Review of Walter Rodney’s How Europe Underdeveloped Africa Part 3/3
“Capital was constantly in motion from the metropole to some part of the dependencies, from colonies to other colonies (via the metropoles), from one metropole to another, and from colony to metropole. But because of the superprofits created by non-European peoples ever since slavery, the net flow was from colony to metropole. What was called ‘profits’ in one year came back as ‘capital’ the next.” (212)
“[T]he development of Europe [is] part of the same dialectical process in which Africa was underdeveloped.” (149)
“[W]hat was called ‘the development of Africa’ by the colonialists was a cynical shorthand expression for ‘the intensification of colonial exploitation in Africa to develop capitalist Europe.’” (223)
The principal contradiction in the world today is between the exploiter and exploited countries, the First World against the Third World. A minority of countries are wealthy, while the majority are poor. Africa is continent rich in natural wealth, yet its people are impoverished and starving. Africa is a whole continent of poor countries. Africa’s poverty is not a great mystery. Africa’s impoverished population is a result of hundreds of years of underdevelopment inflicted by European and other imperialists. Europe developed, its populations grew wealthy, on the backs of Africa. Published in 1972, Walter Rodney’s classic How Europe Underdeveloped Africa explains in great detail the economic history of Africa and those who exploited her.
Colonial and Neocolonial Plunder and Exploitation
Hundreds of years of slavery ravaged Africa to the benefit of Europe and North America. However, the rape of Africa did not end with the end of slavery. Europe, the United States, and other imperialists continued to reap tremendous benefits from the continued exploitation and oppression of Africa. The imperialists benefited through the direct colonization that Lenin famously described in Imperialism, the Highest Stage of Capitalism. The imperialists carved up Asia, Africa, and Latin America for themselves. Nowhere was this more apparent than in Africa. King Leopold of Belgium, literally, claimed personal possession of the Congo, as if it were his backyard. Different imperialists occupied different parts of Africa to directly manage the transfer of resources and labor from Africa to the imperialist countries. Later, especially after World War 2, after European armies had wiped each other out and Europe’s economies were in shambles, the imperialists changed the way they controlled their colonies; colonialism turned into neocolonialism. Instead of directly occupying their colonies, imperialists controlled them indirectly. They granted their colonies nominal independence, but continued to pull the strings from behind the scenes. The imperialists still channeled value out of Africa, but they did so using black-faced comprador regimes. They stole Africa’s resources and labor through a variety of mechanisms.
In the early and even through the mid-colonial period, straight-up plunder was more common. Europeans and other imperialists simply moved in and setup shop on the land of others. This was a pattern that occurred not only in Africa, but across the colonial world. However, as we move closer to the modern era, theft becomes more disguised and sophisticated. Land and resources are stolen, but the robbery is disguised under legalisms and unequal exchange, for example:
“During the colonial era, Liberia was supposedly independent; but to all intents and purposes, it was a colony of the U.S.A. In 1926, the Firestone Rubber Company of the U.S.A. was able to acquire one million acres of forest land in Liberia at a cost of 6 cents per acre and 1 percent of the value of exported rubber, Firestone’s profits from Liberia’s land and labor carried them to 25th position among the giant companies of the U.S.A.” (154)
This kind of grossly unfair acquisition of African land and resources continues today. Although, today, the imperialists are rarely as brazen as they were in the past. The imperialists have learned to disguise their theft, to carry out their theft in ever more complicated and sophisticated ways. Whether one is looking at the brazen plunder and exploitation of slavery and colonialism or the more subtler oppression of neocolonialism, the system is set up to serve the imperialists, not the Africans.
