Empire on Lenin - Part 3

Greg Schofield g_schofield at dingoblue.net.au
Wed Dec 12 08:58:46 MST 2001


--- Message Received ---
From: "Donal" <donaloc at peterquinn.com>
To: "Marxism" <marxism at lists.panix.com>
Date: Tue, 11 Dec 2001 15:46:34 -0000
Subject: Empire on Lenin - Part 3

"I think that the key factor in determining the development of
neo-colonialism was the threat of revolution. Now that's considered
relatively unimportant, things will start to spread out again. No
theoretician could honestly say he would predict the rise of neo-colonialism
without reference to concrete historical analysis."

Donal I have no disagreement with the first part of this, and the difficulties of predicting form are inherent in the complexities of the concrete. But in a sense neo-colonialism was anticipated, at least to a degree, by Lenin with the concept of semi-colonies:

"In this respect, the semi-colonial countries provide a typical example of the “middle stage”. It is natural that the struggle for these semidependent countries should have become particularly bitter in the epoch of finance capital, when the rest of the world has already been divided up."

We could re-enforce the word "bitter" by sophistocated and we get something very supportive of what you have said, especially when confronted by National Liberation which in Lenin's day was in its infancy. Another way of looking at National Liberation is that it can place a nation in a better bargaining position and need not have all that many revolutionary overtones. Certianly a lot of states played this game skilfully when the contest appeared to be between the USA and the USSR.

However, with the ascendency of the USA when effectively the whole world falls within its domain, I cannot see any reason for "things to spread out again", that is recreate passed over forms which I think you are implying here.

"This point is the crux of your argument. However, no pure international
space exists for capital, nor would capital want such a space to exist.
Capital kept in shares or futures is still associated with the national
interests of those shares, hence the destabilising effects of vast pension
fund holders. Capital has lead feet, just as it did in Lenin's time. To try
to obscure the national identities and entanglements of capital by
mentioning Credit Capital is self-contradictory. To the extent that this
latter form of enticement is still connected to national interests (of the
neo-colonial state as opposed to the 'multinational' enterprise), it is
impossible. To the extent that that capital has been lost by the national
interest it is now property of the multinational and entangled in the web of
its interests. This much is clear."

I think the crux of our disagreement does lie here, but why is the asumption that some international "space" is required for international capital to be. I find this confusing on a number of levels. First the very formulation embraces an unrealisable predicate - it can only and ever be a negative answer to such a demand that for international anything to exist there has to be some no-national space available. I would have thought the notion of any form of international is inclsuive of a number of nation states, something is international because it can operate within a number of states - after all we have international trade which operates on just such an assumption, why would capital be any different?

The point about shares is interesting but I don't think it lends force to your argument. Shares have no interests, but represent forms of property which is obviously in residence in particular places, just where does the capital lie in this, part lies in the actual capital in productive circulation, but another part of it lies semi-dormant in the share as a rent-right to such active capital. A very special rent-right which can be swiftly transfered and translated into other rent-rights, rather than giving capital feet of lead, I would have thought this mobilisied the property form of capital ownership, allowed it to slip from hand to hand in a blink of an eye and entered into the very credit calculations which enables new capital to be raised.

I am not trying to obscure the national residence of the active capital by raising Credit Capital as a means by which the bourgeoisie and their corporations internationalise themselves, for while a number of tricks can be pulled to appear to have more credit then is due, the credit itself is provided on the basis of having real shares in real concerns in real places that provide real (or really big) dividends. Hence Capital can be raised on Credit well outside the states where all this real asset lays.

Asset transfer from one place top another, is not made so mirculous, this still requires starting up something concrete and new in one place while narrowing or closing down production in another - but it is Credit Capital that facilitates this transfer, which would otherwise require huge capital exports and a significant time delay before new production could commence.

Consider that in order to make more profit you have to first raise the entire capital amount, weakening your present assets, virtually inform everyone of what you are doing, then go through the whole process of setting up full production elsewhere only to close down sections of production from which you started - Credit Capital facilitates this by allowing existing assets to produce at full capacity, existing surplus to mainatin credit ratings by going out as dividen, while establishing, perhaps by hidden means, the new productive capacity - effectively conjuring capital from the ground.

