First World Phantoms
Jason Unruhe responded to my critique of Maoist-Third Worldist theory in the very manner I suspected he would: sheer incomprehension. Yet again, Unruhe has thoroughly demonstrated that the intricacies of Marxist economic and sociological analysis are beyond his grasp. This would be forgivable, were he to acknowledge his deficiencies and exerted some effort toward rectifying them, but apparently the man wishes to remain insulated in comfortable ignorance. Suffice it to say, productive dialog cannot transpire under conditions such as these, but my previously mentioned lack of more interesting alternatives compels me to carry on.
Unruhe begins his tedious response with a crack at my blog’s name:
I introduce you to Common Ruin (insert joke about comparing First and Third World living conditions here).
The expression “common ruin” is, as many of you are doubtlessly aware, derived from an important passage in the Manifesto of the Communist Party, wherein Marx and Engels describe the history of class struggle as resulting in either a “revolutionary reconstitution of society at large, or in the common ruin of the contending classes.” It’s rather revealing that an individual who professes fidelity to Marxism would fail to make this association and instead erroneously infer that my blog name is drawn from an ill-founded conviction that the standard of living between the First and Third World are analogous.
Unfortunately, Unruhe’s dearth of comprehension only compounds from henceforth.
He next laments the fact that none of his opponents expressed any interest in partaking in a “live debate” with him. But one could hardly be surprised by such a response, given that the specific terms of the debate were never specified by him to begin with (e.g., how would the debate be facilitated? Who would moderate? How long would each side have to present their case? Who would determine the winner?) I informed Unruhe via Facebook that I’d consider engaging in his “live debate,” were the details provided in advance, but he never responded. I sincerely doubt such an undertaking would be worthwhile, regardless.
Amusingly, in his following paragraph, Unruhe proceeds to misinterpret the explanation I offer my subscribers as to why I’ve not had an opportunity to blog in recent months. He insists that what I was really involved in was an underhanded attempt to garner sympathy from readers for my plight as an exploited wage laborer. Unruhe’s modus operandi here is to present what he calls “First Worldists” (i.e., actual Marxists) as having to resort to logical fallacies when debating the merits of Maoism-Third Worldism, when the exact converse is true. Nevertheless, in the interest of full disclosure, I will concede outright that I’m involved in an occupation wherein surplus value is generally not produced, and am therefore not regularly exploited. I do engage in commodity production for a fraction of some working days, however, during which I am exploited. Beyond that, I cannot divulge—lest I risk unemployment.
Moving on, Unruhe devotes a considerable amount of space to bemoaning the insults I admittedly included in my previous blog post. In response, I will repeat here what I told an individual who commented on this issue yesterday: personal insults obviously have no bearing on the plausibility (or lack thereof) of Maoism-Third Worldism, but they do convey my personal dislike for Unruhe and the disservice I believe he’s doing to Marxist theory and communist praxis with his YouTube channel and incoherent writings.
Unruhe is, of course, not above leveling personal attacks of his own, and responded in kind. In addition to being “reactionary” and ‘egotistical,’ he accuses me of being a “middle class privileged college White kid,” whose involvement in radical politics is purely “self-serving.” Part of this is true: I am a college-educated, Caucasian male of Spanish descent who comes from a (formerly) petit-bourgeois household. My current class position, however, is patently proletarian. But I must confess that I have some difficulty discerning how the “privilege” Unruhe assumes I’ve been bestowed has any place in Marxist class analysis, being that those of us who follow the methodology established by Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels assign class according to one’s relationship to the means of production, not their relative “privilege.” Furthermore, while my interest in radical politics does contain an undeniably self-serving component, it was initially induced by learning of my great-grandfathers participation in CNT-FAI militias during the Spanish Civil War when I was a teenager.
Unruhe subsequently claims that I ‘misrepresent’ Maoism-Third Worldism when I write that the process of globalization has extinguished the revolutionary potential of the working class residing in hegemonic nation-states:
False. We don’t say there is no revolutionary potential in the First World, we say there is no significant revolutionary potential in the First World. We say that the ‘working class’ of the First World has been bought off with the spoils of imperialism.
This is, for all intents and purposes, a distinction without a difference. For if the working class, as a class, is incapable of developing revolutionary consciousness due to barriers erected from the dynamics of bourgeois imperialism, the potential for proletarian revolution—which is what I was referring to—is practically nonexistent.
It is a mathematically proven fact that super exploitation subsidizes the wages and social programs that First Worlders receive.
Is it, really? Unruhe should have no trouble furnishing us with the empirical evidence to support such a bold claim, in that case. I, for one, am eager to see how he demonstrates that not only is value creation and the rate of exploitation higher in the global South, but that a mechanism exists in imperialist states to directly transfer the subaltern’s surplus value to First World workers.
