Magazine article Monthly Review

Can the World Industrialization Project Be Sustained?

Magazine article Monthly Review

Can the World Industrialization Project Be Sustained?

Article excerpt

The subject addressed here must be one of the most pressing and significant that humanity has been confronted with so far. Yet, only few attempts are underway and little effort is spent to analyze the dangers we face and to develop strategies designed to avert the looming catastrophe. I would like to maintain that world industrialization and urbanization and its associated social systems and techniques--such as the universal market system or centralized planning bureaucracies-- cannot be sustained except for a relatively few privileged people and at the cost of increased mass death which may include the practice of genocide. The alternative, namely, to abandon the global industrialization project and to begin a move away from industrial society as it is known today, equally entails a risk of mass death on a tremendous scale.

What exactly is the nature of the problem that confronts us? What are the anticipated bottlenecks based upon which one could say that the "world industrialization project" will come to an end? What are the bottlenecks that could lead to mass death? In an attempt to address these questions, we turn first to a short discussion of the process of industrialization.

Industrialization and its Correlates

It is important to recall that the change from agricultural to modern, urban, and industrial societies has always been financed on the back of peasants both in the nineteenth century in the area that is now known as the center, and in the twentieth century in the area that is now known as the periphery. Whether or not this transfer of value away from the agricultural sector has been achieved by political and bureaucratic means or through the indirect and anonymous coercion of market systems, the truth remains that the surplus product of agriculture alone served to finance industrial production and made urban and industrial life possible. This is not to deny that agriculture simultaneously became more productive due, in part, to the very growth in the urban-based sciences and industrial production it had financed. However, much of the this transformation has always been associated with immense hardship, be it for the many who remained in rural areas or for those who migrated as wage laborers to the growing cities.

The most common methods of transforming agricultural society have been, on the one hand, the market mechanism associated with capitalism and, on the other, the central planning approach relying primarily on authoritarian bureaucratic methods. The latter can again be divided into one that encourages urbanization (Eastern Europe) and one that tends to discourage large-scale rural-urban migration. Thus, China has promoted the selective industrialization of rural communities. Despite these differences, the socialist approaches have one thing in common which clearly distinguishes them from the capitalist industrialization technique: the belief that industrial society can be attained while guaranteeing a socio-cultural existence minimum to all. It was only from about 1795-1834, and only in England during the Speenhamland regulations, that the capitalist technique resorted to a kind of guaranteed minimun income policy. And even this phase can be seen primarily as a strategy to get industrialization going, to soften the blows dealt by land enclosures, and to encourage enough individuals to permanendy participate as wage laborers outside agriculture. Once industrialization had gained enough momentum, the Speenhamland regulations were abandoned, to make room for the poor laws, police and jails, utilitarianism and free markets, Manchester liberalism and social Darwinism, cyclically recurring economic crises, class struggle, and revolutionary activity.

By the time the modern welfare state developed, the capitalist system had entered its imperialist phase and had taken a firm grip on ever more distant agricultural populations whose surplus could be used both to expand the newly created industrial society in the center and to introduce large scale urban life and rudimentary industrial production in the periphery. …

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