The Spark

the Voice of
The Communist League of Revolutionary Workers–Internationalist

“The emancipation of the working class will only be achieved by the working class itself.”
— Karl Marx

The Economically Backward Countries

Jan 21, 1976

The extension of the capitalist mode of production on a worldwide basis occurred historically in a way that benefited the bourgeois classes of a few countries in Western Europe and North America. The capitalist mode of production spread by systematic pillage during colonialism, followed by imperialist exploitation of most remaining countries. The invasion of Western capital and its brutal grip on these countries retards their economic development and destroys any possibility of autonomous development. The economies of the “backward” countries have been restructured according to the needs of the capitalist countries.

The economic backwardness of the so-called underdeveloped countries is not simply a question of their trailing behind the advanced countries. It consists above all in the international division of labor, which is arranged entirely for the advantage of the imperialist countries.

As a result, the backward countries, under the world-wide domination of imperialism, are permanently condemned to underdevelopment. Political independence and the possession of a national state apparatus, which the majority of underdeveloped countries acquired during decolonization, have given the ruling classes in these countries greater opportunities for bartering with the imperialist powers in the sharing out of national surplus value. But this new political form has not ended their basic subordination to Western capital and economic dependence on it. Western capital has closed off all roads to development for the underdeveloped countries.

Those countries making a complete break with Western imperialism may have ended the direct diversion of part of the national surplus product to the Western bourgeoisie. But that break does not create the conditions for an economic development that could end backwardness, despite what the apologists say about radical bourgeois programs, carrying “socialist” or “Maoist” labels. In order to develop a national economy, the laboring masses may be exploited ruthlessly. But that exploitation will not enable a backward country to construct an advanced economy because the country is still blocked by the international division of labor. The country will not be able to reconstitute, on its own, the accumulation of material, technical, and scientific wealth that the imperialist powers have amassed for themselves by exploiting the whole world.

The USSR, which serves a part of the radical petty-bourgeoisie as an example of socialism, is not a socialist country. It was an underdeveloped country which has not yet emerged from underdevelopment. It has not caught up with the most advanced capitalist countries. The Soviet industrial development does not compare with that of advanced capitalist countries. Despite such favorable factors as size, population, and mineral resources, the “primitive accumulation” of their nationalized industry is based on savage exploitation of Russian workers, farmers, and slave laborers in detention camps. The accumulation has been achieved also through the radical expropriation not only of the national and international bourgeoisie, but also by expropriating all the goods of the town and rural petty-bourgeoisie, including small farmers.

Ruthless exploitation of the working classes and slave labor are means that may be used by states which have not destroyed their own petty bourgeoisie. The other, more radical measures could only take place under a reactionary bureaucracy born out of a workers’ state. This in no way implies that such measures are an integral part of our program, or that such expropriation and exploitation lead down the road to socialism.

These countries are not, and cannot, develop solely at a national level. The end of underdevelopment in the backward countries, and therefore the end of the wretched poverty of their masses, depends on the destruction of the imperialist system on an international level. Only the international proletariat’s victory over the international bourgeoisie can achieve this.

The underdeveloped countries have a special development, both socially and economically; they contain both very backward and extremely advanced structures. This means that the proletariat in these countries has to struggle for both basic bourgeois, democratic aims, and for socialist revolution.

The revolutionary proletariat of a backward country must make a determined fight for bourgeois democratic aims, such as agrarian reform, democratic freedoms, and national independence. But at the same time it must consciously attempt to foment the world-wide overthrow of the bourgeoisie. It must aim to become part of the international proletariat’s struggle against the bourgeoisie for political power and for the collective appropriation of the means of production, thus laying the foundations of a socialist society.

The task of revolutionary socialists in the underdeveloped countries is therefore a fight for power and for a proletarian socialist revolution, as a part of the world revolution.

To this end, revolutionary socialists must organize the proletariat, distinguishing themselves clearly from bourgeois and petty-bourgeois nationalist organizations, even if the nationalist organizations use very radical phraseology and tactics, (as did Castro, Guevara, and Mao). They must act so that the masses do not follow the nationalist organizations. Revolutionaries must lead the struggle for national emancipation, agrarian reform and democratic demands. They must prepare the proletariat for taking and exercising power with the active support of the peasants. They must show clearly how revolution in their country is an essential part of the world-wide socialist revolution, and work toward the construction and strengthening of a real International.

The need to build revolutionary workers’ parties in the backward countries is urgent. We cannot wait until such parties exist in the developed countries or until an International exists. We cannot wait for the revolution to occur in the “advanced” countries. Revolutionaries must take advantage of whatever political and social circumstances arise. A socialist revolution, even in an underdeveloped country, would be a considerable boost for world socialist revolution.

The socialist nature of a revolution does not stem from the attempt to build socialism within national boundaries. The construction of a socialist society will be the task of revolutionaries after the main bastions of capitalism have fallen. Then, revolutionaries will control the materials and resources necessary for this construction. No country in the world, not even the most developed, possesses all the necessary materials within its own boundaries. The material, economic, technological, and human foundations for socialist society will be laid by the development of resources on a worldwide scale.

The goal of a victorious socialist revolution in an underdeveloped country is not to build socialism. The immediate goal is to relieve the poverty of the population by developing agricultural production or making it available for internal consumption. This entails a swing toward diversified food crops and the end of a single crop production, which ties an economy to the world market. The state would by no means try to accumulate capital at the expense of the peasants and then invest in a hypothetical industrialization. Existing industry would be directed to the production of agricultural tools. This would not permit a spectacular growth of the economy; growth would remain very elementary. But it would enable the peasants to live and would win their wholehearted support for the new power.

As for material abundance or even the mere satisfaction of more elaborate needs, the workers’ state would have to wait for the world socialist revolution. This revolution will put at the disposal of all peoples, starting with the colonized peoples, the riches that imperialism concentrated in the hands of the few “advanced” countries by theft and exploitation.

The workers’ state, refusing to be the instrument of exploitation, is more democratic because it does not have to preach the necessity of “building a strong economy.” The efforts to build a modern economy by bourgeois states that have broken with imperialism are not only hopeless; they also result in an unjustified exploitation of the population, especially the peasants, and in lowering the standard of living.

The “working class” nature of this state would be manifested by its basic decisions on an international level. It would strive toward the building of the revolutionary International and the spreading of the socialist revolution.