If we examine global manufacturing alone, by output, we learn that countries in the global South remain nowhere to be found among the top producing nations of the world:
First and Second World nation-states continue to dominate the sector. The ratio of variable to constant capital is higher in the global South, so the total number of individuals involved in commodity production (not as a percentage of the population, mind you) might be greater than in the North, but only 20% of manufacturing output originates from the Third World. Subaltern workers are also generally involved in the production of commodities with little exchange value to begin with (e.g., textiles and agricultural goods)—mining being the main exception, although few workers are required in such trades—whereas First and Second World workers produce more valuable commodities at a more productive pace, thereby generating more surplus value than their subaltern counterparts and thus indicating they are exploited to a greater extent than the latter, by Marxist standards. Exploitation in the Third World is undoubtedly occurring in the aforementioned low exchange value industries, but a “super exploitation” is nonexistent.
One might ask, if this is so, why it is that the global South is so impoverished relative to the North. The answer is underinvestment and the balance of class forces. To the extent multinational corporations invest in production in the Third World—and estimates are that only 5% of total capitalist investment is directed to the global South—they only provide the bare minimum to facilitate production, and the workers in those countries possess very little in the way of bargaining power. The laws of uneven and combined development, geography, and the history of imperialism have organized the international division of labor in such a way that high exchange value production and cognitively demanding labor are primarily situated in the global North, while more rote, menial labor is conducted in the South. The low skill required for labor in the Third World ensures that the reserve army of labor is also considerably larger in the global South. But this historical trend is now adjusting, as we see the economic development of East Asia in recent decades beginning to shift the locus of skilled labor from North America and Europe to China, Korea, and Japan, although Latin America, Africa, and the Middle East still lag behind.
To deduce from this unfortunate reality that a neo-colonial “super exploitation,” beneficial to both labor and capital in the First World, is transpiring—as Maoist-Third Worldists contend—is a non sequitur. It is nothing more than happenstance. As the cost of production continues to rise in the First and Second World, capital will be tempted to invest more in the ‘emerging economies’ of the Third, and this may facilitate a change in the overall balance of development. If, however, revolution were to miraculously ignite in the Third World now, the ensuing capital flight would absolutely devastate those countries. Of course, this protracted and unstable process could be entirely circumvented, were a communist bloc established in the global North in the interim, but the very thought is anathema to those inculcated in Maoist Third-Worldist canon.
As for the haute bourgeoisie sharing their plunder of the Third World with their domestic working classes, I already demonstrated how the First World’s violent labor history invalidates this theory, and how globalization has had a deleterious effect on labor market conditions in the global North. Inexpensive foreign imports have not been interpreted by workers as tokens from the bourgeoisie to be accepted in exchange for docility, either. On the contrary, they have been viewed as threats to job security and wage levels, which is why protectionist sentiments remain high among Western workers. Nothing was said in response to this.
Unruhe then invokes his favored “materialist” argument against the revolutionary potential of First World proletarians:
This very comfortable standard of living is enough to keep someone from actually carrying out revolution. No one is going to give up the social benefits they have to become a guerrilla fighter who has a life many, many times more difficult than that of even the lowest paid worker. This is total idealist romanticism on their part.
The irony here is that he believes slum-dwelling sweatshop workers, whose entire existence is intimately linked to foreign capital, would be more willing to take up arms against the system. Contra Maoist-Third Worldist mythology, it is proletarians in the Third World who have more to lose from the vicissitudes of revolution, e.g., their meager means of subsistence. They additionally lack a history to draw upon wherein their material conditions were significantly better, so their expectations of capitalism are far lower than those brought up in the West.
I also explained how the Maoist-Third Worldist model of revolution is fundamentally at odds with Marxist sociology and not at all reflective of how the working class evaluates the necessity of revolution in my previous post. To recapitulate: 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. Naturally, Unruhe failed to respond to any of these points.
Unruhe cites the black and Amerindian populations residing in North America as examples of First World groups with revolutionary potential, while simultaneously arguing that their numerical disadvantage would render any activity toward that end an exercise in futility. This is curious, as those particular minority groups are disproportionately represented in the lumpenproletariat, who Marx correctly dismissed as the “scum, offal, refuse of all classes,” an estate which has never assumed a productive role in the history of class struggle and, by virtue of their relationship to the means of production, likely never will. By Maoist-Third Worldist logic, the proletarians among them should presumably be just as docile as their Caucasian co-workers, so why Unruhe believes otherwise is a mystery. Perhaps Unruhe’s confusion here stems from his conflating a population’s potential for national liberation with revolution, only the latter of which is relevant to our discussion.
