Imperialism and disorganic development in the silicon age

*This is a development and reformulation of a paper originally given at the Three Worlds or One Conference, Berlin, June 1979. Published first in Race & Class, 21/2,  Autumn 1979.

One epoch does not lead tidily into another. Each epoch carries with it a burden of the past – an idea perhaps, a set of values, even bits and pieces of an outmoded economic and political system. And the longer and more durable the previous epoch the more halting is the emergence of the new.

The classic centre-periphery relationship as represented by British colonialism and the inter-imperialist rivalries of that period had come to an end with the Second World War. A new colonialism was emerging with its centre of gravity in the United States of America; a new economic order was being fashioned at Bretton Woods. Capital labour, trade were to be unshackled of their past inhibitions and the world opened up to accumulation on a scale more massive than ever before. The instruments of that expansion – the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade, the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank were ready to go into operation. *Even so, it took the capitalist nations of western Europe, Japan and the United States some twenty-five years to rid themselves of the old notions of national boundaries and ‘lift the siege against multinational enterprises so that they might be permitted to get on with the unfinished business of developing the world economy’ (Rockefeller). The Trilateral Commission was its acknowledgement.
* GATT was set up to regulate trade between nations, the IMF to help nations adjust to free trade by providing balance-of-payments financial assistance, the World Bank to facilitate the movement of capital to war-torn Europe and aid to developing countries.

Britain, hung up in its colonial past, was to lag further behind. It continued, long after the war. to seek fresh profit from an old relationship most notably through the continued exploitation of colonial labour, but this time at the centre. So that when the rest of Europe, particularly Germany, was reconstructing its industries and infrastructure with a judicious mix of capital and labour (importing labour as and when required), Britain, with easy access to cheap black labour and easy profit from racial exploitation, resorted to labour-intensive production. And it was in the nature of that colonial relationship that the immigrants should have come as settlers and not as labourers on contract.

The history of British immigration legislation including the present calls for repatriation is the history of Britain’s attempt to reverse the colonial trend and to catch up with Europe and the new world order.

That order, having gone through a number of overlapping phases since the war, now begins to emerge with distinctive features. These on the one hand, reflect changes in the international division of labour and of production, involving the movement of capital to labour (from centre to periphery) which in turn involves the movement of labour as between the differing peripheries. On the other hand, they foreshadow a new industrial revolution based on micro electronics and a new imperialism, accelerating the ‘disorganic development’ of the periphery. And it is to these new developments in capitalist imperialism that I want to address myself, moving between centre and periphery and between peripheries – as the investigation takes me, bearing in mind that these are merely notes for further study.

The early post-war phase of this development need not detain us here, except to note that the industrialisation undertaken by the newly independent countries of Asia and Africa (Latin America had begun to industrialise between the wars) put them further in hock to foreign capital, impoverished their agriculture and gave rise to a new bourgeoisie and a bureaucratic elite. The name of the game was import substitution, its end the favourable balance of trade, its economic expression state capitalism, its political raison d’être bourgeois nationalism. Not fortuitously, this period coincided with the export of labour to the centre.


By the 1960s, however, the tendency of labour to move to capital was beginning to be reversed. The post-war reconstruction of Europe was over, manufacturing industries showed declining profit margins and capital was looking outside for expansion. The increasing subordination of Third World economies to multinational corporations made accessible a cheap and plentiful supply of labour in the periphery, in Asia in particular. Advances in technology – in transport, communications, information and data processing and organisation rendered geographical distances irrelevant and made possible the movement of plant to labour, while ensuring centralised control of production. More importantly, technological development had further fragmented the labour process, so that the most unskilled worker could now perform the most complex operations.

