Uneven Development – Nation and Gender


The concept of the uneven development of capitalism is central to Marxism. Capitals develop at different rates, allowing larger capitalists with a greater mass of surplus value extracted  from workers to reinvest this and become bigger still. This process, called the concentration of capital, leads to disparity; the growth of some very big capitalists while others remain very small. The 100 largest TNCs, for example, hold one eighth of all foreign assets ($2 trillion 1998), and account for ten percent of all overseas sales $US2 trillion (UNCTAD 2000).


The faster growth of larger capitalists than smaller ones has major implications for the growth of capitalism in different countries and, within countries, for the growth of different regions and the growth of different parts of the workforce.


This emphasis on uneven development is one of the major features distinguishing Marxist economic analysis from mainstream neoclassical economics, which assumes convergence of any disparities towards harmonious equilibrium. Where neoclassicals assume competition levels out differences, Marxism argues that competition generates differences (Weeks 2001).


Nation and Class


In the Manifesto of the Communist Party, Marx and Engels described the rise of capitalism, its progressive role in putting to end crude feudal domination and its replacement with the clinical efficiency of the market, ‘doing away with the scattered state of the population’, agglomerating and centralising property and political power.

Independent, or but loosely connected provinces, with separate interests, laws, governments and systems of taxation, became lumped together into one nation, with one government, one code of laws, one national class-interest, one frontier and one customs-tariff (Marx & Engels 1848, p. 36)


The principal bourgeois revolutions of modern Europe were the English (1649), French (1789), German (1848), Russian (1905, Feb 1917). In the first two the bourgeoisie seized power from the feudalists, but subsequently cam to terms with them. In 1848 and 1905 it did not seize power but received certain concessions. In February 1917 it did seize power but was overthrown nine months later by the proletariat (Thomson 1971).


The working class, by contrast, is international. ‘Workers of the World Unite. We have nothing to lose but our chains’.


But the contrast is not so simple. The development of the proletariat is as uneven as its midwife, capitalism itself.


Marx & Engels concluded in the Manifesto: ‘The proletariat of each country must, of course, first of all settle matters with its own bourgeoisie.’ (Marx & Engels 1848, p. 45).


The Communists are further reproached with desiring to abolish countries and nationality. The working men have no country. We cannot take from them what they have not got. Since the proletariat must first of all acquire political supremacy, must rise to be the leading class of the nation,[47] must constitute itself the nation, it is, so far, itself national, though not in the bourgeois sense of the word. (Marx & Engels 1848, p. 55-56).

It is by means of the victory of the proletariat in each country that the antagonism between nations will be overcome because socialism abolishes the need for competition.

The working class is constantly drawn into the political struggles of the capitalist class for its own national victory[1] The hesitancy of the bourgeoisie in carrying their revolutions arises from its dual character – progressive and reactionary. Each of the bourgeois revolutions was marked by an increasing part played by the proletariat. In 1848 and 1905 the proletariat was so active that the capitalists took fight and capitulated to the feudalists. (Thomson 1971)


In 1905, arguing against the middle class socialists who disdained the idea of participating in a bourgeois revolution, Lenin wrote:

To the proletarian the struggle for political liberty and a democratic republic in a bourgeois society is only one of the necessary stages in the struggle for the social revolution that will overthrow the bourgeois system. Strictly differentiating between stages that are essentially different, soberly examining the conditions under which they manifest themselves does not at all mean indefinitely postponing one’s ultimate aim or slowing down one’s progress in advance. On the contrary, it is for the purpose of accelerating the advance and achieving the ultimate aim as quickly and securely as possible that it is necessary to understand the relation of classes in modern society. (LCW 8.24)


From the experience of 1905, when the Russian bourgeoisie took fright at the role of the proletariat and capitulated to the feudalists, Lenin concluded that the bourgeois revolution could not succeed in Russia so long as it was under the leadership of the bourgeoisie. The specific character of Russia meant that the proletariat had to pursue the bourgeois-democratic revolution by leading it and carrying with it the peasantry in the struggle against the feudal autocracy and the treacherous liberal bourgeoisie. This bourgeois democratic revolution led by the proletariat and peasantry would oust the feudal autocracy and thus pave the way for the victory of the socialist revolution by the proletariat and the poor peasantry (LCW 12.490, 15.56).


