Skip to main content

The Three-Headed Beast: Part 9 (The Analysis of Class and Nation in Peripheral Capitalist Formations: Mode of Production, Social Formations, Imperialism and National Struggle)

This is the ninth part of an interblog dialogue between myself and BF of The Workers Dreadnought.  The eighth part of this dialogical essay, written by BF, can be found here.  

In his last entry, BF provided an introductory summary of the first category of our generalized definition of the Maoist development of marxist theory.  He conceptually separated the basic points of what we are calling the analysis of class and nation in peripheral capitalist formations, clarifying “different levels of analysis.”  For this entry, I want to simplify his broad brushstrokes and, beginning with his first level of analysis, try to approach this part of Maoist theory in a manner that renders it less opaque.  That is, I want to focus primarily on what BF called “the inter-national level” because I think this will help us to simplify what we mean by the Maoist analysis of class and nation in peripheral capitalist formations.

First of all, we need to understand what is meant by peripheral capitalist formation.  Although I am largely in agreement with BF’s last entry, I think he has used a lot of marxist jargon that, though familiar to some, may seem frighteningly bizarre to others.  And though I realize that we will probably be unable to completely side-step the jargon trap—and could spend entry upon entry trying to further define (and perhaps even argue about) our terms, I think we need to discuss the very concept of “peripheral capitalist formation.”  It is here, I suppose, that I am in slight disagreement with BF’s use of the terms “formation” and “mode of production” which I think he tends to conflate, and I will explain why we need to separate these terms in order to understand the international level of capitalism––or imperialism.

Samir Amin is useful in this regard in his distinction between “capitalist mode of production” and “capitalist social formation.”  A capitalist mode of production is a completed capitalist society where, abstractly speaking, the society is defined primarily by the contradiction between bourgeoisie and proletariat.  These are the centres of capitalism, the nations that control the international arrangement of capitalism, the captains of imperialism.  Although these nations might be marked by other contradictions (race, gender, inner-colonial, etc.), they possess an articulate capitalist economy that is primarily national.  In a world situation of imperialism, the capitalist modes of productions are the centres of capitalism that export capital to peripheral nations: thus, although they compete amongst each other as well and their multinationals move into each others’ national economy, the central capitalist modes of production are those societies that, on an abstract and conceptual levels, are described in Marx’s Capital as “capitalist modes of production.”  Although there are levels of stratification, and disparate contradictions, even within a given a capitalist mode of production (BF has recognized this in his point 2a, and we will examine this later), the main point is to establish the national identity of the primary international owners of capital: these are, by-and-large, the capitalists connected to the centre of capitalism who, because of an articulate capitalist mode of production, have been able to emerge as a national capitalist class, monopolizing and exporting capital––imperialism, “the highest stage of capitalism.”

A capitalist social formation, however, is a society that is part of the capitalist world system but that is not primarily defined by the contradiction of bourgeoisie and proletariat.  Maoists often use the terminology “semi-feudal and semi-colonial” to explain these societies that, unable to develop a native and articulate capitalism, are victims of the alien capitalism exported by the bourgeoisie of the centre.   Capitalist social formations are peripheral because they are not central––that is, not in control––of the world economy.  Moreover, pre-capitalist modes of production linger (this is why the term “semi-feudal and semi-colonial” is often used, even if it is not always correct) in these formations, leading to the persistence, in many cases, of a peasant class that is still more numerous and more exploited than the nascent proletariat: the process of proletarianization is extremely uneven in these formations, limited to those places (usually the cities) where international capital has been exported.  Due to this situation, as BF has noted, “peripheral economic formations remain the site of the production of raw materials and their elementary production into basic goods.”

Although a national bourgeoisie can develop in these peripheral formations, unless (at least according to a Maoist-based analysis) this class siezes power through a national liberation struggle, it will always be marginal and transitory.  Most often, the bourgeoisie of these countries are “comprador” (another important Maoist classification); that is, bourgeoisie who are not the true owners of capital but, rather, the managers of exported capital, the lackeys (or “running dogs”, in polemic parlance) of the bourgeoisie of the capitalist centres.

It is in this context, the context of imperialism first theorized by Lenin, that the Maoist contribution is important.  Although Lenin was the first marxist to provide a concrete analysis of imperialism, he was unable to fully examine the relationship between class and nation (though he did open this analysis with his first theorizations of “the national question”).  The attempts of both Stalin and Trotsky––the competing and self-proclaimed heirs of Leninism––to further develop the concept of imperialism, and how national struggle connected to class struggle in the international arena, ultimately failed.  Stalin vastly underestimated the role of the peasantry, a class that Mao would realize was of revolutionary importance in peripheral formations, leading Mao to claim that Stalin’s analysis of peasants treated “people” like “things.”  And Trotsky would homogenize world capitalism under his theory of “combined and uneven development” which (ignoring the fact that peripheral formations were kept underdeveloped  by imperialism and that previous modes of productions lingered) would erroneously assert that the entire world was one giant capitalist mode of production.

I think it is important to note that the experience of the Chinese Revolution led to a more developed understanding of the international level of class struggle, and thus an analysis of the dialectic between class and nation.  The best revolutionary theory, in my opinion, emerges from revolutionary praxis.  And China’s revolution emerged in a class war that was interlinked with a war of national liberation: as it fought against Japanese imperialism (primarily Japanese imperialism, but also European and American imperialism), it attempted to articulate class struggle within this context.  Thus the Chinese Revolution was able to put into practice the multiple theories of the national question, examine which ones were useful and which ones were useless, and develop its own further understanding of this problem—of the way in which class and national struggle are often interlinked in country’s fighting directly against imperialist aggression.  “We are at once patriots and internationalists,” Mao wrote in The Role of the Chinese Communist Party In The National War, one of his many documents that interrogated the relationship between class struggle and national liberation struggle.  Not only did he interrogate the multiple contradictions of waging an anti-imperialist war while waging class struggle, he theorized a way to properly understand these contradictions—and the Chinese Revolution, if nothing else, has taught us how to approach the interlinked problems of class and nation in the struggle against international capitalism.

Once again, I hand the dialogue back to BF at The Workers Dreadnought...