Divided World Divided Class by Zak Cope is available for free here. I read this criticism of Cope’s work and found it lacking somewhat, although I still recommend it.
Cope’s thesis is that, “the metropolitan working class has been transformed into a petty bourgeois labour aristocracy subsisting in large measure from the surplus labour of the superexploited workforce in the oppressed nations of the Third World.” One of the main pillars of this thesis is the theory of unequal exchange, which Cope describes as the “connection between low prices for bananas, coffee and electronics and the low wages paid to the workers who produce them,” which according to this theory, “If a free market truly existed, capital would accumulate in and flow to the Third World generating dramatic rises in Third World wages (relative to the supply and demand of labour).”
Table II is interesting data about the global division of labor, and Cope says, “World manufacturing is no more than seven times more productive than Third World manufacturing, even according to the deeply flawed and circular reasoning that lies behind using prices as the measure of productivity. […] manufacturing wages are an average 11 times higher in the Global North than they are in the Global South.”
“There has never been a successful revolution in the leading imperialist countries (the one exceptional case of socialism there, in Germany, was established externally, by military occupation). On the other hand, there are countless examples of metropolitan workers’ pro-imperialist behaviour.” [My emphasis]
Cope’s five reasons for the existence of reformist trends in the Third World are even more true in the First World:
Some of the major reasons for the persistence of whatever reformism exists in the Global South since World War II are the following:
(1) Patterns of imperialist, especially US, intervention and military aid;
(2) Rich opportunities for capitalist development and the attendant strength of the national bourgeoisies;
(3) The material interests of the labour bureaucracies;
(4) The inability of the proletariat to lead inter-class alliances to attain national liberation in situations wherein it has not been the dominant part of the working masses; and
(5) The pernicious influence of various kinds of revisionism in the socialist movement, not least amongst which is First Worldism, the tendency to detach the political, ideological and cultural mores of affluent countries from the dynamics of imperialist value transfer
I have written on the problems of the labor aristocracy and petty bourgeoisie and their negative influence on the proletariat before, and Cope does raise an important point here that many communists in the imperial core try to sweep under the rug. However, Cope makes the opposite mistake. The people he is criticizing extinguish every contradiction internal to the working classes to create the illusion that everyone is exploited equally. Cope also extinguishes the contradictions internal to the working classes, but for the opposite purpose, that of erasing exploitation in the imperialist countries entirely. (For instance, Cope says, “Yet none of this [incarceration rates] proves that Blacks, Chicano/as or Indigenous people are exploited or that exploitation, rather than national oppression and population control, is the chief purpose of their subjection today.”) Cope’s entire notion of “superwages”, defined as “wages above the level whereby an hour’s worth of concrete labour can purchase on the market more than the product of an hour’s abstract labour,” goes against the basic Marxist understanding of wages.
The basics of Marxist political economy regarding price, value, and wages is this:
What, then, is the value of labouring power? Like that of every other commodity, its value is determined by the quantity of labour necessary to produce it. The labouring power of a man exists only in his living individuality. A certain mass of necessaries must be consumed by a man to grow up and maintain his life. But the man, like the machine, will wear out, and must be replaced by another man. Beside the mass of necessaries required for his own maintenance, he wants another amount of necessaries to bring up a certain quota of children that are to replace him on the labour market and to perpetuate the race of labourers. Moreover, to develop his labouring power, and acquire a given skill,another amount of values must be spent. For our purpose it suffices to consider only average labour, the costs of whose education and development are vanishing magnitudes. Still I must seize upon this occasion to state that, as the costs of producing labouring powers of different quality differ, so much differ the values of the labouring powers employed in different trades. The cry for an equality of wages rests, therefore, upon a mistake, is an inane wish never to be fulfilled. It is an offspring of that false and superficial radicalism that accepts premises and tries to evade conclusions. Upon the basis of the wages system the value of labouring power is settled like that of every other commodity; and as different kinds of labouring power have different values, or require different quantities of labour for their production, they must fetch different prices in the labour market. To clamour for equal or even equitable retribution on the basis of the wages system is the same as to clamour for freedom on the basis of the slavery system. What you think just or equitable is out of the question. The question is: What is necessary and unavoidable with a given system of production? After what has been said, it will be seen that the value of labouring power is determined by the value of the necessaries required to produce, develop, maintain, and perpetuate the labouring power.
The price of a commodity is its value expressed in money, and its value is the socially necessary labor time required to produce it: the value of a good rises the more social labor is required to produce it and declines as the productive powers of the labor employed increases (meaning less social labor is required.)
Labor is a commodity like any other, and the more social labor required to produce it the more expensive it is, and the easier it is to produce the cheaper it is. Masses of laborers who work in jobs that require little training, little skill, etc will be paid less, regardless of how difficult the job is in physical terms. The labor aristocrats who work comfortable office jobs will receive higher wages to do easier work due to the relatively higher social labor required to produce them. This division of labor exists inside capitalist countries as well as between them. As Marx says in the passage above, equal wages is a pipe dream, for the same reason a computer will never sell at the same price as an apple.
This does have important implications for communist organizing, and certain critics of Cope who try to erase wholesale Lenin’s analysis of the labor aristocracy are mistaken. I agree with Cope when he says,
There is a tendency amongst some calling themselves communists to conflate all sections of workers into a homogeneous and amorphous “working class.” In just the same way that some on the left loudly declaim any and all manifestations of nationalism, even (if not especially) that demonstrated by oppressed nationalities, these imperialist-country “revolutionaries” refuse to countenance the possibility that some groups of workers have class interests distinct from, and even opposed to, other groups of workers. [my emphasis]
State bureaucrats, academics and other credentialed technical professionals, trade union officers, middle managers, and plenty of others are paid to do the work of the bourgeoisie, and so communist organizations ought to keep them at arms length. There is also the existence of a large mass of highly paid wage workers in the imperialist countries, for whom the quantity of their wage is so high it takes on a quality of its own, cutting them off from any workers’ movement.