For its part, the periphery, having failed to take off into independent and self sustained growth through import substitution, * turned to embrace export-oriented industrialisation the manufacture of textiles, transistors, leather goods, household appliances and numerous consumer items. But capital had first to be assured that it could avail itself of tax incentives, repatriate its profits, obtain low-priced factory sites and, not least, be provided with a labour force that was as docile and undemanding as it was cheap and plentiful. Authoritarian regimes, often set up by American intervention provided those assurances and Free Trade Zones provided their viability.**
*Even in the period of import-substitution more succinctly described by the Japanese as export-substitution investment the multinational corporations were able to move in behind tariff barriers to produce locally what they had hitherto imported
**The first Free Trade Zone was established at Shannon airport in Ireland in 1958 and was followed by Taiwan in 1965. In 1967 the United Nations Industrial Development Organisation was set up to promote industrialisation in developing countries and soon embarked on the internationalisation of Free Trade Zones into a global system. South Korea established a Free Trade Zone in 1970, the Philippines in 1972 and Malaysia in the same year By 1974, Egypt, Gambia, Ivory Coast, Kenya, Senegal, Sri Lanka Jamaica, Liberia, Syria, Trinidad & Tobago and Sudan were asking UNIDO to draw up plans for Free Trade Zones. (Ampo, op.cit.) Sri Lanka set up its Free Trade Zone last year soon after a right-wing government had taken power, albeit through the ballot box.

The pattern of imperialist exploitation was changing – and with it the international division of production and of labour. The centre no longer supplied the manufactured goods and the periphery the raw materials. Instead the former provided the plant and the know-how while the latter supplied primary products and manufactures. Or, as the Japanese Ministry of Trade in its ‘Long Term Vision of Industrial Structure expressed i Japan would retain ‘high-technology and knowledge-intensive industries’ which yielded ‘high added value while industries ‘such as textiles which involve a low degree of processing and generate low added value [would] be moved to developing countries where labour costs are low. 

Or, as Samir Amin put it in Imperialism and Unequal Development, the centre of gravity of the exploitation of labour by capital (and in the first place, by monopoly capital which dominates the system as a whole) had been displaced from the centre of the system to the periphery’.

The parameters of that new economic order are best expressed in the purpose and philosophy of the Trilateral Commission. Founded in 1973, under the sponsorship of David Rockefeller of the Chase Manhattan Bank, the Commission brought together representatives of the world’s most powerful banks, corporations, communications conglomerates, and international organisations plus top politicians and a few free’ trade unions and trade union federations (from North America, Europe and Japan) to reconcile the contradictions of transnational capital, while at the same time checking ‘the efforts of national governments to seize for their own countries a disproportionate share of the benefits generated by foreign direct investment.’ As Richard Falk puts it: The vistas of the Trilateral Commission can be understood as the ideological perspective representing the transnational outlook of the multinational corporation’ which ‘seeks to subordinate territorial politics to non-territorial economic goals.’

And for the purposes of that subordination, it was necessary to distinguish between the differing peripheries the oil-producing countries and the ‘newly-industrialising countries, and the under developed countries proper (which the Commission terms the ‘Fourth World’). The implications of this new imperial ordinance for labour migration not, as before, between centre and periphery but as between the peripheries themselves – are profound, the consequences for these countries devastating. The oil-rich Gulf states, for instance have sucked in whole sections of the working population, skilled and semi-skilled, of South Asia, leaving vast holes in the labour structure of these countries. Moratuwa, a coastal town in Sri Lanka, once boasted some of the finest carpenters in the world. Today there are none they are all in Kuwait or in Muscat or Abu Dhabi. And there are no welders, masons, electricians, plumbers, mechanics – all gone. And the doctors, teachers, engineers- they have been long gone in the first wave of post-war migration to Britain, Canada USA, Australia, in the second to Nigeria, Zambia, Ghana. Today Sri Lanka, which had the first free health service in the Third World and some of the finest physicians and surgeons, imports its doctors from Marcos’ Philippines. What that must do to the Filipino people is another matter, but all that we are left with in Sri Lanka is a plentiful supply of unemployed labour, which is now being herded into the colony within the neo-colony, the Free Trade Zone.

Or take the case of Pakistan, which shows a similar pattern of emigration, except that being a Muslim country the pull of the Gulf is even stronger Besides, the export of manpower as a foreign exchange earner- is official policy, a Bureau of Emigration having been set up in 1969 to facilitate employment overseas. Consequently Pakistan ‘is being progressively converted into a factory producing skilled manpower for its rich neighbours’. But the export of skilled workers is not the only drain on Pakistan’s resources. Apart from its traditional export of primary products, its physical proximity to the oil-rich countries has meant also the smuggling out of fresh vegetables, the sale of fish in mid-seas and the export, often ilegal, of beef and goat meat. (The Gulf states raise no cattle.) The adverse effects of this trade’, laments Feroz Ahmed, ‘can be judged from the fact that Pakistan has one of the lowest per capita daily consumptions of animal protein in the world: less than 10 grams.’ 

