Empire on Lenin

Greg Schofield g_schofield at dingoblue.net.au
Tue Dec 11 08:36:41 MST 2001

Donal  I am sorry to hear that you are sick and ashamed I suggested a reread for this reason. First I must say how pleased that even though we disagree to such a degree your tone has been so reasonable and well argued.

I concede readily enough that Lenin sustains a dismissive tone with all of Kautsky's views - he was shafting him and for good reason and does not give him an inch. 

Also your point about Lenin posing socialism as the end product of Imperialism is correct - his placement of it as the Highest Stage of (Private) Capitalism was stated for good theoretical reason - moreover Lenin obviously and consciously posed Proletarian Socialism as the end product.

I will take it a step further and also dismiss Super-Imperialism as an adequate title for the period after Imperialism (however we wish to conceive it).

Perhaps at this point you are wondering what on earth was my purpose in all of this.

Well none of these concessions actually touch on the nature of transition as found in Lenin's Imperialism.

Sorry about the quotes but Iwill pull out Lenin on the transitory nature of Imperialism in order of occurance (thankfully I have it in a text format which is searchable). I believe this will may take things a few steps further.

1)"Capitalism in its imperialist stage leads directly to the most comprehensive socialisation of production; it, so to speak, drags the capitalists, against their will and consciousness, into some sort of a new social order, a transitional one from complete free competition to complete socialisation." (Ch 1)

2)"The old capitalism has had its day. The new capitalism represents a transition towards something." (Ch 2)

3)"Imperialism emerged as the development and direct continuation of the fundamental characteristics of capitalism in general. But capitalism only became capitalist imperialism at a definite and very high stage of its development, when certain of its fundamental characteristics began to change into their opposites, when the features of the epoch of transition from capitalism to a higher social and economic system had taken shape and revealed themselves in all spheres. Economically, the main thing in this process is the displacement of capitalist free competition by capitalist monopoly. Free competition is the basic feature of capitalism, and of commodity production generally; monopoly is the exact opposite of free competition, but we have seen the latter being transformed into monopoly before our eyes, creating large-scale industry and forcing out small industry, replacing large-scale by still larger-scale industry, and carrying concentration of production and capital to the point where out of it has grown and is growing monopoly: cartels, syndicates and trusts, and merging with them, the capital of a dozen or so banks, which manipulate thousands of millions. At the same time the monopolies, which have grown out of free competition, do not eliminate the latter, but exist above it and alongside it, and thereby give rise to a number of very acute, intense antagonisms, frictions and conflicts. Monopoly is the transition from capitalism to a higher system." (CH 7)

4)" We have seen that in its economic essence imperialism is monopoly capitalism.  This in itself determines its place in history, for monopoly that grows out of the soil of free competition, and precisely out of free competition, is the transition from the capitalist system to a higher socio-economic order." (CH 10)

5)"This intensification of contradictions constitutes the most powerful driving force of the transitional period of history, which began from the time of the final victory of world finance capital." (CH 10)

6) "From all that has been said in this book on the economic essence of imperialism, it follows that we must define it as capitalism in transition, or, more precisely, as moribund capitalism. It is very instructive in this respect to note that bourgeois economists, in describing modern capitalism, frequently employ catchwords and phrases like “interlocking”, “absence of isolation”, etc.; “in conformity with their functions and course of development”, banks are “not purely private business enterprises: they are more and more outgrowing the sphere of purely private business regulation”. And this very Riesser, whose words I have just quoted, declares with all seriousness that the “prophecy” of the Marxists concerning “socialisation” has “not come true”!" (CH 10)

Here is the vital contradiction - Imperialism is a transitory period to something higher (quote 2), the movement within Imperialism flows on from the movement that created Imperialism greater socialisation (quotes 1, 3, 4 and 6). The movement did not begin as the end result of Imperialism but at its begining (quote 5) - ie an intense movement towards greater socialisation. 

Now super-imperialism just does not cut any ice - what Lenin is talking about is not some peaceful accord between states but a fundemental shift in the level of socialisation taking place within and by the means of Imperialism. However, what in the end does this socialisation lead to, but to a form of socialism - to cement this into place Lenin quotes not Marx but Saint-Simon as an extension of the thinking of an arch-bourgeois thinker SchuIze-Gaevernitz and then adds a satirical twist by stating:

"A crushing “refutation” of Marx indeed, which retreats a step from Marx’s precise, scientific analysis to Saint-Simon’s guess-work, the guess-work of a genius, but guess-work all the same."

