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Marx on Revolution in the Center and the Periphery

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Thousands of striking oil workers in Egypt marched on the Ministry of Petroleum, in Nasr City during the ongoing revolution in Egypt. The workers are demanding higher wages, partaking in a current revolution against the government, and are showing their interntioanl solidarity by demanding the ministry stop exporting gas to Israel.

Kevin B. Anderson, in his formative recent work Marx at the Margins, reformulates and illuminates Marx’s views on the potential of revolution in a highly globalized capitalist world which also touches on one of the more profound questions on where (and where should) potential revolution and change comes from: will revolution and profound change in the 21st century come from the highly advanced Western capitalist countries or the newly emerging, and “less advanced,” capitalist countries on the periphery of the global capitalist center (North America, Japan, and Europe)?

One of the reasons why this is important is because many people within Europe and America debate as to whether they should solely focus on reform and revolutionizing the capitalist system in (let’s say) the U.S. or whether they should focus their efforts on the periphery (such as, the Philippines).  You even get more liberal (non-revolutionary centered) folks who work in the NGO sector talking about this question as well: some say that the American capitalist system is so pervasive and so entangled within the world economy that the only “real chance” emerging and developing economies have is through changing the American system of capitalism itself which would then allow for “real change” within the capitalist systems in countries such as Thailand, Angola, or Guatemala.

Others (the revolutionary centered and “non-revolutionary” centered alike) will debate saying that only real change and reform can come to the world capitalist system when the countries on the periphery break free from the Western mega-capitalist center and develop their own economies based on their needs.  When enough countries break away from the globalized capitalist market, so they say, then the imperialist based Western capitalist countries will become weakened; thus creating an effect that reforms and revolutionizes the present day globalized capitalist system.

Anderson, illuminating these issues on Marx’s writings of Ireland and its colonial master, Britain, writes:

Earlier, he had predicted in modernist fashion that the British labor movement, a product of the most advanced capitalist society of the time, would take power and then enable Ireland to regain its independence, also offering the newly independent country both material and political support.  By 1869-70, however, Marx wrote that he had changed his position, now arguing that Irish independence would have to come first.  British workers, he held, were so greatly imbued with nationalist pride and great power arrogance toward the Irish that they had developed a false consciousness, binding them to the dominant classes of Britain, and thus attenuating class conflict within British society.  This impasse could be broken only by direct support for Irish national independence on the part of British labor, something that would also serve to reunite labor within Britain, where Irish immigrant labor formed a subproletariat.  British workers often blamed competition from the desperately poor Irish for lowering their wages, while the Irish immigrants often distrusted the British labor movement as merely another expression of the very British society that was ruling over them, both at home and abroad.  On more than once occasion, Marx linked his conceptualization of class, ethnicity, and nationalism for the British and the Irish to race relations in the United States, where he compared the situation of the Irish in Britain to that of African Americans.  He also compared the attitudes of the British workers to the poor whites of the American South, who had too often united with the white planters agaisnt their fellow Black workers.  In this sense, Marx was creating a larger dialectical concept of race, ethnicity, and class (240-1).

I happen to hold the view that is more akin to the latter Marx: that peoples in non-Western countries do not have to “sit  by” and wait for the working class in the U.S. or Europe to create change in order to better their own lives, instead workers and peasants in countries on the periphery of the global capitalist center can organize to take power in order to better their lives (without the “help”/patronage of peoples within the U.S. and Europe) in the here and now.  Also, by taking a more anti-imperialist stance the U.S. working class (for example) can better their own situation by weakening the mode of capitalist production within the U.S. and thus giving them more power to take on their bosses and the system.  Also, by building solidarity around the world the U.S. working class can better unite along class lines (as Marx suggested for the Irish and English workers) instead of being divided along migration status and ethnicity since everyone will see their own stake in everyone else (easier said then done, of course).

These theoretical, and practical, formulations are extremely important for us today, as Egypt can attest too in its recent ongoing revolution against the Egyptian ruling class and the neo-liberal economic policies it has been implementing for decades now.

  1. mike stephens permalink
    Tuesday, February 15, 2011 11:50 am

    good stuff Jack

  2. Sunday, February 20, 2011 1:01 am

    Of course you’d say that, your my dad.

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