The Middle East countries in turn have only invested in those enterprises which are geared to their own needs (textiles, cement fertiliser, livestock) and rendered Pakistan’s economy subservient to their interests. And to make this ‘development of underdevelopment palatable they harked back to a common culture. Iranian cultural centres sprouted in every major town in Pakistan, outdoing the Americans, and the teaching of Arabic and Persian was fostered by official policy. ‘We the Pakistanis and our brethren living in Iran’ wrote a Pakistani paper, ‘are the two Asiatic branches of the Aryan Tree who originally lived in a common country, spoke the same language, followed the same religion, worshipped the same gods and observed the same rites…Culturally we were and are a single people’. 

But if Pakistan has been relegated, in the pecking order of imperialism, ‘to the status of a slave substratum upon which the imperialist master and their privileged clients play out their game of plunder and oppression’,  the privileged clients themselves exhibit a distorted development. Take Kuwait for instance. In the pre-oil era Kuwait’s economy was based on fishing, pearling, pasturing, trade and a little agriculture. Today all these activities, with the exception of fishing, have virtually ceased- and fishing has been taken over by a company run by the ruling family. The oil industry, while providing the government with 99 per cent of its income, affords employment only to a few thousand. Almost three-fourths of the native work force is in the service sector, with little or nothing to do. (A UN survey estimated that the Kuwaiti civil servant works 17 minutes a day.)] But more than 70 per cent of the total work force and over half the total population consists of non-Kuwaiti immigrant labour. And they are subjected to harsh conditions of work, low wages, no trade union rights, wretched housing and arbitrary deportation. Kuwait is, in effect, two societies, but even within the first ‘the ruling elite lives in a swamp of consumer commodities and luxuries, while those at the bottom of the Kuwaiti social pyramid are being uprooted from their traditional productive activities and thrown on the market of unproductiveness.

The pattern of labour migration in South-east Asia is a variation on the same imperial theme, and its consequences no less devastating. The first countries to industrialise in this region were Taiwan in the 1950s and, in the 1960s, South Korea, Singapore and Hong Kong Taiwan and South Korea were basically offshore operations of the USA and Japan – and, by virtue of their strategic importance to America, were able to develop heavy industry (ship building, steel vehicles) and chemicals in addition to the usual manufacture of textiles, shoes, electrical goods, etc. And by the middle of the 1970s, these two countries had gone over from being producers of primary products to producers of manufactured goods. Singapore’s industrialisation includes ship repair (Singapore is the fourth largest port in the world) and the construction industry. Hong Kong, the closest thing to a free economy’, is shaped by the world market.

What all these countries could offer multinational capital, apart from a ‘favourable climate of investment’ (repatriation of profit, tax holidays, etc.) was authoritarian regimes (Hong Kong is a colonv) with a tough line on dissidence in the work force and a basic infrastructure of power and communications. What they did not have was a great pool of unemployed workers. That was provided by the neighbouring countries. 

Hong Kong uses all the migrant labour available in the region including workers from mainland China, and is currently negotiating with the Philippines government for the import of Filipino labour. South Korea’s shortage of labour, by the very nature of its development, has been in the area of skilled workers. (Not illogically South Korea has been priced out of its own skilled workers, some 70,000 of them, by the developing oil-rich countries of the Middle East.) But it is Singapore which is the major employer of contract labour – from Malaysia mostly (40 per cent of the industrial work force) but also from Indonesia, the Philippines and Thailand – and that under the most horrendous conditions. For apart from the usual strictures on gastarbeiters that we are familiar with in Europe, such as no right of settlement, no right to change jobs without permission and deportation if jobless, Singapore also forbids these workers to marry, except after five years, on the showing of a ‘clean record’, and then with the permission of the government and that on signing a bond that both partners will agree to be sterilised after the second child is born. Lee Kuan Yew, with a nod to Hitler, justifies the policy on the ground that ‘a multiple replacement rate right at the bottom leads to ‘a gradual lowering of the general quality of the population.’ Their working conditions too are insanitary and dangerous and makeshift shacks on worksites (like the bidonvilles) provide their only housing. 