To all effects and purposes Lenin is saying Imperialism ends the history of Private Capitalism and provides the basis in its ongoing socialisation for socialism as a new and higher stage of development. Regardless of how Lenin envisaged this coming about (clearly as a result of victorious proletarian struggle) this conclusion is I would argue the absolute logical necessity of Lenin's concept of Imperialism as the Highest stage of (Private) Capitalism.

Donal I trust this fits into your reading.

Now what had Kautsky slipped into his Super-Imperialism except this very same conclusion. But for Kautsky the movement towards socialism did not require real proletarian input, it was a product of the relations of capitalism. For Kautsky the point was that just going along for the ride would be enough and all things would be delivered in the end.

It is a anti-class nonsense, but look at the cross-over for both Lenin and Kautsky actually share the same conclusion as to the end product of Imperialism (for both it is socialism). For Lenin however, such socialism was nothing if it were not Proletarian Socialism, hence the active struggle of the proletariat against the bourgeoisie was essential.

Lets leave Negri-Hardt aside because all they do is touch on this vital ground they solve very little.

I will suggest that what we have got is Kautsky's super-imperialism just as Lenin criticised it. That is something unpeaceful, entirely bourgeois by which the working class of the world is ground down. What we don't have is classic Imperialism, though we have plenty of states vieing with each other to attrack capital by whatever means and the whole historical baggage of past Imperialism to boot.

To say we have got Kautsky's super-imperialism as criticised by Lenin,  proves the power of the concept Lenin used so long ago, this is no heaven on earth, it is a swiftly emerging hell. The bourgeoisie as a world class has proved itself unable to cast itself as world ruling class, yet what has emerged is precisely the one world market dominanted by a handful of cartels and institutions, staffed at the highest level by the bourgeoisie but none of which is any longer private (even in the mode of acquistion).

What is it? What other shape can it be then Bourgeois Socialism, a higher economic order but run by buffoons - Saint-Simon's vision drawn cockeyed by a decrepid class.

New contradictions, new forms of struggle, a new need for proletarian internationalism lie in potential all about us, but locked as we are in the concepts of previous age our movement is not responding in a way to foster struggle, but abort it. We have not got on top of the antiglobalisation struggle, we have not dealt with the national questions which now arise, we have nothing constructive to do or say on the international level, we are bereft of the concepts needed to see and understand what is unfolding - worse this has been going on for decades.

It is not that we cannot find many instances which fit the concepts of Imperialism, we can they appear to be every where, but we cannot muster them into a coherent picture, the concepts we do have are not sufficient as they now stand to grasp the movement of reality - the proof of which is the dismal political position we know find ourselves.

Can the bourgeoisie sustain Bourgeois Socialism? My answer is that they are incapable and so they move blindly towards Barbarism, not because Imperialism is by nature Barbaric, which it was, but once transpired the Barbarism at the heart of the social order has nowhere else to go except fall in upon itself.

The world has divided into two vast camps, one camp is in control but has no historical direction, the other is disorganisied and yet to find its direction, but no-one across the world is in any doubt about the camp they are in.

Greg Schofield
Perth Australia

PS The idea of Bourgeois Socialism is at first hard to swallow, the alternative is to believe that the historical forces towards greater socialisation somehow stopped and left us in a perpetual transitional stage of Imperialism which awaits for a Proletarian revolution to move  things forward. It is an alternative that has been defacto adopted by our movement - a sought of never-never land, the fact that this in no-way helps us understand in a useful way the workings of reality seems a small price to pay for remaining amongst the elect for Proletarian Socialist Revolution. Unfortunately this is a recipe not for Proletarian Socialism which can only grow in practical class struggle, but to slide, Kautsky-like, into Barbarism (Marx's alternative for not getting things right and following the unconscious forces of an exploitative relations of production - something that happens by either being reformist or sectarian - the effect on the class being the same).

Donal this is not a personal political attack (none of this is areference to anything you have said), rather I thought to end by putting squarely on the table class struggle as a practical objective which should, if necessary, propel us to tear down any concept which has out-lived its usefulness. The concept of Imperialism works, but the price of fixing the concept  when it needs to be dissolved is to hide the vital contradictions and the future political platform which rests upon their recognition.

My conclusions may well be wrong, but the area needs to be thoroughly explored.

--- Message Received ---
From: "Donal" <donaloc at peterquinn.com>
To: "Marxism" <marxism at lists.panix.com>
Date: Tue, 11 Dec 2001 11:45:59 -0000
Subject: Re: Empire on Lenin

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