marxism and imperialism

wpc at cs.strath.ac.uk wpc at cs.strath.ac.uk
Mon Jan 23 07:17:57 MST 1995


I was asked what I thought was wooly about
Lenin'seconomics in his pamphlet on imperialism.

I will mention several points in no necessarily
coherent order.

1. Lenin lays emphasis on the importance of
Finance Capital, treated as a new form arising
from the merger of bank and industrial capital.
In this he was following Hilferding. However,
Hilferdings work is more accurate as a description
of German and partially French capitalism than
it is for British capitalism. The merger of bank
and industrial capital never happened in
Britain. Since this was the major imperial power
at the time, the formation of finance capital
can not be treated as a necessary cause of
imperialism.

2. The imperialist powers are characterised
as being capital exporters. For a country to
be a net exporter of capital it must run
a trade surplus - as Japan does now. Through
most of the late 19th and early 20th centuries
Britain ran a trade deficit - and hence was
an importer rather than an exporter of surplus
value. Hence capital export can not have been
a necessary condition of imperialism.

3. He spoke of capital export as arising because
capitalism was over-ripe. What did this mean?
It is just a propagandistic metaphor.

4. The periodisation of liberal capitalism followed
by imperialism is dubious, given that the process
of empire growth by France, Britain and Holland
went back to the 17th century.

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