups and Composition,” United Nations Conference on Trade and Development, http://unctadstat.unctad.org.
  45.  United Nations Conference on Trade and Development, “Non-Equity Modes of International Production and Development,” in World Investment Report, 2011 (Geneva: United Nations, 2011), 123, 132.
  46.  Norfield, The City, 9, 169; Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis Economic Research, FRED,Net Domestic Investment: Private: Domestic Business, accessed May 18, 2019; Stephanie E. Curcuru and Charles P. Thomas, “The Return on U.S. Direct Investment at Home and Abroad,” International Finance Discussion Papers, no. 1057, Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System, October 2012.
  47.  Paul A. Baran and Paul M. Sweezy, Monopoly Capital (New York: Monthly Review Press, 1966), 107–08.
  48.  Dev Kar and Guttorm Schjelderup, Financial Flows and Tax Havens (London: Global Financial Integrity, Norwegian School of Economics, 2015), 19; Jason Hickel, The Divide (New York: W. W. Norton, 2017), 27.
  49.  Karl Marx and Frederick Engels, Collected Works, vol. 30 (New York: International, 1975), 59.
  50.  Norfield, The City, 76.
  51.  Kar and Schjelderup, Financial Flows and Tax Havens, 15–17.
  52.  Karl Marx, Capital, vol. 3 (London: Penguin, 1981), 345.
  53.  Hickel, The Divide, 290–91.
  54.  Gernot Köhler, “The Structure of Global Money and World Tables of Unequal Exchange,” Journal of World-System Research 4 (1998): 145–68; Gernot Köhler, Global Keynesianism: Unequal Exchange and Global Exploitation (New York: Nova Science, 2002), 43–100; Gernot Köhler, “Unequal Exchange 1965–1995,” November 1988; Hickel, The Divide, 290–91. Zak Cope, relying on a number of different ways of calculating the transfer of value via unequal exchange, came up with figures for 2009 of $2.6–4.9 trillion depending on the method used. Zak Cope, Divided World Divided Class (Montreal: Kersplebedeb, 2012), 262.
  55.  Amin, Modern Imperialism, 223–25.
  56.  John Smith, “Marx’s Capital and the Global Crisis,” in The Changing Face of Imperialism, ed. Sunanda Sen and Maria Cristina Marcuzzo (London: Routledge, 2018), 43-45; Imperialism in the Twenty-First Century, 252; Tony Norfield, “Imperialism, a Marxist Understanding,” Socialist Economist, March 22, 2019. On the wider issues of value capture, see Mariana Mazzucato, The Value of Everything (New York: PublicAffairs, 2018).
  57.  The role of “treasure islands,” primarily in the Caribbean, highlights the enormous offshore capital in tax havens. See Nicholas Shaxson, Treasure Islands (New York: Palgrave-Macmillan, 2011). Thomas Piketty has also highlighted the growing gap between investment/growth (the traditional role of capital) and the amassing of wealth. Thomas Piketty, Capital in the Twenty-First Century (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2014).
  58.  Amin, Modern Imperialism, 110–11.
  59.  “The Military Cost of Defending the Global Oil Supply,” Securing America’s Future Energy, September 21, 2018.
  60.  Norfield, The City, 123, 126.
  61.  On the shift toward a more aggressive imperialism following the demise of the Soviet Union, see John Bellamy Foster, Naked Imperialism (New York: Monthly Review Press, 2006).
  62.  Geoeconomics stands for the revival of economic warfare. For the grand strategy in this respect emanating from the Council on Foreign Relations, see Robert D. Blackwill and Jennifer M. Harris, War by Other Means (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2016).
  63.  Donald Trump, “President Trump Vows to Usher in Golden Era of American Energy Dominance,” June 30, 2017, http://whitehouse.gov.
  64.  See John Bellamy Foster, Trump in the White House (New York: Monthly Review Press, 2017).
  65.  On the history of social imperialism, see Bernard Semmel, Imperialism and Social Reform (Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1960).
  66.  Magdoff, Globalization, 4–5.
  67.  Marx and Engels, Collected Works, vol. 1, 180.
  68.  “A radical labor movement [in the North] cannot become a reality unless it is adamantly opposed to imperial wars, arms production and sales, the infiltration of the military into local economies and daily life, the patriotism of flags and national anthems, the mantra that we must all support the troops. In the Global North nationalism is a disease that impedes the global working-class solidarity essential for human liberation.” Michael D. Yates, Can the Working Class Change the World? (New York: Monthly Review Press, 2018), 160.
  69.  Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, The Communist Manifesto (New York: Monthly Review Press, 1964), 7.

