Tom O'Lincoln on Imperialism: A small note

Jurriaan Bendien bendien at
Mon Jul 21 10:18:34 MDT 2003

Superb website, Tom ! Hadn't  (portrait of Marx in the top righthand
corner...). I have a criticism though, as per usual, but don't take it bad.

I read on your website:

"European empires, both colonial and informal, expanded fairly steadily
between the Napoleonic wars and World War 1. Before the 1870s, it is true,
this expansion was not accompanied by a rapidly imperialist climate of
opinion. Richard Cobden and John Bright, liberal leaders of the free-trade
"Manchester school", even argued that Britain's prosperity did not depend on
possessing colonies. Such places would do business with Britain in any case,
while the mother country only incurred extra expense by having to defend its
direct control. The Oxford professor Goldwin Smith actively advocated
withdrawal from the colonies. However such arguments were ignored by
successive governments. In the first half of the century Britain acquired
key trading posts at Singapore (1819), Aden (1839) and Hong Kong (1842),
annexed New Zealand (1840) and Natal (1842) and steadily strengthened its
position in India as well as establishing a daunting commercial position in
Latin America."

Good statement, but the impression one gets from this is that imperialism
starts with the formation of a genuine world market in industrial goods,
i.e. in the early 19th century, but actually significant British imperialism
dates back to the 17th century, as does Dutch imperialism. See for instance
P.J. Cain and A.G. Hopkins, British Imperialism: Innovation and Expansion
1688-1914, Longman, 1993. Reference to the epoch of mercantile imperialism
(including the slave trade) is left out from your story. I can understand
it, because British imperialism in relation to Australia didn't really get
going, until long after the Dutch were there (Actually, the Dutch financed a
good part of the British slave trade).

Marxists often perform this historical amnesia trick, because they want to
argue that imperialism is a PRODUCT of the capitalist MODE OF PRODUCTION.
The heterodox socialist does not believe this, because this leads to false
theories of imperialism, and in fact mercantile imperialism, specifically
the looting of Latin America, India and Indonesia  played a very important
role in the European primitive accumulation process which was necessary for
the birth of industrial capitalism -generating in the course of the 16th and
17th century the equivalent of around a billion gold pounds, far more than
the capital of all manufactories which existed in 1800 (Mandel, Traite
d'Économie Marxiste, 1960). Already in 1700, Brazil demanded 10,000 slaves
per year, a quota which could not always be met by Angola (see J. Duffy,
Portugal in Africa). The reason why Immanuel Wallerstein's books are
important, is because he investigates the international roots of primitive
accumulation much more carefully, if a little apologetically.

This sleight of hand is I think not accidental, but the result of the
International Socialists' confusion of existence of capital,  the existence
of the bourgeois state, the existence of bourgeois society, and the
existence of the capitalist mode of production. Being unable to coherently
explain the transition to industrial capitalism, featuring hybrid social
formations and articulated modes of production, the International Socialists
are also unable to explain the nature of post-capitalist societies not
integrated, or not fully integrated, into the capitalist world market.
According to the International Socialists, societies are either capitalist
or socialist, either the capitalists rule or the workers rule. If you have't
got workers power, you have capitalist power. With this splendid dogmatic
schematism, no substantive theory of the transition to socialist economy and
society can be reached. Nor can the future of corporate empires be

Just have a look at this website: If you
do have a look, you will see that it says: "...the United (Dutch) East
Indies Company (Vereenigte Oostindische Compagnie) [was] literally the first
multinational with branches and connections almost everywhere. It had its
own army and a mandate enabling it to declare war on behalf of the then
Dutch government (Staten Generaal). It had its own banking arm, print
presses and a sizable fleet of merchantmen as well as warships."

This quote also gives you a glimpse of the likely future of corporate
imperialism in the epoch of capitalist decadence. But as I say, IS
theoretical schematism does not really permit such explorations, because any
deviation from Lenin's holy texts is sinful and must be punished with

If you think my interest in these questions is merely abstract and
"interesting", this is not true, because my own life was systematically
plundered, preventing me from doing good sustained research.



More information about the Marxism mailing list