Even after the end of slavery, the imperialists continued to reap the benefits of African muscle through super-exploitation in various forms. Even though slavery was officially ended, large-scale forced labor existed. Imperialists and their proxies drafted, at bayonet point, thousands of Africans into forced-labor projects. A white settler in Kenya, Colonel Grogan stated, “We have stolen his land. Now we must steal his limbs. Compulsory labor is the corollary of our occupation of the country.” (165) African states, under imperial direction, imposed forced labor to produce “public works” and cash crops. Taxes were one way to force Africans to work. Another way to force Africans to work was through “public works” projects: building castles for governors, prisons for Africans, barracks for troops, and bungalows for colonial officials. Much work went into producing roads, railways, ports and other infrastructure for the export of cash crops and other resources. (165-66) For example:
“Taking only one example from the British colony of Sierra Leone, one finds that the railway which started at the end of the nineteenth century required forced labor from thousands of peasants driven from the villages. The hard work and appalling conditions led to the death of a large number of those engaged in work on the railway.” (166)
The Portuguese and Belgian colonial governments were the most brazen in rounding up Africans for forced work for private companies under slave-like conditions. Portugal not only pressed Congolese into forced labor for capitalists within its territories, but also exported forced labor to capitalist projects outside its colonies. (166) This forced labor, in the end, did not serve to build up infrastructure to benefit Africans. Rather, it was aimed at producing infrastructure for colonial and neocolonial administration and infrastructure to better direct value out of Africa.
African “free labor” was brutally exploited also. Imperialists used their control of politics and economy to keep Africans laboring, paid only enough to keep them on the edge of survival. Europe and the imperialists profited while Africa labored and starved. Giant companies pulled massive numbers of African workers and peasants into a long chain of exploitation. (155) Rodney describes the typical situation for African laborers, workers and peasants:
“By any standards, labor was cheap in Africa, and the amount of surplus extracted from the African laborer was great. The employer under colonialism paid an extremely small wage — a wage usually insufficient to keep the worker physically alive — and, therefore, he had to grow food to survive. This applied in particular to farm labor of the plantation type, to work in mines, and to certain forms of urban employment.” (149)
African labor was treated more harshly than labor in the imperialist homelands; African laborers were treated more harshly than European laborers in Africa also.
“Where European settlers were found in considerable numbers, the wage differential was readily perceived. In North Africa, the wages of Moroccans and Algerians were from 16 percent to 25 percent those of Europeans. In East Africa, the position was much worse, notably in Kenya and Tanganyika. A comparison with white settler earnings and standards bring out by sharp contrast how incredibly low African wages were… The absolute limit of brutal exploitation was found in the southern parts of the continent; and in Southern Rhodesia, for example, agricultural laborers rarely received more than 15 shillings per month. Workers in mines got a little more if they were semi-skilled, but they also had more intolerable working conditions. Unskilled laborers in the mines of Northern Rhodesia often got as little as 7 shillings per month. A truck driver on the famous copper belt was semi-skilled grade. In one mine, Europeans performed that job for 30 pounds per month, while in another, Africans did it for 3 pounds per month.” (151)
“[B]lack South African workers recovered gold from deposits which elsewhere would be regarded as non-commercial. And yet it is the white section of the working class which received whatever benefits were available in terms of wages and salaries. Officials have admitted that the mining companies could pay whites higher than miners in any other part of the world because the superprofits made by paying black workers a mere pittance… In the final analysis, the shareholders of the mining companies were the ones who benefited most of all. They remained in Europe and North America and collected fabulous dividends every year from the gold, diamonds, manganese, uranium, etc., which were bought out of the South African subsoil by African labor. ” (152)
“The fact is that the higher standard [of living] was made possible by exploitation of colonies, and there was no justification for keeping African living standards so depressed in an age where better was possible and in a situation where a higher standard was possible because of the work output of Africans themselves. The kind of living standard supportable by the African labor within the continent is readily illustrated by the salaries and the lifestyle of the whites inside Africa… Colonial governments discriminated against the employment of Africans in senior categories; and, whenever it happened that a white and a black filled the same post, the white man was sure to be paid considerably more. This was true at all levels…” (151)
African labor and resources were the basis of the whole colonial system in Africa. It propped up the wealthy European capitalists and colonial administrators. It propped up the European, landed settlers, the plantation owners and settler farmers. It propped up those African compradors willing to sell out their people to the imperialists. It also propped up a labor aristocracy from Europe who worked in Africa. The value and resources of Africans and other colonial peoples propped up the emerging First World as a whole. As Karl Marx pointed out a long time ago, the value that makes the whole system work can be traced back to labor. In today’s world, those who create surplus value almost exclusively reside in the Third World, in Africa, Asia, and Latin America.