Donal I would say that the above is a common everyday procedure, we see productive capacity being spread about, we see on an ever increasing scale one group of workers in one place becoming direct competitors for workers in another (not something seen under classic Imperialism in the homeland states), we see productive capacity in general being spread throughout the world and the bourgeoisie openly show how this is done.

"The dominance of the US makes us liable to make inaccurate approximations.
When things are going up for all, I guess most will be content to take their
place in the imperial hierarchy. When we enter a depression, well, the dogs
might start to scrap. Your conception of International Capital is the
primary focus of this argument. I don't fully see how you can even talk of
such a thing, I think it is a fetishisation of imperialist transactions; it
doesn't represent something fundamental. Given that such a pure substance
doesn't exist, your arguments fall flat."

Well I mentioned the desire for pure proof earlier so I will leave it at that.

Consider this, Imperialism to be strong needed to concentrate enormous productive capacity within the homeland states - the USA is a good examp-le of this especially in WWII when its army and Navy were small and backward in world standards when Pearl Harbour occurred. The ability for the US to turn production to war needs, rested on a fanatatsic industrial infrastructure, not a highly developed military structure - classic imperialism, strong homeland states the most successful being the ones that carried out the greatest amount of produuctive labour within their own borders (however much it drew in raw materials from the outside).

Look at the US today, yes its military production sector is incredibly strong, but what of the rest of its productive capacity - a steady decline for decades now. As the HQ for the greatest corporations on earth, supporting the greatest stock market etc, the USA is rich - but it is becoming less and less productive as a nation, the industrial basis for all its success sits on a narrower and narrower foundation, the USA sucks up capital but it is amongst the stingiest exporter of capital for the past few decades. Howver, it does export productive capacity - a trend very marked since the fall of the USSR (and not without reason connected with it), which has because of lowered production costs fed into higher dividends (thus supporting the relative wealth of the country), increasingly it has become a home for increasing non-productive labour devoted to profit realisation from products which are increasingly made elsewhere.

I could also point out how this is reflected in the particular forms of military intervention the US uses, the tactics and strategies this forces on the military and the limited nature of having such concentrated fire power. But this is aside the point. We can stretch the concept of imperialism to accept all these stray facts, we can use ad hoc additive theories to take these things into account, we can even reform the concept of Imperialism on some other basis (center and perphery for instance). But all these things a reactive, they freeze a concept for reasons other than what is found within its logic and in order to preserve the word and what is associated with it, effectively gut it of its orginal and historically specific nature.

This can be done and none of us will necessaryily be any the wiser that it is taking place - so we have to ask where lies the proof. Does it lie in the stray facts of the subject matter which we have already marshalled under the rubric of Imperialism or does it lie elsewhere. The proof of the pudding is in class struggle. If Imperialism has current meaning, if it is adequate for comprehending reality then it is also praxically capable of forming a political platform to which class struggle can respond.

Is this happening, can by however much we squeeze, add, subtract to the idea of Imperialism produce any different political platform then those that already exist and are so profoundly ignored by the working class both in the advanced and the developing world? I have seen no sign of it.

If we want proof that a concept has run its course, that it no longer serves to clarify the concrete - it has to be judged in reality and by class struggle just as Lenin's concept was originally and from which stemmed decades of political struggle. 

"Alternatively, if we dump the 'more-of-the-same' viewpoint we have to
imagine we live in a world with forms which only exist in our head, we in
the colonial world have to imagine that we live in a world without
inter-imperialist rivalries, which we could potentially exploit. Indeed, we
do face a similar problem as confronted Lenin, that some Marxists mistakenly
think that Imperialism will (has) somehow right(ed) itself and
transmogrify(ied) into an all embracing Global Trust system."