Retail & bar workers set to lose flat rate expenses so millionaires can receive tax breaks

Almost 80,000 retail, bar and pharmacy workers are set to lose their flat rate expenses on January 1st 2020 so the government can hand a bonanza to highly-paid millionaire executives.

Retail, pharmacy and bar workers are currently entitled to claim between €93-€400 in a flat rate tax relief for costs incurred during their employment. For instance, the purchase, maintenance and cleaning of uniforms, as well as the purchase of tools of the trade, stationary and other essential work items.

Revenue has decided that low paid workers should lose these flat rate expenses while the Irish government appears happy to stand idly by as Mandate Trade Union members lose a valuable benefit they have enjoyed since the 1970s.

For a retail worker, they benefit by a measly €40 per year which barely covers the cost of cleaning their uniforms.

Revenue argue that workers can still make the claim, but that they must have receipts for any expenses. If they’d only be kind enough to suggest how you get a receipt for the electricity used when washing your clothes, or how to quantify the amount of washing powder needed per uniform?

The overall Flat Rate Espenses system was utilised by 600,000 workers in 2017 costing the exchequer €48m in total — or an average cost to the state of €80 per worker. We would argue this is hardly worth taking off low paid workers.

But then, perhaps revenue has decided others are more deserving?

SARP

In the 2020 Budget the Irish government announced the extension of the Special Assignee Relief Programme (SARP) scheme which gives tax relief of 30% on income over €75,000 to executives from foreign owned companies who are re-located to Ireland.

Revenue figures showed 18 people earning between €1 million and €10 million a year had benefitted from the scheme in 2016, with four of those people on salaries in excess of €3 million.

A detailed breakdown of costs involved showed how a person on €3 million a year would pay €351,000 less in tax under the scheme while someone on €9 million would get a €1.07 million write-off.

Part of the scheme also allows for tax relief on private school fees of up to €5,000 per child.

According to records, €600,000 worth of private tuition had been claimed for in 2016, the last year for which figures are available.

Meanwhile, the salaries of the teachers in those private schools are paid by you, the taxpayers.

SARP will be extended for another two years with it costing the exchequer €28.1m in tax foregone in 2017 and benefitting only 1,084 employees.

Think about that:
— the SARP scheme cost an average €26,000 for the 1,084 workers who availed of it; while
— the Flat Rate Expense system cost an average of €80 for the 600,000 workers who availed of it.

Can you see who the State prioritises?

SARP benefits 1,084 workers whereas Flat Rate Expenses benefit 600,000 workers

KEEP

Then there’s the Key Employee Engagement Programme (KEEP).
KEEP is an incentive brought in by the Irish government in 2017 that allows companies to pay executives up to €300,000 in shares which they do not have to pay income taxes on (PAYE, USC or PRSI).

The employee makes savings by only paying tax at the lower Capital Gains Tax rate of 33% when disposing of those shares, instead of the marginal income tax rate of 52% (PAYE, USC and PRSI combined). It was estimated in the last two Budgets that this would cost €10m per year.

So, join the dots. Highly paid executives are being awarded tax reliefs worth €40m per year while revenue is cutting Flat Rate Expenses from low paid workers saving €48m.

We have four by-elections coming up in Cork, Wexford and two in Dublin. It would do no harm to let politicians know what you think of these policies.

