Underdevelopment as super-exploitation: Marini's political-economic thought

Higginbottom, Andrew (2010) Underdevelopment as super-exploitation: Marini's political-economic thought. In: Historical Materialism: Crisis and Critique, 7th Annual Conference; 11-14 Nov 2010, London, U.K.. (Unpublished)


This paper presents an appreciation of the originality and salience of Ruy Mauro Marini's political-economic thought, specifically that he posits the super-exploitation of labour as the driving category of capitalist underdevelopment. Writing from the Marxist wing of the Latin American dependency school, Marini made a novel contribution that addresses the continent's unequal exchange with Britain from the mid-nineteenth century onwards. Marini derives super-exploitation from the import of cheap food and raw materials sought by the most developed capitalist nation. An inequality between capitals sets in, the primary export-producing capitals compensate for their lowering prices and lower rate of profit by driving down wages. Through this mechanism, Marini connects super-exploitation in the raw material exporting countries with the consolidation of relative surplus value in the developed countries. Once superexploitation (a higher rate of surplus value) is established it shapes the dependent social formation. The paper explores Serra and Cardoso's critique, arguing that Marini's response in the debate raises a fundamental issue: distinctive combinations of absolute and relative surplus value as the explanation for the divergent social formations of developed and underdeveloped capitalism. The paper examines the relationship between super exploitation and the mechanisms of increasing surplus value. It argues for sympathetic modifications to Marini's argument, principally that price tends to cost of production rather than value. This refers to the necessary divergence of price from value in a system of sectors with different value compositions of capital, as unfolded by Marx in the early chapters of Volume 3 of Capital. This modification reinforces the general direction of Marini; however it introduces complications into the limiting assumptions of Marx's transformation schema. The paper concludes that the revolutionary wing of the Latin American dependency theory provides a fruitful and necessary conceptual basis for the analysis of capitalist imperialism.

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