Forwarded from Jurriaan (on Amin)

Louis Proyect lnp3 at SPAMpanix.com
Fri Jun 1 15:27:29 MDT 2001


Hi Louis

Yes ! I fully agree with Amin here (even if I think I still differ from him
in the interpretation of Pol Pot's regime in Kampuchea). Lenin's short
popular pamphlet on imperialism by no means tells the full story of
imperialism (it was written under censorship), and it is not underpinned by
a systematic study of the mechanisms of foreign trade, successive epochs of
capital accumulation, or the operation of the law of value on a world scale
(for the latter, see especially the important works by Ernest Mandel, Anwar
Shaikh, Klaus Busch and Tilla Siegel, who however don't all agree with each
other on everything).

Actually, when Lenin's title was translated as "Imperialism, the highest
stage of capitalism" this doesn't quite convey what he meant. What he
really meant (in my judgement) was more along the lines of the "newest,
most recent, latest phase" of capitalist development. After all, he was
trying to explain a crucial new development, new trends, which consisted
principally of the succumbing of the Second International to the
imperialist war drive and world war 1. Lenin was articulating a new
conception of his epoch.

I would suggest that Lenin was quite well aware, as was Marx, of the
existence of imperialism prior to the 1890s. But the whole point is,
neither of them systematically theorised the operation of the capitalist
world market, and that was a lacuna in classical Marxist thought. Marx
intended to do this, in a further volume of Capital, but didn't get round
to it. Unfortunately under the influence of Stalinist Marxism-Leninism,
Lenin's pamphlet became a "holy text" and further serious research of the
issue had to be carried out within the narrow confines of what Lenin had
said, and within the framework of the new "conception of the epoch" which
the Stalinists had developed from 1928.

For non-religious socialists this approach is obviously nonsense - after
all, Lenin didn't even propose any very original economic theory but based
himself closely on a mass of contemporary writings on the subject, starting
with Hobson and Hilferding (see Lenin's Notebooks of jottings on the
subject). Why should Lenin be the only one allowed to do this sort of work ?

What was actually really new and original in Lenin - and which was often
obscured by academics talking about imperialism - was the political
conclusions he drew from the empirical trends. That is, he worked out
important political and cultural implications of imperialism for socialist
politics (including the question of the nationalities).

When socialists adopt a theory of "globalisation" to describe the current
epoch, this is largely rhetoric, an "ad hoc" strategem or - to use Paolo
Giussani's pungent term - "hot air". I am really surprised that people in
the Fourth International fell for this nonsense. Certainly, anybody knows
important changes have occurred in the mode of functioning of world
capitalism thru the 1980s and 1990s. But these can be quite adequately
integrated into a more sophisticated account of imperialism, which takes
into account important research that was done on the subject in the 1970s
and 1980s (when there was a brief flowering of Marxist research in
universities).

Unfortunately this work isn't done very much (although Amin himself has
worked very hard on it over the years). Imagine trying to do systematic
Marxian research on imperialism in today's universities - this is quite
difficult in the current ideological climate.

Golbalisation theories and postmodernist verbiage con people into thinking
that imperialism and its contradictions are a thing of the past, whereas
the contradictions of imperialism are rather intensifying, and will in
future surely explode in new calamities. If you serious look at the facts,
the domination of the rich (imperialist) countries over the rest of the
world has not decreased but increased, to the point where the politics of
poor countries are shaped directly by the rich countries through increasing
direct intervention (military, media, secret intelligence, diplomacy, think
tanks, NGO's etc.).

Marx himself would never have sponsored any "movement against
globalisation". He would have said globalisation (in the sense of bringing
together nations in global communication, information and financial
networks) is progressive, in unifying the world, fostering internationalist
consciousness and breaking down barriers between ethnic groups. At the same
time he would have subjected the economics and politics of the modern-day
states system (in short, imperialism) to a thorough critique.

The apologists of globalisation theory argue along these lines:
globalisation is a current hot topic, and so we have to "go with the flow",
we have to adapt our language to what people are really talking about - not
to do so would lead to sectarian isolation. Robert Went, a leader of the
Fourth International who works as a researcher for the Dutch Treasury, said
to me, "well I talk about globalisation, because if I talk about
imperialism, then people don't understand what I mean". He wants to invest
globalisation theory with a Marxist content. But the problem with
"globalisation" is that it means all sorts of different things to all sorts
of different people, apart from downplaying the continued importance of
nation states and nationalism). Arguably the same is true for imperialism
(in the absence of a consensual modern theory it means different things to
different people), but this aside there is a big socio-political difference
between people talking about imperialism and people talking about
globalisation. Any sociologist worth his oats can tell you that.

So anyway by adopting globalisation rhetoric, I think you really confuse
things, and cannot draw clear political conclusions from it that ordinary
people can understand and implement. Indeed the whole drift of
globalisation rhetoric is to suggest that people are powerless in their own
territory to do anything about global trends - attention is shifted away
from what their own governments are doing... whereas for Lenin the point of
departure for socialist internationalism was to develop a correct policy
towards the politics in your own country, and recommending this policy
internationally. In other words, Lenin gave you something to work on in
your own backyard, whereas globalisation theory (or for example "European
theory") leads to inarticulate and ineffective protests at bourgeois world
conferences by the relatively few people who are able to go there, or have
sufficient dedication to go there.

That's my opinion anyway, for what it's worth.

Regards

Jurriaan


Louis Proyect
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