— — — — — — — — — — — — —

What are flat rate expenses?

Approximately 50 years ago trade unions negotiated for workers to be able to write off expenses accrued due to their employment for taxation purposes. This relief is for the purchase and maintenance of uniforms, tools and stationary, for instance. However, the flat rate means all workers in an employment category collect the same amount irrespective of how much expense they accrue.

How does it work?

The tax relief must be claimed by the worker because it is not automatically applied by Revenue. However, after you make your first claim, Revenue should have applied it every year thereafter.

The way it operates is quite simple. The relief allocated to your specific employment reduces your taxable income. For instance, if you are a retail worker and you earn €20,000 per year, your taxable income is reduced by €121 bringing it to €19,879.

What are the allowances?

The allowances vary based on the role you are employed in. A full list of the 53 employment categories with 134 individual flat rate expenses is available by clicking here. However, the industries appropriate to Mandate membership include:

  • Pharmacists — €400
  • Pharmaceutical Assistants (formerly known as Assistant Pharmacists) — €200
  • Shop Assistants (including supermarket staff, general shop workers, drapery and footwear assistants) — €121
  • Bar trade: employees — €93

How do I claim my allowance?

Under Revenue rules you are entitled to claim for the previous four years (2015, 2016, 2017 and 2018). The quickest and easiest way to claim Flat Rate Expenses is through PAYEAnytime, which is available online via Revenue’s MyAccount facility.

Abolish the Industrial Relations Act!

When trade unions originated back in the mid-1800s they were considered, and even referred to in law, as criminal conspiracies. Employers at the time were openly hostile to sharing profits with their workers. The advent of trade unions eventually gave some power to workers and weakened the position of the employers, but they were not defeated; and it was only through many years of struggle by organised workers that gains were eventually made.

Times and terminology may have changed, but relations between employers and employees have not. Employers’ sole purpose is to maximise the profit from employees’ labour.

Employers have learnt over time how to achieve this less controversially, but the results are the same. Today, inequality is at a record level, with no end in sight. According to the Central Bank, the richest 10 per cent of Irish-resident financial asset-holders (those with shares, financial investments, or deposits) now have €50 billion more than at the peak in 2006. So “austerity” worked very well for them.

At the same time as this growing inequality and erosion of working conditions, union density is at its lowest. And these two facts are related.

Little by little, the rules of engagement were changed. The carrot-and-stick approach was used to lull workers into a false sense of security. They are allowed to join unions—but employers don’t have to recognise them. “Social partnership” was agreed between unions, the state, and employers’ organisations. National pay agreements were entered into. This led to an end to negotiations on a company-by-company basis. This in turn led to less industrial action and fewer strikes.

The jewel in the crown was the Industrial Relations Act (1990), which took large areas of control and decision-making away from unions and their members and left them in the hands of employers and the courts. It also banned many of the tactics used by unions to achieve the gains won in the past, such as secondary picketing, support strikes, sit-ins, political strikes, and a plethora of other methods that had been successfully used in struggle.

The velvet war against union power was complete. Unions were no longer in the front line of struggle but had morphed into a support service for workers. This weakened the unions as they became involved in cosy national negotiations. They took their eye off the ball as, bit by bit, working conditions were eroded, inequality skyrocketed, and precarious employment replaced the permanent, pensionable jobs that had been secured through years of sustained union struggle.

With short-term contracts, minimum-hours contracts, bogus self-employment, and the “gig economy,” conditions have come full circle. Employers have brought working conditions for the majority of those now entering the work force right back to where they were when workers began to organise 150 years ago. The present generation of workers have no experience of radical union struggle and its victories.

It’s time for the trade union movement to go back to basics. We need to fight precarious working conditions, as our predecessors did. These battles will not be won in the board room but on the shop floor.

For workers to tip the balance of power away from employers, the 1990 act has to be abolished so as to give workers power over when and where they take action.