Monoculture and Export Economies
Imperialists reconfigured African economies to suit their needs. The imperialists emphasized resource extraction and monoculture cash crops. This underdeveloped Africa and locked African countries into a world system where imperialists had the power:
“A further revelation of growth without development under colonialism was the over-dependence on one or two exports. The term ‘monoculture’ is used to describe those colonial economies which were centered around a single crop. Liberia (in the agricultural sector) was a monoculture dependent on rubber, Gold Coast on cocoa, Dahomey and southeast Nigeria on palm produce, Sudan on cotton, Tanganyika on sisal, and Uganda on cotton. In Senegal and Gambia, groundnuts accounted for 85 to 90 per cent of money earnings. In effect, two African colonies were told to grow nothing but peanuts.” (234)
The export economies of Africa produced terrible working conditions surrounding resource extraction and cash crop production. Imperialists made huge profits from the terrible conditions that surrounded the production of cotton, coffee, cocoa, peanuts, groundnuts, palm oil and other export crops:
“Peasants worked for large numbers of hours to produce a given cash crop, and the price of the product was the price of those long hours of labor. Since primary produce from Africa has always received low prices, it follows that the buyer and user of the raw material was engaging in massive exploitation of the peasants.” (160)
“The Ugandan farmer grew cotton which ultimately made its way into English factory in Lancashire or a British-owned factory in India. The Lancashire factory owner paid his workers as little as possible, but his exploitation of their labor was limited by several factors. His exploitation of the labor of the Ugandan peasant was unlimited because of his power in the colonial state, which insured that Ugandans worked long hours for very little. Besides, the price of the finished cotton shirt was so high that when reimported into Uganda, cotton in the form of a shirt was beyond the purchasing power of the peasant who grew the cotton.” (160)
“With regard to all peasant cash crops, the Produce Marketing Boards made purchases at figures that were way below world market prices. For instance, the West African Produce Board paid Nigerians a bit under 17 pounds for a ton of palm oil in 1946 and sold that through the Ministry of Food for 95 pounds, which was nearer the world market price. Groundnuts which received 15 pounds per ton when bought by the Boards were later sold in Britain at 110 pounds per ton. Furthermore, export duties were levied on the Boards’ sales by the colonial administrators, and that was an indirect tax on the peasants…” (169)
Infrastructure was made to serve the imperialists and the export economy:
“The combination of being oppressed, being exploited, and being disregarded is best illustrated by the pattern of the economic infrastructure of African colonies: notably, their roads and railways. These had a clear geographical distribution according to the extent to which particular regions needed to be opened up to import-export activities. Where exports were not available, roads and railways had no place. The only exception is that certain roads and railways were built to move troops and make conquest and oppression easier.” (209)
To orient everything toward export and control, peasants were shifted away from food production to monoculture cash crops and resource extraction. Cash crops for export makes giant profit margins, food and production for local needs doesn’t. Imperialism values profit more than people. Imperialists were not concerned if Africa was losing the ability to feed itself in places. Later, imperialists would be able to exploit the food crises in Africa that the imperialists themselves produced. They would further make Africa dependent by providing them the “Greek gift” of relief aid. Imperialism helped destroy food production, then use the situation to further eliminate Africa’s ability to support itself.
