[P2P-F] Understanding and Changing: A discussion with Zak Cope, author of ‘Divided World, Divided Class,’ on the stratification of labour under global capitalism

Anna Harris anna at shsh.co.uk
Sat Feb 2 11:28:13 CET 2013

Zak Cope *Divided World Divided Class: Global Political Economy and the
Stratification of Labour Under Capitalism*,(exerts from interview) Full
interview here<http://anti-imperialism.com/2012/09/18/understanding-and-changing-an-interview-with-zak-cope-author-of-divided-world-divided-class/>

Pervasive national, racial and cultural chauvinism in the core capitalist
countries is not primarily attributable to ‘false class consciousness’,
ideological indoctrination or ignorance as much left and liberal thinking
assumes. Rather, these and related forms of bigotry are concentrated
expressions of the major social strata of the core capitalist nations’
shared economic interest in the exploitation and repression of dependent

First, the depredations of colonialism and slavery provided not only the
historical impetus for the rise of capitalism, and for the birth of the
working class as such, but also a crucial source of food, employment
opportunities and land for metropolitan labour. Second, the book highlights
a historical shift whereby metropolitan labour first depends upon colonial
labour for its existence, then, later, increasingly for its sustenance, and
finally, now, upon neo-colonial labour for its entire lifestyle. Third, the
book shows that the tasks facing workers in the developed countries are not
those facing the workers of the underdeveloped countries. That fact may
seem obvious, but the book goes further and shows that there is a deeply
rooted contradiction between the aims and interests of the respective
workforces, as demonstrated by metropolitan labour’s active engagement in
colonial and neo-colonial politics.

My initial motivations for writing the book were threefold. Firstly, I
wanted to examine why workers in the rich countries seemed to have given up
on socialism. As Donald Sassoon’s magisterial *One Hundred Years of
Socialism* shows, the working class of the imperialist countries has for a
century and more struggled to regulate and socialise capitalism, not
replace it. If it is true that capitalism is an inherently exploitative and
oppressive socioeconomic system how is it that workers in the rich
countries have been so content to put up with it? Moreover, how is it that
workers in the developed capitalist countries are so far from having, as
Marx wrote, “nothing to lose but their chains”? My second motivation, then,
was to counter those ideologies on the left which seek to explain these
phenomena (that is, metropolitan working class conservatism and *
embourgeoisement*). So, for much of the left, it is its militancy, its
productivity or a combination of both, that explains metropolitan labour’s
relative affluence. Paradoxically, however, the Western left has felt the
need to explain working class conservatism by something other than this.
Thus it has tried to excuse metropolitan labour’s conservative, complacent
and fully reactionary politics with reference to its having been
brainwashed or divaricated from its revolutionary tasks by all-powerful
ideological state apparatuses (attempts to excuse it with reference to job
insecurity and “precarity” notwithstanding). In short, for much of what
passes for the left, it is “false class consciousness” that has led the
Western working class to prefer social democracy, social partnership, and
blatant national chauvinism (all these predicated on a political alliance
with the capitalist class and its representatives) to socialism. Finally,
and most fundamentally, the book was motivated by a desire to reinvigorate
an internationalist perspective which had been sorely neglected by a
Marxism deeply marked by a pernicious Eurocentrism. In that sense, the book
was motivated by wholehearted opposition to colonialism and imperialism,
which provide the real underpinnings of *embourgeoisement*, reformism, and
racism alike.

..the division between the rich and poor countries brought about by
colonialism and imperialism is today the most fundamental “group relation”
shaping peoples’ worldviews.
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