But there is nothing like poverty wages and poor working conditions to radicalise workers. History has a habit of repeating itself, and we must learn from it. Four unions have passed motions at their delegate conference calling for the 1990 act to be abolished: Mandate, Connect, Fórsa, and Unite.

The narrative has developed that the right to union access, union recognition and full collective bargaining will solve all our problems. These rights are certainly necessary for workers to tip the balance of power in their favour. We also need weapons to fight with, and that weapon is the right to strike, when and where workers choose to—not at a time that best suits employers.

Profit is the goal of employers. If unions have the power to hit their pockets by not allowing them to prepare in advance through excessive notice periods and endless court injunctions, they will have to take notice of demands. The threat alone will force them to take notice.

Working conditions are not the only thing that is destroying the lives of working people. The crisis in housing and in the health service and the slashing of all state services have pushed living standards back to levels not seen for fifty years. Back in the 1970s unions successfully called workers out onto the streets to demand tax reform. That was when union density was high, before the 1990 act, when unions could strike for political reasons and had the confidence to do so.

Unions need to lead from the front: to be seen to be confident, strong, and willing to fight for their members, and not only on pay but on all aspects of workers’ lives. We cannot do this unless we have the power to do so. Union recognition on its own is useless if our hands are tied behind our backs by legislation.

Politicians have abandoned ordinary working people. It’s up to the trade union movement to fight for decency in workers’ lives, along with better pay and conditions, to end the crisis in housing and the health service, to bring an end to precarious employment. Then, once again, workers will be proud to wear their union badge, as they were when Larkin and Connolly instilled pride, hope and confidence in the working class.

An extra 1 per cent in a pay deal helps workers. Abolishing the Industrial Relations Act will empower them.

Unions will have to become radical or become redundant.

Germany’s pyrrhic victory over the Berlin Wall ” Give me Socialism any day”

From The People’s World website

Victor Grossman is the author of A Socialist Defector: From Harvard to Karl-Marx-AlleeHe defected from the U.S. Army in 1952 to escape the Cold War repression of the Red Scare. He lived in the German Democratic Republic (East Germany) from then until the country went out of existence in 1990. He continues to live in Germany today and authored this commentary on the 30th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall.

BERLIN—Media jubilation reached a climax here on Nov. 9th, thirty years after the bumbling, perhaps even misunderstood decision to open the gate for all East Germans to stream through, hasten to the nearest West Berlin bank for their “welcome present” of 100 prized West German marks, and taste the joys of the western free market system.

Artists look over a reconstructed Berlin Wall during the art performance “Wall watching – Climb the wall together,” put on by the National Theatre of Weimar prior to the 30th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall in Weimar, Germany, Oct. 30, 2019. | Jens Meyer / AP

Within less than a year, they would end the experiment known as the German Democratic Republic to join and fully enjoy, the wealthy, healthy, prosperous united Germany, with its freedom of the press, speech, travel, and consumer bliss.

The jubilation of thirty years ago is easy to understand and to sympathize with. The ability, whenever and as often as desired, to meet and celebrate with friends and relatives sufficed to bring tears to many, many eyes and the almost universal cries of “Wahnsinn!”—“Simply crazy!”

But moving as those scenes were, and happy to so many in their recollections, a history-based, sterner evaluation awakens doubts that, despite the paeans in the world media, this was not purely a peaceful  revolution, a choice of freedom by the masses, another successful victory for freedom and justice as in past centuries. We recall that revolutions are complex, that the American Revolution was followed by Shay’s Rebellion, a bolstering of slavery, and a bloody six-year war which forced most Indians from Ohio. The short era of Robespierre meant almost a year in prison for Tom Paine. And enthusiastic crowds can also make very false judgments.

