Empire on Lenin

Greg Schofield g_schofield at dingoblue.net.au
Mon Dec 10 21:07:44 MST 2001


"CB:  Isn't exporting capital exactly what made capital international ? Export of capital means the export of capitalist relations of production to the colonies. "

Charles, you have a knack for getting to the heart of things. So much so as I will try and respond to this in two different ways.

First, a theoretically conservative fashion - along the lines that one way of looking at things as "more-of-the-same". This is not rhetorical, persistence is a very strong element in history and much that goes on is in essence more-of-the-same. The slow change from old-style colonialism to neo-colonialism does not in-itself suggest any great change in the nature of Imperialism, but on the other hand it is not difficult to see why neo-colonialism should grow out-of old style colonialism and why the reverse process does not happen.

At what point is there a qualitative change? Capital has internationalisied itself through exporting, no-doubt some exporting of capital takes place but the international capital is dominant and behaves very differently. First it is not tied to currency (at least not in the fixed sense that capital exporting was), this is significant as currency is tied directly to the state, in a sense significant capital exportation without state infrastructure is impossible to imagine - dependant on state to state accords, old-style and neo-colonial subordination. All Imperial states protected this "trade" by banning significant private currency transfers or simulated currencies like gold, and all of this is understandable in terms of a close link between national financial capital and the doings of the homeland state.

The other aspect depends on dominance, capital exportation still takes place, national financial capital still exists and no-one can ignore the fact that Imperial agendas still exist and are acted on. But is this the dominant form of capital? We can substitute it national financial capital with international capital, and see many ties between it and particular and powerful states, but can we also see this as a necessary condition?

The ties between national financial capital, monopolies and homeland Imperial states, in Lenin's time, rested on these necessary relationships and expressed themselves as Imperialistic rivalies - and this all made sense. However, what happens when the basis of capitalistic relationships has been established more or less world wide, when the export of capital (in that tied in sense) becomes secondary to a freer form of international capital which supplants its former self (the old style export of capital)?

One thing we can do is deduct backwards. That is given some form of internationalisied capital (emergant even in Lenin's day) but as a dominant form of developed capital, surely imperialistic rivalies have to have become vitually extinct in order for this to happen. Yet if this has come to pass then also the necessary relations which made Imperialism a distinct stage in capital's development have also been overcome.

We can rightly scratch our heads as to what has emerged, but the conservative theoretical view becomes exhausted. To continue to support the more-of-the-same viewpoint we unavoidably have to mislead ouselves into reading more importance into persistence of older forms then exist in reality. In this sense we recreate a similar problem which confronted Lenin, where the bulk of the more militant movement reduced aspects of Imperialism to variations of classic capitalism, which given historical persistence there would be plenty of "evidence" to support this. On the other hand the more compromised elements of the movement (Kautsky etc), better attuned to the possiblities that capital made available, jumped on to the emergant character of the then contemporary developments.

So my second response after noting that the conservative theoretical approach has the appearance of viablity but when looked at in terms of conceptual development lags behind reality and can be shown as exhausted by merely inverting historical flow (that is by instead seeing how one thing stems from another, by asking what pressuposes and thus must be overcome by a latter development) we have to concede that there is a severe dislocation between the classic theory and present realities.

Now there is much literature which builds on the classic theory and this has been put in place precisely to confront changes taking place. However, any such theoretical addition has to operate within the confines of the original conception, if that is faulted then all within it falls as well, but on the otherhand the original conception may remain (as I would argue) in changed conditions as a firm foundation for exploring what goes beyond it (spirals being what they are, if the theory is sound then in embryo within it are also the means of going beyond it).

To turn this around, to test its viability, all we need to do is get a clear picture of the original conception of Imperialism (what it presupposed, what gave it character, and what negates its purpose), and see if we are repeating the mistakes that Lenin confronted so-long ago when he gave the concept its original shape and this is a political question.

What we find is that in bourgeois and semi-bourgeois circles the idea of Imperialism being negated is not rare (it has been the constant discourse since the fall of the USSR), the additions made within the conservative theoretical approach have increasing made Imperialism less historically precise and reduced it to a series of truisms (similarily the orthodox Marxists had reduced new features to a reduced version of classic capitalism), lastly there will be a significant political rift between the Marxists and the working class, leading to the class becoming defacto captives of the bourgeoisie.

We must asume that practice (ie the practice of capital) runs ahead of ideas, that even in bourgeois and semi-bourgeois circles recognition of what has happened lags behind. On the otherthand speculative thought runs well ahead of practice - somewhere in between lies the science. Empire is clearly specultive, so speculative that the thoughts have run away with the authors and they can have little to say for the working class and despite their intentions give comfort to our class enemies - but it is what we must expect when a boil bursts so I find it hard to criticise Empire in a way that retards the regeneration actually required.

Now nothing in particular leads us to the idea that we are looking at a qualitatively different stage of development. History always appears continuous, an accretation of small changes on what is already established, persistence of older forms has to be assumed, qualitative leaps are thereby always hidden.

Charles this probably isn't addressing your questions, international capital did arise out of capital export, capitalistic relations were thus fostered in the "colonies" it was the destiny of Imperialism to transpire to a higher phase of development - what that development is remains an open question (which of course I have my own views on what that might be), what cannot be done is to run the development backwards, it can be forced within the concept of Imperialism but not without doing fatal harm to the concept itself (as a historical and dialectical idea).

Lenin confronted (and overcame) the tendency to see Imperialism, monopolies, finance capital as just more-of-the-same developments of private classic capitalism, he pinpointed the socialisation of capital as the primary force behind the changes (it remains so), and gave shape to a powerful concept - in short he found that the new developments could not be run backwards into the old conceptualisations without doing them harm, so from within the old conceptualisations he drew out the seeds of their negation and demonstrated that capital had remained the same animal but had changed its spots.

This post may seem a round about way to answer such suggestive questions, my intention was to make my reply equally suggestive, I don't have the answers to give a factual exposition, I have not a formula which can make the distinction between capital export and international capital clear in any theoretical sense though others I am sure could supply it if the problem was squarely set. I am confined to exegisis on one hand and staking out the ground on the other, it will need better minds then mine to build anything substantial. I think there is one serious question which can be posed:

Is Imperialism the NECESSARY expression of the highest form of capital?

Note that the word "necessary" does not equate to the idea that capital in its present formation does not express its will through forms of Imperialism, rather whether it asks whether Imperialism remains the dominant character of capital (its necessary expression) and suggests that major new contradictions arise because Imperialism (albeit super-imperialism) remains the historical mode of expression, which makes the international bourgeoisie mere courtiers to the US president with all the unnecessary burden this places on the world (a situation jam-packed with contradictions).

Necessity is a critical test to see whether concepts align with reality, it is not that concepts cannot be stretched (they can readily be) and the tendency to fix concepts and so necessitate their stretching, is as Hegel pointed out the source of all error, hence looking for necessity connections cuts to the heart of the undlying logic of an idea like Occum's Razor does for descreet explanations.

Greg Schofield
Perth Australia



--- Message Received ---
From: "Charles Brown" <CharlesB at CNCL.ci.detroit.mi.us>
To: <marxism at lists.panix.com>
Date: Mon, 10 Dec 2001 14:47:50 -0500
Subject: Re: Empire on Lenin


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