Colonialism and Imperialism


In terms of the international development of capitalism, Marx argues that capitalists are driven to expand markets overseas by the simple pressure of competition for any advantage as well as the need to find outlets for surplus production  (Marx & Engels1848; Marx 1885, 1894; Kautsky 1884; Luxemburg 1916).


With growing capitalist accumulation there is a tendency not just for commodities, but also capital itself to be exported. As Lenin emphasised in his booklet Imperialism, as capital accumulates, it becomes centralised and concentrated into monopolies. This tends to limit investment as monopoly capital seeks profits by raising prices rather than production. Capitalism thus seeks investment opportunities in the export of capital (Hobson 1902; Hilferding 1910; Lenin 1916; Sweezy 1942; Baran 1957; Baran & Sweezy 1966).


In addition, the growth of banking further encourages the centralisation of capital and overseas expansion as banks centralise otherwise dispersed funds into a reserve available for productive investment. The concentration of banking into monopolies gives them an interest in lending to large, secure, highly concentrated industrial firms, this interrelationship coalescing as ‘finance capital’ (Hilferding 1910, Lenin 1916).


The development of finance capital encourages direct foreign investment, as in the case of Germany and the United States, in place of foreign portfolio investment in lending and share purchase, the form of capital export characteristic of Britain and France (Hilferding 1910). Advanced capitalist countries are the main source of low cost loans and developing countries the sources of low wages and rents. The expansion of capitalism is a contradictory process, involving both internationalisation and nationalism; to compete internationally, firms need secure domestic bases (Bukharin 1917: 80; see also Marx & Engels 1848; Marx 1853).


In terms of the ‘host’ country, the export of capital plays a contradictory role, both integrating the host economy with the international economy as well as reinforcing its separation. Marx and Engels argue that, on the one hand, the capitalist class,

‘compels all nations, on pain of extinction, to adopt the bourgeois mode of production; it compels them to introduce what it calls civilization into their midst, i.e., to become bourgeois themselves. In one word, it creates a world after its own image’ (Marx & Engels 1848: 71).

On the other hand:

‘Just as it has made the country dependent on the towns, so it has made barbarian and semi-barbarian countries dependent on the civilized ones, nations of peasants on nations of bourgeois, the East on the West’ (Marx & Engels 1848: 71-2).


The Marxist tradition in this area has often been criticised as holding that capitalism accelerates the development of ‘backward’ areas and displaying eurocentric attitudes to colonised peoples (e.g. Frank 1967). Such criticisms arise from a one-sided reading of Marx and Engels’ argument presented here and a failure to see the irony dripping off their pen when he writes of bourgeois ‘civilization’.


While such an interpretation could also be drawn from a reading of Lenin’s pamphlet Imperialism (e.g. Brewer 1980), Lenin certainly discusses the colonies in terms of their subjugation, while in other work (1905) he displays acute awareness of the way foreign capital allied with local pre-capitalist classes to promote their own interests despite this inhibiting the development of capitalism.

Marx’s analyses of British colonialism portray its contradictory impact. In Ireland the export of English capital created a situation of ‘semi-feudalism’. English capitalist landowners destroyed feudal structures and created capitalist farming, but prevented the development of domestic industry by prohibiting tariffs (Marx 1870: 168-69). In India, British rule integrated the economy with the world market, but destroyed the local textile industry and kept the population in immense poverty. ‘The Indians will not reap the fruits of the new elements of society scattered among them by the British bourgeoisie till ... [they] shall have grown strong enough to throw off the English yoke altogether’ (Marx 1853: 323; also Marx 1894: 451).