East Germans soon learned that freedom of the press was for those who owned the presses, that freedom of speech helped most those who ruled over studios and cable connections. Most tellingly, they learned very quickly that those 100 West-marks were soon spent and new ones, for all those glistening commodities and travels, had somehow to be earned, while over 95% of the industry they had built up was taken over by Westerners and, robbed of any machinery of value, for the most part, shut down. It was now very simple to move westwards; several million did, now not for freedom, consumer goods, or better-paid jobs but for any job at all.

Professors, teachers, scientists, journalists, and administrators at every level were thrown out, replaced by second- and third-string West Germans who were certain they could do everything better—and got “bush bonuses“ for making the sacrifice of taking over East Germany. For workers, the wage level today is still below that in the West, while jobless figures and the length of the workweek for those now finding a job are both above the figures in the West.

People carry a banner reading “I don’t regret anything,” a quote from Adolf Hitler’s deputy Rudolf Hess in Berlin Saturday, Aug. 18, 2018, at an event marking the 31st anniversary of Hess’s death. Neo-Nazi and anti-immigrant marches are a common occurence in today’s united Germany. | Christoph Soeder / dpa via AP

The victory thirty years ago brought other changes. The old GDR had, until the end, no drug problem, almost no AIDS, no organized crime, no school shootings, none of the free food banks now so prevalent, since people in the GDR, while lacking food items like oranges, bananas, and other southern imports, all had enough to eat. Nor was there anyone in those years begging or sleeping in the streets, since there were always jobs a-plenty and evictions were illegal. So was any discrimination against women, who got equal pay, at least a half-year paid maternal leave, free abortions, cheap summer vacations and summer camps, and one paid day off a month for household duties.

Oh yes, there were blunders a-plenty—stupidity, careerism, dogmatism. Envy and greed could not be eradicated from the human soul, but with almost no feverish competition, they were lessened, as the polls found. True, where people gained positions of power they were as capable of misusing it as elsewhere. Nor could all the remnants of fascist poison be erased from 16 million heads in one or two generations. But they were forbidden, and those with racist thoughts and prejudices kept them to themselves or within their closest circles, while truly masterful films, books, and plays endeavored to combat them. Today, Nazi thugs march every weekend, and the pro-fascist Alternative for Germany party has 94 seats in the Bundestag and won second place in three state elections.

Here we hit on the main problem with the breaking down of the Berlin Wall. The GDR had thrown out—lock, stock, and barrel—all the giant cartels and monopolies which profited from World War I, built up Hitler when, during the Depression, working people became rebellious, then earned billions from slave labor during World War II, and, after 1945, regained immense wealth and power.

In the West, Bayer and BASF, major perpetrators of Auschwitz, are on top of the chemical pile, worldwide now with Monsanto. Powerful old fascist fat cats like Daimler (Mercedes) and Quandt (BMW) are cheating the environmentalists, Rheinmetall and Heckler & Co. are again making billions with their tanks and guns and missiles. All their properties were confiscated by the GDR—which is why they hated it and conspired against it, successfully. Also because the GDR, as opposed to its rival in Bonn (capital of West Germany), supported the Algerians in their fight for freedom, Allende against Pinochet, Mandela and the ANC and SWAPO in Africa, Ho Chi Minh in Vietnam, and freedom fighters everywhere from Nicaragua to Aden.

The very existence of the GDR represented a barrier against further expansion by the Bayers with their control of ever more seed sources and their destruction of natural life, from frogs and butterflies to orchids, cacti and rain forests, but also against weapons makers who desire nothing more than further world tension, especially with Russia and China, the two main remaining barriers to world hegemony of the billionaires.

After 1945 and until 1990, no uniformed Germans were shooting presumed enemies anywhere in the world. With the GDR out of the way, the Bundeswehr, Germany’s army, flew missions and dropped bombs in the mountains of Afghanistan and trained soldiers in the desert sands of Mali—after beginning by bombing Serbia, repeating Germany’s crimes in two world wars.

United Germany’s Minister of Defense, Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, who hopes to become chancellor, has demanded that Germany play a far bigger role in today’s world and plans a big build-up of weapons to achieve this. She has found smiling support from Secretary of State Pompeo, who came to Berlin and joined in the hallelujahs for the victory of democracy thirty years earlier. Yes, Pompeo!