The shift away from local production to export, be it agricultural or resource extraction, further underdeveloped Africa. It destroyed local markets and small production for African needs. It bended infrastructure development to serve exports, not internal development. It destroyed the environment by intensive farming methods that are not ecologically sound or sustainable. It pushed African peasants and workers into further poverty. It made African production even more dependent on world markets and the whims of imperialism. Africa’s economies were made especially fragile. Africa’s peoples became victimized by the shifting commodity markets and bust cycles. This was especially the case after World War 2. Commodity prices never recovered to previous levels and Africans were left destitute. (158)
Monopoly and Finance
Imperialists used the modern institutions of finance and monopoly to ensure that value flowed from Africa into imperialist coffers. Imperialists contended against each other, as Lenin famously described. However, when they had to, imperialists united with each other against the African masses. The imperialists had a common interest in putting aside their differences in order to prevent socialist and national liberation movements from seizing power. They united to keep value smoothly flowing out of Africa. Imperial capital often merged in the exploitation of colonies. Rodney describes the case of Unilever:
“The composition of Unilever should serve as a warning that colonialism is not simply a matter of ties between a given colony and its mother country, but between colonies on the one hand and metropoles on the other. The German capital of Unilever joined the British in exploiting Africa and the Dutch in exploiting the East Indies. The rewards spread throughout the capitalist system in such a way that even those capitalist nations who were not colonial powers were also beneficiaries of the spoils. Unilever factories established in Switzerland, New Zealand, Canada, the U.S.A. were participants in the expropriation of Africa’s surplus and in using that surplus for their own development.” (190)
The way that imperialists divided and controlled Africa was always shifting:
“Economic partition and repartition of Africa was going on all the time because the proportions of the spoils that went to different capitalist countries kept changing. Special mention must be made of the U.S.A., because its share of the benefits from Africa was constantly increasing throughout the colonial period… As time went on, the U.S.A. got an even bigger slice of the unequal trade between the metropoles and colonial Africa.” (191)
World War 2 was a turning point when the United States ascends on the world scene. Because European countries were so weakened after the war, the United States was able to edge them out. The United States became the dominant imperialist power worldwide and in Africa. (194) Of all the imperialist powers, the United States becomes the principal beneficiary of the post-World War 2 neocolonial order. “The U.S.A. was a worthy successor to Britain as the leading force and policeman of the imperialist/colonialist world from 1945 onwards.” (194) The United States continues to play the role today in Africa, and the Third World generally.
Modern financial institutions were also used to drain Africa:
“The commercial banks worked hand in hand with the metropolitan government and the Currency Boards to make the system work. Together they established an intricate financial network which served the common end of enriching Europe at Africa’s expense.” (171)
“In 1960, the Standard Bank produced a new profit of 1,181,000 pounds and paid a 14 per cent dividend to its shareholders. Most of the latter were in Europe or else were whites in South Africa, while most of the profit was produced mainly by black people of the South and East Africa. Furthermore, these European banks transferred the reserves of their African branches to the London money market. This was the way in which they most rapidly expatriated African surplus to the metropoles.” (161)
Massive capital left Africa. (153) Trading companies made tremendous profits with very little investment. (157) Exploitation increased through monopoly practices. (168) Unequal power resulted in imperialist domination of the market. Imperialists worked together to keep prices low. This all results in forms of unequal exchange whereby African labor and commodities were undervalued due to imperialist practices. This enabled more and more value to leave Africa to Africa’s disadvantage. The imperialists were net beneficiaries and the Africans were losers in the global economic game.
Colonial Education, Geography, and Town Structure
Underdevelopment did not just affect the economic realm, but affected all of African society. Just as independent African production was destroyed in favor of the export economy, so too was independent culture and education. African culture and education was shoved to the side. Colonial education replaced traditional eduction. Instead of developing an African intellectual strata to serve Africa, the colonial education system created a class of imperial apologists and administrators. It created a comprador intellectual strata. (240) (260) The physical, civic geography was reconfigured just as the cultural geography was. Town geography, like all infrastructure, was redesigned to serve imperialists. Towns became centers of colonial administration and export, not centers of African cultural life or African political power. (232) All life in Africa was redirected to serve the needs of the imperialists, to serve the functioning of the system, to promote the smooth transfer of value out of Africa to the imperialists.