And yet the plight of the indigenous workers of these countries is not much better. The economic miracle is not for them. Their lives contrast glaringly with the luxury apartments, automobiles and swinging discos of the rich. To buy a coffee and sandwich on a thoroughfare of Singapore costs a day’s wage, in South Korea 12- and 13-year-old girls work 18 hours a day, 7 days a week, for £12 a month and Hong Kong is notorious for its exploitation of child labour.

How long the repressive regimes of these countries can hold down their work force on behalf of international capital is a moot point- but multinationals do not wait to find out. They do not stay in one place. They gather their surplus while they may and move on to new pastures their miracles to perform.

The candidates for the new expropriation were Indonesia, Thailand, Malaysia and the Philippines whose economies were primarily based on agriculture and on extractive industries such as mining and timber. Like the first group of countries they too could boast of authoritarian regimes – ordained by the White House, fashioned by the Pentagon and installed by the CIA – which could pave the way for international capital. Additionally, they were able to provide the cheap indigenous labour which the other group had lacked – and the Free Trade Zones to go with it. What they did not have, though, was a developed infrastructure.

Multinationals had already moved into these countries by the 1970s and some industrialisation was already under way. What accelerated that movement, however, was the tilt to cheap labour, as against a developed infrastructure, brought about by revolutionary changes in the production process To that revolution, variously described as the new industrial revolution, the third industrial revolution and the post-industrial age must now turn – not so much to look at labour migration as labour polarisation between the periphery and the centre, and within the centre itself, and its social and political implications in both.


What has caused the new industrial revolution and brought about a qualitative leap in the level of the productive forces is the silicon chip or, more accurately, the computer-on-a-chip, known as the micro-processor. (You have already seen them at work in your digital watch and your pocket calculator.) 

The ancestry of the microprocessor need not concern us here except to note that it derives from the electronic transistor, invented by American scientists in 1947- which in turn led to the semi-conductor industry in 1952-3 and in 1963, to the integrated circuit industry. Integrated circuits meant that various electronic elements such as transistors, resistors, diodes, etc. could all be combined on a tiny chip of semi-conductor silicon, ‘which in the form of sand is the world’s most common element next to oxygen’. But if industrially the new technology has been in existence for sixteen years, it is only in the last five that it has really taken off. The periodisation of its development is important because it is not unconnected with the postwar changes in the international division of production and of labour and the corresponding movements and operations of the multinational corporations. 

The microprocessor is to the new industrial revolution what steam and electricity was to the old – except that where steam and electric power replaced human muscle, microelectronics replaces the brain. That, quite simply, is the measure of its achievement. Consequently there is virtually no field in manufacturing, the utilities, the service industries or commerce that is not affected by the new technology. Microprocessors are already in use in the control of power stations textile mills, telephone-switching systems, office-heating and type- setting as well as in repetitive and mechanical tasks such as spraying welding, etc. in the car industry. Fiat, for instance, has a television commercial which boasts that its cars are ‘designed by computers, silenced by lasers and hand-built by robots’ – to the strains of Figaro’s aria (from Rossini). Volkswagen designs and sells its own robots for spot welding and handling body panels between presses. Robots, besides, can be re-programmed for different tasks more easily than personnel can be re-trained. And because microprocessors can be re-programmed, automated assembly techniques could be introduced into areas hitherto immune to automation, such as batch production (which incidentally constitutes 70 per cent of the production in British manufacturing). From this has grown the idea of linking together a group of machines to form an unmanned manufacturing system, which could produce anything from diesel engines to machine tools and even aeroengines. And ‘once the design of the unmanned factory has been standardised, entire factories could be produced on a production line based on a standard design’.  The Japanese are close to achieving the ‘universal factory. ‘

A few examples from other areas of life will give you some idea of the pervasiveness of microelectronics. In the retail trade, for instance the electronic cash register, in addition to performing its normal chores, monitors the stock level by keeping tabs on what has been sold at all the terminals and relays that information to computers in the warehouse which then automatically move the necessary stocks to the shop. A further line-up between computerised check-outs at stores and computerised bank accounts will soon do away with cash transactions, directly debiting the customer’s account and crediting the store’s. Other refinements such as keeping a check on the speed and efficiency of employees have also grown out of such computerisation in Denmark, for instance (but it has been resisted by the workers)

There are chips in everything you buy cookers, washing machines, toasters, vacuum cleaners, clocks, toys, sewing machines motor vehicles replacing standard parts and facilitating repair: you take out one chip and put in another. One silicon chip in an electronic sewing machine for example replaces 350 standard parts.