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo with German Defense Minister Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer in Berlin on Nov. 8, 2019. Pompeo was attending the 30th anniversary commemoration of the fall of the Berlin Wall. | Ron Przysucha / U.S. State Department

The GDR had countless faults and limitations, caused by poor leadership—mostly aged anti-fascist fighters, trying to save the endeavor to achieve socialism in at least this small corner of Germany, but overtaken by modern developments and never able to find rapport with large sections of a vacillating population tempted by daily TV images of a wonderful world in the Golden West, which had been built up to become one of the world’s richest countries.

The GDR was battered by a world of problems from all sides, domestic and foreign, pressured into “arming itself to the death” militarily, limited by the giant costs of the new electronic, computer age, with no help from the east and a boycott by the west, plus its giant humanitarian project—supplying good, modern homes for everyone while keeping rents to about one-tenth of income.

In the end, the odds were against it. But just as a World Series victory by the Washington Nationals did not mean that team was morally better but simply that at the time it was stronger, the defeat of the GDR did not mean that the system it was trying to develop, strengthen, and improve—socialism—was proven false by its defeat.

The opening of the Berlin War was seen then and is still regarded by many as a wonderful victory. Looking around today’s deteriorating situation in Germany and much of Europe, with fascist movements on the rise and world-destroying weapons deployed and maneuvering dangerously, one might well recall the words of the Greek general Pyrrhus. After beating the Romans in the Battle of Asculum in 279 BCE, but with terrible losses for his own troops, he is quoted as saying: “Another such victory and we are lost!”


CONTRIBUTOR

Victor Grossman
Victor Grossman 

Victor Grossman is a journalist from the U.S. now living in Berlin. He fled in the 1950s in danger of reprisals for his left-wing activities at Harvard and in Buffalo, New York. He landed in the former German Democratic Republic (Socialist East Germany), studied journalism, founded a Paul Robeson Archive and became a freelance journalist and author. His books available in English: Crossing the River. A Memoir of the American Left, the Cold War, and Life in East Germany. His latest book,  A Socialist Defector: From Harvard to Karl-Marx-Alleeis about his life in the German Democratic Republic from 1949 – 1990, tremendous improvements for the people under socialism, reasons for the fall of socialism, and importance of today’s struggles.

International Solidarity:McDonald’s strike: frustrated UK workers launch ‘McStrike’ against ‘poverty pay’

The McDonald’s workers are calling for their wages to be increased to £15 an hour, for an end to youth rates, the choice of guaranteed hours of up to 40 hours a week, notice of shifts four weeks in advance, and recognition of the Bakers Food and Allied Workers’ Union (BFAWU) which represents the employees.

The strike is taking place on a global day of action for fast food employees called by the International Union of Food Workers, which will see events in countries including France, Belgium, Brazil, Chile and New Zealand.

‘We are tired of being exploited’

The workers first took strike action in 2017 over the company’s “failure to offer them acceptable working conditions, job security or even an affordable living wage”.

According to employment website indeed.co.uk, the average worker is paid £7.31 per hour at the fast food chain in the UK, with managers earning £16,485.

 
 

While the real living wage has risen to £9.30 an hour, and £10.75 in London, McDonald’s employees aged between 18 and 20 can be paid as little as £6.85 an hour.

One McDonald’s employee, 32-year-old Melissa Evans, who is struggling to pay her basic outgoings on her wage, wants to show her son that “poverty is not the only option”.

Ms Evans, who works at McDonald’s in Wandsworth, said: “I need £15 an hour so I can show my son that poverty is not the only option. Me and my colleagues are coming together in a union to show the world that McDonald’s workers deserve the same level of respect as everyone else.

