Empire on Lenin

Greg Schofield g_schofield at dingoblue.net.au
Thu Dec 6 08:39:44 MST 2001

Donal, Lenin is running a polemic against abstracting class from history (on this we both agree).

Further Lenin is correct in this.

The Kautsky speculations are just one of a number which Lenin refers to in Imperialism the Highest Stage of Capitalism, his final chapter taken from a bourgeois source paints a Kautsky-like picture of Imperialism's final resolution which he points out is almost Saint Simon's socialism writ large.

He ends his piece with a reference to Marx as a better reference - this is two edged, both refering to class struggle and proletarian socialism which Lenin wants to cut through the history of Imperialism.

However, there is a historical question which Lenin is also answering, to make Imperialism a transitory stage of capitalism's development, he shows the roots of Imperialism in a pre-imperialist past and points out the character of then present Imperialism.

To round off the concept of Imperialism Lenin needs also to illustrate what would happen if Imperialism runs its course. However, he does this slyly in that he uses references enough of this future stage taken from the sources he is criticisng - criticising for extracting class from the question.

In all of this, other than the tone (peaceful, technocratic world system) he does not once raise any specific criticism of the idea of super-monopolies (which he actually uses once to describe international cartels - it is implied these are an exception in his times), and he reiterates the main Kautskian thesis in broad abstract terms, such as  the division and redivision of the world inevitable leads to greater monopolies.

Moreover, it is the constantly reoccuring phrase that this is a transitionary period to a higher stage of development (there is more than meets the eye in this phrase and something I would argue goes a long way past Kautsky's conceptualisation).

It is difficult to extract Imperialism from the polemic as a complete historical conception but it is there. The quote you use is very illuistrative of the problem. Which I will attempt to annotate:

"Kautsky's thesis is likely to be nonsense," (a reference to the peaceful, progressive, nature of the contradictions not the logic of the development of capital's contradiction which Lenin says not one word against  despite plentiful opportunities) "but even if his reading of the future was true,"(rhetorical) "he is guilty of calling for acquiescence now"(which in effect is what Lenin consistantly criticises) because he has some wonderful theory of the future."(the theory that capital will work out its own contradictions and all we have to do is wait) "No, we must analyse facts as they stand today, not about something
we have no understanding of or evidence for in the future." (A clear political statement - a clear statement also that Imperialism was a transitory stage and not fixed).

Lenin is presenting a historico-theoretical picture, but not a theoretical exposition. Logically he must, once having reveal the pre-imperialist context, also speak of post-imperialist capital but he does not want to fuel the very fantasies he is criticising politically. He allows enough of Kautsky and others to show through to logically complete his concept, while he attacks Kautsky politically. It is the last chapter that lets the cat out of the bag, but even here he prefers to quote a bourgeois voice. The chapter heading is all important "The Place of Imperialism in History" while the substance of the chapter on post-imperialism is a bourgeois vision not that different to the one Kautsky presents, but moreover, the logic of the contradictions within Imperialism as defined by Lenin (more and more socialisation and the tendency to spread into multinational combines) fits like a glove.

Donal, I hate to suggest rescanning Lenin, but if you just note down three categories of ideas from what Lenin is saying (1) Pre-Imperial conditions that give rise to it, (2) Imperialism proper, (3) post-imperialism. I am sure you will see that 3 contains two desparate parts a) Proletarian Socialism will intervene and cut the process of imperial contradiction apart b) something like kautsky's vision arising out of the contradictioons of imperialism once they have played themselves out.

A) has not happened instead, ironically given Lenin's purpose b) has emeged (not fully but with a new set of contradictions).

If at the same time you simply cross out Lenin's criticism of taking class struggle out of the picture and at the same time strike out all the "peaceful and beneficial" phrases that Kautsky utters, the thing still reads and presents a consistant picture.

Now put the shoe on the other foot as a final test, find anywhere where Lenin actually disputes the logic of super-imperialism as the working out of Imperialism's contradictions and again you will only find one criticism - the peaceful, non-class analysis Kautsky employs (Kautsky was after all not an idiot - the fanciful aspects derive from his politics, theoretically he is just drawing out the contradictions of imperialism into the future).

To see how viable this argument is it is only necessary to draw up a list of the character of Imperialism (its attributes) and that of super-imperialism (its attributes minus the cringing peaceful aspects). Which one fits today?

One of the problems with reading such polemic texts is that we read so much into them, finding a line that confirms our assumptions is hard to escape. On the other hand if all we are after is to strip away the polemic and look carefully at the logic of what is being described we get a different picture and one that challanges our assumptions and provokes new questions. Now Hardt-Negri go a long way in repeating Kautsky's political error (in their case in advocating a very nebulous form of political struggle), but they also have correctly observed a fact of the text which is important.

New contradictions confront us, new political forms of struggle have to be created, just as Lenin once having conceptualisied his period was able to produce a political platform that changed the world, we are put in the same position - first we must correctly conceptualise our period - that is the immediate task ahead of us.

Greg Schofield
Perth Australia

--- Message Received ---
From: "Donal" <donaloc at peterquinn.com>
To: "Marxism" <marxism at lists.panix.com>
Date: Thu, 6 Dec 2001 12:17:01 -0000
Subject: Empire on Lenin

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