Next, Unruhe marshals a passage from Friedrich Engels, in a forlorn attempt to persuade readers that Maoism-Third Worldism is consistent with Marxist theory. However, the specific passage he quotes approvingly from, when taken in context, only further substantiates my case. For what Engels ultimately envisaged as a remedy for the English proletariat’s “bourgeoisification,” i.e., their increasingly conservative approach to politics, was simply “a few thoroughly bad years.” In other words, Engels believed an immiseration of the proletariat, precipitated by a crisis of capital, would suffice to reverse the trend. There exists no textual evidence of Engels or Marx ever holding the view that workers attaining a contingently comfortable standard of living under capitalism would permanently obstruct their revolutionary potential.
What’s more, the suggestion Friedrich Engels, of all people, would ever adhere to the tenets of Maoism-Third Worldism is transparently preposterous. His unflattering adherence to subsequently discredited Lamarckian notions of the inheritance of acquired characteristics instilled in him the view that the inhabitants of backward countries—which Maoist-Third Worldists believe will lead the movement for proletarian emancipation—were of such poor quality that they were practically useless; they’d need to be ‘civilized’ by the process of capitalist development and Western tutelage before they’d be of any revolutionary utility whatsoever. Take, for example, Engels’s assertion that individuals of sub-Saharan African ancestry are congenitally incapable of understanding basic mathematics in their current evolutionary state:
If, for instance, among us the mathematical axioms seem self-evident to every eight-year-old child, and in no need of proof from experience, this is solely the result of ‘accumulated inheritance.’ It would be difficult to teach them by a proof to a bushman or Australian negro.
Karl Marx does not fare much better, in this respect. Following the crude and outlandish evolutionary views of Pierre Trémaux, he believed sub-Saharan Africans to be a “degeneration of a much higher type [of man].” Returning to Engels, one of the reasons he was of the view “Aryan and Semitic races” had experienced a “superior development” in their evolutionary histories was because they had a richer and more varied diet than what was available to peoples residing in other geographic areas, resulting in the former developing a larger cranial capacity. So, aside from the inferior development of their productive forces, what retards the potential for revolution in the Third World, in the opinion of Marx and Engels, would be the lesser biological caliber of its residents—an unfounded position, of which the preponderance of contemporary Marxists, fortunately, disagree.
Following that debacle, Unruhe recommends that “First Worldists. . . . read Lenin and Mao” and provides a quote from each theoretician. But, once again, neither passage lends credibility to the Maoist-Third Worldist hypothesis that revolutionary consciousness cannot develop among the working classes of the global North. Lenin’s conception of an “aristocracy of labor” is, without a doubt, empirically groundless, but it’s distinct from Maoist-Third Worldist class analysis nonetheless. Indeed, Lenin and the Old Bolsheviks were unwavering in their conviction that revolution had to unfold in the Western European centers of capital if the Soviet Union was to succeed in transitioning to a communist mode of production. Similarly, the passage from Mao Zedong which Unruhe quotes expresses pessimism about the probability of revolution in Western countries, but not a categorical statement of its impossibility.
My parenthetical remark about Maoism-Third Worldism sharing a bourgeois assumption regarding the infeasibility of radicalism gaining traction among First World workers apparently struck a nerve, prompting Unruhe to write:
This is not what we say at all. Bourgeois theory claims that material living increased so therefore what Marx said was wrong; that exploitation does not cause the effects he claimed. This is not what Third Worldists are saying. We say that the burden of exploitation has been shifted to the Third World. Marx was right, inequality did increase but not in the way he predicted. If we follow the revisionist First Worldist line then the bourgeoisie are right. The inequality became global. The rich countries versus the poor countries, the global cities versus the global countryside. Instead Acuña has decided to lie and change what I said to mean something else. Such dishonesty is typical of First Worldists attacking Third Worldism.
Unruhe should be aware that bourgeois sociologists don’t accept the labor theory of value or ethical critiques of wage labor, therefore “exploitation” never enters into their analyses. And amidst all of these spurious assertions, his accusation that “First Worldists” are “revisionists” is, by far, the most ludicrous, considering the position that proletarian revolution will manifest in the most advanced capitalist countries is the orthodox Marxist stance on the matter. It’s Maoism-Third Worldism that’s widely regarded as a revisionist theory of revolution.
Unruhe then challenges my claim that unequal exchange is foreign to Marxist economic analysis:
He is literally saying that unequal exchange between the First and Third World doesn’t exist in a Marxist economic analysis. The stupidity (yes stupidity, as capitalism is a system of unequal exchange, unless it’s described in Marxism then it’s not somehow) of this statement is unfathomable. He’s literally denying the basis of imperialism. This is the very foundation of imperialism. This metaphorically spits in the face of Lenin and economic reality.