Imperialism and National Self-determination

The national bourgeoisie originally fought for national states; control over the domestic market was a basic economic foundation for their power. However, imperialism turned the national state, with its laws and regulations, into a hindrance for the expansion of the international capital.

As in Germany in 1848 and Russia in 1905 and 1917, in China in the early 20th century, the capitalist class was too weak to overthrow feudalism, particularly as this was allied with Western imperialists. Several attempts at bourgeois democratic revolution during 1911-27 collapsed into counter revolutionary feudal reaction.


Mao argued that only the leadership of the proletariat in alliance with the peasantry could carry through the bourgeois-democratic revolution to oust the feudal-imperialist alliance. But because it was not just directed against feudalism but also against the imperialists, it needed the support of all classes opposed to imperialism, including the national bourgeoisie. The character of this revolution, he agued was, new democratic or what we now refer to as national-democratic.


The national-democratic revolution, based on this alliance of proletariat and peasantry, combined with other anti-imperialist forces has been the principal goal of the communist movement in the third world.

Against imperialism, the aim is national-self determination, the same goal as the bourgeois-democratic revolution, but in conditions of imperialism. But national democracy under proletarian leadership is an entirely different matter to bourgeois nationalism.

In most countries the national bourgeoisie plays a smaller and smaller role. When the bourgeoisie plays the national tune today, it is to promote national chauvinism, legitimising hegemonism and suppression of national minorities within their own state borders.

Today, the defenders of the nation are not the bourgeoisie but the working class and the toiling masses: in their defence of trade union rights, juridical rights and, not least, democratic rights. Today, there is even more reason to say that the struggle for national sovereignty is an integrated part of the proletarian, socialist revolution, than it was when Lenin formulated this theses on national self-determination more than 80 years ago.

At the beginning of the twenty first century, the main contradiction in the world is between imperialism and the oppressed peoples and nations in the world. The national democratic movements in the third world are the main force in the anti-imperialist camp.

The leading imperialist powers are meddling in conflicts between states and are striving to raise ethnic and religious based struggle within existing states. They are playing on national and ethnic contradictions in a classical divide-and-rule strategy. As we are fighting for the right of nations to form their states, inclusive the rights of secession from multinational states, communists then also have to struggle to minimise the contradictions between states and nations.

We cannot leave “the national issue” to the bourgeoisie, because they are utilizing the national and ethnic contradictions for their own advantage. The national struggle is an independent and important struggle for the working class and all exploited and oppressed classes and groups. This struggle is an important presupposition for, and part of, the revolutionary struggle for socialism and communism. Socialist revolutions and development of a world wide communist system presupposes free national states, which can cooperate equally with each others, for the benefit of all, before the dismantling of the national states can begin.

Racism and National Oppression in Aotearoa

The process of uneven development of capitalism underpins the colonisation of Aotearoa and continued subjugation of Maori.

Capitalist accumulation developed in Aotearoa on the basis of high ground rents from land violently seized from the Maori and the exploitation of migrant labour from Europe, supplemented at times by Maori, Chinese and Samoans.

Once the settler capitalists (generally in association with British financiers and trading companies)[2] swindled or seized lands from the Maori, from 1840 large numbers of migrant workers were shipped over from England, Ireland, and Northern Europe to provide the labour for capitalist accumulation. These migrants and their descendents provide the bulk of the working class today.

In addition, the capitalists turned to non-European migration for supplies of cheap flexible labour in times of economic expansion. From the earliest days of settlement Maori were employed as internal migrants from their villages to work on farms as labourers and shearers, able to survive on the low wages offered because of the communal support of their hapu. Chinese were imported to work on the goldfields and railways in the late nineteenth century. Maori were drawn from rural areas to the expanding cities following World War II, and were followed by Pacific Island immigrants in the 1960s. These groups of workers have been employed in the lowest paid jobs, and the worst working and living conditions.

This division of the workforce between a core of relatively secure, higher paid, more permanently employed workers and a lower paid casual flexible periphery is a favourite technique of the capitalists. Japanese capitalists have perfected it, building a small core of highly loyal workers promised ‘lifelong employment’ supplemented by a large majority of casual subcontractors. Only about 40% of Toyota’s workforce is core.

