Internationalism and Illegal Profits

Naipaul discusses industry through the lens of nationality/ethnicity to emphasize the internationality that underlies late capitalism. He poses industry and commodification to unite various national and ethnic contexts. “In cafés shabbier than I remembered,” he writes, “Greek and Lebanese businessmen in suits read the local French and English newspapers and talked with sullen excitement about the deals that might be made in Rhodesian tobacco, now that it was outlawed” (250). Naipaul parallels the nationality of the businessmen with the languages (alternatively, nationalities) of their newspapers. The language used to discuss the Rhodesian tobacco deals is not specified, but the papers’ languages are: French and English. Naipaul encodes English and French news material as authoritative in matters of business. Moreover, he poses these business languages as “local,” suggesting the international reach of the papers—more broadly, the French and British Empires. It’s uncertain whether the “locality” of these English/French papers indicates they’re produced in Cairo and sold locally or produced in their respective nations and distributed internationally. Whatever case, Naipaul blends these various national/linguistic contexts into a speculative discussion about the exchange value of an outlawed commodity. The common self-interest of Greek and Lebanese businessmen unites them in ways that vary from some “pre-modern” traditions of community, like religious affiliation, nationality, or language. Importantly, this modern “sullen excitement” when discussing potential profit suggests a law greater than that of the state in which the Rhodesian tobacco has been outlawed. The commodity becomes profitable in the same sentence that it becomes illegal within the state’s borders. The businessmen imagine deals beyond the borders and regulations of the state, however, entangling speculative profit and modern economic principles within an international discourse. Naipaul asks us to consider the positive social value that internationalism offers humanity as inseparable from the exploitative (in this case, illegal) profits of international business.