However, Cope is unable to prove that all First World workers exploit the Third World proletariat. The fact that labor in the oppressed countries is cheaper does not lower the price of consumer goods, but raises the rate of profit on those goods. Cope fails to grasp the Marxist concept of value and wages, and additionally fails to grasp the Marxist analysis of imperialism. Marx and Engels theorized that revolutions would happen first where the proletariat was more developed, and this indeed happened in France and Germany. Lenin made an important distinction, however: they would succeed first where imperialism was weakened, and this came to pass in the Russian Empire and China. This means that in the era of imperialism, communist strategies must develop with imperialism. Mao brilliantly described the complementary strategies of the communists in the oppressor and oppressed nations:
The seizure of power by armed force, the settlement of the issue by war, is the central task and the highest form of revolution. This Marxist-Leninist principle of revolution holds good universally, for China and for all other countries.
But while the principle remains the same, its application by the party of the proletariat finds expression in varying ways according to the varying conditions. Internally, capitalist countries practice bourgeois democracy (not feudalism) when they are not fascist or not at war; in their external relations, they are not oppressed by, but themselves oppress, other nations. Because of these characteristics, it is the task of the party of the proletariat in the capitalist countries to educate the workers and build up strength through a long period of legal struggle, and thus prepare for the final overthrow of capitalism. In these countries, the question is one of a long legal struggle, of utilizing parliament as a platform, of economic and political strikes, of organizing trade unions and educating the workers. There the form of organization is legal and the form of struggle bloodless (non-military). On the issue of war, the Communist Parties in the capitalist countries oppose the imperialist wars waged by their own countries; if such wars occur, the policy of these Parties is to bring about the defeat of the reactionary governments of their own countries. The one war they want to fight is the civil war for which they are preparing. But this insurrection and war should not be launched until the bourgeoisie becomes really helpless, until the majority of the proletariat are determined to rise in arms and fight, and until the rural masses are giving willing help to the proletariat. And when the time comes to launch such an insurrection and war, the first step will be to seize the cities, and then advance into the countryside’ and not the other way about. All this has been done by Communist Parties in capitalist countries, and it has been proved correct by the October Revolution in Russia.
The fact that struggle in the imperialist countries depends on a strategy of protracted legal work to prepare for civil war during a crisis means that there will always be Rightist elements that will take the legal work as an end in itself, and renounce war altogether. The imperialists do everything they can to promote this conservatism, and for a long time it has been dominant. But this does not mean that the situation will never change, or that workers in the imperialist countries have no revolutionary potential. Part of this is Cope’s revision of the definition of proletariat, “Marxists define the proletariat at those workers producing material values in an industrial context (whether in a factory or on a plantation) who are in receipt of less value than is embodied in the commodities they produce. The proletariat as such produces more goods than it is able to command with its wages. Needless to add, this does not imply that other categories of workers are not exploited or oppressed, but the proletariat is that group of workers who possess no property and, as such, has unique revolutionary potential.” Not all proletarians make industrial products for their exploitation: all that is required is that they are forced to sell their labor power for a wage to survive. The proletariat is by no means a uniform mass, and let me use a hypothetical situation to show how a wage differential can exist without one laborer exploiting the other. Note that the rate of profit (and, therefore, exploitation) tends to equalize between industries and countries, a feature which Cope himself acknowledges.
Country 1 (Third World, economy based around resource extraction for production of Dept. I goods/Dept. II products to be consumed by Country 2)
Total value of Good 1: constant capital – 50 + variable capital – 50 = 100 units
50 variable capital divided as 25 units to wages and 25 to surplus value to be realized as profit
Country 2 (First World, production of Dept. I goods as well as market for Dept. II goods)
Buys 5 Good 1s from Country 1 in order to make Good 2
Total value of Good 2: constant capital – 500 + variable capital – 500 = 1000 units
500 variable capital divided as 250 units to wages and 250 to surplus value to be realized as profit
Country 2 has bigger absolute returns by a rate of 10, so absolute investment will be 10 times that of Country 1 and the total capital, the amount paid in wages, and presumably lifestyle will have 10 times the value of Country 1. However, the rate of exploitation of the laborers remains the same, although the laborer in Country 2 enjoys a much higher standard of living. This reinforces unequal development between the countries—if the Third world countries were exploited at a higher rate and therefore granted above average returns, it would receive relatively more investment until its capital composition caught up with the First world.
And in fact we can see that this is how investment proceeds in reality. For example, the US investment in Africa was 43 billion USD in 2019, compared to 3.5 trillion USD invested in Europe from the US. This ratio is stable for the last two decades, as is the differential in living standards. Cope believes the reason investment does not flow to the Third World is due to the First World’s repression of the free market. In reality, it is the “free market” itself that facilitates uneven development and permits the plunder of the oppressed nations by the imperialist ones. The free market incentivizes ever-harsher exploitation and prioritizes short-term gains over long-term gains that could be made from intense capital investment.
To sum up my opinion of Cope’s work, I agree that communists in the imperialist countries need to seriously analyze the class composition of their country and combat all bourgeois-aspiring elements that try to infiltrate their organizations. However, I do not believe Cope demonstrates that all of the First World workers exploit the Third World, and he even makes basic errors in his attempt to prove this thesis. In my opinion, it is not worth reading this book, and it belongs in the same revisionist category as J. Sakai’s Settlers.