An equally favoured technique of the capitalists is to build this division on racial grounds. In the British colonies, the core workforce is invariably white and the periphery drawn from non-European nations. The limited recruitment from different nations ensures these are national minorities. In the case of Aotearoa, the indigenous people were reduced to a national minority in their own lands.

The racial division of the workforce was enforced by the state. There has been a long history of racist laws against Maori, primarily designed to maintain cheap access to Maori land and a reserve labour force. Until the 1950s laws discriminated against Chinese citizens. In the 1970s the state harassed Pacific Islanders as "overstayers" in an attempt to export some of New Zealand's unemployment.

The capitalist recruitment and state oppression has been reinforced by the divisions they have created within the workforce. The favoured treatment of white workers gives them a stake in maintaining the division, or at least not doing anything to change it. Some workers, often encouraged by racist apologists for the capitalists, develop racist beliefs to justify their favoured position. This white chauvinism and racism is pervasive in Aotearoa. Some pakeha workers consciously ally with the exploiters and promote actions against workers of other nationalities in a similar manner to the way charge hands or supervisors will often take the bosses side.

Together, the capitalist recruitment policies, state legislation, and white chauvinism combine to systematically oppress national minorities. They are discriminated against in employment, housing, education, excluded from Pakeha society yet their own languages and cultures are suppressed. Their marginalisation from European culture makes it hard for them to defend their rights in a  system based on European rules.

The long history of oppression of national minorities in Aotearoa has given rise to deep sentiments for equality and liberation, particularly among Maori. Because of the dependence of the settler capitalist class on access to the lands and resources of Aotearoa, the struggles of Maori in particular against national oppression strike at the root of the monopoly capitalist system.

Because of the settler nature of New Zealand capitalism, that it is based principally on the exploitation of surplus value from the working class but, inseparably, also on the exploitation of the resources of the lands stolen from the Maori, the basic forces of the revolution are the working class and the Maori nation.

Women’s Oppression

In the Manifesto Marx and Engels railed against women’s oppression under capitalism:

..... Abolition of the family! Even the most radical flare up at this infamous proposal of the Communists.

On what foundation is the present family, the bourgeois family, based? On capital, on private gain. In its completely developed form this family exists only among the bourgeoisie. But this state of things finds its complement in the practical absence of the family among the proletarians, and in public prostitution.

The bourgeois family will vanish as a matter of course when its complement vanishes, and both will vanish with the vanishing of capital.

Do you charge us with wanting to stop the exploitation of children by their parents? To this crime we plead guilty.

But, you will say, we destroy the most hallowed of relations, when we replace home education by social.

And your education! Is not that also social, and determined by the social conditions under which you educate, by the intervention, direct or indirect, of society, by means of schools, etc.? The Communists have not invented the intervention of society in education; they do but seek to alter the character of that intervention, and to rescue education from the influence of the ruling class.

The bourgeois clap-trap about the family and education, about the hallowed co-relation of parent and child, becomes all the more disgusting, the more, by the action of Modern Industry, all family ties among the proletarians are torn asunder, and their children transformed into simple articles of commerce and instruments of labour.

But you Communists would introduce community of women, screams the whole bourgeoisie in chorus.

The bourgeois sees in his wife a mere instrument of production. He hears that the instruments of production are to be exploited in common, and, naturally, can come to no other conclusion than that the lot of being common to all will likewise fall to the women.

He has not even a suspicion that the real point aimed at is to do away with the status of women as mere instruments of production.

For the rest, nothing is more ridiculous than the virtuous indignation of our bourgeois at the community of women which, they pretend, is to be openly and officially established by the Communists. The Communists have no need to introduce community of women; it has existed almost from time immemorial.

Our bourgeois, not content with having the wives and daughters of their proletarians at their disposal, not to speak of common prostitutes, take the greatest pleasure in seducing each others' wives.