But it is in the service sector, particularly in he matter of producing, handling, storing and transmitting information, that silicon technology has had its greatest impact. Up to now automation has not seriously affected office work which, while accounting for 75 per cent of the costs in this sector (and about half the operating costs of corporations), is also the least productive, thereby depressing the overall rate of productivity. One of the chief reasons for this is that office work is divided into several tasks (typing, filing, processing retrieving, transmitting and so forth) which are really inter-connected.The new technology not only automates these tasks but integrates them. For example, the word processor, consisting of a keyboard, a visual display unit, a storage memory unit and a print-out, enables one typist to do the work of four while at the same time reducing the skill she needs. Different visual display units (VDUS) can then be linked to the company’s mainframe computer, to other computers within the country (via computer network systems) and even to those in other countries through satellite communication – all of which makes possible the electronic mail and the electronic funds transfer (EFT) which would dispense with cash completely.

What this link-up between the office, the computer and tele-communications means is the ‘convergence’ of previously separate industries. Convergence’ is defined by the Butler Cox Foundation as ‘the process by which these three industries are coming to depend on a single technology. They are becoming, to all intents and purposes three branches of a single industry’. [15] But ‘convergence’ to you and me spells the convergence of corporations, horizontal (and vertical) integration, monopoly. A ‘convergence’ of Bell Telephones and IBM computers would take over the world’s communication facilities. (Whether the anti-trust laws in America have already been bent to enable such a development I do not know, but it is only a matter of time.)

Underscoring the attributes and applications of the microprocessor is the speed of its advance and the continuing reduction in its costs Sir leuan Maddock, Secretary of the British Association for the Advancement of Science, estimates that ‘in terms of the gates it can contain, the performance of a single chip has increased ten thousand fold in a period of 15 years’. And of its falling cost, he says, ‘the price of each unit of performance has reduced one hundred thousand fold since the early 1960s’. 

These are not just marginal effects’, continues Sir leuan, ‘to be absorbed in a few per cent change in the economic indicators – they are deep and widespread and collectively signal a fundamental and irreversible change in the way the industrialised societies will live…Changes of such magnitude and speed have never been experienced before.

The scope of these changes have been dealt with in the growing literature on the subject. But they have mostly been concerned with the prospects of increasing and permanent unemployment particularly in the service industries and in the field of unskilled manual employment in both of which blacks and women predominate. A study by Siemens estimates that 40 per cent of all office work in Germany is suitable for automation- which, viewed from the other side, means a 40 per cent lay off of office workers in the next ten years The Nora report warns that French banking and insurance industries, which are particularly labour intensive, will lose 30 per cent of their work force by 1990. Unemployment in Britain is expected to rise by about 3 million in that time. Other writers have pointed to a polarisation in the work force itself – as between a small technological elite on the one hand and a large number of unskilled unemployable workers, counting among their number those whose craft has become outmoded. Or, as the Chairman of the British Oil Corporation, Lord Kearton, puts it: ‘we have an elite now of a very special kind at the top on which most of mankind depends for its future development and the rest of us are more or less taken along in the direct stream of these elite personnel.”
* Of course there are those (guess who) who suggest that automation will not only release people from dirty, boring jobs and into more interesting work. but even enhance job prospects

All the remedies that the British Trades Union Congress has been able to suggest are ‘new technology agreements’ between government and union, ‘continuing payments to redundant workers related to their past earnings’ and ‘opportunities for linking technological change with a reduction in the working week, working year and working life time.’ The Association of Scientific Technical and Managerial Staffs (ASTMS), whose members are more immediately affected by automation, elevates these remedies into a philosophy which encompasses a changed attitude towards work that would ‘promote a better balance between working life and personal life. ‘recurrent education throughout adult life and a new system of income distribution which in effect will ‘pay people not to work.’

But, in the performance, these are precisely the palliatives that enlightened capitalism (i.e. multinational capitalism as opposed to the archaic private enterprise capitalism of Margaret Thatcher and her mercantile minions) offers the working class in the silicon age.Translated into the system’s terms, ‘new technology agreements’ mean a continuing social contract between the unions and the government wherein the workers abjure their only power, collective bargaining (and thereby take the politics out of the struggle) and a new culture which divorces work from income (under the guise of life-long education, part-time work, early retirement, etc.) and provides the raison d’être for unemployment. Already the protagonists of the establishment have declared that the Protestant work ethic is outdated (what has work got to do with income?), that leisure should become a major occupation (university departments are already investigating its ‘potential) that schooling is not for now but for ever.