The International Division of Labor and Uneven Development
J. S. Mill described the relation between the imperialist countries and the colonies as akin to the relation between city and country. (177) Later, Lin Biao would describe the great split in the world as one between the global city and global countryside. Asia, Africa, and Latin America were underdeveloped while Europe, North America, and other imperialists reaped the benefits. Rodney describes the international division of labor and its effects:
“The international division of labor of the colonial period also ensured that there would be growth of employment opportunities in Europe, apart from the millions of white settlers and expatriates who earned a livelihood in and from Africa. Agricultural raw materials were processed in such a way as to form by-products, constituting industries in their own right. The number of jobs created in Europe and North America by the import of mineral ores from Africa, Asia, and Latin America can be seen from the massive employment roll of institutions such as steel works, automobile factories, alumina and aluminum plants, copper wire firms. Furthermore, those in turn stimulated the building industry, the transport industry, munitions industry, and so on. The mining that went on in Africa left holes in the ground, and the pattern of agricultural production left African soils impoverished; but, in Europe, agricultural and mineral imports built a massive industrial complex.” (180)
According to Rodney, another result of this international division of labor was that capitalism never created an African bourgeoisie in the traditional sense. Africa did not have African owned production of any scale. (216-217) This further hindered African development.
This pattern of imposing an international division of labor was not confined to the Western imperialists. The revisionist Soviet Union implemented similar policies to make their client states dependent on Moscow. This was a difference in outlook between certain “anti-revisionists” and the revisionists who followed Khrushchev. Che Guevara was reportedly critical of the path that led to Cuba’s dependence on the Soviet Union. Hoxha became angry with the Soviet revisionists when Khrushchev sought to reduce Albania to a fruit plantation for the Eastern Bloc. Hoxha split with the Soviets and charted a new course for Albania. The Chinese Maoists were the most vocal critic of dependence and imperialism in all its forms. This was part of the reason for the Sino-Soviet split. The international division of labor imposed on Africa by the imperialist hurt Africa to the gain of the imperialists.
The Technological Revolution
Africa’s contribution to European wealth was far greater than mere monetary returns. The slave trade represented a huge brain drain on Africa. When an African was moved to the New World, Africa not only lost that slave, but all of their descendants. Just as the slave trade represented a brain drain of historic proportions for Africa, the wealth that flowed to Europe and other imperialists snowballed in its effects too. The technological revolution and development of skills within European and other imperialist countries was aided by the exploitation of Asia, Africa, and Latin America.
“The colonial system permitted the rapid development of technology and skills within the metropolitan sectors of imperialism. It also allowed for the elaboration of the modern organizational techniques of the capitalist firm and of imperialism as a whole. Indeed, colonialism gave capitalism an added lease of life and prolonged its existence in Western Europe, which had been the cradle of capitalism.” (175)
“Profits from African colonialism mingled with profits from every other source to finance scientific research. This was true in the general sense that the affluence of capitalist society in the present century allowed more money and leisure for research. It is also true because the development of capitalism in the imperialist epoch continued the division of labor inside the capitalist metropoles to the point where scientific research was a branch of the division of labor, and indeed one of its most important branches. European society moved away from scientific research as an ad hoc, personal, and even whimsical affair to a situation where research was given priority by governments, armies, and private capitalists. It was financed and guided. Careful scrutiny reveals that the source of funding and the direction in which research was guided were heavily influenced by the colonial situation. Firstly, it should be recalled that profits made by Europe from Africa represented investable surpluses… These investment funds acquired from the colonies spread to many sectors in the metropoles and benefited industries that had nothing to do with processing of colonial products.” (174)
The imperialist countries were already on the way toward a great scientific and technological revolution when they began colonizing Africa and other parts of the world. However, the value from Africa gave a boost to the development of imperialist countries. The effect was that more and more value and time could be directed toward technological advance and perfecting the advanced organizational techniques of high capitalism. Thus the wheels of European and American discovery were greased with African blood. Europe’s “progress” snowballed.
