Empire on Lenin (part 2)

Greg Schofield g_schofield at dingoblue.net.au
Tue Dec 11 22:17:00 MST 2001


--- Message Received ---
From: "Donal" <donaloc at peterquinn.com>
To: "Marxism" <marxism at lists.panix.com>
Date: Tue, 11 Dec 2001 14:16:14 -0000
Subject: Empire on Lenin (part 2)

Donal: "I'm glad that this has been raised by someone. For me, this underlines the
entire failure of the Liberal/Bourgeois critique of Imperialism, viz, that
somehow we are living in a new form of Imperialist world order, one which
has been internationalised."

Donal why conflate what I am trying to say with the Liberal/Bourgeois critique of imperialism. Surely the difference is that this "critique" would point towards a more peaceful kinder world order, whilst I am trying to argue that the the forces have changed but we are looking at a more intense conflict between classes. The fact that said Liberals and myself are looking at the same territory is not unexpected - Lenin put together Imperialism when that gorund had already been covered by bourgeois apologists and reformists.

"This argument is merely the flipside of the one
about the democratic nature of shareholdings and is as fallicious."

I will put this down to rhetorical embellishment, but before I do and without making the mistake of identifying some share ownership with holding vital amounts of shares, I would say that the universality of shares as a form of property ownership does point to the further socialisation of capital albeit a socialisation that is amongst the bourgeoisie.

"The recognition that transnationals are a lot more 'national' than they like us
to think is the first step in analysing imperialist politics correctly. The
lie of this description is that somehow the 'old, warlike imperialism'
didn't have international capital! When Lenin used the data regarding
transfer of capital to highlight the true motive factors of the cursed thing
back in 1915."

I can go a few steps further, each and every arm of a so-called multinational, exists as a registered national company, whose board of directors are subject to the regulations of that state. Indeed, in a sense, rather than state-capitalism having subsided, it is in potential stronger then ever. If the state (a democraticised and proletarianised version) so wished it, a good deal of direction could be given to the national economy through such organs of multi-nationals.

There is no multinational space for multinationals to exist in, furthermore, there is no form of multinational imperialism in the sense of a HQ which can dictate the actions of each of its parts that is not also subject to state overview and direction if there wasa will to do so.

To be specific on Lenin, the point of his imperialism was that capital acted internationally without being international - it was imperialism precisely because it had to stand within a homeland and express itself in conjunction with a state, in order to effect in its interests an international (extra national) advantage.

Capital export is just that, nor can capital itself escape national borders, except in a narrow way - by using Credit Capital to draw up capital ina new market.

"This argument looks contradictory to me, can you please explain it further.
Name one capitalist business which you class as one of the international
capitalist category."

Lets use the best known - the McDonald franschise. To work, each franschise food-filler (I can not call them restruarants) has to be supported by a national HQ which itself via corproate contracts is directly linked to a central HQ in the US. The toing and froing of profits from one part to the other (its internal transfers) is not very different to those described by Lenin. But where is the initial capital export?

In a sense McDonalds cororation sells itself as a commodity to the local economy, but it is not a commodity, nor aside from capital need for this selling exercise does any rela capital get exported.

This selling of itself - is what I refer to as Credit Capital. The necessary capital (ie not profits, not resources, not cheap labour but capital itself) is sucked up from the local economy. The internationalisied aspect of capital lies in this ability to use its existence as a way of generating capital - it can only generate such funds because it is international capital (better resurants, better productive methods perhaps cannot raise such capital unless they also have international credit).

What McDonalds creates is, however much we might despise it, a form of new production within the local economy, new production immediately linked into world wide exchanges. Now if you can fit this seamlessly into Lenin's concept of Imperial behaviour I will be very much surprised. Just as Imperialism assumed an external colonial world, rich in resources perhaps but poor in capital an industry, modern international capitalism thrives on a pressupposition of capital availablity and proletarian realtions of production pre-existing.

Imperialism has least served the purpose of spreading the capital labour relation, however, unevenly it has become almost universal - hence Capital cannot behave in the same was as before, for it now acts on the products of Imperialism, in fact, it has to assume their prior existence.

National Liberation in China has achieved one thing which modern capital hungers for, a vast class of proletarians (still a minority but a very significant one), basic industrial infrastructure (in the manufacture of basic commodities), a level of education compatable with modern industry and a great well of desires for the products of modern industry.

Little wonder then that China begrudgingly moves towards international capitalism as it moves towards them.

Some export of capital, a lot of state interference, but in the case of China as an example of a large new market, the concern is to further bourgeoisify the law codes in order to make it a profitable place in which to raise capital and deploy it.

"Yes, this is an interesting feature of neo-colonial states, whereby the
indigenous Bourgeoisie collude in capital-supporting the private sector's
asset-stripping or wage-exploitation."

There is much more than collusion here, but integration. In a colonial scenario collaborators are required, administrators, puppets but the people themselves are mere resources. Given a proletariat,a small bourgeoisie, some basic infrastructure, what these former colonies represent is a productive extension, which will provide the capital, cheap labour and a means to disinvest in more expensive production elsewhere. Many of these countries do have a large rural hinterland, but they are not what they were, they have via imperialism created a strong hub of capitalist social relations.