I am not arguing here against technology or a life of creative leisure. Anything that improves the lot of man is to be welcomed. But in capitalist society such improvement redounds to the few at cost to the many. That cost has been heavy for the working class in the centre and heavier for the masses in the periphery. What the new industrial revolution predicates is the further degradation of work where, as Braverman so brilliantly predicted, thought itself is eliminated from the labour process, the centralised ownership of the means of production, a culture of reified leisure to mediate discontent and a political system incorporating the state, the multinationals, the trade unions, the bureaucracy and the media, backed by the forces of law and order with microelectronic surveillance at their command. For in as much as liberal democracy was the political expression of the old industrial revolution, the corporate state is the necessary expression of the new. The qualitative leap in the productive forces ensnared in capitalist economics, demands such an expression. Or to put it differently, the contradiction between the heightened centralisation in the ownership of the means of production – made possible not only by the enormous increase in the level of productivity but also by the technological nature of that increase- and the social nature of production (however attenuated) can no longer be mediated by liberal democracy but by corporatism, with an accompanying corporate culture, and state surveillance to go with it.

But nowhere, in all the chip literature, is there a suggestion of any of this. Nor is there in British writings on the subject,* with the exception of the CIS report, any hint of a suggestion that the new industrial revolution, like the old, has taken off on the backs of the workers in the peripheries that t is they who will provide the ‘living dole’ for the unemployed of the West. For, the chip, produced in the pleasant environs of ‘Silicon Valley’ in California, has its circuitry assembled in the toxic factories of Asia. Or, as a Conservative Political Centre publication puts it, ‘while the manufacture of the chips requires expensive equipment in a dust-free, air-conditioned environment little capital is necessary to assemble them profitably. into saleable devices. And it is the assembly that creates both the wealth and the jobs. ‘
*American writers, however, have done better in this regard. See in particular the articles of lon Stewart and John Markoff in the Pacific News Service and Rachael Grossman et al in the Special issue of Southeast Asia Chronicle

Initially the industry went to Mexico, but Asia was soon considered the cheaper. (Besides ‘Santa Clara was only a telex away.’) And even within Asia the moves were to cheaper and cheaper areas: from Hong Kong, Taiwan, South Korea and Singapore in the 1960s, to Malaysia in 1972, Thailand in 1973, the Philippines and Indonesia in 1974 and soon to Sri Lanka. The manager of a plant in Malaysia explained how profitable these moves had been: “one worker working one hour produces enough to pay the wages of 10 workers working one shift plus all the costs of materials and transport”.

But the moves the industry makes are not just from country to country but from one batch of workers to another within the country itself. For, the nature of the work – the bonding under a microscope of tiny hair-thin wires to circuit boards on wafers of silicon chip half the size of a fingernail – shortens working life. ‘After 3 or 4 years of peering through a microscope, reports Rachael Grossman, ‘a worker’s vision begins to blur so that she can no longer meet the production quota.’ But if the microscope does not get her (‘grandma where are your glasses is how electronic workers over 25 are greeted in Hong Kong), the bonding chemicals do. And why ‘her? Because they are invariably women. For, as a Malaysian brochure has it, the manual dexterity of the oriental female is famous the world over. Her hands are small and she works fast with extreme care. Who, therefore, could be better qualified by nature and inheritance to contribute to the efficiency of a bench assembly production line than the oriental girl?”
*’Workers who must dip components in acids and rub them with solvents frequently experience serious burns, dizziness, nausea, sometimes even losing their fingers in accidents. It will be 10 or 15 years before the possible carcinogenic effects begin to show up in the women who work with them now’

To make such intense exploitation palatable, however, the multi nationals offer the women a global culture beauty contests, fashion shows, cosmetic displays and disco dancing – which in turn enhances the market for consumer goods and western beauty products. Tourism reinforces the culture and reinforces prostitution (with packaged sex tours for Japanese businessmen), drug selling, child labour. For the woman thrown out of work on the assembly line at an early age the wage earner for the whole extended family, prostitution is often the only form of livelihood left.