Well this reality in one's head of course can be applied either way. As said above the proof lies in struggle and whether the concepts are capable of properly articulating the contradictions on which struggle can solidify. To conclude that any attempt to critically dissolve the concept of imperialism must inevitably be a return to Kautskian peace and harmony seesm a presumptious jump. Lenin dissolved the concept of the dominance of private property in the means of production in order to create a concept of the finance capital's socialisation of these means into a world system of imperial contest. What I am proposing is far less radical than what Lenin achieved and for the life of me I cannot see how any of it results in the bourgeoisie being less oppressive.

"Negri-Hardt comes from this perspective, hence their lies about Lenin
agreeing with Kautsky's theory. Imperialism is very real where I come from,
I think most of us on this list who live in third world countries could
attest to this fact too. It's just become more formalised, nothing really
fundamentally new."

Obviously I don't consider Negri-Hardt as either liars or substantially incorrect on this one point. If nothing is fundementally new (a lot rests onm the assumption of the degree to which this refers) then why has national liberation slipped off the political planet?

Surely so long as there is Imperialism there is a form of colonialism and if this then national liberation is its obvious product. What would a modern national liberationist in Indonesia, or the Phillipines, or Mexico have to put into their platform that could not in general be put into a political platform in Australia, UK or the USA for that matter? A few details would change sure enough, but what would be the essential political call that would distinguish a platform in one place from that in another, what would make one national liberationist and the other not?

To me this is the final mystery of those who put up ever-lasting imperialism - what is the political conclusion, the practical platform of struggle? If it all boils down to capitalism being bad and socialism being good, where could that not be applied and what the hell does it mean in practical terms?


"This theory of a new post-Imperialism sounds like
petty-bourgeois pseudo-science to me (no offence meant to yourself). If we
are to continue this (valuable) discussion we need to analyse what your
'international capital' represents and whether it is fundamentally different
to what existed in Lenin's time. I don't think that you have done that. One
paragraph on Credit Capital, and I think even that this was a non-runner."

I take no offense, and I do not have ready made solutions. I have nothing that is convincing, no special facts that anyone in the street would not be aware of, but in all of this we must return to politics, always back to class struggle itself not as an abstract but as a concrete thing. The idea of Credit Capital may well prove laughably inadequate as an argument, may well be so niave to not tally with reality in any meaningful sense - but we all know that capital moves somehow internationally which would seem the inescapable fact, that it is a monopoloy that is octopus-like the nominal head always seems to be elsewhere and the tenticles everywhere. Coke Cola and Mcdonalds in Moscow and Beijing may only be symbolic but it speaks of much more.

The anti-globalisation movement, has resonance, though what it is about is hardly clear, it is a response to something new. The competition between workers of different lands is new, and has completely out-flanked traditional organisations. The level of communications has to have effects and causes in something new (Marx on the topic). If all this newness can be subsumed under the concept of Imperialism then let the concept prove it by providing clarity, clarity as to the direction of change, clarity as to the strengths and weaknesses of the class enemy and that of the working class, clarity in terms of political platform and struggle.

More concrete studies do little if the concepts underlying them are wrong, nor do they miraculously supply answers, we need the right questions for that. This is my way of posing questions, I am trying to find moving contradictions within the concepts that have been established in the past and raising them up as questions in the form of definite statements. Rather then being a petit-bouregois past-time, I would point this out to be a classic time worn procedure. Post-Imperialism is not posed as an answer, but as a question - however you assume it to be one, that within it are the fully formed solutions, thus when you do not find them you declare it empty - I knew it was empty when I posed it and said as much. Post- Imperialism as Super-Imperialism or Bourgeois Socialism do not do anything but shape the possible areas that can be explored, they are not in themselves solutions but a preliminary attempt to mark out ground in advance of our knowledge.

What I do know is the total inadequacy of Imperialism to comphrend present reality, I know this just as well as I know how completely adequate it was to comprehend past reality. Why should a concept be so rich in practical political possiblities at one time and so poverty stricken and repeative in another except that history has moved past it. 

