Imperialism

Jorn Andersen ccc6639 at vip.cybercity.dk
Mon May 27 18:51:56 MDT 1996


Paul Cockshott wrote:

- stating his agreement with Rahul that any (Marxist, I figure) analysis
should be based on facts (rather than pure ideology, I figure) and then
says:

> There is a tendancy amoung marxists to substitute readings of Marx and
> Lenin for concrete analysis of their own. Lenins theses on Imperialism
> are taken as being correct for political reasons ( he was the good guy ),
> and as a result people fail to ask:
>
> 1. Was his account of early 20th century capitalism in Imperialism
>    consistent with the facts of the time.
>
> 2. Was it consistent with his own earlier writings, especialy his
>    debate with Luxemburg
>
> 3. Does it bear any resemblance to the world today.


Jorn:

Well, Paul, again you ask some very good questions.
The basic one I really would like you to answer yourself - and
it comes from this:

> Lenins theses on Imperialism are taken as being correct for
> political reasons ( he was the good guy )

What do *you* think of the "correctness" of it?

Lenin's theses on Imperialism has been interpreted in a
dozen (at least) different ways - often these conclusions
have been antagonistic.

Alex Callinicos explains in his article "Imperialism Today"
(in the book "Marxism and the New Imperialism" - first printed
in International Socialism Journal 2:50, 1991):

  "Lenin's definition is so often treated by much of the left
  as a dogma whose truth is undeniable that its limitations are
  worth stressing. Most obviously it is a list of what Lenin calls
  'basic features' of imperialism."

[Here Callinicos refers to Lenins 5-point list - he continues:]

  "But it is not possible to establish from this list the relative
  importance of these features. This is a serious weakness, since
  it has become clear that some features are much less basic
  than others."

He then takes up examples of the relative importance of finance
capital in Germany vs. Britain. And the uneven relationship
between the growth of overseas investment and colonial expansion.

Callinicos' conclusion however is:
  "Despite the weaknesses of his version of the theory, Lenin
  remains *the* theorist of imperialism for two reasons. Firstly,
  he grasped more clearly than anyone else that imperialism is
  not a mere policy, but a stage, indeed the highest stage, of
  capitalist development. Thus he attacked Kautsky for arguing
  that 'imperialism is not present-day capitalism; it is only
  one of the forms of present-day capitalism'. ... Lenin's political
  understanding of imperialism is indeed where his second main
  contribution lies."

He then develops the argument about how imperialist hierarchy gives
rise to struggles under the banner of revolutionary *nationalism*
rather than revolutionary *socialism*. And relates this to a clear
position against US-imperialism in the Gulf War.

My reason for drawing you through all this is (besides my personal
reason that I have to do a speech about "Imperialism Today" at a
local branch meeting - to which I would like some input) to provide
some arguments that basically defends Lenin's "theses":

1. Analysis has to be based on facts, but analysis is more than
piling facts together. The essence of any analysis - in particular of
capitalism - is to find the *dynamics*, the motion laws. Thus we can
point to weaknesses in the empirical part of Lenin's analysis and from
this a criticism which extends to some of his conclusions. But his
understanding of the basic dynamic - and the "axiom" that imperialism
*is* capitalism - in my eyes stand untouched.

2. Lenin's theory is fundamental to understanding today's imperialism.
Callinicos summarizes - after having brought in qualifications to Lenin
>from Hilferding and Bucharin - the Marxist theory of imperialism like
this:

"1. Imperialism is the stage in capitalist development where
    i) the concentration and centralisation of capital tends to lead to
    the integration of private monopoly capital and the state and
    ii) the internationalisation of the productive forces tends to compel
    capitals to compete for markets, investments and raw materials at the
    global level.
 2. Among the main consequences of these two tendencies are the following:
    i) competition between capitals takes on the form of military
    rivalries among nation-states;
    ii) the relations among nation states are unequal: the uneven and
    combined development of capitalism allows a small number of advanced
    capitalist states (the imperialist countries), by virtue of their
    productive resources and military strength, to dominate the rest of
    the world;
    iii) uneven and combined development under imperialism further
    intensifies military competition and gives rise to wars, including both
    wars among the imperialist countries themselves and those arising from
    struggles of oppressed nations against imperialist domination."

3. Of course it's bad if marxists tend "to substitute readings of Marx and
Lenin for concrete analysis of their own", but the main problem is that
many of those who call themselves marxists don't take Lenin as their
point of departure for an analysis of imperialism. This led many of them
- Callinicos called them "B52-liberals" - to support the US against Iraq.
And today this contributes to a lot of confusion on issues as important as
Yugoslavia, the European Union and a hell of a lot of other contemporary
rivalries. (Not a word about Russia ...)

Especially after the collapse of Stalinism it is essential that we
restate Marxism as the only framework within which imperialism can
be understood - and challenged. I will let Callinicos have the last
words:
  "Classical Marxism contains, in the writings of Lenin and Trotsky,
  an analysis of imperialism and a strategy for fighting it which are
  indispensable to the success of this struggle."


Yours

Jorn Andersen

IS
Denmark




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