marxism and imperialism

Jon Beasley-Murray jpb8 at
Mon Jan 23 07:47:07 MST 1995

On Mon, 23 Jan 1995, Justin Schwartz wrote:

> What is woolly about Lenin's theory? I haven't looked at this stuff for a
> while, but when I did some work on it back in the late '80s I was then
> pleasantly surprised and impressed by how good Lenin's theory seemed to me
> and how much new (post WWI) stuff it explained in comparison to other
> theories of internatonal relations. Obviously the theory has its limits,
> but it is clearly stated, empirically testible, powerful in scope, and in
> general methodologically impressive, i.e., not woolly.

According to Brewer (at least) there has been too much fuss paid to the
too little substance contained in _Imperialism_: he thinks it's
undertheorized, and that what it does have is no advance on Hobson and
others.  He does get Lenin off the hook by saying that of course it was a
pamphlet, and not supposed to be any contribution to a marxist theory of
imperialism, but as such we shouldn't treat it as adding in particular.

> Are your doubts about Lenin's theory due to an attraction to the
> Marx-Warren theory that imperialism is a progressive force because it
> modernizes backward societies and creates industrialiization and a
> potentially revolutionary proletariat? (Claims which Lenin in part endorses.)

Again, this is another  reason why I'd tend towards some version of a
dependency theory (though perhaps I put it too starkly in my originial
post).  This "classical Marxist" (Brewer's way of referring to it)
formulation is unsatisfactory because I don't see how one can in  too much
good faith ascribe to the idea that imperialism is "progressive"--this
surely is a reduction to "stages of development" theory, under the cover
of which (among other things) Communist parties in Latin America passed
up national liberation groups, and so contributed to that region's
continued lack of democracy throughout the 60s and 70s.

While (it seems to me) an over-simple dependency theory such as Frank's
certainly isn't over generalizable, it scarcely is true that "Asia"
proves the theory wrong--most of Asia confirms the *tendency* expressed
in dependency theories.  Brewer, by the way, seems to like Emmanuel best
of the dependency bunch, but he still tends to see them all as tarred by
more or less the same brush--and it is this latter generalization I find
hard to buy.

and Paul Cockroft stated:

> > A major problem here is that we still lack
> > a well thought out and testable Marxian theory
> > of international trade.

And it seems to me that's what Emmanuel was going for, no?  "Western"
monopoly of cultural goods would seem to fit slap-bang into his theory of
unequal exchange, by the way.

Can anyone point me in the direction of textsthat combine cultural and
economic analyses of the international situation?

> --Justin Schwartz

Take care


Jon Beasley-Murray
Literature Program
Duke University
jpb8 at


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