To attempt to turn the tables can anyone offer an understanding of current "Imperialism" which leads by the logic of its analysis to a practical political platform.  That is my challenge, not a defense of my posing of a series of questions, but your defense for clinging to the concepts which you defend.


"Yes, we must revisit even our best theories but let's do it on the basis of
fact. The real danger in this discussion is that it can be used as a defence
of the sort of anti-globalisation-national chauvinist tie ups we have seen
in some of the main imperial centres where the US gets identified as
Imperialist and then all the other imperialists get off the agenda, aka, The
McDonaldisation of protest.

Antigloablisation exists as a movement with some resounance, the chauvanistic tenents are there along with many others not so easy to classify. I have not as yet seen anything which fully explains this movement, or why there is such widespread sympathy for it, or even why it should be such a hetrogenous movement of apparently so many incompatable parts. 

I am neither sure it is progressive in essence or reactionary, like many new things it character is not fully formed. But look at what you insinuate about it, that it is a movement fully known and understood and already confined to play a specific part. This has been the common response of the established left, but where is the leadership? Why are we not in a better position to lead it as an expression of working class interest but instead by our lack of leadership allow it to wallow poltically. And if the established left gets involved just how much energy would be spent maturing the struggle into something progressive and just how much more energy will be mispent trying to strangle the baby in the craddle for fear that it might not meet our high purposes.

Test number one - understanding the antiglobalisation movement in order to lead it progressively and in a proletarian manner - a test failed by the concept of imperialism universally upheld by the established left (either it rejects it or tries and tail after it).

"G> 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."

"This is incredible. You ask us to reject the continued validity of Lenin's
model of imperialism and then state poverty of evidence of qualitative
change. Surely this would be a minimum for such a move?"

No it is just the standard logic of ideology at work, the facts abound, facts are in no short supply, but the appratus for appreciating them for what they are is lacking, instead they are seen one-sidedly - their other side (the complete picture) thus is hidden.

What I have said has nothing to do with evidence, but our ability to understand it. The source of ALL error is holding onto a category of thought which should be emptied and dissolved (paraphrased from Hegel's Preface to the Science of Logic) a process whereby the relational logic connecting the categories are revealed and the categories and new relaltionships established more in accord with reality. The same facts now flow back into the new concepts revealing their hidden aspects and establishing previously unseen interconnections and thus founding an entirely new view of the subject matter (paraphrased from Lenin's Philosophical Notebooks).

Leaps in the development subject matter are nearly always invisible because they are squeezed into previously existing categories of thought. In this way a science can be turned into an ideology while the criticism of the ideology can carry forward the science. Science in history nearly always runs from behind on matters already accomplished, blind at the time we see with hindsight the new direction we are already on. 

Donal I made the statement in the previous post not as some cheaters way of dispensing the need for facts, we swim in facts, so many I cannot even imagine just how to marshall them into some form of order. In this I stand on the upward movement of the spiral of reason (refernce to Lenin's Notebooks) attempting to dissolve a concept and out of its relationship to other concepts find the next in the organic decvelopment of contradictions. But it is just at the begining, still caught in the act of dissolving and still trying to locate the essential relations which lay underneath. What you are asking is that I embark on the downward spiral to the concrete, a journey which assumes fully formed concepts. Once the concepts become fully made, then the facts can be ordered and the relations between them further clarified, but not before.

For smart intuitive and knowledgable people this necessary process of dissolving  concepts and organically drawing out new concepts happens in an instance, they launch their findings as a full theoretical system and marshal the relevant facts accordingly. I am not in that happy position, my mental labour is a snail's pace, my basis of knowledge largely inadequate. Because of this while I am still trying to find the proper expression for each step of analysis, I pay close attention to the logic I have to deal with, knowing that if I lose control of that I will slide helplessly into ideology.

