Joseph Hansen

A Liberal Looks at the World Map

(Winter 1955)

Source: Fourth International, Vol.16 No.1, Winter 1955, pp.32-35.
Transcription/Editing/HTML Markup: 2006 by Einde O’Callaghan.
Public Domain: Joseph Hansen Internet Archive 2006; This work is completely free. In any reproduction, we ask that you cite this Internet address and the publishing information above.

World Power in the Balance
by Tibor Mende
The Noonday Press, Inc., New York, 1953. 188 pp. $3.

“In 1900, over 1.3 billion people inhabited our globe. Of those, four out of every thirteen were Europeans. Nearly eight were Asians, and the other areas of the planet, all together, did not account for more than half as many as Europe alone. Fifty years later, the earth’s population is nearly doubled. If we lined up humanity in the form of twenty-five figures, each standing for a 100 million, Europe would be represented by the same four who stood for her in 1900. But then, it was four out of some thirteen; now, it would be the same four out of twenty-five. Next to the four Europeans would stand twelve and a half Asians and two Africans; followed by two for the Soviet Union; one and a half for the USA; the same for Latin America; and another one and a half standing for Australia, Canada, New Zealand, and the other areas of the world lumped together. In our line of twenty-five, fifteen at least would represent so-called men of color.

“But, our world is fairly clearly divided into three distinct zones, roughly corresponding to their technological progress. The ‘developed’ areas would be represented by four immaculately dressed and bejewelled- figures in the same line of twenty-five. The ‘underdeveloped’ ones would constitute a long row of sixteen ragged skeleton-like bodies. Between the two would stand five better (but still cheaply) clad figures, representing the people who have already managed to put some flesh on their bones and to clothe their bodies with some ready-mades.”

Tibor Mende’s book is a discussion of the determination of the “sixteen ragged skeleton-like bodies” to lift their standard of living up to the level of the developed countries, and the impact of this drive on the old metropolitan centers. To show what it means for the future, he begins with “The Map of Our Grandfathers,” that is, the world as it appeared to the imperialist powers in 1899.

“The century was coming to an end, and the White man was supreme. The planet was mapped out. Slowly it had become clear that further gain to one state could henceforth be only at the expense of another. The territories under European control grew to enormous dimensions. Britain ruled over lands 140 times bigger than the United Kingdom; the colonies of little Belgium grew to eighty times the size of the mother country; Holland’s colonial Empire was sixty times her own size; France’s possessions were beginning to surpass twenty times her metropolitan territory; and even Portugal managed to keep her flag flying over an area twenty-two times greater than she possessed in Europe. England, alone, was master of the fate of about a quarter of the land surface of the globe. Great Britain, France, and the Czar’s empire, combined, controlled over half the world. Clearly, the expansive force of the new economic techniques, perfected by the white man, had given him influence and power unprecedented in history.”

How arrogant these lords of the world were at the turn of the century cam be judged from an editorial in the London Times, Nov. 5, 1900, cited by the author. The Boxer Rebellion had just been put down, a rebellion in which a band of Chinese nationalists expressed their fury against the colonial oppressors from abroad by massacring some Europeans and attacking their legations in Peking. Now it was a question of what to do next.

“In these conditions,” said the Times, “the course of the Powers seems clear. They cannot punish the rabble and they cannot punish the minor officials so as to instill into either the one or the other an abiding and an efficacious terror of Europe. They can, by a relatively small number of executions amongst the higher ranks of the official hierarchy, create this terror ... If they are punished ... all China will realize that in the future no power in the land can protect the real authors of crimes against Europeans from the penalty they deserve.”

As everyone is aware, Great Britain’s attitude toward China today is much more diplomatic than a half century ago when its leading journal openly advocated a reign of terror. The map of the world, as “our grandfathers” saw it, has undergone profound alteration.

“Compared to the apparent finality of the world of 1900,” says Mende, “half a century later, the world is in tortured transition. In the years between, most of the components which had supported that idyllic edifice of the outgoing century have been smashed.”

