Answering Jason Unruhe’s “Maoist-Third Worldist Challenge”
Training for a marginally superior position at my menial place of employment has rendered my work schedule even more exhausting than usual, thereby interfering with my ability to engage in all manner of leisure activities as of late, including and especially blogging. A more significant factor, however, has been my utter inability to conceive of a topic worth delving into. I’ve thus been reduced to interjecting in vacuous internet debates between soi-disant ‘revolutionary leftists.’ On this post I shall be responding to Jason Unruhe’s recent “Maoist-Third Worldist Challenge.”
Before I begin, a word on the issuer of the challenge is in order—for the sake of those of you who’ve had the good sense to avoid his material up to this point. Unruhe is a paunchy manchild from an undisclosed location in Canada, who frequently dons himself in Maoist regalia and records videos on a wide variety of subjects, uploading the result to YouTube. As one might expect, rather than providing cogent analysis and keen insight on the topics he chooses to cover, Unruhe merely demonstrates his own narcissism, appalling ignorance, and embarrassingly tenuous grasp of basic Marxist theory in these atrocious offerings. That isn’t to say he’s always wrong, of course, but instances of him being on the correct side of an issue are scarce and usually accidental. You don’t have to take my word for it, though. By all means, visit Unruhe’s YouTube channel and observe the spectacle for yourself. The fact he labels himself, with some legitimacy, the “No. 1 Marxist on YouTube” is a testament to how impoverished Marxism outside the realm of certain academic journals has become and how philistine YouTube’s user culture has always been.
With that said, I will now describe the primary reasons why the positions associated with the Maoism-Third Worldism tendency are untenable from a Marxist perspective.
According to those who subscribe to the tenets of Maoism-Third Worldism, First World capitalist countries have been involved in imperial domination of unindustrialized countries for centuries. They point out that this was originally conducted to provide the nascent European and North American bourgeoisie with access to the raw materials necessary for industrial development, which is congruent with conventional Marxist histories of the period. However, Maoist-Third Worldists distinguish themselves by additionally arguing that the dynamics bourgeois imperialism unleashed retarded the revolutionary potential of the working class residing in hegemonic nation-states, and they further regard the contemporary practice of globalization as having finally extinguished it altogether. The latter phenomenon came to pass due to industrial commodity production being offshored, so that companies could take advantage of the superprofit obtainable as a consequence of the abundance of cheap labor to be found among subaltern peoples. The superior conditions service labor provided workers in the First World, in conjunction with the profusion of inexpensive commodities being imported from the Third, produced a standard of living this new class of Western labor aristocrats would not jeopardize through acts of workplace militancy or political radicalism. In short, the haute bourgeoisie in the West provide the workers of their countries with material security, derived from the “super exploitation” of the subaltern proletariat, in exchange for those workers’ docility. Hence there is reason to suspect revolution will not ignite in the most advanced centers of capital, as Marx and Engels predicted, but instead in peripheral, relatively backward territories. To paraphrase Unruhe, Western workers are now in possession of ‘significantly more than their chains’—an argument bourgeois sociologists have been directing against Marxist theory for nearly a century, incidentally.
I trust I have charitably conveyed the basic precepts of Maoism-Third Worldism above, but if I haven’t, Unruhe or his comrades are free to correct any errors I may have committed in my description of their views.
As I will proceed to demonstrate, the deficiencies with this theory are manifold.
First of all, Maoism-Third Worldism hinges on a notion of unequal exchange between the First and Third World that is foreign to Marxist economic theory. If one adheres to the labor theory of value, which Unruhe erroneously believes he does, one cannot simultaneously accept the postulate that an egregious “super exploitation” is occurring in the global South. The reason being that the Marxist conception of exploitation, which logically follows from an adherence to said labor theory of value, solely concerns the surplus value workers produce relative to the wages they receive from their employers, not a workforce’s absolute standard of living. So, within this paradigm, it’s quite possible for highly paid workers to be exploited to an even greater extent than those involved in occupations yielding lower wages, both within and between countries. And, as it happens, workers in developed countries are endowed with skills and technology which result in a rate of exploitation that’s typically higher than that observed in the global South, i.e., the output per unit of labor in the manufacturing and service sectors developed countries generate exceeds that found in underdeveloped countries. This fact alone sounds the death knell for Maoist Third-Worldism from an economic perspective.