“We are coming together to tackle poverty pay, insecurity of hours and lack of respect which has gone on at McDonald’s for too long. We are going on strike as workers around the world take action to hold this global multinational to account for the way that it treats its workers. We are tired of being exploited, but together we are powerful. We will win a new deal for McDonald’s workers.”

An employee at Crayford McDonald’s in London, Lewis Baker, said he is striking because he struggles to pay rent on his income of £8.80 an hour.

Mr Baker, 29, said: “There are a lot of workers who are struggling to pay their bills and get by day to day.

 
 

“We don’t have set hours, so we don’t always earn enough to pay the bills.

“If we got £15 an hour, it would have a massive impact – I would be able to afford to pay my rent, to pay my bills, go on holiday and have some kind of work-life balance.

“I think it’s important to strike against massive corporations like McDonald’s who are making millions.”

Mr Baker, who has worked at McDonald’s for six years, later said on Twitter this is the fourth time he is striking over pay and a “lack of basic respect”.

“McDonald’s workers everywhere face poverty pay, insecure hours and a lack of basic respect. But we are growing bigger with every strike and together we will win,” he said.

Struggling to pay rent and bills

Mr McLean-Bolingoli, 22, said he left the job in December 2017 after being told to work night shifts despite his bosses knowing he was a young carer.

 
 

He said: “The staff are more or less seen as expendable, as they know there will always be new high school and uni students taking up positions.

“I left because I had been scheduled to work overnight shifts for the first time since explaining that, as a carer for my mother, who has MS, I couldn’t work overnight shifts.”

The former employee, who now earns double his McDonald’s wage, said the low pay for employees translates into bad customer service.

He said: “I was told by a guy on my first day, ‘we don’t get paid enough to care about getting normal burgers exactly right’, and obviously that attitude lets things down for the customer.”

Workers’ union BFAWU said the company’s high profits gives it no excuse for paying “poverty wages”.

A BFAWU spokesperson told i: “The workers are taking action because even though they are working, they are still living in poverty, struggling to pay their rent and their bills despite working for one of the most profitable companies in the world. This is a company that is worth billions of pounds.”

 
 

Shadow chancellor John McDonnellLabour MP Laura Pidcock and TUC General Secretary Frances O’Grady will address demonstrators at the rally after striking workers hand in their demands to Downing Street.

Mr McDonnell said: “A Labour government will take on the big corporations such as McDonald’s to stop them from paying out poverty wages.

“Labour’s commitment to a £10-an-hour real living wage and an end to in-work poverty will help millions of low-paid workers across the country.”

Anti-poverty charity War on Want and the Trades Union Congress will also be supporting the workers.

‘We remain committed to our people’

A McDonald’s spokesperson said: “We are extremely disappointed that a very small number of our people in just a handful of our restaurants are considering industrial action. We understand only nine people are involved across six restaurants, which is a tiny proportion of our 130,000 workforce and 1,300 restaurants. Their potential actions do not represent our people. We are committed to investing in our workforce, listening to and doing what is right by them.

“As a growing and successful organisation we, along with our franchisees, will continue to invest in our people and create quality jobs and opportunities for all. We regularly review pay and benefits to ensure we are rewarding our people, and we pay well above the government minimum wage.

 
 

“The BFAWU is calling for 40 hour guaranteed contracts, which is something we already offer – but has been chosen by very few of our people. With all given the choice, around 90per cent of our employees have chosen to remain on flexible contracts, valuing the ability to work their shifts around their lives.

“We remain committed to our people and value the contribution they make to our organisation, and would like to reassure them, and our customers, that the six restaurants will remain open if industrial action takes place.”

American businessman Chris Kempczinski became McDonald’s chief executive last week, after former boss Steve Easterbrook was fired for having a relationship with an unnamed employee.

Mr Easterbrook left with stock awards worth £29 million along with a severance payment of £505,000, and his successor will earn the equivalent of £97,000 a year plus a target bonus of £165,500.

The American fast food company has a market value of £113 billion and employs 130,000 people in the UK.

Additional reporting by PA