Europe no longer leads the world. Rivalries among the European powers brought mutual ruin. The starved, exploited, long-suffering colonial peoples are on the march. Two great new powers vie for supremacy.

“Within the span of half a century, the world has witnessed greater and graver events than in any comparable period in history. During scarcely more than the lifetime of a generation, there occurred two global wars; two of the greatest revolutions of modern times; the emergence of two colossi, incomparably more powerful than any former community under single control; the invention of tools to harness energy beyond the wildest dreams of Utopians; and the development of psychological techniques to create conformity and artificial obedience, more deadly than the satirists’ nightmare. It seems, indeed, as if, in the twentieth century, mankind has entered, the apocalyptic phase of its relentless march toward grave and irrevocable decisions.”

The dissolution of the 19th century balance of power is due, according to Mende, primarily to the development of the economic forces. The indexes he uses to illustrate what has happened, especially in the United States, are graphic:

“... machines were built which could do more work than the entire slave population of the United States at the time of the Civil War. In a West Coast steel mill in America, for instance, four electric motors can do a job equal to the manpower of thirty-eight army divisions.”

“Between 1903 and 1926, no less than 181 companies manufactured passenger cars in the United States. By 1926, their number narrowed to forty-four. By 1930, though the output had expanded a thousand-fold since the beginning of the century, over 90 per cent of the business was done by six companies, which remained in the arena of production like victorious gladiators. The concentration of financial power showed a similar development. By 1930, there were fifteen American companies with assets over one billion dollars. By 1951, there were only thirteen, but six of them, all oil concerns, owned combined assets of nearly thirteen billion dollars. They, together with a Dutch and a British company, were supposed to control all the non-Soviet world’s petroleum, from oil field to consumer.”

“Approximately as many people as the population of a country like Norway are dependent on the US Steel Corporation for their livelihood.”

“A prominent leader of modern industry, John D. Rockefeller, has given away, in charity alone, over $300 million – as much as the earnings of one thousand Calcutta jute-mill workers if they had begun to put aside their total wages some fifty years before the foundation stone of Notre Dame of Paris was laid. (Taking the present average monthly wage of $30, for a thousand workers it would have taken 833 years.)”

The accelerated development of the West, which occurred by draining and impoverishing the colonial areas, led to the division of the globe into three areas: the developed one, headed today by the US, the underdeveloped region (Latin America, Africa, Asia), and between these two extremes, the semi-developed (the Soviet bloc, Japan, and a few other countries). The differences, in terms of tools to grow food or manufacture necessities of life, are indicated by the fact that in international units “the average American commands over twenty-five times more such tools than the average Chinese; while the average Japanese is still seven times superior in the quantity of his equipment to his closest continental neighbor.”

How can an underdeveloped country catch up with the most advanced? This is the big question facing the majority of mankind today. Two alternatives are open, in Mende’s opinion. An underdeveloped country “can obtain industrial equipment from one of the ‘developed’ lands, at the latter’s terms, or it can choose to lower its living standards even further in order to accumulate enough commodities to pay for modern means of production. Those inclined to attempt this development are necessarily influenced – if not attracted – by the experience of the ‘semi-developed’ countries Which have already made the same choice. What is new is the increased value of raw material resources within the borders of these lands.” The enormous development of economic forces is “just one aspect of the general trend which is rendering national frontiers obsolete.” Another aspect is the development of military techniques. “Modern and, therefore, large-scale war is a measure of any participant’s ability to distribute, free of charge, large quantities of capital equipment in the shortest possible time.” The costs are beyond the capacities of many countries. “A relatively obsolete single weapon, like a (heavy bomber, costs as much, in 1952, as the public assistance system of a highly advanced country like Sweden could afford to spend on maternity and child care during a full year.” Some weapons cannot even be produced by countries lacking large and advanced industrial apparatus. “It is no wonder, then, if these developments compel nations to merge their industrial capacity for the sake of sheer survival, in the military sense of the word.” Thus the trend toward formation of units transcending national boundaries “is one of the salient features of our period.”

