[Marxism] Lenin's definition of imperialism

Steve Palmer spalmer999 at yahoo.com
Thu Oct 25 11:29:23 MDT 2007

--- Joaquin Bustelo <jbustelo at gmail.com> wrote:
> Steve Palmer writes: "whether fundamental inter-imperialist rivalries exist
> or not is a BIG issue."
> I'm not sure what the word "fundamental" is meant to convey here, but I
> would agree in this sense: that they're an inherent, inescapable part of the
> system. 
Yes, I debated what was the best word to briefly express precisely what I want
to convey. If it helps (given what you have written in the next paragraph), I
do mean that there are contradictions between the different imperialisms which
will inevitably lead to another inter-imperialist war.
> HOWEVER ... despite being "fundamental" in this sense they do not
> necessarily or automatically lead to war. Whether or not they do depends on
> more factors than just the existence of rivalries and clashing interests. 
IMO (and I think this is the same as Lenin's argument) these DO lead to war.
Other activities (political, diplomatic) may delay this, but cannot overcome
these contradictions which are economic, not political. The only supersession
of these contradictions can be brought about by the replacement of capitalism.

> Post-WWII imperialism has several characteristics that make it less likely
> for imperialist ruling classes to push things that far.
> One is the experience of the previous World Wars, which ended as defeats for
> the imperialist system as a whole, i.e., Russia/USSR (WWI) and
> China/Korea/Vietnam/Yugoslavia ... etc. ... following WWII. Not to mention
> the spread of anticolonial revolutions.
WWI was a defeat for imperialism as a whole because of the existence of a
revolutionary situation and movement which could  take advantage of this, which
led to establishment and consolidation of USSR. There is no such movement today
and the USSR is gone. The success of the anti-colonial revolutions depended on
the existence of the socialist countries - for military, diplomatic and
political support (I am FAR from wanting to diminish the contribution and
achievements of these movements and their leaders: I am simply saying that they
would have been much less successful if a large chunk of the world had not
already freed itself). The invasion of Iraq would, I suggest, have been quite
impossible before the demise of the USSR.

> Two, the replacement of direct colonialism by neo colonialism and its
> distinctive mechanisms of exploitation through the financial system and
> unequal exchange on the world market. This means the different imperialist
> share the spoils, to a greater or lesser degree, unlike a situation where
> one power has complete control over a given nation or territory.
These mechanisms already existed in Lenin's time and are discussed in
Imperialism. He distinguishes the imperialist countries from dependent
countries. The latter group include 'independent', 'semi-independent' countries
and, of course, colonies. Colonies have almost entirely gone, but dependent
countries remain. The booty still gets carted off by thieves of a particular
nationality. It does not all vanish into some amorphous cloud and then
imperialists receive a 'fair' share. (And if it did, who decides who gets what,
and how?) Companies and banks are of distinct nationality. So-called
'multinational' corporations are only multinational in where they exploit: they
are national in ownership and control, with few exceptions. This seems a clear

> Three, the emergence of the U.S. as a superpower with pretty much unrivaled
> military might. The U.S. may not be able to win all the colonial wars it
> launches (Korea, Vietnam, Iraq) but that is a different matter than any
> other imperialist power, or coalition, being able to defeat it in an
> interimperialist war. The odds of anyone or any coalition being able to
> defeat the U.S. in either conventional or nuclear conflict are slim to none.
If the decision to go to war depended on objective estimation in advance of
which side would win, very few wars would ever take place. As Donald Rumsfeld
said, you go to war with the army you have, not the army you want. He forgot to
add the caveat: when war is forced on you. Second-rank imperialisms have to
defend what they have, otherwise they're going to end up as dependent

The British ruling class generally did not want to go war against Germany in
1939. It spent years trying to avoid it - and even waited three days after its
ultimatum expired in the hope that they could cut some deal with the Nazis.
Britain was clearly less well prepared militarily than the German imperialists.
Yet, despite their wishes, they were forced to go to war. If it hadn't been for
US support and Hitler's decision to attack USSR, neither of which were assured
in advance, Germany could have conquered Britain.

> In addition, there's been no capitalist crisis like the one in the 1930s,
Yet, yet ... we're getting there.

> either because the capitalists and their operatives have become more skilled
> at running their system or they've had better luck, or some combination of
> the two.
Here again, we have a difference. For me, capitalism is inescapably
crisis-ridden. Luck and skill may delay the crisis, but cannot avert it. War
and imperialist plunder have been the two major offsetting counter-tendencies.
It ain't over yet ... 

> These are no GUARANTEE that rivalries and conflicts will not lead to war,
> but they are an EXPLANATION ... at least my attempt at one ... for why there
> haven't been inter-imperialist wars since WWII. 
My explanation is that, until the demise of the USSR and most socialist
countries, the imperialists temporarily and uneasily allied together - they
wanted to avoid losing the entire shop. There were still inter-imperialist
conflicts - especially the Suez crisis. But, the united front against socialism
took precedence.

> The explanation that Steve seems to offer, which is that this is simply
> because push hasn't come to shove, in part seems to beg the question, since
> it now becomes WHY hasn't push come to shove. 
I agree. It hasn't come to shove - yet - because:

1. In addition to WWII and imperialist plunder as counter-tendencies through
the 70s, we can add the destruction of the socialist countries, which suddenly
made hundreds of millions of workers available for exploitation and extraction
of surplus value. It also enabled deepening exploitation in dependent
countries. The benefits of this was gaily shared out for a while - we entered a
new period of peace and prosperity if you remember. The low-hanging fruit in
this orchard have been picked by now.

2. Added to this were one-off gains from various important changes in
circulation: the supply chain, logistics and communications. These are one-off
gains: you can't reduce inventories to less than zero; you can't move money
faster than the speed of light. These are therefore largely exhausted.

3. Finally, the labour aristocracy contained struggles of the working class, so
that it has generally, in the imperalist countries, allowed its organization,
struggle, living standards and conditions of exploitation to decline.

> Of course, if something like the predictions of "Peak Oil" and a constant
> decline in crude extraction thereafter come true, tensions will be
> exacerbated many fold.
Whether or not these come about, tensions will be exacerbated many fold. It was
Ricardo who based the decline in the rate of profit on the exhaustion of the
best land. Marx based it in the contradictions of capital itself.

> That's why I make no PREDICTIONS but rather
> observations about what has been and on that I base my expectation is that
> if things remain more or less the same, the likeliest scenario is that the
> inter-imperialist rivalries won't lead to war.
And, based my reasons I PREDICT that they will. Don't know when. Don't want it.
Wish it wouldn't happen. But it will, unless we get rid of this system. 

> Joaquin

"I study a lot. That is one of the responsibilities of every revolutionary." Hugo Chavez.

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