Bourgeois marriage is in reality a system of wives in common and thus, at the most, what the Communists might possibly be reproached with, is that they desire to introduce, in substitution for a hypocritically concealed, an openly legalised community of women. For the rest, it is self-evident that the abolition of the present system of production must bring with it the abolition of the community of women springing from that system, i.e., of prostitution both public and private.

Women's Oppression in New Zealand

Women's oppression is built into monopoly capitalism. Women comprise 44% of the total work force, and over a third of the full time work force but receive only 80% of the income of men. Women fill many of the lowest-paid and tedious jobs in the economy. Women have reduced access to education.

Capitalism profits from the low-paid work of women and the unpaid work of women in the home. Women are exploited by capitalism as a sexual image in commercial culture. The billion dollar pornography and sex industry have reduced women to mere commodities. Women are subject to appalling violence - within domestic relationships, through a daily bombardment of denigration in the media and in social situations, to rape and incest.

The capitalist class has long attempted to preserve the low wage position of women. The state has a long history of systematically controlling women's reproductive, democratic and employment rights. Integral to this systematic oppression is male supremacist ideology, stemming from the unequal situation of men and women. This pervasive ideology leads many men to subjugate women in work, social and domestic situations, through the practice of an intimidatory, harassing, degrading and violent culture. Some men consciously ally with the exploiters to maintain the subordinated position of women. But, again in the final analysis, the vast majority of working people, both women and men, have no stake in women's oppression.





[1] The bourgeoisie finds itself involved in a constant battle. At first with the aristocracy; later on, with those portions of the bourgeoisie itself, whose interests have become antagonistic to the progress of industry; at all times, with the bourgeoisie of foreign countries. In all these battles it sees itself compelled to appeal to the proletariat, to ask for its help, and thus, to drag it into the political arena. The bourgeoisie itself, therefore, supplies the proletariat with its own elements of political and general education,[39] in other words, it furnishes the proletariat with weapons for fighting the bourgeoisie. (Marx & Engels 1848, p. 43).


[2] Local settler capitalists accumulated capital in alliance with British banking capital, which invested in mechanised processing, infrastructure development, and a transport network tied to delivering New Zealand agricultural produce to the British market. While the settler capitalists were dependent on British capitalism, autonomous capitalist accumulation was possible, and a growing proportion of the economy fell into settler capitalist hands.


For much of the post-WW2 period New Zealand capitalism has been dominated by domestic and foreign, particularly US, monopoly capitalists. Foreign monopoly capital commanded a number of strategic industries such as oil, chemicals, car assembly, aluminium, banking, shipping, and insurance. Local managers and board members of these foreign firms, particularly the finance sector, acted as agents of foreign capital. Domestic monopoly capital controlled agriculture, forestry and fishing, most manufacturing, retailing, wholesaling, domestic transport, electricity generation and telecommunications. But domestic monopoly capital was dependent on foreign capital.


The characteristics of this dependency are:

·         The reliance of big domestic manufacturing capitalists on foreign loan capital and technology, minority foreign shareholdings and inter-linking directorships.

The liberalisation of the New Zealand economy dramatically strengthened the position of foreign capital, initially foreign financial and services capital, and later US finance capital. Big domestic financial and retailing capital was eliminated and manufacturing capital severely weakened. Foreign investment has increased rapidly, from $725 million in 1989 to a peak of $4.7 billion in 1994. This has since fallen back to $2 billion in 1997 but the total has risen to $51 billion and New Zealand capitalists now pay out $7.3 billion a year in profit repatriation and debt repayments to the foreign owners of these investments. This is the major contributor to New Zealand’s balance of payments deficit of 7.7% of GDP, reinforcing the local capitalists’ dependence on US imperialism. Foreign investment accounted for one third of all capital formation at its peak in 1994, but even at 11% in 1997 this is concentrated in the strategic commanding heights of the economy. While NZ monopoly capitalist class was arguably still predominantly domestic in 1994, by 1996 foreign capital commanded the majority of the leading firms and accounted for most capital investment.