The developed countries, bound closer and closer to the giant United States, are less and less willing to help the underdeveloped countries. They in turn, are unable to obtain help from the halfway countries, and must depend for modern tools from the developed countries whom they fear.

“Here, in a nutshell, is the economic dilemma of a fast-shrinking, unevenly developed world, whose multiplying masses make rapid progress in social consciousness, and the least privileged of whom are the most impatient in their clamor for redress of their grievances.”

Taking up specific areas on the map of the world today, Mende deals first with the United States, that country “where, on the mere effort to influence people’s choice between plentiful, rival products, more is spent each year than the total national income of the continent of Australia ...”

The author briefly sketches the rise of America as a result of capitalist exploitation of a virgin continent; then its conversion from a debtor to a creditor country due to its victory at the expense of Europe in World War I.

“Today, the average American citizen enjoys greater prosperity than has ever been known by any community in history. The average consumer buys one-third more goods and services than in the boom year of 1929: one-third more suits, autos, steaks, doctor’s bills, television sets, and Vacations than in that year when American prosperity was already legendary. By 1951, the average American’s share of the national income reached $1,785 a year compared to less than $700 for the citizens of the United Kingdom, over $500 for the French, and around $50 a year for the Indian and the Chinese.”

All this is only preliminary to what is about to occur. America is at the threshold of becoming a colossus.

“She will have either the power of a Samson to bring economic ruin on the rest of the world, or that of the mythological goddess of eight arms to bring relief to the sickness of our globe. The awe-inspiring might, conjuring up these alternatives, is being shaped before our eyes.”

Here is what is happening: Following the outbreak of the Korean War, a program was embarked upon to enlarge the country’s industrial base.

“A new economic sector, devoted to military needs, but capable also of civilian production is to be completed within four or five years. In 1950 America’s industrial capacity was already two-thirds greater than in 1939. By 1955 ... it will be double what it was at the outbreak of the second World War.

“During these fateful five years of hurried expansion, plants are being added to the existing industrial machine, that are equal, in value, to the total yearly national output of Great Britain and Germany – the two most developed industrial nations in the rest of the Western world. Once the new expansion is completed, the USA’s steel producing capacity will reach a yearly 120 million tons, or over twice as much, as the 1951 output of non-communist Europe. Chemical production will expand fivefold; production of aluminum will double; and the output of electrical energy will increase by half.

“These are dramatic figures, and this gigantic addition to tlhe American productive machine will release new floods of industrial products. Some plants, now pouring out tanks, airplanes, and ships, will, sooner or later, revert to civilian production and will swell the flow of already plentiful goods into streams of automobiles, washing machines, and a thousand other kinds of goods – far in excess of what the Americans are willing or able to purchase.”

What then?

“By the time armament production is expected to slow down, around 1954 or 1955, it is estimated that, in addition to the already plentiful supplies, the United States will immediately be flooded by over $10 billion worth of goods. Who will buy them? The only possible answer is that, instead of the same $15 billion worth of goods sent out of the country in 1951, America will have to ship abroad almost twice as much – and vastly more if armaments can seriously be reduced – to avoid large-scale unemployment and serious dislocation of her economic and social structure.”

But to sell goods abroad, the US must make huge investments abroad in order to convert the people of other lands into customers. However, American investors are currently displaying considerable reluctance to risk their fortunes abroad. Instead the government has made gifts and loans. These must be greatly increased, according to Mende. The alternative is a grim one.

“... America’s manufacturers would be compelled to restrict their output, to fire their workers, and to start rolling that fatal economic snowball, which carries with multiplied force even a modest recession in one country to the smaller and weaker lands. The sudden drop in the American public’s purchasing capacity in 1931 wrought havoc all over the globe; it heralded mass unemployment, revolutions, the coming of dictators, and, finally, the Second World War itself. Today, most of the world is far more closely tied economically to the United States than it was in 1931, and the results would be proportionately more catastrophic.”

