Blaut: EVALUATING IMPERIALISM

Mark Jones markjones011 at tiscali.co.uk
Wed Aug 28 15:03:08 MDT 2002


[I just put this on the A-List archive. Mark ]

This paper was published in SCIENCE & SOCIETY, Vol.  ,
No.  , Fall, 1997, pp.          . Copyright 1997
by SCIENCE & SOCIETY.

                       EVALUATING IMPERIALISM

                             J. M. Blaut

                                 I.

John Willoughby's essay, "Evaluating the Leninist Theory
of Imperialism" (1995), is the latest in a long series of
unfriendly critiques of that theory by academic Marxists
who are hostile to the modern theories which mainly
descend from Lenin's theory of imperialism. The critical
procedure has by now become routinized. First: just one
of Lenin's many writings on imperialism is discussed,
this being his pamphlet Imperialism, The Highest Stage of
Capitalism (1916a), an important work but one which
discusses only the economic part of the theory, and
which, significantly, bears the subtitle, "A Popular
Outline." Second: the claim is made (or implied) that
this economic part is the whole theory, and everything
else -- politics, geopolitics, society, culture, etc. --
is irrelevant, except as a deduction from the theory, or
as a form of practice somehow sanctioned by the theory.
Third: Lenin's argument in Imperialism, The Highest Stage
of Capitalism is shown to be heavily dependent on earlier
writings on the economics of imperialism by Hobson,
Hilferding, and others, and Lenin's work is therefore
judged to be rather unoriginal and (intellectually, at
least) unimportant. Finally: it is shown that the
economic theory presented in the Imperialism pamphlet
does not prove, as Lenin supposedly thought it did, that
imperialism is the final, catastrophic stage of capital-
ism and will lead to socialist revolution. Capitalism,
these academic Marxists assure us, has passed beyond the
stage of bellicose imperialism and is now a relatively
peaceful system, still somewhat progressive, though of
course imperfect.

       Imperialism, The Highest Stage of Capitalism is not
the best place to begin an analysis of Lenin's theory.
Or, if we start here, we should start with the preface to
that work and read the preface very carefully. The work
was written in 1916 and published only after the fall of
the tsarist government in early 1917. In the preface
Lenin says:

       This pamphlet was written with an eye to the tsar-
       ist censorship. Hence, I was not only forced to
       confine myself strictly to an exclusively
       theoretical, specifically economic analysis of
       facts, but to formulate the few necessary
       observations on politics with extreme caution, by
       hints...It is painful, in these days of liberty, to
       re-read the passages of the pamphlet which have
       been distorted, cramped, compressed in an iron vice
       on account of the censor. That the period of
       imperialism is the eve of the socialist revolution;
       that social-chauvinism...is the utter betrayal of
       socialism; that [the] split in the working-class
       movement is bound up with the objective conditions
       of imperialism, etc. -- on these matters I had to

       speak in a slavish tongue, and I must refer the
       reader who is interested in the subject to the
       articles I wrote abroad in 1914-17 (1916a, 18;
       emphasis added).


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