Maoism-Third Worldism is equally farcical in terms of its sociological analysis. The suggestion the Western bourgeoisie is, as it were, sharing the spoils of their ongoing pillage of the global South with their national proletariat, in an effort to pacify the latter, simply has no basis in reality. First World countries have been the sites of the most violent labor struggles in the history of capital, and it’s precisely that legacy which secured for the Western working class its standard of living. One could, of course, argue that workers in the global North are benefiting from the aforementioned inexpensive commodities being imported from the Third World, but this neglects the fact that the offshoring of manufacturing work that precipitated this phenomenon has also resulted in more precarious forms of labor giving way in the First World. Moreover, it’s so indirect a benefit as to be essentially meaningless. Workers don’t measure their satisfaction in relative global terms, but temporally. Such is why Marx and Engels were convinced revolution was feasible in the centers of capital. In their view, the asymmetry that expands between the forces and relations of production in class societies would, inter alia, express itself in an immiseration of the proletariat that would transpire during one of capitalism’s periodic crises. This, in turn, would open avenues for radical organizations to challenge bourgeois ideological orthodoxy and therewith introduce the possibility of revolutionary sentiments being fostered in the population.The reason this has hitherto failed to materialize, in my opinion, is because the objective and subjective conditions have not yet been conducive. Apropos the former, capitalism’s utility in developing the forces of production has, until very recently, not exhausted itself. What’s more, the material consequences of capitalist crises have not been sufficiently grinding to radicalize the working class. With regard to the subjective factors involved, the contemporary left’s regrettable foray into asinine intersectional politics in the global North has misdirected energy away from the class struggle and alienated ordinary proletarians. Absent an organization effective in the dissemination of subversive ideas and productively channeling mass discontent, revolution will not come to fruition even under the most ideal material circumstances.
To be fair, Maoist-Third Worldists have a point concerning the greater viability of revolution in the global South. The instruments of state domination, for one thing, are nowhere near as developed as they are in First World countries, and the bourgeois media apparatus is also less sophisticated and pervasive than in the developed world. This offers the potential for bourgeois ideological constructs to be countered, and insurrectionary forces to topple governments, with relative ease—as occurred in 1959 with the 26th of July Movement in Cuba, for instance. But this doesn’t address the question of class consciousness. Take the example of China. Foreign direct investment since 1978 has led to rapid economic development in the country and the steady emergence of a Chinese proletariat and petite bourgeoisie capable of sustaining a lifestyle progressively comparable to their Western counterparts. Labor struggles over wages and work conditions abound, especially in factories consisting of rural migrant workers, but organized socialist movements are as uncommon in China as they are in the developed world. The presence of such movements is more apparent in Latin America, but the potential for long-term success among them is circumscribed for another reason.
Even granting the contentious assumption that explicitly anti-capitalist revolutions will continue to emerge in the global South, as they did in the 20th century, the fact of the matter is they would be isolated and likely defeated by the forces of reaction. The conspicuous lack of a counterbalancing geopolitical power all but assures that outcome. The only alternative would be for the Western working class to thwart their governments’ counterrevolutionary military ventures, but, according to Maoist-Third Worldist theory, they are structurally incapable of developing the requisite international class consciousness to accomplish this, due to their privileged position vis-à-vis the “super exploited” subaltern proletariat. And if, by some miracle, the representatives of international capital abstained from outright military intervention, Third World countries would nevertheless remain subordinated to the law of value by virtue of global capitalist hegemony, the consequences of which have proven corrosive to socialist reconstruction.
The bottom line is there is a practical imperative for revolution to materialize in the centers of capital, if communism is to supersede the bourgeois epoch. Fortunately, as this post has argued, there exist no compelling reasons to suspect First World proletarians are incapable of developing the consciousness necessary to successfully execute socialist revolution. Marx and Engels’s hypothesis remains defensible.
 As Marx explains in his preface to A Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy (Chicago: Charles H. Kerr & Company, 1904), p. 12, “No social order ever disappears before all the productive forces, for which there is room in it, have been developed; and new, higher relations of production never appear before the material conditions of their existence have matured in the womb of the old society” (emphasis added). Engels specified the manner he foresaw this process unfolding in his Draft of a Communist Confession of Faith as follows: “communist revolution. . . . will develop in [civilized] countries more or less rapidly, according as one country or the other has a more developed industry, greater wealth, a more significant mass of productive forces.”
 To understand the distinction between exploitation as an analytical tool and normative concept, see my remarks in “Marxism as an Instrument of Bourgeois Ideology: A Reply to Ellerman,” pp. 3-5. Available online at: http://www.academia.edu/8366401/Marxism_as_an_Instrument_of_Bourgeois_Ideology_A_Reply_to_Ellerman