Mende thinks that a happy solution would be to invest abroad as in Canada during the past ten years. Soaring American investments in Canada, he points out, have doubled Canadian production and developed that country into “one of the most important industrial powers in the Western world.” And happily enough, 14 million Canadians now “buy nearly as much from the United States as do over 100 million South Americans.”

The remarkable expansion of the American productive system has raised another acute problem. Outside of the Soviet bloc,

“... a single state, occupying some 6 per cent of the globe’s land-surface and comprising only 6 per cent of its population, consumes over half the raw material produced in the world. This phenomenal rate of American consumption is going to increase by some 50 per cent during the next two decades. Slowly, all the world’s raw-material resources will be geared to the American industrial giant, and the economies of all the supplying countries will become even more exposed to the hazards of the US economy.”

To secure and gain access to raw materials thus increasingly becomes a pre-condition for the further expansion of the American economy.

“To secure and maintain such access, or to free it where it is under potentially hostile control, is bound to become the principal preoccupation of the makers of American policy.”

On the map of today, Mende sees little hope for Western Europe. “The Reckless Pensioner,” as he labels Europe, is living beyond its means and has proved incapable of uniting. Its program should be “Swiss-ification.”

“For Western Europe as a whole, British jet liners and electrical equipment; German lenses, cameras, and pharmaceutical products; Dutch electronics equipment; French artificial jewelry, fine silks, and creations of haute couture stand for what watches mean to Switzerland.”

Besides Swiss-ifying themselves, the Europeans should “return to the land” and reduce their standard of living. This would bring them to “a protected harbor.” Besides, there is no alternative in sight “but to drift along in a mounting storm, oscillating between panic and illusion.”

In addition to the position of Europe on the map of today, Mende considers the Soviet Union, Asia, and the Southern Hemisphere. As in the case of Europe, his treatment is painfully superficial. He believes that the brutal methods of Stalinism were inevitable and necessary to industrialize the Soviet Union. The colonial peoples today, he thinks, if they depart from what he regards as the beneficent system of capitalism, will have no choice but to follow the Stalinist pattern.

Such mistaken conclusions flow from the major fault of the book, which is to avoid as much as possible mentioning those aspects of world reality that include classes and castes and their narrow interest in special privilege. He considers each country as if its population were a united whole whose common aspirations are faithfully reflected by the current government no matter how oppressive. And despite all the facts he himself presents about the world-wide ramifications of the US economy, he insists on viewing capitalism through 18th century eyes, as if it were not an indivisible world system, but particularized into many capitalisms existing side by side in either enmity or collaboration.

This false way of looking at reality leads Mende into ludicrous errors. He believes that “lust for power surpasses even economic self-interest among the desires of men and, consequently, is a principal motive farce of social change.” Yet he advances a program that is nothing but a pitiful appeal to the humanitarianism of the wolves who wield power. Christian ethics must govern the trailers of the West from here on out, Mende pleads.

This means specifically vast loans and other forms of charitable aid for the colonial peoples on a gigantic scale. There is no other way of preventing them from taking the road of revolution, he holds. The colonial peoples “should be promised new equipment to make them prosperous enough to be turned into customers who will sufficiently appreciate refrigerators, automobiles, power generators, and airplanes to speed up their output and to offer their excess food, raw materials, and grateful loyalty in exchange for these products.”

Mende recognizes he “may sound Utopian,” but he has nothing better to offer than this Salvation Army approach. He also recognizes that it has little chance of adoption. A United Nations report, he points out, came to the conclusion that to raise the output of the colonial areas by 2 per cent a year would require some $14 billion of imported capital every twelve months. But they receive much less.

