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THE MEANING OF MARXISM
"Dividing the loot of others' labor"

March 21, 2003 | Page 9

"CAPITALISTS ARE like hostile brothers," Marx wrote, "who divide among themselves the loot of other people's labor." Throughout history, they alternately fight each other--using armies made up of the same workers who produce their profits--and close ranks to suppress working-class revolt from below.

These two dynamics--brotherliness and hostility--play out over and over again. In the First World War--a war fought between the capitalist class of the dominant nations over how to "divide among themselves the loot of other people's labor"--millions of workers were sacrificed for the sake of plunder.

Germany and Russia were on opposite sides, each fighting for a bigger empire at the expense of the other. Yet, when Russian workers, soldiers and peasants began to revolt against war, privation and exploitation, Russian capitalists began to wonder if a German victory wouldn't be preferable to a workers' revolution.

"A large section of the propertied classes preferred the Germans to the revolution," wrote American socialist and journalist John Reed in his eyewitness account Ten Days that Shook the World. "One evening I spent at the house of a Moscow merchant; during tea we asked the 11 people at the table whether they preferred 'Wilhelm or the Bolsheviki.' The vote was 10 to one for Wilhelm."

During the Second World War, the French ruling class decided that they would prefer a Nazi invasion to a revolt of French workers. Though French bosses had their own imperial ambitions, they were willing to temporarily sacrifice them to preserve French capitalism in the face of an increasingly restive and left-wing movement.

Each nation has armed forces that serve two purposes--one, when all else fails, to suppress internal dissent; two, to project power abroad, in competition with other nations. The U.S. spends hundreds of millions of dollars to train the armies of its allies, from Kazakhstan to Colombia, in something called "Foreign Internal Defense"--that is, in techniques aimed purely at crushing all opposition.

Internal competition between capitalists within a country is--organized crime aside--regulated by state-established rules that prevent armed conflict between them. If individual firms or industries hire armed goons, it's almost always to attack workers, not each other.

Internationally, it is a different story. Transnational firms depend upon their own state to promote their overall profit interests in relation to the capitalists of other nations. Hence economic competition under capitalism also spills over into political conflict, and ultimately, military competition between nations.

These wars decide who is to be the dominant power. But because international capitalism is anarchic--there is no international "state" with the power or mandate to regulate it--there are always changes in the balance of power that give rise to new conflicts and arrangements. At certain points, those changes upset the old power arrangements and force a new set of conflicts upon the world.

Today, the U.S. is attempting to use a one-sided Iraqi slaughter as a stepping stone to fully assert its unchallengable dominance in the post-Cold War world. But the "hostile brothers"--the capitalist classes of France, Russia, China and Russia--are balking.

"They worry," commented the Los Angeles Times, "that America's self-declared right to launch pre-emptive wars, its willingness to dismiss the United Nations, to shuck allies and make plans to invade and occupy another country--all amid talk of remaking the Mideast--are the beginning of the end of the post-World War II order and the start of an American Imperium."

But the rulers of these countries are not the allies of the antiwar movement--they are "hostile brothers," fighting among themselves about how to "divide the loot of other people's labor." The fight against "American Imperium" must come from the struggles of ordinary workers across the world--whether they live in Baghdad or in New York.

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