The war against Vietnam, did not win for US imperialism Indo-china, but the export of capital which came part and parcel with this war and the US's general drive in the region laid the foundation for the tiger economies. However, fragile such capitalist economies were there is no social comparison between them now and what they were after WWII. Many may well remain cradles of cheap and ultra-exploited workers, but here we look at fully developed capitalist relations of production and a whole new ball-game.

"All that has changed now is that most
colonial nations have accepted their role as dogs eating the crumbs under
the table and confine themselves to competing over inward investment (c.f.
the Republic of Ireland as a nice model). However, the threat of imperialist
financial pressure (if not military intervention) always remains part of the
international framework, all that has happened is that the world-order has
now legalised imperialism."

Poor relatives at the table rather then dogs under the table, might be a better analogy. And no-one suggests that power plays (big against small, well armed against weaker) do not persist, but it is the context in which they happen that makes the difference. But who escapes this? The UK - well no. Australia - no again, France - you got to be joking. Arguably the only one not being bullied is the biggest bully of the lot, everyone else is under some sought of threat even when they take to threatening someone weaker than themselves.

Mixing up the role of force in history with Imperialism as such does not make anything clearer, it certainly does not prove anything one way or another.

"Where does this economic schema conflict with the national base of capital?
The credit capital offered merely becomes attached to wherever the promoting
capitalist is attached to, there are millions of instances where FDI
Capitalists have left with all the support and without much to show to the
'client' nation. In much the same way as when a business is bought by a
foreign enterprise, the capital changes hands. This is nothing fundamentally
different."

Donal it strikes me that when international capital is mentioned you insist that it exists in some pure form, rather then being an extension of its previous forms. Again we talk here of the dominant contradictions, which assumes other contradictions which are at work, and again we are exploring a phase of a single subject matter which is defined by its history. None of this provides a unique form which can be identified botanist-style which is purely international, rather the international aspects rest squarely and solidily on the local existence.

My point is not that international capital does not have a national basis far from it, but that the internatiuonal character of its configuration delinks the necessary connection between that national existence and a particular state in the closely associated manner needed to give shape to classic imperialism. Imperial competition was not a universal but a specific historical phase when rising capitals could not be otherwise expressed except through the actions of a state. My point would be that the exclusive identification with one state in particular is no-longer necessary, rather capital uses what states that are available to it to express its will and this will always be a historically based bias.

"Your paradox merely appears to highlight the inherent contradictions of
late-stage capitalism. Profits (in your schema) are higher on the
market-investments than in production (hence the over-valuation of stocks
against the productive capacities which they are meant to represent).
However, none of this has any meaning in defining 'international capital'
above and beyond some idealised Bourgeois conception."

No you are right enough in this, except that the paradox rests on the importance of credit capital which does have an international character. The same over-valuing of stock has been seen before, and seen on a world scale. However, this was a result of stock markets racing each other as part of imperialist resortment (the Great Depression), the current stock over-evaluation may or may not end the same way, but it is essentially driven by Credit Capital which involves many markets simultaneously.

"So, the existence of credit capital marks out the line in the sand between
Lenin and our times? It just replaces the more blatent ripping off of
colonial assets which occurred under more open threat of military subjection
or under a puppet administrative authority. That this now constitutes a new
'free form' of capital is only as true as the 'free-form' of capital
generally."

No but you did ask for a form in which international capital could express itself, and as crude as my presentation is Credit Capital fits the picture. Capitalism in general is about ripping off, and the best ripping off is always from the weakest victim, but look at what you imply, an acknowledgement of the qualitative changes in the way it is done, but no acknowledgement that the particular historical character of Imperialism can change.

It is like dismissing any actual imperialist competition on the basis there might be some in the future, and thus trying to preserve this vital aspect of Imperialism's character despite its acknowledged absense. In classic imperialism there was no-let up of competition between imperial powers, every division leading to a redivision, every peaceful settlement leading to a warlike confrontation - Imperialism was a birthing process, a relatively long labour which must deliver something that is distinct from it.

Donal either this or the labour never-ends in history until the "baby" is aborted by revolution. Imperialism was a contradiction which stemed from prior contradictions, a distinct period in history, why should the idea be so resisted that it too would succumb to its own contradictions and new sets of contradictions would arise. I mean as Historical Materialists sure that is the expected result, rather than an endless transition to no-where.

"How can the means of acquisition be socialised by the market - well, I guess
in some mechanistic manner, but this socialisation is going nowhere. This
reads like some sick Reagon-Thatcherite application of Marx to capitalist
acquisition structures. I don't get this at all."

Lenin's formula for Imperialism was that it represented the socialisation of the means of production, only the means of acquistion (of financial capital) remained in private hands. He had in mind the leading bankers of his period, the JP Morgans whose personal assets became the basis for the trusts and cartels, the monopolies and the then further socialisation of the means of production.