“In fact, what they do receive each year is only about a tenth of this recommended sum, and even that is very unevenly distributed. Most of it goes to Latin America, the nearest of the needy continents to the United States; and, even there, it is concentrated on the expansion of the production of oil. Enormous and vastly more populous regions obtain next to nothing.”

Our humanitarian author gloomly observes: “... to tackle a problem that is threatening the very foundations of Western society and the future peaceful relations of the races of this world is, apparently, less compelling than investments promising quicker profits or dividends.” He is dead right about that. America’s 60 ruling families are willing to put a nickel on the drum and be saved, but $14 billion a year?

He notes that “to talk about the promotion of the economic development of three-quarters of the world, while no nation is prepared to put into it a twentieth of what it is spending on armaments” can only mean preparation for war and disbelief in the cheaper way of buying their way out.

The cause for this he believes exists “in the moral field.” “Western civilization suffers from the lack of a universal code or measure of value, a new purpose that could replace the present widespread feeling of futility and hopeless drift towards catastrophe.” In talking about morals he apparently has forgotten his thesis that the “lust for power” is the most basic drive in people, otherwise he could scarcely continue outlining “the first practical utopia”; that is, a rekindling of “zeal, enthusiasm, and missionary energy” and “that humanitarianism which alone might save what is noble and worth rescuing in our threatened civilization.”

The feeling of impending doom is strong in this advocate and apologist of the capitalist system: “However numerous or widespread the landmarks of its positive achievements, the Western world will have few defenders and no alibi in the approaching reckoning. From the bestialities of Cortes and Pizarro, to the extermination of North America’s and Australia’s native peoples; from the shameless robbing of the lands of the African tribes, to the contemporary terrifying callousness to its responsibility in bringing devastation and agony to millions of men in distant lands; the example the white man has given to the so-called colored races has been an unspeakable horror. The mobile courtroom of history, moving against the West, leaves little time for rectification.”

A period of “coexistence” with the Soviet Union, he thinks, would be brief. “Inevitably, it would be no more than a pause for humanity to try what may be its last chance.” Then, unless his Utopian plan is adopted, the third World War would “turn our grandchildren’s map into a mass of radioactive deserts, strewn with ruins, with no other centers of gravity, but a few remaining death-dealing machines.”

Mende suffers from the typical astigmatism of a liberal. Society blurs before his eyes into a confused whole where nothing can be made out distinctly save a few general hues that run together. The most convincing proof of this is the utopian program he ends up with.

The Marxist method, directing the analyst’s attention to the internal structure of society, brings more realistic results. Facts, such as Mende dramatizes, confirm these results. They show that capitalism is heading toward catastrophe. The colossal productive capacity of the United States, that has expanded with such astonishing speed in the past decade and a half, is not intended to help raise the world’s standard of living. If the present masters have their way, it will go into a war of prodigious destruction.

But the Marxist method also reveals another class, the class that actually constructed this huge industrial machine, the workers. They have neither interest nor desire to destroy civilization. And they can change the whole direction of the present drift simply by turning to the political field and fighting there for their own interests, which happen to be the same as those of the overwhelming majority of mankind.

The realistic program therefore is the one that seeks to further this natural tendency, that is, speed up the turn of the working class toward independent political action. This can be realized because it expresses the real economic interests of the working people, which happen to be basic as a motive power. The drive toward control of the country’s destiny, toward the establishment of a Workers and Farmers Government, follows as a consequence.

A Workers and Farmers Government in America would make possible unification of the entire world into a scientifically planned economy that could speedily raise living standards not only in the most famine-stricken and disease-ridden areas plundered by capitalism but in the boasted United States itself where millions still live in subnormal conditions. That would mean the end of war, the end of national and race hatreds, the end of police states and slave labor camps and witch hunts, the birth of genuine civilization.

Mende will not appreciate it, I am sure, but may I suggest that his book, critically used, its utopian suggestions and impractical pleas discarded, its apologies for capitalism and Stalinism contemptuously dismissed, may help a bit in the process?


Last updated on: 22.2.2006