A global culture then, to go with a global economy, serviced by global office the size of a walkie-talkie held in your hand* – a global assembly line run by global corporations that move from one pool of labour to another, discarding them when done – high technology in the centre, low technology in the peripheries- and a polarisation of the workforce within the centre itself (as between the highly skilled and unskilled or de-skilled) and as between the centre and the peripheries, with qualitatively different rates of exploitation that allow the one to feed off the other a corporate state maintained by surveillance for the developed countries, authoritarian regimes and gun law for the developing. That is the size of the new world order.
*See The Day After Tomorrow, by Peter Large, Guardian (17 February 1979)


But it is not without its contradictions. Where those contradictions are sharpest, however, are where they exist in the raw – in the peripheries. For what capitalist development has meant to the masses of these countries is increased poverty, the corruption of their cultures, repressive regimes and all at once. All the GNP they amass for their country through their incessant labour leaves them poorer than before. They produce what is of no real use to them and yet cannot buy what they produce – neither use value nor exchange value neither the old system nor the new.

And how they produce has no relation to how they used to produce. They have not grown into the one from the other. They have not emerged into capitalist production but been flung into it – into technologies and labour processes that reify them and into social relations that violate their customs and their codes. They work in the factories, in town, to support their families, their extended families, in the village to contribute to the building of the village temple, to help get a teacher for the school, to sink a well. But the way of their working socialises them into individualism, nuclear families, consumer priorities, artefacts of capitalist culture. They are caught between two modes, two sets, of social relations, characterised by exchange value in the one and use value in the other – and the contradiction disorients them and removes them from the centre of their being. And not just the workers, but the peasants too – they have not escaped the capitalist mode. And all it has done is to wrench them from their social relations and their relationship with the land. Within a single life-time, they have had to exchange sons for tractors and tractors for petrochemicals. And these things too have taken them from themselves in space and in time. 

And what happens to all this production, from the land and from the factories? Where does all the GNP go – except to faceless foreign exploiters in another country and a handful of rich in their own? And who the agents but their own rulers. In sum, what capitalist development has meant to the masses of these countries is production without purpose, except to stay alive; massive immiseration accompanied by a wholesale attack on the values, relationships, gods that made such immiseration bearable rulers who rule not for their own people but for someone else — a development that makes no sense, has no bearing on their lives, is disorganic

To state it at another level. The economic development that capital has super-imposed on the peripheries has been unaccompanied by capitalist culture or capitalist democracy. Whereas, in the centre the different aspects of capitalism (economic, cultural political) have evolved gradually, organically, out of the centre’s own history, in the periphery the capitalist mode of production has been grafted on to the existing cultural and political order. Peripheral capitalism is not an organised body of connected, interdependent parts sharing a common life – it is not an organism. What these countries exhibit, therefore, is not just ‘distorted’ or ‘disarticulated development (Samir Amin), but disorganic development: an economic system (itself ‘extraverted’) at odds with the cultural and political institutions of the people it exploits. The economic system, that is, is not mediated by culture or legitimated by politics, as in the centre. The base and the superstructure do not complement and reinforce each other. (That is not to say that they are in perfect harmony at the centre.) They are in fundamental conflict and exploitation is naked, crude, unmediated – although softened by artefacts of capitalist culture and capitalist homilies on human rights. And that contradiction is not only general to the social formation but, because of capitalist penetration, runs right through the various modes of production comprising the social formation. At some point therefore, the political system has to be extrapolated from the superstructure and made to serve as a cohesive – and coercive – force to maintain the economic order of things. The contradiction between superstructure and base now resolves into one between the political regime and the people, with culture as the expression of their resistance. And it is cultural resistance which, in Cabral’s magnificent phrase, takes on ‘new forms (political, economic, armed) in order fully to contest foreign domination.’

But culture in the periphery is not equally developed in all sectors of society. It differs as between the different modes of production but, again as Cabral says, it does have ‘a mass character’. Similarly at the economic level, the different exploitations in the different modes confuse the formal lines of class struggle but the common denominators of political oppression make for a mass movement.Hence the revolutions in these countries are not necessarily class socialist, revolutions – they do not begin as such anyway. They are not even nationalist revolutions as we know them. They are mass movements with national and revolutionary components – some times religious, sometimes secular, often both, but always against the repressive political state and its imperial backers.