The colonial and neocolonial world served an important function in the world system. Not only was it the main source of labor and resources, it also served as a kind of safety valve. Problems could be shifted onto Asia, Africa, and Latin America in order so keep the social order functioning in the imperialist homelands:
“Over the last few decades of colonialism, colonial possessions served capitalism as a safety valve in times of crisis. The first major occasion when this was displayed was during the great economic depression of 1929-34. During this period, forced labor was increased in Africa and the prices paid to Africans for their crops were reduced. Workers were paid less and imported goods cost a great deal more. Workers were paid less and imported goods cost a great deal more. That was a time when workers in the metropolitan countries also suffered terribly; but the colonialists did the best they could to transfer the burdens of the depression away from Europe and onto the colonies… The second major occasion on which the colonies had to bail out the metropoles was during the last world war. As noted earlier, African people were required to make huge sacrifices and to supply vital raw materials at little cost to the metropoles. Africa’s military importance was also decisive.” (195-196)
By shifting the burden onto the colonial and neocolonial world, the imperialists were able to prevent antagonistic contradictions from arising within the imperialist countries themselves. The contradiction between the capitalists and the workers of the imperialist countries was transformed from an antagonistic one to a non-antagonistic one. This was so much the case that eventually the imperialist working class becomes functionally indistinct from the imperialist bourgeoisie. They become part of the imperialist bourgeoisie. What makes this possible is the exploitation and oppression of Africa and the Third World generally. Imperialism abroad results in social peace in the imperial countries.
Social Democracy and Bourgeoisification
The great exploitation of Africans by imperialists created value that was then channeled in ways that benefited Europeans and other imperialists. Within Africa itself, the super-exploitation of Africans led to the rise of a class of Europeans who worked in Africa, but nonetheless received benefits from colonization. This settler working class often received such high benefits from super-exploitation that they ceased being exploited at all; they entered the labor aristocracy on the backs of Africans. This same effect was seen on a global scale. Workers in the European and imperialist countries often received such a large share of super-profits in the form of inflated wages and other benefits that they ceased to be exploited; they ceased to be proletarian, ceased to be a revolutionary agent.
“Wages paid to workers in Europe and North Africa were much higher than wages paid to African workers in comparable categories. The Nigerian coal miner at Enugu earned one shilling per day for working underground and nine pence per day for jobs on the surface. Such a miserable wage would be beyond the comprehension of a Scottish or German coal miner, who could virtually earn in an hour what the Enugu miner was paid for a six-day week. The same disparity existed with port workers. The records of the large American shipping company, Ferrell Lines, show that in 1955, of the total amount spent on loading and discharging cargo moving between Africa and America, five-sixths went to American workers and one-sixth to Africans. Yet, it was the same amount of cargo loaded and unloaded at both ends… The point here is merely to illustrate how much greater was the rate of exploitation of African workers.” (150)
African labor and resources financed social democratic reforms for European and other imperialist settlers living in Africa. The colonial and neocolonial states disproportionately allocated social services to non-Africans. (206-207) The state provided more for non-Africans: more hospitals, more access to water and sanitation, more access to electricity, more education, etc. This translated into a greater standard of living for imperialist populations in Africa. For example:
“In Algeria, the figure for infant mortality was 39 per 1,000 births among white settlers; but it jumped to 170 per 1,000 live births in the case of Algerians living in towns. In practical terms, that meant that the medical, maternity, and sanitation services were all geared toward the well-being of settlers.” (207)
This disparity of lifestyle between settler and African is repeated throughout Africa. (208) There was a great contrast between the imperialist, settler populations and the indigenous African populations. So great was the difference that the imperialist, settler working class in Africa showed little interest in aligning with its super-exploited African counterpart. The white workers living in Africa benefited so much from the imperialist system that they had more in common with their own imperialist bourgeoisie than with the African workers. They ceased to be exploited and eventually became part of the bourgeoisie themselves.