I don't know if it is that criticial, but while there are individuals of immense wealth, the actual capital they muster for one project or another is tiny compared to the capital required. The mode of acquistion is socialisied (amongst the bourgeosie) in such a way that capital is moved collectively and through committee - that is all. Even the richest individual does not have the ability to unilaterally commence a large project without becoming at the same time vunerable.

"G> The stock market (really the network of them across the globe) become the
means for
the existence of international capital as international credit capital."

"And I suppose that this, too, didn't exist in Lenin's time?"

Stockmarkets obviously did, but as largely independant and nation based inistitutions. The modern stockmarket because of the level of communications (far more effective then a telex message) allows cross gloabl trading - this was so limited in Lenin's day it virtually did not exist, it is now the norm, in fact the largest influences over any particlar stockmarket often begins with foriegn movements on local exchanges.

"To prove that wars are necessary by-products of imperialism we need concrete
analysis of a given set of circumstances, any theoretical treatment will
merely identify the existence of a factor of inter-imperialist rivalries.
The question of 'inter-imperialist wars' is a conclusion to be reached when
we apply our 'new' theory of imperialism (albeit a refinement of Lenin to
modern practices) to concrete circumstances. As such, we shouldn't raise
this question just now."

Well in this I am of the reverse opinion, just now is the time to raise it, otherwise where does the concrete analysis flow from? Or as Marx said, the answers are easy it is finding the right question which is hard.

"G > The US is on a paraniod course, Lear-like in its madness. It may well
turn its attentions to the EU and Japan, or anywhere else, but can the EU or Japan
match it as an Imperial power? It would seem that only by combining can such countries
escape the absolute power of the US, how can they combine? Militarily they are defeated
before they begin, they can court the monarch eager to go along with the next mad
scheme, but their future lies in threading the monster in lilputian style, tying the US
down into international agreements, international courts, international civility."

"First of all, we must recognise that the first few lines of this paragraph
are the denial of the applicability of Kautsky's theory. You recognise the
existence of inter-imperialist rivalries, you even recognise the possibility
of military conflict between powers. Why bother with Kautsky then, this is
closest to Lenin. Let us argue against his backdrop."

But these are not inter-imperialist rivilries, these are the remains of defeated past imperial powers and others faced with a single super-power. I don't mind letting go of Kautsky, but the price in this case, is to create something that does not exist - these powers (they remain powers) cannot compete with the US, they can only try and cripple it (rather they don't try very hard but this is the only course open to them). In itself this is a major factor against the prolongation of Imperialism, one power is left standing this mere fact changes the whole picture. The other states have power, but not so much as to be imperial contenders, in combination they may bring down the US, but none can rise to fill the space, the means of bringing the US down dictate the type of concord which must follow (none of which brings Kautsky's classlessness, but some of which may lower the overall use of military force - but that is niether here nor there - we often forget that this is one of the!
 blooodest periods of human history, a small let up in the killing would just establish a smaller average more akin to pre-1900.)

"Incidentally, you appear to neglect Russia as a potential imperialist
rival - and what of the EU overtures to it? Furthermore, as I indicated in a
previous post, there are a divergence of imperialist directions within a
single state, different wings of government are in hock to different sets of
capitalists, with different objectives. It might be possible that the US
might not act in one direction only, just look at the differences over
invading Iraq for evidence. A more detailed analysis is necessary here
before we can discount the possibility of inter-imperialist wars involving
the US."

A military clash betwen the Europe-USSR and USA would be an armegadon, luckly the process of the first bloc arming itself sufficiently to part-take in such a conflict would take time, but even if it did not lead to war all this would have to be undertaken, then the problem becomes, what exactly would this new body get to justify the risk that they could not achieve by simply having the Rogue state (the USA) reined in by "peaceful" (read diplomatic) measures. My assessment is that reining in delivers the same if not more than competition along tradictional imperialist lines, but I would underscore this by pointing out the distance required to create a pan european-russian fiancial capital basis which did not from day already intergrate intself into existing world markets.

"Relevancy for Lenin is usual, given that we in colonial societies face the
same enemies as we always have - such is the strength of his analysis and
the unchanging nature of the fundamentals here. You have yet to pose any
successful criticism of Lenin's conception of Imperialism. Furthermore, your
last line suggests that in order to validate the logic of Lenin's
contribution we must accept the essence of Kautsky's conception of
imperialism?"

Donal I hope you are not suggesting that anything like colonial societies exist on any scale today. And as for unchanging fundementals - I would think it would be more correct to say constantly moving nature of the fundementals, even including their own negation. My point is not to critise Lenin's conception of Imperialism (which was quite correct and the foundation of all else that must follow) but our dogmatic use of it despite Lenin's warnings of its transitory nature and overall movement to ever greater socialisation.

As for my last line, I would reuse yours with one qualification:

"Furthermore, your last line suggests that in order to validate the logic of Lenin's contribution we must accept the essence of Kautsky's conception of [POST] imperialism?"

To which I would affirm.

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