I wasn’t referring to the practice of wage labor when I wrote that line, but to unequal exchange as a theory of imperialism. The concept was first devised in 1972 by the revisionist Greek economist Arghiri Emmanuel, and has since been adopted and modified by a number of analysts sympathetic to Third Worldist ideology. I suppose the fact Emmanuel considered himself a ‘Marxist’ would suggest the theory is not entirely alien to Marxism, broadly construed, but it is absent in Marx and Engels’s critique of political economy—which neither Mao, nor Luxemburg, nor, for that matter, Emmanuel contributed anything of value to.
To forestall being condemned as a ‘dogmatist,’ I should perhaps clarify that I do believe useful contributions to Marxist theory have been made since the 1890s, especially in the domains of sociology and ethics. I’m an advocate of viewing Marxism as a living science and believe Ernest Madel expressed this sentiment best when he wrote
For us, Marxism is always open because there are always new experiences, there are always new facts, including facts about the past, which have to be incorporated in the corpus of scientific socialism. Marxism is always open, always critical, always self-critical.
But being that it’s wholly devoid of any logical or empirical basis, Maoism-Third Worldism should not, under any circumstances, be incorporated into that venerable corpus.
 Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, The Communist Manifesto (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1964), p. 58 (emphasis added).
 In the scientific use of the term. All wage laborers (myself included), nonetheless, are exploited in a normative sense. Again, see my comments 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
 A recent instance of this can be found in Unruhe’s video entitled “Dogmatism” (1:08-1:32), where he accuses the former Albanian dictator Enver Hoxha of harboring “racist” sentiments for rejecting Mao Zedong’s theory of a peasant-led revolution.
 At least according to Friedrich Engels’s definition, by which proletarians are considered “the people in the class of modern wage laborers who, having no means of production of their own, are reduced to selling their labor power in order to live”; Engels 1964, op. cit., p. 57 fn1.
 In the sense Friedrich Engels understood communism to be consistent with self-interest, when he wrote to Marx in 1844 stating: “quite aside from any material expectations, we are communists in virtue of our egoism, that out of egoism we want to be human beings and not merely individuals”; Engels quoted in Sidney Hook, From Hegel to Marx: Studies in the Intellectual Development of Karl Marx (New York: Columbia University Press, 1994), pp. 173-174 fn1.
 I highly recommend readers look into Murray Bookchin’s comprehensive history of Spanish radicalism, The Spanish Anarchists: The Heroic Years, 1868-1936 (Oakland: AK Press, 2001).
 By which I include China, due to its rising standard of living exceeding that of African and Latin American countries.
 Charles Post, “The Myth of the Labor Aristocracy, Part 1,” Against the Current, No. 123 (2006).
 See Pew Research Center (27 May, 2015), “Free Trade Agreements Seen as Good for U.S., But Concerns Persist,” especially how attitudes vary on free trade according to one’s income level. Available online at: http://www.people-press.org/2015/05/27/free-trade-agreements-seen-as-good-for-u-s-but-concerns-persist/
 Karl Marx, The 18th Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte (Rockville: Wildside Press, 2008), p. 75.
 Letter from Friedrich Engels to Karl Marx, dated 7 October, 1858.
 Take, for example, Engels’s celebratory remarks concerning the prospect of American imperialism in Mexico: “In America we have witnessed the conquest of Mexico, which has pleased us. It constitutes progress too that a country until the present day exclusively occupied with itself, torn apart by perpetual civil wars and prevented from all development. . . . that such a country be thrown by means of violence into the historical movement. It is in the interest of its own development that Mexico will be in the future under the tutelage of the United States”; Friedrich Engels, Deutscher Brüsseler Zeitung, No. 7, 23 January 1848.
 Friedrich Engels, Dialectics of Nature (New York: International Publishers, 1940), p. 314.
 Letter from Karl Marx to Friedrich Engels, dated 7 August, 1866.
 Friedrich Engels, The Origin of the Family, Private Property, and the State (New York: Pathfinder Press, 1972), p. 91.
 The primary reason Marx considered African-Americans “capable of emancipation” from slavery during the Civil War was because the generation of slaves in question had become “more or less Yankeeized, English-speaking, etc.” He didn’t consider this approach viable in areas like Jamaica, due to the frequent importation of African “barbarians” taking place there; letter from Karl Marx to Friedrich Engels, dated 14 June, 1853.
 See Bernard Waites, Class Society at War: England 1914-18 (London: Bloomsbury Publishing, 1987), pp. 126-130.
 My criticisms of their work exceed the scope of this entry.
 Ernest Mandel, “Vanguard Parties,” Mid-American Review of Sociology, Vol. VIII, No. 2, p. 21 (1983).