A similar process happened at the global level. The social democracies and liberal capitalisms of Europe and North America were built on and maintained though the subjugation of Asia, Africa, and Latin America. And it wasn’t just those countries that directly participated in imperial rule. “[Imperialism] allowed the participation of all capitalist nations. Therefore, lack of colonies on the part of any capitalist nation was not a barrier to enjoying the fruits of exploiting the colonial and semi-colonial world, which was the backyard of metropolitan capitalism.” In other words, even though countries like Sweden were not always directly involved in imperialism, their relationship to other imperialist powers allows them to benefit indirectly. (190) All of what would become the First World benefited from imperialism. So much did the First World benefit that the First World working class became thoroughly bourgeois, reaping the benefits of high income, cheap commodities, social democratic benefits, the welfare safety net, etc. — all based on exploitation of Asia, Africa, and Latin America. Even though Rodney recognizes the bourgeoisification of the First World working class, he fails to understand the magnitude of the problem. Even though his entire work points toward Third Worldist conclusions, Rodney still holds out for an impossible alignment between the First World working bourgeoisie and Third World workers. Rodney is just not able to fully escape First Worldist dogma. In typical First Worldist-style, he even attributes lack of solidarity with Africa to false consciousness and lack of education of First World workers. (199-200) He is not able to make the jump to Leading Light Communism. This mistake may have been somewhat justifiable in 1972 when Rodney wrote, but no thinking person can mistake the thoroughly reactionary nature of First World workers today.
Theory of Productive Forces
Rodney’s inability to break with First Worldism is linked to another problem in his work. Rodney is somewhat critical of Marx’s model for the evolution of modes of production, largely derived from Marx’s analysis of Western Europe. Yet Rodney does not go far enough in breaking with the Theory of Productive Forces, technological determinism, and the teleology that is emphasized in revisionist readings of Marx’s work. Although Rodney states otherwise on occasion, he largely seems to think that a big part, perhaps the principal part, of underdevelopment is lack of industrialization and lack of technology. While it is certainly true that this characterized much of the underdevelopment of Rodney’s day, since then we have seen more and more industrial production moved to the Third World. Underdevelopment today does not necessarily mean lack of industrialization just as development should not be equated with industrialization. Today, parts of the Third World are highly industrialized. Even so, the populations of the Third World see few benefits from this industrialization. Value flows are still directed away from the Third World masses. Also, the First World has become de-industrialized. More and more First World people are employed in management, distribution, and services. They consume yet produce very little. First World economies are giant “mall economies.” People are employed at the mall. Goods and services are exchanged. Yet there is no production going on. It is not as though they produce the clothing in the back of Macy’s. The value that allows the mall to function is being produced outside the mall, in the Third World. Even though some Third World economies have become diversified, they are still configured to serve the imperialists.
Our world is different than Rodney’s. Yet there are still many similarities. There is still a great divide in the world between rich and poor countries, the exploiter and exploited countries, the First and Third Worlds. However, this divide takes ever new forms. Asia, Africa, and Latin America, for the most part, are still controlled by the imperialists. The vast majority of humanity in the Third World barely survives while the First World grows fat. Production is more and more socialized. People on different sides of the globe can be involved in the same production process. There is more and more globalization. Yet distribution remains private and grossly unjust, First World countries reap the benefits of Third World production. Productive powers increase over time. Yet the basic needs for the vast majority of humanity in the Third World are not met. Marx famously said that philosophers have only interpreted the world, but the point is to change it. Understanding the world is the first step toward making real change. Without science, practice is blind. Rodney’s work, even though it has certain shortcomings, still stands the test of time for the most part. It is still an important contribution to Marxism. It is a good place to start one’s journey toward the fourth and highest stage of revolutionary science, Libertarian Communism.
Rodney, Walter. How Europe Underdeveloped Africa. Washington, D.C.: Harvard University Press, 1981.