Now all of this might well sound like so much wind signifying nothing. On the other hand, I am trying to convey my exact position and its limitations. If debate is to procede on scientific principles and until someone else provides a fully worked out theory we have no other choice but to follow this cautious route. At this level what matters is logic, not the logic of arguing a position but articulating the logic within a concept. My argument at this level is that applying the concept of Imperialism inevitably becomes a circular path which on each pass adjusts the fundemental relationships in order to squeeze in extra facts, after a while the fundemental relationships cease being specific, become broader and closer to truisms applicable to practically anything.

As an illustration ( a small one and one which is very common) I have seen on this list and many other places Imperialism so broadened to include the very forms which Lenin excluded (ie Roman and early Bristish empire). Now the fact that you repeated this in an earlier post does not mean you do not know you stuff rather it supports your diligent application of imperialism as a concept. When a concept becomes worn-out the only way it can proceed and appear to be true is to become increasingly a truism. The mistake is not a result of being bad theoretically, it is not mistake that you read this into the text, or that you remembered it so clearly as being there, but such misreadings are the expected result of tired concepts.

I look back on texts I thought I knew all the time only to find that I did not know them at all, but this only takes place when for some external reason I need to change my mind on some small point, I go back to the text to take the author to task only to find the old bastard was right in the first place and another small ideological mask falls away. Lenin and Marx are of course not always right, I am not here talking about holy writ, but a body of works from which I first drew my concepts and returned to because I found the concept as I knew it to be faulted. 

I returned to Lenin's Imperialism because I found my concept of Imperialism inadequate politically. Lenin did not appear as I remembered him, there was much more there than I had previously thought. I am not in effect critiquing Lenin's concept (ie finding fault and error) but dissolving it (my concepts of it) in order to find the essential relationships which gave life to it and try and find how these can be combined to form new concepts (I attempt to stand on him as firm foundations not kick him aside as erroneous).

You mentioned in a psot some time ago after I said that if you re-looked at Lenin's critique of Kautsky you will find he dismisses the a-class bias and the peaceful conclusions, but actually while presenting other aspects of the tendential development does not raise any specific criticisms which as a critique would be odd. You made the effort to reread the text and replied that his tone was dismissive of all that Kautsky had said - his tone certianly is, the point is real enough, but it is not a sufficient reply. Politically Lenin had to be dismissive of Kautsky and all he political stood for, but conceptually Lenin did not have the same freedom, Kautsky was no dope he could put two and two together and come up with four and so could complete bourgeois minds. 

Lenin had lots of opportunity to lampoon Kautsky - one world cartel is a bit much surely a point to be dismissed - and Lenin indeed does so but in a very underhand way, he does not speak of this idea in the context of Kautsky's super-imperialism but mentions it in the context of Imperialist struggle, specifically as a counter example to the division and redivision of the world via monopolies/Imperialism. Why such a circuteous route why not just simply say that the idea of their ever being such a cartel is garbage? Lenin knew that Kautsky was speaking at a level of abstract speculation, in effect he was speaking of tendential movements within super-imperialism not giving a prohesey, he did not take the cheap shot at this, in fact he did not address this tendential question at all but merely left it lying within the text.

If Lenin was attempting to show that Imperialism could only end in proletarian socialism - which is the left's universal reading of the periodization involved - then Kautsky's error slips in. Ironically by placing faith in the inevitablity of such a revolutionary solution all that had changed was the class location of the main players - for Kautsky the bourgeoisie would mysteriously transform the world into paradise, for the current left the same mysterious job is given to the proletariat in an equally unrealistic explosion of pure will.

This is not what Lenin was on about, for him class struggle was the engine, the only engine of movement. The political defeat of one class is also a part of struggle, also enables things to move forward one way or another (history never stops), our problem is that the working class has suffered the defeats and the bourgeois class has moved forward in its own particular direction (disproving in fact Kautsky's apparition of mechanical improvement, but nevertheless obeying the tendential directions on which he was relying).

Was Lenin actually ever posing the idea that Imperialism was ongoing with no logic of self-negation? If he was he was no Historical Materialist. On the other hand buried in the text is the dialectic of self-negation, simply revealed by asking the right question. Left to its own devices where does Imperialism end up?

Greg Schofield
Perth Australia

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